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It is tonight, tell them all to meet after the guards have retreated to their quarters. Tell them to be swift, we do not have time to worry about the injured,’ Seeing Johan’s inquisitive gaze, the prisoner expressed a bitter scowl and added: ‘… the conceited or the cowardly. ‘ THE ESCAPE As soon as night fell, Johan set out into the lonely darkness. He knew they were not expecting him. Since the death of his father, Johan’s fellow prisoners thought of him as a ghost, refusing to acknowledge his presence whenever he entered a room, and treating him as if he were the cause of their sorry condition.
He did not care anymore. He was nothing – a nobody. Creeping silently through the black night that aided in disguising his feeble body, Johan’s mind was busy going over every last contingency that might arise and all sorts of new circumstances which could call for some sort of quick thinking and determination; sentiments which were all a blur to him now. After reaching the barbed fence at the far end of the camp, Johan disappeared behind a guards’ waste shed and waited. The icy wind stung his withered face and made it almost impossible for him to remain still.
Johan was experiencing a mixture of nervous irritation and controlled calm that often besets a man whose long awaited moment has come. Steadily, one by one they started to appear. Once gathered, the fifteen or so members of the escape entourage exchanged brief glances of tense apprehension. Sensing a wave of unwanted scepticism, one prisoner murmured, “Alright men, come on, let’s get out of this hell hole. ” Immediately the group stirred into movement, forming a silent hive of motion as they hurriedly tunnelled themselves through a tiny hole in the ground. The prisoners began to leave as they had come: like bare windswept shadows.
At that moment, from a short distance behind Johan, the booming voice of a German officer shouted. The words came from a faceless shape, approaching rapidly from the path that led to the guard’s quarters. “COME OUT YOU BASTARDS! COME OUT NOW AND YOUR DEATH SHALL BE SWIFT! ” With not a second to lose, Johan had to make a decision. If he were to remain concealed, the six or so prisoners that hadn’t yet escaped would undoubtedly be shot dead, if not cruelly tortured. The voice of reason in Johan’s conscience urged him to self-preservation, to forget about the prisoners who had only ever shown him disdainful contempt, to turn away.
But the voice of compassion was louder and Johan did not heed reason – instead he leapt to his feet and ran. “GO! QUICK, GO NOW! ” Sprinting past the bewildered remaining prisoners and heading in the direction of the faceless voice, Johan’s whole body and manner had been suddenly transformed. He had adopted the air of an unquestioning attacker and had allowed the adrenalin that pulsated through his delicate veins to engulf his entire body. The whole world was gliding past him – his lost hope, his charred past, his soon-to-be extinguished future.
He ran as if he would never run again; straight into the face of death. Stopping himself in front of the prison officer, Johan struggled to catch his breath as he took a one last moment to gaze at the heavens. He inhaled a deep breath and smiled. Johan was whole again. The snow continued to fall in thick flakes over his corpse.