The Medal
Wayne Purdy
Alex Allenby returns home to visit his dying father. His father has one regret; he witnessed the ... Show More
Genres:
Contemporary Fic., Literary, Sci Fi
Tags:
world war 2, time travel,

Chapter 13

 Time is the longest distance between two places.
                          -Tennessee Williams

     Alex woke again, this time the feelings of anxiety were lessened. The little bedroom now had a familiarity to it, even if nothing else did. He still hadn’t had time to adjust to his new reality, to think about what had happened. The concussion left him dizzy and tired and made it difficult for him to gather his thoughts. The woman, Edith, had done her best to tend to his injuries, but her supplies were limited. Medicine was hard to come by in occupied Holland. Even household remedies were sought after commodities. She applied a poultice made of bread and milk, but didn’t tell him that the family rations were used for it. They all ate a little less for him.

     His stomach growled. He sat up and was relieved to discover his head didn’t hurt quite so much today. It still hurt, but not as badly. He took it as a good sign. He changed out of the thin pajamas and put on his suit. The pants were grass stained and the shirt badly wrinkled but he was glad to have them back on. He slipped the medal into his pocket. Whatever was happening to him, he was sure that the medal was the key to it all. He heard voices and climbed down the creaky old stairs following them. The farmhouse was large; there were several other bedrooms upstairs. Everything was dark. The lights were out – probably as an energy conservation move and the windows were all blacked out.

     “We can’t trust him.” Alex recognized Pim’s voice.“He’s a stranger.”

     "He’s with the Allies,” Anke said. “He knew about the invasion.”

     “Everyone knows about the invasion now! It proves nothing.”

     “We can’t abandon him,” Edith said. “He’s injured and he has no papers. If the Germans find him…”

     Alex entered the room, a large country kitchen. There was a window, not blacked out, and a stream of sunshine filled the room. A pot of porridge simmered on the stove, big bubble slowly rising and breaking on the surface. It wasn’t as thick as it should be but Edith filled it out with some currants. The entire family gathered around the table for breakfast; Edith, Anke, Pim, and elderly couple, and a young boy and girl. Did all seven live in this house? Alex wondered. The two children hungrily ate their meal, dipping bread into the bowl scraping it clean.

      “I won’t be a bother to you,” Alex said. “I’ll be on my way.” Alex didn’t know where he would go, but he wouldn’t stay where he wasn’t welcome.

       “You’re not going anywhere,” Edith said. She plopped a bowl of the porridge down onto the table and gestured for Alex to sit. “Not until you’ve eaten.”

     “Why does it matter?” Anke asked. “The war will be over soon. It’s all anyone is talking about. The green grocer says the war will be over by October!”

     The older woman, Edith’s mother, laughed. She had white hair tucked into a fraying kerchief and a face more wrinkled than a road map. “You think the Germans will just turn around and leave? You think they’ll free us? No. They will do what anyone does when something falls from their grasp.”

     “What is that Moeder?”

     She took a sip of her ersatz coffee, wiping her lips dry on the sleeve of her blouse. “They’ll tighten their grip.”

     None around the table said a word, letting the ominous warning sink in. At the head of the table, Edith’s father smiled warmly. His eyes met Alex’s and he nodded his head.

     “So this is the young fellow we found in the field, is it?”

     “Yes Grandfather,” Pim answered. “He’s going to cause us trouble.”

     “We’re already in trouble,” the old man said. “What’s a little more?”

     “But grandfather…”

     “It is decided, Pim. We won’t turn him out. He’ll be as good as dead if we do.” The old man stood up. He reminded Alex of his own father. Both men were about the same age, though seventy years apart. They had the same compassionate eyes, windows to a gentle soul. He stood up with some difficulty and crossed the kitchen with the help of a gnarled cane. He clamped his hand on Alex’s shoulder with surprising strength. “My name is Joop,” he said. “That’s my wife, Maud. I believe you know the rest.”

     “Not us,” the boy piped in. “We weren’t allowed to see the stranger.”

     Joop chuckled and tousled his great-grandson’s mop of blond hair. “This handsome lad is Broos and his sister is Margret.” Alex looked over to the girl. She had long brown hair tied into pigtails with little snippets of ribbon. She squealed when she met Alex’s gaze and turned her head away, her face turning crimson. “You’ll have to pardon Greet. She’s notoriously shy.”

     Alex took a spoonful of porridge. It was hot and tasted bland. Edith added some honey to sweeten it, but it did little to add much in the way of flavor. He must have made a disapproving face. “I’m sorry our food isn’t satisfactory,” Pim said, not bothering to hide his contempt. “We do the best we can, but our stores are running low. It will be difficult now because we have another mouth to feed.”

