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Honorable Mention - Short Story 1991
   Richland College Literary Contest

 

"Liberty is the only thing you can't have unless you give it to others."
     -- William Allen White.

For eight long generations, the Hancock family has fought around the world for freedom. In every war, by land, sea and air, at least one Hancock man has been there when freedom called. Since John Hancock dedicated himself to the principles of freedom, my forefathers have protected and preserved those same rights.

Since my childhood, I was trained to be a special breed of warrior. Years of martial arts, archery, marksmanship, natural healing techniques, woodland survival, along with a healthy dose of "dirty tricks," and a teaching in "something more important" helped me to become the person I am now.

The Army put me through extremely specialized training. Half American, half Russian, I was a member of the elite OPFOR regiment. Cross trained in NATO and Soviet conventional and unconventional warfare, I could kill with anything and heal with nothing. Ironically after four years training and a lifetime of preparation, I would feel the same sense of righteousness without shooting anything -- except my camera. I was able to "free" the oppressed -- with the oppressors' permission. The only person who was even mildly injured was me. Well worth it.

On New Year's Eve, 1991, "The Wall" came crumbling down. The 18 hour train ride from Paris to Berlin had left my girlfriend and I hungry, dirty and tired. The city was already wild with activity. Unfortunately, the only wild part of us was our stomachs. We exchanged currency and went in search of anything edible.

We located the only pizzeria still open with midnight fast approaching. Then we sat on our backpacks and devoured our pizza. Demolished buildings surrounded us as reminders of "The War." Neon lighting had been attached to these relics of a fallen empire -- a modern celebration of an ancient catastrophe.

Loud, laughing people passed. Nothing noticed us: a man who staggered down the middle of the street firing a pistol in the air, the silent birds hiding from danger, the poor ravaged church with all its neon filth attached were all oblivious to our existence.

After getting directions to the wall, we boarded a train. We got off at the stop a man had suggested and started to find our way out of the station. We thought we might be lost because so few people had gone this far on the train. Most of the signs in the station were German and thereby unreadable to me. One sign was VERY clear. It simply stated, "Now entering D.D.R." (Deutsche Demokratische Republik ... East Germany!)

We tried to find a way to get back on a train going to the West. A nice, little nun came along and asked in a thick accent if we needed help. "We need to go to the west," I said. "No, you have to go east to go west, " was her reply as she pointed towards a passage other people entered. With a smile, the little penguin toddled off.

Reluctantly, we went down a narrow corridor into a large room with high ceilings and white walls. We deduced the line separated from the others must be ours. It was the only line occupied by people who looked confused and nervous.

We inched our way up the line. When the border guard learned I couldn't speak German, he started throwing books inside his little glassed-in world. He screamed some string of absurdities at me through the window. Luckily, the guy behind us translated. "He wants to see your passports ... and 20 marks," our savior said.

I gave the guard the money and our passports. His loudness turned into a grumble as he pounded rubber stamps on some papers, jammed them in our passports, and shoved them through the window at me.

Leaving the building quickly, we found ourselves in darkness. We were in such a different world. No longer were there happy, loud, drunken people. Now, we were in a dark world of grey people. All were walking in the same direction. No conversations took place. Eyes were open, yet closed.

Past bleak grey-white walls we trudged. I looked in a poorly lit window at a display as we passed. The female mannequins sat on chairs with their legs apart and their hands curled into fists on their knees, masculine to a point beyond natural. I was in a place I maybe shouldn't have gone.

Ahead we saw some small street lights. By then, the flow of people had become a trickle. We turned the corner and were besieged by scanning spotlights, screaming, the acrid smell of gunpowder, gunfire and the sight of rocket glare streaking into a large crowd of people. The East had played a game to trick the West into dropping its guard. We had lowered our defenses, and there we were, on the wrong side of the wall without a rifle or even a knife.

Carefully, we crept closer. Relief swept over me as I began to see what all the commotion was. The screaming was happy Germans. The searchlights were for television cameras. The gunpowder was only firecrackers. The rockets were still being fired into the crowd, but those were only the Independence Day version.

