A matter of life and … what’s worse than death? – Episode 26

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination with what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

Mayer realized something was terribly wrong when they reached the outskirts of Weimar and passed through the checkpoint on the outskirts of the city.

It was the sixth such checkpoint and each time the Standartenfuhrer told the sentries that they were escorting a valuable prisoner, and being mere German Army soldiers, most of the Obergefreiter rank, and not willing to argue with an SS Colonel.

Then he remembered there was a large Government building in the city and assumed that was where they were talking to him.

Except they were either lost or taking the long way to get there because they were taking back streets.  When he asked why, he was told to be quiet, or they would silence him.

When they reached the outskirts of the city on the other side, still heading south, he knew something else was going on.  It was then he started to think that these men might not necessarily be Nazi’s.  After all, there had to be other people who were sickened by the atrocities that were going on, particularly to the labor from the camps.

He understood the need for labor, just not the way his superiors went about getting it.

They passed through the next checkpoint without any questions and soon caught up to a convoy of trucks with what looked like prisoners in the back.

It was the first time he had seen either of the two officers look worried.

Then a soldier on a motorcycle turned around and came back to check on the vehicle and its occupants.  He flagged them to the side of the road, got off his bike and there was no mistaking the itchy trigger finger on the gun he was loosely holding.

In front of their car, the last truck in the convoy turned a corner and disappeared.

“Where are you going?” the motorcyclist asked.

Mayer noticed he was not army but SS of a lower rank Scharfuhrer, and though of a lower rank, there was still the superiority of just being SS.

The Standartenfuhrer looked the soldier up and down and then opened the door to the car and got out.  He took two steps towards the cyclist.

“Do you know who you are addressing Scharfuhrer, what is your name?  I will take this insubordination to your superior officer.”

Mayer had seen similar men in his unit back at Nordhausen, including one, when in a hotel having lunch heard one of a group of army soldiers being rowdy.  He singled the loudest of them, told him to be less noisy and the soldier laughed at him.

The next thing he remembered was the other solders carrying their dead leader out of the hotel.  The Standartenfuhrer had shot him, on the same charge, insubordination.  Would this Standartenfuhrer do the same?

He had learned that day the SS, especially the higher-ranked officers, didn’t tolerate anything, and as one, he was expected to do the same.

“Sir.  It is my job to ask questions, as you are fully aware.  I was given orders, and I obey those orders.”  Suddenly the man was less confident.

“I understand that.  It is of no concern to you where we are going, only that it is on urgent and classified Reich business.  It is of no concern to anyone but the Oberfuhrer I report to, and I will have to report to him on why I was delayed.  You name Scharfuhrer?”

“I have no wish to delay you, sir.”  He saluted, got back on his motorcycle and left, speeding up to catch up to the rest of the convoy.

The Standartenfuhrer got back in the car.

“That was close,” the driver said.  In English.

Mayer was proficient in English as his father had told him that it would stand him in good stead one day.  He just omitted to tell anyone he worked with, or when he was recruited.  They had asked, and he thought it wisest to say no.

Now, these two men were speaking English.  It was not unknown for SS officers to speak English, as well as several other languages like Dutch, French and Italian. He had a little French, and less Italian.

“Who are you?” Mayer asked again but sticking to German.

The Standartenfuhrer glared at his driver.

“This is the point where it depends on how you answer the next question whether we execute you here, or we continue.  Bear in mind that if you tell us a lie, you will be shot.”  The Standartenfuhrer also spoke in German.

The English Mayer decided was to correct to be from an Englishman, only a German who had learned it as a second language, and definitely as an SS officer.  Perhaps these two were charged with interrogating English prisoners, though that didn’t explain why they had taken him.

All of a sudden, he had a very bad feeling about this kidnapping.  It was a kidnapping, and these men were taking him to a different location, perhaps to torture him.  He had heard rumors, but since it came from a fellow SS officer, he considered it to be true.

“The question?” he stammered, nerves getting the better of him.

“Do you want to get out of Germany?”

What?  IT wasn’t [possible that anyone could know that.  He’d only admitted that sentiment to one person, and he knew he could trust them not to tell anyone.  OR could he?

And, was this a trick question.  If he answered no, it meant they could charge him with crimes against the Reich for having the blueprints of the V2 rocket?  And if he said yes, would they execute him here on the side of the road?

There was no answer that wouldn’t see him shot.

So better to say he was fed up with the conditions he’d been working under, get shot, and never return.

