Juvenilia: Back in the Stalag (An Unwilling Time-Traveler, Part 4)
They put me back in my old barracks, which hadn’t changed much. Even the mouse still lived there.
I sat on a bunk staring into space until the guard fetched me for dinner. Looking around for familiar faces, my heart stopped as I spotted Scott. For a moment I thought I was dreaming about a dead friend again.
I inched toward him, clutching my bowl and cup as if fearing he was a ghost, until he saw me and invited me to sit with him. I did, only taking my eyes off him to set down my bowl and cup.
He laughed. “Think I’m a ghost or something?” he said.
“Actually, yeah,” I said.
“I’m flesh and blood, just like you.”
“Last time I saw you, you were lying face-down on the ground.”
“Just wounded in the leg. They fixed me up, put me in the cooler for a while, and here I am, good as new.”
“Did they hurt or kill anybody after the escape?”
“They’re not allowed to because of the Geneva Convention. They just stuck us in the cooler and had us bury the ones who got killed.”
“Including–” I gulped– “Torsten?”
“They took care of him themselves. They said one of the prisoners killed him, but I saw that Kraut shoot him. They just didn’t want anybody on the outside finding out one of their own guards helped us escape. They probably weren’t too happy he got shot in the first place, even though he helped us.”
“That’s a relief. I hope I can visit his grave someday, maybe fifty-some years in the future, and put flowers on it.”
“How did you end up with the escapees?”
“I left on impulse when Torsten died.”
He grimaced. “Running away from your problems, eh? So what’d you do while you were gone? I’ve really missed you.”
I told him about my flight and the couple who took me in. “I felt so safe there. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel safe anywhere again.”
“I’m amazed the Frau turned you in.”
“They’re members of the German Evangelical Church. You remember how the Nazis were in control of that during the War–I mean, do you know they are in control?”
“I don’t believe I’ve heard that.”
“She’s a Christian, but she believed her pastor when he preached Naziism. Just like in the old South when they preached slavery was biblical. I don’t think the Mann and Volker did, but she did.”
“So she believed der Fury.”
“That’s what I call Hitler.”
“You know, you look older.”
“Of course. I’m twenty-two years old now. You also look ol–no, you don’t.” He looked closely at me. “You look just the same as before. Even your hair’s the same: same length, same everything.”
“That’s because I’m still only seventeen.”
“But that shouldn’t be.”
“But it is. I haven’t aged. Time has passed without me.”
“Did your time-traveling cause that?” He leaned forward, his eyes wide.
“And I thought you’d still be only three years younger than me. Now you’re still the age of a high-school girl and I’m old enough to be out of college.”
After dinner, we went to our separate barracks because of the coming night, but we had a chance to talk again the next afternoon. I told him everything that happened the last two times Torsten and I were together–then broke down and sobbed.
“I killed him,” I cried. “It’s all my fault!”
“No, it isn’t,” Scott said. “You had no way of knowing what would happen to him. If anyone’s to blame, it’s the guard who shot him, but I suppose he felt it was his duty. You’re completely innocent. But go ahead and cry, darling. You’ve been through a lot for your age. The war has done that to people, aging us fast. Even you.”
That “darling” took me aback for a moment, but I cried myself out on his shoulder as we stood inside my barracks. Holding me and saying nothing, he comforted me with his silent support. Afterwards, I looked up at him, wanting to thank him, but he kissed my forehead. He said,
“I have a problem as well: My girl wrote me a Dear John letter saying she couldn’t handle being separated like this. So she found somebody else.”
“It’s not like you’ll be gone much long–whoops, forget I said anything.”
He brushed a few wet strands of hair off my face. “I’m not even sure what you meant.”
I smiled with relief–as he moved a little closer.
“We’ll have to comfort each other.” He kissed me again, but not on the forehead. I was too spent to push him away, but didn’t really want to.
“Why’d you do that?”
“Because I’m crazy about you. You’re so pretty, intelligent, a Christian–”
“And you’ve just been dumped. You’re on the rebound.”
“I’m not sure what you just said. But I’ve been thinking about you ever since you left. I started to fall in love about a year ago, even though I didn’t know if I’d ever see you again.”
“You also never broke it off with your girlfriend. She had to do it.”
“Don’t you feel anything for me?”
“Torsten took my heart with him to the grave.”
“It’s been two years. Even widows fall in love again. You’re too young to bury your own heart.”
“Not me, not now.”
“You may not think so, but I felt it in your lips.”
I couldn’t argue with him: I wasn’t even sure how I felt. “Please, I need to be alone to think about it.”
Hope in his eyes, he said “okay” and left. I threw myself onto my favorite lower bunk.
I thought I felt nothing but the love of a sister in Christ toward him–but I wasn’t quite sure. Just ten minutes ago, I knew what’s what. “Help!” I prayed.
At dinner, I sat with him as usual, but the atmosphere was strained. He often smiled at me for no apparent reason. I avoided the topic until we headed for the barracks, then said,
“For the time being, we’re just friends, okay?”
