This one is going into shock, hold him down!"
"If we amputate now he'll die of gangrene...! Get him out of here and onto the ambulance."
"What about this one?"
"He'll survive; get his head wrapped up and onto a cot..."
~ ~ ~
Meine's eyes cracked open at the sound of a choked gargle waving across the room. A foul stench crawled through the soldier's lips and tongue before gliding down his throat. His body stiffened, weak hands piercing into the bed and shoulders growing rigid. His eyes introduced him to a murky world, as if he had been plunged into a filthy pond.
His head suddenly exploded into a spasm of painful flutters, each more devastating than the previous. He gasped, tumbling and collapsing into a puddle of liquids unknown. The muscles in his arms flared up and sprang into action, shooting his body upwards and into the hands of the medic, who firmly placed him back onto the cot.
The medic's flinching voice betrayed his otherwise vacant expression. "You've already opened the wound once; I'd rather not waste my precious time on you again."
"Wh..." Meine eyed the man, paling at the large bloodstain on the uniform. He pushed away, gripping the frames of the bedding. "Where am I...? What happened!"
"I shouldn't be surprised you don't remember a thing, boy." He pushed his glasses up with a knuckle. "Let's start with the basics, to make sure you didn't give yourself amnesia." Sitting on the cot opposite to Meine, he cleared his throat. "Name."
"Date of birth."
"M... March 15, 1920."
The medic nodded, crossing his legs. "Not as bad as I predicted. Tell me, what is the last thing you remember?"
Meine's face twisted, the throbbing in his head growing rapid. Cloudy images of places and people swiveled in front of his face, their invisible hands grabbing at his cheeks. Chaplain Ritter had been held captive by the French; Max was knocked unconscious, a sudden burst of gunfire... then...
The medic snapped his fingers, bringing Meine back to the world. "Well?"
"I..." Meine licked his lips. "I re-remember... the last thing I s-saw was..."
"Would you rather I tell you? I think it would save both of us an eternity of waiting." He cocked an eyebrow, though it was miniscule.
Silent, the soldier nodded once.
"There was an explosion at St. Bruno's church. You were grazed by a piece of shrapnel," he replied, pushing his glasses again. He put his index finger and thumb close to each other. "It took a piece this small to give you a wound that was one-eighth of an inch deep on the side of your head."
Meine's quaking caused the cot to scrape across the ground. His voice was nowhere to be found. The mist over his eyes began to thin, the commotion of Voiron beginning to clear in some patches.
"Now then. Have or are you experiencing any migraines, headaches, or dizzy spells?"
He shook his head carefully, though he could feel a storm shifting in his skull.
"Mm." The medic swung a foot back and forth. "Do you feel any pain in other parts of your body? Numbness or tingling?"
Again, he shook his head, his shoulders
He scribbled on the clipboard. "Alright then. We'll check your temperature, blood pressure, so on, and if everything looks normal, we'll get you back to your designated post." He paused, twitching his nose. "It's a shame, however
The young soldier lifted his head.
"Had you been smart and lied, I would have believed you and shipped you back to the Fatherland."
Meine stifled a murmur, inching his feet beneath the bed frame. "I
I'm n-no coward."
The medic sniffed. "Of course you're not; you're just stupid." He stood and walked off, leaving Meine to hang his head in defeat.
Teeth gritting, Meine stared at the sodden ground, then glanced over to a man on the bed parallel to his. His tunic and shirt were replaced with a map of bandages on his torso and upper shoulders, and yet he was sitting up, hands rummaging through his jacket.
Meine's staring caused him to look over. "Got a light?"
" Meine turned behind him, then back at the man. "I don't th-think you're supposed to smoke
"Yeah, what'll they do about it? Kick me out?" He shrugged, taking out a scrunched cigarette and sticking it in the corner of his mouth. "What happened, hit your head on a table?"
He frowned. "No, I
"Relax, kid, I heard what monotone said." The man groaned, easing back onto his bed.
what happened to you?"
