Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chapter 6: All God’s Children Got Guns

Diary of Zoya Bupkis

September 3, 1939

Dear Diaryushka,

Well there I was in command of an army! Who would have thought that a simple country girl like me would become an army commander! Well, all right, it wasn’t much of an army, just the Shmengys and about a dozen villagers and it was only for a day, but still…

Everyone seemed to think that the village was in danger of being attacked because of the Grand Duchess living there and because a big road that went from Grauheim to Strelzov ran through the southern end of town. So the Grand Duchess called out the militia and put me in charge.

She even made me a temporary, honorary colonel or something even though she thought it wasn’t quite proper for girls to be in the army where they don’t wear bustles. But the title was still written down and had her official seal and everything. She gave out lots of titles and ranks, even to the Shmengys. Of course, she couldn’t bear the thought of Leutonians being officers so she made them Sergeant Majors, which I guess meant they were only studying to be sergeants like at University but it did mean they got to wear lots of stripes on their sleeves.

She also told me to train the men. Now, even though I am an officer, I wasn’t ever really trained or anything except someone showed me how to salute. But I figured that a little bit of exercise never hurt so I began teaching the men using the Vaganova Technique. We started simply with a few demi pliés, tendues, and ports de bras, followed by pirouettes and pas de deux. Some of the men showed some real talent, working their way up to sautés, changements, sisonnes and even grand jeté en tournant. These last movements proved especially useful, as it turned out, since it made them much harder for the Germans to shoot them. I think the tutus I was able to fit on them also confused the Germans’ aim quite a bit.

Fortunately, the Grand Duchess had lots of guns and bullets in her basement. Previously, these had been for her hunting safaris but now were mostly used for taking care of household pests. She said the Lewis machine guns were especially good for rooting out clogs in the plumbing. I was puzzled about all the hand bombs she had and asked what she used those for. “Why, fishing, my dear, what else?” was her response.

The other thing that was good was that the Shmengys could shoot the guns really well, even for being stupid Leutonians, so they showed the men how to do that. I asked Skinny Shmengy if they had learned to shoot so well in the Army but he said no, they learned to shoot that way living in Chicago.

Mr. Hummingbird and Mr. Chicolini were also very helpful, coming up with all sorts of ideas of where to plant hand bombs and hide trenches filled with pointed sticks.

Mr. von Schnitzel came up with a plan to dress up the scarecrows out in the wheatfields on the west side of the town with some of the old uniforms that the Grand Duchess had lying about the chateau. He laid the scarecrows down in the wheat, rigged up to a frame that he would pull up suddenly using the village steam tractor. He thought this might surprise the enemy into thinking there were a lot more soldiers defending the village.

We all worked really hard the whole day, except the Professor who kept trying to figure out meaning of all the scribbled notes in the little book he took from the little German back in Emeric’s. They did have the best drinks there, you know. Lest you think the Professor was a shirker, he was trying to figure out what the little book said about the chalice or bowl or whatever it was. The German he took it from must have had terrible penmanship since it took so long for him to figure out what it said. Occasionally, the Professor would look up and say things to nobody in particular, things like, “Why they had a run in with the Ruritanina Postal Service in the Himalayas!”

To which I responded, “Yes they will deliver absolutely anywhere!”

Then he said the chalice or bowl or whatever might be some sort of key which I thought was just plain silly, how could you fit a bowl into a lock? I noticed that the Professor was very good at taking things from other people’s pockets and opening locks with hairpins but not particularly good at, well, professory things. I suspect he would do better teaching locksmithing rather than archeology or astrology or whatever it was he teaches.

All in all, it was a very exciting day but scary so I didn’t sleep very well last night and everyone was up by dawn getting into their assigned positions, ready to fight the invaders.

Well, at least we thought we were ready…

Excerpt from The Sun’s Also Shiny, The Great American Novel, by Ernest Hummingbird:

As the morning sun rose, so did the mists of dew, vanishing like the peace that was evaporating from the soon-to-be wartorn Earth. The Writer knew what was coming. He had seen it from the deserts of Tigre in Abyssinia to the banks of the Ebro in Spain. Death was stalking him, stalking them all now. But Death would also be coming to meet the Germans. He had made sure of that. His plan was perfect.

The Germans would come down the road that ran south of town, probably in a long column with their reconnaissance troops in front. He could hear the motors thrumming in the distance already.

The road was the only way they could come. To the south and north were thick forests. To the west, except for the road and a set of railroad tracks running north to south, there were a few small wheatfields and then nothing but swamp. No tank could come through there and infantry would take days to cross the mire.

