The setting of the sun brought a particular gloom to the hospital ward full of wounded and damaged German soldiers of the Great War. Moaning of the injured and gasping breaths of the ones who didn’t put their gas mask on in time sounded like a symphony of the damned. Oil lamps cast surrealistic shadows on grey-green walls. The pungent smell of disinfectant was everywhere. When the wind was right the smoke and smell of bloody uniforms and bandages burning in a pit wafted into the building.
That night, at the stroke of twelve, an eerie quiet enveloped the hospital as a lone man, dressed as a doctor, walked through the ward, pausing one by one in front of sleeping patients who minutes before were half awake and restless with pain. He possessed a unique ability to see into their souls and was looking for just the right one.
Not this one, he thought to himself. Nor this one. Ah, here is a likely candidate.
He sat in the chair next to the bed of the soldier.
“How are you feeling tonight, corporal?” His voice was syrupy and seductive.
Startled from his slumber, the corporal opened his eyes and rasped, “I am fine Herr Doctor. I would like to be sent back to the front to be with my comrades.”
“You will be soon, after some rest to get your lungs recovered from the gas.” The doctor stared into the soldier’s dull pale blue eyes. “I will check in on you every night to talk and monitor your progress.”
The corporal nodded off to sleep and the doctor drifted away like a wisp of smoke.
The next night the doctor, who seemed to come out of nowhere, silently moved past sleeping patients and sat down next to the corporal.
“I wondered if you would be back,” he said groggily, waking from a deep sleep.
‘I said I would. I always keep my promises. How are you feeling tonight?’
“Much better. Even my voice is coming back.”
The corporal’s voice had indeed improved and was stronger, but the doctor knew it would.
“How do you see your future young man? What will you do after the war? You know things are going badly don’t you?”
“What do you mean? That is defeatist talk.” The corporal’s voice was loud and he looked around wondering if he had woken his fellow patients. They all continued their death-like slumber.
“No need to get agitated, corporal,” the doctor said soothingly. “There have always been two outcomes to war, win or lose. Sleep on that and I will come visit again tomorrow night.”
At midnight the following night, the doctor again appeared at the corporal’s bedside. The corporal woke suddenly and looked around at his slumbering comrades.
“Why am I the only one you visit?”
“I see potential in you and I want to make sure you recover and get back into the world.”
They talked well into the night. The doctor stoked and encouraged the corporal’s fears and hatreds. He described the enemy, clarified doubts he had, pointed out the way forward and told him he was the future. The corporal’s dull pale blue eyes now had an intensity and hypnotic quality.
Exhausted from all the talking, the corporal started to drift off to sleep. But before he did he asked the doctor his name so they could meet up after the war.
“You know who I am.” A grim smile broke out on the doctor’s face. My work here is done, he thought, as the corporal fell asleep.
A few days passed and the corporal, lungs healed, voice back and healthy was set to be discharged.
The day nurse came to his bed to make sure he had everything he needed.
“Well corporal, you made a remarkable recovery. Feel good enough to go back to the front? They need leaders like you.”
“Ja, I feel very good. The best I have ever felt. The doctor on duty at night was a big help and an inspiration.”
The nurse looked at him quizzically.
“We have been short-handed the past few weeks because of the big push in the other sectors. The English and the Americans have inflicted heavy casualties on us. We haven’t had a night doctor in over a week.”
“But I saw him. I talked to him!” He slammed his fist into his palm.
“Are you sure you are alright to go back on duty?”
“Ja, I am fine,” the corporal said with vehemence. “It is my destiny. It is Germany’s destiny!”
Taken aback by his outburst the nurse stood aside. “Good luck, Corporal Hitler. God be with you.”
The corporal laughed at that and strode out of the hospital.
Photo by by Alexandru-Bogdan Ghita