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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Shhh. (02/18/10)

TITLE: The Longest Coldest Night
By Patricia Turner


It’s still a blur when I think about it; kind of a slow motion blur: my Papa waking me up, telling me “Shhh,” with his forefinger to his lips as he scooped me from my warm bed and rushed all of us down the stairs.

I recall the biting sting of ice crystals, the pungent odor of smoke from a train station nearby and the rumble of a train on the tracks as we eased silently out of our door. The clock on the bank tower said it was a little past one o’clock in the morning.

“Wh...Where are we going Papa?” I whimpered.

Only the hiss of air flowing between his tongue and the roof of his mouth answered. He placed his finger on my lips then and hugged me closer. Mama, Liesel, Greta and Jorge followed.

After a few blocks of traveling in a slow rush from doorway to doorway, we went down a flight of steps and entered a door to a cavernous room with a concrete floor and bare brick walls stained by decades of dirt and dust.

“You must remain here, Mama. Do you understand? Do not go from here until I come for you or send someone for you. Do not go back to the house for any reason.” He looked at all of us with a look that frightened me for the first time ever in my five years. “All of you, do you understand?” he repeated.

I remember that Jorge wanted to go with Papa, but he said no. “You must stay with your Mama. She’ll need you.”

With that he disappeared out the door and we were left alone with no warmth but our coats and hats, no food, and no water.

Jorge scouted around the room and found a doorway leading out. He eased it open and found a store room. In it were a couple of dirty blankets, and some old newspapers.

Mama spread out the blankets and did her best to make us comfortable. Her lips tightened slightly when Jorge pulled matches from his pocket to light the newspapers and make a fire.

Greta, a year older than me, started crying. “Mama, why can’t we go home?”

“Shhh, little one,” Mama pulled her onto her lap and began rocking back and forth, I realize now, to comfort them both.

I don’t know how long we were in that room. My tummy began to hurt and my sisters cried a lot, so I’m sure theirs did also.

We all fell asleep and when we woke again, Jorge had slipped out.

He was gone for a long time and Mama looked worried. Finally he returned with a loaf of bread, a sausage and a small wedge of cheese. I think Mama would have scolded him for worrying her and disobeying Papa, but she was probably so happy to see him back and safe that I guess she forgot to be mad.

I remember thinking it was the best food I’d ever tasted, and in fact it was the best I’d taste for a long while afterward.

Finally the door opened and a man said Papa told him where we were and to take us to safety.

We traveled by night, our bodies numb. After two nights we reached what had been a camp deep in the forest, but it was burned and deserted.

Shortly afterward we were captured and put aboard one of the trains by soldiers with swastikas.

I never saw Mama or Liesel or Greta again. Jorge was in another car. Many years later we would finally meet again.

“Lord,” I prayed as I’d been taught. “Watch over us.”

“Shhh,” said the train’s boilers emitting steam.

An SS guard told me “Your Papa, he was a criminal you know. He murdered many people and burned important buildings.”

Another one sneered, “Your Papa betrayed you and your family. It was he who told us where you were.”

I was seven when the concentration camp I was in was freed by the Allies.

Alone in the world, I knew nothing of where my family was. I’d heard lies about my Papa for so long, and with his abandonment I didn’t know what to believe.

Years later an old man, a decorated soldier leaning heavily on a cane entered the shop where I was a milliner’s apprentice. I ran to him.

“Papa!” - We held each other, weeping.

“Son, shhh...” Thus ended the longest, coldest night of my life.

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This article has been read 621 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Noel Mitaxa 02/25/10
You have vividly captured how innocence confronts the ugliness of a most shameful era, and bridged the chill with a reassuring close. Tragically so many could not know the same reassurance, but very well done.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/26/10
What an awesome entry. Everything was so real, I felt like I was in hiding with the family. I could see this as the start of a novel.
Virgil Youngblood 02/26/10
You captured my attention and kept it with this well written memory. Thank you for sharing.
Ruth Stromquist02/26/10
I agree with all above comments. The very vivid descriptions and word use drew me in. Dialogue top notch also. Just excellent, all around.
Marilyn Schnepp 02/26/10
Excellent! Loved your Title, after reading the story and comprehending it. Sounds like something that comes from "True Life"...Kudos! well done!
Philippa Geaney 02/27/10
Well done!!! So well written. Congratulations on bringing to life humanity within inhumanity.
Sarah Elisabeth 03/03/10
Wow, the ending did it! What a gripping story
Loren T. Lowery03/03/10
Great job of putting the reader right into the situation at hand and holding them throughout the read. Your asides to the food, the matches,all of it wonderfully described.
Sandra Petersen 03/03/10
This was captivating, pulling me to the end. It does feel like it could be lengthened into a novel to include what happened in the years between the night of escape and the entry of Papa into the shop. Great description.
Pamela Kliewer03/03/10
I love your descriptions and the way you drew me in to this story. Excellent use of your word limit.
Genia Gilbert03/03/10
Loved this story! Very gripping and well written.
Catrina Bradley 03/03/10
I like the crisp, clear writing here. It compelled me to read, to know more. The "voice" is almost emotionless, but your words brought out my emotions as the tragic story unfolded.

I'd like to hear where and how they slept during the day while they traveled at night, and more details of the capture, but I know the word count prevented that.

Great job on the topic this week!
Lisha Hunnicutt03/03/10
I've read a lot of books with stories of Holocaust victims. Your writing was very good. I think you should consider writing this again without regard to word count so that you could tell the story more fully. There is so much more that could be done with it. Great tie-in to the prompt for the week!
Edmond Ng 03/03/10
Excellent writing! A very well written story that kept me captivated from start to the end. The imagery is so vivid and I like the way you lead your readers to think like the MC, the unsure feeling and abandonment of not knowing what to believe. I like the ending too, the way the story closes with the sense of relieve, yet with unquestioning acceptance of ambiguity which had become no longer important with the return of the MC's father, because the rest is history.