An Early Teaser Poster From Das Totenfeld.
Israel, das Totenfeld, wird durch Gottes Odem lebendig
1 Des HERRN Hand kam über mich, und er führte mich hinaus im Geist des HERRN und stellte mich mitten auf ein weites Feld; das lag voller Totengebeine. 2 Und er führte mich überall hindurch. Und siehe, es lagen sehr viele Gebeine über das Feld hin, und siehe, sie waren ganz verdorrt.
3 Und er sprach zu mir: Du Menschenkind, meinst du wohl, daß diese Gebeine wieder lebendig werden? Und ich sprach: HERR, mein Gott, du weißt es. 4 Und er sprach zu mir: Weissage über diese Gebeine und sprich zu ihnen: Ihr verdorrten Gebeine, höret des HERRN Wort! 5 So spricht Gott der HERR zu diesen Gebeinen: Siehe, aich will Odem in euch bringen, daß ihr wieder lebendig werdet. 6 Ich will euch Sehnen geben und lasse Fleisch über euch wachsen und überziehe euch mit Haut und will euch Odem geben, daß bihr wieder lebendig werdet; und ihr sollt erfahren, daß ich der HERR bin.
7 Und ich weissagte, wie mir befohlen war. Und siehe, da rauschte es, als ich weissagte, und siehe, es regte sich, und die Gebeine rückten zusammen, Gebein zu Gebein. 8 Und ich sah, und siehe, es wuchsen Sehnen und Fleisch darauf, und sie wurden mit Haut überzogen; es war aber noch kein Odem in ihnen. 9 Und er sprach zu mir: Weissage zum Odem; weissage, du Menschenkind, und sprich zum Odem: So spricht Gott der HERR: Odem, komm herzu von den vier Winden und blase diese Getöteten an, daß sie wieder lebendig werden! 10 Und ich weissagte, wie er mir befohlen hatte. Da kam der Odem in sie, und sie wurden wieder lebendig und stellten sich auf ihre Füße, ein überaus großes Heer. 11 Und er sprach zu mir: Du Menschenkind, adiese Gebeine sind das ganze Haus Israel. Siehe, jetzt sprechen sie: Unsere Gebeine sind verdorrt, und unsere Hoffnung ist verloren, und es ist aus mit uns. 12 Darum weissage und sprich zu ihnen: So spricht Gott der HERR: Siehe, ich will eure Gräber auftun und hole euch, mein Volk, aus euren Gräbern herauf und bringe euch ins Land Israels. 13 Und ihr sollt erfahren, daß ich der HERR bin, wenn ich eure Gräber öffne und euch, mein Volk, aus euren Gräbern heraufhole. 14 Und ich will meinen Odem in euch geben, daß ihr wieder leben sollt, und will euch in euer Land setzen, und ihr sollt erfahren, daß ich der HERR bin. Ich rede es und tue es auch, spricht der HERR.
The first thing the young soldier saw as consciousness threw him back into reality was another soldier, towering against the backdrop of a darkening gray sky, standing over him with the bayonet of a rifle poking him. Luckily the steel sheath of the bayonet was still on it. The menacing soldier, draped in the darkness of a shadow, stepped away and out of the foggy sight of the young soldier.
He shook his head as he saw the thick dirt caked on his hands. He was in the trench…finally. He remembered what seemed like ages ago tromping through a rather dead looking forest with the rest of his platoon. They were tired, dirty and terribly hungry. They had just come off a line near somewhere he could not remember and were being redeployed to another front through which the enemy had apparently punched a small hole. The forest seemed too quiet…
And then he remembered the artillery. And the perfectly timed gunfire that followed immediately. Bodies robbed of life, swaying and dipping about like toys dropped from a child’s hand. The air crackled and swelled with thunderous claps as dirt and fire rained down upon them. Screams of men tumbled through the air and found no sympathy.
He remembered running as quickly as he could in no particular direction but away. Men fell before him and he leapt over the piles they had formed. He wondered if the puddles he stomped through were of mud or blood as he kicked at the earth in a vein attempt to push it away. He saw the trench and reached for it just as his vision seemed to explode in a hot flash of blinding white light and a tremendous crackle stabbed at his ears. Then there was a quiet darkness.
He was now in the trench. And he was very much alive unlike the bits of soldiers that littered the fields behind him. He dipped his head into his hands and slipped into an unsteady sleep.
