Through the Gates of Hell
The air was rotten, inside the small hideout were decomposing men; none were dead. A young boy, hair as yellow as the sand on the nearby beaches and eyes the color of the water, stood watch as the wheezing men lie - struggling to keep their hearts pumping. There wasn't a single scratch on Volkner Hoffmann, nor his uniform, because he was stuck watching the sick. Volkner was a large man, standing at 6'4" but he was scrawny for his usual muscular build, they were running out of food and starving. It had been like this for weeks ever since they landed on the damned land of France. French armies bombarded them from the country side whenever they had the will to attack, Americans tried to sneak by ocean.
Just the other day Volkner was doing raids through apartment buildings and farm houses in the neighboring village, but they were dying up at the front and they needed a man like Volker to man the heavier artillery. Upon his chest was a neatly pinned cross, one of the highest honors to receive one, especially from Adolf Hitler, he had it given to him by the Führer only a few months before, fighting and killing American soldiers who tried to escape their grasps. Everyone believed it to be a time of celebration, but Volker was one of those men who had brothers fighting in this war, he didn't want to be fornicating with women and drinking until he spewed his insides. He wanted to be fighting, and he got his wish. Mentioning spewing, the smell inside the little bunker increased as a man released the contents of his stomach onto the dirt floor. There wasn't much, but it was enough to add to the concoction of hair tingling smells.
It was a long while before anything exciting happened. Volkner's eyes slowly started to get heavy as he looked out of the small opening. Waves crashed upon the shore, making the only sound through the night. Taking one good look before attempting to sleep, he saw the sun slowly begin to rise. Just before his eyes closed, he saw the unthinkable. Landing crafts slid onto the wet sand as their hatches were lowered, sending men after men out into the salty water. Volkner could hear people yelling their alerts, some shooting, and a few painful screams. Equipped with a Maschinenkarabiner machine gun and a FN Model 1910 pistol, Volkner was ready for anything. Pushing the clip into the carbine, he looked over the sick and wounded men once more before heading out the door - at least he thought about leaving until a small green metal orb rolled into the small bunker. "Scheiße!" was the only thing Volkner could yell before running to the far edge of the small underground bunker. The cool concrete and dirt was the only Volkner could feel before an intense chill ran up his back. The explosion was loud, deafening almost.
Waking up with a small groan, Volkner looked around. The few men he was ordered to watch over were dead, burnt to a crisp, and he himself wasn't much better. With every move the top layer of skin flaked off into a bloody mess on his legs, but his face and neck was completely unharmed, from falling behind a heavy metal ammunition case. His flesh was "bare", all essence of uniform was turned to ash or melted, keeping pieces of flesh stuck together. All but his iron cross and a few strips of red fabric was gone. He grabbed what fabric he could and wrapped the iron cross within it, gripping it with all this strength. Volkner could only hear a ringing that jarred his brain and beat on his ear drums like bongos. Bloody arm after another, Volkner slowly made his way out of the bunker and into the open world of death. He looked up in the sky, the banging in his head turned into a soft ringing by now, and he could hear all the gunshots and planes pass by. They were American. They were taking over the French beach.
Making his way to sandbags used for a cover, he could hear bullets thud into them, shifting and releasing some sand through the entrance. Volkner was scared, his heart pounding in his chest as hard as it could, and the only instinct was to get away from all shooting and find someone or something to help him. Before he could make it much past the sand barricade he was hit in the shoulder with a stray bullet, a yell of pain left the German's mouth before it overtook his body and sending him into unconsciousness. As Volkner was out cold, laying in a pile of dead bodies there had been a short lull between the two enemies. That gave barely enough time for any sort of medic or infantry soldier to come out and take away the wounded, and that is what happened to Volkner.
The gunfire sounded far away, or was it his ears recovering from the bang of the grenade? Volkner tried to look around, but when he opened his eyes it was dark. Was he blind? How could he be blind? Almost vomiting from the anxiety, a hand was placed on his naked chest, it was soft and not that of a man. It was a nurse. Slowly she took the darkness away from his eyes, was it magic? No, it was a bandage that had been wrapped around his forehead to stop a cut from bleeding out just below his hairline. That was the first time Volkner's heart sank deep into the deepest and darkest recesses of his body. The nurse was a dark haired beauty, an American by uniform.
"You'll be alright," the woman with an American flag stitched onto her sleeve commanded with a strange accent. When Volkner was learning English he didn't exactly pronounce the words she was saying the way she did. Maybe it was a different dialect like in Germany? What caught him off guard the most was he was worrying about her speech rather than the fact he was in the heart of the enemy with a thick German accent and an iron cross within his grasp. That is when he looked at his hand, it was opened and empty. Volkner could feel the pressure from the woman's hand as he tried to sit up once more. "Look, I said you'll be fine so quit your fussin'," the woman blurted, her dark green eyes peering into Volkner's.
