Smoke

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Smoke

Art by Myah Teague.

Art by Myah Teague.

Art by Myah Teague.

Tara Nigro, Class of 2019

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Windows were shattering, doors were slamming, children were crying, and parents were screaming. The usually quiet, small village of Pilzno, Poland, was now a madhouse. Deep voices yelled orders while horrific sounds of beating and fighting followed. A man in black with a flashing red armband kicked down the last locked door at the end of the street. The house was still, and seemingly empty. He muttered a laugh, and whammed his baton into his hand over and over again. With each hit came a deafening echo in the silent house.

“You can’t hide from us!!” the man yelled, “We WILL find you, you dirty Jews!”

More men in uniform continued to follow into the house, ripping apart the furniture and checking every crevice big enough to fit a mouse. As they ripped off the curtains of a window, a lady wailed a deafening scream, and thrashed out in all directions. Men tackled her, and put a burlap sack over her head to muffle her outcries. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you the Nazis were coming for you?” the man holding her down said with a twisted chuckle.

From under a dusty old bench, a little boy watched on. His knees were pulled tight to his chest, and his left cheek was glued to the ground. Tears welled in his brown eyes as he clasped his hand over his mouth to deaden his sobs. He watched as the men in black tortured his mom, knowing he was far too small to save her. The yelling of a new man’s voice broke her screams and his thoughts. “Hanna! Hanna!!” the little boy’s dad yelled as he ran over to the scene. The boy let his sobs go, but they were now drowned out by his dad’s.

“Oskar help me! Help me!!” Hanna yelled, as her husband was taken down by more foreign men. The little boy closed his eyes, and after a few more smacks and grunts, all fell silent. His mom’s soft voice and the low vibrations of his dad’s now only remained in his memory. He peered through the cracks in his fingers, originally shielding his eyes from the nightmare. He saw the swift movements of tall men dragging two heavy masses out the door, and then all was gone.

The little boy waited until his muscles cramped up from being confined for so long, and only then did he peel himself out of his hiding spot. He walked to where he last saw his parents, and looked down at his wrist. A braided, blue rope was tied around his brown skin. Attached was a metal plate, with the word “LEO” and a small picture of a fire engraved on it. His mom made it especially for him, for she was always scared the two of them would get seperated. She always used to say if he got lost, to run away from any fire or smoke he saw. To them, fire was danger. Leo threw on a dark green, knitted cap his dad made for him, and set off to find safety. He didn’t know exactly where he would go, but with his mom on his wrist and his dad on his head, he believed he would be guided to safety. Even at his young age of six, Leo knew he couldn’t stay where he was and simply wait for something to happen.

Leo peered out his front door, and was relieved to find the entire neighborhood was completely still. To his left was the long road of his street, battered with broken houses. Across from him was a small, brick house with shattered windows and smashed hanging plants. To his right was dark woods. Just barely over the trees, Leo noticed something moving. He squinted to get a closer look, and saw black, dancing vapor. Smoke. Leo always heard from his parent’s conversations through the woods was the Belzec extermination camp. Leo understood his parents didn’t want him to know about this place, so he kept it to himself and asked no questions. He also didn’t know what the words meant, but concluded Belzec was a very bad place. That’s why the woods were forbidden to him. He took a deep breath of courage and started down his road. He wanted away from Belzec, away from the woods, and away from the smoke.

Leo walked down his road, through the town center, and through some trees, until he eventually hit a river. The whole time, he was sure to keep the smoke behind him. When he got to the river, he remembered his family trips to his Grandpa’s house. They always drove along a river to get there. Leo decided to follow the river upstream, as they did to Grandpa’s house, and eventually he would recognize his surroundings. Grandpa would know what to do. Leo trekked and trekked, making periodic stops to find the smoke of Belzec, and never going towards it. After many miles, his legs were becoming heavy,  his mouth was dry, and his eyelids were drooping. A loud, sudden rumble broke his daze, and became more intense second by second. The rumble was familiar to Leo, and he recognized the sound of a train. He ran up the hill to his right, and was greeted by a giant, wooden train station. The boy scoped out his surroundings, and the smoke was behind him while the train tracks were in front. To his left was the train station and stopped train that had just arrived, and a few feet to his right were two ladies cuddled up next to a destroyed, brick pillar.