No, they would come down the road. Into the traps and the fire of his men. It would be perfect. He sipped on his flask of bourbon while he considered their position.

First they had dug a trench across the road, just before it crossed the railroad tracks. They filled the trench with stakes and then covered the trench. If motorcycles led the column, as he knew they would, they might miss spotting it and crash into it.

Chicolini prepared the next traps. Chicolini was good at coming up with ways to kill and the Writer wondered about where he learned the skill. But he didn’t ask Chicolini. That was something one didn’t ask a man about, sort of like asking him the circumstances when he lost his virginity. Oh, a man could volunteer the information, maybe brag about it, or make up stories about it, or at least hide the embarrassing parts of it. But one didn’t ask a man about it…

Chicolini placed several grenades under the railroad ties. Any vehicle going over them should trigger them. The Writer approved. Then they buried grenades in the road on the other side of the tracks, connected by wire so that any vehicle or anyone on foot would trigger them. They got the wire from the Duchess’ piano. She didn’t like that but he promised to return the wire when they were done. They would probably need to tune the piano after that though.

There was a windmill on the side of the road, just beyond the spot where they placed the grenades. The Writer put Chicolini in the windmill with a Lewis gun. He had also given Chicolini the case of empty scotch bottles from his room. They had filled them with brefnish, the local flammable drink, and put cloth wicks in the bottles. The Writer invented something like these when he was in Spain. He had used them to blow up some of Franco’s tanks. Only he used gasoline then. You couldn’t drink gasoline; he knew - he tried. The Writer knew he wouldn’t get credit for inventing them. That was probably for the best, a Hummingbird Cocktail should describe something creative, some work of art, or at least something someone actually drank.

Across from the windmill was an old roadside shrine. The Actress was there along with Tura. She had insisted that she be allowed to fight.
Tura had not. He had to be found. He was hiding under one of the beds in the chateau. His nails carved grooves in the floor as the Leutonians dragged him out to join the fight.

The Actress had come up with the idea of dressing herself and Tura up as ghosts. They would hide in the shrine and spring out when any of the Germans got past Chicolini’s traps. It might disorient the attackers and maybe even scare them. It sounded like a hare-brained plan but it showed that she had guts. She also insisted that they give her some of the grenades. That showed she had brains. Guts and Brains. And gams. Beautiful, shapely gams that went all the way up…The Writer shook his head to clear the thought of the Actress - such thoughts were dangerous at times like these. Death was approaching. On swift legs. Swift, shapely legs, perched on high heels, with her skirt swishing back and forth….What was he supposed to be thinking about? It was so hard to think straight what with all the whimpering that Tura was doing. That and all the bourbon he had drunk that morning.

He was in a copse of trees just beyond the shrine. He had taken one of the Duchess’ elephant guns, the .416 Rigby, the gun he first used when he was hunting elephants in Alabama because there the Tusca-- wait a minute -- that wasn’t right, he had never been to Alabama. Who had said that? Maybe he shouldn’t have so much bourbon this morning. On top of the Scotch last night… No, on second thought, he should have had that much.

The Professor was there in the copse of trees with him. The Professor looked uncomfortable. The Professor was a thinker not a fighter. The Writer, he was a lover not a fighter. But he was also a fighter, so don’t get any ideas…

The Fat Leutonian was perched in the church tower with his anti-tank rifle.
From there he had a clear shot up most of the road. The Fat Leutonian was an eater but the writer hoped he was also a fighter. A big, hungry, grotesquely fat fighter.
Some of the village militia under his brother, the thin Leutonian, were inside a couple of cabins at the end of the village. They would open fire on any German who managed to get to the village itself. The Dancer was in the center of the village with the rest of the militia as a reserve. They were right by the tavern. He had to stop back every half hour or so to make sure they were still there. And that the tavern vodka supply hadn’t been tampered with.

All of the women and children and old men, went off to hide in the woods as they had done since time immemorial. All that is except the Duchess who stayed in the Chateau with her loyal butler. Also staying was the old man Yoda who said, “Damned will be I if filthy Non-speakers drive me my home from I let.”

Over in the fields to the west of the village, he could see the Director was perched on the steam tractor prepared to pull his mannequin army out of the weeds, to make the Germans think a flank attack was coming. The Writer didn’t approve of this part of the plan. It was too subtle and the Fascists were not noted for their subtlety.

But there was no time to argue the point. He heard the rumbling of the engines. Death was now coming down the road - at 40 miles per hour. And Death wasn’t wearing high-heels or swishing a skirt this time.

