by J.G. Grimmer
He awoke in the darkness, not with a start, sharp intake of breath, or groggy disorientation; but fully alert and exactly five-minutes ahead of the alarm clock atop the plain white-washed night-stand next to his cot. The illuminated numbers on the clock face read 4:55 as Major Percival Ethelbert Savage Hickox depressed the button between the twin bells.
It was eerily quiet as he lay on his back. If not for the ticking of the clock he could easily imagine he’d been buried alive, which in a sense was true; as he, the War Cabinet, Winston Churchill, and some two-hundred assorted staff had been interred in the warren of subterranean labs, conference rooms, and other facilities that made up the nerve center of the British war effort against Hitler beneath a massive 1.5 meter-thick layer of concrete reinforced with two layers of rails known as “The Slab,” said to be able to withstand a hit from a 500-pound bomb.
He switched on the light, its amber glow illuminating his room with its small desk, two chairs, night-stand, cot and single bath. Throwing off the insufferable Army-issued rough woolen blanket, Hickox shivered in the always damp air that clung to everything like a sweaty lover. A slight tremor rippled along the floor and a series of progressive pops could be heard through the galvanized metal duct work; as the ventilating plant located between the Chiefs of Staff Room, the Canteen, and First Aid Station cycled the cold damp air below-ground with the exceptionally warm balmy summer air above, from the pumps code-named “Anson” encased in concrete and steel rotundas 1.45 kilometers away on Horseferry Road, leaving the distinct smell of raw metal in the air.
Hickox switched on the solitary bulb in the bathroom. Its uncompromising glare bathed his face in a sallow greasy light that rendered his features ghastly, corpse-like despite compulsory sun-lamp treatments. Perhaps I am dead, he thought morbidly, whipping the shaving soap into lather and brushing it on his face; a cadaver going through the motions, pretending to still be alive.
“Damn and blast!” Hickox exclaimed, as a red bloom blossomed from the small nick his blade made along his jaw on its final pass. He quickly rinsed his face with the tepid water and applied a styptic pencil to the wound. By the time he’d dressed and gathered his slides and file-folder for his presentation to the PM he had four-minutes to spare.
Outside his room the smell of last night’s fish mingled unpleasantly with this morning’s bacon and eggs as Hickox made his way to the Cabinet War Room. The WRENS had already changed the notice boards from “Night” to “Morning” and “Sunny and Fair.” He showed his CWR Pass to the Royal Marine guard stationed at the door. First in the room he pulled down the projector screen, cued up his slides, and then he sat down and filled his briar chuckling at the government poster on the wall that warned the potentially indiscreet to “Be Like Dad, Keep Mum!”
The door opened and Winston Churchill came in, his head wreathed in thick cigar smoke. “Morning Hic,” he said, settling into his padded rounded-back chair. Soon the room was filled with officers and their aides; cigarette, cigar, and pipe smoke quickly drifted through the room in an aromatic dreamy haze. “Pray, what do you have for us today?” The PM asked when everyone was settled.
Hickox removed the black, unadorned pipe from his mouth and turned on the slide projector. His ever-present riding crop held tightly beneath his right arm. At just twenty-eight years old, Percival Ethelbert Savage Hickox was probably the youngest person in the room, and the best operative in His Majesty’s Counter-Occult Response Executive (or CORE).
It is 3 July, 1940, and a very dark time for the world as the Nazi juggernaut has conquered everything; from Norway, through Europe, west through Belgium and France, east through Poland, then south to the Black Sea, Gibraltar, the Mediterranean, and North Africa; including Egypt and much of Syria. The Soviet Union still stands, as does the isolationist United States, which will not remain isolated for long.
Britain hasn’t been conquered—yet, but it is only a matter of time as the Luftwaffe controls the skies with their jet-fighters. Immense iron and steel Krupp Goliath Air Fortresses eight-kilometers-wide have taken positions over London, Scapa Flow, and other strategic cities and installations throughout the United Kingdom. Bristling with powerful machine-gun cannons, bomb-bays, and mortar emplacements, the Nazi mechanical monsters hover like a knife ready to strike; held aloft by four huge spinning rotors, the incessant drone setting teeth and nerves on edge. Hitler has ordered that London is not to be bombed, preferring to appease pro-Nazi sympathizers—and other, much darker forces he knows all too well.
