01. The Encampment
“It’s taken me over ten extremely long and exhausting years to truly come to terms with what happened to me all that time ago in that horrible prisoner of war camp that I was dumped in as a teenager.” Elizabeth Oldin’s feminine shoulders were slightly hunched over as she sat in the comfortable, black leather couch talking to the man that sat before her on his own black leather couch, as he had done for the past nine fortnights.
Her normally quiet voice was shaky and tears welled in her big bright green eyes. Her dark hair trailed down in wavy ringlets to her shoulders. “I don’t know if I will ever be able to accept what happened to us in that place. I don’t know if I will ever be able to deal with the memories of what those horrible and heartless soldiers did to us. But I know I have to come to terms with what happened to me.”
Edward Wallace, the 42 year old clinical psychologist nodded his head, listening intently not only to everything Elizabeth said, but also the way she said them and of course, the things she didn’t say at all. He continually jotted notes down onto a piece of paper with a golden embossed pen.
He rubbed a slightly wrinkled hand through his short gray and thinning hair. “Do you think you can tell me about any of it yet?” As he listened to Elizabeth’s heartbreaking story, his gentle blue eyes took in every physical detail about the beautiful and evidently scarred woman sitting on the lounge chair opposite him. The way she slouched forward in the chair just a little and avoided eye contact at all costs. The way she tucked her ankles in together one behind the other rather than folding her legs as so many other women did. He especially took in the attire Elizabeth chose to wear, black and gray every single week that he saw her without fail. More than anything Dr. Wallace noticed the way she continually rubbed her wrists with her fingertips almost as though they were itchy.
However from all Edward Wallace could see of Elizabeth on the outside, he could not see what was under her skin. The real scars that laid deep within her throbbing veins, the real experiences that she did not want to share with anyone. Elizabeth would not let anyone in deep enough to help her work through the frustration and pain.
Elizabeth on the other hand was able to size Doctor Edward up with nothing more than a mere glance at him with her bright green eyes that pierced straight through flesh and bone and into his very soul. People always told her that it was something like a gift, although Elizabeth had never once thought about it that way and if it were indeed a gift she would have returned it the instant that opportunity was handed to her.
The Doctors black pointed suit with a gray pinstripe told her in no unfamiliar terms that Dr. Wallace enjoyed his professionalism and all its glory. The dark blue tie that contrasted nicely with his dark and perfectly pressed shirt screamed from the rooftops that he looked at himself in the mirror far too often throughout the course of a normal day. And of course the shiny black Armani shoes to finish off the ensemble said that he was one of those men that liked his dinner at 6.30 sharp every single night without delay or intrusion, and my oh my did every single little thing in his life have to be perfectly perfect.
“I don’t remember much of what happened to me out there,” wherever ‘there’ was Elizabeth though to herself foolishly as the thought once again occurred to her that none of the women that were thrown into the camp with her had any idea where they were.
′No expression on his face,′ she thought examining Edward Wallace carefully as he jotted down yet another note on the paper, but Elizabeth was always careful to never make eye contact. ‘Ever.’
“That’s okay Elizabeth, how about we just start with how the...” Dr. Wallace paused for a brief moment and his eyes wandered slightly from Elizabeth’s face as he searched his extensive vocabulary for the right word so as not to scare his patient off. “Ordeal began.”
‘No emotion, ever.’
Drawing in a deep breath and slowly releasing it Elizabeth began her story yet again. “As you already know, my family is-” a gut wrenching pain flickered momentarily in Elizabeth’s eyes before a shadow of a smile flickered across her pretty face. “Ha, ′is,′ I say that every single time I talk to you about this, as if I still have them with me.” Shaking her head and biting softly on her bottom lip Elizabeth let out a small laugh once again, knowing that what she was feeling was nowhere near humour. “Was is the word, the word of the past. My family was Jewish.” Her soft, sultry but so deeply hurt and evidently scarred voice carried through the bleak little room like the lightest of little white feathers on a light afternoon breeze.
