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HomeDrama Stories The Long Road Home. Chapter 16.
The Long Road Home. Chapter 16.
By
AnnaMayZing

The Long Road Home. Chapter 16.

“Scheißer, there's a bomb!”

After the air raid on Innsbruck, Maria finds herself trapped and alone in the wreckage of the hospital but where is Katarina?

Innsbruck, December 19th 1943

 

Apart from the thin shaft of light, Maria lay in almost complete darkness. Suddenly she began to feel afraid. Alone and afraid. What if no-one found her? Once more she tried to pull herself free from the heaviness which held her but it was no good, she didn't have the strength. Whatever was holding her was across her stomach. It wasn't so much that it was crushing her. No, it was just that there wasn't enough clearance to pull her pelvis out from under it.

She wriggled her hands down through the rubble until she could feel the obstruction. It was strangely soft and kind of warm. She felt around it and then found the hard, cold bar on top. Then she realised, it was a bed! Somehow, it had fallen upside down across her and had protected her from the mass of fallen masonry which had collapsed on top of it.

When she tried to look down she realised that she couldn't move her head either, there was not enough space. As soon as she tried to move, in any direction, she was prevented from doing so by the rubble which was all around her. She had never felt such fear before. Certainly, she had been afraid, many times, but this... being trapped... and the bomb.

She began to tremble and she could feel her heart pounding with terror.

Ave Maria,” she began to pray. “Gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.”

She had prayed to the Holy Mother so many times in church that it came more easily to her in Latin than in her mother tongue. The words which stumbled from her trembling lips calmed her and helped to ease the terrible loneliness she had felt but the fear remained. She didn't want to die, not yet, not now, not like this.

Again she tried to free herself and, indeed, she managed a small movement but all it did was to dislodge more rubble and the thin beam of light was instantly extinguished!

“Katarina!” she screamed as loud as she could. “Katarinaaaaa...”

Maria began to cry, the salty tears carving a path through the dust on her face.

“Katarina, where are you...?” she sobbed. “Please don't leave me.” She closed her eyes, forcing herself to stop crying.

When she opened them again, her eyes felt dry and gritty. She wanted to wipe away the moisture but there wasn't enough room to bend her arms and the more she tried the more she felt as though she were in a tomb. Not just any tomb but her own final resting place.

“Mama, I'm sorry. I wanted to come home, honestly I did. Christmas with you and Papa would have been perfect and now...” The words that left her lips were almost silent whispers. “We had so much to talk about. So much has happened to us since I last saw you. You would be so proud of Katarina...”

The words trailed away as she thought of her sister. She never saw what happened to her. Had she survived? Was she trapped just like her? Maybe the explosion had killed her outright.

“Oh God, please don't let her suffer. If you have taken her then please, at least let it have been quick, painless...”

Again, Maria closed her eyes. It made little difference in such complete darkness. She listened intently but she could hear nothing, not a sound. No voices, no movement, nothing.

Images began to pass through her mind. She remembered her childhood, happily playing in the garden, blissfully unaware of the hardships her Mama and Papa had suffered and the cost of their survival. She remembered her first day at the Ludwig-Maximilian University hospital. What a day that had been, so stressful and yet she had never felt in any doubt about what she had wanted to be.

Images of patients and of the nurses she had met along the way flashed by and those who had not survived. Agathe and Trudi and Anneliese and today, the young nurse she had only just met, Traudl. Did she survive? Maria couldn't imagine that she had.

She thought of the child they had saved in Tripoli, young Rania. Would she see them all, she wondered? Would she see Father Weiss? Such a kindly old man, a priest of the old school who had died in her arms.

At twenty-five years old she had seen so much death and injury, so much more than anyone, even a nurse, should ever have to encounter in a lifetime and certainly not in ten short years.

The one thing she was grateful for, something which made her smile in this desperate moment, was that she had found her sister. That in itself made everything bearable.

They'd had such fun together. The memories of how they tricked people made her smile grow even wider. It was as though they were the same person but with two bodies.

But then, the smile slowly faded. One other person began to fill her thoughts, the one other person with whom she had felt a close connection other than her sister. He wasn't even German. To most of the people she knew, he would be considered an enemy but Lieutenant-Surgeon Simon Madison was no such thing to her. She remembered his smile, the warmth of his touch and the respect with which he had treated her. She felt she would never meet another man who could make her feel the way he did and he wondered whether he too would become a casualty of this terrible conflict.

 

For a little longer, Maria lay still, eyes closed, alone with her memories but then...

“I can't die this way,” she thought to herself. “I can't just give up.”

Placing both hands against the steel frame of the upturned bed, she pushed as hard as she could and tried again to slide herself out from underneath. Just as before, she couldn't do it, it was solid.

“There has to be a way out!” she muttered to herself. “There has to be.”

With the limited movement she had with her hands, she began to move some of the debris from around her. She had no idea how long she tried or how many nails she broke but, in the end, she gave up. All she was doing was moving very small amounts back and forth. It didn't solve the problem.

