Connections

After a brief, shining period of group Warhammer 40K gaming in college, much of my gaming and hobby activities have been a solo activity. For various reasons my time and ability to play in a group at a FLGS has been extremely limited. Fortunately, we live in an age of connectivity that lets us interact with people around the globe. Even if your face to face gaming is not at the level you would like it, there is a nearly unlimited amount of game talk, hobby talk, and even virtual gaming at our fingertips.

If you are really lucky, the virtual is supported by a Favorite Local Gaming Store. A place to meet up, play games, buy stuff, and talk shop. I have two shops close enough, and several more a bit further out. I can spend a long time at my FLGS. Our House Games has a constant series of gaming nights, from minis, to card games, board games and of course, DnD. I can never make a quick stop in. Most every time I am there for a paint or model purchase, I stay for a discussion of gaming and modeling and conventions.  The owners are long-time gamers and are always good for fun chats on most any aspect of gaming. I hope your local scene has at least one place you can go to be with “our people”.

My Warhammer 40K gaming experience really only spanned two years. Every Thursday I had my GW figure cases stacked by the door waiting for my wife to come home from work. We did the child hand-off, and I was gone. I was rarely the first person there, and many nights saw 20 people vying for table space. My armies were Catachans, then Space Marines, and eventually Imperial Guard. One case became four, plus a tote for vehicles.

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Image courtesy of Lexicanum

When I started playing there were a pair of guys who hung out all the time. One played Eldar, the other had am OOP Harlequin army. Those guys ate my lunch, and weren’t gentle. They had a lot of special rules and made lots of rerolls. For everything. To hit. To wound. To save. Everything got a reroll. Sometimes more than one. It took me some time, and an Eldar codex purchase to figure it out. They were terrible cheaters. Since I was the new guy, it was “tag, you’re our patsy”. I called the elder player out the next time we played, and he picked up his toys and went home. Never played either one again.

I had discovered the regular 40K game night, though, so it was no loss at all. All you had to do was show up, and people were waiting. Imperial Guard and Space Marines galore. A couple elder players who were pretty dominating without needing to cheat. A Genestealer cult army played alongside a couple tyranid armies. Tau showed up as the new kid in town. At least one player had Dark Eldar. And of course, Chaos Marines and Orks.

The room was cramped. The terrain was a mixed bag of seriously cool, and seriously worn out. The shop stayed open pretty late on game nights for the inevitable dice purchase when your dice failed you one too many times. Or for much needed reinforcements for next week.

Once the gaming ended, the discussions began. It was rare that we headed out before 1am. And pretty common to be hanging around still talking 40K at 3am. Fluff. History. Possibilities. Whatever Black Library books we had most recently read. It didn’t matter. We were among friends and laughing, dreaming, connecting.

Our one-off games turned into mega-games and campaigns. We discovered Battle Fleet Gothic and added fleet games and orbital assaults. Or lance strikes. Those were always fun if they hit their target. We improvised and tweaked and gamed. For over a year it was glorious.

A few players had drifted away. New blood was trickling in, and one of my three armies was always being loaned to a new player. The group was pretty strong and every week was lots of fun.

Unfortunately, the core group came together near the end of the college experience. Five of us all graduated or left at the same time. Poof. The organizers behind all the madness were gone. Thursday night was still 40K, but for a long time it wasn’t the same.

I was off on a training assignment that lasted 5 months. I mail ordered some Warhammer Fantasy models and paints to pass the very little free time. I didn’t have a car though, so weekly gaming or even visits to a game store were out of the question. The group I was training with looked at my hobby like I was a crazy person, and beyond a few random questions, I never talked gaming. Connections lost.

At my first duty station I found the local shop quick as I could. It was small, but had a decent Games Workshop selection, and a fair amount of paints. The game room was even smaller than before. It had maybe three 4’x 6’ tables. I eventually made it on a game night, and was sorely disappointed. In college, nearly every army was painted. Not always well painted, but there was paint on the models. At this shop several players didn’t even see the need to finish building the models to play.