“I was 15 and only just at that. My Father had been drafted by the military to go to fight the war against the Nazis. I didn’t know back then how any of it happened or why really, my Mother didn’t like to talk much about the war and for plenty of good reason of course, and I personally preferred not to listen to the news. I didn’t want to turn the radio on and hear that my Father had just been killed or was already dead on the ground somewhere blown to pieces. Soon after he left to fight we were told by people that were helping to protect all us Jewish people that we had to travel south. I think the Nazis were invading the north or something, like I said I didn’t really know much, so, we had to leave. For the first couple of weeks, or maybe it was months? Anyway for a while in our new unit everything was okay, then...” Elizabeth’s soft voice trailed off into nothingness, her beautiful bright green eyes going glassy and distant.
It appeared to Dr. Wallace in all his doctorate professionalism that Elizabeth was looking at something beyond the floor that her eyes had fallen upon, caught in a memory from long ago that spawned nothing but hatred and pain. But under her green glassy eyes Elizabeth’s skilled mind silently continued to tick over, but not about any of the memories that had been unwillingly conjured up.
‘Robotic, that’s what he is, just a damn robot, I’m pouring the entire bleeding depth of my heart and soul out to this silently observant man, telling him the earliest and most traumatic experience of my life, and still nothing, no emotion or hint of caring or anything. Nothing.’
“What happened after you moved south Elizabeth?”
Hearing the newly posed question ringing in her ears, Elizabeth immediately snapped back to the painful reality falling upon the bleak and dreary room. “I woke up in the black of a dark and cold night to my Mother shaking me. She was covered in an obvious cold sweat and panic filled her eyes like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Her eyes were always beautiful, they were bright blue. But not that night. It wasn’t just fear that gave her eyes that look, it was the sheer panic that was taking over her. I’ll never forget the look in my poor Mother’s eyes that night, or the smell.”
Elizabeth closed her bright green eyes as she paused and inhaled a breath slowly and deeply, almost as if she were smelling her mother on that night once again and savoring the scent. Almost. “The Nazi soldiers were invading the little apartment building we were living in at the time.” Those green eyes slowly opened from across the room and for the first time ever in all the time the two had spent together, they met Edwards.
Something deep inside those bright green eyes made a shiver run violently down Edwards spine.
“Mother told me to grab my coat and to get out of the room as fast as I could, to climb to the roof and hide behind some pot plants we had begun to grow up there, she said she would see me soon.
“I heard them running up the stairs to our little apartment. It was so loud their footsteps running fast up the stairs. I was so scared,” Elizabeth’s soft voice drew to a hushed whisper and her bright eyes once again glistened with un-shed tears. “I put on my shoes and a warm jacket as quickly as I could and I climbed quickly out of the window. I was waiting on the landing for my Mother to come out behind me, but she didn’t.”
“She didn’t follow you?” the Doctor’s voice was as robotic and monotonous as it had ever been.
“No,” Elizabeth whispered before falling quiet again, her gaze falling once more to her dainty hands that were now resting comfortably in her lap. As she rubbed her fingers gently over the many scars on her wrists it unwillingly brought back the memories she tried so hard to suppress.
“Tell me what happened next Elizabeth,” the Doctor quietly asked as he watched the pretty woman from over the top of his clipboard.
‘Why cant you just leave me alone? Why is it so hard for you to stop with all this torture and just leave me be?’
For a moment Elizabeth hesitated, opening her mouth and closing it once or twice before finding the courage within herself to continue with her story. “I heard a loud banging on the front door to our apartment, it was much louder than any hand could have knocked on that wood. They broke the door in within seconds and ran through to the room Mum was still in, it was like they instantly knew where she was. I heard her crying out in pain, screaming for help and pleading for God to end the suffering for her. And then someone was yelling in a different language, obviously from one of the soldiers that had a hold of her, and then another one of them said something I understood, they said to her ‘where is the girl?’ That’s when I knew my time was up and I had to get out of there before it was too late.
