Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Wall

This week, I'm participating in Chuck Wendig's flash fiction challenge. At 2,000 words it's really a short story, but it was fun to play with. He listed 20 genres and 20 subgenres and a random number generator was responsible for the genre-mesh we had to write. My chosen two were Urban fantasy and alternate history. I knew this would be a challenge, because I don't write in any of these genres.

Without further ado:

The Wall by Lauren Greene
1998 words

On August 13, 1961, they started building the wall.  I remember, because that night my mother tucked me into bed and whispered to me, “Ada, from now on we will be safe. From them. They won’t be able to get us.”

I heard snippets on the news broadcasts, “Communists and Fascists.” I saw his fist slam against the table as my father shouted, “It’s not right. They’re cutting off families.”

But my mother, she said it was right. She was the voice of reason whispered in my ear. I remembered her words: It will keep us safe from them.

Twenty-eight years later, my mother’s voice still seemed to be whispering those words into my ears, even from her grave. Cancer, they had said. My mother had wasted away, and within six weeks of the diagnosis they were putting her in the hard, cold ground. Then my father had drank himself nearly to death, and I never took off my black mourning clothes.  Some say I was responsible for the start of the Goth subculture, but I don’t know if I’d go that far.

The wall ran right through my street, an ugly sight of gray concrete rising up from the ground and capped with a circular piece, supposedly to deter climbers. My neighbor, Mr. Millicent’s, elderly mother lived on the other side. He received permits to go over the wall and into West Germany to visit.

“What’s it like over there?”

“Different. More freedom. The wall on that side is covered in graffiti. They talk about unification.”

I was horrified, remembering the drawings my mother had made in the leather-bound book and her words of warning.

“Is your mother safe?” I asked him.

“They say it’s safer than here. They have policemen roaming the street, but no armed guards.”

I was shocked by this. But, what if? I didn’t express my concern to him, just nodded and continued to eat the cookie he had given me, and took a sip of my coffee. Dark and rich, just the way I liked it.

“There is some talk, from the government, that they are going to tear it down,” Mr. Millicent said, as he stirred his cream into his coffee.

I met his eyes, and I knew the expression on my face was akin to The Scream. 

“I will be glad,” Mr. Millicent continued. “My mother is elderly, and she needs someone to take care of her. Visiting doesn’t cut it.”

“There’s been talk before,” I said. “Nothing comes of it, as well it shouldn’t.”

“I’m surprised, Ada. For such an artistic lady as you, the West seems to be the place you should be.”

I wondered who I could talk to.  Were they really going to tear the wall down? I knew for a fact the government knew what was really on the other side, even if they kept it from their civilians. I’d heard all about the civilian deaths, about people who went from the East to the West for a visit and never came back. 

I stood up and delivered the chipped rose-colored tea cup to the sink, twisting it in my hand and thinking about Mr. Millicent cut off from his mother, just on the other side of the wall, within waving distance. I turned back toward him, propping myself against the counter.

“I’m going down to Museum Island today.”

“Oh yeah. I hear they’re thinking about doing something about that, renovating. What do you want there? Walk the ruins?”

“It’s beautiful. My mother used to tell me stories of before the war, about how the museums were. I’d like to walk around and feel her presence.”

“Oh yes. The anniversary, right?”

I nodded, looking down at the grungy tile on the floor, feeling the familiarity of the grief rising up within me, threatening to take over. It never got easier, losing your parent, even if it had been eighteen years.

“Talked to your dad lately?”

I shook my head, looked away, and gathered my coat from the back of the chair, sliding my arms into it.

“You should give him a call. I heard rehab worked for him this time. He wants to change, Ada.”

“He has my number. He knows where I live.”

I felt underdressed when I came out of the train near Museum Island. The breeze seemed to have kicked up, the water in the canals rippled, and the wind chilled me to the bone. The Altes Museum was the only one open, the others were busy falling into ruin and decay. Such a shame; all the history here was falling by the wayside, and I hoped what Mr. Millicent said about renovations was true.  
I was standing in front of Thronende, when I felt the weight of somebody’s hand placed on my shoulder. I turned around to see familiar eyes that I hadn’t seen in years. I knew the face, he was the little boy who lived across the street from us in West Berlin, before the wall was built. I had played with him, running through the streets; memories of my childhood swept through me like a wave.


“Hannes Nimitz,” I said. The fear caught in my throat, and I felt it swell. My mother had told me he was one of them: a shape-shifter. The little boy I had played with was one of them.
His hand was still on my shoulder, and I had turned slightly toward him. I could see the coarse hair freckling the back of his hands, creeping slowly out of his jacket the way vines crept up trees. 

“How did you get here?”

“East, you mean? I’m part of an envoy to your government, to encourage them to tear down the wall.”

“Did you run out of food on that side?”

