Frailty

It was 0500, and someone was kicking me awake.  “Ugh, what now…” I thought.  It was my young son, Paul.

“Daddy! Daddy! We have to leave,” he whispered into my ear.

I stood up and dusted myself off.  A light hand dusting was the only way to clean ourselves.  I turned Paul around, and gave him a quick head to toe dusting as well.  “Put your shirt on, son, it’s cold out.” I told him.

My back ached, my neck was taught, and my eyes were inflamed.  I despised sleeping on the floor.  Filthy, water-stained rocks were not the ideal mattress.

Paul and I took a moment to look around, making sure we had all our belongings.  A force of habit, as we haven’t had belongings for weeks.  Stolen from us by the men in black.  “Skull Men” Paul calls them.

We followed the hordes of other families being shuffled through the narrow corridor at Station B.  Some were accompanied by the elderly, others had infants.

“Where are we going this time, daddy?” Paul asked, scampering ahead of me.

“Our new home, son.  I promise it will be nicer than our last.  Stay close to me.” I replied.

The Skull Men were growing impatient, and started using anything they could get their hands on to move us along.  I picked up Paul and started heaving my way through the crowd.  My back could not take a beating, no matter how slight.  I pushed and prodded my way through the crowd so hard, people were yelling at me, and Paul began to cry.

“Stay calm son, almost there.” I told him sedately.

“Look, over there.” I turned his head so he could see.

“What is it, pa?”

“A house on wheels, son.”

I’ve never seen a railcar in such deplorable condition.  The box frame looked like an ominous prison cell.  The frail wheels screeched to a halt, rust and dirt falling to the side.  It clearly had never been maintained.

Shots rang out, we all ran as fast as we could into the cars.  I put Paul in one of the corners and told him to try to go back to sleep, as we may have a long journey ahead.

The stench of having so many people shoved into a car was unbearable.  Minutes turned into hours, hours crept into days.  My stomach felt as if it was eating itself, and judging by the look of me, it was.  Paul was a trooper, I wish I had more food to give him.  Too young to understand such horrors.

One man fell into my arms as we hit a bump.  I grabbed him trying to hold him up, his legs were dangling freely above the ground.  Trying to stand him up was like conducting a marionette.   “Help me out here!” I screamed into his ear.  But he was long dead.  The only thing that had been holding him up was the railcar itself.

People were taking turns defecating in the corner.  We were rotating in order to share the sole crack of light and air that came into the car.  Not to keep our spirits high, but for a moment of relief from the smell.

We all desperately needed food.  Every few days moldy bread rolls seemed to appear out of nowhere.  The sick and decrepit were too weak to fight; we stole their bread.  I’m not proud of it, but they were going to die anyway and this was a matter of survival.  For me, and my young trooper.  My little boy was struggling.  Try as he might to stay awake, he was fading.

Suddenly, the train slowed.  It’s large wheels cranked over lazily.  Pistons and hydraulics were spouting hot liquids, almost hitting us in the face.  I would have welcomed the burning water to help clean this grime off my frame.

I could hear the harsh footsteps of Skull Men outside the door.  One footman unlocked the door, while two others reefed on its hinges.  The sun instantly hit my face, and it hurt.  My already inflamed eyes were now swollen, hard to keep open.

As the haze began to clear, I looked around at the “new home” I promised Paul.  There was a sign above a towering metal gate, encased in brick.  I squinted as hard as I could to read it from a distance.  I collapsed to my knees.

“Auschwitz-Birkenau”

3 thoughts on “Frailty

  1. FULLSPECTRA says:

    This one kept me wondering until the last para.. created some vivid imagery too. Embers of pre-apocalyptic Stephen King-esque stuff going on here Mark. Superb. Good pace, too. Great stuff! 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

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