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Isaac toyed with the little etch marks on his gun, rubbing his fingers soothingly back on forth over the six tally marks engraved in the metal. He crouched in the boat, cradling his machine gun, eyes fixed on the rapidly approaching muddy bank.
The motorboat’s engine stilled as his men paddled in furious silence down the narrow river. Tall jungle trees clothed in thick vines loomed above the rowers. The humidity made Isaac want to scratch and pull against his thick bulletproof vest, but a need for silence restrained him. A swarm of flies constantly buzzed around the group, further tormenting them. Occasionally they would land and feast on the sweat streaming from the occupants.
Over two years, and now he was finally here. Ten years had passed but all had not been forgotten. Countless hours spent interrogating, following potential leads, looking over any declassified war files available. Isaac had flown to the far corners of the globe following the ratlines, from Rome, to Genoa, to Argentina, and now finally, to the middle of a Chilean jungle.
The motorboat slid into the oozing mud. The men silently filed out, advancing toward a derelict hut. Its cement walls were cracked, and its thatched roof was rotting. As Isaac ran, he noticed pale coconut husks by his feet, surrounding the cottage, some stacked in piles, others lying randomly on the ground. Like skulls discarded on the ground.
Isaac’s back still seemed to burn from the cuts and bruises he had received so long ago. The wounds had never fully healed and the scars remained angry and red. The escape had been tough; he’d barely made it out from the crowded train. And getting out from those bars was the easy part. He’d spent weeks hiding in the frigid forest searching for food and shelter. Hoping, praying, that the guards would not find him.
Instead, he’d found the partisans, or rather they’d found him. Starving and half-frozen. He’d spent the next years with them, fighting and fleeing. Attacking but always staying hidden. He’d killed his first Nazi that year. He’d shot him in the chest with a one-shot FP-45 Liberator pistol. He’d run into the camp along with his new brothers around him, firing quickly, even as explosions filled his ears. He’d grabbed the soldier’s gun, covered in blood. They had taken all he’d had and loved, his home, family, and life. Now he’d taken back at least a gun … and avenged a life that had been stolen.
That night, back in the woods, he’d sat around the campfire as the men and women told stories and talked. Isaac had sat apart, his warm bowl of watery soup, not nearly enough to quell his chills. Over and over again, he’d seen the thin white bodies, lying frozen in the snow of the camp square. They said today was a victory, yet how could those bodies ever be revived, his mind ever cleared.
“Isaac.” The head of their group had motioned for him to come over. “Isaac, you did well today. Brave as a man, even though you don’t yet have a beard. You killed today, yes?”
“Yes” Isaac had replied, his gaunt face outlined by the dim fire.
“Well, mark it down. Take out your knife and scratch a mark into your gun, so that you can know what you have done, even if the world never shall.” Isaac took out his knife and etched a thin, quivering line into the metal.
Isaac kicked open the shack door, breaking an eery silence. His men shadowed him, guarding the exits of the small hut. There was a fireplace in the corner, embers still aglow. A kitchen and a bookshelf lined the walls, the books tattered and moldy. The walls were a bleak grey of cement, and the dirt covered the hard floor. A partially unpacked suitcase sat open on the floor, and a folding cot lay open in the corner. In the back of the room, sitting quite still in a wooden-backed chair sat the Nazi, older than he used to be, older than the photographs showed him. He wore no uniform, yet the instant Isaac saw him, he recognized in him the beasts of the past. “Well, hello there,” the Nazi said, eerily calm. He spoke English with a distinct Chilean accent, yet perhaps there was still an undertone of German influence in his speech.
Isaac moved closer, his gun braced against his soldier. “Hello, scum.”
The Nazi continued unperturbed, “So tell me, how’d you find me? It was my idiot brother wasn’t it? I knew pretty girls wouldn’t go for an ugly layabout like him. The instant he came home and said he’d met a nice girl who’d asked about me, I packed my bags.”
Isaac interrupted, edging closer. “Oh, be quiet. You think I wouldn’t have caught you anyway. I always get my catch.”
“Ah, so you’re some kind of expert, a hired killer, I presume?” The Nazi said, running his hands through his thinning hair. “Yes, just like I was during the war. Interesting how the tides have turned, no?”
“You disgust me. You slaughter; you kill children, women. I kill murderers; I avenge; I rid the world of swine like you.”
“Oh, please, an old man like me, a killer?” The Nazi said as he pointed dramatically at himself. “I was a young man, following orders. Just like …”
Isaac cut him off, “You think that a couple years will absolve you of your crimes. Not even a thousand lifetimes could clear you of your horrible deeds.” Isaac’s voice rose as he spoke, until it reached a scream. “You think we have forgotten, but we have not. The world may be happy to forget the crimes of the past, but we do not!” Isaac swung the butt of his gun; it connected. Metal met flesh and bone with a crunch.
The Nazi sat silently, making no effort to rise. He grinned, revealing several shining gold teeth. Blood from his forehead dripped down his pallid face. Isaac pulled out his knife, flashing it in front of the grin. “You speak of my crimes, and your morality. Well, how are you any better than I? You track down and kill. You relish in my torture, my pain, and my death. If you wanted justice, I would be in court right now.”
Isaac slashed, and the knife cut into the Nazi’s side, releasing a trickle of blood. Letting out a slow gasp, the Nazi continued, “Let the past be the past. The world has moved on; Germany has made reparations. Why can’t you accept the truth of the time? It’s because you don’t know how to live in this new age. All you know is how to kill. Your quest for revenge is the only thing keeping you afloat. You don’t want to forget, because that would mean accepting a world without a place for you.”
Isaac swung again at the grinning skull. Again he saw the pale bodies forever burned into his eyes, again the smell of blood filled his nostrils. And he stood among it all, once again returned to the cold Polish snow, wielding his knife like a weapon to take on the world. Cut after cut ripped and tore. A red pool formed and oozed across the floor. The body lay slumped in the chair, the grin still outlined on the deathly white face. The flies resumed their buzzing, following the trail of blood.