We are huddled at the base of the mesa. The faint orange glow of cigarettes cut through the night. The strong smell of cloves waft through the air. I wish dearly that they sent something other than clove cigarettes to us. But tobacco is supposedly a luxury they don’t afford to us. They aren’t my cup of tea, but I get plenty of extra gum in trade for them. That’s how it works for us. Trade.
Most of us have traded our mistakes for service. I am no exception. You might occasionally ply the crime out of one of the others, but it’s generally frowned upon to ask such a personal question. It’s strange how even if we are in this “Hell Space”, people still act like we’re all in prison. I was “conscripted” for desertion. But from what I’ve heard, I left the party at the exact right timing. Helmuth supposedly fell three days after I was found. One party I was glad to miss.
An shorter, older man coughs next to me. The air was thick. One thing I was never quite used to. It just felt heavier here. Some of these old-timers that were here had trouble. But HQ didn’t care. We were all expendable. It didn’t matter if you were young, old, black, white, or Mr. Magoo. If you fucked up on Earth for a very specific set of crimes, you got sent to this literal hell-hole. For all I knew, the guy to my left was a pederast, and the guy to my right was a whistleblower of some sort.
“Pipes out, here comes the show.”
The whispers crawl through the mass of humans in front and behind me. The soft orange glows disappear, but the smell lingers. This is probably what hell is like. Darkness, with the smell of these abominable cigarettes. The crowd goes quiet, and we all look to the top of the mesa.
Thwouhh. Thwouhh. Thwouhh.
The backline begins to throw mortars up onto the mesa. People begin to scramble forward, climbing one of the ten rope ladders up the mesa. Ten days ago, a crew was sent to establish a foothold at the top of this mesa for further expeditionary reasons. They hung the ladders, and then promptly ceased communications. Fearing the worst, they sent us. The supposed “Expeditionary Legion of Earth”. Which pretty much was a fancy way of saying “Fodder Consisting of Sex Offenders and Traitors”.
Our lovely niche in this world was going in first to pretty much see what creepy-crawly hindigs took a liking to us, carry us off, and do whatever hindigs do. Then our brave scientists would take data and give it to the actual military to try and prevent them from losing as much as we did.
It usually didn’t work.
To top it off, there was also some sort of military on this, whatever it is. My mama taught me about God, so the word I would use is “demons” but the brass here frowns on such things. They’re fucking demons, though. And they’re organized. Various types of sex demons. It sounds nice, but it really isn’t. Especially when you come across your squadmate being suffocated with fucking boobs. Only hindig I came across was a paffo-paffo. Or paff, since I’m a lazy bastard. Fucker took one look at me and skedaddled, leaving my friend gasping for air. Good thing I came when I did, another minute or so, and he would have been donezo. Poor guy got a tail in his ass though, and that must have sucked. Poor bastard bit it when Helmuth fell, though.
Like ants scrambling over each other, the crowds around the ladders argue about who gets to go up first. Some of the others think that they’re up there, waiting to just grab each one of us that pokes our head over that cliff. While I’m inclined to agree, the mortars behind me are firebombing the shit out of the jungle just beyond the cliff. If they’re gonna grab us, they’re literally going to go right into an oven. Eventually, masses begin to ascend the face of the mesa, and disappear over the top. The older man next to me begins breathing quickly. His nerves are getting to him.
“Calm down. The worst that happens is you go over, and get captured. Well. There are worse things than that, but try to stay positive.” I remark. The look on his face is priceless.
My turn comes up, and I stand at the ladder. I make sure I have everything properly secured, my boots laced up, and my old shitty-ass surplus rifle battened down.
“Hurry the fuck up, I want to get this over with!” a voice cries from the back. This fucking ‘unit’ had no discipline. They merely took their ‘recruits’ and gave them two weeks of target practice and shoo’ed them through the gate into this place. It was more of a mob than a unit.
I begin climbing, the sound of the rope cries out, exhausted from all the weight that has already went over it. I would wager there are around three-hundred of us, and I was more towards the front. Glad I’m climbing now as opposed to later. Seems to not matter though, the sound of rope hitting the rocky surface makes me flinch. They’re tossing over more ladders to expedite the process. It’s good to be jumpy here, it keeps one alive. Keeping it in your pants also is a plus.
I reach the top and crawl up on my belly. The heat of the fire I can feel on my face, even if it seems to be one-hundred or more yards out. It’s a bright glow, and a stark contrast to the dark night behind me. I look over the side of the mesa and spit. It’s just something you have to do when you’re at a high point somewhere.
“Soldier! Away from that fucking ledge. You thinking about jumping you dunce?! Get your useless ass over here!” a man screams. I can only assume it’s at me and make an about face.
Sure enough, an angry short guy storms up to me and attempts to get in my face. A five-foot-seven manlet at his finest. Being six-three has its perks I guess. He begins yelling something I can’t really hear. Not because it’s loud, I just don’t care. I deserted because I was hoodwinked into thinking this was a world we could explore and have new beginnings. Manifest destiny. What I quickly discovered, however, that it’s like they sent us into a meat-grinder to thin the heard on fair Earth.
“Are you listening son?! Do you comply!?!” He barks
“Sir, yes, sir!”
“Then get your ass over there, find three privates and spread out to that direction, corporal!” He makes a waving motion with his hand that I can only describe as limp-wristed. I do my ‘Aye-Aye, sir!’ routine and trudge along. There’s no thing as East, West, North, South here. So it’s This way, That way, Over yonder, and over there. From what the gunny just told me, sounds like I’m going Over yonder.
