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My breath rasped between my lips as I marched through the darkness. The freezing midnight air burned my chest. I cradled my rifle as my feet monotonously followed the legs of my squadron.
My name is Lieutenant Raiment Krank, and I am a soldier in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party. I joined the army fourteen months ago, however, it seems as though I came out of my mother's womb a Nazi.
Miserable memories that I tried to keep submerged in my subconscious began to painfully surface. Fourteen ever-so short months ago, I had eagerly walked into the office of General Klaus Larkin in Berlin. A long, thick scar that looked as if it was made by an stray bullet ran down his cheek. He was standing behind his heavy, oak desk that was overflowing with useless paperwork. A swastika hung down the front. Standing beside him was his right-hand-man, Colonel Tort Derrick. A large, ornate window was mounted on the wall behind them. The thick blinds were open, so the morning sun flooded the small office, and I could only see their silhouettes.
"Good afternoon, Herr Krank," Larkin said. I remember that the scar had wriggled as his mouth moved. His eyes wrinkled and his age showed. He was at least sixty years old, but his feats didn't show it. He was the sort of grizzled, old man who would strangle a rabid lynx with his bare hands if he was in a sour mood.
He must've noticed my broad grin, for he then commented, "You certainly seem thrilled. You've had a good week, I presume?"
My smirk grew as I responded, "Just yesterday, I asked for Susan Agna's hand in marriage."
"Frau Agna?" Tort had seemed intrigued. "I've heard that many young men have been competing for her hand."
"Yes, and today we began preparing for our wedding. It'll be so grand..."
"I'm very happy for you," Larkin had smoothly interrupted. "Now to a bit of business." His original, joyful tone dropped to an intense one. "I understand that you came here to join the Fuhrer's Nazi Party."
I solemnly nodded. Susan had convinced me to enlist in the ranks of the German army. She wished for me to be a great Colonel one day, just like her grandfather.
As he stepped around the desk, Larkin asked, "Why do you think you have what it takes to be Adolf Hitler's Army?"
I had prepared for this question. "Two months ago, I attended Germany's finest training camp. My past relatives were all involved in brutal police work. Also-"
"I didn't ask for a résumé!" Larkin snapped. "Tell me why I should choose you instead of Glint Schlep who was in here before you."
"I..." My mind had gone completely blank. I couldn't do the simplest algebra problem if my life depended on it, which I now suppose it might have come to that.
"Why are you here?" Larkin bellowed. A bead of nervous sweat raced down my forehead. I gulped to push a putrid-tasting lump down my throat. My options swiftly cycled through my cluttered mind.
First off, I could bluff. My grandfather's company had gone out of business, or my sister's nanny had just quit, and she had to watch the children from sunrise to sunset. A good sympathetic story would thrust me right up the ranks of the army.
Secondly, if I couldn't bear to lie to a General, I could simply walk out and explain to Susan that I was turned away. But, then again, if I couldn't tell an untruth to a stranger, I definitely wouldn't be able to lie to the love of my life.
"You're wasting my time, Krank!" Larkin barked at the top of his incredibly flexible lungs.
The thoughts flew even faster. But I was running out of ideas and time. Eventually, I would have to open my mouth and force my vocal cords to say something. Anything! Then, the first logical epiphany struck my mind as if a reckless child with clumsy ball-handling had insisted on tossing a ball to me.
I took a deep breath and truthfully said, "I wish to protect my future wife and sons against any evil that plows through them and the country."
General Larkin turned his head to glance at Tort, who was still loitering behind the desk. Tort's neck bent in a short but powerful nod. The solid eyes of Larkin mutely agreed with the movement.
"Congratulations, Krank," Larkin said, smiling warmly now. A breath of sweet relief flew out of my lungs. My heart had been beating so rapidly, it was threatening to wear down every blood vessel in my body. Much to my embarrassment, I was bouncing giddily on my heels.
Tort spoke once again, interrupting my absentminded parade. "Your official inauguration will take place in four months' time, but until then, we have a brief test of loyalty for you to pass."
His arm extended into a drawer in the desk. He heaved slightly and pulled a small, furry object into the open.
Sitting on his palm had been a puppy Cocker Spaniel.
As Susan had said many times before, one of the reasons she loves me is that I've never met a dog I didn't like. They were God's greatest gift to humanity, in my opinion. And this Cocker Spaniel was no exception. I craned my neck in order to look below her belly and check her gender. To my pleasure, it was a female. Her eyes were black as the endless stretches of space. They studied my every movement with a mixture of fright and curiosity. Her nose sat on the tip of its snout. She was sniffing the air so hurriedly that I thought its nose would pop right off.
