The Shepherds Choice

The Shepherds Choice

A Story by Eric Krups
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A shepherd living peacefully alone in his country home is suddenly faced with an important life threatening choice

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The Shepherds Choice

Eric Krups

 

Christoph placed the black book down on his table. His brow was furrowed with distraught as he stared at the gold etched text ‘Mein Kampf”. Hitler’s views were disturbing to say the least. Christoph waved his concerns away and rose to make his way to the window. Looking out he saw the green pastures dotted with sheep. A winding dirt road snaked through the land towards his lone country home. In the distance tall fir trees stood silent watch, marking the edge of Christoph’s property and the beginning of the forest. Out here he was alone. He and his sheep were the only living creatures. The fact that he was alone made the sudden knocking at his door very peculiar.

He made his way towards the door wondering who it might be. Perhaps it was Heinz, the horse breeder who lived a few miles away. It was not Heinz. As he opened the door Christoph found himself looking at three strangers. There was a man with a woman who was clasping a baby to her chest. Their faces were gaunt, their eyes frightened. Christoph recognized them as Jews.

“Please, can you help us?” the man asked. The woman looked nervously over her shoulder but there was nothing but fields and sheep. Christoph was suddenly faced with an unexpected choice. To send the family away would be cruel. They were hungry, tired, and clearly in need of help. However to take them in could mean death if they were found. Christoph licked his lips anxiously then looked around with darting eyes. Still no one out there. “Please,” the man begged. Reluctantly Christoph stepped aside and motioned the family in. He shut the door quickly behind them.

“Thank you,” the man said. “My name is Joseph Klein. This is my wife Ruth and our son Isaac.”

“Christoph,” Christoph said.

“It’s a pleasure,” Joseph replied. Not really Christoph thought to himself. “Where are you from?” he said instead.

“Berlin,” Joseph answered.

“You’re a long way from Berlin.”

“We’re trying to leave the country.” Christoph nodded his understanding. “You can stay the night here,” Christoph said.

“Thank you,” Joseph said. Joseph looked to his wife. She glanced up from the baby in her arms and added, “Thank you sir.”

“Please, sit. I was about to make dinner.” The couple sat in his worn wooden chairs by the kitchen table. Joseph rubbed a comforting hand on his wife’s shoulder. Christoph placed a couple logs in his wood stove and lit a fire. The warm orange glow cast a series of dancing shadows over the room. Christoph looked into the pot of stew he’d prepared earlier for himself. He’d need to make more now. “Do you eat rabbit?” Christoph asked.

“We’ll eat anything,” Joseph said.

“Okay. Wait here, I’m going to get water.” Christoph left the house. Stepping out he took in a deep calming breath. What was he thinking? He couldn’t keep these people here. It was too dangerous. He resolved to send them away after he fed them.

After returning from the well Christoph entered the house. As he walked in he saw Joseph holding a black book. “Is this yours?” Joseph asked, a tinge of nervousness in his voice.

“Yes. It is mine,” Christoph said. He placed the bucket of water on the counter, wincing at a pain in his back as he did. He turned to face the Jewish family. “The book is mine but the ideology is not. You have nothing to fear from me.” Joseph became visibly more relieved. He placed the book gently back on the table then eyed it as if it would come to life and attack him. Christoph said no more and went to work on the stew.

As they ate their meal many thoughts traveled through Christoph’s head. The sun was setting as the cold of night started creeping into the home. The fire still burned, illuminating the gaunt hollow face of Joseph. Once he might have been handsome but now he was ragged and weary looking. His sunken eyes were sad and dull, his body thin under his baggy dust covered clothes. How could Christoph send them away? What decent human being would force these poor people out?

There was a sudden loud crash outside. Christoph jumped from his seat in alarm. The Nazi’s were here. The S.S was out there waiting for him. He’d open the door and be shot down like a dog. Christoph ran to his small bedroom. He threw open the lid of his trunk at the foot of the bed. Inside were a number of things; his old army uniform, a flask, some worthless medals, and his rifle. He took the rifle, scooped up a handful of the bullets scattered in the trunk, and went back to the main room. Joseph was pale and frantic, but his wife kept calm by focusing on the baby. Joseph looked to Christoph for direction. “Under my bed is a hatch to the cellar. Hide and be quiet,” Christoph ordered. With a nod Joseph grabbed Ruth and pulled her along to the bedroom.

Christoph loaded his rifle with a familiar click. He took a deep steadying breathe. Summoning his bravery he thrust open the door. A loud bang echoed across the fields and through the night. Christoph lowered his gun and looked in confusion at his dead sheep. Glancing around, he saw no one else. He did notice that his shovel that had been leaning against the house had been knocked over. Christoph went back inside.

Christoph put his rifle back in the trunk. He pushed the bed aside and opened the hatch. Light shone down on the frightened faces of the couple. “What happened?” Joseph asked.

“I shot a sheep,” Christoph answered.

Later that night Christoph carried the sheep’s corpse into a shed. He’d harvest the meat in the morning, for now he just wanted it someplace the wolves couldn’t get it. Inside the family of three were soundly asleep. They lay together, curled up under a wool blanket by the dying fire. Christoph had decided to let them stay after all.

