In the final years of World War Two, the Allies were beginning to show that unspeakable evil across the water just what they were made of and the Lion so to speak was roaring no longer but biting and biting hard. Throughout history Britain had repeatedly repelled invaders with the zest, determination and perseverance of a saint and a warrior. The iron Lady of Europe was standing tall and proud and no one was going to pass by her easily or without a fight. Deep within the golden cornfields, in amongst the huge urban communities and amidst the lush valleys of our great green and pleasant land, our very own army of Iron ladies were busy working. The Lion’s secret army. Hundreds, thousands of ordinary everyday women were proudly and contentedly doing their bit for the war effort. While the men were away on the front line, the Iron Ladies stood fast, never complaining, never waning. Slowly but surely the dust filled, smoke clogged factories that they lovingly referred to as their kingdom began to take on a persona of a legend. Numerous pages of History quoted them as the backbone of England at that time and the wax that kept the candle burning.
Amongst all these so called Kingdoms of industry where our unsung heroines worked many a story grew, some joyful, some heroic, some tragic.
Greta Kaplowski knew all about stories, knew all about the romances, the sorrow and the loss of her fellow ladies. She knew all about the intimate names they called their men alongside all their grotesque habits, their dirty laundry and their endearingly pathetic excuses that made their men so unbearable…yet so appealing. The Iron Ladies in Greta’s factory were all someone’s sweethearts and someone’s homecoming queen. Greta remembered the day when Janet Fawner’s man - a big shot Corporal in the desert rats - got dishonourably discharged due to a horrific injury. There wasn’t a dry eye in the factory when he walked or rather bravely hobbled in - not an easy task with one leg - and asked Janet to marry him. Being close to death does something to a man. Greta supposed that in the big shot Corporal’s case he prayed to the Almighty to let him live, to give him one more chance to see the woman he loved once again. Having been granted that chance she figured he not only wanted to see his sweetheart again but also never to be apart from her…ever. Greta watched stories begin, listened to them as they uncurled and grew around her and wished her life would be just a little more exciting, a trifle more romantic. She wished for someone to care for…
Someone to make your heart ache when you’re not with them, someone to make your heart skip a beat with just the mere whisper of their name. Others teased her, others gave her advice and some just listened when she poured out her feelings about love. Greta’s life was about to change however and maybe everyone else’s around her too. As Greta raised a hand to wipe her brow before riveting the next component onto the hundreds of shell casings that repeatedly swept past her on the slow, laborious conveyor, a soldier in a foreign land was fighting for his country. A soldier with a destiny.
Love and passion far away from his mind, except for the insidious terror that already resided there.
* * * * * * * *
His name was Francis, he was a private in the renowned French 654th Battalion. Morale was low in his unit, fatigue, hunger and stress were beginning to show. Previous battles had been harrowing and unforgettable, seeing his comrades collapse around him only seemed to heighten the encompassing aura of complete desolation abundant in every raindrop and molecule of hopeless oppressive chaos. Questioning why was no longer a probing question - more now a sense of urgency, a turning twisting knife that had to find it’s target, had to be true and strong. Francis was tired of fighting, tired of running…tired of the scum and their evil passion that furnished their depraved right to kill, invade and enslave. Knowing that the enemy was indeed a pure embodiment of hell was the only thing that kept his spirit driving forward, the only thing that kept Francis sane, rational and eager to fight for his country and the world. British and US forces had just successfully completed their breakout from the Normandy beaches - though not without heavy losses and a few hundred pages worthy of History - and were now heading northwards across France.
It was August 16th 1944 and the Allies had landed in Southern France a day earlier and were due to rendezvous with Francis's own unit in the North in a couple of days. Terror, fear and isolation were fading fast, but a few more days and morale would be lifted when they assembled with the remaining units of the allies and forged a larger, unified force that would hopefully send shivers down the enemies spine. German resistance however was beginning to falter after the Allied onslaught of the last few days and Francis and his fellow soldiers were granted a much needed rest for a day or so in the fields of Northern France while they waited on the jubilant approach of the British and the US. Francis was a bit of a cad, he loved to play practical jokes on his friends. They seemed to reflect the mood away from the pallid terror that surrounded them. Francis was in his early twenties, with a rosy but reassuringly pleasing complexion finished off with a short crop of sandy blond hair and startling blue eyes. His physique, though not an unlike an athletes was perfectly toned and he was the first to admit that he could attract any girl he so desired, but the rigours of war were hardly fishing lakes for marital and romantic conquest, and love was definitely on the back of his burner at the moment. The camp was small but morale was still hanging on, and the trek over to the small mess tent to get some coffee - a small luxury afforded to them by the friendly locals in the last village they passed through - was an event that still brought fear to his heart. The enemy could strike at any time and even though he knew they were collapsing fast and many miles away, the tiniest smidgeon of fear still lingered, still stirred inside him. Returning, hot cup of steaming coffee in hand Francis suddenly became aware of a low, melodic rumbling sound. Distant at first growing stronger in pitch and strength as the seconds passed. Looking around, sensing the urgency on the faces that stared back at him Francis’s soul seemed to turn upside down, to spew away from his body as if running in terror. For he knew now the sound, now recognised the unmistakable groan of the wings of death.
