This is a collection of anecdotes from the fringes of reality, a tapestry stitched together from our dreams as well as our nightmares, from the fears that haunt the collective imagination. These are the symptoms of the sickness known as the human condition.
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were hundreds of them standing at the edge of the forest. Patchworks
of advanced units of the Red Army were congregating under the
towering pine trees trying to shield themselves from the cold rains
of early spring that fell in sheets from the gray sky. The restless
soldiers had spent the last thirty or so minutes watching a captured
self-propelled German artillery piece-a field gun that resembled a
tank lumbering back a forth, its electric turret as it moved from
left to right, the barrel adjusting its elevation up and down.
iron cross-painted on the side was splattered with mud from soldiers
hurling clumps of earth at it while making bets on who could hit the
center. In the gun’s sites was a house in a small German farming
village that sat on the horizon. It was just a few houses and barns,
too small to even appear on any of the military maps.
protocol would have been to burn it down and move on, but Germans had
hit them with machine gunfire from there. Gray and black figures
moved quickly between the houses in the distance, obviously a mix of
Volkstrum and Waffen S.S.
Red Army units standing ready to devour the village were a motley
group of peasants taken from the farthest reaches of the U.S.S.R. and
hastily thrown together on the battlefield. They had crossed into
Germany just hours ago, or at least that’s what was indicated by
the blood-stained and grease smudged sign that read, “Welcome to
soldiers in their tattered and often mismatched uniforms hardly
looked like a professional army. They had been ordered to “stand at
the ready,” but as they watched the artillery grind its tracks
deeper and deeper into the mud the mixture of fear and excitement was
topped off by the surge of adrenaline that came with the prospect of
combat was beginning to fade and boredom was breaking their
discipline. Alex a particularly lowly soldier from far outside of
Moscow was quietly fidgeting with his rifle while the soldiers around
him spoke in hoarse whispers that grew louder and louder prompting
the Lieutenant to walk over and threaten punishment if any of them
“failed to keep his fucking mouth shut.” Each time this happened
silence returned, but only temporarily.
having just turned sixteen, was the youngest in his unit. He was an
awkward and melancholy boy. He had a bony body couldn’t fill his
uniform. His feet were so small that there were no boots for him. He
had to wear the same tattered shoes he’d reported for duty in. They
were torn with holes that let the cold rain seep in and chill his
feet to the point of numbness. The men around him were listening to
their Sergeant’s stories, many of them sexual. The details of the
girls he paid.
girls wanted protection.
some had begged him to stop.
they all got the same laughter from the men.
recounted story after story in such vague detail that Alex had to
wonder if some of them weren’t made up. During the occasional brief
pause, someone else would try and tell a similar story. The Sergeant
interrupted or waited for the story to end so he could tell his own
even more fantastical tale.
could certainly keep their attention, but Alex suspected that had
more to do with his large stocky build and loud booming voice that
carried over all others, rather than with own personal charisma.
was drawing circles in the mud with the muzzle of his rifle as he
half listened to the Sergeant. He didn’t much care for the man, but
the subject of sex was stirring enough to keep the young virgin
interested. He’d never heard stories like the ones he’d heard in
his very short time at the front.
women were a prize, and just one of many in a glorious march to
manhood paved in fire and blood.
was a subject that came up more often than any other amongst the men,
especially the Sergeant, and unfortunately for Alex, they found out
he was a virgin.
was something they never let him forget.
Sergeant had just begun telling a story about a Polish university
student when Lieutenant Uri stomped over with his pistol drawn.
up!” He commanded. “They’re about to fire.”
was no expert, but he suspected the concentration of the men in the
mammoth machine would not be broken by the sound of them talking
outside, but he knew better than to point this out. There was a tense
silence as their eyes continuously shifted from the barrel of the gun
to the house in the distance. They all jumped at the same time when
the shell burst out a heavy plume of smoke and exploded in the earth
right in front of their intended target.
yelled the spotter and the driver emerged from the vehicle so the
Commander could berate him. The Lieutenant sighed and turned to the
men, “All right, stay at attention and keep your fucking mouths
shut!” He yelled as he ran back over to put himself between the
Commander and the machine’s oblivious operator.
kept quiet this time.
pain from the ringing in Alex’s ears made him wince.
suspected everyone else felt the same thing.
