World War Wolf
Fear is born of the unknown. Fear for what you can't see, fear for what you don't understand.
When the Dogs of War are howling at your doorstep, there is much you don't see, don't know and don't understand.
The year is 1942, and Switzerland finds itself in an unsettling peace. Living in a neutral paradise in the middle of a war torn continent comes at a great cost. Underhanded funds being poured out of the country with the pledge of non-interference has left the country scared and impoverished, but also safe.
At least from the outside.
His feet slap against the hard stone alley running faster and faster, beating almost as fast as his heart.
'What I am saying is that things are only what we perceive them as. This rifle I carry is merely a piece of metal until I use it for a purpose', said Private Jonas Strauss, walking down the candle lit streets of nighttime Geneva. A curfew had been in effect for years now, but still the vagabond rubble managed to find an illegal bar or card game to cause enough trouble to keep the Nightwatch busy.
A cat shrieked as the figure dashed past, panicked and gasping for breath. It hissed before disappearing into the shadows.
'But it's design gives it purpose. Clip, stock, trigger, barrel. If it looks like a gun, and works like a gun, then in all likelihood it is a gun. What else could it's purpose be?', asked Private Wilkes Bauer, walking side by side with his partner as they patrolled the silent streets. He wanted a policemen for a partner when he first joined the force and what he got was a philosopher. But still, their little talks did tend to spice up the uneventful nights.
'Well, it's heavy', Strauss said, transferring his bolt-action rifle to his left shoulder. 'Perhaps one day it'll make a good paper weight'.
A trashcan crashes to the ground, unable to resist the young juggernauts frantic charge. He plows through an old wooden fence, unable to see, and perhaps not caring, where he is going.
'Ha-ha, yes! That's a good one!', Bauer laughed. 'Perhaps I could tie some straw to it and give it to the wife'.
'Yes, you see. Everything is innocent until you imbue it with intent', said Strauss.
That was when a frantic, beaten, blood stained boy charged out from the shadows and took a laughing Bauer straight off his feet.
At first Strauss thought it was a dog, the boys clothes were so filthy and his hair was dark and matted, far too bulky for such a small head. He cried hoarsely through panicked breathing and clung defiantly to Bauer's uniform, rubbing blood and dirty all over it.
'Blessed Mother, calm down, Son! Settle yourself!', Bauer looked up, clearly not amused with the look on his partners face. 'Not funny, Strauss. I'm being attacked here. Some partner you are'.
The absurdity of the moment passed and Strauss stepped forward and grabbed the boy by the cuff of his shirt. Pulling on the boys clothing Strauss glimpsed what looked like deep cuts running horizontally down his back, his clothes both shredded and caked with blood.
'Easy, Son. Easy. What the Devil happened to you? Looks like the dogs have chewed you up and spit you out', Strauss said, pulling the boy back and bracing himself as his bony arms wrapped around his leg.
'No, worse than that. Real worse. Gotta run. Howling, coming for me', the boy stammered, before breaking out into a fresh round of heaving cries. 'I didn't know they would do that. It's not my fault. Not my fault!'.
Bauer rose to his feet, dusted himself off and noticed something lying on the ground next to were they the boy toppled him. He leaned down and retrieved a brown cloth sack rattled when he picked it up.
Strauss was trying to calm the boy who was blabbering out an incomprehensible monologue of childish gibberish.
'Howling, snarling, teeth in the darkness. Wolves, wolves in sheeps' clothing', the boy cried.
'There are no wolves in Geneva, boy. Oddly dressed or otherwise. Your safe now', Strauss said, gripping the boy's shoulder.
'I wouldn't be so sure about that', Bauer said, showing what he had found inside the cloth sack.
Strauss eyes went wide, 'Best we get him to the station', he said, looking around at the dark alleys and empty roadways. 'I think this night has become more that what it would seem'.
Washed, bandaged and wrapped in a heavy brown blanket, Oliver found himself in a strange room sitting before a large desk. A warm bowl of soup sat in his hands, there was no way he could convince himself to eat, but the warmth felt good. He had never been in the Police Headquarters before, thou he was sure that if he had the gall to rummage through the files and stacks of paper piled up on the desk and pinned to the timber panel walls, he'd find something about his friends, maybe even himself.
Maybe even a gun, wouldn't that be a trick.
But he dismissed the idea as soon as it came. He would need a lot more than a simple handgun to face what he'd seen tonight. The thought brought on a flurry of images.
