Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Fighting a Losing War

And then… nothingness. No bright light or eternal flames, no smiling faces of long-forgotten loved ones or weighing of my heart against my sins. Merely… nothing.
And not nothing like any other nothing I had ever encountered before in recent memory either, but a true and utter lack of anything. Including time, it would seem.
I can recall my youth spent running the streets of Berlin, playing kickball with my friends and laughing over silly Frenchmen jokes we’d heard our fathers make when they thought we weren’t listening. I remember sitting in my bed at night, waiting to fall asleep and being completely unable to, left with nothing but my own random thoughts to keep me company.
That nothing, the innocent boredom of a sleepy child or the absentmindedness of an older man, is nothing when compared to what I am now experiencing. I can’t even tell you how long I’ve been like this, only what lead up to it.
The Soviets had pushed past the 332nd Battalion a scant few hours before I was drafted, brought to the great Fuhrer himself in a rigid line with other boys, and even some young girls. He looked older than all the posters had depicted him, like a man who had the weight of the world on his shoulders and was struggling to stay standing. Maybe he was… I remember thinking as his hands shakily pinned a medal upon my lapel marking me as the Captain of the newest regiment, a numberless one that he assured us would be rectified once we had the power grid running once again.
I believed him.
It was me and a dozen other young boys and girls, all dressed in the uniforms of our fathers and forefathers, clutching at the rifles and guns we had imagined for so many years when we would play fight. Now we had real guns, with real bullets.
We were playing for keeps.
“Alright!” I had cried, to gather their attention. I was the tallest and oldest of all of them, almost fifteen years of age, and lanky from years of leatherworking with my father. “We need to go fortify our position, some three blocks from here; we’ll have gun posts and rations, as well as plenty of ammunition. All we need to do is keep the Red’s from crossing our barricade until reinforcements arrive.”
“When will that be?” One boy, a chubby young thing whose helmet was far too large for him, asked.
“When they’ve secured the perimeter, they’ll come to support us. This street is far narrower than Main street, as you all know, so the bulk of their forces won’t come barreling down on us, just those that think they can sneak around.” I had answered, lying through my teeth. I had no idea when reinforcements would arrive. When one of the Commanders had pulled me aside, he’d told me that the Fuhrer had authorized the Final Solution, something that could solve any problem that could be thrown at the Third Reich, but they needed time to implement it. That I needed to buy them as much time as I could.
I’d been proud to promise them all the time they would need.
The distant thunder of cannon fire was what first rallied us, rousing us from our secured positions. It had taken us a scant few minutes to reclaim the abandoned post, to reload the mounted guns and to locate the rest of their armaments. Whatever cowards had fled had at least had the decency to leave behind tools for those that were brave enough to finish the fight. A little girl had already begun to demonstrate how well she could throw grenades, treating them like the smooth stones behind her home that she would use to play Skip-the-Rock across the water’s surface.
I’d given her the entire box of grenades, all one hundred and twenty of them, and ordered her to hide in one of the higher posts in a nearby post office, near a window that would allow her a full view of the narrow street, her fellow patriots, and the invading communists once they chose to show themselves. Three brothers had taken it upon themselves to arm themselves with some of the higher caliber rifles, rifles with angled scopes and bolt action levers. Scattered about the street they were hidden, high in the trees or along window ledges, boxes of inch long bullets resting near their elbows or knees.
The rest of the troupe had bunkered down behind a makeshift wall of sandbags and refuse, holes poked large enough for our eyes and rifles to look through at the darkened end of the alley. Night was quickly approaching, as were the sounds of battle. The distant bass of cannon fire was no longer so distant, and if I was quiet I could hear gunshots echo in the distance, hear harsh Russian words being cried over the storm of bullets and the screams of war. Even the air, normally crisp and clean this time of year, had taken on the scent of sulfur, and of copper. The wind carried the smell of death and the screams of the dead slowly at first, picking up in intensity until the very branches in the trees shook, and my ears had felt as if they were aflame.
