Welcome to Throwback Thursday! 🙂
Below is a story I entered in a local writing contest. I really didn’t expect to win anything, since I had never let anyone outside of my family read my work at the time. But when the awards night came around, and it was announced that my twelve-year-old self had won the grand prize, I continued to pursue my dream of writing. That day, in the journal I won as a prize, I wrote, “…it was my day to shine. Today, I know who I am: I’m a writer…”
Again, this story has not been edited. It’s given to you as it was when it was written! Enjoy.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I froze in my bed, terror-stricken. I knew my mind couldn’t possibly be so cruel to play such a horrid trick on me. I was thinking so much that my words rang in my ears. I scarcely noticed the floor boards moaning two stories below me, as if they were crying out, shrieking that danger was near, that it was coming.
It was finally happening.
I realized that this night was the very night that would change my life, I knew was coming. It was the time that everyone in this household had been expecting—but just the same, it wasn’t exactly the night we waited for in good spirits; it was the night we were dreading.
Fear gripped me, its icy finger were digging into my heart. As I struggled to fight back tears, my door silently slung open; its hinges did not even make a sound. Lord, I prayed. Give me strength to make it through this night. God, protect the Jews….My heart was throbbing inside my chest rapidly, and I was so afraid I forgot to breathe. Stealthy steps followed by quick ones fluttered in front of my bed. I sat up and whispered as loud as I dared:
“God be with you!”
“And you, also, my dear Annelies!”
The secret door in the corner of my room was where we had planned to keep our three Jews when a night like this one took place. A rectangular piece of wood served as a fake wall that concealed our hiding place of priceless lives. Though so fragile, so worthless, each one of us prayed that God would bless it as it played the role of a temporary refuge. Now that my eyes adjusted to the dim interior of my bedroom, I could make out the outline of a stooped over man, helping a women and a young girl into the secret room. The little girl, Anika, only five years of age, was clinging to her mother, Joseline. I could tell she didn’t want to go.
“No! It’s to dark in there. Mama, please!”
“Anika!” her mother’s voice was shaky but stern. It was relieving that I wasn’t the only one afraid.
Uncle Rufus, the man of the group, stooped over and scooped Anika up in his arms as if she was a rag doll. Uncle Rufus was a very tall, thin man of seventy. He had smooth, white hair that he liked cropped short. I gladly gave him a regular trim as needed in the last several months we had him. His mustache, exact color of his hair, never went scraggly. I know my father and mother had always taught me that favoritism was wrong, but I treasured Uncle Rufus slightly more than the rest. Our long talks, him teaching me to play cards games, and us peeking out my window at night to look at the starry constellations fueled a bond between us that could never, ever be broken.
“Annelies?” Uncle Rufus’s voice seemed to shake the air.
“Thank you, my dear! Give your parents my gratitude—”
I heard the fake wall slide shut, then the muffled sound of a door closing. I held my breath. I waited for what seemed like hours; when really it was a matter of seconds. Then I began to hear doors opening and slamming shut below me. I heard my sisters, Sandra and Clasina, scream in terror. I heard rushing footsteps, shouts, and what sounded like a table crashing to the floor. I prayed over and over again. I heard the oldest of my three younger sisters, Roza, cry out: “Oh, oh! My head! What a terrible head ache this is!”
The code. My whole family had been preparing for this night. We had practiced and had drills so that when this nightmare happened, we would be ready. When Roza cried out and complained about her head, that meant the officers were coming up into my room. With shaking hands, I knocked twice on the wall, and two knocks came back at me. This indicated that Uncle Rufus, Joseline, and Anike were all right. If I ever made it down stairs alive, I would tell Roza that if the officers permitted me, I would fetch her some medicine for her head. This phrase meant that the Jews were safe.
The next thing I knew, I heard the rumble of footsteps making their way to the third floor. I lay in my bed, trying to act sleepy, but it was no use. I was wide awake, the adrenaline rushing through my veins completely rattling my brain and courage. Then, I heard the most frightening words: “Search each room! Have each person questioned!”
