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The rain may as well have hit Alex in the face as the tears started flowing fast. His mind flashed back to the work party down at Gorey. Nikkita had been tucked down his shirt against his chest when he was working in the sand. His voice was more like a whisper when he started to speak.
"Oi Richard, such risk, such sacrifice ... my father, my mother, my aunts uncles, and cousins!"
He went down on one knee and knelt on the grass. It took him a while. His body aged now, and it had been through a lot. He picked up the bear and gave it one more kiss. He stood up, doffed his hat, and said, "Goodbye, Richard, my saviour."
The rain eased up. Alex made his way slowly out of the cemetery, flashbacks coming thick and fast.
Heiniek, Alex's friend, had taken him out of hiding in December 1944. He was being shipped back to fight the Allied forces in France in a last-ditch attempt to defend Germany. Heniek had smuggled Alex out of Jersey and hidden amongst the stores on one of the supply lorries. He could not believe he would have to spend more time being hidden away once more.
It had not been an easy thing for Heniek to do, for he was also risking his life if he was found helping Alex. Alex was now also not as small as he once was – although malnourished, he had grown. He had been hidden underground, with no access to washing. His hair had grown long and was matted in places. His body itched with lice. His clothes no longer fitted him properly.
Alex longed to return to Poland and to find his mother and his sister, Nikkita. He wanted to feel the sun shining on his face and the grass under his feet again.
"Ah, young Alex, come with me please," Heniek said.
Alex was scared. He thought maybe he was going to be taken back to the work party.
"Do not look worried. I am here to help you," Heniek reassured him.
It was dark outside, except for the flash from the searchlight on top of the castle.
"Be very quiet and follow me."
Alex followed Heniek. They came over the green in front of the castle. There was music and laughter coming from the direction of the keep.
"They are having a party and will not notice us."
He led Alex to a little door. It belonged to a little apartment on the sloping hill that led to the castle. Heniek knocked on the door. It opened only a chink. A hand came out and beckoned them in.
"Oh, Henny, he is in a mess. Look, bring him over here. I have a bath ready."
Alex was petrified, but he let the lady peel off his clothes. She was very polite, but every now and then, she had to keep turning away, and Alex realised how much odour he was giving off.
"I'm going to have to burn them," she said, throwing them on to the fire. Little sizzling noises came from the fire, where the body lice burnt on the fire. Alex was guided into the bath. It was hot but felt good. The lady looked at him and said, "Well, now, poor love, we need to sort out that hair."
The disinfectant in the water stung his skin. He could not remember when he had last felt clean. Oh yes, he remembered. It was when he was in hospital, a long while ago.
Snip, snip, snip went the scissors as she began to snip off the matted hair. She used cotton wool and put paraffin on for the head lice too.
"Ah, now you start to look better!"
"Tank you, tank you," said Alex, kissing her hand.
"Ah, well, you can stop that. Now get up and get yourself dry." She handed him a huge white towel, which he wrapped around himself.
She next appeared with an arm full of clothes – a vest, trousers, a clean shirt, braces, socks and a pair of shoes, and a coat!
"Now hope it all fits, my love," she said, patting him on the head.
He felt squeaky clean. She was about to take his bear, but he quickly took it from her.
"No, mine ... please," he said.
Heniek said his "thank yous" to the lady. Alex thought they would never stop kissing. The lady was crying.
"Stay safe, Henny, and make sure you look after this boy."
He waved goodbye, and they slipped away as silently as they had arrived.
Heniek led Alex down to the harbour area. He managed to squeeze him into the back of a lorry.
"Now stay there. Don't move till I come back for you."
It was quiet on the pier apart from the occasional slap of the sea against the wall, the odd cry of an unsettled seagull. Every now and then, he could hear the sound of music and laughter drifting down from the castle.
He was very cramped in the lorry, but he dared not move as the boxes that surrounded him had skulls on, which could only mean the contents of the boxes were dangerous. Plus there were guards. He could smell the occasional waft of tobacco, and he could hear their jackboots pacing up and down on the road in the chilly night air.
It seemed an absolute age, but Heniek eventually came back. Alex jumped when he heard a knock on the side of the lorry.
"Alex, it's Heniek. You will feel the lorry moving, but it's me driving. Keep hidden till I tell you to get out, OK?"
"OK," he replied, his voice trembling with fear.
He was surprised that he heard Heniek speaking Polish to some of the other soldiers.
Alex heard the engine start, but the lorry spluttered a little, and he heard Heniek swear as he managed to crunch the gears.
Alex was listening as best he could: the Polish German soldiers were planning to mutiny. They were all very angry with being forced to fight for the Germans. Finally, Alex felt a little safer.