A window, a dagger, an ugly smile, red curtains, blood and a merciless howl.
'Aargh', he said quietly, trying to shake out the thoughts. No, not even a platoon of soldiers with guns was enough. His only option was to run. Run until he could find a place to lock himself up and hide.
Then an idea struck.
'Sir, we have reports of disturbances down in the Lower Quarter. The War is creating a lot of tension and we simply don't have the manpower to keep the entire district under surveillance', said Private Jonas. For the past few months the man had run back and forth through the offices, corralling information and organising patrols to work the streets. Geneva was a little closer to the borders than some other cities and the closeness to the Axis forces showed on the populace. He was also a new husband and a more recently promoted father. The thought of raising children in a German Empire was all he needed to get through his 16 hour shifts.
'Then run a recruitment drive. Promise food supplies for anyone willing to take part in our Watchmen program. I don't care what our government thinks, we got damned Nazis crossing our borders like plagued rats. They're in the shadows, Private. Smuggling Intel and Weapons through the bars and hovels. We have the right of Martial Law, there are no warrants required to inspect properties. Understand?', his senior, Captain Crispin said.
'Yes, sir', Jonas said, shifting through the jumble of papers in his hands.
Crispin stepped forward and put a hand on the young Privates shoulder, settling his frantic organising. 'Relax, son. Louis and Garter just reported in from the 8th Quarter. Said it's as quiet as a mouse up there'. The mark of any good Captain is how well he knew the men under his watch. Their names, their families and where they lived. He could see the words take a calming effect on the young man who Crispin knew to be an excellent administrator when he wasn't distracted.
'Yes, sir. Thank you. There is also one last thing. This is the file we have on the boy', Jonas said handing the Captain a clipboard with a few typed files attached to it. 'Strauss and Bauer believe the boy may have saw some secret business. Said some brutal bastards must have tried to keep him quiet. He's in your office'.
'Humph, I understand your sympathies, Private. But I haven't the time to play babysitter. Patch him up and send him on his way. He's probably got folks worried sick about him', Crispin said.
'Sir', the Private said. 'They found Nazi gold coin in his pocket'.
That got his attention. Crispin was old enough to have sons about the same age as Jonas. Both of them were on the front lines defending their borders and he'd be damned if he would let his son's battle the Nazi threat while their old man simply went about business as usual. They would both fight, in their own ways.
'Very well, Private. Tell Strauss and Bauer they did good. I want them to go over where they found this boy, see if he left a trail. Have them report to me immediately if they find anything. I'll have a word with the boy'.
Jonas nodded, slipped his papers under his arm and shot off a crisp salute.
Before he was dismissed, Crispin opened the door to his office.
It was a mess, bits of paper flew everywhere, scattering all over the floor. Pictures were torn off the wall, the liquor cabinet was opened and the bottles scattered, a pot plant was up-rooted and standing at the desk was a scrawny boy with the Captains pistol, which he kept locked in his drawer, pointed at a typewriter.
The boy looked at the two men, who stared back with equal astonishment.
'Is this enough to get me arrested', the boy said.
Captain Crispin returned to his office after having spent ten minutes in the rec room rendering a small card table down to little more than splinters. He could still feel the red rage throbbing on his face but it was at least down to a manageable level. Although he still wasn't sure if seeing the dirty little rat of a boy would inspire a sudden act of violence. Looking around the outside of his office it seemed the same thought was shared by his fellow officers.
Lead by example, he could hear his fathers words in his head.
He took the handle to his office, took a deep breath and opened the door.
Jonas had done a good job cleaning up. It was quite possible that it was cleaner now than when he last left it. The boy, who surprisingly was not being straggled by him, sat in the chair with a warm bowl of soup in one hand and a handcuff linked from his chair to the other.
Whether it was the look he gave him or the possibility that the boy had more sense than otherwise suggested, he didn't say anything as Crispin closed the door behind him and walked over behind his desk. He checked the drawer which held his gun and found it locked. He eyed the boy suspiciously who did a good impression of a frozen rat before a large cat. How the kid manged to get past his lock was something he hoped to find out soon.
He sat down, still not having said a word and found the clipboard Jonas had passed him sitting perfectly waiting for him.
