A matter of life and … what’s worse than death – Episode 13

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second worlds war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

I remained on the spot, not moving, for at least five minutes before I let out a sigh of relief.  It would be relatively safe because I had heard them walk off, following the river, and Jack, as my eyes and ears, had been out and had come back,. tail wagging slightly.

I was hoping he was not in league with Jackerby.

“So,” I said quietly to him, “you think it is safe out there?”  To be honest, I was not sure why I was asking the dog, or, for that matter, if he understood a word I was saying.

I  took tail wagging as a good sign.

Until, all of a sudden he went quiet and very still again, ears up and listening.

Then, I heard what he had heard.  The cracking sound of a foot on a twig or dry branch.

From behind me.

We both turned slowly.

An Italian man, about mid 30’s with a dated rifle in his hands, aimed at my head, not twenty feet away.  I was not going to take the chance he couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.

“Who are you?”  He started with schoolboy German, obviously not his first language.

The problem I had was deciding whether he was the traitor, or with the resistance that hadn’t been betrayed.

“Not a German for starters,” I said.

I noticed Jack was standing very still with teeth bared.  He didn’t like this man.  Perhaps he too didn’t like the odds of rushing the man with the gun.

“Englander?”

The way a German would call an Englishman.

“In a manner of speaking.”

“Are you from the castle?”

That was a trick question if I say no, he wouldn’t believe me, and if I said yes, I’d be tarred with the German brush.

“I escaped from there, so in a manner of speaking, yes I am from the castle.”

“Name?”

It couldn’t hurt to tell him.  “Sam Atherton.”

He let the gun drop, but it was still in a position to shoot me if I tried anything.

“Are you from the resistance?  I mean the group that hasn’t been compromised by a traitor?”

“I don’t know anything about the resistance if there is one.  I’m a farmer, trying to go about his business in the middle of a war.  What are you doing here?”

It might seem to anyone rather odd to be standing around in the woods.  “Hiding from two men who have come from the castle to follow me.”

He looked around.  “Where are they now?”

“Supposedly following me into the village, in that direction,” I pointed to where I thought the village was, “where I’m supposed to be leading them to the resistance, which, you said, doesn’t exist.”

“I didn’t say it didn’t exist, only that I don’t know anything about it.  What makes you think there is a resistance unit in these parts?”

Good question.  And, depending on what side he was on, still to be determined, I was not going to give them away.  “I’m acting on some sketchy intelligence we got in London, along with the possibility that the men in the castle, who are supposed to be Englanders, as you call them, but who are actually working with the Germans.  Seems they were right on one count, because they caught me and put me in a cell, and possibly wrong, according to you, on the other.”

“How did you manage to get away, if you were in a cell.”

So, here comes the part that sounds totally improbable.  “One of the two men following me broke me out.”

Yes, the look on his face said it all.

I shrugged.  “Ask the dog.  He’ll tell you.  His name is Jack by the way, but I’m not sure if he understands English.”

The dog went still again and turned his head.

Another crack, another person in the undergrowth, coming from the other side of the bushes.  My first thought, my two pursuers, realizing they’d lost me, had circled back to find me.

The man in front didn’t raise his gun, so it was someone he knew.

“Who is he?”

A woman’s voice.  I turned my head slightly.  She was older, perhaps this man’s mother.  She had a pistol in her left hand.

“Claims he escaped from the castle.”

“They all do.”

I heard a soft bang, and then something in my back, like a needle.

Seconds later my heard started spinning, and few more seconds later my legs gave out, and darkness followed.

 

© Charles Heath 2019

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