I recall the day I heard that awful scream—the one that curdles the blood—the one that speaks to pain and fear—the one we dreaded.
Mother had looked us straight in the eyes. Her face was ashen. Her expression was fierce and wild like a cornered animal. She quickly stuffed some crackers and an apple in my skirt pocket then pushed us toward the hidden storm shelter; my brother first, then me.
“Whatever happens, stay in here until you hear nothing. Do not come out until all is quiet. Stay together, always. Remember, I love you.”
With those words spoken, she slammed the shelter door. I locked it from the inside, as I was taught to do. We heard her push Papa’s large bookcase to block the shelter door. We imagined she was quickly straightening Grandmother’s faded red oval rug and rearranging the two big arm chairs in place.
My brother whispered, “Why is she sweeping?”
“So that there is no sign of furniture being moved,” I replied. “She is making sure no one will find us. Now, we wait and whatever we hear we must be totally silent. Put your hand over your mouth like this.” I showed him.
My brother reflected my action.
Time was absent; no clock, no candle lit. We just huddled. I had one arm around my brother and we both kept one hand covering our mouths. We waited and listened.
The sound of large vehicles seemed to grow louder. We could feel the vibrations on the dirt floor underneath us as dust from the ceiling above us filtered down crusting on our faces. We both muffled our breathing and need to cough. The roll of the tracks made me think these were tanks, army tanks. I did not say a word, but I could imagine my brother thought the same. He looked at me. In the darkness, I could barely make out his confirming response.
Fear gripped us both at that very moment. We could distinguish trudging sounds of boots, many of them. They weren’t marching. They were running and scattering. Louder voices indicated they were in the garden on the side of the house. Most likely, they were devouring our harvest food.
We covered our heads with my sweater to feel more protected.
Then stomping sounds came up onto the porch. The sound shook the bookcase and rattled Mother’s special china dishes set on the table. Mother ran out of the front door. We could hear her voice trail away from the house. She was drawing the intruders away from us.
That is when my brother and I heard that dreadful scream. I shall never forget the shatter of such a sound. I hoped he would forget. We rarely talked about it until later in life. We both tightened our hands over our mouths. “No noise! No noise!” I kept thinking.
I tried to keep track of time. A pail of water was set next to my feet. I made sure my brother and I drank from the ladle, one scoop only, sensing we may need to ration. We nibbled on the crackers crumbled in my pocket.
My brother fell asleep at some point. He kept his little hand covering his mouth even in sleep. I could feel his body slump on my shoulder. I listened and heard footsteps pounding all around the house, inside and out. The large vehicles with their idling engines remained camped nearby.
I could hear laughing and talking—loud talking—but, I did not understand the language. It must have been the “speak” of “those devils.” Mother always told us, “watch out for those devils. If you see them, run as fast as you can into the woods. Hide there and don’t look back.”
After the scream, I never heard my Mother’s voice again.
Finally, the boot sounds receded from the house and the porch and the garden. Then the lumbering sounds of the vehicles rolled away toward town. I hoped someone would know they were coming. I insisted that my brother and I wait longer before venturing out from our protected hiding place. He nodded his head in agreement.
Sometime in the later hours, I tapped my brother on the shoulder and said, “Let’s go, NOW.” I unlocked the shelter door and we slowly opened it from the inside. We braced our backs against the big bookcase and pushed just enough to move it, so we could squeeze our bodies through the slight opening. We had practiced this many times. Mother had made sure we could do it.
The house was a disaster. There were broken china dishes strewn everywhere; dirt and food and wine bottles scattered about. We crawled on our hands and knees through the kitchen and onto the porch. There was no sign of Mother. I called to her in my loudest whisper voice. Still there was no answer.
Together, my brother and I stood and walked bravely, yet, cautiously into the side garden. The garden was demolished and torn apart by all of the stomping boots. One small pink rose was left on Mother’s treasured rose bush. Next to the lonely flower lay Mother’s apron and head scarf.
They were drenched in blood.