And then they had come.
Bounding around the alley like jackals, backs hunched high and splintered open wide, they were beings drawn straight from my own childish nightmares. Men and women alike, faces twisted so horribly and drawn so taut over their skulls, they formed a permanent rictus grin. This was made all the more terrifying by the fact that their skulls were now upside down, and their lower jaws seemed to have… peeled away from the rest of the head, leaving a serpentine tendril that ended in jagged teeth and shattered jawbone. It escaped my notice then, but now I can clearly remember seeing the spurs of bone lining the long tear down the jawbone to the chest, and how they seemed to flex and move as if that wound, horrible and gaping, now served as whatever they were mouths.
We opened fire without a single command, almost in unison, sharp cracks and sudden whiffs of smoke exploding out from our fortified little bunker. The little girl in the post office had stopped tossing the grenades like skipping stones and had begun hurling them en masse, pulling three or four pins at a time and throwing them as far as her little arms could. The deafening roar the bombs made left me with nothing but a high pitched ringing for minutes, but the beasts didn’t seem terribly happy with the treatment either. Several had been reduced to bits of bone and gore, while others had been shredded by the sudden wave of shrapnel. Broken limbs and twisted frames squirmed on the bloody street below, cracking and popping as the bones within the twisted forms continued to break as the beasts struggled to move onward.
Part of me hoped they couldn’t feel pain, because part of me knew that these were no Russians. The Iron star dangling from a torn and bloodied uniform from a larger monster told me these were my countrymen, my comrades. What they were now, I couldn’t say.
The bullets had little effect on them, merely tearing through their exposed arms and legs like a knife through wet paper, slowing them as they no longer had hands and feet to run with, merely stumps. Some had leapt from the street to the buildings, breaking through windows and disappearing into the darkness within. At the time I merely focused on those still rushing at us, but now I can see that those were seeking out our little bombardier, or looking for a weak point. I was so stupid not to realize that… oh well.
The brothers were the first to go, yanked from their various hiding spots by disjointed arms or writhing tongues. I saw the oldest, a sandy haired boy with yellowed teeth, get yanked from a high tree limb by one of the beasts, a monstrous one that dwarfed even the mightiest of Mastiffs. The jawbone tentacle lashed high as the beast pawed at the trees trunk, like some demonic hound, and sank deep into his thigh. His screams, high and fresh, echoed across the alley and for the briefest of moments we all stopped firing as we watched the boy be dragged from the tree, blood seeping from his breeches and tears staining his face. He had struggled, of how he had struggled, grasping at the thick branch as if his life depended on it.
It hadn’t mattered.
The tendril, the bone spines of the jaw and the thick oddly placed teeth still lodged firmly within the boys thigh, looped once, then twice, about his leg; a sickening crunch was just barely audible over the moans and growls of the other creatures as the advanced, but the boys screams doubled in intensity, his hands loosened almost immediately from the branch as if on instinct. I can still remember watching the gaping wound that split down the man’s overturned stomach, now heavily muscled and thick like leather, spread wide as the tendril dangled the boy over the maw, lowering him into his twisted torso slowly, as if savoring his screams. The creatures undulations, shuddering movements throughout its legs, told me that in some way, the beast was enjoying the hellish act, whatever it was, that it was unleashing upon the captive now sealed within his bulging frame. Even now as I drift in the darkness of nothingness I can see the boy writhing within the abominations gullet, pressing against his sides from within as he struggled for air.
The rest of the battle is a blur of bullets, blood and bone as we unloaded all we had available at the creatures as they clambered down the street, some crawling along the very walls of the buildings as if gravity had no ties to them. The little girl I had given the grenades to was taken by a lanky one, what once must have been a woman who then, with her spine twisted so and her legs holding her to the ledge, picked the shrieking girl apart bit by bit, using the barbed edges of her own jawbone to slowly cut away slices of the girl before slowly lowering down her own gullet, her milky eyes clouded with passions untold as she had done so. I can even vaguely recall her laughter, a hollow choking noise, as she would remove larger hunks and after inspecting them, would toss them from her perch upon the windowsill to the ravenous hordes below as they pressed inward, pushing ever closer to our bunker. I can only pray that the poor thing died as quickly as possible, because the beast was still dissecting her body when I gave the order to retreat.
