All Saints is a story that I based on an essay I did in high school.  The paper was a creative writing piece that my teacher called “the best in class.”  It was the first time that I felt pride towards my writing ability.  So, I dug it out of the archives of my brain and morphed it into this grim tale.  I hope you like it.

Cracks of thunder stirred the old man from his troubled sleep.  Sitting up in his easy chair, Harold Vossler peered around his barren room before throwing a cold microwave dinner to the floor.  On his tiny television, the local news blared their lead story.

“Now for some disturbing news,” an anchorman said.  “A gang who refer to themselves as the Skull may have struck again in Northside. Gina Gershen has the report.”

Immediately a bi-level house encircled with police tape filled the screen.  In front stood Mrs. Gershen holding an umbrella. She had always reminded Harold of Audrey Hepburn yet tonight something was different.

“Thanks Barry,” she said frowning. “Over the past three weeks, gang activity has steadily risen in the tristate area with several murders occurring in the Northside community. Earlier tonight another elderly man was found stabbed to death in this home.”

Something about the scene made Harold’s heart sink.  He knew that house.  He used to pass it every Friday on his way to the liquor store.  It belonged to Jack Wurzelbacher, an old timer in the neighborhood  who lived just three blocks down the road.

“Jesus! I just saw that poor bastard last week,” Vossler mumbled as a body bag flashed across his TV. Next, the cameras scrolled across a bloody kitchen floor where the victim had been found.

“Authorities say that four suspects in skull masks were seen fleeing the home. Such reports have caused quite a stir considering the holiday—”

Gershen disappeared in mid sentence with a loud click.  Harold had heard enough for one night.

He hobbled from his chair trying to clear his thoughts that chattered away like demons.

“Another elderly man….stabbed to death….murders…gang activity….recent murders…stabbed to death….Skull gang…men in masks….murders…they’re coming for you old man…..they’re coming to slit your throat….”

The air was thick on this night and Harold was having trouble breathing.Closing his eyes he began counting breaths, trying to keep the dark images from sticking like leeches.

“One…in the name of the father…Two…and of the son…Three…and of the hold ghost,” he repeated yet the mangled corpse of his neighbor held his mind hostage.  Vossler’s thoughts raced to the last image he held of his friend: Jack had been sitting on his porch drinking a beer. Tonight the memory was similar however Jack’s smile had been replaced by a vacant stare with blood pouring from his mouth.

“Four…Lord have mercy…Five…Christ have mercy…Six…Lord have mercy.”

He checked the oxygen hose that snaked across his cluttered floor but the flow of cool air was steady. Harold thought of Philippians 4:8 “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely—think about such things.” Ruminating on this verse, Harold began the walk to his bedroom but his legs betrayed him as he collapsed to the floor.

“Vossler!  You could fuck up a wet dream!  Get up you worthless piece of shit!” 

He hadn’t heard his Sergent’s voice in over sixty five years yet it still brought back the same dread as before. He knew the drill. Crawl to the nearest piece of furniture and pull yourself up.

Get up numb nuts!  I’m not done with you!  On your feet!”

The flashbacks had begun when Harold’s wife, Marie had died several months ago.  He had seen a psychiatrist at the VA who said to avoid anything related to his war days. Apparently such memories could trigger the same brutal emotions that Harold had experienced as a POW in World War II.

“No pictures or war movies and no talking about the past,” Dr. Stolz had warned.

Vossler listened to the doctor, placing all of his souvenirs into a locked trunk in his basement.      Although Harold loved to meet at the VA Post, he quit attending any functions and distanced himself from his service friends. Finally, the doctor prescribed Risperdal which took the flashbacks away but left Harold feeling like a hallow husk, not caring if he lived or died. Vossler hated being kept in emotional limbo, so once the hallucinations stopped he threw away his pills. Soon the flashbacks came back, usually triggered by a stressful situation.

“You’re about as worthless as a limp dick!”

Harold felt the walls of his cramped home closing in.  He scrambled across the floor to a small kitchen table overflowing with dirty dishes.  With a groan he grabbed the piece of furniture and  pulled his left leg under him then slowly rose to his feet. Harold’s hands clenched the table as the room spun around him. He knew his Sergent was waiting for him to stand attention. Slowly Vossler pulled back his shoulders and held his head high just as he had done so many years ago.  His right hand automatically snapped above his brow then fell sharply to his side as the Sergent stood over him scowling. Part of Harold knew that he was seeing a figment of his imagination yet his body obeyed old habits like a mindless slave.

“Well hello princess.  Are you eyeballing me puke?”

“No sir!” Harold shouted still standing at attention.

“Because if you are, I’ll bend you over and fuck you like the pig you are, understand?”

“Yes sir!  Yes Sir!”

“I don’t need you to answer me twice maggot!  Once will do enough.”

“Yes sir!”

 “Puke Vossler….a marine only stops when he is dead!  It’s either you or them.  There seems to be a break in the lines and we need you to take care of it.  Your fellow soldiers are depending on you, so don’t fuck up!  Now salute a solider when you see one!”

