Do you ever feel like dreams are a blessing? For a few hours, you escape your world and enter an entirely different one, all of your own imagination. You can be a fairy in a far-off forest, a mermaid in the deep ocean, a princess saved by her knight in shining armor—or better, you can be the knight in shining armor saving the princess. You know that you're dreaming, you know that it'll be over soon, but you enjoy it greatly while it lasts. You bid the dream creatures goodbye—the unicorns, the elves, the fairies, the princesses, the swans—and they wave you farewell, shouting words of praise and adoration until you wake up and you're back in the world that you so wanted to escape. But there's a comfort that keeps you strong. You know that as soon as you lay your head on the pillow the next night, you will reenter that world, or a completely different one, but one better than your real world nonetheless.
But sometimes, the blessings of dreams given to you by angels are snatched and morphed into nightmares by demons. Sometimes, sleep isn't as comforting as it should be. Sometimes it's restless, full of panicked rolls and cold sweat, and you wake up in the morning disturbed and tangled in your sheets. You sit in bed and think about the things you witnessed, praying that they never become a reality. You have nightmares that involve strange, creepy creatures, but those don't bother you so much. The ones that really bother you, really make it hard to breathe, are the ones that have the chance of becoming real. Those are the ones that have you bolting up in bed, panting as you realize that it was all just a dream.
At the moment, I'm not having a nightmare. I'm walking hand in hand with Santana through a meadow, Hans sleeping silently in my other arm. There's a soft breeze, and yet an odd stillness in the air. As if time has stopped, as if we're completely alone in this dream world. I look around at the tall grass, the emerald leaves on the grand trees, the bizarre but beautiful flowers. Then my eyes land on Santana. I halt in my place, and she turns to me, her eyes questioning. She's…utterly breathtaking. It's like she's glowing in the soft sunlight. A demure smile spreads across her lips as she gazes back at me so adoringly that I feel as if my heart will burst. Suddenly, she turns and lifts a young boy, maybe five years old, into her arms. I notice that Hans is no longer in my arms, and raise my eyes back to Santana and the boy. Wavy blond hair crowns his head, and his eyes, as blue as the sky above us, twinkle shyly. It dawns upon me that this is no ordinary boy—he's my son. My son, held in the arms of the love of my life. I stand back and appreciate the picture before me, knowing that it will only last in this dream. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I remember where I really live, the war, and the unlikelihood that I will ever see something like this. And just when I am about to reach my hands, to embrace them into a hug and tell them how much I love them, I'm snatched back into reality.
I blinked a few times and yawned, slowly registering the sounds around me. I faintly remembered being woken up by a very loud noise, but I decided that it was just Hans's crying, which was ringing through the house. I yawned again and slid out of bed, rubbing my eyes as I walked across the hall and into his room. He was hysterical, far beyond any crying provoked by hunger. I scooped him into my arms and began to walk around the room, mumbling words of comfort as I bounced him lightly. His little hands gripped my shirt, almost desperately, as if he feared that I would leave him. I continued to soothe him until he calmed, then began to make my way down the hall with him in my arms. I walked carefully down the stairs and looked around at the empty living room. "Ora?"
There was no answer. I walked into the kitchen, and found breakfast burning on the stove. I quickly turned off the gas, my mind racing with thoughts. Why would Chaim leave the stove on if he wasn't in the kitchen? I walked back into the dining room, gazing around me quizzically. "Ora? Chaim?"
Once again, there was no answer. I stood in the living room for a few moments, Hans cooing softly in my arms, wondering where they could've gone. Maybe Herr Eberhardt took them out with him so that they'd help him with something…but what?
With one last look around the living room, I climbed the stairs and hurried down the hall to Hans's room. I laid him in his crib, kissed him gently on the cheek, and whispered, "I'll be right back, Liebling, I promise. I just want to check a few things."
He looked up at me, his large blue eyes wondering and his hands grabbing at the air above him. For a moment, I remembered my dream, and the little boy—our little boy. I stroked a finger across his cheek, kissed him again, and left the room. Without really noticing what I was doing, I put on a navy-blue dress and hurried down the stairs again. I decided that I wanted to share my concerns with Santana, so I made my way down the basement stairs and into Ora's room—only to find it empty as well.
I felt my heartbeat quicken, I felt the dread coming, but I took in a shaky breath and ascended the basement stairs, closing the door quietly behind me. Maybe she wanted a breath of fresh air again and was locked outside like last time.
I opened the front door, too afraid to call out her name in case Herr Eberhardt was in hearing distance. I suspected that he was, because his automobile was still parked in front of the house. I closed the front door behind me and wandered cautiously down the porch and to the gravel, my eyes darting around. It was quiet—too quiet. Like the dream I had, except it couldn't be any more different.