Everyone is kind of clumped up, so I just look over the others as if I’m trying to choose the right watermelon for the picnic. A skittish looking bespectacled twerp of a kid is nervously looking around at the others, clutching his mosin as if he were to die if he let go. I stroll up nonchalant and grab the gun, he jumps and searches my face as if I just raped him in the ass.
“You’re with me, come on.” I order. I’m not much one to order, it doesn’t feel like. But having been here for a bit, they have to allow me to try to shepherd these greendicks around.
He stumbles as I drag, but eventually finds his legs like some newborn calf. I release the gun, and he trudges behind me. He’s dragging his feet. Looking behind me, I see he’s inspecting the horizon of the jungle. Probably watching the flames dance their entrancing dance.
“Hey, snap out of it. What’s your name?” I ask
“You are now Willy. Lets look for two more. You’re with me now. Got any family at home?” I inquire. It’s best to build some sort of comradery with others.
“Yes, Sir. A girlfriend I care about, and parents who disowned me.”
“Well bad news. After this, you won’t be able to trust a girl ever again.” I say with a chuckle
I smirk. It’s a nasty truth that many of these newbies don’t believe until they encounter one of these fuckers. God above knows that I won’t be able to look at human women the same again. I figure it’s one of the reason they send sex offenders into this Legion. After a tour here, they’ll get sick even thinking about sex.
A big fat guy is sitting down on a makeshift stool. I look him over. He can be my pack mule. Size is strength, after all. Stopping in my tracks makes Private Willy smack into me. I glare at him and he looks down. Looking back to my future pack mule, I smile. He looks at me quizzically
“What’s your name, Private?”
“m-Matthews, sir!” he stutters. His nerves are shot. That’s okay.
“You’re with me now, Tiny. Get up and follow Willy here.” He struggle to stand up, but eventually does. He’s just barely shorter than me. Big sumbitch. Ain’t no way a Paffo or any of those smaller fuckers could take this mountain of a man down. But I’m sure he would feed a spider or slime for a week. He falls in line, and I move on. The crowd is getting thinner as I move out.
I spot a rare commodity in the distance: a flamethrower. Definitely something I’d want with me. Thank Lord Jesus that someone hasn’t claimed the operator. His back to is to me, and I can see he’s smoking those damnable cigarettes. It’s a hit I will gladly take for that literal firepower.
“Hey! Private! About face.” I order, he spins around and my jaw drops. What I assumed was just a tiny man is actually a tiny woman. A rare sight, and most definitely impressive.
Women here get so much shit, it isn’t funny. With all these demon-women trying to kill you, the opinion on the fairer sex is often not a popular one. The fact she is here to boot is shocking. Probably some teacher that fucked a kid, but whatever.
“Name?” I ask with what I can only assume a smug grin on my face.
“Courtney, Sir.” she almost spits out. She hates my fucking guts already. Probably a good thing.
“Fall in line behind Tiny and Willy here. I think I’ll call you,” It’s a tough decision. Hog is the front runner in my mind. A stark contrast to Tiny. But I think of something that I’ve always wanted to call someone.
“I’ll call you Animal Mother. Yeah, that’s real nice. Fall in Animal Mother.” Loved Full Metal Jacket. Only fitting the one with the biggest gun and a complete asshole is Animal Mother. She rolls her eyes and gestures me to move on past her to get in line. What a princess.
So here I am with my happy crew of miscreants, rapists, and traitors. I have no clue what they’ve done, but it must have pissed someone off for them to be here. We eventually reach the edge of the sea of conscripts. The fire ends where we are, on our platoon or whatever you want to call the mass of humans, the flank. I unsling my mosin nagant and plop my ass on the cool ground, facing the jungle before me. Shadows dance around in the forest, what I can only assume are silhouettes from the burning foliage. You don’t really know what scorched earth is until you see it yourself. It’s a demented kind of beautiful. But of course, everything here is a demented kind of beautiful.
Willy follows suite and flops down, too. Tiny sighs and sits. I swear I feel the ground tremble when he sits. He’s gotta be near four-hundred pounds. Pulling out a stripper clip, I motion for the girl to atleast kneel. That pack on her back has got to weigh half of what she does. She merely nods. I open the bolt and push the five bullets in. Our gear sucks compared to what the other, real, soldiers have. But being bolt action, we can atleast fire more than one shot reliably. Physics here are different. I’d wager gasses don’t work the same. So when you fire something like an automatic rifle, it uses the gas from firing your bullet to eject the spent shell. But sometimes it goes wonky, and doesn’t work right. So you keep trying to fire the used shell. Bolt action solves this, because you have to manually eject each spent casing.
At the cost of only having five fucking shots of course.
“Load up, fellas. You don’t want to get caught with your pants down the first night.” They comply immediately.
“Where’s this supposed outpost the other dudes ahead of us were supposed to build?” The girl asks, lighting up a clove cigarette with a match. She paces back and forth with the wand to the flamethrower being cradled in her arms. Her eyes never leave the jungle.
“Supposedly we’re in it. Based on there ain’t shit here, I’m guessing they got abducted by the resident hindigs.” I answer. It was good as anyone’s guess.
I sat cross-legged with my gun in my lap for what seemed like hours. Willy was dozing off occasionally. Tiny had his gun on the ground, his head in his hands. Only me and the girl was keeping watch. Something rustled in the bushes, and I shot up to a knee. The commotion made Tiny look up. I used the sturdy piece of Russian wood to assist myself getting up. Animal Mother just kind of stood there staring at me. Was I the only one that heard it? I really had to change her name.