He nodded, but smiled at the same time. Apparently, to him, “for the time being” meant “later it’ll change.” Actually, it might.
The next morning, the Kommandant called me into his office. Wondering what he wanted, I trembled while standing in front of his desk.
He looked up at me and said, “Herr Bismarck has been informed you are here. He is coming to see you this afternoon. You are his prisoner, so he may do to you whatever he wishes. He told me he wants to take you to his home, then return you this evening.”
“Could–Corporal Scott Clifford come with me as moral support? I don’t want to be alone with Bismarck.”
“Only if Herr Bismark allows it. If so, I shall have to send a guard along to prevent escape.” His voice froze. “This one won’t help you. Dismissed.”
I trembled to see the Kommandant, but shook to see Bismarck. A guard and Scott stood beside him, a comfort in spite of recent events. All three stood in front of a Volkswagen.
“Nice to see you again, my little Ally,” Bismarck said. “I heard you left these accommodations for a little while. Was your emotional well-being destroyed here?”
“No, just harmed a little.”
“Are you still a–” he grinned– “maiden?”
“Yes. No harm done there.”
We got in the car, Scott behind me, the guard behind Bismarck so he could watch Scott and me. After about half an hour of driving, Bismarck pulled up to a large house in the middle of nowhere. The guard behind us, Bismarck led us into the house and up a flight of stairs.
He told the guard to wait at the foot of another flight in a different part of the house. He led Scott and me up some old, narrow, rail-less, winding stairs to an attic laboratory. He didn’t even stop to take off his coat.
We picked our way carefully up those stairs. We went through a trap door, hung over by a pulley, into the lab. It was full of the usual scientific paraphernalia–test tubes, Bunsen burners, beakers–and papers with diagrams, information, and articles.
He shut the door. “In my coat pocket is a loaded revolver, so try nothing.”
He led us around, showing us everything. “My time card works perfectly now. I know exactly where and when I’m going whenever I time-travel. If your guard heard us talking, young man, he’d think me insane, and wouldn’t be much help to me. That is, if he understands English. I thought you might as well see this, however, since Madge the Ally wanted you with her. You probably think I’m just an eccentric old man, but I don’t care what you think.”
“No, I don’t think you are,” Scott said. “Madge my friend already told me about you.”
“I see you’re a feisty one, countering my epithets like that.”
I always wondered where he learned so many big English words. He must’ve had a good teacher. And he was probably a brilliant student.
“While I was with you, Madge, I researched this war. I tried to tell Hitler the outcome, but found that one cannot change history. I made the mistake of going to him too early. We were still winning, so he thought I was mad. I told him I was a time traveler, but he laughed me out of his office. He deserves to know nothing.”
I couldn’t resist a jab at Hitler. “Wouldn’t he believe you if you said you were a fortune teller?”
“I would not submit myself to such indignity. But I have a plan that will send chills up your spine: I found out about your time’s neo-Nazis. I will go forward in time and help them gain political power. Little by little, I will influence people into thinking the Nazis had at least some good ideas. That will lead them to believe everything was a good idea. That shouldn’t be too hard.”
“Aren’t you ever ashamed of yourself?” Scott’s voice shook with indignation.
“You foolish boy.” Bismarck laughed. “All Jews and their sympathizers must be annihilated as parasites on society. I just want a better world for us all. What’s wrong with that?”
He picked up the time card and waved it tauntingly in front of my face. Then he slipped it into his coat pocket.
“End of lesson,” he said. “Come on. Remember, the guard is watching, so don’t try anything, either of you. Stay at least eight steps behind me at all times.”
Bismarck led all three of us outside, behind the house, and some distance away. A few inches of snow covered the ground. The sky was white, the wind bleak. Bismarck told the guard to keep his gun on Scott, who stood a little to his left. He pulled out his own revolver. Pointing it at me and cocking it, he said,
“I’ve decided to kill you. Good-bye, little Ally.”
I went numb. All I could do was stare, gaping, at the barrel of the gun.
“No!” Scott screamed. He leaped on Bismarck before the guard knew what was happening. As Scott struggled with Bismarck, I ran.
But the guard yelled, “Nein! Laufen Sie nicht weg!” and pointed his gun at me. I couldn’t argue with a machine gun.
Scott and Bismarck fought for the revolver. As they struggled, it went off accidentally, shooting Bismarck in the chest.
He dropped to the ground, blood–his life–draining down into the snow.
Scott had the revolver now, so he shot the guard. I slipped the time card into my own pocket.
Scott said, “What a pity. All those brains gone to waste.”
“Think of where his spirit has gone.” My eyes watered. “All that time he was with me in my time, his soul was suffering in Hell. All those years so far–about forty-six. It’s so sad.”
“He almost killed you and would have wreaked havoc on the future, yet we’re feeling sorry for him.”
“Shows we’ve got compassion.” I paused. “You saved my life.”
“What’re friends for?”
“Look, I have the time card. It’s time for me to go home…to my own time.”
“Take me with you.”
“It wouldn’t be right. You belong here with your family and friends, and I belong in 1991 with mine.”
“But I love you.”