Half an hour seemed like two hours when you are so cramped up you can't move.
Alex could hear the sound of engines and could smell the thick smell of diesel fuel. He realised he was at the airport. The tarpaulin was removed from the truck. Heniek jumped in the back.
"Quick, get in here. They will lift you on to the plane." Alex did as he was told and hid in the crate that Heniek and his friend Erik were loading on to a German supply plane.
It seemed to take an absolute age to get soldiers and supplies loaded.
Alex felt sick, and his heart started thumping as he felt the plane coast along the runway and then pick up speed, up, up, and away.
"Quick, put this on, I'll help you." Heniek started fitting Alex with a parachute; it was difficult through the smoke and flames. The plane had been hit, and there was no way of knowing where they were or where some of the soldiers were as visibility was poor, and the body of the plane filled more and more and more with smoke and flames. It made Alex cough and gag.
Heniek shoved some papers in Alex's hand.
"You will need these in case you are stopped, and we are separated."
Alex quickly put them inside his coat under the parachute straps.
Alex had never been so frightened in his life, and sensing this, Heniek grabbed his hands.
"When I say jump, hold my hands and jump."
Alex looked him in the eyes and nodded; he was too scared to argue.
Alex held tight to Heniek's arms. He shut his eyes tight. All around him he could hear tracer shot, which whizzed very close to his ear. Heniek pulled a chord on Alex's chute and said, "Let go my hands."
Alex felt himself shoot up in the air, above Heniek's head. He opened his eyes to see Heniek about a metre above his head, and he felt relief that he was there. There were sparks and tracer whizzing around.
Alex hit the ground with a thud. It knocked him clean out.
Alex awoke to the sound of a crackling fire, in the distance he could hear gunfire. He listened if he could hear Heniek.
"Ah, you are awake. You did not see the ground coming, eh?"
Alex tried to lift his head, but it hurt. He put his hand on the back of his head and felt a huge bump.
"Aghh, it hurts," he complained.
"Hot tea, young Alex?"
"Yes, please," he answered and sat up slowly.
He could make out they were in a barn-like building. Slumped against the wall was Erik. His leg was twisted unnaturally, and he had a bandage around his head, which was heavily soaked with blood.
Heniek sliced some sausage with a knife, pulled off some bread, and tossed it at Alex. He caught it and ripped into it hungrily.
"Ha! Ha! Ha! It's good no?"
"Very good, I was really hungry."
"Come get your tea then."
Alex moved over towards the fire, and Heniek handed him a tin mug filled with tea.
"Where are we?" asked Alex.
"We have no idea until morning. We could be anywhere. We need to rest now for a start at first light."
Alex drank the tea. The last time he had a hot drink was in hospital, and it was hot milk. The tea tasted so good, and he felt warm all the way down to his toes. He soon fell asleep and was so cosy.
Alex was awakened by an arm falling across his body. He sat up. It was Erik's arm, but it was heavy. Alex grabbed Erik's hand, but it was icy cold. He realised that he had not made it through the night.
"Heniek, help me," Alex called.
Heniek appeared from outside, zipping up his trousers.
"It's Eric ... He's dead."
Heniek went over to where his friend was lying.
"Yes, you are right, my friend. The tracer got him as we were coming down. We have no time to bury him. We must leave quickly."
Heniek found some sacking and covered his friend over with it. They slipped silently out into the early morning frost and mist.
Heiniek handed Alex Erik's backpack, and Alex noticed that he was dressed in normal clothes, no longer the German uniform he was wearing when they had left Jersey. Henieik also threw a rifle at Alex, and they left the area of the barn and headed towards the mountains in the distance.
It was not long before they found a road, but they kept to the safety of the trees alongside it. They had been walking for about an hour when they spotted a tank and some armoured vehicles.
"Quick, behind here." Heniek grabbed Alex by the arm and dragged him behind a stony outcrop. They watched as the convoy of German vehicles hammered along. The sound was thunderous as a tank led at the front, two armoured cars, some soldiers on foot, then two more tanks, and about four motorcycles.
"We need to keep our heads out of sight of them for a while."
It took a good half-hour as the convoy carried on rumbling into the distance before Heniek decided it was safe for them to continue their journey.
They had to find some kind of signpost soon, at least to find out where they were on a map. However, the trees were thick, and the smell of pine was strong. The wind was cold, and it started to snow. Small flakes to start with, but they just got larger and larger.
"We need to stop soon. We cannot continue. We cannot see."
There was an over-hang of rocks among the trees, and they had to rest up. The snow was now very heavy, and with the wind behind it, drifts were beginning to build up.
