Water, thinks Werner. I forgot water.
A second anti-air battery fires from a distant corner of the city, and then the 88 upstairs goes again, stentorian, deadly, and Werner listens to the shell scream into the sky. Cascades of dust hiss out of the ceiling. Through his headphones, Werner can hear the Austrians upstairs still singing.
. . . auf d'Wulda, auf d'Wulda, da scheint d'Sunn a so gulda . . .
Volkheimer picks sleepily at a stain on his trousers. Bernd blows into his cupped hands. The transceiver crackles with wind speeds, air pressure, trajectories. Werner thinks of home: Frau Elena bent over his little shoes, double-knotting each lace. Stars wheeling past a dormer window. His little sister, Jutta, with a quilt around her shoulders and a radio earpiece trailing from her left ear.
Four stories up, the Austrians clap another shell into the smoking breech of the 88 and double-check the traverse and clamp their ears as the gun discharges, but down here Werner hears only the radio voices of his childhood. The Goddess of History looked down to earth. Only through the hottest fires can purification be achieved. He sees a forest of dying sunflowers. He sees a flock of blackbirds explode out of a tree.
Excerpted from All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Copyright © 2014 by Anthony Doerr. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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