Well, writing a new chapter every week hasn’t exactly worked out as I’d planned. I can think of 30 excuses for my lack of writing in the last several months, but I’d rather just move forward and try to get back on the ball.
This is a short story I wrote for my Place & Setting class. The assignment was to create a short story in a time and place different from my own – without mentioning where the time & place actually are. Happy reading!
Mia Champlaign was in a panic.
Her hair was a tangled mess, and wearing nothing but her slip and stockings, she raced around the chateau. She pulled clothes from their drawers, emptied closets. She even got on her hands and knees, crawling along the worn hardwood floors and plush area rugs, searching desperately.
The grandfather clock in the parlor struck noon, the loud, bellowing sound causing Mia to startle. She froze – felt a hollow dread sink in the pit of her stomach.
It was gone.
The reality of her situation hit her full-force, like a blow to her stomach that literally took her breath away. She got up from her hands and knees, brushed off her stockings, and sat on the divan, defeated. Her hands hung limply in her lap. She absently felt her left ring finger for the piece of her that she knew was missing. Why today?
Mia wasn’t sure how long she sat there, but the sound of an engine on the dirt road beside the chateau brought her back to reality. She rushed upstairs, panting from the exertion of her fruitless search, quickly getting ready for the day that she had been dreading.
It’s an omen, she thought to herself as she stepped into her lace trimmed drawers and re-fastened her silk stockings to her garters. She donned her favorite belted cotton frock with the squared yoke collar. Her dress, once a beautiful shade of cornflower blue, had faded from many washings. Her stockings had holes in them, her collar, once pure white, was now a soft grey.
Mia gathered her tangled mess of strawberry blonde curls and pinned them loosely to her head. She looked at herself in the mirror, observing her hollow cheekbones and sallow, pale skin. Dark bags hung under her eyes, and her brow was furrowed with worry. Her dress hung loosely around her thin frame. Her gaze fell to her left hand, and her heart sank at the absence of her wedding ring in her reflection.
Where could she have lost it? Did it fall down the drain when she was bathing the night before? Did she misplace it while tending her garden, her hands deep in the rich dirt? She went downstairs, looked at the clock, and the overpowering sense of dread she felt made her feel sick.
But it wasn’t the absence of the ring itself that unnerved Mia. It was a deeper dread that she felt because of it, the dull ache deep down in her bones that her missing wedding ring meant much more than just the absence of a diamond with a gold band. She wasn’t sure how she could make it through the day ahead of her without the comfort and solace the ring had provided for her in the last several months.
She grabbed her handbag and left the chateau, the intricately-carved oak door closing behind her with a thud. The finality of that sound made her stomach churn. Would this be the last time she left her home with a sense of hope for her future?
She walked through the lush green grass of the yard, the smell of nearby hayfields and the sight of the blue cornflowers overwhelming her already overloaded senses. The sound of the sheets on the laundry line flapping in the breeze unnerved her even more. Mia made her way down the dirt road that led to town. Already, several women and children traveled along the road, making the same journey as she.
The dirt road gave way to worn cobblestone, and Mia observed the center square of town. Soldiers in black uniforms wielding whips and rifles dotted the once peaceful and quiet town she called home. She kept her eyes on the ground, focusing on the path directly in front of her.
Do not call attention to yourself, Remy had warned her as he packed his small cloth duffle bag. Avoid eye contact, and keep your eyes on the ground. They do not need a reason to shoot you, mon cher.
Mortar crumbled from the stone walls of the baker’s shop. The ancient buildings in town had once seemed historic and beautiful. Now they appeared neglected, more than half of the shops abandoned and boarded up. Ivy grew up and down the sides and fronts of buildings, ironwork balconies hovered over the uneven and crooked streets. The town square, once teeming with life, once filled with patrons frequenting the cafes and produce stands and hat shops, was now eerily quiet and desolate, save for the soldiers in black.
The women and children scurried toward the town hall, heads down as their paces quickened.
Mia arrived at town hall and stood before the great stone steps for a moment, willing her pulse to steady as her heart clenched. She fought the tightness in her throat, swallowing the lump that had suddenly appeared. She was not ready for this. She would never be ready for this.
