From the editor:
This is Michelle’s second submission at Two Drops of Ink. She joined “The Image Prompt challenge,” and we loved her piece. Enjoy!
By Michelle Gunnin
Waiting until after midnight had been the right choice. Eliana could barely see her hand in front of her face, but her feet still knew the way. Childhood games had taught her every turn in the path, every rise, and fall, every root, and rock. Even if she was spotted by the SS, she was confident she could lose them in the dark familiar woods. It was a risk to be sure, but Jacob depended on her.
Ah, Jacob. Her childhood sweetheart. Just thinking of him now brought a rush of excitement that had nothing to do with her current flight in the dark. The butterflies in her stomach took flight, and a smile climbed up her cheeks. She could picture his handsome face with the strong jaw of a man, but the tender skin of a boy. His dark hair a mane, and his eyes pools of chocolate, sprinkled with mischief. Always the twinkle in the eyes that could make her giggle, like when they were kids.
A snap of a twig under her foot brought Eliana back to reality. She must keep alert. Daydreaming, even in the dead of night, could cost her her life. No, hopeful thinking wasn’t allowed in a world devoid of dreams. She found the key that hung around her neck with her fingers. If only it were a key that could open a door to a new world, instead of the old farming shed. Still, it was something. A safe place…maybe. It was hard to be sure of anything these days.
When Jacob had fled after his parents were arrested, he’d had no place to go that was protected. Roaming in the woods around Eliana’s old home place trying to keep out of sight had been the way of these past four months. No one went there anymore because the memories were too painful. The once elaborate home was gone, burned by the Nazis. Dreams gone up in smoke. All that was left was the chimney, built by Elaina’s grandfather from rocks on their property. As a young girl, she had thought that stacking them had been like a puzzle, each one its own piece that had its own place.
Now, Jacob had nowhere else to go. She was the closest thing he had to family since his parents were mostly likely in the camps by this time. She knew in her heart he wouldn’t leave without her, even though the dreams of their future together had never been spoken aloud. She was the only one who knew he was still around, and she knew this only because he left her clues. A rock from the river bed shoved into a gap in the chimney. Fallen branches removed from around where the house used to stand. Weeds cut back in the opening of the fireplace and logs stacked but never burned as not to give him away. In all of her daily walks, she had never seen him, but she could feel him close by. This had become the place where their hearts were joined even though their lives were separated.
Soon the weather would be turning, and living out in the brush would never work. It was Elaina who thought of the old abandoned shed. It had taken some time to ask her father questions casually until he revealed where he kept the key. It had taken even longer for her to get up her courage to secretly take it. Jacob didn’t know of her plan because they hadn’t spoken or laid eyes on one another since the day his parents were taken away. She would have to find a way to hide the key and trust that he could figure out what it was for.
Her feet moved without thought along the dark path. Her mind was busy grasping for hiding place ideas when it settled on the chimney. The heart of the home…the only part still standing, like a guardian over the land. Before the war, they had spent so many cold evenings in front of that fireplace that it seemed the most obvious choice. Besides, she had occasionally been leaving food in and around it when she could sneak some off of her plate at home. She wrapped it, only what she could fit in her pocket, and then delivered it. Either Jacob or some animal had gotten it; she couldn’t be sure which, until one day when she arrived to find the cloth she had wrapped it in folded neatly in the opening of the chimney. That day her heart sang because she knew for sure that Jacob was near.
Yes, the chimney was the best place for the key. There was a space on the right side, just over the mantle stone. If she put it there and then filled the gap with a light-colored stone, surely he would notice. The difference in color would be obvious to someone who knew the place well, but not conspicuous to anyone who didn’t.
She was surprised when she found herself at the place where the path widened out, just before the opening where the house used to be. She crouched down behind a low bush just to make sure it was safe to proceed and to feel for a rock of the right size and shape to put on top of the key. She found one, which in the dark she pulled up close to her eyes, and it looked like it was lighter than the others. Moving like a cat ready to pounce on full alert, Elaina tiptoed to the chimney and hid the key. As she moved back under the cover of the trees, her heart was beating wildly in her chest. Fear and adrenaline…and something else…butterflies.
She turned back, and she saw him in the clearing under the moonlight. All of her wanted to run to him, but she stayed herself and simply stood up to her full height so he could see her. He was half the boy she used to know, clothes falling off of him. Evidently, the small amount of food she had smuggled him was all he had been eating, and it was not enough. His eyes were sunken and from this distance, they appeared to be empty holes in his skull. Her heart broke as her eyes filled.
They didn’t dare speak…not even a whisper. Instead, their eyes met and spoke volumes to one another. All his sparkle was gone. All hope faded away. She shared what little she had with him in her gaze. It was a look that communicated as much love as she could while she willed him to find the key. His lips turned upward at the corners when he received the message from her tear filled eyes. She too gave a smile of sorts in reply. Then she turned and walked away, back down the path leaving her love with the boy standing at the chimney.
Michelle Gunnin an everyday woman who is a writer, a wife, a mom of four nearly grown children, a teacher, a colleague, a sister, and a daughter. She is also a cancer survivor, a caregiver, and a recovering Pharisee. She has more questions than answers, and she writes to explore both. She is determined to be in the moment and live fully…both things life has taught her. You can follow her blog at michellesmosaic.wordpress.com