Ok, I get it. You are so excited you want to get stuck in. Glue some legs to bases and Bob’s your uncle. I can deal with that once, or even twice. I went back to see if it was an aberration. Unfortunately, it was not. Five years later there were the same players playing with bare plastic legs for Space Marines.

I never played at that shop. Maybe I could have shamed them into building and painting their models. I don’t know. I was so disappointed in the local scene I just became a lurker. No connections still.

Internet forums were blossoming, and though I can’t give an exact date, I started connecting to gamers in far flung places. A couple of my hard core 40K buddies became disillusioned with GW and walked away from all their products. I met others who were just as deep in the lore and background as I was. This time, they were all around the world.

My interest in WW2 gaming soared during this period, and though there was really no one in the local area, a mere four hours’ drive was the heart of Flames of War gaming in Texas. I made the drive a couple times to play in FoW tourneys, meeting new people and finally having some long-missed hobby chats. This was an entirely new group of people, and I was clearly an outsider, but they were my people. Even the guy in the WW2 Russian hats. Hats because one year it might be a tanker helmet, the next an officer’s dress hat, and so on.

And the diversity of gamers!

No cringey neckbeards dearly in need of a bath. No, the Austin, Texas gaming scene was college kids, and middle aged office types. Contractors and professors. A good mix of long term gamers and 40K players branching out. I exchanged some emails and promised to see them at the next tournament. Connections.

In 2006 I happened into a play by email game called Subs Ahoy. I don’t remember how I lucked into one of the first play test games, but I did. And I played for years. Australians and Kiwis, Icelanders and Brits. Irishmen and Canadians. And a couple blokes from the USA. I was totally connected to a crazy gaming group again. Much of the play was solitary, and in game communication was limited and GM controlled. No cheating! But it was so much fun. A deeper discussion is a topic for another article.

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Around the same time I got into another play by email game. It was based off the board game Mustangs, and the group had some well-established players who knew how to play. I was pretty much a target for those guys and almost never even pulled the trigger. It was fun, but frustrating.

Still, I connected to other gamers. In both groups I met and corresponded with people about scenarios and theaters and games. No models, these were purely pen and paper gamers, but I got to game!

I continued with Subs Ahoy after a transfer took me from Texas to Michigan. Yet again, I searched out the local game store as soon as I could. Definitely before I unpacked, because we lived in a cramped apartment for a year while we tried to sell our house. That shop folded a few years later, and I can’t say I am surprised. The local crowd wasn’t very welcoming save one or two players. And the guy that ran the shop was as unfriendly as they come. He would grunt at you when he rang you up, but never even asked if you needed help. He was too busy painting 40K models, and the cabinets were full of lovely Battlefront and Games Workshop models. Unfortunately, the FOW gaming was on Sundays, and I don’t game on Sundays. No connection.

I found another, bigger shop a bit further away. As far as paints and models went, it was very well stocked. The staff was not much better though. Many of them seemed to be into Magic and other card games and I don’t recall much conversation about gaming or collectioning or painting. No connection.

I still played Subs Ahoy for a few more years. The Mustangs group kind of let my “membership” slip. I sucked, I know. But a lost connection.

When the Four Army Project started I was on several forums and I was very active. Probably more than I am now. I met and chatted and discussed with all sorts from all over. Over the next ten years I met gamers and hobbyists from the Ukraine and Serbia. From France and Italy and Germany. Mexico, Argentina, Spain, Russia, Wales, Scotland all sorts from England. I even reconnected with one of the 40K group from college. Connected all over.

Facebook, the bane and boon of modern life, led to many more groups and endless micro conversations over painting techniques, color choices, and army lists. Even though my gaming continues to be fairly solitary, I talk about the hobby more than ever.

I think it was over at the The Miniatures Page that I first stumbled onto the Carrion Crow and Hos delicious madness of Blackwell. That started a series of connections and conversation with The Carrion Crow himself, and others in his blog circle, that led to this blog.

