September 21, 2012 at 2:43 pm (Short Stories)

It was mid-August in 1944 and dusk was settling on the back streets and alleys of Paris. Two men walked side by side down those streets talking quietly to themselves. They carried rifles and wore the uniforms of the German army. The city was deserted except for these two and other patrols like them as a curfew had long been in effect. All citizens were to be home by dark or something unpleasant was likely to happen to them. German soldiers were not known for their restraint.

One of the soldiers spoke up.
“You know they say the Americans are closing in.” The taller one said.
The short one nodded. He walked with a slight swagger to his step, a casual saunter that belied no concern whatsoever.
“That doesn’t worry you, Franz?” The tall man looked much less confident. His eyes scanned each alley and shadow, his hands were clenched tight around his rifle. “All these posters popping up too. Looks like these French idiots are planning on giving us some trouble.”
Franz shook his head and stopped to fish a cigarette case out of his pocket. He leaned against a nearby wall, lit it and took a long, exaggerated drag.
“I’m not worried, Klaus.”
Klaus pulled a cigarette out too. His hand shook as he lit it and he puffed on it like a drowning man gasps for air.
“How are you not concerned?”
“I’ve got a plan.”
“Pray tell, what is your plan?”
Franz looked uncertain for the first time. He hesitated a moment, fingering his sleeve as he considered something.
“Look, we’ve been on this route for a long time together. You’ve got to promise me you won’t tell anyone about this.”
“I promise.”
“Well, we heard about the beach landing at Normandy. Remember that? Remember how that scared us? Well most of us eventually sort of rationalized it. We thought, that surely they wouldn’t get much past the beach. We were safe here in Paris. But time goes on, and the Allies creep closer and closer and people keep making up new excuses, but they also cry out while the sleep and shiver on warm nights. Now they are right at our gates and no one is prepared. Except for me.”
“And how are you so prepared?” Klaus asked sharply. He had shivered earlier even though the evening was warm and thought that Franz had been poking fun at him.
“When the allies first landed it shook me to my core. For the first time I thought we might possibly lose this war. Then what would happen to me? I might die. I might be thrown in prison or a camp. I didn’t like any of those choices. So I made myself a god.”
The street was quiet for a moment. Klaus stared at Franz for a long minute underneath the light of a nearby street lamp trying to decide if he was joking. He decided he wasn’t.
“A god?”
Franz said nothing. Instead he unbuttoned his jacket and slowly pulled off his undershirt. Klaus gasped. Franz’s whole torso was covered with strange black marks, they criss crossed across his chest and down the length of each arm. They coated his back, his stomach, his shoulders. Franz turned slowly, cigarette dangling from his mouth, to display his creation.
“Runes”, he said “I covered myself in runes. Ancient symbols of power. I tattooed them on myself. Strength, protection, anger, love, happiness, hatred. I’ve written them upon my frame. When the allies come, I will destroy them. But even if I cannot destroy them, they cannot destroy me.”
Klaus gaped at him.
“You are a fool. Scratching ink on yourself with a rusty needle won’t protect you from a bullet.”
“Then hit me. That’s all a fool deserves. Hit me and show me the error of my ways.”
So Klaus hit him. He hit him with everything he had, fueled by the lost hope that Franz had so briefly offered, fueled by the disappointment when he had realized it was nothing more than a fools errand, Klaus hit him harder than he had ever hit anyone before. Franz laughed at him and one of the runes in his chest glowed a pulsating red.
“See? That one is for protection.” He pointed to the one that still glowed faintly. “This one is also protection, and these on my arms are for strength. With these I am the Ubermensch, the Superman!”
He turned and struck the wall behind him. The brick crumbled into dust and Franz laughed again, it was the laugh of a man not quite sane.
“What are these ones? Have you joined them together?” Klaus pointed at several pairs of runes on Franz’s chest that seemed to be connected.
“I needed to be stronger than even ancient runes could provide alone. So I created some new ones by joining them together. This one is for will and this one is for strength so that gives me strength of will. This one is for enemies and this one for fear, to cause my enemies to fear me.”
Klaus was convinced. He didn’t want to believe, it was crazy to believe all this, but he had no choice. He toyed with the idea of asking Franz to give him a few tattoos too.

There were gunshots in the street. Klaus quickly readied his rifle again. Franz flexed and stretched and smiled like a cat toying with a mouse.
“French Irregulars are out.” Franz stated calmly. “Whatever you do, don’t surrender; you have the Ubermensch on your side.”
Franz’s smile made Klaus uncomfortable but he agreed without hesitation. He was in no spot to argue with his best chance at survival.
Several men appeared at the mouth of the alley and pointed, shouting in French. Klaus dropped to one knee and began to fire wildly, dimly aware of an insane laughter coming from somewhere over his shoulder and then the sound of screaming.

One of the irregulars kicked at the corpse of the German soldier that had shot at them.
“This one is dead.” He had to shout to make himself heard.
“Isn’t someone going to shut that guy up?” Another irregular shouted pointing over to the corner where the shirtless German sat.
Franz’s eyes were open and staring at nothing. He screamed like a man in mortal terror. One of the irregulars had stuffed Franz’s own undershirt into his mouth, but he still screamed through it. They had tried shooting him twice and stabbing him a half dozen times but none of it worked, until Franz had wrested the knife away from the soldier and cut his own wrists. Now he lay in the filthy alley shirtless and screamed, while his lifeblood drained away on the cobblestones. Through all this, two runes glowed brightly on his chest, the two runes that he had joined incorrectly, Fear and Enemies.

Go ahead, make my day.

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