Archive for the ‘Tapestry historical fiction 20th century short stories’ Category

The Perfect Cemetery by Ashlyn

Thursday, March 26th, 2015

I wake up to the sound of screaming. It is about five o’clock in the morning, and the sun has not yet risen above my town, Eastleigh. As I scramble out of bed, I hear the sound of a gunshot just down the corridor of my house. Hiding in the shadows, I grab my robe and inch down the hallway in the direction of the screaming. I can feel my heart throbbing in my body like the steady drums of war. When I reach the location of the screaming, my parents’ bedroom, I hear sobbing escaping from my mother. I peer into the room and see something I would have never dreamed of seeing. On the floor in the center of the dark room lies my father, wallowing in blood. My mother is clutching my three-year-old sister, Margaret, while leaning over my father. When I run to his side, I see that he is not dead, but close to death. I can see that the bullet from the pistol is still embedded in his body. I look up and see a broken window behind my mother.

Between sobs, my mother whispers, “It was one of the people who hate your father. He ran away as soon as he shot him.”

I nod in reply. Because my father is a member of the British Parliament, many people either support him or detest him. He has been threatened before, but no one has ever succeeded in harming him to this degree. Presently, my father regains consciousness. His eyelids flutter open and when he attempts to move, he almost falls back into unconsciousness.

He coughs, and as blood splatters my face, I hear him force a whisper, “Rosina – find secret message in wall.” He coughs again and, with much effort, manages a few last words, “Take ticket. Go on ship. Give message to….” I can feel his body trembling with agony and pain when he continues, “Give it to George Watson. Meet at 1:35 a.m. on April 15 on starboard side of ship.”

“I will do it, father,” I whisper in a trembling voice.

“I love you all. Watch out for…”

Breath collapses from his mouth. Those are his last words. I will never know the rest. I feel a hot tear trickle down my cheek. My mother is sobbing uncontrollably while holding Margaret, who is crying loudly. I walk over to a picture frame on the wall. Although I’ve never actually taken the picture frame off the wall, I know that the hidden message is located there because a couple of years ago I saw my father hide a document there. As I take off the frame, I wonder what I will find. I have always been a mischievous individual, always eavesdropping, always spying. As a result, I probably know more than I’m supposed to know.

Breath collapses from his mouth. Those are his last words. I will never know the rest. I feel a hot tear trickle down my cheek. My mother is sobbing uncontrollably while holding Margaret, who is crying loudly. I walk over to a picture frame on the wall. Although I’ve never actually taken the picture frame off the wall, I know that the hidden message is located there because a couple of years ago I saw my father hide a document there. As I take off the frame, I wonder what I will find. I have always been a mischievous individual, always eavesdropping, always spying. As a result, I probably know more than I’m supposed to know.

The shadows in the room seem to whisper their eerie song. I gingerly remove the frame, and as I peer inside I see a single letter, addressed to George Watson. I also find a ticket. George Watson is a family friend, but he moved to France five years ago. I hope I can remember him when I see him.

My mother scatters my clenched thoughts as she says, “Rosina, today is April 10. The ship departs today.”

Her shaking voice carries across the room. I brush my dark hair out of my tear stained face and look around. Dawn is beginning to crawl across the face of England. Birds are beginning to sing their morning song. I look down at the ticket. I will be boarding first class on the Titanic.

The next couple of hours are a blur. The grief of the loss of my father is intertwined with the anxiety of the voyage later today. I have never been to America which is the destination of the Titanic. Once I get there I am supposed to stay with my Great Aunt whom I have never met. Over and over again, my blue eyes fill with tears from memories of my father. Anger begins to simmer in my heart for the man who killed him. I try to throw it over my shoulder, but it is to no avail. It only keeps rising. Soon it will be boiling. Then it will explode. The miniscule pieces of my wrath will fly around like ashes, burning anything they can find. They might even devour my life if I cannot gain control of them.