Tort's hand slid forward and he placed the puppy into my arms. She obviously didn't care for being so high in the air, because she had immediately buried her warm face into my chest.
"Care for her," Larkin kindly instructed with an expression of delight on his face, "as if she was your daughter."
I had merrily walked out of Klaus Larkin's office that afternoon with my new companion wrapped firmly in my arms. Already, she had grown accustomed to my scent. As I cruised down the bustling streets of Berlin, I searched for the perfect name of my new treasure. At once, it came to me: Elma, 'God's Protection.'
The next four months seemed as though they were a dream, and the telegram from Klaus Larkin was a bucket of cold water that yanked me out of the marvelous wonderland. The slip of paper instructed me to report to his office the next day, and to bring Elma along.
Shadowy clouds had rolled across the sky as I ambled down the road. I was hiding Elma within my coat to protect her from the oncoming storm. By the time I stepped into Larkin's office, rain was plummeting from the sky as if a celestial dam had burst. I took Elma out of my coat and held her in my arms.
"Welcome back, Krank," Tort welcomed me. He must've arrived just moments before I did, because he was draping his soaked raincoat over an armchair.
Larkin was sitting in a leather seat behind the desk. This time, the blinds covered the window. A single lamp struggled to keep the room alight, but the remaining darkness gave it a gloomy atmosphere.
"Ah, Krank." Larkin noticed me for the first time, even though I had been awkwardly standing in front of his desk for ten seconds. He turned his attention from the list he was writing with an ink pen to Elma and myself. Elma whimpered and smashed her body closer to mine. She didn't seem too happy to be back in this room. "Have you taken care of your dog?"
I wanted to say, 'Of course I have. She's become my source of joy and hope the past months. All the stress of planning the wedding instantly melted away when I saw her wagging tail. And Susan adores her too. This puppy truly is a blessing.' However, all that came out of my mouth had been, "Yes, I believe I have."
A smile stretched across Larkin's world-weary face. His scar turned into a question mark-shape. "She looks healthy. That's very good." I remember that he had scribbled something down on his list at that point. "What did you name her?"
"Elma," I gleefully replied.
A small smirk quickly came and left on Larkin's face. "Elma... 'God's Protection'... That's beautiful."
I saw flash of lightning and heard a clap of thunder from behind the drawn blinds over the window. Elma's tiny tongue had begun to lick my fingers.
"Yes, she seems to like you very much," Tort butted in.
"That's a very important quality to have between a dog and her master," Larkin conversationally said. He looked up into my face. "Kill her."
Slowly, my mind put his words to their meanings. "E-Excuse me?"
"Kill her," Larkin barked, "and you will have what it takes to be among the Nazi Army."
My breath had begun to shudder. I risked a glance down at Elma. Her sweet eyes lovingly looked back up at me.
The muscles in my jaw twitched as my hand clamped around Elma's throat, but I couldn't bring myself to tighten my fingers.
"For Germany, Krank," Larkin whispered.
A short scream escaped my throat as I began to strangle my precious puppy. I felt the weak muscles in her neck strain to fight away my fingers. Her legs flailed, but in a matter of seconds, it was over.
Tort said, "Congratulations, Krank," once again. I'd longed to hear those words for months, but suddenly, they were words of misery and death. "Tomorrow, you will join dozens of other men in Hitler's Nazi Party..."
The memory faded back into the present. General Larkin and Colonel Tort were leading a group of twenty German soldiers into a relatively small town populated almost entirely by Jews. Just before heading out, the Fuhrer had spoken out to all the squads, but it felt as though he was talking directly to me. I remember every single one of his words:
"I know you all are frightened, but Germany needs you all at your best. Capture every Jew on sight. If they resist, fire upon them. Ernst vom Rath will not be murdered by the filthy-blooded Jews in vain. He will rest in peace knowing that you brave men are purifying this great world! Hail victory!"
The following thundering applause nearly shattered my ear drums.
We all knew what was about to happen. Were there some doubts? Some secret thoughts of rebellion? Maybe. Most likely, actually. But Adolf's orders were precise, and our unwavering loyalty was tighter than iron shackles.
My wandering mind strayed from the task at hand to my quarters in Berlin where my dearly beloved Susan sat, anxiously waiting for my return. I could imagine her silky hair and pale, luscious face as if I was staring at a photograph. Resting on her lap would be my son of four months, Franco. He had blue eyes that seemed to have no end, like his mother, and a tuft of curly, blonde hair atop his head, like me. Just a week ago, a tooth had sprouted out of his gums.
