Sometimes in the night, Micah allowed his mind to go exploring the world that used to be, the world that surely still existed beyond the overcrowded bunks reeking of rotting straw, beyond barbed wire and hunkering smokestacks. He longed for the peace and solitude of his study, the smell of Esther’s cooking curling beneath the door.
The lights in the barracks came on at 4:30, banishing delusion. This was reality: the sighing, the shuffling of countless worn shoes, the frigid blast snaking toward them as they prepared to stand at attention for an hour and a half.
Eli labored to his feet and leaned on the bunk, wheezing. Micah caught his son’s arm. “It’s bad this morning?”
Worry gnawed Micah’s belly. “Come, my son,” he said urgently. “They’ll kill you.”
A rasp: “At least it would be over.” But Eli leaned on his father’s arm and struggled outside.
It hurt to remember the boy Eli had been, compared to the broken man he was now, his faith shattered by brutality. Micah could hardly blame him. He wasn’t sure why he still clung to faith; surely Adonai had abandoned them. Every day, it seemed, another face was missing, another victim of the squat building they all tried to ignore. If the gritty particles floating in the air had once been a man they had worked beside, prayed with, it didn’t help to know. They would all end up there sooner or later. More likely sooner, if the rumors were true, and the Allies were coming.
“Fall in for medical inspection!”
This was new. “What’s happening?” Micah hissed as they shuffled forward.
“They need workers for the munitions plant,” the word filtered back through the line. “Better food. Less crowding!”
Hope flitted through the crowd. A chance to escape the waiting crematorium? All around him, lips moved in silent prayer.
Eli would not be chosen; his asthma made that certain. Micah passed through the inspection line without a hitch; as they shoved him toward the far door, he glanced wildly around the room. Eli was nowhere to be seen.
Outside, the guards shoved him toward a freight car waiting on the line. He saw Eli in another line, a line shuffling toward another building, a building many entered, and none exited.
Heedless of the guards, he hurried across the distance. “Eli!” He gripped his son’s arm.
Eli smiled sadly. “It’s all right, Abba,” he said. “At least it’ll be over.”
His fingers dug into the rough, worn fabric of the prison coat, and suddenly he knew what to do. Micah fumbled with the buttons of his coat, the coat stitched with the number the guards were expecting. “Take your coat off,” he hissed.
For a moment, as Eli ran toward the waiting car, Micah saw him as he once had been: carefree, secure, certain of the goodness of the Lord.
Micah closed his eyes against the fine rain of ashes falling upon his face.
When I started trying to think of ways to portray life rising from the ashes, I tried and tossed a lot of ideas before I suddenly thought of the concentration camps. What if someone gave his or her life to allow someone else to live?
I’m way over the word count, mea culpa, and clearly this story could use some fleshing out. In the meantime, critique me!