This is a short story for my university workshop. I thought I’d share as I’m not sure it will ‘fit’ anywhere. The first 5 or 6 lines are the prompt. Enjoy!
They arrived at Oradour at about two o’clock on a June afternoon. They parked the car and saw the ruins across the road.
“There it is. They left it just as it was when the Germans had finished. So no one would forget,” Johnny said.
“We weren’t even born,” Maggie commented.
“Let’s go and look.”
“I don’t know,” Maggie said rubbing her arms as if caught in a cold breeze. “It feels wrong.”
Johnny turned to her. She had shrunk into herself and become almost hunched. She didn’t meet his eyes. Holding out his hand he dropped his voice to a smooth tone and, as if speaking to a frightened horse, tried to coax her toward the frontage that had once been a church.
“Come on, Maggie. I really want to see this.”
“Why? I don’t understand.”
“It’s history,” he said and tried a smile, although Maggie didn’t see as she had yet to look up from the gravelled road.
“It’s a history I’d prefer to forget.”
Johnny dropped his hand. “Okay, stay here.” He turned and started to walk away and then turned back. “It’s one thing we can’t forget. If we do, it might happen again.” Then without another word he left.
Maggie listened to the crunch of his footsteps disappear as he walked into the ruins, pausing briefly to look at the burnt out car in front of the church. When she could no longer hear him Maggie raised her head and pushed her hair out of her eyes. He was gone. Instead she found herself alone, she could hear nothing.
Not even the birds were singing. On the air there seemed the scent of burning. Surely that wouldn’t still be detected? But there it was, thick and cloying, rising from the ground around her. In fact, it smelt like fresh smoke.
Looking up she could see smoke in the sky, marring the blue of the perfect day. She gingerly got out of the car, trying to see where the smoke was coming from. Then, as if it were no more than a cloud, it was gone. For a moment she stood, then, still watching the sky, she took a step forward.
“Johnny?” she called into the day, but there was no reply. Of course her voice was too quiet. “Johnny!”
Still nothing. She would have to go and look for him. If he didn’t see the fire then he could easily walk into the smoke and he was still recovering from a bad chest cold. At least, that is what she told herself. It had nothing to do with the emptiness of the town that no longer existed. What had the brochure said? One woman and six men had survived from six hundred and forty two men, women and children. Shuddering, she stepped further from the car.
Behind her a footstep sounded on the gravel.
Turning she looked, but there was nothing.
“Hello,” she called in a small voice. No one answered. Maggie backed up a few steps. Still there was no sign of anyone. “I can hear you.” Her voice was small and she crossed her hands in front of herself, trying to create a barrier against the unknown. Still there was nothing.
Backing up a little more Maggie’s back hit something. She froze. In her mind’s eye she tried to remember what was behind her. But all she saw was the empty square with the burnt ruin and the old German car out front. She ought not to have hit anything.
Reaching out a hand she touched something cold, and smooth. Maggie could feel her legs shaking. Turning slowly she found herself touching a car. It did have the same shape as the abandoned wreck, but this one was new. It gleamed in the sun.
What held her gaze was the man behind the wheel. He was old, with white hair and he looked shocked.
“Mlle, sortir de la voie. J’ai failli te frapper!”
“What?” Maggie said.
The man stopped talking and looked around. Maggie did the same and gasped in shock. The square was back as it would have been before the massacre. Turning slowly she saw the buildings and the church, and the people. There were people going about their everyday business.
“Mlle, you are Anglais?”
She turned back and found that the old man had got out of his car and was standing in front of her.
“Yes,” she said, and then put a hand to her mouth. If she really was to believe her eyes then she was in occupied France.
The man was looking scared now. People had begun to stop. Three people cycled into the square. Maggie’s eyes landed on them and she realised that this must be the 10th of June 1944. The three men cycling would be killed. Slowly she faced the road where the Germans would drive. But there was nothing there, just a blank stretch of gravel and mud. Maybe she was wrong?
“What day is it?” she said.
Behind her the old man reached a hand out. “Come, you must hide.”
Maggie pulled out of his grasp. “What day is it?” she repeated louder.
“June the tenth,” he said. “Now come, you must hide.”
Maggie took a step away from him. “1944?”
“You must hide,” she said.
“Oui,” the old man said. “Come and hide.”
“No, not me,” Maggie said, although she did wonder if she ought. “You must hide. The Germans are coming.”
The old man looked toward the road. The people gathered around shifted at her words. Some seemed not to be worried whilst others stared to move away from her.
“You have brought them here,” one woman said, her bag clutched to her chest.
“No,” Maggie said. “They were going to come.” Taking a step forward she grabbed hold of the woman’s arm, who flinched away from her. Maggie noticed that she was dressed in black and briefly she wondered why. Giving the woman’s arm a shake she leaned forward. “Don’t go into the church.”
The French woman pulled free and started to back away.
“Sorcière,” she spat.
Maggie dropped her hand. Everyone was moving away from her, but in the distance she could hear cars, a lot of them. Turning to the road she ignored the retreating steps of the people around her. “It’s too late. They are here.”
“Who’s here?” a male voice asked behind her.
Maggie turned but she already knew who it was. “Where did you go?” she asked in a small voice.
“Just behind the church.”
“But I called…”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you,” Johnny said, noticing that Maggie was very pale. “Are you okay?”
“No,” Maggie said, hugging her arms around herself. “I think I saw a ghost.”
“Really?” Johnny said, leading her back to the car.
Maggie looked behind them. The square was back to what it had been. The burnt out church stood abandoned and in front the car, only now its ancient curves were covered in rust and the tyre rims stood empty in the company of weeds.
“It was different,” she said.
“Of course it was.” Johnny led her to the car and opened the door. As Maggie got in she heard a sharp sound, like a gunshot.
“Was that a gun?”
“No,” Johnny said. “It was a building collapsing.”
But as he moved around the car he made sure he did it fast. Maggie unwound her window and looked back at the village. As she did the smell of burning filtered into the car. Johnny sniffed and then sneezed.
“Perhaps we ought to get out of here,” he said starting the car and pulling away from the ruins, a town of ghosts.