Blisters obscured the normally tender hands of the young boy. Blood trickled down from one particularly nasty wound that recently busted open. The oars were pulled in and tossed carelessly into the bottom of the tiny canoe when his hand started to bleed. For now, the boy let the waters rock him to and fro as he rested his weary back by lying in the bottom of the boat with the inch or so of seawater that had snuck its way onboard. He was tired, he ached, and he was hungry. Preserving the food for the journey was proving to be difficult. He was only nine after all. Nine years old and had already experienced more pain and loss than most do their entire lives.
Don’t think about it, he swallowed back the recent memories.
The sun blazed high above the rolling waters warming his pale brown skin. The sun was life. He’d missed it for those years underground. Those stolen years. The years without his family.
DON’T THINK ABOUT IT!
He sat up, stretching out the small of his back and looked down at his beaten hands. There was a time in his short life that he didn’t have to think about the pain, in his hands, back, or in his heart. That time was gone.
The boy took a cursory glance at the oars and then looked out at the Mediterranean. Blue water filled his vision in every direction. He sighed and decided that he’d rest a bit more before putting himself back to work. He lay back in the small pool of warm water and closed his eyes.
Just a few more minutes, he thought, that’s all I need, then, back to rowing.
He’d barely registered that he had dozed off until he heard the engine buzzing inside of his head. Slowly, he came back from the land of slumber to discover the sound wasn’t dreams of rescue, but a real possibility. He looked to the sky, squinting as the sun made things more difficult than they needed to be.
He saw nothing.
“Come on, come on. Where are you?”
The sound, loud enough to wake him was beginning to fade, or at least it was in his mind. He crawled to the opposite end of the boat and leaned over the edge straining his eyes and ears to focus on the sound and find anything. The little craft wobbled to the point that the boy may have fallen in if he hadn’t reflexively steadied himself.
“Where are you?” he screamed across the sea.
The sound was fading, and not just in his mind anymore. The echoed reverberation from the unevenness of the sea was losing its drive and the boy was losing his hope. He lowered his head in defeat.
“Come back!” he cried, “come back.” The second time was a fading candle in the dark. He lay his head in his hands and saw Dr. Vogel’s grimy smile on the back of his eyelids. The boy popped his head up with a look of wonder on his face. He deftly moved to what he thought was the safest place on the tiny boat.
“Where was I?”
Once he settled on a spot, he closed his eyes. And just like that, with a brilliant white light, time shifted.
He reopened his eyes, disoriented, as he was falling into the sea. The water was crisp and cold for the time of year; the shock pushed the breath from his lungs. He gasped and swallowed a mouthful of salty sea water. The boy struggled to get back to the surface; the choppy waves separating him from the oxygen that he most definitely needed. He kicked hard with his feet in fast, short bursts and soon found his hands breaking the surface tension followed by his head.
The young boy convulsed, sea water flying from his mouth and nose, and gasped trying to reanimate his burning lungs. His panic debated some once breathing resumed, albeit hitched and sporadic. The boy jerked quickly around the rolling water searching for his small vessel.
No, no, no, he thought, where is it?
He spun again to his left and spotted the boat drifting about three meters away. He hacked and spit more water from his still struggling lungs and swam over to the boat, pulling himself inside in one clean motion. He flopped down into the warm pool that had collected and breathed in shallow and raspy breaths. As he stared off into the fluffy clouds hanging from the blue abyss, he saw the plane coming from the south.
The adrenaline rushed through his small body again and he shot bolt upright keeping his eyes locked on small descending aircraft.
The paddles were back in the blistered, cracked hands before the boy had time to remember the pain of rowing for hours. He watched the plane as he rowed frantically, changing the direction of the canoe to match the direction of the aircraft. It was steadily losing altitude while continuing on its straight path. The boy paddled harder. The fear of losing sight of the airplane hung in the back of his throat burning like acid. As he watched, the landing gear began to lower.
“You’re landing!” he shouted across the water. “Landing, yes!”
The isle of Corsica was within his reach. After the years of bad, he could use some good.
Escape was good, he told himself, now to finish this escape…
After thirty minutes he could see the cliffs in the distance. Within an hour he was in the surf of the isle grinning from ear to ear. He jumped from the canoe when the water was manageable and dragged the little boat onto the rocky shore. He fell to his knees, exhausted, but truly happy.
He collapsed face first in the smooth stones that made up the shoreline and began to weep. Eugene Trickens was finally free from the torture in the underground labs of the Third Reich.