Monocle, Owl, Lamp
Linz, Austria. April 30, 1945.
A man moved casually down a dark alley, unafraid of the dense fog and dark shadows. Seen only from behind he was any old Joe; any man with an overcoat and hat, collar up against the cold winter night. He stopped in front of a doorway, checked the address against a paper in his hand and knocked.
An elderly gentleman with uncommonly long fingers answered the door and took the invitation that the visitor held out. His hand slid into his suit pocket and retrieved a monocle with which he read the engraved words. The elderly butler removed the glass piece and deposited it into his pocket before addressing the gentleman on the step.
“Follow me please.” The visitor removed his coat and hat, giving them to the tall, gaunt servant. The butler showed the visitor to a large, formal library and offered him a drink. He then offered the gentleman the humidor. The man selected a fine, fat cigar, which the manservant then clipped and lit for him.
“The Master wishes to speak to you sir, I shall tell him you have arrived.”
“What is this about then?“ Said the visitor.
“I really could not say. “ The butler said as he stepped out and drew the doors closed. The visitor sipped his brandy; it was delicious and perfectly warm. The cigar was sublime, easily the best he had ever smoked. He wondered idly where he could get them. He enjoyed the drink and the smoke immensely. There had been a nagging pain in his temple today; this would ease that ache nicely. After a few minutes he rose to look at the bookshelves. An avid reader and writer himself, he had a rather extensive library of his own. Checking the spines, the visitor read the titles to himself: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway, The Plague by Albert Camus, Farewell, My Lovely, by Chandler. On another shelf were The Pleasures of the Torture Chamber, Weapons of Mass Destruction and Ivan the Terrible to name only a few of the titles.
The visitor looked up from his reading as a distinguished gentleman came in. He kept his silver hair neatly combed back and he wore his spectacles perched high on his face. There was no trace of a beard, indeed no facial hair at all. He wore a smoking jacket of satin Jacquard, the single button reflecting the lamp’s dim light from the desk. One minute the button looked like a gaping skull and the next like a shrunken head. It was dark and hard to see. The gentleman pointed to the book in the visitor’s hand.
“The Good Earth, by Pearl Buck; a sad comment on the purpose and sorrows of life. Would you not agree?”
“It is that sir.” The gentleman replied. He replaced the volume and turned to his host. “We have not met.” He said, holding out his hand. The old man gently waved it away.
“You’ll forgive the eccentricities of an old man, I find that I am susceptible to many colds and ills here in this German land. I would not pass an illness on to a guest.”
The visitor nodded and dropped his hand. “You are not from the motherland.”
“No, no I am not.” Said his host. “I am recently from the African continent. My servant calls me Master; you may call me Mastema if you like. It is a name as good as any other. And you,” he said to the visitor, “They call you the Wolf, do they not?”
“They do indeed Herr Mastema. I am at some disadvantage here, clearly you know of me while I have not had the pleasure.” Said the visitor.
“I do beg your indulgence Herr Wolf,” said the old man. His voice was gravelly. “I have been following your work these many years. I am a fan, you see.” He pointed a crooked finger at the bookshelf just over the Wolf’s head. “I even have first editions of your books, there above you.”
The Wolf saw that the library did have the two volumes he had written. His chest swelled, they were his magnum opus, his masterpiece. He took one down and leafed through it. There were notes in the margin, funny that the handwriting looked familiar. The well-worn pages indicated more than a passing interest by the owner.
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance Herr Mastema.” Said the Wolf.
“Oh the pleasure is mine sir, “replied Mastema. “It is mine indeed. Come, do sit with me.”
The Wolf picked up his brandy and followed his host, seating himself in one of two great leather chairs situated before the fire. Mastema then took the other. His manservant materialized over his left shoulder and offered again, the humidor. The Wolf thanked him but no, he still had his. Mastema nodded and selected one.
“I would not mind that you take another Mr. Wolf, did you not just have a birthday? You are fifty-six, yes?”
The Wolf looked up in surprise. “I did, ten days ago. Again, you have the advantage. It is time you came clean.”
“Quite right,” Said Mastema. “I apologize again, but that knowledge is not hard to come by. You are quite well-known.”
The Wolf flicked some non-existent dust from his lapel. “Well, I wouldn’t say…”
“Of course you wouldn’t, but your name is a household word. Tell me,” Mastema said with particular interest. “What inspired you to become such a leader of men?”
The Wolf was enjoying himself; His host was clearly an admirer. He could think of worse ways to spend the evening than in the company of this fine gentleman.
“Herr Mastema,” the Wolf stated expansively. “It is destiny.”
