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Alone in my Belltower

Dedicated to a special woman..... or maybe not....

By Punkerslut

Image by NiD
Image: "Departing 2" by NiD

Start Date: Friday, February 10, 2006
Finish Date: Tuesday, March 7, 2006

     My psychiatrist always said I wouldn't ever let anyone get close to me. I wonder what she would say if she saw this: her patient, alone and alienated from everything he loves, in a tower, and shooting at people.

     I disagreed with her. I don't think I pushed anyone away that tried to love me. Everyone hides their emotions sometimes, or at least suppresses them, when they know that following them would be a hindrance. I did that, too, yes, but not any more than any other human being.

     My unclean fingers in their broken gloves wrap around the black telescope. I squint and search several hundred yards away for people. There's a small bridge built by farmers across a river. I see the wild wheat sprouting from the water and succumbing to the will of the wind. There's no one there. I'm still alone.

     I'm just waiting for an infantry division to come this way, praying to know what it feels like to have those crosshairs on that swastika. But, I already know what it feels like. I've killed seven already. Seven Nazi soldiers. Everyone must feel a distinguished sense of terror when they know that the eminent end is near. I wonder if that's what these men were feeling moments before that bullet tore their spine in half, or ran straight through their heart. I wonder if people can really know that they're going to die...

     I sit down and lean back. Through the silence of this dead city, there is the occasional echo of a bird's chirp. Windstorms always come in, blowing newspapers around. But there's no people left in this city, so these papers will have to migrate if they want to be read.

     Looking to the other side of the room in the bell tower, I see a newspaper. I reached and pulled it over. But it was in German. I shouldn't have expected anything else really.

     Then I heard something. It was the sound... of a machine. I look out the window and up. Planes are crossing overhead. They were too far up to get a good look. I even checked with the telescope. Even magnified, they were still too far away and fast moving to identify their nationality. I suppose it wouldn't really matter either way, whether I could tell if they were friend or foe. They couldn't see me and I couldn't target them. My friend silence visits me once again, as the sound of the planes fades and fades. I predict five more hours of complete quiet before something else happens to break the peace.

     I look through the telescope to the bridge again. There's nobody out there.

     I'm standing here in a belltower, watching the sun slowly dip beneath the horizon. Its beauty makes me doubt that a war is really going on. I'm Private James McConlin, part of the US 101st Airborne Division. We were dropped down here to take command of the bridges in inner Germany. It's a little something our commanders have called Operation Market Garden. Our unit was deployed into Arnheim and it felt like everything went to chaos. Our briefing officers seemed so cocky and confident that everything would go as planned without a hitch. The Allied forces kept catching hell from the Germans. The commanding officer was so overwhelmed by the situation. He had no idea who was going to save his men. An informal plan had been agreed upon by the grunts: we are retreating to Oosterbeek once we gather our wounded and supplies; it's a city only a few miles west. While traveling through urban area to the west side, I ran in to a Nazi blockade. By the time I uncovered a safe journey around, I was already in the deep southeast of Arnheim. It was getting dark. I checked a map with the little sunlight that was remaining. Very carefully, I headed southeast to the city of Westervoort, which had been evacuated because of the raids and the bombings. To protect myself, I acquired this belltower. Here I've been standing for three days.

     My favorite part is nightfall. The whole city, silenced by a power outage caused by the bombing, remains still and indifferent. It is when the sky becomes pitch black that I emerge from my place of hiding, to fill up three canteens of water. While walking around in the dark abyss of this urban landscape, I see shadows darting in and out of crevices. My imagination conjures the fluid air of enemy soldiers. I quietly sneak around the dim buildings, waiting for a real soldier to materialize. My tone may seem smooth and calm, but I am ready to react and to pounce on whoever might be willing to kill me.

     The closer my footsteps near the river water, the more it feels like I'm walking in to a memory of my childhood. Soft winds calm me; the only noise I can hear is the breeze sifting through the tall grass. My eyes remain ever watchful and vigilant, looking for any sign that a threat could exist ahead. Using the night darkness as my cover, I finally reach the stream. I dip my canteen in, filling it up. The sound and smell of the outdoors creates the feeling that I'm being liberated. Since it is not safe to walk around during daylight behind enemy lines, I don't leave the belltower much. An enormous tree stands before me, its limbs whipping with the wind, its leaves creating a bristling noise. When I'm here by the stream, where I can hear the insects collect and swarm, I feel like I've stepped outside of the killing, the slaughter, the murder.

     I want to take my clothes off and jump in to the stream. I would probably freeze to death. I want to, but I can't...

     The smallest streak of starlight provides me with me sight. It was hard at first, but you can become accustomed to finding your way around in a completely lightless environment. The buildings are all in pain and misery from the war: cracked cement, destroyed walls, torn foundations. But the streams keep flowing and the trees keep growing.

     This war has taken me far from my home. And now, I feel far away from even the war. I only wish that the people of this world could be as complacent as the stars: bright and beautiful, willing to be patient. The wind whips at my clothes, brushes my hair, fleeces my skin, and forces me to acknowledge that it exists. It is a small child, kicking at my legs, telling me, "If I was big and strong, I could throw you this way and that way." It struggles, beats at me, speaks to me, and lets me know that I exist...

     I am stuck in a vertigo of this fantasy and my real world. Completely alone. The absence of my enemy has given me security, but the absence of my allies has given me liberty. Through the shades I darkness, I drift in and out, as my imagination and courage pull my mind every different direction... Yes, I'm here in Germany, advancing with a vast military of the United States government. We are soldiers in an army that will be remembered for years as a decisive struggle of the second world war. These facts reverberate through every bone when you're walking over forty miles a day carrying sixty pounds of gear, being led by someone with a captain's hat and a brash understanding of the phrase "we're almost there."

     The tall grass all around me is being bent at the strength of the breeze. There is a deathly silence. I feel like I could put my ear close to the ground and hear the lungs of nature quietly inhaling and exhaling. All of the facts that have been drilled in to me on my purpose here and what's going on in the world, all of these facts dissolve. I've never quite felt so alone before, but I've never quite felt so released and uninhibited either.

     I headed back to the belltower, passing by the different lanes and streets of this small city. On one road, there were two cars crashed in to each other with a third crushed by the rubble of a destroyed building. There were bodies, dead civilians and troops. Evidence would seem to suggest that they were the victims of the Allied bombing campaign.

