I sit before the cracked mirror, and brush the dust off with the back of my hand. There was a time I could have been beautiful, but not anymore. My sunken green eyes are bloodshot and heavy bags lie beneath them. My skin is rough and sallow with hard lines that should not be on the face of a young woman. My lips are cracked from the cold and drawn back in a hard line. I raise my hand and let my dark hair fall just past my shoulders. My hands are blistered and covered in dirt, and my nails are bitten down to nothing, but still filth manages to find a spot under them. My chest is flat and I could easily count my ribs. For once however, I am glad of the way I look, because it won't make me look weak when need to be strong.
The war started a year ago and since then things have gone from bad to worse. My adopted father joined the army for money and I was willing to join with him but all soldiers must be men. But after he was shot three months ago and my adopted mother became ill, we've been getting next to no money so I've been left with one option, become Eric Frey, a soldier. After today Erica Frey will no longer exist.
I reach into my pocket and pull out a small scissors. I bring it up to my hair and cut, watching the strands fall to floor. I feel a tear in my eye, but immediately blink it away. Once I finish I can barely recognize myself, but I guess that's a good thing. I walk slowly into my tiny bedroom for the last time. There's only one thing I own worth taking with me. I slide my hand under my hard pillow and my fingers curl around a crumpled piece of paper. A picture of a boy. A picture of my brother.
I stuff it into my pocket and I step into Gertrude's room. She looks so small and frail lying on the bed. She is almost white in complexion and is sweating heavily. She smiles weakly as her eyes meet mine. I kneel down beside her, brushing her hair off her face, and kiss her softly on the forehead. Then I say something I have never uttered before in my life.
Then I hurry out the door and walk down the street without looking back. The street is deserted, and the only sounds are my boots hitting the cobblestone path, and the sound of my heart pounding in my chest. I'm wearing the only male clothes I could find, a long, tattered, brown coat and black pants. I'm also wearing a pair of grey gloves and my own grey hat is pulled over my ears. Finally I reach my destination, Wilhelm's office.
An armed guard stops me at the entrance.
"What do you want?" he says roughly.
"To be a soldier," I reply in the deepest voice I can manage.
He laughs mockingly. "Can't see you lasting long but I guess I'd better let you in anyway."
He moves aside, and I step into the doorway, wiping my feet on the mat. Wilhelm sits at a desk in front of me, staring intently at a bunch of documents, a pen in his hand. He pauses as I near him, and he looks down his nose at me, a look of disgust blear in his face. I wrap my arms around my coat, trying to hide as much of the holes as possible.
"What brings a poor lad like you here?" he sneers.
"I'm here to become a soldier sir," I say, cringing when I hear how scared I sound.
"You took your time," he says gruffly.
"I only just turned eighteen sir," I reply.
He shakes his head and hands me a document.
I obey and hand the sheet back to him.
"Well, Eric Frey," he says, staring at my signature. "There's no time for any training. You leave for Russia immediately. Go down the hall and take the third door on your left. There are some uniforms there."
And with that he stands up and leaves, without giving me so much as a second glance. I follow his directions and enter a small, half-empty closet full of German uniforms. Each one I lay my eyes on is far worse than the last, and the first uniform I saw wasn't very good to begin with. Still, anything is better than the life I'm leaving behind.
The jeep speeds along the rugged track, headed for a small town on the outskirts of Russia we intend to invade. The other soldiers chat amongst themselves, but I sit there in total silence, staring at the empty soup bowl resting between my knees. My mouth feels like sandpaper, and every few minutes, I have to wipe my sweaty palms on my jacket. My heart is beating so fast, I fear it will burst through my chest. Finally the jeep pulls to a stop and I am left feeling like I might throw up. I grab my gun from my side and step into the darkness outside. And then I hear the first screams.