Chapter 2 -Sniper
The sniper slid to the floor of the room, he hid in. He couldn’t go on alone any longer, he couldn’t kill alone, and the weight was crushing his soul. He slipped the bullet from the gun taking it into his hands so to cling to it for dear life. He looked to his left to where his friend, Helmuth. His dead comrade, his only friend, lay face up, his face grey with death.
They both remembered the Great War huddled in the trenched the rats crawling along their bodies and into their clothes.
“GŸnther, Atem.” Helmuth would whisper. The sniper just a boy back then would shudder at those words cold and hunger suffocating him. A slow creeping thing that clawed at his soul, this left a coldness that only his closest friend’s death could shatter and make him human once more. They were a few of the lucky one to have survived the war without becoming disfigured or lame.
Helmuth prayed that they would survive this war together but only GŸnther did. A cruel fate befell Helmuth when he received a Kampfwunde in battle during a skirmish with a squad of Tommys and it had festered. It was unbearable to watch his comrade, his war brother for all these year to die in his own scheisse. That’s not how any man should die, crying in agony begging for death.
How long has this war gone on? It seems to him easier to count bodies then days, the fading sense of self and the weathering of time eroding his perception of it. Nine years of war and so many more of poverty and starvation. No wife and no child to go home to. No one. GŸnther was an old man now he was never a scholar or a farmer just a despot who was lucky to get a meaningless stipend and a cherished friend as his only means of living. Would Helmuth’s wife even let my come back to live with her even with her husband gone, GŸnther doubted it.
His dread and melancholy was flipped on its head, when the boarded doors to his hiding place rattled, as the sound of a single intruder entered. A panic rose in him and an angry cynical conscious who criticized him from running away from the enemy.
“GŸnther, Atem.” He whispered to himself, he had his enemies within his reach how foolish had he been not to kill them all. He’s gotten too soft in his old age. He took his last Stielhandgranate in hand the wood of the handle cold to the touch, he could feel it through his gloves. He briskly twisted off the cap from the bottom of the stick grenade, he could he clumsy plodding feet from the downstairs slowly coming up. Who would be so foolish to come alone in the night to face his enemy? The Ami is much like an outlaw he once heard from a long dead friend.
When the door to the room within his hideout was opening- his fingers wrapped around the fuse, ready to die.
A hand poked out of the door holding an orange and the words “kein Kampf” the German sniper frowned at the butchered German the stranger spoke. “Gut?”
“Ja,” the sniper said setting down the stick grenade at his side. The American soldier finally opened the door secure in the fact that he would not be shot, hopefully. GŸnther was shocked at what he saw the Ami he was young, younger then he would have expected. His hair was a tussled mess of brown hair and he had a strange set of large grey eyes framed by glasses.
Virgil was equally surprised at the scene he saw before him a dead body lay pressed up against the sniper’s waist. The sniper himself was much older than Virgil would ever expected the German army to utilize. He had to be in his 40s, his black hair was peppered with white patches and had several large scars across his forehead and face. As Virgil stepped inside the room he was transfixed by the sharp blue eyes of this stranger.
Virgil bent down to one knee shifting the orange to his left hand and gently rolled it on the ground. GŸnther unsure of what to make by this gesture other than maybe peace. He picked up the orange and with a few quick tugs of his finger nails and thumbs he was able to pry the fruit free from the skin.
The stranger tried to speak in German a strained but heartfelt attempt but GŸnther saw it as a rather pathetic site to behold. “I know English,” GŸnther groused out his voice dry and ruff from lack of use “use it instead or we’ll be here all night.”
“Oh,” the Ami said with a laugh “I say, sorry I was never good with speaking other languages.” His accent was strange and perplexed GŸnther’s ears. The stranger brushed the back of his head with a nervous smile on his face. GŸnther was silently perplexed by that smile he did not understand how anyone could possibly smile anymore, what was there to smile about in this life. The sun rose and set every day and man died by the second in every day.
“Why do you come here?” GŸnther asked. He shifted his weight as he felt the weight of his gun digging into his hip. He looked critically at his former enemy, searching with his eyes for a knife, grenade, or pistol hidden in an easy place to extricate it from. A boot, maybe a back pocket, or a gasp in a boot.
“To see if I made the right choice in not killing you” Virgil said. With a sickly pale color rising to his cheeks his serious glare seemed rather comical to GŸnther at least. So young and full of hope of a better tomorrow. The German eyes focused on the Ami’s hands that he was wringing in a circular motion over and over in a near hypnotic fashion.
“Now you have seen for yourself, go before your comrade’s follow and kill me.” He finished the last of the orange setting it next to Helmuth as a kind of tribute to the dead man next to him. Helmuth dearly loved fresh fruits and vegetables, probably just a desire spurred on by being a farmer. Helmuth hated the lack luster rations they were forced to eat, Helmuth may have gone rogue at the sight of an orange, if he was still alive. After letting his mind settle on the faint orange fruit he brought his eyes back to his guest.
The Ami was right next to him before he could register the silent steps and the lost personal space that was once his and Helmuth’s alone. “My name’s Virgil.” He said with an outstretched hand.
There was a strange silence that grew as GŸnther tried to find the words to respond but could only come up with- “GŸnther” he said with a dry, wry, sputter as he shifted uncomfortably again. GŸnther shivered at the touch of this stranger’s hand and he became quickly reminded of how long it has been since he last bathed. The dirt and grit pressed in-between new hands.
Virgil’s face hovered far too close for GŸnther’s comfort, drawing himself back from the man he said sternly “Go.” Virgil’s face fell as he looked on at the German with an intense gaze that GŸnther had only thought women to have towards their husbands.
“Time for you to go” GŸnther said. The Ami frowned but nodded in agreement.
“When this is over, if you ever need a place to stay while in American looked me up, it’s Virgil Muller I’m from Alabama.” Virgil smiled at his new friend before disappearing into the night.