Estimated reading time — 15 minutes
It’s funny in a way, how even the most sickening of experiments or discoveries can be covered up by time. The way that some people can just move on from something even if it is inhumanly brutal. Some things can never be forgotten and some will suffer however. Such as these didn’t include the article laying spread out in my palms. ’37 British troops found severely mutilated from barbed wire. One missing.’
I should explain. I’m a 19 year old student from central Maine. Every once in a while I call into this library about a mile from my school. It remains as a dusty, red bricked relic gathering enough knowledge over time to be a great source of information for whenever I need it. Whether that information is remembered or forgotten. On one such day while rummaging through the World War 1 history section for a school project I came across the article previously mentioned planted inside a book detailing trench warfare and all major discoveries surrounding it. On page 52, lodged inside was this article along with a small letter still sealed with a large, red, waxy splodge. As soon as I touched the article taken straight from an old newspaper, it felt dilapidated and eerie. The yellowish colour contrasted with the fresh white feel of the book. Below the image was a photo of the troops before they were found dead. A squad of 37 young men ranging in age from 19 to 25. Standing in 3 rows with what looked to be the inside of a trench as the background. It stated that those men had only just arrived from Britain before they died. Fresh from the barracks, I thought. To its bottom left was a much smaller, separate image of the man who went missing. The small print beside the image stated that he was the last survivor of the previous squad when the new one arrived. He seemed more mature then the others, and definitely far more vicious. A tattered black beard and ominous blood-shot stare shone through to me from the black and white image. To add to its current eeriness, he was also smiling. And not just a stark, casual smile but a massive grin showing portions of his gleaming white teeth at either end. ‘Charles Patrickson, last seen on May 16th 1916. Image taken on May 14th 1916.’ And as I sat back in this old, vast library in late 2017, I suddenly felt curious to know about Charles Patrickson, who and where he might’ve been and where he eventually died. I decided to head off back home and do some more research on this event. The library was still in its ancient phase and hadn’t any computers which came across as unfortunate.
I checked out the book and strolled back to my apartment tightly squeezed in between a coffee shop and pharmacy. All the while as I walked back though, this uneasy feeling swam around me, the corner of my mind retaining that image of Charles staring back at me with that wide, toothy smirk. On some of these flashbacks he would move a little inside the image, not much, but just enough to notice. He swayed gently from side to side and kept up that unblinking stare and disturbing grin. When this happened I would have to stop on the street and clutch my temples.
I eventually arrived in home feeling awful and slumped back on my office chair to hear its frail creak. I craned open my laptop and booted it up. While that was happening I flipped open the book to page 52 where the newspaper clipping was lodged. That’s when I heard something slip out of the book and land on the wooden floor beside it. It sounded thin like paper but still retained heaviness. I bent over the desk and suddenly remembered the envelope that came with the clipping, sealed with red candle wax and partially covered with a greenish mould. And then I knew I couldn’t stop myself. I knew that I was going to open up that envelope and read everything it had to offer. It possessed that ominous quality about it, the type that lingers in your mind and begs to be revealed. I reached down and picked up the envelope. The sides sealed with wax came apart relatively easily, the wax even felt slightly spongy. At that time, when I opened it up and took out those diary entries, I was too eager to learn more that I didn’t take into consideration what these entries might hold. My professors always acknowledged my expansive sense of curiosity. If only I’d known what I was about to read through would I thrown all of it onto a massive bonfire and erase it from history forever. But there I was, willingly reading the final diary entries of Charles Patrickson, last seen on May 16th 1916.
May 10th, 1916
Its only me now. I’m the last one left of my squad. The last to leave me, Thomas, a mad Irish traitor sprinted from me last night. He feared starvation for a reason I can’t understand due to the capacity of food left. He was shot down the moment he peered his wee head out the edge. Riffle shots seemed to stifle into him from every direction. From my position the body was kept upright, flailing around due to the constant gunfire. He then tumbled onto the patchy grass outside the trench. This was exactly how the rest of them went. At these times of disloyalty were the only times that the enemy fired anything other than the gas. In the times when I don’t have the gas, the putrid odour of their corpses deprives my sense of smell. Although none of them are lying with me inside the trenches, they lie near. I hear the rodents and flies which are attracted and I hear them biting and chewing and scratching. At first the silence from the enemy frightened me. That constant absence of bullets. I hugged the lice-covered walls and prepared for a vigorous surprise attack from any direction.