I recall a time when I became infuriated at a group of bullies in my school a couple of years ago. My anger got control of me, and I was expelled from school for a short period of time. When I arrived home, I could barely look at my parents because of the shame I felt. Instead of scolding me, however, my father calmly comforted me and helped me understand how to control my anger. As I brush away a tear from my tired face, I try to calm myself.

My thoughts are scattered when my mother says, “It’s time for you to go, Rosina.”

About an hour later I find myself staring at the massive Titanic. The ship sets sail tonight from Southampton, England. As I draw near to the ship’s entrance, I find myself wondering how the voyage will go. At last I enter, and as I step into the ship, I see many wonderful sights. There are glowing faces around me; they, too, are just waiting to cast off. Standing in awe of my surroundings, I slowly begin to wander off to explore different parts of the ship. I find myself walking towards the third-class section on the ship. Although it is not as grand as the first or second class, it is still a sight to see. I also see many parents with their children running about, excited to begin the journey to America.

As I arrive at the first-class section of the deck, I hear the captain announce that departure to France will begin in ten minutes. He continues to announce that tomorrow we will arrive in Ireland. That is the last I hear him say because my thoughts drift to what I believe my father would say about this trip.

Suddenly, I feel a jerking sensation. Then I realize we have taken off. I look over the railing to see the town of Southampton slowly drift away. Suddenly the ship begins violently rocking! Another smaller ship is flying towards the Titanic. The captain orders the engines to be set to full-astern. We narrowly miss a head on collision. All around me people are screaming, from those as small as children to as large as grown men. By the time we reach the English Channel the ship is under control.

As I walk toward my stateroom, I remember that this is not just a vacation for me. I must fulfill my father’s dying wish, and that means finding George Watson at the appointed hour. Sitting on my bed, I pull the envelope out of my valise and look at it. Could something so small and seemingly insignificant really be that important? Is this the reason my father was murdered, and, if so, why is it important enough that he would risk his life for it? Quietly, I muse over my father’s life, thinking of anyone I know of who would have wanted to hurt him. Since there are none I can recall, I then turn my thoughts to Mr. Watson. I feel I should have noticed if he had boarded the ship with me, but I haven’t seen the man anywhere. Perhaps, given a day or two, I can track him down – or perhaps he’ll be boarding in France or Ireland instead. In any case, I might as well bide my time until the 15th, and then arrive at the port side, early on the morning of the 15th.

Looking down at the letter in my hands, I feel tempted to open it and read it for myself, but then I think about how my father always taught me that reading another’s mail was disrespectful. How disappointed he should be if I were to break that rule now, so soon after his death! The thought sobers me.

The next morning I wake up early. I eat a quick breakfast so I can explore the ship more. After checking my pocket for the letter, I wander towards the captain’s headquarters. As I near the bow of the ship, a man, wearing a long overcoat, quickly walks towards me. I also begin walking rapidly, for I do not want to be asked any questions at this time. Despite my worries, he still approaches. When he reaches me, I study his face. It is rather dark and it makes me feel uncomfortable. He looks almost like a sly fox, and I decide to run. Unfortunately he grabs my arm and pulls me back. His clutch his almost unbearable, and his eyes grip me. My heart begins beating rapidly and my mind begins analyzing him.

I struggle with him while he says, “What do you have in your pocket, little girl?”

I say nothing and his grip tightens.

“Give it to me!” he growls through clenched teeth.

“What are you talking about? I have nothing!” I yell.

I feel like a trapped rabbit. My eyes dart from his face to my surroundings, attempting to penetrate his gaze. I thrash violently at his arms, but I know my efforts are to no avail. I think he can sense my fear. Then I spot an officer walking not too far from where I stand.

“Help! Help -” my words are muffled by the man.

The officer rushes over and forces the man away from me with a gun. The man darts to another section of the ship and another officer chases after him. I hope he catches him; I don’t want any more trouble with him.

“You need any more assistance?” the first officer inquires, helping me to my feet.

“Thank you,” I quavered as I shook my head in reply.

I briskly run away, for I do not want any questioning.

As I run, I hear the officer yell, “Wait! I need…”

I don’t stay long enough to hear the rest.