“Animal mother.” I said
“You’re now Animal Father.”
I crept up forward. The rustling stopped. I stared into the orange and red tinted jungle, waiting for something to come out and tackle me. A pygmy with a fucking dart gun, anything really. But there was nothing.
“Sir? What are you doing?” The voice of Willy. He must have woken up or something.
“Nothing. Just stay alert.” I back away still facing the jungle. One thing you don’t do is turn your back on something you suspect wrong here. Plenty of people learn that one the hard way. Some don’t get to learn anything after that hard lesson.
I kneel back down and look to the others. They’ve gotten on a knee themselves.
“Get out your e-tool. Let’s dig a hole.” I suggest. Better cover from those pygmy darts in my imagination.
Me, Tiny, and Father begin to dig while Willy keeps his frightened eyes on the horizon. Atleast there is plenty of light. Our activity inspires some others standing around like idiots to help us. We eventually get a crew of six digging this big ass trench-bunker-hole thing. Everyone around jumped in this fucking thing. Shoulder to shoulder we lay in the hole. I turn over onto my back and stare into the bruise-colored sky.
“Okay, lets figure out a pecking order for sleep. Who here is a corporal?” I ask. One aditional hand raises up beside my own. Okay.
“Anyone above Corporal?” I ask
“I’m a lance corporal.” Someone speaks up.
“Congrats, you’ve been here longer than a fucking week. Anyone else?”
Everyone is silent.
“Alright, Lance Corporal Shithead, you and the other three keep watch. Me, Animal Father, and Willy here will take six hours of sleep. Then we’ll rotate out.” I turn back onto my stomach and look out. All quiet on whatever front this is. The sound of hammers and construction ring out behind us. They’re building something.
“Tie your shemagh around your mouth like a bandit and sleep face down. Just to be safe.” I suggest. There are certain things I’ve heard that enjoy you being on your back and going into your lungs. Better safe than sorry I’ve learned.
I fall asleep like a baby.
I’m being shook. My eyes snap open, I’m looking into the ground. I turn over to see none other than the lance corporal waking me. He is tired, and would like some rest. I nod, and rouse the other two out of their slumber. Such is life in H-Space. We didn’t lose anyone in the night in our pit. That means they’re either planning something in the jungle, or aren’t here. I’m betting they’re planning something. I shake awake Father, and nudge Willy out of his coma. They both eventually get around to the world of the living. Animal Father straps her modified M9 flamethrower to herself, and I make sure my rifle is operational.
I hear shots ring out, and everyone turns to the source. It seems to be off in the distance. Everyone looks around confused.
“Everyone stay fucking put. Don’t move until someone comes over and tells us what’s up. Go to fucking sleep, but prepare to get your ass up on the drop of a dime. This is my fucking hole, and I’m not about to let it get taken over by a bunch of slimy, greasy cunts.” The others shake their heads and roll to their stomach. I look to Willy and beckon him over.
“I want you to stay on the other side and watch that side. If they’re gonna try to flank us, they may try to cut us off. I need to know ASAP if that’s going on.” He nods. I take place in the middle, laying my rifle to aim at the jungle. Animal Father stands.
“Get the fuck down, you dumb bitch.” I say, pulling her ass into the dirt.
“You wanna get fucking speared or something. Stay down, and watch the jungle.”
We sit like that for an hour, the sound of rifles continuing to go off. Tiny can’t sleep. I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to be raped and killed in my sleep either. He dozes off occasionally. Can’t really blame him. A cold light breaks across the horizon. It’s going to lighten up, but only as light as a heavy overcast rainy day can be. It’s always dark. Just less dark than other times.
The guns stop. It’s eerily quiet. The others look at each other, visibly confused. You could almost hear a pin drop. The wind whips and whistles around us. The great green in front of us is still, as if holding its breath. One of the others breaks the silence.
“What should we do?”
It’s a good question. I ponder it myself. But the sad truth is that I don’t know either. This is more of mob than an army, and as such, we can’t hear the guy screaming the orders. I wouldn’t want to risk sending someone by themselves to investigate. But you know what they say about wanting something done…
“I’ll check what is going on. Willy, with me. Father, you’re in charge. Don’t fuck up.” I demand. Willy jumps up, seemingly glad to get out of the hole.
My legs creak as I stumble out of the makeshift dugout. Not a moment after I leave, my spot is taken as the others spread out to get a bit more breathing room. Parasites. Atleast they’ll keep my spot warm, I suppose. Willy nods at me and gives a goofy grin. Poor bastard has no idea that this could go bad. I can only hope he grasps the situation at hand eventually. We make our way back the way we came.
We pass various other groups spread out. Some closer to the jungle than others. Smoking cigarettes, playing cards, reading books. These men are exactly the bait that command intended. I scoff, which of course turns some heads.
“What’dya think happened?” Young Willy asks.
“My guess? Someone went alone somewhere and got grabbed. The others seen him get grabbed, an just opened up shooting at nothing in particular hoping to hit something specific.” I perceive.
“Have you seen these things?”
“One, yes. But it was one of the ‘safer’ ones. You don’t want to see the ones that know what the fuck to do. Just keep it in your pants at all cost.”
What I didn’t tell him was I haven’t tried to face one down in combat before. I know they’re hard as hell to kill. But the rounds these surplus rifles use are enough to take down a big buck. I’ve even heard stories of taking down bears with them. Well, technically thirty-aught-six takes down bears. But the round we use is close enough. So with such logic, it could take down a promiscuous demon?
