Entry for the Afraid of the Dark contest
Rating: M for disturbing themes and mention of torture
Jackboots march in step down the cobbled streets of this old city. Houses of great age loom over the narrow gap between. Inhabitants hide, windows shuttered, doors barred. Lights are extinguished in the desperate hope that the boots won't stop, that the stock of a rifle won't crash against the ancient gates guarding the courtyards hidden behind the main buildings.
I smell the fear, hear the frightened whispers and frantic heartbeats of the occupants. I read their minds, although most are incoherent swirls of panic in their own tongue – one I do not speak. I do, however, speak German and so can clearly read the intent of the Einsatzkommandos tramping with dreadful purpose toward the ghetto. I am frustrated by my inability to act. I cannot risk exposure to them, there are too many, but the evil in these minds taunts me. I am thirsty, it has been too long since I last fed.
I have crossed Europe twice since I left Emmett and Rosalie to their newly-wedded bliss. I could not in good conscience allow them to restrain themselves from professing their physical love for each other simply out of consideration for my feelings. I am now aware that for mates of our kind the consummation of the physical bond is as great a need as that of the heart. I sacrificed my own comfort and home with Carlisle and Esme in the hope that they, too, could enjoy a much-needed honeymoon without the constant intrusion of my presence, both in thought and in body. Thus I began my rebellion against all my family's values, although I did not mean it to happen as it did.
As a young man in 1917 all I wanted, all I saw in my future, was the glory of a just cause and the life of a warrior. Unfortunately, that life was not to be. I struggled with my unlife ever since I emerged from my newborn haze, fearing that my soul was lost despite my apparent god-like immortality. Carlisle, that truly gentle man, assured me many times that this is not the case, that we are still God's creatures and will be welcomed into Heaven when we finally reach the end of our existence, but I am not – cannot – be convinced.
Perhaps that sincere belief that I cannot be saved is what propelled me to the course I have undertaken for the last few years. I wished to discover myself as a true vampire, no longer bound by my sire's ethical constraints and his view of humanity. As it happened my leaving the 'family' coincided with upheaval in Europe. It struck me that this was the perfect opportunity for me to live as one of my kind should, but I determined that I would only kill the deserving – those whose evil I could discern from their thoughts. That proved to be almost too easy.
I began my journey in France, making my way across the subjugated country with ease. I was spoilt for choice in my quest for sustenance. So many men corrupted by their leader, fooled into accepting his maniacal quest for the total conquest of Europe. I fed when I wished, always in the smaller villages, picking off one or two of the darkest minds billeted there. I was sure I was helping the the Allies – the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi, after all. I crossed into Germany, continuing my self-imposed mission of ridding the world of evil. I learned there of families missing their menfolk, ordinary people who had no real desire to do harm, but who were still fiercely patriotic. I left them alone.
I wandered through all the occupied lands, feeding at will. Sometimes I amused myself by sabotaging the war effort on behalf of the Allies, although they would never know. Occasionally I came across others of my kind, wandering in search of easy pickings. They did not share my scruples, arguing that humans were doing this to themselves, who were we to intervene? I conceded their point, but continued as I was.
My interactions with other vampires, brief as they were, brought rumors of darker deeds. I heard of trains leading to places unknown, packed with people who were clearly not soldiers. There was speculation that they were to be used as slave labor. That did not interest me much. I was more concerned with the day-to-day disruption I was causing, not the fate of prisoners.
One vampire told me a more disturbing story. Mary had been alone for a long time, she had no mate and no loyalty to any coven, she preferred to live that way. She had been in the Transdniester region for a while, living off the waifs and strays displaced by the ever-changing national boundaries. She found the confusion excellent for feeding – the people themselves had no idea whether they were Romanian, Moldavian or Soviet. None of them questioned the kindly woman in uniform who offered a warm bed and food, blankets for their children and the promise of official help. I had a fleeting moment of sadness for the innocents she had killed, but who was I to judge? I knew from her thoughts that she only killed to feed, and she never split a family, nor caused pain. She preferred to wait until they slept before snapping their necks and drinking. I believed that – for a human – it was a good way to die. As Mary said, with no hope, no food, no country, what was their future? I agreed.