The next few days are relatively uneventful, although I do visit the ship’s swimming pool and gymnasium. The swimming pool room has a large, rectangular pool in the center of the room. The water in the pool is heated, and I have never swam in a heated swimming pool before. It is feels as though I am swimming in a bed of silk threads. When I step out of the water the threads slip off my skin like a coin slips into the ocean.

I also pay a visit to the gymnasium. Although it costs a shilling to enter, it is most definitely worth that price. Inside there is an electric camel and horse. In addition, there are cycling machines and a rowing machine. I have never experienced anything like this before. The machines almost take my breath away as I stand next to them, watching others use them.

Later that evening I visit the Turkish baths. However, it costs 4 shilling to enter, and since I don’t have an abundance of money, I decide to save it for America. As I walk back to my room I recall the events of yesterday with the mysterious man. I haven’t seen him since, and I hope the officers have captured him. Then my thoughts wander to the secret message. How I wish I could open it! The temptation grows steadily every day, and I am afraid it will become too strong for me to bear. Before I know it I find my hand inching closer and closer to the letter, located in my valise. However, my common sense slowly defeats my soul’s desire. I jerk my hand away from it, and remind myself, for what seems like the one millionth time, that I cannot open the secret message. I walk over to the edge of the ship, trying to distract myself with the tranquil ocean. As it bounces off the side of the ship I wonder how my mother and Margaret are faring. I feel a stab of regret for leaving them, so soon after my father’s death, but I still feel that I made the right choice. After all, it was my father’s dying wish.

The next day I notice the temperature has dropped rather drastically. Although everyone else aboard seems at ease, enjoying the countless luxuries, waves of restlessness surge through my body. At times I catch my body stiffening, and I attempt to brush off any of my doubts or fears. I do not know why I am not at ease, but it is as though a stream of warning trickles through my veins. I am more alert than usual, and I continue to sneak a look behind my shoulder. Perhaps I am looking for the fox-like man? Or maybe something else, something unseen?

Later that evening I decide to walk around the ship’s deck to relieve myself of my uncouth thoughts and emotions. As I near the officers headquarters I hear voices leaking out of the open window. Nonchalantly, I saunter up to the window, and try to hear the men’s conversation.

“Captain, we just received yet another ice report from the Baltic, and the waves are growing pretty tall. Shouldn’t we at least slow her down?”

“We have to stay on schedule, so we can’t slow her down. Plus, on a clear day like today, we’ll be able to spot icebergs in plenty of time. She won’t go down from a little ice. But send the lookouts to the Bridge anyway,” the captain replied.

As their voices fade away, I begin wondering if the icebergs were the cause of my unusual restlessness. I try to reassure myself that the captain has had much experience and he must be trustworthy. However, the temperature has dropped, and the waves do appear to be around eight feet tall. I can almost feel their fury, boiling deep down in the darkest depths of the ocean. The wind is also growing steadily, and I can hear its cold whispers, seemingly of warning. But I shrug it off. After all, this ship is supposed to be unsinkable.

At 10:00 pm I decide to take a walk on deck. Because I haven’t spotted Mr. Watson this whole journey, I am becoming increasingly worried. I need to give him the Ietter in just a few hours. I hope he will be in the appointed area, and I hope I can find him on this gigantic ocean liner. Is he even on the ship? Did he miss departure? Is he hiding for his well-being here? Did he decide to stay on land? And, if so, why? Walking over to the port side of the ship, I stare at the peaceful ocean. It is a major change in comparison with earlier today. The calm, rolling waves swing back and forth, from the ocean to the side of the ship. I look up and see the sky, a dark background decorated with brilliant points of light. It is as if someone scooped up thousands of stars, then scattered them to the ends of the galaxy. As I stare at them, they wink at me, sharing a miniscule part of their endless knowledge and incomprehensible secrets.

Although the scene is breathtaking, there is a heavy blanket of silence in the air. The sky is crouching, just waiting for something to arrive. The wind is holding its breath, and the moon is hiding behind her curtain of clouds. Even the stars, who seem so buoyant, are twinkling with an idea of something yet to come.

