(Cross-posted to XMMFF and WolverineFanfiction.)
The wandering author returns. :) It's been a few months since I wrote
any X-fic, but I'm back in the mood, and very happy to be so.
Before I get to the fic, I'd like to put out this notice: I'm in need of
a beta reader, most likely just to review the general flow and consistency
of stories. The only requirements are a high Logan threshold, and the
understanding that I neither know nor care about anything comicverse. ;)
Drop me a note if interested.
Now, on with the fic!
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Authors Email: librarie@...
Archive Rights: Please request the authors consent.
Rating/Warnings: Mildly PG for violence.
Characters: Anonymous, but the narrator should become quite recognizable.
Setting: Somewhere in Europe, December 1944.
Summary: A young soldiers nightmare begins. (Companion to "Sole Survivor".)
Disclaimer: Marvel and Fox create the characters that sell. Not me.
Credits: Special thanks to Mara for a great beta exam.
HTML version: http://www.jordanna.net/librarie/xmen/fiction/dogtags.htm
Notes: Although it stands well on its own, this is a companion piece to my
earlier story, "Sole Survivor"
, and the two
are best read in sequence. Here the tale of the old soldier is revisited,
from a very different perspective.
In memory of Nikita, 1992-2003.
Falkesberg was the most depressing place Id ever seen.
The village was a ghost town, all but wiped out by some earlier battle.
Under an empty gray sky, the empty gray streets were littered with debris,
the empty gray buildings ravaged by mortar shells. The hands of the
crumbling old clock tower were frozen at a quarter to six, and the
burned-out hulk of a tank sat in the middle of the town square like some
lunatic monument to destruction. Only a harsh winter had shown any mercy
for the ruin, obscuring the scars of fire and shrapnel under deep snowdrifts.
It had been two long days and uncounted miles since my squad got lost in
the wilderness, separated from our platoon during a firefight. Falkesberg
was our first sign of civilization, if not life--and unlike me, the rest of
the men were glad to see it. We had casualties, and were short of food and
supplies that might be found in the abandoned village. It was practically a
I still didnt like it one bit
but then, I hadnt been thinking too
clearly for days, even before we took off on this forest fiasco.
It all started with a simple letter. For weeks, I had desperately waited
and hoped for a word from home before Christmas--but once it finally came,
I wished Id never received it. Because in it, as best she could, Ma broke
the news to me that my old dog had died.
I took it hard. Logan was my best friend for as long as I could remember; I
grew up with him, and sometimes he was almost more like a brother than a
pet. He was always there for me, even when I felt like I didnt have anyone
else. I still carried one of his tags on the chain that now held my own.
Maybe it was easier to mourn for the animal back home than the friends Id
watched die on the battlefield. Whatever the reason, even through the
struggles of the days that followed, the loss hung over me until I was sure
it had affected my mind. My senses started to play tricks on me; I felt
urges I couldnt understand. It was hard to concentrate, and harder to
control my once-even temper. Somehow I knew it was more than a mood, more
than just grief or battle fatigue
and it scared me more than the Germans
The lonely, haunting Falkesberg stirred up those rampant new instincts more
than ever. I didnt understand how or why, but I could *taste* something
wrong in the very air I breathed.
Behind me, the two walking wounded in our party were tending the one man
confined to a stretcher. The other three who were able-bodied had fanned
out to look for provisions in the deserted buildings. I took the point, and
rambled ahead with my rifle in my hands, looking into alleys and doorways
for any sign of trouble along the north end of the square. I felt more
nerved up with every step I took, but I found nothing on the entire street.
Finally giving in to the idea that just maybe there was no danger after
all, I shouldered my rifle and turned to go back to the others.
I never heard the grenade explode. I only felt the pain, a wave of fire
that swept over me and through me. Then there was only a red haze in my
sight, shouting and gunfire in my ears. I couldnt move; I couldnt think.
I could only feel--and the terror was worse than the pain.
The sound of the firefight seemed much more distant than it was. It was all
over with very quickly; at least two more grenades exploded, and after the
last one, the silence was sudden and complete. I was desperate to move, to
raise my head and at least look my killers in the eye, but I could only lie
helpless in a pool of my own blood. Even the pain was fading away into a
ghastly, crawling sensation, inside and out.
I thought I knew then what it felt like to die
and maybe I did.