It is now well known that the German Institute for Occult Warfare (IOC), the Thule Society, and the Ahnenerbe think-tank aided the Nazi war machine with devices of supernatural and/or otherworldly origins, looted from tombs or found in places all over the world. Operatives of CORE have witnessed several preternatural occurrences in and around Himmler’s Wewelsburg Castle, wherein numerous black magic rituals were conducted by the Reichsfuhrer himself in his “realm of the dead” room in an attempt to communicate with, or worse to raise, the dead.
In the Cabinet War Rooms beneath the New Public Offices building in the Whitehall area of Westminster, relatively safe from Nazi crystal ball readers and diviners, Major Hickox directed everyone’s attention to the screen where several images of the same man were displayed. The man dressed in the black uniform of the SS elicited several gasps from the secretaries in attendance as he was quite ugly; short, fat, no neck. What hair he possessed grew in widely dispersed patches on a pink, otherwise misshapen bulbous bald head. Round frameless spectacles perched atop his decidedly pig-like nose. His left eye was an egg-white mass, the brow and cheek around it was sunken and disfigured. The cost surely for his practice of the Dark Arts.
“This is Bertolt, last name unknown,” Hickox reported. “He is a necromancer of considerable skill and CORE believes that he is on board the Goliath Air Fortress now above us. The fact that he is here poses a mortal threat to His Majesty’s Government, the British people, indeed the entire Human Race—and he must be terminated.”
“How do you propose to do that, Major?” Group Captain Oxbridge asked skeptically. He had justifiably become very pessimistic, being the sole survivor of his Wing which, along with most of the RAF was annihilated in the cauldron of Goering’s “Operation: Eagle.” The “Battle of Britain” was lost virtually as soon as it had begun, leaving what remained of England’s brave pilots and Air Ministry deeply demoralized, embittered and “Mad As All Bloody Hell!” the slogan of the new RAF.
Puffing on his pipe Hickox replied, matter-of-factly, “By going up there and putting a bullet in Bertolt’s other eye, Group Captain.”
The Cabinet War Room went quiet instantly. The PM’s eyebrows shot up in astonishment and pride. He was very fond of “Hic” and “Action This Day” officers like him. They reminded the PM of himself, especially in his youth; eccentric, reckless, and perhaps a little mad. Churchill sighed sadly and inhaled deeply on his cigar. The world is being run from Bedlam, he thought, the future of Mankind has fallen into the hands of mad men.
The light on the secure telephone connected to the Map Room flashed. The PM listened for a moment. “How many?” he asked, brow furrowed, listening. “Thank you, Air Marshal.” He said, replaced the receiver on its cradle, and looked around the room. “The Air Ministry has just reported that seven additional Goliath Air Fortresses have taken positions: over Trafalgar Square, over St. James Park, over the Mall and Marlborough Road intersections, one straddling Buckingham Palace and Green Park; one over the intersection of Buckingham Place Road and Victoria Street, over Victoria Street and Buckingham Gate; and one over the Victoria Street and Storey’s Gate intersections.”
No one in the CWR needed to be told that with the addition of those Goliath Air Fortresses in their present positions that the Heart, Mind, and Soul of the British Empire was about to fall under the black shadow of the Nazis.
“I hope that your plan is ready to go, Major Hickox.” Group Captain Oxbridge said.
“Absolutely,” Hickox replied, smiling broadly.
“Mind if I tag along?” Oxbridge asked.
“Not at all,” Hickox said, removing his service cap and running his fingers through his thick, almost platinum in color wavy film star hair. “Chandra and I would be pleased to have you join us.”
Everyone knew better than to ask how three men were going to be able to board the Nazi Goliath Air Fortress, let alone accomplish their mission; or how the killing of the of the ugly “pig-man” was somehow going to stop the Invasion.
