Sometime later, while Herbert was busy with one of his clients, another customer walked in. “Hi Christopher!” Herbert said, smiling at him.
“Hello my dear boy! How are you, the wife and kids doing?”
“We’re all doing well thank you. Come in and take a seat! I’ll be with you shortly.” While he continued cutting his client’s hair, Christopher (who was a World War I veteran) came to him and said, “I found this outside your door,” and handed him a folded note with nothing written on it, except a drawing. What was disturbing about it was that it was a drawing of a gun, with smoke coming out of the barrel and what seemed to have been blood drops pouring out with a pool of blood on the floor.
Herbert frowned and asked Christopher where he found it. “It was taped to your door,” was Christopher’s reply. Herbert said nothing, but it definitely wasn’t something you would see every day. He pocketed the drawing and carried on with business as per usual until it was time to lock up.
Catherine asked if he would go to the grocery store just down the street for some things she needed for their dinner that evening. Due to it being winter with the nights creeping up earlier than it would during the summer seasons, shadows had already started to form.
He heard behind him in the distance a rhythmic tapping noise, like the sound of wood scraping on the pavement.
In a whispering, raspy voice he heard, “Thank you, for nothing!” Herbert whirled around to see where the sound came from, but the alleys were dark and he couldn’t see anything. He hesitantly walked towards where he thought he heard the voice but found nothing. With a feeling of cold dread, he quickly walked to the grocery store, relieved to be amongst people, and bought what Catherine needed.
On his way home, he heard the tapping again, but this time, he did not stop to inspect what it was. He was really anxious to get home. “Maybe it’s just a belated form of post-traumatic stress.” he reasoned with himself. After all, he not only lived in the time when World War II broke out, he had to participate in it and saw enough to never reveal the true horrors to anyone, especially his family.
Catherine greeted him at the door with a kiss and taking the bags from him to the kitchen, she noticed his attention was elsewhere. “What’s wrong my love?”
Herbert looked up at her, half hearing what she said. “Oh, it’s nothing. How has your day been?” While Catherine was telling him about her day, their children came running out of their rooms.
“DADDY!” and they both jumped into his arms. They caught him off guard and they all fell to the floor with them in his arms, laughing while Catherine looked on lovingly.
Adrian asked a rather peculiar question that made the hairs on his neck stand up. “I want to be a soldier when I grow up!” He said with both determination and seriousness, holding up Herbert’s Medal for Bravery. “I want to be a hero. Just like you!” Catherine looked across at Herbert and could see the conflict that was raging through his mind.
“No, you won’t!” He didn’t mean to shout, but it threw him off guard. “There won’t be another war! When you are old enough, you will find a good trade and stick to it!” He got up and grabbed the medal out of his son’s hand and placed it back on the shelf. He stormed towards the kitchen and opened the fridge, took out a beer and flopped onto the couch, his head resting in one hand.
Catherine walked over and kneeled beside him. “My love, what is wrong? It’s been over six years now. Did you have another flashback?”
Herbert sighed. At length, he pulled out his pocket and handed the note to her, her face frowning at the picture and trying to comprehend it’s meaning. “I received that today. It was taped on the shop’s front door.”
After a while, Catherine asked, “And you have no idea who sent this to you?”
Herbert shook his head. “I don’t know who would do something like that.”
“Well,” said Catherine in a casual tone to ease her husband’s mind. “Let’s forget about it. I’ve prepared us a wonderful dinner and I hope you came home with a ravenous appetite!” She leaned over and kissed him on his brow and went to the kitchen.
He eyed her walking towards the kitchen and snorted to himself, “how can anyone forget something like this?”
The next morning, Herbert came down the stairs, ready to start the day. As he walked across the shop to unlock its doors, he noticed a note that was sticking under the door frame. Curious, and somewhat hesitant, he picked up the note and unfolded it, his heart stopping and gave a low gasp. The note had the same drawing on it, but below the pool of blood, there was a message scribbled that said, “You owe me for what you did, HERO! P.”
He quickly closed the note and walked outside, looking around for anyone who might look suspicious. When he saw no-one, he went back inside and thought, “Who is this person, who initialled the note with just the letter P?”
Although he doubted if the letter P was even an initial to begin with, his day was filled with thoughts on the notes. He wondered at the line, “You owe me for what you did.” He wracked his brain thinking if he owed anyone anything. As far as he knew, he was not in debt and he and Catherine had an excellent savings account for a rainy day. He owed no-one money and neither did Catherine, but when he showed her the note, she pointed out that it was not addressed to her, since she was not a hero to begin with.
Catherine became increasingly alarmed as more notes came over the next couple of weeks, and it was always the same; a drawing with the initial P in the bottom right corner and threats scribbled in a scrawny handwriting. She wanted the police involved, but Herbert refused. It had been weeks since these notes had been coming his way and he did not want everyone to know his business. He did, however, make double sure the locks in his home and shop were secure in every possible way. They tried carrying on with life as if nothing was wrong, but now Catherine worried for her husband and their children’s’ safety.
One evening before Herbert came home, she heard the window smash in their bedroom. She ran to the room and found a brick wrapped in brown paper. She carefully untied the string around the brick with trembling fingers and found another note with the same context as before.
This one; however, was addressed to her: “Your husband will not live long while I still breathe. P.” She had had enough. She packed their bags and booked four tickets at the train station and decided to stay by her mother in Johannesburg until this mysterious person who was threatening her family was found and put behind bars. Herbert, on the other hand, would not go.
“How can you expect me to pack up my life and leave?” Herbert complained to Catherine, who was hurling cups and saucers across the room at him, only for them to shatter against the wall behind him.
“I don’t know! Maybe it’s because I want my children safe! I want to stop living in fear and having to look over my shoulder, and I want my husband back! The husband I knew BEFORE the war!” She was now hysterical.
Herbert looked at her for a long time until understanding sunk in. She, his beloved wife, had tried keeping it together all these years for his sake, dealing with his nightmares, his screams, him stopping himself from hitting her if she would approach him from behind just to give him a hug. She hated that the most, but she knew it was only out of instinct he was forced to learn; yet another skill he had to learn in order to survive as a soldier of War.
He overcame his shock and pulled her towards him, trying to comfort her while she let all those years of intense emotions come out in torrents of sobs and cries. She was shaking uncontrollably. It was also the first time, he realised, that since being on the ship that brought him home from War, his eyes began to sting and with oncoming tears. They broke down together and remained there for a long time.
The children were sitting still, watching their parents’ unusual behaviour in stony silence. Eventually, he pulled her gently from him and tilted her head, forcing her to look at him.
“If I don’t get to the bottom of this, we’ll always live in fear. Let me take care of this and once it’s over, I’ll send for you and the children.” She looked hard at him, knowing he won’t run away from this. Heroes never do.
“OK.” Catherine reluctantly yielded. “But I want the police involved. Even if you see someone looking suspicious, you let them know.”
“Fine,” he said. “I promise. Let’s get an early night as the train leaves at 7am tomorrow.”