I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes. However, I claim ownership of any original characters appearing in this story.


The emergency tunnel was meant to be for emergencies only.

That was the rule at Stalag 13. The work they did there, under the noses of their Nazi captors, was too important to the Allied war effort to be jeopardised. Only recently Colonel Hogan laid had down the law on the subject, after a few unauthorised excursions by various individuals whose names he was careful not to mention, although everyone knew who he meant.

"Someone's going to get caught, one of these days," he said, glaring at Newkirk, who looked innocent, and then at Carter, who blushed. "And that's one thing we can't afford. So no more little trips to town, unless it's on business. And no going out the emergency tunnel without a good reason. Understood?"

"Understood, Colonel," murmured Kinch, seeing nobody else was game to speak.

So the emergency tunnel was out of bounds, except for emergencies, assignments and, when necessary, for LeBeau to go out picking mushrooms.

He was doing so tonight, making the most of a temporary lull in business. An increase in activity on the part of the local Gestapo had made it advisable for them to lie low for a few days. The current sabotage assignment had been put on hold until things settled down, and word had been passed along the lines of communication that no escapees from other prison camps were to be directed to Stalag 13 until further notice.

The men were getting bored with their enforced idleness, and had started making their own entertainment. Kinch, by means that were known only to himself and an obliging RAF supply crew, had got hold of the first volume of Á la recherche du temps perdu, and was amusing himself by attempting to explain it in summary form to Carter. Carter wasn't getting it. "How many pages does it take for this guy to turn over in bed?" he asked. "Just skip a bit, Kinch. Get to the good part."

Kinch couldn't get it through to him that this was the good part, but he was having fun trying.

Newkirk, never one to let the grass grow under his feet, had set up a travelling blackjack school, and was even now probably fleecing the occupants of Barracks 9, along with any guards he could inveigle into the game. When he'd finished there, he would move on to Barracks 10. And LeBeau had dusted off his pastry recipes and made plans to create an extra special savoury mille-feuille for the next day's dinner. For that, he needed mushrooms, which meant an outing to the woods.

He took his time over the hunt, enjoying the novelty of being alone. He didn't mind being among a crowd as a rule. He liked company, but living in such close quarters got hard to take after a while. So now he had a short time to himself, he made the most of it, wandering quite far in search of the small treasures of the forest floor.

The little brown mushrooms were out. Not LeBeau's favourite, there were too many, all slightly different, all looking the same. But he knew he had to take what he could get, and they had a good, if overly robust, flavour.

A moonlight gleam attracted him to a cluster of large white Agaricus, their surface as smooth and perfect as the soft skin of a girl he'd known in Paris, before the war. Nina, that was her name; a sweet, intelligent brunette, who worked as an artist's model and studied philosophy, and who always wore the same faint, elusive, old-fashioned scent.

LeBeau stopped in his tracks. What had suddenly brought Nina to mind? He hadn't thought of her for years; had not wanted to think of her, because the memory made him unbearably sad. He shook his head impatiently and moved on, leaving the white mushrooms alone.

It was unusually still among the trees. The autumn rain which had set the mushrooms growing had cleared, leaving a damp softness underfoot, and a sparkle of water droplets on the leaves. In spite of himself, LeBeau had started to feel melancholy. He tried to put Nina out of his mind, but found himself mulling over another remembrance, of moonlight gleaming on the rain-soaked foliage of another forest in another country, and on the pale unmoving face of his friend Etienne, lying still where he had fallen...

Something was wrong. LeBeau came to a standstill, with a sudden chill shivering across his skin. To his left, a patch of darkness lay under the trees; a shallow pool of water, overhung by branches which blocked the light of the moon. And a third memory joined the other two; a barely remembered confusion of darkness, and cold water, and the little sister whose face he had long been unable to recall.

A sound rippled across the silence; a discordant croak, dying away into an uneven sibilance. It came from the low undergrowth on his right, opposite the pool. He'd heard the same call before, but not for many years.

He knew now what was happening, and the hair on the back of his neck rose.

Don't turn around. Don't look.

But he had to. He had no choice.

The bird was not looking at him. It was blacker than the shadows in which it crouched, its outlines blurred by the darkness. Even so, he knew it resembled a raven, only larger than it should have been, and oddly deformed. It drew its head down towards its breast, in a way no bird should have been able to, then stretched its neck and pecked spitefully at some kind of dead animal which lay half-hidden beneath the bushes.

Just a bird, nothing more. If it didn't turn - if it didn't look at him - then all would be well. But LeBeau's heart was pounding.

The creature clacked its beak, and jabbed at the dead thing again, then hopped to one side and twisted its head around, fixing one eye on LeBeau. A white eye, veined with grey, like marble. It should have been blind, but he knew it could see him.

He stepped back, shaking his head, unable to speak, and the bird uttered its groaning call again, then turned back to - was it a rabbit? It was too dark to tell, although he thought it was something bigger. At all events, the bird made a third stab at it, tearing out a strip of flesh from the leg. LeBeau's stomach heaved. He swayed, then broke and fled.

He came to a stop some distance away, and fell to the ground, panting for breath. After a while, he sat up, wrapping his arms around his legs in an attempt to stop himself from shivering.

Three times in his life, he had seen the night bird, with its distorted form and white eyes. Twice he had been too young to understand; the third time, he had tried to rationalise it, then afterwards he had tried to forget it. But it was always there, an unacknowledged fear at the back of his consciousness. Somehow he'd always known it would come back, one day.

Someone was going to die. It always happened, when the night bird appeared. No matter what he did, he wouldn't be able to prevent it. He didn't even know who it would be. But it would happen. One of his friends would die.


Note: Á la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time) is a novel, in seven volumes, by Marcel Proust.