In life, we are plagued by the uncertainty of an afterlife, and it is often expected that when we die, everything will suddenly make sense. But when a group of strangers, similar only in their time of death, find themselves in the afterlife, they are faced with more questions than ever before. Are they in Heaven or Hell? If they’re in Heaven, why is there a Nazi wandering around? Why are there no children? If they are in Hell, what universal law did they break? Is there a way to repent and move on to a better eternity? At least one man seems to have some answers. Marcus, a Roman dead for 2,000 years, gains the group’s trust by leading them through the perils of their new reality. But soon it becomes clear that Marcus is only telling them half the story.
L. A. Barnes is public librarian in the southern US. She is a Nerdist podcast listening, South Park loving, Twin Peaks conspiracy theorizing, Stephen King reading and Joss Whedon worshiping geek. The Pit is her first novel. She plans to explore the Watchmaker’s universe through four more novels.
Chapter 11 - Heinrich's perspective on his own war
For the first time, Heinrich gets to talk to someone who disagrees with his work, aka the holocaust.
The Pit: Watchmaker’s Hell: Book One
HEINRICH IS FREI
7 o’clock Platform (Europe), Hell
April 29, 1945
HEINRICH DROPPED TO THE platform with an audible thud. For a moment, he felt a huge surge of relief. How much pressure had he been under in the last few weeks? Or even in the last few years? As the burdens mounted, Heinrich handled them each as they came in, never comparing them to the overwhelming whole. If he had, he might have committed suicide by enemy soldier sooner. For the last seven years, the SS had increased Dachau’s intake of prisoners beyond The camp’s capacity. His superiors even insisted on building women’s barracks under Heinrich’s ardent objection. By the end of April, with the Allies coming in his direction, Heinrich was ordered to send hundreds of prisoners on a death march from Dachau to Tegernsee. At the time, Heinrich was relieved. It allowed him to dispose of excess prisoners without having to cremate the bodies. Now he wondered if the SS superiors just wanted a few prisoners free of antagonistic Allied hands. Speaking of the bodies, with two of the three ovens broken, they’d started to pile up. When the last trainload of prisoners arrived at Dachau, the guards gave up clearing the dead ones out of the cars and let them tumble out of the open doors onto the platforms. The corpses were left to rot in the coming spring. Plus, all the corpses of prisoners who died inside Dachau’s gates rested by the useless ovens themselves, ready for destruction that he couldn’t provide. The news every day added another layer upon Heinrich, as the Allies entered Germany from the West and the Russians invaded from the East. Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and of few of the dismantled camps all fell under foreign control over the course of ten months. Heinrich only openly mentioned invasion to those around him in the two weeks before his death. If he didn’t say anything about the loss of his nation, maybe it could all still be a fluke. Even the usual mechanisms of leading his men added another layer of pressure. What do we do now, Herr von Helldorf? Where will we put the extra prisoners, Herr von Helldorf? Why do we have to surrender to the Americans, Herr von Helldorf? Heinrich concluded that being in charge meant being asked a million obnoxious questions a day by people who can’t or won’t think their way through a problem. Lastly, there was the smell of Dachau. The stench of death and piss and shit was gone. He knew not to breathe in through his nose, but he didn’t realize how restrictive that was. Though he’d expected death to be an end to existence, he found himself relieved to be wrong. This place had no smell. He lay there, his rifle loosely clutched in his hand, breathing in the lack of odor in the afterlife. Above him was a dark, starless sky—beneath him a hard ground. He didn’t care where he was. For a moment he was happy to still be.
Then he heard laughter—a shrill mocking laughter directed toward him. He sat up to confront whoever dared laugh at him. On the other side of the platform stood six men in blue on blue striped uniforms. Prisoners? Prisoners!
“God dammit!” he swore in German.
How did he get saddled with more prisoners in the afterlife?
“Are you unhappy to see us?” the group of six’s leader asked. His uniform bore a pink triangle identifying him as pervert or homosexual.
“Yes,” Heinrich spat back. “I thought I was free of you.”
Heinrich used the German verb ‘frei’ which translates to the English as ‘free’ with the exact same usage in both languages. The prisoners found Heinrich’s verbiage offensive.
“You want to be free?” Pink Triangle demanded incredulously. “Were you so restricted?”
