Inside, by David Edward Nell
The breadth of my dark confines mimics my desperation, rips me from sight. I find a switch on the wall, behind me. A bulb needles my vision. Now I know where I am, but not how I got here. It’s a tunnel, where waters have turned to muck, where old blood stains are painted on concrete. Beside my foot lies a medical kit, by that a pair of scissors with crimson on steel. And in the corner, a flamethrower extinguished by its own gluttony, by whatever anarchy it may have inflicted before.
I realise I’m holding a needle still attached to thread, and run my fingers along the wiring. It leads to my stitched-up wrist, arm hairs caked and alluding to some prior medical urgency. I blink away the fog in front of my eye membrane, summon memories that quickly get lost; a pursuit, and nothing more, comes to mind.
The pain inside–like phantom limbs manipulating my fibres–urges great haste. I must find a way out, a doctor, or suffer. As I step forward in furious investigation, I come in contact with something: a body, where smoke is still trailing off from a fresh roast. The will in me goes. The corpse’s face is a raw sheen, no longer hinting at an identity, clothes one with flesh. But I make out the Allied badge, and the name “Kingston”. Once my best friend in the regiment, now murdered beyond necessary means. I mourn for a minute and scour his pockets.
Then he groans.
“Jesus.” My heart caves in.
He rises to his feet, and I’m left in awe watching a man defy his own grave.
I force out, “Are you alright?”, even though he can’t be, not in his state. I dare not touch him, however.
Kingston inches forward, going in for my embrace, as if this war’s ills have cursed upon him a sore need for human contact. Yet I can’t help but reel away from this walking horror. His right knee is shattered, dragging what should be hounding him. With each of his steps, he trickles forth his own fluids, grunting at me for a response. I wring a false smile to set him at ease.
“Kingston, I think you should remain where you are and rest. You’re not looking right, man.” I say, cracking.
I keep him at bay but he doesn’t stop, eyes flaring and intent on some rudeness. As if programmed, he resumes his tread against the command of my trembling hands. “For God’s sake, Kingston, just sit down.”
Instead, he gets me in his mighty grasp, fingers slithering across the rattle of my neck. Certain of death, I smell the disease in his widening mouth, see his head rearing in for what I then know is his meal. My hand skips about his intact buckle, reaching for something, anything. There it is; its tip cuts me. Quickly, I plunge the knife into his jaw, and celebrate his end.
His body smacks the waters. But he doesn’t stop thrashing. As soon as his hands return to my quarter, I elope, my sanity and morals in question, until what’s below my feet feels like grass. The daylight swallows my frigidity and reintroduces me to Aachen, a city in defeat. Fires still lick by remains of war, former homes, inciting a rain of ash and a foul smog. Amidst the rubble, I spot from afar the downtrodden; impassive, sickly victims of our shamed bomber run. Civilians, I assume.
“You over there, can you please assist me? Do you understand English?” I shout, those streets finally met with a voice. “Sprechen sie Englisch?”
Without words, they start creeping in my direction, afflicted with some unnatural, torpid limp. I see the Schutzstaffel uniforms of these predators, their missing parts. They’re Nazis, yet as unarmed as I am now. Collectively pegged from being, they’re blindly drawing in toward their enemy, lacking any real tactic. Reality has gone with my mind.
There’s gunfire, then I see them slump for good. I feel a bullet zing by my ear drum. I retreat to the ground, my hands up in the air.
“Wait,” I plead.
“Hold your fire,” someone demands.
From behind a pair of roaring tanks, gasmasked soldiers come into view, never losing aim of my skull with their rifles. These are my boys, though. I’m safe again.
“Fourteenth Royal Dragoon, sir,” I announce immediately to the most worn of the lot. “Murphy. Private First Class.”
“Wait a minute. Murphy? We thought you were a goner for sure,” Sergeant Wilson says. “What the hell happened?”
“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t remember much. Was going to ask you the same thing.”
“Last I saw of you, you were tailed. Us, too. That’s why we split up. Five dead, Murphy. It’s all hell out here. Can’t you recall a shred?”
“Wish I could.”
“Where’s Kingston? He was with you before the insanity.”
There’s a tug at my throat. “We lost him, sir. He’s back there. I found him dead and…he wasn’t really. Think I did something bad, sir. But you have to understand, he wasn’t letting up. Tried to kill me and–”
“One of them, mate. Christ almighty.” Wilson removes his helmet and stares yonder.
“–how am I going to atone for this? He was my friend.”
He lays a hand on my shoulder, one bereft of a finger. “You shouldn’t be sorry. You did what you had to, okay? We all did. This is about survival now. But, Murphy, do you have any idea what’s going on?”
I shake my head.
“You know the war ended three days ago?”
“Are you pulling my leg? That’s impossible.”
“Nazis evacuated, gave us this mess. When we arrived, they’d packed without a goodbye. I tell you, they did this. Their bloody experiments and what not.”
“Where’ve you been, brother?” someone at the back quips.
Wilson continues, “We’re not fighting the Germans anymore, Murphy. It’s them we’re fighting, what’s left.”
“Who?” I press.
I hang my head like everyone else is doing, but for another reason. My eye catches odd indentations on my wrist, ridges peppering the repaired area, and then it all comes back. Bite marks. I ruffle my sleeve down, knowing fate, as the venom slowly takes my veins.
“Are you ready to go home, Murphy?” Wilson asks. “Back to Nottingham, your wife and kids?”
“Yes, sir. Please, sir. So tired.”
“You look like you need it.”
David Edward Nell is a fledgling spec-fic writer from Cape Town, South Africa. Visit him at http://davidedwardnell.blogspot.com.