The historical accuracy (or lack thereof) in this is questionable, loosely based on a PoW camp as I imagine it, although with frequent digressions from reality. Also, I am acutely conscious it might be too long to merit a "short story" tag.
The "part one/two/three" system I have used it...well....rubbish, and I would be better off getting rid altogether. But again I ask you, people of the internet, to advise me on that.
Finally, it is unfinished, as will become immediately apparent upon reaching the end, and it will remain that way unless you lovely people give me any incentive to continue. Otherwise it will lie in "My Documents" with all my other half finished projects.
Picture a sweeping meadow, firmly in the grasp of the summer sun. Fronds of grass ripple as the wind crawls across the landscape, interspersed with purple orchids, their scent lazily filling the air. A butterfly trundles just above the line of the grass, its uneven progress marked by the gusts of wind every so often.
A path runs through the meadow. It isn’t a laid, or cobbled path, merely a line where a man may have slid through once or twice, a barely discernible groove. At one end it disappears over a hill, and into the distance. At the other, it stops at a grey cement wall, 15 foot high, looming over the landscape. The barbed wire at its summit sends down twisted shadows, and occasionally a man will wander across, a gun held ready. The wall is part of a camp, squatting in the field, a blot on the landscape. On the other side a well worn road leads off up through a mountain pass, and every so often the silence is punctuated by a noisy truck roaring up to the gate, belching grey smoke. At the base of the wall is a broken piece of ground, a hole.
A man emerges. He could once have been handsome, but his face is now haggard and grey, and a deep scar runs across his cheek. His long unkempt hair is sticking in an open wound on his forehead. His eyes are wide, and he looks around nervously, before stumbling down the path through the meadow. His overalls are bloodstained too, and unrecognisable, and one legs limps painfully. The grass strokes against his arms as he hobbles away, eyes still darting feverishly round, every so often glancing back at the wall.
A shot rings out. He cries out, and forces his tired body on harder. He falls, and hits the floor with a groan, before dragging himself painfully for one last push. Another shot rings out, closer now, the crack echoing out across the plain, and the bullet whispering through the grass. Other guns join in, and one glances across his leg. It buckles, and he falls again. Another round smacks into his prone body, and this time he doesn’t rise. Everything is still again, and the silence reasserts itself.
A few minutes later, a uniformed man walks out to where the body lies. He pokes a limp arm with the toe of his boot, then when no response is forthcoming he gives is a harder kick. Satisfied, he speaks into a radio, in a thick Slavic accent, turns, and begins the walk back to the gate.
Part one: Escape
Maris slid off the wooden bunk with practised ease, and his feet hit the cement floor with a cold slap. Sunbeams had broken through the wooden panels at the roof level, and the golden light cut through the dust and gloom, silvery particles wafting through on an unseen breeze. Where they struck a lower bunk, a man scrunched up his face, and raised a hand to shield his face. “Mar”, he acknowledged, seeing his friend standing in front of him, “Your okay?”
Maris cast a glance over to the corner of the quarters, where a shape was huddled under a grey blanket. It was unmoving.
“I don’t think Artur made it”.
Mariusz, the man on the bunk, groaned, and sat up. He rubbed his eyes then stood up next to Maris. His face was grim. “At this rate, there won’t be anybody left”. He spat brutally on the floor, then turned and walked into the toilet block.
The bunks went up 4 high, to the grey ceiling, and there were 5 across each side. Originally meant to hold 40 people, it now served as lodging to a quarter of that number, and they spread themselves out across the block. In between the rows of bunks there was a path, barely a metre across, where guards used to patrol, and it led to a squalid room which was the toilet block by name only. Nothing resembling a toilet had ever graced the bare walls. Instead there was a single trench in the middle on a slope down and outside to a drain. There were taps lined up along one wall, and drains at another end. Even when washed clean by the tap water, the stench remained, drawn into the floor and wall and pores of the men. At the other end of the block there was a door, a service hatch in the middle and no handle. Food was thrown in daily, grey ration paste and strips of dry jerky. It only opened twice weekly, when a monosyllabic guard would shepherd the inmates out into the square exercise yard. It was just a square of bare ground where the prisoners would catch a scant glimpse of the people in the other blocks which surrounded the yard. At first people had tried to communicate, but this drew swift retribution from the guards. Now everyone hunched down, refusing eye contact, herded round the perimeter a few times before returning to the blocks.
Maris, Mariusz and the late Artur were part of cell block 3, along with 12 or 13 other men. They knew names, and little more. There was no point in making friends; death was a daily occurrence. If people didn’t die from disease or malnourishment, they died from the guards, shooting men for sport of minor misdemeanours.
