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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A French marching band is forced to work for the Germans after the invasion of their town, causing a rift between the band's members.

Submitted: November 26, 2017

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Submitted: November 26, 2017

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Tobi sat on a pile of ammunition crates stacked neglected in the corner of the camp.  He wondered for a moment how he ended up there- how a young cornet player from rural France ended up in a German military encampment.  The answer was simple, yet he still didn’t believe it.  While it was only a few years ago, it felt like an eternity since he and his brass band had been content in the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.  But when the Nazi German forces had spread over the French countryside like a plague that infested itself in every nook and cranny, their simple town had little chance at pushing them back.  So the people of Sainte-Mère-Église had little choice but to submit to their forces.  When that had happened, Tobi had wanted nothing more than to keep his head down and remain playing music for as long as the war lasted.  But it was his devotion to music that had pulled him into the great mess he found himself in.  The Germans who occupied Sainte- Mère-Église needed a marching band for their drills, and had none of their own.  They had approached the band’s conductor- a middle aged man named Frederick, and asked, or more so coerced him to relegating the band to their service.  And that was why Tobi found himself sitting in a German encampment, in a German uniform, sitting on crates of German ammunition.  He hated wearing the grey uniform, but they had insisted.  At best, he felt like a pretender, at worse he felt like traitor.  It was cruel to make a man wear the uniform of his enemy, but for all intents and purposes, he was a part of the German army now.  Even if all he did was play the cornet.

 

It was this cornet that laid on his lap while he gave the instrument some much needed maintenance. He carefully pulled each valve out and laid them next to him as he cleaned and oiled each one.  As he did, he glanced down at the MP-40 laying against the crates.  He needed to clean that out as well.  He’d agreed to do so for a German soldier in return for a watch.  The soldier did not seem so bad, although Tobi did not want to think about where he had got the watch from, but he was certainly better than the bulk of the men they were forced to play for.  He guessed he should be grateful that they did not mistreat the band, and if you overlooked their actions and the cruelty they’d inflicted on France, they were not so bad to work for.  Some of his fellow band members hated it, while others didn’t mind.  As if summoned by his thoughts of them, Tobi noticed a few of the other players approaching him.  Among them was Lucas, his closest friend in the band, along with Matthew and Jean.  Matthew and Jean were good examples of the divided opinions.  Matthew had little qualm with serving the Germans, and he strutted around in his new uniform as if he enjoyed it.  Jean, on the other hand had hated every minute they had spent amongst their enemies, and continuously spoke of attempts to undermine the Germans.

“Keeping the cornet oiled, Tobi?” Jean asked.  Tobi nodded as he slid the valves back into the instrument.  He played a quick scale to ensure the instrument sounded as it should.

“Hey, remember we’re not supposed to be playing with their permission” Matthew said, scowling.  With his blond hair and blue eyes, Tobi wondered if Matthew’s sympathies to the Germans came from some German blood.

“I don’t think they care.  I don’t think they care about us at all, really,” Tobi replied, jumping down from his seat to grab the MP-40. 

“Well there’s no love lost from me if they don’t” Lucas said, “But they have allowed us a rehearsal in the old barn by the road.”

“Finally.  Listen, I’ll meet you there when I’m done,” Tobi said as he carefully handled the weapon.  Lucas nodded and left Tobi to his work.

 

Frederick had done a good job at creating a makeshift band hall out of the barn.  Their seating was a mishmash of boxes and crates, and they had to rely on the marching lyres attached to their instruments to hold their music.  When Tobi, the others had already gotten their instruments out and began warming up.

“Glad you could join us,” Frederick said as Tobi arrived.  By the conductor’s tone, Tobi could tell that he was late. 

“Sorry.  I had some things to do,” Tobi replied.  He heard Jean scoff nearby.

“Yea, helping out the enemy and cleaning his guns.  Fitting into that uniform well,” he said under his breath.

“What you all do during the day is no concern to me.  I only care that you play well at night.  We’re all in this situation together- how you respond to it is no matter to me,” Frederick said without looking up from his music.

