Funny The Things That Stay With You
I'm not going to tell the guys.
There's really no need to after all. And they'd just start worrying about me again.
Don't get me wrong, it's not like I don't appreciate it. After what happened this summer…well, it helped knowing that they were there looking out for me and everything, but the thing is, sometimes the more people make a fuss about you the more you begin to think something is really wrong with you. It's weird, but it's like the more attention they pay to you, the more scared and lonely you feel. Like you've been turned into someone different and you don't really fit in with the team anymore.
So there's no reason to start everything up again. Especially when there's nothing any of us can do for her.
See, the Colonel had sent me and Lebeau out to pick up some things from the underground. A copy they had made of the latest German codebook and a map of battery emplacements for some sector that the British wanted to hit. Or maybe it was the location of some tank divisions. I don't know for sure; all we had to do was pick them up and Lebeau was the one they gave them to. Lately, whenever the Colonel has sent us out, I've just been going along for the ride so to speak. No lines, no real jobs. Just till I find my feet again, the Colonel says. I guess it's for the best and all, but still…
Anyway, that part was a piece of pie. (Or cake! I can hear the guys correcting me though I don't get what difference it makes.) It was coming back where we nearly got into trouble. We were in the woods of the north side of the Bremer road when all of a sudden, before we could blink, we had a couple of Kraut patrols behind us, pushing us towards it. That was bad enough, but at least they hadn't spotted us yet and we were going in the right direction - back towards camp. With luck, we figured we'd beat them back and then just pop down the emergency tunnel entrance and they'd never even know we'd been there.
But when we got to the road, we nearly ran smack dab into a stalled German convoy. One that went on for just about forever. We couldn't cross it, we couldn't go back, and to get around it by running alongside would've taken too long. Not to mention there would've been a really good chance they'd spot us trying it.
Quick as a flash though, Lebeau grabs my arm and starts pulling me off to the left. After a couple of minutes of weaving our way between the trees not far from the road, I could see a clearing. At first I couldn't make out what it was because at that time of night it was little more than a break in the darker shadow of the trees against the horizon. But I guess Louie knew where we were because he turned to me and whispered, "I'm sorry Carter, but we're going to have to hide here."
I didn't understand why he was apologizing to me. I mean, if he could get us out of this by finding us a good hiding place, why on Earth should he feel bad about that? It wasn't until I nearly ran into a tombstone that I knew he meant that we were going to hide in the Bremer cemetery.
You know though, I don't think it scared me as much as I'm sure he was worrying it did. It's only natural I suppose; the guys worrying that I'd be scared at being around things like that I mean. But it didn't bother me for some reason. I was more frightened about being surrounded by the Germans.
Not that I was real happy when I saw where he wanted to hide. It was a large, black shape that loomed out of the darkness from on top of the hill and blocked out the few stars that could be seen behind it. That might've been the one moment I would have held back and refused to go in, if Lebeau hadn't already pulled the door open and disappeared inside. Then I was more scared of being left alone than of what I might find in some old mausoleum in a forgotten cemetery - no matter if it was even darker in there.
I find that kind of funny now. Strange I mean, not like a joke. For a long time after what happened with Townsend and Schuler I couldn't stand the dark. Especially when I closed my eyes. I used to try not to sleep. When the guys found out I told them that was afraid of waking them up with my nightmares - and that was really true - but I was also afraid of the nightmares themselves. They probably guessed that. But what I didn't tell them was that I was afraid of going to sleep and losing myself in the darkness - that I'd go to sleep, but it would be someone else that would wake up. So it was weird that I could follow Lebeau in there without a second thought.
I think it was because of what Townsend showed me, right at the end. The things he had learned from the kids during all the time that they had waited, and the things he had learned from Schuler himself when he…
I'm sorry. I can't talk about that.