He picked up the file and started quickly reading, then without taking his eyes off it he spoke, 'With all the country's money being underhanded across the borders, a small thing like a bowl of soup is a luxury few of us can afford. Drink it or I'll drink it for you'.
He heard the handcuffs being tugged as the chain jingled against the wooden armrest.
'You'll have to make do with one hand'.
Crispin smiled as he heard the boy whelp as the hot liquid burnt his mouth. Not being able to hold the bowl and use a spoon made him drink too quickly.
Finally, Crispin put down the file and looked down at the boy before him. It was a smart design that the captains desk would be raised on a slight platform so that anyone sitting in the chair before it would bet looked down upon; for a small child even more so.
'Seems we've had a few reports of you before', Crispin said, tapping his finger against his desk. 'An aspiring little pickpocket named Oliver St. Donovan, huh? Well Oliver, I hate to tell you this but I'm a born and bred Catholic and I can tell you there is no St. Donovan'.
The boy looked down, unable to meet the Captains gaze, he reflexively tested the cuffs again as if simply tugging on them enough would magically compel them to unlock.
'They won't be coming off till I feel I've heard enough. Now are you the boy in this file or not?'
'Yes, or No I guess. Kind of', Oliver said.
Crispin raised a brow at the boy, hoping to invoke a look of impatience. 'You want to clarify that for me, Oliver'.
'Not S and T for Saint, mister. S and T for Street. Ollie of Donovan Street is what they call me'.
'And around here they call me Captain, you got that Ollie?', Crispin said, in the same tone he once used when ever his boys had forgotten their "excuse mes" and "yes, pleases".
'Yes sir. I mean, Captain sir', Ollie said, he swallowed then added. 'Sorry about your office, sir'.
Crispin breathed deep, forcing himself to let that issue slide.
'So, you're a street urchin', Crispin said with an air of disapproval. 'A lesser man would turn you out and dust his hands. So tell why I shouldn't Ollie. Tell me what sort of trouble you got yourself into'.
Crispin folded his hands together under his chin and watched as Ollie shook his head, either refusing to say or battling with some internal thoughts he couldn't voice.
'My men found you beaten like a stray dog with Nazi gold in your pockets, Ollie', Crispin said, noting how Ollie jerked when he said the "stray dog" remark. 'Thievery is one thing, but consorting with a hostile enemy of this country is a whole different matter. Now you tell me what you know, and I'll do my best to protect you, okay?'
Ollie was breathing hard now, Crispin could tell the words were just on the tip of his tongue so he just sat and watched as deliberations ticked over in the conflicted boy before him.
'I just wanna be safe', Ollie said, his voice compounding the image of a frightened boy in big trouble. 'Safe from them. Safe from the Monsters'.
'Tell me about the Monsters, Ollie and I'll do whatever you want', Crispin said, trying to instill a bit of kindness into the boy who wrecked his favorite pot plant.
'Okay, I'll tell you. I'll tell you, okay? But you gotta promise me. Promise me that when I'm done. You'll lock me up in the toughest cage you have and throw away the key'.
Ollie finished off his soup and tried to piece his story together before starting. He was grateful that the Policeman was tolerant enough not to throw him out on the street. When Ollie had first seen him walk into the office, he thought his little stunt to get himself locked up went a bit too far.
But Ollie was not stupid. He knew that he was still in the policeman's office meant that he knew something they wanted to hear. So if he told them his story, maybe they'll find a way to protect him. Maybe even stop the Monsters who he knew were after him.
If it was even possible to stop them, the Police where the only ones who could. Or the Army.
'Okay, it all goes like this...
I'm a street orphan, that much is right. But I don't know if that paper says just how hard it is living on the street. Once upon a time begging on the street, provided you know the when and where of were to ask, was enough to get by on. A coin here could get you old veggies from the grocery for a week. A coupon there was enough to bride bigger kids from beating you up. It was tough, but you could get by. Then the War got really bad. More and more people started filling the streets and the only kids with a chance of survival were those who got work or those who learnt a good trick.
'So, you became a pickpocket. Snatching wallets and purses from drunkards and dipsy fluffers', Crispin said, going through a list of filed complaints, all outlining a description that roughly matched Ollie's likeness. 'Seems that sort of entrepreneuring would garner a lot of business interest'.
Ollie looked at the Captain like a curious puppy.
'You got a lot of attention from people wanting to give you work', he clarified.
'Oh yes. There is this place. A bar...