My toes felt as though they were frozen solid. I flexed my fingers to get my blood moving through them. Larkin jogged up next to me.
"This is it, Krank," he murmured. "For Germany."
That was the second time he'd told me that, and the first time was just before I'd killed one of my loves. Did that mean that something horrid would happen this time?
The squadron arrived at the border of the village. Much to my surprise, several teams had already begun liberating the community. All the swastikas looked like spiders scurrying around the slums. As if a silent signal had been given, the twenty men split up and dashed across the town square.
An elderly man gripping a pistol limped out of his home. The tell-tale Star of David was implanted on his chest. His lip was curled up into a hateful snarl. He fired a pistol and I heard an adjacent scream. A Nazi corpse fell to the cobblestone ground.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was lumbering toward the man. I cried out and jabbed the butt of my rifle into his temple. He crumpled to the ground and dropped his gun. I pointed my rifle at him, but before I could fire, he glared at me and yelled, "Why?! What did we ever do to you?"
Every movement around me seemed to slow. His words started a chain reaction in my thought process. This was not the first time these doubts had shaken the foundation of my loyalty. But, before I could reach any conclusion, Tort's voice shot out through the surreal silence.
"Krank! Watch out!"
Several gunshots rang in my ears. I looked back down at the Jewish man to find my self staring down the barrel of his pistol. He must've picked it back up. Four bloody bullet holes were in his chest. His carcass slumped backward.
Tort's scolding voice shouted at me yet again: "Watch your back more carefully, Lieutenant!"
I felt a searing heat on the back of my neck. I spun around and saw a synagogue with flames leaping out of its shattered windows to lick at the sky. Pained screams came from within its scorching clutches.
Then, an insignificant yelp came from under my legs. I glanced down and saw a small Jewish toddler, who was no more than eight months old. He had blue eyes that seemed to have no end, like Susan, and a tuft of curly, blonde hair atop his head, like me. One tooth had sprouted out of his gums. This Jewish boy was an exact replica of Franco.
Hitler's orders echoed in my mind: "Capture every Jew on sight. If they resist, fire upon them." The boy's cries of abandonment wrenched my heart. I began to agonizingly walk away.
Larkin sprinted up to me. A fresh scar had been formed across his forehead. "Krank, bundle up that Jewish boy," he sneered.
I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came to mind.
"Krank," Larkin thundered. "This is an order from your General! Get that worthless garbage!"
My nostrils flared and I ground my teeth together. My stomach felt as though I was dropping a thousand feet.
Larkin hollered and punched me in the face. I stumbled backward. He'd probably given me a black eye. He hissed in my ear, "We'll deal with this when we get back to the base." Enraged, he stomped over to the boy, who was still sprawled on the ground. Larkin pulled back his foot and slammed his steel-toed boots into the child's ribs. He shrieked, but Larkin ignored him and stomped on the boy's frail foot.
I began to hyperventilate. My hands were shaking furiously. I raised my rife and shot at the sky. "Stop it!" I bellowed.
Larkin turned and saw my infuriated face. He smiled maliciously, pursed his lips, and spat on the boy's face.
My finger pulled the trigger on my rifle. A gunshot fired from the barrel and landed in General Larkin's heart. My finger yanked at the trigger again and again. Finally, I ran out of ammunition. Larkin collapsed, dead.
My eyes rotated and saw Tort, gaping at the massacre. Frightening thoughts occurred to me: I, a soldier, had just murdered my commanding officer. I was an enemy to the country. I threw down my useless gun and gingerly scooped up the boy. I began to run out of the village.
At the side of my vision, I could make out Tort drawing a revolver and aiming at me. Two bullets buried themselves in my back. White hot pain erupted all throughout my body, but I didn't care. I needed to protect this boy. Suddenly, it had become my only goal.
Several minutes later, I ceased in the middle of a patch of grass a mile away from the town. I could still see the smoke from the fire that was now consuming all in its way.
The wintry air turned my breath to mist as soon as it left my mouth. I was unexpectedly aware of how cold it was. Blood covered my entire back and both of my aching legs. I tried to will them to keep going, but they simply couldn't. My body sunk onto the stubby grass. Dark spots began to block my vision. I knew I had mere moments left, but I was strangely calm.
I set the boy among the grass. 'Those scumbags will never find him here,' I thought to myself. I settled my head on the hard, wintry ground and closed my eyes for the last time. I felt small, fragile arms wrap around mine. I smiled, and stopped breathing.