“I don’t love you. At least, not that way, and I haven’t had time for it to grow into anything more.”
“Then at least take me back to my regiment.”
I studied the upgraded card, which now even had a setting for distance off the ground. I went back into the house and rummaged through the lab until I found Bismarck’s notes and plans on the card–taking them all to make sure the Nazis would never know about time-travel.
“It won’t be long before the end of the war,” I said. I gave Scott a long, warm hug. He enclosed me in his arms. It seemed to last forever. He nuzzled the top of my head. When it finally ended, I said, “Good-bye, Scott.”
Using the card, I took Scott to England so their military could help him get back into action. I offered to take him home, but he said that would make him look like a deserter and a coward. He wanted to help defeat the Nazis, not just run home, he said.
Then I slipped back into my barracks to grab my journals.
I wanted to start aging again, so I set the card for my room, five minutes before the quarter-hour in which I left home so long ago. I pushed the button–and there I was, in my room again.
I sat on the bed and waited.
I listened as my old self argued with a living Bismarck and then ran around the house. It was eerie.
I waited a little longer to be sure my other self was gone, then went downstairs. I sat on the couch and picked up my Government homework. I stared at it, not believing I held it.
My eyes were blinded with tears. Once, traveling back to the forties didn’t seem possible. Now, being in my own house didn’t seem possible.
I couldn’t consider it my homework anymore, so I threw it on the couch. I took the card and its papers outside: I chopped up the card with a small axe I found in the garage, and burned the papers on the barbecue grill.
Scott came to visit me the other day. He stood smiling outside the door, sixty-eight years old, hair gray and somewhat receded, face aged though not “old” yet. I just stared at him.
“Madge, don’t you recognize me?” he said. “Scott Clifford. I haven’t come before you left and met me, have I?”
I grinned. “No. Come in, dude.”
He came in and I closed the door. As I took his hat and coat, he said, “I must be a shock to you, but you look just as I remember you, except you changed into what the kids are wearing these days.”
“I never did get my own clothes back from the stalag. I changed when I got home, but my mom didn’t even notice. She left for work before I got dressed that morning. My dad never said anything, either. They never knew I left.”
“Where are they now?”
“Still at work. I’ve missed you.” I threw my arms around his neck.
“Your hugs still feel as good as before.”
We sat in the living room. He looked around and said, “So this is your home.” He winced and grabbed his leg. “This old wound didn’t bother me until recently.” He rubbed it. “You were right, of course. Everything you said, has happened.”
He stopped rubbing his leg and gazed into my eyes. “Seeing you makes me feel like that twenty-two-year-old kid in love with you, again. You always were my little space heroine, stepping right out of a Saturday matinée picture.”
He took my hand. “After we won the war, I went back home, eventually fell in love again, married, and had three children. After my wife died from cancer, I wanted to find you. I expected you to be the same seventeen-year-old, but at the same time I expected you to be only three years younger than me, however old that made you or me.”
He chuckled. “I should’ve known you’re ageless. If I were to come back thirty years from now to see you, I’d be surprised if you were older than seventeen. You always will be ageless, no matter how old you get. I’m not sure what I mean by that, but it’s true.”
We chatted and caught up for a little while, then he gave me his address and phone number, kissed my forehead, and left.
All I could think about was how right he was: No matter how much I aged, my mental and physical ages would always be out of phase. I would be out of phase.
Written January 23-31, 1991
I wrote this between my freshman and senior year of high school. I believe I finished it early in 1990, during my junior year; the first part was written probably in 1987.
My favorite TV show at the time was Hogan’s Heroes; not only did it inspire me to take German, but I liked to imagine myself at the POW camp with Hogan’s group. I wanted to write a story which explained how I would end up in a POW camp in the 1940s.
I wrote the first part while listening to the album Reconstructions by AD, a Christian band from the mid-80s which included two members of Kansas: Kenny Livgren and Dave Hope. So now my story and this album are forever linked in my mind.
While researching the third part, I sat in front of my open bedroom window on an unseasonably warm night, listening to the local pop station, and looking through beautiful pictures of the Alps in an encyclopedia. “Hippy Chick” by Soho came on.
Though I didn’t hear the song again until sometime in 1991 or 1992, I remembered it, and connected it with a warm evening and pictures of the Alps.
My BFF (senior year of high school) and my boyfriend (freshman year of college) loved this story. Though they weren’t too happy with the ending of Part II (I won’t spoil it).
Since this is science fiction written by a teenager in the days before the Internet, when what I could learn about POW camps was mostly limited to television, it probably isn’t in the least plausible.
Also, both in college and now as I review it again, I can see that it desperately needs editing and lengthening: more scenes, more showing, less telling. But that’s why I stuck this with my “juvenilia.”
I revised the story in college for a writing class. Since there are three different versions, I’ll give you the best for each passage.
I do make changes here and there, where the original versions are egregiously bad, or an improvement screams at me. But for the most part, this is as written.
Though after typing it up and reviewing it for this website, I start wanting to finally write that longer version, 28 years since I wrote Part I….