35yrs • M •
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The sky was that perfect sea blue, and the crops were gently being cajoled into swaying with the wind, a too-perfect backdrop for a childhood memory. He knew that the scene wasn't quite real; everything had an optimistic glow to it. This world was a propaganda poster, and somewhere beneath his feet the words 'For the Fatherland' surely beamed with sickly pride.
He heard a horrible screeching sound, as if a mountain had just cried out in unimaginable pain, shattering his nostalgia with heart pumping fury. The source of the sound was in the sky, it did not come as a surprise, although he knew it was unusual; as if somehow he knew what was going to happen next. He couldn't make out the thing's features as it came into being, airship-slow inch by inch from the distant blue above the mountains, its shape seemed to shift whenever he decided what it was. Dutifully, he stood his ground, just as he knew he was meant to.
A child-like fear took him when he realised that he was close to his home in Seelow, a few hundred miles east of war torn Berlin. The screeching came again, as if confirming his right to be afraid. Far away over the thing's path he could see a windmill. For a split second the blades took on the shape of a swastika, he thought he heard marching, the smell of burning oil was carried toward him by the wind. The sky thing left a jet black vapour trail hanging above the landscape that spread outward like it was seeding night. Its size became apparent as it approached him. He knew something that large should not be able to fly, to almost saunter through the air like it had mastered gravity. The little knowledge of physics he had at his disposal also suggested to him that it should be making a ridiculously loud engine noise, but it did not. The notion stirred a primal dread, it was a wrongness.
He could hear his heart beating; he could even feel it in his ears as he tried to lift his feet out of the muddy ground to run away, sense of duty forgotten. The leviathan drew closer, as his vain attempts at escape instilled panic. He wanted a better idea of what he was facing, dread fascination allowing him to survey it. Its shape had settled, it was an eagle; but it's size! Every inch of the sky dominating bird seemed to have a life of its own, black and white images flickering like a cinema reel projected over feathers. They were news reels, images of war. He saw his countrymen march in rank and file, saw them kill with faces animated by the same emotion and purpose as were their weapons, betraying all the remorse of fire and steel. As the feathers moved to and fro to the same rhythm as the crops blowing in the wind, the images flickered and degenerated. The film had turned into rapidly flashing points of light that blinded him, each flash conjuring up images of tanks, rifles, and machine guns being fired by their icy manipulators in his mind.
The night vapour, the jet black trail, began to fall as rain. A mockery of snowflakes, miniature swastikas fell lazily onto the too-green grass and toy-like houses, sticking like spiders. Some of the flakes grouped together to form slowly spinning, larger versions of the shape until his vision was so consumed that the spaces between swastikas were just the same symbol, differently styled to reflect the part of the landscape that he was able to see only moments ago. It was as if someone had thrown a living tapestry over the earth. He looked at his hands and arms, closely. He tried to get the stuff off him; he was covered in something that any attempt to understand or examine resulted in a complication that brought deeper despair.
The Major sat bolt upright. His head sprang from the desk as though the surface was boiling hot. He had been resting his head on his notebook, the page opened to random sketches of swastikas of different shapes and sizes. Just a dream, he consoled himself as he stood and walked to the window. The details of what had woken him were already slipping away, leaving behind a feeling that something had to be done, something important but he couldn't remember. It was probably nothing, something he'd forgotten to sign perhaps or a memo he was supposed to write. It annoyed him like an itch.
He arose and walked to the balcony to look at the sky, his office curtains waved like featureless flags at his sides. Storm clouds were passing away overhead, seeming so far away. He longed for them to stay overhead, so he could stand where things were simple.
He could hear his aide running flat out down the corridor; no doubt with what had happened last time he had interrupted him playing on his mind. The thought would be almost making him turn and run the other way, only the memory of the consequences of incompetence keeping him running forward. It was expected that British Field Marshall Montgomery would overrun the defences between The Major's installation and the border before the end of the week and withdrawal was the only option to avoid death or capture. Poor boy, even his knock betrayed some dread.
'Herr Major?' he said meekly, glad he'd managed not to stammer.
'Sir? You have heard the news already?'
'Idiot, these are changes so profound they can be felt in the very air. I don't care if the English get close enough to spit on you, you will wait at the station until the officers I dispatched return with my package, clear?'
'Sir!' the aide said with a salute and a hasty click of the heels that almost toppled him. As The Major had predicted The Reich had proved too weak to live in the end. The Reich would die, as it was merely a manifestation of evil and not the root itself, the falling leaves of an abominable tree that would bud and flower again to shade him in a new season. He was to escape, tend its re-growth, and see that it flourished again. He had learnt so much and progressed so far to let it all be lost in the wayside of a foolish defeat. What is the purpose of a gun in a time of peace, he thought.
It wouldn't be long now; the enemy was at the gates. There were days, perhaps only hours. He poured himself a large brandy and drank deeply, stealing himself for the coming task. I must not fall.
He hoped his brother would arrive soon' his train had arrived by now. Since before the war started his brother had told him of the coming storm, and how to be right by God and himself he would forget the political leanings he had adopted. Of course The Major had always argued that he was a scholar by nature, and would leave the fighting to those who wished to fight. Pen and ink were required to win wars, as well as blood and bullets; knowing full well his answer did not answer his brother's plea.
Whilst rolling his swastika badge to and fro along the desk he stared at the eagle on the flag adorning his wall. As if it had just given him the instruction to act, he nodded and loped across the room. The Major took down a blank canvas from above the fireplace and set it on the easel in preparation for his brother's arrival. He placed his leather office chair across the room and sat on the stool in front of the easel considering the distance and perspective of where his subject was to sit.
