It's been six months since my grandpa Walter J. Montgomery passed away. He died in his sleep at the age of ninety-two, in the spare bedroom of my home where he had been living for the past five years. I am just now in his old house, packing things up, making this process of his finale complete. Well, I'm not really in his house actually. I'm sitting on the rocking chair right outside, on the front porch, taking a much-needed break.
I've got two items in my hands on this break of mine. A soon-to-be-opened bottle of Steelhead Ale that I've brought with me all the way from my home in Humboldt County; and one simple photograph that I've just found in a drawer. The ale has a distinct flavor to it, and for anyone who knows beer the way I do, they'll tell you that within this flavor is a subtle richness all its own. It's quite likely, in fact, that if you were to discretely pour a glass of this ale for a fellow beverage connoisseur, one sip is all it would take for them to realize what they were drinking. But I've been staring at this photograph for an hour already, and as a marine sniper with twenty years of experience, there isn't a person alive who could convince me that I've got shitty eyesight. Yet nonetheless...
Some things in life never change much. My grandpa's house is a one-bedroom cabin in the rugged mountains five miles north-east of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Other than a few loose floor boards, some rotted siding on the south side, and a cracked kitchen window, this place is still exactly how I remembered it for all those times I've been here. It's still surrounded by a grove of pine trees, and it still overlooks that small lake right there, just past the green grass and rickety dock in front of me. I saw a moose standing in a bed of reeds on the west-end of the lake just this morning. Probably the same one I saw five years ago, when I came up here to get my grandpa.
On that day, Grandpa had been sitting on this very rocking chair as I came walking up from my truck. He wore green overalls and leather work boots, as if he had just finished cutting some wood, or was about to. But on his head was his faded blue, tattered ball cap from the Ford Motor Company. Grandpa won that cap at some auto-rally when he was eighteen years old, and for the entirety of his life, he only wore it on special occasions. Some things in life never change.
But then again, there's this photograph in my hand. And it's of something completely out of this world. And as much as my head keeps telling me I've up and gone insane, or that maybe the altitude of these mountains have affected my way of thinking, I know my eyes have never lied to me. I'm opening this beer now, because even though some things never change...some things obviously do. And when that which changes happens to be your own sense of reality, well, let's just say alcohol knows how to help smooth things over during a moment like this.
The Viet Cong used to call Navy Seals, "the men with green faces." They came up with this term on account that the Seals painted their faces in shades of green and brown, helping them to blend in with their environment. Before their whole world would get lit up in a classic ambush that rained a barrage of .223 rounds, and half a dozen Claymore mines, some of these Viet Cong undoubtedly spotted a few of those white, hungry eyes staring out from the framed tapestry of the surrounding jungle; men with green faces. But I'll tell you right now, that those Viet Cong were in no way the first ones to come up with that term. And that those Navy Seals, with their painted skin and predatory eyes, weren't the first ones to be called by such a name.
February 5th, Nineteen forty-five. The Battle of Hurtgen Forest, near the Belgian--German border. That's where my grandpa, and four other infantryman from his platoon had been rescued by what they called, "men with green faces." On patrol, they had gotten lost and wound up deep behind enemy lines. Surrounded by Germans. The winter coldness was bone-chilling, and tore at the platoon's morale like shreds of steel grated over soft flesh. But they fought with desperation, believing as they did, that surrender to the Nazi war machine would grant them a fate far worse than death.
And so then they died. Mowed down with gunfire. Blown to bits by grenades. Stabbed with bayonets. Men of the U.S. 28th Infantry Division, my grandfather's platoon, were slaughtered in a fierce battle with the Germans somewhere in that thick, snow ridden Hurtgen Forest--all except for those five men.
No one believed their story of course, when they were found two weeks later after the battle which had decimated most of them. Soldiers from the American Army, fellow brothers of that war, simply balked at the tale those five men spun pertaining to how they survived the German onslaught. They were given over to doctors to check their bodies, and their minds. They were suggested to be mentally incapacitated, gone insane from the horror they had endured in that forest, and then swiftly sent home to spend the remainder of the war in a cozy hospital.
But photos never lie.
A local European newspaper ran a story about my grandfather and those four other men. How they were found in a half-starved state of decrepit brokenness. And where they were found. What had surrounded them: The ring of filleted bodies.
"How could we have done this?" my grandpa explained to his commander, in defense of his outrageous allegory of how they had been rescued. And over the years of my life, I heard my grandpa's version of this story only three times--all by way of eavesdropping on a conversation between him and my father. But each time, Grandpa's story was always the same, and in complete collaboration with what that European newspaper had printed.