“I couldn’t see very well in the darkness, there were no street lights around and it was well after midnight, but I climbed the stairs to the roof as fast and as quietly as I possibly could. I must have made a little too much noise though. I heard my Mother scream the most blood curdling scream you ever did hear, it rang in my ears for what felt like hours, then no more than a few seconds later one single shot from a rifle sounded out in the air around me and absolutely everything was quiet and still. I stopped dead in my tracks; it was like I had just been stabbed by a million long, freezing cold knives all over my body. I knew what had just happened, and no matter how much I coaxed them, my feet would not move up the steps anymore. They couldn’t move me to the freedom I could have had if I had of just ran.
“Then I heard a voice yell out to me in the same strange accent that I heard from the one talking to my Mother, much clearer than what I had heard before. He yelled out, ‘COME HERE NOW!’ and all of a sudden I felt all those freezing cold knives turn sharply within me.” Elizabeth raised one of her small hands up to cover her eyes, softly whimpering as she told her story for the first time ever.
“Who was it Elizabeth?” Edward looked across the room at his patient from the top of his half moon glasses and jotted down a few more notes.
‘Leave, just do it, come on you don’t need to be here and you know it, you don’t have to go through all this again, you’re better than this now.’
Attempting to keep his voice quiet and detached, the Doctor quietly prompted, “Elizabeth?”
‘Bastard,’ Elizabeth thought to herself through a sigh as the droning voice cut straight through into her soul.
Sniffling back the tears Elizabeth lowered her hand from her red eyes and took another deep breath, her voice was coarse from crying as she continued her story. “I didn’t dare to turn around and look at him, but it had to be one of the soldiers, I knew it. Those cold knives that were stabbing me told me everything I needed to know. Instantly I started climbing as quickly as I could until I got to the roof, then I ran over to the other side.” Sniffling once again and tucking a lock of hair behind her ear, Elizabeth paused to gather her thoughts. “I thought maybe I could climb down the second set of stairs and run away but there was another soldier climbing up that side as well. I knew that if they saw I was Jewish, they’d kill me without any sort of a hint of a second thought. So I ripped off my Star of David necklace I had been given by my Father when I was born and I threw it in one of the larger pot plants some of the others in the apartment complex kept.
“I didn’t even get a chance to turn around again and attempt to put up some sort of a fight. One of the soldiers grabbed me around the waist from behind and pulled me back. The other one that was climbing up the stairs I had hoped to escape from came running over and both of them grabbed one of my arms each and dragged me down the indoor stairs.” As Elizabeth spoke quietly of her adolescent trauma she was holding her arms. The gaze of her bright green eyes was firmly fixed on Edwards feet once again. “As they dragged me past the apartment me and mum were staying in, the door was wide open from them breaking it in and I saw my poor mother laying face down on the floor. A pool of her own blood surrounding her head. The second I saw her I had to stifle the most horrifying scream that ever would have escaped my lips, or they would have killed me too. For years afterwards, there were countless days where I truly wished I had screamed and been shot dead by those soldiers where I stood.”
“What about now?” Edward asked jotting down yet another note on the paper, the gold embossing on his pen shining in the light. “Do you still wish you had of screamed that night?”
‘Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. No. I can’t tell him that, he will send me straight back to that place, I’m not going back there ever again.’
“Elizabeth?” her eyes had glazed over again, staring far beyond the floor into a deep and dangerous world that the very well educated Doctor could not even begin to imagine.
“No,” whispering her lie quietly, Elizabeth answered the question without moving anything more than the muscles of her mouth. “I don’t wish I had screamed, I’m glad I didn’t.”
“Why are you glad you didn’t scream?”
“I have a loving husband,” she lied with a smile and still teary and glistening eyes. “And a darling child, hopefully with another on the way sometime soon.” Elizabeth didn’t lie about that and touched her hand to her stomach. “No, now I’m very glad I didn’t scream. I appreciate the life I have now. It’s good, and I am happy.”
‘God why didn’t I just scream on that damn night.’
“What happened after you saw your Mother Elizabeth?”