“Ah, you believe in destiny. That is good. Good. Let me ask you again,” he said, suddenly attentive. “What inspired you to become such a leader of men?” The Wolf noticed that Herr Mastema had a bit of a hook to his nose; it made him seem almost sinister in the dancing firelight.
“I am uniquely qualified to lead the motherland to glory,” said the Wolf, raising a fist and then dropping it into his lap. “What exactly is your interest Herr Mastema? I must ask you to be clear.”
“Don’t get me wrong, as I said I am a fan of your work.” Said Mastema. “All of your work.”
All of it? If he only knew, thought the Wolf, scoffing. The knot in his temple continued to throb.
“Herr Mastema, Divine Inspiration is my guidance. What is yours?” He asked arrogantly. Normally he would not have explained himself to anyone but there was something oddly compelling about his host.
“Oh I too am definitely marked by the Divine.” Mastema replied. “You…how shall I put this, you ‘efficiently’ wiped millions of souls from the face of the earth and tortured that many more. Your work was quite effective, with no regards to human emotions like compassion or humility. I believe the final number will be in the eleven to seventeen millions,“ Mastema added thoughtfully, “and yet here you sit in my library.”
“Herr Mastema. I am a busy man.” The Wolf said, rubbing his temple. “I must ask you to come to the point.”
“Of course. You have much to do. Are you feeling very well Herr Wolf? I hope you are not ill.”
Immediately the pain behind his ear ratcheted up a notch. It was quite sharp now that he thought about it.
“I, perhaps I have an ache,” said the Wolf, the brandy and the cigar, not to mention the hypnotic dance of the flames had conspired to make him ill. It was no more than that.
“Oh but it is more, Mr. Wolf.” Said Herr Mastema. “Or should I say Herr Hitler?”
“What?” Said the Wolf. Did he read my mind? Hitler? The name sounded familiar.
“The name sounds familiar because it is yours. The Wolf was just a nickname that you took upon yourself. Are you beginning to remember now?”
The Wolf shook his head, trying to clear it. Hitler. Wolf. His thoughts were thick and slow. What was going on?
“What game are you playing at Mastema? What is the meaning of this nonsense?” The Wolf demanded. His head was really pounding now; it was making him feel ill. He stood and looked at Mastema with bleary eyes. “Bring my coat, I am leaving. My head feels funny…have you poisoned me?”
“Your head feels funny because part of it is gone, Herr Hitler. You blew the top of it off just hours ago when you took your own life with a gun. The books,” Herr Mastema pointed out, “are first editions. The notes in the margin are in your own handwriting. Mein Kampf. Does any of this ring a bell with you? Of course, there may not be much ‘bell’ left.” Mastema tapped his head and laughed dryly.
“Hitler.” The Wolf spoke the name aloud and then knew it was his own. Adolf Hitler. “I am dead?” He walked around the room. “This is death?”
Mastema watched him carefully, his head seeming to rotate all the way around like an owl’s. Hitler stopped and stared at him, aghast. He felt dizzy and his forehead was hot. Sweat poured from him and ran down his neck to soak the collar and tie that were suddenly much too tight.
“Herr Hitler.” Mastema called to him. His voice sounded raspy, like leathery things rubbing scaly wings together. He patted the arm of the chair Hitler had been in and left a black mark wherever his fingers touched it. Hitler stared in shock, no wonder he wouldn’t shake hands.
Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of Germany, stared open-mouthed at the burns on the arm of the chair. This was no mere interview, no simple fan. He felt something existential shift inside of him as a primal fear entered his heart. Mastema’s face danced in the firelight, his eyes completely black and without soul. Where was the kindly admirer that had been here a moment ago? His host smiled and Hitler fought the hysterical urge to scream.
“Herr Hitler. I have seen your twisted and deviant mind. You killed millions and sanctioned inhumane medical experiments on men, women and children. You trained thousands to carry out your heinous commands. You have single-handedly advanced my purposes here on the earth more than any man alive ever has and for that,” Mastema raised a clawed forefinger for effect, “I offer you a reward.”
“R-reward?” Hitler croaked out.
“Yes, a reward. A benefit, you might say. Look.” Mastema pointed to the fireplace.
As Hitler watched the dancing flames became demons with fiery whips and chains, torturing unnumbered men and women, leaving them with horrific cut and burns, and in terrible agony. He leaned forward unconsciously, unable to tear his gaze away from the grizzly scene. One of the fiery riders snapped his bullwhip and the leather sash reached out and scored the skin on Hitler’s face. Hitler snapped back in his seat and put his hand to his cheek, the cut was wet and hot.