In the final moments of battle, as those Americans were being overrun by Germans, massacred by a dreadful blitzkrieg, all at once there came a deafening blare from a great horn in the sky above. It was so loud that each and every man, German and American alike, stood frozen on the battlefield in complete awe. And then there came the blinding white light.
"It was all in their hands, then," said Grandpa. "The men with green faces dropped down from gray clouds, their hands extended into razor-sharp blades...all four of them. Four hands, that is."
He went on to explain what those creatures looked like, and how they moved. Ten feet tall maybe. Bald green heads, large eyes with thick eyebrows, green faces with braided strands of purple facial hair at least a foot long. And four lengthy arms, each wielding a terrible blade.
"They moved like insects--you know? Jittery. Hoppy-like." He said they also jumped really high, and really far. They danced around the battlefield and all the soldiers like cats playing with dead mice. And then the Germans began to scream and shout, cursing obscenities in their native tongue while those things darted back and forth, slicing them up. Slicing them up real good, cutting and hacking, tearing apart human bodies limb by limb. A mass butchery.
The newspaper ran the article, and the Army was outraged: American soldiers saved from certain death by the Germans, thanks to "other-worldly" creatures with green faces, and four arms, and large bodies seemingly immune to German bullets, and German grenades, and German bayonets. It went something like that.
But those photos were there in that article. How could those men have done that? How could those five Americans who were found half-starved, frozen from both cold and terror, able to not only defeat that German army of over five hundred soldiers, but also mutilate their bodies in the fashion in which they were discovered? And then pile them high into a colossal ring?
There were three pictures in that article. One was of my grandpa, and those other four men sitting in the back of a truck, blankets wrapped around them, their faces hollow and thin. It was obvious that they had been shivering from cold and fear. You could see it past their smiles, and in their eyes.
And then there was the picture of the ring of bodies. "It gave us shelter from the snow storms. Maybe that's why we stayed in there." That was the statement taken from one of those men, as quoted underneath the photograph. Over one-hundred feet in diameter, and ten feet high. Five-hundred German soldiers ripped to shreds and woven amongst each other to create a great, circular wall of grisly death.
And then a final picture; a close-up shot at the face of one of those Germans. His ending was nothing short of absolute terror. That, you could also see in his eyes, past his screaming face locked forever in a grim howl due to a complete and sudden death.
"How could we have done this?" my grandpa insisted. And then they sent him away.
I'm a grown man. I've been in two wars myself. Hell, I've even worked alongside men with green faces: the Navy Seals. I've seen a lot in my life, but to tell the truth, I've never had much of an opinion about my grandpa's amazing story. Perhaps my mind has always been too afraid to confront the possibility that my father's dad was a raving lunatic. That he wasn't meant to endure the grim realities of war, and that he himself, along with those other guys simply snapped.
Yet that doesn't explain how he survived what he did. Or how those Germans were killed, and piled up like that. And now, as I sit here in this chair and stare at this photograph--this fourth picture that should've been in that article, God-damnit--I'm finding that maybe it's me who's turned into a raving lunatic. Maybe I'm the one who's gone insane; unable to cope with the grim realities of having my entire life filleted, then woven into a colossal ring of denial that my mind just can't seem to accept. Or won't accept.
I'm opening another bottle of Steelhead Ale, as I stare at this photograph once more. I'm seeing those creatures my grandpa talked about. They're standing out on a bleak field of snow, eyes off in the distance as if searching for something, or taking in a spectacular view from atop a mountain. I can see that they each have four arms, long and muscular. They've got thick eyebrows that frame huge eyes, and faces that might be green if this photo wasn't taken in black and white. And their faces end in a trail of long facial hair, braided, like rope hanging from their jaws. They look as if they might be standing a full ten-feet high...but that's just a guess.
These are the men that saved my grandpa and those other Americans, I know this now. These are the men who fell from a gray sky, like angels descended from heaven, only to deliver a fury of death upon five-hundred German soldiers. The same men who, after killing all those soldiers, used their razor sharp blades to butcher them, and weave their bodies into a ring of death. These are the men with green faces, and yes, they are most definitely beings from another world. In fact, there's nothing in this photograph that would convince me otherwise. Not even the tattered ball cap stenciled with the words "Ford Motor Company," as placed on the bald head of the one standing in the foreground, eyes staring at the camera.
Bio: Beginning at 5:00 a.m., Chris spends the only available lot of solitary time he gets in a day feeding his addiction to writing. If he's lucky, he'll get two hours in before "they" wake up, after which he lives a wonderful life as a family man, and special education teacher. His stories have been accepted at a number of publishers includingCover of Darkness, Midwest Literary Magazine, Bete Noire, The Absent Willow Review, Underground Voices, Residential Aliens, and Bards and Sages Quarterly.You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at his static blog; frombehindthebluedoor.wordpress.com.