Chapter 1 - Silas
I missed my family the most. That was probably the worst part—not knowing when or even if I was going to see them again. I’d just been thrown into another country without any warning, forced to follow orders from strangers, walk in lines, and be horrible to people I didn’t even know… and I barely even understood why.
My name is Silas Lang. The year was 1943. I was a twenty-year-old German soldier stationed in Denmark and I’d been in Copenhagen for a little over a week now. Maybe. I’d lost track of time even before I’d gotten there. The monotony of doing the same thing day after day made it difficult to keep things straight.
I wasn’t anyone important in the war, that’s for sure. Holding a gun made me feel sick and everyone knew that I wouldn’t last as much as ten minutes in the field. Instead, I’d been sent here to guard the town with a group of my comrades, some more significant than others. But I was good at following orders and I was good at reading and writing—both German and English—which was definitely an asset in this part of the war. At least I could be somewhat useful here.
I was walking down the street alone when I saw him—standing by himself in an abandoned alley. He was a brown-haired boy, probably around my age, but it was hard to tell from that distance. I stopped, paralyzed, just staring at him. He had his back turned towards me, so I couldn’t see his face and he couldn’t see mine either. I didn’t even know if he’d noticed me yet. The sun was about to go down and I wasn’t sure I was meant to be on this street at this time, at least not alone. And I definitely knew he wasn’t meant to be here.
I turned my head slowly and looked around, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible so he wouldn’t notice, hoping someone else would come to help me. This was the first time I’d been so close to one of them. The enemy, as the other soldiers in my troop liked to call the Danish people. I couldn’t quite figure how I saw them yet. I didn’t know any—never spoken to one. I’d only observed them from a distance.
But I knew one thing. If he spotted me, he’d run, if only because I was looking as official as it got, standing there in the dark in my stiff, green, German uniform with a matching hat. My boots were black and polished—the same color and shine as the belt around my waist. A red armband wrapped around my upper arm as a part of the uniform, and golden buttons ran all down my clothes. I hated every single one of them. The way they looked, the way they were shining… everything.
I could choose to leave him, the boy. Just walk on without saying a word and forget I ever saw him. But then I wouldn’t be doing my job because I could see exactly what he was doing. And I knew that we had been looking for him for days— probably weeks — but I’d not been here long enough to know.
I glanced down at myself to make sure everything was in the right place. If I couldn’t make him stop by telling him off, maybe I could just scare him away. “H-hey!” I tried yelling, but I hadn’t meant to stutter. It didn’t even make him turn around. Instead he just continued to draw on the posters that hung in the alley. I straightened my back, trying to look as tall and important as possible before marching towards him.
“You can’t do that!” I went on in the best English I could manage, not even sure if he understood what I was saying. If I’d tried in German he probably wouldn’t understand either.
He didn’t answer me right away—just kept standing there with his back turned to me, facing another poster.
“Or what?” the boy muttered harshly under his breath as I stepped closer. He didn’t move away. He didn’t even turn around to look at me, and he sounded far more arrogant than concerned.
I turned my head quickly, hoping for one of two things: either that one of my colleagues would come and help me, or that no one was witnessing this.
“How would you stop me?” His voice was shaking slightly, even though he sounded confident enough to be a soldier himself.
“I could report you and you’ll get in trouble,” I said, loud and clear, while brushing my finger lightly over the pistol sitting in my belt just to remind myself that I had it.
“Okay. Do it. Feel free,” he answered. He raised his hands up behind his head, locking his fingers together.
I hesitated for a moment before grabbing his hands to force them down so I could turn him around. But this was too easy; no one would surrender like this, and certainly not someone like him. I stopped my movements while all kinds of situations ran through my head. He could just turn around, hit me in the face and run.
I took a deep breath before continuing. After all, I was the one in charge. I was a soldier and he should show respect. I could get in much bigger trouble for not doing anything about it while I had the chance.
I spun him around, but instantly let go of him when I saw his face. He was just a kid, probably not more than fifteen or sixteen years old.
“I’m not infected, you know,” he spoke, sounding rather confused. “At least not yet.” His tone changed and he took a big step backwards now that I’d let go of him. “Maybe I will be now that a German has touched me.” The boy spat to his left to indicate how disgusting I was.
