CHAPTER 1 – NUMB
Disclaimer – I don't own any of the characters
Warnings: dark/angsty/gore. A story I wrote for the sake of my inner demons.
"The shade is a tool, a device, a savior
Cloud come, shove the sun aside" – Deftones, My own summer
The school grounds were covered in fresh sparkling snow. Winter had taken over everything, in all its pure, perfectly white, yet cruel and freezing beauty. This strange world of ours had such a way of displaying itself at its most beautiful just when one was much too troubled to enjoy the sight. Friedrich thought of that as they walked slowly, close to each other, two dark figures wrapped tightly in their coats, further and further away from the school. They advanced into the soothing shadow of the nearby forest, at the far end of the school grounds, until eventually they came to a halt under the pine trees.
"You know, that was the first essay my father has ever read" Albrecht said bluntly, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"What are you going to do now?"
"I don't know…" Albrecht took a deep breath. "He's given me a month. One month"
"A month?" Friedrich almost sighed in relief. A month was quite a while. A lot could happen in a month. Maybe Albrecht's father could change his mind about sending him to the front.
"I thought you said you'll be seventeen in a week…" he asked, still puzzled. "I thought, I was afraid… that he'll send you away next week"
"In which case we can say that he was generous!" Albrecht replied, suddenly annoyed.
"I'm so angry, Friedrich! So angry, and I feel so helpless! So damn helpless!" he shouted. "And this is not even about me anymore! I can't…You were right! I did not help anyone, least of all myself! I can't change anything! Anything!"
Friedrich witnessed his friend's outburst in silence, finding nothing to say to comfort him. He just stared at the snow covering the tip of his boots.
"I'm sorry I brought you out here, in the cold" Albrecht whispered almost shyly. "I just…I need to be alone"
Friedrich suddenly raised his head as he heard Albrecht's hurried steps walking away, in the direction of the trees.
"Hey! Where are you going?" he called, but the other boy ignored him, going further away, until he sunk into the pitch black darkness of the forest.
Friedrich followed as fast as he could, stumbling in the fresh snow, but under the branches he lost sight of his friend. He stepped carefully among the thick roots, focusing his gaze and tensing his hearing, but it was too dark and the hissing of the cold, harsh wind muffled all other sounds. He waited for a while in vain, pacing back and forth, and then decided to go back.
Friedrich grew more and more worried as dinner came and went and so did the next two hours before bedtime, and there was still no sign of Albrecht. Almost all the other boys were already in bed when he finally showed up, only a few minutes before curfew. Friedrich studied his friend's face as he walked into the bedroom without a word. The angry expression from earlier had been replaced by one of numb, trance like shock, like a frozen fright.
"Albrecht? Are you ok?"
Albrecht peeled off his uniform with automatic gestures, letting it slip on the floor in a messy pile.
Before Friedrich could ask anything else, he climbed to his bunk and dropped on the bed, face down.
A horrible nightmare took Friedrich as soon as he closed his eyes. He was back in the woods, and the ancient pine trees surrounded him, menacing. He felt a sharp, intrusive cold deep into his bones as he ran, or rather struggled to, stumbling on fallen branches, fighting the snow and the hidden roots that trapped his feet at every step. He was trying to follow Albrecht, but Albrecht had become no more than a pale shadow, illusive and unreachable, fading away. Friedrich called, but every time his voice was quickly absorbed in the still, suffocating silence.
Albrecht! Wait! He screamed one last time, falling to his knees. Suddenly Albrecht turned to him and smiled. His stomach cringed and his heart sank at the sight of his friend's sad, goodbye smile. And then there was a wolf howl, somewhere close, very close and Albrecht disappeared.
Friedrich jumped from his sleep with a loud gasp, squeezing the rough blanket between his clenched fists. His whole body was covered in a cold sweat and he trembled. He took a few deep breaths to relax, pulled the blanket up to his chin and was about to go back to sleep, when the corner of his eye caught the bizarre reflection of the moonlight into Albrecht's wide open eyes, as he lay on his back motionless. He tossed the covers aside and jumped down from his bed, ignoring the cold floor beneath his bare feet.
The sinister suspicion that had haunted his mind for a brief moment was dissolved when he saw that Albrecht was breathing.
"Hey! Albrecht!" he whispered. He leaned and shook his shoulder gently. Albrecht's pupils moved slowly and focused on him with difficulty.
"Are you ok?"
Albrecht tried to speak but suddenly his body was jerked upwards by a violent cough. "I need to throw up" he muttered, covering his mouth with his hand, as he struggled to get out of bed and pushed Friedrich aside.
