Fractured Characters · Short Stories · Twisted Tales

Memories are Made of This


Franz eased himself into his favourite armchair, took a sip of coffee and stared at the yellowed, curling photograph in his hand. Four young men in Wehrmacht uniform, their sleeves rolled up for summer, on the day Klaus had snapped them with his box camera. They were marching towards Russia, winter, and death. Three of them were terrified. Sure, Peter was posing for the camera in his aviator shades – but Franz had known they were afraid.

He had not been afraid.

Fear had never been a part of Franz’s emotional landscape. He’d longed to fight for the Fatherland from the earliest age he could remember – yearned to torture, murder, dismember his enemies. And he had, eventually.

As one of the few to survive Stalingrad, he’d been promoted, though not as high as to attract the attention of the war tribunals afterwards. Nein. He’d been too clever for that. Made the right noises after the British Schweinehunde overran his country. Said all the right things. And gone on to live comfortably in a small town in the Bavarian Alps, surrounded by his beloved belongings.

He fingered a heavy gold chain around his neck, then switched on the table lamp beside him. Dusk was falling, and nothing warmed the room as much as a forty watt bulb suffused gently through human skin.

He smiled and flicked on the TV to watch favourite show, Das Perfekte Dinner.

Life was good.

This was an exercise given at a writing workshop for Wolverhampton’s first literary festival, last weekend. Author Paul Dowswell gave the workshop, on “Creating Characters from Photographs”. He showed us this photo and emphasised that, although he condemned the acts of the Nazis, these young lads were marching to almost certain death in the Russian winter.
We were asked to write about one of the four most prominent in the photograph. I was drawn by “Franz”, on the right. He looks like a Nazi poster boy with his high cheekbones, blond hair and severe expression – although he may, of course, have been as reluctant as any of them – we can never know. My piece is entirely fictional, based on my impressions of this brief moment in the life of a young man.
I chose him because I love, like many writers, to create villains. Especially the villains who will never appear on the news – those we’ll never hear about… because they got away with it. How many war criminals, mass murderers, spouse-murderers in every country of the world are sitting comfortably in their own homes right now, unsuspected by their neighbours, enjoying the good life? It’s a chilling thought.