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Chapter 4 - Silas

“Didn’t I tell you to stop with that?”

He was standing there with his back turned towards me, his hand pressed up against a poster hanging on the wall, just like the first time I’d seen him. His arm moved in a deliberate, somewhat elegant, way against the paper. He clearly knew what he was doing.

“Maybe,” Christian breathed out, a little tensely. I watched him as he stopped his movements and turned around to face me. “But the rush is amazing,” he continued with a guilty smile. “Thinking you might get caught at any moment… I don’t know. It’s kind of addicting, in an odd way.”

I lifted an eyebrow in response as I stepped forward, closing the distance between us. It was so quiet out; the only sound filling the air around us was my boots hitting the ground, one step at a time, much like the first night I’d seen him. But this time I wasn’t nervous. True, I barely knew anything about him, but I knew just enough. He seemed different to me now—softer. Like he’d begun to see me as an actual friend and could relax now without monitoring his every action.

“You’re left-handed,” I said, nodding in the direction of the poster.

“And?” he questioned, still with a silly grin on his face.

“And nothing. I just heard once that left-handed people are more creative.” Whether or not I actually believed that fact, I didn’t know, but the way he was drawing made it seem more plausible. I walked past him to get a better look at his work. It was just as artistically done as last time, but this poster was different. Not his usual images of people suffering and dying under German rule. No, this time flowers covered the surface. Flawless, beautiful depictions of roses, lilies, daisies, and many more flowers filled the entire poster so that no one see what was written beneath.

“I thought we could use something happy.” His voice sounded timid, like he was scared of my opinion. “For once.”

“It’s amazing, Christian.” I didn’t know what else to say. It was, truly, amazing.

“I guess.” A small, nervous smile spread across his lips as he spoke. “Are they going to be mad about this?” he asked, sounding almost hopeful.

“Yes.” I wished I could give him a different answer because this one was so beautiful, but defacing German property was taken as a serious offense. And not just by the Germans, but by the Danish as well. Maybe to an outsider it would just seem like one harmless act in the midst of the chaos of war, but it was an act of rebellion nonetheless, and that gave it power.

“You must really love your country,” I remarked. Even though he shouldn’t be doing what he was doing, I couldn’t help but be a bit impressed. This simple sixteen-year-old had courage enough to go against the Wehrmacht, all by himself.

“I used to…” he sighed, avoiding my gaze by focusing on the poster instead. “But I want to love it again.”

After a moment of silence, I spoke again. “Can I ask you something?”

“Yeah.” He turned his head to put his full attention on me.

“Why didn’t you run when I first met you?” It was a question I’d been wanting to ask for a while. ”Why weren’t you scared of me?”

Normally, the Danes would run away whenever we got close; the more daring ones would sometimes even spit in our faces as they hurried past. But Christian had just stood there.

“Because you spoke English to me,” he answered, as if it were obvious. “The real soldiers always just speak German. They wouldn’t bother with English—just assume that everyone can speak German.”

“I haven’t met a Dane who couldn’t yet, so…”

“That’s not the point, Silas. It’s rude.” He raised his voice to make himself understandable, but quickly lowered it again when he seemed to remember where we were standing. “And why are you so good at English anyway? What is someone like you even doing here? And if you tell me it’s complicated, I swear to God…” Christian lifted up a finger to point at me, trying to seem serious, but he couldn’t maintain a straight face throughout the whole sentence.

“Morse Codes are sent to us in English. I translate them to German.” My job was supposed to be kept strictly confidential—the consequences if my commanders found out I’d told anyone were unthinkable. But after what we’d talked about already, it just seemed like more insignificant information among the rest.

“What are you doing at the school then?” he asked curiously.

“That part is a little complicated actually…” I guessed that they just had to cover up why I was here in the first place. The job I had was both dangerous and important. I was wanted by both the Danish and English governments.

“Why is everything so complicated all the time?” Christian sighed as he leaned his back against the cold brick wall.