Then she began to wonder. Why had she not been crushed under all this weight? What was preventing tons of masonry from bearing down on her? Something must be holding it but what?

Maria began to touch everything that she could reach. The bed frame she already knew about but what else. What was buried beneath the bricks and concrete that protected her? Then, her fingertips felt something else, something less cold. She moved her fingers along it until there was no longer enough space.

The only thing she could imagine that could be made of wood was the ceiling or possibly part of the floor. She remembered that she had been on the second floor so the whole wing must have collapsed around her!

Her mind began to run away and she imagined tons and tons of rubble, pressing down upon the small piece of timber that was protecting her. How long before it broke and she was crushed to death? Would it be quick or slow? Was she going to suffocate or have the life squeezed from her?

Then she remembered the bomb. Was that holding the floor up and if it moved, would she be blown to pieces rather than crushed?

Every possible way that she could die was running through her head, not just thoughts but in stark imagery. Her heart began to pound as the fear rose into her throat.

“NOOO!” She screamed aloud, “HELP ME! GET ME OUT!”

 

“Did you hear that?”

Maria held her breath, listening, trying to hear whether there was a voice or just her imagination.

“Yes, I think so. Shhh...”

“I'M HERE!” Maria shouted as loud as she could. “HELP ME!”

“Over there... I think...”

“I'M STUCK! HELP ME!”

“Yes, yes I hear something. Very faint though.”

Maria took a deep breath but there was so much dirt and her mouth was so dry that she immediately began to cough.

“Help me...!” No matter how hard she tried, the sound just wouldn't come.

 

In the distance, or so it seemed in this terrifying darkness, she began to hear the sounds of bricks and masonry being moved. The cracks and rattles as pieces tumbled above her or were thrown to one side and then, to her joy, a shaft of light shone on her face.

“Oskar! Here! There is someone under this lot, a woman!”

Oskar began to pull away the pieces that were covering her and was quickly joined by his colleague.

“Are you hurt, Miss?”

“I don't know,” Maria tried to answer but no sound would come.

Together they tore at the rubble with their bare hands, enlarging the space until Maria could clearly see their faces. She couldn't speak but tears of relief began to run down her face.

For a moment, they paused, assessing their position and then,

“Anton, look!”

Both faces took on a look of terror as they spotted the green steel.

“Scheißer, there's a bomb!”

One of the men peered down at Maria and then squinted to get a better look.

“We can't move it, Oskar. The slightest movement could trigger it!”

Maria tried to speak but the words came as a croaking whisper.

“You can't leave me here... please... get me out!”

“She's right, Anton. We can't just leave her.”

The other man took a deep breath.

“No...” he replied eventually. “No, I suppose not.”

Very gently now, the two of them resumed the delicate task of removing the debris. They worked for almost an hour, picking out piece by small piece, moving only what came easily and being careful not to dislodge the precarious structure until they had made a space big enough to pull her out.

Oskar leaned over and placed his hands under Maria's shoulders and was about to pull when she shook herself free, shaking her head vigorously and pointing to the bed-frame which was pressing down on her abdomen and holding her firmly in place.

Both men looked in the direction she indicated.

“Oh, Hell! Look at that! The only thing keeping this whole pile from collapsing is that bed and the bomb. If we disturb anything and that beam falls, then we're all dead!”

Now that she was no longer in total darkness, Maria could see the situation she was in. The bomb had fallen through the roof along with another. That bomb had exploded bringing the whole wing down but part of the roof had fallen intact and the huge beam had come down on top of her. At one end, the bed was supporting it, preventing it from crushing her completely but the other end was supported only by the unexploded bomb!

“We need the army. We can't move that ourselves...”

“Please don't leave me alone,” Maria pleaded with them.

The two men looked at each other.

“All right, Miss. Anton will stay with you whilst I get help.”

After a moment's whispered discussion, the one called Oskar carefully picked his way over the rubble and disappeared.

The other man suddenly looked at her.

“What on earth am I thinking!” he suddenly exclaimed and pulled out a flask of water. He poured a little into the cup and carefully reached down to her, holding the cold metal to her lips.

Maria sipped gratefully at the refreshing water.

“Thank you,” she said, looking up at him.

For the first time, she noticed that he was much older than she was. His once dark hair was greying and his hands were those of a life of toil.

“Have you seen my sister?” she asked him. “She was with me when the bombs fell.”

Oskar shook his head.

“No, I'm sorry,” he replied sadly. “We haven't found anyone else alive. I was surprised that we found you if I am to be honest. We didn't think that anyone could have survived this. This whole part of the building has been reduced to a ruin.”

“You won't stop looking though, will you? I am alive and maybe she is too.” She paused. “There may be others trapped under all this. Please don't give up.”

Oskar smiled.

“No, Miss. We won't give up. Finding you alive has given us new hope but first, we need to get this bomb made safe.”

“How long have I been here?”

Oskar took a rather battered-looking watch from his jacket pocket and opened the cover.

“I would say about three hours,” he replied.

“Is that all? It feels so much longer. Could I have some more water please?”

Oskar quickly obliged, once again holding the metal cup carefully against her lips.

