[The Book Thief – The Heart Snatcher]
It wasn't long before he felt compelled. The urge was simply overwhelming. Could he deny himself? He thought not. Lunging forth, his fingers ran over the cover. Opening to the first page, a glimpse of handwriting had scrawled "The Book Thief". Handwritten. A narrative? Reading the subheading, "The Diary of Liesel Meminger" his guess was cast aside. Dare he steal it? Yes, the book's owner surely would hold no grudges. He would keep it safe. She would trust him.
It was another matter entirely bringing himself to read it. How could he do it? To read her personal account, feelings, experiences, fears, darkest memories. Everything was written down. But curiosity got the better of him. He felt the twinges of guilt as he gently turned to the first entry. "Oh Liesel," he whispered aloud. There was no one there to hear him.
There were so many unanswered questions, so many things he had to tell her. Would he ever find her again? Probably not. She was wild, untamed. She would not allow herself to stay in the place that held so many memories. She would run.
Perhaps the book held some clue. A place she might hide. Something, anything that would bring him closer to her. She was all he had left. All he ever wanted, besides peace. And that kiss.
He had stood, side by side with Death as they watched her grieve over his dead corpse. Her lips had crushed his, but he had only felt the breeze, and the goosebumps as they shivered over his skin. How he longed to have felt that one kiss.
He would find her. And when he did, he'd yell "How about a kiss Saumensch?" before running into her arms, and her pink, perfect and dusty lips.
Rudy was sitting under the tree Liesel and he had climbed only weeks before. Many of the limbs had broken off, and much of the leaves had been scorched from the bombing. But for the last four hours, he had sat there, reading her book.
He had tried not to get caught up in it, but it proved to be far too difficult. She had suffered so much, and he hadn't even known. The death of her brother, the abandonment of her parents, the nightmares...
Max. His mind clicked. Liesel's destiny was with Max. That was where she would be. Dachau.
His blood ran cold. Rudy could imagine her, hiding outside the gates. Feeding him scraps and fruitless words of hope when she thought no one was watching. The book thief would hold no sense of fear for herself. She had nothing to live for anyway. What had she left?
She had him.
He had to find her. To give her back her kiss. A chance for happiness. To give her someone when she had no one.
Rudy found himself running towards the remains of the shopping district. His father's tailoring business was demolished, with the roof collapsed, no standing walls, and shards of brick and plaster erupting onto the pathway. He ran away from the site, tears in his eyes, wondering whether his father, his only remaining family, would ever return.
Jesse Owens kept running, away from the fears, until he found the general store. Two of its walls were partially standing and the front window completely smashed by the crumbling ceiling.
Scrambling through the shards of glass and rubble, he snatched what he could: three dusty apples, a can of peaches, and the least ruined loaf of crusty bread he could find. He looked around for something he could use to carry the supplies.
Finally finding a slightly ripped paper bag, he piled the stolen goods into it and made his way out of Molching. The heart-snatcher was searching for the book thief.
Somewhere along the track, the remains of houses started to scarce, as did the fires and shouts of rescue squads. The bodies of the dead disappeared, as did the screams of the living. It was here Rudy broke.
His body collapsed to the rough grass, his eyes flooded, his heart hammering and lungs gasping for air. He screamed for his family – his nurturing mother, his troublesome younger brothers and his gorgeous baby sister. The tragedy had not fully registered until he was atop a grassy hill, overlooking the fire and smoke that was Molching. Through his screeches and thrashing, he clung to the hope of Liesel and his father.
It took some time for him to compose himself. Many miles were plodded through tear-covered eyes, and pitiful one-sided conversations with God and with Death.
How had she survived the bombs? There were no sirens. Only the faint whistles of missiles as they plummeted from the planes. How could fate torment her so? Keeping her alive, when everyone she loved had died.
He had met her before. On too many occasions. He had snatched her Rudy. But after witnessing her chilling discoveries of the bodies, her screams and her declaration, he could not stomach it.
Death took a holiday.
The heart-snatcher was allowed to return.
It didn't happen often. In fact, I think Death had been so built up over the millenniums, that Rudy was the first soul he had ever let go of. He had felt no remorse about failing his job. It was his occupation's fault that they were in this predicament. No, he did not feel odd bending the rules for this exception.
Rudy's soul was already on the conveyor belt when Death snatched him back.
"No. This one lives."
And so he did. But he had to find her. That was what Rudy was told. Only to live with her. For she was the reason for Death's exception.
The book thief.
The only being who could stare at Death and see him. Understand him. Loathe him. Pity him. Perhaps this one small grace would show her his pain, his apology for all the deaths. It wasn't his fault.
Rudy was reborn to the screeching of sirens, and the shoutings of men. Fires were blazing, leaving blankets of smothering black smoke in the air. He had brought a finger to his face, feeling himself alive. He felt the cold stain of tears. Tears of the book thief. He had stencilled his lips, where hers would have been, and began gasping for breath. The evacuation men had run to the sign of life, which had awoken in a young boy with lemon-coloured hair. A miracle they wish they saw more often.
And so he walked, all the way to Dachau, keeping his eyes peeled for a girl with dirty blonde hair, and a filthy blue dress.
He listened for her, in case she noticed him first. His heart begged to hear, "Jesse Owens! You saukerl!" But there was never any voice. Just the numbing wails from people in the streets, the sounds of glass shattering with looters, and the pointless sirens. The sounds of war.
The road he followed ran adjacent to a deep avenue of trees. They overhung the path, casting a cool shadow, protecting him from the midday sun. He kept walking, ignoring fears and doubts, until he overlooked it from the ridge.
Surrounded by fencing and huge sentry towers on lookout, were small wooden huts and hundreds of people, each working.
That was when he spotted her.
A frail blonde girl was bending through the trees, peering into the camp. At the people in stripes.
Liesel. The book thief. His saumensch. He had found her.
Rudy did not shout as he dreamt he would. No. That would only give them away. He snuck up behind her, and watched silently for a few minutes. She did not notice him. Finally, he willed himself to reach out, and clasp her cold hand. She turned, startled.
Liesel collapsed into his ready arms, her breathing loud and heavy. Tears of sorrow and of joy sprung to both pairs of eyes.
Saumensch and saukerl reunited. Book thief and heart-snatcher.