German Countryside, Just Outside East Berlin, February 1952
The rusted old truck meandered its way down the old road, rumbling and groaning its protest as the man kept a sharp eye out for following vehicles. It was still quite dark, the sun several hours from rising, forcing the man to squint to see the road ahead of him.
“Do we have any idea where to go?” The woman asked the man. The man shook his head, not looking away from the road. “There is an airport in Hamburg that will fly us to Paris. From there, we will travel to England, and back to the States by boat,” he replied. The woman clutched a rosary in her fingers tightly. “But will we be safe?” she pressed. “Will she be safe?”
In the passenger seat, the woman turned to glance at the small child sitting in the bed of the truck, whom was clinging tightly to the wall to avoid being thrown out. She was wrapped snuggly in a warm coat, a hat and mittens, and a heavy canvas tarp lay across her lap in some semblance of an attempt to keep her warm in the brisk air. Her breath puffed out in clouds around her face, giving her an ethereal look.
“Mama,” the child’s slight English lilt was raised to be heard over the engine. Here blinking bright green eyes were filled with curiosity and exhaustion at traveling so early. “I thought we were going to stay in West Berlin to help the people on the other side of the wall?”
The woman smiled tightly at the child, trying to keep the fear out of her voice. “Papa has been called for to the countryside,” she told her, English accent soft as she soothed her child. “We are going with him to help him with services.”
The girl cocked her head slightly. “But I thought we were here for mish-missy—” She frowned trying to pronounce the word.
“Missionary work, Elise,” the man spoke up, a small smile twitching his lips around his American twang. “And we are, but it’s—it’s safer out of the city,” he explained. “There are rumors of people disappear—”
“Samuel Graves, don’t scare our daughter!” the woman snapped, glancing fearfully at their daughter. The man turned to her sharply. “Helen, there is no point in trying to hide it from her,” he told her firmly. “She needs to be aware of what is happening. What would happen if the wrong people find her? Would you prefer we lie and keep her in the dark?” he asked her, eyes once more scanning the dark road.
“She is just a little girl, Samuel,” Helen said softly. “Barely eight years old. She’s not ready to know of the evils that she may face in this world. I pray she will never have to.” She crossed herself as soon as the words passed her lips.
Elise bit her lip, ginger hair flying in her face. “Is it because of me?” she asked softly. “I didn’t mean to do it . . . I promise, I don’t know how I did it!” Tears filled her eyes as she looked pleadingly at her mother.
“Shh, my little angel, I know you didn’t,” Helen soothed her gently. “There is nothing to be afraid of. God has given you a gift, and your papa and I know this. And we love you very much.”
Samuel heaved a sigh, hands tightening on the steering wheel. “But there are those that will claim you to be a child of the devil, a witch, and they will try to hurt you, or worse,” he told her gravely. “We are leaving Berlin to go back to America. We want to keep you safe.”
The girl nodded her head, but tears fell from her eyes. “I’m sorry Papa,” she whispered. “I just wanted to feed the lady and her family. I didn’t know she’d scream at me.”
Samuel turned back to give Elise a gentle smile. “It’s not your fault, Sweetling. It is never your fault for what God has given you.” He turned back towards the road, eyes constantly scanning. But you must never use your gift for evil. Promise me, Elise. Promise me.”
“I promise, papa,” the girl parroted quickly, swiping at her cheeks. She felt her mother’s hand gently brush back her unruly hair and glanced up at her soft gaze. “I didn’t mean to scare anybody,” she whispered. “I didn’t see the car.”
“I know, my little angel, I know.” Suddenly, Samuel gave a sharp cry, and slammed on the brakes. “Oh, god in heaven, protect my family,” he man breathed, silently crossing himself.
Elise grunted in pain as she hit the back of the cab, wincing as she felt her mother pull a tarp over her head. “Stay down, be silent,” Helen hissed at her. “No matter what, know that we love you, and will always be with you,” she promised.
The girl said nothing, frozen as fear unlike anything she’d ever felt coursed through her. She heard several pairs of boots approach the truck before someone barked out a rapid-fire language she didn’t know.
“Please, we are missionaries, we are just—” she heard her papa start to say, before he cried out in pain.
“Samuel!” her mama yelped before she too cried out in pain. “Stop, let go, please!” Elise heard the doors opening to the cab, and the sound of scuffling, as if something were being dragged across the ground.
Elise took several sharp breaths, and squeezed her eyes shut tight as she heard another pair of boots stop by the side of the truck. Suddenly the tarp was ripped from over her head, and she let out a scream of fear.
The silhouette of a man filled her vision, and Elise blinked her eyes in the dark, trying to make out his features. The man that held the tarp dropped it to the bed of the truck and gave her a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. The man reminded her of a big cat that she had seen at a zoo once, sharp angles and eyes that filled her with absolute fear, and she curled into herself, whimpering.
“Well, well, well,” he spoke in a heavy accent. “It seems we have a little stowaway girl on our hands. Come on out, little one,” he crooned softly, holding out a hand for her to take. When she didn't move, he made a quick motion with his hand. “I will not hurt you. Come out.”
Elise bit her lip, staring at his hand before she took it with her shaking fingers. The man’s smile grew wider, and he pulled her out of the truck and set her on the ground. Elise looked around with wide eyes, and spotted her parents, tears in her eyes. The lights of the truck illuminated the military truck parked across the road, and the two soldiers that held her parents hostage.
Her father had a bloody spot on his head, his glasses broken, and lip gashed. He was on his knees, hands to the back of his head in surrender, eyes to the ground as he whispered prayers to himself. Her mother looked terrified, arms pinned behind her back by the big, scary looking soldier and head pulled back tight by her hair. She too, was on her knees, her dress ripped in places from struggling. “Elise,” she whispered. “It’ll be alright.”