The morning soon came and Christoph found himself enjoying the company of his guests. After being alone for so long he had to admit that he liked having someone to talk to. The three of them talked over a breakfast of bread and cheese. Joseph did most of the talking. Christoph looked at his watch and let out a sigh. “I must tend to my flock. I’ll be back in a few hours. Make yourselves at home,” Christoph said.

The day was warm, the sky clear, and a pleasant fragrance wafted through the air. All was well. Christoph had done the right thing. He whistled cheerfully as he made his way towards his herd of sheep. He would be leading them to a different pasture and hour or so away. He had a good feeling about today.

It was midday when Christoph returned. When his home came into view he stopped and stared in horror. Three jeeps were parked outside. Even from a distance he could make out the red Nazi flags flapping from the antenna of the vehicles. For a brief moment Christoph considered running. But where would he go? He breathed in deeply. This could be the last chance he ever got to take in the fresh country air. Then like a soldier going to his doom he marched towards his house.

He was met by a young man in uniform. The blood red band on his arm filled Christoph with dread. Christoph smiled in greeting and said, “Hello there sir, how may I help you?”

“The commander would speak with you,” the soldier replied. “He is waiting inside.” Christoph felt sick but he kept his composure and went inside.

Within there were more soldiers. Three of them stood watchful and silent around the room, much like the watchful trees that guarded his pasture. The fourth man sat at the table flipping through the pages of a black book. “Is this yours?” the man asked.

“Yes. It is mine,” Christoph said.

“You are?”

“Christoph,” Christoph said. “Christoph Schäfer.”

“Well, Mister Schäfer, I am Commander Shultz. While I am pleased to see you’re interested in our Führer’s work, I’m afraid we’ve received some troubling news about you.”

“And what news might that be?”

“A man named Heinz Waltz claims to have seen a group of Jews in these parts. We suspect that they may be here.” Christoph froze. He could feel sweat beading on his brow. He could feel his heart thumping. He could give up Joseph and Ruth. They might let him live then. He could say they snuck in while he was out. He need not give up his life for a couple of strangers.

“I’m afraid I’ve seen no Jews of late,” Christoph said. “You are the first people I’ve seen in weeks.” Shultz frowned. That was not the response he’d wanted. “I hate when people lie to me,” Shultz said with a disappointed sigh. “Take him outside,” Shultz commanded. “The rest of you start searching.”

Christoph was roughly grabbed and shoved out the front door. “Watch him,” the soldier who’d shoved him said to the one guarding the door. Christoph could hear the scraping of furniture as well as the banging and crashing of his home being torn apart inside. Maybe Joseph and Ruth had already escaped. Or maybe not. Either way Christoph was dead. It didn’t matter though. He had done the right thing and that is what mattered. “Why’re you doing this?” Christoph asked the man guarding him.

“I follow orders,” the soldier said.

“But why? What’s the purpose?” The soldier made no reply. “You shouldn’t always do as you’re told. If I’d done everything my commanders told me to do I would’ve died in the Great War.”

“Be quiet,” the soldier said.

“This is absurd. There is a war being fought and yet here you are trashing my home.”

“I said be quiet,” the soldier shot back angrily. Shouting inside interrupted them. They’ve found them Christoph thought.

There was some more shouting before it came to an abrupt end and the door swung open. Joseph came stumbling out as a soldier shoved him with the butt of his rifle. Ruth followed behind him. She was quiet and very pale, her lips pursed as she held back tears. Isaac was crying in her arms. Christoph hadn’t given them up, but they’d been found anyways. Maybe he could have saved himself, but now they were all dead.

Shultz sauntered casually out after them. He threw something that landed at Christoph’s feet. He picked it up and saw that it was a passport. The Star of David was stamped on the paper under the name ‘Joseph Klein’. “They are Jews, Mister Schäfer. That would make you a liar and a traitor.”

“So it would,” Christoph said. Shultz made a gesture and one of the soldiers took hold of Christoph.

They were taken a few feet away from the house then forced onto their knees. Christoph breathed in the smell of grass and basked in the warm light of the sun. Joseph was murmuring things, perhaps a prayer, while holding Ruth’s hand. Ruth was still quiet. With her free arm she rocked Isaac until he stopped crying. Three of the Nazi soldiers lined up behind them. Christoph closed his eyes. A light breeze tussled his hair as the distant baa of a sheep reached his ears. He heard the distinctive familiar click of a rifle behind him. “Please, don’t do this,” Joseph pleaded. Christoph took a deep steadying breath. He had made the right choice.

The grazing sheep looked up as several loud bangs rang throughout the open pastures. When nothing else happened they went back to eating their grass like it was just another normal day.

 

 


© 2015 Eric Krups



Author's Note

Eric Krups
I hope any reviewers will be helpful rather than hateful when offering criticisms. Thanks for reading my work

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Added on February 28, 2015
Last Updated on February 28, 2015
Tags: philosophy, history, existentialism, existential, sheep, Jews, Jewish, Hitler, S.S, WW2, worldwar, war, world, German, Germany, Nazi, decisions, choice, shepherd