DEFEAT. 029 – Major Problems
[DEFEAT. is Rendar Frankenstein’s truest attempt at fiction. Presented in weekly episodes, the novella tells the tale of Daryl Millar – a hero who dies at the intersection of pop culture, science-fiction, war epic, and fantasy]
Captain Ryan Major took a long, hard drag from his cigarette. The nicotine felt good on his tongue and the smoke the felt good in his lungs. He held his breath as long as he could, sliding his pursed lips into a smile and savoring every second. With his eyes closed and the early-morning sunbeams hitting his face, Major could’ve sworn that he was back in Myrtle Beach.
Yeah, for a moment he was absolutely sure that he was once again waking up on the porch of his mama’s South Carolina home, locked out after a long night of drinking beer and chasing tail.
Losing himself in the moment, the captain kept his eyes closed as he chuckled and exhaled. He brought his quivering left hand to his face, returning the cigarette to his eager lips. He then ran his bloody right hand through his hair, staining the blonde locks in the process. Major wanted to believe that if his eyelids never parted he’d never have to leave this imagined South Carolina. Maybe he could stay there, eating fat slabs of bacon after finally being let into the house by his ever-forgiving mama.
Hell, Major could practically taste the imaginary cup of coffee when he heard real keys jingle. He knew that the construct of his mind’s eye was no substitute for his home, and it was now proving itself to be more lackluster than ever. If he was going to die that day, Major figured that he’d rather face a terrible reality than have his fantasy further compromised.
With a principled resignation, Captain Ryan Major flicked away the butt of his cigarette and opened his eyes.
Staring at him through the impenetrable steel bars was his jailor. The same one who had mangled his hand the day before. Neat blond hair. Striking blue eyes. The body of a goddamn Greek statue. This guy was a real Aryan poster child.
Sure, Major had once been pretty chiseled himself. But he’d been inside that cramped cell for two months now, living off occasional scraps of mouldy bread and the rainwater that poured in through the ceiling’s unintended skylight. At this point, he looked more veal calf than strong bull. And so, the American once again found himself wistful, craving the strength to mount an attack against his German oppressors.
But Ryan Major had more sense than that. He knew that any attempted resistance would be met with a swift boot to the throat and a bullet to the brain. He’d seen it happen to the guy in the cell next to him, an excitable Canuck. For several weeks, the two would speak to each other through the wall which divided their respective compartments, providing a camaraderie that doesn’t exist during peacetime.
Unfortunately, the companionship was torn away before his very eyes. From his cell, Major watched as the Canuck was thrown to his knees and executed. Right before the trigger was pulled, the former lumberjack screamed “Why me? I’m not a fucking Brit! I’m Canadian! I hate the Queen, she’s a cunt!”
At that moment, Major realized that we’re always remembered by our last words.
So when the colossal German unlocked the cell and grabbed him by the arm, he didn’t start swearing. Instead, Major kept his head hung low and his focus in front of him as he followed the guard’s lead. If he was going to die that day, he wanted to do it with a dignity that many lose sight of. Sure, he would’ve preferred a blaze of glory — but in his emaciation he only would’ve embarrassed himself.
Led through the hall, Major could feel himself becoming enveloped by an overwhelming sense of dread. Some of it surely shot up from the floor, from the puddles of blood and bits of bone that his captors hadn’t quite found the time to clean up. But most of this nearly palpable feeling of being in big time trouble came from the somber glances of the other prisoners.
The tenants of this hallway had watched a number of their peers take this very same trek. And they knew that once an Allied solider was brought into the room at the end of hall, the door would close and the screams would start. Terrible, Earth-shaking screams.
Screams that could boil milk and curdle blood.
Eventually, the bawling would come to an end. The door would open and the prisoner would be allowed to return to his cell. Which, generally speaking, meant that his unconscious body would be dragged back by a guard. Leaving, as it stands to reason, a trail of bodily fluids. In fact, the guards would do everything they could during the interrogation to induce a pants-pissing – the resultant combination of blood and piss created a trail that sent a horrifying message to the other prisoners.
And so it was with such memories at the forefront of their thoughts that Major’s peers stared at him. Yeah, it looked like even the crafty Southerner, that crazy Yank who somehow always had a cigarette and match with which to light it, was going to take a turn answering some questions. The Herculean Nazi opened the door and motioned for him to enter. Major took a breath and stepped forward.