Since the time is now 11:00 pm, I decide to rest before meeting Mr. Watson at 1:35 am. I wonder why my father chose that time to meet with him. I catch myself worrying again that he may not be on the ship. Once again, I long to read the letter. Is the content so dangerous that I would be mentally paralyzed? Were my parents afraid that I might give the information to someone else? I know I would never do such a thing. Did they not trust me? This new idea gives me an even stronger desire to read it. What if the content is in code? I desperately want to find out. I must wait to open it at least until I am sure Mr. Watson is not on the ship. But the temptation still nags me…

At 11:30 I crawl out of my bed. I cannot sleep, so I will go up to the deck on the port side of the ship. I might as well wait for him there, rather than my stateroom. Once I reach the deck, I notice that a massive blanket of mist and fog has embraced the ocean. I peer over the edge of the deck and I see something dark, ominously moving closer and closer. Suddenly the ship vears to the far left, jerking me off my feet. When I regain balance, I see that the ship has hit an iceberg. Water is pouring into the opening below the deck. A chorus of screams strike my ears. People begin frantically running around, trying to find out if the hole in the ship will cause her to sink. I, too, desperately search for any news. Eventually, my ears catch someone saying that she is estimated to stay afloat for a little over an hour before sinking. I decide to wait a little before taking off in lifeboat, firstly, because I feel that I must at least try to meet Mr. Watson at the appointed time. Secondly, because of the mass of people, it is very difficult for me to get on a lifeboat.

At 12:45 the first lifeboat is launched. Chaos and confusion paralyzes almost everyone aboard. Although the sea is still calm, my surroundings make me feel like the whole world is violently spinning. Mothers clutch their children as fathers attempt to find an available lifeboat. Babies and young children are howling, while their mothers either sob as well or attempt to comfort them. Individuals scurry about, as crew members struggle to hold down some of the loose equipment. Trapped wide open, my eyes are rapidly studying any face they can find, searching in vain for Mr. Watson. My hands either clench the letter, or ring themselves out.

At 1:40 I still haven’t located Mr. Watson. I think I will wait five more minutes before I depart on a lifeboat. I hope there will still be a lifeboat. What if I never find him? What if he was never onboard? What will my mother say when she hears about this crisis? What if there are no lifeboats left for me? Countless questions swim in my head. I begin to feel dizzy with all of them.

I glance down at the crucial letter on my fingertips. After all I’ve gone through, this is the result? I just can’t wrap my mind around it all. The temptation to open the message is unbearable. Mr. Watson is not going to make an appearance. Why shouldn’t I open it? After all, my father did not specifically tell me to not open it in his dying words. Numbed with the bitter cold air, my hands begin unsealing the letter. Just as I pull it out of its envelope the wind rips it away from me and swiftly runs away with it! I race after it with a cry of dismay. As it drags me to a more isolated section of the ship, I bound past shadows, hiding in their holes. Finally, I catch it, mid-air, and my body heaves a sigh of relief. I won the race with the wind.

Although my heart is rejoicing, I notice irregular footsteps behind me. I whirl around and see a dark figure sprint up to me. I begin running, but he catches my sleeve.

When I scream for help he quickly yells over the noise, “Stop! I won’t hurt you!”

This quiets me only slightly, but then I begin to see his face. It doesn’t look sly or evil, like the fox-like man’s did, but distressed and tense. At the same time, he looks slightly familiar. Could he be George Watson?

“Are you Lawrence Blackburn’s daughter?” he inquires between my calls for help.

I stop yelling and ask, “Who are you?”

“I am George Watson,” he replies.

“Yes, I am,” I stop struggling and relief crashes upon my body.

“Praise the Lord!” he exclaims, “I must speak with your father immediately. Where is he?”

“He was murdered a couple of days ago. Is this what you are looking for?” I show him the letter.

Agonizing worry returns to his face as he replies in a soft voice, “I’m so sorry. Thank you for bringing the letter. Well done.” He glances at his watch and then exclaims, “Hurry to the lifeboat! The last one is just about to be launched!”

We both rapidly retrace our steps in just enough time to see the last lifeboat being launched.