The Sleepy Hollow. The owner there has a funny name I can't pronounce. But the other kids, the Pinchers like me, we call him Whiskers on account of his fuzzy moustache. Anyway Jimmy of Clarence Avenue said that Whiskers lost a son fighting in another country somewhere and he takes us in on the stormy nights. He helps us, feeds us sometimes, but he also helps us find work. As long as we give him a 60% cut of what ever we earn.
Strangers come into his place sometimes looking for people with light fingers. They always want something pinched like some shiny collars from an old woman or the keys to some place or another.
It was good work and it paid well. Then the other day some scary men showed up at the Sleepy Hollow. Even Whiskers was afraid of them. One of the Pinchers told me they saw him getting beaten by a couple of strong arms and after that Whiskers let them stay in one of his hiding dens, the same ones we used to sleep in when it got cold. The next day Whiskers came to me, he was all beaten and shaky; it made we worry for him. He said that he told the scary men that I was the best of the Pinchers and they said they liked to meet me. I was scared, but I didn't want them hurting Whiskers if I said no, so I went and I met High Eyes.
'High Eyes? Do you mean someone wearing glasses?', Crispin said, jotting down notes on a writing pad next to his clipboard.
'No, we called him High Eyes because he said all his "I's" in a really high tone', Ollie said, who seemed more relaxed now, getting the story out of his head.
High "I's", Crispin thought. Good definition for the German accent.
'Okay Ollie. What did you do for High Eyes?'
High Eyes told me to break into a building down near Cornelius st, a place with a lot of fancy stuff, what do you call them, museums? Anyway, I can't pronounce the name of the place but I managed to climb a tree and pry open a window with an old shoe horn. Since I'm small and everything, I managed to slip into the place without being seen. And I found what the scary men were looking for. It was a shiny dagger that had a bunch of funny pictures on the handle made of stone. It was heavy too, and real old-looking. But I didn't care much for it. I just stuck it in my bag and high-tailed it out of there. Then I went back to the Sleepy Hollow and gave the dagger to High Eyes
'So, a museum on Cornelius st, that would be the Consortium of Ancient Artifacts'.
The Sargent clamped his hands together under his chin, trying to recall the last time he had ever been to that museum.
What in the world would a bunch of Nazi rats want with an old artifact from a museum, he thought.
'Can you describe for me what High Eyes looks like?', he asked as he continued to scribble down notes.
Ollie knew this question would come up and he wrestled with the terrified part of his brain that was already trying to forget everything that happened. he slapped the empty soup bowl against his knew, aggravating a deep bruise there to help him focus.
'He was scary looking', Ollie said as the first thought came to mind. 'Living on the street you get into the habit of reading people. You figure out the nice ones from the bad ones. But High Eyes, he was the sort you always avoid. The crazy ones whose bodies tend to jerk from time to time and never seem to blink'.
'That's good Ollie. But is there anything you could say that would let us pick him out from a crowd?', Crispin asked.
'He's old, like Julius Ceaser old. And he wears a uniform under this big cape with a stiff collar. And his got a lot of shines on his. Rings, cane and a shiny tooth as well. Oh, and glasses, big, round glasses that make his eyes look too big'.
Crispin wrote it all down, suspected age, appearance and the possibility of the man being a commander for a small band of like-minded hate mongers. In the morning he would have Jonas hand out copies of his profile to all the Watchmen. With luck they'll have the bastard in a cage or on a noose by this time tomorrow.
'Well Ollie. I think you earned yourself a little freedom. How bout we unlock that cuff?', Crispin said, opening his draw and removing a small ring of keys.
'No, there's more. I...I haven't told you the worst part yet', Ollie said.
Crispin paused, noticing the urgency in the boy's voice. He placed the keys down on his desk, 'Okay Ollie, tell me what happened next'.
It was really dark by the time I returned and most of the drinkers at the Sleepy Hollow had gone home. High Eyes was waiting for me and Whiskers was behind the bar serving him and his goons some drinks. I was scared, and I could tell Whiskers was too by the way he wiped each glass about a dozen times before putting it away. High Eyes took the dagger and the way he looked at it was like, like a dollmaker and a good bit of timber. He looked lost in his head the moment he touched it, didn't even thank me or anything. He just disappeared into the backrooms. Then one of his goons threw me my coin and told me to get lost.