“Yes.”  Of course, there was a pertinent question to add to that reply, “How did you know?”

“You had the plans and specifications outside the bunker.  An executable offense.  I believe you do not like the idea of the German High Command using these rockets as weapons.”

“Most of us on the project do not, but we have to do as we are told.  For obvious reasons.”

“So far so good,” the Standartenfuhrer switched back to English.  “We know you speak English, in fact we know quite a lot about you.  As you’ve obviously guessed, we are not going to and interrogation site, but further south to Italy where there is an escape route set up by the resistance.”

“Who do you work for?”

“OSS.  We are probably worse off than you in that if we get caught, we will be shot as spies.  But, so far we’ve had good luck, except for that nosy motorcyclist.  I expect he will not keep his mouth shut and report us.”

“You won’t get that far.  With petrol rationing, this car is going to run out long before we get to the border.”

“Don’t you worry about the details.  That’s our job.  You just sit back, do as we ask, and everything should be alright.  Very few people question an SS officer of my rank.” 

He looked at his driver. 

“Now, let’s get the hell out of here before that nosy fool comes back with reinforcements.”

 

© Charles Heath 2020

Writing about writing a book – Day 23

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bill’s service, and the characters he meets along the way, some of whom shape the man he became, others he remained friends with after he was discharged, and those that were killed.

Several have a direct bearing in the main story, for instance, Brainless, a rather ubiquitous nickname, given to him because of his actions, that is to say, he acts without thinking, sometimes when in great peril, a man who never quite recovered, but is, for all intents and purposes Bill’s friend and someone he feels responsible to look after, perhaps because of how many times he saved Bill from death, or worse.

There is also Manilow, but we’ll save him for later.

So, this is where ‘Brainless’ get’s his introduction:

 

It was the first time I’d been hit by a bullet, and it hurt.  It was a steep learning curve, realizing you have been hit, and then the brain going into overdrive to tell you first it going to hurt like hell, and then begin to assess the damage, running every scenario from ‘it’s a flesh wound’ to ‘Oh God, I’m going to die’.

At least, that was what had happened to me for my first time.

Seconds, or minutes, or hours later, a man who doubled as a Medic came scrabbling over to me and looked at the wound.  A silly thought, how did he know I’d been shot?  Had I screamed?  He made a quick assessment, told me I’d live, and dressed it as good and as quickly as he could.

There were other casualties.

I lasted until I was brought into a clearing some miles further on, after the enemy had been killed, or had retreated, and loaded onto a helicopter.  There I was told everything would be OK and then the lights went out.

 

My first visit to a mobile army hospital, after being hit, was a novelty.  It was nothing like a real hospital.  Nor was the staff.  It took a different sort of medical personnel to man a front-line hospital where you were just as likely to become a casualty yourself.

The doctor was quite jovial about the whole matter saying I would be back out again in no time, not exactly a prospect I was looking forward to.  It was almost a mend job without anesthetic and the memory of it remained with me for some time.  Facilities were not primitive, but they just appeared that way.

I was one of the less needy casualties that day.  After being stitched up, a nurse took me to a bed in a ward with a mixture of serious and not so seriously wounded.

The nurse, whose name was Wendy, had the same sense of humor I had.  She insisted we be on first name terms from the start.  How she kept her humor was a mystery, for most noticeable was her tired look as if she had been doing the same thing for too long.

The bed was comfortable, the temperature bearable, and the food edible.  Being, and remaining, injured had its good points.

I slept well the first night.  I presumed the injection she’d given me was to ensure I had a restful sleep.  It was long overdue and much needed.

The next morning the numbers had thinned.  Two men had died, several others returned to duty.  To my left was a sad and distant private, who, from time to time, would start moaning.  He’d been in the middle of a mortar attack and was both deaf and had serious psychological problems.

To my right, there was a large man who barely fit in the bed.  He was a perpetually unhappy person, with only minor injuries, a bullet wound to his upper leg.  Nothing serious, he said, and just wanted to leave as soon as possible.  Brainless, the nurse called him.  Always wanted to get back to the war and kill some more of the enemy.  An obsession, she said.

He was staring morosely at the ceiling when I woke.  It took a few minutes to regain full consciousness, a sign I’d been in a drugged sleep.

“What are you in for?” he asked.

“Leg wound.  Nothing serious.”  You?”

“Leg.  Bastards snuck up on me.  And the useless rearguard didn’t do his job properly.”

“Landmine?”

“Sniper.”

