The Boy with a Harmonica

JULY 1943

They came silently, stealthily down the mountain-side and into the gloom of the forest, pausing and listening before creeping through the soft carpet of leaf mould and pine needles. They were used to the sounds of the forest; the rustle of tiny night creatures in the undergrowth, the gentle step of a deer picking its way delicately through the trees; the murmur of sleepy pigeons roosting in the branches overhead. That night they heard no sounds that did not belong.

At the edge of the forest they paused again, three shadows in the night. The woods encircled an ancient stone farmhouse built on a plateau half way up the mountain-side. The smell of wood smoke from its chimney reached them. They waited and watched for the signal.

A glimmer of light appeared at an upper window of the farmhouse. It remained for a few moments, glowing in the dark, and was then extinguished. The three moved forward; swiftly they ran across the small meadow between the forest edge and the farmhouse, ducking and weaving, hearts pounding.

Three taps on the weather-beaten door; it opened and they filed in. One of the men, the leader - tall, fair-haired, with an intelligent face - nodded to the old man standing in the doorway who led them into the kitchen. He pointed to the scrubbed table in the middle of the floor where bread, dried sausage and wine waited for them. Exhausted, cold and starving the three men fell upon the food, devouring it with quick sharp bites. No words passed. In the shadows of the room the old man’s wife busied herself between the deep stone sink and huge fireplace where she was heating up water for coffee. Every so often, she stopped to peer anxiously out of the window over the sink.

Eventually the leader spoke.

“What news from the village?”

The old man shrugged.

“They’re everywhere. You’re mad to come here.”

The leader gave a grim smile.

“Where else could we go, mon pere?”

“You were ambushed?”

“We were. Someone was careless…or is collaborating. The Bosche were waiting for us.”

He shook his head. “I don’t know how many of us got away. We won’t stay long. It’ll be dawn soon and then we’ll be off.”

In the village at the foot of the mountains the inhabitants were awakened by the snarl of engi...

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Sheila Williams
Nov 15 2020

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For me, this is your best yet Sheila. A clever, poignant, dark story that reflects a terrible time in French history. Fantastic.

Rod Webb
Nov 17 2020