USA | Jon Morris
She stood alone in the corridor, the candles cast a dim glow across the empty bar. The air felt stagnant to her, but it was all she had known for months now. She watched as her cigarette smoke flowed from soft, red lips and swirled up to the rafters, joining the endless cloud above that seemed to envelop her entire existence like the shadow of death. Brooke Lorraińe’s eyes fixed on the lonesome rose that stood in solitude atop the windowsill. The color was fading, its crimson petals had dried out and most had fallen off…but it would stay there. Forever. It was intended to be a gift from Jean-Mauríce, her former lover and the bravest man she had ever known.
Doomed by fate, his bravery was only exceeded by his foolishness. It hadn’t been a year since his passing but the memories refused to release their grip on her heart. The two had been in hiding when it happened, taking refuge in the catacombs beneath Paris along with a dozen other lost souls, the only place left where even the Nazis dare not tread. Even on Christmas Day, not a single smile would bloom on their solemn faces. Echoes of laughter emanated from above as the group sat in darkness, dozens of German soldiers in the bar overhead had been celebrating for hours now. Laughing, drinking, and singing songs of their fathers as they praised the day’s “work” for their vile Fuehrer.
Brooke found the laughter unbearable, hearing it play like macabre music as she stared at bones of the dead that sat amongst the catacomb walls. Jean-Mauríce recognized her despair without even looking…and knew only he could bring a smile to her passionate lips on this darkest of days. He immediately insisted on their own celebration, despite the chaos lurking above. Lorraine pleaded to him, clutching his arm and begging him to stay as he climbed the ladder to the streets above.
“The Germans are fools, my love. Their barreled asses are perched high above with their minds clouded in an alcoholic haze, they will never catch me”, he protested as he made way up to the surface. Brooke shuddered with fear, trembling as he climbed higher and higher to the streets. Hours had passed with no sign of her love. The other survivors were almost certain of his fate, but they sat silent as they contemplated their own demons. Brooke Lorraińe paced nervously in fear, never giving up hope. “That damn fool…”, she pondered, “If this ignorance becomes his death, I will kill him again, I swear to it”. The noise from the bar above stopped abruptly. The rest of her group stood and grimaced as they heard screaming and pounding footsteps. Brooke knelt to the ground and hid herself in the shadows, praying that the fascists wouldn’t find the hatchway to their hidden sanctuary. More hollering suddenly erupted, she recoiled in horror as she heard the unforgettable sound of a Nazi truncheon pounding into human flesh. The screaming had faded down as they heard a car drive past and then, silence.
Minutes felt like hours to the group below. Brooke refused to take the uncertainty anymore, she’d be damned before a man would drive her into madness again. She scrambled to her feet and made her way up the ladder. The others let out pleas to stop her, but they fell upon deaf ears as she climbed through the manhole to the streets above. Her head popped above the surface, pivoting about while searching for any sign of the Germans or Jean-Mauríce. The streets had been draped in snow, she couldn’t help notice the agony and irony of such an evil place now covered in the color of purity. Then, her stomach dropped as she saw it.
A lone red rose lay in the snow-covered sidewalk. The only sign of life or color in a city that knew only death and darkness, a hideous joke in the eyes of the fate. Jean-Mauríce’s glove sat atop the rose as if it were protecting it, still wrapped around the stem after being ripped from his hand. She fell to her knees in horror, but not in surprise. A single tear emerged from her glossy brown eyes, it would be her last. Her eyes turned away from the decaying rose as she lit another cigarette, then poised them to the clock above the bar. It was nearing half past midnight.
Le Belle Noir had been home since she’d escaped the catacombs. The bar’s proprietors had found her in the streets and taken her in as their own, but they too would eventually meet their own demise at the hands of the Nazi hordes. Brooke was left alone with La Belle, serving drinks to the occupying bastards who had taken everything from her. Lesser women would have been driven mad from such servitude, but she had learned to deal with these matters in her own fashion. Tonight would be no different… She had just poured herself a drink when they stumbled through the door. There were three of them, two privates and their portly officer who walked with the ungraceful balance of a man who had been fat for quite some time and foresaw a long future of fatness ahead of him.
The floorboards moaned with his every step under his immense girth. Brooke mused if the scoundrel would simply fall through into the basement and break his neck…but quickly changed her mood after realizing what lay beneath their feet. “Güten abend, froline”, he murmured as he plopped onto the barstool, “How are you this evening, beautiful?”. Beautiful. Again. How dare they take the most meaningful word in existence and turn it into filth. She had heard it so many times from these womanizing fools. It had lost its true meaning to her, and she almost resented every night spent at Le Belle Noir. Almost. Brooke remained silent and rolled her eyes in disgust, she leaned against the bar with arms crossed and continued to sip her wine.
“Mein Gott, what is that smell?!”, one of the privates called out. “Rats in the basement”, she replied with nonchalant tone. The privates shook their heads and joined their superior at the bar, Brooke tossed a few glasses at them and began filling them with the decrepit, warm beer that the Germans had favored. The three were drinking heavily and laughing amongst themselves while she paced about. She had just finished filling the officer’s glass again when he placed his hand on her arm. Her eyes immediately shot open with fury. “Slow business, froline?”, he muttered. SLAM! The soldiers jolted as a rusted machete was thrust onto the bar, less than an inch away from the officer’s wrist. Brooke grabbed him by his collar and pulled him forward. She stared him in the eye and pointed to a small jar tucked atop the back of the bar. Inside lay a human hand, preserved in formaldehyde.
“Do you know what this is?”, the officer was too shocked to respond, “This hand used to belong to the first man that touched me in this bar, it belongs to me now”, she dictated with driving conviction. The two officers stood up and tried to unholster their sidearms, but immediately fell down and began clutching their chests in agony. The officer was quaking in fear, then turned back to face Brook Lorraińe, who was still leaning over the bar and sipping her wine. “What….what have you done to us?!”, the officer demanded. Brooke said nothing and stared into his eyes as he clutched his stomach and fell to the floor. A half-smile blossomed on her face as she watched their helplessness, the cyanide had taken effect as the Nazis slowly perished on the ground below. She leaned back against the wall, wine glass in hand, “More rats for the basement…”.