Panic, wonder, stunned silence, soldiers scurrying aimlessly and terrified to their posts like wild horses were all scenes that now greeted the wings of death from above. Erratic bodies below ran, dived, took up arms and began to come together. The pilot of the plane didn’t care, he had a job to do after all. Allies were scum to him, especially the French who messed up their plans and got in the way of everything, and he was under strict orders from the Fuehrer to eliminate the enemy at every opportunity given…so who was he to argue with the Fuehrer.
After all, the Fuehrer was God…and he was helping his God to fight evil.
* * * * * * * *
Greta Koplowski was blissfully dreaming ahead to her walk home, the talk with her friends, the huge relief of satisfaction as she entered her house, took a warm bath and listened to the events of the war unfolding on the radio. Greta knew she was helping with the war effort and for that she was proud to be a part of it but a woman still needed her relaxation and Greta was no exception. Thirty minutes were all that stood between her and her freedom, then her life would be hers once again, free to do whatever she desired rather than what she was instructed to do.
Visions of warm serenity engulfed her. She is lost, faraway, adrift on the many coloured swirls of imagination. Her dreams are vivid, her mind full of images so real you could caress their softness to your bosom as they floated aimlessly through the void. Many of Greta’s friends had constantly commented on her daydreams, ‘her different cloud’ as Jane Mason loved to point out. Greta sometimes ignored Jane, occasionally gave her a sly smile but more often than not she would just grunt a couple of words of indifference - the kind of words you grunt to your great aunt Hilda’s nervous dog that seemed to sniff intrusively around your calves whenever you called to visit.
Today was the last day of the week, today was her time to relax. Wiping the sweat away from her brow once more Greta suddenly became aware of a low rumbling sound that seemed to envelop her and swirl roughly around her in every direction.
Then the shouts rang out.
Greta heard her name stridently echoed across the factory floor, her fellow workers calling out her name. It took Greta a few seconds to acknowledge the noise, the shouts, the shrieks.
Greta’s entire world slowed to a blur. No longer full of images of faraway shores, of future lovers to hold, caress and sip wine with in front of an open fire.
The world now unfolding around her was bona fide and all too real - and the two ton metallic bomb suspended from the ceiling above the conveyor belt just moments earlier and now released from its chains by some freak of nature - was real too. Only Greta didn’t fathom this, didn’t really realise this until her world turned black, but not before seeing a mass of dark green metal bearing down on her like a giant voracious pterodactyl, clouding her vision, engulfing her, a speeding mass of smooth, flawless metal.
In less than a second it was over, and in less then two seconds Greta was in darkness, daydreaming again for the second time today, only this time her dreams were more akin to nightmares and she was no longer awake…her body no longer upright.
* * * * * * * *
Francis had never seen carnage before until that damn Hitler had declared war on the world, had never before seen human suffering up close.
Now it was all around.
Two years he’d been fighting this god-forsaken war, two years of losing dear friends, of retina searing atrocities, of soul crunching cries of the living and many pitiful last words of ‘mummy’ that would haunt his lonely psyche for the rest of his days. Nothing, however would prepare him for the sight that be-felled him after the bomber hit.
Every time his weary eyes focused they sent the same message back to his optical nerve. Squinting or looking away didn’t help, he could see them in his mind’s eye, squirming, writhing in agony calling out to him, pleading with him for help. To all intents and purposes it began to feel like he was the only one standing, the only one unscathed.
Sixty four men in his platoon and sixty three men now lay around the camp, many at his feet saturated in dull red rain, twitching and convulsing and if he couldn’t help any of them soon, sixty three men would all be dead.
Not one soldier standing, save for himself.
He glanced to his left - as he stepped over a lifeless corpse - saw his sergeant…Gianfranco laying lifeless, arms splayed out to the side as though in some comical exercise routine. He was not moving, his face was devoid of colour. Francis looked away, death was becoming a familiar sight and he no longer wished to see, beginning to wish he was blind to save him the agony, the torture of seeing what lay before him with every step.