     If there is no enemy movement tomorrow night, I will leave my post here in Westervoort the day after, to rejoin the US 101st Airborne Division. I'm sure that they've advanced the flank pretty far ahead, but when you're a single moving man, you move much faster than an entire army. If I don't see a single soul tomorrow, then I'll leave the next day. My motivation was for the army of which I was a part of. I have to be in this part of the world during this time in history, just like everyone else who is involved in the conflict somehow. I should do my part.

     No difficulties arose in my journey back to the belltower. I curled up in my sleeping bag and allowed dancing thoughts a moment to rest.

     The first man I killed was in our deployment of Eindhoven, at the beginning of Operation Market Garden. My unit of five soldiers had discovered the soft side of a Nazi flank that was firing on an American position. Using the scope on the Mauser, I released a shot that pierced through the ear into the skull. The Nazi units pulled back after the shot.

     I killed two soldiers in the city of Arnheim. Both times, it was the combined effort of myself and the unit I was working in. I've killed a total of four Nazis from this belltower. Seven human beings.

     The last time there was an encounter with the Reich's military was the day before yesterday. I saw two armed men crossing the bridge. From their uniforms and the style of their helmets, they looked like Germans. I closely analyzed them with my telescope. I could hear them speaking German. "The one on the right or the one on the left?" my conscience asks me. The crosshairs hold steadily over the torso of the soldier on the right. I can hear their breath and their pulse. For every second that I hold my aim on this target, is a second that I decided to let this person live beyond what I had to let them live. I can feel the beat of their heart as my finger gently wraps tighter and tighter around the trigger. It's probably not healthy to force the pain of knowledge on to yourself.

     BANG!!! A loud shot from a Mauser rifle is heard for miles...

     BANG!!! A second shot. His partner only made it two or three yards before getting his. I checked the telescope again. There's nobody else. For another day, our dismal city of Westervoort shall have no visitors.

     Day four of the belltower: I checked the telescope in the morning. There was no movement. When I look through the lens, I see the calm breaths, the gentle pulse of nature. At any moment, I'm expecting a person to jump out from behind a tree or a bush. I'm expecting for something threatening and harmful to leak at the cracks of my perception. There's someone out there who wants to hurt me... I unconsciously whisper to myself. My finger rests on the cold steel of the trigger. I'm imagining what it feels like to fire this rifle. I'm imagining the kickback, the fire that bursts in your heart when you see your target drop. My entire body is absorbing the shock of another individual's death. I'm letting my mind replay what it feels like, as I stand here staring off in the distance at this bridge. I'm waiting for someone to come for me. I'm waiting for someone to shoot...

     I lean back and pull out my pack of cigarettes. I light one and smoke. Since I only have this and another pack, I've been limiting myself to two smokes a day. That way, I can definitely regroup with the company before I run out. I look to the stairs leading down from this belltower, and it's easy for me to think, "I could just walk out of here and be back in contact with the commanding officer in less than a day." But, no, I can't do that. I'm stuck here. I have to follow military protocol. I'm going to hold my position until I am absolutely certain that it is safe to advance.

     The smoke fills the musty air of the decrepit building, taking shape and form. I'd like to think that my mind could control it. My psychiatrist, from before the war, believed that dreams are the sum of your anxieties. I wonder if that would account for my dream last night. I was locked in a room that was on fire. I kept screaming, but nobody could hear me. When I pushed on the door, it was deadbolted. Is that dream a good analogy of my anxiety? Maybe it is. Maybe I really do feel completely smothered by threatening forces and abandoned by those I expected to protect me.

     Before the war, I was only a semester away from getting my Associates in mathematics. Shit, just before the war, I had a beautiful girl who tended to my every misery. I miss her.... Before I departed, she told me in person. She told me that "this new situation needs new understanding." She broke up with me. I blamed the war. The president's intention was to have me lose my girl. He made me die on the inside, only so that I could die on the outside ten thousand miles away from my home.

     I had heard from reliable sources that she was going to be courting a nineteen-year-old farmer who was exempt from the draft. My rage boiled like a witch's pot full of god's unfortunate children. I wanted to kill him. But instead, I spent my last few remaining days in America playing with the family dog in the woods and imagining the slow and agonizing death of this harvester and cultivator. "That's right, Jonesy!" I yelled, "Catch the stick!" A ball of fur accelerated by fast pace of four twigs blurred across my eyes as my thoughts calmly walked away.

     "That man reminds me of everything I ever wanted to be," I threw the stick again, "He's strong, able, and willing. I don't really know that for sure, but --" she jumps on licking my face, "But... he certainly makes me feel weak..." I started giggling. Jonesy was the only girlfriend I needed. "I love you, Jonesy. I tell you things I won't even let my conscience hear."

     Was that... was that a hair in my lens, or did I see someone moving?

     I squint and focus further. Someone behind a tree on the other side of the bridge is making a motioning signal. He's armed, so maybe it's a militia, but he's quiet, so I'm thinking professionally trained and outfitted infantry. Checking from the make and model of his weapon, he's German. I don't see anyone else yet. He's returned to his motionless state, blending in perfectly with mother nature's struggle against herself. Over the horizon, I can see more soldiers approaching. Ten. Twenty. Thirty.... there is, at most, forty soldiers out there. It looks like one of the Third Reich's platoons. They're heading towards the bridge.

     As the crosshairs very gentle vibrate over the chest of the lieutenant, I ask myself this question: what the fuck are the Germans doing at the Westervoort bridge?

     Are they crossing the bridge?

     My aim remained steady as my heart skipped a beat. I can kill this man and every one of his fellows will become woodwork warriors gunning me down. On the other hand, I can wait until they're only two feet outside my belltower and then start shooting. No, I don't know what I'm going to do. Someone's coming to kill me. I need to be prepared.

     They stopped. It looks like they're starting to set up camp on the other side of the river. Relief flows through my blood stream like a shot of whiskey and a beautiful girl who loves everything you say.

     Ursula was in love with me. At least, that's the way she made me feel.

     "Do you always have to be so cold and unwilling with strangers?" she asked.

     I caressed her mouth with the rose petal. "What do you mean?" my soft voice finally responded, "How am I cold?"

     She puts her hand on my side. "I don't know," she said, "It just seems that the first time we met, you were shy."