My door slung open, and banged hard against the wall. I slowly sat up in my bed. Rubbing my eyes, I acted as if I was tired, as if I had just woken up. I tried to keep my breath steady, so I wouldn’t be gasping for air. Please God, I prayed. Protect us all… Then a deep, strong voice rang out in my room so loud I thought it would shatter the windows.
“Where are the Jews?’
“What Jews? Who are you?” I replied. With each sentence, I felt my courage grow stronger.
“Answer my question!”
“I—I have no idea, sir—”
With that, I felt a rough hand grip around my neck and nightgown collar. The officer leveled my face and his face. Through the dark night, I could see his eyes; they were grey in color and very sharp and alert. “I asked you a question,” He said in a bullying tone. “And I expect you to answer it!”
With that, he hit me, and hard, too. As I tumbled out of my bed, I felt something cold and liquidity run down my chin. When I brushed my hand across it, my eyes met a bloody mess. I stared up at the officer, sobbing. He yanked me up as if I only weighed as much as a Dukaton, then harshly pushed me out my bedroom, toward the staircase.
As we walked down the stairs, I realized I may never be able to walk these steps again. Suddenly memories of Sandra falling on these stairs, me carrying Roza up to my room, and me sitting on these very steps listening to Clasina sing came rushing at me. As we reached the last step of that precious staircase, I never could of even imagined the scene I was about to enter.
Officers surrounded my family and crowed our dining room. A few lanterns that were lit cast gloomy shadows that danced across the wall. The air was stuffy and hot, and I heard Sandra coughing uncontrollably. Every member of my family was being held back. Roza kept squealing, Clasina sobbing, Sandra was looking away. Roza saw me and nodded towards the east wall.
I followed Roza’s gaze and shrieked at the horrible sight; they were beating my mother. The officer who was doing the horrible task would question her the same thing, over and over again: “Where are the Jews?”. If she did not answer immediately, which for the sake of the precious lives upstairs she didn’t, he would hit her. Her bottom lip was bleeding, her nimble hands shaking; her eyes were shut hard as if she were praying. I closed my eyes just as she did—tears raced down my cheeks. I couldn’t look at her. God…I said under my breath. Help us! Stop them from hitting Mother—
“Load them up into the truck.” Said one of the officers. Apparently, they realized that Mother wouldn’t give any clue of the whereabouts of the Jews. “Look in every closet, every little opening. Leave no area unsearched.” I glanced back at the officer who escorted me from my room. His eyes looked as they did before; shooting horrible glances that could melt anyone. Next thing I knew, I was being shoved out of our front door into darkness. “Roza—” I croaked. “I could get you some medicine for your head—” I was cut off by an officer. “No talking!” So I stayed silent. I saw the truck that would soon be transporting us to a far away place. As I climbed up the back doors, I gasped.
We were not the only ones in the truck. Men, women, and children were leaning up against the sides. Some were crying, many were staring in front of them as if they were in a trance. I stood there, not quite sure what to do. I glanced behind me, and a swarm of officers and bits and pieces of my family were stepping over other prisoner’s legs, trying to make their way through. Soon Roza was in my arms; her face smothered in blood and newly shed tears. “Annelies, is it not the worst thing you have ever imagined? Where are we going? Prison? Death chambers?” I didn’t answer directly, because I didn’t know myself. “It is frightful. But we are in God’s hands.”
By that time we were sitting along the sides, shoved up against other women, men, and children. As Roza and I searched for our family, only one word hung like fog in my mind: Prison.
The truck started, and soon we were bouncing along the road. It was very hot, as if tension and fear heated up the trailer. The rumbling noise of the motor hummed as we rode along. I tried to pull back my wavy brown hair, but my hands were shaking too much. Several times different officers questioned us on our name, birthday, family, if we were married, if we had children, and other questions that seemed pointless. Each officer recorded our answers on paper, then went to the next person.
I gazed at Roza. Her beautiful, inky black hair that came almost down to her waist was in a braid that she twirled around in her fingers nervously. Her hazel eyes were trimmed in black eyelashes, her cream colored cheeks were now red with fear. Roza was my beautiful little sister, and though she was 14, she was at least two inches taller then me. Her lanky legs took long strides; I sometimes had to jog to keep up with her.
