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Old 12-17-2020, 10:37 AM   #6 (permalink)
Trollheart
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And so, too, his body to the fire. Standing around in a loose and very uncomfortable group, the impromptu mourners at Hitler's very inexpensive and hurried funeral (not the way he would have wished, nor expected to go) averted their eyes from each other, not knowing what to say, and this inevitably brought their gaze back to the shrouded and burning bodies of the Fuhrer and his wife of forty hours, smouldering like two large logs in a badly-set fire on waste ground just outside the bunker. Nobody wanted to go over and stand close to the corpses, due both to the smell of roasting flesh (remarkably squeamish, given the horrors some of these men had seen and indeed perpetrated) and, more importantly, the threat of falling debris from the surrounding buildings as the Russian shells pounded them, and of course the Soviet ordnance itself. If there was a safe place to be in Berlin right now, the bunker was probably it, but with the man for whom it had been built now dead, nobody really wished to re-enter what had been for so long, and now quite literally had become Hitler's tomb.

So they stood there, not looking at each other, not talking, barely making a sound, some holding handkerchiefs or just hands to their mouth and nose to block out the stink, only lowering them when it came time for the agreed-upon final salute to their departed leader. The smoke rose, thick, choking, filthy, up into the soot-streaked sky of what had once been the jewel of the Reich, the very centre of Nazi power, casting a mourning shroud over Berlin, and Günsche fancied he saw rain falling lightly, as if the very sky was crying for the end of the Reich, for the death of Adolf Hitler, though it may only have been sparks from collapsing buildings and spent shells floating down through the air.

Unable, finally, to continue looking at the blazing remains of his Fuhrer, and still unwilling to lock eyes with any of the other eight or so Nazis standing around like ravens on a battlefield, each surely thinking their own thoughts, whether those thoughts tended towards survival, jockeying to fill the sudden power vacuum, or an intention to follow the Fuhrer into death itself, Günsche raised his eyes and looked up.

The cloud above the burning remains of the leader of Nazi Germany puffed and rolled like a thing alive, and Günsche had to check his imagination, scowling at himself for such childish notions.

He could have sworn that a small hole had appeared in the thick cloud of black smoke, and then another, almost in line with it. Such things did not, he knew, happen to smoke. Smoke clouds would of course eventually blow away, but generally they tended to rise, thick and heavy, up into the sky, toppling over like collapsing – what did the Americans call them? Tornadoes? Yes, that was it: tornadoes - and only then dissipate over usually quite a wide area. They did not break up, and they certainly did not break up into what was almost geometric shapes.

And yet, as he rubbed his eyes (both to remove the tears that no Aryan should shed, and yet, for this man, who would not – and to clear them of the stinging smoke) he realised there could be no doubt. There were, quite definitely and quite distinctly now, two small openings in the cloud that hovered over Hitler like his funeral pall (which it basically was), almost equidistant from each other. Two oval shapes, slightly flattened out at the edges. Almost like... almost like...

Eyes?

But strange though that was, there were stranger things happening to the cloud. It was black, of course, shot through with orange and yellow from the flames consuming the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun. Or rather, it had been black. Now it had changed, and not subtly either, so that it was truly impossible either to deny or to miss the change.

The cloud was now a uniform red.

There was black around the edges, but over ninety-five percent of it was red. And not the red of the flames, not the normal red of combusting materials. No. This was a darker, deeper red. A very specific shade of red that no flame could match. This was, in short, not the red of fire.

This was the red of blood.

The cloud was changing shape as well as colour. Where before it had been the standard, vaguely cylindrical, roughly circular or at least globular shape that billowing clouds of smoke always assumed, towering up in ever-widening columns into the sky, now it had assumed a different shape. More elongated at the base, narrower at the sides. Kind of, Günsche mused, like a pear or perhaps a light bulb.

Like anyone doubting his own senses who has others there to corroborate or disprove what he is seeing, and temporarily allowing his disbelief and fascination to override his revulsion of the other men who stood beside him, he tapped one of them on the shoulder. It didn't really matter, at this stage, who it was, but as it happened it turned out to be Erich Kempka, Hitler's chauffeur. Wordlessly, Günsche pointed up, and Kempka, irritated by the man, whom he had known but never liked, and annoyed at being interrupted in this most sacred and tragic of rituals, raised his eyes too.

“Gott in himmel!”

At the exclamation, several of the others turned, words of reproach already on their lips that anyone should sully these last moments with the Fuhrer. But seeing both Kempka and Günsche's wide-eyed stare of horror, all remaining eyes turned skywards, fixing on the cloud.

The eyes had been joined by a nose, long, hooked, cruel. Josef Goebbels, ever the propagandist, even after the death of his employer, fell to his knees and declared it a sign: the Führer's face! The Fuhrer was smiling down upon them, his chosen! Even as his body burned, even as Berlin burned with it, Hitler would live forever, his spirit now one with the gods. And he would be watching over -

But even Goebbels, the master manipulator of the truth, could not spin what happened next, and they all saw it.