     “Pim!” His mother admonished him. “Meneer Alex is our guest. You will not forget your manners in this house.”

     “I apologize,” he murmured.

     “He does present us a problem,” Anke said. “He has no papers. If he were stopped…”

     “Then we shall get him papers,” Maud said. “And with papers comes more rations coupons.”

     “For all the good they do. The food is becoming harder to come by, even with the coupons. Twice nothing is still nothing,” Pim said haughtily.

     “We shall have to make do,” Edith replied. “We always do. Tomorrow I want you to go into town. Summon the doctor. Tell him our horse is ailing.”

     Pim nodded his head knowingly. “Yes moeder.
 

     Alex sat on an old cedar fence that separated the farmhouse’s yard from the barnyard. There were old divots and hoof prints in the pasture and Alex realized that there was once livestock here, though there didn’t seem to be anything now. He hadn’t had a chance to collect his thought since arriving at the De Graaf farm. He still didn’t entirely trust his senses. Perhaps he had stuck his head worse than he imagined. What if he was laying in a hospital bed in his own time, in 2014, and all this was the product of an overstressed, active imagination? It certainly seemed more likely than this. Was it really possible that he had travelled backwards in time? It was the stuff of the science fiction shows he watched on television. He removed his father’s medal from within his pocket. Clearly this thing wasn’t all that it seemed. Alex tried to recollect the information he had gleaned from his Google search on the France and Germany star, but his head hurt, making it difficult to gather his thoughts coherently. He knew it was awarded to soldiers in the British Commonwealth, including Canadians, who served in Europe from D-Day until Germany’s surrender. And when was that? He struggled to remember. He knew one thing for sure; the old lady had it right. The war wouldn’t end for quite some time. And it wouldn’t be easy.

     Had it somehow sensed Brennan’s anguish? Brennan never felt that he deserved the medal. He hadn’t been brave, he’d been afraid. Brennan’s dying wish was for Alex to right his wrongs. Is it possible that the medal was somehow able to detect those powerful thoughts and…make it happen…Or maybe it was the work of God and this was divine intervention? Alex wasn’t a religious man, and Brennan certainly wasn’t either. Would God even bother to act on behalf of a couple of non-believers? Or perhaps He would, just to prove a point.

     Then there was the time travelling. Admittedly, Alex was no physicist, but everything Alex knew about time travelling was problematic. True, everything he knew came from old episodes of Star Trek. Everything he did now could affect the present as he knew it. Simply stepping on a butterfly could trigger a series of catastrophic events leading to nuclear war in the future. Or what if he accidentally killed his own grandfather? Would Alex suddenly cease to exist? Then there was the Jewish family. Supposing he manages to save them and the boy grows up to be a worse monster than Hitler? Alex rubbed his head, hoping to assuage the dull ache radiating from his temples. Time Travel made his head hurt possibly even more than the concussion did. He wondered where Albert Einstein was. Would it be possible to find him, maybe ask him some questions? Alex scoffed at the notion. Surely Einstein was in America. He seemed to remember that Einstein wasn’t included in the development of the atomic bomb because of a communist scare, but surely he was involved in the war effort. Besides, Alex was here, in occupied Holland. There was no safe way for him to travel freely, and certainly no way to cross the ocean. Einstein would probably dismiss Alex as a crazy person. Any sane person would.

   The medal seemed to have other qualities beyond time travelling, Alex mused. There was his sudden ability to understand Dutch, and for him to be understood too. It’s a handy feature, and surely made his mission here in Hoopstad a lot easier. It needed to be near him though. Alex made a mental note to ask Edith for a piece of string and he would fashion a necklace. In the meantime, Alex kept it in his pocket.

     “What are you doing?”

     Alex turned and saw the boy, Broos. Broos was about ten with the same cocky features as his Uncle Pim, and inquisitive blue eyes. “Nothing,” Alex answered. “Just thinking.”

     “About what?”

     “Grown-up stuff.”

     “That’s what my parents say when they don’t want to answer me,” Broos said.

     “Clever boy,” Alex said. “Where did all the animals go?” He said, pointing towards the barn. The barn was once red, but years of neglect had seen the paint chip and peel, exposing the graying barn board. Many of the planks were coming up, leaving holes in the walls.

     “They’re gone,” Broos said. “The soldiers took them. I guess they ate them. My father was angry because he never got paid like they promised.”

     “Where is your father?”

     The boy’s mouth stretched downwards forming a frown. His eyes became watery. “I’m not supposed to talk about it,” he said in a whisper.

     “That’s okay,” Alex said. “You don’t have to.” Alex silently admonished himself for asking the boy where his father was in the midst of a war. Whatever the answer was, it couldn’t be good.

