Catching the Wind(10)By: Melanie Dobson
“Are we in Belgium?” Dietmar asked.
“Ja,” the man replied. He opened a cabinet and retrieved two chipped bowls. “You are fifteen kilometers from the German border.”
Dietmar knew Germans occupied Belgium, but he didn’t know about the Gestapo. Perhaps he and Brigitte would be protected here.
The farmer filled the bowls with steaming stew and placed them on the kitchen table along with two steins of honey beer. Then he and his wife slipped into another room.
Brigitte sat in the wobbly chair beside Dietmar, silently folding her hands for a blessing before tasting the food. Dietmar forgot that he was eating rabbit. Forgot that he was in a strange house in Belgium. He almost forgot that he was running away.
The stew tasted like the beef soup his mother used to make, full of carrots and potatoes and chopped leeks. It warmed his belly. Reminded him of home.
After supper, the farmer showed them a bathing hut outside. He filled the zinc tub with water, and while Brigitte bathed, Dietmar dragged two straw pallets from the barn and positioned them on the wooden floor in the attic, above the kitchen. Then he took a short bath, not wanting to leave Brigitte alone for long.
Brigitte was already asleep by the time he lay on his pallet. It felt good to have clean skin, to rest his head on a mattress even if it was made of straw. He hadn’t slept well in the forest, keen to the noises and shadows around them, but as his eyes closed, he hoped he could rest tonight.
When he woke again, Brigitte breathed peacefully on the pallet beside him. Moonlight slipped through the dormer window, its fingers reaching back into the dusty corners filled with crates and broken furniture. The attic was silent, but someone spoke below them, the voice muted by the floor. He crawled across the rickety floor and quietly opened the door before descending the steps. Near the bottom, he could hear the whispered urgency of a woman’s voice even if he couldn’t understand her words.
Who was she talking to?
As he peeked around the corner, Dietmar saw the fat hips of the farmer’s wife, draped in a green robe that looked ghoulish in the kerosene light. She was alone in the kitchen, the telephone cradled against her ear as she spoke to someone in Dutch.
Then she switched to broken German. “There is a boy here,” she explained. “And a girl.”
His heart seemed to stop at her words. Last night, he’d thought the woman frightened or vexed at having to share her food. He’d never guessed her to be malicious.
Did the farmer know?
Probably not—judging by her whispers. Either she didn’t want her husband to find out or she didn’t want to wake their guests. Then again, if the police offered a reward for runaways, perhaps the farmer knew exactly what was happening. Instead of being concerned, he might have used the bait of stew to lure Dietmar and Brigitte into the house.
Dietmar never should have allowed his stomach pains to dull his good sense.
The woman slammed the phone onto the receiver, mumbling something to herself in Dutch. Dietmar turned swiftly and tiptoed back upstairs. Then he shook Brigitte’s arm. After the farmer’s wife left the kitchen, they snuck down the steps, clinging to each other in the darkness until he unlocked the front door.
Hours later, as he was shoveling leaves and moss into a mound for their bed, Brigitte stared up at the moon above the forest, the bright orb webbed by tree limbs.
“Dietmar?” she whispered.
“Why must we keep running?”
He stopped and looked at the moon with her, hoping their parents could see the light wherever they were.
She tugged on his arm, repeating her question. “Why do we have to run, Dietmar?”
He put his arm around her to keep her warm. “Because my mother told us to.”
A pearl-gray castle was pleated into the island’s jagged cliffs, the same color as the oyster shells swept along the shoreline below it. From the air, Quenby couldn’t tell where the seams of the castle were stitched into the fortress of rock—it all appeared to be one grand monument built by a collaboration of God and man.
The private jet circled above a copse of stone spires on the castle and cast shadows over the white-capped bay and a roof of solar panels implanted on a greenhouse. Beyond the castle, the island was thick with forest, like a layer of moss clinging to stone.