Any other soldier in my troop would’ve beaten him up for that. But not me. Half the time, I wanted to spit at the sight of me too. It was disgusting, how we were walking into another country, just taking over, controlling things we shouldn’t even be bothered thinking about. I didn’t even want to be here. But my country was at war, and that was just how it had to be.
“I-I’m sorry…” I murmured and took a step away from him, knowing full well that that was the last thing I should be doing.
“You’re sorry?” he scoffed, but quietly, as neither one of us were meant to be here at this time. “What kind of soldier are you?”
He walked towards me, stepping into the light of the street lamps nearby, making it possible for me to see his face properly. He wasn’t like anything I’d pictured. His clothes were clean and well fitting, so dark that he almost blended into the darkness of the night. His hair was pushed backwards so I could see his forehead. I just stared at him. He kind of reminded me of my fifteen-year-old brother back in Germany. Just a kid, stuck in the middle of this chaos.
“I-I think you should use your talent on something else,” I mumbled, pointing at the wall behind him. His eyes followed my finger and travelled further on until they landed on a poster of Hitler hanging on the red brick wall.
“What do you mean talent?” he asked me, his voice quavering slightly.
“The drawing,” I said. The boy turned back around and gave me a questioning glare. “Or you’re going to be in trouble.”
“You don’t look like one who’s going to do anything about it though.”
I thought about his words. I could turn him in—I was meant to turn him in—but I didn’t want to, for the same reason that he was vandalizing the posters. We both hated this war. And what was the point in turning him in anyway? He’d just be another kid in trouble.
“No,” I breathed out shortly, straightening my back and lifting my chin. “I’m not.” I smoothed out the sleeves on my uniform so everything looked perfect once again.
“Thank… you?” But he made it sound more like a question rather than a comeback.
“Just stop drawing on the posters,” I told him quickly, before turning my back to him so I could leave.
“And how would you make me?” he asked, his tone arrogant. I stopped walking and turned around to face him again. His arms were crossed against his chest and he held himself tall, obviously trying to look intimidating.
I sighed softly as I moved back to him, not wanting to talk too loud in case someone heard us. We’d already talked for too long.
“I mean… You’re a German soldier,” he went on. “If you can’t make me, then who can?”
He uncrossed his arms as I approached, knowing well that I had the power to get him arrested right then and there.
“Listen,” I began quietly. “I don’t want to do anything to you. I understand how this must be for you, caught up in a war. I know you’re upset about us being here, about what we stand for. And you know what? I don’t want to be here either, but I’ve got orders to follow. And right now I’m breaking them. I just want to go back home, to my brother and my mum. And I want to get my father back home from the frontlines before it’s too late, understand?”
I was whispering harshly now, feeling myself getting more frustrated and angry about his behavior. “Just stop before someone else finds you, because they will for sure not be this nice.” I pointed threateningly at him. I shouldn’t even be dealing with this. “But I do not have any intention of making more chaos in this war.”
Turning him in could split a whole family apart. I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t even know his name, but I could tell from the way he looked that he came from an important household. Money certainly wasn’t a problem from the way he was dressed.
He didn’t answer me; he just kept staring straight ahead while breathing heavily. It wasn’t particularly cold outside, but I could still see his breaths in the poor lighting.
I moved my gaze past him to get a look at his work. A black, white, and red colored poster of Adolf Hitler was hanging flat against the wall in front of me. The picture had been ruined by some red paint, but the drawings were far more artistic than most of the others I’d seen. The whole empty space beside Hitler’s head was covered in small cartoons of dying and suffering people and crying children, either wearing striped clothing or completely naked. A knot tightened in my stomach as my gaze followed the new red lines. He’d turned Hitler’s mustache into a full face-covering beard and given him big, round glasses. Somehow, he’d actually made him look even more angry and evil than he already looked.
“Something is missing…” I mumbled quietly, still with my eyes glued on the poster. The brown-haired boy moved his eyes away from me to look at his own work.
“What do you mean?”
He took a step back so he was standing beside me instead, clearly not comfortable with standing with his back towards me.
