As Peter dug the weeds from the row of carrots, he wondered why the trains had been so silent for the last few weeks. He used to hear the sound of the steam engines several times a day as they passed not far from their house through the forest.
Peter did not like working in the vegetable field, for it made his hands rough and dirty. His mother was in the house making a large pot of soup for supper, so she wasn't able to do the digging and the weeding. On the other hand, his sixteen-year-old sister Nicola was in the house practising on their old piano. She could have done the work.
However, Peter kept on working -- he knew that if he complained to his mother, she would tell him he was the head of the house now, and he would shrug his shoulders and do the work which his father had done before he had gone off to the war.
All afternoon it had been sunny and hot, and Peter could feel the warm sweat which soaked through his shirt. Several grey clouds had since appeared on the horizon.
Tor, Peter's dog, wandered through the carrot patch, sniffing at the sticks which marked the rows, and then ran off into the corn stalks, biting at several butterflies.
Soon the clouds covered the sun, and it was cooler. A breeze blew across the field, raising small clouds of dust. Peter finally finished his work and stood up. He looked around, making a note of the other rows which would have to be weeded later in the week.
Peter called Tor, and looking around, saw the dog standing at the edge of the field, staring in the direction of the forest through which the railroad ran.
Peter looked towards the forest, about two hundred feet away. There was nothing -- but then, a sign of something moving. A man appeared, pushing aside the brush, and came out of the woods into the clearing.
As he came closer, Peter saw that the man was clutching a rifle and had a pack on his back. He wore some kind of uniform which was dirty dark green -- a heavy overcoat with decorations on the lapel, and a grey cap.
Peter wondered if the man could be a deserter. He wanted to run back to the house, but Tor suddenly began to growl and ran toward the man.
"No! Stop!" Peter shouted at the dog, thinking that the man might be bringing news of his father. But it was too late -- the man quickly levelled his rifle at the approaching dog and fired. With a violent jerk, Tor leaped into the air and landed in a pile of dirt.
The man came closer to Peter, who saw that he had a scraggly beard and a greasy face. The man smiled as he pointed the rifle menacingly.
"My name is Gregor. Does anybody live here besides you?"
Peter replied that there was only his mother and Nicola. The man slowly began to walk toward the house, tossing the rifle from one hand to the other. As he moved away, Peter asked, "Do you know anything about my father?"
The man turned. "Maybe," he said, smiling. Then he turned and walked to the house.
Peter turned and looked at Tor and the flies which began to be attracted by the blood seeping from the large hole in the dog's head.
Gregor sat in the dining room, finishing the last of the meal which he had forced Peter's mother to prepare for him.
- 2 -
Peter sat in the corner, munching on a carrot. Peter did not like the way Gregor had ordered his mother around, the way he pointed his rifle, the way he looked at Nicola, who sat practising the piano.
Gregor had taken off his heavy overcoat, showing a green shirt on which were more badges and insignia, none of which Peter could understand. Gregor had rolled up his sleeves, showing his hairy arms which were tattooed with other strange symbols.
After finishing the meal, he got up, picked up his rifle, and walked into the living room where he sat down. Peter followed, and sat in a chair opposite.
"Where are you from?" Peter finally asked.
Gregor looked up, startled. He scowled at Peter and said, "I'm part of the new regime. Haven't you heard about it yet?"
Peter replied that there hadn't been any news because the trains hadn't been running for several weeks.
"Why do you think the trains aren't running? All the engines are being used to transport supplies to the front."
As Gregor spoke, Peter saw his mother in the kitchen looking through the door. He hoped she wouldn't try to escape, for Gregor might cause trouble.
Peter asked Gregor why he still wasn't at the front. The soldier replied, "That's none of your concern," and waved his rifle toward Peter.
After a few minutes, Peter rose and went to the window. Outside, the sky was cloudy, and it would soon be dark. The sound of Nicola's playing echoed through the house. Peter wished someone would come soon, his father, someone on the train, someone.
Outside there was a loud clap of thunder, and rain began to fall. Inside, Gregor was drunk. He had found several bottles of vodka which Peter's father had bought before he had gone away. Peter sat glumly in the corner, not knowing what to do. He hoped that Gregor would become so drunk he would pass out and they could tie him up. Nicola was still playing the out-of-tune piano in the living room.
- 3 -
"Stop that piece!" Gregor shouted to her. "Why don't you play some of the songs of the new regime?"
Nicola protested that she didn't know any of the songs. She started to play the old national anthem, but Gregor yelled at her again, and told her to play some dance music. Nicola started a slow waltz.
Gregor leaped up and began shouting "No!". He moved over to Nicola and grabbed her, lifting her off the piano stool, and began to dance with her, holding her tightly as he sang a song in a deep voice.
There were several more thunderclaps outside. Gregor kept dancing with Nicola, holding her closely to him. The light from the fireplace flickered brightly around the room.
Peter wanted to leave the room, but he was afraid that something might happen to his sister. He saw a movement in the kitchen, and, looking up, noticed his mother coming into the living room. She put her finger to her lips, indicating that Peter should be quiet.
As she came into the room, Peter saw that she had a large knife in her hand. He wanted to stop her, knowing that Gregor might do something to her.
His mother came closer to Gregor and Nicola, who were still dancing in the center of the room. Slowly she raised the knife and brought it up to plunge it into Gregor's back as he turned away from her.
Suddenly Peter screamed "No!" and Gregor spun around, pushing Nicola to the floor. The knife cut into his arm, leaving a bleeding gash. Gregor hit Peter's mother across the face, knocking her unconscious to the floor. Peter started up, but Gregor turned and faced him.
Nicola started out of the room in terror, moaning "No ... no ..." Gregor went after her, shouting, "It was all a trick, wasn't it, you little bitch?" He grabbed Nicola. "I'll teach you to trick me." He ripped her blouse down to her waist and then pulled at her skirt while holding and kissing her as they fell to the floor.
As Peter jumped up, looking for the knife, he heard the whistle of a train. "Train ... father ... help ... escape" ran through his mind, and quickly he ran out the door.
A bright flash of lightning lit up the field as he ran through the muddy rows, the rain hitting his face. "The train ... the train." Another flash of lightning lit up the trail to the tracks.
Running quickly, dodging a falling branch, feeling the drenched clothes clinging to his body, he ran down the small slope, the train finally in sight. He splashed through the swollen creek, raced along the cinders beside the tracks, the thunder roaring so loud he could barely hear the sound of the train moving beside him. He looked for the open door of a boxcar, and grabbing the rail beside the door, leapt in and pulled the door shut behind him.
Peter lay panting on the floor of the boxcar, listening to the click-clack of the wheels on the rails. After a few seconds, he had the feeling he was not alone in the car -- looking up, he saw the glowing end of a cigarette.
"Are you part of the regime?" someone asked.
The voice -- Peter was sure it was his father's!
"No," Peter replied, rising in the darkness.
A rifle shot broke through the rumbling noise of the train. The thought of Nicola's screams flashed through Peter's mind as he slumped to the floor of the boxcar, a bullet in his head.
Copyright (c)1968 by Michael Quigley. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any kind without permission.
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