We reach the place where we first arrived on this mesa. They’re building a makeshift freight elevator with pulleys, ropes, and human sweat. It’s amazing what mankind can do. We really are a resilient people. People scamper around, they’re building sandbags walls and other things on the opposite side of us.
“What the fuck is going on? We haven’t heard shit over there!” I ask out loud, pointing at the direction my motley crew of miscreants are sat in a hole.
Everyone keeps scurrying around like headless chickens. Rolling my eyes, I grab one by their ragged coat that are issued to us. He acts shocked and looks at me. He’s around my age.
“Where’s the boss?”
“They’re over there.” He points to a group of men standing around pointing at the jungle and then back to the sandbags. I let the kid go, and he goes back to what he’s doing like a well trained drone. Willy is taking everything in, I catch him staring at the skyline.
“Hey. Bozo, lets roll.” It snaps him out of it, and he jogs over to me.
We stroll up to the brass. I snap a salute out as per tradition, with Willy following suit. The group stares at me and gives me a half-hearted at-ease.
“Yes, corporal?” A thicker fellow with a bushy mustache asks.
“We’re positioned over yonder, and heard the shots. We haven’t heard anything. Might you fill us in?” I ask.
“We were raided on our opposite flank. They caught the poor bastards off guard. When they tried to retreat to our main force here, a secondary group cut em’ off. Dragged them all into the woods.”
“What exactly ‘dragged them into the woods’?” I ask, crossing my arms. I’ve only ever witnessed one on its own. But this sounds like a horde.
“The way that I’ve heard it described? Verbatim: ‘Hippie looking red chicks with green paints and leaves with wooden spears’.”
Okay, I guess.
“What are your orders then?”
“Sit tight, we’ll send a runner. Keep frosty, we don’t know if they’ll hit our other flank. Dismissed.”
I can only shake my head. What the fuck have we stepped into?
The trip back is uneventful. People still play cards and not pay attention. It’s understandable that they could cut through the middle like this. These buffoons just think they’re on a vacation summer camp. We eventually get to our homely hole, and Tiny is out for the count.
“Down goes Fraiser, eh?” I ask. It goes over everyone’s collective heads.
“It’s a boxing joke, Christ people.” I add. I plop back down at the edge of the hole closer to the edge of the mesa. The pack I have plops down in front of me. Time to eat a bit. Everyone remains silent.
Popping open the pack, I sift through it. Gas mask, filter, spare ammo, rope, lighters, my stash of cigarettes for trade, and bingo. The lovely, standard issue, meal ready to eat. Looks like I’m having a nice beef enchilada with beans. Great. And additional bingo; I got me some chewing gum. I pop the small squares into my mouth and put the rest back into my pack. Gum keeps me sharp, and it is very much time to be sharp.
Willy has moved the others over and went back to his original spot. He continues to stare at the jungle. I stare, too. I don’t know what to expect. The all too familiar sound of a match sparking up makes me jump a bit. Animal Father is just lighting another cigarette. A small pile of butts stuck into the ground in front of her. The worst thing that could happen is happening. Boredom is setting in.
Boredom is what causes the most rapes in this strange land. The odd soldier wandering off to explore. The laborer investigating an unfamiliar sound. Even a courier stopping to smell the flowers can cause him to become literally fucked. It is unforgiving to the unaware, and there are plenty of unaware people around me.
A couple of the others in our ditch of derision have laid their rifles down, and begin to walk around the edge of the jungle. They seemingly are pointing at things that tickle their fancy. Another pair are off on the edge of the mesa eating their MRE’s and reminiscing about old times. Tiny is still out like a rock, and Willy even seems to generally not give a shit about what is going on. Animal Father seems to be the only one keeping a weathered eye out, as now I’ve just been looking at the others to judge them.
A hand on the shoulder jolts me out of my ease. I’m met with an older face with cold, blue eyes staring at me. He wears a frown, not seemingly happy to have to come all the way out to our little outpost. He looks at the others, shakes his head, and looks back to me.
“The boss wants all of us to pull closer in to the group. Really hug close to our lift we’re making. Are you all the farthest out?”
“Yeah, I’ll get em’ quick. Do we got a plan at all, or are we just playing house until the real soldiers come?”
“No, we’re supposed to go on a patrol in about an hour or so. Pull these guys back, and we’ll figure it back. Behind the sandbags. Get to it.” And with that, he began a brisk walk back. Brave, going alone like that.
Standing up, I take in my surroundings. Animal Father, Willy, Tiny, the two on the ledge, where the fuck did the Lance corporal go? Wait. He was with another person looking at the jungle. Where did the other person come from? My gut sinks, the realization starts to dawn on me. We had one more than we were supposed to have.
“Everyone get up, we’re getting the fuck out of here.” I say, kicking Tiny’s tree-trunk legs. Something’s fucking with my mind.
“Father, did you see where the other two went? Where’s the LC?” I ask
“What other people? The LC said he had to take a piss and took off.”
“And no one went with him?” This is un-fucking-believeable.
“Well, I’m not about to go hold some dudes dick in the jungle, sir.” Her voice is full of venom.
“No matter, just get up and lets move. Something is not right.” And with that, we were off. The others were confused, but nonetheless, we were leaving posthaste.
