I opened my eyes to the poorly lit interior of a canvas tent. A woman in a blood stained nurse’s uniform was standing over me with a clipboard in one hand and a cigarette in the other. The air was stale and unfamiliar. I sat up. My mind raced at the possibilities.
“Try to get some sleep” The nurse cooed, “There will be plenty of time for questions when the doctor is in.”
Her soothing voice put me at ease and I let her ease my head slowly back onto my pillow. my eyes shut once more.
I opened my eyes again and a harsh light assaulted them. I raised my hand in defense. Through the gaps between my fingers a blurry figure approached. I lowered my hands and soon the image sharpened into that of a man in a long white coat. A doctor. He set down his lantern and stroked his long grey beard thoughtfully before speaking.
“Do you know where you are?” He stared at me intent on getting an answer.
“Fine. That’s fine.” His voice was reassuring but his face looked troubled. “Do you know your name?”
I thought for a moment. I searched into the far reaches of my memory for an answer. Everything was too hazy. It was like staring into a black void. My forehead was getting unbearably hot and I could feel beads of sweat forming above my eyes.
“Stop.” The doctor raised his hand then gave his beard another stroke. “We’ve had a few cases like yours. Stress induced amnesia.”
He picked up a clipboard on a nearby table and flipped through a few pages. He gave yet another stroke before resuming.
“Your name is Franz. Senior lance corporal, 35th infantry division. It seems you and your unit were ambushed in Belgium. You took shrapnel to the knee. It seems the rest of your unit was… Not so fortunate. You were the only survivor.”
He looked back at me for a reaction. I had none to give. I didn’t know these men. I didn’t even know myself. Franz.. That sounded right. I didn’t have time to sort out the rest.
“Doctor! Doctor!” A man burst through the tent flaps with a flickering lantern in hand. “The Butcher has struck again! The man… He’s still alive!”
“My God!” The doctor dropped the clipboard on the ground and swiftly exited the tent.
I could hear the clamor of townsfolk gathering outside. A woman screamed and wailed. I needed to see what was going on.
It took all the strength my arms could muster to lift myself off the bed. I landed on my feet with a thud. In an instant my knees buckled and I collapsed face first onto the hard dirt floor. A sharp pain ran up my right foot to my hip. I couldn’t contain my yells of pain.
I winced a few more times as I struggled to my feet. I found my balance and limped to the illuminated tent flap, opening it to a truly medieval scene.
“Cut him down for God’s sake!” A gruff voice hollered from the crowd.
I pushed and limped my way through the mob. Every man, woman, and child was armed with a torch, holding them close with strong grips. Their absolute terror was visible. As I neared the center I was united in fear with my countrymen.
A pale, malnourished man hung from a frayed rope nailed to the doorway of a great brick building. He was suspended by a black, blood stained meat hook through his shoulder. Writhing in agony, only hoarse gasps for breath left his tortured expression. The doctor rose out of the mob onto a nearby barrel, brandishing a shining steel surgical knife. With a single stroke, the tension in the rope was relieved and the thin man fell into the outstretched arms of frightened townsfolk. The crowd went silent in anticipation for what would happen next.
“He lives in the forest..” The man spoke softly between labored breaths. “His eyes are black like the night. With teeth like knives and shattered bone, The Butcher is coming for us all..”
The silence was broken. Everywhere groups of people murmured amongst themselves.
The silence resumed. Everyone looked to the doctor, standing above them all like a voice of reason. He gave his beard a long stroke before continuing.
“We mustn’t succumb to fear. He lives in the forest. We’ve known this for a while now and done nothing out of fear. Fear for our lives, fear for our children’s lives. How many must die before we do what must be done? Tonight we strike at the heart of our fear. Tonight we go into the forest and come back with the Butcher’s head!”
The doctor’s speech was met with a roar of approval. The dynamic of the entire town had changed. They were out for blood. The doctor hopped off the barrel and made his way back to the tent.
“You, come with me.” He grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me through the canvas flaps of the tent. “All the other wounded men here are in urgent condition. It appears that you can walk. That means you’re coming with us. I have a feeling you’ll be useful to us later on.”
The doctor opened a footlocker under my bed and rummaged through it. He pulled out a neatly folded uniform and dirty steel helmet and thrust them forcefully to my chest. The impact pushed me back a couple steps.
“These are the possessions you came in with. Put them on and meet us outside. You can’t go into the woods like that.”
I looked down and for the first time, noticed the lack of clothing on my body. I was draped in a light blue medical gown, my back was exposed to the elements as well as any prying eyes.
I donned my uniform and limped outside. My right leg was still painfully brittle. The mob was reforming. Swarming from their homes with whatever weapons they could find. Pitchforks, cleavers, and axes dotted the crowd. The doctor, along with a few others, stood at the front of the group with bayonetted rifles. He spotted me and gestured for me to join him. As I limped past the townspeople, I basked in their admiration. I imagine a uniformed German soldier joining their hunt instilled a sense of duty. A purpose to focus on. One much more preferable to fear.