It was a hellish existence. There were occasional escape attempts, and even one man from block 1 who had managed to get outside, but every man within heard the shots ring out, and knew what had happened. Maris had inspected every corner of the block, and had satisfied himself there was no way out that way. There were no real windows, merely slits at the top, and the only time there was ever a way out was in the exercise yard, where armed guards surrounded the area. A concerted effort by everyone could overcome the guards with massive casualties, but the lack of contact between the blocks means this never happened. He has tried scraping at a corner with a spoon, not out of any real expectation of escape, just as something to take up his time, and it did so perfectly, until a guard spotted the hole. Nobody owned up, so he shot the man nearest him. The body was dragged out and the block was filled with a heavy silence after. That was the closest Maris had come to meeting an unfortunate end, and indeed he was lucky to still be around.
Mariusz and he were veritable old timers, having survived Camp Nietzsche for almost 6 months. He was captured at his barracks in Austria, and shipped to the camp with 10 squad mates, who were, as far as he knew, all dead. Mariusz was a dissenting soldier in the Nazi army, and he too was packed off to this remote alpine location with the PoWs. They had survived by staying unnoticed, and this came easily to Maris.
He was short, 5 foot 10, and any excess weight on him once had been shed by the cruel conditions. 32 years old, he was also one of the older men, and his lean body was barely troubled by muscle or fat. He had clear, grey eyes, and kept his beard shaven and his head up. His mousy hair had got long, and begun to curl naturally at the bottom. He didn’t bother to try and cut it with the blunt razor with which he had been provided, instead letting it grow.
Mariusz too was slim, but tall and proud, and broad shouldered. He had let his beard grow and it was beginning to grey at the edges, and his pale blue eyes were softer, his face more open. He was a quiet man, of few words, but everyone respected him.
A buzzer sounded. Maris’ head turned towards the door as it swung open, and light poured in, temporarily blinding him. Around him, other heads turned, and men slid noiselessly off their bunks and traipsed outside. The dead man, Artur, was dragged out by another guard bringing up the rear, and thrown in a skip with the rest of the cadavers from that week. They would soon be topped up with new arrivals.
It was exercise day. As his feet scraped across the red, hardened dirt, Maris thought, not for the first time, of escape. The man who got closest had slipped away during an exercise session and spent a week living and hiding around the camp, slowly digging his way under the wall. It was an impressive feat, but since that watch had doubled, and all hiding places had been covered. The impossible had got harder. A gunshot shattered his reverie. His head shot up in panic, as more and more bullets whistled out. The men scattered as Maris tried to locate the source of the gunfire. There! A group of prisoners had jumped a guard, forced him into one of the mess tents. Bullets ripped through the fabric of the tent, and harsh orders were issued as many guards converged on the tent. The remaining ones herded the prisoners back to their blocks, their voices rising above the din.
Maris looked in shock at Mariusz, and the two turned back towards their block. His brain was screaming at him. Now! Now is the chance! Escape is within you grasp if you go for it now! His legs twitched, as he contemplated bolting, but he couldn’t find the nerve, as gun barrels watched his progress. Mariusz turned and took him by the shoulder, and the gesture shocked him. He couldn’t hear what he was saying over the roar, then he was gone, his feet pounding the dirt. “Mariusz you IDIOT! No!” Maris cried out but his friend kept running and running. He had almost reached the shed where the vehicles were kept when a gunshot spun him off his feet. Is almost deafened Maris; the guard with the smoking gun was standing beside him, outside block 3. Someone smashed him in the side of the face, and the guard stumbled to the floor, as another swift kick took him to the side of the head. Maris was shocked to discover that person was him. He looked around in panic, and found that nobody had seen him yet, as he was consumed by the riot. He looked around desperately for somewhere to hide, and his eyes alighted on the skip beside the door. As the gorge rose in his throat, he hurled himself over the edge, and as he hit the piles of bodies some of them groaned, their last breath of air being forced out of their lungs. He held his breath, trying not to retch, and sat there, heart pounding in his chest. Any second he was waiting for a guard to look over the lip of the skip and allow him to join the men he lay with, but it never came. Things calmed down. The shouting stopped. He slowed his breathing and allowed his shattered nerves to rest for a moment.
The respite wasn’t to last. He heard a guard crunching up ti the edge of the skip and he was paralyzed by fear. He could only hope that playing dead would save him. He closed his eyes, and let his head drop. He felt a shadow over him, and then a body was dropped on him. When the guard had left, he slowly opened his eyes. The eyes of Mariusz stared back.
As the boiling sun still beat down, Maris silently wept, his raging emotions released in a tide of bitter tears. He wept for his family, for his wife, and for his lost friend.