I believe that had I subscribed to her way of life, Mary would have taken me as a mate. She certainly thought of me with interest but it was not a life I wanted. I was happy with my crusade, my contribution to the war, and would not encumber myself with a mate – besides, I felt no pull to her the way I had read the bond in my family's minds.
Mary had mentioned that she paid a visit to Transylvania before moving into Transdniester. She had heard of Stefan and Vladimir, the old rulers of our kind, and felt it would be wise to pay her respects if she wanted to remain in the area for any length of time. What she found there was enough to give me cause for concern. The castle the brothers lived in was ancient but surprisingly well-defended. It had clearly been adapted recently to allow human occupation but still housed vampires and . . . something else. Mary told me she could not be certain, but there were scents of something she was unfamiliar with, and for a vampire that was enough for her to turn and run. She had no desire to investigate further, and felt that Stefan and Vladimir were not important enough to risk herself for. I did not hesitate in my agreement of her assessment. She was wise to leave the area as she did. I, however, became determined to see for myself what was happening.
My curiosity brings me to a dark, cobbled street in an old Romanian town as Nazi boots stamp to a march old as time, and my need to feed becomes overwhelming. I am torn between following the death squad to their destination and leaving to hunt down a member of the local Iron Guard – they are just as despicable as the occupiers. The ravenous demon inside demands satiation and I leave my perch on the rooftop to track down a man I came across earlier in the day. He is the one responsible for this night raid on the old Jewish quarter, and he is who I will drain of his corrupt lifeblood.
I find him with ease, lolling in his comfortable chair, joking with his sycophants. He disgusts me. His fat, red face the very picture of self-satisfaction; his thoughts ooze the same and despite the fact I cannot understand them, the tone is clear. I adjust the stolen SS uniform and lower the peak of the cap before I burst into the room.
"Was ist das? Warum sind Sie hier? Verlass uns jetzt! Krepiert vielleicht!"
It pleases me to see the fear on these disgusting human faces as they scramble to their feet. With a flick of my eyes I indicate that they should leave me alone with the Captain of the Iron Guard, who is shaking so hard I think his bladder may release. I want to laugh, but I don't. Instead I stalk closer to the foul creature and order him up, telling him I need his help with something in my office, something related to tonight's round-up. He obeys, of course. Everyone is terrified of the SS. They are above all law, it seems. All law but mine.
We walk down the stairs and around the corner, into a darkened alley. The Captain is huffing, trying to catch his breath, so preoccupied with what I might need he is oblivious to his fate even as I turn and grip his neck, hauling him high off the ground, his feet dangling and kicking as feebly as his heart beats. With a sigh I have to remind myself that no matter how vile this man is, I am here to be his executioner, not his torturer and with a flick of my wrist I break his neck and drink.
It is satisfying in the way all human blood is. It pours quickly down my aching throat like ambrosia – there is no taste like it, nothing that compares.
I drop the body and leave it for others to find. It is a message from me, although I doubt it will be seen as such. It may be unwise, but if Mary is correct and there are other vampires here, helping the Nazis in some way, I want them aware that someone knows. After this is all over I may even ask Carlisle to inform the Volturi – human knowledge of our kind is punishable by death for all involved. It seems fitting in this instance.
I am a wraith in these streets, my speed and skill enough to leave only a ghostly impression on the mind of an observer. I am playing a dangerous game and I am exhilarated by it. I have found my purpose and I cannot regret it.
I follow the column of Einsatzgruppen as they finish rounding up their catch for the night. I see they have only taken men this time, most of them young and some are even children. The despairing wails of the women left behind and the tenor of their thoughts are depressing. I find I cannot stay and so I make my way up to the castle, deciding to investigate there before the new prisoners arrive.
The castle is, as Mary said, obviously reinforced and supplied to protect and feed the humans living there. Gun emplacements emerge at intervals around the outer wall and guard posts are visible amidst the tangles of barbed wire. No doubt there are mines buried beneath the road leading up to the main gate, I am careful to only place my feet where others have been before me. Of course a mine would not harm me, but unwanted attention is not desirable at the present time.
