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A New Beginning

Being rewarded with freedom after a risky escape, is a good reason to celebrate.

“Pst, Anna, can you hear me?”

Antonio pushed himself closer into the muddy ground as he crept through the dark underbrush.

“Anna, where are you?”

Suddenly he heard a squeaking sound.

A small animal?

There it was again. The voice sounded human.

“Anna?”

Then he saw her in the dim glow of the fractured moonlight pooling in the small opening of the thicket. She was lying on her left side, the pale softness of her lovely face now disfigured by multiple bruises and scratches. She also seemed no longer conscious.

Although he could sense her shallow breathing, he felt her pulse just to reassure himself that she was still alive. Then, using his tattered shirt-sleeve to wipe away some of the grimy smears streaking across her exposed right cheek, he whispered, "Hang in there, sweetheart, we’re almost there."

Antonio knew there was no time to waste. He rolled his wife onto on her back and, grasping both of her arms, he pulled her along on the rugged ground. Although he knew that this might inflict further pain on her, picking her up at this point was simply out of the question. She was tiny, but any extra weight would not only impede his speed - and time was of the utmost essence - it would drain him of energy he may yet need for what still lay ahead.

Suddenly, abruptly, the woods ended.

Straight ahead was a narrow strip of barren land, edged by the gaping hollow of a trench. Beyond it stretched the wide band of the dreaded barbed wire off into the far distance. They had to get there very quickly. Antonio knew he could only attempt to break through the fence under the protective cloak of night.

Judging that their current pace was still far too slow, he mustered all of his strength, took a deep breath, then heaved Anna across his shoulders - and ran as fast as he could.

Dogs barked.

Terror ripping through him, Antonio leaped forward and, instinctively tightening his grip on Anna's body, he plunged into the filthy wetness below. When he felt his feet hit the swampy floor, he noticed that the water didn't reach his thighs. Relieved that he wouldn't have to swim across, he moved forward, using predominantly the lower half of his aching body to push through the stinking debris - winding his way as fast as possible and as cautiously as necessary through many obvious as well as countless invisible and undefinable, mostly algae-covered entanglements.

That’s when he heard the voices. Panic-stricken now, he listened to the chatter getting louder, coming closer. One more horrendous heroic push and he could feel the resistance of the steep embankment.

His insides churning with an incredibly furious "last-chance, last-effort, on madness bordering" kind of determination, he attacked the slimy wall in front of him. He dug the shattered heels of his torn leather shoes and the sore tips of all five fingers of his free right hand into the slippery, only reluctantly yielding mass of clay. Inching his way up, he gained a yard, before sliding down a foot again. He pulled himself higher yet, only to glide back a few inches. Perspiration mixed with dirt blinding him, tears of exhaustion washing salty drips into his gasping mouth, he remained relentless in repeating this tedious maneuver of "probing, clawing, digging in, pulling up, sliding down" - until he suddenly felt sandy level ground giving way under his searching hand. One more super-human pull and he had reached the top.

It was just now that he became conscious of his wife again. The incredible effort and concentration it had taken to make it out of that hell-hole of a moat had left no room for any other thoughts.

As he bedded Anna down on one of the larger grass patches sprouting from the moist earth, a sickening feeling flooded through him.
 
What if he had let go of her?
 
What if she had drowned in the muck below?

As painful as those two questions were, the images they conjured up were even more unfathomable to him. He immediately rejected them, refusing to allow them in, even forbidding them to linger. After all, in spite of his extreme exhaustion baiting him into a highly unusual state of utter single-mindedness during the climb, he had held onto her. Her body firmly molded into his during the utmost danger, they had truly become one - and that's why they were still together.

Bending over to kiss his wife's cheek, he suddenly remembered that he had another job to do. He wiped his dirty hands on his soggy pants, pulled a pair of clippers from the smooth plastic pouch attached to his coarse linen belt, then launched at the metal webbing in front of him.
 
His ears resounding with the erratic dull thumping of his own heart, he tore and snipped away at the intricately woven wire mesh, quite oblivious to the menace of steel bristles sinking into his exposed flesh.

Finally, the hole was large enough. Not wasting one more second, he dragged Anna with him through the sharp-edged opening without paying attention to the ripping of clothing and skin.

“Stop, or we will shoot,” he heard from behind, just as he collapsed on the other side, tightly clutching Anna.

It was over. They had made it.

He held his breath just a bit longer as he listened to the sounds of furious cussing mingling with the the frustrated pounding of retreating boots.

After a few more moments that seemed like hours, he finally dared to exhale and at long last release all the tension, anxiety and fear that had held him captive for days.

He just sat there, caressing Anna's quiet face and watching the morning sun coming up, when suddenly his wife stirred and let out a deep sigh.

Delirious joy washing over him, Antonio sent up a quick prayer of thanks, before gently positioning Anna to rest on his lap. Then he raised his right hand to make the victory sign in a feeble attempt to celebrate this moment.

That’s when he noticed that his uplifted fingers donned the same shade of red as the waking horizon.

Crimson, he thought, as he formed a second V with his other bloodied hand, what a perfect color to underline freedom and paint a brand-new beginning.
 
This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © Copyright HM Gruendler-Schierloh

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