     I smiled. "What do you mean shy? How was I shy?" My fingers keep their pace.

     "Maybe not shy," she replies, "Well, not shy in a weak sense. You just seemed cold and non-responsive."

     "I'm plenty responsive," I said, "With my family, friends, and even other students, I can interact and exchange thoughts like it's nothing. I think it's probably one of my strongest attributes."

     "You're right," she smiled, putting her warm hand on my neck, "You are very responsive. I don't know why I said that." And she kissed me.

     I've been in this room all day for four days. Only under cloak of darkness have I been outside of these walls. Living in such confinement will drive me to insanity faster than the intense rage of kill-or-die battle. Besides, those people who want to hurt me, those out there who are looking for Allied forces to gut them from stem to stern, they're on the other side of the bridge, very far from me. My ability to kill them from such distance gives me a well-needed security. It's the kind of thing you appreciate knowing when you're outgunned by forty to one.

     I tear off the top of a can of green peas and start eating them cold. Two days ago, I found a crate of food beneath some of the floorboards on the first floor of the belltower. I was running all over the room, tossing tables and checking behind picture frames, for some kind of cache of anything, whether it was munitions, food, smokes, or money. Unfortunately, I found nothing, and then I noticed that one of the floorboards produced a different tone when stepped on compared with any other. I grew up in Wisconsin with a lot of farmers, with every storm cellar doubling as a pantry.

     At least I have something to eat.

     It's getting late and they're still out there. But, then again, there's no reason to believe that any platoon would set up camp just for a few hours. It's getting later.

     It's cold out. I can smell the fungus growing on the crushed rubble of this once glorious city. There's a certain satisfaction in knowing that I am the only living creature living in the crevices of Westervoort. Your shops, your churches, your business, and your homes are mine.

     Midnight. I look through the telescope again. The German platoon is still positioned out there. The glowing embers of their few, scattered campfires pierce the darkness for miles. I rub my hands in the mist of my breath. I wonder what would happen if I just walked over right now and sat in front of the flame, holding my fingers over the divine warmth. In this darkness and with how secure they're feeling, I bet I could do that without rousing any attention.

     The world invites me back in to the non-belltower part of the universe. "Come on out, James... The air is great!" I can hear my mother yelling in early spring. The flowers are in bloom and most of the berries are ripe. Everything that is here is for you. Come take it. Come take it.

     I can hear the sound of rubble crunching beneath my feet as I exit the belltower with my U.S. Army-issued machine gun. A small touch of nicotine courses through my heart, as my nerves calm and my touch steadies. I'm slowly approaching a section of the river that is far from the German encampment.

     Kneeling down, I refill one canteen, and then another, my gaze never leaving the enemy. When you're up to your knees in a shallow river of very cold water, watching insects swarm and retreat, feeling a cool breeze at the nap of your neck, here it is very easy to ask yourself a question like.... why do these people want to kill me? Why do they make me have to kill them? I refilled my third canteen and tossed them all in my pack. Maybe tomorrow I can have an answer to these questions. Maybe the sunrise will bring with it a liberating enlightenment and I will be able to see something that I've missed all of my life...

     I keep looking over my shoulder at the Nazi troops. At any second, I'm expecting to see men rushing out of their tents with weapons, heading across the bridge, and going straight for my belltower, even as I'm walking back. I'm probably just too suspicious, too afraid.

     Slunk down in the corner of the room, I prepare for sleep and say goodnight to day four of the belltower. These walls are awfully dirty and uninviting. A few months back, we were dropped the night before the invasion. That was one horrible shit storm. Nobody could find a fuckin' commanding officer anywhere. We were all completely scattered, slowly reforming platoons. US soldiers tried to stick together.

     My informal platoon was made up of seven by the time we linked up with a larger company. Some of us were reduced to using pistols, because our rifles were damaged in the drop. We added a man to our little troop parade who had lost his gun during the drop and I noticed a southern accent of some degree. I could feel the terror in his heart -- you are like us all. We are completely terrified of being here. His name was Phillip.

     I rise with the fifth day. Before relieving any human instincts, I hobble over to the scope. They're making breakfast. I'm safe. Turning around, I'm caught off guard -- for a moment, it looked like the walls had moved. "No, no.... you're okay," I mutter to myself.

     What was that? I lean over the ledge of the belltower. There's nobody there. No, I'm just hearing things. I remember the sounds Phillip was making, the way he would cringe, his screams muffled by the constant flow of blood through his mouth. A Nazi unit sprayed us with gunfire. As planned, the unarmed men fell back while the armed ones sought cover. Phillip wasn't an armed combatant, but when he was running, a bullet cracked his jaw.

     Firing my weapon on the enemy position while squeezing out tears between clenched eyes. "I can't do it! It won't work!" I unconsciously shout as I fumble and stutter while reloading my gun. No matter how hard I pushed or slammed the clip, the gun wouldn't take it.

     I felt like giving up. My arms and legs were trembling, as I squeezed the two pieces of metal that just didn't want to connect. I wanted to push hard enough that my entire body would explode. And then....


     Blood shoots out from a small puncture in my jacket. The force of the shot knocked me on my back. Suppressing fire was coming from all around behind me. Finally, a medic came and patched me up. I thought I was going to die. Another American unit had heard the gunfire and helped us defeat the German soldiers. Five other Americans were wounded; two of them died. The medics were taking care of all of us together. Phillip was sitting right behind me.

     I remember hearing his whimpering. We all had to listen to it. I sat with my knees against my chest, as my rifle rested at my side. "Oh, fucking god, fuck, fuck, fuck..." As I squinted and gritted my teeth, I could hear him gurgling blood in between his moans of pain and cries for help. He was holding his jaw to his skull as a medic wrapped a tape around it. Somehow, I managed the many hours standing only feet away from Phillip, completely alienated from the pain he was going through. I didn't want any familiarity with it. Finally we met up with a larger company, but when I would sleep in the barracks, I could still hear him, that cry of pain, only muffled by the sound of him choking on his own blood.

     I hope god has something good waiting for Phillip.

     I look through the telescope. The Germans have still maintained their position. Maybe someone told them that the war is off. I light a cigarette and look at my Mauser. It provokes me.

