April 11, 2011

Demon of War

In October of 1944, the Western Allies were pushing the Wehrmacht back into Germany for the first time in four years. The war in Europe would be over by summer, but for the young soldiers on the ground, the summer was a long time away. As the Germans retreated, the Allies were witness to the horrors they left behind in newly-liberated nations. Other horrors, however, seem to travel with the Germans.

Ed Phillips was one of those young soldiers helping to turn the tide in fascist Europe. His adventures with the Allied advance are recounted in the long out-of-print paranormal oral history The Frankfurt Testimony. An infantry grunt, Ed fought with the 30th Infantry Division from Omaha Beach in Normandy to the Elbe River in Germany. “We chased them Germans from the beach to the river,” Ed says.

As the 30th fought their way across the German border, the Allied generals gave them their target: the city of Aachen. Encircling the city took the 30th on a tour of the surrounding hamlets and farmland, perfect positions for enemy ambushes. “You had go about like there was a German behind every fence, every bush,” Ed recalls, “‘cause half the time there was!"

After days of German sniping and surprise attacks, Ed’s commanders were becoming wary as their troops were becoming weary. “Sometimes we felt like we were ordered to be target practice,” Ed says “and believe me, the Germans didn’t need any more practice.”

In his privation and frustration, Ed made the mistake of mouthing off to his lieutenant, and the next time his unit halted in hesitation of ambush, Ed was called up.

Ed’s commander was a Southern gentleman with a religious bent. “The lieutenant calls me over and he says, ‘Do you believe in redemption, private,’ and he points at this old barn up ahead,” Ed remembers. Ed’s unit stood athwart a small farm at the center of which loomed an old black barn.

Ed’s orders were to scout the barn for hidden enemy positions. “It’d happened sometimes where we’d come up on some old building and an 88’d be waiting for us,” Ed says, referring to the German’s anti-aircraft gun. “But this barn was falling apart and I don’t think nobody thought it was trouble. Lieutenant just wanted to mess with me, I figure.”

As he approached the barn, the afternoon countryside lay quiet. Ed noticed that no birds sang, and the barn seemed to hang in the still air like a black shroud. The young soldier suddenly felt very alone in the barn’s shadow, and he silently cursed his lieutenant.

Ed advanced along the barn’s side, avoiding the large front doors. He found a small side entrance and quickly slipped through. The gloom of the barn’s interior was absolute and Ed crouched and waited for his vision to return.

Peering through the darkness and shadows cast from the holes in the barn’s roof, Ed could see rotting hay bales and long-idle farm equipment. “Nothing to worry about,” Ed recalls, “unless the lieutenant wanted to plant some corn.”

As Ed relaxed, he thought to take look around and make sure no surprises lurked within. “I was already in the doghouse with the lieutenant,” Ed says, “might as well spend some time in the barn, too.”

Nothing disturbed the barn’s mute depths, and Ed was lulled by the strange serenity he had discovered. The odor of rich earth and pervasive decay sent him back to his childhood and the farm his family had once called home.

In the barn’s silence, Ed could hear the sounds of farm life in his memory: the swishing arc of the scythe, the squawk and mumble of chickens, the quiet shuffling of milk cows. Ed thought he could hear the cows now, but was torn from his reverie when he realized that the sound was with him now, there in the old black barn.

“Dammit if something wasn’t moving around in there with me,” Ed says. Ed immediately hunkered down and wondered whether some animal may have made of the barn a home. He crept along behind old cattle pens through rotten hay and dried manure toward the curious sound.

Peeking above a pile of broken machinery, Ed spied a figure in the darkness. His eyes widened and he almost cried out. “It weren’t no cow or dog,” Ed recalls. “It was a damn Nazi officer.”

A captain of the infamous SS stood with his back to Ed’s position, seemingly oblivious to the American soldier only yards away. Unsure of what to do next, Ed watched. “I thought this guy can’t be alone,” Ed says, “and I wanted to know what he was doing in that barn.”

As Ed tried to stay very still and very quiet, he saw that the captain appeared to be taking off his uniform. He unbuttoned his coat and carelessly dropped it to the floor. Next his fearsome cap was flung to a corner of the barn. It appeared that the man was in a hurry.

“After his hat came off, I got a better look at him,” Ed recalls, “and that’s when I saw that something was definitely not right.” Through the barn’s shadows, even Ed could see that the captain’s head cut a distinctive and unreal profile. “He had some damn horns on ‘em,” Ed says.

Off came the captain’s undershirt and Ed realized exactly what was in that old barn with him. The Nazi’s skin was a polished obsidian, jet-black and cracked by veins of smoldering crimson. Huge black horns sprouted from his monstrous head toward the broken roof above, and from his back, great ebony bat wings stretched from wall to wall.

Struck by terror and awe, Ed did not move. “I thought I stood a chance ‘cause he didn’t see me yet,” Ed recalls. As the monster continued to shed its uniform, Ed reclaimed his wits and slowly backed away.

As Ed found the same side entrance again, he ran as quietly as he could from the black barn. As he rejoined his unit, it seemed that whatever was in the barn had not noticed the young soldier’s escape.

Ed’s lieutenant eyed him with some concern. Panting and wild-eyed, Ed looked like he had run from the whole German army. “I told my lieutenant that there was a nest of snipers in there,” Ed says. “Hell, I would’ve told him Hitler was in there with a bazooka if I thought it would have the right effect.”

Ed’s lieutenant squinted at the young soldier and raised his binoculars to study the old barn. Without looking back to Ed, the lieutenant addressed his sergeant: “Tell them boys in the Sherman that we don’t need that barn no more.”

The tank rounds tore through the barn’s thin walls and the structure disappeared in a cloud of fire and smoke. Pieces of wood no bigger than tinder rained down upon the Allied soldiers. “I don’t know what happened to the thing I saw in there,” Ed says, “but I didn’t see it again so I figured it went back to where it had come from.”

Ed would eventually return to the United States to enjoy a quiet life, but the thought of the strange creature he spied upon in the old black barn unsettles him still. Although evil takes many forms, not many bystanders are around to see it when it changes.

Was the creature some diabolic beast twisted by nature or by science? Perhaps a captain of the fire and the air, a final satanic super-weapon of the Third Reich that never saw the light of day? Or did Private Ed truly witness one of Hell’s own tread upon the Earth and trade a mortal form for a more infernal one? And if he did, we are left to speculate on the nature of the demon’s mission and which side Satan chose to favor. In light of the German defeat and the horrors thus revealed, we must surmise that the demon’s hellish assignment was a complete success.

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