These new connections led to more conversations of gaming and hobby plans. Discussions of rare or OOP models and books and long forgotten campaigns. Connections that led to gaming acquisitions and divestitures that never would have happened without a legion of friends around the world.

My decision to finally attend a major gaming convention payed off handsomely. The gaming has been spectacular and the inspiration nearly boundless. I’ve had some missteps as I have discussed elsewhere, but on the whole it has been such an incredible experience. Far beyond the games are the people I have met. Too many names, and I don’t want to forget anyone. Craziest part is traveling 8+ hours (488 miles/ 785 km) to meet people who live an hour away!

If I am being honest, the first time I attended Fall In was pretty terrifying. It’s a bit overwhelming at first. So much to take in and so many people. I was lucky that my best mate and gaming buddy attended with me, but we were a little lost that first day. By the end we had met fellow gamers and Game Masters who were just like us. Looking for a good gaming experience, a fun event, and making some new friends.

Year after year I look for some of the same GMs and games. Partly because I know a quality game will be hosted, mostly it is hoping I will sit side by side with gamers I have connected with and share this passion. And to help ease any new players into the craziness that some of the games bring. Exploding cows? First boom card every game? Battle of Hastings gone wrong?  All phrases that lead to howls of laughter with the right group due to strong connections.

Diving into X-Wing and Star wars Armada led to more connections on a whole new set of forums. X-Wing also allowed me to really connect to several of the young men in our church youth group. I was the youth pastor at the time and brought all my X-wing ships in for game nights and campaign Saturdays. A couple of them loved X-Wing and bought their own ships. After that we had long chats about tactics and fleet builds and upcoming releases. One teen ended up introducing it to his younger brother. His dad told me about all the money his son had spent on ships and I started to apologize. Our hobby isn’t cheap. Dad stopped me with “No, I don’t mind at all. They are spending more time together now playing X-Wing than they ever have before.” Connected.

My experience at Fall In led to more gaming conventions. And more connections. Playing a game with one of the major play testers for a well received rule set is pretty much fanboy heaven. That I have email corresponded with him beyond that still geeks me out.

I also took the jump into Comic Cons and attended the Indianapolis Comic Con a couple years ago. I took my whole family and we all connected over our love of comic heroes, superhero movies, costumes, harry Potter, Lord of the Rings an host of other things. Meeting James and Oliver Phelps at that con was both a highlight, and a connection. As famous as they are, they were super cool and the nicest guys. I can imagine playing a board game or table top game with them and having a great time.

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Comic Con led to Star Wars Celebration 2019 and more connections. Meeting one of my favorite YouTube content creators and having him explain the rules for a new game was super cool. Finally meeting a fellow who hosts a podcast i was a special guest on once was even better. We played a couple FFG games together and share a love of Outer Rim now. That weekend led to me being more involved in the Credible Nerds podcast, even co-hosting a couple episodes.

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Our shared interests allow us to connect across national boundaries and language barriers. My circle of friends rings the globe. How has your hobby journey progressed? What connections have you made that make your hobby better? I’d love to hear about them!

For me, these connections have led to 2nd Golden Age. And it is shining brightly!

 

 

 

Beach Patrol

omaha beach bw

Willie and Georg stood at attention with another pair of soldats. Each private held his rifle level in front of him, ready for inspection. The duty sergeant stepped from soldat to soldat checking the cleanliness and condition of their weapons. The sea air was quick to cause rust to form, and the soldats were kept busy cleaning their rifles. Oberfeldwebel Brotz checked each rifle carefully before handing it back. Experienced and well-liked by the men, Brotz was a tough survivor of the savagery of the Eastern Front. Half his face bore white creasing scars, remnants of terrible burns. His left eye was milky, the pupil hidden behind more scarring. His good eye roamed over Willie, then over his rifle. Handing it back, Brotz finished the inspection and stepped in front of the little group.

“Shoulder,” he paused for the briefest of moments, “Arms!”

The four soldats twisted and elevated their rifles, bringing them to rest against their left shoulders.

