With hair freshly washed she had on a clean robe and sat facing him. “Are you ready?” he asked politely, the other women observing them.
“I am, yes,” Helga answered and they walked to the door. They had wine and conversation. She was the youngest of six children and her father worked as part of a crew on a boat. A year after he passed away, falling overboard into the Greenland Sea, her mother remarried.
There was something missing, always, Jurgen told her. “Nothing is what I really wanted,” he explained. “I’ve just been doing what I was supposed to do, and then the war came and now I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing again.”
“You are supposed to be doing this?” she asked.
“Yes, I suppose,” he said and smiled. “I guess I keep doing what they want.”
Life had been fairly normal for her family; man worked and woman stayed home and cleaned and cooked. It was not an easy life, but they knew no other and did not complain, she told him. “I was sixteen when I met Tom. He was a violin maker’s apprentice,” Helga explained. “He worked down the road from where my brother was a brick-maker and we met and I liked him and he liked me and soon he asked my mother if it was okay we marry and she said, ‘yes’ and there was a wedding in my church and then he was my husband.” She smiled telling the story. “He moved into our house and I got pregnant, and then the Germans came.”
The sex was good, Jurgen thought when it was not crazy, but personable and pleasurable and he put his arm around her and they both fell asleep. But he awoke and nudged her and they did it again and fell back to sleep, and then he dreamed. Tom was there, saying goodbye to his family.
“Stay here,” he instructed his wife. “Don’t leave – be good and stay alive. Have a healthy baby and don’t make trouble with the Germans bastards, okay. They do not operate like we do, but we will get rid of them soon enough.” A young healthy man, Tom kissed his mother-in-law and hugged and kissed his wife. “I will return for you,” he told the mother to be. “Please, be careful and stay here.”
Tom’s image evaporated and Helga looked around the empty room. It grew dark but she knew someone was there. “Hello? Who is here?” There was a creak and a little light from the front door opening. “Hello? Who’s there?” Helga asked again.
Emerging from the shadow, wearing a dark cloak and hunched over, a man appeared with a hood hiding his face.
“Who are you?” Helga asked, backing away as the man moved closer.
“Don’t worry; it’s me,” he said and removed the veil. It was the Commander and he moved close and a long, dark whisker brushed her face. His odd feeling hand took hers and with a titled head he smiled and showed his large, crooked, dirty, rodent-like teeth.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
“Because you, my dear, are the Mother of the future of the Fatherland,” he said and kissed her cheek gently.
“And who are you?”
“I’m the Father.”
The Commander’s image in the dream was horrific but Jurgen realized it did not appear much different than in reality. The blanket was pulled high and he enjoyed Helga’s peaceful look as she slept, though his heart was heavy. Rolling onto his back, he stared at the ceiling and reoccurring questions and worries bombarded his mind until sleep finally came back. Again a dream came, and again there was Tom:
He was injured early in the conflict and captured by the Gestapo but on a quiet night, feeling his wounds healed enough, Tom escaped and journeyed through the Soviet Union, down to Turkey, Arabia and finally making his way to Britain where his injuries were properly treated. When healthy he returned to Norway and continued the fight.
“These streets have ears,” said Daniel, a fellow resistance fighter, handing him a pistol and maps. “Always be careful of what you say and to whom you say it, okay? That is a must!”
Tom nodded. They were in a rural town without an official German presence. It was quiet and the peacefulness was attractive to Tom. It would be easy to remain, he thought.
“Information spreads like fire,” Daniel warned. “And then those Nazi rats will know about it before you get a reply.”
“Understood,” confirmed Tom. “Can you tell me where to go to find out about my wife? When the Germans invaded she was living in Tofte with her mom, pregnant with our first child. Is it safe for me to go there?”
“No, it’s not, Tom. You escaped and they are still looking for you.”
“But she’s my wife,” Tom pled, “And I’d like to see her – I need to see her.”
Daniel looked around. “She’s not in Tofte, Tom. She’s in Germany,” he said quietly and watched sadness come over his face. “She’s there, making babies with the SS for the Nazis…”
There was no pull back or cock in Tom’s blow to the man, only a solid straight forward fist to face and his victim clutched a bloodied nose and cursed the attacker. He resisted instincts to strike again and spat on the ground next to the man. “Do you know how to talk to a man?” Tom demanded. “Do you have any idea of how to talk to a man about his wife?”
“Tom, I’m sorry – I didn’t mean for it to come out like that,” Daniel apologized. “Jesus Tom, I’m sorry.”
He walked away and then back. Tom knew he needed more information and concentrated on cooling off. “Never talk rudely about a man’s wife, or mother. Never!” he hissed. “Or sister! Never!”
“Okay – okay.”
“Listen,” Tom said, his voice turning reassuring and apologetic. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry – I shouldn’t have hit you but, do you know where she is at?”
