By Chef 50 Foot Ant
//It does not need to be read first, but this story takes place after the events of Humper-Monkey’s Ghost Story.
2/19th Company Area
Restricted Area, Western Europe
Christmas Season, 1988
The names have been changed to protect the participants
I woke up on the top bunk, with the usual glaze of ice on the ceiling above my head, shivering from the cold. I had to piss pretty bad, so I climbed down, careful when I put my weight on the floor. Sure as hell, a thin patina of ice coated the tile. The room was silent, dark, and lonely. The lights on my stereo system were dead, so I didn’t even bother with the light switch.
The power was out again.
I took a leak, then got dressed. Long johns underneath T-shirt, jeans, and a flannel shirt, with nice warm socks and my combat boots. Shivering, I grabbed my keys, flashlight, and knife then headed out the door, locking it behind me, and walked down toward the double doors that separated the hallway into two halves.
The hallway was as long as a city block, pitch black with just a dim glow from the emergency lights, and had ice glittering on the walls. I thumbed on my flashlight and clipped it to the pocket of my flannel so I didn’t have to bother holding onto it.
Something banged and screamed behind me.
I hunched my shoulders and pushed my hands into my pockets, ignored the low moan as I passed the laundry room and pushed my way through the double doors. A whiff of decay, rotting meat and the unmistakable subtle scent of rotting blood, was whipped away by a cold breeze, and my breathe plumed out in front of me.
My boots thudded on the tile as I headed toward the far stairs, passing by people’s rooms. People I knew, people I drank with, fought with, and worked with. People that were gone back to the States or deployed to Graf or Bremerhaven, leaving only a skeleton crew of 24 “mission essential” personnel behind.
I’d been recalled from Fulda, where Bomber, Nagle, and I had been TDY to 11 ACR for around 3 months, and denied leave.
Which was the reason I was opening the door to the main stairwell, which went 2 stories above me and 2 stories down, the last underground. A shriek sounded from upstairs followed by a low sobbing moan. I shivered and went down the flight of stairs, keeping one hand on the ice slicked wall in case I hit a patch of ice over the grip strips and went down the stairs.
Two days ago a new E-5 out of Fort Hood hadn’t listened to our warnings, and went too fast on the steps, hit a slick spot, and fell a flight of stairs. He broke his leg, a couple of ribs, and had a compound fracture of one arm, as well as knocking him cold.
And froze to death in a puddle of his own blood before anyone found him.
I pushed open the door to the CQ Area, noticing that the door to the 1st Floor Rec Room was closed, along with the day room, and of course the unisex bathroom that nobody used..s
The same bathroom that Tandy vanished out of before the building had burnt down and been rebuilt according to the same floor plan.
“Jakes?” I called out.
No answer except for the emergency light behind the desk giving it up and slowly fading out, pulsing slower and slower before finally being nothing more than a faint red glow more felt than seen.
No CQ, no ACQ, no Duty Driver, no Assistant Duty Driver, no nothing.
Just me, shivering and breathing out plumes of steam.
Curious, I walked around behind the desk and opened the log. If the clocks on the wall were right (and they were all off between 5 and 15 minutes) Jakes had answered the phones when the ammo sites called about a half hour before to let the unit know that they were all clear, but nothing else was written outside of the hourly checks from the FSTS sites.
Parkas, cold weather masks, trigger mittens, all were laying on the table against the back wall.
I dug out my keys, walked to the back of the CQ area, and opened up “The Closet”, where the breakers were and the weather readouts, and flicked the switch out of habit, getting nothing.
My flashlight revealed that all the gauges and dials were dead. Water pressure was about all we had, and the power had been out long enough that the water-heater temperature was down to about 50 F. Outside temperature was well below freezing, wind speed was above 50MPH, humidity was bad, and the barometer was going south, dropping while I was watching.
I went back out into the CQ and checked the lines. Two were dedicated lines, one to V Corps, the other to the Rangers. The other four lines were standard phone lines, used to make normal calls. The other two lines were only for emergencies.
All but one of them were dead, nothing but an echoing silence. The dead one gave a steady crackling hiss.
I heard a low chuckle behind me and the door to The Closet slammed shut, making me jump.
I dug out the morning report and crosschecked the names with room numbers in the alert roster. Only 13 of us in the barracks, the rest either lived off post or in on post housing. From the sheet, Jakes was the highest ranking according to the morning report from the day before, with me, Bomber, and Nagle coming in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th respectively.
Opening the rest of the drawers didn’t turn up the keys, the vehicle dispatch, nothing that should have been there.
