Wacky Wednesday – “Der Führer’s Madness”

15 Aug

July, 1943. Hitler’s war strides across Europe in polished black boots. Cities and towns swell with the influx of refugees, deserters, and families. This is no great migration; this is a thin trickle of humanity, made up of false passports, secret meetings, and midnight escapes. Europe’s children scatter like rats as the Reich pushes ever forward, inexorable as the sunset.

Der Führer himself is drunk with power. In fits of lust and hubris, he turns to dark places and darker people, searching for an invincible edge to bring the hammer down on Allied resistance. He creates secret echelons within his party, populated by scientists, theologists, and experts on the occult. The war rages on, and Hitler sends these men to find him weapons which no army can withstand.

So it was that I find myself plucked from the comfort of the University and dropped on the Isle of Man, one of the last great ancient bastions of Europe, heavy with age and memory. The layman sees craggy rocks and sleepy sheep; I see the ruins of a great civilization. The Obersturmbannführer next to me, tall and gaunt and silent, sees his Führer’s prize. I know what I must do, but I cannot bring myself to do it. If I must die here, tonight, then I will do so in the knowledge that I stopped these maniacs from unleashing something they cannot possibly comprehend, or hope to control.

**

Friday, 4th July, 1943

Work is proceeding on schedule. The weather has been deplorable – violent wind and slashing rain – but the men work tirelessly to excavate the ruins, exposing new catacombs and antechambers with every passing hour. Herr Doktor assures me we are very close, and I begin to believe him. Last evening we uncovered a hideous stone gargoyle, and when one of the engineers brushed against it he immediately lapsed into seizures. He experienced these spasms all through the night, broken only by periods of delirium and fever, during which he cried out pitifully in agony, and expired as the sun rose. The men have a frightened look in their eyes. But this is to be expected. Men always fear what they do not understand.

Saturday, 5th July, 1943

Control of the unit is becoming difficult. Their terror at our project is matched only by my fury in spurring them onward. I hanged two deserters this morning who tried to escape the camp under cover of darkness. I am thankful for the demonstration they provided, for every one of the remainder is now aware of the consequences of such cowardice. As I see it, they have a choice between my wrath and the wrath of the “Old Ones”, these ancient gods of Herr Doktor’s, the ones we attempt to awaken; and I intend to make it clear that mine is the more tangible and immediate. These men – these frightened children – have allowed their superstition to cloud their minds. They have forgotten why we are here!

I intend to remind them.

Sunday, 6th July, 1943

The excavation is laid out before us, now nearly complete. The main passage extends into the earth some five score metres before halting at the entrance to a buried structure, which Herr Doktor tells me is (or rather was) a temple of worship. After blasting through the crumbled stone blocking the central archway, we have exposed the interior of the temple. It is not difficult to see why the mens’ courage is being tested; the temple is an awful place, smelling of mould and musty air and covered in a thin layer of repugnant slime, and more than this there is a hanging sense of dread which seems to seep out from the rock itself, a cloying sensation of danger which raises gooseprickles on the skin and stands the hair on end. The carvings in the stone are horrifying to look upon. I understand the fear of the men, but I abhor it, as I abhor this vile place and our errand here. The sooner we are done and gone, the better. I have communicated my impatience to Herr Doktor, and he assures me we are almost finished. His ceremony begins tonight.

Monday

Have cabled Berlin, am writing this as I await response. Herr Doktor’s ceremony a disaster.  Awoke something in temple. Inexplicable sound – deep humming – emerged from heart of altar. Men lost control, much screaming. Rock crumbled, men panicked as temple collapsed. Bastard Herr Doktor cut off midway, declared intention to “stop Der Führer’s madness”. Raised pistol at me. Took bullet in right shoulder. Running up passage away from cave in, knocked off feet by explosion – Herr Doktor, most likely, trying to seal me in. Escaped, dressed shoulder. Received cable just now. Leaving Scotland in three hours. Rendezvous with plane at coastal point. Mission a complete failure. Der Führer’s prize lost. Deep fissures and cracks in rock from collapsing landscape all that remain. Anxious to return to Germany and make full report of this catastrophe.

**

“You know the Nazis found something down there,” declared Abraham Clarkson, sucking back his whiskey with a wince. I couldn’t see his face very well in the dingy light of the pub, but I knew the expression there was fierce and excited. “What else d’you make of this telegram?”

I looked at the faded paper again, noting the faded red swastika seal. The cursive German would have been elegant but the message was scrawled, hastily written, ink spatters betraying a shaking hand.

“It was twenty years ago,” I said wearily, passing it back across the table. “The war’s over, Clarkson. What are you expecting to find?”

He leaned forward, and the shadows undercutting his features made his face a frightening mask. “Knowledge,” he murmured, “beyond anything man has ever dreamt of. The secrets of the universe laid bare. Think of it, Jonathan!”

I did, the final words of the telegram vivid against my eyelids. Yaji Ash-Shuthath. I thought it was code, but Clarkson took it to one of the linguists at the College. Arabic, he’d said, roughly translated. The abnormal ones are coming.

“It’ll change everything,” Clarkson was saying, and I found myself nodding in grim agreement.

I saw him smile through his red beard and cry, “We’ll be legends, you and I. Clarkson and Harkness, who changed the world!”

As I shook his hand, the candlelight flickered over us, casting our gesture of covenant in a pallid lustre, our wrists writhing together like grotesque tentacles. I felt an unaccountable dread, and yanked back my hand to swallow my drink with desperate thirst.

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