Doctor Erhard's manner rested in the shadowy heart of an ancient pine forest. It was the doctor's vacation retreat, but for the last two years, it had become his home.
Erhard was vehemently against Hitler's war and his government, and despite the dangers involved, he didn't make this a secret. He served in a medical unit during the first great war, and he witnessed first-hand war's ravages.
Every night he dreamt about stumbling over-bloated corpses in the rain flooded trenches. His nightmares were like vivid pieces of cinema set to the soundtrack of screams and artillery fire. Every night he watched his hands perform the same amputations, cut away the same burnt flesh and excise bullets that had lodged themselves in the soft tissue of internal organs.
Every moment was reborn in overwhelming detail. The rusty color of dried blood that stained his worn-out instruments, the feeling of dirt showering on him when the artillery exploded into the earth above their heads. What he remembered most, though, was the look on the face of the young soldiers he was forced to operate on without anesthetic. He could see each wide-eyed boy trembling on the gurney while he went to work, cutting into them like a butcher in the hope he could save them.
He reassured each one that it had to be done, but all too often, the excruciating pain of vivisection proved futile. He always insisted he survived because of a promise excreted from him by God, that if he returned home safely, he would never again support in any way this vilest expression of man's innate evil.
He ran a successful practice. He was able to send his son to school in America to avoid being sent to war by the Nazis. When the bombs began to fall on the cities, he moved his practice out of town and headed for the sanctuary of the countryside.
He witnessed the aerial bombing raids carried out almost nightly against his country. He saw dust-covered people silently digging through the rubble to find the tattered remains of children buried in the heap. He saw broken human beings scurrying among the rubble living in constant fear o the air rides sirens screaming their warning. So he volunteered in the hospital when he could always vowing to flee should he ever be ordered to the front lines.
The war came and went, and Germany lay in ruins. The invaders settled all across the fatherland and took what they want. Erhard didn't leave his home much anymore. He thought it safer to stay out from the view of the occupiers.
His wife had passed just before the war, so most of his time was spent in solitude. He kept his phonograph constantly spinning to drown out the silence, and when he needed to converse, he decided to try reaching out to God. He looked for signs of God's responses to him everywhere he could. It could be anything. The flickering of a candles flame, the low howl of the wind, or even the gathering of clouds. To Erhard, all of these things could be God's voice.
One night a visitor came knocking on his door. It was a faint knock, he barely heard it over the gusty wind. At first, he disregarded it, but then it came again.
He opened the door, and a young girl probably no older than 16 was standing before him. She hung her head low. Her ebony cloak and the darkness of night obscured her face.
"Doctor Erhard?" she asked with great hesitation in her voice.
"Yes?" replied the doctor curiously.
"My name is Theresa Buelow. You were my family's physician.
Erhard did not recognize the girl, but he decided to believe her. If nothing else, he wanted to make sure she got out of the cold.
"Oh, well, what can I do for you?"
"May I come in?" She muttered abruptly.
"Yes, certainly," Erhard said reluctantly.
When the mysterious girl entered, she pushed back her cloak, revealing a faintly bruised face. The doctor studied her for a moment, and suddenly he remembered.
"You're Robert's Daugther," He said
Theresa nodded her head.
"How is he?" Erhard asked with a friendly smile
"Dead," Thersa said, looking down at the floor.
"Sorry," He said, casting his eyes down.
"I need your help, doctor Erhard. There is no one else for me to go to." She said on the verge of tears.
"What can I do?" He asked.
"I...I'm with child," she stuttered.
Erhard answered with a glare. "Where is the father?" He asked after a moment.
"There is no father," She replied, tears gleaming in her hazel eye.
She told the whole gut-wrenching story. About the soldiers who occupied her village. She described the mob of them who took her in the darkness of the cellar. Their faces were a blur to her. She couldn't even recount how many; by the end, she could barely speak. Erhard watched her as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
"and you want me to..."
"Terminate the pregnancy." she interrupted.
Erhardt looked at the large wooden cross that cast its shadow over his desk and sighed.
"Please, doctor, please." she started to weep.
"God forbids it," he said somberly.
"Surely, God would not wish for this!" She cried. "This child has no place in this world. I can not possibly care for it! I don't even think I will be able to look at it!"
"I'm sorry," he muttered. "I think you should go."
"Please, doctor...if you will not do this, then I will kill the child myself!" she shrieked.
Give me the night to think about it and return in the morning, and I will give you my answer, he said.
After Theressa had left, Erhard fell to his knees before the cross and begged God for guidance. God's reply was still no more direct than it had ever been. After a sleepless night, he had to decide what he felt was right.
"I will do it." We're the first words the droopy-eyed doctor said to Theresa when she returned to his home.
That's how it began. Theresa must have told others because more and more brutalized women began appearing at his door, and he did what he felt the situation warranted.
"Just lay back and try and relax. It will be over when you wake up," he said reassuringly. It was yet another girl shattered by her own episode of unrestrained violence. She had come to him alone. They always did. The inner shame was painful enough without family or friends bearing witness. The girl put her head down on the gurney.
"Bless you, doctor," she said in that familiar sorrow-filled voice.
He gave her a gentle smile. "now this will pinch only for a second." he said as he slowly stuck a syringe in her veins. After a moment, the girl's eyes began to flutter, and her breathing slowed. Her eyelids turned to slits before closing for the last time. Her heaving chest fell flat and did not rise again.
"I am sorry, Gretta, but this is the only way," he whispered to the corpse. He offered a prayer for the deceased, and when it was all over. Her body was deposited in a small cemetery plot deep within the woods. This was the 12th one he'd buried. More would come. They never seemed to stop. Whether he liked it or not while they sought him out for help while God sent them to seek salvation with him, he would continue to do the ugly work of the divine.
Morality had become as nuanced as the messages God sent Erhard.
The painless euthanization of the girls looking to exercise at least one of the demons of a horrific experience that had been left with them was a grim compromise he arrived at with God Almighty. Every new girl brought the same story, but they were just one piece of the whole demented picture. In the end, all the doctor could decide was death was simply God's way of alleviating suffering.