Short Story Repost: I’m Sorry

Someone asked if I ever wrote stuff that wasn’t erotic. I wrote this one back in 2018 – it’s a horror short that contains violence but nothing sexual.

I promise.

It’s about four Eastern-Euro salvagers who locate the lost ‘Amber Room’ of legend in Poland and find more than they bargained for in the bunker where its hidden.

I’m Sorry
By Tina Kolesnik

Women ravaged by war hold no allegiances to men.

The kerchief-capped group fell to their knees at gunpoint, but none begged for mercy. Dogs strained against their ropes, their vicious chorus fading when the women laced their fingers behind their heads.

Filmed some seventy years ago, the colorless scene playing on the wall felt like a sadist’s idea of posterity. The Schutzstaffel’s angriest lacked a gentle hand, and when his words failed to produce the answers he sought, the heel of his boot accentuated his point.

One woman stood unafraid.

Fear had abandoned her long before this moment, replaced by anger from witnessing the murder of someone she had carried within her for nine months. Newly gaunt from hiding in the woods, the camera closed in on her face, yet no filth could mask her undaunted mettle.

Pistol secured to his waist, the Obergruppenführer paced between her and his heeled mutt, the skull-shaped medallion on his cap casting a silvery dot upon her brow.

“Your men helped themselves to my treasure,” his academic Polish was curt. “Tell me where they are, these thieves.”

Suddenly, a young Schutzstaffel stepped into the frame, whispering words that brought a smile to the inquisitor’s chiseled face.

“They’ve abandoned you,” he addressed them all now. “You owe them nothing,”

The standing woman stared him down.

“We took back what was ours,” she said.

“You and these crones?” His mirth led the armed men to laugh.

“Herr Rohde made us keep the dust off his stolen riches,” she said. “Each day, we left with our cunts full of his precious trinkets. Not even your degenerates dare search a crone there.”

Rage expanded the Obergruppenführer’s eyes.

“Tell me where your men are hiding,” he shouted.

No words came until he took a hand full of her kerchief-covered hair and yanked her off her feet.

“You’ll all pay for what you’ve done,” she whined, hands gripping his wrists.

He tossed her aside and convened briefly with another of his Schutzstaffel. After a moment, he trod to her again and, kneeling, put his face near hers.

“That sculpture my men found, where does it come from?”

A tear rolled down her cheek.

“You will answer me,” he stood, pulled his pistol, and took aim.

Her bottom lip trembled. “My daughter, Rozka—”

“-What was your daughter’s, is now mine.” The Obergruppenführer pulled the trigger, and the resounding crack brought a collective gasp from the other women. Her head kicked back, and her body tipped forward.

The women sprang to life and rushed the armed men.

Gunfire exploded, mowing down everyone, and amidst the carnage, the camera jarred violently, pulling back to reveal the mountain.

“There it is,” Bolonski’s declaration came on a cloud of stale beer. “That’s Książ.”

Like a gangly marionette, he bobbed to the projected scene on the wall and fixed a boney finger on a peak to the far right. He rambled about the hill’s history while, upon his lean back, German soldiers entered a cave.

 “He’s right.” I shifted in my seat. “There’s the tip of the castle,”

“Old bag was telling the truth,” said Anasov, beefy arms folded over his chest.

The old bag in question was the film’s original custodian, his grandmother, whose death last month provoked his return to Poland. His brutal physique came courtesy of the American prison he’d called home these past five years.

I wanted to share Bolonski’s excitement, but I refused to get raise my hopes.

“There’s nothing in the Owl’s,” I said.

“Klatch is right.” Turkol shifted his heft behind the projector. Overweight since birth, Turk could thread a needle with a bullet, and that’s why Anasov kept him around. “Better treasure hunters have raided that part of Riese’s asshole and came up with nothing.”

“The Polish government sponsors excavations in the Owls all the time.” I moved away from Anasov’s glare. “They’ve searched those tunnels with fancy sonar and plenty of eager—”

“-but not here, Klatch,” he barked.

Bolonski inserted himself between us, a habit from our youthful days in lockup.

“Your uncle visited this place?”

Anasov withdrew to the projector, turning its large knob and pausing the film.

“My grandmother’s brother served in one of Stalin’s trophy brigades.” He put his fist on the face of the Obergruppenführer. “Catherine the Great’s amber room was traced to this bastard here,”

“Amber?” Turk asked. “Like beer?”

The bulky man’s stupidity defused Anasov for the moment.