The sound of rifle fire ripped him from his slumber and instinctively he jerked his Mauser towards him and heaved his tired body up and against the trench. He tried to blink away the dust and crust in his eyes and looked out through the barbed wire to the tree line. He could hear the rifle fire more clearly but could see no muzzle flashes or movements in the trees. And that is what scared him.
He peered down the grimy sights of his bolt-action rifle and tightened his finger against the trigger, edging it closer to firing. More shots rang out from different ends of the tree line. He thrashed his head back and forth frustratingly trying to pinpoint the source of the shooting.
Artillery came screaming from the sky and kicked him onto his back. He felt panic set in as he again propped himself against the trench and aimed down field. His mouth was full of mud, his ears were ringing from the shelling and the rapid percussive report of the Maxim gun, and he had dirt in his eyes. Not that he could see much beyond the smoke that hung like a curtain on the field ahead of him, aside from weird jerky shadows running towards or away from him. The ones that ran towards him, he shot at. He thought about firing at the retreating shadows as well, but he figured those were of either his comrades chasing the enemy, or, of more pitiable enemy soldiers that had decided to turn and flee. In the back of his mind, he wondered if he had shot any of his trench mates; that is if he had any.
He was screaming, and perhaps crying, all the while frantically trying to fire off as many rounds as his bolt-action would allow. He was not particularly good at it. The other man in the trench seemed to be faring much better. He was not screaming. He did not even wear a helmet, and the large rock that slammed into his forehead did not at all phase him. He was working his rifle as if it was a part of his own anatomy, a small pile of spent brass already collected around his boots.
The younger soldier only saw this as he quickly scanned the field for other dangers. He did not have time to think. Panic and fear were clawing at him from the inside. But slowly, it stopped. The shadows became less frequent, and he stopped firing all together. The haze was clearing a little, and he could now see the bodies. Hundreds of them, he could not separate friend from enemy. They were just so many gray and intermingled heaps.
Silence eventually crept back as the last echo of the last gunshot slowly faded away. The young soldier was too spent to weep. Not that he knew for whom to weep, unless it was for all mankind. He did not know anyone here. He had no friends. And the immediacy of the situation kept him from realizing the grander horror. All he knew was that he had made it. And all he could do was stare at the field in front of him, vacant. He looked down the trench and the other soldier was gone. He turned back and looked down the field. Time floated by unmeasured.
He stared out there for quite a while, not looking at anything in particular. The clouds were pregnant with rain and he dimly envisioned himself drowning in this rotten trench, being swallowed up in a stew of brass, blood and reeking, wounded flesh. But then he saw something, something new. Far out beyond the barbwire, near what must have been the enemy trenches, he saw a strange black shape. It rose as if straight out of the ground, and seemed very tall against the sky. Was it a priest? Something was strange about its head, it seemed... stretched, distorted where the nostrils should be, like a beak. It appeared to be wearing a hat, and now that it was fully erect, it was just standing there, profiled starkly against the coming clouds.
The soldier felt something loosen in his brain, as if something were trying to escape from his cranium. He felt as if his skin had begun to bubble, slightly, from the inside, and his heart was racing. He looked again at the tall black figure far away out there, and the ringing in his ears gobbled up his vision. He passed out in the mud.
A kick to the ribs and he was awake. He looked up and blinked, in time to see a medic walking away from him, down the length of the trench. The other soldier had returned, and the medic stopped at him and shook his head before continuing on and around the bend. It was getting dark now; the sky would have been pretty if he were somewhere else. He got up and steadied himself; his legs were not quite yet with him. He just stood there for a minute or two. The older soldier was now sitting in the muck, smoking a cigarette. The medic came back, this time with something that looked like food. Apparently there was a break in the fighting, but there was no pulling out, no moving forward. They would be stuck here for a while, at least that is what the medic reported as he disappeared around the bend of the trench.
The younger soldier did not say a thing to his trench mate as he ate. The older soldier did not seem to be aware that someone was in the trench with him; he did not look up or speak. The younger soldier got up to go find the medic; maybe he had some more information about what was going on outside the trench. He walked past the man and as he did so he felt a strange rush of fear, something sharp and anxious, as if he thought the man was going to lunge out and stab him, or bite him, or something equally bloody. He quickened his pace and tried to ignore what he felt.
