Weird War Tales
A World War I soldier finds himself in a precarious situation on the battlefield and receives a little help from beyond. Sometimes family ties still bind, even after death.
France, October 31, 1917:
In the midst of the battle, I can hear nothing. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of battle not long ago; now, all I remember is the whistle of an incoming shell, tossed in my general direction from the barrel of a German A7V tank. I remember a loud explosion that decimated the small company of men, of whom I was a corporal. I remember searing pain, and then, thankfully, sweet oblivion.
I don’t know what dragged me from the oblivion and back into the nightmare. It is dark, although whether that is because night has finally come, or if it is due to the smoke and the kicked-up dirt that obscures the sun, I am unsure.
The pain is still present, along with the stench of burnt flesh. My throat is tight, and it feels as though I have swallowed molten lead. I am sure that I am still screaming, but I still hear nothing. I try to stop my silent screams, although I am not certain I succeed.
I stand and begin looking around the field. I see a low cloud of smoke hugging the ground. All around me I see the mangled bodies of my company. Steam rises from their bodies. In the distance I see the flash of explosions; the ground shakes in response. Of the living combatants, I see nothing.
Thinking I am safe, I take a moment to look at my arm. My mouth is closed, so I suspect my screaming has stopped. What I see causes me to retch. The skin is blistered and black with soot and mud. I think I scream again.
I don’t know what causes me to turn, but I do. Through the smoke, something is moving towards me. I look around for my rifle, then I realize how useless it is to me. I beg forgiveness from my dead lieutenant as I pry his pistol from his cold fingers. Sightless eyes stare up at me, offering no forgiveness.
Scrambling across the ground, I slip several times. It has begun to rain, or maybe it has been raining all along. I decide on the latter as I fall headlong into a trench and swallow a mouthful of muddy water. I catch sight of someone out the corner of my eye, but when I turn, I see that it is only half of someone. Aside from whatever is in the smoke, I am alone.
I bite my lip until I taste blood as I peek over the top of the trench. The smoke seems to part like a curtain as a stiff breeze crosses the field. What I see is a small squad of Huns coming towards me. Their long coats are mud-spattered, and their faces are covered by gas masks. I take a quick breath but detect nothing other than the smell of death.
They stop and, in horror, I see one point at me. It is only now that I decide to check the pistol. I am fortunate; the lieutenant must have had no chance to fire it, for it is fully loaded.
I have to trust their approach to my eyes, for my ears still do not work.
The words of my mother come to me now, which, I suppose, is not unusual. What is unusual are the words I hear her say. I tilt my head to the right. I cannot hear the sounds around me, but her voice is very clear.
The Germans are moving slowly, cautiously, so I glance to my left. My mother is standing there, transparent against the battlements.
“You come from a family that fights for its own.”
These are not the words of comfort I expected to hear, yet I still find comfort in them. She looks over the trench’s edge at the oncoming Germans, then at the field behind me.
The Germans stop. Did they see this figment of my doomed imagination as well?
I hear another noise behind me. A shadow passes over me, followed by a second one, and a third one. My mother smiles, and she fades.
I hear the snort of a horse and risk a peek over the trench.
Standing on the ground a few feet in front of me, I see a ghostly sight. It is my grandfather, not as he was when he died, but as he was when he roamed the West with his brothers. Their long dusters flap in a phantom wind, and they pull their hats low.
As they dismount, there is no splash from the puddles they land in. My grandfather tips his hat at me, nods at his brothers, and then turns his attention to the Huns. He draws two pistols from tied-down holsters while his brothers raise their rifles.
They begin walking towards the Germans, crossing the ground as though it were dry. I hear the bullets leave the barrels of their weapons, see the stabbing flame, and watch the Germans fall as each bullet finds its mark.
My mother’s words touch my ears again.
With my arm hanging useless at my side, I climb out of the ditch and stagger to join my family. My grandfather flashes me a quick smile.
The Germans try to break and flee, but our guns continue to account for themselves.
I hear another voice. When I look up, it is from the ground. A corpsman is kneeling beside me. He is motioning for other corpsmen to bring a stretcher as he speaks. “This one’s alive.”
“You put up one doozy of a fight, Corporal. You wiped out an entire squad.”
I turn my head and see the Huns scattered about. My expression must be blank, because the man tells the others I am in shock. That is true, but not for the reason he thinks.
I hear another voice nearby, but he seems not to notice. I look around and see my grandfather and his brothers sitting on their transparent horses. My mother stands beside them. She smiles; they all do.
“Family,” she says.
“Family,” I repeat.
Looking at my arm, the corpsman nods. “You’ll see them soon,” he tells me.
I can only smile.