The Devil’s Messenger
Copyrighted by Terry Spear
Sixteen-year-old airman Staff Sergeant Walter Wilde studied the brown paper-wrapped parcel from his mother as he sat stiff-legged on his bunk bed in Snetterton Heath, England while B-25s roared overhead. The barracks were nothing more than Quonset huts—buildings made of corrugated sheet metal with no insulation or covering on the inside. A small coal stove in the middle of the building crackled away as it provided the only heat.
“Hey, Wilde,” another staff sergeant said, as he punched him in the shoulder. “You’ve been eyeballing that package from home for over an hour already. Let us have a look-see.”
Walter touched the string criss-crossed over the package dated, October 4, 1943, from his hometown of Seattle, Washington. The big man stepped over to the bunk and peered down at the mail. “Come on, Wilde. Everyone else has shown off their packages from home. Maybe it’s some homemade cookies you can share with the rest of your good buddies here.”
“Yeah, besides,” another crewman said, “if you don’t hurry, we may be called up for another mission before you get the chance.” He handed Walter a knife.
“Shoot, by the time he ever opens the package,” the first said, “the war will have ended.”
Taking a deep breath, Walter sliced the knife through the string, hoping his mother wouldn’t have sent something embarrassing. Not once had she sent him anything the whole time he’d been in combat. He ripped the package open. Inside, he found an Ouija board. He shook his head, relieved it wasn’t something really awful. “Nothing good to eat.”
One of the crewmen grabbed up the Ouija board and smiled. “Come on, let’s play a game.”
Another held up the cards he was playing at a game of poker. “Play a man’s game. That’s kid’s stuff.”
Another shook his head. “That isn’t kid’s stuff –it’s not something you should mess with. Get rid of the thing, Wilde. It’s the devil’s messenger.” His voice was shadowed with concern.
“Don’t listen to him. He’s just superstitious!” The airman laid the board on a table, then pulled up a chair. Walter sat on the edge of his bed across from him to play the game.
After a moment, the board seemed to move on its own. Walter’s eyes widened as he stared at the board. “You did that,” he accused, looking up at Joe. Walter wasn’t superstitious normally, but the crewman’s words had his skin crawling.
“No,” the airman responded as he held his hands up in the air. “Scout’s honor.”
“You were never a Scout!” one of the poker players retorted as he threw a pillow at him. The pillow slid across the table, knocking the Ouija board to the floor. Walter looked down at the board and could have sworn he saw it move again.
“Briefing mission, now!” the first sergeant bellowed as he stepped into the barracks.
Walter set the board back on the table as one of the men playing poker griped, “Gee, Sarge, I was winning.”
Walter glanced back at the board as the superstitious crewman slapped his shoulder. “Get rid of it, Wilde. It’s bad luck.”
Following the briefing, Walter hurried into the barracks and grabbed his brown-leather flight jacket, then glanced over at the Ouija board. Was it truly evil? Would it harm the mission? Walter slipped the board into its wooden box and closed the lid.
“Hey, Walter!” an airman shouted into the barracks. “Mess sarge’s got a Spam sandwich for you to go!”
“Sure thing.” Walter tossed the box onto the bunk and strode to the mess hall. After grabbing his meal, Walter and the rest of the crew headed for the armament shack.
Soon after, he and the other crewmen hauled their loaded guns onto their Flying Fortress. But before they took off, he grabbed the Ouija board, intending to dump it in the ocean on their mission. Just in case the man knew what he was talking about when he said the board wasn’t anything to mess around with. Then they waited in their assigned positions in breathless anticipation as the engines roared to life.
It was Walter’s seventh mission, despite still only being sixteen. He’d lied about his age to get in, anxious the war would end before he’d have a chance to fight the good fight along with all the other war heroes he’d watched on the big movie screen back home.
While on the way to Germany, heavy anti-aircraft fire flew into the cloudless sky, popping and cracking in black puffs of smoke as it missed the B-17. Walter manned his guns as left waist gunner and soon hit a Focke-Wulf FW-190, highly regarded as one of Germany’s best fighter planes—certainly a match for the spitfire. He reached down to grab more ammunition, then saw the box containing the Ouija board shaking with the vibration of the plane as it rested on his parachute covering the hole where the last gunner had died. He pulled the chute aside and slipped the box through the hole where it plummeted into the sea.
As he turned to ready his guns once more, splinters of metal from high explosive shells ripped through the plane. Tearing through Walter’s oxygen and communication lines, the still-hot shrapnel cut through his flight jacket and lodged in his left arm. The seven-inch piece of jagged metal severed muscle, splintered bone and sliced blood vessels that caused the blood to pour out into a steady stream as Walter fought for air.
Seeing he was losing consciousness, the right waist gunner leaned down to him and offered his oxygen before Walter passed out.
Had the Ouija board truly been the cause of his misfortune?
Walter struggled to keep his wits about him as the cockpit seemed to brighten, while the airman radioed his condition to the pilot. No one else had been injured on the mission.
“Have Wilde crawl up to the cockpit,” the pilot radioed back.
With dwindling strength, Walter crept up to the cockpit while the engines roared and the aircraft vibrated. When he could breathe the oxygen freely in the cockpit, he lay still. His arm ached from the wound and the shock to his system created the urge to relieve himself.
“Gotta go,” he warned, as the plane flew back to Snetterton Heath.
As the antiaircraft fire ceased and the lead plane radioed the all-clear signal, the navigator pulled off his helmet, then looked at Walter. “Can’t you hold it? We’ll be home soon.”
“Can’t wait.” Walter squirmed on his side in agony.
The navigator handed his helmet to Walter. “All right, use my helmet, but don’t say I never did anything for you.”
Walter struggled to relieve himself, and as he finished, ME 109s tailed their aircraft, while the aircrew manned their guns. As the navigator jammed his helmet onto his head, he swore, “Damn!” as the urine trickled down his face.
Walter chuckled under his breath.
After returning to base, two of the crew hurried to carry Walter out of the aircraft. For seven missions he’d served with the same crew, but for six weeks while he recuperated after a stay in the hospital for his wounds, every one of the crew would lose their lives on the next mission as their plane went down, with no survivors.
Walter’s injuries had prevented him from flying the mission that ended his crewmen’s lives. Had destroying the Ouija board, then saved his life? Not normally suspicious, he still vowed never to touch another Ouija board the rest of his life.
And yet another mission lay ahead after several more…his thirteenth and again he would be warned by his crew that he was headed for bad luck.
It would prove to be his final mission in the war.