“During the war, the Germans dismantled thirteen thousand pounds of amber and gold from Tsarskoye Selo.” Bolonski’s skeletal figure quivered with enthusiasm. “They reconstructed it in Königsberg,”

“Königsberg?” said Turk. “Where is that?”

“We grew up calling it Kaliningrad,” I said.

Turkol grunted. “If there’s gold involved, let’s go get it.”

Anasov’s grin made my skin crawl—he’d flashed one just like it moments before raping me in a prison cell outside Warsaw. Teenage incarceration doesn’t make lifelong friends. It merely teaches the weak to be obedient.

“This bastard right here,” the wide-faced Russian spread his tattooed fingers over the German officer’s face. “He was loyal to Koch, even after the coward abandoned the city.”

Erich Koch had been the sanctioned governor until news of a Soviet advance reached his plush office in Königsberg. His gallant evacuation of German women and children had disguised his escape while his successor, a Polish-born German named Otto Lasch, took command. Under this new regime, the murderous star of the film, Obergruppenführer Hans Fuchs, allegedly fled with the prized amber room.

“Koch orders Fuchs to steal the spoils from Otto,” I spoke as Anasov moved into my personal space. “What happened to Fuchs?”

“Shot by the Americans,” he said, touching my shoulder.

“That hill is an hour from the Książ.” I moved away from him. “No roads lead to it,”

“We’ll hike it,” he announced. “The first day of October,”

I turned to find him right behind me. “That’s a new moon,”

“Don’t fret, Klaczko,” his firm hand found my shoulder again. “No one will see us leaving with what we find.”

“They’ve been digging under the palace for years but never near this hill.” Bolonski ducked beneath Anasov’s arm and came between us. “You can’t get heavy equipment in there without a road.”

“I can drive us in.” A belch signaled the demise of Turkol’s beer. “But I can’t hike,”

“Turk, you fat bastard,” Bolonski laughed, his teeth tinted purple from pickled eggs. “For nearly five hundred million in amber, you’ll hike,”

“You’ll be there too, Klaczko.” Anasov’s voice grew distant. “You and your little bricks of boom.”

Wałbrzyskie in autumn became a messy canvass of yellow and red. Heavy clouds brought shaded lines over the pastures, giving the morning frost more time than it deserved.

Turk had parked the cargo truck off the highway east of Mount Chełmiec.

Aged between fifty to sixty-two, we appeared as another group of pensioners, setting off on an overnight hike with backpacks too big for such excursions.

Weary of the silence, Bolonski griped about the convenience shops nearby. His desire for coffee-flavored coffee became a tangent on the evils of peppermint and mocha. I tuned him out when he questioned why people flavored everything with vanilla and pumpkin.

Anasov kept a brisk pace, determined to reach the hill by midday. The others thought him eager to learn the fate of his elder, but I knew better. Raised a thug on the sunbaked streets of Simferopol, he never touched liquor nor did drugs; Anasov’s addiction revolved around being the wealthiest man in the room.

“We need to turn at the stream,” Turkol called to us from behind. Compass in hand, he’d been silent most of the hike, carrying the lightest load since burdened by his body.

A brook snaked westward through high grass and led us to a formidable bedrock wall. We squeezed our way into a narrow fissure, carrying our backpacks over our heads.

My calves felt the incline first.

Anasov and Bolonski kept a steady gait on the upward climb, but I slowed to keep Turkol within earshot; trekking long distances with his arms up strained the hefty marksman’s resolve.

Still out in front, Anasov’s voice echoed down the line.

“Klaczko, how’s our time?”

“Another hour,” I called back. “We should see the tip of the Książ soon.”

We put the claustrophobic passage behind us and strode through a forest of needle-fingered pines.

The smell brought memories of my mother and her summer migrations north. A caravan prostitute, she relied on the tourist trade, packing me up every April for the Baltic shore. Winters back south found me picking pine needles from my shoelaces and stalking rocky crops to spy mountain rams.

The odor of wet earth grew strong as my breathing labored.

A slope of brown grass sat beyond the trees, and over the hump appeared a dense phalanx of slender bone-white birch. Bolonski grumbled. “These weren’t in the film.”

“This is the hill.” I pointed to the tarnished tip of Książ Castle, peeking above the treetops.

“Let’s get through this shit,” said Anasov.

Crystal grains crunched beneath our boots, and the aroma of empty tidal pools was uncanny. Fine sand often bedded pine barrens but not birch forests. Wind siphoned through the slim trees and had given the bleached grains honeycomb grooves.