I debate how to enter the fortress; subterfuge will gain me access to all the facilities if I can convince the inhabitants that I am an officer of the SS, whereas if I enter secretly I can go unnoticed but perhaps not learn everything I need to. That could also pose a problem if another vampire is present, of course.
Deciding to take advantage of my stolen uniform I simply stride up to the guard post and demand to be taken to the castle. I berate the guard for allowing me to come so close to him, unchallenged and unmarked. The man shakes in his boots, afraid of what will happen to him. I do not care. I do, however, pick up an errant thought that makes me even more certain that whatever is going on inside is not simply a Nazi endeavor. The fleeting glimpse of an unknown vampire crosses his mind as he compares the two of us – red eyes, pale skin, terrifying demeanor; yes, I will need to be careful here.
The guard escorts me to the main gate and orders it opened before announcing my presence to the sentry. He, in turn, takes me deeper into the castle precincts, shaking all the while, before handing me over to the Oberstleutnant in charge. His rank surprises me, a Lieutenant Colonel responsible for a small Romanian outpost like this can only mean my suspicions are correct. His thoughts reflect my assumptions; he wonders whether I am here to check the progress of the special project. It seems unexpected visitors are not uncommon. As he leads me down a poorly-lit corridor I keep my expression carefully neutral despite the disturbing images snaking into my mind from people as yet unseen. There is a strange smell here, not vampire and not completely human but not quite a mix of the two. It makes me want to run; there is something loathsome in this building, something that will send shivers down my spine if I allow it.
We arrive at a cell block of some kind, passing through another set of iron gates into a white-walled space with much brighter lighting and several doors opening directly off the main room. I notice various medical and scientific instruments and tables placed haphazardly around the otherwise empty space. I am familiar with most of them due to Carlisle's insistence that I occupy myself with something in those last few years I spent with him. I thought of following him into the medical field but that was before my sudden urge to rebel. Perhaps, one day, I will return, but the little I picked from his mind and from his medical journals gives me enough knowledge to know what I am seeing.
The usual equipment is here – glass vials and drips, pressure monitors, scalpels and chest cutters. All seems normal until I look at the other equipment to the side. There are fearsome-looking knives and clamps, other things I cannot identify. One looks almost like a metallic mask of some kind.
Before I can ask my guide he tells me that the scientists and other personnel have left this building for the time being. I can hear from his thoughts that they were keen to vacate the chamber before my arrival, my kind being easily distracted when in the presence of so much blood and other temptation.
This puzzles me. I have recently fed and am in complete control of myself. I hear faint heartbeats but cannot smell fresh human blood; only the taint of the other lingers here. I assume the scientists wear some kind of protective rubber suits, I can at least smell that along with sweat and pomade. I wonder who those of 'my kind' are that have been here and, presumably, have attacked these men.
The only mind I can read is the Nazi. I am aware of Romanians in the cells but their thoughts are muted, seemingly calling out in pain or despair, or simply cycling through disjointed patterns. I wish I had bothered to learn the language before coming here, I have no idea what to expect with the tour I am being given. My attention is drawn back to my guide. He explains that the experiments are going as well as can be expected, that Herr Arzt has provided enough of his venom that no more will be needed for three more months, that progress has been made on the last batch of subjects, some few are still alive.
I listen to his words, but what I see in his mind infects me. I will never be the same after learning what is happening here. Stopping his obsequious rambling I demand to be allowed to see what exactly has been done to these subjects so far, and be permitted to examine them closely. I assure him that Herr Arzt will be expecting a full report upon my return, and that I am diligent in my pursuit of proper procedures. With a clack of heels and a small bow he opens the door to the first cell and begins explaining what I am seeing.
"In our pursuit of the Ubermensch we have been experimenting on these subjects to attempt to increase survival time in cold conditions. These prisoners are submerged in ice water for varying lengths of time and the effects of hypothermia carefully measured. Unfortunately none have yet survived beyond 55 minutes. We apply the same principles to survival in higher altitudes – the deliberate withdrawal of oxygen. Alas, these subjects too fail to survive. We have attempted to introduce small amounts of venom in the hope that the subjects will last longer, but they become useless. The inability to move while the venom is making its way through the bloodstream means that the prisoner drowns or suffocates even more quickly. This is the last time we will be trying this particular method – those you see in here will be disposed of shortly."