The room looked no different than any run-of-the-mill, dingy wartime office. There was a mahogany desk with papers and folders piled on top. In the middle of these documents, perhaps intentionally hidden, was a sweaty bottle of Schnapps. There were a couple of seats – a plush leather chair behind the desk and a wooden barstool in front. The wall was bare, with the exception of the Third Reich’s flag, a picture of the Fuhrer, and a crack running the entire length. “This certainly doesn’t look like hell,” thought Major.
But just as the captain’s mind was beginning to rest, a whiff hit his nose. Along with the oxygen, he had sucked in something distinct, unmistakable. Burnt Flesh. Searching for the source of the odor, Major’s eyes darted across the room. As his jailor sat him down on the wooden barstool, he continued to desperately seek out the origin of this sickening scent. He had to know what was in store for him.
And then he saw it. Behind the desk was an uncovered radiator. Metal pipes, still coated with a thin layer of human skin. The intended purpose of this hot-steam contraption had surely been subverted. The remaining black residue was no mystery meat — Major knew just what it was.
Hell, if his eyes weren’t deceiving him, Major could swear that the release valve was blanketed with a thick patch of hair.
“If one minute you wait,” began the German anatomical display, “my superior questions has to ask of you. Sitting tight now.”
With no other options, Ryan Major sat on the uncomfortable seat, wondering just how badly he’d be beaten. He spotted the Schnapps and would’ve given anything for a swig. The German must’ve seen this, as he opened the bottle and took a greedy swig for himself. Major realized that with this subtle psychological maneuver, the torture had begun. “Fucking bastard…”
The American’s prepared string of obscenities was cut short as he watched another German walk into the cozy little office of horror. Although smaller and less muscular than Major’s jailor, his presence commanded respect. With upright shoulders, a grimace that made children whimper, and a gaze that could burn a hole in the Devil’s ass, Captain Ryan Major had no doubt that this was the man for whom they were waiting. The superior. The man that would beat him into a pulp and sear his flesh on a damn radiator.
The bulky jailor stood at attention and offered a greeting, “Gutenmorgen, Lang.”
“Gutenmorgen, Von Erbe.” The words were spoken not with a mutual respect, but a hint of contempt. Lang closed the door and walked over to the desk, never once reciprocating the amicable, salutational gesture that he had been offered. Without hesitation, as though he were racing against time itself, he picked a clipboard off of the desk and began reading it.
Motioning towards the American, Lang questioned Von Erbe, “Wer ist dieses?”
“Er ist nicht KapitÃ¤n Ryan Major. Er ist Major Ryan KapitÃ¤n! Sie haben den falschen Mann!”
The American prisoner of war wasn’t sure what the argument was about, but he knew he was the central focus. His rank and last name continued to be shouted and the larger German kept repeating, “Ich weiÃŸ, dass er der korrekte Soldat ist!” The smaller German just kept shaking his head.
“Fragen Sie den Kommandanten. Er ist angekommen. Und wenn ich falsch bin, kaufe ich Sie ein gesamtes FaÃŸ Bier.”
And with that, Von Erbe was out the door and on his way to the commander’s office. Captain Ryan Major had no clue what just happened, but he assumed that it wouldn’t bode well. After all, with no witnesses present he could only imagine what type of torture he’d be subjected to. He wasn’t shirking from his duty — being abused physically for the sake of country — but was curious as to how he was to fulfill it. And so he was not terrified, but fascinated, to see the German approaching.
The American was grabbed by the collar of his shirt and yanked upwards. “Listen well,” spoke the German, only inches away from his prisoner’s face, “there is not much time. You are going to punch me in the jaw.”
Major was baffled. He began to refuse, but was waved off by the man in front of him. At the whim of his enemy, he simply listened. “You will then throw me over the desk. Take my keys and get out of here.”
For a moment, utter silence. The proposition, on the surface, was incomprehensible. But when the two men locked eyes, an understanding was arrived at. Perhaps the language barrier was what kept them from sharing the sentiment. Or perhaps it was the pressing urgency, the dearth of time. But most likely, it was just the fact that some things can’t ever be expressed adequately.
The German nodded his head.
The American connected with a left hook.
And Lukas Lang began the lifelong process of atoning for his sins.