“When do you leave?” Churchill asked, breaking the silence. Knowing with an ache in his stomach that at any moment the light on the telephone could flash, and he would be informed that the Invasion had begun.
Hickox shrugged. “Oh, collect our gear and things, Prime Minister,” he said, glancing at Oxbridge. “Say five-minutes?”
“Splendid,” Churchill said, “good-luck to you all.”
Hickox and Oxbridge snapped to attention and saluted. “Prime Minister,” Hickox said, and the two men left the room.
Outside the CWR, Hickox’s Indian Orderly Chandra waited. Two-meters in height, rail-thin, dressed in the dark green uniform of the Gurkhas, his wicked razor-sharp Khukuri at rest in its scabbard; enigmatic golden eyes magnified behind thick-lens gold-framed spectacles, hawk-like nose and long golden-brown face framed and contrasted by a wild white beard that reached to his chest, head wrapped in a black turban. Gossip ran riot through the corridors of the CWR regarding how the two men met—and an even greater mystery surrounded tales of their adventures together in the Far East. Gossip and mystery that Hickox encouraged by declining to shed any light on the subject.
“How are we going to board that monstrosity?” Oxbridge asked, as they made their way to their rooms; Chandra bending every few meters so as not to bump his head on the ironically-labeled “Mind Your Head” signs.
“One thing you need to keep in mind, Group Captain is that I love surprises, and minor details such as logistics I leave in the very capable hands of Chandra.” Hickox replied.
Oxbridge’s thin lips pursed as if he’d just bitten into a lemon. “I do not like surprises,” he said eyeing Chandra.
Hickox smiled knowingly. “Soon you will.”
Once equipped with 9mm Sten machine-guns, 9mm suppressed Welrod pistols, grenades, and ammunition, the trio emerged slightly dazed and blinking from the tomb of the Cabinet War Rooms into the bright sunlight of a glorious summer’s day. Hickox and Chandra also had Lee-Enfield sniper rifles slung over their shoulders. A beautiful clear blue sky spoiled by the black hovering iron and steel engineering marvels overhead, their steel- girded under-sides emblazoned with the swastika; the combined drone of their rotors causing the hairs on the backs of the men’s necks to stand up—well, Hickox thought, Oxbridge and I; he doubted that anything would rattle Chandra, whose serene countenance confirmed that opinion.
The air around them began to undergo a change, subtle almost imperceptible at first. It’s starting, Hickox thought and looked over at Oxbridge who to his credit appeared to notice the change as well. Small twigs, branches, and litter began to lift off the ground and swirl in the air around them, as if bidden to perform aerial acrobatics. Chandra, eyes closed, nodded to Hickox and took his hand—Hickox grabbed hold of Oxbridge’s.
“Oy, what’s this?” Oxbridge asked, now startled as the sensation of unseen fingers plucked at his shoulders, arms, and elbows.
“Surprise! Now enjoy the ride and do not let go of my hand, old boy!” Hickox said.
“Ride? What?!” Oxbridge exclaimed as three sets of unseen hands lifted the three men off their feet, and into the air. Even though the grip on his shoulders felt as though it could pulverize solid rock, Oxbridge was amazed that there was absolutely no pain; just a sustained tugging feeling as if he was being pulled up by a harness.
Soon they all had a bird’s-eye panoramic view of London. To the north Number 10 Downing Street, the Admiralty, and in the distance Trafalgar Square; to the east Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the Thames its surface glinting like quicksilver in the sunlight; to the west St. James Park’s twenty-three hectares sprawled beneath them, its beauty marred by and studded with sentry posts, pill-boxes, and barbed-wire entanglements along its length toward Buckingham Palace. Directly below their dangling feet lay the New Public Office, Parliament Square, and just to the south Westminster Abbey.
A mélange of alarms and klaxons drifted up to them, and they saw that GHQ had mobilized the Grenadier Guards, who moved with grim purpose to establish and man defensive perimeters around the Palace, Admiralty, War Office, Number 10 Downing Street, New Public Office, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. The Guards moved efficiently, not unlike a swarm of bees defending their hive. Pride swelled in the breasts of the levitating trio, and Oxbridge with his free right arm saluted their comrades below.