But that's why I think I could go into that crypt. Because of what I knew about the Germans. I even hated Schultz for awhile after it happened. Schultz! Can you beat that? I mean Boy! If there was ever anyone who was like a real-life Santa Claus, it's Schultz. But I couldn't even look at him for a long time. The Colonel, he said he understood, but he asked me to try and get past it for the good of the operation. And I did pretty much, at least as far as Schultz was concerned. But it sure as heck wasn't Schultz out there in those woods and so I high-tailed it inside.
Lebeau shoved the heavy door shut behind me and that must have made me gasp a little or something, because he risked lighting a match to look at my face. He asked me if I was alright. I was breathing a little heavy, but I nodded. The match flickered out quickly and then it was pitch dark again. Stumbling and feeling our way over, we crowded in as best as we could behind the door. We were quiet for a long, long time, trying to hear the sounds of anyone approaching over our pounding heartbeats.
Slowly, after awhile, we relaxed. Not enough to leave; Lebeau wanted to be sure the convoy and the patrols were long gone, but enough that we slid down to sit with our backs against the wall instead of standing so alert. After we'd been there for a bit I figured it was okay to talk, so I asked him something.
"How'd you come to know about this place Louie?" I wanted to know.
"Kinch and I had to hide here about four or five months ago."
"But how did you get in? You'd think a place like this would have a lock on the door."
"Probably it did at one point, but it is an old graveyard. No one uses it anymore. Herr Heidemann told Kinch that in the daylight you can see where vandals have knocked over some of the old stones."
"That's a shame."
"Oui. But, as I said, it is an old graveyard. No one cares anymore. Some day it will be overgrown and the headstones will have crumbled to dust. By then everyone will have forgotten that it was ever here."
That sounded pretty awful to me. He simply shrugged and said, "It is the way of things."
I wondered about the crypt itself. According to Lebeau, it was pretty strange that it was even here in the first place; he said they're more popular in places like France and Italy where the ground is too marshy to bury people properly. So you'd think that if someone went to all the trouble to build this thing that they'd take more care of it. But I guess maybe there's no one left to care, and sooner or later the whole place will either be torn down or overtaken by the woods.
Louie nudged just then, and we got up and opened the door an inch or so to see of the coast was clear. A flash of light shot through, glinting off the marble, and I stiffened up, my heart jumping into my throat, before I even figured out what it was.
We held our breaths - there were two Germans outside. Lebeau inched the door closed as quietly as possible and then we stood there for what seemed like hours and hours, each of us with an ear pressed to the door, straining to hear. Eventually - after enough time had passed that I felt old enough to collect my Social Security - Louie opened the door just a sliver. Then he pulled me to the back of the chamber.
"I think they're gone."
"Oh wow!" My breath all came out in a rush. "I sure as heck don't want to go through that again!"
"I don't think they were looking for us," he said. "It sounded like they were drinking. But we need to hide the map and codebook just in case."
"But won't the Colonel need this stuff tonight?"
"No. London does not plan to move until the end of the week. But we can't let the Germans know what we have or they'll change everything. Besides, this way, if we're caught, we can say that we are just escaping prisoners and hopefully it will go easier for us. Now come over here and help me."
"With what? Where are we going to hide them?"
Boy I tell you, he's crazy! He wanted to hide the stuff under a body, thinking that if the Krauts searched the place that hopefully they'd leave the caskets alone out of respect. And he figured that even if they did open the caskets, that they probably wouldn't move the bodies themselves.
Sheesh, and people think I'm weird!
There were two sets of - well, I guess you'd call'em shelves - on each side of us. The caskets were a little hard to open, especially since we were still trying to be quiet, so we decided to try them all first in hopes of finding one with a broken latch. Louie started on the left side and I started on the right.
Now, maybe you'll think this is stupid, but I can't for the life of me remember getting the lid off that casket. It's a complete blank. It couldn't have been that noisy, because Lebeau didn't notice that I had gotten one open, but I just can't remember doing it now.
I do remember being surprised that the thing inside wasn't a skeleton. I suppose if the place was airtight like Lebeau said (And holy cow! I'd have been a lot happier not knowing that!) it'd preserve things pretty well.
