On my way back to the front, I ran over a general.
Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't do it intentionally or anything. I was just driving along in my kübelwagen, lamenting my departure from both civilization and that pretty fräulein I just had met and generally minding my own business, when WHAM! the car jumps half a meter into the air and I'm practically thrown out of my uniform.
I didn't even known it was a general I'd hit at first—to tell the truth, it felt more like an especially fat root sitting in the middle of the road than anything—and so I let out a bit of self-indulgent cursing and wasted a couple minutes trying to figure out if my shoulder was dislocated (it wasn't) before I bothered to haul myself outside and get a good look at exactly which species of botanical protuberance I had encountered. So you can imagine my surprise when I found a medal-encrusted general there instead of a sap-encrusted pine root.
My Wehrmacht training served me well, and I refrained from shrieking in surprise and fright, settling instead for another round of cursing, albeit a little more frantically this time. Then I remembered I was in the presence of a senior officer, clammed up, and internally shrieked when I figured out I hadn't even checked to see if he was capable of hearing (or moving or breathing). This was life-threatening accident for both parties. I had to act fast. So I dropped down there on that muddy Bavarian road—it was raining this whole time, by the way—and pressed my ear to the general's chest, praying quite desperately for his life and by extension mine. Mercifully, he was alive and still breathing, which took a big load off of my chest but not his, as I practically fainted on top of him in relief.
When the general let out a faint groan I remembered myself and scrambled to my feet, snapping off a salute so fast I almost knocked my hat off. I stammered out a formality or two before I realized the general wasn't making any sort of response. This set off another panic-wave somewhere along the lines of Donnerwetter what if I've given him a concussion and a terrified whimper or two followed.
I stared down at the man, at a loss as to what to do. Then the brilliant deduction that he shouldn't have been out here alone struck me. I took a panicked breath or two and dashed past the treeline, yelling desperately. The only answer I received was that of a particularly irate mother bird defending her nest, who took a dive at my head. So I ran back onto the road, did a quick breathing test on the still-unconscious general, then repeated the procedure on the opposite side of the road and obtained the same results, including yet another angered bird.
Back onto the muddy trail I went, hands on my knees and panting, trying to remember if I had passed any checkpoints or encampments. My mind came up blank, but that could have been blamed more on my earlier self-absorbed brooding than anything else. Still, heading deeper into the forest with an unconscious and possibly injured Wehrmacht general was the last thing I needed to do. I bit my lip and racked my panicked brain, searching for a solution, a way out, any way out.
It was then that I remembered the nearby Luft-Stalag.
Though I stopped short of actual cheering, a high-pitched exclamation or two may have resulted from this revelation.
So I scooped up the general as best I could and hauled him into the backseat of the kübelwagen, taking my first good look at his face. He was fairly small and thin for a general, and his features looked younger than the years his gray hair hinted at. I puzzled a moment over his mustache, which seemed to be resting partially askew, but ended up chalking it up to his ordeal with my front bumper. This reminder of the unfortunate encounter moved me to take greater haste, so I quit examining the general's facial features and instead opted to shove him into the vehicle as fast as I possibly could.
Out-of-commission military commander taken care of, I returned to the front seat and attempted to scorch down the road as fast as humanly (or, rather, mechanically) possible.
I was met with an unfortunate realization. The kübelwagen wasn't going anywhere.
I held back more cursing—it would have been redundant by then–and got back outside, back into the rain, back into the disgusting mud with my previously impeccable jackboots. The same disgusting mud, I discovered, that was holding my car tires captive.
Cursing didn't feel too redundant then.
Once I was done venting my frustration, I jumped off the road again and did my best to avoid the mother birds while I searched for some manner of stick adequate for my needs – namely, digging tires out of the mud. Despite being deep in a Bavarian forest, I saw no useful sticks lying on the ground. I found this highly irregular and a confirmation that I must have done something that day to really hex my luck.
Brooding and with rising panic, I returned to the kübelwagen.
