(Fangs of the SS) CHAPTER 31: The Second Death of Rabbi Judah Maccabbee

Art by Orestes-Sobek
Art by Orestes-Sobek

“Always with the chin music, lady. Hey, get a load of this!”

A generator coughs to life. A switch flips. And with a powerful snap, bright white light pounds down on Bathory and Maccabbee.

It’s a merciless light, harsh, revealing, cleansing.

The shadows boil away, writhing. Bathory screams, drops to her knees under the pressure of the light. Flesh starts to peel off her back in deep fissures, revealing the gleaming white of her spine. Her fists clench and her claws gouge the stone floor. She raises her head in defiance to glare at Maccabbee and her eyes have gone completely black.

Maccabbee soaks in the light. He straightens. It’s not just the light that fills him with confidence. He’s not alone. He has allies. That tough little Russian gunsel is still alive and still fighting. He takes a step forward, and then another. His hands start to glow and flicker.

This time it’s Bathory who retreats. She scuttles backwards, not able to get to her feet, and ducks into the shadow cast by a big piece of electrical machinery. Puts her back to it and straightens. Pain and rage convulse her face. Tears of blood spill from her eyes and down her cheeks.

“Leavin’ so soon? Not if I can help it!” At the sound of Mirsky’s voice, Maccabbee looks over and sees him and a guy in a German uniform maneuvering the bright light on a stand. The light’s heavy and it wobbles and there’s a problem with the power cables getting caught on the body of a German soldier. But the two men, working together, quickly get the light to where it removes the shadow.

Bathory doesn’t wait for more pain. She sees the source of her pain, her frustration, her rage, and she attacks. She pushes off the machinery and charges Maccabbee, hands outstretched, claws ready to tear.

Maccabbee meets her. Hand to hand. Face to face. He is full of the power of the All Highest. Full of righteous vengeance. Full of the punishing fire. He grips her hands, crushing them in his grasp, stopping her from touching him. His Ancient Hebrew has always been rusty, he’s always been a better reader than a talker, but now the words flow from him without hesitation, with perfect pronunciation. There is very little human in his voice, in the echoing syllables. “Look upon the light of the All Mighty, the Lord of Hosts. Look upon it and be destroyed. Be destroyed unto dust, slave of darkness. The world is cleansed of you. I say this, the All Highest.” She  writhes in his grip and hisses in pain, shadows and flesh shredding off of her under the punishing light.

The smell of the laboratory changes. The choking reek of blood, the burning taste of electricity wash away and the sterile smell of the hot desert takes their place.

He’s not tall, but she’s smaller. She never stops struggling. She never stops even when her hands begin to burn down to the bone. Her eyes never leave his. Right at the last, her expression changes and Maccabbee has no idea why. Right at the last, the monster known as Bathory smiles.

She never loses her faith. She never doubts. She never stops loving her God as the light eats at her flesh. She knows that her death is just one part of a battlefield that stretches throughout all time. She goes into the Darkness with a smile on her face. The light dims, the pain stops, and the welcoming arms of her God enfolds her.

The giant Egyptian statue in the corner of the lab, so large that its pointed ears brush the ceiling, the statue breaks apart into a rain of rubble. The head of the statue lands in the vat of blood, crushing it. A grotesque wash of blood pours over the lab floor. The flood reaches the circle of light emanating from the Rabbi’s body and dries and cracks and flakes and blows away.

Maccabbee slowly turns to survey the rest of the room. Mirsky shrinks back a little when he sees the Rabbi’s face. His features are hard to make out, because of the light that’s still shining from it. But what he can see is pitiless, the gaze of a harsh judge willing to pronounce punishments both swift and severe. There’s very little left of the young man that Mirsky’s known for just a short time. Fuck, it’s been just over a week, he realizes in irreverent distraction. He fervently hopes that he’s not as in as much danger from the kid as he was from that vampire bitch.