He made eye contact with her once before to his hand and back to the woman. Although he didn't say anything, she knew what he meant. "Oh, that hunk of metal?" she exclaimed, her accent heavier than ever. "I put it ov'r here," she added, a little more calmly this time, as she walked to a small brown chest. A sigh of relief escaped his lips as he rested his head against the thin pillow on the cot. "Why do you have this thing anyways? A souvenir?" the woman asked, placing it back into his open hands. Of course Volkner didn't want to speak, fearing he would reveal his true identity so he gave a slight nod. It wasn't a complete lie though, one day after this war was over he'd be able to show his children and grandchildren just what he achieved. What the Führer gave him personally.
He continued to look at the red fabric that was soft in his rough hands, not noticing the woman beside him changing the bandages, at least until she ripped one off his calf. Volkner screamed in pain, wanting to give her a piece of his mind but controlled himself to a low growl. The burnt areas weren't as bad as he had thought on his legs, but there was shrapnel embedded deep in the skin where the surgeon hadn't removed just yet was plenty. Pieces of metal ranged throughout his body, more towards his feet and became scarce the further up the torso they became. He must have been just outside the radius of the explosion to not receive the full impact. "Oh you'll be fine," the girl assured, a pang of annoyance in her voice, "So, do ya talk?" Volkner looked up at her, his face red with pain, and shook his head. This was a lie, he could speak both German and English just fine, but he couldn't risk it.
The nurse just shook her head and left his bedside, only to return with a small stool. It was rain-rotted almost to the point of breaking, but it held her slender frame. "If you won't talk to me, then write down your name so I have somethin' to call you by," the nurse insisted, handing him a small yellow pad and a pen. Volkner's hands were shaking, not from the pain but because he was horrified. He had to make up a name right on the spot, and it had to be American. In that split moment he began to think back to when he was learning English, he had to read passages written by Americans, so why not use one of their names? It was perfect! That is when he slowly scribbled his alias, John Williams.
"John is it? Well Johnny, I'll be your nurse, the name's Clarence Gordon, but since you don't talk, you can just grunt or somethin'," Clarence claimed as she leaned back in the chair. It made an annoying crunching noise that sounded as if it was about to rip. At that time, a man came walking into the small tent, his uniform looked clean and pressed like Volkner's before the explosion.
"Ms. Gordon, if you don't excuse me but I'd like to talk to this man in private," the man mentioned, standing by the chair as she stood with a huff.
"Good luck Sergeant Buchanan, the boy's stupid or somethin', can't talk, that one," she warned the man before exiting the small tent and headed into a larger one.
A small smile crossed over the sergeant's face as he placed a hand on Volkner's wounded leg, fixing a loose bandage. With every touch this filth did unto him, Volkner's anxiety shot through the roof. The other Wehrmacht always talked about these type of men. They could see through your body and into your soul, see you for who you truly are, but hopefully that was a rumor. The Führer on the other hand would mention how the Americans were idiots, their opinions based on lies fed to them from their falsely appointed government. The Führer was almost never wrong, Volkner hoped that this was again, one of those times.
"So, boy, you don't talk?" the sergeant began, his accent similar to the nurse's, "That's fine. All I am to ask you is a series of yes or no questions, are you ready?" Volkner gave the man a soft nod, resting his head against the pillow, a blank expression over his dirty face. "Excellent, do you know who you are and where you are at?" the sergeant asked his first question, keeping the same smile across his lips. Volkner nodded again. It was a reasonable question to ask, someone experiencing such a blast would be open to some kind of head trauma. "Then do you know which side you're fighting for?" His smile faded and suddenly his expression became grave, looking at the red cloth in his hands with a piece of the iron cross showing. Volkner tightened his grip and gave him a firm nod, his heart was in his mouth and his airways seemed to be constricted. The palm without a cloth seemed to start to sweat as the piercing stare of the sergeant didn't lift. It was as if he was trying to pry into Volkner's mind and flip through every deep dark secret he had pushed away.
"Alright, good. I can see the American fire burning in your eyes! That is just what I was lookin' for! When you start to feelin' better, just come to me, I'd like to talk to you about what you went through, alright?" the sergeant smiled, standing from the stood and giving him a small salute before exiting the tent. That is when Volkner realized he had been holding his breath, he opened his mouth and rapidly sucked air in, his chest rising and falling quickly. As soon as he got his first few gulps of air he leaned over the side of the cot and emptied his stomach onto the sand, his nerves got to the best of him. There was no way Volkner could stay here much longer, he had to leave as soon as possible.
Pushing his head against the pillow once more, he laid there sucking air in with beads of sweat rolling off his brow, a few getting into the corner of his eyes and stinging. Not once did he lie to the American. He knew he was inside enemy territory, and he knew he was a Nazi, fighting for the Führer. He laid there for what seemed to be hours, shots and explosions shifted the sand along with waves crashing not too far from Volkner's tent. They must be off to the east, just down the bank of where the Nazi's, his brethren, were stationed. They did have some distance from the battle because once Volkner's hearing completely healed the gunshots still sounded at least a mile or two away.