Taking only a
fraction of the time as before, the gun adjusted its elevation and
the turret hummed making slight movements from left to right. And the
gun fired its second round, making the startled men jump again. This
time the shell struck a house directly behind the one they were
aiming for. The explosion produced a plume of smoke and debris that
swallowed up their intended target. The ringing in Alex’s ears had
moved to his skull and his whole head seemed to be vibrating like a
tuning fork. As the high-pitched ring began to fade, the first thing
he heard was the Commander screaming, “What? Those were our ONLY
two rounds?” The Lieutenant put himself between the driver and the
Commander trying to diffuse the situation.
looked back at the village in the distance. As the smoke from the
explosion dissipated, he could see men running into different houses.
at how the fritzs lives,” said the grim voice of Oleksander, a
young soldier from Ukraine, who was standing next to him. His sunken
eyes and shallow cheeks made his face seem still as if it were made
of stone. Alex wasn’t sure if he was talking to him or just
thinking out loud. “Their animals live in barns nicer than my
home.” He spoke so rarely that Alex could remember the exact
when he’d last heard his voice.
was two days ago.
was standing over the body of a dead German. He spit on it and said,
“I hope you’re getting fucked in hell.”
only other time he ever spoke was to curse the Russian soldiers under
his breath. The Commander erupted in a frenzy of profanities. He
turned and looked and the driver was on all fours. The Commander’s
leg snapped out like a snake as his boot made contact with the man’s
head, sending it smashing into the side of the tank. He fell to the
ground screaming as the Commander continued his assault, raining
blows down upon his flailing body. Alex quickly looked away and acted
like he didn’t notice. Lieutenant Yuri ran back over with his
pistol in the air. “We charge now!”
He screamed at the men. No one moved a muscle and an eerie silence
fell over them.
repeated his order and fired a shot into the air. The round snapped
in Alex’s ear and all at once a hundred battle cries morphed into
the collective roar of the charging stampede. The rhythm of their
boots was the perfect accompaniment to the resonating choir of
gunfire. Alex’s legs went numb but somehow they were still quickly
carrying him into the open field towards the eruption of muzzle
flashes that were blinking all over the town like fireflies, and even
though he was running the rest of his body was frozen. The air
stopped in his lungs and beads of sweat and rain ran down hair and
into his eyes. He could hear the dull thud of bodies hitting the
ground around him. He could see the window ahead of him growing
larger and the machine gun mounted in its frame became louder and
louder. He was going to be crushed between the walls of the German
fortifications and the panicked herd he ran with.
ran past men in various stages of death. Some of them writhed on the
ground trying in vain to hold back the blood that was running out of
their bodies carrying pieces of their organs with it. Others lay
quietly and let the life run out of them, accepting their opportunity
to see the war finally come to an end. Alex was close to the machine
gun now. He could even make out the steel helmet of the German
pulling the trigger. He closed his eyes and waited for the bullets to
tear through his body.
down!” Someone shouted and Alex hit the ground. A grenade exploded
in a shower of glass and other debris. Alex looked up, bewildered.
Oleksander had saved his life and kept him from running into the
exploding grenade. The Ukrainian soldier pulled Alex to his feet.
