TOPIC OF THIS CONTEST WAS:
He should have found the first one by now! He walked faster. Father had told him to take care of his mother and sister. He had to check the traps! His head turned left, right, and then left again. Identical snow-laden branches stretched far into the darkening forest. Trying not to cry, he sniffed, and then stopped, his nose in the air. Was that smoke? He squinted through the trees, and saw…
(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)
The smoke seeped through the dense forest pulling at his senses. At first, it was faint, but then his nose began to burn, his eyes started tearing, and his throat became tight as if hands were closing in around it.
The soldiers came and took away his father two days earlier. The Nazis had occupied Germany for several weeks now, and there was constant tension among the locals and the soldiers. There was a group of men called the “Resistance” that had attacked German soldiers when darkness took over, but that had only occurred once when the moon was at its fullest. The soldiers came and took Jakub’s father away claiming he was there that night. Rumors had spread that it was monsters that had attacked the soldiers. Stories like that always made people uneasy. Poland was a land of mysteries and superstitions supplanting reality with fantasy at every unexplainable occurrence.
Jakub heard the cheers following the ear-shattering screeches and howls. He had to see what was happening. He crept through the bushes on his elbows and knees careful to avoid making a sound. The snow had soaked through his clothes, and he shivered with every move. When he approached the clearing, he felt the heat on his face before he even saw the group of German soldiers. They were surrounding three large, wooden crosses. It was a crucifixion. The fires had engulfed the men staked to the crosses. Jakub clasped his hands over his ears to muffle the screams. He wanted to turn away, but he couldn’t. He saw his father on the middle cross howling in pain. His father was changing; his clothes melted away, and his muscles looked like they would explode through his charred skin. He bared his teeth, and Jakub swore he was an animal writhing on the cross entering the afterlife. As much as Jakub wanted to turn and run home, he was frozen to the scene. He and his father locked eyes, and Jakub could see the red glare burning from his soul. At that moment, Jakub was changed.
Jakub returned home with nothing to report other than the traps that he had set the night before were empty. There would be no dinner again tonight. His mother and sister sat at the table and stared lifelessly at the fireplace with the last of the wood crackling and burning. The sounds threw Jakub back to the forest, forcing him to close his eyes tightly trying to shake the image. They were used to eating full meals provided by Jakub’s father. Once a month, when the moon was at its fullest, his father would go into the woods, and in the morning, the table would be laden with the carcasses of deer, chickens, and sometimes moose. This would last the month until the next time he went hunting. Jakub, Sr. would sit at the head of the table watching his wife clean and dress the animals. His clothes were torn and tattered from the hunt. He didn’t engage the children on those mornings. Jakub’s father was a vacant shell of himself in tattered and torn clothes. Did he fight these animals the night before, Jakub had wondered.
The night of the crucifixion, Jakub sat out back the little cabin listening to his mother tell his sister that everything was going to be back to normal as soon as her father returned home. But Jakub knew he was never to return. Nothing was going to go back to the way it had been. Jakub felt the moon hanging in the sky pulling at his senses. He had never realized its power. Then there came a booming knock at the door followed by a crash. Three Nazi soldiers flooded through the front door yelling and laughing. They were drunk. Jakub had heard the stories of Nazi soldiers raping the women of the village during the night. Sometimes in front of their husbands and children.
Jakub rushed into the house and was driven to the ground by the butt of a rifle. He looked up to see his mother being held down on the table screaming and crying and his sister being held by a laughing German. Jakub’s body burned with rage.
* * *
When he came to, he saw the soldiers. Their bodies were scattered in pieces as if they had been torn apart. Blood was everywhere. His clothes were torn and tattered. He had no idea what had happened. Did someone save them? He turned to see his mother and sister sitting at the table staring at him in disbelief. Although scared, they seemed safe. Jakub rose to his feet, suddenly realizing he was covered in blood. He was bathed in the still warm blood of the soldiers. He began to shake and cry. His mother rushed over to him and held him tightly in her arms as they both fell to the floor embracing each other. She slowly rocked him back and forth as she did when he was just a baby. No longer was he her child; he was now her protector. He was his father’s son.