Flames danced and writhed in the dark eyes, and they were not merely the reflection of the fires crackling around the bodies below, a simple illusion of light. No; these were clear, well-defined and self-contained flames, as if the iris of the eye, delineated perfectly now and clearly no longer simply a formation of smoke, were itself on fire. But not only that: if you looked carefully (and everyone did; they could not help themselves) there were... shapes... figures perhaps, moving within the flames, almost like ... almost like human forms, moving and twisting and writhing about the red and yellow tongues of fire. As they watched, occasionally one would seem to come closer, move towards the front of the eye, as it were, and then, and then ....

Oh, horror!

Faces. Faces in torment. Faces of fear, twisted in agony and suffering. Nothing recognisable, nothing that could be distinguished, but definitely human faces, moving to the foreground as if trying to escape the fire, or pleading for help, and then moving – the definite feeling was that they were being dragged – back into the flames, cavorting in a horrible danse macabre that made everyone, even the hardened and heartless Goebbels, shiver.

And that was not all.

The mouth, formed beneath the nose in a short moment, opened and laughed.
It was filled from top to bottom with razor sharp teeth, fangs really, and seemed to belch out fire as it gaped, the tongue that flicked behind them split in two.

Forked.

The red skin of what was clearly now a face, but a face measuring something on the order of a half-mile across, seemed to burn with an incandescence that rivalled the very fires consuming Berlin. No longer just a cloud, the features were so plainly visible that the shocked Nazis could now see the movement of muscles, the tracery of veins in the forehead, and as their eyes rose, almost as one, to the crown of the head, they saw the horns.

A sudden explosion rocked one of the nearby buildings, and the watchers tore their eyes away from the dread vision hovering above the crackling body of the Fuhrer, fighting to maintain their footing as the very walls of the Reich Chancellery shook.

And with that, the spell was broken.

When they looked up again, the vision was gone.

If it had been a vision.

But what else could it have been?

But Goebbels knew.

Perhaps he had always known.

He had once heard, was it Heydrich – Reinhardt Heydrich, architect of the Final Solution – someone at that meeting, anyway – pose a question, and both the question and the sneering answer had always stayed with him. Not quite as a cautionary tale, but more as perhaps a foretelling, or a forewarning; a vision of his own future, though he had assumed this would not have to be faced for many decades.

The question had been, in response to something someone – Goring maybe, he was not sure – had asked about the Jews and their beliefs.

“Do they even believe in Hell?”

And Heydrich, or someone, though it sounded like the kind of thing that cold-hearted animal would say, had smiled in reply “They do now. We create it for them.”

Whether those words had been spoken or not, whether the story was apocryphal was unimportant. The chances were that such a discussion had been had, and to be honest, Goebbels had no problem with it. The Jews were sub-humans, not really even fit for slavery, fit for nothing but the gas chambers and the ovens. And whether the story was accurate or not, he was personally proud that Heydrich, Himmler and Hitler had indeed created Hell on Earth for the disgusting Jews.

Ah, but that was Hell on Earth. A Nazi Hell, brought into being and maintained by the soldiers of the Reich, controlled by them, their own creation. And exclusively for the enemies of the State. No true Nazi need fear burning in those fires – unless he betrayed the Party, of course, in which case he deserved all he got.

Hell in reality, now – well. He would soon find out. Most of these so-called followers of the Fuhrer knew nothing about loyalty. True loyalty. He, and they, and every Nazi, from the lowliest soldier in the Wehrmacht, even factory workers, to the top echelons of the SS, had sworn a personal oath of loyalty and obedience, not to Germany, not to the Nazi Party, but to the man whose body was now being eaten by the flames. And what did that loyalty mean to them?

He snorted.

Himmler was known to be already in negotiations with the Swedes, of all people, to sue for terms for peace with the Americans. Bormann, beside him, his head lowered in a mockery of sadness and respect, two things the man knew nothing of, was making plans for his own escape, while Goring! Goring had had the temerity to “suggest” to the Fuhrer that he take over the Nazi party, become, in effect, the new Hitler. And Hitler had appointed Donitz as his successor!

Donitz! A sailor. A common soldier. Leader of the Kriegsmarine. Someone who had fought bravely for Germany and for the Fuhrer during the war, yes, Goebbels would not deny that. The very architect of the “wolf pack” strategy that had worked so well for the fleet of U-Boats that sowed terror across the North Atlantic and almost crippled Britain's supply lines. A true Nazi, surely. But he had never been one of Hitler's inner circle, never a personal friend or confidante.

Verdammt! Goebbels could not imagine life after Hitler, nor could his wife, and they had already decided on what was, to them, the only course of action remaining to them. But the idea of the Reich (or its remains) falling into the hands of one unworthy of such an honour as Donitz burned in his heart almost as hotly as his hatred for the Jews. A snake he may be, and he would probably not deny it; in fact, he had respect for snakes. They killed without mercy, taking the weak and ensuring their own survival, their hearts as cold as the blood that ran in their veins.

