When Ghosts Come Calling

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


In the course of the war Frank fell in love, he also lost that love. With a broken heart he tried to move on, but every year his ghosts come back to haunt him.

Submitted: September 11, 2018

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Submitted: September 11, 2018

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The house was quiet, the kids were tucked in bed, fast asleep. Frank sat in his study cocktail glass in hand. The fire from the hearth cast dancing shadows around the room. His eyes were glazed with the ghost who frequented him. The memories played in his head like a movie he couldn’t turn off. He took a sip of whisky. Gun fire and shouting played in his ears, he knew it wasn’t real. He took another sip. He slowly lost himself in the memories.

 “Joe, we need to go. We need to get away from the chutes,” I said grabbing Joe by the shoulder. Joe had dropped something when our parachutes got tangled in the forest canopy. He was on his hands and knees searching the leaf litter.

“Whatever it is leave it,” I could hear the Germans shouting in the distance.

“Found it,” Joe said getting to his feet and picking up his rifle. It was a photo of young woman wearing very little, “She’s waiting for me back home Frank.” Joe said with a smile.

“That’s great buddy, can we please run now, before the Germans catch us,” I asked sarcastically. I led Joe up the hill away from the river. We kept to the tree line; walking till we found a safe place to stop. Joe and I took a knee while I read the map. We had been separated from the rest of our unit when the plane we jumped from was damaged. I located the rally point on the map and looked for terrain features I could identify.

“Alright, Good news, I know where we are,” I said, “Bad news, we are nowhere near the rally point.” I showed Joe the map.

“Is it really possible we jumped that far off?” Joe asked looking at the map, then looking around.

“Yes it is,” I said in a dry tone. I took the map, looked at it one more time before folding it up and returning it to its pocket.

“We need to get going, I say we skip the rally point and head straight for the target. We can meet up with everyone there,” I said.

Joe didn’t argue, he knew I was better at this kind of thing. We kept low and kept out of open areas. We would pick one land feature walk to it, once we reached it we picked another, and so on. We had fifty miles to travel and if we didn’t meet up with our unit we would be sitting ducks. Joe and I had been together since basic, and I have been looking after him the whole way.

We were walking along a hedge row that divided a paddock from the road, when I caught the distinctive sound of metal tracks rolling closer.

“Get down,” I hissed pulling Joe down with me.

The tank grew closer, paired by the sound of footsteps on gravel. The hedge was tall if we stayed where we were they should pass right by us. I heard an officer shout orders and the marching stopped. My blood ran cold. My grandparents and parents were German, they thought it very important that I know how to speak the language. I knew that the officer had just ordered his men to set up camp for the night.

I looked at Joe and shook my head. I pointed to the ground and mimed low crawling. He nodded that he understood. We placed our rifles across our forearms and started a slow, quiet crawl, along the hedge. It was grueling. We had to stay close enough to the hedge that they wouldn’t see us but not too close or the dead leaves and sticks at the base would give us away.

 

“Frank?” said a far-off voice, “Frank did you hear me?” Frank blinked rapidly looking down at the hand on his fore arm, following it up to the woman it belonged to.

He closed his eyes for a second, then opened them, “I’m sorry dear, I didn’t hear what you said.” It was his wife, Frances.

“I said I want to go to the department store tomorrow,” she paused, “Are you alright?”

Frank finished the cocktail he was holding, “Yes dear, I’m fine,” he patted the back of her hand and rose to his feet. He refilled his glass and stood by the hearth staring at the flames trapped within it.

“Yes, the department store. Tomorrow. Just try not to spend too much, business might be slow this winter and I don’t want to take anything out of savings if we don’t need to.”

She began talking but Frank couldn’t hear her, the fire danced and played mesmerizing him taking him back in time, back to Germany.

 

Joe and I huddled at the base of a tree, panting. We had almost made it to the end of the hedge before a foot soldier rounded the hedge to our rear. Needing to relieve himself he choose to cross the hedge to do so. He saw Joe and me crawling on our bellies and sounded the alarm.

That was three hours ago. It was dark, which worked in our favor, but Joe had taken a bullet to the calf and was having trouble keeping up. When I inspected the wound, I found an entrance with no exit wound. I wrapped a bandage around the hole to stop the bleeding and half carried half drug Joe through the forest.

