a tale of hayward’s reach
I found her behind our lines in a field not too far from a downed Messerschmidt Me 262. We had pushed the Germans back out of Paris and had retaken the countryside in early September. I thought she was a local who had been injured when the plane crashed into her house, but she seemed shell-shocked and could barely speak. She was staggering around in some colorful rags and we took her into the improvised field hospital.
We did not have any doctors yet, it was still too soon after taking the territory, so I was the lead medic in charge. We lost Jenkins, the only other medic, so I was working two shifts tending the wounded as best I could. Ronowski was a good kid with his hands so I put him to work cleaning and tending lesser injuries while I did what I could for those who looked like they might make it.
The camp was an old church that hadn’t taken too many bullets and kept us out of the rain. It rained nearly every day. The Parisians were nice though and shared what little food there was. No one knew the strange woman, so we assumed she wandered from a nearby province.
She was a right pretty thing, five foot ten, but in her shocked state she seemed diminished and she let me lead her quietly. A French woman, Martinique, likely a Resistance member helped me tend her and we put her in the back rooms of the church.
After we cleaned her up, we noticed she did not have a scratch on her, even though her clothing had been destroyed, she was unmarked. We tried every language we could scrounge up in camp, but she did not seem to have any words at all.
We went out to check through the wreckage of the Messerschmitt and marveled at its technology. We took sketches of the design of the vehicle, its engine and the strange containment devices that were in the bomb bays. Both were broken but they did not appear to be bombs. Once we were done, we returned to the church. We were expecting to be reinforced.
Later that evening, we made a breakthrough with the blond haired woman. After saying my name and tapping my chest, she finally seemed to get some sort of recognition. She tapped herself and said “Helga.”
After that, she became a member of the camp, helping with anything and everything. She still didn’t talk much but she would smile and occasionally laugh if others were. She followed Martinique around everywhere and the woman graciously tolerated it.
A week after Helga got here, she came running to me and grabbed me. She tried to draw me with her. I picked up my rifle and told Lewis and Franklin to come with me. We double-timed it to a barn and what we saw inside stopped us in our tracks.
We opened fire on it without even questioning what it was because it was ripping Martinique’s chest open and eating her vitals. At first glance I would have thought it was an insect except it was the size of a man, and its claws were tearing through Martineque’s bones as if they were twigs.
Our bullets bounced off its shell as if it were armored. It drew its antenna back and turned around, broke down the wall of the barn and sped off down the road.
Lewis pulled Helga away from Martinique. He said, “what the hell was that?”
My mind was racing, in this war, I had seen a lot of things but nothing like that. “I don’t know, but when it comes back, I intend to give it a much warmer reception.”
“How do you know its going to come back, Sarge?”
I looked at both of them and then looked down at Martiniques’ body. “Because we are where the food is. We are the food.”
We got the townspeople together and explained to them what happened. They did not believe it at first, until the saw the body, and a barn full of holes and no target. I thought until our reinforcements arrived, we would be better off if we stayed closer together, so we took over the small number of homes near the church and established a perimeter and guards. Everyone was issued a weapon and taught how to use it. No one was go anywhere alone. Helga was the only person who did not have a weapon, she refuse to even touch one. After Martinique’s death, she would talk to no one, nor stay with anyone but me.
We put a call out on the radio, trying to get an ETA on the backup but we were told it would be a couple more days, so we would just have to tough it out and make due. We put a machine gun nest in the center of the complex to offer a complete field of fire and had snipers in two of the tallest buildings. Nothing we could do but wait. It didn’t take long.
I am not sure what made me go out that evening but I felt compelled to walk the perimeter and talk to the men. They were in good spirits and except for the two who had seen it, joked about the idea of a bug hunt. As I was walking back to the church I had the strangest sensation of being watched. I turned to look down the road but I couldn’t see anything. I slept with a pistol in my hand.
Around 0400 hours, I heard gunfire, and sat up off of the pew I was sleeping on. It was rifle fire, likely one of the patrols. Then I heard the screaming and I was up and running.
There were only twenty soldiers left and they were all accounted for, so it was likely one of the locals. We ran out and made it as far as the central machine gun station, when one of the snipers launched a flare. We saw Jean-Claude, one of the cooks, running toward us and then before he could move more than a dozen steps, he was sliced in half from behind. The insect was back, and he brought friends. Dozens of them.
Williams, our church sniper had already begun firing and the rest of us bellied up to the sandbags at the machine-gun nest and opened fire with our M1 rifles. Our bullets struck the creatures but only the machine gun seemed to have the power to bring them down easily.
“Concentrate your fire in pairs. Snipers, cover fire only. Somebody get me a damn grenade.”
“Coming at ya, Sarge.”
One of these cockroach looking things made a dash across the courtyard toward the church and began to climb the wall toward the sniper position.
We tried to knock it down but the armor on its back was too strong.
“Petrelli, there is one coming up the wall right at you!”
There was a scream as the monster crested the wall and a single shot.
Petrelli looked over the wall, gave the thumbs up and kept firing. We held the ground until dawn and had taken no casualties. Or so we thought. When we canvased the area, there were three spots where human blood had been spilled but no humans were found. There were dozens of creatures killed, but they took the bodies, every single one, except for Petrelli’s kill. Then the real bad news followed.
“All of the food in the camp is gone, Monsieur. I don’t know how they did it, but there is nothing left anywhere. The grounds are picked clean. Only what we had with us in the church is left. They ate every chicken, every goat, every wheel of cheese anywhere.” Pierre was beside himself.