Tobi took his usual seat next to Lucas.  After running a tuning note and number of scales, Frederick took the band through rehearsal.  They practised all the songs requested by the Germans until their precision would impress even them.  It was an abnormally long rehearsal that carried far into the evening.  By the time they finished, the moon was high in the sky.  Zach went to pack up his instrument and return to the camp after the rehearsal was done, but Lucas put a hand on his shoulder.

“Hey, I meant to tell you that a few of us are staying here tonight.  Jean managed to sneak a few bottles of booze out of Sainte-Mère-Église before we left.  While we have this barn we might as well enjoy time away from the Germans.”

Tobi didn’t drink much, but he could not pass up and opportunity to spend some relaxed time with his friends.  Such times were few and far between.  The others had cleared some ground and made a small campfire on the dirt floor of the barn.  Its light and warmth were inviting, as was the company of friends.  The bottles were passed around eagerly, and soon so was laughter and chatter.  Some of the players had retired back to the camp- only a few remained, including Matthew and Jean.  Tobi didn’t know how long they’d been there for, but it had felt like a while.  He looked down at his new watch and was surprised to see it was after midnight. 

“I should head back, it’s later than I thought.”

Lucas stood up and stretched his back before throwing a bucket of water on the fire to douse it.

“Yea, you’re right.  We should head back.”

As Tobi stood up, he thought he heard a peculiar sound.  It was like a long, low whistle above them.

“Hey…did you hear…”

His voice was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a large explosion nearby that rocked the ground.  A few seconds later, another shook the entire barn.  Tobi watched as the colour drained from his friends’ faces as they quickly realised what was happening.

“That…sounds like artillery.  And not German artillery either,” Lucas said softly.  They all stood there frozen for a moment before another explosion that felt uncomfortably close rocked the barn again.

“We need to go,” Matthew said.  The others nodded in agreement and they bolted out of the barn into night, which now seemed far more terrifying than before.

 

It was hard to tell what direction they were going, though Tobi hoped they were at least heading the right way.  As they hurried down the road, Tobi noticed the artillery had stopped.  But as he tuned his ears carefully to the silence, he heard the faintest sound of plane engines.  He looked up and saw a small number of white parachutes falling gracefully from the sky.  The others followed Tobi’s gaze and stiffened.

“Paratroopers!” Matthew hissed, “They’re going to land on the road.”

Tobi looked at his friends, hoping one of them had a plan.  They simply stared back at him, as clueless as he was.

“Into the trees,” Tobi said, “We’ll hide.”

The others didn’t hesitate to follow Tobi’s advice.  Moments later, they were huddled together in a cold, muddy ditch on the side of the road.  It was certainly not how Tobi had expected the night to go.  As Matthew had predicted, the paratroopers landed on the road a few hundred meters away from the cowering musicians.  Jean peered over the edge of the bushy ditch to get a look at the invading soldiers.

“I think they’re American,” he said.  One of the others in the group, a tuba player named Remile raised his head in interest,

“They might be able to help us.  If they knew we aren’t German…”

“Do you forget that we’re in German uniforms right now?” Matthew said, obviously trying to hide the tension in his voice.

“But that does not make us German,” Remile said.  To Tobi’s horrified surprise, Remile slowly climbed up out of the ditch onto the road with his hands raised.  The paratroopers quickly saw him and raised their guns,

“Don’t shoot, I’m French,” Remile shouted to them.  A moment later, Tobi jumped at the sound of gunfire and watched in horror as Remile fell to the ground.  He heard Lucas stifle back a shout.  Matthew swore under his breath.

“Why did…” Jean said in disbelief.

“Think about it.  We’re in German uniform.  And to foreigners, French may sound like German,” Tobi said, unaware of how much his voice was shaking.

“We’re not going to find the help we need from the Americans,” Matthew said.  Tobi nodded in hesitant agreement.

“Then what are we going to do?” Lucas replied.  Matthew looked behind him to the dark forest beyond.

“We run.”