They had reached the approximate mid-point of the Goliath Air Fortress, riveted steel girders interspersed every four-meters with blinking red running lights, when the dissonant Thump-Thump-Thump of the mortar emplacements above them began to fire upon the defensive emplacements already sited by the Nazi artillery below; in concert with the seven other Nazi hovering monsters which began firing simultaneously. The terrible whine of the projectiles was followed by fire-blooming explosions below. The trio watched helplessly as sentry posts, pill-boxes, and men were blown to bits—the Nazi artillery-men were deadly accurate.
The Gurkha Yogi Master gently deposited them undetected on an upper cat-walk behind one of half a dozen radio towers, overlooking a marshalling area. Hickox swung the Lee Enfield around, bringing the scope to bear on the troops standing at attention below—Chandra did likewise, and Oxbridge surveyed the scene with his binoculars. An eerie quiet prevailed—too quiet as not one man coughed or even moved—unusual even for soldiers of the “Master Race;” doubly odd as the trio estimated the force below at two-hundred men.
They wore the uniform of the Fallschirmjager (Paratroops), and each carried the standard semi-automatic FG42 rifle, but there were some very unusual, what could only be metal attachments to each uniform; and what appeared to be backpacks outfitted with dials and gauges of unknown purpose from which hoses were attached and inserted into the back of each man’s neck.
What are those for? Hickox thought, focusing on the mysterious add-ons, trying in vain to fathom their function.
Chandra gasped, startling both Hickox and Oxbridge—the Gurkha Yogi Master never did that before, and we’ve seen many, many things, Hickox thought.
“What is it?” Oxbridge asked.
“Those are not men,” Chandra said, transfixed by the image on his telescopic sight. “They are the Untoten.’”
“The Untoten?” Oxbridge asked.
“German for the Undead, Group Captain.” Hickox replied, taking a closer look. Beneath the shadow cast by their helmets he could make out grey desiccated skin and spots on many of the faces where teeth, jaws, and tendons could be seen where the flesh had been torn away. Many still were missing their lower jaw entirely, or half their face; those with no hands or arms had rifle, pistol, or bayonet-prosthetics attached with tubes and hoses connecting them to the backpacks. Hickox couldn’t help but feel sorry for the buggers who probably died in combat on some battlefield, screaming for loved ones who they’d never see again.
A grinding metal-on-metal sound emanated from great iron doors atop the steel platform overlooking the army of the undead, which opened to reveal none other than Bertolt—the architect of this madness. This time dressed in the uniform of the paratroops the ugly pig-man approached a microphone located at the platform’s edge. An unearthly groan full of pain issued from the assembled undead, sending chills racing up and down Hickox, Chandra, and Oxbridge’s spines, as one of the undead was paraded out to Bertolt’s side by two SS men.
Flanked by SS officers and high-ranking officials of the Reich, banners with the swastika fluttering slightly, Bertolt switched on the microphone. “Kamerad, this fallen soldier of the Reich will complete the Rite by which these others will descend upon our enemies, and in a short time bring about Final Victory!” His high-pitched voice sounded like nails across a chalk-board, more inhuman and unearthly then the undead. It could be heard transmitted through speakers on the other floating Goliath Air Fortresses around them.
Oxbridge trained his binoculars on the Goliath Air Fortress closest to them hovering above Westminster Abbey. “Good lord!” He exclaimed, and handed the glasses to Hickox.
They were in a nightmare; through the hazy, smoke-smeared air a force of approximately two-hundred of the undead stood at attention facing massive speakers. It would be safe to assume that the same number of undead was standing in front of similar speakers on board the other Goliath Air Fortresses as well—which when tallied meant there were around sixteen-hundred undead soldiers now listening to Bertolt.
“Sahib,” Chandra whispered.
Hickox returned his attention to Bertolt and the platform below. The Nazi Necromancer stood behind the undead soldier, holding the microphone in one hand and an SS dagger in the other.