The man’s blood-covered hands motioned. “Like I said, she’s in a Nazi breeding place in a town called Hancock,” he said. “And I’m sorry, that’s just a fact. I’m only reporting that, okay?”
“How do you know?”
“A woman from there, a Norwegian woman, escaped and encountered one of our spies,” he reported. “And that was in Germany. She told him a great number of details and names of women and their status there. Your wife had a child, a boy that was yours.”
“Is! He is yours, and he’s doing well.” Daniel paused. “And she was about to have another, this one with a German officer. At least that is what the woman said.”
Another wave of pain came across Tom’s face. “Do you know where that woman is now?” Tom asked, his voice weak. “I’d like to talk to her and find out more.”
“No,” Daniel said. “She’s never been heard from again.”
Three days later a boat packed with explosives pushed into the water; the aim was to sink an important German ship. Daniel and Tom and seven others rode low as they slowly approached the enemy vessel. The moon appeared from hiding and they cursed the night sky. Daniel held a long delay fuse and watched the German boat. Methodically it turned. “They see us,” he reported. “Instead of sneaking up on the bastards, the bastards are be overtaking us.”
The crew ignited in panic but Tom grabbed a younger man’s arms and looked at the others. “We must stick to the plan, men. They’re moving towards us and that’s okay,” he reassured. “Lure them Germans to us and don’t do anything threatening. Be calm and be ready. Be brave, for Norway.”
Then shots were fired. A few bullets hit the boat but most landed in the water. “We have to get out,” exclaimed a man sitting in the front. “We are no good if this thing explodes. We are dead.”
“Stop!” Tom insisted while studying the waves. “You must remain calm! We can hang in,” he reassured. “It’ll be pure luck if they hit us – just pure luck. They aren’t that good in the water.”
“Or luck if they don’t,” added Daniel. “But either way, the mission boys! Remember the mission.”
Tom nodded and smiled. “Yes, either way remember that Norway, and all of your families and friends and neighbors are depending on us. Stay strong.” Tom’s eyes were confident. “Men, this is for your country; the land of your fathers and mothers and of your children. Be ready. Be brave.”
They nodded and refocused and got as low as they could while occasional bullets landed near them. Splash. Splash. Ding. Ding. And then the firing ceased. “Good,” said Daniel. “They want to take us prisoner. Stupid Germans,” he laughed. “Always so stupid!”
“Maybe they think that we are fishing,” added another.
“Maybe,” said Daniel. He watched the German boat move closer. “Is it that time?” he asked Tom.
Tom sat up straight. The small Norwegian craft was almost in the shadow of the ship and he waited, calm. His wife and son, was this the last earthly time he would be able to think of them, he asked himself. His fate was his own, while theirs was not. The German boat moved closer and he returned thoughts to the mission. His heart swelled with; it was time. “Okay, let’s go,” he instructed and reached out to touch Daniel’s arm. “My friend,” he said, looking at him and smiling, “now is our time.”
Daniel lit fuse and the men quietly lowered themselves over edge and swam from the boat. Icy water immediately numbed arms and legs and the shore was far. “Do you think that we will make it?” asked a young man.
“As soon as the explosion happens, swim like hell,” advised Tom.
“Okay,” the young man said and they made their way in silence. “But, do you think we will make it?” he asked again, cold stiffening his muscles.
“No, I don’t think we’re going to make it,” Tom said and began to stoke deeper. “But we should begin swimming a little harder.”
The explosion lit the water and Tom looked back and saw the German boat rocking, but not sinking. More spotlights searched and the young man fell behind. Bullets began reigning down; zipping and plunking all around. Zipping by their heads and plunking into the water. Blood began rising to the surface. In the end, all were hit or drown.
Tom was shot in the toe but managed to make it to land and climbed a small hill overlooking the bay. No one else was coming out of the water other than the Germans, he realized, and they had landed and began to swarm.
The moon worrying them before was solidly covered and Tom sat in a thick bush at the base of a tree, removed his boot and tied a string around the badly wounded toe. A group of German soldiers neared and trampled past. Tom put his boot on and slipped behind them and made his way up a steep, snowy hill and from atop he saw the burning Norwegian boat and thought of the men. Looking over the island he could see there was only one way to go and it began with making his way down hill and through the enemy camp. From there he would climb another hill and on the other side was a small village, where Tom hoped there would be help.
Most occupants of the camp were searching the woods and Tom easily found fresh socks and boots. He gathered food and cigarettes and took a pocket knife. Ah, there was a pistol! After making sure it was loaded he began for the next hill but rounding the corner of a larger tent Tom saw the shadow of man smoking a cigarette. Inching closer the quality of his coat told Tom that he was important.
