Sights Seen

Just north of the Thuringian Forest, home to magic mirrors, talking frogs, Hansel, Gretel and their cannibalistic witch, along the Horsel River, is Eisenach, birthplace of Bach. Father and daughter tour Wartburg Castle. The old man wanted to see Europe, not with a gun. Fighting with the Rolling W, the 89th, Hank was seventeen when they liberated Ohrdruf.

“Yep, I saw Ike. He just walked and stared. Thousands of us there and it was quiet. He looked mad, or something beyond that.”

It’s their first concentration camp. They’re all fixated by the rag-covered corpses shot in the yard by escaping guards. Then comes the attack on Eisenach.

“You want something to eat?” his daughter asks.

“Not yet, maybe a coffee. It looked just like that, only without the roof, like they were still building it. You saw a lot of strange things in the war. Once there was a motorcycle in a tree, pretty high up, just as neat as if you’d set it there.”

He remembers the Bach House, its roof blown off, rebuilt now, but the museum and castle hold little interest today. They’ve been a lot of places this past week.

Later, sitting at the little cafe, Hank stares out at the pastoral landscape of small buildings and lanes with trees. Shadows look back. Human accretions of humanity, mortar and board, have slowly grown over this place where so many were maimed, crushed and burned, their delicate architectures blown to bits. Gaze long enough and only the obscure shades are visible, revenant. One youth, bleeding from a wound, laboriously strips naked, no weapon to hide. He hobbles out into view, arms raised above his head in defenseless surrender, naked as the day he first breathed air. Urged to do so, another young man takes aim with his rifle, fires. On impact, he staggers, falls, moves slightly on the ground then no more. It’s his first kill, his only, a communion in blood offering the promise of rebirth . . . to a certain kind of manhood.

Hank sees that shadow boy in his gun sight, whenever he stops to look, anytime, anyplace. Have to stop staring or only the invisible is visible. That was years ago now. There was lunch yet, other sights to see.


Published in The Ocotillo Review Kallisto Gaia Press

Number Volume 5.1 Winter 2021

Ocotillo Review - publsiher of Dan Reilly short fiction