“Come on Joe, we can’t stay still too long,” I picked him up putting his arm around my shoulder. Joe limped along as best he could but he was losing energy fast. We needed somewhere to hide. We stopped again. I leaned Joe against a tree, taking a drink from my canteen. There was a crack from a rifle and the snap and wiz of a ricochet. I dropped to a knee, I could see the muzzle flash as three more shots snapped off. Joe reached for me to help him down. Then he stopped, he went ridged and looked down at me confused. His knees buckled, I caught him before he hit the ground. I felt the warm blood soaking the back of his shirt. His eyes were wide and lifeless already. I brushed his eyes closed with my hand.

I dug out Joe’s ID tags, snapped the chain and tucked them into the front pocket of my shirt. I laid him on his back, folded his arms over his chest. I was about to leave, when something in his hand caught my attention. It was the photo of Joe’s girl back home. I took it out of his hand and tucked it into the pocket with his tags. I wasn’t going to leave if for the Germans to find. Finally, I took his ammo, grabbed my rifle. I sprinted as fast as I could manage over the rough terrain and with a heavy pack. There was a small town to the north, if my memory of the map could be trusted. It was a French town and I might find a place to hide.

 

When Frank brought the glass to his mouth, it was empty. He took the glass to the sink, rinsing it out. He walked up the stairs and down the hall to their bedroom. The room was dimly lit by candle light. Frances sat on the bed in a black corset, with dark stockings held up by small suspenders. Lastly, she wore a pair of black high heels.

“What are you wearing?” Frank asked.

“What? Don’t you like it?” Frances asked extending her long legs and swinging them over the side of the bed before standing up.

“No, not really, you look like one of those burlesque dancers,” he said as he took off his tie and cuffs.

“What’s the matter with you Frank?” she said loudly. “What do I have to do to get your attention?”

She crossed the room to Frank, “Do you know how long it’s been since we were intimate? Two years. Two years Frank. We haven’t been together as man and wife since Joseph was born,” there were tears in her eyes. “Please, just tell me what I can do?”

Frank looked down at her. She was beautiful. Dark brown hair styled elegantly, soft fair skin. Her heavy breasts were lifted by the corset, displaying her cleavage. Her dark makeup brought out the blue in her eyes and her full red lips brought it all together perfectly.

“I’m sorry,” Frank put his hands on her shoulders, “I want to. I do, but…”

After a moment she spoke, “Do you miss her?” Her voice scarcely more than a whisper.

And with three little words Frank broke her heart, “All the time.”

 

The town was farther east than I had thought and I ended up passing it. Looking back, I now know that mistake was a blessing. I had to circle back to find it, which threw the Germans off my trail. By the time I reached the outskirts I was dead tired. Standing on a hill I surveyed the town before descending. There were maybe two dozen buildings at the center several miles away. Small farm houses spotted the land around the town. I forced myself to continue the closest farm was only about a mile away. My legs were so tired I struggled to lift my heavy boots. Catching my toe on a protruding clump of grass, the weight of my pack threw me off balance. Before I could catch myself, I was tumbling down the hill. I picked up speed, the contents of my hands and pockets scattering across the hillside. My lower leg slipped between a pair of extended tree roots jerking me to a halt with a sickening snap.

I screamed in agony before I could stop myself. I took my pack off and rolled over taking the pressure off my leg. My heart pounded in my chest, my breath was fast and ragged. I forced myself to close my eyes and take deep breaths. A sharp throbbing pain radiated up my leg. My head began to spin.

“Are you okay? Do you need help?” said a woman’s voice in German. I whipped my head around looking for the source.

That was the first time I saw her, “Yes, please I think my leg is broken.” I replied in German.

“Yes, it’s defiantly broken. Hurry, I’m going to help you up, we need to get you inside.” She supported most of my weight, which was impressive for such a small girl. She was only five foot five or six, compared to my six one.  She helped me into the nearest farm house, sitting me down on a chair in the first room we entered. 

"We need to get your boot off before the swelling sets in," she knelt down and began unlacing my boot. She pulled it off along with the sock and rolled my pant leg up. It was already bruising, even though her touch was light as a feather it still stung when she moved her hand over the break. 