The light was disappearing fast, and in the distance could be heard the cry of wolves; it was an unnerving eerie sound, and Alex found himself snuggling up closer to Heniek. They huddled together to keep each other warm.
Alex awoke to the smell of woodsmoke, and Heniek was skinning a rabbit. There was a pot of water bubbling over a little fire.
"Ah, good morning, Alex." He laughed.
"Morning, Heniek," he replied and squatted by the fire, holding his hands close in to warm them up.
He sliced up the rabbit and dropped the pieces into the pot.
"We eat really soon, and then we move on. We don't want to hang around here too long."
They both ate greedily. It had been a while since the bread and sliced sausage and boiled rabbit tasted really good.
Alex went to take a pee. As he did so, he heard movement, then a snarling and growling. First, he saw teeth and fangs, then the setback ears, and the face of a wolf. He backed off very slowly. He tried not to take his eyes away from the eyes of the wolf, whose eyes were fixed on him. He walked backwards but did not see the log behind him; next minute, he was on his back. The wolf came flying through the air at him, the next thing a gun shot, and the wolf lay motionless on the ground.
"You're a very lucky boy, and this is why we have to move quickly and cannot hang around."
Heniek very quickly skinned the wolf, and he divided the skin. He made Alex wear its fur side down to keep him warm. He said it would soon dry out in cold air, and then he could turn it around the other way again. Heniek also sliced off some meal-size pieces of wolf flesh to eat later. Alex did not relish the thought of chewing on wolf, especially as it had tried to eat him! However, there was nothing else to eat, and they had to keep their strength up. They just had to hope it was a lone wolf, and they would not have to face the rest of the pack.
"Get up, quickly ... Move!" shouted the owner of the gun. The language he was speaking was Polish.
Alex looked over to see where Heniek was. He was standing with his arms in the air. He nodded at Alex as if to say "do as they say."
There were six men with rifles, and they were led into the woods until they reached a camp in a clearing. They were led into a large tent. At the table sat a giant of a man in Alex's eyes – huge black beard, fur hat, coat, and gun slings filled with gun shells. He looked up at Heniek and Alex.
"What are you doing in the woods? Who are you, and where are you from?"
Heniek tried to explain their plight to him, and the fact that he was trying to get Alex home. They did not believe Heniek, and the one in charge asked Alex to come forwards and roll up his sleeves. They all gathered around to look, and then they saw the number tattooed on Alex's arm, and then he knew that Alex had been a German prisoner of war.
"We cannot take any chances, hey? You could be German spies. But we know you are not. We are the Batalony Cholopske. You have heard of us?"
Alex looked blankly, but Heniek nodded and said he had. He knew they were a very fierce peasant resistance group. It was not good to be on the wrong side of them, or you would be dead.
The leader got up. "My name is Yanick. You are very welcome to join us, but if you wish to stay with us, you need to help with the chores." This was a very reasonable offer as there was safety in numbers. They were led to their sleeping quarters – a four-man tent, which they were to share with two other men.
"Have you forgotten what day it is tomorrow?" asked the man in the tent.
"It's Christmas Day, camp feast. Come and join us. We need sleep. It will be a good and long day tomorrow!"
They settled into their tent and were handed back their belongings and guns.
Alex lay with his eyes shut; drifting in and out of sleep, he was thinking about Richard, and what he may be doing for Christmas with his family. He barely remembered Christmas with his own family. It had been so long.
It was so warm in the tent that condensation began to drip, and it dripped on Alex's face, and he opened his eyes. The man next to him said, "Morning, Alex, I'm Stephan. Hope you had a good sleep. Merry Christmas!"
Alex sat up and yawned, "Merry Christmas, Stephan. Where is Heniek?"
"Oh, he has not been up long. He has gone to find out what your chores are for today."
Alex felt overjoyed that he was no longer a prisoner. It was Christmas Day. He could not remember the last time he had heard someone wish him a "Merry Christmas!" All the days were the same in the prison camp, and all the days in the Roman Fort seemed the same; it was also hard to tell day from night too. The crashing sound of the sea and the cry of gulls were the sounds he had grown accustomed to. It was good to be amongst his own kind. His thoughts went to his sister, and he got his bear from his coat and gave it a cuddle.
"Oi, Nikkita," he sighed.
His job for the day was to help Heniek to chop wood for the fire. Heniek insisted he chopped, whilst Alex stacked and carried the wood back to the camp.
As they entered the clearing, people had gathered around the fire. The sound of singing began, and Alex found himself joining in.
Excerpted from Tears in the Rain by Dina Andrews Copyright © 2012 by Dina Andrews. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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