May 25, Blake Palmer rated it it was amazing. This a prequel to all of the other escape from furnace books. This one was really cool because it ended up solving a bunch of stuff that was a mystery in the actual original five books. This one's protagonist is a soilder in war who is trying to escape a nazi army while at the same time trying to find a captain who had gone missing.
This one was probably one of my favorite book in the series. Oct 10, Ted Lantvit rated it really liked it. This book is really good! If you have read the Escape from Furnace series, then you would like this book. I liked this book because it is very detailed on the events that takes place and explains how the Warden Cross became the head of the Furnace Penitentiary.
This book takes place during the Nazi invasion. There are 4 rogue men who are all on different sides of the war who teamed up Response: There are 4 rogue men who are all on different sides of the war who teamed up together to fight these strange creatures of the night. The men are all alone in the woods where the strange beasts live.
The men are scared out of their minds because the beasts are picking them off one by one until there were only two left. The two men quickly realized that if they want to survive, the will have to start killing the beasts. One of the men named Kreuz had a bag full of explosives powerful enough to blow up a full camp of soldiers. The men knew the beasts were coming for them, so they had to act quickly before they get attacked. They rigged the bag to a body of one of their friends hoping the beasts will take the bait. Everything was going to plan until the fuse came undone and the trap did not do off.
Kreuz had an idea. He picked up the pistol that was on his belt and shot the trap. The two men were saved. Then a group of soldiers overheard the explosion and came quickly to the scene. The group of soldiers found Kreuz and stopped in front of him demanding him to surrender. The black suits surrounded Kreuz but did not kill him. Then Kreuz heard a strange voice in his head. The voice laughed and told him to kill his friend. Kreuz obeyed and shot him in the head. The voice called Kreuz to him and the black suits followed him. Kreuz became the Warden for the worse prison for boys in the world where nothing but evil happens, and soon he tried taking over the world with his evil monsters.
Kreuz is one of the main characters in this book. He does change very little in this book because he is an evil person in this book. He starts off as a leader of the Turkish squad and later leads a big prison called Furnace where dark things happen. I would recommend this book to anyone who has read the Escape from Furnace series of any age and gender because The book explains how the Warden Cross became the head of the Furnace Penitentiary and became the most evil person in the world.
Jun 02, Grw rated it really liked it. It's as well written as everything the author does, there's some good characters, some nice twists, a decent plot and everything else. However, I just can't see where, or indeed why, it fits into the "Escape From the Furnace" series. It really doesn't give any extra background information about the characters form those books, although it doesn't detracts anything either. I'm not even sure in which order of the series you should read this. It's numbered as 0. But to read it anywhere else would be a destruction from the main plot for the reasons mentioned above.
However there is one thing that bugs me about this more than anything else, and which is never really either explained or explored. And what's the connection between the character in this, and the one in the main series that share the same last name? And, no, I don't mean Warden Cross! Feb 12, Katherine rated it really liked it Shelves: I am not much of a horror reader, but this series has been on the edge of everything I've read for a while.
I decided to give this little starter story a try to see if I was at all interested. The short story is pretty good. I enjoyed the progression that the main character goes through throughout the story. The whole thing is told like a third person journal, written out on a timeline. It gives a sense of just how quickly the world descends into madness for these soldiers and how the most major I am not much of a horror reader, but this series has been on the edge of everything I've read for a while.
It gives a sense of just how quickly the world descends into madness for these soldiers and how the most major events of your life, the ones that you remember forever and seem to take so long, can happen in such a short amount of time. There was a palpable fear in this book, but not much one of gore. It was more a dread of waiting, and then the fear of being hunted by the unknown. It was chilling without being can't-read-alone-pee-your-pants terrifying. I may look into the rest of the series. Aug 26, Shandra rated it liked it. A short story that gives us a glimpse into one of the major evil characters in the series.
We get to see how he becomes what he is throughout the series. I would've liked to see more explanation on what the night children are exactly, like how they came to be. All in all, a good prequel to the series. This is a really quick, enjoyable, dark series. Bietet sich aber perfekt vor dem vierten Buch der Reihe an.
Jan 13, Xavier rated it it was amazing. Apr 18, McKenna Quinn rated it it was ok Shelves: This book was definitely well written but I ended up finding it pretty uninteresting. May 29, Alyssa Atkinson rated it it was amazing. This book was so good!! I have been raving over this book with my sister for a week since I started reading!
I soooo recommend this book to those who have read the other books to this series. It explained so much!!! Oct 03, robert91 rated it it was amazing. Dec 18, Jez rated it liked it Shelves: Not sure if this classes as a spoiler but it might to some people. This book is about how view spoiler [Warden Cross met Furnace, and it will make you hate Cross even more. Mar 14, Virginia rated it it was amazing. Great Read I love the background given information for the series. I'm usually not a fan of world war books but this was very well written.
