NEW FICTION: The Man Who Could Not Die (Chapter 3)
October 18, 2002
Continuing the transcribed journal excerpts of J.M. Lincoln...
November 1, 1937: The west coast is vastly different from the east. The weather is hot, but unlike New York, the air is dry; there is little, if any, humidity. Employment, however, is scarce. I find work with the Sunshine Orange Growers north of Los Angeles. The work is tiresome, backbreaking. Yet because I do not feel pain, because I do not tire, I am able to work longer and fill more baskets then even the youngest and strongest workers. While this productivity ensures my employment it simultaneously has alienated me from my coworkers who feel, perhaps rightly so, threatened by my over-productivity. I realize I could easily spend the rest of my life, however long that may be, in the orange groves. The routine and simplicity of it all appeals to me on a base level, yet I am terrified at becoming so complacent. I begin to ask myself a simple question: What if? What if there is a reason, an explicit purpose, for which I am as I am? I contemplate an answer to this question day after day as the dry California sun burns upon my back and shoulders. There is an answer. There must be. I simply have yet to stumble upon it.
July 1, 1939: We arrive in New York—myself and six others. During the last seven days I have come to know them, albeit ever so slightly. They are men not unlike myself—lost souls, searching for answers. Drifters.
We’d hopped an eastbound B&O freight train on June 24, initially eight in number. But Palmer (I never did learn his first name), a toothpick of a man with stringy, withered hair, became sick with fever. I urged him to jump the train—to seek medical attention but he smiled saying he was fine. He died during the afternoon of the third day.
We didn’t want to throw him out of the moving boxcar. None of us wanted to do it. Certainly even the poorest of men deserved better. But the temperature in the metal car easily exceeded 100 degrees during the day. Despite our efforts to blanket him, to shield us against the smell of decay and death, we eventually realized that for our own health—and sanity—Palmer’s body would have to go. Were it possible to have buried him somewhere along the way we would have done it. But we were not passengers aboard a freight train. There were no scheduled stops. We disposed of the body in the evening and quickly consumed what little alcohol was present. The drink helped us to forget, though I doubt any of us really forgot for long.
The nation’s anniversary of independence is three days distant. I am nearly 80 years of age, but continue to look and feel one-half that amount. I bid farewell and God speed to those men with whom for the last week I have shared my life. I find little difficultly securing employment. The time I’d spent on the orange groves in California had honed my already taut muscled body and darkened my complexion. Yet I did not wish to continue as a laborer. I take employment with the B. K. Alexy Company where my days are spent checking the accuracy of medical text galleys and works of fiction by such accomplished authors as Walter Hedgeport and W. P. McAllister. I am liked and respected by my colleagues, yet I feel as if I am a liar—indeed, I am. I cannot be forthright regarding my past. Such revelations would, I fear, at best be assessed with skepticism and would, at worst, bring into question my very sanity. Instead, I speak little of myself while continuing to contemplate the world and my place in it.
July 26, 1939: I do not lust. Whatever lust I once had vanished when my wife died. But I miss the companionship of others and, as such, have begun an affair with a coworker, Sally Ann Schwarz, a 26-year-old secretary. I have no expectations of this relationship, though I fear that, given my need to conceal so much about who I am, it cannot develop into anything meaningful or long lasting.
August 31, 1939: My relationship with Sally Ann is short lived. We are too separate, our experiences too far removed from one another. She is kind and caring, but at the same time her highest aspirations are to dance to prerecorded music every Saturday evening. There are far greater concerns.
The threat of a second world war looms on the horizon. My thoughts turn once more to my nation and what I can, perhaps, do toward the facilitation of freedom. Although America has declared a policy of neutrality, our eventual entry into the conflict seems inevitable.
December 8, 1941: I have spent much of the last two years growing complacent with my work, my life in New York. I have begun to drink on a continual basis—too much, I fear, to be conducive to proper health. I fear I may simply continue to exist as a cog in the wheel of New York.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything.
I, like thousands of other American men, enlist in the armed services on December 8. I know not where I am going, only that Japan and its allies must be made to pay for its callous actions.
