Empathy

William Cosby worked in an advertising firm. There was nothing special or of great importance about him; he was just an ageing, racist man. So when he is thrust unexpectedly into the past and finds himself living through the experiences of those whom he hates, he must learn some empathy...or die.

[Warning: contains some racism: the comments within do not represent the author's own views]

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2. Hard Awakening.

Bill stared around the space, confused: where his car should have been there was nothing; where the tarred road should have been there was a cobblestone street; where there had been houses there were now five-storey apartment buildings, adorned with (and here was the darnedest thing, as Bill thought of it) swastikas and Nazi propaganda.

   “What the fuck?” he breathed, scarcely aware he had spoken.

   Gradually, as he stood there, the sound of an engine began to approach and before long headlights splashed over the cobblestones and a vehicle that looked like something left over from a World War Two film, complete with the German Cross, drove into view.

   Its drivers, blonde men in SS uniforms, swastikas on their shoulders and lightning emblems on their collars and hats, saw him and drew the car to a halt before the pavement.

   Bill, too confused to be alarmed, stared dumbly at them as they got out of the car and walked over to him, polished boots clacking loudly on the stone. The rest of the night, Bill now realised was utterly silent, save for the occasional noise that was too distant to be clearly definable.

      “Was ist dies?” asked the first, and taller, of the two, peering out menacingly at Bill, who brushed his receding hairline uneasily under their gaze.

“A Jew nachts?” asked the other, sending both into gales of laughter.

   “What?” Bill stammered, “I can’t understand you. What’s happening here? Answer me, goddamnit!”

   Suddenly, the men became hard and cold.

   “Zeigen in Bezug auf Ihre Vorgesetzten!” snapped the first, who seemed to command the other’s respect. “Was machst du?”

   Bill shook his head and gestured at ears-I can’t understand you!

   The two looked at each other, perplexed. “Ist er Englisch?” one asked the other.

   Bill, meanwhile, picked up on this and put in: “American! I’m an American! Tell me what’s happening, will you?” The shorter drew a gun (a Walther P38) from his belt holster and pointed it at Bill who gave a cry of alarm and raised his arms above his head. The taller put a hand on his companion’s shoulder and shook his head softly.

   Haltingly, the taller one spoke in English: “You...are...American?”

   Relieved beyond belief, Bill cried out the affirmative and stepped forward again, only to be halted once more by the attention of the short German.

   The taller one frowned and gestured vaguely in Bill’s direction.

   The short man re-holstered his gun and pulled Bill’s jacket open, reaching in to the inside pockets, from which he produced Bill’s leather wallet.

   The taller one seemed to suddenly take an interest and took the wallet from his colleague, opening it and rifling through the contents. He pulled out Bill’s driving license, stared at it for a moment and thrust it at Bill. “Was ist das?”

   “It’s my goddamn driving license for Christ’s sake!” Bill cried, reaching for it, but the taller man snatched it out of his reach before Bill could ensnare it in his grip.

   “Es ist voll von US-Dollar,” spoke up the other, regarding the wallet.

   “Wirklich? Interessante.” He began to appraise Bill and after a moment of his gaze, Bill began to fidget, though if anything, the man seemed pleased by his discomfort.

   “Bringt ihn,” he said to his partner at last, walking back to the car.

   When Bill was grabbed by the arm and dragged to the car by the smaller man, he realised at long last his danger, though he could not comprehend it. Thinking thusly, he-in a sudden show of unexpected strength-shoved the man away and sprinted across the street to an alleyway that he could see there.

   “Schießen Sie ihn! Schießen Sie ihn!” came the cry of the taller man, echoing around the virtually empty street. The sound of a gunshot echoed around the street.

   The shell whizzed past Bill’s head, missing by mere inches, and thudded into the wall of the alley, kicking up dust.

   Shocked, Bill stopped and turned, forgetting for a moment his peril. He saw the shorter man taking aim again and then fire erupted from the barrel of the gun with a bang and a round slammed into Bill’s left arm, high up near his shoulder, staining his grey suit red after a moment.

   The round had not gone all the way through and Bill could feel it lodged in his arm. He cried out in pain and spun with the impact of the shell, running off down the alley. Behind him, Bill could hear a shrill whistle blowing and raised voices shouting out German words that sounded to him, garbled and nonsensical.

   Hearing boot heels clacking on the stone ground, coming from the other end of the alley, he looked desperately about and noticed a pile of rubbish; compiled mainly of discarded cardboard and the like. Hurriedly, he dived in and pulled a large piece of cardboard over the top of him as cover.

   The boots ran past but Bill remained still, holding his breath for fear of discovery. He did not understand what the hell was happening but he could not delude himself into believing that it was not true: the bullet in his arm was all the proof that he needed or wanted.