Not that I would have mistaken her for being alive - not once I had a gotten a good look at her - but it still gave me shock when I caught the first glimpse of what looked like a fully fleshed little girl when all I'd been expecting was a pile of bones. For that second it really did look like she was just asleep, her lying on her side like that. But then I could see where the fat and fluids and junk in her body had kind of withered away.
All of a sudden there was a horribly loud whining creak and then a happy grunt as Lebeau finally managed to work the lid of his coffin open. I suppose fooling with that is why he didn't notice me. I heard him moving something around as I closed the lid to the little girl's casket but I didn't look as he hid the stuff. (And I have to say here, that he's a lot more ghoulish than I ever would have thought - he faints at the sight of blood for pete's sake!) Something was bothering me about what I had just seen, but I couldn't put my finger on it. I stood there in what my Mom calls a brown study, trying to figure it out. When he wanted to leave Lebeau had to poke me in the arm twice to get my attention.
I just didn't get it at first you see. I kept thinking about it all the way back to camp. I had a picture of her going round and round in my head, but I couldn't figure out what was wrong with it. She'd been about four or five I guess - and I thought maybe it was only bothering me because it was so sad. I know little kids die sometimes, but still - it breaks your heart, you know? And after seeing what Schuler had done… Well anyway, I could still see her there, curled up on her side, with her thumb in her mouth, like she was all alone in the world and crying for her mommy.
I didn't get it, and then I did.
They wouldn't have buried her like that. When people get buried, they're on their backs, maybe with their hands crossed over their chests.
She must have been alive.
They'd buried her alive. Not on purpose or anything I think; there didn't seem to be any signs of a struggle, but then again I guess a five-year-old wouldn't be able to fight back that much. Maybe she'd been in a coma. I've heard of those; I bet it's a lot like being dead when you're just looking at someone.
All of a sudden I could see two broken-hearted parents, grieving themselves sick, burying their little girl when all the time they didn't have to. And they'd never know what they had done - that they'd killed her thinking she was dead already. That they could have had her with them. That they'd left her to die all alone in that awful darkness. Trapped in the dark forever, and nobody even knew. Just like with…
My knees gave way suddenly and I sat down on the ground with a hard thump. Lebeau hurried back to ask what was wrong.
"I don't know…I guess I tripped." I felt really cold and sick for a moment.
Lebeau didn't ask any questions, and he didn't tease me about being clumsy or even sigh like the guys sometimes do when I trip over something in the middle of a mission, so maybe he heard a bit of the shock in my voice. He didn't say anything to the others about it either, once we got back to camp and found them waiting there in the tunnel for us. He told them about having to hide the map and the code book though, and later on, when they thought I was out of hearing range, I heard Newkirk giving Lebeau an earful for making me open up a coffin. I nearly laughed out loud - I hadn't even thought of that! Lebeau had apologized to me for having to drag me to a graveyard to save my life, but he had thought nothing of getting me to open up a bunch of coffins looking for a dead body. Maybe he thought that because I'd been okay with the crypt, that I'd be okay with that. As if hiding in a graveyard and looking at bodies are the same thing.
So I'm not going to tell them what I saw. I don't need them worrying about me again. It's not that bad anyway. It's more sad than anything else. I don't know why I should be scared, why it should bother me so much. I don't know why I can't stop thinking about it, but it just won't go away. It's funny, the things that stay with you.
I'm trying to sleep now, but it's hard. Being on the bottom bunk, you feel all closed in. Like you're on a shelf in a mausoleum.
Okay, before people get thinking I'm too weird, or that all my stories are going to be about torturing little kids, this is actually based on what I'm told is a true story. I heard it from a friend, who heard it from her mother. Which I know gives it a whole friend of a friend/urban legend level of credibility, but since this woman is in her mid-70s, grew up in Italy during the Depression, and is REALLY, REALLY not known for her imagination, I'm willing to take it on a certain amount faith. But whether it's real or not, it haunted me for more than a few days, to the point where I had to write a story about it.