Ill race you to the corner, Ellen! Annemarie adjusted the thick leather pack on her back so that her school books balanced evenly. Ready? She looked at her best friend.
Ellen made a face. No, she said, laughing. You know I cant beat you-my legs arent as long. Cant we just walk, like civilized people? She was a stocky ten year-old, unlike lanky Annemarie.
We have to practice for the athletic meet on Friday- I know Im going to win the girls race this week. I was second last week, but Ive been practicing every day. Come on, Ellen, Annmarie pleaded, eyeing the distance to the next corner of the Copenhagen street. Please? Ellen hesitated, then nodded and shifted her own rucksack of books against her shoulders. Oh, all right. Ready, she said.
Go! shouted Annemarie, and the two girls were off, racing along the residential sidewalk. Annemaries silvery blond hair flew behind her, and Ellens dark pigtails bounced against her shoulders.
Wait for me! wailed little Kirsti, left behind, but the two older girls werent listening.
Annemarie outdistanced her friend quickly, even though one of her shoes came untied as she sped along the street called osterbrograde, past the small shops and cafés of her neighborhood here in northeast Copenhagen. Laughing, she skirted an elderly lady in black who carried a shopping bag made of string. A young woman pushing a baby in a carriage moved aside to make way. The corner was just ahead.
Annemarie looked up, panting, just as she reached the corner. Her laughter stopped. Her heart seemed to skip a beat.
Halte! the solider ordered in a stern voice. The German word was familiar as it was frightening. Annemarie had heard it often enough before, but it had never been directed at her until now.
Behind her, Ellen also slowed and stopped. Far back, Kirsti was plodding along, her face in a pout cause the girls hadnt waited for her.
Annemarie stared up. There was two of them. That meant two helmets, two sets of cold eyes glaring at her, and four shiny boots planted firmly on the sidewalk, blocking her path home.
And it meant two rifles, gripped in the hands of the soldiers. She stared at the rifles first. Then, finally, she looked into the face of the soldier who had ordered her to halt.
Why are you running? the harsh voice asked. His Danish was very poor. Three years, Annemarie thought with contempt. Three years theyve been in our country, and still they cant speak our language. I was racing my friend, she answered politely. We have races at school every Friday, and I want to do well, so I Her voice trailed away, the sentence unfinished. Dont talk so much, she told herself. Just answer them, thats all.
She glanced back. Ellen was motionless on the sidewalk, a few yards behind her. Farther back, Kirsti was still sulking, and walking slowly toward the corner. Nearby, a woman had come to the doorway of a shop and was standing silently, watching.
One of the soldiers, the taller one, moved toward her. Annemarie recognized him as the one she and Ellen always called, in whispers, the Giraffe because of his height and the long neck that extended from his stiff collar. He and his partner were always on this corner. He prodded the corner of her backpack with the stock of his rifle. Annemarie trembled. What is in here? he asked loudly. From the corner of her eye, she saw the shopkeeper move quietly back into the shadows of the doorway, out of sight.
Schoolbooks, she answered truthfully.
Are you a good student? the soldier asked. He seemed to be sneering.
Excerpted from Number the Stars by Lois Lowry Copyright © 1998 by Lois Lowry. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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