September 21st, 1945.
It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, since I got to hear your laugh, since I got to see you smile. I bet you’re still as gorgeous as when I met you.
Sadly I can’t say the same about me.
Abigail, you have no idea how much I hate writing this, but I don’t want to shock you when you see me in the flesh. I’ve been wounded very seriously, though I haven’t really let it sink in yet. I’m pretty sure that I’m close to a breakdown, so I need to get this all out of my system.
I was with three others: McKamey, Corrigan and Bennett. All three were older and more experienced than I was, having all been some of the first boys to sign on willingly, whereas I got drafted a few years later.
McKamey was the oldest of our group, and he took it upon himself to teach me how to survive under fire. I never would have made it past the first weeks if it hadn’t been for him.
Corrigan was the second oldest of the group, and had been one of the first in the trenches. He had done some incredible things, but the stuff he saw while in the trenches changed him. He was a silent, morose man and I never did learn much about him beyond his name and where he had been stationed.
You know how there are some people that just rub you the wrong way? Bennett was one of those guys. He was from some well-to-do family and, if I had to bet money, he had probably tried to bribe the drafters to let him stay in America. I’ve never met a more nagging, self-centered son of a bitch in my life.
And I was stuck with him, and we clashed constantly over the most trivial things.
But, thankfully, I had McKamey’s company and he was a decent guy. He told good jokes, shared his stash of cigars with us and acted as the leader of our little band, which I’m sure ruffled Bennett’s feathers.
You remember the last letter I sent you, the one where I said that I’d be coming home a few weeks early? I’m sad to say that I’ve been delayed, although it was for a good reason.
You see, even though Hitler was dead and most of his empire had fallen, there were still some rats in the rubble and some of us were called back to provide some pest control.
We were on the trail of Johann Hess and some of his toadies. Hess, a mean son-of-a-bitch Nazi if ever there was one, the kind of man who could smile at you like he was your friend, shoot you in the gut as he did and not ever take his eyes off yours.
Hess was one of the last remaining scumbags in Hitler’s higher echelon, from what I was told, it sounded like he was a member of Hitler’s occult group, the Thule Society.
I didn’t know much about it when we went in, but now I’ve learned that Hitler was obsessed with various forms of magic; alchemy, voodoo, pagan rites, even the Jewish Kabbalah that some say Rabbi Loeb of Prague used to make a golem. Pretty fucking crazy, right?
I also found out that the Thule Society had been conducting global investigations in countries that they deemed “places of interest”—Africa, Haiti, Greenland, Scotland and Saudi Arabia to be precise.
Looking back, I don’t think that knowing any of this beforehand would have helped, I’m not the most historically versed gent in the world and I wouldn’t have cared or remembered about the info, all I was concerned with at the time was bagging Hess.
But I can’t stop myself from wondering if things might’ve gone differently if my comrades and I had even the slightest inkling as to what we were up against.
We were crossing through the Vishka forest, a pretty big place, big enough so that it seems like it goes on forever. It’s filled with the tallest trees that I’ve ever seen and it was so damn quiet in there. I never saw a single fox, or rabbit, or bird while I was in there and the others didn’t see anything either.
We had been in the forest for about a day, and the sun was going down. It was getting colder and the sounds of animals were getting louder as we went deeper.
“Why can’t that stupid kraut just surrender? We’ve been here too damned long,” whined Bennett, earning him a glare from McKamey.
“Shut it, Bennett,” he growled, “We might actually catch him if you kept quiet.”
Bennett scowled, but did as he was told, that was another thing about him that I didn’t like, he was a coward, and cowards have no place in the trenches or on the battlefield.
He stayed silent until we set up camp. The spot we picked was a small hill, surrounded by trees on all sides and littered with old stones. that jutted up from the ground in such a way as to provide excellent cover should we come under fire.
I had unrolled my bedroll, and was just beginning to lie down, when I heard it: a long, low, whistling howl that seemed to split the night like a missile through a cloud cover.
Each of us started and turned out heads in the direction of the howl. The sound had come from the North of the hill, which was densely wooded, save for a clearing that was big enough to be seen from our vantage point.
The howl died down quickly, but none of us moved or spoke for a good few minutes.