I checked the log again. Nothing about the Duty Driver or the ADD having to go somewhere. No emergencies. Only standard “All reports logged” and times, along with 1LT Jackson calling in that he was heading to Frankfurt but no reason why 1st Platoon’s platoon leader was leaving us without an officer against SOP.
But then, LT Jackson had only gotten to the unit two months before, and in the week I’d been back to the unit I’d heard him wax poetically about how everything that had happened was either bullshit or how if he’d been here when everything went up in flames things would have turned out differently.
I sat down, lit a cigarette, and turned the chair so I could see the door outside, the double doors to the hallway, and the stairwell door, plus I could see the clocks if I just turned my head instead of turning all the way around.
I’ll give them 15 minutes…
It was almost 2 A.M.
Somewhere four men were wandering around.
Had they gone outside? Without their cold weather gear and in the weather that the gauges were reporting outside, they would be dead within minutes. When the hypothermia kicked in, they’d get confused and who knows how far they’d wander.
If they went outside, we’d find them in the spring, if ever.
The 15 minutes went by and I opened the logbook, took a piece of paper out of the drawer, and wrote that I’d be back, I was checking the barracks, and if anyone needed anything, I’d be back before 3AM.
I glanced outside, through the two sets of double doors, and saw nothing but white.
I hated the barracks. I begged, bribed, and threatened to get put on TDY or unit support rather than be back in the barracks. Nagle, Bomber, and I had managed to wheedle our way into field exercises for over 9 months, only returning to the unit for an afternoon or maybe a weekend here and there. If I wasn’t at a field exercise or TDY, I preferred to stay out at the FSTS and away from the unit.
The shriek that echoed down the hallway reminded me why I’d rather be training C-DAT’s how to inspect the APDSFSDU-T’s and watching them to make sure they didn’t lick them or something.
I used my key to open up the dayroom, the rec-room, to find nobody inside. In the day room the TV was on, displaying only static, and through the windows I could see nothing but swirling white, with faint hints of something dark moving out there that I told myself was just my imagination.
Taking a few deep breaths I went in and checked the bathroom.
It was ice cold inside, the sinks and stalls still looking like nobody had ever used them. There was dust on the sinks, and the floor tile was dull with no black streaks from soldier’s boots on them. Nobody had been in there for weeks, months, maybe not since the building was built.
Another scream sounded out from behind me and I shivered and headed out of the bathroom, ashamed that I was shivering from more than the cold after being in that bathroom.
The last place anyone had seen Tandy before ARTEP…
I half expected to see his shaving kit still open on the sink.
The double doors between the CQ area and the first half of the ground floor hallway screamed when I pushed my way through them, my flashlight beam dancing around, sparkling on the frost that covered the walls. My breath plumed out in front of me as I walked down the hallway, my boots thudding. SGT Swope had slipped on ice in the hallway a week ago and broken her elbow.
I stopped outside Nagle’s room and knocked on the door. It took a few minutes and a few more knocks, but Nagle answered, wrapped in a nightgown, fuzzy robe and a blanket with her fuzzy bunny slippers, wearing a look that combined irritation and sleepiness.
“What the fuck do you want, Ant?” She snarled/yawned. “Go beat off, I’m sleeping.”
“CQ crew is gone, can’t find them, power’s down.” I told her.
“Go away, don’t care.” She answered, and went to slam her door, but instead bounced it off my boot.
“Get dressed, Nancy, I’m gonna grab Bomber.” I smiled and held up my keyring, “Don’t make me come in there.”
She grumbled behind me as I walked off and she closed the door.
Through the double doors, take a left, up a flight of stairs, take another left, and head toward the end of the hallway.
Ignore the screams. Ignore the sobs. Ignore the cold chill down the back. Ignore the whiff of burning flesh and jet fuel.
God, I want a drink.
I didn’t bother knocking on Bomber’s door, I just used my key and walked in.
For some reason when keys were handed out (I came back after everyone else had moved into the barracks) they’d handed me a key which turned out to be a master key. You named it in the barracks, my key opened it if it wasn’t a secure area with a heavy security door and locks. I should have turned it in, I should have reported it, but for some reason, I kept it.
Bomber was curled up under his blankets, so I just grabbed the edge and whipped them off.
2/19th was required to be extreme cold weather survival certified by order of the post commander. Before you could move into the barracks, you had to attend the class. You learned how to survive in the cold, and one of the most important parts was how you sleep. While a person is sleeping they have a tendency to sweat. That sweat can create ice between the blanket layers, in the sleeping bag, or on top of your blanket/fart sack, so you had to sleep a simple way.