I had saved a few grenades myself, placing them in cracks in the walls alongside our position, with long strands of twin held to their pins. Tugging the twine hard and doing my very best to sound heroic, I bellowed over the chaos pressing in. “Fall back! Fall back to the bunkers!”
I can remember running, at first backwards with my rifle clenched in my hands, taking careful shots at the beasts as they overran our defenses. Three smaller ones, their tendril’s each wielding wicked knives a butcher would use, had pounced upon the chubby boy and had cackled with glee at his screams, while the rest of my regiment fell to similar horrors.
From there it is a blur, of bloodied talons and tendrils to gaping maws. Along the way, upon stumbling onto the main street and into the very depths of Hell, if all of the monstrous creatures raging about and the overwhelming smell of blood and rot were an indication, I found a dying soldier, far older than I. Three infant sized beasts, all walking on rubbery limbs with demonic grace, were feasting on his lower half as he bravely tried to batter them away. I remember pulling the Luger from his hands, emptying a single round right into his terrified, if not grateful, face. The wee beasties hardly noticed their upturned heads merely gorging on whatever bit of muscle or bone their weak tendrils could scoop from the man’s flesh.
 My worst memory of the whole ordeal, of all of it, is when I turned to look down the widened road at the incoming wave of creatures. Hundreds, if not thousands of them, were pouring down the crowded street like ants over fresh carrion, howling and moaning as they leapt to and fro. All of them showed signs of battle, their grey-tinged sides riddled with bullet holes, or a missing limb and shrapnel scarring along their upper bodies. They didn’t seem to even care. All they cared about, it seemed to me then, was to kill and to feed.
I don’t know how long I ran, just that after a while it went from a tactical retreat to a scared child fleeing the horrors belched forth from his deepest and darkest nightmares. The Luger was of little help and I had precious little ammo for it, I think I left it after using the last round on the desecrated monster that had once been a little girl. Shooting them dead in their chests, where the sternum rose high above them in a mockery of life, seemed to be the easiest way to handle them.
Not kill them, just handle them. They would be too weak to move if shot there, bone and muscle no longer connected and working together, now just flayed white tissue flapping uselessly along yellowed bone as the creature would howl and scream, begging for a fresh meal, and I think… release.
I found myself back at the bunker where we had all gathered earlier that day, a fortified ring of concrete walls and barbed wire striking me as the proverbial garden of Eden amidst the Hell Berlin had descended into. The gate, hammered to the side as if it had been subjected to several heavy rounds of tank fire, allowed me entrance to the bunker, a literal hive of activity: Soldiers running to and fro, calling for ammunition or doctors, helping battlefield medics tend to those that were wounded, officers issuing orders. One such officer turned and met my eye.
“Boy!” He’d cried, snapping his fingers and calling me over to his side, which I numbly did without complaint. “I assume you’re men are dead.”
“Y-yessir…” I remember mumbling, the heat of my face palpable even to my numbed mind.
“We’re losing this War son, and there’s nothing to change that.” The officer said, low enough that the chaos around us seemed to merely flow about like water, ignoring our very existence. “But we can do something to strike back, to smite those that would send us to our graves. Would you be willing to serve the Fuhrer in such a way?”
“Yes!” I remember crying, the idea of possibly being a War Hero outweighing the first part of what my commanding officer had said. I was so excited I can now remember ignoring the next few questions, all of which I practically squealed to “Yes!”
The fact that one of them was “Would you die for your country?” should have been one I paid attention to.

No comments:

Post a Comment