F R O M T H E J O U R N A L O F J. M. L I N C O L N
November 1, 1937: Los Angeles is vastly different from the New York. The weather on both coasts is hot, but unlike New York, the LA air is dry. There is little, if any, humidity. Employment, however, is scarce. I find work with the Sunshine Orange Growers, south of Los Angeles and twenty miles inland. The work is tiresome, backbreaking. Yet, because I do not feel pain, because I do not tire, I am able to work longer and fill more baskets then even the youngest and strongest workers. While this productivity ensures my employment, it simultaneously alienates me from my coworkers who feel, perhaps rightly so, threatened by my over-productive ways.
Nonetheless, I feel content here and realize I could easily spend the rest of my life, however long that may be, in the orange groves. The routine and simplicity of it all appeals to me on a base level, yet I am terrified at becoming so complacent. I begin to ask myself a simple question:
What if there’s a reason, an explicit purpose, for my existence? I contemplate an answer to this question day after day as the dry California sun burns upon my back and shoulders. There is an answer. There must be. I simply have yet to stumble upon it.
A RETURN TO THE EAST COAST
We arrive in New York on July 1, 1939. We number seven. During the last week, I have come to know my traveling companions, albeit ever so slightly. They are men not unlike myself–lost souls, searching for answers. Drifters.
We each had our own reasons for leaving Los Angeles. I left because I’d grown weary of the the work, the repetition. My orange honeymoon had lasted a long while, but clearly it was over. New York beckoned. We’d hopped an eastbound B&O freight train on June 24, eight including me. But Palmer, a toothpick of a man with stringy, withered hair and a criminal record as long as an arm, soon became sick with fever. I’d urged him to jump the train, to seek medical attention. Palmer brushed away my concerns. He’d smiled and said he was fine. On the morning of the third day he was gone.
We didn’t want to throw Palmer out of the moving boxcar. None of us wanted to do it. Certainly even the poorest of men deserved better. But the temperature in the metal car easily exceeded 100 degrees during the day. Despite our efforts to blanket him, to shield us against the smell of decay and death, by day five we’d realized that, for our own health and sanity, Palmer’s body would have to go. Were it possible to have buried him somewhere along the way, we’d have done it. But this wasn’t a passenger train, and there were no leisure stops. We’d done it quickly. Wrapped the body in blankets and strips of twine. Waited until dark and then . . .
Soon after the deed was done, we’d quickly consumed what little alcohol was left. After that we didn’t talk of it, certainly didn’t say his name. The drink helped us to forget, though I doubt any of us really forgot for long.
It’s late evening as the seven of us quickly jump from the freight car as the train grinds to a stop at Manhattan’s Hawksmoor Station. We move quickly, stealthily. Within minutes, we’re no longer together. Seven lives, seven unique directions.
I suddenly realize that the nation’s anniversary of independence is three days distant. I am nearly eighty years old, but continue to look and feel one-half that amount. I find little difficultly securing employment. The time I’d spent on the orange groves in California had honed my physique and darkened my complexion. Yet I did not wish to continue as a laborer. I find employment with the B. K. Alexy Company as an assistant editor, completing mostly menial tasks like running galley proofs from the main floor to the typography department. During the evening I study various style manuals and memorize the multitude of shorthand symbols and marks used to advance production. There are several unfilled positions, and I’m soon offered an editorial slot and begin filling my days by checking the accuracy of works of fiction by accomplished authors including Walter Hedgeport and W. P. McAllister. I am liked and respected by my colleagues, yet I feel as if I am a liar–indeed, I am. I cannot be forthright regarding my past. Such revelations would, I fear, at best be assessed with skepticism and would, at worst, bring into question my very sanity. Instead, I speak little of myself or ad libbing a phony backstory while continuing to contemplate the world and my place in it.
A SEED IN THE BIG APPLE
July 26, 1939: I do not lust. Whatever lust I once had vanished when my wife died. But I miss the companionship of others and, as such, have begun an affair with a coworker, Sally Ann Schwarz, a 26-year-old in the secretary pool. I have no expectations of this relationship and fear that, given my need to conceal so much about who I am, it cannot develop into anything meaningful or long lasting.
My relationship with Sally Ann is short lived and ends on August 31, just over one month after it began. We are too separate, our experiences too far removed from one another. She is kind and caring, but at the same time her highest aspirations are to dance to swing music every Saturday evening. There are far greater concerns.