And Bomber sucking his thumb, like always.
“Get the hell up, you Texas retard!” I yelled at him, throwing the blankets back on top of him in order to spare my eyes any more full view of Texas.
He came awake pretty quick and I filled him in on what I had and hadn’t seen. He cursed, both at the situation and me, but he didn’t refuse to come with me, just bitched and called me a chickenshit for not doing it all by myself.
While he dressed I stood and looked out the window. It was nothing but swirling thick white. If it wasn’t dumping snow on main post already, it was going to smash the fuck out of them within a few hours and dump a few feet on them. The ski resort would be thrilled with all the powder.
We were cut off and isolated.
Nagle was waiting for us at the CQ Area, her flashlight in her hand, picking up the phones, listening, and slamming them down.
“How the fuck did our dedicated line go down?” She asked.
The dedicated lines ran to main post, the cables wrapped in foam and in pipes that were then buried into the ground. By all rights, there should have been nothing short of a nuclear weapon able to knock them out, and then only if the line itself got damaged by the burst.
It was 0230, the log book was unchanged, the cold weather gear was still there, and the clocks were still ticking away. The amount of time they were all off had shifted, but that was normal. Rumor control said that no two clocks in barracks kept the same time.
“What do we do, Ant?” Bomber asked, rubbing his hands together. All of us were in jackets (Bomber and I wore fleece lined Levi jackets, Nagle wore a goosedown jacket), but it was getting colder in the barracks and the chill was starting to soak into our bones.
“First thing first, we see if we can get the generators fired up.”
Straight out of the handbook.
We hit the middle stairwell and went down to the basement, the darkness seeming to get thicker as we went. My flashlight started to dim, the beam getting more and more yellow the further down the steps we went. Our footsteps sounded muffled, and the wind had managed to slither into the stairwell and pluck at us with icy fingers.
The generator room was down in what used to be the sub-basement, which we had to access by going into the furnace/water heater room.
I unlocked the door, and my flashlight went dead. Bomber and Nagle waited for me to switch the batteries in my flashlight (Never go anywhere in the building without extra batteries, always store the batteries wrapped in paper and then wrapped with tinfoil) before we opened the door.
The massive hot water heaters sat silently against one wall, the two furnaces were silent, the oil tanks squatted between the water heaters and the furnace. The room felt claustrophobic despite the size, all bare unpainted concrete. Pallets of covered war-stock lined the far side of the room, and the door to the stairwell to the sub-basement was at the halfway point, across the room from the oil tanks.
“We should have stayed in Fulda.” Nagle bitched. “I’m so cold my fucking nipples are going to fall off.”
I grinned at her, and went in. We stopped by the switch boxes and moved the big handle switches from external power to internal, bitched for a few minutes about how cold it was, then walked over to the door, quickly unlocking it. When I hauled the door opened, the smell washed over us.
The sub-basement always smelled like there was something dead down there, no matter how much time had passed, no matter how well it was searched with nothing found, it always smelled like death.
We went down the stairs, and I unlocked the door to the generator room, ignoring the other three doors in the short hallway. All of them contained additional war stocks for use in the barracks.
According to the inventory sheets and rumor control, the generator room contained four 5K generators and two 60K generators, 6 fuel tanks were outside the building, two down in the sub-basement. Like the oil tanks, they were inside the building to prevent slurry or freezing in the pipes or lines. The generator room, like the three other rooms, could be accessed by the large hallway that ran behind them.
The barracks sat on a hill, which meant that the ramp from the hallway to the doors that opened out to the surface was fairly gentle of an incline. The war stocks and the generators had been moved in through the doors, into the hallways, then into the correct rooms via large double doors at the far side of the room. I’d never seen them, but I’d checked the door a few times on CQ to make sure it was still locked. You just checked it, if it was locked, you signed off on the sheet by the door, if it was unlocked, you locked it and noted it on the sheet before signing off.
“We’ll fire up the generators, then sweep the barracks and see if we can find Jakes and the others.” I said. Bomber grunted and Nagle just nodded.
I pulled open the door to the generator room, already thinking about what order I’d need to fire them up. Looking forward to then getting the water heaters and furnaces running. My brain ticked through that the water heaters needed to be priority, since living areas were heated via radiators, and the oil furnaces would be used to warm up the rest of the big ass building. At the rate the temperature was dropping, we’d need to wake everyone up, or at least check on them, and make sure we didn’t have any cold weather casualties.
