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War Games

Kat Otis lives a peripatetic life with a pair of cats who enjoy riding in the car as long as there's no country music involved. Her fiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction and Penumbra E-Mag. She can be found online at katotis.com, or on Twitter as @kat_otis.
Deep in Chislehurst Caves, the children play Pin the Mustache on Hitler while a battle rages unseen overhead.
The children laugh as they spin, dip, and glide, arms outstretched like Hurricanes and Spitfires. Cheers and groans follow each attempt, for no one has come near the mouth though Billy did manage to pin his over one baleful eye. Ruth declares it is her turn next, snatching the blindfold from Billy's hands and tying it over her eyes.
I pick up the next mustache, running my fingers over the edges of the tiny paint chip glued to one side. Then I reach through the pneuma, the mixture of fire and air that sustains the world, to strengthen the sympatheia between part and whole. High in the skies above, Flight Lieutenant Clarence Johnson defies the apparent laws of nature to stay aloft in a Spitfire that has already been shot twice since the night's air raid began. The fate of London rests in his hands--and the hands of dozens like him--but his fate is about to rest in the hands of a little girl, not yet eight years old.
Ruth clenches the mustache in one hand and begins to spin, while the other children push at her arms to spin her faster. I want to stop them, to beg them to be more careful, but I cannot. Children are more resilient than we adults often give them credit for, but even the bravest child would falter under the burden of my knowledge. They must fling themselves into the game with the same courage as the pilots above, or sympatheia will shatter.
I watch stoically as Ruth staggers out of the circle of children towards the wall of the cave, then slips and goes to one knee. Up above, a plane begins to spiral down towards the unyielding earth. Ruth cries out in pain but she is on her feet again before any of the watching adults can intervene. I breathe a little easier then; despite new bullet holes in the plane's fuselage, it still flies. There is a tear in Ruth's tights and a scrape that already begins to well with blood, but that doesn't stop her from lunging forward. As she pins her mustache to Hitler's nose, she lets out a cry of victory.
Above us, Flight Lieutenant Clarence Johnson shoots a Heinkel from the sky.
Then Ruth's mother rushes forward, pulls off the blindfold, and encompasses the little girl with hugs and kisses. It is a hero's welcome and Ruth bears it as if she knows it is only her due. Even as she is ushered away from the game, her playing done for the night, I know she will return.
Until then, I must make do with the fighters who remain. I prepare a mustache for the next child in line and try not to worry that somewhere, deep in the heart of Germany, Berlin's children play their own game.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 10th, 2015


I stumbled upon the story of Chislehurst Caves while watching British historical reenactment documentaries online. As I learned more about the games children played while waiting out the air raids, I thought about the idea of parallel struggles above and below - and this story is the result.

- Kat Otis

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