Short Story: Kameradschaft

by Chelsea Hindle, Age 15, Australia

 

Kameradschaft 

On my stomach, I wriggled forward through the leaf litter, then tensed up and flattened myself to the ground at the sound of boots, and voices in a language I didn’t understand. Uniformed soldiers passed within a foot of my nose, and I suddenly felt the wild, irrepressible desire to sneeze. But if I sneezed, it was game over.

The soldiers marched by, their strange language fading into the background noises of the forest, and I muffled my sneeze in my jacket. I poked my head out again to see the men in their khaki pilot uniforms march away, apparently oblivious to my presence. “Danke, Gott,” I whispered under my breath.

I peered through the trees to my left and my eyes followed the spiralling plume of blueish electrical smoke. How long could I survive in England? I couldn’t get back to Germany without the government finding me out. I was trapped.

There was no point heading back to the crashed Albatros; soon the khaki pilots would search it. They’d find the dead pilot but they wouldn’t find the gunner.

I sighed and stared down at the decaying leaves, wincing as I shifted and felt pain shoot from my ankle. I’d been badly wounded in the dogfight and the subsequent collision and fire. I pulled myself into a sitting position and examined my wounded leg. I knew it wouldn’t take my weight anymore.

I attempted to pull off my heavy combat boots and winced again at the pain. Fantastisch, I thought. I am wounded and in enemy territory. Could things get much worse?
I couldn’t walk; I was alone. Fantastisch.

I woke in the night, every hair standing on end, ears straining, muscles taut. At first I wasn’t sure what had woken me. I lay perfectly still for several long minutes, listening to cricket sonnets and frog carols. The bark of a fox startled me.

Then I heard footsteps.

I curled up and pressed my forehead to my knees. I couldn’t run, I could only hide.
The sound grew louder, whoever it was, they were getting closer. I held my breath, the colour draining from my face.

The tramping stopped abruptly and, even though my face was pressed into my kneecaps, I could tell the owner of the sound stood above me.

There was a brisk, half-mocking laugh, but still I didn’t dare move. “You don’t have to hide,” a man’s voice said in German. “I’m not the government, you know.”

Eventually, I sat up, gulping back a cry of surprise and fear. The man standing above me, holding a lantern, was dressed in the khaki uniform that we Germans fear so much. I could see him well in the light of the moon and his lantern. I could see the pilot’s wings above his breast pocket, and the grim smile on his handsome, storm-weathered face.

I was rigid with terror for a moment, but then I swallowed my emotions, got awkwardly to my feet and faced him, putting little weight on my injured leg.  “Who are you? How can you speak German? Are you British?” I barked, though my voice shook.

The pilot shrugged, ignoring my questions completely. “Are you from the Albatros that crashed back there?”

I hesitated, wondering whether I could trust the man. I pursed my lips, I’d lost everything already. “Yes.”

He nodded decisively, because he didn’t really need my answer to confirm his knowledge. “And your name is Wolfe Verick.” Not a question, a statement.

I nodded simply in return.

“I can help you,” the pilot said. “Just trust me.”

Suddenly I felt angry at this stranger–angry at him for knowing who I was, angry at him for expecting my trust. “I don’t have a clue who you are!” I said, my voice rising in anger. “I’ve never met you in my life, and we are enemies! Why should I trust you?”

The man shrugged again, “How long have you been hiding here?” he asked.

I bit my lip and stared back defiantly.

“Look here,” the man said, “I told you, I am just trying to help, I have a message here.” He passed me a scrap of paper, torn from a German pilot’s notebook. I took it, stared at the unfamiliar words then held it out, pretending I’d read it.

The pilot didn’t take it. “Your friends dropped it this morning. They are looking for you.”
I drew the note back and stared at it again, this time seeing my own name, Wolfe Verick, in the English writing. “Read it,” I demanded, thrusting it back again.

Calmly, the English pilot took it and read out loud, translating slowly from English as he went. “Dear Sirs, we are looking for two of our crewmen, pilot Ernst Muller and gunner Wolfe Verick. They went missing the morning of July 26th, 1916. Help would be appreciated. Signed: German Air Crews.” The man stopped, but his eyes continued scanning the page. “That is all you need to know.”

I looked at him blankly, trying to wrap my head around this startling piece of news. “We’re supposed to be enemies, man!” I exclaimed. “Yet you are aiding my comrades to find me? What kind of a war is this?”

The pilot shrugged. “We owed you one,” he said. “For burying two of our men and dropping photographs of their graves.” He eyed me keenly. “We call it comradeship. You call it kameradschaft.”

“But…,” I said, frowning, “I don’t understand! We are supposed to be enemies.” Kameradaschaft. The word was echoing through my head. How did the Englishman say it again? Comradeship.

“So you keep saying,” observed the man. “And you’re right. We are fighting a war, but not against you.” He smiled brusquely. “We can still help each other, kameradschaft, remember. Maybe we can get those hopeless aristocrats who started the war to understand.” He grinned and held out his hand. “I’m Ben Simeon, by the way.”

*

Chelsea writes: “Kameradschaft is a historical short story based on the relationships between German and English air force pilots during World War 1, and it was inspired by true stories. I am a homeschoooled young author, and I’ve been learning recently that there is no such thing as a good writer, only good rewriters.”

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