“They dragged me downstairs, to a big truck, there was lots of other women huddled together in the back. I remember accidentally hitting my forehead hard against the metal tray when they threw me in.” Reaching her hand up Elizabeth instinctively rubbed a small white scar above her left eyebrow before continuing. “I remember that one of the older women helped me up and held a grubby old rag to my forehead. I remember she was on the bottom level of our apartments. I was the youngest there by far. I... I can’t remember,” Elizabeth trailed off once again and closed her watery eyes, running her pale hands through her dark tresses of hair.
“It’s okay Elizabeth,” Edward encouraged her on with his flat voice. “Just continue from where ever you do remember.”
‘Why can’t I remember? I know exactly what happened because I lived it, why can’t I remember what happened after I hit my head?’
“The long journey to wherever it was that we went is just bits and pieces here and there in my head of conversations the other women were having between themselves, I think I must have fallen asleep or passed out or something.” Shaking her head slightly at her own frustration, Elizabeth propped her left elbow up on the arm of the chair and rubbed her temple gently with her fingertips, closing her eyes. “When we got there though, god it was the most awful thing I’ve ever seen, even now. It was a women’s camp though, thank Christ.” The last two words came out harshly; like it was a poison she had somehow ingested and spat out onto the floor.
Edward’s gray and bushy eyebrows jumped toward the sky at the use of such language, especially from a woman in 1950′s America.
“The heat was seriously unbearable and the conditions were just, oh god it was filthy!” she spat the word out as if it were something mean and hairy that had crawled out of her mouth. “But little did I know then that the heat was going to be the very least of my worries.”
Nodding his head in understanding the Doctor again pushed, “what happened to you Elizabeth?”
‘My language caught you off guard now didn’t it? Oh I saw it, you tried to hide that jump of your eyebrows but I sure as hell saw it clear as day. Show me some emotion robot, just a little of something so I know you’re as human as you say you are. Fear, sadness, anger, rage, anything!’
“They took all our shoes away when we got there, so we had to walk around on the hot sand, all we had to sleep on were a few dirty and rotting blankets. They put us in some sort of a bamboo cage in the middle of the compound for most of the time and the only shade we had inside it was a flimsy little bamboo and pine leaf roof.”
Edward looked confused as he wrote this note down onto the piece of paper. “It couldn’t have been incredibly stable then.”
Elizabeth scoffed with a look of disbelief at his question and the tone of her sweet little voice suddenly became very defensive. “It didn’t really have to be stable now did it? Not when we could barely stand at the very best of times. We were given very little water to survive on and even less food,” the severe tone of Elizabeth’s voice dropped and she took a few deep breaths to calm herself before continuing. “More than half of us were delusional from the intense heat we had to live in. That’s probably why I don’t remember a lot of it,” she paused again, wiping a single tear from her eye with the back of her hand.
“It’s okay.” Leaning forward, Edward offered her a tissue.
‘That all you got in the way of sympathy for me? A damn tissue, robot?’
“You have to understand, it wasn’t all that about the place that really bothered me deep down.” Elizabeth’s skinny little body tensed as the memories returned to her and her bright green eyes fell back to her hands that were again sitting in her lap. “But every second day they would pull a number out of a hat, then when we lined up for our daily count, they’d take the woman that was that number out and...”
Elizabeth’s lips moved in a silent attempt at a whisper, but no words escaped through her lips.
“I’m sorry Elizabeth, I didn’t quite catch that.”
From somewhere deep inside Elizabeth regained the confidence she once held every single day and looked the Doctor straight in the eye for the second time this session, the defensive tone rising up in her voice once again. “I said Edward, that they would take the woman that corresponded to that number from the cage and pass her around like a sex toy for two entire days. Every soldier on the compound would,” she paused, looking for the right word to throw at him, ”take her, at least twice. They liked to hear us scream in pain.” Tears were swelling in those bright green eyes but Elizabeth held on.
Edward looked horrified, his mouth hung agape and the gold embossed pen had suddenly stopped moving around on the page. He knew atrocities happened through World War II but had never heard a story like this straight from a survivor.
