By Joshua A. Spotts
Some things can never be forgotten. Those things should be cast into a pit and buried with the rest of the soul’s amassed refuse. But, no matter how deep they are buried, the screams always return.
She died. Here I stand above her grave. Her first name, Eve, stands out, bold and free, but the last name is devoured by the moss. It is better that way. She bore my curse in life. There is no reason she should be labeled with it in death.
I am Albert Steben, small town businessman. I was Friedrich Sterben, Gestapo officer, Nazi…
It is difficult for me to forget who I was. When Eve still lived I basked in her glory. She gave me a new life. At times I did forget my real name, but I never forget the deeds attached to that name. Friedrich Sterben held the title Colonel, but his real title was Butcher. After it was evident that the Third Reich would fall he was promoted to a new title, Traitor. Friedrich Sterben betrayed his country and became me, Albert Steben, a cowardly murderer living a life I don’t deserve.
I laid a white rose atop her grave and turned away. A voice cried out my name. Not my American name, but my real name, the name that embodied all my past sins. “Herr Sterben!”
I whirled, drawing my old Luger from my shoulder holster. I was ready to put a bullet through the intruder’s heart.
“Calm yourself, Friedrich.”
“My name is Albert.” I shot the man. I didn’t even flinch.
I watched the red stain spread across the man’s chest. His grey uniform became black with it. The bold eagle pin on his chest, clutching in its talons Hitler’s cross, the occult swastika, stood out above the blood. The swastika throbbed. My head throbbed. The earth throbbed. Then the man stood.
In that moment of horror as he walked toward me, I recognized him. He had been my commander. He had been in Hitler’s inner circle. If there was any man I hated more than myself it was he.
I shot him again. He staggered. I shot again. He fell to his knees. His hat fell to the blood-moistened grass. Those red and green blades stood out in strange prominence. The man’s body shrunk and the grass died. I blinked, lowering my gun.
There in front of me knelt a boy. He hand clutched at his belly, trying to stem the flow of blood. His other arm stretched toward someplace behind me. Smoke rose from my gun, crawling up my arm. The boy’s brown eyes stared up at me. His black hair shined in the camp’s sweeping searchlights. Two broken words escaped his red lips, “Please, sir.”
I watched in horror as my arm rose. I fought it. The arm holding that Luger, could it really be mine? Would I really murder this child?
The gun fired. The boy’s corpse sloshed into the mud. I couldn’t believe I had just done that. My hand shook. Or maybe it didn’t. Killing seemed to come far too easily for me. The atrocity of my act brought back old demons. They ripped at my chest and my mind. Who was I, Albert Steben, forgiven by my wife and a honest businessman, or Friedrich Sterben, butcher? I felt more like Herr Sterben.
I turned to where the boy had been pointing. I dropped the gun. It went off. Pain shot up my leg. I didn’t fall because what I saw held me in place. My wife stood there in the midst of the mud-filled camp. A grey shack, black in the night’s shadows, loomed behind her. Her clothing consisted of a single long piece of cloth covering her malnourished nakedness. Her face was frozen in terror. I could not find her eyes. They were not black, they were blue. I was sure of it!
Swirling, my boot heel digging deep into the mud, I stared at the boy. I recognized the face, the neighbor boy who trimmed my lawns. He had been like a son to me while Eve lived. But Eve stood behind me, so did she live now? I ran to the Eve, she slapped me, and I strangled her.
It had only been another nightmare. I now sit upright in my bed. The alarm clock rings out its usual morning greetings. Eve rolls over and covers her head with the pillow. I remember when I used to dream before the war. I had dreamed of mornings like this. Before my choice and before the cruelties of those decisions, I too had dreamed.
Now I only have nightmares. They are a constant reminder of the evil I did. But my wife, laying here beside me, is a constant reminder that someone cares enough to find some grain of good in me and to forgive me. Her love is the only thing that keeps me sane. She is the only person who makes me Albert Steben, an honest business man.