“What…do you want?” He asked, putting a shaky hand to his throat. At this, Mastema laughed.
“There is nothing you could give that you haven’t already Herr Hitler.” He chuckled some more. “It is time for just rewards. You have had a lifelong fear of death, a want for immortality, yes?”
Hitler breathed in deeply and nodded. The breath steadied him and he composed himself.
“I have feared death in the physical body but Divine Providence has claimed me. I have been spared by fate many times…”
“Fate? No. I saved you Herr Hitler. So that you could continue to maim and kill innocents. So that you could twist young minds and raise armies to cause more destruction. You performed admirably. It’s said that you had a Messiah complex and I’m beginning to see that it is true. God is very real Herr Hitler and you and I are not He.”
“That means that you are…”
Mastema nodded with an eerie grin. Hitler saw the teeth, now yellow and razor-sharp. He shuddered involuntarily. There was a smell in the room, something vaguely rotten and decomposing.
“That’s right Herr Hitler. I have many names. Mastema serves my purposes for this evening.” The firelight danced in his eyes. No, it seemed to come from his eyes. Mastema continued. “Because of your work here on my behalf, I have decided not to send you to hell. You will have your own special place, as befits a man of your…particular accomplishments.” Mastema raised his hand and the manservant opened the library doors.
“Won’t you come this way?”
A new home sounded promising. Perhaps it would be like the Eagles Nest, his chalet in the mountains above Berchtesgaden. Hitler followed them out of the library. He noticed great mirrors on either side of the hallway, when he looked into them he saw reflections of people…dead people. They were all skin and bones, broken skulls and torn bodies. How had he missed this on the way in? Hitler rubbed his eyes and looked again. Gone. Had he imagined it all? He could not tell.
They reached the front door and the butler returned Hitler’s coat and hat. Mastema put his hand on the doorknob and turned to Hitler one last time.
“This is your punishment and your reward. You will live for eternity. I spare you the demons that roam throughout hell and release you from the eternal flames.”
Hitler breathed easier. All his life he had worried of what death would bring. This wouldn’t be so bad; he was going to a new home. There was an excellent cigar in his hand and the brandy still warmed his insides. Mastema opened the door and Hitler looked outside. It was still cold and raining but it was daytime.
How long were we in there? He wondered. Surely not the entire night! But here they were, and the sun was up. He stepped out into the morning light and wondered at how grey the world had become. Everything was monochrome, the dirt, the buildings, the barbed wire fence – all a varying shade of the same grey. He looked around, somewhat confused. Barbed wire? And these buildings weren’t here when he had gone in. Where had the dirt yard come from?
Hitler looked back, and gone was the street, the butler and Mastema. Their house had disappeared and in its place was a gate guarded by soldiers with machine guns. Nearby a large group of men in striped clothing and not much more stood around an open barrel. Flames came from inside; they took turns standing near it to warm themselves. The men were skeletons, skin pulled taut across their emotionless faces. They had no hair, some had no shoes.
Humph. Hitler knew this place well. He was in Auschwitz, the concentration camp. He realized that he was cold, painfully so. He drew his coat tighter around him and in doing so saw that it was no longer the long, fur-lined winter coat he had come with. It was now a brown scrap of a thing, barely more than a shirt. On the left breast something caught his eye. It was a yellow star.
Blasphemy! Who dared! Hitler tore the coat from his body and threw it in the mud. A walking skeleton nearby shambled out and snatched up the coat, mumbling to himself as he put it on and disappeared into the crowd. Hitler stomped over to the gate, demanding to have a car brought around immediately. The guard nearly fell over himself laughing.
“Give me your coat this instant!” Hitler ordered. The guard continued to laugh.
“I will see to it personally. I will have your family arrested!” Hitler declared. The guard stopped laughing and struck Hitler in the chest with the butt of his rifle, knocking him to the ground.
“You’ll do no such thing you filthy little pig,” said the guard. “I tire of this nonsense. Go away.” He kicked Hitler in the leg as hard as he could before going back to his post.
Hitler rolled in the mud, screaming in pain. He was cold and terribly hungry. His fine clothes were wet – what’s this? His shirt was no longer silk and his trousers no longer lined. No, he wore the striped clothing given to the prisoners. The truth of the situation began to dawn on him. This was his eternity. This was his punishment.
Hitler swayed in the mud puddle, on all fours like a dog. He looked up at the gates in front of him, trying to read the words written in iron across the top. He was inside and would have to read it backwards. I-e-r-f t-h-c-a-m t-I… No, not for me!
“Arbeit macht frei, Herr Hitler. Work makes free, for eternity.” Said the guard with a smile.