The one who broke the silence was Bennett, who asked, “What the hell was that?” in a low, trembling voice; I could see the desire to run away on his face as clear as day.
“I don’t know, but it didn’t sound like any wolf I’ve ever heard,” muttered Corrigan, his hand straying to his sidearm.
“D’you think Hess and his goons were the ones making those sounds?” I asked McKamey.
The old soldier opened his mouth to reply, but he was interrupted by the sounds of distant gunfire. The racket stopped—or was cut off—abruptly, and the suddenness of it made sure that any hopes that we had of getting some shut-eye were dashed.
For the next few hours we sat crouched behind some of the stones, our guns at the ready. My grip on my rifle was so tight it was a wonder I was able to uncurl my fingers after the first hour had passed.
The feeling of dread that hung over the camp was like fog, I could taste it in the back of my throat like bad medicine.
I’ve learned to be wary the hard way, Abigail. I learned from watching my comrades get cut down in ambushes, from waiting in muddy trenches and listening to the biplanes roar overhead, from seeing the shadowed SS soldiers pouring out from their tanks like jackbooted ants.
I felt like I was under attack, but there were no bullets or bombs or… anything. I couldn’t even hear the birds in the trees, all that I could hear was the wind sighing through the trees.
My fellow soldiers were looking itchy, too. They fingered their triggers or plucked at their fatigues restlessly. Eventually McKamey and Corrigan ventured a ways down the hill to gather firewood while Bennett and I watched their backs.
Once the fire was lit, I let its warmth loosen my joints and tried to calm down as best I could. But the unease was still coiled around my heart like a python.
I decided to get up and pace the camp, letting the fire’s glow illuminate my path. It was this glow that led me to notice something about our surroundings that I hadn’t picked up on before: the stones weren’t spaced naturally, there was an artificiality about their positions and distance apart that I hadn’t noticed before.
The stones were arranged in a pattern.
I paced it out and drew a mental picture, and what I got the impression of was that the stones formed a crude spiral, with our campfire resting in the center.
Something about that mental picture made me shudder. I don’t know what it was, but it ratcheted up the tension in my body quickly.
I decided to stop looking around and return to the campfire.
I was just getting to the point where I could feel the heat on my cold cheeks when we all heard the sounds of panicked gasping and heavy footfalls crashing through the undergrowth.
We barely had time to ready our guns before a thin, wild-eyed man leaped out from the darkness and fell to the ground, panting and wheezing. In the fire’s light, I could see the black cloth coat, the muddy jackboots and the silver swastika pinned to his lapel.
Then the man raised his head and said, in thickly accented English, “Please, for the love of God, protect me.”
We all stared at him and recognized the man to be Johann Hess, the man we were after.
Bennett was, surprisingly, the first to move forwards.
“Well, well, well, looks like we don’t have to find the kraut, ‘cause the kraut found us!”
He laughed at his own joke, but the rest of us were too stunned to respond, not just by Hess’ sudden appearance, but by the animal terror that burned behind his eyes in place of the cold, uncaring gaze that I had seen in his photos.
“You have to get me out of here!” he cried again, getting to his knees, “It won’t be long before-”
Bennett slugged him in the face with a growl of, “Shut it, you Nazi piece of shit! We’re gonna get you outta here, alright, but we ain’t takin’ you to Tahiti. You’re going away for a long damn time.”
“I don’t care!” shouted Hess, ignoring the blood running down his face, “It’s coming!”
“What’s coming?” asked McKamey, intervening before Bennett could hit him again. He crouched next to the terrified man and repeated the question in a calm voice.
Hess let out a whimper and I was shocked to see actual tears in his eyes.
“We were running from you people.” began Hess, “There is a place, not far from here, that’s a designated bunker, only a select few of us know about it. It’s near the clearing…”
“Who else is with you?” asked McKamey, his voice still soft.
“Aurich Gimmel, Arnold Kraus and Emil Toht,” said Hess, his voice still teetering near hysteria.
“Where are they?” asked Corrigan, sounding impatient.
The Nazi shook his head, “Dead. All dead. It took them.”
A stillness fell over the camp the moment those words left his lips and I felt the hair on the back of my neck prickle.
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” asked Bennett, trying to mask his growing fear and failing.
