“We knew we were scouting for caves, but didn’t have an exact search location. The Sarge had us pair off and reconnoiter in all four directions. Bradley and Jones were the first ones to lose audio contact, although we could still track their movements on our grids.”
“Munch and Green were next to go. Same pattern, loss of audio, but still registering on the O-watch grid. Everyone seemed to be converging in one place. Charley and I then changed direction to meet them.”
The man in the chair was speaking quietly to his superior. He didn’t keep the fear from coloring his voice or causing it to quaver.
The Captain, himself, was conducting this interview with the Corporal. He wanted to hear first hand of how the death of five of his elite fighters came about. He studied the survivor across from him, letting the man talk freely.
“We were operating under the assumption they had found the caves, and they had. We followed their tracks inside. That’s when we realized we too, had lost audio contact.”
Corporal Bryce’s skin was as gray as the chair he sat perfectly upright in, a testament to his training. There was a glass of water and a pack of Marlboro Lights set in front of him, on the table. He had been given permission to smoke and so far had ignored the cigarettes, though the Captain knew he was a two pack a day man.
“Truth is, we weren’t prepared, sir. It would’ve been nice to know just what we were up against. Bravo company was nearly wiped out because higher brass didn’t give a shit about a buncha grunts. No offense sir, it’s just the reality!”
The Captain noted the bitterness in Bryce’s voice, but gestured for him to go on.
“No one told us these… creatures … were fast, and I swear Captain, I’d never been so afraid for my life as when I first saw one of those… things … hunting me and Charley.”
“It sucker punches you twice, when you recognize they were once human. The shock of it nearly got me killed. As it was, they took Charley, sir, just up and snatched him.”
Bryce was wearing a pair of protective eye gear, making it tougher for his superior to ‘read’ his face. Since being retrieved from the mountain, Bryce began suffering from photophobia. It had worsened quickly.
The docs, finding no reason for it, thought it might be psychosomatic. The trauma Bryce had gone through, whatever he had witnessed in that warren of caves, was too much for his brain to process, so he went ‘blind’.
Bryce’s rasp of a voice broke into the Captain’s thoughts as he started speaking again.
“I’m not ashamed to say it sir, but I ran then, loosing a hail of gunfire as I went. When I reached the mouth of the cave, I rolled out of the entrance, turned, knelt, and brought my scope up to look through the infra-red, primed to fire. One of those ‘things’ had been chasing me, but I couldn’t see it.”
The Captain could see Bryce was struggling with the memory. He waited patiently for Bryce to continue.
“I… I couldn’t see it, because it was clinging to the ceiling, Captain.”
Bryce stopped a moment to let the shock of that statement settle. He seemed to gather himself, squared his shoulders and continued on.
“That was when I began to hear it. It was soft at first, more a vibration you feel in your gut sir, you know? Rather than hear.”
The Captain had heard of some odd reports from other companies. Their scouts telling of hearing ‘music’ before they went missing. Bryce was the only one to come back, having experienced it.
“It was… haunting. Hunger and longing, promising you fulfillment.”
Bryce seemed to smile slightly, almost wistfully, before speaking again.
“It was torment, but so sweet it made you crave the caress of it in your mind. To want a consummation with it so deep it bleeds your humanity dry, turning you into a husk of need.”
Bryce spoke with such undisguised lust, that the Captain barely stopped himself from recoiling in disgust.
“It became everything I ever wanted, and was secretly wishing for.”
“It compelled me back into the cave, sir. I don’t know when I had pushed the panic button on the O-watch. Must’ve been on the roll-out. Glad I did though. Especially after I found what was left of Charley.”
Bryce hung his head in solemn remembrance of his friend.
He reached for the water and changed his mind, letting his arm drop back to his lap, after a moment his hoarse voice went on.
“I don’t remember much after that. Couldn’t tell you how I got the punctures in my leg. Doc said they were at the femoral artery too. If the Sarge hadn’t found me, I’d be a goner along with Charley and the rest.”
“Sarge said I was crumpled there, just barely outside the mouth of the cave, lying on a pile of rock, bleeding out. They found Charley and the rest further down in a strange dirt chamber.”
“Too late though, they were all corpses.”
Corporal Bryce stopped then and looked up at his Captain, his face wearing an unfathomable expression.
Bryce started to rapidly transform. His whole lower jaw unhinged, displaying razor sharp teeth. He reached up and ripped the eye gear off. His eyes, now blazing red orbs.
The Captain’s disbelieving brain was too slow in warning, as Bryce leaped across the table…
“Why don’t you join them?”
Credit: D. L. Henry