As I neared the doctor he held out a wooden cane. I grabbed it and leaned my weight on it.
“It’s best for all of us if you can keep up.” The doctor stroked his beard and turned away.
We rallied the people and followed the tattered dirt road out of town and into the wilderness of the Black Forest.
About a half mile in the road disappeared, replaced by leaves and gnarled roots. Wolves howled in the distance, signaling our arrival into their domain.
“How much further?” A faceless voice called out.
“Not far” The doctor replied.
Over the next couple of hours the twisted roots and tall pines were replaced by sharp rocks and jagged cliff walls. A path revealed itself as the doctor led us closer. He skillfully dodged and turned through the maze of broken rock. We struggled to keep up. He waited for us at the mouth of a perfectly circular cave. We followed the doctor inside.
The cave opened up to a massive chamber. Everywhere the lanterns illuminated glimmered magnificently. The walls were lined with tiny crystals budding from the rock. The townsfolk were mesmerized by the shimmering lights. Something was strange about the way they stared. It was unnatural. We found blood soaked rags in a corner of the cave. No doubt this was where the butcher had made his unholy home. We heard crying from the next chamber. The doctor signaled for us to follow him before disappearing into the darkness. The mob nervously chattered amongst themselves.
On the floor was a man sobbing to himself. The tattered rags that draped his body were dripping wet. He had a great grey beard that had grown down to his chest. The man ran his fingers through the black sand of the cavern and stared up at us. His eyes were black like the darkness around us. As more people flooded in, the small room filled with light. The walls were adorned with frayed rope, hooks scattered throughout the sand.
The people took turns expressing their disbelief. This pathetic man in front of us was the Butcher everyone seemed to fear so much?
“We’ve found the Butcher.” The doctor stood over the man and stroked his beard thoughtfully. “He will stand trial tomorrow at noon.”
“Let’s kill him right here!”
“What of justice?!”
The mob argued amongst themselves causing the man to writhe on the ground at the sound echoing through the cavern. I wasted no time in taking control of the situation. I ripped one of lengths of rope from the walls and fashioned a noose around the Butcher’s throat. As I tightened it, he let out a low growl. I didn’t pay it much mind.
“Here’s what we’re doing!” I screamed at the crowd and they settled down. “We’re going back to town and giving this man a trial. Anyone who doesn’t like that can go back home and wait for justice to be served.”
The doctor nodded approvingly and handed me his firearm. I slung the rifle onto my shoulder and prodded the Butcher forward with my cane. The people cleared out of the way as the man stumbled into the next chamber.
“NO! NO!” The Butcher clawed at the rope around his neck. “NOT HERE!! I THOUGHT I WANTED THIS BUT I DON’T!! I DON’T!!! ANYWHERE BUT HERE!!”
What happened next was so fast I have trouble describing it. The crystals glowed with an otherworldly energy. The Butcher’s posture straightened and he shot me a confident smile with his sharpened teeth. What I saw in his eyes was pure insanity. A chill ran down my spine. Then the cave went dark.
“Hello?! Doctor?!” I called out to the darkness, but I somehow knew there would be no reply.
Feeling along the damp walls, I limped out of the cavern. I shredded my hands as they guided my way through the maze of jagged rocks, and I bruised my body tripping over the tangled roots covering the forest floor. It was well into the afternoon when I had finally left the Black Forest behind me and walked into town.
The streets were silent. Bodies suspended by rope and hook jostled in the breeze. I did not know their names, but I recognized their faces. All of them were dead. In the center of town a man in a white coat stood, staring at the setting sun. The doctor.
I limped over to his side, my cane breaking the silence with every slap against the cobblestone. When I glanced over he was stroking his beard uncontrollably.
“They’re all dead.” The doctor paused and took a long, shaky breath. “All except the children. I must go back to the cavern. That is my fate.”
“Doctor, please. What are you talking about?” He ignored my interruption and continued.
“Lead the children, become someone they respect. But control them with fear. When the bodies start appearing blame me. ‘The Doctor'” He chuckled to himself. “When the time is right and they are grown, take them to the cavern. Leave their children behind to complete the next crop. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.”
The doctor placed his hand on my shoulder and stared into my eyes. His were filling with a strange black liquid. He shot me one last glance before disappearing into the wilderness. Stroking his great beard as he walked.
I stood in the town square for what seemed like hours. Eventually the children gathered around me. They asked about their parents and I explained everything. A strange force compelled me to lead them. Many years later I led them to their deaths. Their children would know me as ‘The Soldier’ and the crop would be resown. That is how it has been, that is how it will always be.
Well this marvelous story was written by the good friend of mine, Jacob Edwards, over at Atomic Scribbles. He does some great work in the terror genre as well WWI pieces. Give him a view, a like and a follow. His next post on my site will be October 16th so click that follow button if you don’t want to miss it.
Did you like the story? Do you like Jacob’s writings? Did it inspire you to write something? What are you working one now? What do you want me to write about? Leave a comment!
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