Hess’ breathing began to quicken and he raised his dirty, cut-covered hand to his mouth and bit at his knuckles. I watched as he sobbed brokenly through his teeth.
“We w-were at the bunker,” he whimpered, “We didn’t know that it was a place of interest until later. It was built near an old graveyard, one that was here before the Christians came, a pagan burial ground.”
Bennett started to interrupt, but a harsh “shh” from McKamey silenced him.
“Some of the men who had been there previously had been excavating it.” continued Hess, his eyes glazing over as his hand dropped limply to the ground.
“They had found several items of personal interest to the Fuhrer: old grimoires, ceremonial daggers and… and an iron coffin. An iron coffin inscribed with old runes and held shut with chains. I had been there previously and had overseen some of the work before I was called back.”
Hess swallowed thickly and shuddered. I could feel the cold begin to nip at my fingertips and I shivered.
“When we returned we found that everyone in the bunker was dead. They had been... t-torn apart like-like some wild animal had been at them. And there were bullet casings everywhere. A whole field of them, but we didn’t find any extra bodies. There weren’t even any footprints in the blood, all of the men had been killed before they could even run!”
Off in the distance, I thought I heard something moving through the trees.
“And... and the coffin... it was open and... and it was empty,” continued Hess, “Then we heard it, moving in the darkness. Something fast and not human, an untermenschen, but... not.”
He was silent for a moment and it took some prodding to get him talking again.
“Gimmel tried to fire on it, but it caught his head in its hands and… crushed it like it was made of clay! We ran, but it caught Toht, then Kraus, and it dragged them away.”
“To do what?” asked McKamey, his face stony.
“Why are you indulging him?” snarled Bennett, “He’s lying to us, just shoot him!”
“Bennett, shut up.” said Corrigan, his voice steely.
Bennett rounded on him and his hand went to his gun, “Try something, you stupid, cowardly shitheel.”
Corrigan narrowed his eyes and took a step forwards, “Put the gun away, rich boy, then we’ll see who’s a coward.”
Their bickering grew in volume and intensity, but my eyes were still fixed on Hess, who was shaking like a whipped dog hearing the sound of a belt. His wide eyes glanced from one end of the camp to the other, hardly blinking.
McKamey stood up and went over to intercede, so I was the only one within hearing distance to hear what Hess whispered next.
“The Revenant. The undying ghoul. They released it, now it's after me, to take me and eat my flesh, to take my soul and live even longer. To live forever and keep eating. Untoten. It knows my name… it knows my name…”
Somewhere close by, a twig snapped. Then the cold grew worse, spreading deeper into my bones like liquid.
The wind picked up and the fire guttered, dimmed, then flared upwards like a spear of light.
The voice came up into the camp from all sides, coming in on the cold breeze that stirred the thin branches of the trees and made the leaves rustle. Despite this noise, the voice was still distinct above all else.
It was chilling. The voice was so lonely, and yet so angry, it made me want to run as fast as I could away from the camp.
“You see?!” shouted Hess, getting to his feet and pointing to the shadows that lay just outside of our campfire, “It’s here, it came for Kraus, it came for Gimmel, it came for Toht and now it’s coming for me, mein Gott in Himmel it’s almost here!”
Corrigan grabbed the Nazi and threw him to the ground as the rest of us rose to our feet and readied our guns, training them at the deep darkness around us.
There was a moment of silence in which I could hear nothing but my own heartbeat, then the voice called out again, closer, but still impossible to pinpoint.
Bennett, still hot from his argument, was the first to fire. Letting off a spray of lead that was swallowed up by the darkness. Bennett kept firing until his gun clicked empty, and by that time he was soaked in sweat and his eyes were wild.
The voice was even closer, and it seemed to me that all of the loneliness and anger that I had heard before had transformed into something else: It sounded hungry.
“Come out and fight, you coward!” roared Bennett, searching his pockets for more ammo.
Just as he had pulled out a handful of bullets, and was starting to reload, a figure shambled out from the deep shadows and came into the light.
Have you ever seen one of those dime-store horror comics before? The ones that have zombies or living corpses on the covers? Those illustrated monsters are as close as I can get to a good comparison of the creature that came into our camp that night.