March 22, 1942: We are stationed in Europe near the Caucasus Mountains. There have been few campaigns of which to speak. There is a sense of low spirits, a sense that we are waiting—waiting—when clear and decisive actions need to be taken. The only morale builder at present is derived from the mention of the American Dream, whose exploits are documented weekly in Stars & Stripes. The colorful red, white, and blue masked avenger had previously fought crime stateside but had begun a personal campaign against the Axis that began shortly after December 7. His exploits are larger than life. Stories emerge of entire battalions being stopped single handedly, tanks being toppled as if made of paper mache, and enemy aircraft being rendered asunder before exploding in violent waves or orange flames that light up the barren terrain. To many, the American Dream is thought to be a fictitious creation, a weapon of propaganda created by the Department of the Army in a game of psychological warfare not unlike the rumored nazi vampire armies that supposedly haunt the countryside. Others admit the American Dream is real but dismiss him as a glory-seeking adventurer motivated not by loyalty toward the USA, but by the acquisition of personal wealth and fame. Most, particularly those who’ve personally witnessed his acts of heroism, consider the American Dream one of the most patriotic men to fight for a cause since Patrick Henry. Perhaps my time in the Division is wasted. Perhaps I could be more an asset as a rogue operative such like he.
September 24, 1942: I fear my life during the war is now and forever changed. I am going to take actions I never before would have thought myself capable of undertaking. I have no choice.
It began on August 9 at 4:39 a.m. when the German 6th Army began its assault on Stalingrad against the Russian army. We were the only US troops in the area—most of the battle was fought between German and Russian troops. We were a small division, numbering 2,000—a fraction of the million plus soldiers engaged in combat to our north in Stalingrad.
We began our journey toward the battle several days later, but soon a small fraction of our division—myself included—became separated from the rest of the regimen—two dozen Panzer tanks had literally driven a wedge between us and the rest of the company. We were unable to reestablish radio communication with our company as they continued north toward Stalingrad, and we were forced to withdraw several miles to the west, near the Capsian Sea. Forty-one men were killed during the Axis assault, and with no working radio were unable to call for much-needed ammunition, water, reinforcements, and K-rations. The Germans continued to hammer at us and we, in turn, retreated further west. The attacks continued morning through night for the next 96 hours. We were near the point of exhaustion, having not slept for nearly four days.
By the evening of the 22nd, the surviving 166 men in our regimen were dead weight. We’d abandoned all but the most essential of supplies. Shortly after midnight the firing ceased. The enemy appeared to withdraw. We watched from afar as hundreds of Axis soldiers simply moved past us, toward the Volga, and vanished into the night. We assumed even the Nazis needed to rest or were planning to regroup with their comrades to join the Stalingrad advance. By 02:00 of the 23rd, most of the company had fallen asleep. Because we’d abandoned much of our nonessential supplies, we had no blankets or sleeping bags. However, even the cold, moist earth was a welcomed respite from the savagery of war. By 04:00 all but a skeleton crew of soldiers, who guarded the northern and southern ends of the camp, were asleep. Our own exhaustion, perhaps, contributed to what would happen next.
They were struck down by the enemy. Cleanly. Swiftly. Quietly. Their throats were slashed before any man could utter a plea for help or defend himself. So quiet was the attack that none of the sleeping soldiers were roused, even slightly from their slumber. The enemy moved silently into our camp while we slept, dreaming, no doubt of happier times, better places. The snakes slithered across our camp, positioning themselves for the final assault.
The attack was fast and deadly. The sharp German steel blades gouged at the throats of the sleeping regimen en masse. I felt the cold blade as it swept across my throat, felt the familiar warm redness of blood as it poured down my neck and across my chest like water from a fountain. I looked into the eyes of my killer. There was such hatred in those eyes. He was more child than man, but a child fueled by hatred and determination. I looked into, and then beyond, his eyes. I looked past his eyes and saw the simultaneous savage acts being committed by others like him-some younger, others older, but all with a clear objective. I struggled to free myself but the bayonet was deep in my throat, its pointed tip pushing against the inner wall of my trachea. He thrust his weapon further still and the black tide took me down, down. The black tide turned crimson and all around me faded to black.
