Richard Fiedler sent his wife after some bread and locked the door behind her, knowing he wouldn’t have much time before she returned. He sat at the kitchen table, brushing off the last few crumbs of the evening’s supper and pulling the candle nearer to himself. He cleaned his rusted bifocals on the underside of his shirt and put them on again. Finally, with marked hesitation, he pulled out the envelope from his coat pocket and set it down in front of him. He hadn’t been mistaking.
Earlier that day, when the courier had given him his letters, Richard had noticed this particular envelope and the symbol it bore on the front. He hadn’t taken his glasses with him to the post office, but he thought he could make out the familiar mark and promptly hid it from his wife until opportunity allowed him a better look. Now that he saw it and knew what it was, Richard feared even more for his wife’s early return and hurried to see what the letter contained.
He struggled to open it. He tracked his eyes from the candle’s flame to his smooth and disfigured hands. The scars were old and many and, though it pained Herr Fiedler to think about it, had been the birthparents of countless scars just like them. After ripping open a side of the envelope and taking out the letter, Richard began to wonder if the terrible progeny of his hands had not yet seen its end.
He hoped the letter had been typewritten, but was disappointed to see that someone had taken the time to write it by hand. Richard read the first line:
FROM THE OFFICE OF COLONEL ABEL VON BERGMANN, DATED MARCH, 1938. ATTENTION: LIEUTENANT RICHARD FIEDLER (RETIRED)
The rest of the letter was difficult for Herr Fiedler to read under his constraints. Quickly and with great effort, he managed to decipher enough of the Colonel’s handwriting to understand the purpose of the message.
GREETINGS, HERR FIELDER. I HAVE THE DISTINGUISHED HONOR OF WRITING YOU… EXEMPLARY ACHIEVEMENTS AND INNOVATIONS DURING THE GREAT WAR… ADVANCEMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY VITAL TO PROGRESSION… FRUITFUL RETIREMENT… YOUR WORK ON THE FLAMETHROWER… NEW ADVANCEMENTS CURRENTLY BEING ENGINEERED BY TOP SCIENTISTS… MY DISTINCT HONOR TO EXTEND TO YOU AN INVITATION TO OVERSEE AND MANAGE THESE TESTS… FIELD OPERATIONS AND LODGINGS IN DORTMUND… LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR REPLY.
For a moment Herr Fielder could do nothing. The awful letter shook in his trembling hands as he fought the urge to scream in anger. His eyes became wet and his throat began to throb. He had fooled himself into thinking that time would remove him from the equation; that the pain had been so hot and so deep so as to make it impossible to feel pain like that again, like some kind of horrific burn. He had always believed that fire was terribly magical that way.
His wife knocked at the door and Richard hid the letter in his coat. He would have to get rid of it some other time. And he already knew how he would do it.