Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Game

Lining the street like eager children waiting to scurry into it and gather up the candy tossed at a parade, so the craftsman style houses and cape-cod bungalows seemed to stand lit up in the regalia of the season. Fresh-cut limbs shaped into wreaths adorned the doors with more limbs and velvety ribbons carefully wrapped around porch railings. Inside, candles, garlands of popcorn and cranberries, and sparkly glass ornaments decorated the freshly-cut-from-the-forest evergreen trees. It was the Christmas season of 1938.

But shouts of glee and laughter – the chatter of happy children and families - were nowhere to be heard that damp dark evening; the streets chilled with an unusual quiet.

I gathered the children around me – none of my own; these were the few from the nearby neighborhood who had hidden well when the soldiers came and emptied their homes. Eight or ten little survivors in all, I pulled them close. “Children,” I whispered, “let’s play a game.” I looked into the round, frightened eyes of each child, and touched a pale cheek or patted a head in an effort to give what little comfort I could as I spoke. There they stood tired and weary looking in their long worn wool coats with bare hands sticking out from the sleeves. I couldn’t linger any longer.

“We are the hiders and they are the seekers, but instead of each of us finding our own hiding spot, we will hide all together. It is very important for you to be quiet – don’t make a sound. No matter what happens, be brave. Listen to what I say children – not a sound, and follow me.”

The truth was, I didn’t know where we were going. We couldn’t stay. If we stayed, that meant certain death for all of us. All I knew is that we had to make our way out of the city. Like mice scurrying into hiding when caught scavenging for food in the darkness, so we moved down the street in the shadows as we were hungry to find safety in the night.

“Halt!” From what we hoped was far down the street, a shout pierced the silence of the shadows. I whispered, “Remember the game, children! Quickly and quietly!”

Not wasting a second to look behind me and judge the distance between the soldiers and us, I looked only ahead and by chance (or fate) recognized a familiar house. “Look, children,” I directed in low tones. “The white house to your left. Don’t stop to knock. Go right in and out through the French doors to the back yard. Make your way to back of the big pine tree.”

To our fortune, although no one was home, the door was not locked just as I prayed it would not be. I made a mental note that unlocked doors would not be a part of life in the near future, but I would keep my door unlocked just in case someone again needed refuge.

Quickly we slipped into the house and out to the other side. Just as we were making our way up the hidden steps at the back of the tree, the soldiers burst through the front door of the house. It took us mere seconds to get up the tree and rest in that darkness. Deeply hidden there, we could not be seen.

For many years, I cried in shame over my loss of innocence in that tree. I was eleven. Tommy was fifteen. My brothers and I used to play with Tommy in the wooded acres between our neighborhoods – I was always tagging along when they went to catch salamanders or to throw rocks into the creek. Then one day Tommy wanted to show me his secret hiding place in the tree behind his house. The branches were large enough to hold a box of wood three meters across, and the pine needles on the branches were long and dense enough as to hide that box.

I never told, and I never played with Tommy again.

Where once I cursed his street and his house and his tree and his hidden box, the thought that lost innocence would be the tender for salvation of these few somehow made me smile. My heart was still heavy, but it felt different.

“Quietly, children. Not a word. You’ve played this game with mastery – such good little players. Won’t your friends be jealous when they learn how well you’ve mastered the game?”

From the darkness in the box in the tree, without a sound the children and I peered out at the small group of soldiers. These were not men hardened and broken by hatred as I had imagined them to be. Instead, they were nearly children themselves. One boy didn’t look a day over fifteen – maybe fourteen. Another was a little taller – he couldn’t have possibly been older than sixteen. All of their uniforms fit long and bulky – as if they were playing dress up with the clothes found in daddy’s closet. Rifles hung from their shoulders with ease – not the typical care or decorum taken by a seasoned soldier with his firearm.

For a few minutes, they poked around in the back yard, and then the lot of them – four or five (it was difficult to tell in the darkness) – gravitated toward a large pile of wood chips on the other side of the yard. I couldn’t guess why the pile of wood chips was there or how it came into being, but I didn’t care about the origin. It was a distraction for the young soldiers.

First, one scooped up a handful of the chips and threw them at an older boy. Another joined in on the assault. Pretty soon, they all cast their rifles aside and flung themselves into the serious play of wood chip throwing. Pushing, shoving, rolling in the wood chips had them thoroughly occupied.

I took advantage of that moment to begin lowering the children to the safety of the yard behind Tommy’s house.


I don’t know what happened next – that’s when I woke up suddenly. Put that in your Freud pipe and smoke it! These are the very real and crazy type of dreams I have.

7 comments:

pjd said...

What happened next is you spent the next thirty days turning it into a novel. :o)

Gracie said...

Yeah, that's what I am thinking. I love historical novels.

pjd said...

Historical? Oh, I thought this was to take place in the future, towards the end of the Bush administration.

bluesugarpoet said...

Oh, you mean Fantasy fiction?

Gracie said...

Silliness.

Michael Jack said...

nothing like a pile of wood chips to spark up a good time.

bluesugarpoet said...

Oh, my - LOL - MJ, your thoughts are along the lines of what I was thinking while I was dreaming. I became conscious of the thought, "What the hay are they playing in woodchips for - don't they know there's a war going on?!!" Of course, this is when I woke up.

Nothing like a good roll in the woodchips.