Renegades

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Epilogue

“This came for you, Silas.”

Her tone changed slightly as she handed the envelope to me, like she’d suddenly become nervous.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s from Denmark,” she said simply. Carefully, as though the paper might burn my fingers, I took it from her. Her forehead wrinkled up in concern and she sighed deeply before turning to leave me alone in my study.

Part of me wanted her to stay, but I knew this was something I needed to do on my own.

My eyes moved from the vacant doorway down to the thick brown envelope in my hand. My full name and address were written across the top in elegant, feminine handwriting. Each word was flawless and careful. My heart skipped a beat just looking at it. Fifteen years had passed since the war had ended, and now I was sitting there, holding a piece of my past between my fingers.

Hands shaking, I opened the envelope and let its contents fall out into my lap. I was confused at first, as what had to be close to a hundred small papers flew out, all brown and curled at the edges. Only the final note to flutter down into my lap was different—white and neatly folded, with my name carefully inscribed on the front. It read:

Dear Mr. Silas Lang,

I have found these letters hidden in the floorboards in my son’s room of our old house in Denmark. They are all addressed with your name, and it seems as though Christian’s last wish was to give them to you. It has taken me years to locate you, and I cannot even be sure that you are really the right person. But I had to try, for Christian’s sake.

Sincerely,

Diana Andersen.

I let the note drop from my fingers as I stared blankly out into the air in front of me. My body felt numb. It was like looking back—discovering lost memories. It’d been so long that sometimes, when I thought of him, it didn’t feel real anymore.

“Christian…” I murmured to myself. Only now, I registered the handwriting on the brown papers. It was his. Suddenly, I started getting nervous. All these letters were from him—his last words to me before he’d died. Hands shaking, I picked up the first one.

July 21, 1943.

Dear Silas.

I feel as though I need to write to you still, so I am. It feels weird though. Like writing to a ghost. Or writing to the past.

I still check our book in the forgotten school corridor from time to time. I know it will be empty, but I guess I just miss you…

Glancing from the letter in my hand to the pile on my lap, I realized that it would take me hours to read them all. Already, my throat felt tight and tears threatened to escape my eyes. I wouldn’t be able to get through them all—not today anyway. I set down the paper in my hand and carefully picked up a different one.

September 13, 1943.

…Denmark is boring now that you’re gone. But I am still keeping my promise. I don’t bother the Germans anymore. Not even their hats…

Even though it hurt to remember, I couldn’t help but smile.

December 24, 1943.

…I like Christmas. I like the colors, the tree, and the food. I like snow, and I even still like the idea of Santa Claus. Maybe I do really believe in him, or maybe it’s just that I want to believe that there is something beautiful and peaceful out there in the midst of this ugliness. I like it, the hope that maybe there’s someone out there somewhere, putting smiles on little children’s faces…

January 1, 1944.

Happy New Year, Silas. Let’s hope this year is shorter than the others.

I sighed deeply and ran a hand through my hair before choosing another letter from further down the stack.

May 12, 1944.

…It has been a year now, Silas. I still miss you. I wonder where you are—if you’re even still alive. Of course you are. Is it better in Germany? Sometimes I forget you can’t answer me. I wish you could. It’s been a whole year now, but I can still remember your face, your smile…

I had to stop and stare at his words for a minute. I couldn’t believe he’d kept writing letters to me after all that time.

June 11, 1944.

…I went to the lake today. It’s my birthday. Seventeen years old, and for the first time, I just want to jump in the water and let myself sink. I’ve never wanted to be dead before, Silas. But today I do. But it’s a strange feeling because I don’t want to die—I just want to be dead. Just, not to exist so I didn’t have to look at this world anymore. But maybe it’s just because it’s my birthday and that makes me realise the time…

As much as it hurt to read those words from Christian, I understood what he meant. There were many long nights when I’d lie in my bed and wonder just what I was doing anymore—what the point of it all was.

July 28, 1944.

…Summer is nice. At least when it’s not raining. Do you have nice summers in Germany? I always forget you can’t answer me… maybe you will be able to someday.

My parents have sent me to the countryside to visit my cousins this summer. We used to come here back when I was a child, but only to visit my grandparents. They’re gone now, so my uncle took over their farm and married the neighbor girl and they have two small children who I can call cousins. They’re so precious, Silas! Maybe I’ll want a family someday—two, maybe three kids. But only if the war ends soon. I can’t imagine putting another helpless soul into this messed up world…

September 6, 1944.

…It could have been me, Silas. I sometimes think about what would have happened if it’d hadn’t been you who’d walked down the alley that first night when we met. Do you think I would have been shot too? The boy from Bredevad… he was my age. He was only making a bit of trouble, but he was shot and killed by a German soldier. It could have been me…

October 23, 1944.

…I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long time. I’m not afraid of smiling anymore. My father seems to have realized some things and he’s listening to me again, talking to me again. We’re spending time together, and it’s good. We still must have our dinners with the soldiers, but I’m not forced to participate anymore.


Yesterday, we built a model airplane together, and I heard him laugh. I had almost forgotten how that sounded. I laughed too. Maybe the world will get better someday…

November 27, 1944.

