There is something terrible in the bunker, but it’s not about to stay hidden for long… the second part of the ongoing series: The Veil.
“You saw nothing? Nothing at all?”
“That isn’t what I said,” Private Kleffel insisted. “I saw something a … a shadow – I don’t know, but there was something out there.”
Captain Haase turned an even deeper shade of crimson. “A shadow? Do you take me for a fool with this talk of phantoms?”
Kleffel tried to remain calm. “Of course not, sir -“
“I have two men missing and you bring me this fairy tale nonsense. You are a disgrace to this army.”
“I followed your orders, sir,” Kleffel continued, taking a deep breath. “I went with Wiesler, we followed Stoetz’s patrol route – “
The Captain interrupted again: “My orders were to locate Stoetz. Did you succeed in that?”
“No, sir, we didn’t. We found… I don’t know what it was – a bunker, but made of metal rather than stone. On the first pass we missed it, but on our return we saw it immediately.”
Haase stopped pacing and sat down again. Kleffel realised he had finally said something to catch the man’s interest. “A bunker?,” he asked. “I’ve not been informed of any constructions in the vicinity. Command would have certainly alerted me. Tell me more – were there enemy forces inside? Could it be a storage facility?”
Kleffel remained silent for a moment, trying to choose his words carefully. “We weren’t able to penetrate inside the bunker.”
“Was it secured?”
“I don’t believe so. We’d observed the bunker: we’d identified an opening, a doorway. We thought Stoetz had maybe had gone inside. Wiesler wanted to go after him, but I advised him to wait and observe the location, estimate the strength of the enemy force.”
“And such caution might have cost Stoetz his life. How do we know he isn’t still being kept prisoner inside that bunker. We should mount a rescue operation at once…”
Kleffel glanced down.” Sir! I don’t believe… I believe if Stoetz had gone inside the bunker then he would already be dead.”
“Because whatever is inside that bunker killed Wiesler.”
Haase rose to his feet again. “And precisely what is inside that bunker? I suppose you’ll tell me it’s these shadows you saw?!!”
“There was only one.” Kleffel sighed, he could already tell he had made a mistake in telling Haase the truth, but it was too late to stop now. “Wiesler was about to approach the bunker. He took a step, he didn’t even make it to the open ground before something… something from nowhere threw him against a tree. He shouted out to me. I took cover.
“When I looked up again Wiesler was on the ground. Then he cried out, he said something had pinned his leg – I could see the blood, but nothing else – he was trying to move, but he couldn’t. I would have taken a shot, but I couldn’t see the enemy. I couldn’t see anything there.
“Then suddenly I did see it. Nothing physical, just a shadow standing by the trees. It was over Wiesler. I … I think it looked right at me – then it killed him – I don’t know how, but Wiesler flinched, made an awful sound, and then he was dead. It was…”
“And what did you do?” Captain Haase demanded.
“I retreated,” Kleffel responded flatly. “After it killed Wiesler the shadow remained still.”
Haase looked incredulous: “You didn’t attack?”
Kleffel stared at him: “Sir, would you shoot at a shadow?”
The Captain said nothing.
“I had two choices,” Kleffel explained. “I could attack something I couldn’t see and most certainly be killed, and you’d send more men to find me, and they’d be killed too. Or I could return to base and report what I had seen.”
“So you ran?”
“I survived, for now. Sir, if my country calls on me to die I will give my life, but will not throw it away meaninglessly. I trust you would make the same choice.”
Haase nodded. “You made the right decision, Private. Now we know the position where we need to launch our attack.”
Kleffel gasped. “We cannot attack – we don’t know what it is we’re attacking. We should call for an aerial bombardment if we do anything.”
“And let the Luftwaffe take the glory for destroying an enemy incursion! On our territory?! I don’t think so!”
“Sir! We have no idea what it is we’re attacking. An enemy we can’t even see? You’ll be throwing away the lives of your men – “
“Coward!” Haase screamed. “I will have you court-martialed! The lives of two of my men were in your hands. I have no evidence that you did not kill them yourself. Yes! You killed them and now you’re telling me these outrageous stories to cover yourself. You will be shot for this!”
Kleffel stood to attention. He had pushed the Captain too far, he now had to rely on his military training if he was going to survive. “Sir – if you order me to I will return to the bunker, I will learn whatever I can. I only ask that if I don’t return you don’t send any more men after me. Don’t risk any more lives.”
Haase nodded cynically. “I see. And when you fail to return from the bunker we should all assume you are dead? Desertion is punishable by death. Why – I should shoot you now!”
The Captain reached for his sidearm. Before he could release it from its holster his head exploded in a fountain of blood and fire. His lifeless body remained standing for a second, then toppled slowly to the ground, his gaping neck spewing blood over Kleffel as it dropped.
Kleffel struggled to breathe, struggled to tear his eyes from the sight. Then he looked up. Standing over the Captain’s body was the same shadow he had seen over Wiesler.
It had followed him back to the camp. It had been here all the time!
Finally Kleffel found his voice again. And with it came the screams.