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an excerpt from Feminine Wiles

The rattling of machine guns filled the air as the soldiers stormed onto the beach of Omaha. The June air was wet with blood and rain; the ocean waves ran red as soldiers toppled under the hail of bullets.

Mortars bellowed like thunder, hurling men to the ground in showers of sand and severed limbs. Cries of fear and pain echoed around the beach—grunts, curses, pleas to God mingled into a deafening cacophony.

Ben Hollander watched as his buddies, his comrades were cut down before they could even get their bearings. They tumbled from their boats headfirst, enemy fire crumbling faces, tearing chests apart, ripping throats out; ravaging the young men without mercy. The German troops pinned them down like rats under their boots, launching an onslaught so fierce the hope for victory seemed an impossible dream.

Ben hit the ground as mortar shells broke on the ground around him. He crawled on his belly through the wet sand, clutching a rifle he had yet to fire. His stomach churned as he scanned the Normandy coast, watching men charge headlong into certain death.

He listened to the shrieks rise above the rage of the battle, heard the mindless cries in his ears. His hope began to fade; his hands trembled uncontrollably.  He drew his attention back to the hills and bunkers ahead of him, aimed and fired without direction, without purpose.

How could he do any good? What did it matter, they were all as good as dead. It was pointless. It was all so pointless. What am I doing here? I shouldn’t even be here… I miss my parents… and my sisters. What kind of God would let this happen?

He pushed on, and was dragging himself over body parts when someone reached out and grabbed him by the elbow. He turned to see a young man calling out to him, trying to speak, but the blood drowned his words. He died a moment later.

Still Ben pushed on, wind spraying his face with sand, clogging up his nostrils. His ears rang, his heart fluttered and adrenaline set his body racing. He was soaked from head to toe from having plunged into the ocean when his boat was riddled with gunfire.

The lifeless body of Frank Danvers had hit him under the water, the dead weight making it nearly impossible to reach the surface. Five minutes into battle and he nearly drowned until Jimmy, his best friend since boot camp reached down and—

“Ben!” he heard the call despite the ungodly chaos that choked his senses. It was Jimmy calling to him. He needed him. Jimmy, my God Jimmy!

Ben looked around the beach, so many figures rushing toward and away from him at the same time, and searched frantically for Jimmy.

“Ben help. Ben!” The cry was louder now. Ben lifted himself onto his knees and turned.

Jimmy lay on his back, reaching out to him. Both of his legs were missing. Ben choked back a scream. He jumped to his feet and raced to his fallen friend.

“Medic!” Ben screamed but knew the medic would never come.

“Buddy,” Jimmy coughed. “Hell of a ride, huh?”

Ben took his hand. “You know it, Jimmy boy. Don’t worry, you’re gonna be fine. Help’s coming.”

“Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.” Jimmy laughed. “I’m done. I just wanted to say goodbye.”

“No goodbyes Jim. We’re gonna make it. We’re gonna beat the hell out these Nazi bastards. You wait, I’m— "

Ben’s words were cut short by the bullet that ripped through his ribs. He buckled and groaned, falling onto his back to stare at the sky. He felt the rain pelting him in the face; an icy tingle capered up his spine as he listened to Jimmy’s voice fade into senseless babble. He tried to move. Couldn’t. Dull pain washed over him. He stared up at the sky, listened to something pierce the air, and watched a mortar shell shriek toward him.

The sky grew dark and everything went black as he was swept into merciful oblivion.
shadowtales

            Ben opened his eyes and tasted blood in his mouth. The sky was bright and clear. He could no longer hear the sounds of war. Instead, there was a peculiar calm.

He was able to turn his head and move slightly and he could feel his legs.  That was a good sign. He looked down—yep they were still there. He looked over to the side and Jimmy stared at him blankly. He was dead. “Jimmy…”

Ben sat up and glanced around. The beach was strewn with twitching, broken bodies, pieces of soldiers scattered everywhere. Men lay where they had fallen, some staring up at the sky others staring into the sand. The wounded cried out, begging for help, pleading for an end. Calls for the medic carried on the wind, as did the foul smell of death.

His heart was still beating; he could hear it thumping in his ears, which told him he was not yet dead. He assumed the battle was over but did not know who had won. He tried to pull himself up but grimaced in pain as his wounds protested.  Only then did he realize how badly wounded he was. His entire body screamed with agony. Perhaps shock had dulled his senses before. Now he felt every bit of the hellish agony.

With the pain came a sudden cold. Ben shivered as icy fingers tickled the back of his neck. His face was soaked with sweat and as he wiped it from his eyes he saw something moving in the distance.

A black-clad figure scuttled down the face of the cliff. It crept along the beach, weaving its way through the multitude of bodies. Ben stared in disbelief.  It was a woman, a beautiful woman dressed in black robes and a shawl. He watched her raven tresses dance in the wind, robes rippling as she made her way closer.

Under the shawl that covered her head like a cowl was a pale face. She radiated cold beauty, with her full red lips. Ben was at once both captivated and frightened. He could not take his eyes off her. In one of her hands she carried a willow basket; in the other a blade, a dagger gleaming silver in the light. He watched her approach a still twitching soldier. She bent to him, then swiftly and methodically plunged the dagger into his chest until he stopped moving. She yanked his dog tags from his neck and dropped them into her basket.

Another soldier cried out for help and she turned her head, drawn by his desperate call. She hurried to him and as he begged her for help, she slashed the dagger across his throat.

Ben felt bile rise in his throat. Horrified, he watched her send the wounded to the next life before their time. His arms and legs trembled; the sweat poured down his face. His throat was dry. He struggled to rise but the pain kept him in place. He was much too weak.