The kind of knock came from the door of someone unsure whether they were permitted to knock. The Major smiled at the ever present irrational fear affecting those around him.
'Bring him in'.
Two grimly stone-faced SS officers escorted a man with a bag over his head into the room while The Major's aide stood outside the room, his neck craning in curiosity. They forced the man into the chair with ease despite the man's struggle and tied him down. They Major nodded at the officers, they removed the bag and left the room without a word, pushing the startled aide along with them.
'He has a twin?' The aide said before the officers shut the doors, their hurried action punctuated by the sound of a club smashing into the young man's head.
'Still playing the devil brother?' said the Major's identical brother with noticeable venom.
'There's no other role for me now, you know that. Call it destiny if you will, there's no fighting it'. He said as he walked to his gramophone. The music he wished to hear was already in place, although he didn't remember putting it there. He set it turning filling the room with the sound of slow strings. 'It has to be this way.'
'Your delusion is matched only by that of your fucking Fuhrer,' said The Major's brother, as he spat on the floor between them. 'You're nothing but Goebbel's pet, and another of Hitler's puppets. All your work, all your lies are about to become a freak show to be scorned in museums.'
'The propaganda we created here will indeed become humorous; fruits of war that will rot. But all of that nonsense was merely a prelude to the main event. I am to be the last bastion of The Reich, spreading the word to those willing to hear it.' His words flowed out of his mouth in a way he had never felt before, it was like reading a script he had never seen. The Major sat down in front of the painting and began scrutinising the colours on the tray next to him.
'You mean the blind and the stupid, the same hate filled empty heads your war has been fronted by this time? No, this war is over and so is the ideology that drove it. You will be hunted down and killed like the dog you are, have you no remorse? No regret?'
The Major had begun painting, closing his eyes occasionally in contentment, listening to the music. Everything was as it should be. His brother struggled against his ropes hopelessly. 'The world will be immune to your poison after the dust settles; even if you find an audience.'
'I am to merely sow the seeds.' He didn't like his brother's tone.
There were no chambers. The disembodied words echoed silently around the room, The Major's lips mimed them cautiously, as if trying them on for size.
'There will always be those willing to listen, especially those with money and power, the fear of losing the two motivates them more than any war cry could. I will deny all the greatest of Hitler's deeds and not all, but a few, a few of those I tell will believe. Here, I can make my home.'
The Major continued to paint, his gaze almost made his brother flinch. Noticing this sign of weakness, he picked up a scalpel from his colour tray.
'Do you like the music brother?' He said as he walked toward his brother, waving the glinting instrument through the air; conducting. His brother's eyes followed the blade as it drew nearer to him, he tried to speak but the words did not come. The Major noticed, 'The orchestra give sound to feeling and emotion, each rise and fall defining an aspect of something greater. I give sound to power; a voice, but with colour and motion. I give thought to war itself. I can evoke fear in men, and the give that fear a purpose; inspiration to do great things with as few or as many words as I please.' He removed his jacket, making a fuss of dusting off his medals and pins. He held the blade close to his brother's face. His brother focused on it and it alone as The Major draped his jacket around his shoulders, with what could be mistaken for brotherly love.
Taking two steps back, he held the blade like an artist would hold a paintbrush at arms length, closing one eye and looking past it into his dumbfounded brother's eyes. With a quick smile, he returned to the painting and scraped carefully at the paint, before picking up his brush and painting, moving in time with the strings.
The Major painted his twin brother's portrait and they talked about his deeds, both passionately and effectively making a case for their own points of view. Both imagined each rebuttal as a killing blow to the other's argument, but they were really as magnets with alike poles pushing each other further apart. As the argument increased in intensity, so too did their anger; this alone they had in common.
After the painting was finished, a perfect likeness of his win, The Major felt obliged to act.
He un-holstered his side arm. His brother smiled.
'You aren't wrong; you just don't understand power and that is why you will not leave this place.'
'That's it? You intend to destroy me?' The choice of the word 'destroyed' confused The Major, but not enough to let curiosity force him to back down.
He raised the gun and shot his brother in the stomach, then stood and watched the blood begin to flow. 'You're a fool you know,' said The Major's dying brother, more with exasperation than anger; like a parent in the middle of a hands-on-hips 'what am I to do with you?' speech. Not like a dying ma at all. 'When I'm gone I want you to consider, if only for a moment, why you summoned me here. Why you've been painting my face instead of your own.'
The Major woke up again.
The sun was rising outside, and he could hear his aide running flat out down the corridor to his office.
A knock at the door.
'Herr Major, your men have arrived to receive their orders for the final defence'
The Major rubbed his eyes, mentally scrutinising the solidity of the reality that confronted him' this was no dream. The dream, no, vision he had just witnessed had been seared into his memory like no other he had ever had. It meant something. He looked at the notebook in front of him; black ink on white paper outlining possible disinformation strategies for after the war had been lost.
The words 'There Were No Chambers' stared up at him like accusing eyes, looking back at him and waking something in his mind. The 'brother that he knew upon waking was nothing more than a figment, he had no brother, yet still it stirred in his mind.
'Major?' Repeated the aide.
Like a lock clicking into place, The Major knew what he had to do. He stood and he walked out of the room. 'Major please, your men are waiting.' said the aide as he followed his master.
'Tell them to go home. Tell them to go home and ask themselves what they are fighting for. I've killed and killed and killed my friend, by both action and inaction. I must go.'
The aide thought his master had been drinking, understandable considering the circumstances. He stopped following his master and began thinking of suitable excuses for the men. The Major had never felt as sober in his life as he walked at a good pace towards the enemy position; a walk he supposed would last a day and a night. The, he would turn himself in, and try to save the man in the portrait.