“Do we have to, Father?” I replied. “I didn’t get much sleep last night because of the blasts, I’m still so tired.”
“Lukas, what have I told you about asking questions at a time like this? Do what Father says!”
I turned faintly frightened and pale as Father rarely found himself cross with me. He saw this, took a deep breath, and then relaxed his facial muscles.
“Listen, if you Play Dead now, we can go to the Glyptothek tomorrow.”
“The museum! Really?
Father and I were in the city square, near the Marienplatz, when he heard the rumblings of the coming tanks. There were countless dead bodies littered in the square, to the point where the concrete floor was masked in dead flesh. It was impossible to maneuver around without stepping on a stale hand or broken leg, or further dampening my already-soiled shoes in clotting blood, but it was something I had grown accustomed to and now looked upon like a misshapen form of hop-scotch.
We plunged to the ground and soon made ourselves one with the sea of the dead. We enacted this every time the soldiers arrived. There was always something fascinating about playing dead, as if I were in a talkie trying to convince onlookers I was lifeless. I loved the movies and found myself trying different positions while playing dead. Sometimes I would have my eyes bolted open, or at others, twist my head in a most unconventional manner. Looking back now with experienced eyes, I shudder at how closely I was playing in the bony hands of death itself.
It was 1933 when I was born, incidentally the same year Der Fuhrer came to power. Mother and father never liked the new government then, and kept noting it was only a matter of time till it would escalate beyond the boundaries of humanism. They were right. Soon, Father stopped me from going to boarding school, after which I spent most of my time in my bedroom, wistfully looking out into the damp streets. I saw women and children rounded up in trucks and taken away, I saw our people forced to wear funny stars on their arms, and watched as giant hounds, both human and animal, prowled the streets. Mother, too, was forced to wear that peculiar star whenever she went out. Then one day, when she left for the local markets, she never returned. Father, who worked at the factory all day, came home that evening to find mother gone. He decided that it was time for us leave Germany. After packing all our belongings in a small rucksack, we departed from the only place I’d ever called home.
Ever since then we’ve been on the run, hiding, ducking, and living in the backstreets of Munich. At one point, Father hoped that we’d make it to France, where he’d read in the papers the angels had landed, but gave up after he witnessed the terrible torture inflicted on all fleeing Germans. He told me it would best to wait till the angels flew to us, and until then, we could spend our time playing dead and trying hide and seek throughout the city. Father told me to think of this as an extended summer from boarding school, and so I did.
Father had made up Play Dead, and I loved playing it. It kept me occupied from our strenuous travels. Sometimes the bodies I lay amongst were rotten and frightening, but like all things during that time, I had grown accustomed to it. The bombardments at night, the small nibbles of food for supper, the brash echoes of distant gunfights, had all become as common as brushing my teeth.
Lying in the city square, I contorted my face into a ghastly expression, like something out of a monster movie. It was always swell to see their scanning eyes gloss over me as one of the dead, never recognizing me as one of the living. At first I heard naught, but then the roars of tanks suddenly boomed throughout the square.
My ears tingled as the soldiers’ boots trampled on the gravel. They were close. I glanced over to Father who had also taken his lifeless position. However my attention was quickly diverted to the soldier who had come into my periphery. His uniform was forest green, his helmet oval, and his black boots crusted with mixed grime and blood. He gripped his machine gun as if it were an extension of his arm. Most of his face was masked under the shadow of his helmet, save for his icy blue eyes, which shimmered with brooding life. He scanned over the bodies, including me, and kicked a few of the corpses. His colossus bearing reminded me of a frightening golem my mother had spoken about in fairy-tales. Noticing a scurrying rat brush against my trousers, I shifted my leg. However in doing so, it caught his attention. The golem’s eyes darted to where he saw movement. I held my breath, closed my eyes, and remained as comatose as possible. He knelt down and looked intently. He had found me! He had surely found me! It was over! I would be taken away to his cave, where the other monsters resided, and be eaten for supper. I just knew it!
But as he raised his hand to remove the stale arm which covered my face, a ranking officer from afar shouted. Hearing the distant order, he instantly rose and disappeared from sight. For a full minute I refused to breathe, fearing the golem would return and take me away. It was not until Father came and shook me up that I found my sensibility returning. We continued on after that, but I never told Father of the incident. There was something unsettling in the thought of me mentioning it again, as if the golem would reappear on its utterance and, again, snatch me away into the night.
Arif Khan is a developing writer and filmmaker currently attending Texas Tech University. Originally born in Germany, raised in England, and currently living in the United States, he has been fascinated by books and writing for as long as he can remember.