Archive for February, 2011

A Revisionist History?

February 15, 2011

From Osiris Flint #19: Der Trenchfoot!
By Percy G Fickleweather (Gaslight Books, 1928)

III

1917

“Wars are best fought by young men, Osiris. We all know this. Strapping young soldiers, with their whole lives ahead of them, have no regrets to slow them down or foment second-guessing.” Percy chewed on the end of his pipe.

“Then what does this have to do with me? I’m well into my middle age,” Osiris paced back and forth in Percy’s office. He had been called in earlier to discuss matters of national security. When he arrived, he found every inch of Percy’s office covered in propaganda posters. Osiris’s masked face was featured on every one of them. He was buying war bonds, and clobbering a gang of Austro-Hungarian thugs, and saving a grandmother from a spike-helmeted menace. Osiris was no fool and knew exactly where the conversation was headed, so he beat it to the punch. Percy, however, had prepared a sound counterargument.

“Listen: the Government has decided it would boost morale to have a masked hero in the trenches, fighting alongside the rest of the doughboys. And you are Osiris Flint, the Government Man of Action!. Technically you’re already an enlisted man. One of theirs to send wherever they see fit.”

“But Perce–”

“Osiris, they really won’t take no for an answer. This is your next assignment. I mean, they’ve already gone and reconfigured your standard outfit. They’ll suit you up in a modified Army uniform, complete with olive drab greatcoat and mask. You’ll look dashing, just like the fellow in all of these posters,” Percy couldn’t help but smile as he pointed around the room.

So Osiris begrudgingly took the assignment.

A week later, as Flint was boarding an airship to depart for the front, Fickleweather apprised him of the true situation. “Osiris, you need to know what it is you’re really going to be up against over there. Yes, your presence will certainly boost morale. And morale is important, both in the trenches and on our own side.”

Osiris spun his index finger around in a circle, “Get to it Percy, this ship is about to leave.”

“Ah-More important, however, is the doing away with your German counterpart: Der Trenchfoot.”

“My what?”

“Your counterpart. Is it any surprise that other nations might have gotten wind of our Man of Action Program? I mean, after your little skirmish in the Amazon? US and Allied intelligence could scrape up very little about the German soldier.”

“Some intelligence.”

Percy frowned, “Osiris, please. All we know is that he’s modeled after you, and he is ruthless. The rest is little more than trench mythology, stories embellished and told while huddled around a flickering lantern. They say he has eyes of fire. And that he’s seven foot tall and hewn from stone. Take those last things with a grain of salt. But expect the worst. A man raised on sausage and sauerkraut certainly won’t be meek.”

Osiris was seated on the airship and had strapped himself in, “I’m assuming a bullet between the eyes will suffice. It’s ok to kill this man, right?”

“Quite. The Government needs you find and eliminate Der Trenchfoot. The man’s death will no doubt mark the turning point in the war, and shift the balance in the Allies’ favor. Kill Der Trenchfoot and you’ll win us the war. Nothing to it.”

***

“Kill Der Trenchfoot and you’ll win us the war. Nothing to it.” Percy’s words had bounced around in Osiris’s head since they were uttered: They accompanied Osiris in the airship across the Atlantic. They parachuted with Osiris behind enemy lines. And they were present now, as he elbowed through fragrant, foreign mud. “Nothing to it, eh Percy?” Osiris spat over his shoulder, “Easy to say when you’re a desk jockey in unoccupied New Amsterdam. No mud on your lapels, is there?”

It hadn’t stopped raining since Osiris had dropped. The ground was a thick stew of churned up soil, discarded personal effects, and stagnant water. He had parachuted in behind a thick copse of trees, several hundred yards West of a large bunker. That bunker, if Percy’s intelligence was correct, was the base of operations for Der Trenchfoot. The plan laid out for Osiris was straightforward enough: gain access to the bunker and release a grenade inside. Nothing pretty, but it would hopefully ensure the demise of the target.

There were sentries posted at the cardinal points of the bunker, which meant that Osiris had to slither, rather than saunter, his way to the squared mound of sodden sandbags. He’d also have to incapacitate each sentry, unless they happen upon their fallen comrades.