My mind was racing. What happened? Was this place just fucking with me, or was my own mind betraying me? The questions swirled in my head, and I couldn’t help but grow insecure. It’s the worst feeling, thinking that your own perception of reality had just became fucked. My rifle bounces against my back, the sling digging into my shoulder. I hook my thumb under the scratchy fiber to give my shoulder some reprieve. My other hand goes to my side, resting on my three-fifty-seven snub nose. A relic from my old life back home. My father gave it to me as a going away present.
I wonder how they’re doing back home.
The fortifications are getting pretty serious as far as we can do. It looks as if the makeshift freight elevator is working, and a team of twenty men apparently hoist it up and down. All manner of things are strewn about. Boxes of ammo, portable gasoline generators, propane bottles with lights hooked in, crates with unknown contents, even additional rope ladders are neatly folded beside the cliff. Makeshift shacks have been set up, as well as what looks to be a command tent. Large lights are brought it, pointed at the maw of the jungle. The flick on, and the burned entrance gives a strange black sheen. But jungle is still seen.
One of the people from the tent has turned his attention to the slowly amassing amount of bodies showing up. A low roar is the sum of all the talking around me. This would probably be the announcement of what we’re here to do. Which is usually to just try not to die. Which is a good goal, in all honesty.
“We’re goin’ out on patrol. We are going to try to find tha others that got cut off awhile ago!” The man says, putting his hands on his hips and studying the faces in the crowd.
“Now, if’n ya been told differntlly, you’ll be joinin’ me on this expedidition. Is’ gon’ be a gudun.” His accent is thick. He’ll be one of the first to go.
I sigh. This is the first time I’ve been in the shit, so my nerves are fucking with me. The earlier event didn’t help either. The group starts to walk into the jungle. I guess no rest is being given. Just time to hump it, I guess. Unslinging my weapon, I can’t help but ponder if this is the last time I’ll ever be calm.
It is incredibly humid. Humid is an understatement. The heat seems to waft off of everything. It’s times like this when I’m glad they down burden us down with a ton of gear. All we have is a pack on our back, a belt with our canteen and stripper clips, and the occasional sidearm holster. Life is simply easier when you don’t have to ruck a shitload of shit.
The disturbing thing is, is that there is no sound. No birds, no june-bugs, nothing. Just the wet steps of the men and women around me. The underbrush is thick and choking. Claustrophobia would be a bitch to deal with if you had it. I half expect to step in some sort of bear-trap and just explode. A mix of adrenaline and fear is what I’m being propelled by, and it feels good. Almost too good.
I could feel myself smile. Suddenly it was as if we weren’t on some hell-bent world wanting to kill us. It was simply a new adventure with my comrades. Even the fact that these long guns would be difficult to use in such dense jungle didn’t seem to bother me. Washed in optimism I hadn’t felt before, I trudged on. It really was a beautiful, alien world.
We’ve been humping through for what seems like an eternity. I’ve lost sight of everyone except Animal Father, who is four paces behind me taking in the scenery. Looking over my shoulder is the best attention I can give her, on the account of I don’t want to die myself.
And then we hear someone yelling. Screaming. The jungle conceals the direction. It seems as if it’s coming from our left. And then behind us. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like it’s coming above us. The girl and I lock eyes and run left, to where we first heard it. Others take notice of our direction and instinctively follow us. No one wants to be left alone. I don’t blame them.
The scene I arrive on is something to behold. Before me is Tiny, screaming his head off. He’s in a hammock suspended between two trees. Everything doesn’t seem bad until I get closer. And then the true truth comes crashing down.
Here is this porcelain-skinned blonde girl lying in the hammock under the wayward soldier. Legs locked around him. Tiny’s pants are around his ankles. Chuckles emanate from the others around us. It’s a sight to behold. I can’t help but laugh, too.
“You’ve stepped in it this time, shithead.” One says
“I get second round, yeah?” Another chirps in
Only Animal Father seems to not enjoy the joke, and she stays silent. And then I see the girls eyes. They’re jet black. This is a fuckin’ Hindig, not some slutty soldier.
“Someone help me!” I cry out, rushing to the wayward Man-Mountain. I grab his soldiers and try to pull him off, but the…Thing…simply is like bubble gum. Her tits seem to stretch with him. This is something out of a horror film.
“Shit. Shit. Shit. Please help. Please. It hurts.” The man blubbers. The soldiers around seem to get the memo that this is for real, and they attempt to pry him off. To no avail.
Tiny begins to wail. Something just made an audible crack from him, and I hope it isn’t his fucking back. Panicking, I level my gun right at the hindigs’ temple. The shot cracks out, and my ears ring.
Her head literally bounces around. It’s as if I just punched a speedbag. She shoots me a look and smiles.
Crack. Crack. Screaming
Tiny is getting crushed. Tears are flowing down his face. He’s talking to someone, but I don’t know who. I think he’s praying to get out, or he’s sorry, or something. Adrenaline is pumping through at this point. I search around, there has to be something.
Animal Father is standing there, visibly shocked at what is going down. God forgive me for doing this.
“Light him up!” I scream at her
She stares at me.
“Torch the fucking hindig! He’s going to die if you don’t!” Is all I can manage to say, this shit is getting crazy. The others are trying to pry him off with a branch.
Time to take initiative. I grab the wand she’s holding and tell everyone to move back. They comply. And then I light him up. The screams of the man and the hindig intertwine. Tiny is released, and falls to the ground. He is crawling away. The others rush over and start trying to put the flames out. The screaming is curdling my blood. This is no less than a fucking mess.
