“A Life to Spare” by Andra Roventa
Berthold Pfeiffer bit savagely against the inside of his cheek to keep from grimacing at the sight before him. Dozens of corpses lay strewn in the filthy, rat-infested gutters of Dresden, many of them fresh and still saturated with blood and smeared guts. Pairs of glassy, vacant eyes watched him with accusing looks, silently screaming at him to divulge why they had been thrown into the street like used garbage. Try as he might, Berthold was unable to tear his gaze away from the pile of once-breathing, once-walking Jews that were now no more than slabs of bullet-filled meat.
Some of them were alive merely ten minutes ago, he thought in bewilderment, eyeing a bearded rabbi whose mouth was still agape, rigid and distorted. He must have died screaming. The 21-year-old S.S. officer shuddered, finally averting his eyes from that haunting, empty stare the deceased rabbi managed to give him.
A portly, bald commander cleared his throat as he watched two remaining officers drag what seemed to be the last body from the demolished apartment complex the S.S. men were loitering against. The German duo dumped the lifeless body of a teenage boy onto the rest before turning to salute their commanding officer.
“Is that all of them, then?” the rotund, elderly commander known as Jorgen Fitzgerald, inquired in a voice laden with irritation. It looked like he had other business elsewhere, and this “menial” task was not one of them.
One of the Germans who had discarded the final Jew gave a half-assed shrug. “You know these Jews, Herr Fitzgerald. Sneaky little devils. There might be a couple here and there hiding about—under the floorboards, behind a secret stairwell. You can never be too sure with them.”
The fat commander gave a snort, nodding in agreement. “Disgusting vermin, the lot of them.” He bent his rhino-like head to rest on his decorated breast, pondering for a moment. “Right, then. I’m late for a dinner party as it is. Someone needs to run through the perimeters to make sure we’ve taken care of every last one of them. I don’t want any runaways or it’s going to look messy on my part.”
He clasped his hands against his bulging belly, scrutinizing the ten-or-so soldiers that encircled him. Fitzgerald scanned each of them before narrowing his beady eyes on Berthold. The latter bristled but kept his surprise in check.
“Pfeiffer. You’ve been quiet today, boy. I don’t recall you doing much when we stormed the complex,” Fitzgerald barked at the blond man, furrowing his brow in contemplation. “Give me your rifle.” His fingers, which looked more like fat sausages than digits, impatiently wiggled as he reached out for the weapon his subordinate had strapped to his shoulder.
Continue reading ““A Life to Spare”: AQ14 Short Fiction from Andra Roventa”