     The butt of the gun rests in my shoulder, my eye gazing down the black barrel. On the other end of my sight is a German shaving in the river. He's splashing the water and laughing with another soldier. His life is in my hands. All I need to do is pull the trigger. I can already see the gushing red pouring out of his throat and staining the riverbed, collapsing to his knees in a state of pure shock and amazement. You now have three seconds to prepare your thoughts before you're face to face with your creator.... but, no. No, it's not your time.

     There's a Nazi shooting at a flock of birds. Yeah, you're my enemy. I put my crosshairs on the target. He swiftly follows their patterns, with a glint in his smile as each one falls. My aim set on his head. He gets another bird; I can feel his chuckle reverberating through my spine. All it would require is a small amount of energy in my finger. I'm picturing him go ragdoll. "You'd be dead right now if I wanted it," I tell him. He releases the clip and returns to his tent. Every breath he lets out from that moment better be a testament to my glory.

     No, I shouldn't tempt myself. I placed the Mauser against the wall and put out the cigarette against the wall. That leaves half a cigarette for later tonight.

     I paced the room for a half hour, checking the scope every few minutes. Maybe this room will make me go insane. For a few seconds, I begin to contemplate leaving the belltower. I could head south maybe. No, there isn't any cover there. Westervoort isn't that big of a city. The German platoon would surely spot me if I were ever to attempt an escape... Perhaps I could walk to the other buildings, though, but they might be listening for me; a group of highly trained killers sit idle in between me and security.

     Fuck. What the fuck was I thinking staying in this belltower, waiting to make sure that it was safe? I completely fucked myself on that account. I shouldn't have been so unwilling to take a risk... Fuck.

     The US-Army issued bayonet knife is good enough for molding charcoal into a bar. This is good knowledge to possess if you enjoy drawing and are confined to a dismal room with endless canvas. What should I draw, though? What form should my passions take? I placing my hand on the wall and push the charcoal down, completely convinced that my name and date would be poetic enough to inspire construction workers to rebuild this belltower after the war.

     No, that's stupid. I'm not putting my name down. What should be the subject of my picture? What do I want the world to see when they come to this room that has been my home for these past few days? What image could I leave behind to let them feel my experience here?

     I'm standing here, deciding on a method to bloodlet my emotions... The problem is finding the vein. I'd kill for a beer right now, but killing out here just seems to make me burn my cigarettes faster.

     My mind and my fingers put pressure against the charcoal. I want something beautiful to come out on the other side. "I know what I'll create," I said out loud. I turned around. There's a collapsed building on the other side of the belltower; obviously a casualty from the Allied air raids.

     Some clouds, some sunlight, the mist rising from the piles of dust and dirt, these bricks that were once a home. I'll add another dash in the air here for Phillip. Using the palm of hand, I smear the charcoal across the wall. These lines, these dashes, the crumbling rock leaving behind dust and smoke, I am making these for you, Phillip. I hope that wherever you are, it helps you sleep.

     This building, the caved-mammoth, I am drawing your portrait. But your bricks, your burnt planks of wood, your torn concrete, I am drawing you for the war. These are for the draft, the call to duty, every American's zeal. There may be a lot about life that confuses and assaults me right now, but I know that I'm standing here in this belltower, reminiscing between prayers, serving a higher cause. Rubble -- I am creating an exact image of you; that is the way I feel about the war.

     But this vine, the insipid and beautiful vegetation that wraps like a serpent, this is for you, Ursula. This is for you and the person you immediately fell in love with when I turned my back. If there was no war, if I never had to come here, you would have never left me; I would still be your absolute idol of perfection... If only you would let me believe that.

     This flowering vine that saps the strength of these decaying structures, I am drawing it for you, Ursula. I used to love you...

     "I really want you to do this with me," she said, "Come on, it's my birthday."

     "I'm sorry, but I've got an exam that I really need to study for," I replied.

     "Please? Please?" she asks.

     "I want to more than anything and you know it," I said, "But, I just have other obligations. I'm sorry. I know I'll make it up to you."

     "Well, all right..."

     I'm dying inside for you.... I'm wanting something more than ever, for you. I spent two hours drawing, periodically checking the scope for German movement. Once it was complete, I let the worn-down piece of charcoal slip through my fingers to crack and shatter on the floor.

     I don't think I could draw anything again for another year. It was perfect.

     I checked the scope. There are new Germans. I would've remembered a beard of that length. Besides, I can see a infantry truck supplying weapons and munitions. Maybe it's time for some of the boys to get some R&R while they still have their Reich.

     What will I do after this war? My crosshairs trace the slow movements of the relieving lieutenant. When every German soldier is ready to collapse in to a permanently dark abyss, where will I go? What will I do?

     A commanding officer is enjoying a specially prepared meal on the other side of the camp while everyone shuffles, grumbles, and moans for beans and rice. I will kill you first. The human body that you've relied on for all your life to carry your blood, the mind you've mastered for cruelty and destruction -- I will hunt and destroy everything you have. He shares chuckles, laughter, and champagne with an assistant, an obviously subhuman infantryman. I need to feel the sight of your death; let me touch that fantasy where everything that wants to hurt me easily falls beneath its own weight.

     I'll be in this belltower for at least a year. Shit, by the time I finally emerge, I bet the war will be over. We could play this game forever.

     I can't return to Wisconsin after the war. It's a thought that has been repeating in my conscience for a little time now, and I think it's time to acknowledge it. There is nothing in a 95% farming economy that can help me right now.

     Do I need help? No, no... I don't. I'm strong, able, and courageous. Seven men killed. I'm a fuckin' ace of ground-to-ground combat.

     One day, everyone is going to stop shooting, halt the building of bombs, and discontinue their private terrorist campaigns against some humble and oppressed people. And on that day, I will need to find somewhere to go, something to do, and maybe someone or something to love. Just like everyone else in this world, I will need to put down my rifle and pick up a tool. I'll need to become useful in some way to another person -- to my understanding, there is no job in industrial society that entails watching a bridge for hours while drawing and talking to yourself.

     Is it ever possible to end being a soldier? Will there ever be a day where the sight of a human at four hundred yards doesn't trigger the fight-or-flight response? Can I abandon the habit of practicing vengeance with a highly dangerous weapon? Will I ever leave this world of mortar craters and bullet casings? Hope, dreams, charity, kindness, affection... these things used to mean something once, but they are all quite lost to me right now. Will they ever come back? Can I ever go back to... being normal?