“I don’t know,” I said sadly. “I guess anything that involves human lives is always going to be complicated.” I slowly stepped back to the poster and drew my fingers lightly across the fragile paper on which Christian had made his artwork. Even though his flowers were beautiful, they couldn’t make me happy. It was hard to remember the last time I’d been happy. “What does your father do?” I asked, my back still turned towards him.

“Politics. It has something to do with the cooperation between the Danish and German governments,” he started nervously, as if he was ashamed of telling me. “I’m not meant to be a part of it, but… It’s hard not to. And I mean…” He cut himself off, which made me turn around to focus on him. “I’ve heard… stuff. And I don’t know how to deal with this kind of information.”

Christian released himself from the wall he was leaning against opposite the poster. Without looking at me, he walked straight by to stand right in front of it. “I want to start something, Silas. That is why I’m doing what I do.” He drew his slender fingers across the lines on the paper, following every inch. “Sometimes it feels like everyone just sits back and accepts what’s going on. I won’t do that. I want to show my people that no matter how small our actions are, they still matter. And I want to show that we Danes don’t just agree with everything that happens to us—that happens to the world. But everyone is so scared.”

“Of course they’re scared,” I said softly, making him turn around.

“I don’t want them to be.” His voice was thick and his breaths heavy, like he was about to start crying. “I’m done with being scared, Silas.”

And nothing more was said.

My eyes had adjusted to the darkness, making it possible for me to see the contour of this face. He wasn’t standing more than two meters away from me, but still in complete darkness. I felt the sudden urge to be closer to him and would have closed the distance between us if he hadn’t done it first. It was like he was walking in slow motion, not really wanting to go near, but then again, unable to stop himself from doing so.

He halted right in front of me, not more than a foot from my face. I could feel his warm, steady breathing hitting my neck in a slow rhythm. It wasn’t cold enough to see our breath anymore, not like the first time we met. Now I could only feel it—how it trickled down my sensitive skin and ran down the back of my neck.

We were both paralyzed in the moment, with nothing more than the sound of our breathing.

“C-Can I touch you?” Christian shakily whispered, blinking up at me. He didn’t look away, unlike every other time he’d said something to me. This time his eyes were locked on mine.

I nodded in response. I wanted to be felt. I wanted to be acknowledged for once, and not just as another body in this god-awful war. Just for a short while, I wanted real feelings—real touches. And so, when he offered, I couldn’t refuse.

I watched him as he moved his shaking hand towards my chest. His fingers only lightly brushed against the fabric of my jacket at first, nothing more than if the wind had touched me. It was as if I were poison to him.

The second time, he was more determined. I could feel he meant his actions when his hand touched my chest in one slow movement. His fingers danced across my uniform, finding their own way down my chest, only to go back up again a second later, sending shivers through me. Christian’s fingers moved up towards my ears before he took off my hat and placed it between his knees. A wide, caring smile spread across his lips, making my knees as weak as straw.

Once my hat was removed, he began running his fingers through my messy hair, gently massaging my scalp. I was dying to know what was going through his head at that moment, but I didn’t dare question his movements.

I inhaled a shaky breath and then let out a low, quiet moan as I felt my stomach filling with butterflies. This was so surreal and frightening, yet it felt so amazing and right. Nothing could match this feeling. I exhaled heavily, my whole body slowly turning to jelly in his arm. But he didn’t say anything. He just kept moving both his hands all over me and down my chest in slow movements, carefully taking in every inch—from my tense shoulders and down my sides, ending at my hips. It was like he was making sure I was real, that I was really standing there in front of him.

The way he dragged his fingers across my cheek and brushed my hair off of my forehead made my heart rate increase. And the moment was just as beautiful as him, the pink and dark-blue night sky above us making the dim light look so perfect on his skin. He was perfect.

