This month, the round robin participants are regaling everyone with snippets from their own work that highlight the spirit of the season. Some may even give a short story or flash fiction and I’m delighted to check out what they have in store.
For me, I’ve chosen an excerpt from my novel Persona, a novel about Megan Shepherd as she is thrust unwittingly into the middle of Nazi Germany. While the snippet is more somber than I’m sure many of the other works will prove today, I chose it because, at its heart, is a woman who misses home.
As a veteran, I deeply respect the sacrifice that takes family members away from home during whatever holidays they normally celebrate. If there’s an empty space at your table this year, I hope you find some comfort in those who are able to gather with you, and I hope your loved one comes home soon.
Persona – Chapter Five
“You’re such a quiet little thing,” Schuler remarked.
He sat across from her in their little train car, his newspaper momentarily forgotten on his lap. Megan pulled her gaze from the window to look at him. He sat uncomfortably in the barely-padded seat, his lanky frame folded in awkward angles. Megan had dozed off and on since leaving Wilhelmshaven, but it was a light sleep that couldn’t satisfy her exhaustion. The train jostled along its tracks, rumbling through the seat so loudly that it never failed to wake her.
And, of course, her mind would not leave her alone to rest either. As grateful as she was to be leaving all signs of the Navy behind, it was increasingly evident that she was travelling deeper into Germany, deeper behind so-called enemy lines, and her tension was growing.
“At first I thought it was because you were sick,” Schuler said thoughtfully. “And then because you were worried about what sort of future Germany had in store for you. But now I think it’s just your nature. You’re quiet.”
Megan shifted in her seat, feeling stiff, angry muscles stretch with the sudden movement. She felt exhausted all around, like she could melt into a little pool of nothingness and still never recover from the past weeks. And yet she had to recover, and quickly because the curiosity on Schuler’s face was not going away. She gathered up the threads of her lie, reminding herself yet again that she was Klaudia Volk, orphaned and lost, relying on the kindnesses of men she’d just met.
Feeling terribly small and exposed, Megan smiled at him, knowing full well how strained it must look.
“I’m sorry, Doctor,” she said. “Did you want conversation?”
“Well, perhaps a little, Klaudia,” Schuler said with a smile that was far more gracious than her own.
It seemed safest to keep the conversation on him, so she searched for a neutral topic.
“Have you known Captain Von Buren very long?” She asked.
“I’ve known him for several years, yes,” he said. “He’s a very good man. The best I’ve ever known. Though I think he should have warned you about his house.”
“Yes,” Schuler said, folding his newspaper. “I wouldn’t describe it as a mere house, Klaudia. It’s very large. His property takes up several acres, though the … shall we say, manor house … sits near the center.”
The word “manor” made her stiffen in surprise, and then she chastised herself for the reaction. He was a Von. He had history and title to him. Of course he lived in that history.
“Most of the rooms are closed off, I’m sure,” Schuler went on, tapping the folded paper in his lap. “But I still can’t see you feeling comfortable there. That house is enough to swallow me whole and I’m used to a certain level of luxury.”
“Is it his family home?”
“Oh yes. The Von Buren’s have lived there for several generations. They trace their lineage back to kings and barons,” Schuler said. “Not that such a lineage says much these days. Still, I think there might be a guest house on the property. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you chose to reside there instead.”
Kings and barons, Megan thought. The image fit Von Buren very well. He had the air of aristocracy and the firm, unyielding command of a man bred to lead. And now that she thought about it, he had told Albrecht that his estate was large. This really shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
“Where did you grow up, Klaudia?”
Megan looked to the window again and tried to mask her panic. It appeared she would not be able to keep the conversation from her person. She took a deep breath and stared at the blurred passage of shadowed trees and buildings outside.
Stick with the familiar, she thought.
“Neuss,” she said. “My father owned a barley farm.”
Her mother had come from Neuss, so she was confident any digging around Schuler might do would bring up the name Klaudia Volk. Of course, that name was tied to a ten year old girl just prior to her leaving Germany with her family but at least it was there. And she was fairly certain Uncle George had mentioned a barley farm, too.
But maybe it was wheat.
She prayed Schuler knew less than she did about agriculture.
“Ah,” Schuler said. “That explains the quiet nature, I think. No doubt you’ve had more excitement the last few years than you’re used to.”
“Yes,” she said, grateful to be telling the truth again.
“Well, I’m certain life will quiet down again for you in Ulm.”
She smiled at him, a genuine smile this time. “I certainly hope so.”
They lapsed into silence and Megan turned her attention back to the window. The landscape seemed to have flattened, giving her a clear view of open fields stretching far into the horizon. Here and there the rounded curve of a hill interrupted, its grassy face somehow dull in the winter light and the sky above looked pale gray bordering on blue, as if the elements themselves felt it necessary to display a dreary and foreboding day. Megan let the images blur, choosing to focus on the foggy windowpane instead.
She’d missed Christmas.
Or she was about to anyway.
Schultz had informed her they’d made harbor on the twenty-second of December, and it had been a day later before she’d met with Albrecht.
Christmas Eve, she thought, suddenly understanding why their train was so full. Soldiers and families were desperately trying to close the distance, to congregate in central locations for a celebration or two. Megan smiled, her mind drifting to home, to the sharp scent of pine and colorful packages ringing the tree.
Mother had always loved Christmas, both the traditions of her homeland and the ones her father had insisted upon. The month of December generally created joyous mayhem in the Shepherd home, starting with the Advent wreath and moving through Saint Nikolaus Day where their clean shoes would be left outside the door overnight so that Nikolaus could fill them with treats. But on Christmas itself the celebration came to a climax with big dinners and thoughtful presents and Megan couldn’t stop the sudden wash of homesickness as it rushed over her.
Heaven help her, she missed her mother so much.
Megan took a deep breath, banishing mother from her mind. She knew where those thoughts would lead, could sense the dark hospital room encroaching on her memory, and forced herself back into the present. Schuler had returned to his newspaper, his brow pinched in displeasure at whatever he was reading. A part of her wanted to draw him out again, to ask what had his attention and start another conversation, but he would inevitably ask more about her person and she wasn’t ready for that.
She had the ridiculous thought to write down her story as she’d told it to Schuler and Von Buren, just to keep it all straight. But she couldn’t risk someone else finding it, so of course that would not do. Frustrated, Megan turned to the window again and tried to get some sleep. It would be some hours before she reached Ulm and she imagined she would need all her wits about her when she got there.
Check out some other holiday inspired snippets and free content from my fellow authors here on the round robin…
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qI
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com