But then something happened, about 10 days ago. There were at least 20 alive back then. Sometime around noon we were shelled from all around by a new gas. In some spots it was as if the gas poured out of the walls. There were multiple cries and shouts to warn us but they were lost in the thick wall of smoke the gas created around us. I couldn’t see anything, be it 1 foot or 20 feet from me. I thrust my hands down to the utility belt tightly secured around my waist. Reaching down in a mad effort hoping to find a gasmask. I found no mask. It suddenly occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to breath in a matter of seconds and die a choking, painful death. But I didn’t. In fact that feeling I had with that black gas was better than any other I’ve ever felt. I was feeling high off my heels and no longer found life to be a thing to worry about. The gas almost talked to me. It said ‘Charles, it’s ok now. You’re doing just fine.’ My mother’s voice. The war was totally forgotten about. The darkness lasted about 20 minutes.
When my sight was regained I stared across the trench to find the rest of my fellows still standing in the same position as before, their gasmasks seemed like frightening beasts. The entirety of the squad returned my stare as they flung off their monstrous masks in shock. The high feeling of the gas hadn’t completely faded and I uttered, ‘ G’day chaps, lovely weather were having you think?’ followed by my answer to the gas’s effect from my experience. ‘Like dancing on angels sir, like not being down ‘ere.’ Then there was Private Harry, poking his eyes out from behind another, that same indignantly awe-struck expression. ‘Charles…are you feelin’ right in the head there?’ There was a tinge of Northern Irish in his voice accompanied by the tone of a man far older than this. Giving him a nonchalant smirk I reassured him that he wouldn’t have to worry about it.
Ever since then I’ve longed for the gas to come again. The gas makes me happy. The gas is my medicine, my friend. I’m beginning to wonder if saying that sounds crazy. I don’t think it does. It carries me out from this disgusting war and into the free lands. It’s not here now though and I am the only one left because only I was lucky enough to embrace the gas when it comes. Please, oh please let the gas come soon. I just love that damn gas.
Until the gas comes again, yours sincerely,
May 14th, 1916
A long strip of barbed wire surrounds the trenches rim. It usually appears hateful and twisted but the gas helps that. The gas can and will help everything. When the gas comes it looks like a big tasty candy cane for me to gobble up. It is the only thing visible in the gas by the way. But I have bigger news. More recruits arrived today. A fresh batch ready to be eaten up. Many were uneasy due to my appearance and attitude. They described me as looking like a monster but I took this as a joke. Through the reflection of me in the puddles I could clearly see just another smiling face. They also brought an old cameraman who took our pictures. He took my one separate to the others, toward the front of the trench. I gave my best smile and asked him if he would be staying to die with them. He gave a solemn sort of laugh and told me that he would head back soon after taking mine. And the Germans let him go, just like that. When my whole squad previous had dared to dart away from the gas they’d been shot down instantly but now one man was able to leave. But that doesn’t matter to me much. I told the young men about my gas. I could tell by their expressions and shared glances of insecurity that my advice would not be taken and their gasmasks wouldn’t be tossed over the side. Although it means that they won’t be able to share the profound, exotic feeling of my gas it does mean more gas for me. Right? Distributions of the gas have increased. I’m given one in the early morning, another in the afternoon and a final one whenever the sun sets. It makes me feel better than ever before but the longing feeling during those times absent of it have increased in severity. I sometimes wonder why the Germans haven’t killed us already. Perhaps they are stocked with nothing but the gas and are not cruel Germans here to kill but to instead share their gas with us. It confuses me it does. But I’m still glad of it. Praise the gentle soul who created this gas. Praise him. Praise him. Praise him.
I salute you, gas of peace, gas of forgiving.
May 15th, 1916
I overhear them sometimes you know. Talking about me. The recruits you see, they think I’m crazy. Crazy? They are crazy. They refuse to embrace the gas’s majesty and they think of war and violence and cruelty. They think of many things. They have a plan to make a mad rush out of the trench and all the way back to Britain, just like the last of my squad. After the gas began, that’s the only time they were shot at. One by one the fools tried to escape but were picked off from seemingly everywhere. And now I think I know why, you see. We received some intercepted enemy intelligence today which explained how the gas shelling us was called ‘Geistfeuer’ which translates to ‘Mind-fire’ I respect its name and pledge my allegiance to Mind-fire and wherever it take me. Praise Mind-fire. Praise Mind-fire. Praise Mind-fire.
Charles Patrickson praises Mind-fire. Charles Patrickson praises Mind-fire. Mind-fire. Mind-fire. Mind-fire.
I slammed down the worn paper to my desk with that. This was messed up. This was so damn messed up. But there were still two entries remaining. Screw this, I thought and stood up from the desk and walked out to the kitchen. I began to pour a glass of water with the glass clutched in a shaky hand when suddenly the title of the article flashed into my vision for a second. ’37 British troops found severely mutilated from barbed wire. One missing’. Charles Patrickson and his gas had cut into the flesh of my mind. I tried not to think of those two things together. It was surely just a coincidence. I glanced down suddenly to find the glass overflowing. I gulped the water down like a cow and paced back to my desk. Everywhere I looked now, there he was, staring back at me with two crazy, bloodshot eyes and a massive grin. Maybe he just went insane and ran off into the woods. That didn’t make sense though. The gas was in the trench and not in the woods, plus he would be shot down almost instantaneously.