     ... and maybe this war will never end for me. In some form or another, I will always be here. The only peace I might find could be in a small, secluded hut 200 miles from anything in the depths of Alaska. Or maybe I'll resettle to the top floor of a tenement in the middle of the Ukraine -- I will never have to try to understand what someone says to me again.

     Where will I go? What will I do?

     Maybe I don't have to think about what I'll do. Maybe the perfect path for me to take will show itself when the time is ready. I shouldn't have to think about this right now.

     Fuck. Three of the German soldiers have crossed the bridge and are heading towards Westervoort. They're not stopping and there's no reason for me to believe that they're just coming to share a jar of sauerkraut. I need to recognize the reality of this threat. If I can't cope with the understanding that they are seeking out my painful release from existence, then I will fail as a soldier, as a fighter, as a human being. I will not fail.

     Come... My finger is wrapped around the trigger of confidence. I'm waiting for you. If you were expecting someone who wasn't strong enough in themself to end your life, then you're fatally wrong.

     There is no reason to believe that I will let myself down in my performance... but I'm not really sure what I'm going to do.

     It's dark outside. I can hear the clatter of drinks and the unforgiving love of an audience. They're all watching to see me outperform my competitor.

     A late night of drinking in a Wisconsin bar can typically lead to two or more men standing outside and shooting at targets from a distance. This is not at all unusual. My father was an experienced hunter and marksman who had trained me from an early age on. Out of six shooters, the fellow bar patrons had agreed that my aim was by far superior.

     "A round on the house, and two for our hero!"

     It felt great to be adored and loved for a moment. There was one beautiful girl watching. I saw a burst of enthusiasm burn through her every nerve cell at the sight of my skill. That made me feel strong. It made me feel powerful. To be loved... is to be strong.

     "This is a prize for the sharpshooter," she takes my hand, opening it, and placing a violet into my palm. This was the first thing she ever said to me, and I think I was in love at that moment.

     "Would you like to dance with me?" For those few moments, it was impossible for me to make a mistake. I was the strongest person on the planet. Strong enough to fall in love.

     Here they come. Making their way as they kick rubble and stones, three untrained soldiers walk through the center of town. I could be wrong, but I only see one of them actually looking prepared for a fight. They certainly were not heading towards the belltower, but they definitely were walking passed it.

     My finger calmly rests on the trigger. My heart is ready at any given moment to accept the knowledge that I killed another human being. I can taste their breath. Keep coming. Keep coming. I need you...

     "Wieso bist wir gehend nach die Hundert über Westervoort?"

     "Die Leutnant Bedarf uns zu vergewissern jene niemand ist hier."

     "Tat Sie essen jene Essen Sie diente? Es war entsetzlich."

     I can see why nationalist tendencies are the root cause of so much prejudice, bigotry, and fear. You learn to identify your foe by his culture. Seeing as all human beings resemble each other physically, at least when in military uniform, you need to look for something else.

     "Falls Essen war ein Weib , ICH würdet rufen unserer Rationen ein Hure."

     "Das heißt höchst poetisch."

     "Welches bist Sie redend bei?"

     The three soldiers sat on a enormous piece of concrete, one of the vital organs that was ripped out from under the library. Two of them shared a cigarette and commenced in a conversation that may as well be Latin, while their partner dropped his weapon like a toy and opened up a can of rations.

     The butt of the Mauser rifle sat firmly in my shoulder as the crosshairs drifted between the three targets. Who should I kill first? Who among the cursed shall meet their fate quickest?

     "Dieser Rationen bist artig."

     "Rationen bist menge besser denn welches war diente eher."

     "Wieso bist wir in dieses Stadt wieder?"

     Always kill the most capable. By eliminating those who have the strongest offensive ability, you will be more able to overthrow the remaining weak forces. Among the three, there is one German who seems to be keeping a weary eye. There is confidence in his tone. As his comrades fuck up on whatever objective they're here for, he stands guard, protecting them, sacrificing his happiness and security to defend them. He's being used...

     "ICH meinen Ich bin verliebt."

     My aim now rests on the neck of the man resting on the fallen pillar, enjoying a canned piece of edible misery. You... You are weak... Everything you do pulls, destroys, hurts. You are the reason why we suffer our present miseries today.

     "Wieso würden Sie meinen jene?"

     I'm dying inside for you, Ursula...

     "Weil er ist ein Blödian. Das heißt wieso er würdet denken jene."

     I must decide. There needs to be a first before there can be a last. You decide for me... Ursula, tell me... Who should I kill? If you could see me right now, what would you say? Would you tell me to murder the one eating food, the one smoking, or the one standing afoot and aware? Let me know... I just wish you would talk to me and let me know... I'm begging for you.

     "ICH sollte sein erwartete zu kennen eben wie ICH anfassen immerzu."

     "Es würden womöglich abhelfen."

     I felt helpless in that field, listening to the cries of Phillip, the constant shouting of English and German from every direction, bullets and bombs, everyone running and holding out against death for just a few more seconds. It would only take the will to pull the trigger, and nothing else. I'm no longer struggling against my own weakness when trying to out beat the one who challenges me in a fight of life or death. I will hurt and kill you. You are mine...

     "Welches herstellen Sie meinen jene Sie sind verliebt?"

     I feel completely alone. There is no other way to describe the sensation that was stinging at my every nerve. Or maybe this is my fault; I am letting this happen to me.

     "Aller, alles."

     I'm crashing and burning. And if that really is the case, then there can be no bad karma in destroying others around me.

     "Kann Sie sein mehr spezifisch?"

     You make me feel so helpless. You make me need to hurt.

     "Jedesmal Ich bin mit ihr , ICH anfassen..."

     My friend, you have hurt me so much. And now I will hurt you.

     "Welches ausführen Sie anfassen?"

     "ICH anfassen gefällt Ich bin gehend nach krepieren."

     "Das ist ein bißchen romantisch."

     I can feel his heart burst as mine jumps. For a single glimpse, I exchange eye contact with him, as he spills his tin of food and rolls over -- there are some emotions best oh my god I've been doing this all my life expressed as a fainting glance. It felt like releasing the hand of my grandmother as she slowly slipped away from everyone... I am helpless about what must happen.

     "Jene herausgekommt die Glockenturm!"