A snake, then, yes; but a snake must know its prey, and this Josef Goebbels had a talent for. He knew people. He knew what made them tick: he was aware how to push them this way and that, tell whatever lies they wished to hear, or that he wished them to hear, to serve his ends and those of the Reich. He had made a living reading and indeed manipulating and controlling people, and he saw in Admiral Karl Donitz's eyes that this was a man who was ready for peace, not a man who would fight to the last. He would tarnish the Führer's grand legacy by surrendering to the enemy. Who would follow such a weak, pathetic man, a man not even worthy to be considered the merest shadow of his beloved leader?

But he was ready to die. Oh yes. He and his wife had arranged to have the children poisoned – for what kind of life would there be for them in a world without Hitler, without the Nazi Party? - and Magda would soon join him in the bunker where they would both take their own lives. Loyalty meant everything to Josef Goebbels, and he was happy, honoured and eager to follow the man he had idolised to the very gates of Hell itself, into death and eternal bondage.

Suddenly, a movement caught his eye. Two small figures, hiding behind the rubble of what had once been a great building. Children. The future of Germany. He spat. Hiding. Cowards. But what had they seen? Could he take the risk of...

Children. Just children. Seven years, perhaps eight. No older than Holde or Hedda, two of his own. Orphans, like so many of the children of Berlin now, Berlin virtually an orphan herself, her great parent the Fatherland dying in front of her, and she unable to do anything about it. Perhaps they had seen nothing. Perhaps there had been nothing to see.

But if there was one thing working under Hitler had taught Josef Goebbels, it was that to succeed one had to be able to control the narrative.

And one very good way of controlling the narrative, the best in fact, was to ensure there was no narrative to control.

His Luger was still smoking as he replaced it in its holster, the sound of two expertly-placed shots dying away in the cool afternoon air, echoing into and being swallowed by the roaring, pounding, screaming death of the German capital.

Eyes of a snake, he turned to the others, indicating upwards with a jerk of his head.

“This never happened. Are we all clear?”

A chorus of nods, a few mutters of assent. Nobody crossed Goebbels, and besides, the new Reich Chancellor snorted to himself, eyeing the now empty sky with disdain, as a man who scoffs at a nightmare on waking, who would believe it anyway?

Who indeed?

Ask the restless and wandering ghosts haunting the now-empty corridors of Dachau, Buchenwald and Belsen. Put the question to the millions exterminated in Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz, places purpose-built for one thing only: the annihilation of life. Open the ovens, now cool and shut down, in which millions of innocents were burned, both to remove evidence and to save burial space, after having been gassed to death. Query the voiceless children, who followed mother and father into the showers to their death, not knowing what was going on, and dying in terror and agony and confusion. Or those who may, possibly, be termed the lucky ones; the ones who died before they could reach the horror camps, if you can call dying terrified in the stinking darkness lucky.

Ask the living skeletons discovered at the many concentration camps by the American GIs and Russian soldiers, figures who were once human but now bore little to no resemblance to any living creature, staring with blank and dull eyes as salvation, long prayed for, longer despaired of, came finally to their door and helped them back into the light. Sift, if you will, through the piles of bones, hair, teeth, spectacles, clothing and other “consumables”, as the Nazis coldly referred to them, using everything, every remnant of what had once been a person to enrich their vile empire and help pay for the running of these very camps.

Or look east, towards the blasted winterlands of Russia, where prisoners were so beneath what the Germans believed to be human that they were allowed to starve to death, or used for target practice, or froze in the unforgiving icy chill of their native land, betrayed and murdered by their own Mother.

And those who were forced to march hundreds of miles to their deaths or, in the case of some fortunate ones, their rescue, by evil men who knew the game was up but were unprepared to face the consequences of what they had done, and again wished both to remove evidence of their crimes and continue to kill as many of the enemy as they could.

How would these people respond to that question? Those dragged from their homes in the night, sold out by their neighbours, accused of crimes either real or invented. Those who stood before judges from whom they knew they could expect no mercy. Those who read the wrong books, said the wrong things, believed differently, dressed differently, acted differently. Those who did not, would not, bow down to the New World Order the Nazis were determined to force upon them. Those who died alone in the dark, suffering, not knowing what they were accused of, and those who gave up their comrades, their families, their friends, and still received no mercy, for an enemy of the State was to be afforded none.

“Harden your hears against compassion!” Hitler had bellowed, and his followers had taken that message very much to their own black and evil hearts. No crime was too vile, no indignity too much, and nobody was safe, man, woman or even child. Walk over the graves of those who were executed in what the Nazis callously and in their twisted way called euthanasia, Project T4, as if they were doing the disabled, mentally and physically, a favour by ending their lives. Listen to the wind whisper their answer, and you will know.

Oh yes. Herr Goebbels might have been quite surprised at the number of people who, had they known or heard of the vision he and his Nazi compatriots had seen, or thought they had seen, would have been quite prepared to believe it was true.

After all, when you've seen Hell with your own eyes, been forced to live in it, it's hard to doubt the existence of the Devil.
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