“Do you think your friend will be long?” she asked, once she had emptied the cup.

“I hope not but everything is in chaos right now. I am sure he will be as quick as he can be.”

 

Anton was indeed quick. Within ten minutes he had returned with several, grey-uniformed soldiers.

They didn't waste any time in examining the bomb.

Oskar stepped back and another face appeared, this one was wearing a steel helmet.

“I am Leutnant Fuchs, Miss. What is your name?”

“Matron Maria Kaufmann,” she replied. “Can you get me out?”

Leutnant Fuchs shrugged.

“One way or another, Matron. Either we all leave this place or none of us do.”

Maria couldn't smile at this clumsy attempt at humour but she appreciated it, nonetheless.

 

After a brief examination of the offending weapon, the Leutnant rubbed his chin.

“Hmm, the safety pins haven't pulled properly.” Without stopping to see whether Maria was even interested, he continued to explain. “When the bomb is released, a cable which is attached to the aeroplane is supposed to pull the two safety pins out as it falls away, one at the front and one at the rear. It looks as though the cable broke on this one, there is a piece of it still attached.”

“So it can't explode then?” Maria breathed a sigh of relief but it was short-lived.

“Unfortunately yes, it can,” Fuchs replied. “Although the front pin is still in place, the rear one is not which means we can't tell whether the fuze is primed or not. Considering how far this thing has fallen, it is also impossible to say whether the firing mechanism has been damaged.”

There was an awkward silence. Maria wanted to ask so many questions but she was afraid of the answers she might get.

Eventually, the Leutnant spoke.

“Are you in any pain?” he asked her. “It will take some time to defuse this and I would rather you weren't here.”

Maria shook her head.

“No pain,” she told him. “I can't feel anything any more. I am just numb...”

“Can you move?”

“Yes, I don't think anything is broken. I just can't get out.”

Once again the Leutnant fell silent as he looked at the large, wooden beam which was holding her.

He looked at the bomb and then at Maria.

“Right,” he said slowly. “I think we need to get you out before I try to defuze this. Back in a minute.”

Fuchs disappeared and, for a time, she could hear voices talking earnestly but couldn't make out what they were saying.

A few minutes later one of the soldiers appeared holding a large metal object. Maria recognised it immediately. It was a hydraulic jack which she had learned to use during her time at Karlsruhe. She had used one when learning to change a truck wheel.

“Forgive me, Ma'am,” the soldier said as he reached across her and began to clear away some of the rubble around the end of the bed frame. She understood immediately what his plan was. He had to get the telescopic jack under the bed, onto a solid footing, so he could raise it enough to free her.

 

After several minutes of carefully clearing away the loose pieces, rather like an archaeologist she thought, he wedged the jack in place and attached the handle.

“Ready, Sir!” he called out and Maria felt strong hands grip the shoulders of her uniform.

“All right, Schmidt. Steady now...”

She watched transfixed as the young soldier, very gingerly, pressed down on the handle.

 

At first, nothing seemed to happen but then, with a loud creak, the bed-frame began to move.

The soldier stopped, waiting, watching, then, he pressed down again and raised the bed another few millimetres.

Maria felt as though everything was happening in slow motion, as though life itself had slowed down.

Another slight press and another millimetre and more creaking.

The tension was unbearable but she began to feel the pressure being lifted from her.

Perhaps a little optimistically, she tried to wriggle herself free but the bed had not yet lifted far enough. The weight, though, had been reduced sufficiently to allow the blood to properly circulate and the tingling it produced was excruciating. She tried to keep quiet but it was too much and she groaned with the intense pain.

“Stop! Stop!” Leutnant Fuchs called out urgently. “What is it, Matron?” he then asked her, “What has happened?”

Maria bit her lip and shook her head.

“No, it's all right,” she whispered through clenched teeth. “Please, go on...”

In her mind's eye, she could almost see the sharp pieces that had been digging into her legs as the bed had pressed firmly down on them.

“Alright, slowly now,” Fuchs ordered the soldier to continue the lift.

Once again, painfully slowly, the soldier pressed down on the handle and the piston lifted another few millimetres.

The creaking of the timbers was heart-stopping and, to Maria, frighteningly loud. It was like a death-knell, the warning that if anything failed it would kill her instantly.

The soldier was perspiring heavily. From his close proximity to her, she could see the fear in his face and his grim determination as he slowly raised the handle in preparation for another few millimetres.

Then he pressed down and the piston moved upwards, millimetre by agonising millimetre. Maria wriggled and suddenly she could move!

“Now!” she called out, “Pull me out!”

The hands that were gripping her began to tug at her clothing.

“Slowly!” Fuchs demanded. “Take it easy!”

With incredible gentleness, Maria felt herself slowly sliding out from below the bed, free at last from her deadly captivity.

CRACK!

In an instant, Maria felt herself falling, sliding down the pile of debris amidst an avalanche of rubble and timber. She cried out as she felt the jagged edges tearing her flesh until she came to an abrupt stop. For a moment she felt faint and sick and then... nothing.

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