Disclaimer: All characters are copyright Mike Mignola and Dark Horse Comics.
Summary: Comicverse short story. As a young boy in Stuttgart, Johann Kraus learns he is exceptional.
Author's Notes: Based on the Comic Universe. I apologize for any grammatical errors or historical inaccuracies. Thank you to all who reviewed and/or put my last story on their favorites.
He hadn't meant to finish one of the sweets in such a hurry. After all, he didn't know when he would be close enough to the Americans again to accept their treats. But the caramel was too good, and such a rare luxury in those days, that he had to enjoy it while he could. Maybe they'd have chocolate the next time. He'd never had chocolate before, and the kids in Schlossplatz spoke so often of it. "You're getting so spoiled," his grandmother had lectured after he asked her for the marks to purchase a bar. "Children have no concept of hardship."
He'd known hardship. It was impossible not to. He knew that his clothes were precious when his mother switched him for tearing a hole in his dress shirt. The soles on his shoes were worn to his stockings, but he would have to wait until the next summer for another pair. It had been over two years since he'd received a new book.
It wasn't fair, but life, in his ten years of experience, had rarely been. Mother said it would be better soon. For the West, at least.
The tips of his fingers fumbled with the edges of the last caramel wrapper as he contemplated eating the piece. It wouldn't spoil his dinner, and he had already eaten the first when he had planned on saving both. The taste was so fantastic he could hardly let it dissolve completely from his mouth. But it might be so long before he had another sweet again. Boys tended to magnify problems more than they had to be.
Scraping at the windows perked his ears, and he decided to put off the problem until a later time. Standing from his chair, Johann Kraus stuck the sweet in his coat pocket and ran across the hallway to see if perhaps it had been Lonna who knocked on the window. Lifting his sleeve to wipe the fog, he pressed his nose to the glass to see if his friend wanted him to play in the snow.
Nothing. Nobody. Perhaps it was the tree branch.
Turning on his heel, Johann almost tripped over his shoelaces when he strained to look back out of the window into the family garden. "A scarecrow?" he asked, cupping his vision with his hands as if to see better. A man stood in the snow, looking down on what used to be the flowerbed before winter had snatched its life away. A gasp escaped the boy's throat. "It's you."
Stampeding to find his hat, Johann ran out the door and opened the gate into the garden. "Hello, mister," he addressed the old gentleman standing in the snow. It was not the first time he'd set eyes on him. A month before, the man had observed the sky from the flowerbed, and two months before that had found his way into neighborhood. Johann had learned to rely on strangers; after the war, his people depended on it.
It was the first time Johann had seen him up close. The man did not take his gaze away from the flowerbed, even as the boy walked up to his side. "It is cold, sir," Johann astutely observed. "Our house is warmer. Mother's fetching more fuel for the fire."
Not a word came from the lips of the old gentleman. Waiting for a reply, Johann studied his guest point by point. A tattered military uniform hung loosely on his frame; Johann's parents had always told him to respect a soldier, as long as he didn't wear a red armband. An arm was wrapped in dirty bandages, and he was missing two fingers. His skin almost looked soggy, like the fallen snow. What struck Johann most of all was the man's face. Deep brows hardened his eyes, and a bottomless frown completed the picture of a miserable human being.
Being near him hit Johann Kraus with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and despair. He felt sad. Why? Because of the sweet, perhaps? That he didn't have chocolate? No. No, this wasn't his own sadness, was it? It felt foreign, like some cold hand had reached inside his body and squeezed on his soul. Odd, frightening, and unfamiliar. Something called to him to make the man happy. If his spirits were lifted, perhaps his own would be, too.
Reaching into his coat pocket, Johann retrieved the last caramel and extended his hand. The man's face never turned, and his eyes never drifted. Why did he feel so disappointed?
"Johann, come inside you silly boy." His mother leaned out of the window, her sullen face lightened with concern. "Come, warm yourself before you catch a fever."
He looked from the worried eyes of his mother to the brooding man, whose stare seemed permanently fixated on the dead flowerbed. "May he be welcomed inside?"
"Who?" When Johann gestured to their guest, his mother blinked in bewilderment. "See, you've already caught a fever, silly boy. You're seeing things that aren't there." It was at that moment that Johann Kraus realized he was an exceptional child.
Johann Kraus had met many ghosts in his lifetime. Even before he'd lost his body, he'd helped many a departed spirit contact their loved ones so they could at last be at peace. It helped the foreign grip on his soul loosen, and as an ectoplasmic form, it no longer felt cold. Sometimes he missed the séances, despite the whole world of excitement that had been opened to him at the B.P.R.D.. It felt more personal back then.
"I never learned his name, that poor gentleman. What he was waiting for, I still cannot say. Anneliese Steiner advised me to visit my boyhood to calm my mind of this, but I could not find the man. Perhaps he has departed without my assistance, found his place with God."
Johann Kraus glanced over the grave at his boots. Though the name said otherwise, Johann would never forget it was Roger's remains that were under the tombstone. "At least I was able to let you rest, my friend." Picking his pocket, he held a small wrapper at the tips of his glove. "It has been many years since I have enjoyed these," he said, turning the caramel over as if to inspect it.
Placing the sweet on Roger's grave, Johann Kraus realized he didn't remember what caramels tasted like anymore.