Friday Sampler: Touching the Wire by Rebecca Bryn
April 22, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler features an excerpt from Touching the Wire, a mystery and suspense thriller, a haunting tale based on true events during World War II by Rebecca Bryn.
As one reviewer said: This is without doubt one of the best fictional tales of this type I’ve read. One of the main characters is brought to the reader in the modern day, complete with the nightmares of his past experiences in war-torn Germany. His demons are not confined to the night, so the narrative opens his mental sores to expose a myriad of deep secrets. His conscious mind is torn by day and night by vivid memories.
“He had no way to tell her he had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope.”
A story of every man and woman interred in Nazi death camps throughout the Second World War, this novel is based on real events.
Part One – In the Shadow of the Wolf
In a death camp in 1940’s Poland, a young doctor and one of his nurses struggle to save lives and relieve the suffering of hundreds of women. As their relationship blossoms, amid the death and deprivation, they join the camp resistance and, despite the danger of betrayal, he steals damning evidence of war-crimes. Afraid of repercussions, and for the sake of his post-war family, he hides the evidence but hard truths and terrible choices haunt him, as does an unkept promise to his lost love.
Part Two – Though the Heavens should Fall
In present-day England, his granddaughter seeks to answer the questions posed by her grandfather’s enigmatic carving. Her own relationship in tatters, she meets a modern historian who, intrigued by the carving, agrees to help her discover its purpose. As her grandfather’s past seeps into the present, she betrays the man she loves and is forced to confront her own guilt in order to be able to forgive the unforgivable and keep her grandfather’s promise.
“A young woman bent to retrieve her possessions. An SS officer strode past. ‘Leave. Luggage afterwards.’
She stood wide-eyed like a startled deer, one arm cradling a baby. Beside her an elderly woman clutched a battered suitcase. The girl’s eyes darted from soldier to painted signboard and back. ‘What are we doing here, grandmother? Why have they brought us here?’
The wind teased at her cheerful red shawl, revealing and lifting long black hair. She straightened and attempted a smile. ‘It’ll be all right, Grandmother. God has protected us on our journey.’
Voices rasped, whips cracked, dogs barked… An SS officer pushed towards a woman of about fifty. ‘How old?’ She didn’t respond so the officer shouted.
He edged closer. As a doctor he held a privileged postion, but he’d also discovered he had a gift for languages. He translated the German to stilted Hungarian, adding quietly. ‘Say you’re under forty-five. Say you are well. Stand here with the younger women.’ He moved from woman to woman, intercepting those he could.‘Say you are well. Say your daughter is sixteen. Say you can work or have a skill. Say you aren’t pregnant.’
Miriam’s eyes glistened. ‘May He rescue us from every foe.’ She touched her grandmother’s cheek, a gentle lingering movement, and placed a tender kiss on her baby’s forehead. She moved to stand where he pointed.
Miriam’s eyes met his. He had no way to tell her had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope. ‘Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.’ ”
Walt slid his chisel into its slot at the back of his bench and sipped the tea he’d let go cold. He eased a sepia photograph from his wallet. For thirty-four years he’d carried Miriam’s likeness, faded and tattered around the edges: she’d left footprints in his heart, trodden deep and clear. Her voice echoed and his heartbeat quickened.
The tramp of feet, marching from the spring of 1944, jarred the brick floor beneath him into hard-packed grey earth. Left, right, left, right…
He marched with them: dust scoured his eyes and throat, and gritted the sweat on his back. The kommando of haeftling, striped berets and coats creating an army of Colorado beetles, kept time with the SS guards. Despair choreographed their puppet-like movements: heads pushed forward, arms straight down, wasted faces devoid of expression. Behind them, ambulances rattled to a stop.
The sound of boots and clogs faded beneath the hiss of steam and the clatter of couplings as the rumble of iron on iron ground to a halt. The line of cattle wagons, each bearing the insignia of their country of origin, and some with a roughly-painted yellow star, snaked into Stygian distance.
Smoke and steam mingled with the sickly-sweet pall that hung over the camp day and night. Flakes of ash from the chimneys danced with smuts of smoke, and floated to the ground with the grace of angels. Already the day was hot. Inside the wagons it would be suffocating.
‘Öffnen die Wagen!’
Wagon doors rolled back with squeals and grinding crashes, drowning the swing tune belted out by the camp orchestra. Eyes stark with bewilderment blinked against the light.
‘Aussteigen.’ An SS officer waved his pistol. ‘Schnell! Schnell!’
Men tumbled onto the ramp. Women clutched babies to their breasts and gathered children to their skirts, their eyes searching the faces around them.
