The Orient Express slowed as it rounded a sharp bend in the shadowed rails that snaked through the tangled forest.
"I am the Cowboy now, Nein?"
The Nazi guard beside me grinned at his two friends on the bench opposite me. My black Stetson on his blond head, he admired his reflection in the private compartment's window.
"What is it, Hans?" frowned Staltz, the Nazi opposite me.
"A little girl out there in the freezing night! And those deer didn't even see her!"
“Her eyes. Her eyes!”
“What about them?” snapped Staltz.
The other Nazi, Hoffman, stood up and stared out the window. "I see nothing."
"She was out there I tell you!"
Hans was regarded with silent sneers. He slammed the Stetson back on my head as if I were somehow at fault.
He glared at me. "I hope the Führer tortures you to death, swine!"
I thought about saying "Oink" but remained silent.
Obviously, the silver cuffs on my wrists and the iron hobbles on my ankles lent him courage.
The Orient Express rocked its way for hours, luring my three guards to sleep.
Hans' eyes kept going to me. Had he imagined growing up to be a sadistic killer when a boy? Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate.
Everyone has it within his power to say, "This I am today, That I shall be tomorrow." The wish, however, must be matched by deeds.
Hans' eyes flicked to the mirror behind me. Elu? No, my blood brother who dwelt in mirrors was angry at me for surrendering to Major Strasser to spare the lives of those gypsies captured by Captain Reinholt.
He reached out and roughly shook Hoffman by the shoulder. "Wake up. Wake up!"
"What?" Hoffman sleepily muttered.
"Do you see her, Hoffman?"
"Her? Her who? Where?"
"In the mirror!"
As if compelled, I turned about and froze just as still as Hoffman.
A little girl's face wavered like mist in the mirror's depths. A young face but not innocent. Something old, reptilian, and not even remotely human gleamed in her eyes. They were like a snake’s … but without as much warmth. They studied the Nazi as a red hawk would size up a field mouse.
Staltz was now wide awake, his face pale in the cold caress of the moonlight.
Staltz frowned. "Sh-She is saying something. I - I can almost hear her."
He got up and leaned his ear to the mirror as Hans rasped, "No, Staltz. No!"
But the Nazi only leaned closer. He suddenly stiffened. His shoulders began to shake. Hans edged away from him. Staltz's shaking grew more and more violent.
Then, Staltz started to shriek in insane laughter. The sound of it pealed higher and higher and higher. It grated on my very soul.
He bent suddenly to Hans who tried to squirm away but the window stopped him. Staltz whispered into Hans' ear. The blond Nazi went stiff as if his friend's words were venom in his mind.
His face twisted so I thought the flesh would tear loose from the man's skull. Hans reared back his head abruptly as wild shrieks of mad laughter burst from his lips. His peals mingled with those of Staltz as if in a chorus from some asylum.
Hoffman hesitated a moment too long in shocked stillness. Hans seized him. Though Hoffman twisted his head frenziedly still Hans managed to whisper into his ear. He froze but for a moment then became a tittering lunatic like his two friends.
The three suddenly took notice of me. Eyes locked on mine, they laughed the louder, reaching out for me. The spacious compartment was suddenly too cramped.
"You boys get any closer, and I will knock you into the next Reich."
Adventure is just a romantic name for trouble. It sounds great when you read of it, but it's hell when you meet it face to face in a dark and lonely place. The compartment's door burst open,
Major Strasser stood outlined in the doorway as if he were expecting a standing ovation.
Hoffman, still pealing in mad laughter, wheeled to grasp Strasser. The Major drew his Luger and shot the man in the throat. Hans and Staltz stumbled over their fallen comrade to attack Strasser. Knowing what I did of the man, I was rooting for the lunatics.
As with much of my life, I didn't get what I wanted. I watched them bleed out on the floor, laughing with bloody spittle on their writhing lips.
Strasser growled, "Mein Gott, McCord, what happened?"
I thought of all the true answers to that question that would result in Strasser shooting me. "I believe they were ... poisoned."
From down the hall, a nervous voice rang out. "Are you unharmed, Major?"
Strasser snorted, "Yes, Lieutenant. It is now safe to approach. But do stay where you are. Captain McCord and I will come to you."
