TW: war, violence, PTSD
“Run, Percy! They’re coming!” The sound of gunshots infects the air, poisoning my ears. I can feel the gas seep in through the barracks, setting my lungs aflame. There is no mercy, no prisoners. Only pain and death. Tossing my rifle over my shoulder with a grunt, I make for the next camp. You didn’t need to be in the crossfire to know what was going on outside. The Nazis had come, and they would kill us all.
Running across the dense camp, pushing through screaming sergeants and fellow privates, I shove a gas mask on. The pain in my lungs eases, like a blaze slowly dying without oxygen.
“Percival, what are you feeling?” A voice echoes through the painful shouts and screams, blood everywhere. “Percival, what are you feeling?”
A pile of bodies, at least ten feet tall, stands before me in the mist. I choke on my bile, scrambling to get to the next camp. Where’s our artillery? Squadron 62 falls helplessly, no one there to save us.
The dirt stains my worn Armed Forces pajamas, seeping in and blackening my heaving chest. I crawl through the manhole, sinking deep down. Big breath in, big breath out. The blood on my right arm spills from my cuff.
In, out. In, out… In… out. I look west, the screams still stamped on my ears.
“I can’t do this.” I was thrown from the putrid smoke of war and death into the cool air of Ms. Braun’s office. My eyes wandered around, looking for the all-too-familiar swastika. The Nazis were here, I knew it. They were probably hiding in the vents, waiting for her to leave so they could slit my exposed throat. My eyes were like a malfunctioning robot in the movies, flitting around aimlessly and digging themselves deep into my skull.
“Calm down, Percival. You let the thoughts take control again.” A soothing arm was placed on my quivering arm, and I shivered as she tried to calm me down. My leather watch shook with the convulsions, slowly coming to a halt as my legs ceased to quake. Jamie. I needed to get back to Jamie, I’d left him behind. He was still in there, fighting the enemy! I needed to get him out. Jamie…
The cold air whipped my hair back and forth. I leaned on my worn cane, let it tether me to the solid wood of my porch. I was here, not there. No, Percy, it's 1985. We’re here now, we made it. No, they’re not coming for us… their uniforms blazing through the unbreakable night, the blood and gas seeping through every crack…
The piles of bodies lined up in the deadly mists of the night sky. No one was safe, no one would escape. I hid in the manhole, the sounds of my brethren’s deaths echoing above me as I cried myself to sleep night after night. There was no way out… no escape from the pain.
No, no no no no no. That’s not right. It’s 1985. No, we’re not going to die. We made it! There’s no escape. No freedom from the Nazis… no way to get out… No! My aged hands crinkle over the watch on my wrist, keeping me in the present. Its leather had soothed me for years, kept me sane as I leaned on my hollow cane. The children in the street, they didn’t know what they were joking about with their War games and their Cops and Robbers. They didn’t know life or death. The children… the children were free. They were ignorant, and stupid, and free. Lucky bastards.
My street was kind and welcoming to the normal mind, one not plagued with genocide and mass murder. They were happy here, living their days out in the company of their friends and kin. Where were my friends and kin? I fought hard for their freedom. Where was my reward? Every day I search for one, just one good fruit that the war bore. Every day I return to my nightmares empty handed.
Fruit… the wrinkled pears they gave us to slave away in the field. The meager energy we were given to do our duty. Piles of them, exploding in the air as the gunshots rang out. Hushed voices echoing battle orders across the camp as we shot for our lives. Husky german voices screaming “für das Mutterland” as they criss crossed through the corpses and wounded soldiers. Breathe in, breathe out. In, out. The shaky breathing of an invalid in the medical tent, the screams as they amputated the swollen, pus-filled limbs. In, out. You’re here now.
I forced myself back to the real world, a world to me even less real than that of my memories. I rubbed the worn grooves of my leather watch as it jittered with the shaking of the bones in my wrist. The sun creeps behind the shadow of the Earth, hiding away and leaving me in detestable darkness. It was time to prepare.
Locks on the doors? Check.
Rifles stocked and loaded? Check.
Valuables stored? Check and check.
It was time for a night of writhing in fear, the phantasms of corpses haunting my neurons as I struggle to fall asleep. It was time for war.
“Have you made any improvements in the exercises I’ve recommended, Percival?” Ms. Braun asked. Her hollow yet soothing voice is like honey to my edgy nerves.
“Well, I still can’t bring myself face to face with a German.” It felt shameful to say it aloud, my unconscious fears. Why was it shameful? I have every right to be afraid… don’t I?
A cold night settles over the battleground. I shut my eyes prudently, a knife in my pocket and a gun under the pillow. The hard ground badgers my worn spine, crooks it out of shape. Still, its all I got.
Just as I’m about to drift off into a 6-hour freak show, a footstep sounds outside the tent. I arouse myself from near-sleep mode, cocking my gun in anticipation.
The green flap of the ugly tent flies open and I see Jamie. His warm brown face and his soft eyes ease my frail heart.
“Were you gonna pull a gun on me, Perce?” He settles in, sitting down on my supply bin and taking off his shoe to massage the aching sores I know he has. I push myself up to a sitting position and let my elbows ache.
“You can never be too careful.” I groan out.
“Here, got us some bread.” He passes the brick-hard block of wheat into my hands and I tear at it. No matter how disgusting, food is food. We laugh together as I bash it against a rock and it still doesn’t break.
“Percival. Please try your best to remain in the moment.” I settled myself. Even though it was a happy memory, it unnerved me. The edges of my mind felt fuzzy with age and weariness.
“You must understand that there are many German people in the world. I bet you’ll find tons of part-Germans in the street out there. Heck, my great-grandfather was German!” Ms. Braun seemed to be trying to ease my nerves but she just made it worse.
"Your... your great-grandfather... he-" My throat constricted as the walls closed in around me. She recognized my terror far too late and as she tried to calm down in vain I ran from the cold, white room.
The wind tugged at my hair as I biked against it, fleeing to the safety of my home. There was no hope, no escape. They were everywhere. The enemy was everywhere.