Sneak Peek Sunday–Safe Where It Belongs (part 2, follow the lizard)

Author’s note: this is the continuation of the story from last week’s post. Please scroll to the beginning to read in the correct order. 



“Hei Tiki says the First Fire is here,” Private Hana Parata said, gesturing toward the building where people were going in and out with file cabinets. 

“What did they want with it?” murmured Jarrah Barambah, “They know how to set fire to things.” Jarrah’s hair was white. He thought he was sixty-seven years old, but he may have lost track at  some point. The Australian recruiters had laughed when he had tried to enlist, so he just concentrated on the white men for a while and then followed their songline in his sleep, waking up in a strange green land, like the northern coast, but cool. That was when he had met a man named for a fox, a creature like a dingo, but playful and small. That man had given him a chance to help take back things that had been stolen from his people. 

“The closest thing they have to the First Fire is white phosphorus,” Hana reminded him. “They probably want to find a way to make weapons like the First Fire. Do you know how it works?”

“It came from the sky people. They know how it was made. They brought it so we could learn to make our own fires. But not like it.”

“Yes, our fires burn out in time, unattended.”

“Which is a good thing, most of the time. Still. Properly guarded, it is safe and useful. And if the sky people ever come back, I want us to show them we have kept it properly.”

“Of course. You ever think about modern uses for that? Like fueling a power plant?”

“If we did that, the local whites would steal it from us.” A touch of anger broke through the stoic expression he usually wore. “It was a local man who stole it this time and sold it to the Germans. My tribe found him, and learned from him who bought it. I think the whites would say we saved the government the price of a rope.”

“Do you ever wonder how Australia and New Zealand can be so close and yet still be so far apart? I mean, our peoples never found each other, and then when the colonists come, we end up with different results.”

The Aborigine shrugged. In that one motion was a wealth of unspoken commentary about the cultural differences between them, and as well between the groups of whites who started new societies on their shores. Quirks of geography and history had made their experiences too dissimilar for fair comparison. And yet, here they were, so far away from home and they could find in each other something familiar. 

The tattoos the Maori wore were imbued with magic. Hei Tiki was a figure representing wisdom, insight, and it communicated information to Hana Parata. That sort of thing was helpful, but, as much as white New Zealanders had accepted much of Maori culture into their own, wanting to haka before a battle, for instance– the idea that the tattoos could serve as a sort of spell or resource didn’t make sense to them at all. He’d learned not to talk about it until there was an urgent message he couldn’t ignore, and a name to tell it to; Sir Lynn Fox. That had gotten him a chance to help guard his old unit against an upcoming attack and a reassignment to W.I.T.C.H. Hunters. 

“I can scout ahead,” Private Parata suggested. He was still in uniform and ANZAC enlistees were as likely as any other Allies to have a few men placed to help in joint enterprises. If nothing else, they’d talk to him, as he was wearing the right uniform and quite obviously not German. But few people resisted a pair of willing hands when there was plenty of work to be done. 

“No. They will be done soon enough, and I can wait better with company. When they are gone, we go in like the swan gliding by at night, unheard and unseen.”

“Here the swans are white,” Parata reminded him. “But since we are not, you are correct.”

While they waited, they sat in the shade of a building and talked quietly. Parata asked about what Barambah’s people had done with the fire and learned they’d used it it cultivate the land, clearing spaces amid the trees to grow their favorite plants, creating other, grassy spaces to give the kangaroo places to eat that weren’t their gardens, and then replacing their cropland with new trees and starting again elsewhere. 

“And the thing about using the First Fire to start it,” Barambah said, “is the damn hawks can’t take that heat. It’s just enough that they don’t go start burns of their own.”

“Your hawks start fires?”

“It helps them hunt.”

“Our parrots can kill sheep,” Parata countered with. Then he added, “We lost our land ownership, so they aren’t our sheep. Frankly, some of us have taken lambs and left feathers.” They laughed together. 

Then they heard engines starting, and watched the occupation trucks pull away. But there was one Jeep left. Parata shifted. “We could probably get past anyone left.”

Barambah looked up at him and shook his head. “You’re young. All young men cannot wait. Which is silly, because you have so much more time coming than I do. Wait a little longer. We will see what happens.”

The last four men came to the door. An American major came out, along with a lieutenant with several small boxes under one arm. They were escorted by two enlisted MPs. The MPs took up stations at the door and the officers got into the Jeep and drove off. 