     “He was killed when the soldiers came. He joined the army and tried to protect us all. The whole country. My mother says he’s a hero.” The boy’s chest nearly burst with pride.

     “He is a hero,” Alex said. “You should be very proud.”

     Broos climbed up onto the fence rail and sat beside Alex. “I don’t think my uncle likes you very much. I like you though,” Broos said. Alex envied the boy his honesty. At what point would he develop a filter, protectively guarding his words like the precious commodities that they were.

     “What’s in the barn?” Alex asked. He remembered his father’s story. The Jewish family, the Simons, were hidden under a barn. Alex wondered if this was the very barn, or would that be too much of a coincidence. Then again, why send Alex to this time and place if this weren’t the barn? There was only one way to find out, Alex supposed.

     “The barn? There’s nothing in there anymore except our horse. Mama says she’s an old nag but we have to keep her because there aren’t many animals left. We might be able to sell her if things get real bad…or maybe eat her.”

     “Do you think I could have a look around?”

     Broos shrugged his shoulders. “We aren’t supposed to go in there anymore. It isn’t safe. The barn is falling down on itself.”

     “I guess I’ll be really careful then. Why don’t you wait here?” Broos was disappointed but acquiesced to the instructions from an adult. Alex climbed down the opposite side of the fence and into the pasture. The grass was overgrown and patchy. No animal had grazed in this field for quite some time. The barn door was closed but unlocked. Alex lifted the latch up and slid the door open and went inside. It was dark and smelled of manure. There was an old mare in a stall that hadn’t been mucked yet. Calling the horse a nag was no exaggeration. It was old and nearly blind. This horse, a chestnut Dutch Draft, could barely stand, let alone pull a plough. She was large, though, and once would have been a powerful animal. He scratched its muzzle and the mare whinnied in appreciation. “I wish I had an apple for you, old girl,” he said.

     Alex looked around. There wasn’t much in the barn; some feed, a bucket with a hole in the bottom, gardening tools, and a rusty, old plough. There was a hayloft too, just as his father had said. Otherwise, the large barn was quite empty. Across from the stalls, Alex could see a trapdoor. Exhilarated, he hurried across. It was covered in dust, he noticed. It looked like it hadn’t been open in a long while. Still, if you were hiding a family of Jews in occupied Holland, it would be best if it didn’t look lived-in.

     “How do I do this,” he whispered. If they were in there he didn’t want to startle them. Cautiously, he opened the trapdoor a crack. “It’s okay,” he said. “I won’t hurt you. I’m here to help.”

     “Who are you talking to? The mice?”

     Alex jumped, startled. “Pim! You gave me a scare!”

     "What are you looking for?"

     "I was just exploring," Alex replied.

     “Well, I don't want you snooping around. That's nothing anyway, just the potato cellar,” Pim said, nodding his head towards the trapdoor in Alex’s hand. “There’s nothing in it. The seed potatoes are all in the ground, though I don’t know that we’ll have much of a crop this season. The Nazi’s confiscated the best of the crop last fall. They left us with the duds. I don’t tell the others, but I’m worried that it’s going to be a tough winter, especially with another mouth to feed.”

     Alex let the barb slide. He closed the door and looked at the handsome young man. Pim was a little younger than Lorne, but lacked the friendly quality of his son. “I’m grateful for your help,” he said. “I don’t want to be a burden.”

     Pim grabbed a pitchfork leaning against the wall and tossed it towards Alex. “You want to help? Start by cleaning out Dame’s stall.”

     “Dame?”

     “The nag! And put the shit in the wheelbarrow. We use it to fertilize the garden.”

     Alex sighed heavily but went to work. It was probably best to get on Pim’s good side, if he had one. He needed to find the Simons family and he would need help for that.
Log in to add a comment or review for this chapter Chapter updated on: 1/17/2016 1:49:06 AM
  • 2/5/2016 3:42:57 AM
    Chapter 13 and I learned how to vote...not too bad! Lol Just into the time travel. I'm enjoying the book!
  • 2/5/2016 3:42:47 AM
    Chapter 13 and I learned how to vote...not too bad! Lol Just into the time travel. I'm enjoying the book!
  • Ryan Watt commented on :
    1/19/2016 4:29:24 PM
    One of the trickiest parts of a 'suddenly you time traveled in a world that doesn't know that's possible!" story is getting the character to believe it. I think you do a ... Show More
  • Andre Clemons commented on :
    1/17/2016 4:42:58 AM
    Even in unfamiliar surroundings, it appears that there remains hospitality and humanity. How Alex is gonna get out of this I can't even begin to know.
    • Wayne Purdy Thanks for carrying on with the story. Alex finds himself in very new, very dangerous territory. He's going to need new relationships to survive and hopefully carry out his mission.
      1/17/2016 4:54:42 AM