He soon found the medic, halfway down the bend in a part of the trench where the ground had been disrupted by artillery fire, hunched over a wounded man. The smell here was worse, and the young soldier looked on in silence as a small pool of black liquid began to form around the medic and his patient. Legs twitched and then stopped, and the pool became much larger. The wind seemed to go out of the medic, who had been hunched over the body working with something. Now he got up, his face blank, and walked past the young soldier. He felt sick again, mostly because of the smell. It was not the metallic scent of blood or even the ripe, black smell of human waste. It was something else; something green and still living that crawled up his nostrils. He looked behind him at the medic as he walked away.
The young soldier did not see the other soldier as he made his way back and into a small dugout that branched off from the trench. Night finally came and cast a cloak over the death and filth of the battlefield.
The young soldier lay motionless against the dirt wall of the small enclosure. Barely hanging from the slabs of wood that kept the earth from returning inward, a small lantern swayed gently to a wind he could not feel. As he watched the way the light danced off the mesh of dirt and wood, he was reminded of being back at home in front of his nice fireplace, reading away at one of his many novels. He could almost still smell the sausage that was being prepared in the kitchen, and for a moment, it replaced the stench of decay that bathed the trench like a sickness.
His gaze returned to reality and he found himself staring at the dark hole that was the doorway to the trench. The blackness of the night was trying to pry its way into the enclosure with only the lantern to push it back. He tried to look back down at the dingy notebook he was scribbling in, but the blackness sucked his focus right back. He felt the enclosure getting smaller around him as the darkness outside burned into his sight.
Suddenly, something dashed by. He felt his blood freeze as his heart repeatedly smashed down into his chest like a hammer. The notebook slid out of his grasp and sounded like an artillery discharge as it crumpled to the ground. Was it…that thing? As it passed, it sounded more like the way the wind ripped around the corner than the leather and wool rustle of a soldier. His eyes, large and round as a stein’s bottom, stayed fixed in terrible fright at the menacing darkness. The lantern creaked slightly.
He did not remember falling asleep. He did remember, as he woke with a violent jolt, the images of that thing dancing about his head as he slept. The gray light from the morning poured in and lit up the dust that fluttered about. He grabbed his rifle and bounded out and into the trench. The sun blinded him as he shook off the remnants of a ragged sleep. It was still early, very early. He was still very tired. He sat down against the wall of the trench and gazed upward at the sky.
Hours passed, and with them sleep came and went, but it never stayed for long. The young soldier woke up once and saw what he thought was an enormous rat, the size of a human, crawling into the trench with him. Then he realized it was the other soldier, his trench mate. Where had he been? What was he putting in his rucksack? Maybe he should have asked these questions, but he was too fatigued to care. Or maybe he too scared. Maybe he did not want to know what that maniac was doing. He must have been out on the field, among those bodies. There had been no retrieval order. All that flesh was still out there… and that thing.
The older soldier was now wrapping himself up in the tatters that served as his blanket, only the whites of his brown eyes showing. He seemed to be staring directly at him. The young soldier could not pull his eyes away, not until the other man had apparently fallen asleep. Fatigue then got the better of the young man and he, too, was asleep, uncomfortable though he was. But just before his consciousness left him, he thought he saw a shape, blacker than the night, standing above the other soldier, on the lip of the trench. It turned and he saw a white bird face, a face without feathers, with empty black eyes in huge sockets. And then he was asleep.
Day brought nothing new, except a fresh scent of decay. The young man stood up and stretched, and his nose caught wind of it. It took his breath away and made him gag; he nearly vomited on himself. Was the vision from the night before just that, a vision? Or was it real? He did not know, he no long trusted his own senses.
He saw the medic coming, and it almost seemed as if he were smiling. He shook his head as he walked, as if talking to himself. He gave the older soldier a gentle kick as he approached him, waking the man. The medic dropped a box or something on the ground and the other soldier picked it up unhappily. The medic came on towards the young soldier and stopped in front of him. A violent stink was on him. He handed him something, a small bottle. Chloroform. The medic rounded the corner and kept walking. Something black was hanging from his wrist, the young soldier noticed. He realized he heard a sound, something crawling in the air. Flies.
Most of the flies, he knew, were up there above the trench, slowly feasting on the dead. But there was a small swarm boiling around the medic now. He watched him lazily swat at a few of them, and then he stopped and just stood there. Then he toppled to the ground. The young soldier slowly approached him, and the smell worsened. He covered his nose and mouth to keep the stench out, but that didn't help much. It was awful. Fresh death, right in front of him. This he realized as he got closer to the fallen medic, and saw that his sleeve was black and red, a pungent mixture of puss, blood, and green rotten flesh oozing from around his wrist. The older soldier was behind him now, and shoved him aside to get a closer look at the scene. The stink did not seem to bother him. He rolled the medic over. His eyes were closed and he was not breathing. Most of the sleeve of his left arm was caked thick with black stuff. He opened his shirt and revealed greenish black flesh, some of it sloughing off in places, revealing what looked like stark white bone.