“At ease.” He ordered, and added, “Come close my sons.”

The four soldats gathered in a semi-circle in front of Brotz. They looked at their sergeant with a seriousness he noticed.

“I know you have heard the rumors. They are not rumors. Someone, or something, has slain your comrades.” He looked each man in the eye, holding their gaze for a moment before he continued. “Fifth Kompanie took losses, yes, it is true. We are not Fifth Kompanie. You will do your duty for the Fatherland. And you will do it in a manner that will make our Fuhrer proud. We are German soldiers. We do not cower in barracks because our comrades die. No. We walk our patrols. And we guard our comrades. And we watch for sneaky Kommandos, and filthy French saboteurs, and whatever killed our brothers. Do your duty, my sons, and you will keep your honor. Report when your patrol is complete.  That is all.”

The soldats headed off, towards the gate that led to the beach. Brotz watched them until they were out of sight. Four times tonight he had made the same speech. Three times the four soldiers had returned. He rubbed his temples and hoped these four would return safely as well. For all his bravery and experience, he had no advice for whatever was out there. Nothing to offer young soldats.

Walking to the commander’s office, he stepped in and sat with a sigh.

“Must we keep sending out patrols?”

“Yes, Oberfeldwebel. We must. I receive orders, and we obey. Those orders state we must keep up our patrols. We must be ready when the Allies come to take back France. If we cower in our camps and strong points, would we be German soldiers?”

“And what of the deaths? I’ve seen the wounds. No man did that. Something is out there. How can we fight what we don’t know?”

“The same way we fight what we do know Tomas, with rifle and bayonet.”

“And if that isn’t enough? What then?”

“Then God has damned us for this war, and Hell has come to take us all.” Oberleutnant Saller stood, and walked to the window. “And if that is true, no mortal weapon will protect us.” He looked back at Brotz, “But if Hell isn’t here, the British and Americans are surely coming. So we must continue our patrols. Keep sending them Oberfeldwebel. Do your duty to the Fatherland.”

Walking the short distance to the beach, Willie and Georg followed the other pair through the deep minefield protecting the forward strongpoint. When they reached the wet sand, Willie and Georg turned left, heading west when the other pair went east. They had three miles of sand and shingle to walk. Besides commando raiders, they weren’t even sure what they were supposed to look for. Would they really see an invasion fleet before anyone else? The observers were much higher on the bluffs using fine Zeiss optics. What about the massive radar arrays? And what about Goering’s flyboys? Surely a pilot thousands of feet in the sky could see further than two soldats trudging through loose wet sand.

Still they walked. It is an infantryman’s lot to walk. He went everywhere on his feet, even in garrison. Mile after mile they walked. Day after day. Several times a month their kompanie was assigned to the forward posts. They followed an ingrained pattern as they patrolled. Walk. Stop. Scan the channel with borrowed binoculars. Walk. If the tide was out they might check the many obstacles installed to discourage the Allies from coming to France. They checked some of the hundreds of mines attached to logs planted in the sand. They noted where the obstacles had been shifted by the endless tides. Every day the fatigue kompanie would be out here maintaining or adding to the obstacle belt.  In some places the obstacles were impressive. Multiple belts of wood and steel. Various types of mines designed to kill men and machines. In other places the obstacles were sparse, or completely nonexistent. West of their patrol the beaches seemed more ready to accept vacationers than to stop any invasion. The scanned and checked and mapped.

But mostly they walked.

“What is that Willie?” George asked, pointing to a line of prints in the wet sand. The tracks seemed to go into the water and return. A double line from bluff to water’s edge. Entering the water and returning, or leaving the water and returning. Either way, the soldats unslung their rifles and worked the bolt to load a round. Looking about they scanned for threats, and found themselves alone.

“Look closer Willie” Georg hissed. “What type of shoes?”

Willie knelt to look closer, leaning as close as he could to see what was there in the fading light of the summer evening. He looked, but he couldn’t understand what he was looking at.

“Well?” German boots French shoes? What is it Willie?”