There wasn’t time for a thank you.
ceased to exist. Alex lost himself in the blood soaked confusion as
he floated through his nightmare. The maelstrom of fire and screams
blended into the hum of violence. As he began to reconnect with his
body and regain control over his cognitive faculties, he was swept by
a group of men wandering the battlefield. Yuri led them, rounding up
the wide-eyed young soldiers who were bleating like lost sheep. Alex
felt secure when he was around the Lieutenant. He had been fighting
the war for more than two years, and his mind had internalized the
visceral images of war and was no longer shaken by them.
me, boy!” He yelled and Alex promptly obeyed. They followed Yuri to
one of the houses and stopped outside the door. The men lined up
behind him, gripping their rifles in anticipation. His boot crashed
through the door with one swift kick, and the men poured into the
house. There was immediate gunfire, and by the time Alex even got
through the door, it was over. The room was filled with smoke and
screams. On one side of the room, three piles of shredded flesh
wrapped in gray cloth were sitting in a pool of blood. Yuri was on
the ground holding his arm to his body. Blood poured through his
of a bitch!” He screamed. “That son of a whore shot me in the
fucking elbow.” He directed his eyes at a young chubby faced
Asiatic soldier who seemed genuinely caught off guard by the
accusation. He shook his head and started backing away, but before he
could explain himself, the butt of a rifle struck him sending blood
and teeth into the wall. “Kill that horse fucker!” The Lieutenant
screamed. The men obliged his request and began stomping on the man’s
body with their heavy boots.
one seemed to notice as Alex backed slowly out of the room and
stumbled out of the house. Unfazed by the clattering sound of sub
machine gunfire, he stumbled through the village’s narrow streets
left alone to piece together his first combat experience. A drizzle
fell as the fighting quickly gave way to pillaging. The orgy of
violence against the remaining population was a much more drawn out
affair than the actual fighting had been.
night the soldiers set up camp in that little village. More men began
to catch up with the advanced units and brought with them vodka
rations. As the liquor flowed, the officers began to melt in with
their men and what discipline there had been faded away. The soldiers
turned the village into a bonfire, the flames casting their long
shadows over the earth as they did their dance of madness. Alex sat
in the middle of this carnival of depravity contemplating the events
of the day through the lens of his vodka-soaked mind.
sat down next to him. He was swaying back and forth and a large grin
was plastered across his face. Alex was certain that this was the
first time he’d ever seen him smile. And it was enough to pique his
yourself?” He asked. Oleksander nodded his head, “Alex,” He
said, as he tried to steady himself. Alex waited for him to gather
his thoughts and finish his sentence.
you ever had a blonde girl?” Oleksander asked, his grin somehow
becoming larger. Alex shook his head. “Oh right, you’re
the virgin!” He said, with a laugh. Alex already liked silent
bitter Oleksander much better than the loud boisterous character that
a few drinks made him.
to tease,” He said, slurring his words “but Alex there is a girl
here that you can have right now.”
are you talking about?” Alex asked.
me,” Oleksander replied. He helped Alex up and the two of them
almost fell over. Oleksander led Alex to an open cellar. Dozens of
inebriated men were going in and out. Alex followed Oleksander
inside. The temperature immediately changed as they went down the
stairs. The air was heavy with musk and sweat, and the roar of the
men was deafening. The soldiers had packed themselves into the cellar
so tightly that there was barely any room to walk.
and Oleksander stumbled through the cellar to where it opened up in
the middle. And under a single hanging light was a young blonde girl,
as Oleksander had promised.
was lying on the floor stripped completely naked. Her flesh was
covered in dirt and bruises.
stared at her for a second and Oleksander patted him on the back.
“Now is your chance!” He yelled into Alex’s ear, but Alex
froze. He turned to leave but immediately ran into a formidable
Sergeant’s heavy body.
