Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Forty-Four
3rd June 1972
Recently, Nella had become aware of how things had changed as her and Nan as they grew older. A few years earlier they had so closely resembled each other that people really did think they were sisters. Now though, Nella had grown taller, and her hair had gotten darker. Nan said it didn’t matter, that there was more to being family than physical resemblance. The move to Potsdam that occurred every summer was a part of that.
The bank of the river was different from the one they normally walked out to in Plänterwald. It wasn’t same river for starters, and it was a lake as this point. As if to add emphasis, a speedboat was cruising along, and the distant noise of the engine was ruining the quiet that normally prevailed in the vast artificial forest that their family owned.
Nella and Nan had decided to make the walk after Freddy had told all about his childhood adventures in these woods and they had been joined by Mirai. He had played Robin Hood and had even attempted to build a raft after he had read the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The entire time his constant companions had been his foxhound Ueli and Kiki if he could convince her to put down her latest book.
Nella had pointed out just how lonely Freddy must have been in those days. Both of them knew a thing or two about that having had very isolated early childhoods. It was something that had happened to them for different reasons. For Nella it was because she had been kept under tight security while the less said about Nan’s situation and the psychopath who imprisoned her mother the better. It was a subject that Nella had gotten an abrupt education in. As her mother had told her, some doors should remain closed.
A few months earlier Nella and Nan had watched a program of the sort that their mother would not have approved of. It was a documentary all about the Hinterkaifeck murders, how the crime had remained unsolved. It was the sort of illicit fun they had many times before.
Then it wasn’t fun anymore.
The program switched topics to the Landshut case which had started off harmless enough. Forensic experts excavating unmarked graves and carefully removing the bones from the soil so that they could reveal their secrets. It was something that Nella found infinitely fascinating. It was all so dry, the experts explaining how their findings. Nella knew that they were describing terrible things, but she was detached from the whole thing. In this case they mentioned finding the remains of three women and five children who had died at different times, often years apart, from a single gunshot to the back of the head. Then they showed a picture of the man who they said had done it.
When Nella turned to Nan to crack a joke about how silly the man looked in his old-fashioned glasses, she noticed that Nan had gone white as a sheet and was quivering in fear. As that was going on, the Narrator said that Himmler had this twisted idea that humans should be bred like any other livestock. Then had come the harsh truth that had smashed in like a locomotive jumping the track. He had not given the children proper names, instead numbering them. One through five had proven disappointing and had been murdered, six was slated for elimination. It seemed that was what had set the final violent act into motion. There was some speculation about what become of Subject Six but seeing Nan sitting on the couch having gone completely catatonic Nella instantly knew what the answer was. Minutes later Nella had an inkling about how much trouble she was in because her mother was calling her by her actual name, Antonia, as she watched as Nan was drugged because she was starting to make weird noises. Only afterwards had it occurred to her that her mother had everything on hand. Had this been anticipated?
Now, months later, Nan was back mostly to her old self but there was a brittleness that wasn’t there before. Their mother said that it was because Nan had learned that she was truly alone in the world in a way that Nella would probably have a difficult time understanding.
Walking along the bank of a river on a sunny weekend afternoon all of that seemed very remote.
Years earlier, the Moondogs had written She walks in Sunshine as a not-so-subtle dig at Zella’s apparent superficiality. Admittedly she had taken it badly at the time. Still though, how many people could say that a song had been written about them by a band that had come to be so large?
Today it was a bit different though as Zella listened to the latest solo single that John had written and produced over the winter as the Moondogs had taken a hiatus so that everyone in the band could take a break after years of nearly constant touring and recording sessions. Side A had been a traditional folk song, The Recruiting Sergeant, that he had put his own spin on. The detail that he had played up was that with only slight changes to the lyrics the song could have been written at any time in the last two hundred years. It detailed how a young man hoping to escape his impoverished life in Northern England doesn’t find the adventure he was promised, but a life of hardship in the jungles of South-East Asia in the remaining outposts of the British Empire. The final verse implies that only death awaited them and if they should meet the Recruiting Sergeant they should run away.
Side B though, that was special. Kristy on the Water detailed how the “Kristy” in the song sought freedom from a life not of her choosing on the rivers and canals. The geography was vague with the River Mersey being mentioned, but it was obvious who had inspired that song. Zella knew that “Kristy” would probably hate it, but it wonderfully captured who she was and why she did what she was doing.