The threat of a second world war looms on the horizon. My thoughts turn once more to my nation and what I can, perhaps, do to facilitate freedom. All eyes are on Germany. Although America has declared a policy of neutrality, our eventual entry into the conflict seems inevitable.
I have spent much of the last two years growing complacent with my work, my life in New York. I have begun to drink on a continual basis–too much, I fear, to be conducive to proper health. I worry that I may simply continue to exist as a seed in this very big apple of a city.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor changes everything.
Like thousands of other American men, enlist in the armed services on December 8, 1941. I know not where I am going, only that Japan and its allies must be made to pay for its callous actions.
March 22, 1942: We are stationed in Europe near the Caucasus Mountains. There have been few campaigns of which to speak. There is a sense of low spirits, a sense that we are waiting–always waiting–at a time when when clear and decisive actions need to be taken. The only morale builder at present is derived from the mention of the American Dream, whose exploits are documented weekly in Stars & Stripes. The colorful red, white, and blue masked avenger had previously fought crime stateside but, months before Pearl Harbor, had begun a personal campaign against the Axis that began shortly after December 7. His exploits are larger than life. Stories emerge of entire battalions being stopped single handedly, tanks being toppled as if made of paper mâché, and enemy aircraft being torn asunder before exploding in violent waves of orange flames that light up the barren terrain. To many, the American Dream is thought to be a fictitious creation, a weapon of propaganda created by the Department of the Army in a game of psychological warfare not unlike the rumored nazi vampire armies that supposedly haunt the countryside. Others attest the American Dream is real, but dismiss him as a glory-seeking adventurer motivated not by loyalty toward America, but by the acquisition of personal wealth and fame. Most, particularly those who’ve personally witnessed his acts of heroism, consider the American Dream one of the most patriotic men to fight for a cause since Patrick Henry. Perhaps my time in the Division is wasted. Perhaps I could be more an asset as a rogue operative such like he.
THE SILENT ONSLAUGHT
September 24, 1942: I fear my life during the war is now and forever changed. I am going to take actions I never before would have thought myself capable of undertaking. I have no choice.
It began on August 9 at 4:39 a.m. when the German 6th Army began its assault on Stalingrad against the Russian army. We were the only US troops in the area–most of the battle was fought between German and Russian men. We were a small division, numbering 2,000–a fraction of the million plus soldiers engaged in combat to our north in Stalingrad.
We began our journey toward the battle several days later, but soon a small fraction of our division–myself included–became separated from the rest of the regimen as two dozen Panzer tanks had literally driven a wedge between us and the rest of the company. We managed to reestablish radio communication with our company as they continued north toward Stalingrad, and we were forced to withdraw several miles to the west, near the Caspian Sea. Forty-one men were killed during the Axis assault, and with no working radio, the survivors were unable to call for much-needed ammunition, water, reinforcements, and K-rations. The Germans continued to hammer at us and we, in turn, retreated further west. The attacks continued morning through night for the next ninety-six hours. We were near the point of exhaustion, having not slept for nearly four days.
We caught up with our regimen on the evening of the 22nd. We numbered 166 and every damn one of us neared exhaustion. All but the most essential of supplies were abandoned. Shortly after midnight the firing ceased. The enemy appeared to withdraw. We watched from afar as hundreds of Axis soldiers simply moved past us, toward the Volga, and vanished into the night. We assumed even the Nazis needed to rest or were planning to regroup with their comrades to join the Stalingrad advance. By 02:00 of the 23rd, most of the company had fallen asleep. Because we’d discarded the bulk of our nonessential provisions, we lacked blankets and sleeping bags. However, even the cold, moist earth was a welcomed respite from the savagery of war. By 04:00, all but a skeleton crew of soldiers, who guarded the northern and southern ends of the camp, were asleep. Our own exhaustion, perhaps, contributed to what would happen next.
So quiet was the enemy’s attack that none of the sleeping soldiers were roused, even slightly, from their slumber. The enemy moved silently into our camp while we slept and dreamt of happier times, better places. The snakes slithered across our turf, positioning themselves for the final assault.