I’d seen both.  Tread in the wrong place, and you didn’t do it again.  Sniper’s fire came from almost anywhere, taking out soldiers and civilians indiscriminately.  You could never hear the bullet, just feel it.

“Mongrel,” I said with feeling.

“Yours?”

“Probably the same.  I didn’t see it coming.  I hate it when you can’t see the bastards.  There ought to be some law they send you a message first.  Give you a chance….”

“Chap other side killed himself.  Had enough.  It was written all over his face.  What kind of sooks are we bringing over here?”

“National service,” I said quietly.

“You?” he asked.

I could feel his contempt for ‘Nashos’ and to be glad I was not one.  “I believe I volunteered.”

He didn’t ask what I meant, and even if he had, I probably would have made up a lie.  I hardly thought if I said my father in law hated me that much he would send me here, would make any sense, particularly to this man beside me.

He snorted.  “More the fool you, then.”

 

We were both released on the same day.  His unit had suffered major casualties, and the story he gave me in the hospital was not quite true.  He’d gone down trying to save what men he could in an ambush.  Heroics came to mind, but his selfless actions were much more than that.  Without a unit, he joined ours.

Wendy remained in my mind for some time after that visit.  When I returned the next time, my injuries being more serious, I enquired as to her whereabouts, only to discover she was dead too, a victim of her own hand, simply because she could not cope with the death, mutilation, and waste.

There was no doubt it affected all of us in different ways.  Some didn’t like the idea of going back out into the jungle and found their own peace.  Others, like Wendy, needed something more, but all too often, no-one recognized what the solution was until it was too late.

 

Now that I have paved the way, I must get back to the main story and write the part where Brainless enters the picture.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

“The Things We Do For Love” – Coming soon

Is love the metaphorical equivalent to ‘walking the plank’; a dive into uncharted waters?

For Henry the only romance he was interested in was a life at sea, and when away from it, he strived to find sanctuary from his family and perhaps life itself.  It takes him to a small village by the sea, s place he never expected to find another just like him, Michelle, whom he soon discovers is as mysterious as she is beautiful.

Henry had long since given up the notion of finding romance, and Michelle couldn’t get involved for reasons she could never explain, but in the end both acknowledge that something happened the moment they first met.  

Plans were made, plans were revised, and hopes were shattered.

A chance encounter causes Michelle’s past to catch up with her, and whatever hope she had of having a normal life with Henry, or anyone else, is gone.  To keep him alive she has to destroy her blossoming relationship, an act that breaks her heart and shatters his.

But can love conquer all?

It takes a few words of encouragement from an unlikely source to send Henry and his friend Radly on an odyssey into the darkest corners of the red light district in a race against time to find and rescue the woman he finally realizes is the love of his life.

The cover, at the moment, looks like this:

lovecoverfinal1

In a word: Blue

We all know that blue is a colour.  in fact, it is my favourite colour, and I have owned so many blue cars over the years.

Odd then that I never painted any of my rooms blue, or the house, though one year my father painted our house a very nice shade of blue.

Enough with the memories…

We use blue to describe the sea or the sky, for instance, the deep blue sea, but if you look at it even n a good day, the sea generally looks green to me.

Blue could also be used to describe our mood when we are feeling melancholy or sad.

Then there’s the blues, a genre of music, usually in tandem with rhythm, so we have rhythm and blues

And when we’re angry we could scream blue murder, though that one seems to stretch the use of the word blue a little

Because I have red hair I get called bluey a lot, I’ll leave you to work that one out

You could be turning blue if you are very cold

It’s the second-lowest level of difficulty for a ski slope

And it could be used to describe a pornographic movie, i.e. a blue movie.

It is not to be confused with the word blew, where it is the action of expelling air through your mouth more forcefully than usual.

It blew a gale

He blew another man away (figuratively, not literally)

He blew .08 and lost his licence for drink driving

Inspiration, maybe

A picture paints … well, as many words as you like.  For instance:

lookingdownfromcoronetpeak

And the story:

 

It was once said that a desperate man has everything to lose.

The man I was chasing was desperate, but I, on the other hand, was more desperate to catch him.

He’d left a trail of dead people from one end of the island to the other.

The team had put in a lot of effort to locate him, and now his capture was imminent.  We were following the car he was in, from a discrete distance, and, at the appropriate time, we would catch up, pull him over, and make the arrest.

There was nowhere for him to go.

The road led to a dead-end, and the only way off the mountain was back down the road were now on.  Which was why I was somewhat surprised when we discovered where he was.

Where was he going?