“Wait! You still have room for two more passengers!” Mr. Watson desperately yells.

We sprint over to the boat, and I almost jump into it, when my skirt gets caught on a protruding bit of debris on the deck. Mr. Watson, already in the boat, wildly tries to rip my skirt off of it. Just as I am set free, a huge piece of the deck hurls down, almost crushing the lifeboat. Because it is balancing on a another piece of debris, about to drop onto the lifeboat, the people in it shake with fear and launch it. Mr. Watson’s arms are ripped away from mine, and I bound out of the way as the gigantic piece of debris crashes into the ocean below.

My spirits are crushed to the lowest level of life. My only door of escape has been yanked from my hands. I watch Mr. Watson, faced bathed in agony, trying to get the rowers to turn back. I know it is to no avail. This is the end of me. Several tears slip from my cheeks and bounce into the ocean below. I feel pain pierce my heart and hopelessness engulf my body. I drop to my knees with weakness.

While I watch a replay of my whole life, I think of all those back home I love. How will my mother accept this news? What would my father have said? What about my sister and my friends? I miss them immensely, and for the first time I seriously wish to be back in England.

Although I’m exceedingly sad that I’ll never see them again, I begin to see that I will be going to a better place. I find my strength returning to me, so I stand up. All around me, people hysterically try to save their lives. Multiple people have been crushed by falling parts of the ship. Many of them are jumping off the ship, hopeful that they will survive. Even if they do survive the fall, they will probably die from hypothermia very quickly afterwards.

My skin winces at the excruciatingly cold air. The ship’s bow is under water, and she’s starting to break in half. I know she will not last much longer. I glance down at the frosty blood on my fingers, while hanging on to the ship. As I dodge pieces of debris, I begin to realize that I will either have to go down in the ship, or jump off now. I stare into the maze of water. It is scattered with parts of the ship and floating bodies, like sprinkles on an iced cake. I tediously climb to a flatter section of the deck and survey my surroundings. I know that once I jump I will die very soon from the level of coldness. The mass of screams and yells have become so constant that I barely notice them anymore. After blinking once, the lights go out. Darkness hurries to encase me in her cape. Water begins licking my feet. Suddenly, the half of the ship I am on plunges down into the depths of the ocean.

The stars are the only ones to witness my death. I take a deep breath and then jump.

“Good bye, world. I’m going to a better place,” I whisper as my feet strike the freezing water. This ocean is the perfect cemetery.

This ocean is the perfect cemetery.

La Guerre by Nathan Jobe

Saturday, March 7th, 2015

 

Life is monotonous. Since Georges enlisted in this petty war, I’ve been forced to do twice the chores at home. “You’re the man of the house, Frédéric,” my mother, Brigitte, tells me. “It’s your responsibility.”

“It’s not a man’s job to do the dishes! Why must you bother me?” I bitterly reply. I know she hears me, but she doesn’t care to respond. I wouldn’t either. No one wants to put up with a whiny person in a time like this. With the war raging on just miles to the east, everyone feels like buckling under the stress.

I’ve felt the pressure myself. What if the Germans invade? What if our trenches can’t hold them off? What if they treat us as they treated Belgium? Why hasn’t the United States come to help us? There are so many questions and so few answers.

The year is 1915. Our family lives in the little town of Calais, France, a mere twenty miles from the Belgian border. From my home, I can see the white cliffs of England in the distance across the English Strait. This proximity may be convenient, but in times like these, it’s a curse.

A year ago, a Serbian man assassinated the Archduke of Austria. Because of this, Austria-Hungary and Germany declared war on Serbia. Unfortunately, we joined this ridiculous, avoidable war because of our obligations to the Triple Entente. Now, the entire European continent is at war, and it appears that even the isolationist United States may be forced to join.

Germany has become the main opposing power. We dug trenches to hold them off in the west, and the Russians did the same in the east. There are constant battles taking place on each front, and no progress is ever made. My brother, Georges, is stationed on the Western Front in Belgium, merely thirty miles east. However, he might as well be on a different continent for all the contact we have. He is just one of millions of soldiers at risk of dying every day over this pointless war.

