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Die Kratzer

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Somewhere in the German countryside, November 17, 1906

I stood alone in an empty room of a log cabin. The light of the moon emanated through the window behind me, stretching my shadow across the floor and up the wall. The light fabric curtains cast a ghostly shadow as a gust of cool night air passed through the window. There was one small bed in the room. Its heavy-looking wool sheets were hanging over the side, twisted and contorted, as if a struggle had occurred there.

Shards of glass littered the floor in front of the window, which had a large hole smashed through it. Natalie had been there, taunting me. I had thrown the hammer at her, but it only succeeded in smashing the window to oblivion. I heard her again, the faint sound of her voice coming through the shattered window, calling for me.

“Max! Max, help me!” said the faint voice.

I clenched my teeth at the sound of her voice, whispering behind me. Taunting me.

I ran from the room, exiting the cabin through the front door. A short path led from the tiny front porch to the dirt road that acted as the highway between the town and the mines. There were no other cabins for miles, one of the good things about living at the edge of the settlement. Natalie screamed for me again, louder this time, making me physically wince. I ran to the corner of the property, to a stump where I had recently split wood to be used to fuel our fireplace.

I picked up the axe that was still embedded in the stump. I couldn’t waste another second to go grab the hammer, which was currently somewhere behind the cabin. Her voice was hurting my head. I ran into the dirt road and headed into the forest, doubling over in pain whenever I heard Natalie’s screams.

This shouldn’t be happening. We had moved here to start a new, peaceful life together. My mother had died not even a year ago from disease. The sight of her grayish-bluish skin and drawn face were still vivid in my imagination. She was so weak that she couldn’t even say goodbye before she died. Not long after the funeral, father had been killed in an explosion at one of the larger mines. My sister Natalie and I were forced to move out here, to a remote village at the foot of a tiny mountain, so that I could also work in the mines.

Another shrill screech echoed through the woods, wrenching me back to reality. The screams were becoming less frequent, but ear-splittingly louder.

Her final scream ruptured the night air, causing me to wince in pain as it stabbed my senses. I entered the same small clearing as earlier, gasping for air after my sprint through the woods. Natalie was lying face up in the center of the clearing, illuminated by the light of the moon, just as I had left her.

Her white nightgown had been ripped away around her midriff, a rusted iron spike was driven through her belly, pinning her petite body to the ground. Her skin was covered in thousands of tiny X-shaped abrasions. The lacerations made her flesh a motley, dark pink. Her golden-blonde hair was covered in dirt and stuck to her face with sweat. Her eyes were wide and so completely blood-shot that the whites had turned the color of blood.

Only hours earlier, she was giggling and running around behind the cabin, playing tag with me when I arrived home. She was so carefree. She suspected nothing when I told her that we should walk to a beautiful little clearing in the woods. I wanted her to stay with me forever, unlike our weak parents. But now, she was tainted with evil for some God-forsaken reason.

An angry tear streamed down my cheek.

I stood over her, the axe held in my hands. “Be quiet!” I yelled, frustrated.

Natalie’s dead eyes swiveled in their sockets, locking with mine.

Natalie shrieked and grabbed my ankle. Her dead eyes were locked with mine as she opened her mouth inhumanly wide. The muscles and tendons in her jaw popped and cracked as she yanked my foot nearer and nearer to her mouth. Her teeth were jagged needles, as if someone had taken a file and ground them into crude points.

“Why did you do this to me Max?” she asked with unmoving lips.

“So we could be together, Natalie!” I was becoming increasingly more agitated. Why didn’t she understand?

“You did this to me Max.” She accused me.

I tried to pull my leg away, but she was unbelievably strong. My foot was only centimeters from her gaping maw and drawing closer.

I grabbed the axe.

“Yes, Natalie, I did.” I brought the axe down on her neck with all my strength.

“Now be quiet for your brother.”

The tool smoothly severed her spinal column with an audible pop. She choked in pain and let go of my wrist. She writhed on the ground before finally lying still. I picked myself up and ripped the axe from Natalie’s throat in a shower of gore, before beginning the long journey back to the settlement, letting the axe drag behind me, too weary to pick it up.

Hadamar Psychiatric Hospital Germany, April, 1945

A man wearing the olive green uniform of the US 2nd Infantry Division, flanked by two of his comrades in similar uniforms, advanced down a corridor of the Hadamar Psychiatric Hospital. The corridor was completely illuminated by the light of the moon, eliminating the need for their flashlights. The trio was searching the hospital, for what, they did not know. Apparently, some of the soldiers on guard duty near the building heard screaming, so search parties were sent to look for the cause of the disturbance. Each search party consisted of three men, due to the potentially dangerous nature of the still unexplored hospital.

At the end of the hospital corridor, the trio found a narrow flight of stairs leading downward into darkness. Each of the soldiers produced a flashlight and clicked it on, directing the beams into the inky black. The leading soldier said nothing, but pulled his pistol from its holster. The other two soldiers did the same.

“I’ll go first. You two follow, one at a time.” The leader instructed in a whisper. The two soldiers nodded.

The leader took a deep breath before carefully descending the stairs, flashlight forward. His subordinates followed close behind.