I almost did, and if I could, I wish I could go back tell myself to run for the door and never look back. But I was curious, and stupid. I was so, so stupid. Whiskers tried to stop me but I was too quick. I dashed into the corridors leading to the backrooms and locked the door before Whiskers could get to me. There was a sound, like bad singing over and over, coming from one of the rooms. I cracked the door and there was a bunch of candles burning behind all these red curtains. I couldn't see anything, just rough silhouettes and I could hear High Eyes talking in some funny language. There weren't any guards to stop me so i snuck in and peaked past the curtains.
What I saw, was, well i still don't know what they were doing.
There was a man who I hadn't seen before lying on a table without any clothes on. His arms and legs were tied to the corners and he had a gag through his mouth. He was screaming, or at least trying to, while three big strong arms goons stood around him, one of them was holding the dagger above his head in two hands. High Eyes was there too standing on the right side of the naked man. He was reading from this really big, old looking book. I got no idea what he was saying, but his voice just kept getting higher and higher until...
The soup bowl dropped to the floor, shattered. Ollie froze, unable to force anymore words to come out of his mouth. Crispin just stared at him with rapt attention. If nothing else the boy could tell one hell of a story. It wasn't until Ollie stopped at that suspenseful moment that the Captain realised he was sitting on the edge of his seat.
He repositioned himself and said, 'Ollie'. The boy didn't respond so he spoke louder, 'Ollie! What happened next?'
Ollie snapped back, he was in the Police Station where it was safe, not trapped in the chaos of that red curtained backroom.
'They killed him...'
High Eyes ad singing reached a crazy pitch and the goon with the dagger plunged it into the naked mans stomach. I almost squealed, grabbing my mouth just in time to catch it. The man on the table shook violently for a few seconds, the evil men just watched. They looked excited until the man stopped moving, then they looked kinda nervous, or not so sure of themselves. Then the naked man screamed, no he didn't scream. God i can't say this, but he , he howled, like the Hounds of Hell.
The evil men stepped back, i wrapped myself up in the curtains, unable to move, to terrifeid to even close my eyes. The naked man on the table began to change. His legs jerked up, then out, then his knees snapped backwards at the knee. There was no blood but the sound was sickening. Instead his body just grew bigger, more bulky. It wasn't until one of the goons stepped back from the table that i aw his head. This time I was sure I did squeal, because it wasn't a mans head, not anymore. It was like a giant dogs head, with big jaws and teeth, pointy ears and hair all over. The bad men all stepped back except for High Eyes, he just laughed, watching the Monster grow bigger and bigger as it snarled and howled louder and louder. Then the first strap broke and one on the bad guys heads ripped right off his shoulders.
It was so sudden, so brutal. My body finally realised what was happening and I ran for it. But I got caught up in all the curtains and I got all tangled up. The bad men screamed and there were bodies moving everywhere. Shadows and screaming and blood whipping across the curtains in dark streaks. It was wrong, it was all wrong. And through it all I could still hear High Eyes laughing.
Then something hit me, something huge pin me to the ground and started lashing at me. It hurt so bad and I could feel it's coppery breath burning my skin through the curtains. I thought I was going to die, I thought that was it for me. I was done for, a goner, monster chow.
Then the door banged open and these big thunderous booms rocked through the room. Suddenly the weight was off me and I manged to fight my way through the curtains to find Whiskers and a smoking shotgun. He grabbed me by the arms, looked me in the eyes and said, "Run!" So I did, I just ran down the corridor, through the open door way and out into the Sleepy Hollow. I heard Whiskers scream just before I reached the door. But i didn't stop, i couldn't. I just kept running, and running. through the streets, down the alleys, through garbage, until I crashed into a police men, and...and...well. Here I am...'
'Dear God', was all Crispin could say. Ollie had reduced himself down to the quivering mess he was when he first arrived at the station. reliving the story had not been the burden lifting release he had hoped for. it had just reminded him of all the horror his scared mind was trying so hard to forget. In truth, if not for the boy obvious anguish, Crispin would've dismissed such a tale as mere childish fantasy. But now he had now clue what to make of it.
'Ollie, this Monster. To you believe it might still be out there?', Crispin asked.
Just then the walls of the Police Station resonated like a railway car as the sound of a dozen ominous howls racked through the station. In their wake, the entire building felt dead silent which chilled Crispin deep to the bone.
'Yes', Ollie whispered in the most fragile of voices. 'But it's too late. They've found me...'