“What is this place?”
The question was repeated again and again through the men of the 3rd Battalion as they each took time to survey the tiny French village.
The oft-repeated words reached the ears of Captain Glenn Thomas in hushed whispers, which echoed the mens’ emotions. There was reverence in their tone; each man sensed the pall of death hanging over the village. Each man’s gut was no doubt churning, the skin on their necks prickling, a warning of some new horror to be faced. His men knew the feeling well, after the misery of the death camps, they’d seen what they assumed was the worst that man was capable of inflicting on his fellow man.
Captain Thomas surveyed the village one more time – the burnt out cars, settled on metal rims where the tires had melted; the shells of bicycles; the quaint stone cottages, now devoid of roof and wood, just gaping, vacant yaws of silence and death.
The wooden door frame had faded with age, the once dark wood now silvered, matching the heavy pegs used to hammer it together long years ago.
The swinging doors were, remarkably, still attached to the hinges. Although they looked solid, she suspected one good push would see them disintegrate.
Above the door, a roughly-hewn sign remained. The long length of lumber had split down middle, but the carefully painted word ‘Saloon’ remained visible, even after decades of systematic abuse by the weather.
“Will you be okay?”
She glanced around, tapping her fingers on the leg of her pants before she nodded.
“Goodnight, then.” He left, closing the door quietly.
She flopped down onto the edge of the bed, exhaustion suddenly becoming overwhelming after what had been an incredibly stressful twenty four hours.
Flopping onto her back, she saw the row of candles, delicately balanced across the day-bed’s head and studied the collection of glossy photos pinned haphazardly to the walls.
She entered the grotto, dumbfounded by the perfection of its beauty. Rock walls encircled a small pool of water, the ragged stone dotted with a few particularly intrepid plants, which clung to the walls precariously.
The water was azure blue and so incredibly clear – she could distinguish every stone, every pebble, even the rocky walls which created the still pool.
Further back, a rock lip created a natural dam; behind it, a short waterfall poured into a separate, smaller lake of crystal-clear water.