     Another bullet grinds down the tunnel of the barrel and through the chest of one of the troops; his knees bend and he falls backward.

     "ICH Wille erschlagen Sie!"

     Machine gun fire sprinkles the front of the belltower. I release a third shot, shattering the skull of the final German.

     I'm dying inside for you, Ursula. I'm killing everything around me... for you. How dare you deny me. How dare you make me feel this way.

     There are three bodies laying about in what appears to be a random order in the Westervoort square. I'm watching one of the bodies slowly create a pool of blood. I don't think they're all dead yet.

     I look through the scope to the bridge. They heard the shots. The entire infantry unit is quickly mobilizing. Many of them are already crossing the bridge. I lean back against the wall, light a cigarette, and blame myself.

     That dream I had before, where I was locked in a burning room and nobody could hear me, that dream I had in the belltower a few nights ago -- I've had that dream before. When I was very young, it would haunt my preadolescent nights with that extremely painful imagery... Why couldn't anyone hear me? Why did they leave me?

     I need you, Ursula...

     Everyone needs this. Everyone needs to be sitting down in an abandoned belltower, listening for German voices and maybe the faint calling of a conscience, slowly tapping a bullet casing against the wooden handle of their Mauser rifle. This will build character. I'll change. This experience will pull me through hell and in the end, I'll be a different person.... A better person.

     What was that?

     I look out the window again. My soft breath morphs into a quickly dissipating vapor. There's nobody out there.... I'm still alone.

     I wonder if anyone's listening. In the distance, I hear scampered footsteps. Someone's looking for me. I load the bullet cartridge that I'm holding in to the Mauser. I'm ready to kill.

     A blur of dark green emerges from trailing sound of footsteps. One... Two Germans are running across the field surrounding the belltower. They were too preoccupied with saving their fallen brothers to consider themselves as potential victims.

     A shot rings for a mile as the first German doubles over. The second soldier stopped and took cover. I let another shot out without hitting anyone. He stands up just long enough for my to crack his shoulder blade with a sharp piece of metal. Falling to the ground, another shot tears through his rib cage and ends his life. A fifth final shot ends the life of the first German, in a clean and almost merciful act. Without drawing my eyes away from the battlefield, I reload my rifle based solely on the sounds that the metal makes when it clicks against itself.

     "Fuck...." I mutter to myself. Yes, that was only two Germans, but there are probably thirty or forty out there. I don't need to indicate my position to the rest of the tribe any more. I need to be better about these things. I can't miss. Nobody can escape. Once the location of a sniper can be ascertained, it is only a moment of time until their death can be secured.

     I'm absolutely terrified of dying. Every time I see an enemy approaching, I can feel a hand tightening its grasp on my heart, as it becomes more difficult to breath. I'm choking on dead hope as I gasp for breaths of air. Let this agony drip out of my soul like watching raindrops from inside the medic's tent. Let me be free of you in every and all ways... I need.

     It must be the will of the lord that my life is predetermined with so many mistakes. There's a group of foreign voices coming from a few blocks up, as I hear gunshots and the occasional grenade. Who do they think they're after? Who do they think they're trying to kill? They know; they have to know. My intimacy with this group of Germans is based on tendered moments of patience, conscience, and vengeance. They could have butchered twenty American sharpshooters by now, if they so happened to be sprinkled throughout this city, and they'd still look for me. They know me. Just from seeing the soldiers of theirs that I have eliminated, I think they could recognize my face in a crowd. They're looking for me. They need me.

     Anxiety surges through my body. I'm here. I'm waiting for you... Why aren't you coming for me?

     I'm sitting in this decomposing building. I'm dying with these structures, just as slowly and painfully. My army fatigues are horribly dirty, torn, ripped, and falling apart. Plus, back at the camp I was outfitted with clothes that were two sizes too big. It sometimes feels like I'm wearing rags. Piercing the holes of the dark green material, you find dark gray areas, my skin covered with a thick layer of almost irremovable scum. Though my movements are very calm and smooth, I'm softly paying attention for the sound of my enemy, the overture of war. If you asked me right now what I believe, I'd say: "I believe that we all die one day. Everyone knows it, but nobody believes it." If you're going to ask me a follow-up question, it better be....

     Did you hear that? It came from the building across the street...

     Four... five... seven... thirteen... seventeen soldiers come from an alley. The lieutenant is giving orders to different squads to search the buildings. I stopped squinting through the scope and pulled back close to the wall. Maybe there isn't anything I can do. Maybe this is for a reason. Maybe everything is for a reason.

     No, I'm not here. I'm not watching the advance of a German platoon. I'm dead. My death occurred at least several months earlier. I saw the blood leaking out of my body, and at that moment, I was completely ready to submit to end... But the blackness I was prepared for never came. The only relief came from a medic's injection of morphine. I shouldn't be here. This is not for me. I'm supposed to be dead. And, perhaps very shortly, I will be reunited with that fate that was intended for me by a greater force.

     "Why are you doing this?" I asked, "I just wanted to love you more than anything; and maybe I really did do that. But, you're ending this and I guess there is nothing that I can do about it."

     "Why are you saying these things?" she said, "I never understand you."

     "And after today, you won't ever have to understand me again," I said, "You're just letting me go. You don't care. It isn't about us. It's about you. That's what I'm hearing right now."

     "Maybe you weren't paying close enough attention to what I was saying," she said, "I never said I stopped loving you or caring about you, ever. Did I say that?"

     "This relationship is ending..." I said, "There's no reason for me to believe anything except that you don't feel for me any more."

     "If that's how you really feel, then why are you still here?" she asks, "Why are you even talking to me?"

     "You're right," I started to walk out of her room.

     "I didn't mean that," she said, "Come back, I want to talk to you... James!"

     My footsteps echo as I walk away from her, carrying me back to my world, a place full of the sounds of machine gun fire and the cries of Nazi soldiers.

     "Ein steigen in jene Glockenturm!"

     They're coming for me... Someone wants to hurt me. In between the dread of a painful and miserable death, I feel completely alone. As much as I am unconsciously drawn towards it, I'm not sure how right death would be for me now. Perhaps these thoughts are only stirring in my mind now because there is no going back from the eminent.

     Amidst the haunting voices, I hear the soldiers kick in the front door to the belltower. They're coming...