At the foot of the stairs, the trio stopped at the beginning of another corridor, this one much wider than the others, with arches placed every couple of meters. The walls and ceiling were poured from rough concrete.

“Is anyone down here?” the leader yelled. There was no reply, it was completely silent.

After panning their flashlights down the corridor, looking for movement and not finding any, the group cautiously began moving forward. There were heavy-looking cell doors set into the wall between the arches, every one of them ajar. At the back of each cell, a tiny barred window allowed the moonlight to spill into each chamber, faintly illuminating its contents: a single metal-framed bed covered in restraining straps.

The team continued down the hall, peering into each cell and finding each one empty. At the end of the corridor they found the last cell door. Unlike the other cell doors, this one was closed and had a number plague over the doorway.

The number on the plaque read “13124”.

In another wing of the hospital, a second team of three US soldiers was checking an office filled with dusty filing cabinets. The team was searching for information pertaining to the hospital’s patients. Unfortunately, so far all of the filing cabinets were empty, their contents most likely destroyed long before the US forces arrived. One of the soldiers was examining a large wooden desk. He pulled open one of the desk drawers and discovered a single file stamped with the number “13124”.

The leader reached for the handle of the cell door. The other two soldiers prepared themselves for what they would find within, taking up breaching positions. The leader turned the handle of the cell door and pulled with all his might. The door shrieked as it turned on hinges that hadn’t been used in decades. The first soldier shined his flashlight into the opening.

“We’ve found a survivor!” he exclaimed. He quickly entered the cell, followed by the other soldier and the leader.

The soldier called one of his comrades over to the desk. He pointed at the file and asked him to read it. The second soldier opened the file and flipped through the papers within.

He read aloud to the other soldiers:

“It says here that this patient was one of the first to arrive at this mental hospital in 1906, after he was found alone in a cabin clutching a bloody axe, wearing his pajamas and nothing else. Some of the other men from the village where he lived found his sister’s fresh corpse in a clearing not too far from the cabin where they lived.” The reader paused and took a breath. “She had been nailed to the ground with a rusty railroad spike and decapitated.”

The other soldiers blanched and made various comments of disbelief.

“A furrow in the soil was found leading away from her body into the forest. When some of the men from the settlement followed the furrow, they found that it was erratic in nature, often turning at right angles and looping around trees. The furrow led to the front porch of the cabin, where it continued over the wooden floor. The furrow ended at the entrance into a bedroom. Within, they found a young man of about the age of seventeen, slumped in the corner holding the axe to his chest like a child would a teddy bear. Most of the men from the settlement recognized the boy from the local quicksilver mine, where most of them worked. The boy’s eyes were wide and very bloodshot. He was mumbling “Natalie”, who they later found out was the name of his sister, over and over. The men detained and transported him to the nearest prison in a nearby town. There, he was questioned by the authorities.”

“When questioned, the boy was completely cooperative, explaining…” the soldier slowed his speech, “that he didn’t want his sister to leave him, so he had nailed her to the ground. It was then observed that he was suddenly overcome with grief and anger, and went back to mumbling the name of his sister. He then told the questioner that he had decapitated her because she wouldn’t stop calling for him, for accusing him.”

Strapped to the bed in the center of the cell was a teenage boy that looked to be around seventeen years old. He had long, scraggly brown hair that looked like it hadn’t been cut in months. It obscured his eyes from view, only revealing the lower half of his pale white face. He was mumbling in German. The only word the soldiers could recognize was “Natalie”.

While the two soldiers tried to communicate with the boy, the leader stood at the foot of the bed and panned his flashlight around the room. Every surface, all four walls, the ceiling, the floor, and even the metal frame of the bed, were covered in X-shaped marks. “Why? How…?” the leader mumbled, terrified.

The second soldier was speaking to the boy. “Hey, kid!” He snapped his fingers in front of the boy’s face, to little effect. The boy remained still, mumbling ceaselessly. The first soldier produced his combat knife and was about to start cutting the bed’s restraints.

The leader noticed and yelled at his subordinate. “Wait! Do not cut him loose.”

The second soldier hesitantly put away his knife. “Why, sir?”

“Maybe he isn’t, you know, right in the head?” The leader twirled his index finger next to his temple, still holding his flashlight aloft.

The second soldier hailed his comrades. “Hey! I think I’m getting a response!” He continued speaking to the boy, coaxing him back to reality by repeating a single word.

“Natalie? Is that someone you know? A friend or relative? I’m sure they’re alright. Natalie is alright, I’m sure.” He lied in a soothing voice.

The soldier continued translating the file’s contents. “The boy was found guilty of killing his sister and sent to this hospital.”

“He remained isolated in the basement level, until November 17, 1940, when he was the first to be killed in the Nazi T4 Euthanasia Program.”

The boy looked up, revealing completely blood red, pupilless eyes. The leader screamed at the sight and attempted to draw his pistol, but before he could, the boy emitted an ear-shattering bellow. The trio fell to the floor screaming, their eyes, noses, and ears bleeding. The heavy cell door swung heavily on its ancient hinges before closing and locking on its own with a heavy chunk.

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