It was tall, and dressed in tattered rags which flapped around its gaunt body in the wind. Its skin was all dried out, brown like leather, and wrinkled like old newspaper. Its lips were shriveled away into nothing, and its teeth were white, far too white to belong to something that had been dead for so long.
The rest of its face was skeletal, caved in in some spots and I could see tiny ribbons of fungus in the holes where bone had been.
It didn’t have eyes either, just two deep, dark sockets that stared ahead into space. But, despite this, I got the feeling that it could see fine.
It took everyone a minute for what we were seeing to fully sink in, and by then the Revenant had already made its way into the heart of the camp.
Bennett was the first one to scream, and his screaming jolted us out of or horrified stupor. McKamey, Corrigan and I all aimed our guns at the thing and fired, the bullets tore through the Revenant in tiny flurries of dust, but it kept coming.
“Hessss…” it said, opening its lipless maw and pointing a withered finger at the cowering nazi, who broke out into what sounded like a prayer.
Corrigan was the first to run out of bullets, and when that happened he opted to try attacking it with his bowie knife. He unsheathed it and ran at the Revenant, bringing it up and then down in a deadly arc as he did.
The Revenant caught the knife with one hand and tore it free from Corrigan’s grip. The sound of his fingers snapping like sticks echoed across the camp.
Corrigan howled in agony and fell to his knees, and I could see the blood gushing from the pulped mess that had once been his hand.
Then the Revenant grabbed Corrigan by the scruff, hauled him up off the ground with one hand, and threw him, still screaming, into the fire.
I can still smell his hair burning.
Bennett was the next to die. The Revenant simply lashed out with one hand and broke the poor bastard’s neck.
That left me, McKamey and Hess.
The Revenant moved closer, still hissing Hess’ name. McKamey fired off a few more shots at close range, but the bullets still had no effect on it. So he reached for one of his emergency flares, probably hoping to light the living corpse on fire.
But Hess moved quicker. He reached around and unsheathed McKamey’s knife, then he held it to his throat.
Turning to me, he barked, “Stop that monster or your friend dies!”
What could I do? I couldn’t let my only real friend in Godforsaken country die. So I reached out and took the flare from his belt, then I lit it up and faced the undead monster.
The Revenant was close enough now for me to see the atrophied muscles beneath its leathery hide move and contract. Its breath fell upon me and it was so cold it burned.
Then it opened its mouth once more, and said, in that awful whispering hiss of a voice.
Screaming in terror and horror, I lifted the flare up and threw it as hard as I could.
The red flame made contact with the dried rags that clung to the Revenant’s body and they burst into flame.
But the Revenant kept coming, even as smoke began to drift up through its hollow eyes and rotted mouth, even as its bloated stomach popped like a blister and spilled the slime-encrusted remnants of its last meal, even as it reached out for me.
The last thing that I felt before passing out was its hard, bony hand pressing against my face, and the flames searing my skin.
I awoke some time later. The campfire had gone out, the darkness of the night was giving way to the pale blue of dawn and both McKamey and Hess were dead.
McKamey lay a few feet from me, blood drying in a vague halo around his head. His throat had been opened wide by Hess, probably in a last-ditch effort to save his own skin. At least he died quickly.
I found Hess, or what was left of him, hanging from a stake amidst the cold embers of the campfire. His body had been torn apart, and what hadn’t been taken had been placed inside a crude bag made from his own pale skin.
The Revenant was gone, with only a few smouldering footprints and some charred scraps of desiccated flesh to mark its presence in the first place.
My face felt like it had been doused in hot grease, and it was only after I managed to stumble back to civilization that I saw what the Revenant had given me in retaliation for standing in the way of its prey.
Abigail, the Revenant burned his handprint onto my face.
The doctors say that the scarring won’t be too bad, but it’s still noticeable, and it still throbs with pain. Sadly I can’t get any skin grafts, as the doctors say that they don’t have the equipment to do the procedure.
I hope you can still be with me, even with this scar. Something tells me that I’ll be needing your company for a very long time.
I can still hear the Revenant’s call sometimes, when it’s the dead of night and I’m trying to sleep. I know it was real, I know that I’m not crazy, but I haven’t told anyone else but you.
Please, please don’t tell anyone else. Just wait for me and, when I get back, you can see the evidence for yourself.
I love you, Abigail, and that’s what’s getting me through the night,
With deepest love,