 

“Damn,” I heard Alan mutter.  He was driving, being careful not to get too close, but not far enough away to lose sight of him.

“What?”

“I think he’s made us.”

“How?”

“Dumb bad luck, I’m guessing.  Or he expected we’d follow him up the mountain.  He’s just sped up.”

“How far away?”

“A half-mile.  We should see him higher up when we turn the next corner.”

It took an eternity to get there, and when we did, Alan was right, only he was further on than we thought.”

“Step on it.  Let’s catch him up before he gets to the top.”

Easy to say, not so easy to do.  The road was treacherous, and in places just gravel, and there were no guard rails to stop a three thousand footfall down the mountainside.

Good thing then I had the foresight to have three agents on the hill for just such a scenario.

 

Ten minutes later, we were in sight of the car, still moving quickly, but we were going slightly faster.  We’d catch up just short of the summit car park.

Or so we thought.

Coming quickly around another corner we almost slammed into the car we’d been chasing.

“What the hell…” Aland muttered.

I was out of the car, and over to see if he was in it, but I knew that it was only a slender possibility.  The car was empty, and no indication where he went.

Certainly not up the road.  It was relatively straightforward for the next mile, at which we would have reached the summit.  Up the mountainside from here, or down.

I looked up.  Nothing.

Alan yelled out, “He’s not going down, not that I can see, but if he did, there’s hardly a foothold and that’s a long fall.”

Then where did he go?

Then a man looking very much like our quarry came out from behind a rock embedded just a short distance up the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quite calmly.  “Had to go if you know what I mean.”

 

I’d lost him.

It was as simple as that.

I had been led a merry chase up the hill, and all the time he was getting away in a different direction.

I’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book, letting my desperation blind me to the disguise that anyone else would see through in an instant.

It was a lonely sight, looking down that road, knowing that I had to go all that way down again, only this time, without having to throw caution to the wind.

“Maybe next time,” Alan said.

“We’ll get him.  It’s just a matter of time.”

 

© Charles Heath 2019

Find this and other stories in “Inspiration, maybe”  available soon.

InspirationMaybe1v1

 

 

“Echoes From The Past”, buried, but not deep enough

On special, now only $0.99 for the next few weeks.

 

What happens when your past finally catches up with you?

Christmas is just around the corner, a time to be with family. For Will Mason, an orphan since he was fourteen, it is a time for reflection on what his life could have been, and what it could be.

Until a chance encounter brings back to life the reasons for his twenty years of self-imposed exile from a life only normal people could have. From that moment Will’s life slowly starts to unravel and it’s obvious to him it’s time to move on.

This time, however, there is more at stake.

Will has broken his number one rule, don’t get involved.

With his nemesis, Eddie Jamieson, suddenly within reach, and a blossoming relationship with an office colleague, Maria, about to change everything, Will has to make a choice. Quietly leave, or finally, make a stand.

But as Will soon discovers, when other people are involved there is going to be terrible consequences no matter what choice he makes.

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Oh, what a war! A review of 1917

It is hard to comprehend the scale and the effect the war to end all wars had on the men and women who fought in it.

Certainly, in the European sector, it was a nightmare in the trenches.

We Australians are no strangers to wars and have answered the call, first from the mother country, England, from the Boar war, through to world war two, and latterly the USA as a post-war ally.

But this is not about us.

This is about two ordinary men, two soldiers who are given a job, some think impossible.

They have to go over the top, through no man’s land, through enemy-held territory, ie, behind enemy lines, to warn another group of soldiers not to attack the front line in their sector, as it is a well-disguised trap the Germans have set.  What was it called, a strategic withdrawal by the Germans?

From the moment they went over the top, and out into the bleakest of landscapes, we spend all of the time waiting for something bad to happen.

And it does.

And your heart is literally in your mouth the whole time, just waiting for the next setback.

There are moments where the unrelenting suspense is broken by poignancy, revealing the depth of comradeship needed just to survive, and in an instant, how quickly that can disappear.

Then there is the scenes of a French town in ruins, and some who are barely existing there.  How could they with endless bombardment by a merciless enemy?  It shows the difference between the British and the Germans, one merciful, but often paying a very dear price for being so, and the other merciless in the extreme.

And then we reach an almost surreal end, where it felt like I’d been holding my breath for nearly two hours, and, at the same time, it didn’t feel all that long since it started.

It was an uplifting end after fighting against insurmountable odds.  If only half of what we saw was true then it’s surprising any man or woman came back from that war sane.

I give it a well deserved 5 stars.