I expected more from this little story. It didn't really answer any questions. Yeah, it was kind of interesting to see where it all kind of started. At least, we got to see where Furnace and Cross first met, and among the soldiers was a woman named Joan Sawyer wonder who she's related to?! But I want to know what Furnace is making these monsters for! To rule the world? And I want to know more about Furnace and where he came from. At this point in the story he has alrea I expected more from this little story. At this point in the story he has already been experimenting on kids for a while.
And what made him single Cross out to take him under his wing? Was it because he believed that Cross had killed all his 'pets' on his own? Did he just sense something evil in Cross? Separate from that how do they choose the kids they want to frame and get thrown in Furnace? I want to know these things!! Ehh, hopefully I'll have these answers once I finish the series. Nov 07, E. This story answered a lot of questions I had about the origins of some of the characters.
It takes place during WWII and though it isn't historically accurate in all of the information, it didn't bother me. This series is Science Fiction and this story fit well into the rest of the series with the same great descriptions. There are some aspects that are described in great detail while other instances Gordon lets my own imagination fill in the blanks. I found the characters to be unique and reali This story answered a lot of questions I had about the origins of some of the characters.
I found the characters to be unique and realistic and I was rooting for them even though the story is fairly short. It is a great character history and really made me think about how the various characters changed over time. It is also great fodder for future nightmares. Nov 24, Jacquelyn rated it liked it Shelves: I almost stopped reading this ten minutes in, because I'm not interested in war stories and it seemed to be going very slowly.
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After skimming for a bit to see if I'd miss anything worthwhile, I came across the first supernatural horror and decided to continue reading in earnest from there. While I don't usually go out of my way to read horror, I can appreciate the hard work that goes into crafting a terrifying story that doesn't cross over into trying too hard and becoming a parody of itself.
An I almost stopped reading this ten minutes in, because I'm not interested in war stories and it seemed to be going very slowly. And The Night Children is terrifying. So much so that I can't say if I'll read the actual series. It was well done, but between my ambivalence for horror and my disinterest in WWII stories, I can't give it more than 3 stars.
The Night Children
Nov 15, Kelly Moore rated it really liked it. I love a good prequel, and this one didn't disappoint me. I should've read book 3 in the Furnace series before I read this, but I think it's fine to read this one after the second book. While the Furnace books take place in the future, this prequel goes back to WWII and give some very creepy background about the origins of some of the nightmar I love a good prequel, and this one didn't disappoint me. While the Furnace books take place in the future, this prequel goes back to WWII and give some very creepy background about the origins of some of the nightmarish beings that are down in the Furnace.
Smith has a knack for creating characters that immediately seem real and make the story come alive, even when it's so creepy I wish it wouldn't! Jul 01, Angelica Castillo rated it it was ok Shelves: It offered the story of how Warden Cross, one of the most powerful men in Furnace Penitentiary, came to be.
Maybe we died back there, somewhere, and this is where we spend eternity. Mike took the lead this time, walking too fast as if to prove that there was nothing to fear. But Donnie remembered his face, his grinding jaw— something between the trees —and knew that they were all feeling that same tug of panic in their guts.
He jogged a little to catch up with him, rifle ready. And spread out, all of you, five-meter intervals. The men fanned to either side of him, treading carefully, hunched over their rifles. His pulse sounded as if something were furiously grinding its teeth inside him. Shapes between the trees. He lifted his rifle, peering down the sight as he took step after stumbling step. Sergeant Bill Cudden stood there on the edge of a small clearing, motionless.
There was something wrong with his face, and it took Donnie a moment to understand what. It had been cut loose, and hung like a flag from the top of a wooden man. Moonlight shone through the eyes and mouth, nestled like a halo in his hair, giving him the appearance of a saint. His body was a collection of sticks and branches, standing maybe eight or nine feet tall, a rifle for one leg.
A coat had been draped over his shoulders, twigs poking from the bloodied cuffs and the pockets stuffed with straw. Donnie stared at him, at this human doll, and felt something break loose in the engine of his mind. Donnie staggered forward, his rifle hanging by his side, forgotten. Two more men had been propped around the circumference of the clearing, each just as tall, each facing inward as if attending a bizarre midnight rendezvous of quiet giants. They, too, were puppets of flesh and wood, their faces leather masks worn by crude, knotted mannequins.
One—it was Albert Connaught, Donnie thought—held his helmet against his chest with twig fingers, like a pious man entering a church. His legs were saplings thrust through the eye sockets of his improvised chest. The world came undone, spinning on a brand-new axis. Donnie swung in a wild circle, the dead men surrounding him, and were they closing in, taking clumsy steps with their stick-legs, their gaping mouths uttering voiceless truths?
He felt his body give way, shaking hard, and it was only the adrenaline that kept him on his feet, the thought that if he lost it here then soon it would be his face hanging there, eyes like buttonholes. He looked back, saw Eddie on his knees clutching at his throat, Henry and Mike to either side of him, suddenly aged. And Joan, standing there shaking her head as she sobbed into her hand, I told you not to come. I told you it was something bad. But never in his life could he have understood. And get Eddie on his feet. Mike flinched at the barked command.
