By Eileen Reeves
Only the greatest of fools would attempt to escape a German prison camp across the French wilderness in February. I, being a lesser fool, attempted in early spring. This was partially born of a hope that the Germans wouldn’t expect an escape then, and partially born of the simple fact that I doubted how much longer Simmons would hold out. His tiny size hid an enormous strength; I knew that much. But even my eternal optimism was starting to wear under the conditions. After a month of the work, the cold, and the lack of food, I decided it was time to act. The other prisoners warned me against the plan.
“Only a few people have ever made it out, and they were far more prepared than you.” Lewis, an American pilot who’d been at Metz for nearly a year, had pulled me aside to dissuade me. “The ones who did prepared for months, and some had outside help.”
“I don’t have months. Simmons doesn’t have months. We have to go soon. Besides, I have a plan.” Lewis looked skeptical. “I can speak the language, and who ever said I don’t have outside help?” Now Lewis looked shocked.
“No way. How did you manage to. . .? Nevermind. All right, if you really do have help, you might make it out of the camp. Where are you going from there?” Truth be told, I didn’t know myself. My plan was to use some new French friends to get us out of Metz. After that, I figured we could lay low and pray the Germans were too busy with their losses to waste resources tracking down two almost worthless privates. The way our luck was going, I should have guessed it wouldn’t work, but hey. I said my optimism was wearing thin, not that it was totally gone.
My general plan was thus. Now that the weather was getting warmer, some of us prisoners were sent to the fields to plow and prepare for planting in the later spring. Some locals came to help. Three of these women both hated the Germans and were, uh, intrigued by the charming British soldier who spoke such good French. My flirting paid off, and they agreed to help with my plan. They would arrive as normal, with their cart, and we would slip on at some point during the day. They would then beg off early, claiming some reason. I was assured that they could be convincing. Since no one counted the prisoners except at night, we could (hopefully) get a couple hours head start walking to the Swiss border, about two days walk away. I knew it was a long shot. It was beyond a long shot. The only reason it worked as well as it did was through some incredible stroke of highly concentrated luck. So highly concentrated in fact, that it only managed to hit one of us.
The first part of the plan worked fine. The day dawned overcast, and was raining hard by midmorning. The soldiers who were supposed to supervise us were not the most attentive on the best of days, and this certainly wasn’t. They sat in the back of their truck, barely watching what was happening. But even with their apparent inattention, I was nervous. They were healthy, well fed, and armed. Simmons and I were obviously none of those things. Still, any little thing to make the plan smoother helped. The plan commenced at precisely 10:30. Simmons and I had made sure to work near the girls’ cart. Through the rain, we saw them walk over to the truck where the soldiers sat. That was our opportunity. We sidled over to the cart and jumped on, hiding underneath the piles of sacking, blankets, and other assorted debris. We couldn’t see much, and everything sounded muffled. But even with my sight and hearing impaired, I could tell when the girls got on and started moving, and when everything started to go wrong. The soldiers shouted, and the cart moved faster. Then the shooting started.
See, this is where that highly concentrated luck kicked in. Bullets hit the cart all around me. One of the girls screamed, and the others yelled something in French too fast for me to understand. I felt, rather than heard, Simmons move strangely. At the time, I was too preoccupied by the truck problem to notice. As it turned out, they never followed us in the truck. Quite possibly it broke down. At the time, the only trucks the Germans had were leftover American ones, and out here, no one had the expertise to repair them. So, aside from the shooting, we got away, avoiding the village, which had no doubt been warned about the escape. We went to the woods instead, where Simmons and I were to begin our trek to Switzerland. Except the forces of luck had decided that I would be making the trek alone.
“Toll? Hey, we’re out. We did it! You can get up now.” Even as I finished talking, I knew something was wrong. Pulling the final sack off his face, I remember the movement he made earlier, and knew that all my thinking couldn’t undo this.
I don’t recall much of the walk to Switzerland. It consisted of walking through the freezing nights, hiding in ditches, and panicking whenever I heard anyone speak German. My thoughts were dominated by Tolliver Simmons. I couldn’t shake the tremendously guilty feeling that pervaded every thought. The thought that somehow, someway, I should have done something better. I should have planned better, I should have protected him better. Even though I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t my fault, I couldn’t manage to convince the rest of my mind. Facts like ‘he was an adult’ and ‘he knew what he signed up for’ paled in the face of the facts like ‘it was my plan’ and ‘I promised him it would be alright.’
Eileen Reeves, vocabulary aficionado, enjoys writing and words. She is the co-president of her school’s Writing Club, and considers writing to be paramount to any and all students. This is her first foray into the world of publishing, initiated by her English teacher, who she’d like to thank for all the deadlines and support.