Bernard thought of his fathers mustache, and missed him terribly.
The face of the man he was looking at was nothing like his father, with his frank, straight farmers stare. Here was a face he knew all too well. Blue eyes like his father, yes, but beneath them, the varicose jowls that gossiped about too much schnapps, had you not been close enough to feel the unsmistakeable tang on the mans breath. The look in those eyes ever jolly, eyebrows high on the forehead. His fathers mustache, bleached almost white by age and the summer sun, upturned and unruly in the manner of the old kaiser. And underneath that fat lips like liverwurst, locked in a condescending smile.
‘-Ah, Bernie! it just so happens I have a job for you!’
The sergeant always said that. It was kind of a joke between them, or at least the sarge thought so. Best to play along. He had seen that jolly fat lipped smile turn into red-faced rage on many occasions. Usually, when that happened, people got hurt.
‘-What is my job, sergeant?’
‘-Little Bernie! So polite! And so kind of you to ask! It is a special task!’
Bernard knew his cue. He put the stock of his rifle on the snowy concrete next to his boot, and came to attention. Hollering like a recruit at basic, he asked the question like so many times before:
‘-SIR! Your orders, SIR!’
‘-Bernie, my boy! I want you to patrol these railway cars, front and back! Make sure none of our esteemed guests have gotten lost. Is this something you think you could do?’
‘-SIR, YES SIR!’ Bernard braced for the hearty slap to the neck he knew was coming. The trick was to hunch up and catch the gloved hand with his shoulders. Most importantly not to lose his cap. If he did that the sergeant would get angry.
Bernard gripped his rifle and shuffled forward, exaggerating the force of the sergeants push. Playing the young oaf to the sergeants jolly giant. To himself he once again entertained the fantasy of facing the red-faced drunk and teaching him a thing or two about the code of conduct, regulations, and Soldiers Oath they had both taken. But as always, that was a fight for another day.
He walked along the embankment next to the railway cars. His laced boots had gotten snow on them and he could already feel water seeping in to the tear in the oversole.
Soggy. Cold. Stinky. His wool gloves smelled terrible from him breathing into his hands to warm them while smoking the cheap local cigarettes at night. The collar of his blouse chafed. He had sown on the bottle green collars - a daring fashion statement he shared with most of his detachment - but as he wan’t a seamstress he had done a poor job and now it felt like the stiff collars were sawing his head off. His greatcoat was heavy and damp, but still didn’t manage to keep the cold at bay. His cap was the only article of clothing doing its job. But on the other hand, having a warm head only made the tips of his ears feel even colder.
Bernard had reached the end of the row of cars, and turned the corner to the rear of the last carriage.
He breathed a sigh of relief mixed with disgust. From here on, at least the sergeant could not see him. An occasion that merited a cigarette. He leaned his mauser against the railcar bumper and popped the brass clasp of the ammunition pouch where he kept his smokes. Leaning back against the dark red wood of the railway car, he gripped a cigarette with his lips from the crumpled package. The cheap, coarse cigarette filled his mouth with bitter flakes of what he guessed passed for tobacco these days. He spat as he lit the cigarette with a match.
Drawing deep on the cigarette, Bernard felt the headache that had been slowly building all morning recede. Life felt pretty bearable. He once again thought of his father and what he would have said on the topic of sergeant Müller.
‘-A man who does not merit your friendship or respect is not worth anything to you, Bernard. And whatever such a man says or does should mean nothing to the kind of man you should strive to be.’
Thinking of his father, ramrod straight with his sunday suit and the white mustache upturned underneath that unflinching gaze, Bernard felt proud. He hoped his father would approve of him, of his sacrifice. Of what he had done and was willing to do for his country and his comrades. He just hoped that he had the strength to make it all the way. And, of course, not get his ass shot off while he was getting there.
The voice startled him, right next to his ear. He looked right and left before realizing that the voice came from within the car, by someone leaning down. A cultured voice, the voice of an academic.
‘-Not long now, sir. A few hours here and then a few more to our destination.’ Bernard believed in being polite and had been raised by his parents to respect his elders.
‘-Thank you.’ Bernard could hear the shuffle of someone moving away from him into the carriage, and muffled voices. He flicked his cigarette away, grabbed his rifle, and walked on into the snowdrift covering the ground on the far side of the train.
Going was harder on this side. Bernard mused over the fact that it was so quiet. Idly he thought about how the falling snow seems to suck the sound out of the world. It always made him want to hurry inside to his mother and sister, to the hearth and life and sounds of the small apartment where he grew up.
The hem of his creatcoat digged a furrow in the snow as he plodded along throught the snowdrift. His boots were now well and truly soaked. He thought indignantly about the fat fool of a sergeant who had sent him on this fools errand. Fucking corrupt bastard. As he worked up a rage against his sergeant, he suddenly realized that he heard his voice.
He could only hear the tone, not what was said. The sergeant was upset. he had a pleading in his voice Bernard did not recognize. Suddenly, the sergeant cried out in pain.