He did, although it took an age for him to focus. He was going into shock. It usually happened with an injury, a bullet wound or shrapnel, but Donnie had seen minds snap for plenty of other reasons, too. You, uh, you remember those pamphlets Gunny found back in Bastogne?
The ones about the gas? Donnie held him in place, kept eye contact. Davidson, Crawford on that mine. He let him go, left his arms hanging there in case Eddie slumped to the ground again. But the boy stayed standing. Donnie checked Mike, then Henry, both pale but alert. Then he walked to Joan. She shook her head, then nodded it, tears as bright as diamonds etching down her cheeks.
Donnie swore, marching back into the clearing, refusing to look up at the crinkled, old-men faces of his friends. Fresh snow had fallen here as it had everywhere else, and he kicked it away until he found the crimson ice below, sweeping his way from side to side, back to front, until he stood in the center of a spiderweb of frozen blood that ran from corpse to corpse to corpse in perfect symmetry. Sie sind alle gerettet.
Henry, get on the radio and see if you can find the nearest squad. I need you to check for prints, for broken trees, anything that might tell us what happened to the rest of the squad. His face looked so drawn that it too seemed as though it had been worked loose. He felt sick for saying it, and he knew the others could see the cowardice in his eyes.
But he could see it in them, too, even in Mike, who looked away without a single word of protest. Nobody would argue, not this time. Do they still have their faces? He almost giggled, he almost broke. They crunched off into the snow, keeping well wide of the clearing and its conference of the dead as they vanished behind the pines.
Henry had the radio out and was speaking softly into the handset. Donnie wiped a hand over his face, the skin there so cold it was burning. Miles away from the front? Who is going to see it, Donnie, aside from the birds? It must have taken hours. And the words, gerettet. How on earth are they saved? He stepped away, trying to think of something else, trying to think of home—of Betty laughing on his stoop, Betty taking his hand, kissing his fingers, Betty leaving with tears in her eyes—until the pain shifted and dulled. The man looked up, shaking his head.
Mike, Eddie, I said get back here now! Something answered him, a soft cry that turned his bones to snow. He looked at Joan to make sure she had heard it, too, and she had, because she was reaching into her pocket for the Webley. Donnie swiveled his rifle around as the noise was repeated, more animal than human, coming from the direction of the clearing. The sound again, a mewling that ebbed into a wet purr. It was impossible to tell how loud it was, or how close.
The mewls became a roar, louder than an M2 spitting out rounds. Donnie fired again, still retreating, and this time a shape moved out from behind Cuddy. Donnie almost had time to feel relief before he saw that this thing too had a body of broken branches, and eyes of fathomless pitch. It unfolded itself, long arms dropping to its side, crippled by countless joints. Its torso was bent and broken, and yet when it took a step forward there was no denying the power there in every exposed muscle.
It opened its mouth and unleashed another guttural, awful scream. It managed three steps before recoiling, a gout of black blood erupting from its head. It howled, thrashing, and Donnie fired once, twice, again and again until the Garand pinged and the clip ejected. The creature threw itself between two pines, shedding gluts of oil-black blood.
The branches cracked, the trees rustling as it forced its way through them. He felt a hand on his arm, Joan dragging him away from the clearing. The creature squealed in pain and something answered—a distant banshee scream, followed by another, this one closer. A gargled howl, more screams, and footsteps coming from the same direction as Eddie and Mike, too large and too fast to be human.
It sounded like a horse in full gallop, the earth trembling. Donnie ran, groping in his belt for a fresh clip. There was something there, in the snow, and he fired twice before fear drove him onward. Henry had stopped ahead, loosing cover fire from his own Garand. Donnie grabbed him by the collar, hauling him up. It sounded like there was a zoo behind them now, like every single animal had been woken—desperate grunts and excited shrieks and those same awful forlorn cries, so full of human grief, so much like a child , that Donnie almost stopped.
He sped up, not caring that he might slip or hit a low branch in the unearthly gloom, just needing to be away from that clearing. He ran, they all ran, and the noises behind them grew quieter and more distant until they faded into the silence of the forest. He ran, wondering how he ever could have been frightened by the quiet when there were noises like those in the world. Somewhere in the darkness was a dream of a trench, of faces in the mud, but Donnie was pulled from it by another kind of nightmare. He tried to move and it felt like a Model 24 detonating behind his eyes.
Pain pulsed down his face, ringing in his nose and teeth, bearable only because the cold had rendered him so numb. He opened one eye, the world slowly re-forming itself. There was a young tree right in front of him, little more than a shoot, crystals of snow clinging onto the pines and nestling like dew in the knotted stem.
The world beyond swam into focus. Black boots, long coats marked with the white and black cross of the Wehrmacht. He tilted his head, trying to move as slowly as possible, but the pain amplified with such intensity that a groan spilled from between his lips. Donnie felt hands on him, hauling him onto his knees. He gagged, thinking that he might vomit, but the acid only made it as far as his throat before simmering back down. Donnie did as he was told. Right in front of him was a German soldier.