"Where have you been? I was so worried! And it's cold in here, you shouldn't do that" Friedrich questioned leaning on the bathroom door. Eventually Albrecht slowly raised his head from the sink and turned off the faucet. He ran his fingers through his wet hair and sniffed.
"I asked you something!" Friedrich insisted.
"Why should you worry about me now? What more do you think could possibly happen to me? Technically I'm as good as dead…" he replied in a mild tone that sounded almost ironic.
"What? Don't say that, Albrecht!" Friedrich jumped, but his anger somewhat melted into sadness. "I mean yes, I know, it's bad, but it can't… it won't be like that"
Albrecht looked strangely calm and painfully resigned, as if all strength and will had left him. Friedrich found it revolting beyond words to see him like that.
"Yes it will, Friedrich. He said I won't survive this and he meant it"
"Why can't you just write that stupid essay then? That's all he asks of you!"
"This is not about the essay, Friedrich. Or not just about the essay, at least. He would have done it anyway sooner or later, just needed some excuse I suppose. Some ultimate confirmation that I'm not the son he always wanted… In fact, not only I am not that, but I have proved to be a total and utter disappointment and embarrassment to him." Albrecht concluded sighing.
Friedrich crossed his arms and tilted his head to one side. "You don't know that. You're just assuming that's why he did this or said that or whatever. Maybe he just wanted to scare you, to determine you to see things his way. I don't know, maybe if you had shown him some benevolence…"
"Friedrich, he's my father and as such I have given him all my love, always" Albrecht said pressing one hand against his chest "But none of the things I could do has ever warmed his heart towards me. That's a fact and I must take it as it is."
"Fine. Look, I don't want to go through all that again. And if you don't want to talk to me, or tell me where you've been, also fine."
With that, Friedrich turned his back on him and stomped angrily back into the bedroom.
He lay in bed for a while, unable to sleep, staring at the ceiling. At last he rummaged under his pillow and checked his watch, it was past midnight. He had turned to one side, begging for sleep to take him fast when he heard some light footsteps approaching his bed, then his blanket was pulled and Albrecht slipped in bed next to him.
"Friedrich…" he whispered.
"What?" came the muttered reply.
"My blanket is no better than yours"
"Can I sleep here with you?"
Friedrich turned to face him. "No, of course you can't!" he snapped angrily. "Are you out of your mind? What if someone-"
"Please, I… I'm cold. I'm freezing" Albrecht begged, his voice barely audible.
"And whose fault is it that you stood outside in the cold for hours and now you've dipped your head in cold water? Hm?"
"I'm sorry…I didn't mean to upset you. But I'm scared"
Albrecht bit his lower lip, hesitating. "No, you don't"
"What do you mean?"
"Tonight, in the woods, I saw something…"
Suddenly Friedrich was afraid too, overwhelmed once more by the exasperating feeling that he had to deal with way more than he could handle, just like the night they had been sent to hunt the Russian prisoners. He wished he could be spared of further revelations of the world he had once so eagerly embraced, and that he could tell Albrecht that he did not want to know, but his conscience condemned him to an awkward silence. He simply pulled his friend into his arms and held him tightly.
"You cannot tell anyone… anyone" Albrecht whispered. He paused for a few moments and looked as if his lips somehow refused to obey him.
"I saw a girl there, in the woods…" he said at last. "She was only wearing a light dress and she was barefoot, in the snow…There was blood on her face and on her clothes…"
"Oh my God, Albrecht! Who was she?" Friedrich whispered back, terrified.
"I don't know… Her dress was ragged and dirty and her hair was ruffled… When she saw me, she ran away…"
"On the way here, on the other side of the main road, I saw a large brick building, with barred windows and barb wired fence" Friedrich recalled. "It's probably a prison, just like the one closer to the town, where the Russians had escaped from. But I've heard a rumor that it's not a prison. That it's a camp where they send people who…" he whispered fast, in a subconscious attempt to chase away terror.
Albrecht however had fallen silent and simply stared at the wall past Friedrich's shoulder.
"Do you think she could have escaped from there?" Friedrich asked.
Albrecht did not answer. For a while there was no other sound but the wild wind outside, blowing stronger and stronger.
"You should have seen her eyes, Friedrich" he said suddenly, without breaking his empty stare.
"Don't think about it now. Try to get some sleep, I'll wake you up tomorrow before Jaucher comes" Friedrich soothed him, pulling him closer and wrapping the rough blanket around their bodies.
"Black…" Albrecht murmured against his shoulder.
Okay, so much for the first chapter. Love or hate, I like both :))