DAMMED NATION

By Corny Clark

When the Germans marched into “”just another town” in Norway, they made the

usual rounds of all houses, newspaper offices, printers, etc.  But they forgot to search the

wine cellar of one innocent-looking house on a little back street.  Down in this second cellar

there was a nervous shuffling and a stifled cough.  Presently there was a tap on the trap door

above those three huddled figures;  then another two short raps shook the grime into the eyes

of the three.  One of them swore and said something about his presses.  The door opened slowly,

exposing a young man with a black stubble beard and a dark brown suit which was, although

new, very muddy.  The next was a pale-faced man of about 45 or so.  He was rubbing his eyes

and cussing in a low voice.  The third and last was a clean-shaven lumberjack from the

Norwegian forest.  He lowered the pistol he held as he saw the familiar, worried face of

old Bjora, asking whether everything was all right.  The lumberjack said something in the affirmative.  Oalf said that his presses would be ruined.  Bjorn, being used to this griping, said

nothing.  But the lumberjack Arne said that he ought to be glad to have his goddamn presses.

Letting up, Arne flicked on the light and heaved his broad shoulders, breathing in the fresh

air that swept through the open trap door.

In German headquarters a young Nazi officer raised his eyebrows over a report that

the printing office of Oalf Hansen lay empty, whereas, by the report of the local quisling, it

had been working “as usual.”  This was something to be looked into, as the presses must still

be in the city, hidden in some house, ready to print an underground paper.  “Orderly!”  He

came whisking papers from the desks in his path.  After stopping momentarily, he continued on and disappeared  behind a door marked “Herr Commandant.”  Out he came, white from

his recent interview with his commander, and put a call in to the next town.

As the door closed on old Bjorn, Arne’s mind was whirling.  He must go, but where, how,

where?  How?  His mind was a blank.  He couldn’t think.  Maybe if he slept on it, he

could think of some place.  Yes, that often worked with him.  He lay back.  Suddenly he sat

bolt upright.  A light in the dark!  Was it possible, possible to reach America?  Well, at least

he could try.  He leaned on his elbow, planning.  Let’s see. This town was approximately 30

miles from the Swedish border.  After reaching it,  he’d go to Stockholm and work his way to

the United States.  He could start now and cut off ten miles tonight and hide in the next

town.  He crept over to the straw on which lay a still form, breathing heavily, the breath

whistling through his stubble of a beard.  His brown suit was full of straw.  Arne clapped

his hand over his mouth and shook him.  They didn’t know his name, but we’ll call him Per.

In whispers he told him his plan.  Per said that if they didn’t tell Bjorn about their leaving,

he wouldn’t, rather couldn’t, know anything about them, even if the Nazis tried to force it

out of him.  The trap door fell back noisily on its chain, threatening to wake the printer.

Slowly they lowered the trap door and Arne had a feeling as if they were shutting him up in

a Nazi prison.  A slight scraping of steel upon steel, and the front door swung open.  Two

figures disobeying the 8 o’clock curfew walked into the shadow of the houses, ran with soft,

silent steps across the empty streets.

“Hans, so you are getting sleepy? Well, we will have sleep pretty soon, for we are

nearing our destination, Rena, in which we of the Gestapo are to find some presses.  We

will sleep late tomorrow and then we will find these presses, no?”

“Ja, but why the horses, my captain?”

“It is because we will be less noticeable to the underground than if by car, so…here we

are.  I told you it was not far.  We enter the outskirts.”  The two agents, accompanied by

hoofbeats that clatter noisily on the rough cobblestones entered into a black hole that signified

two main thoroughfares crossing.  On the bridge sat two shadowy forms, tensed and shifting

nervously.  Then it became so silent that the clattering of hooves seemed to beat across their

brows.  Arne raised his hand and saw the ears of the horses below him.  “Now!”  Two figures

with innumerable shadows vaulted the cement side, one tiger-like with arms and legs out-

stretched, the other heels first, landing on the back of the Gestapo’s neck, snapping it.  The

body dropped to the road to lie with its neck on its back, rolling crazily back and forth and

working the bone out of the front of its neck.  A geyser of blood spurted over Arne’s leg, died

down to a slow stream, then stopped altogether.  His now ghostly-white face looked with

seeming surprise at the sky, though his chest lay to the ground.  But Arne was not watching

this.  He dared not, for he might lose his supper.  But how could he?  He’d had none.  Up until

now he’d not realized how hungry he was.  A shiver ran down his back, to think of eating now when that….that corpse lay on the ground.

A shot and the twang of a bullet woke him from his daze.  Per was wiping a knife off on the coat of his adversary and at the sound of the shot, his horse unused to the sudden attack,

shied.  Per, in the act of mounting, was thrown back and smashed his head on the cobblestones.

By now, bullets were whizzing by Arne’s head.  He looked over and saw Per lying on the road.  With an effort, he looked away, climbed to his horse and dug his heels in hard.  It surprised

him, his cruelness.  In one night he’d done two things he never did before: killed a man and left another to his enemies.  Poor Per, they’d try to find out who he, Arne, was and where he

was going and Per would hold out as long as he could stand it.  Then he would have to tell and they would be after him, but maybe he’d have time to get out.  Right now, he had immediate

pursuit to think of, and he spurred his horse on into night.  Per’s limp form was dragged through the streets, shoved into a car and driven off to headquarters, where Von Gruber’s

“orderly” bound him head and foot.  Per woke up with an empty, dripping bucket staring him

in the face.  He was doing quite a bit of dripping himself and his mouth was full of water. He

spat it out and a face took the place of the bucket, which clattered to the floor.  Per started, as

he expected to see Arne’s face; instead, there was a hard face with a crew haircut and a collar

with the Nazi swastika.  He was caught.  Arne probably was, too.  For the first time he found

that his wrists and ankles were tied tightly and that his head hurt with a pounding pain.  He

raised himself to see if Arne was there.

“So you are looking for your friend.  We do not know where he is.  You will tell us that.”

Per realized that to have gotten away, Arne must have had a horse and been well on his way.  He also realized that if Arne were to escape, he would need to have at least one more night to reach the Swedish border.  Per was mad, of course he was.  He had reason to be.  Maybe he ought to tell the Nazi about where Arne was going.  No, no, what was he thinking about?  He’d

be killed anyway and why should two men die, whereas one could live?  That question he asked himself and gritted his teeth, for the torture he knew was not long in coming.

That night Arne rode peacefully over the border, as the battered, tongueless body of

Per lay at rest at last.

Posted in: 1943 Stories

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