Parata thought he could take the remaining guards, but before he rose to his feet again, he saw a lizard scurry by his feet. That didn’t seem odd, even in this climate. Every bombed city seemed to have small animals that sought the shelter easily provided by rubble. But both men watched it run around the remnants of a wall and followed. For Parata, there were legends of spirits using lizards to communicate to people. Barambah was reminded of Alinga the Lizard Man trying to get at a great boomerang under Uluru and wondered idly if this lizard also wanted to get at something hidden. Accordingly, both men followed the lizard out of curiosity and saw it disappear into a hole in a trap door.

“We should follow it,”  both men said together. 

The trap door, when raised, revealed a set of stairs. Hana Parata pulled an electric torch from his kit and shined the light ahead of them. “I think this might go to a bunker under the compound.” For people who started so many wars, the German military seemed fearful of the consequences.

What they found as they went forward, however,  didn’t seem to be any kind of air raid shelter. The stone-lined passage they walked down eventually opened onto alcoves. In the first one, a stone head was displayed. In place of hair, it had snakes carved into it. But it was not displayed facing out toward the passage. Instead, it faced a cloudy mirror behind it and her startled face could only be seen in the reflection. 

This time it was Parata who stopped his older companion from getting into trouble. As Jarrah reached forward, Hana stayed his hand and said, “No good will come of playing with it. It was set that way for safety.”

The next alcove had a sword of Japanese design, sitting on a stand with the blade facing upward. Moving on, they saw another sword, carefully encased in a leather sheath. 

“This is more like a museum than an air raid shelter,” Jarrah said. “I like museums, when I can get in. They tell you what people think are important. Of course, weapons are important in a time of war, but why these? They must have stories.”

“I am sure they do,” said Hana. “We will tell Fox about this. He will know more about how to handle these things than we do. Let’s stick to our business. Your First Fire. It might even be down here.”

“No. There are stones in the walls to keep the dirt from crumbling, but the bracers are wood. You cannot have the First Fire here. What is that by your foot?”

The private looked down. There was a strip of something, cloth he thought at first, but rather, more like very thin leather. It led deeper into the passage and he turned the light to follow it. As far as he could see, it didn’t end, but at one point, turned around a bend or into another alcove. Impulsively, he followed it, not studying the other alcoves. 

His urgency may have come from a hint of sound he thought he heard from the same place, a murmur that may have been nothing. The Australian followed but stopped shortly. “There are numbers on one section.”

“It leads here,” Hana said, as he stopped at another alcove. “Oh, no,” he moaned, staring at what was there.


To Be Continued…

Sneak Peek Sunday– Safe Where It Belongs

 This is one of the stories from W.I.T.C.H. Hunters Forever. I will be posting it in sections. I hope you like it. It takes place between Victory in Europe and the Nuremberg Trials.

Safe Where it Belongs 

“Lock, label, and ship out those file cabinets. We’ll go through them and condense the information later,” Major Rafael Jones instructed his team. There were a lot of file cabinets. Each file was a prisoner that had been taken here. A total of fourteen had been rescued when the place fell to the western Allies.

It was called a research facility. It was a war crime. They’d sent Allied prisoners here. They had also sent civilians, and that was something that had been given a name: crimes against humanity.

A young man, just a couple of years out of law school, was with Jones, as the second in rank. He was Lieutenant Paul Smith. He nodded, “We want the commanding officer’s records, most of all. We need direct orders from people higher up. We want to track everything back up the chain of command as high as we can.”

They moved further along the main corridor of the building as they talked. Jones said in a friendly way, “Just like a mob round up. I may not have finished college, but I have some experience with the needs of the prosecution. Let’s see. I think the commanding officer’s office is going to be around here. Look at the upper edge of the wall. There’s wires there. Antennae for wireless reception, and some other lines, too. Trace those to the communications room, that will be right next to the commanding officer’s.”

The young man took that in. “How long have you been a policeman?”

“Since 1930. They were hiring, and I figured I wouldn’t get bored doing it. I was pretty much right about that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated, wanting to accomplish more. The best days, you get there before the worst happens.”

“And then, there’s today.” Smith said it with a trace of sadness of his own, as well as understanding. “I understand the survivors have already given statements.”

“For what the statements are worth. I’m not sure the levitating bell that kills people with sound is going to be something to lead with. Especially since they didn’t see it first hand. Still, they’ve given specific actions by their guards that will put those men behind bars.”

