I can’t be sure if he was just an enemy soldier, or if he--it--was some freak of nature. Granted, it’s now 1961, so it’s been a while, but I will make my best attempt to recount that day. Nobody outside of my unit would remember the afternoon of April 22nd, 1915.
I was a soldier in the Belgian armed forces, standing guard with the rest of my unit at the Ypres when the whistle blew. None wanted to hear it, but all expected to. As thousands of damned Germans stumbled and clambered across No-Man’s-Land, our chain guns opened fire. Each man this side of hell was giving his undivided efforts to pump the enemy chock-full of lead. Well, it was undivided, until the battle reached the skies.
The only thing that pried me from my station was the explosion. Thank God almighty I wasn’t sent to heaven or hell by it; I wasn’t done in the mortal world yet. Dazed, I blindly grabbed at my rifle until it was in hand and staggered slowly to my feet. Bullets whizzing every which way, I scrambled for cover like a terrified rat. I was forced to spend several minutes like this, until I heard commands being barked. Straining to hear over the anguished screams and intermittent detonations caused by planes above, I recognised the language as German. I don’t know exactly how many strong their numbers were, but it was more than one and, suffice to say, it was plenty to send me packing. They must’ve seen me, heard me, or something, because the bullet whizzes were growing much closer--one even bouncing off my helmet--and they all began yelling. My eminent stupidity led me to briefly swivel my head around to catch nothing more than a momentary glimpse of the Germans. There was one, who stood out amongst his “Kameraden”. He wore a gas mask. What? A gas mask? The others weren’t wearing gas masks and I hadn’t seen any gas mortars impact at the time, so why would he wear one? I was forced to slap myself in order to set my priority back to survival.
How would I remain alive, though? C’mon, there’s gotta be some semblance of a way, right? I mean, my life depends on it! ...The troops. It had been staring me in the face. The other troops, dammit! I could only afford myself the most covering escape route--I had one shot. If I was any closer to the ground, I’d be crawling, had I been any nearer to the wall, I’d be inside it, should I have been any faster, I’d have not been able to round corners.
I reached them, though, or at least what was left of them; I only found Pierre. Still, that’s infinitely better than being alone.
“How many did you see?” I asked.
“Six! There could’ve been more, I didn’t get a very good look. One of them was wearing a-”
“Gas mask,” I finished for him.
“Yeah. No gas, though, don’t have a clue why he’s wearing it,” continued Pierre.
“Whatever. You got any ideas?” I prompted.
“As a matter of fact…” Pierre pulled a grenade from his pack. “...I got one, right here!” he explained as he pulled the pin. A light grunt coincided with him tossing the grenade at the Germans, over the wall we hid behind.
“Come now, let’s go!” he gestured to me as he picked up his rifle. The lucky bastard Pierre was, he’d hit at least three fatally, us having to shoot another two or three who hadn’t been killed by the initial blast.
“Wait, something’s wrong here,” I observed, behaving in a more cautious manner.
“Yeah, where’s the guy with th-!” Pierre was jumped before he could continue. The man who jumped Pierre kicked me in the chest, causing me to fall to the ground and drop my rifle, fuzzy about my surroundings. Still on the ground and incapacitated, I laid my eyes on our assailant. It was him! The--well, I guess Masked Prussian, for lack of a better name. He’d somehow avoided the blast entirely!
“You…” I whispered to myself. On my back, I could only watch as the Masked Prussian seized Pierre by the throat and lifted him up as though he were a paint brush. As I was slowly recovering, the Masked Prussian shot Pierre a number of times through the stomach and sliced a deep gash in his upper leg.
“Aah…!” I weakly exclaimed as I started to crawl backwards, startled by the apparent deliberation of the wounds. Having put Pierre to his inhumane death, he turned to gaze at me. I suppose the gas mask instilled a good bit of terror, as well, as I suddenly found myself backing up much more desperately.
“Unf!” I hit a wall while unceremoniously retreating, paradoxically allowing me to regain a bit of sense. I hatched an improvised plan which I could only pray would work. When he was barely a metre away, I gave what strength I had to sweep his legs out from under him. He let out a low, animal-like growl upon connecting with the ground. God damn, was this guy even human?! Well, nevermind that, I hadn’t the time to question it. I used the opportunity to lift myself back on my feet, only to discover that the Masked Prussian was getting up, too. He wasted no time rushing towards me; I dodged at the last second. Now he--it--was REALLY mad, as he--it--appeared to take a breath in before making a noise I couldn’t replicate if I tried. I knew some of his capabilities now, so I wasn’t going to give this fucker any more chances. Matching the volume of his--his shriek? Cry, maybe?--I hurled myself at him as hard as I could muster and tackled him.
“YOU BITCH! I WANT PIERRE BACK!!” I screamed as I repeatedly punched the gas mask he was wearing, an ever-present anger and hatred feeding me. My anger gradually contorted into fear when I began picking up on something--it didn’t look like he was being hurt very much by being beaten; moreover his gas mask wasn’t cracking. Or crushing. Or damaging. It seemed to be impervious to me mindlessly pounding my fists into it.
“Alright, you’re really going to get it now,” I said shakily as I grabbed him by the scruff of his coat.
“YOU DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS! You didn’t even have the guts to look Pierre in the...eyes…?” I began to notice as I looked at his face--I couldn’t see his eyes! It wasn’t that the little lenses were fogged, no! I could futilely look through, to see nothing but a black expanse.