We all constantly fear for his safety. Last year, the Germans completely annihilated Belgium. They committed all kinds of war crimes against the people. Now, the entire country has become nothing more than a colossal battleground; a network of trenches and tunnels.

“I finished the dishes, maman.” I reply, this time more cheerfully. “What else is there to do?”

“I don’t know. It’s just so stressful not having Georges at home.” My mother sits in her fauteuil.

In search of something to do, I go for a walk outside. “How will this war end? Who will win? CAN this war end?” Questions flood my mind. “Where is Georges? Is he hurt?”

NO.

My brother cannot be injured. He is my role model. No power on the German side can ever hurt someone as strong as Georges. “If this war lasts until I’m eighteen” I think, “I will fight the Germans myself.”

Years pass, and we hear nothing of Georges. We begin to fear he is dead. It is now 1917, and I am old enough to join the war. The United States has joined, and the course of the war is drastically changing for our favor. Some reports suggest this blasted war may end within a year.

My enthusiasm is at an all-time high. I’m joining this war, and no one can stop me! Immediately I enlist with French Army, and I am sent to northern Belgium, not far from where my brother is fighting. I am alone, but at least I have a hope of maybe seeing my brother.

Several months pass in the trenches. My sociopathic sergeant gives us no break in the night or in the day. How on earth could my brother survive this for four grueling years? Surely something must snap at a certain point, and I’m pushing this point after only two months in the armed forces.

I must be ready for work by six in the morning. For our meals, we receive nothing but unflavored oatmeal and water every day. We alternate being on the lookout for our squadron, and I get the worst times. Some go insane from the monotony and others from the bombs. We don’t know what to call this condition, but it’s driven many previously sane soldiers mad. Most call it “shell shock.”

I wake up on the morning of November third, 1917, and I find my brother! He is clearly weathered from the war. Overjoyed, I thank God for his health. I have heard many stories not quite as happy as mine, and I could not be more grateful.

Georges tells me that he was shot in 1916, in the Battle of the Somme. Listening to his gruesome descriptions makes me shudder. He tells me stories of unimaginable pain, and I begin to fear for my own safety.

It is now the autumn of 1918, and the war has finally ended. Due to the involvement of the United States’ Armed Forces, albeit delayed, we finally managed to force through the German trenches. The Germans have declared unconditional surrender. I’m going home!

I find my home in Calais destroyed by the German forces. Apparently, my hometown was overrun in my absence. However, my family is alive and well in the nearby town of Rouen.

I have never been happier to be home! My parents welcome my brother and me as heroes, and we have an enormous dinner. I can’t help but notice that Georges behaves somewhat differently, however. He was shot in The Battle of the Somme, and the experience was very traumatic. According to him, the emergency nurses in the trenches were absolutely inept in their training, and he developed an infection. They told him they would have to amputate his leg, but his infection healed in time, so they changed their minds. However, he has had to use a crutch ever since. Also, during a small skirmish in 1917, he lost his only friend in no man’s land. This changed him for the worse, making him bitter and unemotional.

When I speak to him, it’s like he is not the same person I knew as a child. He is constantly terrified of threats that do not exist. Whenever he senses something that resembles anything he experienced in the war, he must hide from it to avoid extreme stress. Besides that, he shows little emotion, not even caring about things that used to be his greatest pleasures. I ask him if something is wrong, but he only gives vague, depressed answers. I worry about him.

I only spent six months in the trenches, but Georges spent four years. He suffered through the same things as me, but for four years? I can’t believe he survived!

At this point, I can only hope to God that Georges may become the brother I knew and loved as a child, always positive and nice. However, I know that no matter how wicked men can become, God is still good, just as he always has been and always will be. And so I pray.

About the author: Nathan is a 15-year-old sophomore with a strong interest in math, science, and French. He enjoys languages and culture. He also is an avid boy scout working on his Eagle rank. While he does not particularly enjoy creative writing, he found this assignment tolerable once told he could incorporate some French history into the plot details.