A woman cupped her hands in supplication. ‘Vis.’ A yellow star emblazoned her coat. Hungarian. Jewish. They’d been arriving by the wagon-load. ‘Viz… kérem.’
The words for water, bread and help were burned into his memory in every European language. The woman begged for water. He could offer no drop of water, no morsel of bread or shred of hope.
‘Viz. Wasser… Bitte.’ A stooped, grey-bearded figure held up four fingers. The journey from Hungary had taken four days: four days without food or water.
The crowd swelled across the ramp as the wagons vomited more souls than they could possibly contain, bringing with them the stench of excrement. A guard hustled the men and older boys from the women and children, forming them into two ragged lines along the tracks.
A detachment of haeftling quick-stepped forward and heaved bodies from the wagons, laying them in rows upon the aching ground. The old, the little children: their bodies weren’t heavy even for those barely fleshed themselves.
A young woman bent to retrieve her possessions. An SS officer strode past. ‘Leave. Luggage afterwards.’
She stood, wide-eyed like a startled deer, one arm cradling a baby. Beside her an elderly woman clutched a battered suitcase. The girl’s eyes darted from soldier to painted signboard and back. ‘What are we doing here, Grandmother? Why have they brought us here?’ The wind teased at her cheerful red shawl, revealing and lifting long black hair. She straightened and attempted a smile. ‘It’ll be all right, Grandmother. God has protected us on our journey.’
‘Where’s your Father?’ The old lady adjusted her shawl, covering shock-white hair. ‘Miriam, I can’t see my Jani.’
‘Father will be helping Efah and Mother with the children.’
‘And where are our precious things…’
‘They’re here, Grandmother.’
Voices rasped, whips cracked, dogs barked. The men and boys were marched away, craning necks for a glimpse of wives, mothers, sisters and children. At a signal, the remaining haeftling broke ranks and began searching wagons, and carrying bundles and suitcases to waiting lorries. Miriam’s grandmother’s case fell open: a beetle snapped it shut and scurried it away. Something had fallen out: in the bustle no-one saw him pick up the small wallet and tuck it inside his shirt.
More orders followed: more cracking whips and snarling dogs. The line of women and children stumbled forward across the railway sleepers, leaving behind tumbled heaps of abandoned lives.
The march through the camp took forever, yet it was over too soon. At the junction, guards ordered the women to halt. Smoke from the chimneys obliterated the sky: a wind from the west blew the stench of it across their path.
‘Zwillinge, heraus!’ He, the hated Hauptsturmführer, stood before them dark hair smoothed back, his Iron Cross worn with casual pride. His eyes pierced the crowd; his gloved hand held a cane with which he pointed bewildered women to the left or the right.
He shuddered, knowing what the man sought.
An SS officer pushed towards a woman of about fifty. ‘How old?’ She didn’t respond so the officer shouted the question.
He edged closer. As a doctor he held a privileged position, but he’d also discovered a gift for languages. He translated the German to stilted Hungarian, adding quietly, ‘Say you’re under forty-five. Say you are well. Stand here with the younger women.’ He moved from woman to woman, intercepting those he could. ‘Say you are well. Tell them your daughter’s sixteen. Say she’s well. Say you can work or have a skill. Tell them you’re not pregnant.’
The Hauptsturmführer waved his cane. ‘You, to the right. No, the children to the left.’
A woman clutched her children’s hands. ‘I can’t leave my babies.’
He froze, fearing for them all. The thunder of another train grew closer and the SS officer gestured her to the left with her children. He breathed again, ashamed at feeling relief, and hurried to intercept the next group.
The girl with the red shawl was there, in front of him: the old lady had called her Miriam. He touched her arm. ‘Say you’re well, Miriam. Say you can work. Give the baby to your grandmother. She must stand to the left with the children. You must stand to the right.’
‘My grandmother isn’t well. I’m a nurse. I can look after her and Mary.’
A guard strode past. ‘Together afterwards.’
He nodded, compounding the conspiracy of silence. ‘Together afterwards.’
The old lady held out her arms for the baby. ‘Go, Miriam. God be with you.’
Miriam’s eyes glistened. ‘May He rescue us from the hand of every foe.’ She touched her grandmother’s cheek, a gentle, lingering movement, and placed a tender kiss on her baby’s forehead.
She moved where he pointed to stand with a group of about thirty young women: only thirty? Her eyes followed her grandmother and daughter as they were swallowed into the thousands that straggled towards the anonymous buildings beneath the smoke. Ambulances passed, carrying those who couldn’t walk; a truck bearing a red cross followed behind. She watched until they disappeared from sight and then searched the faces of the women that remained.
Miriam’s eyes met his. He had no way to tell her he had given her life: no right to tell her to abandon hope. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and in the hour of our death.