I am astounded, not only by the cruelty of the practice, but that these Nazi scientists were actually using venom on humans in controlled doses. I have never heard of such a thing. Leaving the cold cell, my guide leads me to the next room; it is sterile, and holds only one – well, technically two – occupant. As I look at the abomination before me I feel the distinct stirring of something I never believed I would feel again. I wish to vomit.
"Hauptsturmfuhrer what you see here is based upon the experiments conducted by Herr Mengele. He is attempting to discover the twin bond, and whether twins are really one person divided in two. We have taken some of his experiments one step further. His subjects are all purely human and tend to die quickly, particularly when he removes organs, so we have created a special serum in order to prolong life while we replicate his work. This subject was once identical twins, from a small village not too far from here. The legend surrounding this tribe is very interesting – some of the men turn with the moon, into wolves! I have seen this myself, it is true. We harvested the blood of these wolfmen and used it to replace approximately half of the twin blood in an attempt to prolong life. As you see before you, it appears to work, at least for a short time."
As he speaks, I cannot remove my eyes from the thing before me. It appears to be made up of two children, both male. They have been surgically altered in such a way that the remains are melded together in grotesque approximation of Da Vinci's superman, but with two heads. Limbs have been removed and reattached, internal organs doubled or removed completely, the faces – Oh, God! - the faces are positioned together so that they have no choice but to share a mouth opening, the noses cut away completely. The open chest cavity is filled with tubing and some kind of pump to keep the tainted blood flowing and the hearts pumping. I do not - I cannot - look into the eyes. These children are not the monsters here.
I spiral out of control and I swallow venom. The shock has me desperately trying to grasp a single thought I can hold onto. Werewolves, I will concentrate on werewolves before I shred this piece of shit that is still talking to me, still extolling the success of this particular experiment. He is proud of my reaction, he thinks I am excited by what I am seeing and hearing, he sees the black eyes and the venom and believes that his last presentation will gain his immortality once I report back to my masters.
I cannot bear to be in this room any longer. I indicate that he is to lead me to the next cell. I cannot trust myself to speak.
"This is the true reason we are here, as you know. Herr Arzt has been very understanding of our other experiments, but this is where he insists most of our work be done. The man you see before you is a prototype of our Ubermensch. He began as a normal human, albeit a strong physical example. Following the results of the brain and blood experiments carried out by Herr Rascher, we worked on coagulating the blood and removing part of the subject's brain we believe controls free will – if a subhuman Romanian peasant can have free will, of course.
Once the subject was subdued, but still healthy, we cut away some of the nerves in the arms, along with several sections of bone. Injecting the sites with a mixture of Herr Artz's venom, werewolf blood and the subject's own – newly thickened – blood we watched in amazement as the body healed itself. We continued this process many times, until what you see was created. This is the start of the Ubermensch. Of course, we do not want our soldiers to become vampires. We would not be able to control them, and what would be left to populate the Third Reich if a vampire army killed all the citizens?
No, we will continue our work here until we can find the perfect balance and a less painful way to create the perfect soldier. As you can see, this one is inclined to bite, that is why we have bolted the metal mask over its face. It is fed via tube, human blood is all it needs now, that is why we rounded up the prisoners earlier.
So, please tell Herr Artz that the final experiment will be underway as soon as we can find a suitable female. His interest in a breeding program will soon be a real possibility, especially now we have the mask on – the subject tore apart the women we brought in before we could force him to copulate, unfortunately."
The disgusting excuse for a human next to me did not have time to draw another breath before I snapped his neck and began to drink. The poor, slavering half-man half-beast chained to the wall came to life, smelling the blood but unable to get to it. I can see intelligence in his eyes, but cannot hear his thoughts, and I cannot in good conscience allow him to live. I will kill him as cleanly as possible before giving what mercy I can to all the other poor souls trapped in this hell.
There will be no mercy for these monsters in human form. I will kill each and every Nazi and collaborator in this castle, in this village, and I will burn it down until nothing remains but ashes.