I flashed my light in while thinking over the steps I’d need to take.
The cables that led into the ceiling or walls glimmered, black under the frost. The fuel tanks sat solidly, full of diesel fuel, coated in frost. The doors looked like they were frozen shut. The chain looked like it had been coated with pixie dust by tinkerbell.
And no generators.
The smell of decay rolled over the three of us.
“What the fuck?” Bomber said.
A scream ripped down the stairwell.
“I hate this fucking place!” I yelled, staring at the mostly empty room.
“Where are the fucking generators?” Nagle asked, stepping into the room and looking around. “There’s supposed to be generators in here.”
“Goddamn black market assholes.” Bomber grumbled, then turned and looked at me. “What’s the plan, smart guy?”
I looked at the empty room, wondering where the hell all that sheer weight of metal could have gone. You needed a goddamn forklift to move 5K generators, a pallet jack at the very least. “I have no idea.” I admitted, walking in and stopping next to the fuel tanks. Out of curiosity I knocked on them.
Nagle checked the lock on the chains on the door that led to the access hallway, pulling on it for moment. Locked. I bent down and took a look at the hoses that led from both the pipes on the walls and the fuel tanks.
Not a single scratch or nick on the copper nipple.
I sniffed them, but all I smelled was the ever present smell of decay.
“We’re not in trouble that bad.” Bomber said from the darkness behind me. The dumbass hadn’t brought a flashlight with him and Nagle was panning hers over the ceiling, pointing out icicles, some of them almost a foot long.
“Yeah, I heard freezing to death isn’t that bad of a way to go.” Nagle sneered.
“He’s right.” I told her, standing up and shivering again. “The furnaces and water heater are all oil fired. We’ll get them running and then figure out what to do.”
“My thought exactly.” Bomber grinned. “Glad to hear you agree with my plan.” I made a face. Typical Bomber.
We headed back up the stairs after closing the generator room door. The cavernous basement swallowed our lights, and I could almost feel the darkness pressing on us, and for some reason I became very aware of the building squatting over us. A building that had been built by the lowest bidder.
A building that almost exactly followed the floor plan of a barracks that had tried its damnedest to kill me and 19 other people, including my older brother. A building that had already been found to have serious construction faults.
“Fuck, these things are electrically fired.” Bomber said after taking the panel off the first massive water heater and looking inside with my flashlight. “You press the button and hold it till the burners light up and the fans kick on.”
“We’ll have to do it the hard way.” I said, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it real quick. I knelt down and looked inside, pointing out to Bomber where to shine the light. The data sheet on the water heater was still on the inside of the panel and I stared at it for a long time, memorizing parts of it.
“Well?” Nagle asked. She was shining her light in steady sweeps across the darkness and I could hear her teeth chattering. Bomber was knocking on the oil tanks and getting back dull thumps. Full. Thank God.
“It needs electrical, we’re going to have to do this the hard way.” I said, standing back up and taking my flashlight back from Bomber. I panned it across the wall and then wiggled between the two heaters so I could see behind them.
A scream echoed through the basement, raising goosebumps on my arms. I was suddenly very aware that I was pinned between and slightly behind a water heater that probably weighed about two tons. Without water.
“What the fuck does that mean?” Nagle snarled. She was in a bad mood, cold, tired, and if she was anything like me, a little scared.
“We need to find a generator.” I told her, then kicked my boot. “Bomber, pull me out.”
“Hey, Ant, in case you didn’t notice, the generators are gone.” She said as Bomber grabbed my ankles and pulled me out from between the hulking metal behemoths.
“In the generator room, yeah.” Bomber said, and I nodded. “Let’s check the inventory sheets.”
We went to each tarp covered stack, pulling the inventory sheets out the clear plastic envelopes and quickly scanned them.
Body bags. Uniforms. Boots. Sleeping bags. TA-50. Tools. All broken down by platoon and squad. Everything we’d need to fight when the Soviets rolled into the Fulda Gap.
Except fucking generators.
“What about the war stocks rooms?” Nagle asked when we finished. It was getting colder, even down in the basement, which meant that it had to be colder than a witch’s ass on a brass broomstick in the rest of the barracks.
“No key.” I answered. “Jakes has the keys, they weren’t in the CQ Area.”
“How many of us are left in the barracks?” Bomber asked, shivering. All of our teeth were chattering and I started walking toward the stairwell access.
“CQ is all from the barracks tonight. That leaves ten people we need to find if we count them. If we don’t, we need to find six.” I answered, remembering the morning report. “That’s if nobody else is missing.” I finished lamely.