The women had on long skirts and jackets, and were both quaking. The lady in the front’s piercing eyes were full of tears, and they slowly shifted up to meet Leo’s gaze. “A boy,” she said in a dazed manner, as she pointed her old, bony finger at him. Leo took a step back, but the lady pushed to her feet, quicker than Leo thought she was capable of. Her companion also sat up, smiling, showing off her grey teeth. “Are you lost, sweetie?” the old lady asked, spitting through the holes in her smile. She twisted the end of her words up, and spoke in a stretched out manner.

“N-no,” Leo responded, not doing a good job covering up his nerves, although he tried.

“I do not mean to scare you, darling,” she responded slowly, as her greasy, silver hair fell in front of her eyes. “What are you doing out here alone?”

“I’m searching for something that’s lost,” Leo responded, trying to not give away too much information about himself.

You should not be out here alone,” she responded.

“I don’t have a choice.”

“So the Nazis… They got to your family, too?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I know. I just know. Our brother… he was taken,” said the lady, wincing and looking down at the word taken. Leo was glad her menacing gaze was now shifted elsewhere. Her eyes were like ice and were impossible to look away from. Leo looked at the ground, not knowing how to respond.

The other old lady emerged from behind his approacher, and spoke in the same, painful, drawn-out manner. “It is not safe out here for a little boy like you,” she droned. The wrinkles around her eyeballs made them seem nonexistent. Her headscarf was a lilac purple, and was the only colorful thing about her. “We… We will guide you to safety!” she said and outreached an unsteady, veiny hand. Leo thought for a quick second, and decided he would be safer with the companion of an adult. He reached to the ghostly hand, and held lightly onto two of the fingers. “This way to my Grandpa, please,” Leo led.

“What is this,” the original woman said, stealing Leo’s hat off of his head out of pure curiosity. “I just love this color and this pattern of yarn!” she said, examining it carefully while her nose twitched.

“Hey give that back!! My dad made me that!!” Leo yelled, releasing the other woman from his tiny hand. His face turned red hot. He was ready to pounce any minute. Leo couldn’t bare to lose something so dear to his heart.

The woman gave it one last look, and handed it back over. “I am sorry. I enjoy looking at things I like. I like that hat, my dear. Now, let us go find Grandpa.” Leo suddenly felt uneasy; he wanted to be as far away from the two old women as possible. Leo snatched his hat back out of her hand, and sprinted away from their selfless safety with no warning at all.

As Leo bolted away, the two shrunken old ladies looked at each other puzzled. “Our little boy!” one said to the other, “He’s gone!”

“I wonder what was wrong… I just wanted to help him,” the other responded with a weak sigh. The two ladies looked at each other, and began to deeply weep once again. Their kind hope of helping Leo faded away, and the thoughts of their old, stolen family flooded back.

Leo sprinted and sprinted away from his feeling of danger, and headed towards the train station. He stopped just far enough where he knew the old souls could not make it in time to follow him. He looked ahead at the towering train station, now just a few meters away. It was made of splintering, brown wood, and the thickening black smoke was now to the left of him.

Leo was turning to head back to his river, to his home ground, when all of a sudden a large body jumped down from the front door of the station. When the male turned to face Leo, his left arm was exposed. Leo noticed the familiar sight of a flaunting red armband, and his heart dropped into his stomach. It was the same uniform that haunted his home just hours ago. “Hey little boy!” the man shouted, even though they were close enough to just whisper. “Get in the train,” he bluntly commanded with a tiny, twisted smile, and clutched Leo by the arm.

Leo tried to run, but the man’s grip was so tight it would leave bruises on his arm for weeks. Leo hollered and thrashed in every way possible, but the man still dragged him along the side of the train effortlessly, as Leo was far too weak to give him even a tiny fight. It was helpless, and Leo was pulled all the way to the front car, where he was viciously thrown in. The last thing Leo saw was the word Belzec, the destination plastered on the top of the train.

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