And found the general staring right at me.
I yipped and practically threw my arm out of joint saluting, knocking my hat over at a forty-five degree angle. "H-herr General," I stammered, "you're awake!"
Eloquent. I'm so eloquent.
The general didn't give much heed to my statement. He peered at me in a distrustful manner and asked, "Who are you?"
He had some sort of an accent. Very slight, I couldn't place it. I hoped it wasn't slurring due to brain trauma. "Uh, Leutnant Keilwasser of the 179th Panzer, sir."
I waited for a reply but didn't get one. He just kept staring at me with this sour, squinty look on his face. So I waited. And waited. The rain soaked me through. One of the birds gave a scratchy call. I really began to wonder how hard I had hit the general. My hand started to go numb from being plastered to my forehead for so long, and I let it waver a bit.
This proved to be an ill decision.
"Get that hand back up!" the general screeched instantly. "I have not given you permission to relax!"
"Jawohl!" I squeaked, obeying.
The general hopped out of the car and marched up to me, not missing a beat. I deduced that I must have knocked him in the rational-reasoning part of his brain instead of the area that housed his motor skills.
He stopped beside me and gave the kübelwagen a calculating look. "I have need for transportation." he rasped, "This shall do. I am requisitioning your vehicle."
I blinked. "With or without me, Herr General?"
"Is that significant? I think not!"
"No sir, no sir, not significant at all!" Meine Güte, I must have cracked him right on the skull…
"Of course it's not! Now, get down there and push!"
"… excuse me?"
"The car, you idiot, the car! It's stuck in the mud! It needs to come out! Out, out, out!"
I was at the kübelwagen by the second out, hands on its bumper and face far too close to that foul mud for comfort.
I heard the general muttering to himself as he walked to the driver's side of the car and it didn't sound like German. I gulped and began considering how far it was to Switzerland on foot.
The door clicked open and I felt the vehicle snuggle further into the sludge with the added weight.
"Are you pushing, dummkopf? I think not!"
I declined from mentioning he hadn't even pressed the gas yet, fearing more verbal assaults, and instead set to shoving that bumper with all my might.
Unfortunately, all my might wasn't enough for the general.
"Why aren't you pushing yet!"
"I am, Herr General!" I gasped, trying not to slip or give myself a hernia.
"Pahh! The car isn't moving! You have the upper body strength of an inebriated toad! How did you even get into the Wehrmacht in the first place?"
Inebriated toad? How hard did I hit this guy?
"Perhaps… if you would engage the accelerator… it might convince the car to move-"
He took to my suggestion a bit quicker than expected. The tires whirled and chucked mud all over my upper body.
I had a few choice words ready for him after that, as you can well imagine, but I also had my career to think about, and decided I'd rather be covered in Bavarian mud than Russian snow. So I swallowed my pride (but not any mud) and threw all my weight on that blasted dirty kübel-bumper.
Then, one of the happiest moments of my life: the kübelwagen pulled free. I started grinning like a private on the Eastern front who had just gotten home leave.
It stopped being one of the happiest moments in my life when I nearly fell face-first into the mud as my support rolled away.
The general poked his head out and glared at me. "Is it clear?" he squawked.
"Salute when you are speaking to a senior officer!"
Up went the hand and off went the hat. "Jawohl, Herr General, the tires are free."
"Sehr gut!" I heard the general holler, and to my great forthcoming regret I didn't move.
He slammed the door and slammed down the gas pedal, throwing a certifiable coat of mud onto me before blazing down the road.
So I stood there in the rain, soaked in mud, still saluting, my officer's cap resting forlornly in a puddle, and let this insane general drive off in my kübelwagen, leaving me stranded alone in the middle of the forest with no one for company save the man-hating birds.
It was at this moment I had the good fortune to remember the top-secret papers I had left in the back seat of the kübelwagen.
I'm not going to even tell you about the cussing I did then.
Author's Note: First line courtesy of It's Me Again, by Donald Jack. And yes, that was Carter.