Donnie shook himself loose, glancing to his left to see Henry and Mike, both kneeling, their hands tied behind their backs. Neither of them looked back. Eddie and Joan were nowhere to be seen. Three little American boys, lost in the woods. Was it you, Yank bastard? They all had Mausers, although some held Lugers, too. The soldier who had spoken last stood to one side, his helmet off to reveal cropped blond hair.
Shall we do that? You all deserve to die, for what you did. Donnie swallowed, studying the vast black hole that swept back and forth before him, trying not to think about the bullet there. He had no idea what happened when you died, but he knew this much: If he died here then this is where he would stay. He would never escape. He would be forever trapped here, between the trees. Wir sind ein, uh , search party.
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He cocked his weapon and it was all Donnie could do not to scream not here, please not here! But he never got the chance. The voice came from the trees, and its effect was instantaneous. The soldier, Hans, snapped his revolver back into its holster and stood to attention, every other man doing the same, saluting as a silhouette peeled itself from the shadows.
Social media firms face £18m fines if they send children notifications at night
The figure strode into the middle of the group, at least a head taller than the rest of them, and removed his helmet to reveal a face that was more scar than skin. His eyes shone blue even in the half-light of the forest, and there was murder in them, as cold and emotionless as the glint of a bullet. Another soldier stepped from behind the giant, as skinny as the other was wide.
He was young, the same age as Eddie maybe, almost lost in the folds of his greatcoat. And yet he wore the emblem of a first lieutenant. He stumbled over the snow until he stood in front of Donnie, his acned teenage face curling into a smile. To frighten us back into the arms of the Fatherland. But do we look scared? Donnie frowned, trying to make sense of what he was hearing. Why did the Germans think they were assassins, butchers, when it was they who had murdered Cuddy and his men?
The man read an unspoken order there, walking up to Mike and backhanding him across the cheek with a sound like a gunshot. He managed to stay upright, spitting blood. Tell me where their bodies are. Tell me why you left their faces behind. The men we were trying to find, the Americans, they had their faces removed. Something out there in the trees. Someone else was speaking— what we saw, it was no man —and Donnie saw it, too, charging from the darkness of his memory, the creature with nothing-eyes.
And yet it was. His head was so full of blood that it felt about to pop, the forest all but gone. He just lay there, trying to pick up words as the Nazis argued among themselves. They are just boys, do they really look like they could have overpowered Holzmann and Kohl—. The soldiers did exactly that, going for their Mausers and swinging them into the darkness between the pines. There was a gunshot and one of them crashed to the ground with a wound in his leg.
But it was evidently convincing enough, because one by one the Nazis dropped their weapons—all except for Kreuz and the giant, who had both drawn their Lugers. His rifle was pointed right at Kreuz. There is just one of them. The giant obeyed his order, raising his pistol toward Eddie. He staggered, dropping the gun. He hawked up a ball of phlegm, spitting it to the ground, and finally let the gun slip from his fingers. Eddie took a step forward, his helmet sliding down over his eyes. He pushed it back, his rifle wavering wildly, sweeping between the Germans.
Donnie, can you get your hands free? There was a tug, the scrape of a knife against cord, then his hands were loose. The boy went for his gun, but Donnie was quicker. He threw himself at the Luger, snatching it and bringing his arm up in a looping arc. The Germans looked at each other, then sank to their knees, hands on their helmets. Donnie aimed the Luger at the giant until he too joined them. Only Kreuz remained standing, but it was insanity, not courage, that burned in his young eyes.
Donnie ignored him, walking over to Mike and Henry and working loose the ropes around their wrists. They both stood, rubbing the welts on their arms. Mike picked up the Luger dropped by the giant; Henry skipped over and reclaimed his Garand from the snow. We should tie them up until we work out what to do. A bone-white animal burst from the trees like a freight train, clearing twenty feet in a single leap. It landed on Eddie, folding the boy into a crumpled pillow of wet cloth, which it scooped up in monstrous fingers.
Other than the flakes of snow that dropped lazily from the pines there was no sign that anything had been through there. Branches cracked and another creature bulldozed into the crowd, this one huge and pink, as big as four men.
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The beast was grinning, a playful smile. Donnie raised the pistol and fired after it, the Luger barking in his hands but the bullets hitting nothing but wood. Joan was shooting, too, and one of the Germans who had found his feet and his gun. Chaos erupted as others followed, the deafening roar of an MG 42 machine gun and the snap of Mausers. It was the creature from the clearing, its single eye blinking as it tore into a Nazi.
Donnie raised his gun but Henry clamped a hand on his arm, shaking his head. The beast was busy, laying into its prey like a kid with a toy soldier. It uttered a grunt of delight, throwing the corpse to one side and searching for another victim. Its face was ravaged by the gunshot wounds it had taken earlier, but bathed in moonlight, and there was no denying that it, too, had once been a child.