“Bare feet.”

“Bare?”

“Bare. I can see the toes plainly.”

“Who goes into the water with bare feet?”

“Who goes into the water at all, Georg?”

“It can’t be more than 6 or 7 degrees. No one would.”

“Should we follow the tracks?”

“Yes Willie, I think we should. Maybe it’s just some crazy Frenchman bathing in the Channel.”

“And no one has seen this before?”

“I guess not. Even better, maybe it is a French woman.” Georg smiled at his friend. “A pretty French woman.”

Willie shook his head. “And she is still walking around naked? You are an idiot Georg.” He laughed, and stood up.

He began to follow the tracks towards the high bluff that rose from the sand and shingle beach.

“Where are we?” Georg asked.

Looking up at the steep bluff, Willie shook his head. “I don’t know. Past Vierville.”

“What is atop this bluff, there isn’t a town past Vierville is there?”

“Not until Grandcamp, I don’t think. It is just farmland. Georg, how did someone climb the bluff?” Willie asked, craning his head to look up.

“Follow the tracks Willie and we can find out.”

Out of the sand, the tracks were lost. The shingle and stone made them impossible to follow. They picked their way through the difficult terrain until they stood at the base of the bluff, in a shallow fold that created a less steep ravine.

“It looks easier here,” Georg said, looking over the narrow gap.

“Should we?”

“Just to see what is on top. So we know where we are. Old Brotz will want to know.”

Both soldats slung their rifles to free up both hands and started up the ravine. Less steep was just in comparison to the bluffs themselves. The climb was arduous; they were scrambling and grabbing at anything to pull themselves up. At times, they were on hands and knees, clinging to the ground.

Reaching the top they hauled themselves over the lip if the cliff face and lay in the tall grass gasping for breath.

“See anything?” Georg asked, without sitting up.

“I haven’t looked. I can’t even breathe yet” Willie replied.

“I see the sky. And some clouds. ”

Laughing led to coughing, and the two soldats laughed at themselves and the exertion of their climb.

“Next time talk me out of climbing anywhere, Willie, okay?”

“Next time you suggest a climb I’ll just punch you Georg.”

Sitting up, Georg looked around. The grasses at the edge of the bluff were higher than they could see over while sitting. Uneasily standing on tired legs, he looked over the grasses and across a field of wheat. A trail was etched through the green stalks. Faint, but clear. It led off into the distance, towards a far tree line or hedgerow.

“The sky is so peaceful Georg.” Willie said, climbing to his feet. “But we should figure this out and finish our patrol. I don’t want to be out here more than we have to.”

“Scared?”

“Yes, Georg, I am. I am scared of French partisans. I’m scared of whatever killed those men. And the dogs. And whatever was in the church yard that night. Yes, Georg, I am scared. France hates us.”

Scanning the field and the distant trees in the failing light Georg walked a few meters along the trail. “We should see what lies beyond those trees.”

“If we follow this to the trees, it might be too dark to follow it back.”

“We need to find out. We have torches to light the trail.”

“I don’t know. Anything could be behind those trees. A farmhouse or village.  A road. Who knows? And the torches? How long does yours last? 15 minutes?”

“I can’t really tell where we are. How can we report a trail ‘somewhere on the beach’?”

“We can’t. Either we follow the trail and find our way back from up here, or we go down to the beach and mark this spot to show someone tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow sounds good.”

“We should follow the trail.”

“What if it’s a trap? Or worse.”

“What if we find something? Something important.”

“Like what? A secret American base? There is nothing here. Please, Georg, let’s go!”

“We need to…”

“We need to go back. Georg, I don’t like this.” Willie interrupted.

“Just to the trees. Okay Willie? We will go to the trees then we will go back.”

“Just to the trees?”

“Just to the trees.”

“Fine. But if something happens, I’m shooting you Georg.”

“Suit yourself, but two rifles are better than one!” Georg laughed and started down the faint trail, the light fading and darkness growing.