Clasina was the second youngest of the children. Her hair was the same as mine; caramel colored and wavy. Clasina had a beautiful singing voice; when she sang sad and slow, it would bring tears to your eyes. When she sang cheerily and fast, it made you want to dance and clap your hands. And even though she possessed such a marvelous gift, she was very modest and shy like Roza. Though only thirteen, she would not work on bringing glory to herself but to her Creator—, which made our parents feel like singing right along with her.
Then there was Sandra, the youngest. She was very outgoing, and had so much energy it would make you dizzy. She could talk non-stop for half an hour; which she often did. Though she was ten years old, some people mistaken her for an eight year old; she was very short, and she only came up to my chest.
Rik, the oldest and only boy had a wonderful talent; playing the accordion. He preferred playing fast and merry songs, which used to flow around the house like an invisible river. He used to try to teach a few songs or melodies, but I could never keep up. I missed his music so much—he, just like us, was arrested. He was caught helping an elderly couple take care of the Jews they were hiding. He had gone to prison a few months ago—I wondered if we would see him.
All of a sudden the truck stopped. I hadn’t noticed how long we were riding; though I was sure it was no small amount of time. Suddenly an officer came into the middle of the trailer and yelled: “All children are to come with me!”
Roza and me clung to each other and struggled to make our way towards the officer. We were both shaking with fear; I had never been so scared in my life. I realized I may never see my Mother and Father again. Roza must have thought the same thing I did, for we both began searching franticly for our parents. Soon we saw Clasina, half running to where we were standing. All three of us girls embraced, almost overwhelmed to see another familiar face. As soon as I heard Clasina say, “Where can Sandra be?”, I panicked once again. “Sandra!” I called. “Sandra!”
“No talking!” yelled an officer. I shrank back, frightened. I pulled Roza and Clasina closer, and then continued looking for Sandra. Suddenly I heard the pounding of footsteps then an officer yell “No running!”. As I turned to look, there stood Sandra with one eyebrow cocked high. As she turned to me, she said: “No running! Ha! It’s as if they would care if we would trip and get hurt. Besides, where we gonna go, anyways?” I laughed and squeezed her tight. Sandra knew how to make the worst situation the funniest.
“It’s ‘where are we going to go’ not ‘where we gonna go’, Sandra,” said Roza, who was constantly correcting her, but only this time she was smiling. Sandra grinned, then took turns hugging her sisters. “Mother and Father are near the door,” Sandra said. “We’ll get to sneak a hug goodbye.”
As Sandra prophesized, later we were bent over and hugged my parents goodbye for the last time. We were all crying, and Clasina was sobbing uncontrollably. Mother and Father said at the same time “God be with you!” Then we four were at the back doors. It was the last time I ever saw them again.
It was pitch black outside, and all the children were to line up in a single file line. Sandra, Clasina, Roza, and I held onto each other’s shoulders with me in the lead. Officers laughed at us, making fun of our clothes and our sad faces, as if it were funny we were going to prison. Every time Sandra would start to retort, Clasina would quote Scripture on anger and other verses that would apply at that moment. Sandra stayed silent, but I caught her more than once glaring at an officer.
We were lead into a small, cramped room, and once again we were questioned the same series of questions as before. We were commanded to stay standing. Our legs were cramping, our knees felt like they were about to give out. Sandra remarked that she had every question and answer memorized, while Roza quietly said she wondered why they took more and more of the same information. After every child was through, we were split up. Once again, God’s mercy was evident because all four of us girls were in the same group. Again, we were led outside. In the night, I saw the outline of what looked like an old run down stable.
When we reached the doors, officers accompanied us into the old shelter. We sat down on some hay, along with the other children. My eyes where used to the darkness now, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Boys and girls, anywhere from the ages from three to sixteen, were packed together so close it had to be hard to breath or go to sleep for that matter.