…I’m staying home from school today because I’m ill, so I thought I could write to you, as there’s nothing else to do. Not that you’ll see it anyway, but I like to think you will. I still kind of miss you, Silas. What has it been now? A year and a half? I would have said that the time moves fast, like you always did, but to me it’s a lie. The time doesn’t move at all. At least not in a war it doesn’t…

December 4, 1944.

…I’m still home. And I’m still bored. It has been a week now. My mum says it’s the flu, and it feels like it. Maybe I should start writing you another book while I’m just lying in bed anyway. I don’t know. It’s hard to think. The fever is making it hard for me to even hold a pencil, let alone think of words…

I swallowed hard as I stopped reading for a moment.

December 8, 1944.

…It’s not the flu, Silas. The doctor says it’s “croup ” . I can’t really breathe anymore. It’s hard. I can’t get out of bed either. Just thinking of it is a fight itself. And I’m sorry if you can’t read my words. You’ll probably never see these letters anyway. My parents don’t know I’m writing, but I guess I just want you to know…

The rest of the paper was impossible to read. The letters were all mushed together and wobbly. I found the next one.

December 12, 1944.

…My version is blurry all the time now. Writing is really hard, I’m sorry. Talking is harder though. Thinking too. Everything gets mixed together. Memories of you… There’s a lot of things I never got the chance to tell you, Silas. I like your eyes. They’re blue, aren’t they? Please correct me if I’m wrong—I can’t really remember anymore. I like your laugh. I definitely remember your laugh…

If I could turn back time and live in the past, I would. There wasn’t so much pain back then. There was more than blurry thoughts and missing memories, wasn’t there?

A knot tightened in my throat. Only now, I realized how much he’d suffered.

December 14, 1944.

…I’ll keep writing to you, Silas. I don’t have anyone else to talk to anymore. My mum cries all the time and I don’t like to listen to it. We’ll never see each other again… have you thought about that? We’re going to be forgotten. We’re just going to be two more humans, without any voice, stuck in a war…

December 15, 1944.

…I didn’t want you to leave that day at the lake. I wanted to run after you, but I knew I couldn’t. If not for you, I would probably have been dead long before this. Imagine if we got to grow old together? I would love you every day. And every morning I would give you a kiss. And every evening I would tell you how I missed you while we were apart. It’s a funny thought, but I like it. And I miss you. I miss you more than most things actually. If I should make a list your name would be first…

December 15, 1944.

…I want to live to see my country be free, Silas. I want to see my people be happy. I don’t want to be scared anymore. I want to see you again before I die. I want to hold you and be with you. I want to remember freedom. I want to die free. It’s funny because I always knew I might be killed for what I was doing and the idea never bothered me. But this… well, I guess the war got me anyway. You can’t always predict the endings…

It wasn’t only because of my tear-filled eyes that it was difficult to make out Christian’s writing. His words were written with pain. It was obvious he’d been crying over them, struggling to write each letter. I paused to wipe the corners of my eyes before reaching for the final paper in the stack.

December 16, 1944.

…It’s weird lying here when you know you’re going to die. Like, you just know it. I thought I’d be more scared, but I’m not. I’m angry, Silas. And sad. But I’m not scared of dying. Not anymore.

Now it was my turn to leave marks on the paper in my hand. Unimpeded, the tears slid down my cheeks to rest atop Christian’s fifteen-year-old ink splotches. Even though the two sets of tears were from different people, separated by both time and place, the pain behind them hadn’t changed.

Christian had had dreams and hopes just like everyone else, and it wasn’t fair he hadn’t gotten the chance to live them out. He’d only been seventeen when he’d died—just a kid. It wasn’t fair.

I put Christian’s last note away to look up at the bookshelf in front of me. There it stood—a book with a brown leather cover and golden letters—just as it stood on bookshelves of thousands of other homes across the world. Renegade. His actions and bravery were finally published for everyone to read. Pride for him rushed through me and I couldn’t help but smile through the tears. His voice would never be forgotten now.

“Why are you crying, daddy?”

My thoughts were interrupted by a small, confused voice coming from the doorway.

“Hmm? Oh, just missing an old friend, that’s all.” I put on a wide smile and quickly dried my eyes as my little six-year-old, brown-haired son entered the room.

“Come here.” I opened up my arms, allowing him to run into me so I could pick him up. As soon as I grabbed him, he started laughing.

Anna stepped into the room with her arms crossed against her chest, her best attempt at a stern, motherly look. “Okay you two—time for bed.” But still she was smiling. She was always smiling.

“But daddy needs to tell me a bedtime story first!” he complained.

“A bedtime story?” I asked. “Now when did I ever agree to that?”

“Tell me a story from the war!” he begged.

“Hmm, a story from the war you say…” I placed him down, letting him sit on the sofa himself.

“Tell the one about the boy stealing the hats!” he asked happily, even though he had probably heard that one at least fifty times.

“Huh… I don’t think I remember that one…” I said, still sounding like I didn’t know what he was talking about.

“You do!”

I wiggled my fingers at him playfully. “Is it the one that started with a tickle fight?” I asked, pulling up his shirt. “Oh! I think it did!”

And I made him laugh, just as I did every day. He could have a real life—one without war and without worries. It was all I wanted for him.

“Goodnight, my little Christian,” I whispered, kissing him on the forehead. “I love you.”

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