To begin to describe the extent of the man-made horrors I saw in the Alps would require far more time than I have been allotted but as I patiently wait for my execution at the hands of the Italian firing squad, I will attempt to disclose a brief account of what happened to bring me here. I am a pilot for the Luftstreitkräfte and flew at the first battle of Monte Grappa with my longtime flying partner Herr Felix Hesse, who is now deceased. If the clock across the hall of my cell is accurate, I have sixty-seven minutes before I, too, join the scores of dead soldiers fallen during this cursed Great War. I’ve made one last request to the warden before I am executed; send my journal back to Germany, either to be held as a historical relic or to be returned to my family, but for another purpose as well. The events which lead to my capture by Italy and my trial for the murder of four Italian civilians were of a completely unexplainable kind. If Felix were still alive, he would be able to support what you are about to read as completely true, but as it is just me, you must trust me.
The two of us had been ordered to fly a reconnaissance mission after the first battle of Monte Grappa. The details of the mission itself are not important, as Felix and I agreed before we had left the ground that we would not be completing our orders. We had seen far too many men die in our time in the army, and neither of us could even say for certain what we were fighting for. You may brand us as traitors or cowards, but you must understand that I’ve seen my brothers die for the last three years. At Monte Grappa alone, I saw limbs sawn off, hands and feet lost to gangrene, and bullets pierce one end of a skull and exit out the other. War may be the will of the motherland, but it is too much for any man to take and is something I would never wish upon my worst nemesis. We were going to touch down as close as we could to an Italian base and surrender, then wait out the war as prisoners. Regardless, the nature of our mission meant that if we were killed or taken prisoner, no one would come looking for us. Not long after we made it over enemy grounds our engine began smoking, despite multiple checks before flight. Felix wanted to continue flying, but I insisted on making an emergency landing. This doomed Felix.
We wound up landing on a field, a hundred or so miles away from Monte Grappa with no sign of civilization in sight, or so we thought. Getting a view of the land through a pair of binoculars, Felix pointed out a small cottage, no more than a dot against the otherwise unmarked Italian horizon. Carrying only our sidearms, the binoculars, and the day of rations we were allowed, we set out for what looked like our only hope after firing off a rescue flare. The first sign that something was wrong was how long we walked. The cottage couldn’t have been more than a few hours’ travel, but we ended up walking for four days. No matter how many meters we put behind us, the home remained positioned against the ground and sky, like it had been painted against the horizon by a cruel god. We burned through our short supply of food and water within the first two days, and by the third we began to argue about what we should do. Felix wanted to stop and try a different direction. He was clearly agitated by the sinister nature of our predicament, but I once again did not listen to him. I was desperate to get to the Italians as soon as possible with the prospect of surrendering ourselves, and I let this blind my judgement. This argument continued into the fourth day, and I regret to admit that in a fit of anger I struck Felix. I beg you to believe I am normally a much calmer man, but the prospect of wasting away in the fields of the Alps (which, I should add, held a disturbing lack of wildlife; we saw not one goat, wolf, or any other creature) had put me into hysterics. My punch laid my friend out, and as I stormed off, proclaiming I would go to the cottage and he could stay and starve, he pulled out his luger and shot me in the leg.
I fell to the ground, almost tumbling over the cliffside we walked on, and screamed as Felix immediately began profusely apologizing. He was saying he didn’t know what came over him, that it was probably this damned mountain taking ahold of him, before trying to turn the pistol on himself. This all attacked me in a rush: in just a few short moments, the man I had been flying with for years was about to leave me alone with his corpse and a shattered leg due to a turnaround in his mental state that took place at unprecedented speeds. I don’t know how long I was begging him to put the gun down, either thirty seconds or thirty minutes, but the standoff came to an end when we heard a voice behind us. We both looked up to see the cottage, now but ten feet away. There was a man standing on the porch, speaking Italian in a confused tone. He seemed to be in his middle-age with a long, unkempt beard and a bald head. Felix lowered the gun and we looked at each other, confused, as a younger man, not much older than us in his early twenties, walked out. He had clear resemblances to the older man and managed to say, in broken German, that we were invited inside. Felix immediately accepted the offer, begging to the young man to help me with my leg. It was at this time I passed out.
I awoke some time later with the pant leg of my uniform ripped open and the four members of the family standing over me. The bullet seemed to have gone cleanly through my kneecap. Needless to say, walking was not going to be an option for me for a while. I was bedridden (or should I say, floor ridden. The entire family slept in one bed, while Felix and I were given some blankets and a pillow to lie on the floor of the other room, which contained nothing but a table and chairs, as well as a trapdoor I was told not to open). As I said before, there were four members of the family; none of them gave me their real names, and said only that the mother was called Mamino, the father was called Papino, and the son and daughter were Figlio and Figlia. When Felix and I spoke to the family Figlio would translate for us, and vice versa. It became clear that when Figlio was uninterested in answering a question we would not receive an answer, as questions that pried would tend to be redirected with discussion about our assistance in the Austria-Hungarian offensive. Figlio and Papino approached this topic with interest and a very casual air, but Mamino only spoke of it very solemnly. I asked her if she knew someone lost to the war, and she only responded with “I will,” something we wrote off at the time as a translation error. We were unable to determine what the family’s hobbies could be, as they spent most of their time in the bedroom they all shared. Despite the family’s kind-yet-eccentric nature, Felix and I both suspected that they were hiding food from us. Felix and I were not fed, surviving on the rare mouse that we could catch around the house, while Papino’s large belly never thinned. We began to suspect this was what was under the trapdoor in the main room, hence the reason why we weren’t allowed inside.
