War Never Changes
They had us pinned down for three nights.
The rain was relentless.
Sheets of flat white would crack the sky and for a split second all was frozen in time – the soldiers lying dead in the craters, eyes full of water, the division of fighters winging overhead on their way back to base, a squad of boys leaping over a stone wall to escape the murderous enfilade of a machine gun nest, and the whole, eerie frozen scene was washed with a billion drops of rain, like a photograph under glass left out in a storm.
We had defilade. It wasn’t much, a few fallen logs and the bodies of our enemy piled atop them.
It was enough to keep us alive if we didn’t move.
The hole stunk of our droppings and misery. The rain couldn’t wash that away.
Oberleutnant Sommer had ordered us to blow the machine gun nest atop a stubby little hill that had been blasted free of cover weeks ago. It was like trying to climb a hill on the moon while it rained lead.
We couldn’t go forwards, we couldn’t go back. Unless we got some reinforcements we were probably going to die here.
I felt in my pack for the spare cigarettes, hoping they were still dry, even if I had no matches.
I couldn’t risk checking to look, the sky was throwing down wet ropes of rain.
I heard a whine, like a huge mosquito whizzing past my ear and Köhler cried out in pain.
I rolled over and saw a big red flower on his jacket. It was growing.
He looked at me with big brown eyes and he tried to speak, but all that came out was a bubble of blood.
We had no more medical supplies. They were gone before we even got here.
As he pumped air from his lips it grew larger and larger until I couldn’t look at it anymore.
I looked away. When I turned back Köhler’s eyes were fixed and dilated. The flower still bloomed.
I dropped my head and said a prayer. I closed his eyes.
I looked at Ruschke and he looked at me.
We were thinking the same thing.
We stripped off Köhler’s shirt and waved it over our heads.
We stood up, arms up, guns discarded.
The enemy soon came, all swagger and bravado, unfiltered cigarettes drooping from the corners of their mouths, even in the deluge. They smelled of baked beans and fried chicken and Coca-Cola. They spoke in rough vowels and splintered consonants, the very picture of Yankee-cool. They took our surrender. They bundled us into a half-track and we spent the next few hours bouncing through the ruts and puddles.
When we were taken into the prisoner camp one of them pressed a fresh pack of Lucky Strikes into my hand and patted me on the back.
I looked at his name tag. “Granger, L.”
I saw he had looked at mine, “Granger, H.”
Funny old world.
Jack and Jill
“JACK! Jack where are you, you lazy sonuvabitch? JACK!”
Out in the shed Jack puts the engine he has been trying to coax back into life down on the worn wooden workbench.
He rubs a calloused hand over his aging face and counts to 10.
Outside the banshee’s voice calls him again, a shrieking that rattles his very bones.
He has learned long ago that yelling back at her will have no effect.
Speaking calmly makes her nuts.
He grins at that.
He steps out into the bright sunshine and walks to the back of the house.
“Jill? You called me?”
She turns from the sink where she is stacking the lunch dishes.
“You damn right I called you, you lazy good-for-nothing. Playing with your tools again, huh? No, don’t say nuttin’, I don’ wanna hear it! You promised me you’d go and refill the water tank, didn’t you? ANSWER ME!”
Jack stands quietly, looking at his feet, knowing the question is rhetorical, and she is far from finished.
“Mister man, you best getcher booty up dat hill and fetch me some water. Now!”
“But Jill, you know I got a bad back. I can’t carry that water all by myself. I’m gonna need help.”
She shoots him a look that would make the devil wince.
“You such a lazy, lazy good-for-nothing. Why da hell did I marry you anyways? Fine. Let me get my boots on.”
They trudge together up the grassy hill, not touching, not speaking, not looking at each other. Each lost in their own thoughts
Jill thinks “Damn-that-man-he-so-lazy-why-the-hell-dinnit-i-marry-that-boy-my-mamma-wanted-me-to-marry-i-am-so-damn-mad-i-could-spit!”
Jack thinks “Wonder if Joe’s got that spark-plug wrench I need? Should be down home by now. Have to check when I get back.”
At the top of the long steep slope is an ancient well, its stones mossy and green with age.
A single wooden bucket is perched on its lip, a brand new rope connecting it to the framing above the deep cool hole.
Jack reaches for it at the same moment Jill does. For a moment they are looking into each other’s eyes, each too stubborn to let go, each too stubborn to let the other help.
“Let. Go. Of. The. Damn. Bucket. Jill!”
“Why? Sose you can drop it agin like last time? YOU let go!”
They start to wrestle for the bucket when Jack loses his footing, twisting his ankle on an errant rock. He starts to fall, but stubborn Jill won’t let go of the bucket.
In the morning the police mark off the area where their bodies are found. The report is marked “Death by Misadventure”.
A Murder of Crows
A murder of crows gollicked in the Stoning.
A huddle of ancient walls thrown up around them, protecting them from the eyes of the rabble.
Inside, smeared by fragrant smoke, a clutch of priests chanted the ancient words and swore fealty to dark and bloody gods.
Below, cramped into the inky dark, wild-eyed prisoners scrabbled in the dark, howling their profanities at the unfeeling walls.
Above, in the Stoning, the gollicking gives way to gobbling crimson strips of flesh torn from the decaying rot of a prisoner’s gaunt form. The crows cries sound of endless night, of mournful, tuneful wind in the skulls of the dead, of the echoing lost cries of a child in the woods.
A mad king tears out his eyes in the high tower, the sound of the feasting crows driving his sanity over the edge.
The bloody fingers of the faithful, scratching at the crumbling walls, howling their frustration at the uncaring walls. Desperate to be close to the unholy flock, desperate to be torn bloody, to be rended and devoured.
Covering all, like the putrid smoke from the fire of a thousand burning corpses, the unholy chanting fills every ear, turns every eye inward, turns every heart black.
Midnight in the shadows.