Corporal Lewis and Petrelli had taken the body of the monster from the roof and were looking it over for weaknesses. We looked at our ammo and realized we could not have another fire-fight like last night. We simply did not have enough ammo. Only the machine was without fear of running out. The rest of us were down to fifty or sixty rounds apiece. That would not last long in a sustained firefight.
“Right between the center of the head seems to work best.” Petrelli’s New York accent was thick and it was something the group used to tease him about. “I guess that works no matter who youse are.” They laughed. But real fear crossed all of their faces.
“I think we are going to have to make a stand here inside the church. Its got the strongest walls and the fewest windows. I want you to board up everything you can. Use the pews and anything else you can scavenge from town. They don’t seem to like the light so avoid the shadows. Remember, they got Martinique when she surprised one in the barn.”
“Sarge, I have an idea.”
“I’m all ears, Lewis.”
“Maybe we can lure them where we want them. And use something besides bullets to kill them. We don’t have napalm but we do have gasoline so we could make Molotov cocktails. They seem as flammable as anything else.”
“Fine, get a detail and get on it. But that is a plan that will happen while they are far away and while we still have lots of bullets. No sense having any flaming ones running through the camp.”
The next few hours were desperate as we did our best to fortify our positions before nightfall. Helga seemed strange and distracted but she worked as hard as anyone to prepare before dark.
We were hunkered down with two squads outside on rooftops for sniping and close protection. We were using shotguns, inside the church and had built a bunker in the center. Our more powerful weapons were outside to try and kill the larger and more aggressive creatures first. Both groups outside could see and cover each other, and had plenty of flares to get through the night if necessary. We had also stationed lanterns down the road and anywhere else we thought the creatures might come from.
With no more food left in town, we knew they would be coming for us.
They came after midnight. They were not shy, they simply came right down the street, one after another, they came down every street from every direction. We shot flares, we threw Molotovs, we burned them, we shot them, we stoned them with traps, they fell into pits, and they still kept coming.
We fought them until four. They would fight, close us retreat, and they did this again and again. Our bullets grew lower and lower. We would soon be down to handguns and shot guns. The two machine guns were still loaded but when they started shooting it took everything we had to keep the enemy off of them. We were down to our last grenades as well. One or two more waves and we would be fighting them hand to hand.
Sniper Team Alpha died first. The creatures saved the best for last. Some of them could fly. They swooped down and simply picked them off in rapid succession. The men managed to kill three more before being dragged away into the darkness. We provided cover for Sniper team Bravo, and pulled them into the church. Our last machine-gun was setup in the doorway to the church which faced the street.
He ran out of bullets at five to five. Our shotguns held them at bay, lacking the power they made up for it in damage dealing. By five thirty we had killed sixty or so right up to the walls of the church. The waves had stopped. It seemed only the last of the creatures were coming. But these were bigger and tougher and could only be killed with a direct close hit to their chest or face. If you were that close you were likely to be getting killed. Petrelli bought it like that. Shot one bastard clean in the head and was sliced apart for his troubles. I want to go like that. Clean.
We had put the townspeople behind us in the church with small arms and they helped when they could. Suddenly the wall behind us exploded and they were being grabbed and dragged away. Helga leaped into the crowd of the creatures and began to bludgeon them with her fists.
Each hit caused a creature to explode into blobs of disgusting flesh. We did not know what we were seeing and we did not care. The last twelve of us rushed up behind her and pointed our shotguns into the masses wherever she wasn’t. One of the biggest of the bastards, grabbed her with his claws and I expected him to rip her apart like Petrelli. She screamed and the sound literally turned him into jelly before our eyes.
We fought for another hour, the creatures must have been desperate because they kept coming and fought more savagely, with greater rage. We lost five more after that. All but seven of the twenty townspeople were lost or missing.
Helga seemed to be slowing down, her strength waning. But she did not stop and neither did we. We were so focused that I did not see one coming in behind us. It was a big one. Lewis having only one grenade left, threw himself onto the creature and the grenade detonated under him. Blasting the creature and us. No one saw Helga move. One second she was outside, the next she was in front of me. She took shrapnel that was meant for me.
She fell back into my arms and looked at me. There were shrapnel wounds in her chest, stomach and legs. I could hear small arms going on behind me but they gradually stopped. I looked at her and wondered where she came from, who she was, what she was. And none of that mattered. She saved us.
They told me later, she was a prototype of a German super-soldier that was intercepted and shot down near us. The insects were also a weapon, likely on the same craft. It seemed her memory had been lost in the crash and she only remembered her name. There was some talk of taking her body and dissecting it for science, but no one could find her when they went looking for her later.
When the war ended, we heard of several super-soldiers who had been released into the war, but were all believed to have been destroyed or killed depending on their nature. I returned home, tired from the war, just wanting to forget it happened. My parents had taken care of my little house and it was just the way I remembered it. I flopped down onto my bed and remembered Helga. A wind whipped up and the tree outside my window shook its leaves. The window opened up and a woman landed gently on my bedroom floor.
“We are no longer enemies. And I have never forgotten your kindness.”
I ran to her and she swept me up in her powerful arms. How does one begin to forget a goddess? I did not intend to even try.
Übermensch © Thaddeus Howze 2011. All Rights Reserved
Image: DAYTON, Ohio — Messerschmitt Me 262A at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)