Interview with Roxy Smothers, 1973:

Now, you may ask, darling, whatever possessed me to get involved in the fight that day. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure back then and am still not entirely sure today. Now as you know, I have never been one to run from a fight, whether it was a contract dispute with a greedy studio exec or a fascist blitzkrieg of a near-helpless little nation. Ruritania may not have one of the more fashionable places on earth but it had been my home briefly and I had found that most of her people were exceptionally kind, in a quaint, eccentric way, chiselers like Broni notwithstanding.

So I suppose that is how I found myself that morning, crouched behind the shrine to the Saint of Perpetual Fatulence or whatever, with a purse full of hand grenades, dolled up as if I was about to meet Topper. Of course, Tura was hardly Cary Grant and it wasn’t a kindly old gentleman that I was waiting for.

I could see the German column coming down the road. There were four motorcycles with those little cars on the side, two by two, followed by a couple of small cars crammed with troops and a big armored vehicle with wheels in the front and tracks in the back.

The first two motorcycles hit the hidden trench at high speed, crashing into heaps of bodies and twisted metal. The rest of the column skidded to a stop. The remaining motorcyclists jumped off their bikes and crouched down in the weeds along the side of the road.

Then I heard the shot from Fat Shmengy’s anti-tank rifle. It made a loud clank of the front of the half-track. Although it didn’t seem to do any damage, it must have rattled the Blockheads inside because they too tumbled out into the road.
It wasn’t long, however, before the Krauts sorted themselves out. Several groups on foot began moving into the village, using any cover they could to avoid the machine gun fire that Chicolini was shooting at them from the windmill.
They also got a big mortar set up and began firing shells into the church. Despite hitting it several times, Fat Shmengy kept firing away, seemingly no worse for the artillery coming his way. Maybe his fat cushioned the concussion from the mortar shells.

Suddenly the two scout cars made a dash forward. They jumped the narrow trench and the first one hit Chicolini’s grenades as it crossed the railroad tracks. The car rolled to a stop just in front of me. It showed some signs of damage but the crew seemed unscathed but was clearly disoriented.

I grabbed the cringing Tura and we charged towards the car, our ghost costumes billowing about us in the smoke from the damaged car. Tura’s terrified wailing actually added to the effect and the disoriented Aryan Supermen ran from the car in panic. I ran after them and tossed a grenade their way. One of them fell when the pineapple burst behind him.

What? Oh, heavens, darling, why would you think that was the first time I ever killed or maimed anyone? Tosh!

All the while, Hummingbird and Barqueless were taking pot-shots at the approaching Germans with the big elephant guns. Hummingbird began dropping the Krauts with considerable frequency despite being obviously three-sheets to the wind.
The other scout car had tried to follow but Chicolini began lobbing the fire bombs at it. It quickly turned aside and the crew dismounted and rushed towards the windmill.

This was what von Schnitzel had been waiting for; he pushed the tractor forward as fast as it would go. The uniform-clad scarecrows popped up, startling the advancing troopers who went to ground.

Then out of the morning mist, I made out the silhouettes of several large objects lumbering through the swamp. The biggest was one of those walking tanks like the one that Skinny Shmengy had destroyed during the parade in Graustark. Two smaller walking vehicles were on either side. These looked like the front ends of fighter planes on top of mechanical legs with big cannons and machine guns perched atop their shoulders. They moved deliberately and without hindrance through the swamp. No tank could have crossed it but the big pads at the end of their legs must have spread the weight more evenly. So Hummingbird’s plan wasn’t so perfect after all.
We didn’t have much time to think about this. The mortar finally got a direct hit on the church steeple. Only a panicked yelp of “Chicago Bang Bang!” indicated that Fat Shmengy had managed to escape in the nick of time.

The smaller walkers fired their machine guns into the wheat field, easily shredding the scarecrows. Von Schnitzel dropped the ropes linking the tractor to the scarecrow device and throttled the ancient tractor forward. As he passed the wrecked church, Fat Shmengy jumped, or rather oozed, onto the tractor.

The smaller walkers moved into the village. Skinny Shmengy and his men fired at one but the bullets bounced off the steel frame. The walker returned the favor with its machine guns and several of the militia men fell. Oddly, most managed to avoid being hit by pirouetting out of the line of fire. These survivors headed away from the fight, leaping in unison over the intervening walls and hedges with enormous grace.

The other walker moved the center of the village, firing into the cottages, setting several on fire.

The big walker fired its cannon into the windmill. As the thin wooden mill disintegrated, the force of the blast shot Chicolini out and he landed at my feet. The Germans were coming towards us. I wrestled the cameraman to his feet and we headed toward the abandoned scout car. Tura was already behind the wheel preparing to drive off.

“Hold it, you chump. Don’t even think of scramming in that breezer without us!” I shouted.