‘That’s a bit more like it robot.’
“Oh but don’t for a second think it ends there, it gets much better,” anger rose up in Elizabeth’s voice as she continued with her shocking story. “There was no form of contraception used between the soldiers and us women obviously. We couldn’t even try to protect ourselves during the ordeals because if you complained or struggled or put up a fight in any sort of way, they would just beat you until you couldn’t move and fight anymore and they would just keep on going.”
“What would they do with that woman after the two days?”
“She would go back into the compound with the rest of us. We never lined up in the same order so sometimes you would get chosen all over again without rest.”
“So they wouldn’t even give her time to heal from it?” The Doctor’s voice betrayed the hurt and sorrow that he was feeling deep inside for the pretty woman sitting opposite him. He never would have guessed that she had been through such suffering at the tender age of 15.
“Of course not, that would be what they call kind, and no soldier there was kind. One woman in my compound got used three times in a row. That’s six days she spent being repeatedly raped and beaten. We’d always be dragged back by the soldiers looking bruised and bloody and very worse for wear, beating women was one of their most favourite games in that camp.”
“Were you...” Edward didn’t finish the sentence. He couldn’t finish the sentence. Emotions of all sorts were creeping up the back of his throat, choking the words he could so easily speak to others, but this was different. Elizabeth was now very different.
‘Not such a robot now hey? Now that you know my story I wonder if you will fall asleep crying tonight.’
Elizabeth dropped her eyes back to her pale scarred hands sitting lightly in her lap, trying so very hard to hold the ocean of tears back she quietly replied, “yes.” Her soft voice was back, devoid of any hint of anger or rage. “I don’t remember a lot of what happened to me and the other women that I knew at the camp, but every day that I was taken from the cage and into the rooms of the soldiers, those haunting and tormenting memories stick with me like bloody tattoos.”
Taking a tight hold of the emotions that were threatening to break out in tears, the Doctor cleared his throat and asked, “can you tell me about it?”
‘Robots back, I think I’ve had quite enough of you Mr. Robot, I want a human to talk to.’
“It was painful,” Elizabeth spat poisonously in reply, not wanting to look him in his pale blue eyes ever again. “That’s all I’m willing to say to you at the moment Doctor.”
“Good day to you Doctor Wallace.” Elizabeth picked up her brown leather handbag that had been leaning against her seat as she stood to her feet and stoutly walked out into the hallway, leaving the robot speechless in the bleak gray room alone. Putting on her dark rimmed sunglasses Elizabeth walked briskly through to the entrance hall in an effort not to be seen by anyone that might want to talk to her.
“Same time next fortnight Mrs. Oldin?” asked the secretary cheerily as she spotted Elizabeth heading towards the exit door.
Elizabeth nodded her head quickly in approval of the date and time to the young woman sitting happily at her desk. Reaching out with one hand Elizabeth plucked her long black coat from the rack, it was slightly frilled around the neck in a silk black with a cinch at the waist. She wrapped it tightly around her small and now shivering body.
Out in the small car park, Elizabeth leaned against a wall, wrapping her skinny little arms tightly around her waist and she doubled over crying tears of hatred and remorse, unable to hold it in any longer.
Memories flashed back to her as she unsteadily walked home on her little high heeled shoes. Memories of green and red uniformed soldiers. Memories of those uniforms tying her to a bed with coarse ropes, repeatedly raping her day after day. Memories of the ropes wearing deeper and deeper into her skin, chaffing her wrists and ankles until there was no skin left to be rubbed away. Those incredibly hard ropes breaking the soft, young skin around her wrists and waist. And the bright red blood that seemed to be everywhere, staining the sheets, staining her skin, and still even now haunting her nightmares. How could they abuse such an innocent young teenager so?
She lifted up her sleeves and rubbed the scars that would forever haunt her and, once again, Elizabeth wished she had screamed as loudly and deeply as she possibly could have on that horrible night that started it all.