I’m currently away, so I’ve scheduled this post, but I won’t be able to approve or reply to your comments until Saturday or Sunday. Anyway, we’ve reached Chapter Six, which is basically where everything goes wrong. You’ll see what I mean when I get to the end of the chapter 😛 Let’s go.
Nurse Carter strode across the ward, a rolled-up newspaper in one hand. “Have a look at this, boys!” she called, tossing the newspaper to Anthony Young.
Anthony caught it and unrolled it. Curious, I peered over at him, and then felt my stomach heave. I couldn’t read the black and white type, but I could understand the photograph that accompanied.
It was a photograph of a Luger pistol and I recognised it. How could I not? It was mine. I’d had it with me the day I’d fled my burning plane and I must have dropped it in the forest. I hadn’t even given it a thought since then. But now…here it was.
“Hey! What’s it say, Tony?” called out one of the men from further down the ward.
Anthony cleared his throat, “It says some MPs found a Hun pistol in the woods out near Dover. It’s supposed to belong to the Hun spy running around here somewhere.” He looked up and winked. “Rest assured though, them MPs are on ‘is trail, they’ll catch ‘im, no doubt about it.”
“You get ‘im, Kitchener,” spat out James Hill. “We don’t want no Hun in England!”
“No!” echoed another man.
I felt the colour drain from my cheeks and my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. This cannot get any worse!
I have since learnt that thinking such things is a clear sign that things can—and will—get worse.
An hour or so later, Dr Roberts entered and beckoned to me. Trembling, I allowed the orderlies to help me into his examination room. The doctor dismissed them as I lay down on the table, then he spoke. “How old are you?”
I hesitated, then I held up both hands, closed them into a fist and opened them again, displaying nine fingers.
Dr Roberts smiled and stepped back, “Nineteen?” he murmured. He thought this over for a minute, then he looked up at me. “Nineteen,” he repeated.
He sat down in his chair and ran a hand through his hair. “Something is not right here, Alan. Something is…” he stopped. “Something does not add up.” He took his glasses off and stared at them.
“Where did you fight, Alan?” he asked suddenly.
My breath choked me. My fingers curled into a white fist. I shuddered and shook my head. How could I tell him that I’d flown in Germany?
He smiled at me, but his smile was sad. “Does it bring back too many bad memories?” he asked. “Or do you want to withhold that information?”
I wanted to throw up. I shook my head again, more savagely than I had before.
Dr Roberts got to his feet in one swift motion. “Is Alan Bennett your real name?” he demanded. He paced the room for several seconds, then he swung on his heel to stare at me. “Will I find Alan Bennett enlisted in the British Force?”
I clenched my teeth, unsure of what to tell him. There was no Alan Bennett in the British Army. But I couldn’t tell him that.
“I’ll warrant there is not,” Dr Roberts said. “What is your real name?” he frowned, then added, “Never mind. I’ll turn a blind eye and go along with your foolish plan. But—” he hesitated, “—are you a deserter?”
I could answer that. I shook my head, denying it. I was a lot of things—a liar, a fraud, a murderer, maybe—but not a deserter.
Dr Roberts raised an eyebrow, then he sighed. “You are a foolish boy, Alan. Nineteen is too young to die.”
The heat of the fire was scorching my skin, burning deep, scarring me forever. I was struggling, trying to free myself of the canvas that entangled my feet. Sweat mingled with blood and dripped into my eyes. I was trying to get out of the burning plane, but to no avail.
The charred grass under me was hot to the touch, burning through my clothes. I kicked, but the wire and canvas tangled around my feet did not relinquished hold of me. Let me go! I tried to scream, but no words came out. Let me go! Ernst was lying beside me, twisted at a grotesque angle, with his blank eyes boring into mine.
I screamed, kicked even harder, then caught sight of another body. The body of the English pilot I had killed. I wanted to be sick, to scream, cry out in horror, anything—anything! —to be rid of this awful nightmare.
I woke up, panting, the sheets of my bed wrapped suffocatingly around my legs. I lay there, trembling and unable to think straight, without bothering to free my legs. It was only another nightmare. I told myself. Only another nightmare. Why then did it frighten me so much?
The clicking of footsteps made my eyes flicker open. A figure holding a hurricane lantern appeared. A nurse, I realised, doing the night rounds.
I sank back into my pillows, hoping the nurse wouldn’t notice me, but the nurse stopped at the foot of my bed. “Alan? Are you all right?”
Nurse Carter. I sat up and looked into her worried face, illuminated in the light of her lantern. I nodded to her, attempting to tell her it was only a dream.
She smiled down at me, “Are you sure?”
I nodded again. I only wanted to be alone, so Ella would not see me behaving like a frightened schoolboy.
She frowned, hardly falling for my lie. “You aren’t all right,” she said. “Is it nightmares, Alan?”
I hesitated, feeling tears trickling down my cheeks.
“You aren’t the only one who wakes in a sweat each night,” Ella continued. “I don’t imagine you could come back from the front and not have nightmares. You needn’t be afraid of looking weak.” She leant over me and wiped the beaded sweat from my forehead with a cloth. After a moment of silence, she murmured, “Do you believe in God, Alan?”
Did I believe in God? I didn’t know the answer. I had once. Every night I’d knelt by my bed, clutching my mother and my sister’s hand, and prayed. I’d believed then. And I’d prayed to Him again, in the forest on the run from the English soldiers. He’d answered. But did I still believe in Him? I shook my head, then I nodded.
“We’ll pray to Him, ask Him for peace,” She replied. The look in her eyes made me remember my mother’s eyes.
I closed my eyes, and shivered as Ella took my hand.
She was silent for a long while. When she finally did begin praying, her tone was singsong, as she was singing her prayer. “Be still and know, that I am God. God is our refuge and our strength, an ever-present help in time of need. Do not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea. The Lord is with us, he is our fortress. He will keep us from stumbling. Amen.”
We both were silent for several more minutes, then there was a sharp cry from the end of the ward. Ella sighed, not a sigh of discontent, but of distress. “Thomas Malone,” she murmured, then she smiled down at me. “Good night, Alan, I’ll continue to pray for you.”
Then she was gone, hurrying down to Thomas Malone’s bed. I listened for some time to her words of soothing and encouragement and then to her prayer.
After some time, Nurse Carter left the ward. I was drifting off into a doze, when something seemed to scream at me to open my eyes. I did so, in time to see a tall shadow appear at the door of the ward. There was an angry hiss, then the sound of striding footsteps across the floor.
A moment later, Dr Roberts stood over me. “So that is your secret,” he said, his voice husky and cold.