It must have seen one before, because with a howl it bounded away, covering its head with its enormous hands. The explosion rocked the forest, shaking the snow from the trees. Donnie ran, crashing into a German who was going in the other direction. The air was full of smoke, the acrid stench of cordite and gunpowder, but through it he could see Joan sprinting fast. Donnie hurled himself after them, branches ripping his helmet away, tugging at his clothes as if to hold him there for the freaks.
Strobing gunshots lit his path, making everything move as if it were in slow motion. Behind him somebody was screaming out a prayer in German, the words cut off by a liquid snap. Mike was there, too, clutching a stolen assault rifle as he overtook them. He glanced at Donnie, his eyes small and dark and full of madness. He bolted after her, his body seeming to grow heavier with every step, the adrenaline ebbing from his blood and the cold creeping there in its place until he felt like he was a man carved from ice and stone. His run slowed into a jog, then to a stumbling, drunken walk, and he eventually stopped, leaning against the bare trunk of a tree.
Henry stopped next to him, doubled over; then Mike trotted into view, aiming the StG 44 over his shoulder. It was impossible to hear anything past his jackhammering heart and wheezed breaths, but there was no sign of life back there, not even the spark of gunfire. Just the forest, once again still and silent and softly dark. He took a deep breath, tried to hold it so he could listen. He straightened, motioning toward the sounds with the Luger.
Henry nodded, Mike, too, and together they stalked toward them. There was a slap, a grunt, and Donnie increased his pace to see three figures. One was Joan, on her knees. Kreuz stood over her with one hand around her neck and the other overhead. The giant looked on, a golem of flesh standing guard. Then he grabbed Kreuz, throwing the boy to the ground and planting a boot on his chest. He looked at Mike. Kreuz struggled, spitting out a tirade of abuse in German and English. Mike and Henry set about tying up the giant. Donnie would have helped, only the clearing was spinning like a carousel.
He braced himself, heaving out a jet of milky white vomit. Donnie took her hand and hauled himself up, the world still shaky but no longer cartwheeling. The giant was secured and Henry was slapping him firmly on the cheek trying to bring him around. That meant no compass, no map, no supplies and no fire. He glanced between the others, his heart sinking.
And surely it was one of them, a behemoth with six legs which blundered forward uttering whimpered groans. The one in the middle limped along, one leg drenched in blood from where Eddie had shot him. The other two carried him, both holding up their free hand in surrender. Sure enough, Donnie could hear a distant cry, the chuckling laughter of a child. He turned to Henry. Donnie grabbed Kreuz under his armpit, helping the boy scramble onto his feet. He was quiet now, and fearful. He too must have heard the whoops of delight rising in pitch, getting closer.
Henry was shaking the giant now, but the big man was out cold. Every man has a right to defend himself. Donnie nodded at Henry. The forest grew all around them, stretching for miles in every direction, and who knew what other horrors lay in its moldered roots, its skeletal branches? Is there even a world left out there? Maybe this place has swallowed it all, maybe we could walk for a hundred years in the same direction and never leave, just end up back where we started.
He heard the cries, almost like children at the beach, only tinged with cruelty, with desperation, with rage—a record played backward at the wrong speed; then he pointed in the opposite direction and started to walk. When they could not take another step, they stopped, drained by fear and exhaustion. The noises behind them had softened, then finally stopped about half an hour ago. Yet they had kept treading a path through the snow-strewn undergrowth, slumped against each other, tripping with every other step, cramped and half-crazed, until they had fallen.
Now they huddled in a circle around a rusted gas stove that one of the Germans had pulled from his backpack, the flame guttering in the calm air as if it were trying to wish itself out of existence. Donnie, too, prayed that it could be so easy—snuffed out in an instant, never again to face whatever it was that had bounded from the trees with an infant grin and blood on its breath. He shivered, pressing himself into the slender figure of Joan by his side. She still wore the parachute, wrapped tight around her throat to hide the bruises there. Beside her was one of the Germans, his body racked by the same tremors.
Next to him was Mike, then the other two Nazis, then Henry, and finally Kreuz still bound tight and gagged. He was alight with fury, Donnie knew, and biding his time. They should have left him with the giant, left them both to be devoured. Kreuz lifted his head, grunting something beneath his muzzle, but the other man ignored him. He nodded at his first lieutenant, and the two locked eyes for a few seconds before Kreuz looked away. This is Andreas Becker and Gyorgy Markus. Joan had bandaged the wound a while back, but the shinbone had been totally destroyed and the wound was an ugly one.
The rest of them. He led us into the snow looking for little lost American boys like you. Kaninchen , how you say. Kreuz kept his eyes on the ground, fuming quietly. In it for the glory, but as soon as the shooting starts they fall to pieces. Then something started picking us off. Holzmann and Kohl just vanished into thin air. When we found them. But he must have known the truth. Nothing human could do that. He was about to ask who when the boy began to speak, his words shaken up by shivers and sobs.
Next to him, Andreas translated. His grandmother, and her grandmother, and her grandmother, they told stories of the forest, of the creatures who lived there. They were stolen when they were babies and taken into the woods. They would grow up there, becoming fat on moonlight, given flesh as hard as bark, limbs as tough as branches. They became stronger than any man, faster, but they were broken, because they never grew old, they were always children. So the night children, they became angry. They can never go home because they have the night inside them. He was growing weaker by the second, blood seeping through the bandage on his leg.
