‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’
He lay on the cold ground, looking up at the ceiling, his thoughts drifting. He knew where he was, as sure as he knew that he will never be allowed to leave alive.
He was tired from the interrogation. They had tortured him. Yes, they had tortured him, in gross violation of the Geneva Convention. Well, he had expected it. He had heard of the atrocities committed by these people when he had worked undercover in one of their cities. He knew he had it bad, because he was not an uniformed soldier. He was a spy. He was granted no legal protection by his country. He had been captured the previous day, while working on a covert operation for his country. Thankfully, his comrades had got away.
His thoughts inevitably drifted back to her.
He grimaced and closed his eyes. He knew he wouldn’t see her again, and it pained him worse than the torture. His captors had taken away all his belongings. Every single bit. Even the little picture he had of her. All he had was her memory. It would have to do. That was all he had to stay alive through the torture that was coming…
So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell…
Am I in hell?
He groaned. It hurt even to open his eyes, so he didn’t bother. He was cold and shivering, and his fingers were bleeding. They had poured cold water on him continuously, and pulled out his nails. They weren’t going to kill him yet, he knew. He had valuable information regarding the next attack. They needed it. But he wasn’t going to give it to them. His country took precedence above everything, and he would not betray it. He had expected the torture, but he had had no idea it would hurt so much.
Oh God, Andrea! Yes, focus on her. Focus on the colour of her eyes, dark and mysterious and so full of mirth. Focus on her hair, black, and long and so soft to the touch…
Thinking of her was the only thing that was easing his pain. He thought of her eyes, her hair, her face. So beautiful, so beautiful…
“Get up!” The guard kicked him, depositing his tray of food on the floor with a clatter. He forced his eyes open, and looked at the food. It was a watery mass. He crawled to it and started eating. It could hardly be called food, but after having been starved for four days, it was heaven. Am I in hell? He thought again.
No. Not till they can take away her memories from me.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
He had been put through the torture chamber. His body hurt in so many places, he felt like he was made of pain. He curled into a ball, naked and freezing. They hadn’t even deigned to give him clothes. It was easy to curl up, since he hardly had any flesh on him now, having lost too much weight from the torture and the meager meals. He stared fixedly ahead, no idea what he was looking at. Then his eyes focused, and he stared, fascinated, at the puddle of blood on the floor. After some time, when sanity started creeping in, he realized it was his blood.
How can they let me bleed? They don’t want me dead yet. They don’t have what they wanted.
Anger flared up so hard in him, he was surprised. Then he started laughing, which quickly turned into a groan of pain. Seriously? You have been tortured for days, and all you can think of is why they are letting you bleed? This is a part of it, and you know it!
He lay on his back, the cold seeping into his bones, freezing him. He was almost starting to wish they would kill him, so this would all end. No! His eyes fluttered open. He should not be thinking like that! Even if chances of getting out were thin, he should cling to it. His comrades would have sent word to his country by now. Rescue efforts might already have started.
Are you sure? A small voice in his head spoke. The word must have reached them days ago. If you were so valuable, would they not have already dispatched a rescue team?
He wanted to ignore that voice in his head, but could not. He had already been questioning his place in the war, and his value to his country, and this was just adding fuel to it. Do I actually matter? Did I make a difference, or did I just trade the dream of being a hero for the reality of being a ghost? Am I just that now? A ghost?
Not to Andrea, the voice in his head said again. Yes. He was real to her. He thought of her again, her throaty voice, and her giggles. The way she scrunched up her nose when she laughed. The way she ran to him on light feet, throwing her arms around him in a tight hug. The smell of her hair, earthy and fresh. The way her face lit up with delight when she saw him. The fear he saw in her eyes when he told her he was going to be a soldier in the war…
Yes. He mattered, at least to Andrea. He might be having doubts about everything else, but he believed that with an iron conviction. He was going to hold on to that. It was the only thing that was keeping him alive now.
That night, like every other night since he arrived in the camp, he dreamed of her…
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
The time had come.
He was sitting on the floor of his cell. They had at least given him clothes to wear this time. To keep up some semblance of civility as they took him out. They were the clothes he had been captured in. They didn’t even fit him anymore. He had lost too much weight. Am I even the same person who was thrown into this cell so many days back? He wondered. The answer was so obvious, he almost laughed at having asked himself the question.
But he knew who he was. He knew that better than ever. Not a ghost.
When torture hadn’t worked, the highest commanding officer of the camp had offered him a trade. They would treat him with honour, feed him properly and even let him go, if only he would co-operate. If only he gave them the information they wanted. He knew the offer was a tempting one. He had even considered it for a moment. He thought of going back to Andrea, alive. How happy she would be to see him. No! He had recoiled from that thought. How could she be happy if he betrayed his country? His country would surely hunt him down and try him for treason, if he gave his captors what they wanted. He would have to hide for the rest of his life, sneaking around. He would have to become a ghost. How would he look Andrea in the eye ever again if he did this? No. He could not; would not; do this.
He had laughed at them then. Told them they were barking mad if they thought he would ever accept the offer. And that had put the seal on his death sentence. He was of no use to them anymore.
They were going to kill him.
“Come on out!” The guard shouted at him as he opened his cell door. Four others were standing outside, to take him to be executed. He tried not to be afraid as they put handcuffs on him and walked him to the execution spot. Even when he was being tortured, pain clouding his sanity, death had not been so much of a reality. He had clung on to the hope of being rescued, of seeing Andrea again. But now, death was standing in front of him, and he would never see her again.
He would never see her again! A tremor ran down his body. Pain as he had never thought he could feel (after having been tortured for days, this was a big thing to say) flashed through his heart, his body, his whole being. Oh Andrea! Forgive me for not being able to be with you anymore. I do not want to be a ghost. I hope you understand that.
As they shoved him to the ground, all he could think of was her, and who he was now. Not a ghost. Not a ghost.
His executioner positioned himself, readying his gun.
Not a ghost, not a ghost…
As the executioner put the gun to his head, he imagined her face one last time, the sound of her voice.
NOT A GHOST!
The executioner pulled the trigger. There was a fleeting moment of pain, a lingering smell of Andrea’s hair which he was sure he imagined, and then nothing. Everything faded into darkness.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on World War II. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the torture methods used here, as I have borrowed the ideas from both the Allies and the Germans. But this is predominantly based on the London Cage. Geneva Convention mentioned here refers to the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, Geneva July 27, 1929. Both Germany and the Allies were among the ones who had signed it.
‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’ these words do not belong to me. They are the words of Colonel Alexander Scotland. Google him up if you want to know who he is. The images used in this article do not all belong to WWII. I picked up whatever suited the mood of the article.The lyrics used in this story are from the song Wish You Were Here, and they belong to Pink Floyd. And finally, this is a work of fiction, and all ideas expressed are of the author’s imagination.
I do hope you liked this short-story. Do let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below. If you would like to contribute, send in your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.