     Crawlspace. There's a crawlspace in the upper eves of the floor I'm on. Grabbing my pack, my gun, and every sign of my presence, I pull myself up and stow away in a dark corner. Twenty seconds later, bullets rip through the walls of the room and the opposition comes in to the room. Two Germans. They can't see me, but I'm watching them.

     "ICH Vorstellung er sagt es war ein Heckenschütze rein."

     They kicked over the chair, opened the closet, and flipped the table on its back. The smell of oak fills my nose as my face presses hard against this wood board. They had invaded my space and my home. It was a compromise I was willing to make: you can have everything that I have, so long as you leave me my life.

     "Vielleicht niemand ist hier."

     I want to ask why they are here, what they've come for, who they're seeking out. War gives men a primitive and barbaric method to express everything they secretly feel about themselves. Why did you come to my belltower? Who do you think you're trying to kill?

     "Angehen. Lassen Sie uns zu gehen. Wir benötigen zu Suche Anderen Gebäuden."

     One of the soldiers departed from the room, while the other soldier looked out the window, speaking with his commanding officer: "Hin niemand hier! Jene Heckenschütze muß sein woanders!"

     His boots make a firm echo as he proceeds to exit the room... and he stops.

     His friend says, "Wohlauf, angehen ,lassen Sie uns zu gehen!"

     The soldier still in the room is looking at the drawing, "Tat Sie übersehen dieses zeichnend?" He points to it for the other soldier. I have a fan.

     "Worüber es?" The other German walks back in to the room to examine my charcoal creation.

     The finger of the first German points to the window. "Es ist ein zeichnend des Szene raus die Fenster."

     The crushed building, the bomb crater in the ground, the barely flowering vine entangling through bricks and rubble -- they can see that the picture was only recently made.

     "ICH wahrhaftig auf diese Weise. Jene würdet haben durchaus schlüpfte beim mich, falls Sie hatte gestanden nichts."

     Fuck... The creation has given up faith in his designer and is now alerting the opposition where I might be found. My heart drops.

     "Die Blume ist ein schön tippen. Und anschauen die Absätze. Dies ist gemacht mit Holzkohle. Ein ist ein artig Künstler."

     Their tones became much more hurried and ambitious. I could taste the blood in their mouths. You want to hurt me.

     The demeanor of their words reverberates through my body. I know they have to be saying "We must find, hunt down, and murder the man who made this drawing, because it must be the same person who sniped our friends."

     "Bevor die Krieg, ICH ausgegeben viel Zeitrechnung Malerei. Mein Eltern gelehrt mich wie zu Verwendung Holzkohle, zu. ICH nie Vorstellung ICH würden Ausgang rauf."

     Or maybe I'll be captured and the Germans will play a game with all the POWs. They'll show everyone a copy of the drawing and whoever reacts the strongest receives the most painful torture. They want to hurt me... I gently unclick the button on my pistol holster.

     "Niemand immer meint Sie sind gehend nach Ausgang rauf. Es ist tragisch Geschick."

     Cold steel fills the grip of my palm. Very slowly, I pull the weapon from its case. Serve your purpose... One of those soldiers is carrying a knife with a blade over a foot long; it's an extra piece of gear that one individual might find themselves in need of during the heat of battle.

     "Falls dieses Krieg immer Enden, Ich bin kleidsam ein Maler."

     His eyes will burn with strength as he lunges the spike through my chest. I'm dying at your will in your hands. They want to hurt me. They're trying to kill me...

     "Falls dieses Krieg sich einschmeicheln, welches würdet machen Sie meinen jene Sie würden leben?"

     Two soldiers discuss plans for a lynch party as an arm extends from the eves shaft holding a pistol.


     The second German drops his gun and falls on his back with a single shot. I quickly turn my aim to the first soldier, unable for three seconds to detect where the firing came from.

     Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!

     A series of shots ring throughout the belltower as the German falls back against the wall, dropping to his knees, and finally tipping over. His death was instantaneous. I emptied the remainder of my clip in to his chest. As I jumped down from the eves, I could still hear someone breathing. I turn...

     The second German is panting as blood slowly drips from the center of his chest. His legs aren't moving.

     "Welches bist Sie tuend?"

     Looking at him without any particular expression of either remorse, dread, hate, or vengeance, my best response to this situation isn't so immediately apparent.

     "Ausführen nicht ausführen es. Ich bin bettelnd Sie nicht zu."

     His voice is getting louder. I turn to the window where I hear more German voices coming from, and then I know... He's calling for help.

     "Bitte töten Sie mich nicht. Ich bitte Sie. Bitte!"

     I rush over to the eves and pull down my Mauser rifle.

     "Ich habe eine Familie und Kinder. Ich wollte nie in diesem Krieg sein. OH-, Gott! Ich kann nicht sterben! Bitte! Ich kann nicht sterben!"

     He's screaming by now. I can hear others in the distance running.

     "Nein! Schießen Sie mich nicht! Ich kann nicht Sie verletzen! OH-, Gott! Töten Sie mich nicht!"

     They're coming to kill me. I stand over him with the end of the rifle only three feet from his face.

     "Anschlag! Nein!"


     His face rips to shreds, as gray matter fills several square feet of the wall. I look at the other German. He actually fired two shots before dying, but I had emerged so suddenly and quickly as to overtake his senses. He thought he could kill me... You had to fight me. You had to resist. Take my pain and worship it.

     I stood there among the dead. It was only moments before their friends came to avenge their miserable end.

     "I always wanted to do something remarkable with my life," I say. My mother is standing on the other side of the room holding the draft notice and wanting to know how I feel. I couldn't say anything more.

     People die for one reason and one reason only: they are not strong enough. I'm not really sure how strong I feel right now, but I'm not just going to lay down.

     I unbutton the jacket on one of the Germans, throwing it over my own. In a matter of seconds, I had completely traded my wardrobe with two dead men, taking garments that were the least bloody. There were five clips of munitions for the MP40, the Nazi-issued infantry machine gun. Fortunately, the design of the helmet covers some of the major features of the face, so the soldiers won't recognize that I'm an American right away. I take my pack with my clothes and food in it, my Mauser rifle, and I'm carrying an MP40. Technically, I'm about to commit a war crime.

     I take the first step down the stairs and stop. There's something in my pocket. My fingers search through the German coat and I discover a pack of filtered cigarettes. Well, I'll have one for the road. I use a Zippo from the same pocket to light up.