But he carried on talking. They thought that if they collected pieces. If they looked human, then they would grow old like mortal men. They want to fix themselves. But they cannot fix themselves. They are broken, and they will never rest. Gyorgy spoke again, but this time it was Stefan who explained: We belong to them. But then he blinked and his lips began to move again, Andreas leaning in and catching those whispers, saying: We should rest, just until dawn.
Besides, we stand as much chance of running into them as we do getting away from them, wandering around in circles in the dark. The moon had sunk beneath the trees, the faintest trace of silver feathering the trunks. The sky was low and heavy, ready to compound their troubles with more snow. As much as Donnie wanted to be on the move, leaving the nightmare behind, he knew that they would step into a grave much more swiftly if they set off again now.
Stefan nodded, drawing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them, using them as a pillow. Gyorgy coughed, a line of crimson spit hanging from his lips, and Andreas pulled him tighter, stroking his head gently and murmuring something soft and sweet. Kreuz still glared at the fizzing stove, the mechanics of his mind almost visible in the intensity of his gaze.
Mike stopped pacing, squeezing back in next to Stefan and cradling the assault rifle on his legs. She smiled at Donnie, and it could have been dawn already. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her tight, both shivering together, blowing out puffs of cotton wool breath. He watched them entwining in the heat from the stove, rising up toward the storm-laden sky, fading into the vast weight overhead.
He rose from the trench at the sound of his name, his feet stuck for an instant in the mud—gripped by hidden fingers as a hundred faces stared from the wet earth and screamed for him—but then slipped loose, letting him drift out of the dream. A weak light filtered into the forest from the horizon to his right, silky ghost fingers that probed the trees, searching.
Joan was next to him, her head on his shoulder, snoring gently. The others dozed, too, even Kreuz, who was curled up cat-like around the cold stove. A whisper, coming from close by. He glanced at Mike, and Henry, both sleeping. He recognized it instantly. His mouth dried out so quickly that he uttered a frightened croak. It was Eddie, there was no doubt about it, that same high-pitched, nasal voice. But Eddie was dead. Eddie had been crushed, folded into a concertina of flesh, carried off into the night. There was no way he could have survived, not like that, not broken into pieces.
There was an explanation for this, something simple. He was still dreaming. Donnie stood up, easing Joan to the floor. Her breathing quickened and she almost woke before sinking back into sleep. The scene before him could have been a publicity shot for the peace effort, four Nazis, two American GIs and a British Royal Air Force pilot, all curled up together on the thawing ground like babes in the wood. Maybe the whole thing has been a dream , he thought.
Because how can this be real? How can any of it be real? But he could feel the morning chill on his cheeks, the softest of breezes in his hair, the crunch of the snow underfoot. It was coming from his left, from the darkest part of the burgeoning dawn, where the gaps between the trees were like holes in the fabric of the world.
Surely to step through there would be like stepping into a void, an abyss where he would never again find light or solid ground. And yet he set off toward it anyway, waiting until he was far enough away from the others before calling out:. Where were the birds? Even on the front, even the morning after a firefight or mortar attack, the birds had sung out, their memories short and their optimism relentless.
Here, only the dead could talk, and they did, softly: No voice this time, just an awful, rattling wheeze that rose in pitch, lasting too long. It became a bubbling choke, then a soft, wet purr. The sickening noise came again, like a dying man drawing his last breath. He should at least wake the others. But something drove him on, alone, through the thickening needles, into the snow. He stepped out into a line between the trees, so long and so straight that it could have been a hospital corridor. The pines knitted overhead, cutting out the rising sun, and yet the snow picked up what little light there was and bounced it back tenfold, making the whole world glow.
Eddie was there, and he was the wrong way around. His body, broken in a hundred places, was facing toward Donnie. But his shaved head was wrenched backward so that it looked as though his face had been erased. A man held the other end of the rope, dressed in a long coat, black boots and a gas mask. His body was riddled with twitches and spasms, his hairless head snapping back and shaking as if he was having some kind of a fit.
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He steadied, fixed his piggy eyes on Donnie, clawed in a choked, wheezing cry of delight. Not a man at all. How could it be? The creature wheezed, then pulled, hoisting Eddie into the air. The boy began to turn, slowly, the rope making machine-gun pops as it ground against the wood. He was lost, surrounded by needled fingers that poked and scraped, the giant pines uttering creaks of mocking laughter as he crashed between them.
He was lost, the panic swelling in his throat as he imagined himself running into a wheezing figure in a gas mask, feeling puffy-fleshed hands around his throat. He was lost; at least he thought so until he tumbled from the dense, unforgiving foliage and saw the others there, a hundred yards away, awake now and startled by his sudden reappearance. She was by his side in an instant, her hands on his head, Mike and Henry close behind. He told them, as much as he could remember anyway. The memory was already fading, as though his conscious mind was trying to extinguish its flame before it burned right through him.
