Chapter 4: Out of the Pot...
2.10.2002 Edited by , every Sunday.
After a few months in the POW camp, Bjorn found his conditions much more bearable than he had expected. He was fed three meals a day, given a place to sleep and told exactly what to do. Everything was as straightforward as possible. Traffic, bills and, best of all, any remnants of real social contact were a thing of the past and Bjorn didn’t mind one bit.
One day, though, his steady routine was brought to a screeching halt. The German officer that usually brought him his morning rations of fried mash arrived with a set of keys. He unlocked Bjorn’s cell and, with a grunt, handed Bjorn his army-issued uniform, astoundingly still with the pills in its pockets, and motioned at Bjorn to join the group of men that was quickly gathering at the end of the yard.
A young man bellowed to Bjorn in a southern drawl, “Can you believe it, the Kaiser’s given up!”
The crowd bustled with movement and excited discussion for several more minutes as other newly released prisoners joined the group. A portly senior officer eventually took charge by elevating himself on one of several crates that had been placed in the yard for use by the German officers. After some semblance of order had been restored, he updated the crowd.
“I’m Officer Huddles of the 51st division out of Albany. Now, I’ve been told by the German officers that the war is over! They surrendered last week and I think it’s safe to say that we can give all the credit to the fightin’ spirit of us ‘Mericans. And don’t let any frogs or stuck up Brits ever tell you different!”
Loud cheering interrupted him for several moments, but he soon continued.
“Now, we’re going to get everyone to separate into your divisions. You’ll be taking the train to the coast and then going ‘cross the ocean to Boston or New York City. Happy trails.” He stepped off the crate and headed to the far end of the yard, where most of the men seemed to be congregating.
Bjorn was swept to the other end by the men surrounding him. When he arrived, an extremely tall man approached him, “You from Kansas? 32nd division?”
“No, Washington.” As the words left his mouth, Bjorn cursed his stupidity.
“You want the 15th on the left, then.”
Bjorn exhaled a sigh of relief as he followed the man’s outstretched finger. The 15th was the smallest of the three divisions and Bjorn joined a group of 40 or so men.
“Someone from the Albany division told me that they’re saying there’s nothin’ but good when we’re back.” Bjorn overheard a very young man, adorned with acne more than facial hair, speaking to another soldier. “The thing to do is the ‘stock market’. It’ll be good at first, but I hear that by ’33, it should be booming.”
Bjorn vaguely remembered his history lessons from high school. “I’d get out of that by September of ’29 at the latest.”
The boy turned, surprised. “Why’s that?”
“Call it a hunch.”
Bjorn arrived in Washington a couple weeks later, ready to kiss the man who pioneered commercial air travel. As he left the boat, along with hundreds of other men who had been fighting in France, he found himself overwhelmed by the hoards of people waiting to greet them. Bjorn made his way through the crowd and quickly found himself in a foreign place.
On one hand, he recognized the docks and many of the buildings were the same as before (well, after) only astronomically newer. But beyond those, he was confused. Where were the slums, the dirt, the poverty? Washington wasn’t a complete dump. It reminded him of the vision he had been given of Montreal, Canada when it was described to him as a beautiful, cultural city only to arrive there to find it very, very dirty.
He slowly made his way to the capitol building, stopping along the way at a small deli to buy a lunch of a shaved ham sandwich and a pickle. He had been given fifty dollars just prior to leaving the boat and thanked for his service to the country. He still had the large bag of pills that had seemed to transport him to WWI, but if he went to these depths after taking one, he was afraid where another might lead him.
Suddenly, Bjorn was knocked off his feet.
Not literally knocked off his feet, that is, but rather astounded. Among the crowds that were filling the streets around the capitol building were two men that seemed completely out of place. One was rather short and dressed in what must have been an antique British army red coat, even in 1918. The other was somewhat larger, both in height and girth, and was adorned with a traditional Scottish kilt and the accessories to match.
They were conspicuously walking together, in a very sneaky manner, and they were looking directly at Bjorn.
Bjorn dropped his sandwich and began to run. The two men immediately followed. Bjorn began sprinting vaguely northwest and soon found himself running along Pennsylvania avenue. The Scot had long since dropped off, a result of Bjorn’s track ability, but the Brit was still hanging on his tail. Bjorn took a sharp left, made a small loop, and returned onto Pennsylvania. It hadn’t worked.
He continued running, passing the White House, but only looking to his right slightly to glance at it on the way by. As he headed towards the Washington monument, Bjorn began to tire quickly, and it became apparent that he wasn’t going to drop his mysterious stalker by running. He spotted a tourist bus closing its doors, ready to leave and jumped on the back. The bus left and began back the other way on Pennsylvania.
Bjorn exhaled deeply as he sat on the steps of the Lincoln monument. Lincoln had always had a mysterious hold on him as a child. His good posture and his stern face gave Bjorn a feeling of comfort when things seemed to be far too confusing. Bjorn was somewhat under Abe’s trance when the taxi pulled up. The British soldier mounted the stairs, two at a time, and rested him arm on Bjorn’s shoulder.
“Hello, old chap! I’m going to have to ask you to come with me.”
Bjorn had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. He pulled one of the pills from the bag and quickly swallowed it. Bjorn felt an impending sense of doom as the recognizable tugging sensation began in his stomach…
By Ben Piper