“Yeah. If.” Bomber agreed, his normal Texas cheer missing.
In the stairwell both Nagle’s and my flashlight cut out, leaving us in darkness. A whispering noise surrounded us, and the faint sound of scratching could be heard. A sobbing moan drifted through the stairwell, and I heard either Nagle or Bomber inhale sharply.
I suddenly had to piss really badly.
I could hear Nagle unscrewing her flashlight and I did the same, almost racing her to get it open and drop in new batteries. I stripped the tinfoil and paper off them and dropped them in, then sighed with relief when it lit back up.
I still remembered my flashlight batteries cutting out and new batteries not getting my flashlight restarted one fateful night.
We started up the stairs, reached the mid-way landing, turned to go up, and stopped in our tracks, staring.
I just stared, mouth open.
Dark red had oozed from the edge of the ceiling that was formed by the 2nd floor landing, running down the wall next to the 1st floor door, and freezing solid. Our flashlights glittered off the frost that covered it, and my brain just refused to process what I was seeing.
Bomber moved before I did, rushing up the stairs, heedless of the ice on the steps, and slamming his shoulder against the door. I was right on his heels, and could feel and hear Nagle right after me. Nagle tripped me as we went through, and we both went down on the floor, dragging Bomber with us. I kicked at the door wildly until it slammed shut and then scrambled backwards until my back hit the wall. I knew my eyes were wild, and I was shaking from more than the cold.
“What the fuck was that!” Nagle yelled.
“How the fuck should I know?” I yelled back.
“It was fucking blood! Oh fuck, it was fucking blood!” Bomber yelled, jumping up.
“CQ Area!” I yelled, scrambling to my feet.
All three of us blew through the mid-way doors, pounded down the hallway at a dead run, and burst through the doors to the CQ Area and came skidding to a halt.
It was empty, and we looked at each other and laughed nervously for a moment. A faint sobbing noise sobered us really quickly. We went around the counter and back to the drawers.
While Bomber jotted down the numbers of the occupied rooms, I went into The Closet and checked the gauges.
Temperature had dropped by 5 degrees.
Wind speed was gusting up to 60 mph.
When I came out of The Closet Nagle held up the V Corps line and shook her head.
“Damn it.” I cursed. I pointed at the double doors. “We’re getting a hell of a storm out there. Nobody’s coming to fucking save us.”
Bomber grinned at me.
“What’s so fucking funny?” Nagle asked.
“At least I got to fuck a Bigfoot.” He said.
I couldn’t help it, I laughed, and so did Nagle.
“All right, let’s go get everyone else.” I said. “How many on the first floor?”
“Nagle. That’s it.” Bomber said.
“Everyone but James and Tanner.” He told me. “They were on CQ.”
“I’m not going back in that stairwell.” Nagle said.
“You wanna stay here by yourself?” I asked.
“Let’s take this stairwell.” Bomber suggested, and we both nodded.
“Third floor first.” I said, rummaging around in another drawer and coming up with a heavy duty flashlight. One of the ones with the big square batteries. I clicked it off and on, then slapped it a few times. We got lucky, it lit.
Bomber opened the door and we shined our flashlights in. No blood on the wall, but there was still thick ice. We tromped up the stairs to the third floor and pushed out into the hallway. The office space to our right was empty, but at Nagle’s suggestion we swept through it real quick, using my key to open the doors.
We knocked on Tanner’s door first, and got no answer. After trying twice more I unlocked the door and we went in.
It was empty.
I relocked the door and we headed down to Jakes’ room, where we repeated the process.
When I opened the door the wind hit us in the face, the temperature in the hallway dropping. I could see that his window was open, letting in the snow and the wind. Cursing we went in, shut his window, and looked around.
We got luckier on the second floor.
Daniels and Hewitt shared a room, Hewitt answered the door after I banged on it a couple of times.
“What the hell’s going on? It’s fucking freezing in here.” He said. He was dressed in PT sweats.
“Furnace and water heater are off, and we’ve lost power.” Bomber said. “Daniels in there?”
“Yeah. Why are you banging on my door?”
“I’ll tell you later. Just stay in your room, OK?” I said.
“You woke me up for that shit?”
“I’m serious. Don’t go anywhere just yet, but wake up Daniels and get dressed.” I told him.
“Why?” He asked.
“I’m taking a head count, then we’re going to figure out what to do.” I told him.
“You’re an asshole.” He answered, and slammed the door. I was tempted to kick in his door and beat his ungrateful ass.
