The crack of dawn revealed the eastern mountains as a black silhouette. Ankle deep snow in the flatlands reflected the orange sunrise. The sky was clear, the December morning bitterly cold. The air was sharp to the nostrils and raw in the lungs.
There were three of them in single file. Shackled hand and foot they hobbled through the snow like zombies in green quilted coats, faded and threadbare castoffs. Heads were hatless, nose and ears red. Bare hands were muffed into the opposite sleeves. Face and bodies were swollen, eyes bloodshot, minds drained—fates sealed.
The shortest prisoner was in front, the oldest man in the middle followed by the tallest and youngest of the three, Stanislaus Sedecki. Four armed guards, two on each side, accompanied them.
It was the beginning of their fourth day and they had just been fed.
Bent over bowls of mushy rice they had talked quietly as they ate and agreed that one of two things would happen: Today would be another day of the torture and terror their minds and bodies could no longer handle, or they were about to be executed.
Each wore a bandage on one hand. With his good hand, the small man fingered the last morsel from his bowl and their whispering came to an end. “I can’t take any more, do you understand me? I can’t. I don’t think you two can either.” He raised his swollen eyes and uttered his final words. “If escape is impossible then death will be a blessing.” he paused, “I will not be tied to a stake and shot like a dog.”
The other two men stared vacantly at their empty bowls in silent acquiescence.
Now, as they were being led across an open area of polluted snow, the small man began to cough. Up ahead white exhaust vapors floated lazily in the air from an idling truck. There was no other activity near them. As they neared the vehicle the small man in the lead coughed more vigorously.
Sedecki clenched his teeth. His eyes became misty. During breakfast his friend had said, That’s what they do with spies you know, they shoot them. He knew his friend was right. When the three of them had no more to give, when the excruciating torture ended, if it ever did, they would be shot regardless.
Through watery eyes his squalid surroundings now seemed to change. These sullied environs now appeared to him most glorious. The bleak mountains seemed striking, majestic. Dirty snow suddenly became pristine. The air smelled cleaner, even invigorating. But then the horrific, unspoken decision they had made overwhelmed him. Freezing tears began to sting his cheeks. Fragments of his young life that flashed through his mind like a surrealistic dream were abruptly replaced by the existing nightmare.
Abruptly the detail stopped. The dream stopped. The small man in front was bent double, coughing profusely. The first guard on his right reached down to jerk him up. Suddenly the little man screamed and lunged straight up at the guard. The middle prisoner leaped on the guard to his left, driving him backwards and down.
In the same instant Sedecki instinctively sprang to his right and threw his manacled hands over the head of the third guard. They went down in a tangle of arms and legs, rolling twice in the snow. He came up straddling the guard’s back with the chain of his wrist shackles under the man’s neck. With both hands on the back of the soldier’s head he applied a death-choke then clamped his teeth together and closed his eyes—waiting for the bullet he knew was coming.