During the nights, while sitting around the old-fashioned fireplace in the sixty-year-old chairs, grandfather would proceed to tell us, in his broken English, the usual war stories we had heard in days past. His mind was going, according to our parents. However, they still let him go on, never admitting that they had heard the stories dozens of times before. My brother was usually the first to fall asleep, dozing off in our mother's lap, while I fought hard to remain awake until he had finished.
The daylight hours were our time, when our imaginations would run wild, accompanied by our little, skinny legs. We didn't stay in the house much, preferring to frolic in the surrounding beauty of the German countryside. Whether we danced in the fields or swam in the nearby pond, the fun never stopped. But the greatest thing about the place was the enormous clump of woods backing up to their house. We loved playing hide and seek for hours in there, even though our grandparents told us to stay out, supposedly to protect us from getting lost. We were children, which meant that we never listened.
Johnny, my little brother, always managed to be the first to get up every morning, already a bundle of energy. I knew that he'd go far in the working world with an attitude like that. Only problem with this was that I was the next to get up, with immense annoyance at Johnny's bubbly smile as he jumped up and down on my bed. I usually proceeded to wrestle him to the floor and tell him for the hundredth time to let me sleep in next time. As you see, he was younger than me, and although he looked up to me, I was not going to be listened to. So, my days were long, yet filled with fun.
That continued until late in the second week on a very sunny day, fit for endless enjoyment. We had decided to take to the woods, venturing somewhat deeper than usual. The rays of sunlight were breaking through the dense green canvas above us, making it easier to see where we were going. I was chosen as the first to hide that day and quickly dove headlong into the shadows cast by the sunlight, crawling through the underbrush with my eyes nearly shut. Twigs snapped, branches scratched, and thorns stabbed, but I knew that I had to keep moving. Ten more seconds.
"...9...8...7...6..." I could hear him saying in the distance. Ahead of me was another lining of shrubbery, several feet higher than me. This was the perfect place. I nearly dove in, crashing through the branches loud enough that he couldn't possibly have missed the sound.
"...3...2...1. Ready or not, here I come!" Echoed his voice through the trees. I ducked lower, moving silently through the branches, slowly pushing them out of my way as I edged deeper into the tangled foliage. In the distance I could hear our mother calling to us, telling us to come out of the woods. That we weren't supposed to be there. Johnny told her that he was coming and his tiny feet crunched back along the forest floor.
I sighed and stood up, banging my head on a branch overhead. "Ow!" I cried and bent down, pushing back through the immense overgrowth surrounding me. My head was throbbing painfully, bringing a sudden dizzy spell that sent me toppling forward. Luckily, I managed to land in a soft patch of dirt, devoid of any nasty roots. Rolling over, I dusted the sand from my eyes, blinking several times to make sure it was all gone.
About the time I opened my eyes completely was when I saw the skull sitting half buried near the edge of a cluster of saplings. Small vines snaked wildly through the now barren eye sockets, wrapping elegantly around its bleached forehead like an intricate spider web. It seemed so unreal, like the plastic ones filled with candy at Halloween, but I knew otherwise. Slowly, I edged my way towards it, the pain in my own head already forgotten. My arm moved forward, stretching until the tips of my fingers made contact with the bone. I don't remember much else after that, except apparently I came barreling through the woods, screaming at the top of my lungs, and leaped into my mom's arms.
The whole thing with the skull wasn't the scariest part of that day, though I didn't realize it until many years later. What I remember after that was my father, who hadn't gone to the village that day, going back out into the woods with me. I was shaking uncontrollably, but him being there somehow gave me the courage. I showed him where it was and he told me that I could go back. It was when I returned that my grandparents came outside, and to our surprise began screaming at Johnny and me for going out there at all. I had never seen them like this, and it seemed that neither had my mom because she immediately pulled us away from them and began yelling back. Johnny poked me in the side and I looked over at him.
"Why are you crying?" He asked. I felt a tear tickle my right cheek, as it rolled to the edge of my jaw.
"I don't know. Never saw them yell like this." I replied. Everything seemed to be crashing down on our usually fun day. Johnny reached out and hugged me tightly. At this point I couldn't conceal the tears any longer and began sobbing. They didn't even look, still arguing incoherently several feet away.
Our father emerged a few minutes later, his hands, stained brown with dirt, carried a tattered cloth, partially blackened from what could only be a fire, which covered what I assumed to be the outline of the skull I had seen. He approached our mother and grandparents, never uttering a word as he held the cloth out to our grandfather. The bickering ceased instantly.
That was when our mother came and asked us to go inside. She tried smiling, but I could see the sadness in her eyes.
"We need to be alone for a little while." She said. "Don't worry..." She trailed off, then silently walked away. I could see her shoulders trembling as she moved towards her parents. Something about the way she held herself, as if she lost something so special to her. I still can't explain it to this day, and I don't think that she could either.
By the time dusk settled that evening, we were driving towards the main village, our packed bags stuffed in the crevices between our silent forms. Our mother was looking at the plane tickets in her hands, occasionally turning her eyes to the road, but she didn't speak for the rest of the night. Dad left her alone and made the hotel arrangements that night, as well as changing our flight for the next afternoon. He spoke to us occasionally, usually to tell us to take care of little things. I remember asking him once what happened with my grandparents, and he just told me to ask when I was older.
I never got that chance because my father died of a heart attack several years later. But I still got my answer. It was while rummaging through the attic, when I found a tiny box stuffed in an old jacket of his. Within it rested the tattered piece of fabric, still retaining its dark brown color through the dark stains of soil. On that fabric, with the uneven stitches still holding it down, was a six sided star. The Star of David.