He turned away from the young woman, hoping she was merely a product of the trauma, his delirious mind conjuring up fantasies that didn’t exist. In the distance, on the far side of the beach, he could see another dark figure working its way through the bodies.

Who the hell were they?

He looked back and she was closer, unleashing her blade upon more wounded and snatching their dog tags from them. The wind howled as she stood, the blood from her latest victim dripping from her blade. Ben gave a choked cry.

The dark maiden turned in his direction, glittering eyes fixed on new quarry. Nimble as a cat, she started toward him. Ben swore he could see right through her.

As she drew closer he saw how radiant she really was, a contrast of dark and pale beauty, perpetually young, and mysterious. Her black robe flowed around milk-white, curvaceous flesh.

What is she? Is this death, here to wrench us over to the other side? An angel or a devil?  Slowly Ben realized that he no longer cared. He wanted to go to her. Something in her eyes called to him, summoned him. He sensed peace in her eyes, tranquility in her cold beauty.

She stood before him looking down, the dagger held aloft.  Their eyes met and he saw that hers were, sensuous, alluring... blazing. He smiled and reached out to her, suddenly, inexplicably hungry for her sweet embrace, the eternal escape she promised from the pain and horror.

She’s so beautiful, so flawless, he thought. Maybe this is meant to be… Maybe I'm meant to go to her... I am supposed to die here; I feel it. Let her end the pain, the nightmare, end it all. Take me, please take me!

He began to succumb to her, felt his soul slipping away as she advanced.

Finally, she bent and stared into his face.

Ben looked into the eyes once more and basked in her unnatural energy, her malevolence... and suddenly he knew what she was.

She had existed for centuries, drawn by conflict and carnage, a malicious entity feeding on the wounded, a vulture of battlefields, pushing those trapped between life and death into the void, and taking their souls.

She had robbed ancient warriors and soldiers of insignia, family banners, family crests, heirlooms, signet rings, leaving behind anonymous, faceless things and tortured families.

He remembered watching Jimmy die, watching him give up and succumb to death. No goodbyes, Jim. He had wanted Jimmy to fight. So how could he do any less? This wasn’t right; it wasn’t time. He returned to himself in time to see the white face looming over him once again.

NO! He couldn’t let her take him. He would not die here on this beach; not at her hands.  He was a soldier of honor, strength and faith. He could accept dying at the hands of his mortal enemy but not an inhuman, immortal one.

He would fight to live, to survive. It was not his time. This specter of war and discord, this malevolent weaver of shadow would have to seek another victim for he promised himself now that he was going to live to tell his children what he'd seen.

“Stay the hell away from me!” He screamed. “Stay away!” With all of the strength he had left, he dragged himself away from her. She stood, with what might have been a shocked expression on her face. A feral look twisted her beauty and she stalked him, determined not to lose her prey.

“No!” Ben screamed again, pulling himself over Jimmy’s lifeless body, pain searing his back and legs.

She continued to follow, bloodstained dagger poised. Ben scrambled frantically, his hand alighting upon the fallen weapon of his friend. He picked up the gun with both hands and fired directly at the woman.

The bullets whistled through her as if she wasn’t there and it did not slow her advance. Ben fired again, wildly, full of rage and defiance, bullets rattling, skimming the air and hitting nothing. Her face remained expressionless. Ben shivered all over, icy cold slithering through his body.

“You're not taking me! I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die!”

She stood before him, dagger raised high.

"No, don't..."

The dagger fell.

Someone grabbed his arm.

“Hey he’s alive!” the medic called out before turning back to Ben. “We got another survivor over here! Hold on buddy, you’re gonna be ok.” He glanced down and read Ben's dog tags. “Ben, don’t you worry. We’re gonna patch you up in no time.”

Ben sighed and looked around the beach. The woman in black was nowhere to be seen. He turned back to watch the medic shuffling for pain meds and bandages as others came running to help.

“I’m alive…alive,” he mumbled over and over to himself.

The sounds of war had stopped and as Ben looked around he saw the lifeless bodies of his friends and comrades scattered everywhere.

But she was gone. The stealer of life, the thief of hope and faith, was just a voice on the wind again, a shadow in his mind.

Rain and sand sprayed his face as they hoisted him from the ground and carried him to the boat. He forced a feeble smile. He was glad to be alive.
shadowtales

Ben ran a hand through his coarse silver hair, and stared at the Purple Heart he kept on the fireplace mantel. His wife was still asleep upstairs. He was still haunted by the memory of that day so long ago. He read somewhere, in a book by some historian that the Nazis had experimented a lot with the occult during World War II. Experimentation with strange sciences, alchemy and other such nonsense. He wasn’t sure about any of it. He wasn’t even sure what had really happened that day. But he was sure he would never forget. Ever.

War did strange things to people, made them see things no man should see, hear things one would never want to hear again. But what he saw that day Ben could never put into words, never fully or sanely explain to anyone. He had never even told his wife and sons of it and probably never would. They would think him insane. And maybe they'd be right.

He watched the fire crackle in the hearth. He was tired. So very tired. He'd had a good long life but since his retirement, he hadn't felt like himself. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept through the night.

I think it’s time.

He puffed on his pipe once more and caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye. He turned and was not terribly surprised, even through the fear, to see the woman in black approaching him, her dagger gleaming in the firelight.

shadowtales


Did you enjoy this story? Why not purchase the Collection it’s from. Feminine Wiles—16 tales of wicked women. 

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