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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Supernatural · #2311125
A WWII platoon sees supernatural lights in a forest at night. 3rd in Short Shots Dec 2023.
Short Shots Image Prompt (December 2023)


The new year found Jim Borrell standing watch in the snow as January 1946 brought the lowest temperatures of the winter so far. In the depths of a dark German forest, with the air still and silent, the cold kept Jim alert while others snored in their tents. Moonlight lit the hanging mist beneath the trees with an eerie glow and Jim’s breath froze in an answering cloud before him.

The old year, with its last battles over the ruins of bombed out cities and the final celebrated victory, had died with the onset of a bitter winter that taxed the endurance of the survivors even harder. It was Jim’s bad luck that his platoon was one of the few remaining to garrison Europe as the future was debated between the great and good. On such petty turns of fate balanced the circumstances that led him on this wild goose chase, hunting down any reality in the rumours that put a secret band of guerilla fighters operating from this forest. It was only to be expected that the weather had turned so bitter as they set out on their mission.

The war had been long and taught Jim that complaint against the inevitable was futile. So he bore this latest twist of fate with considerable fortitude, consoling himself with the thought that his repatriation could only be a few weeks away now. He gazed off into the far reaches of the forest and let his mind wander to memories of home.

Warmed by the dream of Carolina summers, he drifted into a half conscious state, not asleep yet not fully awake. It was with a start that he found himself on full alert once again. Something had changed in the quiet forest and he was dragged back to the present by a feeling of uneasiness. Out there, in the dark, a light had appeared, a speck of brightness against the misty background. It was very small, merely a pinprick in the vast forest, and Jim thought at first that it must be far away through the trees.

It reminded him of the fireflies that speckled the summer nights of his childhood. So small a light could hardly be threatening. He stared at it, waiting for its cause to be revealed.

And then another blinked into being. At the edge of his vision, this one was larger and, it seemed, much closer to his position. He switched his attention to it. But now others were suddenly dotting the night. Like fairy lights, they appeared and held steady, not moving but hanging suspended in the cold. Some were quite large and he could see that they were definitely closer to him.

It struck Jim that they were in pairs. Although scattered across his field of vision in apparently haphazard array, each of them had a companion of equal brightness and size. He had missed this detail at first because the largest glowed so brightly that they tended to merge into one oval shape.

Jim realised that they looked like eyes, staring at him in glowing concentration from the darkness. Eyes of invisible creatures, with intent unclear, revealed neither as friend nor foe as yet. It was time to alert the camp.

He edged backward until standing at the side of the lieutenant’s tent. Then he bent over to tap lightly at the canvas. “Lieutenant,” he hissed, “I think you need to see this.”

The officer must have been awake because the answer came back immediately. “What is it, soldier?”

“Hard to say, sir. It’s sorta one of those things you have to see for yourself.”

There was silence for a while and then came the grudging reply. “Okay, give me a moment.” There was a pause and then the voice added, “This better be good.”

Sounds of struggling into heavier clothing came from the tent, followed quickly by the emergence of the lieutenant from the entrance flap. He stood up and looked at Jim. “So what is it, Borrell?”

“Over here, sir,” answered Jim. He led the officer to his original post. Out in the dark, the hordes of lights continued to stare, unwavering, into the camp.

The lieutenant stared back in puzzlement. “What the…? You got any idea what that is, Borrell?”

Jim shrugged. “Beats me, sir. I’d guess they’re like fireflies but they don’t move and, besides, that’s not likely in this kinda weather.”

“You ever see a will-o’-the-wisp?” asked the lieutenant.

“It’s not like that, sir. Those are much bigger and brighter. And they’re all sortsa shapes, not round like these.” He paused before adding, “To be honest, sir, they look like eyes to me.”

“Hmm, you’re right,” said the lieutenant. “But eyes of what? Can’t see any heads or bodies.”

“I dunno, sir. But they seem to be looking at us.”

“Could it be the Werwolf? Those last resistance groups are said to get up to all sorts of weird stuff.”

“That’s why I woke you, sir. Figured it was better to be safe than sorry. Although I don’t think it’s likely. They don’t look manmade to me.”

The lieutenant nodded. “You’re right, Borrell. Go get Minski’s squad and tell them to wake the rest of the platoon.”

Jim hurried off and soon soldiers were staggering, bleary-eyed and grumbling, to join the officer as he gazed out at the watching horde. Silence fell on the men when they saw the lights.

When several soldiers had gathered, the lieutenant asked quietly, “Anyone have any idea what those things might be?”

There was silence for a while and then one voice rang out.

“What did you say was the name of this forest, sir?”

“Tootoburg or something,” said the lieutenant.

“Then I think I know what those are, sir.”

The officer looked at the thin and unimpressive soldier that had stepped forward. Everyone in the platoon knew him as Doc, a college professor who had somehow ended up as one of them.

“Okay, Doc,” said the lieutenant, “let’s have it.”

“It was in year 9 AD,” replied Doc. “A Roman general named Varus took three legions of soldiers over the Rhine to teach the German tribes a lesson. They’d been getting a bit too daring with their raids into Gaul at the time.

“Anyway, Varus marched deep into the German forests, looking for someone to punish, and they came eventually to the Teutoburg Forest. And there they were met by an alliance of the tribes under a man named Arminius. This guy had served as a Roman soldier so he knew all about their tactics and had devised a way to beat them. In the deepest part of the forest, he ambushed the legions, knowing that they would not be able to manoeuvre through the trees. In a series of guerilla attacks, Arminius wiped out all three legions. That would be about 15,000 men, at an educated guess.”

Doc paused here before adding, “It’s my contention that those lights are the ghosts of those legionaries who died so long ago.”

The assembled men were silent as they digested this information. Then the lieutenant spoke. “That’s a bit far-fetched, Doc.”

“Seems logical to me, sir,” answered the Doc. “It’s kinda fitting that it should be us that sees the ghosts, since we’re on a similar expedition ourselves.”


“Well, we’re on a mission to punish the Germans, aren’t we? Looks like a helluva coincidence that we should meet the first bunch that set out to do that. I bet this is exactly where the massacre took place and these guys are gathered here to wish us well.”

The lieutenant stared out at the lights surrounding the camp. There was a muttering of agreement from the men and Jim Borrell’s voice raised above the others.

“That’s good enough for me, sir.”

For a while the lieutenant looked at them. Then he said, slowly, “I can only hope you’re right.” He turned back to the men. “Okay, guys, you’re all on watch until these things go away. It might be a long night but we can’t afford to take a chance on Doc’s guess.” Before they could spread out according to his orders, he added, “And let’s not mention this business to anyone else. We don’t want anyone accusing us of going nuts, do we?” There was a rumble of agreement from the soldiers.

The night turned out to be as long as the officer feared. It was not until dawn began to spread under the trees that the lights faded away into nothingness. The soldiers had an hour of dozing in their tents before the lieutenant ordered them up and to break camp. The platoon trudged out mid-morning to leave the scene of that night’s strange event behind them.

Later that day, they found the camp of the Werwolf. The guerillas were pitifully few in number and all were dead, littering their ragged camp in strange positions, as though death had come upon them suddenly and unexpectedly. None of them bore a mark or other indication of what had killed them.

It was as though they had all stopped living at one and the same instant.

Word count: 1,525
For Short Shots Official WDC Contest, December 2023
Prompt: As per illustration.

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