Reversing and going around back of tent, Tom crawled through a small space and came behind him. He was going to die, most likely, Tom reasoned, and therefore this man needed to die too. The officer lit another cigarette and was listening to soldiers running through and searching the woods when Tom’s deliberate sounds alerted him. He spun around and Tom saw that there were many medals on his jacket. Good, Tom thought, he was a high ranking officer and Norway would get the better of this trade. Tom took a step closer and the man knew he was dead.
The bang alerted others and Tom ran up the next hill. The snow was deep except for the low swampy areas. Those had a layer of slush above a bed of mud and Tom realized he was in trouble when a foot sank deep. He could hear the Germans and attempted to free himself but moved too fast and the boot was lost.
With the enemy closing he scrambled up snow covered hill and slid down other side, crossed an icy river, went through a thicket of woods and up another hill, this one more of a small mountain. There was blood coming through the worn sock of his bootless foot. What was he doing? Tom asked. Where was he going? The operation had failed and the men were dead. Could he muster the strength to do another? Maybe, he thought, but if not, what was the point running? His chest heaved as he fought for reasons to survive. Could he fight on? He was cold and his foot hurt. Hide in and rest? Give up and have it over with? Defeated, but as Tom considered options day broke and the morning sun’s golden glow over water reminded him of their first meeting. Yes, Helga! She was the answer and reason and Tom decided his next mission was to rescue her. She had walked into his life and cast an enchanting radiance over it and was now the energy he needed to keep fighting.
Sliding down the mountain he began to roll and gave into gravity; his body tumbled and was banged but arrived at the bottom unbroken and space had been created between him and the Germans. The snow was fresh and knee deep and he trudged thirty meters before stopping and looking back at the hill. Amazed, Tom laughed for a moment before collapsing.
An old woman with a wooden sled came by and saw him. “Come on now and wake up,” she urged while rolling him over. “Get yourself up.” The old woman rubbed snow on his face and he was able to help himself into the sled. She pulled him for ten minutes before a man joined and together they made their way to a small house near the water.
Tom was fed and taken to a shed in the woods. They put him in the bed, covered him with blankets and placed his pistol within reach before leaving and locking the door.
For two days they brought him broth and he took sips and fell back to sleep, but on the morning of the third day they woke him. “The Germans are circling, Tom,” said a man. “It’s time to go my friend.”
They showed him a raft and explained how to get to the next island. From there he would need to cross a flat land, climb a hill, descend, and float to an island with a small mountain, climb, descend and find the people that would help him to Sweden.
“Good luck Tom,” said the woman, touching his face gently. “What you do, you make Norway proud.”
The raft was nice, Tom thought while crossing the water and after, arriving dry on land. He carried it on his shoulder and was halfway over the barren field when a bullet zipped past him. Running and leaping to cover behind a snow bump, he got under the raft and another round sailed past, and another. He took a peak and saw a boat of Germans almost to shore with a couple of men firing from the bow. Tom gathered himself; the coverage of trees was far and he took a deep breath and ran, holding the raft above his head.
He made it but the trees were thick and Tom moved through them slowly. Branches beat and poked and blood ran down a cheek and his ribs hurt. The raft acted as an anchor but was essential for the next water crossing and he struggled while maneuvering over a large fallen trunk and continuing through the thicket. He knew the Germans were closing and attempted to pick up his pace but the woods were growing denser and his movement increasingly hindered. Then the raft was speared by a branch and he was forced to stop and work to free the vessel. Noises behind him moved closer. He began to hear voices. Branches were breaking. Abandoning the raft, Tom took a few quick steps before a chunk of nearby tree exploded, sending him to the ground to crawl. More bullets whizzed through the woods, hitting branches and trunks, knocking down twigs and sending pines needles flying into the air, and the voices were increasing and he scrambled to his feet and ran.
Moving fast, ducking and traversing obstacles, Tom regained distance. Pushing himself, he struggled to the top of the hill and turned and saw the Germans lagging behind. “Stupid Nazis,” he said in Daniel’s voice. Calm during mission, with death certain, Daniel never wavered and kept his spirits high. Dying for Norway! Dying for his country; he was scared but it was his honor, and now he was dead.
Down the hill he trudged. More branches and poking and he slipped and fell and got up and fought and reached the base. Through another, lighter, undergrowth he arrived at the beach. No one was behind him. He looked at the distant shore. Across, up, over, down were complete and all that was left was a final across, up, over and down and there would be people waiting to get help him to complete his escape.
Into the water he went, sure to keep his head out of the frigid water. It didn’t take long for the cold to burn his skin and solidifying blood. Amidst pain and a desire to blackout breathing became a struggle and he slowed, causing his body to ride lower. He felt colder and moved slower, and sunk lower and grew colder. Head up and control breathing, Tom reminded himself. Swim. Calm down and control breathing and swim, faster.