 

Before the Americans got any closer, Tobi found himself running through dark trees, focusing only the shadowy form of Lucas in front of him.  Branches and leaves slapped against his face as he ran, some drawing blood, but Tobi barely felt it.  The vision of Remile’s death seemed to drown out anything else happening around him.  He kept running, focusing only on putting one foot in front of the other.  He was snapped out of his trance abruptly when he heard a shout from up ahead.  They all stopped, and threw their hands in the air, even though that had not seemed to work a moment ago.  But Tobi saw Lucas slowly lower his hands as he saw who was in front of them.

“Frederick?”

Tobi pushed his way forward and saw that across a small break in the trees stood Frederick and a few other of the band members.

“Thank god you’re alright,” Frederick said with a sigh.  His eyes searched their group, and they became worried when he did not spot Remile.

“Where’s Remile?” he asked, though Tobi could tell he already knew the answer.  Lucas just shook his head.

“We should have known this would happen eventually.  All that matters now is that we get out of here safely,” Frederick said.  The other band members behind him looked pallid and terrified, even in the dark.  At his words, Matthew stepped forward,

“We need to get back to the camp.  The Germans have treated us well for the last few years- surely they can protect us now.”

Jean stepped in front of Matthew,

“After all that’s happened, you want to go back to those monsters?!  I say that we turn to the Americans.  Don’t you see that our liberation is finally here?”

“Did you see what they just did to Remile!” Matthew snapped back.  He turned to the rest of the band huddling in the dark.

“I’m going back to the Germans.  It’s better than being killed pointlessly by the Americans.  Who’s coming with me?”

A few of the other players looked at each other hesitantly and moved over to stand with Matthew.

“So that’s the way it is,” Jean said.  In a lightning fast movement, he pulled up a pistol and pointed it at Matthew.  The others jumped back in surprise.

“Where did you get that!” Lucas exclaimed.

“Stole it off a sleeping German,” Jean boasted, “Matthew, I can’t let you go back to them.  I know you’re going to help them.”

Matthew stood his ground.  He straightened up look an animal staring down a predator. Tobi noticed that Jean’s hand was shaking.  One of the players behind Matthew stepped forward,

“Jean, just calm down…”

For the second time that evening, Tobi jumped at the sound of gunfire.  But this time it had come from one of his own.  He was faintly aware of a shout and the fall of a body, but before he could even process what was happening, he felt someone grab his arm.  It was Lucas.

“Come on, Tobi.  We’re getting out of here.”

Before any other of the others could react, Tobi found himself being dragged behind Lucas.  Lucas had always been protective of him.  And now was no different- he was making sure they both got out of this mess alive.  Tobi had no idea which way they were going, but Lucas’ seemed confident in his direction.  They eventually burst out of the trees onto a road.  Tobi glanced down the road and saw a German soldier standing there.  It was the one who had given him the watch.

“Tobi?” the soldier asked, surprised and confused.  Before he could reply, Tobi heard the whistle again.

“Get down!” he heard Lucas shout as he pulled him to the ground.  He didn’t see it happen, but the whole world around him trembled and he found himself showered in dirt.  When he shakily stood up, there was nothing but a crater where the German had been standing.  He felt Lucas tug on his arm again, and this time he let himself numbly be pulled along.

 

When dawn came the next morning, Tobi found himself in a different world.  A world in which the war had caught up to him.  Oddly enough, he found himself sitting on a pile of ammunition crates, with Lucas next to him.  He didn’t know where they were, and there was no doubt they’d have to leave soon.  He wondered where the others were.  He wondered if Matthew had gotten back to the camp.  He wondered if Jean had found the Americans.  Whatever had happened though, the band was no more.  The band whose one purpose was to play together harmoniously had been violently and rapidly torn apart.  Matthew and Jean had been like two wrong notes played at the same time, causing nothing but discord.  And like how one wrong note could ruin a chord, one poor choice could ruin camaraderie.  Tobi looked up at the sky, now clear and blue.  He had a bad feeling that there were a lot more wrong notes and poor choices to come.


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