The mud served to Osiris’s advantage, as by the time he reached the bunker, he was so covered that he was indistinguishable from his surroundings. Less than five feet from where Osiris lay, the Western sentry paced back and forth. Osiris had faced his fair share of underlings before, and this sentry hardly ranked among the more formidable: He was lanky–hardly more than ten stones–and carried his rifle with an air of uncertainty. Osiris pulled a rock from the muck around him and lobbed it at the bunker wall above and behind the sentry.

As the sentry spun and pointed his rifle at the sandbags, Osiris rose swiftly and lunged at the German. Osiris wrapped a firm hand around the man’s mouth as they crashed forward. The sentry’s helmeted head struck the ground with muffled thump. Osiris pressed the man’s face heavily into the mud and did not relent until the body had ceased to struggle. Osiris then slung the sentry’s rifle over his shoulder and checked the body for any other weapons, but found none. He then proceeded to the bunker’s South wall.

As luck would have it, the Southern sentry was relieving himself and  failed to notice Osiris when he crept around the bunker’s corner. Osiris unslung the rifle from his shoulder. Without any ceremony, he slammed the rifle’s butt into the base of the German’s neck. The man grunted and crumpled to the ground. “Caught you with your pants down, eh Jerry?” Osiris muttered as he pulled a trench knife from the sentry’s belt. The knife was vicious in appearance, with serrations on each side of the blade. Osiris dropped the knife into a coat pocket.

On the East wall, he found himself face to face with the Eastern sentry. This German was stouter than the other sentries. He smiled at Osiris’s appearance, as though he relished the respite from the monotony of sentry duty. He leaned his rifle against the bunker’s wall and, crouching slightly, beckoned to Osiris with both hands.

Osiris moved in quick and threw an uppercut, but the sentry feinted and caught his arm. The German chuckled as he dislocated Flint’s shoulder with a sick pop. Osiris groaned, but bit into his bottom lip to keep quiet. He planted a boot into the German’s chest and forced himself free. The German stumbled, but did not fall. The man continued to smile wickedly.

With his right arm hanging uselessly at his side, Osiris charged at the sentry. The German met the charge, and wrapped him in a crushing bear hug. Osiris was lifted in the air as the man squeezed his arms tight around the waist. Flint pounded at the man’s back with his left hand, but it had little effect. He kicked with his legs, but the stout German did not even flinch from the blows. The sentry muttered in German as his thick arms tightened, threatening to snap Osiris’s spine.

Osiris clenched his teeth and wheezed weakly in the man’s grip. He struggled his left hand down into the pocket of his greatcoat and pulled out the trench knife. He raised the knife over his head and stuck the blade into the German’s back. The German cried out, but did not release his arms. Osiris stabbed again and again, the knife ripping and tearing the sentry’s flesh with each thrust. The knife dripped a dark scarlet. The German’s hold on Osiris’s waist was relinquished with a gurgled retch. The sentry slumped against Flint, and he pushed the body away. He knelt and wiped the knife on the German’s uniform, then slipped it back into his coat.

“Nothing to it,” Osiris grunted as he set his shoulder back into place. “Curious that the last sentry didn’t hear our wrestling match,” He looked over his shoulder cautiously as he advanced on the North wall. He drew his revolver and stepped around the bunker’s final corner.

The Northern sentry stood before the door of the bunker. His rifle was raised in anticipation of Osiris. Flint dropped to one knee and fired once. The bullet found its mark in the man’s forehead. The German’s rifle went off as he fell backwards, the muzzle flash erupting upwards into the rainy sky. Osiris stepped over the fallen man and grabbed the bunker’s door. He stepped back from the doorway as he swung the door open. The chatter of machine gun fire pounded from inside the bunker, and round after round flew harmlessly into the night.

Osiris fished the grenade from an inner pocket of his greatcoat. It was a small affair, hardly larger than his fist, but Percy had assured him that it contained sufficient explosives to eliminate Der Trenchfoot. The machine gun continued to fire through the open door. Osiris pulled the grenade’s pin and lobbed it around the door, into the bunker. He kicked the door closed and ran away sloppily through the mud. The machine gun continued to fire through the closed door.

