Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Memory (07/10/08)
TITLE: Resurrecting No Man's Land
By Chely Roach
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His eyes scanned the dimly lit room, slowly resting upon the perfect instrument of destruction. As he grasped the smooth wooden handle of the sledgehammer, he shuddered in anticipation of what was to come. He could taste the revenge, already savory upon his tongue. He held the cigarette between his lips, and squinted as the smoke stung his eyes. Helmut passed the healthy weight of the hammer from his left hand to his right. Stomping the cigarette butt into the dirt floor of the shed, he began to walk down the drive.
His work boots crunched the gravel beneath his feet. It was the same sound that killed his friend, Peter, thirty five years before. The cadence of that distinct sound drew him into the past which he had tried so diligently to put behind him. He could almost reach out and touch Peter, standing in the window and then jumping first, clearing the eastern fence. Helmut was on his heels as soon as he hit the gravel of the death strip, “Go, Peter…now.” The guards were distracted, so they made their break for the western wall. Freedom was only meters away. Helmut reached the wall first and scaled it with fury, but the rustling of the perfectly raked gravel alerted the guards. Peter was halfway up the wall, and Helmut was maneuvering over the barbed wire when he saw the GDR soldier raise his gun. The onslaught of gunfire made Helmut dive recklessly into the foot traffic on the western side. Helmut could hear his friend moaning in pain on the red side of the iron curtain. With dozens of onlookers, Peter bled out, and Helmut ran west. Though physically he stopped three miles inside of West Berlin, mentally, he ran for the next three decades.
Helmut blinked back the tears as he saw the graffiti strewn wall coming into sight. The captives of East Berlin were plowing through the gates as the news spread throughout the city. Raucous celebrations were spontaneously forming, and the crowd chanted, “Freedom, freedom…” It was a paradoxal déjà vu of the angry mob from the August day when he climbed the wall. He could hear them in the back of his mind, screaming in unison at the Grepos, “Murderers! Murderers!” The echoes of their shrilled voices haunted Helmut; he felt like the murderer for leaving his friend behind to bleed to death. He discovered later that day that Peter—his best friend—begged for help for over an hour before dying in no man’s land. One hundred pairs of eyes watched him slowly die. One hundred and one cowards, he’d say, always including himself.
As he neared Peter Fechter’s memorial, he absorbed the scene. Flocks of people were adding flowers to the notorious site; Peter was the first “shoot to kill” victim of the wall. Helmut put the head of the sledgehammer on the pavement, and leaned on the handle like a cane. He suddenly felt his age. The mortar crusted on his boots seemed to be an exaggerated weight. He pulled his pack of cigarettes from his flannel coat, putting a filter to his lips. As the flame danced at the tip, the warm smoke filled his lungs, and he sighed deeply as he released it into the chilly November sky. His eyes fell upon the center of the memorial—a simple metal cross. A melancholy smile broke his scowl; a peaceful melody drifted across his soul. While he and Peter would be laying bricks, or mixing mortar, Peter would sing to himself, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Helmut glanced at the streetlights, flickering on in the twilight. “I am sorry I let you down, my friend. I hope you made it to the home you loved to sing about. I hope I make it, too.”
He dropped the cigarette on the concrete, snuffing it out with his toe. He began to whistle that familiar hymn as he approached the wall. He touched it gently with his calloused hand, almost expecting it to react to his flesh. Without a word he lifted the sledgehammer high over his head. He let it fall.
It Is Well With My Soul~written by Horatio G. Spafford - 1873
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