It was night before he dared move. He moved his cramped legs from their position, and tentatively stretched out. His face was stiff with dried tears, and his clothes were covered in congealed blood. He slowly drew himself up and looked around. The yard was empty but for a pair of guards smoking in the corner. Around the perimeter wall, searchlights sat idly, the guards confident that everyone was safely ensconced in their blocks. Next to the skip was the vehicle dock, where Mariusz had aimed for. The only means in and out of the complex beyond scaling the walls or tunnelling beneath were with the supply trucks. There was nowhere to hide on the bare backs, and he would be easily seen in the cab, so he failed to see any way to escape when it left to pick up more supplies.
The alternative didn’t bear thinking about, namely driving the truck out himself. It would be suicide, and he would be instantly mown down by a rain of bullets.
Or would he? The more he considered it, the more it took grip on his mind. It was only a short stretch to the gate, and surely the impetus of the truck would knock it down? The guards wouldn’t know what has hit them.
Resolved, Maris tensed himself to jump from the skip. He was paralyzed by indecision. It was one thing to have a plan, but to actually do it meant a greater effort of courage than any he had ever done before. He crouched ready to spring for what seemed like an eternity, picking his spot, waiting for the moment in which he was certain he wouldn’t be seen. His moment came after about 20 minutes. Another guard shouted to the two on watch and they both turned their backs momentarily to the skip. He sprang, landing gently in the earth, and in a scuttle gait, ran to the shed. His legs buckled as his got there, and he slid to the floor, the heavy wheels now emphatically blocking him from view. But he couldn’t stop, there was no telling when the guards may begin a patrol. He reached up onto the door, and located the handle. He pulled gently, and with a click that sounded incredibly loud to him, it swung open on greased hinges. He was in. The keys were left in the ignition, a piece of good fortune, and he steadied himself in the driving seat before twisting them.
In the stillness of the night the roar of the engine was like a primeval beast. The guards turned in alarm, and began shouting loudly. One raised his gun and sprinted towards the cab, calling out. Maris clicked the truck into gear and then forced his foot down into the accelerator with all the force he could muster. The trucks launched out of the bay, its ageing parts rattling dangerously and smoke pumping from its rear. The first guard stood back in dismay for a moment, then fired at the truck, and bullet harmlessly punching a hole in the bodywork. His colleague opened up, and shattered the windscreen, but by the point, the truck was hurtling towards the gate. It met it with a screech of tortured metal, and tore it from its hinges, then roared out across the road, turning the corner from the camp and away, to freedom.
Part 2: Retribution
Nikolai ran his shaking hand through his hair, the moisture sliding between his fingers. Once the commotion died down he had made a swift exit, and now lay in his bed in his private room. His fellow guards were still about in the corridors, talking urgently, and in hushed tones. The whole camp was in a state of shock. The guards of course knew what had happened, and the prisoners no doubt had figured it out. There would be a taking stock the next day, of course, but the orders for now were to take a rest. Nikolai was immediately relieved of his guard duty, his part in the breach ignored until morning, and he was left in peace to where he lay, chest rising up and down rhythmically as he was slumped against the headboard.
He was a new recruit, drafted in to replace a fatality; nobody told him details, and he didn’t want to know. Back home in Poland he was part of a security firm, and he had sided with the invaders, coward that he was. Working as a guard for them instead, he was reassigned to the ****hole in which he now resided. Until that night, he had never fired a gun in anger, at another human being, and almost didn’t then either.
When he saw the prisoner hunched over the wheel of the truck, there was a moment of horror, and for a second he did not move. When he did fire, the truck was accelerating away, and his bullet smacked into the side. The rarely used rifle’s recoil slammed into his shoulder, and he was taken off balance. Beside him, the more experienced man had dropped to one knee and sighted down the length of his barrel. He smacked off a shot which smashed something, the glass glittering in the frantic searchlights, and then the truck was gone. There was a brief silence as it roared away before the night woke up once more. Officers charged out, shouting orders and questions at random, accusations were made, and Nikolai was reprimanded then relieved.
He needed a shot of something strong, but more than that he needed sleep. It came to him easily.
Part 3: Rescue
The petrol tank in the truck stuttered, complained, and then finally gave out. Maris allowed it to run gently off the road onto a verge of its own impetus. His legs felt leaden, the adrenaline that had previously sustained him now bled dry. He could barely bring himself to get up out of the seat, let alone find somewhere to sleep. He flicked off the headlamps, and allowed his eyes to adjust. He had no idea how far he had gone; he had lost all sense of distance and time. The previous hours had been a blur, driven by the numb fear of capture. He hadn’t dared to look back, not even once, not until he was well away, as long away as it was possible for him to get