     The front door creeks as I slowly push it open and escape in to the real world. Fresh air fills my lungs and a weak wind pushes at my side. Those mocking walls disappear as I was immersed in a new environment. My senses lit up like fire overtaking a brush field. I am being released from a miserable world of my own construction. In the distance, I see the lieutenant approaching with three troops.

     "Was ist die Situation mit diesem Aufsatz?"

     I took one long drag off of the cigarette and then flicked it in to a pile of rubble. There's no need to keep this long.

     "Ist der Scharfschütze tot?"

     You can't make anyone love you.

     I run out from the entry to the belltower, firing my MP40 upon an extremely surprised group of soldiers. Several of the troops fired, but none of them knew what they were aiming for. I saw the lieutenant and two of his troops fall. I took cover at the corner of the next building, reloading my clip. There's still one German soldier in that search party alive. I can hear him running in my direction... I lean out from the corner and open fire. Bullets ripped his knees apart forcing him to trip forward and collapse. These four soldiers will never rise again.

     No matter how hard you try, you are completely powerless.

     I head through the streets of this city, without a single restriction. I duck through an alleyway and discover two Germans around the bend...

     "Wissen Sie, was los ist?"

     "Nein. Wir müssen unseren befehlshabenden Offizier sofort finden."

     As I emerge from my hiding spot, one German looks to me and smiles. Rain of fire and lead destroyed their bodies. I kept running through the city, heading south. I haven't quite developed my plan up to this far, so all of this is on pure intuition. But hell, it looks like I'm performing like a marvelous soldier.


     I look up. There's nothing. There's no one...

     Once I get passed these few city blocks of Westervoort, I'll be able to run and escape from the Reich's finest search parties. If my memory serves me right, there are about six or seven city blocks to get through before I'll be out of the city. And once I get to that point, I'll decide what is best to do next.

     Creeping through the streets like a lizard with his belly to the ground, I make my way through these city streets. My heart pounds in rhythm with my tension and anxiety, with my... excitement. This plan seems to be working. I actually may live.

     "What about your girlfriend?" he asks, stuffing the sub par army food in to his mouth.

     "I broke it up with her," I said.

     "You what?" he giggled. I stopped eating. All around me, there was the clatter of a thousand US soldiers, many of them enjoying their last meal. Phillip was there. I just didn't know him yet.

     "She probably would have broke it up with me any way, to see other men," I said, "In fact, by the time I left, she was already with another man. There was nothing I could do about it."

     "Well, my girl would never cheat on me," he said, "I love her and she loves me. There's nothing that is going to change that. How could you do that? You must be the stupidest fucking prick alive."

     "Why don't you shut the fuck up before I feed you your tray?"

     "You just totally whimped out of that situation. You are not part of the man club any more, my friend," he chuckled again, as he was sopping up gravy with a biscuit.

     I threw myself at him. Fights aren't exactly the most uncommon incident in any US Army cafeteria. Everyone did what they were supposed to. The nearest individuals grabbed us and pulled us apart, but only after each of us got at least one good shot at the other.

     There are three Germans walking towards this alleyway. They're probably at least sixty feet away. I'll sit and wait for them to come. My pulse quickens as my muscles tighten. A moment of life or death. Another test for everyone to take to prove that they are the strongest of the human pack. Their voices get louder as they come by...

     "Auf was geht das Bumsen?"

     "Wer sind wir versuchend zu töten?"

     "Diese Situation ist so unglaublich."

     I jumped out, taking them by complete surprise and killing all of them. Only one managed to fire off a single round, and it certainly wasn't even in my direction. The others, more or less, let out their screams, their shrieks, their teary cries, throwing themselves in any direction to avoid the painful shots. Who am I killing?

     Heading south still, there are only two more blocks before I am outside of this city. I am almost completely free. There are no German voices, nor can I hear anyone moving. Whatever Germans that remain behind must be extremely disorganized and scattered. I am almost... free.

     You make me rise, and then you let me fall.

     "Tell me you love me," I say as she pours two glasses of wine. Sitting on the edge of the bed and studying the patterns of the floor, I could still feel her smile.

     "You're adorable," she hands me a glass. I sip it delicately...

     "We can't have a relationship any more," I said. She got up off the bed completely silently, as though someone's confident shot tore its way through her heart.

     "What?" For just a few seconds, she didn't know what to think, say, or do.

     "This is over," I repeated, "You saw the draft notice. We can't be together any more. You were thinking it, too."

     "I was not," she said, "You know that I love you and we can --"

     "Don't give me that shit," I stood up, "You know just as much as I do that I might not even be coming back. You want this and I only want this because it is the most inevitable result when I do ship out. Don't make it into something it's not."

     "Why are you doing this?" she asked, "Why do you want this? Don't I mean anything to you?"

     "You meant everything to me," I said, "But this isn't something we can change or fight. I'll be thousands of miles away for maybe years. We are both better off this way."

     She wraps her arms around me and I see a tear swell up, "Baby, please don't do this... I love you and only you. You make it so hard to understand... Why are you doing this?"

     "Why are you doing this?" I asked, "I just wanted to love you more than anything; and maybe I really did do that. But, you're ending this and I guess there is nothing that I can do about it."

     "Why are you saying these things?" she said, "I never understand you."

     "And after today, you won't ever have to understand me again," I said, "You're just letting me go. You don't care. It isn't about us. It's about you. That's what I'm understand right now."

     "Maybe you weren't paying close enough attention to what I was saying," she said, "I never said I stopped loving you or caring about you ever. Did I say that?"

     "This relationship is ending..." I said, "There's no reason for me to believe anything except that you don't feel for me any more."

     "If that's how you really feel, then why are you still here?" she asks, "Why are you even talking to me?"

     "You're right," I started to walk out of her room.

     "I didn't mean that," she said, "Come back, I want to talk to you... James!"

     My footsteps echo as I walk away from her... as I walk away... as I walk away... as I walk away from this city, leaving it behind forever.

     In total in this war, I have killed twenty-four men... No, wait, that's wrong. I've killed twenty-three men.

     I'm heading southeast to the city of Duiven. Maybe I can find a belltower in that town. But, then again, if I do find it, I might just keep on walking.

     I feel a wind at my back. Maybe it will carry me.


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