She hugged her handbag closer to her side and ascended the steps.
Inside the town hall was quiet chaos. Women she had grown up with and their children gathered around several large boards that lined the front of the room, dozens of pieces of paper pinned to each one. The women pushed others aside, crowding around the boards, holding onto their children’s hands tightly as the little ones whimpered and cried.
“Weiter machen!” a soldier yelled at a group of women in the front of the room. They seemed to be involved in a dispute over the amount of time one woman spent in the front of the crowd, checking the same board over and over.
“Schneller!” the soldier screamed at them, pointing his rifle, causing the women in the front group to scatter. The next wave of women and children quickly took their place in front of the board.
Mia took her place in the crowd, moving her way up to the first board on the left. The bodies of other women and their children pressed against her, forcing her to surge forward with a jolt. Her palms sweated, her heart raced. Finally, she stood close enough to the board, which had a large “A-F” labeled on top.
She squinted, her eyes quickly getting lost among hundreds of typed names on the lists. She took her pointer finger and moved up and down the alphabetical lists.
Her heart sank.
She turned to the women surrounding her, panic taking over. Although Mia knew in her heart what it meant, she needed to hear it from someone else before it was real. “S’il vous plaît,” she spoke to no one in particular. “What does this mean?”
Mia pushed her way through the crowd, towards the black-uniformed men that lined the edges of the room. She shuddered as she approached them, rifles in hand, stern, cold looks upon their faces. She looked to her right and saw one, perhaps no older than twenty, his face soft, his eyes gentle.
“Monsieur, s’il vous plait,” Mia approached him cautiously, tears unwillingly filling her eyes. “My name, it is on the list. What does this mean?”
The young man looked at her, his eyes shifting to his left and right uncomfortably. “You should not be speaking to me, mademoiselle.” He looked around him, observing the other soldiers, looking afraid. “Aller, laisser,” he urged quietly.
A sigh of relief washed over her as she understood his language. Thank you, God, Mia thought to herself. He is one of us.
“S’il vous plait,” Mia’s voice broke. “I just need to know what it means…”
Something flashed across the young soldier’s face. Regret? Guilt?
“It means, mademoiselle,” his eyes locked on hers, his voice was tight, “that you will be leaving.”
The reality of his words sunk like a stone in Mia’s stomach. Unknowingly, subconsciously, her hand fell to cover her slightly swollen abdomen.
“Leaving?” she managed to choke. “Leaving to go where?”
At that moment, a deafening whistle blew in the hall. A sharp, stern looking soldier in the front of the room began barking commands at his fellow comrades in German. The soldiers in black began herding the women and children outside, swatting them with nightsticks like cattle when they did not move quickly enough.
“Merci,” Mia pleaded with the young soldier as the crowd began to force her away from him, towards the door that led to the town square. “What does this mean?” she wailed, but her voice was drowned out by the screams and cries of her neighbors and fellow townspeople.
The young soldier’s expression was pained as she was forced with the rest of the crowd outside, and Mia swore she saw unshed tears shining in his eyes. His mouth formed a word, unheard in the chaos. Mia read his lips as they spoke the word that she had most feared.
Mia surged forward, the crowd of women and children forced into the town square. Outside, dozens of soldiers in black wielding whips and clubs corralled the women and children towards the train station. She dropped her handbag in the chaos. The crowd was so overwhelming, like a living being moving forward as one, that she did not dare try to reclaim her handbag for the fear of being trampled.
Where are we going?
Are the rumors true?
Why is this happening?
How will our husbands know where we’ve gone if they return?
Women shrieked and called out questions that went unanswered. Although she did not know them all by name, she realized with a sinking feeling in her stomach that she recognized all of them from synagogue.
Mia’s heart raced, thudding like a trapped bird against her ribcage. Her hand remained on her abdomen subconsciously, feeling the slight swell that represented the tiny life inside of her.
Remy doesn’t even know. He will never know, she thought as she was thrust forward, towards the monstrous train bound for whatever awaited her in Auschwitz. He will never know.