I awoke 48 hours later. The smells of death and decay littered the air like a department store perfume counter. The smell reminds me of Palmer who died in the boxcar, only this is worse; it is so much worse. I looked, through bloodshot eyes, at the rampage the enemy has wrought, at the dead of company 173. Like me, they’d been attacked while they slept. Yet I survived. I alone survived.
The wound on my neck is nearly healed. I do not need to see it to know this to be true. In another day, perhaps two, it would be healed entirely. I walked slowly across the campground for someone—anyone—who might still be alive. There were none.
The enemy had scoured the camp. What few provisions, as well as weapons and ammunition we had, were gone. One by one I moved the bodies of my fellow soldiers into the center of the camp. After saying a prayer I covered the bodies with kerosene from several broken lanterns and burned them. I sat next to the fire and thought once more of my place in the world at this time. The enemy had shown me the horrors of war in a new and disturbing way—a way I’d not thought possible.
I very much wish to retaliate.
November 1944: I wear the ash of my fallen comrades upon my face. It reminds me of why I am here, what I must do. The killing is neither enjoyable nor pleasant. It is something I already want to forget, even though I know my work is not finished. I destroy not merely human lives, but infrastructure, weapons, and munitions depots. I commandeer the explosive devices from the enemy and use them to my advantage. During an assault on Heidelberg Gartens, I walk into the enemy’s stronghold draped head to foot in explosives. The enemy does not fire upon me for fear that a spark might ignite the explosives. How could they anticipate that I would detonate the charge and obliterate all within—myself included. I am unsure whether I am capable of surviving the explosion, but that does not inhibit me from the task at hand. The heat, flames, and concussion from the explosions are immense, yet somehow I survive. I always survive.
And while the American Dream wages his war against the enemy publicly, I attack in a much more private, personal manner. My cause is furthered through speculation and gossip from within the enemy’s camps. There are reports of a soldier who cannot be felled by gunfire. The German army refers to me as “der unsterblich einzelganger”—the deathless lone wolf. As my attacks escalate in number, so do the stories of my invulnerability. There are reports of the invisible enemy whose face is a “totenmaske”—a death mask. I am no longer considered human. I do not seek to become legend; I wish only for the war to end. If this is, indeed, my purpose—to strike at the enemy from within—I feel my objectives have been met a dozen times over. My hands are dyed red with blood.
I hear rumors that the war will shortly end, that the Axis will soon fall, though time will tell whether this proves true, and there is still much work to do.
May 2, 1945: The end of the war is eminent. German forces surrender to the Allies in Berlin. Four days later, on May 6, German Fuehrer Doenitz surrenders Germany. All U-boats are ordered home and all armies are ordered to cease fire. The following day, in Rheims, France, General Alfreid Jodl signs the unconditional German nation surrender document. Although Germany has fallen, the war against Japan continues.
June 21, 1945: The city of Okinawa is captured by the U.S. Army and Marines. American casualties are high, with 12,000 killed and 36,000 wounded. The number pales, however, against the 112,000 Japanese killed during the battle. The following week, representatives of fifty nations meet in San Francisco to sign the World Security Charter, formally establishing the United Nations.
July 21, 1945: One month after Okinawa’s capture, the United States delivers a final ultimatum to the Japanese—quit the war or face total destruction. The warning is ignored.
August 6, 1945: The bomb bay doors of the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber piloted by Colonel Tibbets (509th Composite Group) are opened and “Little Boy,” the world’s first atomic bomb, is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. One minute later 66,000 are dead and an additional 69,000 are wounded.
Three days later, on August 9, “Fat Man,” the world’s second atomic bomb, is dropped on Nagasaki, killing 39,000 and wounding 25,000. One week later, on August 14, Emperor Hirohito announces the defeat of Japan to his people and accepts unconditional surrender. The war is at last over, though I can only wonder if a world as large as this, populated by individuals of so many differing beliefs, cultures, and aspirations, can ever truly be at peace.
NEXT: The Man Who Could Not Die continues.
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