Forgetting for just a moment that we were in the middle of a war, I lifted my hand to his face, only to draw one gentle line on his flushed cheek with my thumb. His pale skin was soft and flawless to my touch.

I just wanted to touch him. Touch him like he’d touched me, in soft, gentle movements. Move my hands across the black fabric of his jacket; let them run down his chest, filling his body with butterflies like he was filling mine. Just touch him all over.

“You’re so beautiful,” I breathed out. The words just slipped out of my mouth before I got the chance to stop them. It wasn’t a lie—I was just scared he was going to stop now. But he was so beautiful and so perfect, standing there in the night with me. I couldn’t wish for anything else.

Still, he said nothing. But he smiled. He smiled a truly heart-warming smile—something I hadn’t seen in a long time. The kind of smile that makes you feel all fuzzy inside. The kind of smile that sends shivers down your spine and makes you forget the world around you. The kind of smile you could look at for a whole day without getting sick of it, because every time you looked, it’d feel like the first time.

And then, just like that, it was over.

I froze as I heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming from the end of the dark alley. Breaking eye contact with Christian, I stared down the alley, past the bins, to look out to the road beyond. Someone was standing there, illuminated in the streetlight. But if he’d noticed us yet, I didn’t know.

“Stop,” I whispered to Christian, who immediately did as he was told and placed his arms down against his sides. Both our breaths turned heavy and my heart was beating hard against my chest. Without needing a closer look at the man, I knew he was one of my own. A soldier. I slowly moved my eyes down to meet Christian’s and then looked back up and down the alley. He was just standing there. He didn’t move either backwards or forwards—just stood still and looked around.

“Ist jemand hier?” (Is there somebody here?) sounded his voice suddenly. Every word echoed in my mind and I froze in place. Christian, however, took a small step backwards from me. “Ich weiß dass Sie hier sind. Kommen Sie heraus.” (I know you’re in here. Come out.)

“Silas. Silas, hit me,” Christian whispered harshly, shaking me out of trance. “Hit me, Silas. Hit me. He doesn’t know me, so hit me. Make it look like you’re punishing me for something. You’re a soldier. Hit me.”

I could hear the panic and desperation in his voice, but I just froze there, unmoving.

“I can’t hit first, Silas, you’ll have to. Hit me.” His voice got higher and higher with each word, and he was anxiously glancing around, trying to gauge how close the soldier was getting.

“But I-I…” I stuttered, confused, as I pressed myself against the wall, my mouth hanging slightly open. I couldn’t form intelligible words—not in any language. My brain had stopped functioning at that point, so the only thing left was the internal screaming panic that was rushing through my entire body.

“Hit me.” Christian’s voice—louder this time. Before I could register what he was doing, he spat in my face, like the Danes so often did. Not once, but twice. But I still couldn’t hit him—I couldn’t bring myself to lay a hand on him.

I heard a gasp, and then in one quick movement, Christian was being dragged backwards harshly away from me by the unknown soldier. The poor lighting in the alley was just enough for me to make them out, and for the first time, I got a full look at them both.

“Was glaubst du, was du da tust?” (What do you think you’re doing?) The question, though in German, must have been for Christian. But when he didn’t answer right away, the soldier yanked his hair, pulling Christian’s head back against the his shoulder. A flicker of pain spread across Christian’s face as he did so.

I moved out of the shadows. The only sounds I could recognize where the sounds of my own breathing, along with my heart beating hard and fast in my throat. My head was spinning and my vision was slowly turning blurry. But I couldn’t let it show. I’d have to pretend Christian and I were strangers—that he’d attacked me and now he must punished. There was no choice.

I could still see his lips forming the words ‘hit me’ over and over again. If I hit him first, before the other soldier got the chance, then he’d become my responsibility. I’d be the one to handle his case, if we got that far, because he’d be my suspect. We had to make this a scene. We had to act as though we didn’t know each other—that we hadn’t just been talking for months.

