I don’t want to sit here right now telling you this.
In fact, I want to be me anywhere, anytime, before turning into myself, who I am now and cannot undo.
My uncle died.
A few years ago, when he was able to walk around his house without an oxygen tube dangling from his nose, he led me to the basement, his man cave.
“I know you are not blood kin but you’re the only male we can trust to carry on this secret.”
A few years ago?
No, it was 1992, 25 years ago.
What is time?
He leaned against a chest-high tool organiser, wheezing, catching his breath.
“I served in Berlin at the end of World War Two.”
I nodded, expecting Uncle Vadim to glaze over, lose focus and recite one of the few war stories he’d willingly shared with me, swearing me to secrecy about the atrocities and violence he had witnessed and participated in.
I knew he had served in Italy.
But not Berlin.
This was new.
He pointed to a shelf in a dark corner of the basement.
“See that wooden box? Bring it here.”
Uncle Vadim turned to woodworking as a relief for his mental troubles, carving crude duck decoys for a while, then antique clock replicas and finally, when his hands no longer let him carve intricate patterns, built interlocking curio boxes.
As I approached the shelf, I walked into a spider web.
I shudder now, remembering the touch of the web on my face and neck. It felt alive, like licking a 9-volt battery, tingling my skin with electricity.
My uncle laughed.
I brushed the web off me and grabbed the box.
A magnetic pull locked my fingers around the box.
My uncle laughed louder.
“Put it back on the shelf!”
I set the box back down and my fingers relaxed.
“Come here and sit down. We need to talk.”
My aunt yelled from the top of the stairwell. “Dinner’ll be ready in 15 minutes. You guys start cleaning up.”
“Okay, wife, we’ll be there soon.”
Uncle Vadim patted the seat of a stool.
I sat down and looked up at him.
His face, leathery and sunburned, was purple and bloated. I knew he was struggling to hold back raw WWII emotions.
“We were sent to find him and take him at all costs.”
His eyes almost glowed in the glare of overhead fluorescent bulbs.
“You know who I mean?”
“You understand why we had to find him?”
I shook my head.
“To break up the power. Our job was not going to be easy and we knew it. Many had died just by getting close to him, especially those who were incompatible. We had been tested, told we were compatible, but so had others…” He coughed up a large wad of phlegm and spit on the floor.
“So many had died trying to get close. None had been able to kill him.” He shuddered, lost his grip and fell against me.
His breath was hideous, like fetid swamp water. I helped him stand back up.
“Be there in a jiffy, missus!”
He leaned toward me and whispered. “We found him. We found him, we found him, we found him. By that which is unnatural, we found him. I’ll tell you the rest after dinner.”
I sat with my uncle and aunt, eating quietly, amxious to know this new secret, watching my uncle with new eyes, seeing that he pushed food around his plate but never really ate anything.
Had he always done that?
I normally went to the living room with them and joined their stare at the tellie which blared at full volume a series of unintelligible game shows.
Not that night.
Uncle Vadim motioned me back to the basement.
Have I told you I have the box beside me as I write this horrifying retelling for your eyes only?
Why did I have to follow my uncle’s instructions?
Am I dead or alive?
Uncle Vadim leaned against the workbench, showing me a map he had pulled out of a secret compartment in the leg of the bench.
“We knew where his main bunker was but had information that he had moved to what was supposed to be an unknown chamber. If we found him in the chamber…”
He coughed up more phlegm.
“Sorry, but just by telling you about him, I’m…” He heaved, shuddered and stopped breathing.
He looked at me like a corpse, his eyes unfocused.
“All of us, every…single…one, died. We weren’t compatible!”
He let out a low growling laugh. “But that’s the most merciful thing that could have happened to us after we found him!”
He started breathing again, the purple tone leaving his face, the bloating subsiding.
“There. I have told you. I’ve held that in me for almost 50 years.”
Uncle Vadim looked a decade younger.
He touched my hand. “You have it now. Can you tell?”
Ever since I had walked through the spider web and held the box, the tingling sensation stayed with me.
“I’m sorry but I had to give it to someone before I died.”
I’m looking at the box, wondering why me.
I followed his instructions. He told me that after he was buried I was to act uninterested in his tools, pretty much ignoring his man cave.
Only after my aunt died was I to ensure that someone else enter the basement, remove the tools and woodwork of my uncle, bring them to me.
I asked a childhood friend to empty the man cave.
She gladly complied, happy for an excuse to visit me.
As we unloaded her car, I did my best to act nonchalant, pretending that the stuff was only important because it belonged to my uncle.
She got a kick out of the Italian girly pocket calendar from 1943, full of colourised images of reclining nudes. She looked at the coins, including Belgian, Italian, Swiss, French and German.
We shared a box of pizza and stayed up late reminiscing about our youth.
She left a couple of hours ago.
Uncle Vadim insisted I be alone when I opened the box.
He gave me verbal steps that I memorised and repeated back to him, steps I had to follow exactly or trigger hidden booby traps.
I opened the box after 15 steps.
There it sat, the thing that Uncle Vadim had kept in his house, the thing that ate away at him and has already started eating away at me for 25 years.
For you see, like Uncle Vadim, I have been dead longer than I’ve been alive.
It was a price I paid without being asked.
It’s the price I paid for this moment.
The thing is there, wrapped in faded silk, shriveled beyond recognition.
Uncle Vadim’s military unit had found their target, following their orders to the letter, cutting up the body, dividing the pieces between them and going their separate ways, never to make contact with each other again.
Uncle Vadim was entrusted with the most vital piece, the one section of the body that enthralled millions, killed on sight at close range and held a magnetism of its own.
I died to have this knowledge before I knew what it was.
I waited until just before I started writing you to find this, in the box…
The Fuhrer’s severed hand; rather, the tentacle of a creature so alien it belies description.
For you see, when Hitler died, he returned to his natural shape.
I had to share this with you because I plan to destroy this relic and when I do, I will disappear with it.
Uncle Vadim wanted to destroy it himself but had been warned it would set off a chain reaction much worse than had Hitler lived.
I can’t live with this secret.
Haha, did I just say That?
What I meant was I can’t remain undead with this secret any longer.
Know that you and you alone are the one I loved the most.
I wanted to have children with you, grow old with you but Uncle Vadim took that away from me before we got the chance to meet.
I have been undead for too long.
I love you.
Please forgive me if the world falls apart after I do what should have been done over 70 years ago.
I do it for us.
I’ve found the others.
One of them located the alien spaceship.
We’re going to put the pieces on the ship and set it for a destructive collision course with the Sun.