The restless night dragged on and seemed to never end; it was so hot, and though there was so many children, each one seemed to suffer alone with their heartbreak. I began noticing how thin some kids were; their bones and ribs showing, their arms only two inches around. It was a horrifying sight—most of the children’s condition was critical, and older ones talked of malnutrition. It frightened me; not for my own sake but for my sisters. And where was Rik? Was he in another shelter like this one?
Suddenly something cool and shiny was handed to me. I slid my hands around the object, not quite sure what I was to do with it. “Scissors,” a girl said to me, “To cut you and your sister’s hair.” I stared blankly at her. Dawn was breaking, and through the heavy air I saw her face clearly. She was my age or maybe younger, I couldn’t tell. Once more she told me what the object was. I nodded. When I asked why we had to cut our hair, she replied that the lice were unbearable and each child’s hair needed to be cropped short.
I felt my jaw drop. My hands involuntarily let go of the scissors. I tried blinking back tears, but it was no use. I took one last look at Roza’s beautiful, black hair. I ran my fingers though it, unable to speak. All my life I had said that I would give anything to have hair like Roza’s; and Mother often said a woman’s glory is her hair; and now I was taking it away. I was taking her glory away. I picked up the scissors, thread my fingers through their loops, then began cutting. With every “snip”, I sobbed. When I finished, Roza turned around to look at me.
“It will grow back,” she said quietly.
“Only to have it cut again.” I said, brushing back my tears.
I heard Sandra exclaim, “We get to cut our hair! Oh! Annelies, oh, Annelies, can I cut my own?”
“You mean ‘may I’” Roza cut in.
“No Sandra. Let Clasina do it.”
Sandra put up a fight, but as always, she was overruled by her older sisters. It wasn’t long until we all had hair cut off to our chin. I drifted off to sleep, holding Roza’s hair in my arms, just to be woken up by: “Wait your turn!” and “Slow down! It’s all you’re getting today!”
I looked up and saw officers thrusting small, metal bowls in each of the children’s hands. The girl next to me, who had explained the meaning of the scissors before, must have noticed the confused expression that clung to my face. “Gruel,” she said, “we get it every morning.” When I asked her how long she had been here, she said: “I don’t know; I haven’t been able to keep track of time. For awhile, though—” Just then an officer practically threw each of us a bowl of disgusting gruel. It only had a few grains of rice; so soupy and grey, I gagged at the sight. When I realized this was all we would be getting, I requested that each of my sisters gave me their bowl. When they asked why, I explained that I wasn’t hungry. I wouldn’t take protests; I kept pouring an equal amount in each bowl. I wouldn’t let my sisters starve.
Hours dragged on; if we were to talk, we had to keep our voices into whispers, for if there were a sound, the officers would yell at us harshly. More than once, a boy or girl would be led away by an officer out the door, though they had done nothing wrong. Even sometimes, that same child would come back. When I asked my friend who had been answering my questions about, she grimaced and replied:
“They may be transported to the labs or the suffocation rooms.”
“Labs?” I croaked. I couldn’t get Rik out of my mind.
“They run tests on them, such as medical tests for science experiments. Sometimes they come back—sometimes they don‘t.”
I couldn’t talk anymore. I was to weak. Why would they do such a thing to children?
Days dragged by. Sandra was quiet—way too quiet. Roza stopped correcting her. Clasina’s musical voice no longer in tune. Her face was yellow, her voice extremely shaky. Everything was so quiet that it was deafening; silence rang in my ears. More days and nights came and went. Every morning I passed my gruel to my sisters; I couldn’t watch them go hungry. My stomach was aching and everything was spinning—I felt so dizzy. However, nothing or no one could change my mind.
The sun came up; the sun went down. The difference between day and night was now forgotten, as well as the need for better nutrition and exercise. When Sandra tied to get up and walk around, officers would order her to stay seated. All she could do was drop to the ground feebly; there was no more strength in her to fight back.