The soldier kept holding him firmly, waiting for me. And then in one blink, I did it. I drew my first backwards and hit Christian straight in the face. A smirk appeared on the soldier’s face when my hand collided with the boy’s skin. It wasn’t as hard as I could have, but it was hard enough to convince my colleague that I believed Christian was the enemy.

They had told me I would be proud—that it would be an honor to be fighting for my country. But I’d never felt more disgusted.

Tears formed in my eyes when I saw the blood dripping out of Christian’s nose and running down his face. He didn’t move an inch, even when my fist met his face for the second time. This time I let the tear fall, thankful that my surroundings were dark enough that no one could see. I looked down at my hand, which was now covered in fresh, red blood. My knuckles were bruised slightly and my whole arm was shaking.

“Did you destroy this poster?” the soldier spat. I knew from experience that English wasn’t something they’d try unless they really wanted an answer. “Maybe you did the other posters too, huh?”

“No,” Christian lied, which only made the soldier tighten his grip.

“Do not lie to me!” the German yelled, throwing Christian to the ground, hard. He landed straight on his knees and let out a little whimper as he hit the pavement, breaking his fall with his hands. I had to use all my willpower not to bend down—help him, make sure he was okay. Instead, I stayed still; I didn’t even look at him. I just stood tall and looked straight ahead, like none of this was important.

“Weisst du, was wir mit Lügnern machen?” (Do you know what we do to liars?) But before Christian got chance to answer, the soldier kicked him straight in the stomach. “Answer!”

Although he couldn’t answer before he was kicked again, even harder this time. Christian cried out in pain and I heard the boot connecting with his abdomen for the third time. My stomach wrenched at the sound of it, but there was nothing I could do. Even though my rank was no doubt higher than the street soldier’s, there was no way to make him stop without giving too much away. If anyone found out about us, I’d be charged with treason and we’d both be killed on the spot. Right now, Christian was just a normal, rebellious schoolboy and I was just the soldier he’d decided to harass.

“You also a thief?” The kicking had stopped and I dared to look up in their direction again. I had completely forgotten that Christian had been holding my hat, which now the soldier had picked up and was waving in front of Christian, who could barely open his eyes to look. “Wo hast du das her?”(Where did you get this?) he continued, raising his voice further.

My whole world was spinning and my mind was chaotic, but still I managed to choke out, “Es gehört mir.” (It’s mine) followed by a few deep breaths. No matter what happened to Christian, I couldn’t make this personal.

“Kennen Sie Ihn?” (Do you know him?) the soldier asked me. He sounded distrustful.

“Nein,” (No,) I lied. I had to force my speech to remain calm because this could very well be the last time I’d breathe fresh air. I didn’t know the boy on the ground, no matter how much I hated myself for thinking like that.

The soldier looked me over carefully, his eyes inspecting my entire body. His eyebrows were drawn together like he was concentrating on finding something.

With one loud grunt, he spun around on his heels and marched back to where Christian lay on the ground. My eyes followed him this time, but I wasn’t prepared for the sight they took in. Christian was curled up in a tiny human ball while his fragile body trembled violently, unable to hold still. A small puddle of blood was forming on the ground beside his head, but it was too dark to tell exactly from where it came. His breathing was came out in short gasps which worked like knives in my head.

“Get up,” the soldier commanded harshly. But Christian didn’t listen. “I said… Get up!” The man grabbed Christian’s messy hair and pulled him violently up from the ground, but Christian only made it to his hands and knees before he started coughing. It wasn’t normal coughing either—this was different. It sounded like he was drowning—like there was water in his lungs and each cough was his body’s desperate attempt to get oxygen. Shakily, Christian wiped the bloody mucus off his chin before standing up straight on his knees to face the soldier.

Instantly, the soldier drew his gun and pointed it directly at Christian’s forehead, pressing the metal against his skin.