Thinking himself selfish for wishing himself blind he stumbled on.
A cry from his side made Francis halt his progress.
Ahead in the distance, maybe twenty or so yards away a hand was raised, a voice calling for help. Francis scampered over to the soldier, kneeled down at his head, took a canteen of water from his satchel and helped the young soldier drink.
The dying soldier relished the water, emptied the canteen effortlessly as though it were a mere thimbleful of water. A lowly croak began to seep from the young soldiers lips as if trying to form words. Francis could see the extent of his injuries, shrapnel and dark crimson rivers everywhere, and at least two bullet wounds in the soldiers abdomen.
Francis hadn’t the heart to enlighten the poor young soul of the truth.
The young soldier beckoned Francis nearer, the slow croaking now forming into whisper like sounds that gradually began to take on meaning and a sort of a low slithery speech that Francis strained to hear.
“Waff, waff if ya nem?” to the human ear inaudible, but to Francis crouching next to the soldiers head the words were effortless to understand…”What, what is your name”?
Understanding, Francis gently placed a hand upon the boys head.
“My names Francis, what’s yours?”
The boys eyes rolled as if in displeasure, but to Francis a sign that the boy was slipping further into the abyss.
Looking into the eyes of a dying man does something to the soul, something that you never quite recover from, a warm sickly feeling that clings to you like a wet saturated rain coat after you’ve just been caught in a cloudburst. Only you can’t take the rain coat off, it stays with you, always cold, always uncomfortable and always there. Francis wished there was some small thing, anything that he could do to ease the young soldiers suffering but words were useless here, words would not be enough. Nevertheless he tried, taking a deep breath, his mind awash with images of death, his heart fluttering and his soul heavy and full of anguish Francis leant further forward once more and took the soldiers hands, placing them in his. Squeezing tight hoping among all hope that the boy would live he started to silently pray.
It was all he could do…all that was left to do.
The groan was low at first, sounds forming in his lips like a newborn baby struggling for attention. Francis tried to calm him, talking was an effort, he needed his strength. Strength and resilience was this young mans gift and he wasn’t about to give up now just because he was dying. He’d lost his sister some years ago, lost in the departing sense. War was cruel, wrecking lives by separating families was almost as devastating if not equally so as losing a loved one to the dreaded hereafter. Francis, head bowed in prayer opened his eyes. Sounds were beginning to form words all around him, slowly deciphering the abundance of crackling, hissing noises he quickly began to reason that the soldier was pleading of some sort, wanting.
“Name Joseph.” Deciphering his words were becoming second nature to Francis, but he barely had the strength neither the courage to narrate the soldier his fate. A slight breeze had sprung up within the last few seconds, a sudden chill that swept past Francis causing him to shudder. It was almost as if the dying souls around him were twirling, dancing, sweeping past him on their way to the afterlife. Blades of emerald green grass that were just minutes ago calm and serene in their ethereal beauty now seemed to sigh and sway effortlessly from side to side as if some giant unseen hand was brushing the whole meadow with one huge single sweep just for the sheer hell of it.
‘Winds of death.’
That’s how Francis had repeatedly heard it described. Fellow soldiers and townsfolk he’d encountered along this campaign had related many tales to him…tales of the winds. Until now Francis believed like any rationale soul would, that the winds were a figment of ones imagination, brought on by the horrors of war, a kind of defence mechanism to focus on the landscape and not the dying. Townsfolk were the worst, soldiers lose friends but ordinary people lost sons, daughters, children, husbands, wives. Atrocities that affected the whole family, the whole community. These were the most memorable, the ones with sorrow in their eyes that seemed to go on and on into their very souls, the eyes reflecting their bottomless, unplumbed torment that haunted them through every waking hour and every dark nightmare.
They said the winds came after you were surrounded by death. That they started first as a slow cool breeze like on a hot summers day. Then the more souls the good lord claims the stronger the winds become. Some dismiss the nonsense and claim that your senses just become more acute to the weather because of the trauma that you are seeing, but some say the wind is the dead, the very souls of the dear departed flitting overhead, sailing around their death spots one last time before they are called away to enter the light.
Francis began to feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, the stories were beginning to have an irrational effect on him, he was beginning to actually feel as if death itself was alive, a presence floating on the breeze, claiming his comrades and eyeing him menacingly in the process. The young soldiers gurgling, raspy sounds were what brought him back to the present. Almost forgetting where he was, the horror that surrounded him and the young soldier to whom he was helping, Francis fought the horrors of his mind, fought the tides of emotion as he looked down forlornly, took the young soldiers hand once again and whispered tenderly into his ear.
