Authors: Wesley Julian
“For- for me? Why?”
She did not answer.
“Who are you?”
“I am that which you love.”
“I- I love you, but-”
“What do you love?”
“I love-” I stopped. I thought. I could not find an answer for her.
But she said, “You love the kill, you love the culmination of patience and precision. You love me. And you love the fame. You love to be feared. You love that which I give you.”
“You are the kill?”
“No.” Her cold, black eyes met mine. “I am the Whisper.”
“No, I am the Whisper!” I protested. “It is me they hunt for! I am the one who-”
“And apart from me, what are you?”
“I- I am-”
“I am that which they fear. And now, you will know their fear.” She took my hand and held it, not tightly, but not loosely. It was enough.
“I- I'm cold,” I said. The world darkened.
“Yes,” she said. “Be at ease.”
“You are death, aren't you?” I asked. “You're the Reaper.”
“I am known by many names, but to you, I am the Whisper, for your world ends not with a bang, but a whisper.”
From below I heard shouting and shuffling boots. “They're here to kill me.”
“So, I live?”
“No,” her voice quieted. “I'm sorry.”
“I don't- I won't want to die.”
“Hush,” she said, her voice finally a whisper. “It's all fading away. Let it go.”
All I could ponder was her and her swarthy beauty: the black hair, the black eyes, the black clothes, but the pale, ghostly skin, and her cool, gentle touch. The Whisper was everything to me in that moment. From the back of my mind, the boots marched closer, but it was as an echo without the sound.
I looked into her eyes once again. She was the last I saw. My eyes closed. I lost the strength to hold them open. Still I saw her in my mind. Slowly away she faded. She disappeared into the shadows of death until there was only darkness. And with the Whisper, so my life ended....
The Train of Soldiers
When soldiers die on the field of battle, they are not judged. So long as they remained true, that being that they did not betray or desert, all soldiers go to the same place upon death. It does not matter on which side they fought, only that they performed their duty. All warriors are placed aboard the Train of Soldiers where they ride for the greatest battlefield of all. They ride the Train of Soldiers bound for the gates of Hades, where they will join in the great siege. They are armed with the weapons they bore when they left the land of the living and with them they will fight demons.
I am one such soldier. My name is Sir Frederick and I fought for the Holy Land of Jerusalem during the Great Crusade. I was killed by a one of the Islamic soldiers. I was stabbed through my heart. My flesh is healed, but my armor still bears the wound. In my hand is my longsword and on my back is my shield. Curiously, I am not surprised by any of this. I sit on a bench in one of the cars of the Train of Soldiers. Somehow, I know all that I need to know. That car is made from steel, there no windows, and it is illuminated in red by a pair of overhanging oil lamps.
All around me stand warriors from other times. I recognize a Norse Viking from folklore and I spy a French knight. And there are other men I cannot recognize armed with weapons I cannot identify. Next to me is a man wearing a tattered cloth uniform, a helmet that resembles a pot, and a stick made from both wood and steel. I ask, “What is your name?”
“Private Nigel Turner of His Majesty's Army,” he tells me with a proud grin.
“So, you are a Briton?” I ask.
“And from when do you come?”
“1917, from what we keep calling 'The Great War,' though there's a Yankee chap in the back who insists his was bigger. You look like a Crusader, is that right?”
“I am, yes. I come from the order of the Knights Templar.”
“Please to meet you- eh, what's your name?”
“I am Sir Frederick,” I replied, unsure if I should grant him my trust.
“Sir Frederick, then. Are you excited?”
“About the battle! We're going to storm Hell itself!”
“I know not what to feel,” I replied truthfully. I looked at his stick and asked, “I am curious, what is that?”
“What, this?” He laughed. “Of course, how could you know! It's a Lee-Enfield standard-issue rifle! It's a bit like a bow that, eh, shoots small bits of metal at very high speeds. Very deadly and very long range.”
“Fascinating.” I stroked my beard as another man sat beside me. This man was dressed head to toe in cloth and he wore a great object of steel, not unlike Private Nigel Turner's 'rifle.' I assumed it was a similar contraption, though this one was more fearsome. I asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Faddel bin Solamin, soldier of Allah.”
Remarkably, I felt no hostility towards him. This man, somehow, was my comrade. So, I kept up the conversation, “I am Sir Frederick, a Knight Templar. From when do you come?”
With nervousness to his voice, he answered, “To your western mind, I am from the beginning of the second millennium. I committed Holy War against the Americans.”
Turner answered, “From well after your time, Sir Frederick.”
“Ah.” I was unsure where to proceed from that point, so changed the subject. “Do you know when we will be arriving? I am eager to disembark.”
“Eh, I, uh, I don't know.” Turner removed his helmet and scratched his head. “I suppose we should ask, but I haven't got any idea of who we should bother.”
I stood and glanced around, but saw no one who looked any less confused than we were. “I see no one free of our own predicament.”
“Perhaps we should be patient,” Faddel suggested.
“Yes, we should,” I agreed.
But this did not satisfy Turner, who stood and walked over to the far wall. “Here, a ladder. We can climb up and look for answers!” He climbed, but once he reached the trapdoor and pushed, he told us, “It's bloody locked!”
“Then sit down,” I told him. “We will know soon enough.”
We sat for a long time without speaking. I cannot tell you for how long. It seemed as though more joined us in our car during the passage of time, but I cannot recall ever stopping. There were no more from my time, but I saw a man dressed like Turner, but I could not tell if they were from the same time. Instead of satisfying my curiosity, I sharpened my sword. Until, finally, Turner broke the silence, “I've got a thought.”