“I will count to three and if you have not told the truth…”

Christian didn’t move—he didn’t even blink while the soldier was pressing the gun to his head. He didn’t cry. He just stared back at the soldier with his teeth clenched, not moving an inch while the blood streamed from his forehead and down his face, mixing with the blood from his nose.

The look in Christian’s eyes was one I’d never forget. All the hate, all the disgust, all the opposition within him was collected in one place and pointed at just one man. But this one man represented so much more. He represented this entire war. This war that had taken numerous lives already. This war that had forced children to grow up too fast, broken families apart, turned strangers against each other. Seeing this soldier was like seeing every feeling—every emotion you’d had in the last three years—standing right in front of you, ready to kill you without even blinking.

And Christian’s weapon of choice—his only defense—was that look. And even though it was no match for a loaded gun, that weapon meant so much more than mere metal ever could. That was what war was about. Facing each other, but not caring.

“Ein.” (One.)

“Zwei.” (two.)

“Aufhören.” (Stop.) I couldn’t do it. Of course I couldn’t let him kill Christian. He was just an innocent boy—my friend—and he hadn’t done anything wrong. “Es gibt keinen Grund ihn zu töten. Er ist doch nur ein Kind,” (No need to kill him. He’s just a kid,) I said emotionlessly. But on the inside I was screaming. Anger and hatred of my own people burned within me—it was indescribable. I wanted to kill him. I wanted to hurt the man in front of me for even thinking of putting a gun to another’s head. That was the real crime here, not the fact that Christian had drawn on a poster.

They both turned towards me and I saw Christian miming an inaudible ‘thank you’ back at me, letting out a sigh of relief.

The soldier just stared at me in confusion, but didn’t question my commands. Without a word, he turned back around, still keeping the gun aimed at Christian’s face. I held my breath, but instead of pressing the trigger, he swung the gun around, smacking the end of it hard against the side of Christian’s head. He collapsed on the ground in front of the soldier’s feet, lifeless.

The thud of the metal colliding with Christian’s scalp kept circling around in my mind. I stood completely still, unable to move. My eyes were wide-open, focusing down on the crumpled boy in front of me. Every muscle in my body was trembling, almost burning, from adrenaline and emotions.

“What should we do with him?” a voice asked. It must have been the soldier, but my mind couldn’t really register what was going on. He could have just killed my only friend, and all I could do was to stand there.

“Leave him.” My brain was working independently. It was trained for war; it was trained to deal with this. But my heart was not. I needed to help him. He was seriously injured and I couldn’t do anything. If I as much as blinked at him, they’d know.

The soldier pointed furiously at Christian’s unmoving figure. “But isn’t he the one we’ve been looking for?”

“It’s not him.” I didn’t really know what I was doing—I didn’t have a plan for this. I had to lie. It wasn’t Christian—I didn’t know him. This was just a random boy.

“We’ll have to bring him back to the barracks,” he kept going.

“Können Sie nicht verstehen?” (Don’t you understand?) I spat angrily, turning towards him. “I said, leave him.” I hated myself for even uttering those words, but it was the only way to protect him.

The further we moved away from him, the worse I felt. I was light-headed and confused, my breathing quick and my mouth so dry I couldn’t even speak. It was all I could do to keep from crying as we walked off, leaving Christian to bleed on the ground, alone in the abandoned alley. More than anything, I wanted to run back and make sure he was okay—take him home and clean up his wounds and apologize. Apologize for everything.

Unable to stop myself, I turned back around to get what could be the last glimpse I’d ever get of him. The beautiful boy I’d met in the darkness. I didn’t know if he’d be okay. I didn’t know what would happen to him now. I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again. I didn’t even know if he was alive or dead. And it was killing me. It made me feel sick and disgusting and above all else, sorry.

When the soldier had gotten two steps ahead of me, I allowed the tears to begin to fall and run down my cheeks. Because no one deserved this.

I cried for Christian and I couldn’t stop. But after all, I was only human.

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