I let go of his scruff. No sooner than I did that did he kick me with both feet. I couldn’t let it knock me down this time, not if I wanted to live.
“What’s wrong with you!?” I demanded. The Masked Prussian let out another cry as he pulled out his sidearm; the same one he used to kill Pierre. What was this man? Okay, okay, I HAD to get some help if I wanted to be able to beat this guy. He’d learned from his mistakes too, because he immediately pointed the gun at me and pulled the trigger. *CLICK* He was out! Talk about being a lucky bastard. He got out his knife and lunged at me.
“Hauah!” I let out as he passed. I stepped over to him as he swerved around to try again. Before he could, though, I grabbed him by the mask and smashed him into the ground as hard as I could.
“Wha..-!?” I reacted to how light he was. I genuinely wouldn’t have expected someone who just lifted up my friend with one hand to be so absent of weight. Whatever, that got him down for long enough insofar that I could take my rifle and run for help.
I eventually arrived at the hilltop, where Henri, George, Perci, Jason, and Louis were defending a battle-scarred building, maybe a house.
“Maxime! What happened? Your post...?” they questioned.
“Post was overrun...hah, hah...Pierre’s dead!...hah...masked guy! Incredibly strong, no face…” I gasped, panting in fatigue and frustration. They glanced at me with slight disbelief.
“Alright, George, Jason, go with Maxime to try and get ‘is post back,” Henri said. George brought his flamethrower and Jason his rifle.
Upon arrival at the place where the Masked Prussian had been, it was clear that he was hiding again. Where he was hiding I found out as he leapt at me from my blind spot on the left, but it was in vain. He had come out too early, and was now staring straight at me, almost coaxing me to attack him.
“RAAAAH!!” I yelled out of vile disgust as I planted my knife firmly in his chest, right where his heart should’ve been. Jesus, the guy didn’t even flinch! And what came out wasn’t right at all, either. I suppose that’s to be expected with a creature that resembles a man without a face, but I was nonetheless bewildered by the black, viscous liquid that oozed out of his chest like honey. It clotted almost immediately around my knife! Behind me were still George and Jason, frozen in place like stalagmites on a cave floor. Before another thought could settle in my mind, the Masked Prussian had ripped the knife from his chest with another instant spurt of black, instantly clotting blood and methodically sank it into my shoulder before choke slamming me to the ground. Seconds seemed to stretch into minutes accompanying the pain that followed. Since I was focusing entirely on removing his hand from my throat, I wasn’t immediately aware of the fact that he displayed no signs of breathing.
“Mmmruhh!!” I guess Jason had finally snapped out of his trance-like state, as he had picked up the Masked Prussian and tossed him over to my right. Jason foolishly rushed at the Masked Prussian, oblivious of the events that had previously transpired. It was not in the slightest fruitful. He grabbed Jason by the face and with an instant of animosity crushed his skull before lightly pushing him to the side.
“George…! Torch him!” George seemed to confusedly frown at me before jittering and doing exactly what I had said. I observed vacantly as the fire of the flamethrower turned the Masked Prussian into a myriad of superheated hatred. I felt a large wave of exhilaration at this--he was actually damaged by it! The Masked Prussian staggered backwards before frantically ripping his clothes off in what I can only describe as a primal attempt to stay alive.
Revealed, after what seemed like an eternity, confirmed all of my suspicions. Whatever he--it was, it wasn’t human. It had a black, mangled, rope-like body with arms and legs that, while equally as black, resembled the roots of a tree in the way they were shaped. The only thing I noticed had not altered or warped in any way was the gas mask. It stayed perfectly on its face as if it had just tried it on for the first time! I’d barely stood up when the Masked Prussian grabbed hold of George from about three metres away. Not with its arms, no, but a black, twisted appendage which extended rapidly and irregularly from the centre of what would’ve been its abdomen. As it raised him up another appendage shot out from where its neck would’ve been and plunged through George’s spine. The appendage then split and started working itself around George’s body.
“Aahugh!” I whimpered as George was torn in two and cast aside like an empty box, his insides practically spilling out. Now it was my turn. Tears gushed down my face soundlessly as the Masked Prussian grabbed hold of me in a similar way to George. This time was more personal, as it let out an overbearing snarl of what sounded like resentfulness.
I thought of something. A crazy something. But I had nothing left to lose and it was so crazy it just might work. Giving the Masked Prussian as little time as possible to react, I jerked the knife out of my shoulder. This shot a near overwhelming surge of pain through my arm and upper body, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. All that mattered was the plan. I slashed the knife at it quickly, lucky to cut away the appendage that was holding me, which sent me plummeting a good two metres down to the ground. Now the next part of the plan. Okay, keep it together for just a little longer. I reached into my pack and from it took a grenade. As the Masked Prussian tried to hold me again, I instead gave the grenade to its appendage and with all the might I had, shoved it towards the creature as I let out the most wrathful conglomeration of a scream. It sounded of anger, hatred, disgust, vengeance, confusion, but most of all, grief. Grief for losing Pierre. Grief for losing Jason and George. There couldn’t have been more than a second before the grenade exploded and knocked me to the floor, but I could swear I saw the Masked Prussian take a more defensive stance, if you could call it that. I could swear, that it looked afraid.