The soldier in Bernard took over and his rage was forgotten. Only one thing mattered now, to get to his comrade in time. The loyalty to a fellow soldier was more important than anything. Than his own life. He had sworn this. Bernard dived under the railway carriage shoving the snow aside to reach the steep embankment on the other side. His rifle, slung over a shoulder, caught on the underside of the railway car, pinning him. He swore and rattled the rifle loose. Throwing himself into the narrow gap, bending back, up on his knees, disoriented. Where was Müller? Whipping around to the left and right, he suddenly saw his sergeant standing right next to him.
Sergeant Müller looked surprised, unsure. Next to him stood a girl. She had a fancy fur coat on, the sable matching her hair. Bernard noted that she was barefoot and did not seem to be wearing any stockings. She held the fur coat closed with both hands. Sergeant Müller snatched back his hand from within her coat.
The sergeant smiled. ‘-Ah, little Bernie is back! Such a pleasant surprise.’
Bernard held his tounge, looking at the ground.
‘-Little Bernie! Just so happens I have a job for you.’
Bernard still did not meet his gaze. What was the proper protocol for this? His mind raced.
‘-What is my job, sergeant?’
The sergeant smiled.
‘-Take this Jew sow out back and shoot her in the head.’
Bernard had dreaded this moment. He had known it must come. Most of his friends had already gotten their test. In hushed voices, he and his fellow squadmates had discussed the rules and regulations at night. He knew the Wermacht would not punish him for refusing. But as his friends had all done before him, he knew that it was time to deal with it as a soldier, as a man.
He lowered his rifle at the girl.
‘-All right, start walking. Lets get this over with.’
Her eyes suddenly seemed to turn black as ink before she turned her head and started stumbling out into the snow. Maybe it was a look of utter disappointment, of all hope lost.
He did not like looking at her feet. She walked with a stumbling, unsure gait, as if she was dazed. The hesitant footsteps in the snow made her look like a little girl. It made him think of his baby sister. This would not do.
From his comrades, who had already passed their test, he had gotten advice. Instructions. Think of the big picture. Think about our struggle. Think about a thousand years from now. This needs to be done. You need to be strong. They are not like us. They are nothing like us.
As they walked out into the snowdrift, Bernard needed to look away from her naked calves in the snow. He didnt want to look at her back either, she looked so small in her fur coat. He didn’t even want to think about her neck until it was time.
Nervously, he checked his rifle. The mauser was loaded with five rounds. He chambered a round. The clack of the bolt action made the girl flinch as if he had struck her. She stopped.
‘-Walk on, it’s all right. This will all be over soon. Don’t worry.’
‘-Where should i go?’ She had a little girl voice, like a child trying to speak like a grownup. Again, she reminded him of his sister. Damn it all to hell!
Bernard looked around. They were standing in a field twenty metres from the train. Where does one do this? What is the protocol? Bernard thought back to every instance during the long campaign when soldiers had done their duty. Usually away from the others. Somewhere private. Somewhere hidden. Like defecating, even if everyone had to do it, that didn’t mean you happily did it where everyone could see. No, you went away. Bernard saw a small crevasse next to the train tracks. Down there they would be hidden from view.
‘-Walk over there, down there. He pointed with the barrel of his rifle.’ She looked at it, over at him, at his face. She turned and started down the slope. She was picking up speed, but Bernard could see there was nowhere to go.
Soon it would be time. He would tell her to lie face down in the snow and close her eyes, and it would be merciful. He told himself that she would not have it better if she’d been on the train when it arrived. She sure as hell wouldnt have had it better with sergeant Müller.
The girl had stopped on the snowy floor of the crevasse. He walked up to her and stopped. It was time. How to put this? He cleared his troat. ‘-Uh.’
Still with her back to him, she suddenly straightened her arms and the black sable fur coat slid off her outstretched arms. She was standing naked before him. It now occurred to him that she did not look like his sister that much.
First of all, she was muscular. He had never seen a woman who looked so strong. Secondly, there was something strange with her skin. It looked like she was covered in plates. Some form of jewish tattoo? But it was glowing, seemingly moving under her skin.
She turned around and faced him. Her face was different too. She had looked like a frightened little girl, but now she met his gaze with an interested, amused look. Her eyes had a hard, frank stare. She looked just like his father that day. Strong, unflinching, devoid of compromise or doubt. She looked older, somehow. She smiled. How could she smile? Involontarily, he raised his rifle from pointing at her, holding it across his breast, like a shield.
‘-Do you think you are the man your father wanted you to be, Bernard?’
The girl clasped her hands together. She had a ring on each index finger. Deftly she slid them of so they rested in each hand. Inexplicably, the rings seemed to be connected by a line that was glowing, as if made from molten steel.
The girl looked at Bernard and was now grinning.
Exhaling the breath from her lungs, Vendela leaped onto the german soldier. Time slowed to a crawl as her nanite enhanced muscles and bones threw her into the embrace of the young man, who watched in horror as her garrotte effortlessly sliced through the barrel of his carbine and into his neck. That was the very last concious experience he had. As his severed head fell into the snow, seemingly in slow motion, Vendela, crouched on his shoulders, was bathed in the dual spurt of blood from his severed arteries.
Why does it feel so fucking good to kill nazis? Vendela mused. She enjoyed this moment, bathed in the still warm blood of the monster she had just killed.
If someone were to see her, sitting like a bird of prey on the dead soldier, grinning like she had won the lottery, she would have to kill them too.
Time to get back.