Across the square, terse commands and muttered remarks were spoken in
German. I heard them unnaturally well. Then booted feet began to crunch
back and forth through the snow, taking stock of the destruction, and after
a long time I heard someone coming my way.
The pain flared up white-hot as someone kicked my side, and a pale round
face leaned into my view, leering like an idiot. I felt rough hands groping
over me, looking for something. They found my dogtags and gave a hard pull,
snapping the chain.
And then, *I* snapped.
The rage was even worse than the terror. It took me over, mind, body, and
soul, and only afterward was I able to piece together the memories of the
things it made me do.
The German was dead before he hit the ground. He lay sprawled in the snow
with his neck crushed, my dogtags in his hand, and that cruel mindless grin
still pasted on his face. Standing over him, I could smell his blood and
mine--and I knew the difference.
Even after months of fighting this war, he was the first man Id ever killed.
His nearest comrade shouted a warning. I was on him with one leap, and left
him bleeding his life away in the snow on my way to the rest of them.
Some of them found their guns in time. I heard the shots, felt the hot
shock of the bullets; but I was already hurting, and that little bit more
only drove me that much further out of my senses. I saw red in every sense
of the phrase--red fury, red blood. More than that, I smelled it, tasted it.
But now I felt nothing.
After that first grinning grave robber, there was only instinct, a
thoughtless reaction to the pain. Make it stop--kill or die. Animal
feelings and animal deeds, things beyond--and beneath--the human soul.
They had souls. Not one of them tried to run.
Not one of them had a chance.
Something inside finally began to wake up as the last one to hurt me fell
lifeless from my grasp. For the first time since that eternity ago when I
was just a nervous kid peeking into alleys, I looked around the square, and
some part of me finally understood what I saw.
They were all dead--all but one.
That last one, not much older than me, stood with his back against a wall.
He had a revolver in his shaking hand. He was staring straight into my
and seeing nothing at all.
A shudder passed through me. The smell of blood threatened to drag me back
down into *that* place again, and with a sudden surge of terror in my gut,
I fought it back. Panting hard, every part of me spent, I stared at the
soldier and waited. For him to act, for something in me to rise above what
I had become--or for it to overwhelm me again and make me tear him to pieces.
After a long time, he lowered his hand, and the gun fell to the frozen ground.
Maybe it was mercy; maybe it was surrender. Either way, it was just the
little bit I needed to wrench my soul to the surface. I let out my breath
and lurched two steps toward him, even then not sure what I was going to
do, but the madness was gone.
He cringed when I moved forward, but he never looked away. I couldnt read
his expression, but somehow I could read his scent--and underneath the
fear, there was something like pity.
For all I knew, the bloodlust would come back. If I kept him there, I might
kill him, and I didnt want to do that. Maybe he had done terrible things
too, but it didnt matter. In that moment he was just a scared young man,
like I had been.
Like some part of me still was.
Standing face to face with him, I looked him in the eye, and dredged up
from my dazed mind the German translation for one word.
His blue eyes got a little wider. Very slowly, he slid sideways along the
wall, moving away without ever taking his eyes from mine. Finally, at four
yards, he turned and bolted for the woods beyond the village. I watched him
until he disappeared--and he never once looked back.
Without thinking, I bent down, picking up his revolver in my bloodstained
hands. I fumbled with it for a moment and finally got the barrel open. As I
turned it over, six bullets dropped into my palm. The soldier had never
fired a shot.
After scrubbing away the blood on my skin with handfuls of snow, I buried
my comrades in the churchyard at the edge of the village. The mangled
corpses of the Germans were left for my new brethren--the wolves. Though my
mind had slowly settled, I still felt the animal instinct lurking just
beneath the surface, and my sharp new senses and reflexes now obeyed it
over my human will.
But the way I had healed was the most frightening change of all. The pain
was gone, the wounds of bullets and shrapnel vanished without a trace. Even
the scars of childhood accidents had disappeared as if they never even
I cut my hand while digging the graves, and as I watched the wound close
before my very eyes, I wondered numbly what I had become.
Finally I finished what the dead had started, scavenging for food and
supplies to take with me when I fled that lonely village and its ghosts. I
didnt know where I would go. I only knew that after what I had done, and
how I had changed, I could never face anyone I knew and loved.
When I left Falkesberg, I left behind my life
and with it, still clutched
in a dead mans hand, the dogtags that had cost me so dearly.
On that day, I swore I would never be branded again.
© 2004 Jordanna Morgan - http://www.jordanna.net/librarie/xmen