Hours turned into endless weeks that never seemed to come to a close; seconds seemed like minutes, and it was so absolutely devastating that when my sisters would cry, I would cry along with them. We would weep until we drifted off to sleep, just to wake up and cry again. I didn’t know how long we were going to be there, or how long I was going to go without food, all I knew is that if Rik could endure it, then I could, too.
Rik. The thought of his name brought tears to my eyes. I wanted him back. I needed him…
I had reached the end of hope. I stopped praying, thinking that if God could hear us, He would have surely done something. This hatred continued for more days and nights, for all I wanted was a miracle someone, something, somehow. I felt myself drifting off into a hazy dream. Rik was there, his sparkling eyes where beautiful. He was laughing, his smile bright and cheery. I wept again, and this time alone.
While I was sleeping, I felt two weak arms wrap around me, yet much stronger than any of my sisters. When I opened my eyes, there was Rik, right beside me. I thought I was still in my dream. There was something so magical about it; though there was nothing appealing about his appearance. His face was a deep yellow—even more so than Clasina’s. His once sparkling blue eyes were hollow and light grey. His honey colored hair was stringy and hanging in his dirt smudged face. I started to speak, “How–?”
“Never mind.” He said. Rik was sitting between Roza, his arms wrapped around both of us. Sandra was in his lap, and Clasina was clinging to me. I laid my head on his shoulder and whispered: “Were you taken to the–to the labs?” He nodded. “What did they do to you?” I asked, though I was scared of the answer. He told me about how they would command him to sit somewhere, then they would give him a shot of some sort, or have him drink something. After awhile they would ask him how he felt, then send him some place else. “Some of the other kids weren’t as lucky as me. Others, they—” He stopped, not quite sure whether to go on. I don’t know how long all five of us sat there—I just know it was an amazing feeling, us being reunited. For the first time in awhile, I recognized the gorgeous sun seeping through the cracks of the wood above; it was almost as if God was smiling down on us.
Then, I began to pray again. I thanked God profusely for His mercy and his wonderfulness of Him to permit Rik to be there with us. I told Rik of these prayers, and the five van Claver children would quietly sing hymns to the Lord. The music, though no instrument was playing, was beautiful in every aspect I could have ever imagined. The merry tune was sweet as molasses, the words dripping with sweetness. My head was aching, my sides were burning, but I didn’t care.
Suddenly, I got so dizzy I couldn’t see straight. I felt weak. “Rik—” I whispered hoarsely. “Rik—” Next thing I knew, everything went black. I don’t know how long I laid there; no one seemed to know anything about time itself anymore. When I woke up, my siblings were staring down at me. “W–what happened?” I muttered.
Rik looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Malnutrition. Annelies, you must eat something.”
“No. They must have food—” I wouldn’t let my sisters die hungry.
“Annelies, they’re fine. You must eat.”
I shook my head.
“Annelies, you will die if you don’t. Your condition is serious! Please, we’re all begging.”
I shook my head again. My sides were aching, and it hurt my neck to talk.
When morning came, the officers shoved a bowl filled with gruel into my hands once more. Rik motioned for me to eat. I sipped a little, just to spit it out. I shook my head, indicated to Rik that I just could not eat it. And as I lay there in the hay, all I could think about was our staircase at home, with the creaky wooden steps and black nails. I thought about the memories that each step possessed. I stared into space; imagining our house, our family together—
Then I saw it. A staircase—much like the one we had in our house, only much lovelier. It was trimmed with gold; each step was made out of pearls and outlined by rubies. I clutched Clasina’s hand—I know she would just love to see it.
“Clasina! Rik! Roza! Sandra! Oh, it’s lovely! White, gold, pearls, gems! Oh—”
“What? What is it?” they all chorused.
“The staircase to Heaven! The staircase of Glory!”
I drew my last breath, and ran up the staircase.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Isabella Stines spent most of her childhood diving into books and breaking the rules by reading past her bed time. Still an avid reader, she spends more of her time as a student and musician in addition to writing, fueling her creativity with Ramen noodles and sweet tea. Stines is currently working on her first trilogy.
You can find Isabella on Pinterest ( http://pinterest.com/isabellastines/ ) and tweet with her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/IsabellaStines