The attack was fast and decisive. The sharp German steel blades gouged at the throats of the sleeping regimen en masse. I felt the cold blade as it swept across my throat, felt the familiar warm redness of blood as it poured down my neck and across my chest like water from a fountain. I stared into the eyes of my killer. There was such hatred in those eyes. He was more child than man, but a child fueled by disgust and determination. I looked into, and then beyond, his eyes. I gazed past his eyes and saw the simultaneous savage acts being committed by others like him–some younger, others older–but all with a clear objective. I struggled to free myself but the bayonet was deep in my throat, its pointed tip pushing against the inner wall of my trachea. He thrust his weapon further still and the black tide took me down, down. The black tide turned crimson and all around me faded to black.
I awoke forty-eight hours later. The smell of death and decay littered the air. The odor reminded me of Palmer, who died in the boxcar years earlier, only this was worse; so much worse. I looked, through bloodshot eyes, at the rampage the enemy had wrought, at the dead of company 173. Like me, they’d been attacked while they slept. Yet I survived. I alone survived.
The wound on my neck had nearly healed. I didn’t need to see it to know this to be true. In another day, perhaps two, it would heal entirely. I walked slowly across the campground for someone–anyone–who might still be alive. There were none.
The enemy had scoured the camp. What few provisions, as well as weapons and ammunition we had, were gone. One by one I moved the bodies of my fellow soldiers into the center of the camp. After saying a prayer I doused the corpses with kerosene from several broken lanterns. I sat next to the fire and thought once more of my place in the world at this time. The enemy had shown me the horrors of war in a new and disturbing way–a way I’d not thought possible.
I very much wished to retaliate.
November 1944: I wear the ash of my fallen comrades upon my face. It reminds me of why I am here, what I must do. The killing is neither enjoyable nor pleasant. It is something I already want to forget, even though I know my work is not finished. I destroy not merely human lives, but infrastructure, weapons, and munitions depots. I commandeer the explosive devices from the enemy and use them to my advantage. During an assault on Heidelberg Gartens, I walk into the enemy’s stronghold draped head to foot in explosives. The enemy does not fire upon me for fear that a spark might ignite the explosives. How could they anticipate that I would detonate the charge and obliterate all within–myself included. I am unsure whether I am capable of surviving the explosion, but that doesn’t inhibit me from the task at hand. The heat, flames, and concussion from the explosions are immense, yet somehow I survive. I always survive.
And while the American Dream wages his war against the enemy publicly, I attack in a much more private, personal manner. My cause is furthered through speculation and gossip from within the enemy’s camps. There are reports of a soldier who cannot be felled by gunfire. The German army refers to me as “der unsterblich einzelganger,” the deathless lone wolf. As my attacks escalate in number, so do the stories of my invulnerability. There are reports of the invisible enemy whose face is a “totenmaske,” a death mask. I am no longer considered human. I do not seek to become legend; I wish only for the war to end. If this is, indeed, my purpose–to strike at the enemy from within–then I feel my objectives have been met a dozen times over. My hands are dyed red with blood.
I hear rumors that the war will shortly end, that the Axis will soon fall, though time will tell whether this proves true. Meanwhile, there is still much work to do.
May 2, 1945: The end of the war is eminent. German forces surrender to the Allies in Berlin. Four days later, on May 6, German Fuehrer Doenitz surrenders Germany. All U-boats are ordered home and all armies are ordered to cease fire. The following day, in Rheims, France, General Alfreid Jodl signs the unconditional German nation surrender document. Although Germany has fallen, the war against Japan continues.
June 21, 1945: The city of Okinawa is captured by the U.S. Army and Marines. American casualties are high, with 12,000 killed and 36,000 wounded. The number pales, however, against the 112,000 Japanese killed during the battle. The following week, representatives of fifty nations meet in San Francisco to sign the World Security Charter, formally establishing the United Nations.
July 21, 1945: One month after Okinawa’s capture, the United States delivers a final ultimatum to the Japanese: Quit the war or face total destruction. The warning is ignored.
August 6, 1945: The bomb bay doors of the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber piloted by Colonel Tibbets of the 509th Composite Group are opened and “Little Boy,” the world’s first atomic bomb, is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. One minute later, 66,000 are dead and an additional 69,000 are wounded.
Three days later, on August 9, “Fat Man,” the world’s second atomic bomb, is dropped on Nagasaki, killing 39,000 and wounding 25,000. The following week, on August 14, Emperor Hirohito announces the defeat of Japan to his people and accepts unconditional surrender. The war is at last over, though I can only wonder if a world as large as this, populated by individuals of so many differing beliefs, cultures, and aspirations, can ever truly be at peace.
NEXT: . . . as a Mad Immortal Man continues.