One side of the hammock detaches, still on fire. It swings and hits the tree its still attached to. And then it rolls up into a neat ball and continues rolling up the tree into the treeline. What in the living fuck is wrong with this place. I can only assume my mouth is gaping open in pure shock. This place is beyond fucked up. The screaming quiets to a whimper, with a group huddled around Tiny. I push my way through.
“What the FUCK?!” is all I can really think to say at this point. I kneel down next to the man. He’s on his back, and crying softly. His face is black from the soot or whatever from the flames. His entire left side has a nice char to it. He just looks up at me with his puppy dog brown eyes.
The soldier next to him hits him with a pen of what I can only assume is morphine. He somberly looks up at me and shakes his head. Tiny seemingly passes out.
“His back is done broke. He also has a compound fracture right below his right elbow. Whatever it was just then was literally trying to drink him. We gotta get him back or else he ain’t gonna make it.” The young kid says. I wonder why he’s in this place. I wonder why any of us are in this place. I simply nod.
“Whoever is staying to help clean up this mess stay. Who all is coming to catch up with the others?” I ask
Five hands shoot up. Six of us are about to stumble around in this jungle blind.
Any type of excitement I had for exploring and adventuring is burned out of my system. I’m constantly on edge. The silence is deafening. The only sounds are the boots trampling the underbrush behind me. I’m on point, the blind leading the blind. This is probably exactly what these monsters want. My bearings are all out of whack. I’m not even sure how to get back to camp. The reality that I might not make it out of here sits in my stomach like a heavy black brick.
Atleast I still have Animal Father and Willy. Familiar faces improve my spirits. Until they die. Then that’ll just suck. But stories of entire groups of people going missing is not unheard of. Perhaps that is what our fate will be. I dodged Helmuth, so I was on borrowed time anyways.
My internal monologue is halted as I step into a clearing. It’s a scene from a science fiction novel. Ugly, green, and inhumane. Needless to say, I think I found what happened to the group of soldiers that had been cut off earlier.
They’re all bound to the ground by what look like vines. Puddles of water dot the clearing. Some are against each other wrapped up, others are face down. I’m convinced they’re dead. The others finally catch up and stop dead in their tracks behind me. No one says a word for a solid minute as they take in the scene.
“If anything comes out that isn’t human, you do not hesitate to cut it the fuck down.” I say in a low voice. God only knows what we just stepped in, so it’s better safe than sorry.
“And don’t touch a goddamn thing.” I quickly add.
We tread cautiously into the mire towards one of the vine-bound soldiers on the ground. Everyone is on edge. The wet squishes seem to echo. If there is something here, they know we’re here. My eyes dart to the treeline in front of us. The smell of an ambush is thick.
The man before us is sprawled on the ground belly-up. Thick vines seem to go around his waist and legs. His head lay on the damp earth, his tongue seemingly lolled out. His chest raises. He’s breathing. Tossing my rifle to the ground, I get on the ground beside him and try to get his head back facing up.
I’m able to get him staring straight up to the sky, but I turn around and retch immediately afterwards. His eyeball is still in the ground, and blood is gushing from his cheek. Several tiny root-things stick out. He was literally planted into the ground. Blood is beginning to turn the surrounding marsh a dull copper color. The second retch is what gets me, and I throw up nothing but stomach acid. The hunger never hit me. I haven’t eaten in two days. A hacking cough escapes me, and I lean over and pick up my slightly muddy gun.
And look up just in time to see a wooden spear right in my face. Behind it a crimson red chick with green paint smeared all over her body stands. Time to think is a luxury I don’t have, and stumble backwards and fall on my ass as the girl lunges at me. I manage to put the barrel of my rifle between me and the girl and pull the trigger.
Which does fuck-all, because I hadn’t ejected the previously used cartridge. A dirty word I cannot mutter, as I have to roll to the side to avoid getting speared in the chest. The spear plants deep into the swamp-like ground, and I’m able to steal a quick glance at everything going on around me.
Everyone’s fighting. These women managed to sneak up on us in literal broad daylight in the middle of an open field. The question of how is something that escapes me, for I have bigger fish to fry. I’m currently lying against the man-made fertilizer, and trying to chamber another round. The downsides of these bolt-actions have now been made very apparent. My heart feels like it’s about to beat straight out of my chest. I finally chamber another round as the devil-looking chick pounces right on top of me at a weird angle.
The angle is awkward, as she’s trying to straddle me and the fertilizer guy. She brandishes what looks to be a giant splinter and brings it down hard at my chest. I just barely manage to catch her arms, and I let out an audible oof. She’s much stronger than she lets on. Because of the angle I’m at, I’m able to buck her off of me.
Red floods my vision and I scramble on top of her, and begin to throttle her. Her hands shoot up to grasp at my wrists. For some reason, I begin to laugh. Out of fear, or adrenaline, or maybe because I’m just fucked up. She smiles and chokes out a laugh. This just pisses me off more, and I put my weight full into it. Her hand shoots up pushes up at my face. Her sharp nails dig into my upper lip. I yell as she scratches down my face, the sweet heat of a cut trailing down my upper lip and onto my bottom lip. The taste of copper floods my mouth, and the pain is too much. I get up, clutching at my face.
Green and crimson intermingle on my hands. I stumble forward, my face throbbing. The cuts go deep. I’m tackled from behind, and land hard on chest, my face pushed down into the muck. A strong hand keeps m head pinned, and hot breath tickles my ear.
“Such vermin disturbing our garden. No matter, you will make a fine offering. And I have a feeling you’ll be sweet.” She sneers into my ear. She giggles afterwards and I feel her shift her weight. She’s sat back up, still keeping my head in the damp earth.