I walked carefully around the automobile, glancing down the hill. Where were they? I turned my head slowly, still with a numb feeling of uncertainty and fear building up inside me. I didn't want to jump to conclusions like I did last time. But when I looked to my left, behind Herr Eberhardt's Mercedes, there was no room left for doubt.
I stood completely motionless, my eyes wide with shock and utter horror, unwilling to believe the sight before me. Ora and Chaim were lying in the gravel, their eyes round and glossy, bullet holes clear through their heads. Blood was still pouring out, pooling around their bodies, and fresh tears glistened on their faces. The loud sounds that woke me up were not Hans's crying—they were gunshots.
I knew what this meant. I knew it, but I couldn't will my body to move. It was like all of my nightmares were coming to life at once. I wanted to wake up, to know that this wasn't real. I wanted Santana to wrap her arms around me, to rock me back and forth and whisper, "It's okay, Brittany, it's okay. It was a dream. It was all just a dream."
But I didn't wake up. Santana didn't wrap her arms around me, and Ora and Chaim were still lying dead in front of me. My mind was screaming at my body, telling it to Move! Move! She might still be alive!, but my body wouldn't listen. It wouldn't do anything, not even breathe, as if it gave up on living. My mind was riddled with so many thoughts that I found myself closing my eyes, trying to organize and understand them. There was one pushing all of the others to the sidelines, one that had to be heard—find her. As that thought rang through my mind, impossibly loud, I opened my eyes, took one last glance at the dead bodies of the people who served me so faithfully, the people whose deaths I caused, and began to sprint down the hill.
I wasn't sprinting for even two minutes before my leg caught on a rock and I flew down the road, landing hard on my right arm and continuing to roll until I was finally able to stop my body. By the time I stopped rolling, I was sobbing hysterically and uncontrollably. Not because of the pain of the fall, but because of the terror that had taken over me. Nothing had ever felt more real than the possibility of losing her. Every noise I heard sounded like a gunshot, every pain in my body, mental or physical, caused by the thought of finding her dead. The thought of losing her, which was so much more real than ever before. It was no longer some distant idea, some distant nightmare that I feared would become a reality. It was here. It was now. I knew, as I pushed myself off of the ground and began running again, slightly limping, that there was a better chance of finding her dead than alive.
And then what? Before, Santana was all I had to live for. The solution would have been easy—commit suicide, and not have to suffer the pain of her loss. But I had a baby now. I had a son, and I would never be able to leave him behind, motherless and in the hands of that horrible man. But what of the fantasies? What of Hans Christian Andersen and his fairy tales? What of the world that we hoped to have, where Hans would grow up to know that he had two mothers and two mothers only? What of our plans to escape, to travel far, and to find safety? What of our happily-ever-after? So many hopes and dreams would be lost. If Santana was dead, how was I ever to live happily? I could not imagine joy and freedom without her. It was all so meaningless, so pointless, without her.
Dead or alive, she wouldn't want me to kill myself. I knew that for a fact. She would want me to raise Hans, and to tell him stories of the other mother that he once had and how I fell in love with her. But would Herr Eberhardt ever let me near my baby after what I had done? After deceiving him and cheating on him? I doubted that he would even keep me as a wife. He would throw me out with everything I didn't need, and nothing of what I really needed—my family. My lover and my son. He would take those from me without an ounce of remorse. And then I really would have nothing to live for.
After what seemed like an eternity, I reached the back gate of the camp. It was locked, and Rolf Liepold, the young man that always guarded the gate before, was nowhere to be seen. I rushed to the gate and shook it uselessly. Herr Eberhardt must have taken Santana into the camp for some reason. But where was Rolf? I wondered if he, too, fell under the fire of Herr Eberhardt's rage. If he, too, would be punished, because any fool could understand that he took part in Santana's escape from the camp. After a few more hopeless shakes of the gate, I turned my back to it and slid down, crying in agony. So many lives have been and will be lost because of my selfishness. But the worst of it all was that I didn't regret hiding Santana in the house, when I should've. I didn't regret falling in love with her and spending one magical year by her side. I cursed the world for only letting me have one year with her. What kind of cruel upper being would let us fall in love so devotedly, and then snatch it all away after a single year, right when we began to build our family? Not only would I never see her again, I would never even see her dead body. Where was the fairness that all of the greatest thinkers always spoke of?
I let my hands fall to the dirt at my sides, my eyes swollen with grief. I looked down, alarmed, when my left hand hit metal instead of the ground. It was like someone above heard my torment and wanted to give me a second chance. Rolf's keys were half hidden under a thin layer of dirt, as if they fell out of his grip and were kicked to the side. Irrevocable evidence that he was indeed taken as well. I scrambled to my feet, looking at the hole in the gate to see which key would fit. After several frustrating attempts, I finally found a key that would twist in the hole, and I heard a click as the gate unlocked. With some struggle, I pushed the heavy gate open enough for me to slip through, then closed it behind me and dropped the large keys into one of the pockets of my dress, in case I needed them later.