   Sure enough, Bill could now hear murmured voices in the alley, drawing closer every second. Bill imagined them; tall, shadowy SS figures, searching the alley; any moment now they would throw aside his meagre cover and he would be discovered, to be shot.

   The footsteps were seconds away when there came another shrill whistle and a shout of “Kehrt zu mir zurück!” With that, the footsteps paused and retreated, back toward the alley’s mouth from the sound of it.

   After a moment, Bill took a deep breath and shoved the cardboard away, propelling it against the alley wall.

   Turning his head quickly as he went down the alley, he tripped on a loose stone and stumbled into a wall, bruising his forehead and giving an unwelcome call of pain.

   “Was war das? Schauen Sie hinein!” Panicking at his imminent discovery, Bill ran swiftly to a door just outside the alley and prayed that it wasn’t locked.

   Thankfully it wasn’t and Bill ran in, storming up the wooden stairs, dreading the sound of jackboots on cobblestones, which he heard only moments later as he rounded a corner on the staircase, the soldiers storming down the alley as he ran as quietly as he could. Luckily for him, they did not enter the building.

   When he had reached the second floor, he banged his fist on the third door down the corridor and called out: “Please, if anyone can hear me, I need help! Some crazy bastard shot me!” Saying this out loud seemed to bring the point home to him and he slumped to the ground, holding his bloody arm in his right hand.

   That was when he once more heard the soldiers.

   Coming up the stairs...

   Panicking, he stood hastily, and slammed his fist into the door.  “Let me in!”

   Inside the room, a woman and two children sat at their table and stared blankly at the door, making no move to get up and open it.

   Blissfully unaware, Bill decided that he needed to take his fate into his own hands. First thing: he needed to stay calm; being in emotional uproar was not going to help; indeed, if anything, it would increase the chance of injury.

   This was easier said than done, however, when SS soldiers are charging up a set of stairs towards you, surely only seconds away.

   What Bill did not know, though, was that the soldiers had stopped to search on the first floor. What he heard as stomping boots now was actually the pumping of his own heart.

   He carefully placed his foot at the base of the door handle and after a brief hesitation, he pulled the foot back and kicked forwards...hard.

   Sure enough, the door burst open and Bill hurried inside, hastily shutting the door behind him. Seeing a large bookshelf near the door, Bill dragged it in front of the doorway, managing with a great deal of work to ignore the searing pain in his arm.

   He turned, once this was complete, to the small family and held a finger to his lips, imploring them to be quiet. They only continued to stare blankly at him, though the woman had propelled herself to her feet at Bill’s sudden entry.

   Bill walked around the room, attempting to ignore the horrible stares of the children. Walking into another room, the kitchen from what he could see, he felt an enormous amount of relief that their eyes could no longer stare; there was something about them that made his skin crawl. Even as he leaned with a weary sigh against the sideboard, a shout arose from the other room.

   “Achtung! Achtung! Ein Jude wird in unserem Haus versteckt!”

   It was the woman.

   The goddamned, motherfucking, woman.

   Bill pushed himself from the counter and ran back into the main room, noting the woman. You bitch. Oh, you absolute bitch, he thought at her, as she leaned out of the window, calling to the soldiers below on the street.

   He could now hear even more shrill whistle blasts as all the SS were called to capture Bill. Already there were people outside, trying to open the door.

   Shoving the woman aside, he looked out of the window and saw that there was no-one on the street now. With the soldiers now slamming themselves into the door, Bill took no time to think and stepped out of the window onto a small ledge that went all about the building.

   Just as he did, the door was shattered and the bookcase knocked over; the soldiers spilled in. He could hear them milling around inside.

   “Er ist nicht hier. Er ist aus dem Fenster,” said the woman from inside. A moment later, heads were leaning out of the window and Bill was in plain sight: clinging for dear life to the building.

   On the street, the two men (tall and short) stepped into view, looked up at the building and burst into cruel laughter.

   “Schauen Sie sich die dummen Jude,” laughed one, pointing.

   The tall one nodded, still afflicted with gales of laughter and pulled out his gun, aiming up at Bill.

   A shot rang out and the round whizzed through the air...

   And slammed into the wall by Bill’s head, spewing dust into his eyes.

   He cried out in horror and caused the SS below to howl yet further with mirth.

   “Hören Sie zu diesem Jude Schrei!” cried the shorter one, pulling his own gun from his holster and taking careful aim.

   His shot thumped into the wall by Bill’s left leg, making Bill instinctively pull back his leg, losing his balance.

   “Er wird fallen! Raus aus dem Weg!” cried one, but Bill didn’t know who; already he had started to fall, his efforts to regain his balance only serving to push him further from the edge.

   That was how it came to pass that Bill Cosby fell onto a cobblestone street into the midst of many Nazis...

   And came to in a field...

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