"Honestly, I don't even remember. I was sitting on a crate, playing some cards with some friends, then
" He snapped his fingers. "I wake up here. They're shoving me off to a real hospital tonight, and then it's a vacation of lying in a soft, warm bed. Makes your toes tingle, doesn't it?"
It was as if the man were controlling the young soldier with strings. Meine jumped, a warm tickle shocking his bare feet. The soldier laughed. "I'm going to go out on a limb and say you're the Bubi of your group?"
His face flustered. "S-so what if I am...! It doesn't make me a-any less of a man."
"I'm guessing puberty did a half-assed job on you. But, hey, I've seen and heard worse. Name's Lenhard."
Lenhard stared at him questioningly, an eyebrow cocked.
"What? It's a n-name." Meine shifted backwards.
"Hey, never said it was." Lenhard stretched his arms back, cracking his neck. "Where you from, Meine?"
"Oh, ah... Bamberg!"
Lehnard's head shot up, his exclamation nearly toppling Meine from his position. "Really! Now isn't that a coincidence. Used to live real close to the Schlenkerla. Hell, when I was fourteen, they used to always mistake me for an adult and let me have at the barrels."
"Y-you were that boy?" Meine giggled. "I remember when you were dragged out of there by y-your legs...! You were bringing one of the tables out with you."
"Ah-haaa, so my reputation precedes me." A proud smirk played on his lips and he rubbed his chin. "Say, do you remember that one kid who almost drowned in the Regnitz River? The one who was saved by a Jew?"
"Oh, I w... yeah! M-my mom and I were there when i-it happened!" Meine winced and rubbed his head. "O-ow..."
"Easy there, Mine-ah; you don't want the Medical Gestapo to come bursting in here again." Standing, Lenhard limped over to Meine's bed, sitting next to him. "Tell me, how did a pretty little boy such as you get mixed into this fancy mess?"
~ ~ ~
The next three hours for Meine trickled away as he and Lenhard reminisced about their hometown. To his humor and the other patients' chagrin, Lenhard went on about how he and his brother were brought into the Hitler Youth, then bragged at how he always feigned a stomach virus and skipped out on every meeting and practice held. Meine listened on with anticipation, as if this was a story plucked from his fairy tale collection. Each tale he spun brought Bamberg before their eyes.
"So, after that whole mess was taken care of, they booted me west side with 'Good luck' pinned to my rear." Lenhard snorted. "Watch, the minute I'm back on my feet, I'll be back out there."
Meine blinked, puzzled. "Well
isn't that what we should do
? I mean, isn't that what our leader wants?"
Lenhard peered behind his shoulder before replying. "The only thing he wants is to rid our pretty little streets of these so-called 'scum', the Jews. The war is nothing more than a mask for what he's doing."
"What do you mean
"Lord, Meine. Think about it." Lenhard shifted in his bed, propping up on one elbow. "We're out here doing his dirty, doing something that really shouldn't be taking place. He's hiding his true intentions by declaring war on every little thing that moves."
Meine pursed his lips, turning his view to the other three soldiers. The one closest to him wore a mask of red, damp bandages, his cracked lips unmoving. Another lay static, a gruesome stump that was once his leg hanging from a pathetic sling.
"Face it, Meine, our so-called savior's lost it." Lenhard slumped onto the cot and yawned.
An irritated sigh escaped Lenhard's mouth. "No, Meine. I know what you're going to say, and it's no. Do you think these men, us, want to be in here surrounded by the smell of death? Do you think we want to be away from our homes, gun in hand, and be ready to blow some innocent man's head away? My father was a prime witness to the Great War; he said he went out there for adventure."
A clamp tightened about Meine's throat.
"Those were his last words to me, kid. One week later, we found out he was hit by mortar fire. We weren't even allowed to see his body because of how ruined it was." A bitter smile overtook Lenhard's face. "Well, he got his adventure after all, I like to think.
"Hitler's not saving Germany, Meine. He's drowning it in our blood."