Then the light blinks out. Everything gets a lot darker. Mirsky frantically rubs his eyes, trying to remove the floating blotches. When he can finally see clearly, the first thing that he spots is Maccabbee laying in a heap, right by the pile of ashes that used to be Bathory. Shit shit shit, muttering under his breath, Mirsky races to towards the figure. The German’s right beside him. Behind the two men, unattended, the arc light on its stand wobbles and sways and falls over. A crash and even less light.

Mirsky kneels beside the Rabbi and turns him over. A relieved breath bursts from his chest when Maccabbee opens his eyes and grins weakly at him.

“Damn, I’ve seen some ugly nurses, Benny, but you’re enough to make a man give up living.”

“Oh, already with the lip, huh, Rabbi? Not enough you gotta go take down that monster all by yourself, but now you gotta make with the remarks?” Mirsky makes his tone light, but his relief has turned to serious worry. Maccabbee looks really bad. Gray. Shaking. He’d swear that the man’s lost maybe 20 pounds in the last half hour, since he saw him last outside this fucking castle.

Maccabbee weakly pats Mirsky’s hand. “Not alone. Not alone at all. Couldn’t have done it without you. You coming in with that light at the last minute. That was a genius move, Benny. Saved my ass like you wouldn’t believe.” Mirsky’s face sours like he’s just been congratulated on being the first place winner in a shit sandwich contest.

“Always glad to help, but I can’t take all the credit for that one.” Mirsky nods to the German beside him. “It was mainly his idea. He and his boys were captured by Bathory, me and the golems let them out seein’ as we had some enemies in common.” MIrsky’s voice softens. “And the golems. Binah and Geburah, they were… Without them, we wouldn’t have made it half as far. Tipareth and Malkuth?”

Maccabbee shakes his head, tears starting to pool in his eyes. “What Tipareth did, what they all did, they all sacrificed themselves. Sacrificed themselves for me. To me.” He grabs Mirsky’s arm. Mirsky hides how worried he is that the grip is so weak, how the hand is almost skeletal, skin tight around bone. “I was dead, Benny! She killed me and they brought me back to life!” His voice trails off into an exhausted whisper. “They and the All Highest.”

Mirsky makes his voice strong and reassuring. “They were good soldiers, Rabbi. The best! They did what all good soldiers do, they made sure the mission succeeded. And it did! Bathory’s dead, so let’s get you out of here and back to base. There’s a truck out there in the courtyard that’ll do just fine to get us back. C’mon, get up and let’s haul ass.” He goes to lift Maccabbee to his feet, gently as he can.

Maccabbee shakes his head and pushes Mirsky’s hands away. “Afraid that’s not gonna happen, Benny. I’m all used up.”

“The hell you are!” There’s an edge of panic in Mirsky’s voice. He doesn’t like how selfish he’s feeling right now, but he can’t help it. The Rabbi deserves better but it’s Leah… “We’re gonna get back to the base and you’re gonna get better!”

“I see that I was wrong. You’re not a nurse, Benny, you’re my mother.” His smile is weak and his chuckle is just rapid whisper of breath that barely moves his rib cage. “But I think it’s going to take more that your matzoh soup to get me up. I am all used up in the service of the Lord, Benny. He gives with one hand and takes away with the other. And that’s His right. I’m just a weapon in His hand.”

“But you done good! The vampires, they’re all dead! And now you’re just gonna die? He’s gonna let you die? So fuckin’ much for righteous!”

“Benny, Benny, Benny. That’s what being the Chosen People means. We are chosen to do His tasks, chosen to worship Him. He is the Lord, Our God. He set me to a task, gave me aid to finish the task. That aid was a blessing that I didn’t deserve, didn’t expect.”

“Some blessing. Burned you out like a match.”