I was tired, but now something was beginning to stir inside me. It was New Year's Eve, and this place had the makings of a really good party. We decided to pop our champagne corks, take a swig and find a place to sit on the wall. As we walked under the Brandenburg Gate, a rocket screamed past my head and hit a man in the leg. He rubbed his leg and laughed as the rocket went skidding across the concrete and hit a number of others before it finally stopped. This was going to be a fun, crazy group. Pain and danger seemed to be part of the fun to them. How strange, I simply didn't understand it yet.

Some people helped us onto the wall. I am not a light person, but it was almost with no effort they pulled me up. I was impressed with the strength of these people. It must be steroids.

After a while a lady called up to me, pointed at the wall, and held up a hammer and chisel. I nodded, and she tossed them up to me. I started chipping at the wall and tossing the pieces to her. I found that my energy level increased rather than faltered with each bite I took out of the cement.

Soon, I was hacking out huge chunks that made people scatter when I tossed the pieces down. Quantity, I was told, not size was the important factor. She must have been taking pieces home to her friends. I got so involved that I didn't notice when the lady who gave me the tools had left. It didn't matter. There were plenty of celebrants who all wanted to take home a bit of history and were happy to cheer me onward.

One of our new-found "wall friends" had gotten more champagne from somewhere. He popped the cork and with exaggerated arm motions said, "You drink my health, I drink yours!" He put the bottle in my hand. I took a sip, not wanting to seem like a hog, and handed the bottle back to him. He downed a quarter of the bottle and said, "No! You drink my health, I drink yours!" Then he thrust his bottle at me. I downed half of what was left. If he didn't want the champagne, I did. He laughed and gave me a hug... He was drunk.

Later, I looked up and saw some guys climbing the pillars of the gate. The Brandenburg Gate has four pillars, with a platform about 200 feet above the ground. It had bronze statues of horses galloping towards the west. A huge East German flag swayed on a pole that angled beyond the platform. The entire white-blue structure was brilliantly lit. Fools, who appeared to be the size of ants, dangled from the edges of the top. I couldn't believe anyone would ever get so drunk.

One man had climbed to the top of the statue and was standing on a horse statue's ears with his fists over his head in triumph. The crowd became deafening with cheers at this monumental feat.

I watched the scene in slow motion as the man suddenly leapt at the East German flag. Time stopped, and my life changed. He floated in time between the two. Levitating there. With the statue behind, a sheet of cloth before and a long plummet below, he tempted the spider's web of death. He finally grabbed the flag and with a savage jerk, his body dangled and danced like a puppet on a string. Time blew a heavy sigh and the world broke into noise. The cheers were not only on the outside, but also echoed in my head.

He began to tug and bounce on the flag using his whole body, trying to rip it loose from its hold. One by one, louder and louder, more and ever more people were challenging this same danger. Twenty or more little "ants" were bouncing in unison on this symbol. They worked to pry it loose forever.

With a great screech, the flag could no longer resist their assault. The flag ripped free. It hurled the people attached towards the ground. The ropes that allowed the flag to be changed also allowed a change in course. They swung, I will not dare say harmlessly, under the gate. I held my breath as the material whipped around like a rag in a dog's mouth. Amazingly, all held on to the flag. What fools, yet what champions they were.

Gilbert Chesterton once wrote, "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms: it means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die."

I had to ask myself if their action was worth risking death? Then a voice in my head bellowed, "YES!" I felt a surge of adrenalin from the hair on my head to my loins. In my inebriated, fatigued body, a cold wave washed over me. This is "FREEDOM." This is what I was born and bred for. This is my life!

I looked down at the East German land below. I looked into the eyes of people who wanted to be where I was. Tears came to my eyes in a blind fury.

How dare anyone deny these people their destiny, their rights to have what I take for granted. Is this worth dying for? Emphatically YES! With the world as my witness, I embarked on a one-man crusade to free these people.

In my drunken fury, I had to free these people. I wanted to lift them out of their lives in Hell and let them walk the green pastures they didn't even know existed. It was my quest, the ultimate culmination of everything I believe as true.

I began to yank these little souls out of the clutches of the great tyrant. Feverishly, I snatched one after another to a better world: a world of challenge and ecstasy, a world where there are no limits beyond the imagination, a world where one not only exists, but a place where one can LIVE!

Within sight of the destruction my uncles had left behind, and within inches of the people I was trained to infiltrate and kill, I experienced FREEDOM. Not in the eyes of the "liberated," but within myself. It was worth dying for. I would have done so.

 

By Mark M. Hancock