A shot cracks out, and I feel weight slump onto my back. I manage to roll her off my back, and Willy is standing right in front of me, his hand extended. He helps me up, and we make for the treeline.
We’ve both been running for what seems like an hour before we finally stop. Doubling over seems to be the only way I can catch breath. My body has stopped, but my mind is still racing. They got the drop on us out of nowhere. What did she mean by garden? What happened to the others? My lungs inhale the strangely sweet jungle air deeply, and I stand straight up again. I continue feeling the soft thuds of my heart against my ribcage. Willy is sitting down against a tree.
“This is fucked.” He mutters. This quiet kid has seen some shit. We all have now.
“Did you see what happened to the others?” I can’t help but ask.
“Yeah. The girl was stabbed and dropped pretty much first. The others fought. They seemed to ignore or not notice me, which in turn allowed me to save you.”
“Well. Thanks for that.” I remark.
“Yeah. First time not being noticed by girls helped me out.” He snarks.
“Why’d you even agree to come to this place, man. This place is beyond fucked up. I got press-ganged into this shit because I deserted my original station. Why did you?” Words just tumble out of my mouth.
“I streaked across a football field on a dare. Got caught and charged with exposing myself to minors. So they say I can go to jail and get stretched, or come here and serve my country for six months and get out scot free. Should have chose jail. I don’t know if I’m gonna last six months.” He says with a chuckle.
“How long you been here?”
The only companion I have is my magnum now. Five shots. Five measly shots. Willy still has his rifle, and I made sure he ejected his spent casing. Not gonna have that shit happen again. We’re trying to navigate back to the edge of the plateau. Back to base where we might be able to fight another day. Where I can go to sleep again. Eat again. It has been a strange couple of days, to say the least. Poor Willy doesn’t look like he’s been faring well either.
We need to sleep. I explain to Willy the plan. I’ll let him rest the first three hours, and then he let me sleep for three hours. As soon as he agrees, he leans against a tree and is out like a light. The jungle gets pitch black. I fish out the little flashlight I have and hold it tight against my chest. Anything that makes a rustle of any sort gets a light shined on it. This continues for what seems like an eternity. But my eyelids get heavy. I’ll just assume it’s been three hours. I shake my comrade awake, and he in turn shakes off his weariness and allows me to take my turn to sleep.
In turn, I pass out.
A long cool woman in a black dress sits on a table in front of me. Her long, red legs crossed. Her tail whips side to side, like a lure from one of the horrors from the deep sea. It’s the same one who tried to kill me earlier. She cocks her head to the side, and an inquisitive look crosses her petite, cute face.
“Spinning into a beautiful oblivion, I see.” She comments with a tsk.
“I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are.” I reply bluntly
“What have you got to lose?” She asks
“It’s my heart. It’s suffering and dying. That’s what I have to lose.”
“Afraid to be consumed?” she asks, a devilish grin spreading cheek to cheek. She re-crosses her legs in the most suggestive way possible.
“I’ve got an answer. I’m going to fly away.” And I do just that.
“But will you come see me? Thursdays and Saturdays?” Her voice echoes. I am still not rid of her.
“Please be gone, I ‘m tired of you.” I weep.
My eyes flutter open to the sound of a woman’s voice. I shine the flashlight around. Willy is no where to be found.
“Easy now, I will make you feel much better.” The sultry voice continues.
I stumble up, still groggy. My legs are still asleep as I try to navigate towards the voice, shining the light to half-assedly illuminate my path. Tripping over a root, the flashlight flies from my hand. The beam of light reveals the bottom of Willy’s boot. And the pink barefoot thing standing dangerously close to him.
The flashlight’s light shakes violently as I raise it. My hand is violently shaking from fear. This truly is the land of monsters in the dark, and I feel no older than a young boy after watching a horror movie for the first time. Primal fear takes hold, and I freeze when I see the wet, pink ugly arm hooked around Willy’s back. The other hand softly caressing the side of his face, idly twirling his hair with one of her fingers.
Her face is alien. An exotic look about her face. Breaking free of paralysis of fear, I walk toward the pair. If I can save him, I must. I will. I have to. My approach is not secretive. Her eyes dart over to me and narrow in distrust.
“My love, I thought it was just us.” she says.
“It is. Don’t mind him. He won’t disturb us.” Willy coos.
“Willy. Just back away from it. You’re making a mistake.” I plead.
“What a lonely man. Trying to get between two lovers’ embrace.” the alien whispered.
“Go away.” Says Willy
The ground is soft, even my footsteps are inaudible at this point. My heartbeat rings in my ears. The fact I haven’t keeled over from a heart-attack is a miracle unto itself.
Finally reaching my man, I lightly hook my arm around his stomach. The utmost care is needed in this, and I intend to literally snatch this man from the jaws of death. My arm feels wet, as the hindig presses against my arm as i try to pull him away.
“This is my catch. You will not deny me him.” She snarls. They begin walking. My light shines around, seeing where they could possibly be going.
And then I see what I can only describe as a giant venus flytrap. I panic and begin pulling backwards. We cannot afford to be trapped in that thing. Everyone knows what happens to flies in one, why can’t this numskull see? He has to be drugged, I deduce.
“Oh how the vermin struggles. Don’t worry, I’ll accommodate you after your friend.” She talks down to me as a child who can’t wait his turn.
The giant leaves swing open like a heavy wrought-iron gate. My heels dig into the ground, which seems to slow us. The flashlight slips from my hand and falls to the ground. Fuck. My mind races at what I should do. Panic hangs over me like a stink, and desperation scratches at my psych.