The younger soldier began to retch. The older soldier got up and paused, a faint look of regret in his eyes. Or was it pleasure? The young soldier thought he heard the other man laughing as he stalked away, while he himself was still trying to keep from vomiting. He wandered around until he found a wool tarp, and laid it over the medic. The young soldier felt his legs give a bit and he plopped down into a sitting position in front of the lifeless pile that was once a medic…once a living, breathing man. He just stared at it a bit and fingered the ground occasionally, not knowing quite what to do. Night came again and brought with it the ominous possibility of visions of specters.
This time, he propped himself up against the side of the dugout so he would not have to look at the dark doorway. Outside - beyond the darkness - were explosions and gunfire. Occasionally, the air would pop as a shell landed close to the trench and sent the lantern swinging violently and dirt cascading down. He was slowly growing accustomed to it.
When one fell close, he could feel himself shrink as if trying to disappear into his notebook. The shells jarred him as he wrote, rendering odd tangents and queues to what he wrote. No, he was not immune to percussion, used to it as he was.
Night brought merciful slumber.
The next day, the young soldier crawled out of the dugout and stood outside in the trench for a moment. He felt something electric in the air as if the wind had suddenly grown ghastly spikes and was sticking him in the head. Something, beyond the apathy of lethargy, was stirring. He looked down the trench and did not see the older soldier and could not decide whether to feel concern or contentment. He did not know whether it was him or the world that seemed to wobble slightly now.
He then noticed something that set the world steady again and sent a jolt of purpose through his tired bones. Lying strangely unattended at the end of the trench where the older soldier usually stood was the small rucksack, bloated with mysterious cargo. Shivers ran down his spine. He had wondered what was in it.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as he made his way towards the rucksack. As he did, the orchestra of war began to rouse from silence in the distant wood. The popping of gunfire was closely followed by the heavy percussion of artillery. It seemed to grow in intensity as he closed in on the bag. Just as the sound reached a dreadful crescendo, he felt the world jerk out from under him as a round exploded nearby. Gravity delivered him to the earth and robbed him of his vision and hearing and replaced it with a high-pitched ringing. He thought death had finally found him.
He floundered about in the trench for a few moments, though it felt like a few hours. The light of day tore streaks in the darkness in which he was enveloped. His sight slowly returned, and what he saw was a world that dipped and swayed violently. He continued to claw his way through the murkiness towards the rucksack.
Another artillery round dug into the earth and heaved him onto his back. He accepted and lay there, staring ahead at the sack that defied his reach. Though his vision was beginning to right itself, the world still swirled and sickened him. He saw the stillness of the trench. Dirt quietly rained down.
And there before him was the black figure, not two yards away. It was tall, and had some sort of avian face, its eyes black pits. The face was white, and it dumbfounded the soldier. The black figure raised a white hand, and the soldier - in one deft move - stood up, raised the butt of his rifle and brought it crashing against the beaked face. To his astonishment, red flower petals began to flow from the wound, from the crushed and cracked face of the black figure. It was all happening so slowly. The figure turned and fell, face down in the mud. The shelling receded.
The soldier saw before him his trench mate. He was face down and gurgling blood that mingled with the mud and filth of the trench. The gurgling slowed to a stop and he knew that he was dead. It was not horrible, indeed, the young soldier did not weep at the atrocity he had committed. He was dead to the world, silent. He was the perfect soldier, a perfect killer. No expression. No feeling. He was free from that all.
The shelling started again. But this time, he found within himself no concern or care. He did not even flinch at the thunder of artillery. He lay peacefully against the dirt of the trench. He heard gunfire and the grotesque and foreign shouts of the approaching enemy. He silently scrawled in his notebook as dirt fell on him. Eventually he stopped writing and a look of finality crossed his young and filthy face. He closed the notebook, laid it down gently, and reached over to his Mauser, slamming a clip into it before raising himself up and over the edge of the trench. For a second he just stared down the lifeless, smoky field. He then removed extra ammunition and placed it within easy grasp beside him. He did the same with the last potato masher. Their shouts grew louder and he knew they were running towards him. He pulled out a large bayonet and stabbed it into the dirt, its handle was close by and its blade was ready. The enemy was close now.
And they were coming to kill him.