“Stuck in that camp for six years with degenerates, perverts, thieves, scum and Jews. You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
His opponents were stunned into silence for a full 30 seconds. Even when it ended they seemed to struggle with expressing their disbelief. “What, you?” Pink Triangle began and then shook his head for a minute. “What you…Oh, God never mind. Do you know who I am?”
Heinrich leapt to his feet. “No idea,” he volunteered defiantly.
“I see you every day for a year. Up until two days ago, I could’ve set my watch, if I had it, which I don’t because you stole it from me, to 8 a.m. every morning when you walked past my barracks on the way to your office.”
The ‘up until two days ago’ statement was the best clue Pink Triangle could have offered. “Oh, you march,” Heinrich exclaimed casually as if he’d sent this man on a march in a parade.
“March! I died in the dirt, frozen, dehydrated, starving and exhausted, with one of your friends standing over me, screaming at me to get up,” Pink Triangle shouted.
That’s exactly what Heinrich thought happened on the marches, so he was nonplussed. This man might as well have yelled, “You threw me in Dachau for being a homosexual.” Of course he did and of course that was what the marches were for. It was just true; it didn’t need an emotional reaction. Heinrich had no other comment to offer except, “They are not my friends. They are my men. I tell them what to do.”
“Do you have friends?” Pink Triangle demanded. The others laughed.
That one hurt, and Heinrich couldn’t think of a clever response. With Gerta and the baby gone, Otto missing and his mother dead, he had no one.
The increasingly adolescent argument was interrupted by a loud crack. “What is that?” Heinrich demanded, looking around.
“Someone else you murdered is coming,” Pink Triangle said with a straight face.
“Really?” Heinrich asked, stunned.
More laughter. Another crack, this one followed by a man in a black SS uniform falling to the back of the platform. It looked like Hans, the guard from the north tower.
Pink Triangle nodded in the guard’s direction, and two of the prisoners set themselves on him. With them causing disturbing cracking noises on the guard’s person, Heinrich felt a sudden urge to check his surroundings. To his right, the odd cave was open. In the floor he saw his potential salvation from this confrontation: a single stair. He was meant to go down, away from this place. He would happily do so if he could just get away.
A third crack announced the arrival of the 50-year-old guard from the communications room. “What is this? Someone is killing the guards at Dachau?” Pink Triangle laughed.
Heinrich used the distraction to slide along the wall toward the stair.
Pink Triangle turned, seeing Heinrich’s movement. “Oh, no. You won’t be leaving here in one piece.”
He grabbed Heinrich by the lapel, slamming him into the wall. Heinrich swung his rifle at Pink Triangle’s head, causing a loud crunch. Pink Triangle punched Heinrich in the face, bouncing his head against the wall again. Heinrich felt pieces of him fall off his head and into his body, a strange sensation, like a shiver down the spine. He swung his rifle again. This time he caved in the right side of Pink Triangle’s face. He shoved the man away from him and ran for the stairs.
“Wait, don’t you want to help your men?” Pink Triangle asked, pointing to three new guards now being set on by Pink Triangle’s fellow prisoners.
Heinrich took a step backward and then leaned back, falling off the platform.
The Waterfall, Hell
For a moment after he’d sent the body away, Heinrich remained in the fading light. The experience was as profound as ever. The blonde man with grey eyes and curved lips was called Wilhelm. He’d loved his son very much. In a way, Heinrich had never loved anyone while alive.
Before him was the great waterfall that connected The Gate and Hell. Standing 100 feet high, it flowed into a pool that served as the base of the river running throughout Hell, ending at the Great Dark Sea. It was his favorite geographical landmark in the afterlife. He made his home at the nearest campfire. Everything worth happening to him in Hell had happened in the shadow of this utterly silent, constantly moving force of nature. Behind the clouds that obscured the top of the Waterfall was the light—not golden like the firelight found throughout Hell, this was bright yellow light that resembled the sunlight found only on Earth.
As the light receded back where it belonged behind the clouds, Heinrich trembled under the power of the experience. He must remember every detail. That was his job now, keeping the details of others’ memories. Without this work, he’d have thrown himself into the Pit to be destroyed long ago. With it, he fed the smallest part of him—that part that was still human.