“Yes, some blessing. Burned her out like a match, too.” He smiles and Mirsky can see where his teeth have started fall out. “That’s what matters, you said it yourself. We killed her. She and all of her monsters, all of her plans, they’re all dead. And it took some sacrifice. And I’m part of that sacrifice.” He takes Mirsky’s hand. It’s like being touched by twigs in leather. “I know that you were hoping for my help to find your sister. I’m sorry that I won’t be able to meet her. I was looking forward to seeing what Benny Mirsky’s kid sister is like.”

“You would have liked her, Rabbi. She’s the good Mirsky.” The words and the comforting pat on the Rabbi’s shoulder are automatic. His brain, that planning, odds calculating machine that he’s never been able to turn off, his brain is already moving on and figuring out his next moves. In a way, he’s not surprised that it’s turned out this way. No one’s ever helped him before. There was no way that he’d get a bunch of golems and a tzaddik rabbi to help him rescue Leah. “I’m just glad I got to help you. You’re a stand up guy, Rabbi.”

Maccabbee lays his head back onto the floor and closes his eyes. His last words are whispered but echo nonetheless through the wrecked laboratory. “Go with God, Benjamin Mirsky. May He watch over you and keep you safe.”

Once he’s dead, the dissolution goes fast. His body crumbles into ash and dust, leaving only the scraps of his uniforms and his boots to mark his existence. His dog tags glint in the flickering electrical light. Mirsky gingerly picks them out of the man’s remnants. The tags go into a breast pocket that’s securely buttoned.

The polite cough behind Mirsky doesn’t make him flinch or jump. His voice is weary. “Yeah, I know. We gotta get out of here.”

Wetzel keeps his voice polite and non-committal. “My condolences for your loss. He was a brave man and he saved our lives. Probably saved many more who would have died had the Nosferatu lived.” A big piece of electrical equipment gives up the ghost; sparks and smoke start to pour from it. The noise makes Wetzel jump. Get your shit together! They’re all dead, the monsters, or we would have been attacked long ago. The displays of magic and monstrosity have left him more shaken than he realized.

 It doesn’t look like the Jew priest is coming back, so it’s time to get out of here, get back to HQ and report. He has no idea how his report will be received. Bathory and all of her monsters are dead. They’d clearly gone insane and needed killing. But he’s lost his entire unit. A line from an American novel he read back in university rolls through his mind. And only I remain to tell you.

He turns away from the Russian who’s still kneeling besides the remains of his priest. His shoulders slump as he sees Krober’s corpse, torn apart in a huge puddle of blood. Damn it. All of them. All these brave men. He walks towards Krober’s body and bends down to pick something up.

There’s a heavy explosion and the entire castle shakes. Dust comes from the ceiling. A piece of the catwalk peels away from the wall and falls with a deafening clang to the floor. Wetzel doesn’t jump at the noise, just looks around, consideringly, as he’s crouched by Krober’s body, trying to stay out of the blood.

Mirsky’s on his feet. “And that’s our fuckin’ cue to haul ass. The first of many, if we didn’t fuck up.” Another blast, this one followed by the hollow roar of a rock slide. He checks his watch. “Right of schedule. C’mon. We gotta get out of here before the whole place comes down.”

Wetzel coughs in the dust, the smell of blood heavy in his mouth. He rises and starts to turn to the Russian. The pistol is a comforting and familiar weight in his hand.

Mirsky shoots him in the head. “And that’s you done, you Nazi fuck.” He spits on the corpse.

As Mirsky drives the German jeep down the road away from the castle, the sun is just setting. There’s another explosion and the tallest tower starts to collapse, taking Bathory’s red banner down with it. Through the dust and smoke of the burning structure, the sun is a red disc, an unblinking eye looking down. Mirsky tromps the gas pedal to the floor and grinds the jeep into a higher gear. He straightens it out as it fishtails around a curve. Damn thing steers like a cow and the suspension’s completely fucked. He doesn’t care. He hits a straight part of the dirt road and gets a little more speed out of the vehicle. “Hang on, baby sister. I’m comin’ for ya.”

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