“You really think there are Nazis in these woods?”
“I think there’s something in the woods.” He shrugs at me, tall and lean, still slightly gangly, like he’d never learned the art of his limbs. He raps the side of his nose, grey eyes stalking the pines.
There’s something in the woods.
I shiver and stuff my hands into my pockets, following his gaze to the treeline. Boom. A few seconds later: the crack and crash of timber, a snarl of fluttering wings. Bird screams.
The Nazis’ broadcasts said they had guerrilla forces waiting, watching from the mouth of the pines. Werewolves. Ready to devour us whole.
I hiss out a breath.
He breaks out a laugh for me, sharp, this yipping thing like he’d chewed it off something bigger than him, something wilder than him. If dogs could laugh, this would be the sound they make.
“Someone is going to get court martialed then. Between the Panzerfausts debacle and the radio transmissions.” I rake my nails along my chin and down my throat, where the stubble’s grown wild.
He looks back at me, not quite smiling, the corner of a lip jagging upwards.
“I really think someone is just fucking with us.” I grumble.
“Look, these woods are filled with god knows what. Someone probably just found old recordings and decided it’d be fun to, I don’t know, stir up some paranoia in the ranks. Keep things lively. I mean, we’re shooting down trees, for heaven’s sake. Everyone’s bored.”
“There’s been witnesses.”
“There are always witnesses. Pick a myth. Someone knows someone who has seen it, swear on their grandmother’s grave and all that. Personal testimonials are worth shit.” The words roar louder than I intended. By the end of it, I’m panting, sucking gobbets of cold air, breath curling between my teeth.
He’s fucking with me, I realize with a twitch, and I choke the urge to growl. “There isn’t a Nazi resistance waiting in the woods.”
He licks his tongue over his incisors. “But there’s something in the woods.”
“Sure. Squirrels, bears, foxes—”
And the world quiets when he says the word, the air wrapping itself about the sound, stretching the syllable into the echo of a howl. The hairs on my neck rise and I force a grin, shoulders scissoring back.
In the encroaching dusk, he’s all angles and white smile, a little ungainly, like something that wasn’t meant to be standing on two legs. If you narrow your eyes just so, you can almost see it, a sharpness to his face, a certain bestial light.
I show my teeth, a warning in the expression. I can’t help myself this time. “Wolves. Fine. And whatever else the landscape might hold. But no German resistance. If there were any, they’re dead. We’re just chasing ghosts here. Unternehmen Werwolf was propaganda. It was meant to scare us.”
“You say it like you know it for a fact. You say it like someone who heard it from the source. All those people with their thousands of theories and you say it with the confidence of the werewolf telling the village, ‘Don’t be afraid. There aren’t any wolves in the forest.’”
Something screams in the woods, something wild, something broken-boned, terrified.
His teeth are as long as mine. “Oh, nothing at all, sir. “
“Get back to camp.” The words slide out like claws. “This place is clearly getting to you.”
He laughs again as he lopes away, singing under his breath the words we hear every morning, blared from Berlin. “My werewolf teeth bite the enemy. And then he’s done and then he’s gone. Hoo, hoo hoo.”
A little later, when there is no one to watch, when the sounds of singing become muddled, a wolf stretches and follows him into the gloom.