“You know… Something kinda like a hat, or maybe a devil’s horn. Yeah, devil horns would do,” I said, as if we’d done this together before. Confused, he moved his eyes from me and then back to the poster, making sure we were talking about the same thing.
“Were you the one who drew him shot dead a while back?” I asked, turning my attention towards him.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…” he muttered under his breath.
“I remember seeing a poster like that in the office a few days ago. There was this perfectly drawn gun on it, just beside Hitler’s head…” The words sounded strange to me. I could get shot for talking about it like this. But it felt calming, finally being able to get some relief from my thoughts without being scared of the consequences because, for once, I wasn’t talking to another soldier. “The funny thing was that the swastika had been transformed into something you could easily mistake for a penis.”
The younger boy next to me let out a quick giggle before his face turned back to emotionless, continuing to stare straight ahead. I smiled into the darkness, hoping he wouldn’t notice.
Silence fell upon us. There was no noise besides the sound of our breaths fading together.
“Do you draw too?” he then asked me calmly, turning his head to face me. It was the first personal question I’d received since I’d got here. I was taken aback by his confidence and courage to keep on talking to me, not even trying to run away. He didn’t seem scared of being here alone with me, which was something new. This was the longest a Dane had ever spoken to me without calling me “nazi-svin”.
“No,” I answered simply, turning my head to watch him. I was only slightly taller than him, but just enough so I had to look down to catch his eyes. “I’m useless,” I said with a small smile.
“Everyone can draw.”
“No they can’t.”
“Wanna try then?” His mouth turned into a small smirk as he held out a pencil in front of me.
I had to admit that it was tempting, just grabbing the pencil and drawing a few lines alongside his. “No, I can’t,” I ended up answering. I was simply too scared.
“What a shame.”
“I’m a soldier,” I reminded him, in case he’d forgotten. I’d accidentally made it sound harder than I’d actually meant it, causing him to become quiet again. His eyes moved back down to my uniform. My commanders would see any kind of vandalism as sabotage, and if a German soldier became an alleged accomplice… I couldn’t even bring myself to think about the consequences.
Again, I found us standing in complete calmness, both focusing on the poster. My leader—his enemy—staring back at us. It would have been peaceful, almost beautiful, if it weren’t for the English bomber aeroplanes crossing above our heads, breaking the silence of the night.
In sync, we both leaned our heads back to watch them flying low over the town. I counted five, knowing that at least ten or fifteen had flown past this morning.
“What a war, huh?” I breathed out, happily forgetting for a second who I was standing with.
“Yeah…” he sighed in response.
Then there was nothing else to say about that. People didn’t talk about the war, at least not out in the open. Sometimes it was like nothing was happening. But then, sometimes, moments like these happened. These quiet realizations that we were involved in something that forced us to consider people we didn’t even know our enemies, for reasons we only vaguely understood.
“I need to leave,” I said quickly. Only then did I notice that we were both still staring up at the sky. A lone star was shining through the night sky, surrounded by dark blue clouds, and the sun was almost completely gone.
“Yeah, me too,” the boy agreed in a low, drifting voice.
“You like the sky?” I’d lowered my chin once again, making it possible to stare at him instead.
“Who doesn’t these days?” he asked, still with his neck craned backwards. “It’s just living its own quiet life up there, not even trying to care about what’s going on here. If it wants to rain, it does. If it wants to make sunshine, it does. No rules, just freedom and peace.”
“Then you and they sky would be great friends. None of you are listening.”
I pulled on the brim of my cap to straighten it back in place before spinning around on my heels. This time I would actually leave him, which would probably make for a major regret at some point in the future if anyone were to ever find out.
Without looking back or speaking another word, I started walking away. Walking like I’d never seen him—never even noticed him. I was lost in my own thoughts, one step at a time, focusing straight ahead with my head held high.
“Wait!” he yelled after me. “Wait a second,” he kept on. I’d reached the end of the ally and was now exposed to the nearby street where I for sure wouldn’t be the only other person. Regretting it before I even made the movement, I turned around and gave my attention back to him.
“What’s your name?” he said once he could look me in the eyes.
“Silas,” I answered simply. I didn’t want him to know my whole name in case he told someone I had let him off. Thinking about it for a second, I then asked, “What’s yours?”