The weight of my revolver becomes apparent the more I become frightened and scared to become a fly in a trap being slowly digested. I grasp at it and pull the iron from the holster. The light shows simple silhouettes, and I press the barrel against the hindig’s forehead and fire.
I cannot hear anything. Just a dull ringing. The hindigs head snaps backwards, vomiting something all over Willy. We both fall backwards, and she snaps back into her leaves. The gates close. I sigh in relief. We both have escaped being eaten. I roll the guy off of me and wipe the sweat off my brow. Sitting up, I find the flashlight and shine it over to Willy.
What I see will haunt me for the rest of my life. His face is for all intents and purposes gone. His right eye is glazed over and sunk into his skull. His nose is gone, and I can see the bone of his skull. The side of his face is melted and bubbling. The lower part of his jawbone is exposed, a dull copper color in the artificial light.
The poor man tries to mumble something, but can’t make words. His tongue must be rotting, too. But he isn’t screaming in pain. Does he even know what’s going on? He coughs, a hacking wet cough. And then gurgles. The ringing in my ears is dull, but the sound of the gurgling is seared into my mind.
Here I am, alone in the dark. My attempts to save the man who saved me ultimately result in his death. Tears stream down my face, and I pull my legs up. I just want off this ride. I should have stayed in Helmuth. Atleast it would be over by now. Giggling sounds through the jungle. And I don’t even care.
The magnum rests at my side. I steal a glance at it. I would be lying if I said checking out on my own accord didn’t pass my mind at this point. But I have always held people who kill themselves as ill-disciplined cowards. But the idea burrowed into my head like a worm in damp earth on a creekbed. The pistol is cold. It’s black, casting nothing but a shadow. The laughing grows closer.
“Look, sisters. One of the rodents that soiled part of our garden.”
“What ever shall we do with him? Feed him to the trees like the others?”
“No, the mushrooms need nourishment.”
“I disagree. Let us take this one to Eaudra. Or rather, I shall. I claim his capture.”
“Should we not all take credit?”
“You wanted to feed him to the flora. Your opinion hardly carries weight now.”
I drop the gun. If this is my fate, I accept it. Looking up I see four of these red and green devil looking things. I only now just notice they have small wings. My legs feel like wet noodles as I attempt to stand. I deserve what I get for what happened to poor Willy.
“Look, he is a reasonable one. What a refreshing change of pace.”
“Perhaps. Go prick him so we can transport him.”
One of the petite demons with jungle paints all over her step forward with her spear. So they weren’t trying to kill, simply trying to incapacitate. I feel a sharp pain in my shoulder.
“…next to the other one. Yes, that will be fine.”
I’m on my knees. My wrists are bound. My fingers stretch out, cracking. My head is swimming, my ears processing sound in waves. I’m sat in front of a ceremonial looking throne, a woman lounging in it sideways. Her legs are swung over one of the armrests, arms folded. She’s wearing a long flowing black gown with golden embroidery all over it. It truly looks like Aztec runes of old. Her raven-black hued hair contrasts with tea green color of her skin. The tail is something of an anomaly. It hangs lazily over her lap, swaying. As opposed to the traditional spade-tail, it lacks the spade. Instead three large globules reside.
“What I don’t understand, human, is how can a species so fragile be so bold?” The throned demon asks. Her gaze pierces through me.
“Here I am, just a mere caretaker of this garden. And like a goat climbing where they shouldn’t be, you come here and sully it. No matter. I’ve already taken some of you and began the healing process for the land.” And with that she swings her legs over and stands grandiose before us.
She saunters down the stairs, and stops before me. She looks over besides me, and that’s when I notice I’m not alone. Beside me is another human man. I do not recognize him.
“Now, one of you shall become something of a renewable form of sustenance for me. The other, well, you’ll be a form of sustenance for something. Perhaps my plant?” She comments, pointing out what looks to be a pitcher plant with an ass on it.
I stay silent. The other starts blubbering.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Didn’t even make the decision a difficult one. Sad. Feed this one to the pitcher over there. I believe it is thirsty.” And with that, two of the lackeys drag the crying man over to the plant. They stop and release him. A head on a stem seems to swivel around and say something. The man nods, and begins to climb in on his own accord. This is a bad dream. It has to be. A soft hand grabs my chin and directs my eyes forward.
“No need to watch simple gardening. Let me get a better look at my meal ticket.” Her soft pink eyes conflict with everything, and for some reason all I can feel is anger. At her, this world, myself.
She reels backwards in disgust. She uses her sleeve to wipe my spittle off her face. And then she laughs and kneels before me once more.
“One thing I can always count on in your insignificant race is the spirit to fight. Even in defeat, you fight. We’ll see how long that lasts though.” She puts her hand before her face as if blowing me a kiss. A bubble comes forth.
I struggle and try to stand, but a hand pushes me back down. Looking up, I see the demon who speared me with a lecherous grin on her face. The bubble grows and grows. It eventually is as big as I am, and with that, she blows on it. It travels lazily forward. It’s intended for me, but for what purpose? Is this the end. I close my eyes, and wait.
And then a feeling of bliss and content rush through me. My eyes open to a world in rose colored glasses. Everything seems fine now. Before me stands the kind and gentle woman who washed my fears away. She smiles.
“Oh yes. You will provide much for me.”
And I fall into one of the most pleasant slumbers I have ever had. I’m ready for the future, and whatever it shall bring to me.