All families have secrets. This one is fatal.
The war tore families apart. When Toby's father didn't come home he thought his world couldn't get any darker. But life had only just begun to punish him.
And yet the darkness taught him he was not alone. Together he and his sister Ellen search desperately for a way out of the ruins of their family. But the price will be terribly high.
Sometimes you can only pay in blood.
It was night and they were coming for him. On all sides the shattered shell of the town hiding him was crumbling under German hellfire. Barked orders echoed around the remaining walls. Toby didn’t speak any German, yet somehow he understood. They were going to kill him.
Toby didn’t know where he was running to. He just ran, following the broken street under the burning sky. Grey movement to his left, glimpses of uniforms as men dashed ahead to cut him off. The stink of machine oil filled his mouth and the smoke stung his eyes. The street seemed to stretch out ahead of him. He knew he was exposed but his legs felt heavy and cumbersome. Were there snipers hidden in the dark recesses of the skull-like buildings that lined the street? Would he even hear the crack of the rifle that killed him?
Before he realised it, he had reached the harbour. A burning destroyer was slowly tilting into the black water, its klaxons wailing a death song across the sea. In the skies above the burning French flags of the tall waterfront buildings, the drone of engines signalled the arrival of the Luftwaffe.
German soldiers were flooding out of the town now, massing along the harbour wall. But at the very end of the pier, past the point the steel had been bent and broken by shelling, one man stood alone against the Nazi menace. He moved impossibly fast, a blur against the fiery background, all muzzle flash, fists and feet as he beat down the advancing horde. But he was alone and there were so many advancing on him. Toby ran towards him, having no plan but driven on by a desperate certainty of who this man was and why he needed to reach him.
‘Father!’ he was calling out, without consciously making the decision to do it. His legs were sluggish and the pier seemed impossibly far away. He was suddenly surrounded by the enemy. Somehow they hadn’t seen him yet, or didn’t care. They were facing away, towards the pier, marching slowly forward, bayonets bared. Toby tried to push through the throng, but the soldiers were too tall and too heavy for his young arms to push aside. He jumped, snatching a glimpse of his father still fighting off the swarm.
Somewhere, he heard a car come to a halt, its engine stop and a door slam. The soldiers around him began to turn, an entire army rounding on him, bayonet blades already smeared with Allied blood. There was nowhere to run, no way to reach his father; there was only the enemy.