This startled Tura enough to give me time to dump Chicolini into the car and dive in after him. Tura then tore off into the center of the village.

Overhead a whirring sound could be heard. Distracted by the fighting with the walkers, we didn’t notice the hovercraft streaming through the air. This was the same one that had pursued us from Graustark. On the top of the hovercraft, I could see a malignant little twerp in black uniform and at his side was that dish-water blonde floozy that Hummingbird had charmed in Emeric’s. Unfortunately, I had no idea where the blowhard scribbler was so he could repeat his performance.

The hovercraft landed in the very center of the village, not far from the gates of the chateau. The Nazi Munchkin and cut-rate Marlene Dietrich jumped down from the craft, followed by a big bald man with a long beard and dressed in flowing robes covered in arcane symbols. He was flanked by, of all things, a bunch of Oriental looking geezers in orange robes. Two inhumanly large green creatures with large scars crossing their bodies followed.

“Holy Karloff, what the heck are they?” I wondered out loud.

As this group marched toward the chateau, a squad of rather nasty-looking SS women fanned out from the vehicle, shooting at anything that moved.

“Colonel” Zoya finally decided to do something. She ordered the small party of remaining militia to attack the hovercraft. This ended rather abruptly when the SS dames showed a definite lack of respect for the fine art of the ballet. Zoya and what was left of her boys came tumbling back towards our spot near The Three-Legged Toad. The survivors fired a few shots in the general direction of the enemy before quietly heading out of town, leaving us behind.

Soon, we saw Skinny Shmengy’s men retreating towards us as well. There were several big tanks coming down the road, probably called in to help by the reconnaissance troops. Their cannons blasted everything around them.

Meanwhile, as Von Schnitzel later told me, Fat Shmengy got the tractor up to the chateau, tractor-driving being one of the few talents that Fatty had, aside from eating everything in sight and being beaten to a pulp by tiny old men. Von Schnitzel realized that with the walkers showing up, any chance of our stopping the Nazis was nil so he figured that somebody should go save the crazy old bat, just to frustrate the Krauts if nothing else.

They pulled into the courtyard just as the hovercraft was landing outside. The old lady was coming out of the chateau with Mausvarmr behind her. As expected, the Duchess looked about as pleased as if someone had spit in her buttered klopkies, but simple annoyance at trespassers wasn’t the problem. Before von Schnitzel could say anything, he noticed that Mausvarmr had a shotgun pointed at the Duchess’ back.

“What is the meaning of this?” von Schnitzel shouted in his most frightening tone of voice.

Although the butler paled a bit at the tirade of Teutonic temper, he gamely spoke up, “I am Volksgoth, Herr Direktor. It is time my people were freed from this anarchic mongrel excuse for a nation and joined in a greater Aryan state with the help of our German cousins. Taking a valuable hostage can only assist in the struggle to achieve that end.”

Von Schnitzel blustered but the butler stood his ground. All the noise that von Schnitzel made did keep the little man’s attention so that Fat Shmengy, who had never dismounted from the tractor, could slip the thing into gear. Using his extensive posterior muscles, he shifted the gears into reverse and nudged the throttle. The big behemoth – the tractor, that is, not Shmengy – shot backwards and rolled right over the flatfooted footman. Von Schnitzel was able to pull the Duchess out of the way at the last moment. Once the tractor rolled to a stop, there was very little left of the dirty little Fifth Columnist.

“Mausvawmw, considew that youw two week notice!”

Then the gates to the courtyard burst open and the two huge green creatures lurched in. The little SS man strode toward Eric and arrogantly asked, “Well if it isn’t Herr Schnitzelman. All right, where is the cup of the Krugans?”

While all this was going on, we were trying to figure out how to best get way to get out of town without getting our heads blown off. The tanks were approaching fast and their shells were screeching in faster and faster.

Suddenly, the world turned upside down and I felt myself hurtling through the air. I felt a huge impact as I hit the ground and I felt like I was going unconscious. I tried to see what had happened. I realized that I was no longer in the scout car. It was sitting a few yards away from me on its side and it was burning. I noticed that Tura and Chicolini lay beside me unconscious. I felt myself beginning to fade as well.

Just before I blacked out, I noticed some sights that at the time I thought were delusions but turned out to be real. Waggsie had some how climbed up on the back of the hovercraft unnoticed and was now pummeling the guard there. Skinny Shmengy was standing astride the top of one of the small walkers, blasting away with his Chicago typewriter into the cockpit, idiotically laughing with glee as the glass canopy shattered. The last thing I recall was a strong hand on my shoulder and a deep voice telling me to lie still, help had arrived.

It was Hozzenka.

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