Figlia, who had a small amount of medical proficiency, tended to my leg, with the wound becoming infected not long after I woke. My time with Figlia was where the oddities began. While she was unwrapping the bandages from my kneecap to see how the wound had developed while I was asleep, she became distracted by the hole, peering through my leg and ceasing any treatment. I began to ask what she was doing, but she interrupted by curiously sticking a finger into my knee, swirling her finger and feeling it against the cartilage. I opened my mouth to scream, but she pulled her finger out and put that hand over my mouth, silencing me. When I began to calm down, she unwrapped a set of rusted medical tools and began tending to my leg.
As days went by, my leg only got worse. I spent most of my time sleeping, and when I was awake Felix would relay to me what he had learned from Figlio about the family. He told me the family had moved away from the city and to the mountains decades before because of their grandfather, an alleged “prophet of Venice” who saw great destruction and inner turmoil coming to Italy in the coming century. When Figlio said this ancestor came with just his wife, son, and daughter, Felix asked how their bloodline could have continued without any other families to marry. He only gave Felix a confused look and continued speaking about his grandfather. Felix continued and revealed that Figlia mentioned that the infection on my leg was becoming worse (which I could have guessed; Any pressure on it at all sent me into convulsions, and a green sludge the consistency of wet mud had begun oozing out of both ends of the hole) and she was planning to amputate. Terrified of the prospect of losing my leg and confused by this talk of prophets and such, I told Felix that I wanted to go, that I was willing to take my chances with the mountains rather than wait for the Italian Army to get here. Even that was assuming they had seen the flare we fired. Felix agreed and said that tonight, when the family had gone to sleep, he would steal some food from downstairs and we would leave early tomorrow morning. He implored me to rest in the hopes my leg would feel better tomorrow, so I turned and tried to sleep.
I woke up late the next day in the afternoon. As soon as I noticed the sunlight peeking through the window, I tried to scramble to my feet before being floored again by the searing pain of my knee. I had to grind my teeth together to bite back a scream of pain, then looked around as I realized the strange silence in the house: no one was there. Even when three of the four were out doing whatever it is they would do, they always left one behind to watch me. And where was Felix? Could he have left without at me? I began to get nervous, even more confused and fearful than normal since we had arrived here. Eventually, my eyes fell on the trapdoor. Felix had presumably gone there after I fell asleep the night before; could he still be down there? Still unable to stand, I used my palms to drag myself backwards across the floor, taking great care to not rub my leg over the dirty, splintered floor. At this point the leg was completely pale, and any blood that initially oozed out of it had been completely replaced by that green sick. Once I was beside the door, I took a deep breath and pulled it open. Unfortunately, the door led straight down, with ladder rungs hammered into the dirt walls. I was able to hoist myself into the hole and almost lost consciousness when my limp leg swung and banged against one of the rungs, but thankfully it didn’t make too much noise and my endurance training in the army gave me the fortitude to steady my breathing.
Once I got to the bottom of the ladder I transitioned back into a crawling position. I found myself at the end of a cellar, lit only by a single light bulb in the center of the room. I almost screamed when I looked to my right. Buried into the wall were bones, yellowed and decomposing. I dropped my eyes from its sockets as a cockroach scuttled out of one of the holes and into the mouth, and I saw a plaque by this figure’s feet. It was in Italian, which I don’t speak, but a kind guard here at this prison translated it for me: “The WISDOM of NONNO PROCLAIMS: A GREAT WAR is coming to this country, and will only end when the BLOOD of GERMANS FEEDS the MOUNTAIN.” On reflection, this serves to explain what I saw when I looked into the room. Directly in front of me, a pile of German Air Force robes and a Luger in its holster on a belt. In the middle of the room, a triangle had been carved into the dirt floor. Directly in the center, Felix Hesse’s naked body. All four of the family members were gathered around it – no, him – peeling pieces from his skin with their uncut fingernails, seeming to rub the bloodied bits against their unwashed skin and clothes before popping it into their mouths, chewing and swallowing with squishes and smacking lips. It was at this exact moment I lost all composure. I vomited, unable to turn my head in time to avoid tainting my own uniform. The family heard this, all whipping their heads up and turning to face me. Papino and Figlia started shouting, pointing at me and gesturing to Mamino and Figlio. Figlio, wiping his mouth with the back of his bloodied hand, immediately started talking. He insisted that the family knew what I was seeing was disgusting and shocking. They knew I was going to react with fear and violence, but he implored me to listen. He started to ramble, talking about how his grandfather – Nonno – had foreseen all of this, how this war could only end when the blood of Germany and Austria-Hungary saturated the fields of the Alps. He wasn’t able to get any more out before I picked up Felix’s discarded Luger in front of me and shot Figlio in between the eyes. He stumbled back and fell in surprise. The three other members of the family, frozen like wild deer, looked from him to me. Mamino fell to her knees and began speaking in a pleading tone, and I shot her too. I feel it would be redundant to say what happened to Figlia and Papino. I stayed down there, too weak in my illness to climb back up the ladder. I propped myself up against the dirt wall by the skeleton and my mouth fell open in shock as I watched as the dirt inside this carved triangle seemed to move towards and envelop Felix, swallowing him up and then flattening as if he were never there.
I was down there for maybe a day or longer when the army finally came. Attracted by our flare, an Italian battalion had made the trek over during a trip home. After sweeping the two rooms above they came downstairs. Unsure of how to handle the sight they saw, they took me prisoner and announced my imminent execution for the murder of a family of four innocents. Felix, I assume, will be reported as Missing in Action. My time is about up, it took me a little over an hour to write this. I’m putting my pen down now to say my final prayers. May God have mercy on the rest of Heaven and send me to Hell; the knowledge of this can’t reach anything of remotely holy power.