My heart pounded loudly, threatening to crack some ribs, as I jogged carefully past the somber structures. There was not a soul around. An insane thought passed through my mind—that Herr Eberhardt had ordered all of the prisoners to be sent to the gas chambers because of what I did. I shook the thought from my mind as I advanced between the dark buildings, expecting to be shot around every corner I turned.
Suddenly, I heard a faint voice speaking to my left. I suspected it to be Herr Eberhardt's voice. I sprinted toward it, more sure that it was him with every step I took. Finally, I turned a corner, and had to skid to a stop because I almost hit a group of prisoners. They snapped around, eyes wide as they stared at me incredulously. I walked past them and into the crowd of prisoners, snaking around and between until the voice became clear. He seemed to be making some sort of speech.
"You disgusting worms think you deserve freedom? Freedom is a gift given only to the worthy, and you—as I'm sure you know—are anything but worthy. You're nothing but termites polluting the fine wood that is the Nazi society. You need to be weeded out, and you do not have rights. You do not have the right to escape from this camp and decide to live a normal life as this—" I heard a shove and someone fell to the ground. "Revolting maggot did."
Hope filled me once again as I heard Santana's faint crying. She was still alive. I snapped my head around, looking for some sort of escape route. I found, to my surprise, that all of the prisoners around me were staring at me in wonderment. They had cleared a small circle around me, as if afraid that I would pull one out and shoot him in the head like any other Aryan would. Quietly, trying to remain unseen, I advanced further into the crowd, closer to his voice and her sobs.
"Look at her, crying like this is some sort of tragedy. You should be proud to be killed by me, you filth. It should bring you honor to be killed by the First Commandant. But I won't let you die so easily…no, you will suffer, here in front of your dirty peers, and they will see what happens to someone who so boldly disobeys the rules. I will not give you the privilege of being shot in the head like all the others. You deserve to be punished for what you did, for daring to think that you are worthy of living like an Aryan. So tell me, worm—which foot would you like me to shoot first, right or left?"
Santana's crying loudened, and, panicked, I bolted through the crowd until I was stopped right in front of her. A second too late and with a gasp, I realized that I completely blew my cover.
I took a few moments to register the scene around me. Santana was looking up at me now, a mix of fear and incredulity in her eyes, like the very first day we met. The prisoners around seemed to also have that disbelief on their faces. The woman with the large green eyes, Santana's friend, who was standing about a meter or two to our right, caught my eye for a brief moment. I saw Rolf being held with his hands behind his back by two other Nazi soldiers, and he looked frightened beyond belief. Then, reluctantly, I let my gaze fall on Herr Eberhardt.
His thin lips were white from fury, and, like a bull, he flared his nostrils. After a few moments of silence without taking his eyes off me, he raised his gun and said, softly but dangerously, "I guess a bullet through the head will do."
Faster than he had time to pull the trigger, I threw myself at Santana and shielded her body with mine. I heard a few muffled whispers from below me—"Brittany, get off, get off, he'll kill you!"—but I did nothing of the sort. I tightened my eyes closed and waited for the blow that never came.
Instead, I felt myself being pulled off of Santana by three pairs of hands. I struggled as hysterical tears began to stream down my face again, but I was no match for three burly men. Through my tears, I opened my eyes again, to see that Herr Eberhardt was still pointing his gun at the back of Santana's head, his eyes on me. He looked so enraged, to the point of being almost numb with it. "You came down here to save her?" he uttered, just above a hush.
I knew that answering would not be the right choice, so I just continued to sob quietly, my eyes darting between him and Santana, whose eyes were fixed on me. She wasn't crying anymore, as if she was trying to be strong for both of us, as if she had already accepted her death. I raised my gaze back to Herr Eberhardt, whose unrelenting, cold eyes glared at me. "Who do you think you are?" he asked, just as quietly as before.
Tears continued to slip down my face in disorganized streaks. I tried to push forward, but the soldiers were still holding onto me, keeping me bolted to my spot. "Please…" I begged softly.
Herr Eberhardt let out a little sigh of disbelief and shook his head. He fixed his eyes upon his target again and raised his gun. At the height of my panic now, I yelled, "Please! Don't kill her! Please! She didn't do anything—kill me instead, she's innocent, it's all my fault…please—" I bent down with my face to the ground, unable to breathe because of my hysterical crying. "Please…" I begged again as my forehead hit the rough dirt.
A single gunshot rang through the square, and a body fell to the ground.
"Liebling" – Darling or honey.