“Let's think about this for a minute.” He licked his lip. “Time. Apparently, time has no meaning here, right? I mean, look around. You've got soldiers from all time waiting for the same thing and everyone knows exactly what they're doing here; exactly what this is. There are even people who shouldn't have any idea what a train is, but they aren't questioning it.”
“This is true. I did not know what a 'train' was before my arrival.”
“So, if time hasn't got any meaning, what if there isn't a question of 'when' we'll arrive?”
“I am not sure that I follow.”
“Maybe it's a question of 'how' or 'why.'”
“I still do not follow.”
“Look, since time's got no meaning, then waiting around won't mean anything either.” That made more sense, I supposed. “I'm not waiting around. I'm going up there and I'm going to find some bloody answers.”
“Did you not say that it was locked?”
“That's why I've got this!” He flaunted his rifle at me. I only shrugged as I followed to try and discover just what it was he intended to do. Turner jogged his way to the hatch and pointed the end of his rifle at the hinges. Without hesitation, he squeezed a lever on the rifle and the front end exploded. I recoiled in fear! He pulled a handle on top and then a small brass tube flew from the rifle, and then he fired again. After again pulling the handle, he used the back end of his weapon and forced open the hatch. “Got it! Come on, let's go up!”
I watched him climb. The other soldiers stared, but did not seem willing to follow. Before I could climb the ladder, Faddel went ahead of me. I let him go and then followed. What I saw up there I will never forget. All around was fire. There was a great wall at our side and looking to the distance on the other side, I could see yet another wall. It was then I noticed that we were surrounded by these great walls! There was a smell of pungent sulphur and burning flesh. Turner looked to me and shouted, “Look! We aren't
to Hell! We're bloody in it!”
“By Allah,” Faddel said in awe.
“This must be some sort of deception.”
“Look! I see the front of the train! Let's get on up there and get this whole thing sorted right out!” Turner pressed onwards. Faddel and I exchanged glances and then followed him.
“That man must be fearless,” Faddel said to me quietly.
“Fearless or foolish. Perhaps both.”
“Agreed, but I must know. I was promised many virgins as my eternal reward, not this. Not Hell.”
We were forced to leap over the car separations, but it was an easy journey. As we pressed on, I saw mine shafts and I thought that I saw souls suffering in the distance, but I could not be sure. In my mind, I knew we were truly in Hell, but I did not want to believe it. The fires burning around us, however, spoke otherwise. At last, we arrived at the engine of the train. It appeared to be a steam locomotive, but how I knew that, I do not know.
Faddel was first to jump down and then Turner. With a degree of hesitation, I followed. Something in me sensed that something dire was at stake. I was correct.
When I arrived with them, I found both Faddel and Turner pointing their weapons at nothing less than a demon. There was no room for doubt. He was a red beast with great horns and a mouth full of snarling, flaming teeth. He laughed at us.
Hell!” Turner exclaimed.
“By Allah! Demon!”
I raised my sword, “What say you, creature?”
He laughed. “Yes! Yes! This one is correct, you
in Hell! You are here for your punishment, the only punishment fit for soldiers! You prepare and fear for a war you will never see and you are confined as prisoners! But you do not know it! So perfect!”
“Then how did we escape?” Turner asked.
The demon laughed again, “Because you are chosen. You have come here to me where you are to accept a greater fate.”
“Greater fate?” I asked tightening the grip on my sword.
“Yes. You are the bravest of the soldiers here. Does that not deserve some kind of reward?”
“Do not listen to him!” Faddel cried.
“Of course you do!”
“What is this reward?” I asked.
“Purpose,” laughed the demon.
“Purpose? I'll bloody show you purpose!” Turner pulled his trigger and Faddel quickly followed. Their weapons roared to life.
The abomination mocked them, “You think your weapons can hurt
“Then what are we doing here?”
“What did you think to do, kill me? And then escape?”
Turner threw his rifle to the ground and curled fists, “Bloody right! I'm gonna kill you and then I'm gonna derail this damned train and free everyone on board!”
“You would fight for an impossible cause?” The demon mused. “Such a thing is noble. But foolish.”
“No, not foolish. It is right,” I told the demon. “But you would not now such things.”
“I know more of right than you could ever know!” The demon barked. “But you have passed the test.” The demon turned and pulled a lever. The train stopped. I looked out and saw a barren plain. The fires, death, and suffering all passed.
“What is this?” I looked out. I saw blood and soldiers fighting in the distance. I watched one be cut down, but then a great angel descended and carried him away.
“This,” the demon softly laughed, “is Valhalla.”
“Valhalla? From Viking Legends?” Turner asked.
“Yes, yes, indeed! Only the bravest and most noble of warriors will go here after death. You have passed the test, have you not? Valhalla is yours to walk.”
“How do I know this isn't some other test?” Turner asked, picking up his rifle.
“You would prefer to ride my train for eternity?” The demon laughed. I grew tired of his mockery. “This is no test. You will fight with just purpose during the day and drink in the night. You will all fight in the most glorious eternal army. Now, go!”
I looked to the men with me and together we mustered our courage, just as we had in the train car before. These are my comrades. We are brothers in arms in eternal war. And as my brothers charge ahead, I stop and look behind me. The train is gone. I wonder still if perhaps this is not some other Hell, yet at the same time, I cannot think of a better reward. Here will be eternal glory and never death. I look at my blade and raised it to the sky. This is my fate. So be it! Glory!