He exclaimed, almost stumbling as he clapped the young virgin soldier
on the back. “Looking to become a man, are you?” Alex shook his
head but before he could object, the Sergeant pulled him into the
middle of the circle so they were both standing over the frightened
girl. The Sergeant shouted for silence and after a moment the crowd
noise abated. Once again he had their attention.
you’re looking at a boy…But not for long. This boy has seen
battle. And after he fucks this little German bitch he will be a
man!” The crowd erupted into cheers and Alex looked at the Sergeant
unsure of what to do.
all yours!” The Sergeant shouted. He backed away and joined the
wild crowd of soldiers who were to bear witness to Alex’s most
intimate right of passage into manhood. Reluctantly Alex fell on top
of the girl.
were face to face.
could see the streaks that tears had left behind on her face.
could feel her warm blood sticking to his leg.
froze but the chants grew louder and louder. Panicking he began to
thrust blindly until eventually he was inside her.
vacant eyes just stared past him, her lips moving as if she were
talking to herself. When Alex leaned in he heard the word “Gott.”
next morning Alex awoke on the floor of a barn. The light
proliferating through the wooden walls burned his eyes. He tried to
stand up but the room was spinning and he could feel the warm vodka
shooting its way up from his stomach to his mouth. He threw up on the
ground. Outside the clinking of ammo cartridges were loaded into
rifles, accompanied by the heavy growling of vehicle engines. It was
time to move out. Alex left the barn. The village was a charred and
twisted shadow of its former self. The quaint wooden houses were ashy
shells and the air stank of gasoline, vomit, and blood. Alex saw the
Sergeant who waved him over.
How was your first time?” He asked.
voice was too loud for Alex to handle in his hung over state. The
Sergeant laughed. Several of the men patted him on the back and
congratulated him. Apparently he had now become a man. But for Alex
most of it was a blur. There were only a few vivid images permanently
etched in his mind.
vacant yet beautiful blue eyes.
way tears streaked down her bruised and dirty face.
wished he could forget them.
marched out of that little village in high spirits. Last night was
just what they needed and Berlin wasn’t far away. Alex was wracking
his brain trying to remember last night.
would have a whole lifetime to remember what he wanted to forget.
they marched out of what was left of that tiny farming village, they
passed its former residents, who were now nothing more than a pile of
bodies. Their contorted frames fit together just enough so that the
pile was stable. Some had been beaten, but many just had a single
bullet hole in their heads. Some of their eyes were open and they
seemed to follow Alex as he walked by. He couldn’t look away. He
craned his neck as they walked away.
he saw her again.
once honey blonde hair was matted with blood that had run down her
face and stained her skin a dark crimson. But her lifeless blue eyes
were still the same. There she was.
girl who had made him a man.
would always remember that first time.
This story was originally printed in an anthology called "Soldier Story". If you enjoyed this tale of youth in war you may want to check out the rest of the book. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1484185943/ref=oh_details_o08_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Thirty-three year old Matthew Sheridan was running a perpetual race against time. Too far along in his years to have the luxury of slowing down but still not old enough to see the steadily approaching finish line.
Just like it’s somewhat removed predecessor the British empire the sun also never sets on the electronic world of global finance. Matthew regimented his life around the multiple operating schedules of bourses spread across three different continents. This required him to view every other aspect of life as purely functional.
Love is just a function of sex, which is itself the true biological motivator and reward. That was how the coldly logical specialist viewed human companionship. His climb up the glass spire had started as a mad clamor among innumerable and mostly faceless competitors. Every flight of stairs he climbed the pool of competition grew increasingly shallow but profoundly more vicious.
Matthew didn’t have much of a life to share or much inclination to do so.
The maggot’s existence began as abruptly as any other
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its brethren embedded in the decomposing human flesh. Only when the body is
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and simply eats the remains breaking down the biological shell that once held
and animated every intangible aspect of a human being into its most basic
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terminal cycle. A single complex entity was dissolving and distributing
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He watched the soldiers descend on an elephant that had fallen and dismember it with their swords so they could devour its flesh and leave a mountainous carcass for the flies to feast on.
Its black marble eyes were heavy with sorrow and gleamed with the fresh tears that came whenever he remembers the hollowed eyes now just two dark chasms carved out just above a flaccid motionless trunk.
When they reached the battlefield, the weary soldiers whipped themselves into a frenzy. Both sides banged their shields while they exchanged threats and insults.
The beast of…