From behind him Vossler heard a knocking on his front door.  He was about to answer it when the eyes of his Sergent grew wide.  Leaning forward the ghost came within inches of Vossler’s face. Harold saluted, praying he wouldn’t pass out.  His legs were shaking and he knew it was only seconds before he would collapse again.

“Be on guard solider.  Don’t fuck up!”

The Sergent disappeared leaving Harold standing at attention.  The old man stood there for several seconds not daring to move. His eyes darted around the kitchen and living room, taking in the images.  A wall clock ticked off the seconds as he fumbled for a chair where he could rest. Vossler sighed, grateful for the realization that he was all alone.  Maybe tomorrow he would call Doctor Stolz for a new prescription.

Harold sat gathering his strength when the knocking returned.  The front door stood  ten feet from where he sat but Harold was in no mood to answer it.  He remained still, hoping the intruder would buzz off, but the knocking persisted becoming more intense.  Vossler swung his legs around and wobbled to the door.  Squinting, he peered out a peephole looking for signs of life.  If there had been a gang of murderous thugs on his front porch, they were no longer there.

“Go to hell you damn brats,” he mumbled as a stream of heavy coughs ripped through his lungs. Harold stumbled away from the door to a large green tank.  He leaned over and turned a dial that increased the force of oxygen into his sore nostrils.

Every joint in Vossler’s body ached as he trudged down a narrow hall where old book shelves held dusty encyclopedias and home remedy manuals. The entire trip from the front door to his room was no more than 70 feet yet each step took tremendous effort. He wobbled through the hall to his dingy bedroom where a hospital bed sat.  Grasping the railings, he pulled one leg under him before collapsing into bed.

It had been a long night and all Harold wanted was to get some rest, yet someone had other plans.  From outside his bedroom the knocking resurfaced, sounding as delicate as a pecking bird.  Harold covered his head with a thick afghan hoping to drown out the sound, yet the pecking continued.    “Lord please give me a peaceful night,” he whispered while adjusting the oxygen tubes that fell from his face.  “Not that I deserve it.”

He waited as silence finally fell over his home like an empty church. Exhaustion quickly took over the old man. “Just want some fucking rest,” Vossler cursed before falling asleep….

Harold awoke in a familiar snowy field.  His body shuddered as he huddled behind a thicket of brush with German voices screaming from a distance.  Harold knew where he was. His unit had been ambushed and slaughtered by German forces and he was now caught behind enemy lines.  Scattered across the field lay his dead comrades, their stinking bodies causing bile to rise in his throat. It was only a matter of time before the enemy came for him. Instinctively he reached for his left arm and felt the warm wetness where a bullet had torn through his shoulder.  His head felt light from the loss of blood.

Voices grew closer with machine guns blazing overhead.  Vossler shivered uncontrollably from cold and fright.  His friends were all dead and he was the only one left to face the Nazis.  He knew they would find him and use their instruments of torture until he wished for death. Hadn’t he already lived through this horror?  Harold wanted to run but he had lost too much blood and his legs were made of lead. He pulled out his pistol feeling the eyes of the enemy upon him. Suddenly hundreds of bodies began to writhe out of the ground like worms, their grinning faces crawling towards him. Harold raised his shaking gun and fired, but the bullets passed right through the convulsing dead.  Now the zombies swarmed him, their hands tearing at his flesh as machine guns hammered over and over….

Someone was hammered at his front door.

It had all been a horrible nightmare. Harold sat up breathless and drenched in sweat.  He grasped his left arm and found it intact.   As the terrifying dream began to fade, a sinking feeling came over him and tears streamed down his cheeks.  All his life he had tried to forget about that frozen field in Germany.  After the war he had decided to bury all of the pain deep inside him where it could never hurt anyone again.  He had found a wonderful woman to share his life with and promised himself that his darkest day would never surface as long as she was alive.  But the moment Marie was taken from him the black memories returned bringing hell with them. Harold knew he would never be rid of his demons unless he stood up to them.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I shall fear no evil, because I am the meanest motherfucker in the valley!

Laughter crept through the walls as voices shouted from outside. Harold reached over to his dresser and pulled out his M1911 pistol. He stood on unsteady legs and marched to his front door which shook from the pounding.  Each knock fanned flames of rage that now burned inside the former marine.  Vossler stalked closer, grasping his gun while tearing the oxygen tubes away from his face.

“I’M COMING FOR YOU!”  he called out shoving the door open with such force that he crashed out onto the porch floor.  There standing over him were several figures dressed in black. One man with horrible scars tried to reach for him but Harold rolled over and began firing. The night erupted as flashes of gunfire illuminating the ghastly faces that had been laughing only seconds before.  Several of the thugs fell to the ground with blood oozing from their wounds.  One looked as though his face was tore off.  Or was that a mask?

The old man was reeling without his oxygen.  His chest felt as if someone were sitting on it. Fading into unconsciousness he turned over and came face to face with one of the thugs.  But instead of a hardened gang member he gazed into the face of innocence.  The child stared with wide eyes, coughing several times before repeating the same phrase over and over.  That’s when Harold  heard something that would haunt him the rest of his days….

“T-t-t-trick or treat?”