“Mama, Papa!” Elise sobbed, and made to run for them, but the man that pulled her out of the truck grabbed her shoulder gently, yet with enough strength to let her know that she wasn’t going anywhere. He gently took her face in his hand and turned her back to face him. His gloved fingers were warm, and she shivered at the contrast from the cold, frigid air. “Little One, what is your name?” he asked her. "How old are you?"
She glanced up at him, green eyes bright with tears as they streamed down her cheeks. “El-Elise Marie Graves. I-I just turned eight,” she whispered. “Please, don’t hurt Mama and Papa!”
The man gave a small chuckle, and Elise shivered. ‘His eyes are like a dead man's,’ she thought, swallowing tightly. “My name is Dr. Klaus Schmidt, little Elise,” the man said, crouching in front of her. “Perhaps you could help me?”
Elise tilted her head slightly as she regarded the man. “Wh-what can I do?” she asked quietly. "What do you want?"
Schmidt cocked a brow at her. “You tell me.” He took off his glasses and focused on wiping them with a cloth, nonchalant as he spoke. “I am looking for a girl who can do extraordinary things.” Elise blinked as he spoke, her brows furrowing. "What kind of things?" she asked carefully.
“You see, there are rumors that a little girl can change one thing into another, just by looking at it. That she turned a simple stick she picked up off the ground into a loaf of bread and gave it to a poor woman and her children.” His grin widened as he watched the girl’s face pale slightly. "This girl terrified the woman, and she began to scream curses at her." Elise's chin began to quiver, scrunching her eyes closed as she remembered the incident from just a few days prior.
“They say this same girl was hit by a fast-moving car while backing away from the woman, but was unharmed upon impact. In fact, the car itself seemed to have more damage done to it. Have you heard anything like that?” he asked her, placing his glasses back on his face and resting his elbows on his knees.
Elise shook her head slowly, eyes wide. the intense feeling of being trapped like a bug in a glass jar suddenly filled her soul. “No,” she whispered in denial. "No, I don't know anyone who can do that." Schmidt gave a little laugh, eyes narrowing slightly. “Oh, but I think you do,” he said in a cheerful tone. “You see, there are rumors that you can do that.” He tapped her nose with the tip of his finger, and Elise jerked back a step, shaking her head. “No, no I can’t!” she said adamantly.
Schmidt gave a sigh and shook his head before he stood up and reached into his pocket. He held out a candy bar to her, shaking it slightly. “Take it,” he whispered. Elise looked at the candy, and back to her parents, before she eyed it warily and gingerly took it. "Good girl, little one," Schmidt praised her, patting her head with a quick, sharp little tap. "That was not so bad, was it?"
“What is this for?” she asked suspiciously, craning her neck to look at Schmidt. The man smirked at her. “Can you change it into money?” he asked her. Elise blinked at the man and swallowed. She glanced back at her parents before facing Schmidt, eyes filled with apprehension.
“Will you let Mama and Papa go if I do?” she asked quietly. The man was silent for a moment, before he spoke. “I will release them if you can do what I ask,” he told her.
“Elise, no, don’t do it!” Elise turned quickly at her papa’s voice and gave a startled gasp when the guard behind him slammed his fist into the back of his head. Her mother screamed and received a slap to the face. The guard barked something at her in German and threw her to the ground. Helen groaned in pain, and wrapped her arms around Samuel, both parents clinging to each other in fear. Elise made to run towards them once more, but froze when Schmidt tsked his tongue at her. "Elise," he said in a warning tone. "Do as I said."
“Stop, please!” Elise begged, looking at Schmidt. He cocked a brow at her before nodding his head at the candy in the girl’s hand. “Change it, little one,” he ordered quietly. “And this will all be over.” Elise shivered once more, before she looked at the candy bar. She scrunched her eyes shut and thought hard before she opened them once more.
The candy shimmered for a moment, before it changed into a piece of paper. She held it up to Schmidt, who took it and examined it. It had the same texture and weight as a real pound note. He gave a chuckle and clapped his gloved hands. “Wunderbar!” he exclaimed, dropping the note to the ground. “You have much potential in you, little one.”
“Will you let them go now?” Elise asked, stepping back from the man. The man gave her a predatory grin. “But of course, I promised to release them, did I not? And so I shall.” With that, he nodded his head at the two soldiers, and two shots rang out in the darkness of the night.
Elise gasped and whirled around in time to see the soldiers holster their pistols as the bodies of her parents slumped to the cold, frozen road. “No! Mama, Papa!” she screamed, running to them. Their fear-filled eyes stared blankly in horror as their bodies lay twisted at odd angles.
She shook her papa’s shoulder. “Please, please wake up!” he lay still, and tears began to cloud her vision. With a cry of heartache, she buried her face into his shirt, smearing blood across her pale features. Her small frame shook with sobs, before she sat up slowly. “Y-you said you’d let them go if I did what you asked!” Elise glared at the two soldiers that stood before her in indifference.
“I said I would release them,” Schmidt corrected, coming to stand behind her. He placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed tightly. “Death is the ultimate release from this world.”
Elise shook his hand off and sobbed, clutching at her papa’s blood-soaked shirt. “You’re a monster! I hate you!” she wailed.
“Perhaps,” Schmidt mused. She never noticed him pull out a syringe as he stalked towards her. “But soon, you will come to see me as your father of a sort . . . the one whom will help you to unlock your true potential.” Elise gasped as she felt a needle pierce the side of her neck, and her vision began to fade.
“You will become so much more than a mere missionary’s daughter, little one,” she heard dimly, as if his voice were far away. “You will become a soldier for a new world order.” She heard Schmidt bark orders at the soldiers and felt herself lifted into someone’s arms before she lost consciousness.