There were no fallen needles here, no shards of discarded tree bark. I pushed the crusty sand aside and uncovered bits of polished brown. Turkol joined me on his knee, a thick bottom lip wet with drool.

“What kind of rock is that?” he asked.

“It’s unrefined amber,” I said.

Bolonski joined us. “Are you sure, Klatch?”

“I grew up in Leba,” I reminded. “My teething necklace was made of this shit,”

“Then this is the place.” Anasov’s voice boomed, but no birds fled overhead. There were no bugs or buzzing insects, either. “These trees got big since Germans were here,”

“This isn’t sand.” I brought some grain to my tongue. “It’s salt.”

“Nothing grows in salt,” Anasov said.

Bolonski touched the grains and tasted his finger.

“Those Jewish bitches,” he gasped. “They cursed this place.”

Turk tapped my shoulder. “Can Jew bitches, curse, Klatch?”

“Is this kosher salt?” asked Bolonski.

“My mother is Catholic, so I was raised Catholic,” I spoke flatly, having explained this reality most of my life. “My father was Jewish, but I barely knew him.”

I recalled my father the same way all children of divorce do, an idealized memory built around the words forgive me and goodbye.

“If you never knew him,” Anasov grinned. “Why is your cute little cock, circumcised?”

“What is this, Klatch?” Turk smiled. “Being disenfranchised means you can’t recognize kosher salt?”

“Fly by night, Semite,” Bolonski teased.

“Let’s move.” Anasov pulled a knife from his pocket and pressed the hilt into my hand. “We’ll mark each tree we pass.”

Twice we returned to trees marked prior, and despite the compass guiding Turk, he led us in circles through the salt forest. Anasov’s patience spent, he seized the compass and berated the fat Uzbek. Within moments their quarrel became a shoving match.

“I found something,” Bolonski’s voice called from the trees.

The boney got down on his hands and knees and dug at the dirt until the outline of a curved bar appeared. We pulled the shovels from our duffels and joined him, uncovering a steering wheel, then its column.

Excitement clouded Bolonski’s large blue eyes.

“What do museums pay for a Kübelwagen?”

“Not as much as private collectors,” said Anasov.

I scratched off grit from something flat and revealed a faded triangular crown with a single red star. “It’s not a Kübelwagen.”

Anasov shoved me aside, his jaw tense.

“At least we know my uncle was here,” he spat.

Bolonski tossed his shovel and let loose a disgusted breath; his time-consuming labor yielded a worthless Soviet UAZ. “He must have gotten stuck in this sinkhole.”

Turkol wiped the sweat from his bow and leaned his bulk against a tree.

“He for stuck,” Anasov’s voice quaked with excitement. “But not us.”

He sprinted through the trees to a mound covered by a mass of young, finger-thin birch. Before stopping, he walked the line where salt met upturned earth for several yards.

 “Here it is,” he yelled, exposing the corner of a cement threshold with his boot.

We made short work of the soil, our boots uncovering a four-sided flat of concrete. Dusting the packed earth above revealed a door frame. Shovels in hand, we crowded close and chipped away at hardened dirt, and before long, a rusty door with bolted metal trim appeared.

“All right, Klaczko,” winded, Anasov stepped back. “Time to work your magic,”

The door’s modest valve wheel handle was a post-war model.

“Why is this secured from the outside?”

“Because there are valuables on the inside,” said Bolonski.

I fingered the industrial padlock hanging from the handle and spotted engraving on its elongated hook and circular grip. “This thing is from the seventies.” The script was old, from the first Hebrew partition in Palestine. “Made in Israel,”

Anasov’s breath warmed by ear.

“Your Jew father teach you that?”

I turned and stared up at him. “Should I go, Anasov?”

“I still need you to get me in there, Klaczko,” he said, head shaking. “And, if those old bitches marked the boxes of loot in Jew, I need you to read it.”

“I can’t read Yiddish or Hebrew,”

Turkol and Bolonski’s smiles faded when Anasov stepped into me.

“That better be a lie,” he warned.

Bolonski groaned. “Stop this.”

“We have loot to plunder,” Turk scolded. “Fuck this hateful shit.”

“Get away from me, now,” I said, glaring until Anasov obliged.

I retrieved my blast kit from the duffel and felt Turkol behind me while I fixed gobs of putty around the valve-wheel base.

“Will this blow the entire door?”