"I'm going to make a splint and reset the bone," she passed a bottle to me, "Drink this." I grabbed the bottle and took four long drinks. She left the house and returned a few minutes later with two long pieces of wood and three rolls of bandages. "Keep drinking, trust me you'll want it."

She left the room again this time she went to one of the rooms in the back. After a few minutes she returned with a bundle of cloths, “You need to change. You’re not going anywhere in this condition and I can’t have an allied soldier in my house.”

I didn’t argue, instead I began unbuttoning my uniform. The clothes were a little small but they fit. Once I had changed my trousers she prepared to set the bone. We moved to a small bed in another room. She gave me a leather belt and told me to bite down, I did as I was told. She was no doctor; that much was clear. It took her several tries to get it right. I don’t know how long it took because I had passed out from the pain after the third attempt. When I woke up my, leg rested on a stack of pillows raised in the air. A fire in the hearth warmed the room.

“Good, you’re awake,” she said as she sat down on the edge of the bed. Now even though I had seen her before, this was the first time I actually saw her. She was beautiful. Her pale blonde hair was held back with a blue ribbon, which matched her dress, letting her long curls cascade between her shoulders. Her eyes were dark green like jade. I felt my heart jump as I took in her beauty.

“I made you some soup, eat,” she lifted the spoon to my mouth. It was hot and savory, I was certain I had never eaten anything so delicious.

“It’s really good, thank you. Not just for the soup but for everything,” I gestured to my leg.

She nodded, “It’s the right thing to do. With so much bad in the world right now I think it’s important to do something good.”

“I’m Frank by the way,” I said taking a sip.

“Lisette,” was all she said

She fed me the soup but didn’t speak. I didn’t press, she had saved my life that was all I cared about. Lisette, Lisette, I said her name over and over in my mind.

I was bedridden for weeks, anytime I would try to get up she would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, and forced me back onto the bed, “The better you rest the better you’ll heal.” That was all she would ever say.

Finally, after the seventh week she fashioned me a crutch, “Don’t put any weight on that leg.” She said in a stern voice.

We were sitting at the table eating supper when I decided it was finally time to get some answers, “Lisette, do you have any family in the area? Or is it just you taking care of the farm?”

She didn’t answer right away, “It is just me. I use to have a husband, but he went to war. I haven’t gotten a letter in over a year.”

My heart hurt for her, I reached out and took her hand in mine, “I’m sorry.” It was all I could say and I knew it wasn’t nearly enough.

She squeezed my hand lightly and took hers away, “What about you? Are you married?”

I thought of Frances, my girlfriend back home, “No, I’m not married.”

This seemed to upset her, she got up took her plate and mine, even though I wasn’t finished, cleaning them off.

“What’s wrong? Was it something I said?” I asked following her to the kitchen.

“Yes, it was something you said,” she yelled. She reared her hand back and slapped me across the face.

In shock I lost my balance, trying to catch myself with the crutch but in vain. I landed on the ground just in time to watch her storm out of the room.

“Lisette, wait!” I called after her.

She returned before I could stand up, “Not married? Then what’s this?” She threw a photograph in my lap. It was a photo of a woman, wearing hardly any clothes. “Why does it say ‘For my husband to remember me by’?”

“Where did you get this?” I asked in disbelief.

“I picked up off the ground along with everything else you left scattered across the hill side,” she was still yelling.

“Lisette, this isn’t mine. It was Joe’s,” I held the photograph in both hands and read the words.

“Joe was my friend he died, just a few days before I found your farm,” my voice trailed off and I got to my feet.

“So, you’re really not married?” she asked.

I shook my head, “No, I’m not married.”

It turned out the picture was why she had talked to me as little as possible over the last two months. Now that it was cleared up she wouldn’t stop talking. And I didn’t want her to. She told me everything, she told me what it was like being in Germany during the rise, and that her and her husband had moved her to avoid the war. He had been drafted regardless. She told him how lonely the farm had become and how much work it was keeping the place going on her own.

“I apologize if I have added to your burden,” I said.

She shook her head and took me by the hand, “You haven’t been a burden, I promise. If anything, you have been a miracle.” She looked down at my hand rubbing the back of it with her thumbs. She let go of my hand and started to leave. I stood up, grabbing her by the hand pulling her back. I pulled harder than I intended to. I pulled her into me, her holding her against my chest. She didn’t push away. Instead she looked up at me. We stared into each other’s eyes for a long moment before I placed a hand on her cheek. Her lips were softer than I could ever have imagined. She wrapped her arms around me as our passion engulfed us.