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In the Trenches

February 10, 2011

Men rotated in and out of duty, but Flint never left the front. He stayed there, wearing his mask, watching men die. Sometimes they lay in the ankle deep mud for days before they were carted out of the trench. From time to time the call of “GAS!” would come yelling down the earthen hallways. Flint would be quick with his gas mask, cinching it so tight behind his head that his eyes felt as though they would burst from their sockets. The white or beige gas came creeping in over the lip of the trench, like a cat might slink along a wall, and it hung in the air for hours. Once, and thankfully only once, Flint had watched two men put their masks on incorrectly. They began to cough and sputter as mucus ran from their mouths and noses and eyes. Then the mucus turned to dark, syrupy blood. They twitched and shuddered and collapsed in the muck.

And always, the exploding of mortars and the pop-whiz of bullets.

There came a day when Flint’s entire squad had been rotated out. He, however, remained. The lone fixture, more like the steadfast pilings that held up the walls of the trench than an actual soldier. He had only once ventured a glance above the trench: barren and scorched earth stretched in all directions. Between the enemy trench and his own lay coils upon coils of barbed wire. Overhead, beyond the low-lying clouds, he could hear the whirs of aeroplanes.

He slid back into the trench, knowing that on the other side were men who were just like him, watching their compatriots die by unseen hands.

The whistling of the falling mortars called through the night, and Flint’s sleep was fitful. Phosphorous flares soared into the ruddy night and bloomed brightly for minutes on end, casting the world below into a sickly yellow so that every man looked waxy as a corpse. It didn’t rain much, but when the rain did fall, it came hard.

………….

While Flint had been at the front for months, these new soldiers were fresh, lively. They were, however, all familiar. By some strange trick of fate, Flint’s section of the trench was soldiered by his foes. Flint couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps they had been put together on purpose, some sort of cruel joke. There in the trench were The Great Escape and Dire Wolf, The Bowery Boys and Turn of the Century, Andrew Carnage and Bank Job. And, cruelest of all, the Sphinx. They stood before him, faces shaved, and suited up in Uncle Sam’s olive drab regulation uniforms. “This has to be some sort of joke. Some cruel parody. Am I sleeping?” Flint was livid.

“Afraid not, Osiris,” said Escape, “We’ve all been slogging in these trenches for too long for this to be a dream.”

“How long have you been out here?” Flint spun the cylinder of the revolver in his hands.

“Seems like months now. Last time I saw a calendar it was June,” Bank Job spoke up. He squatted in the mud, testing the sturdiness of the trench’s wall.

“And you’ve been together?”

“Not until right now,” the Sphinx muttered from the back. “Yes, I’m thinking what you’re thinking as well, hero: someone has arranged for this.”

Flint spat into the mud. He raised his revolver at the Sphinx, “Lucky I don’t kill you where you stand.”

“Put the enmity aside, hero. There’s time for that later. We’re all wearing the same colors at the moment. And I’m fairly sure that they would love us to be at each others’ throats right now.”

“What are you getting at, Sphinx?” Dire Wolf stepped between Flint and the Sphinx, visibly uncomfortable around the revolver.

“What I’m getting at, Mr. Wolfowitz, is there is clearly someone pulling our strings. It’s no coincidence that we’re all here together: the lone hero and his ten, deadly antagonists. If any of us dies, we will be doing a favor for the US Government. We’ll be cleaning up their own mess for them.”

“What mess?” Wolf’s eyes betrayed his confusion. The other men were crowding around, trying to hear the conversation over the sounds of battle that loomed overhead.

The Sphinx gestured to all of them, “Us. The Men of Act–”

A mortar hit the lip of the trench above them. The Sphinx’s words were lost in a shower of mud and metal. The dirt fell heavily upon all of them. Flint gasped as the weight pummeled into chest. His legs were squished and trapped below the earth that piled onto him. In the grey light, Flint struggled to make out any other survivors. He twisted and pulled but his legs would not come loose. The whizzing and popping of bullets was louder now. And closer. He laid himself as flat as he could, hoping to blend in with the dirt around him.