“No,” I pulled a small brick of C-4 from my pack and pulled free a quarter hunk. “It’ll only blow out the locking plate,”

“Like punching out a doorknob,” he mused.

“Or swatting a fly with a hammer,” I said, pulling him along on my retreat to the trees.

First came a muted pop followed by a torrent of crumbling rock.

A narrow tree toppled over and struck the ground, kicking up enough salt to shroud the entrance. When the tangy mist cleared, Turkol fell in behind Anasov.

Bolonski beckoned me with an impatient arm, and child-like eyes regarded me as I drew my handgun. Unimpressed with my paranoia, he followed the others into the black. After recounting my rounds, I followed their voices to an open hatch on the floor.

Flashlights revealed the line of descending iron rungs.

“You’re first, Klaczko,” said Anasov.

“I’m going not first.” I was screwed either way; his entering first put him on the ground with me climbing down.

Anasov aimed his pistol at me.

“What is this?” Bolonski moaned.

“If you shoot Klatch,” Turk spat, “I’ll have to carry double.”

Bolonski put a hand on Anasov’s gun. “We’re partners, right, Oleg?”

“You’re all chicken shits,” Anasov holstered his weapon. “I expect fear from the Jew,”

Angrily, I pushed past him and descended first.

Climbing down proved easy since the broad rebar rings were fashioned for boots, but halfway to the ground, something hard snapped beneath underfoot.

“What was that, Klatch?” Bolonski’s voice rang from above.

I spoke into his boot tread. “I stepped on something.”

Near the last rung, I relaxed my grip and dropped down.

The flashlight revealed that I had crushed the skeletal remains of a hand, its thumb still attached to the rebar ring. Human bones scattered around the darkness made sense considering the Soviet’s reputation for abandoning their soldiers.

Caked in dried mud, two iron tracks ran along the concrete floor. Depressions dotted the space between them, many deep enough to crack the stone into triangular pieces.

Turk joined his light to mine. “They tried to break it up,”

“These holes are too large.” I shook my head. “Jackhammers have little flat ends,”

“It was seventy years ago,” said Anasov. “They probably used sledgehammers,”

“Who cares?” Bolonski walked into the black.

Anasov warned him, “Stay alert, Vasha,”

“We’re the only ones here,” the gangly Pole reminded.

Turk added, “Falling rocks, and sinkholes, you dupe!”

Bolonski nodded sheepishly as we followed him down the corridor.

Peeling green paint covered the walls, each shred caked in dry mildew. A trio of black cables ran along the ceiling, interrupted every few feet by a rusty box fixture with an empty bulb socket.

When the narrow passage opened to an abandoned cargo terminal, our combined lights exposed a wall of cinder block mortared high enough to reach the cavern’s natural rock.

The rail line continued alongside a stagnant canal, its rotting wood ties still intact. Piles of discarded uniforms littered the floor, and when Anasov kicked a helmet, it tumbled some feet before a decaying skull broke free.

“Germans?” Turk wondered.

I rubbed my thumb over another cap’s skull-shaped pendant.

“This is an officer’s hat,”

Anasov pushed air out his nose. “You think it’s Fuchs?”

“These bones are crushed to bits,” said Bolonski, drop-kicking an empty helmet into the canal. “What happened to them?”

Anasov shrugged. “A quake trapped them here,”

“There’s not enough rubble to justify a quake,” I said.

“If this mountain’s unstable,” Turk said. “We should clear out,”

“This passage would be full of debris if there’d been a quake,” I said.

Bolonski’s high-pitched voice rang out from the shadows.

“There’s a door back here,”

This portion of the cave stunk of putrid water.

Racked iron shelves stood against the rockface, each level packed with wooden crates marked with the crest of Nazi Germany. Some lay smashed upon the floor, with corners of plated amber jutting out from their splintered planks.

The skin on my arm tightened, seeing those honey-colored panels.

Bolonski’s infectious joy elicited riotous laughter as Anasov greedily snatched up a broken fragment and smashed it for the gold filigree trapped inside. Fueled by adrenaline, we gathered more pieces and created waist-high cairns.

Turk saw her standing there first, and it took several moments with our weapons drawn for us to recognize that the figure by the water wasn’t moving.

Our combined lights discovered a sculpture, its pale gray veneer smoother than any ancient Greek statue. The rotund woman was naked but for a carved scarf covering her stone hair. She stood with her back straight, her fists at her sides, and two bare feet planted apart upon the broken earth. Her broad face was turned, and her chiseled eyes set upon something behind her.