I gave a distorted cry then, as he had suddenly appeared here, sitting atop my desk. Feet dangling from the edge like a puppet. He was smiling wildly but in the spaces where eyes should’ve been were two dark, caved in holes that seemed to stare through me. The air felt heavier around here now. No, this couldn’t have been real, I was being hysterical. ‘Yeah Sal, you got it. I murdered those men Sal, and now I’m coming for you!’, the hallucination screamed in a deep, deafening tone. I began blinking vigorously hoping it would get rid of this disturbing hallucination before me, and it did. That wasn’t real. I sat back at the desk once more and continued reading. I knew how this was going to end but still felt frightened and curious at the same time.
May 16th, 1916
Today was a great day for me. They said I did well. The men in the pink coats said that. They are my friends now. I can have all the Mind-fire I want. My room is very small but it feels like paradise. It smells like perfume. Now they want me to write down my achievements from today. I hope you enjoy it sweet sir.
This morning, before the usual Mind-fire donation I overheard my colleagues chatting again, but this time they were even more angry about me. Apparently I had been screaming that night in gibberish which had scared them to death. I couldn’t remember this. It wasn’t me going insane, it was them, ignoring Mind-fire. They were planning on killing me the following night in my sleep before I went totally mad. They have turned evil because they have denied the possibilities of Mind-fire. They are jealous, repulsive! I thought to myself that they all had to die. All I wanted was to enjoy my gas but then they moved in and ruined it. I bet that they only really want to kill me to have Mind-fire all to themselves. I couldn’t let that happen. But I Knew I couldn’t do this on my own, not without Mind-fire.
So I waited, leaning up against one side of the trench until it came. It was raining today and rain meant that the water would pile up at the bottom and soak our shoes. It caused the mud to appear shiny and slippery but that was okay. I didn’t really mind.
I knew that using my rifle would be far too loud to get the job done so I searched for a new weapon of choice. There were knives and grenades but nothing that stuck out to me. I decided that due to my worshipping, Mind-fire would guide me through this, and that’s just what it did.
When it finally came at exactly noon I became so excited. We were a team, Charles Patrickson and Mind-fire. When we were done, we’d be able to dance all night. I noticed a small river that had been created by our feet. It continued to rise as the gas’s blinding darkness entranced me. It was somehow beautiful and vibrant. I realised that I still wasn’t carrying a weapon and for a second I was frightened, but Mind-fire showed me the path to take. I couldn’t tell you why I did it but I glanced up to see the big, tasty candy cane of barbed wire surrounding the rim of the trench. It was clear to me then what I was supposed to do. ‘Thank you Mind-fire!’ I screamed from the bottom of my heart. ‘Thank you for your gift!’ I felt no pain after that, as I tore it down and wrapped myself tightly with it, snug as a bug. We rolled around in the brown river together, me, Mind-fire and the barbed wire candy cane. I laughed out loud. This was fun. We were funny. I grasped the 2 ends of the barbed wire in each hand and flailed them around wildly as I began to trek through the everlasting darkness. It only took a second before I found my first victim. One of the youngest, 19 maybe. I tore off his gasmask with glee and mashed a handful of wire into his face and neck. I had to practically hug him to stop the squirming and resistance. His cries were reduced down to a crimson trail that trickled down his uniform. As he was released a lifeless body fell back and splashed into the water. I felt relieved already, and I kept a joyful grin as we continued through, relieving ourselves as we progressed. Most went down without much of a fight. Barbed wire is quick to tear flesh. Our only injury was a stab in the shoulder through man’s last desperate attempt to resist mindfire. He died a tragic and abrupt death.
When all 37 had been executed and the gas had cleared, I gazed down upon my achievements. The previously dull river was now a beautiful blood flow. It somehow flowed angelically. And yet, gazing around at the men’s corpses calmly bobbing in the water, I still wasn’t purely satisfied. I felt as though their mockery still lingered in the air. I took another march through the trenches wrapped snug in that sheet of barbed wire. This time I aimed to make sure none of the men could be recognized by appearance if they were ever discovered. Mind-fire was a religion now and they were all going straight to the gates of Satan. After my second glorious round everyone looked more like pieces of meat from a stew wrapped up in shredded uniforms covered in muck and blood then actual people. It looked all too similar to an attack from a large pack of animals so I knew then that I had to leave my mark. I heaved each of the disloyal traitors to the front of the trench and began to form a pile. As new bodies were added, I intertwined the barbed wire through the assortment. I made sure that everyone was packed in tightly to form a box shape. Arms and legs jutted out from places but the natural shape was generally retained. I could no longer smell the stench as I came to notice. Just another of Mind-fire’s wonders. When I was finished, I drew up each end of the wire to form a bow. My work here was finally complete. I clambered up atop of the stack as I had come to call it and rested.
