Santa Fe, New Mexico – Neutral Zone
They drove all night through an obscure, nature-ridden pathway.
When they had escaped the hospital, she and Steve knew it was a matter of time before the hospital guards would send out teams to find the children.
It turns out, being a trucker as a cover job for the resistance had its advantages. The knowledge of less used paths had aided them as they ran in the cover of the night.
Sleep was already evident in Steve’s actions—a small yawn here, rubbing his eyes there. But, what was more clear in him was how he cared for these children.
Peggy insisted that they do turns in driving, but Steve shook his head. “Despite being a cover, driving all night on a highway is familiar.” But she would insist, and Peggy reveled in her small victory when Steve slumped into the seat just to her side, shoulders sagged and fast asleep.
The mission that she had come for had taken a sudden derailment in favor of the children, not that she would regret it.
When thinking of the hospital, a shudder came over her. Peggy knows it was futile, to think of all the lives she couldn’t save, but she couldn’t help it. While she was in the diner, at the motel, if she had known, that life lost could have been another child saved, one child sitting in the back of the bus.
When the war broke out, she was young enough. She thinks, with a guilt that somehow rocks her, that had she been born differently—maybe she could have been sick, maybe she could have been born to other parents, maybe she could have been born into another race—she wouldn’t been as lucky.
She remembers a girl from her boarding school. A Jewish-American sent abroad to study. Her name was Anne. She had pigtails and a spunk that the schoolmaster had frowned upon. When war broke out, her parents couldn’t send for her to come home immediately and when the Germans invaded, it dawns on Peggy with a horror that she never saw Anne again.
She glanced at the children through the mirror and wonders, back then, just how many people, how many children had been loaded into those cattle cars that went all the way to Auschwitz? Just how many children were forcibly removed from their parents’ hands, shaved of their hair, and gassed to die, their bodies not even given proper burial, just burned?
She wiped a tear from her eyes and glanced at the map Steve had propped up against the dashboard of the bus.
“There’s a small community just outside of Sabra called Saint Theresa.” Steve explained, charting down the way in his map. “To the Germans, it’s a Catholic community, but it’s actually Jewish.”
The admission that taken its toll. Hidden out in America, Peggy almost understood immediately the way he recoiled. “They were the ones who escaped from Europe when the war broke out, yes?”
Steve nodded grimly, careful to keep their voices down. “The resistance has been working with them ever since we found out about the hospital. We’d free the children, they’d take them in,” and for a second, she wonders, aside from a good deed, why on earth would they take care of children who would put them on the bad side of the Reich after they tried so hard to mask themselves and become invisible.
But when she remembered Steve’s grim face, the knowledge that it was in fact those who escaped Europe when the war broke out, her heart sank. Most of them were adults, the ones who escaped outside of continental Europe.
If she, a child back then, could remember how friends and neighbors were dragged out, what more of them? What more of actual parents who had lost their children?
Maybe she was guilt ridden or fear from harboring a deeper haunt, Peggy drove without question and into the wooded clearing.
After a switch of shifts, they arrived at Saint Theresa.
The morning has broken and the sound that jarred Peggy to reality was the sound of laughing cheering children.
Saint Theresa was unlike the backdrop of a concrete city. It seemed more a rustic village than anything, almost half-expecting for people to break out in song and dance along the grass. It was a breath of fresh air, honestly, to see a sight like that, a land that was seemingly untouched by the atrocities of the war.
But there were children there, children with little spurts of growing hair, laughing, playing along the trails of the community square. They did not escape unscathed.
An older man, with silver hair and a round glasses came up to greet them and took Steve into an embrace. His accent rang of Europe, Poland, to be exact.
Then, there was a woman. She spoke fast, incredibly fast as she herded the children towards a mess hall and had served them their breakfast meals. “You can’t make good goulash here,” Ana commented as she piled a scoop of the meat stew on their plates. “But we make do.”
They were invited to stay for breakfast, and with empty and rumbling stomachs, they couldn’t exactly refuse.
Steve, as Peggy already pieced together, was a regular at Saint Theresa, bringing in the children who are supposed to be euthanized for being defectives of the Reich. The usual operation was to hijack the busses bringing the children in, but the hospital security had changed their schedules and when Peggy came in, the children were already set for the gas chambers.
Most of the adults who guarded the community were Polish, Hungarian, Romanian, and Lithuanian Jewish. “I was a teenager when the Hungary had allied itself with Germany. My parents had been able to send me away from the country in time, but—” her eyes turned glassy, “—they couldn’t do the same for themselves and my younger sister.”
Ana Verbeek, effectively an orphan in the America, had been forced to uproot her life once more when the Germans bombed Washington. It was also during the rampant riot and rush to get out of the capital when a stray bullet had hit her in the stomach.
Recovering since then, Ana’s learned that she could never become a mother and, in a way, Saint Theresa’s lost and hurting children became her way of healing. While she would not become a mother, there were no doubts hordes of children who would readily claim to be her children.
While they were eating, a teenager had fetched Ana from their table. “I’m afraid there’s an incident in the nursery,” said Ana apologetically, before leaving them alone. “Help yourselves to the food, please.”
Peggy smiled at her retreating form, taking spoonful’s of goulash. “And she says she can’t make good goulash here!”
“Ana’s a great cook.” Steve muttered beside her, already plied with bowls upon bowls of goulash and loaves of bread for the both of them to share. “Her kitchen’s like magic, I swear. The only place in the Neutral Zone where you could get great meal and a decent night’s sleep without keeping one eye open.”
At that, Peggy moaned orgasmically to the taste of the sourdough bread dipped into the stew until her mind sobered up. “How did they remain undetected? Surely, by now, Saint Theresa would have been raided already by bounty hunters if not the Reich.”
Steve hunched closer to his meal and lifted his spoon up, pointing at a man seemingly out of place. “See him?”
“He rather sticks out like a sore thumb.” And Steve only grinned.
The man was around children, laughing out loud, grinning from ear to ear as the little children began running around the community grounds. But his acceptance wasn’t the only thing shocking about him, it’s his ethnicity.
“His name is Jim Morita, American mother, Japanese father—” then, as if knowing someone was talking about him, Jim had turned to their direction and waved enthusiastically before his attention was captured by a young girl who had tackled him down to the ground, followed by a two more children, “—when the war broke out, his Pa joined up the army, he died in Azzano. He and his Ma were separated when Roosevelt placed the Japanese in camps all over California. When the Japanese were splitting up America, he was detained because his Ma was killed by the Kenpetai for being anti-Japanese, ever since then, he had no real place to go.”
“Because no side would have him,” Peggy blurted out and felt an admiration for the man. “Why Saint Theresa of all places?”
Steve looked around the place, eyeing the children with a soft gaze and it dawned on Peggy. “He was defective, wasn’t he?” then, she watched the children more intently. They could easily overpower him because of a limp.
“He tried to go to the Reich, but he was sent out here. The Resistance in its first year managed to break out a few kids,” he took a deep, shaky breath. “It doesn’t matter if he’s one of the best shots in all of America, the Imperial Provinces didn’t want their race tainted, didn’t want a halfie in their ranks and the Reich didn’t want the defectives.”
Then, much more firmly, he said, “Saint Theresa’s the only home we know.”
It wasn’t lost on her that he said we.