Donnie stood, feeling the welts on his face from running through the pines, feeling the weakness in his legs, the gaping emptiness in his belly. The forest seemed vast, the nearest camp a million miles away. They would never make it. Stefan stared into the depths of the forest. You heartless Nazi bastards. None of us is safe. Looked like a Nazi uniform to me, that was a German gas mask anyway.
He swallowed it down, started again. You reach anyone on the radio? We should not fight. To sit around campfires telling ghost stories? Shoulda shot you all good and dead. Or fire the mortar that got Will? Get on your knees. Andreas stood by his side, both of them defiant. Donnie could hear Kreuz squealing through his muzzle, foreseeing his own execution. Better do it quick. He looked past Stefan to see the boy worming his way backward, his gag hanging around his neck, his eyes two searing white suns of terror as he scuffed across the dirty snow.
There was nothing there, nothing but the trees and the stove and the sky, and yet he kicked out at the ground relentlessly, driving himself away from an unseen foe. They all noticed it together—Mike lowering his Luger, Stefan cursing in German, Joan snatching in a soft, shocked breath, Andreas crying out—nothing there, no beasts, no men in gas masks, and no Gyorgy. He squirmed on his back, surprisingly strong, his eyes still huge and bright and unblinking.
Kreuz, look at me! Donnie lurched around to see Henry there, one finger to his lips, the other pointing at what looked like an empty patch of forest floor up ahead. Then Donnie looked up and saw the creature in the branches, squatting like some monstrous, hairless ape.
It was the same beast that had attacked them the night before, the one that had gone to work on the Nazis. It still wore a bib of their blood, its hands and forearms stained crimson. Here, in the light, Donnie saw that its body was packed tight with muscle, veins pulsing black beneath the scarred and stitched skin. It blinked huge inkwell eyes, then wiped a bloodied hand across its mouth, yawning. The creature straightened, sniffing the air, its body hardening into a solid mass of rock. It opened its mouth and uttered a quick laugh, like a toddler chasing a ball; then it leapt from the tree, landing hard enough for Donnie to feel the tremor run up his legs.
It bounded off on all fours, barking that same manic chuckle. They will take us all while our backs are turned. A scream cut through her words, stuttering gunshots, then silence. Stefan swore in German, letting the rifle hang limply by his side. We can make a stand. They were going to use it to blow the German camp. One of us holds those things down while the others strap it on? And when he asked himself, really asked himself, whether he thought they would make it out of this forest alive, the answer was no. And yet the alternative was to go back there, deeper into the forest, return to the clearing, that nest of wooden men with their leather faces and witch fingers.
He nodded, the fear frosting inside him, creeping through his flesh until his mind was as numb as his fingertips. Two Lugers, twenty-eight rounds. A Sturmgewehr 44 with half a mag. One Mauser, four rounds. One Garand that had been emptied the night before. Mike kept the assault rifle, Stefan had the Mauser, Henry and Donnie took a Luger each and for a while they sat staring at the grenade as if somehow it could win this war for them.
Because this was a war—not between nations, but between them and something rotten that had dwelled in this forest since its trees were saplings, between them and an ancient, unspoken evil that had crawled out of the earth to lay its eggs in the world of man. In the end Donnie snatched it up and dropped it into the pocket of his coat. They marched west and south. Henry took point, leading them back along the trail they had made the night before. Donnie, second in line, looked at the footprints in the snow, the snapped branches, the scuff marks where they had fallen, and thought once that he could see himself running by, a phantom in the half-light.
Behind him staggered Kreuz, his arms bound tight and his gag back in place. Joan followed him, with Mike at the back again sweeping the rifle in wide, uncertain circles. Dawn seemed to have given up, as if the sun had seen what lay waiting for it here and sunk back below the horizon. Snow clouds had gathered, crowding overhead like spectators, as dense and as dark as the needled trees. Only the snow held on to its light, the forest as ethereal and otherworldly as midnight, still watching their imposition with an outrage that was as deafening as it was silent.
And it was watching. It would watch until they all fell, and then they would be the ones lost in the shadows, ghosts forced to look forever out at the branches and the roots and the snow, crazed and hungry and damned. To return, to think that they could face up to whatever waited there for them. Better to be picked off in midflight, when your attention is fixed on escape, when the adrenaline makes you blind; better to never know, to spend eternity thinking you have fled; better that than this, offering yourself to your enemy knowing that they will make a mockery of you, turn your body to madness and your soul to night.
Donnie flinched, every instinct driving him away, and he clamped down on it, biting his tongue, forcing his feet to take step after step after step, marching all the way back into the inner circle of hell. Donnie shook his head, thinking of freaks in gas masks, limbs twitching in deranged excitement, piggy eyes blinking. He saw no sign of them in the trees but he knew they were there, somewhere. Was Eddie there, too? Dead Eddie, and the rest of the night children, all with their huge moon grins?