The men in the pink coats came then, with their soaring wings and masks of white. They were carrying a large nozzle that immediately filled me up with Mind-fire. I saw these two men as guardians and called over to them, ‘Fellow believers, welcome to my alter!’ Neither of them responded through the white masks but at the touch of two pairs of hands clutching me from either side I got the idea that they were going to bring me back to their church. I don’t remember much of what happened after that, I was a blind man being guided through uncharted land. I do remember being carried down what seemed like stairs at a point in the centre of the forest. There was the sound of a large metal door being swung open and then we were descending. I was then thrown into the cell that I’m currently residing in. The cell is about 2 metres in length and 3 feet high. Although I’m somewhat grateful of what they’re doing for me I am suffering from this awful sense of dread. See, I’m not allowed to talk to anybody and that didn’t feel too bad for the past few days but now… ..I don’t know, it’s just sort of started. It’s also very quite warm in here and I’m finding it hard to breath. I-I think they’ve opened up the door now because it feels slightly cooler and I can hear these muffled sounds. Hands are reaching for me now, groping around the page. I imagine they’re looking for this entry so I’m just going to end now.
As always, praise mindfire and its creator. Please turn the heat down.
My hands were unable to keep a grasp on the paper and it flopped out of my reach. I must’ve appeared to look pale because I felt like a sick dog. Usually things like gore tend not to affect me but this was different. It was like when a deranged psychopath tries to justify his actions by the perspective that he is the innocent one but, oh God. I know it was World War 1 and so much more disgusting things happened but I’d never read anything like this. There was the fact as well, that at any point I could’ve stopped reading and move on but I didn’t. I wouldn’t let me. My over-bearing sense of curiosity.
There was one more page left. This last page was different to the others. It appeared to be printed from some computer program. The background was primarily made up of a dark navy with small white text lapsed over it in what appeared to be German. It was like I was addicted to some bad habit because before I even realised it, I was halfway through translating the document. Even this realisation couldn’t stop me because this was all slowly beginning to make sense.
After what seemed like an eternity of sifting through and slowly translating each letter and word I was finished. I’m beginning to think that this thing is far bigger than I initially thought. The following is the English version of the document:
Subject name: 6X
Subject location: Cell B9 – 5th floor
Location of testing: Testing Trench – 2.3 miles from base
Mental state: Unknown
Substance of testing: Mind-fire gas (contents classified)
Time period of testing: 20 days
Analysis from Dr. Eike:
At 16:00 on the 25th of April we fired a test round of the gas to judge the subjects’ reactions. While other subjects seemed inclined to avoid the gas at all costs, 6X showed no form of resistance to the gas and appeared more relaxed than the others. Although, a recent test in the lab sowed that his blood contained twice the amount of oxygen to a regular sample for unexplained reasons. On day 15 we increased 6X’s intake of the gas from 2 regular intervals to 3 (See attachment). His heart rate exceeded its previous average during random periods. We also tested his reactions to letting a cameraman leave and the delivery of the gas’s name. He took no notice to either.
Side effects include constant dependency on gas, screaming and spastic gestures during sleep, ability to see some objects in different colours through gas and not being able to feel pains that would prove unbearable to anyone.
6X was found with deep wounds all over his body from what we can assume is mainly from the barbed wire. We were also unable to stop him constantly grinning.
Our final result was successful in wiping out the squad although the gas failed to be both practical or efficient. Project Mind-fire will be permanently discontinued and is not liable for battle purposes. 6X has been successfully exterminated in the furnace room by this time and a distress signal was sent to the nearest British camp from Test Trench 5. Finally I fear that the gas used is all too similar to the gas proposed to use in the sleep experiments. Until further notice keep the gas in storage. (See file attachment on back).
But that was it. There was no attachment on the back. Just the single report. I don’t know how to feel after reading this. Hell, it was disturbing but I wasn’t disturbed by that. The thing that disturbs me is how much bigger this whole thing seems than I originally thought. Just to think that this was only one file, one file among probably thousands. Charles Patrickson is just one tiny puzzle piece of something much darker. On top of that is the fact that not a single person alive knows it exists. I searched up on the web about it by the way. The best thing I found was a software advertisement.
And afterwards I just continued on with my regular life like nothing ever happened. I’ve never had another of those disturbing ‘Charles visions’ afterwards. However I do still think of one statement from the newspaper article found beside the envelope. At the end of the report in smaller print to everything else, ‘Bodies of men found in random trench surrounded by forestry with not a British or German outpost for over 100 miles in every direction’.
CREDIT : Ian O’Neill