The Final Word
Written for the 2018 Short Story Speed Writing Competition. I've never tried this before, so hopefully this works! No ownership claimed, nor infringement intended. Though feedback is appreciated!
Barrack Two was relatively quiet as the prisoners of Stalag 13 were perched in various places around the drafty room, trying to conserve energy and body heat. The mid-afternoon sun was streaming in through the window, giving a false aura of cheer. However, rather than complain about the lack of sabotage and underground activities, the core team was taking the opportunity to catch up on their reading, card playing and general boredom.
Andrew Carter was sitting at the communal table, across from his good friend and fellow saboteur, Peter Newkirk. They had started a game of gin early in the day; however both parties had gotten distracted by conversations around the barracks and were only on their third game. All of which Newkirk had suspiciously won.
With the tip of his tongue sticking out of his mouth, Andrew was focused on his hand of cards. Carefully he reached up to select one of his cards, but then shook his head slightly and put his hand down. He reached up again, the card between his fingers and about to pull it out before he changed his mind again. He drummed his fingers on the table for a moment, flicked his eyes at Newkirk for the briefest of moments, before reaching up for another card. This one he paused mid-pull before tapping it back into place.
"For heaven's sake, Andrew!" Newkirk growled, causing Carter to jump and nearly spill his hand of cards. "Will you pick a ruddy card, already? The Allies will be here before we finish this hand if you don't hurry it up!"
Carter answered with his usual, good natured and lopsided grin. He pulled a card out and threw it down on the pile with a flourish. "Go fish!"
Newkirk quirked an eyebrow up in confusion. "First off, I didn't ask you for any cards. Second, that's not even the right bloody game!"
"But you only need a few more cards before you can knock. This isn't one of them. So it seems your reign of terror is over."
Newkirk only rolled his eyes in response.
It was then that the door to the barracks swung open with a bang, rushing in with a gust of wind and snow. A chubby nose peeked in through the door, careful to keep the boots that were attached on the other side of the doorframe. An impressive feat since the bulk between the two was considerably difficult to hide.
"Schultzie!" LeBeau cried from his post at the stove. "You're early, my masterpiece is not quite ready yet."
"Are you sure there, mate?" Newkirk didn't raise his eyes from the cards in his hands. "I thought I when you could smell the garlic and burning rubber it was ready? That's the only thing I've been able to smell for the past two hours."
He raised his hand of cards closer to his mouth to hide the smile tugging at his lips. A quick look from under his eyebrows showed a look of shock on LeBeau's face, before he turned back to his stove, a distinct string of impolite French adjectives being muttered under his breath in Newkirk's direction.
"Oh, LeBeau, it smells WONderful,"Sergeant Schultz poked his head in the rest of the way, careful keep his hands and body on the outside "and I would be pleased to critique it when it is finished. However, for the moment you must promise me you will all stay put."
"Schultz, in or out, would ya?" Newkirk grumbled. "You're letting all of our cold air out. Were you raised in a barn? How can I catch me death of pneumonia if it all goes outside?"
Schultz quickly stepped in and closed the door, mumbling an apology. His hands stayed firmly behind his back. "That did not sound like a promise. Do not move or I will throw this bag in the fire!" Slowly, he raised a cloth sack above his head.
"Mail!" The prisoners shouted at once and swooped in to grab it from him. Schultz let out a yelp, dropping the bag and waddling out the door as fast as his legs would carry him.
Carter had been the one to rescue the bag from its fate and was appointed the honorary sorter. "LeBeau! Kinch! Anderson! Davies! Bordeaux! Hey, this one's for me!"
Finally, he reached the bottom of the pile, nearly everyone receiving something. "Hey, Newkirk! I think this one's from your sister! It looks an awful lot like her handwriting."
Newkirk grinned as he grabbed it and climbed up into his bunk. He snuggled and got comfortable before letting out a big sigh and opening his envelope.
It took nearly ten minutes before the Carter realized Newkirk wasn't sharing his news from home like the rest of them. He looked up from his seat at the table. His English friend was staring straight ahead with unseeing eyes, the paper trembling ever so slightly in his hands. Carefully he stood and made his way over to the bunk. "Peter? Was there something bad in your letter?"
Newkirk's eyes focused as he shook his head clear. "Wha? Did you say something?"
"I asked if you got bad news." Carter tried again. By this time, Kinch and LeBeau trained their ears towards the conversation, even though they pretended to keep their eyes on their own letters."
"Whatever made you think that?" Newkirk laughed. "Absolutely nothing to bother about. You know Mavis. Always on about something." He swung his legs forward over the side of the bunk and sat up, his hands still clutching the letter.
"Just thought you looked a little pale, Buddy, that's all." Carter kept his voice soft. "Almost like you lost your dog, or one of your girlfriends or something. Anything I can help with?"
There was a flash of anger in Newkirk's eyes. With a quick hop he jumped down from his bunk. Immediately, his he crumpled the letter in his hands and tossed it towards the stove as he stalked past, not realizing he missed the fire. "Nothing lost, Mate. How could you lose something you never had?" He threw open the barrack door and stormed out. The slam that closed the door vibrated in their ears.
LeBeau bent down, hesitantly picking up the crumpled paper with two fingers, as if the ink would reach over and sting him. After a mumble of French, most likely a prayer for forgiveness, he opened the wrinkles and folds.
"You were right, it's from Mavis." He said. "Dear Peter. It's Da. He died last week. Just thought you should know."