It was Joan, stepping cautiously into the place where the Nazis had held them just a few hours ago. It could have been a hundred years , thought Donnie, another lifetime. There were shell casings everywhere, as slippery as ball bearings, dark craters and blistered trees where grenades had detonated, crimson streaks melted into the snow. But no bodies, dead or alive. The scene made Donnie think of a theater stage abandoned after a show, the boards still warm, still resonating.
Mike gave Kreuz a shove, sending him sprawling onto the ground. The boy squirmed, beetle-like, trying to get up again. Give me a minute. There was a rifle next to it, but when he picked it up he saw that the barrel had been twisted around like a liquorice stick. He threw it back, wondering at the strength needed to do that, thinking how easily his bones would splinter under the same brute force. They had been emptied onto the ground, but Mike lifted a can of bully beef with a victorious grin.
He keyed it open, using his fingers to scoop out a chunk of the corned beef. He ripped them open, stuffing three biscuits into his mouth and crunching them so hard they must have been able to hear the noise back in Jersey. Mike held up a pack of Steam Rollers. She caught them, tipped a couple into her hand, then passed the packet to Stefan. Kreuz watched them eagerly, a dog waiting for scraps.
The others muttered their agreement, spreading out. Donnie walked to Kreuz and crouched down beside him. Kreuz stopped chewing, studying Donnie. There was still anger there, brewing just beneath the surface, the powerless rage of a child. His English was halting, so heavily accented that it was barely comprehendible.
Died ten years later, just after I was born. The boy nodded, and Donnie felt the mildest tug of sympathy for him. For a second something passed between them, there and gone before Donnie could make any sense of it. Give me a gun, let me fight, like my father. They would happily see me die. But I am not stupid, Corporal. I would not kill only people who stand between me and. Please, let me fight as a man, not cower here, tied like animal. Joan was there, sucking on a mint. Mike and Stefan were, too. The scream, still rising. How could anybody have so much air in his lungs?
Donnie swung round, opened his eyes to see Kreuz on his back, howling through his muzzle, being dragged across the snow by a creature in a gas mask. The beast glared at them with its coal-black eyes, warning them to stay away, and even though its mouth was hidden by the rusted contraption over its face Donnie knew what expression the monster wore: The shot went wide and the creature shrieked at them, its whole body spasming, its head snapping back and shaking wildly. It recovered itself, blundering between two trees and refusing to let go of its prize.
Kreuz fought, his face an ecstasy of terror, but he was bound tight, helpless, disappearing fast into the darkness. It cried out in anger and pain but still did not release its grip. It blinked at them as if in disbelief, tugged weakly on Kreuz, then dropped to the ground. Donnie ran over, the Luger at the ready. The creature lay where it had fallen, looking up. It tried to breathe, producing a rattling wheeze.
Blood sprayed from the wound in its neck, as thick and as black as oil, bubbling into the hollows of the forest floor and causing the snow to hiss into water. And yet its eyes, although sunken and as dark as raisins, watched them with a curiosity that was utterly human. It raised a hand to its mask, scratching at it, trying to pull it loose.
The noise it made was like a sink plunger coming loose, a wave of rot wafting up from the toothless, gaping mouth beneath. It stretched out a wide, white tongue, trying to breathe in once again, all the time watching them. Its skin was like wet pastry, lined with black, marble-like veins. It twitched once; then its eyes slid up, focusing on something that none of them could see.
She looked at Donnie. And he understood that even if he left this place, even if by some miracle he found a way home, he would never truly get away. Part of him would always be here, right here , looking down at this hybrid of madness and man; every single second, every single minute, every single day, for the rest of his life. He looked at her, then turned and walked to Kreuz.
The kid was curled into himself and whimpering, and when Donnie reached out to him he flinched. He untied the gag, threw it away, then offered the Luger to him. The more of us there are with guns, the better chance we stand of getting out alive. Kreuz snatched the weapon, scrambling onto his feet and striding over to the dead freak. He screamed something at it in German, and looked as if he was about to pull the trigger before Henry grabbed his arm. The boy stood there for a moment, then let the gun fall to his side, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. Donnie ran over to their packs, found a couple of clips in the snow and fitted one into the empty Garand.
Then he turned, saw the others waiting for him. And yet he felt strangely reassured, seeing them there—Mike and Henry, Joan and Stefan, even Kreuz, people he seemed to have always known; felt strangely reassured, knowing that whatever these things were, wherever they came from, they could be killed. He offered a smile, the expression so alien that it felt uncomfortable on his lips. But it must have worked, because they smiled back—all except the young Oberleutnant —weary and frightened but smiling nonetheless.
The dead men were waiting for them, welcoming them back with loose-lipped grins and empty eyes. But Mike opened one without caution, delving into it before throwing it to the side. He tried another, pulling out a small brown block. He reached back in and found a line of fuse and a detonator, scooping up everything and carrying it over.
Where you want it? Donnie looked at the clearing, at the silent sentinels who stood guard, who saw everything and nothing. No, they needed something else, something that their enemy would be drawn to. All the same when he started to walk she came with him, still holding the Webley.