Clarence came walking back in, a white ceramic bowl filled to the brim with water and a few towels draped over her arm. "Here, John," Clarence mumbled, a smile on her face as she placed herself in the seat again. She dipped a corner into the water before pressing it softly onto his forehead. It was cold, and that was when he realized just how hot he was. The air had become humid and sticky, but being in a trance for most of the hours Volkner never noticed. He closed his eyes and signed with pleasure as she continued to rub the cold damp cloth across his dirt covered face. Out of all times he had been laying in a medical bed, this had to of been the best times, it was almost peaceful. As quiet as it could get in a tent just a few minutes away from a battle anyways.
Clarence, who Volkner had met only hours ago seemed high-strung and loud, but this time she was quiet and smiling to herself. Was something wrong, or was what he saw earlier a front? Maybe deep down she was a nice girl who loved her job, but because she was in the army she wanted to show the world she was capable of earning said title. Volkner wanted to ask her so much why she was the way she was, but it would only end in his demise. He cleared his throat some, feeling it scratchy and dry. He lifted an arm to point at the bowl, dipping his first few fingertips in the water. "Water," he managed to say in a raspy enough voice that his accent was inaudible, and he tried the best he could to mimic the way the American's said their words.
"Oh!" you could hear Clarence yelp as she quickly placed the bowl on the sandy ground and left the tent in a pitiful excuse for a jog. She returned only moments later with a dark green canteen, unscrewing the top as she sat down. Once it was ready to be drank, she placed it against his chapped lips and you could hear Volkner gulp the water as quickly as possible. There was no telling how thirsty he was, he didn't even remember the last time he had something proper to drink! When the canteen was bled dry, he nodded his thanks with an exhale. With that, he felt as if he could get up, grab a gun, and run through the American camp emptying his clip, but he didn't.
"So, you can speak after all," Clarence smirked, picking the bowl back up and using the cloth to wipe the wounds that weren't bad enough to bandage. "So, big guy, why don't you talk to me now?" she continued, giving him a sort of know-it-all look. "Are you scared to talk to a girl?" That is when Volkner snorted, wrinkling his nose and smiled, shaking his head. Volkner had the smile of a movie star, perfectly white and straight, and the way his mouth was placed and curved, it complimented his chiseled jaw perfectly. As for Clarence, her dark brown hair was curled in the latest fashion under a white cap, and her red lips curved into a broad smile as well. "Well, Mr. Williams, why won't you walk to me then? Just a few words and I'll be content," she insisted, continuing to wipe dirt and blood from his body. All Volkner did was shake his head, his smile slowly fading. She was a different creature, she didn't see him as a scary German, but as a human. All his life he had been known as an Aryan, Nazi, or German, but never labeled as a human being. Somewhere there was always someone calling him these three names aside from his own.
Volkner looked outside to see the sky darkening, and all around them the sky lit up like fireworks. It was crazy to believe that here lie a Nazi soldier injured being taken care of by an American nurse and American men surrounded him. These were the men he pledged to kill, and because his refusal to talk, he is seen as another American soldier. "John," Clarence started, her voice low. "I'll be heading to bed soon, as will most of us, I'll stay in this tent on another cot in case you need me, as the other nurses are occupied with other men, if you need anything just let me know." Volkner only nodded, watching as the woman left to retrieve her things and a few extra blankets that could be spared. The fighting would probably last all night, but Volkner was used to sleeping through gunshots, he grew up around war. When the nurse returned, she laid a white blanket over his legs and lower torso, and began to make her bed. When it was neatly made, Clarence sat on the edge and looked at the German laying in the cot across from her. "John, I'm going to tell you somethin', you might not want to hear this, but I feel as if I need to get it off my chest," Clarence started to admit, this got Volkner's attention. He turned his head on the pillow, looking over at the woman who was still in her white nurse's outfit, his blue eyes running over her body.
She was slender, tan, and hair as dark as chocolate, but her eyes were the deepest green he had ever seen on a woman, they were as fierce as a snake but as gentle as a flower. Volkner couldn't understand her wild beauty, as he was taught to only find other Aryan's attractive, but he couldn't help himself finding him thinking about her more than his situation. Her frame was that of a petite woman, toned from the average duties and before the war probably wore expensive dresses and had many men try and get a feel.
"Although I don't know you, I feel like I can trust you," Clarence started, her twangy accent picked back up again. "I don't want you to hide anythin' from me, and I won't hide anythin' from you. We're good to talk here, if you're willin' to anyways," she assured Volkner, where all he could do was sigh. He turned his head back up to look at the top of the tent, only a few spots were truly lit from a couple lanterns sitting on tables by a few unoccupied cots. That is when he heard Clarence pull back the covers and lay down, a small sigh releasing from her lips.
Volkner looked at the iron cross in his hand, unfolding the red cloth to completely reveal it. "You know, anything that's said in this tent stays in this tent, right?" Clarence's voice rang out once more, so the blonde turned his head to meet her eyes. His blue unto her green.
"Then it does, Clarence Gordon," Volkner finally spoke, his German accent thick and harsh and his voice deep and smooth. It was the perfect mixture for the body structure he had, as the once silence handsome man turned into a living nightmare for Clarence Gordon. Volkner didn't move his eyes from hers, his face calm and almost sincere. He hated the monster he was made out to be, hopefully this nurse would see him for the man he really was.