I couldn’t believe I was standing here, next to him, in the Altes. My whole body seemed to shake with fear, and he was still touching my shoulder. My mother had drawn pictures in the book. The transformation from man to wild boar. Shoulders slumped, falling to the ground as hooves took the place of their feet and tusks protruded from their mouths. I stared at Hannes Nimitz’s mouth and noticed his canines were large, “the better to eat you with,” I thought of the old familiar lines of 
“Little Red Riding Hood.” 

“You know, don’t you?” he asked, hand still sitting on my shoulder.

I nodded, and I tried to back away but he tightened his grip. My breathing came rapidly, as I tried to pull away from him.

“It’s a lie, Ada.”

“My mother wouldn’t create monsters like that if they weren’t true.”

He moved closer to me, pushed his face into mine and whispered the words through clenched teeth. 

“It’s true, but we aren’t dangerous. Not in the way your mother thought.”

My whole world seemed to come crashing down. I thought of the tales my mother had told me of the West Germans stealing babies from their cradles, devouring them and leaving only empty bonnets in their cribs. Why would she create such horrible stories?

“Think about it? Did I ever put you in danger? Did my parents?”

I thought back on my carefree days as a child and I shook my head, but I still felt small and weak in his presence. My mother had drawn those pictures, of Hitler, and what he had done to all those people. I had never understood why he had starved them half to death before he killed them, but my mother had explained that boars liked bones. 

“What about Hitler?”

He dropped his hand down to his side, and looked me in the eye as if he was challenging me. We strolled through the gallery, which seemed so romantic but the reality of the situation was far from it.

“There are some corrupt shifters. Just like there are some corrupt politicians. Do you really think a wall could keep us out?”

We were standing in front of the bust of Nefertiti. I looked out of the windows, surprised to see rain, when it had felt cold enough for snow. The gray colds seemed to be taking over the whole sky. I looked him in the eyes, and something wild and free looked back at me. I hadn’t felt free for years, trapped by my fears of this world, trapped by my fears of him.

I thought of him in his lederhosen as a little boy, running down the street in front of our houses, before we had been separated by the wall. The smile he always had plastered on his face and the twinkling in his eyes. Even at that age, he knew he had to pretend he was someone he was not. I understood that, pretending for all these years along with all the East Germans that the only danger on the other side of the wall was democracy.  

I grabbed his wrist, and twisted it pulling him toward me with as much force as I could muster. He did not resist, and when he leaned in I thought he was going to kiss me, so I pushed him away.

“I will fight you and your kind for the rest of my life if I have to. I have connections too.”

“Your mother’s dead,” he said, cocking his head at me.

“She fought for us her whole life.”

“Too bad she’s not here to fight for you anymore,” he said, and turned his back, walking away from me.

When I got home I pulled off my jacket and released my wings, shaking them out until they were full sized. The light danced against the iridescence of the spider silk from which they were woven.  I thought about Hannes Nimitz and how he said shifters weren’t dangerous. In my room, I pulled out the leather bound book my mother had left for me. The first page showed the Nazi symbol and Hitler, morphing from a man to a boar. He had led the fairies into gas chambers, killing millions of us.  My mother had escaped persecution, as had many fairies who kept their wings a secret. Ever since, I had been told to hide who I really was. I wasn’t all that different from Hannes in that respect. I knew I would never feel comfortable releasing my wings in public, although some fairies, as of late, had come out of hiding.

I slid the book back into the drawer, and as I did I heard glass breaking downstairs. I reached down, sliding the knife from the sheath securely attached to my leg. I gripped the bannister tightly with my left hand as I scanned the house for signs of the intruder.

In the hallway, I could hear heavy panting. I turned around, and there he stood, half-man, half-boar, still in the process of shifting.

“The door was open,” he grunted.

I looked at the shards of glass where they were scattered along the floor. I knew he could use them against me. His hooves struck the ground, as if he was about to charge me. His transformation complete now, the eyes of a wild beast replaced the soft blue hue of Hannes’. He didn’t calculate his move, instead he charged at me with his tusks. I knew he didn’t see it coming. He was huge, but I thrust the poison-laced knife directly into his heart. Blood seemed to drain out of him at an alarming rate, as he sunk to the ground and curled up in the fetal position. I watched as his fur slowly disappeared replaced by the gray of his dying skin.  The tusks sank back into his mouth, and I stared at the naked dead man lying in a pool of red in my foyer.

On November 10, 1989, to the tune of “Wind of Change,” the Berlin Wall began to be torn down. It wouldn’t be complete until 1992. Then, I knew the war would begin. 

 You can find more of me:

"No Turning Back," my novel is available:


  1. Love the twist! The incorporation of Museum Isle reminded me of my visit to Berlin. Of course, it was all repaired by the time I went.

  2. Thanks Sara. I've never been to Berlin, but after researching for this story I want to go!

  3. This was amazing! The way you eked out the little details until the big reveal at the end... I think you did a great job on this challenge.

  4. Thanks Ellen. I had so much fun with this challenge. I loved writing in genres I had no experience in. That's what I love about #flashfiction; it teaches you how to be versatile.


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