“With his Second Death our fallen kamerad will complete the Rite and lead us all into the New Aryan Future!” He shouted voice shrill and breaking, face ecstatic. Then he drew the shining blade across the grey-green skin. The undead soldier didn’t flinch; in fact he remained standing seemingly unaware of what just happened. Bertolt handed the dagger to an SS man who handed him an ornately decorated golden chalice.
Standing before and to the right of the undead soldier, the Nazi Necromancer pushed its head back, causing the wound he’d just made to open. Holding the chalice beneath as a thick, black viscous fluid began oozing out in pulsing sheets. Bertolt collected every drop. The undead soldier fell with an unceremonious thud onto the Krupp steel platform. Turning to face the Nazi dignitaries Bertolt raised the chalice in toast, and then turned to face the undead army.
Through their scopes, Hickox and Chandra saw tears’ streaming down Bertolt’s ruined face as he raised the chalice to his lips.
“What the bloody hell are the two of you waiting for?” Oxbridge said. “Take the bloody shot!”
Two shots rang out as Bertolt began drinking the foul goo. His good eye was obliterated by the bullet fired by Hickox; Chandra’s bullet opened a large hole in the Nazi Necromancer’s throat from which the black ooze seeped out, covering his chest and trousers before spreading out over the platform. The unearthly groan issued once again from the assembled undead, but this time it sounded almost joyful and was joined by the others on board the surrounding Goliath Air Fortresses. The Nazi dignitaries, those not cut down by Hickox, Chandra, and Oxbridge fled behind the safety of the closing iron doors as the assembled undead—all two-hundred of them, crumpled soundlessly to the platform. Oxbridge and spotters on the ground confirmed that the remaining fourteen-hundred undead soldiers fell at the same time. The Invasion of Britain had been thwarted.
Then all hell broke loose.
Regular living Wehrmacht troops began emerging from doors and stairwells tending to those dignitaries and officers still living, and searching for the intruders. Chandra unsheathed his Khukuri and waded into a group of six soldiers who stumbled upon their position faster than Hickox or Oxbridge could react. Within seconds all six lay dead at Chandra’s feet, their blood dripping down the steel wall.
The Gurkha Yogi Master returned, not a drop of blood on him. Oxbridge amazed an incredulous glanced at Hickox, who shrugged—he’d seen such displays many times. The other soldiers searching for them neither saw nor heard what had taken place.
“I believe now would be a good time to take our leave, sahib.” Chandra said.
The trio joined hands.
They were met by Grenadier Guardsmen and escorted to the PM’s private office. Churchill greeted them warmly with three glasses of his favorite brandy, and three cigars from his personal humidor.
“A job very well done,” Churchill said raising his glass in a toast. “You have saved us to fight another day. To fight and win.”
“Thank you, Prime Minister,” the trio replied, returning the toast, draining their glasses, and lighting their cigars.
“Group Captain, the Air Marshal requires your presence,” Churchill said. “He tells me he has exciting news regarding the prototype fighter being developed by Rolls Royce and the casters of Stonehenge.”
Oxbridge saluted. “Thank you Prime Minister.” Then he bowed to Hickox and Chandra. “And thank you, gentlemen.”
“The pleasure was all ours.” Hickox said, and Chandra bowed.
After the door had shut behind Oxbridge, Churchill turned to Hickox and Chandra, his face grim. “Major I’ve received a dispatch from CORE HQ. Have you ever heard of a man named Baron Goeth?”
Hickox’s complexion turned to ash, and Chandra shuddered. They had indeed, and compared to Bertolt, Baron Goeth’s powers were thought to come from Hell itself.
“I see by your reactions that you have. The CORE dispatch says that the Baron has been ordered to report here from Berlin immediately.” Churchill said.
“Then sir we haven’t much time.” Hickox said, gravely.
JG has been writing since junior high school, with a primary focus in the science fiction, horror, fantasy, and noir genres.
His fiction has previously appeared in SNAFU: Last Stand, Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine, and Aphelion; and is forthcoming in SNAFU: Holy War and Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.