|Franz thought his old bones would break as the endless journey continued. Desperate to sit, his legs buckled beneath him. With no room to fall, he remained partially upright in the swaying darkness. |
Others moaned softly, babies cried, their cries weakening as time passed. The stench of unwashed humans and excrement filled the small, airless space. The train continued its journey, day after endless day and the steel wheels rattled noisily along iron rails.
Franz became aware many had died through lack of water, food, or the bone chilling cold. He had no way of knowing how many.
Day turned into night and back to day again so many times, he and his fellow prisoners lost count. The fleeting daylight filtered through the cracks in the wooden walls along with a freezing wind. Just as they all thought this hell would never end, the train began to slow until it stopped at last.
Harsh voices outside shouted orders, dogs barked frantically. The door of the cattle truck crashed open. A sudden stream of light caused Franz to screw up his eyes, almost blinded after five days in darkness.
“Rous! Rous!” Germanic voices shouted harshly as soldiers roughly pulled at the prisoners and their Alsatian dogs bit at the prisoner’s heels, snarling and slobbering.
Old and desperately sick people fell to the ground, too weak to keep themselves upright.
Franz knelt upon the frozen ground before a kick to the ribs forced him to stand. “Rous! Juden swine!”
At last, his eyes became accustomed to the harsh arc lights illuminating the dark, moonless night. He glanced up toward the lights. Snow flakes fluttered and twirled through the air before settling on the shoulders of the mass of humanity. Families clung together, not knowing where they were, even in which country. Small children gripped their parent’s hands, their shocked faces blank and expressionless after experiencing the horrors of the last five days. Franz witnessed the anguish of the parents, fear of the unknown etched upon grey faces, and for once he was thankful to be alone, with no family to care about.
In the distance, an orange glow lit the sky. At first he thought it was dawn approaching, yet when he saw the clock on the station wall read four a.m., he soon realised it was too early in the morning for the sun to be heralding yet another day in hell.
A few hundred yards away in a barbed wire compound, lit by lights so powerful it seemed as bright as day, stood men dressed in thin striped pyjamas. The clothes offered them no protection against the bitter weather as they waited in silence, skeletal frames shivering in the early dawn.
Franz watched on as the soldiers threw the new arrivals, too weak to walk, on to wooden carts pulled by weary looking, horses. As they rounded the back wall of the station, sounds of gunshots resounded in the frosty air.
The elderly, and mothers with small children shuffled through the vast metal gates. Incongruously, a small group of musicians played classical music as the exhausted people trooped past.
Suddenly the pyjama-clad men began to run towards the train, surprising Franz with their ability to move so quickly. Soldiers yelled, screamed orders to the men to empty the wagons. The prisoners threw the belongings of the victims, along with the bodies of the ones who hadn’t survived, on to carts which they dragged away.
After the prisoners had emptied the train, armed kapos marched them back to the compound.
The recently arrived men and youths stood on the platform, compliant and showed no resistance against their fate. One of the German soldiers shouted out in Polish for anyone who had a trade to step forward. Dozens of men shuffled out of the line and each told an officer their name and trade.
When Franz’s turn came, he spoke softly, his voice raspy with thirst, “I am a carpenter, I can repair things or make beautiful objects,” he said, looking into the cruel eyes of his captor.
The soldier wrote Franz’s name and occupation, before saying, “Old man, you should have gone with the others. We’ll soon see if you tell the truth!”
Camp life was brutal, with barely any food to eat. Sickness swept throughout the camp, but the will to live prevailed and people clung to even this hellish life.
Franz proved himself useful to the officers. He repaired things and even made items for them, such as jewellery boxes, which they could give to their wives or mistresses.
Although he despised himself for doing it, he became part of the “Sonderkommandos,” a group of Jews whose job was to clear out the bodies from the gas chambers.
One day, as he watched a group of new arrivals queuing to enter the “showers,” he noticed a small child. In one hand she held a wooden doll, the other hand clung tightly to her young mother. They were naked and all their hair had been shaved from their heads.
As they reached the entrance, one soldier screamed abuse at the child and ripped the doll from her hands before he ground the toy into the mud. The little girl’s intense bright blue eyes pooled with tears, her white face looked up at Franz and she spoke in a language unfamiliar to him before she and her mother entered the shower block along with two thousand others.
Franz imagined the child had said something important, something he’d failed to understand. Maybe she was asking him to take care of her doll for her, or was it something she needed him to do? For some inexplicable reason, this bothered him.
When the soldier turned away, Franz quickly picked up the broken doll from the dirt and hid it in his trousers.
When he was able, he secretly worked on the broken toy. He mended her shattered legs, repaired the torn dress, and replaced her hair from a pile cut from the victims. He dyed the eyes, made them the same intense, bright blue as the child’s.
Haunted, Franz heard her little voice emanate from her doll as she whispered the same sentence over and over. He wrote down the words and asked others to translate. However no one could say exactly what the words meant. Was the voice just a figment of his imagination, his guilt perhaps, or even the voice of God? No. He knew the doll was haunted by the child. She, who had been only one of thousands of Jews he’d watched being led to the gas chambers, held the voices of them all.
For two long years, Franz survived in the death camp, although he could barely walk by the time the allies arrived to liberate them. He became one of many that the Red Cross moved out to farms to await transport home, although there would be little left of his Warsaw to return to. A farmer allowed him to use his barn, but had no food to spare, with barely enough to feed his own family.
Broken in mind, body and spirit, Franz closed his eyes as he lay on his makeshift bed, but the only thing he could see was the face of the little girl. He could no longer bear to hear the cries of the hapless victims and grasped his head to quiet them.
He looked at the doll, the bright blue eyes followed him accusingly. He found a length of rope, made a noose, and hung it from a beam before he placed the doll where he could see it. He climbed up into the hayloft, the rope around his neck. When he stepped closer to the edge. He looked down to see the child herself. She looked up at him, her bright blue eyes bored into his and she told him to come and join them, all the many thousands of innocent victims he had witnessed go to their deaths.
He dropped, but the force wasn’t enough to finish the job and as the air left his body, he watched the girl disintegrate before his bulging eyes. Her hair turned to dust, her dress crumbled and the crazy, bright blue eyes rolled down the shattered face. In that moment, he realised what it was she had said to him. Franz dangled on the end of the creaking rope, the wind whistled through the old barn and he was at peace at last.
PROMPT: A STORY ABOUT A HAUNTED SOMETHING.
What something? Well, house is obvious (and you can go with that). But how about an office? A school? A car? A TV set? Whatever it is, it has to be haunted.
Banned items: Vampires, Werewolves, Zombies.
Yes, that does mean ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists, etc. are perfectly fine.