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by euclid 

Posted: 29 January 2020
Word Count: 1000
Summary: For Challenge 724 (A chapter from my new book: Liberation Berlin)

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Anton Tannhäuser was in a hurry. His troop leader, Ludwig, had sent him back to the hall to fetch the troop flag. Dressed in the black shorts and tan shirt of his Deutsches Jungvolk uniform, he charged down Spandauer Chaussee, weaving his way around and between the women and children on the footpath.

Without warning, an old man appeared from the crowd swinging a stiff leg right in Anton’s path. There was nothing he could do to avoid the collision, which seemed to happen in slow motion. His shins hit the old man’s leg and he shot forward, striking his knees and shoulder on the concrete slabs. 

Even as he fell, Anton was aware that the old man’s leg was not made of flesh and bone. It was false, and hard as rock. His only thought as he fell was for the safety of the troop flag, which he released from his grasp.

Anton looked back in time to see the old man with the false leg spinning like a top onto the road into the path of a black police car. The car swerved and braked and screeched to a halt, inches from the man’s head. He had been carrying a bag of vegetables and these were now scattered and flying across the road.

Anton struggled to his feet, waving off the efforts of a couple of women trying to give him a helping hand. The pains in his knees and shoulder were excruciating, but he refused to cry. Both knees were red and bleeding.

The car doors flew open. Two policemen in green Schupo uniforms jumped out. One of them bent down to haul the man to his feet. The other man glowered down at him, shouting, “What are you doing? Do you want to get yourself killed? You could have caused an accident.”

The old man was clearly dazed. Weighed down by his false leg, his first attempt to get to his feet failed. The first policeman hauled him up, while the man braced his false leg against a tram rail to provide leverage. The second policeman made no move to help, standing back with one hand on the butt of the pistol on his hip.

Once the old man was upright again, he swung his leg onto the pavement. The policemen got back into their car, the doors slammed, and they continued on their way. 

The women and children collected the scattered vegetables and put them into the old man’s bag.

Anton glared at him. “Dummkopf! Why don’t you watch where you’re going, old man?”

“I’m sorry, Herr Tannhäuser.” The man pointed to his leg. “I can’t move as fast as I used to.”

He knows my name! 

“That leg is a danger to the public. You need to be more careful where you put it.” Anton snarled at him. “And how do you know my name?”

“You live in Kaiser Wilhelm 2,” said the old man. “I live in the same block.”

Anton took a moment to absorb that information. He had no recollection of a man with a wooden leg living in the block. Surely, he would have noticed. “Where in the block?”

“I live on the ground floor,” said the man. “I’m sorry about what happened. Will you be all right?”

Someone handed Anton his flagpole.

“People like you are a menace,” he said. “Don’t you know that every citizen of the Fatherland must make a positive contribution? What value are you to the Reich?”

Several of the women blanched at these words, as they should. He may have been only twelve years old, but, as a member of the Hitler Youth, he held power and influence well above his years. 

The old man’s face flushed red. “I served my country for three years in the Low Countries, in France, and at the Eastern front.” He pointed to his leg. “I sacrificed more than most for my country.”

“Many sacrificed more,” Anton shouted back.

“What are you saying?”

“You survived. Many good Germans lost their lives.”

“Better not let the Gestapo hear you say that.” The old man turned his back and continued on his way, swinging his leg in that strange rhythm of his.

That riposte worried Anton. Had he said something the Gestapo would disapprove of? No one could deny that many Germans had been killed, but was it treasonous to say so in public? He wasn’t sure. 

Anton shouted after him, “Yes, limp away, old man. And keep that leg out of public places where it can’t cause any more damage.” 

While Frau Tannhäuser tended to Anton’s injured knee, he told her what had happened. “He stuck his wooden leg out in front of me, tripped me up. I could have been seriously injured…”

His mother made sympathetic clucking sounds. 

“… I can’t understand why the Wehrmacht would consider it a good idea to prop up an old soldier like that, give him a false leg and send him home. What good is he to anyone with only one leg?”

Anton’s father sucked on his empty pipe. “That’s Hans Klein. He has an iron leg. He keeps a plot in the Schrebergärten, I believe. Grows vegetables.”

“Are there no able-bodied people to do that?” said Anton, snorting. “Some woman, perhaps?”

The two adults exchanged a despairing glance, but said nothing.

“I’m going to have to report the incident to Ludwig. Look at my uniform. He has ruined it. I will be required to explain that.”

“It’s nothing but a little dirt from the ground. Take off your shirt and I’ll wash it for you,” said his mother. “I wouldn’t say anything. You fell—”

“I didn’t fall, Mutter. I told you, the old man tripped me with his iron leg.” He took off his shirt and handed it to her. 

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to,” she said.

“It was a deliberate act. I believe he may be an enemy of the Reich, a member of the subversive resistance.”

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Comments by other Members

michwo at 00:25 on 30 January 2020  Report this post
What can I say, JJ?
When you write about Nazi Germany as you have done before, I know, e.g. Zugzwang, etc.  I hang on every word you write and the ugly ethos of those days comes unsettlingly alive.  It's just as well Hans Klein lives on the ground floor.  He's not Jewish is he?  There's an awful scene in Hans Fallada's "Alone in Berlin" where a Jewish lady jumps out of a window to avoid continued interrogation by the dreaded Gestapo.  What a terrible thing for civilians to have had to live through! And we've just had Holocaust Memorial Day, of course, on the 27th of January.

V`yonne at 12:13 on 30 January 2020  Report this post
Oh God crying

Practicer at 15:10 on 30 January 2020  Report this post
I enjoyed the humour , albeit dark humour. I liked the way the characters had a sense of respect and duty , even if they all demonstrated it begrudgingly. I could feel the suspense when Anton became suspicious and was concerned for any consequences. The sense of something ghastly happening to Anton was an enjoyable page turner, so to speak. It felt as if Anton was a bit childish and petty.

The feedback from the more experienced writers in this group about naming the character: This piece seemed to demonstrate that aspect perfectly.  Also, demonstrated how to tie up and ending , when the beginning felt as if it was going to be tit for tat, I hope that is the correct expression.

Practicer at 15:22 on 30 January 2020  Report this post
As an example of flash fiction, I hasten to add, on the last point, although I realise it is an extract from your book:

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