THE SECRET

By John Thomas Tuft

It is a war story. “My tears for your scars” pretty much sums it up, as it does for all war stories. And the same can be said of love stories, my scars for your tears. So, this story is both: a war story of love and a love story of war. And to put the icing on the cake, it is a Christmas story, the ultimate ‘my tears for your scars’ story, especially for the descendants of white Europeans and everything that they have touched around the globe even with its elements of the Far East, Near East and Mid East. God bless the editor who looked at Mark’s manuscript for these crazy gospel things and said, “Nope, keep the beginning as is. That’s all it needs.”  It is a story told by one Bacon Puggle, a sergeant in the United States Army, fighting their way across France in 1944. It seems Bacon was captured in late summer and sent to a prisoner of war camp deep inside Germany.

Bacon filed into the drab camp, nestled at the foot of the Bavarian Alps, a majestic setting for so dreary a place. Rows and rows of wooden barracks sat filled with endless rows of crude bunks for countless captured soldiers, all harboring their fears about how this would all end. The commandant was a coarse and obedient soldier, as well. Prisoners were counted three times a day, rain or shine, hot or cold, lined up in rows in front of the barracks. Fierce dogs and men with submachine guns roamed the area between the two electrified fences and searchlights swept through the darkness all night long. Bacon was assigned duty in the camp infirmary, where he met an attendant named Aleudar. The two men struck up a friendship in this unlikely setting. Bacon could not tell if Aleudar had been a doctor before the war, or simply had experience working in a hospital. Once when he asked the myterious man about his home, he answered, “We have no home. They hate us, call us gypsies.”

Bacon helped him sneak extra rations for those suffering, sneaking extra bread or a tiny fraction more gruel. One wounded soldier seemed to garner extra attention from Aleudar, a boy of seventeen, who had lost his father at Pearl Harbor and his older brother in Sicily. His mother was alone now in Pittsburgh and Aleudar told the boy stories and encouraged him to be strong and make it through, but the young man grew weaker. The winter of 1944-5 was particularly fierce and cold. Many in the camp were dying just as liberation and victory seemed to be a real possibility. The German commandant was ordered to move the prisoners before the Allies advanced into the country. The guards were given orders to liquidate all of the weakest prisoners. One day they came to clean out the infirmary.

 Aleudar pulled Bacon aside and whispered urgently to him, telling him that he had hidden a special box inside the camp and for Bacon to dig up that box and take care of it. What he found in the box would belong to him now, in appreciation of his friendship and trust and would make him rich beyond his dreams. Then Aleudar went to the guards and somehow persuaded them to let him take the place of the wounded boy. For some reason Bacon did not understand, the guards agreed to Aleudar’s sacrifice and the boy was spared. Aleudar was taken to the garbage pits and executed because evil demands its pound of flesh, in all respects.

Under the cover of darkness, Bacon snuck out of the barracks and went to the place Aleudar had told him about. He dug into the dirt and uncovered the most beautiful wooden box he had ever seen. Beautiful and intricate designs were carved into a kind of wood he had never seen before. He eagerly tried to pry it open to discover what would make him rich beyond his dreams. But the strange thing was, he could not open it. No matter how he tried, it would not open. Although there was no clasp, no lock, nothing he tried worked. It would not open. Figuring that maybe it was some kind of heirloom, Bacon took the box with him and hid it away.

The camp was liberated, the war ended and at long last, Bacon was on his way home to his wife. On the ship back across the Atlantic, he would take the box out at night and try again to open it, but nothing worked. On the long train ride, he mused about what riches awaited him once the box opened. It was beautiful and obviously valuable, but what was inside? Finally, the train reached his hometown on Christmas morning. With snow silently falling, he walked up the sidewalk to the front door. His wife threw open the door and they rushed into each other’s arms. Church bells pealed as Bacon pulled out Aleudar’s special box, the only gift he had to give. He held it out to her and when her hand touched the box, by some special magic, it opened. And inside, waiting to be revealed, lay…The Secret.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.

Adapted from THE HEALER, a novel by John Thomas Tuft.