Gustaf Tries

Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog (Nuit et Brouillard, 1955)They finally did it. It had been only two weeks since the time machine was completed. After years of top secret government-funded research, it had yet to be unveiled to the public. Only a select few even knew of its existence.

Gustaf worked in the lab as a custodian. Nearing eighty-eight, he was only a few months from retirement. He’d been sweeping and mopping in the annuls of the lab for quite some time. Today was no different. He toiled away from dawn to the wee hours of the following dawn, taking an hour here and there to nap for the past decade. I’ll sleep when I’m dead. That was his credo.

He wasn’t alone though. Philo, a fresh face straight out of school, worked as his understudy. Exceedingly patient, he had grown accustomed to the old man’s cantankerous attitude, to the point where he saw Gustaf as the father figure he lacked growing up.

“I’m going to do another sweep of the basement before turning in.” Philo hadn’t yet adjusted to Gustaf’s nocturnal lifestyle.

Gustaf only grunted. He was a man of few words, and fewer reactions. Grunts, nods, heavy breaths; all were signs that he heard what you said but didn’t really care. The old man just continued mopping the floor.

Eventually, his path took him right by a room of no special note, barring a giant machine against the far back wall. The custodian gazed inside. There was a large tube-like structure, large enough to fit a fully grown person; two if they don’t mind the tight squeeze. “What the hell is that?” he shouted loudly without respect for any critter trying to fall asleep.

Philo bobbed his way towards his senior. “Oh, they say that’s a time machine.”

Ridiculous, Gustaf thought. “Time machine?” He approached the tube, dusting off the various gauges, knobs, and buttons.

Philo stayed back, quietly stunned. “Uh, I don’t think we’re allowed to touch it.”

“What do I care? I’m retiring in a month.” The old man was never one to hold any sort of rule or restriction very highly. “It doesn’t even look like they used it yet.”

“Maybe they’re afraid to. It could have serious repercussions, going back in time.” Philo idled just outside the room, afraid to set off any alarms, alarms that probably should’ve gone off when the old man entered.

“Well they can at least try to kill Hitler…” After a quick survey, Gustaf started messing with the interface.

“What are you doing?” Philo asked, though he could guess what the answer was going to be.

“I’m gonna’ kill Hitler,” Gustaf said, adjusting what he assumed was the input pad for the date-of-destination.

“What?” He expected this, but Philo was still stunned. “Can you even do that? Wouldn’t time find some way to fix itself? It could all be in vain.”

“Could be.” The senior custodian stepped into the tube.

“You read that Bradbury story, right? Even if you did change history, what would that mean for us now?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care.” Within an instance there was a flash and he was gone. Philo stood, jaw halfway to the floor.

Gustaf appeared from thin air at a corner block. He could tell from the buildings that it was probably Germany, but couldn’t discern which city. There wasn’t a soul that stirred under the midnight sky. He still had his mop in hand.

He walked over to a nearby storefront and used the shaft of his mop on a window, easily shattering the glass window. Kristallnacht, he thought to himself. Hopefully this one will end better.

It was a butcher’s shop. He made his way to the back and rummaged around. He pulled out a freshly cleaned meat cleaver. That’ll do.

Gustaf knew very little of the theories behind time travel, and cared even less. But at this moment, Philo’s words started getting to him. What repercussions will this have? Would it even be possible to change the future? He once saw a film where a kid nearly got himself erased from existence, and though it was a ridiculous piece of garbage. At least I’ll get to kill the bastard.

He prowled the empty streets cleaver in hand. He eventually found life, in the form of two S.S. officers on a patrol of their own. They paid no heed to the decrepit old man. “Where’s Hitler?” he asked.

“Herr Hitler?” one of the officers responded. The other noticed the weapon in Gustaf’s hand and instantly pointed his rifle at him.

“For Pete’s sake,” Gustaf shrugged. Brandishing the knife, he raised his arm and dropped it swiftly into the skull of the officer who died instantly.

“Halt!” the other officer cried out. But the old man was having none of that. The second officer met his fate just as quickly as the first.

Gustaf picked up one of the officer’s guns. Much better. Leaving the bodies in a pool of their own blood, he made his way onward. At least give me Goebbels.

The air was still that night, almost uneasily so. Apart from the two officers, Gustaf ran into no one else for the better part of an hour. But then, engines. Trucks, cars. Tanks? He never could tell the difference. Doesn’t matter.Nazis all the same. He followed the sounds and came to the Nazi base. Vehicles were coming in and out with various munitions, each being checked by a guard at the gate. Gustaf passed the checkpoint without so much as a hesitation. This alerted not just the guard but those in the trucks as well. In a moment’s time, he was pursued by two dozen officers, each armed with a rifle.

The first shot was fired, grazing Gustaf’s cheek. He turned around. Raising his own rifle, he aimed for the head. He hit several. All those years of shooting cans seemed to pay off. He appreciated the irony. The cans were worth more than these monsters. “Now, where the hell’s Hitler?”

“Herr Hitler is not here, old man,” spoke a guard in decent English, before gesturing to his men.

The officers opened fire. Gustaf ducked behind a building. They got him in his left arm. I’m a righty anyway. He reloaded his rifle and re-entered the fray. He managed to knock off a few more before running out of ammo again. Both groups were at a standstill.

“If he’s not here, then where is he?” Gustaf tried to feel like a Wild West hero, but he was tired. Blood congealed on his face and the gash from the bullet began to sting.

The officers were apprehensive to answer. Gustaf reloaded his rifle and began his third barrage. The Nazis tried to defend themselves but they were too slow. A young one, straight from the Hitler Youth, stepped forward.

“Halt! Wait!” He raised his hands and dropped his gun.

“Smart kid.”

He slowly approached the elder and began to speak in his best English. “He’s… the second bunker. To the left.”

“Dunkoff!” one of them shouted. But he was silenced quickly by a streak of light. Gustaf still had the meat cleaver, and his good arm was quite a good arm.

“Now is that my left or your left?”

Suddenly, a bang. A shot was fired. But from where? Gustaf looked around. None of the officers had their weapons raised. The youngest was cowering, curled in a ball thinking that the shot was for him, for being a traitor. A man walked out of one of the bunkers, specifically the second bunker to Gustaf’s left. There was a hail of gunfire. Through the ricochet of bullets, several of the lights managed to break, so the custodian could hardly make out who the man was. But he knew.

Not one for words, Gustaf raised his weapon. He felt compelled to say something cool, but nothing came to mind.

He pulled the trigger.

Click. Nothing. Gustaf tried again and again, but all was moot. The cartridge was spent.

The man from the bunker pulled out a pistol of his own and fired at Gustaf. First in the right shoulder, then in the lung. Two more shots followed, straight into his gut. Another came, straight through his left shin.

“You son of a bitch,” the custodian said, collapsing to the ground. He tried to get up, but was feeling too lightheaded to stand on his feet. As blood coalesced and began to spill out, his mind teetered. Philo, you were right. It was all in vain. But at least I tried. He fell forward and breathed his last.

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2 thoughts on “Gustaf Tries”

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Donna! Here’s to a hopefully long and beautiful relationship (as the old cliche goes).

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