Bolonski ran his fingers down her thick arm. “It’s not marble.”

“It’s clay.” My light found the dimpled skin of her thighs. “Look at the detail.”

Faint stretch marks lined her pillowy stomach, with pale streaks running along her hips. A slight fat roll ran from where her breast married the space beneath her underarm.

“She’s got some serious hail damage,” said Anasov of her dimpled backside.

“That’s a fat ass,” Bolonski added.

“Look at these tits.” Turk stuffed his face between the hanging globes and shimmied a thumb over the large nipple. “I like them when they’re saggy,”

“You’re a pig, Turk,” I scolded.

“My sister has a double chin like this.” Bolonski stood on his toes and still couldn’t touch his nose to hers. “She says it’s not flab, just her thyroid,”

“All chunky girls blame their thyroid,” said Turk.

A thin rod of gold ran between her shoulder blades with a miniature Star of King David centering the rod. The bar’s left side contained Rashi Script, what my mother called Jewish Gibberish, while the right contained words written in Russian Cyrillic.

 “Why can’t I read this,” Anasov’s circular light became a dot over the etching. “The spelling doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s Polish,” I said, seeing it scribbled in eastern Cyrillic.

“He’s right,” Bolonski butted his way in between us. “It says some shit about revenge and a girl named Rozka.”

“The old woman’s daughter,” I said.

Anasov turned to me. “What do these Jew words say?”

“I don’t know,” I droned. “I can’t read Hebrew.”

Anasov pulled a small brown bottle of nitric acid from his pocket and pinched the rubber tip of its eyedropper lid before lifting it from the glass. His lips spread into a smile when no reaction occurred from the dots he dropped.

“Solid gold,” he announced. “We take this out, cash it in, then come back with enough equipment to carry out the amber.”

Bolonski howled. “That’s a plan,”

“I’m keeping her,” Turk announced. “Don’t fuck her back up by taking it out.”

“Leave it be,” I advised, stepping back.

“She’s not real, Klaczko,” said Anasov. “Clay doesn’t bleed.”

“It’s Judaica,” I sighed. “You can’t sell it without proper provenance,”

“Oh shit, Klatch is right,” Bolonski whined. “Authorities get called whenever someone salvages anything they think is a Jewish artifact,”

“We’ll break the bars and ditch the star,” Anasov said, tugging at the rod.

It came out easy, and closer inspection revealed two tiny, predrilled holes.

Butane torch in hand, Anasov separated the Magen from its bars and then tossed it to my feet. My stomach turned; our intended treasure sat just a few feet away, yet we bastards still plundered a fearless woman’s shrine to her dead daughter.

Quickly, I snatched the star up and slipped it into my jacket pocket.

Bolonski’s voice again broke through the darkness.

“There’s another room back here.”

We entered a vestibule dimly lit by a crumbling skybox. Corpses clad in Soviet uniforms were stacked high and arranged like partitions outlining a path. Gnats formed a second skin upon the remains, which looked more like beef jerky than rotting flesh. We moved through the foul-smelling maze with our arms tucked and hands swatting the flies.

I recaptured my breath and choked a sigh once we entered the cavern.

A vast aquifer spread out before us with molded crates littering the water’s edge. High above, skinny roots snaked through long dripping stalactites, and caught within their gnarled tendrils was the bottom of a Russian jeep.

“We’re beneath the salt forest,” I whispered.

Bolonski turned an anxious eye to the vestibule.

“It’s getting dark up there,” he whispered.

“Sun’s going down,” said Turk.

Anasov caught his foot in one of the many deep holes that led to the water’s edge.

“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered.

“The waters must’ve risen.” My imagination fired as I followed them back through the putrid bug-ridden maze. “It must’ve created a rush that forced them into this small space,”

“makes sense,” Bolonski chirped from behind. “There’s lots of mud where we came in,”

Anasov quickened his step as we passed our cairns.

“The sun will be down soon,” he said, glancing at his watch. “We barely made it out of those trees today, so we’ll camp outside tonight and take off at first light,”

“We need to rope a path through the trees,” I said.

“Good thinking Klaczko,” he huffed. “I’m glad I didn’t kill you.”

Our flashlights dimmed in the main corridor. Trudging back to the entry, no one spoke for trying to retrace our steps. Turk and Bolonski seemed euphoric—finding the treasure of a lifetime didn’t happen every day, certainly not to career miscreants.