Local fishermen died in the cold waters, including Helga’s father, and their community believed it was an honorable and peaceful way to go. But, if he was dead, what would be of Helga? Who would rescue her? The yearning to see and care for her was strong and he swam harder.
The familiar sound of shots fired began as he neared the shore and once again bullets landed near as he scrambled out of the water, stumbled across the beach and fell behind a low snow-covered dune. The German’s kept shooting but there was a rhythm and he was able to peak over his protection and see they didn’t have their boat and were stuck on the other side of the water. Wiz. Wiz. Plunk. Plunk. Okay, Tom thought, his body wet and cold, bullets zipping and plunking into the sand near him. Okay, Tom thought again, and ran into woods.
At first he was deer-like; navigating a new set of branches and fallen trees, reaching the foothill at a rapid pace. But the climb up the mountain was steep and his body became tired and he fell and got up and fell again. Legs began to fail but Tom kept going. Soon hands became as important as feet and he clawed and scraped and like a lame dog dragged his body to the top of the hill. There, exhausted, he closed his eyes and lay on a flat rock. It was peaceful and sleep would feel good, he thought. Stop running, and sleep. Keep eyes closed and drift to that peaceful place of slumber. Rest, yes, rest. But the Germans! Yes, thankfully he recalled the Germans and their pursuit. They would be coming over the mountain and he needed to keep a distance and forced himself to his feet and looked across the water. There they were, waiting for their boat.
He searched for the easiest path down but there was none and Tom began. His legs were tired and numb and the grade treacherous. There was uncertainty in his step and he slipped and slid, recovered, briefly before slipping and sliding again, this time falling and rolling. With visions of arriving at the bottom of the hill with little effort, Tom relaxed and hoped for the best. But this was a rough ride and he became part of a growing avalanche, tangled with rocks, branches and snow and fighting to keep arms and legs close to body.
He was knocked unconscious after his head slammed into a stump and when Tom came to a brilliant light accompanied a surprise to be alive. He made it! But something wasn’t right. There were no sounds and he couldn’t speak. He took inventory and realized he had no feelings and the brightness was all he could see. His body was suspended. The light was not real, he determined. It was the unseen luminosity seen when dead. It had ended. All of the avoided bullets and icy waters survived but one fall too many and his luck had expired. Tom took a few deep breathes and processed his fate. It had been a wonderful journey and its end possessed sereneness and he smiled, the bright light radiating into his body. But life would be missed, and suddenly a want to cry came as he realized there’d be no Helga, or child, friends or country. Is a dead man able cry? Tom didn’t know, but most likely not he figured, though it felt closer to happening as an emotion built. What was rising within him? Was it the death? Maybe, but his body began to feel, and Tom became hopeful. Was it sadness? Did this mean he was alive? Tom closed his eyes and focused and the mysterious sensation revealed itself; it was incredible pain that began to surge through his awakening body, attacking his head with great violence.
His sight returned and eyes looked over the peaceful winter-laden land and saw trees and snow but his instincts told him there was trouble. Was it the Germans, he wondered. Was he being warned they were approaching? Or, was it the cold; was it going to take its toll? No, it wasn’t those. It was something else, but what? Oh yes, it was the pain! It snapped nerves and overwhelmed his being. He was alive but paying a price for not dying, and now suffering.
Pieces of the tumble were recalled as he spat out pebbles and dirt. His luck hadn’t run out and he wondered where the Germans were and scanned the landscape; the sun was high and reflected off of the pure snow. Forget the Germans, and be thankful, he told himself. Look at this country! Look at Norway, oh Norway, his homeland; the land that brought him his lovely wife. He would see her again, Tom vowed, and tears trickled down his cheeks. He tried to wipe them away but his arms would not move. It was strange, like they were gone and Tom became afraid and cautiously looking down and saw that he was buried up to his neck in the avalanche debris.
He searched for help but movement caused his head to throb which made him nauseous. “Help!” Tom called, but yelling escalated the pain and eyes began to water. Tears froze against cheeks and he threw up which brought further waves of agony. This can’t be real, he thought. “Help!” he called. But his head, his head, and he threw up again, and there was blackness and drifting. He caught himself, stay awake, Tom urged himself. Fight the pain. To the left he searched and to the right. There was nothing. Only pain and it increased in his eyes and he shut them.
Time passed. Eyes closed, and there was silence. There were no options. He was stuck, helpless and injured. “Help,” he screamed, desperate to be freed. But his head! The throbbing. He opened his eyes and searched but everything had turned red. Yes, it felt better to keep them shut. Keep them shut, he implored. Keep them shut and listen. Yes, that was cooler and soothing. Yes, that was better. His head felt better. Keep them shut and listen. “Help!” What? Why? The torture. He needed help and wanted to see and opened his eyes and searched, but that was it – it was over; Tom was stuck in the snow, blind.