Single file, the two soldats followed the trail. Halfway to the trees Georg looked back at his companion and asked “What is worse?”

“Worse?”

“You said it might be a trap, or ‘worse’. What is worse that a trap in this place?”

“Beerwolf. Roggenmuhme. Nachtkrapp. I don’t know…”

Laughing Georg stopped and turned to face his friend. “Willie! Those are stories to scare children!”

“Are they Georg? Myths come from reality. And what was it that was in the churchyard that night? What was it? Are you saying that wasn’t real?”

“No. That was… I don’t know what that was. But Roggenmuhme? Fairy tales. Myths. Not real.” Georg turned and continued along the trail.

“A Nachzehrer could have killed those men.”

Georg didn’t look back. “A Nachzehrer? Think one came all the way from the Fatherland to kill Germans in France?”

“And there aren’t blood drinkers in France?”

“In their myths? Probably. For real? You are not serious, are you?”

“You don’t fear enough Georg.”

“And you are afraid of shadows Willie.”

Something near their feet crashed through the wheat, away from them. Both soldats jumped in surprise at the noise.

“As are you Georg,” Willie sighed, lowering his rifle.

Clamping his hand on his friend’s shoulder, Georg looked towards the trees. “You are a German soldier, Willie, not a nursery child. There are no beerwolves, or vampires, or other beasts that drink blood. You are a silly, superstitious fool. “

Georg started back along the trail. Occasionally a small creature would scurry away from them, rustling in the wheat. Each time the noise startled them. Even Georg was nervous and tense. Behind them, out over the Channel, the sun dropped below the horizon. The last light of day was almost gone.

Georg felt a distant dread creep into his chest. His confident pace slowed. That night in the churchyard was pure terror. This was similar, but somehow different. He shook his head and continued.

He went another twenty paces when a mist rose from the wheat. A thick, heavy fog hugged the ground and filled the field in a moment. With the sun gone from the sky the heat of the day fled. A chill flooded the area, a chill even Georg couldn’t deny.

“Let’s go Georg,” Willie urged, “we can report this to Brotz. He will know what to do.

The fog obscured the trees, shrouding the wheat and blurring the horizon. Clouds drifted in, hiding the first stars and the sliver of moon rising in the distance.

Looking towards the trees, Georg now felt that same dread they had felt in the churchyard. It was an ageless horror, atavistic and primal that belied description. Nightmares long forgotten surged into remembrance. Every second they spent in the churchyard flooded their minds. Hearts racing, neither could deny the supernatural.

Nameless horrors and forgotten fears surged to life. The stress of war, the church yard, and now this all conspired to break them down. No man could stand before darkness he couldn’t explain or fight.

Taking a step back, Georg turned to his friend. “Yes, we can’t see the trail now anyways, we should go.”

“Georg…”

“I know. Let’s go my friend.”

An hour later Georg and Willie ended their patrol, trudging up a path through short grass. They passed an aged sign leaning at an angle away from the path. The lettering was faded and barely legible. Even without reading the sign, the meaning was clear. A skull and crossbones filled much of the board. Underneath were painted the words “Achtung! Minen!” A step off this narrow path could be deadly.

The pair walked slowly up the sandy path. Fatigue stole their desire to make small talk. Even the mystery of the bare feet in the sand and the trail across the field seemed less important as time passed. What stuck with them was the dread, the fear, the distant terror that seemed to be following them where ever they went. First the churchyard. Now the wheat field. But back in their platoon barracks the fear seemed distant and juvenile even.

“Go report to Brotz, Willie,” Georg said as they approached the top of the draw.

“What are you doing?”

“Going to bed.”

“No, we report together. Then you can sleep.”

“We can’t tell about the dread, about that…

“I know Georg. No one would understand.”

“My heart turned to ice. I want to run and run.”

“Yes. That fear. It’s horrible. Like all the happiness in the world has gone. Everything is dark.”

Reaching the crest, they passed another pair of soldiers manning a machine gun nest.