Suddenly, a loud snap resounded somewhere far behind us. Guns up, we turned on our heels and remained still for several moments.

“A crate must’ve fallen,” Bolonski whispered.

A cadence of heavy thuds echoed, followed by a brief clanging of metal.

“The fuck?” The thunderous pounding gained volume as I aimed my pistol at the darkness, dropping my eyes to the trembling puddles beneath my boots.

“What is that?” Anasov growled softly.

Bolonski pleaded. “Falling rock, right?”

Turk lowered his gun and charged toward it.

“We can’t lose our loot to a cave-in,”

“No,” I sputtered. “It’s not safe,”

Then, the thumping stopped.

We stood as our breathing became the only noise we heard.

“What was that?” Anasov asked again.

I took a breath. “Government fracking?”

“That’s it,” Bolonski smiled and advanced on Turk. “It’s those machines they use to shake the water table,”

Turkol’s laughter ceased when the wall beside him crumbled as if struck by a wrecking ball. Turk’s broad figure vanished into the hole, leaving only his boots. His beleaguered screams came with the disharmony of breaking bones.

We howled in terror, lighting up the corridor with gunfire.

A new tempo of blows came before Bolonski vanished from view. His shrieks for mother interposed with wet coughing until a sharp crack brought silence and through the gunfire’s strobe came something my mind couldn’t accept.

With a running leap, I sprinted toward the entry and caught the last rung. It took all my strength to pull my body upward, but firm hands grasped my ankles. Wrenched from the bar, I tumbled onto the concrete with Anasov lording over me.

The heavy pounding gained volume as Anasov’s boot cut into my gut. As he jumped for the rung, an arm passed over my cowering head. A fist collided with Anasov’s back, breaching it like a twig. He cried out as his torso struck the wall, his arms stretched obtusely upwards within the cracked niche atop his downturned boots.

No longer stone, the former statue from the cavern moved with a fierce grace, her bare feet buckling the ground with each step as she plucked Anasov’s fragmented carcass from the cracked niche and slapped it repeatedly against the floor. His body divided like a poorly sewn doll, his coming free as the womanly creature hammered his beaten corpse on the concrete.

Two solitary gold bars tumbled noisily onto the stone, and when she dropped his remains to collect the metal, I jumped for the last rung.

The bunker’s mantle trembled as I clamored to the top, her pursuit of me sending dust to cloud my way out. Past the blasted door, I faltered into the trees, my bladder betraying me as trees toppled in her wake.

She closed the space between us over a path cleared by my sloppy retreat. I stumbled, falling to my back upon the salt, and confronted her with the golden star. I sputtered the only Yiddish I knew—ani mitnatzelet—words my father whispered when he left.

The monstrous beauty paused as her splintered face studied me in the growing light. Animated stone, she resembled the vengeful Jewess from the film. Scowling, she brought a heavy foot down between my legs.

“Rozka!” I cried.

She tilted her head in bewilderment, neck clacking as if stiff ligaments existed beneath the stone. Soon, my spell upon her faded. She let loose a low growl and moved over my body, forcing me deeper into the salt.

Trapped in her deadly shadow, I closed my eyes.

A sudden crunch found my ears, like the gentle breaking of an eggshell. Suspended above my face was her bloodied fist. Over her face spread a hardened sheen that soon coated her neck and shoulders. Within seconds, her body was again carved stone.

The thick blanket of salt beneath me was my salvation; undisturbed by our struggle, it disconnected her from the earth, sapping her life force.

Laughter rose within me, soft at first, then riotous with the knowledge that I might live. I dug my elbows in and pushed at the ground. Unable to wedge free, I tried to move my legs only to discover them trapped between her thick hardened thighs.

After several moments of trying to wiggle loose, I screamed in frustration. I stabbed at her with the Star of David until it slipped from my blood-slick hand. Breaking my legs would disturb the salt, and her fist would cleave my skull if dropped.

Defeated, I shouted into the morning mists.

Fatigue set in after hours of struggle, and as the midday light warmed my skin, I pled my case to the tree-tops: I’m not a Nazi or a Soviet. I’m not a dangerous man. I don’t deserve to die like this. No one does.

Daylight waned with my faith in God. The devil didn’t exist, either. No deity remained except fate, and she punished all who tempted her.

My mind fled with that first drop of rain as the downpour began washing away the salt, no matter how much it banked around her knees. Through heavy eyelids, I watched the rain sluice down her hardened cheeks, and that’s when I noticed the corners of her mouth turning upward.

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