The Haunted Pen

The story of the haunted pen...

“That pen,” Sean said, shaking his head. “That pen. Oh man, talk about a history. Now, if you look along the back, you’ll see a manufacturer’s stamp…it looks something like Kaweco,” which he declaimed in the broadest American pronunciation possible. “That’s a German company, so that means the pen is German, right? And that means it belonged to a German soldier.”

“Now,” and he settled in, getting comfortable, “this pen’s story is something else. When we got it, I could just feel that something about this was special, even if we didn’t have a lot of details, you know? It was far too clean and well-kept to have actually come from the battlefield, itself. There’s no rust on it…it’s old, sure, but it’s really well kept. And you know, it just had that weight of history in it, whenever you touched it. So I started tracing it back, and man, did I ever find one of hell of a story.”

“Turns out, it wasn’t found at Verdun…it was just included with a bunch of war memorabilia, actually. All of it was sold off in a batch a few years after the guy who’d collected it passed on. I talked to his granddaughter…she was the one who sold it. A guy named Bernhardt Grossman. He was a German Jew who came to America when he was young to escape Hitler, right?”

“Now this guy, Bernie Grossman, grew up next to this guy in Frankfurt…he was a lawyer and a World War I hero named Berthold Guthmann. Bernie apparently had a real case of hero worship for this guy. But it’s the late 30’s, and we know what’s happening in Germany then. According to his granddaughter, Guthmann advised the Grossman family to get out while they could and they started making plans.”

“Bernie didn’t want to go…he was maybe sixteen, and he wanted to stay. He was only half-Jewish or something and he thought he could fake them out and join the army, ‘cause he looked really German and he’d been hearing all the propaganda. He asked Guthmann about staying, because knew Guthman was a war hero and Guthman sat him down and told him what war was really like. How he’d been at Verdun, how he’d been in the trenches and gotten injured, how there’d been dead bodies all around, and the shelling nearly drove him crazy.”

“So Bernie asks this vet, you know, how’d you survive? And Guthmann tells him…by writing. He would write to his sister, every chance he got…she’d given him this pen as a gift, and he carried it with him all the time and he started to think it was a lucky charm, yeah? As long as he had it with him, he survived things that absolutely destroyed the rest of his unit. And it must have been,” he added,”because he lived through an initiative that ended up getting about 300,000 German killed.”

“Bernie is in awe…now, he wants to be a soldier more than ever, and Guthmann can tell that his message isn’t getting through to the kid. He’s got dreams of glory and everything in his head, so Guthmann tells him, you know what, kid? If you’ll promise me you’ll go with your family and protect them and all, I’ll give you this pen to take with you. “

“Bernie is absolutely bowled over. How can he resist? It’s a good omen or whatever, and on top of that, he’ll also get the blessing of a great war hero. So he takes the pen and heads to America with his family. They settle down, he eventually actually signs up for military service here, and you bet he takes that pen with him when he goes to fight Tojo. He has some really hair-raising scrapes, and he figures out all the shit Guthmann was telling him about war sucking was goddamned right on the money. He gets some medals, sure, but when he gets home, he’s thinking, fuck this war shit, and he becomes a lawyer, just like Guthmann. Becomes a defense lawyer. Great career and everything.”

“Now…” Sean paused, looking at the group significantly. “What makes this particular thing pen pretty creepy? I mean, so far, it’s a nice story and all, but you’d think it’d be more…hair-raising than that, right? Turns out, maybe the pen really was the thing keeping Guthmann alive. As soon as he gave the thing to Bernie and the Grossman family leaves, Guthmann starts taking a lot of shit from the Nazis.”

“You’d think him being a big war hero, got the Iron Cross and everything…” He shook his head. “But nope…the very day the Grossmans leave with the pen, he starts getting hounded. First, he can only practice law for Jews. Then his business and everything is confiscated. Then he gets deported to Theresienstadt, and from there, to Auschwitz. He didn’t survive the check-in process.”

He let that linger in the air for a moment. “Now, it’s pretty silly to think that a pen could be something so important, right? I know it sounds crazy…but you know what Bernie’s granddaughter told me? She thought it was a bunch of bullshit, but apparently, he wouldn’t go to court without it. Kept it in his pocket, even after people quit using old-fashioned pens. Said that the one time he forgot to bring it with him on sentencing day, his client got the death penalty…So,” he grinned at Eric, “people can scoff all they like, but me? I am not getting rid of that thing, ever.”