“I’m sorry, its ok, I…I’m still here, don’t worry ok.”
Resisting well thus far a single troll of dread silently crept up behind Francis and forced a single tear to escape and streak aimlessly away along his cheek.
Then words that would torment and curse him for the rest of his days echoed through the winds.
“Donn wan…don wann a die, pleez donn le mee, pleez.” The boy silently hissed.
Whispered with an outstretched arm, his last drastic attempt to reach out with what little strength he had left. Like a fallen tree, breaking, snapping, twisting in the wind trying to find a new way to grow again, a new will to live and flourish. Haunted by the words, his heart torn apart by the carnage Francis suddenly became aware of a spiraling, twisting wrenching pain within him. Pain accustomed to any person with a heart…the pain of loss and helplessness. When the world had stopped spinning and the air around him had began to cool Francis looked down once again with sorrow and dread at the young soldier.
With one last almighty effort the boy leaned forward and strived to grasp at Francis’s tunic
Joseph knew his end was to be now, but first he had one last request to fulfill. Before he met his creator he’d decided that Francis was to be the bearer, the instigator of that request and he wasn’t going anywhere until he’d heard a promise from his lips.
Slowly but excruciatingly the young soldier formed his words…his very last words.
SO MY DEAR READERS.
THAT'S IT FOR NOW.
THANKS AGAIN FOR READING MY STORIES AND YOU CAN READ THE NEXT PART OF THIS NOVELLA SOON, ALONG WITH MORE SHORT, TERRIFYING EXCERPTS OF HORROR FROM THE MANY STORIES I HAVE AND AM WRITING.
THIS IS MY FIRST NOVELLA ALONG WITH MANY STORIES I HAVE WRITTEN, AND MANY I AM STILL TO WRITE THAT ARE STORED WITHIN MY IMAGINATION. I AIM TO PUBLISH MY FIRST BOOK OF SHORT STORIES JUST AFTER CHRISTMAS, SO PLEASE LOOK OUT FOR THIS.
IF YOU LIKE THE BOOK, THEN AND ONLY THEN WILL I FINISH MY NOVEL AND MY NOVELLA AND PUBLISH THESE TOO.
HOWEVER, THIS IS ALL DEPENDENT ON YOU MY SOULBANK READERS. YOUR INDICATION OF MY SHORT STORY BOOK - HOW IT SELLS AND HOW YOU ALL PERCEIVE IT WILL DETERMINE IF I HAVE THE RESOURCES AND THE FAN BASE TO PUBLISH MORE STORIES AND MY NOVEL(S) THEREAFTER.
REST ASSURED THERE ARE MANY, MANY MORE NOVELS AND TALES I HAVE TO TELL
...I JUST NEED YOUR HELP TO LET ME ENTHRALL YOU WITH THEM.
FINALLY FEEL FREE TO LEAVE ME ANY COMMENTS...I REALLY DO VALUE THEM ALL, AND THEY DO ALL HELP ME TO WRITE BETTER TALES AND INFUSE ME WITH VIGOUR AND ENTHUSIASM TO HORRIFY YOU ALL EVEN MORE.
OH BY THE WAY...
WAS THAT SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF YOUR BED LAST NIGHT JUST A SILHOUETTE OF THE TREES OUTSIDE?
OR WAS IT A HUNCHED FIGURE...A GHOSTLY HUNCHED FIGURE?
SOME CALL IT SLEEP PARALYSIS...
WHERE YOUR MIND IS BETWEEN DREAMS AND REALITY AND YOU SEE THINGS THAT ARE NOT THERE, AND MOST TERRIFYINGLY YOUR BODY FREEZES.
THING IS HOW DO SO CALLED RESEARCHERS CATEGORICALLY KNOW THAT WHAT WE SEE AND FEEL WITHIN 'SLEEP PARALYSIS' IS NOT REAL?
ANOTHER CONSPIRACY HEH TO MAKE US ALL THINK THAT THE DEAD DO NOT RISE WITHIN OUR BEDROOMS.
YOU DECIDE...BUT IN THE MEANTIME IF YOU HAVE NO TREES OUTSIDE YOUR WINDOW
...THEN JUST WHAT THE HELL ARE THOSE TWILIGHT SHADOWS?
UNTIL NEXT TIME...
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the Author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published.
All characters contained in these tales are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.