The Imperiled Actress
Celeste pushed with both of her arms against the Nazi’s knife hand, but still the deadly steel tip inched its way towards her throat.
I’m going to die, she thought with growing dread. If this knife doesn’t get me, this exploding zeppelin will.
Her mind raced in search of an advantage, but she didn’t come up with much. He was bigger, stronger, and he held the knife. Her only ally, Thelonius the Chimpanzee-man, was locked in deadly combat of his own. It seemed she had shown up to this knife fight with nothing but a pretty smile and some acting lessons.
She turned her head suddenly towards the doorway, looking over her attacker’s shoulder and nodding abruptly. “Javul, mein commandant,” she said with a bold and militaristic tone.
The trooper reflexively glanced back over his shoulder, perhaps expecting to see von Wartenburg in the doorway with an explanation as to why this blonde-haired American would have responded in German. All he saw, however, was an empty doorway.
The distraction, brief as it was, gave Celeste just enough time to twist to the side and pull the knife safely past her into the edge of the window. She sprang past him towards Thelonius, but her attacker wheeled around with the speed of a viper, snagging her flowing hair with his left hand. Celeste felt her neck wrench back and she heard a ripping of hair from her scalp. She spun back towards him, clawing at his fingers as she watched the gleaming knife rise up for the killing stroke.
That’s when the explosion shook the deck plates. The hydrogen in the zeppelin had burst into flame.
In the shock of the explosion, Celeste managed to pull herself away from the soldier’s grip again, and this time he didn’t pursue. Instead, he ducked his head out the window to look at the side of the zeppelin.
The soldier had probably expected Celeste to dart away down the hallway—after all, there was no point in knifing her when they were all about to plummet to the ground in flames. But she was tired of being underestimated and terrorized, and she didn’t want to run any more. Instead, a mad impulse led her to grab him by the boots and heave, sending him head-first out the window.
Then, shocked at what she had done, she thrust her head out the window to see where he had gone.
Even though he had been trying to kill her, she was relieved to see the soldier hanging by a railing one foot below the window, cursing her loudly but was otherwise unharmed. He had dropped his knife and she was considering lowering a rope to help him back in when she felt the furnace-blast hit her cheek. She looked up to see a blazing red ball consuming the aft of the zeppelin. Flames crackled and galloped along the surface of the canvas, rushing forward like angry orange horsemen charging across a black field. At first, she couldn’t understand what she was seeing: she would have guessed that a zeppelin would have simply exploded like a firework, but instead it burned like a bonfire: sustained yet furious. The bulkheads, she supposed, were slowing things down, but it wouldn’t be long before the flames engulfed her.