 

 

“Frank!” it was Frances. He looked down at her still dressed to impress her husband. Frank had zoned out again. It wasn’t usually this bad, but with it being the anniversary, it all stung like a new wound.

“Frank, I love you. I have always loved you,” Her tone was low, she felt defeated. “Come back to me Frank, leave the past in the past.” She gently grabbed Franks face and made him look at her. “She’s gone Frank. Let her go.”

Franks eyes met hers and for a second they were full of fire. She saw pain fill his eyes dousing the flames. “I know, Frances. I’m sorry.”

She kissed him softly on the lips, “I’m going to bed, put your ghosts to rest and join me.”

Frank nodded, “I will, just give me a minute.” Frank left the room. He went back down stairs to the study. He slumped down into the chair and buried his face in his hands. He didn’t cry, he couldn’t cry, he had given all of his tears to Lisette that day, five years ago today.

 

I stood in the kitchen, the crutch was gone, and my leg was almost fully healed. I was scrambling eggs when she snuck up behind me wrapping her arms around my waist. I jumped when her cold hands touched the bare skin of my chest.

“Good morning,” I said killing the flame and turning around in her arms. “I made breakfast.”

I picked up a piece of egg and fed it to her. She smiled and put her head against my chest, “Good morning.” She said.

“Lisette, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” I said I had my arms wrapped around her shoulders keeping her close to my chest. “I need to get back to my unit. It’s going to be hard enough as it is explaining my absence. And besides, the war isn’t over yet. I need to get back in the fight.”

I knew she had been fearing this conversation, “I know, I wish you didn’t have to go, but I understand.” She took my hand and led me to the front room. “The floor boards are loose. I hid your uniform, pack and rifle down there.”

I knelt down inspecting the floor boards, pressing hard on one end and digging my nail into the wood I was able to pry it up. After the first one the others came up without issue. I began removing my things from the hiding place when a knock at the door made us jump. Lisette moved to the window and looked out. A squad of German soldiers stood outside the door.

She hurried back to me whispering fast, “Germans, you need to go. Go out the back and I will distract them.” She helped me gather my things and led me to the back door. The soldiers out front knocked again this time harder. Before I stepped out she put one last item in my hand. “Look at it later, run!”

I ducked behind a wagon, crouched and made my way behind the barn. From there I climbed the hill leading away from town. At the sound of a gunshot I stopped mid step. The blood in my veins ran cold and my stomach churned. I dropped everything but my rifle and knife. Sprinting down the hill I reached the front door as the first man was walking out. Caught by surprise I buried the blade of my knife in his neck pushing him backwards into his comrades. I started to shoot, I didn’t stop shooting till the weapon clicked. Empty. One of the men was groaning softly. I retrieved my knife, took a knee beside the dying man; looking into his watery eyes as I sheathed my knife with his heart.

“Frank?” I spun around looking for Lisette. She was across the room laying on the floor. I ran to her side picking her up and holding her in my lap.

“Where are you hurt?” I asked as I padded her down searching for blood. It was her stomach. A large brutal hole pouring blood. She raised a bloodied hand to my face. Her dark green eyes locked on mine.

“I love you,” she whispered with her dying breath. I pulled her against me sobbing into her blonde curls.

 

Frank reached into his pocket and removed a black and white photograph. It was what she had placed in his hand just before he went out the door. It wasn’t like Joe’s photograph. It was a portrait, her beautiful smile that reached her eyes. The curls of her hair falling around her shoulders. Frank turned the photograph over. Don’t be gone long. We need you. You’re going to be a father. Frank closed his eyes and kissed the picture. “I’m sorry.” He whispered. He had found out what happened while cleaning up the house. He had forgotten his helmet in the hiding place beneath the floor. Lisette was trying to replace the floor boards when the soldiers let themselves in. Frank had never told Frances about the child, or that it was his fault they had died. And he never planned to. He would push down his feelings and get through another year. And next year when the ghosts came calling, he would try better to hide them.


© Copyright 2018 JackCrawford. All rights reserved.

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