"Really?" I asked.
"Yes. I have a mystery, and you are a detective."
"The same thing."
No, it wasn’t. Hell, I wasn’t even human anymore. And that kind of thinking was what would lose the war for Hitler. You must see your enemy for who he is if you are to defeat him.
Strasser tossed me the keys to the cuffs and the hobbles. I tossed the hobbles and kept the silver cuffs. The revenant (think vampire but without as many morals), Strasser, glared at the silver.
I shook the silver cuffs. "Hitler's idea, right? He knows me even less well than you."
As the Lieutenant stayed far to our rear, Strasser and I walked through the empty dining car. Obviously, the regular troops were sitting in the third class compartments.
"What's the mystery?"
"Captain Reinholt has disappeared from this car. One moment he sat next to me. The next he was gone. Do you see any clues?"
The Lieutenant yelped from behind us. We wheeled about. He was gone.
The room was empty. But there was a figure in the mirror on the still swinging door. The little girl ghost had added a bloody knife to her wardrobe.
"One," I drawled.
There was a wild splatter of gushing blood that smeared the mirror ... from the inside. And screams hollowly shrieked from the now obscured surface. One hand, bloody fingers clawing at one final gasp for life, slid down the mirror to disappear.
I spun to Strasser. "You lied to me! Reinhold killed those gypsies, didn't he?"
Strasser sneered. "You are an enemy of the Third Reich. What is a lie to you?"
"A mistake," I snapped.
I took one silver cuff, snapping it on the sizzling flesh of his right wrist and locked the other cuff on the flesh of his left ankle. He toppled like the House of Cards he was. Due to the silver, he could no longer turn to mist.
I snatched the Luger from his holster. I ejected the shell from the chamber and dropped the clip from the pistol. I tossed the Luger to the far corner.
The little ghost girl blurred in the mirror's surface, but I could tell she was motioning for me to come closer.
I walked slowly to the mirror ... very slowly.
"Nein, McCord! Are you mad? She will drive you mad or kill you, and I will be left alone and helpless!"
"As a revanant, I thought you knew: Death is always a door one-man wide."
Though the little girl faded, the room within the mirror still showed, and it was smeared in the Lieutenant's and Reinholt's blood in wet, red letters over and over all across the walls:
“NO ESCAPE. NO ESCAPE. NO ESCAPE.”
The unseen little girl spoke softly, and I leaned in towards the mirror
"Nein, McCord! Do not listen. Do not!"
At first I did not hear her. I heard only the sound the wind makes as it moans from an empty crypt. It was the sound of Time. What does Time sound like?
It sounds like different things to each lost soul. To me it had sounded like water running across the wall of a dark cave and frightened voices weeping and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids. Maybe I would even see Time tonight.
Time like snow dropping silently across a bleak landscape or like a silent film in a theater of the dead. Time as 100 million faces falling like those New Year balloons, down, down, down into nothing.
Then, I heard the little girl.
The little girl's whispered voice said, "They ripped out Grandmama's teeth ... for the gold."
Strasser screamed, and I turned around. Well, merde. Her mouth dribbled thick black blood. There were strange slivers of bone jutting up from her bloody gums. There were strips of wet flesh hanging from them. I wondered if the Nazis had tasted bad?
Grandmama was standing over a terrified Strasser, and I drawled, "Grandmother, what sharp new teeth you have."
The little girl ghost from the mirror behind me giggled, "I have a sharp tooth, too."
I snatched the flashing tiny wrist holding the blood-smeared butcher knife that darted for my throat.
"Darling, I've fought Apaches. You're a mite slow compared to them."
Speaking of Apaches, Elu appeared behind the little girl ghost and thunked her on top of the head with the hilt of his own knife.
As she dropped from sight, Elu grabbed me with both hands and pulled me into the depths of the mirror as Strasser screamed for mercy behind me.
Strange how those who never give it ask for mercy.
I sputtered as I rose from the shallow waters of a frigid lake's edge to which Elu had transported me. The Orient Express clattered away from me into the night mists. I looked down on a scowling Elu who shook his head at me from the reflection in the water.
"Dyami, not everyone the Nazis arrest is innocent."
The screams from the Orient Express lasted long after the train disappeared from sight.