The beating of Joseph’s heart sounded like a bass drum in his ears. “You can do this,” he told himself as he looked left then right.
All was quiet. There was no one in sight. He knew it would only be minutes before the guards came back in his direction. The death wagon was just yards away from him. He jumped at the sound of his stomach growling. He was so hungry. His last meal was a small bowl of thin soup. He looked at the naked, emaciated bodies and prayed to God that he could hold out.
Now! His foot slipped as he started out of the shadows. He stopped and looked back at the building. Could he make it back to safety? Safety? The thought was ironic. Not here. If he didn’t starve to death or get shot, he could be taken away to be tortured in some sick experiment or burned alive. His anger stirred him to action.
He must not look back. Keep going! Soon he would be a free man. Anything would be better than his existence for the past months. As he reached the wagon, he struggled to lift a body so he could hide his clothes beneath it. His hands trembled, and his knees felt as if they would buckle beneath him.
He could hear the voices of the guards start in his direction and slipped over the side of the wagon to lay on top of the heap of bodies. The night air was cold against his naked skin. He looked up at the sky at the sliver of moon that made it possible for him to make it this far without being seen and whispered a prayer of thanks.
“Oh, dear God, please help me!” his mind screamed as he worked to free another body that he could hide under.
Finally, he had managed to get underneath one. He felt as though he would wretch at any moment. Would they see his chest heaving? He must calm down. He tested the body above him to be sure he could move it enough to make his escape without it falling out. Joseph had chosen a spot in the back of the wagon with hopes he would not be detected. He was going to make it!
The guards were getting closer. He could see them stop and light a cigarette through the space he had left above him for air. Had he been discovered? He remained still, holding his breath in fear. One guard said something in German to the other, and the other guard laughed and took a long drag on his cigarette. Joseph felt tears of relief trickle down his cheeks as the guards moved off in another direction. Thank God he would soon be free!
It seemed like an eternity to Joseph as he waited in his hiding place. Soon they would pull the wagon out of the camp to the place where the bodies were buried in a mass grave dug by the prisoners earlier in the day. His thoughts now were only for reaching a safe place where he could find food, shelter and clothing.
Suddenly the body on top was lifted off of him. He saw the twisted look of hatred on the face of a soldier above him. The crack of the gun and the hollow laughter of the guards watching him die slowly rang in his ears as the light of the moon began to fade…
Joseph sucked in a sharp breath as he became aware of his surroundings. He could hear the steady chorus of rasping breaths as his fellow prisoners slept. He could smell the stench from their unbathed flesh. As he opened his eyes and his sight adjusted to the darkness, he could make out the bones under their thin skin. From outside his building, he could hear two guards talking and laughing. They were nothing more than animals to these butchers.
Joseph raised boney fingers to his cheek and felt the moisture from the tears on the side of his face. There would be no escape tonight. It was just another dream. He closed his eyes and prayed for sleep. Maybe in this dream, he would find true freedom.
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