I promised to post one of the stories from my NaShoStoWriMo challenge and I’m only a few days late doing that…this one was inspired by our Galumphing poetry challenge for November. The words were: glass, lake, soldier. This one came in at 713 words – so only a few minutes of your time. Comments and suggestions welcome – I thank everyone for their encouragement regarding my personal short story challenge.
The Soldiers’ Return
By Marcy Erb
When Carl saw the soldiers coming across the pasture in formation, he wasn’t that surprised. He’d seen this before as a child in Germany and so he knew he needed to remain calm. That way, if he was called upon to take any action or speak to the soldiers, he would be able to do so in a dignified manner. Plus, he remembered; nobody else in his family spoke German.
He was standing with his four-year-old granddaughter in the driveway that led to the barn. They’d been looking at the ducks swimming on the small lake that separated their property from the neighboring ranch. His wife, son, and daughter-in-law were within sight, chatting together near the backdoor of the farmhouse. His granddaughter was a very chatty little girl and he found that he enjoyed talking to her more than most of the adults in his life now. She smiled and laughed would show him all the small things she found fascinating – a rock, a butterfly, her drawings of horses – and he in turn had shown her all the things he observed. While the adults around them would purse their lips, his granddaughter would listen attentively and agree with him. Carl decided that his family was adhering to the new model of parenting that seemed to be in vogue these days: the one where you don’t tell children about reality or show them the less-than-ideal circumstances of life.
But Carl knew that children were tough, tougher than you could ever imagine. They can handle the difficulties if you are honest with them. Look at what he and his siblings had lived through. Germany during the First World War and the German Depression was about as difficult as it could be: that’s why he’d left and immigrated to the United States at sixteen for heaven’s sake. Life here had been rough at first too, but nothing like it was in the old country. Until recently, he would never have expected to see a regimen of German soldiers here, near the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. But, unfortunately, things had recently taken a turn for the worse around these parts.
Carl could not articulate this to his family. In fact, he had trouble articulating it to himself. It was like a wet blanket wrapping his brain, a premonition that he couldn’t shake and couldn’t stop thinking about. There was not going to be enough food soon and people were going to get desperate. His mother had buried food in the backyard, in glass jars, to keep it safe from theft and their family from starving. Right before he left Germany, it was not unusual to hear about muggings that revolved around eggs or bread or even a bag of half-rotted potatoes.
His mother had treated the large glass mason jars like valuable jewels; a broken one was difficult to replace in those days. One good thing about the 1970’s, Carl mused, was that glass jars abounded and were practically free. When he decided he needed to bury food for the coming calamity, he simply collected them from the trash as his wife discarded them. He was pretty sure it was still the 1970’s, although that actor fellow from the 1950’s had been elected President of the United States and that didn’t make one bean of sense to Carl. No wonder he wasn’t 100% sure of today’s date!
Now he leaned on his cane towards his granddaughter and said, “dear, there’s no need to be afraid, I will talk to the soldiers. But go, run down to your father and tell him they are here. Tell him the soldiers are coming from around the lake through the field. Go on now.” She looked up at him with a trusting, if slightly confused, face. She said, “Okay, Grandpa!” She hopped a couple of steps and then ran with all the determination of a small child.
He watched his son bend down to listen to the child, watched her little arms swing in circles as she told the adults. His son shot up and looked at Carl frowning deeply. Carl returned to watching the soldiers’ silent approach. “Amazing how it’s just like 1917 again,” Carl said to himself and tapped his cane. He was ready for them.