He opened a couple of doors. The first was, as he predicted, a communications room, small, with several devices, including one of those Enigma machines, and multiple radios with headsets. There were two stations for workers to take down and send out messages. It was of no particular interest to their investigation, but the next door down was what they were looking for. The commanding officer wouldn’t be going to trial. He was another one who hadn’t wanted to face the consequences of his actions. According to the troops who had secured the facility, they’d had the local coroner or whatever the equivalent was take possession of the body and handle the job of identifying the cause of death– although the bullet entry wound on his temple was noted. That was appropriate. A verdict of suicide would sound better coming from a local source, and the Allies had enough to keep them busy.

“I’ll bag and tag anything I find with writing, even a shopping list, just in case it’s the key to a code,” remarked Rafael. “If you see film or any kind of recordings, give me a holler. Documentation can come in many forms. Some of these places filmed their atrocities and I imagine that’s all the more likely when they are calling it research.”

Paul looked in some cabinets. Opening the first door, he said, “I have definitely found some pear brandy, and I don’t even know what that tastes like, do you?”

“No, but… if you want to confiscate some of that evidence, we could probably investigate it further after the day’s work is done.” It wouldn’t be the first time a few drinks had helped wash away thoughts about what had happened, not on the battlefield, but in the cold planned destruction of everyone the Nazis deemed unworthy of a place in their Reich.

“Sounds good. And I’ve got some film reels, you were probably right, unless this is a girly movie for troop morale.”

“Either way, we’ll have to have a look. Let’s hope it’s dancing girls.” Rafael finished packing up the paperwork from the officer’s desk. “Hey, what’s that?”

He approached a portrait of Hitler that hung on the wall, just a trifle askew.

“Something for the target range?” suggested Paul.

“I mean, when a picture isn’t straight, sometimes,” Rafael took it off the wall, “There’s a safe behind it.”

“You don’t say,” Paul came over, eyeing it with interest.

“I’ll send a runner to get some tools so we can drill it.”

“No need,” Paul told him. He was rubbing his fingertips together as he said it. “Look, the Smith isn’t just a name. My dad was a locksmith. I used to help out around the shop, and I think I can get this open with what we have on hand.”

“It’s not someone’s hope chest, this is real high security stuff. You can really do it?”

Paul had already removed a screwdriver from his pocket and was unscrewing a metal plate with the name of the safe manufacturer on it. “There’s usually a bypass here that allows us to avoid the combination entirely. Are there any keys in the desk?”

“Ah,” Rafael went back and started looking. “I didn’t notice anything first time around, but there could be something under paperclips or in the box of staples. Good places to hide small things, always handy but never obvious.” “Nothing on one. I have a click on two… two is in a false set. Three is binding, four is binding, nothing on five or six. Let me go back…” The words Paul was saying to guide himself were almost like a song or a meditation, thought Rafael. He was distracted from the search for the key and doubted he needed to find it.

“Six is binding. Six is set. I’ve got something, I’ve lost five. Four is set. Three is moving; it was in a false set. I have it in place now. Two is binding. Two is set. One is set. Back to five and…” Paul turned a bent clip he’d used as a tensioning tool. There was a click and the door sprung open.

Inside the safe was nothing but a fire. Paul gasped and stepped back. “That’s scorching!”

Rafael stared at it. “They must have started the fire, then closed the safe. Without air, it’s been smoldering all this time. That’s why it can still burn. I guess we’ve lost some documents, or maybe some valuables they didn’t want us to get. Either way, we can just let it burn itself out. We don’t want the fire to spread, though.” He had leather gloves and strode forward quickly, closing it.

“That is hot. But at least this should exclude sparks. Anything else you think we should check for here? No sense trying the safe again until the fire is really dead or we have an extinguisher.” Major Jones was the senior officer, but the attorney would be organizing the information for the prosecution and any ideas he had were worth using to focus the collection. Besides, the young prosecutor clearly had some unusual interests of his own, suited for uncovering secrets. They cleared out much of the building, and took photographs of some sites and equipment that couldn’t be taken to the courtroom.

They had no idea there were others nearby with interest in the contents of the complex.

TO BE CONTINUED…

W.I.T.C.H. Hunters Forever update

 I know it’s taken longer than expected, but life got in the way. This weekend we have gotten everything formatted for the proof copy except the back cover. I need to choose a photo!


Maybe this random one  will work. Might just be odd enough for a story collection about witches, spies, mysteries, and sabotage!