Nodding to their comrades, they passed through another, larger minefield. White cloth marked the trail through this field, long strips staked into the ground across the belt. Stepping over a low tangle of wire they reentered the strong point. Heading to the command bunker they passed a mortar pit, three more soldiers lounging around their weapon. Tired and holding onto his rifle sling with both hands, Willie didn’t even wave. Georg lifted his hand, but stared straight ahead.

Ducking, they stepped down and entered a bunker, their long day nearly over.

 

 

 

 

In the Dark Night

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Private Messer stepped to the gun slit at the front of the bunker. Peering through the narrow opening, he looked across the sand and shingle beach to the sea beyond. The Channel was angry and storm tossed. Waves beat on the shore. Driven by storms far out on the ocean, waves topping (how many feet) crashed onto the beach, tumbling around the obstacles the men labored each day to build. The night was dark, the small slice of the moon obscured by the gathering clouds.

Messer leaned on the cool concrete and inhaled the scent of the sea. The tang of salt, the damp mustiness of wet sand, and the faint odor of rot, the breeze carried all these scents into the observation bunker that loomed on the French shore. This bunker served two huge Type H669 weapons bunkers. Part of the Atlantikwall, the strong point was designed to keep Germany’s enemies at bay.

Messer finally turned away from the stormy sea to watch his squad mates playing cards. They were betting cash, ration stubs, cigarettes, and even French coins in a boisterous, easy going manner. They egged each other on, teasing and name calling as the pot grew. These soldiers were far away from the hated eastern Front, and were happy to just garrison troops. The war seemed far away, and they were not eager for it to find them. Many were veterans of the brutal fighting against the Bolsheviks. Only old Hans had been part of the earliest, triumphant campaigns in the West. He sat in the back of the bunker, carefully cleaning his rifle. He watched the younger soldats, smiling at them as they played. He smiled, but only with his mouth, His eyes were alert, but tired. The long years of war had taken something from Old Hans.

Messer walked over and sat next to Hans. He spoke in a low voice, watching the game, but talking only to Hans. “Is it true?”

“Is what true , Fritz?”

“You know.”

“Humor me. I’m an old man, and I forget so much.”

“They found more bodies.”

Hans was oiling the bolt of his Mauser K98, rubbing an oil-soaked rag over the smooth, polished metal. His hands fell into his lap before he looked at Messer and replied. “Yes. Three more. Two nights ago.”

“And?”

“And what, Fritz?”

“Were they…?” Messer swallowed, his face pale, his eyes moving from Hans to the others.

“Yes. Torn apart.”

“How?”

“Schweinhund Frenchmen. Savages, no better than the Bolsheviks. Wolves. Bears. Tigers. I don’t know, Fritz. No one knows.” Hans set his chin on his chest, looking down as he remembered the savagery visited on his comrades by angry Russians. He shuddered. The three bodies he saw here reminded him of that. But there was a bestial savagery to the wounds he felt couldn’t have been caused by a human.

“The men are saying the Maquis are responsible.”

“No Fritz.” Hans looked up, staring at the younger man, “Listen to me. Those men were not killed by another man. No person could cause that brutality. Not even the Russians are that savage.”

“Dogs, too. There are dead dogs. Torn apart.”

Hans sighed. “Yes, dogs, too. It was beasts. Something wild. Something feral.”

“But there are no wolves or bears in France, Hans.”

“Are there not? How do you know?”

Messer looked away, his ears red from embarrassment.

“Don’t go outside alone. Keep your rifle loaded. Be alert. It’s all the same things you should be doing anyways, Fritz. We are in a war one you know. You’ll be fine.” Hans slipped the bolt into place, rotating it to lock the action closed. He stood, and walked down a passage, away from Messer. He called back over his shoulder as he began to descend a ladder to a lower level. “Tell the boys to keep it down. Old Hans needs to sleep.” And he was gone.

Messer watched the card game for a few minutes before yelling at them to keep quiet. He shifted on his makeshift seat of stacked ammo cans, and wondered what type of beast roamed the Normandy countryside in the dark hours of the night.