Hernandez answered his door, wrapped in his blanket. When I told him to get dressed and wait for me in his room, he nodded and shut the door.
Jacobs and Lewis both did the same.
Carter didn’t answer, so I unlocked the door and we went in.
He was curled up in his bed, pale in our flashlight beams, and his earlobes and the tip of his nose had a blackish blue tint.
“Shit.” Bomber said, reaching down and shaking him. “He’s ice fucking cold.”
“Hold our flashlights, Nagle.” I said, handing mine to her. Bomber did the same, moving down to Carter’s feet. “Ready?” I asked. Bomber nodded, and we pulled the sheet out from under the mattress and got a good grip on it.
On three we lifted him up, and had Nagle lead the way back to Lewis’ room, since it was closer.
“Is he dead?” Lewis asked as soon as he opened the door.
“Not yet.” Bomber answered. Lewis nodded and stepped aside so we could get in the room. We staggered over to the bed that wasn’t a bunkbed set and set him down on it, sheet, blankets, and all.
“Get under the covers with him, I’ll pile your blankets on top of you.” Nagle said while Bomber and I stepped back.
Lewis had been to arctic survival just like us, and knew that this was pretty much the only chance Carter had. Bomber and I took back the flashlights, and I took Nagles, then she went over and gathered up all the blankets off the other two beds. By the time she finished Lewis had climbed under the covers with Carter and wrapped his arms around the other man.
Nagle piled the blankets on both of them, wet her finger, and held it in front of Carter’s nose.
“Still alive.” She said.
“Wait here, we’ll be back.” Bomber said.
“He’s fucking freezing,” Lewis told us, and shivered under the covers.
“Try to keep him alive, man,” I told them. “We’re going back down to the CQ Area.”
We left Lewis’ room and at Bomber’s suggestion we went backwards, telling everyone to get their blankets and wait in Lewis’ room, Room 208, and waited till everyone agreed.
Once everyone started moving, we went up to the 4th floor, and I unlocked each room. A quick look see in the bathroom of each room and the living area, we’d leave, lock the door, and move to the next one.
It was getting colder by the minute.
As we passed by the second floor middle stairwell I stopped.
“I gotta know.” I said. Nagle nodded, her face pale in the backwash from the flashlights.
I pushed open the door, and then slammed it shut.
The entire landing was covered in frozen red.
“Oh fuck.” Bomber breathed.
We hurried on, finishing the sweep of the second floor and moving down to the first floor. Nagle checked the female’s rooms.
Finally we got to the doors that opened up into the CQ Area and pushed them open.
Nagle screamed when our flashlight beams dimly lit up the room.
Both sets of double doors were open. The wind was howling and snow was blowing through the doors. The doors to the Dayroom were open, and I could tell by the way the wind tore through the CQ area that the windows were either open or shattered. There was already a couple inches of snow on the tile and the wind kept blowing snow into the room.
And there was a snowman built in the middle of the room.
It wore a BDU softcap, had a broken OD green flashlight, the battery container only, creating a jagged ended nose, and its eyes and slash of a mouth were chrome. Its arms were two halves of a broken mop, and the hair underneath the softcap was a mophead. A knife handle stuck out of its round chest, as if someone had stabbed it in the chest.
I stepped forward and looked closer at the eyes, aware that I was in the middle of the room, that there was nothing between me and the outside on my right, nothing but the dayroom chairs between me and a twenty foot drop to the ground on my left. I shined my flashlight at the eyes and leaned in to check.
They were chrome with black edging.
Dogtags with rubber silencers on them.
From where I’d left them hanging in the bathroom in my room.
The mouth was a broken off knife blade.
The hilt in the chest matched the blade. A hilt I recognized.
One of the knives out of my desk.
The red emergency light clicked on, turning the snow crimson.
And the snowman bloody.
Outside, in the snow, came another scream. A long, drawn out scream.
The red emergency light strobed for a second and cut out.
With a snarl I plucked my dogtags out of the snowman’s face, then kicked it down, cursing and snarling the whole time. I was vaguely aware that I was hovering on the edge of losing control, that I was wavering between panic and going apeshit. I could smell jet fuel and burning bodies, I could hear screaming, and the scars across my back had ignited, my brain registering the freezing wind howling around me as my shirt charring on my back.
“I’ll fucking kill you!” I screamed, turning and taking a step toward the door. Before I could take the second step Bomber had me around the neck, pulling me back in a full nelson while Nagle moved in front of me, grabbing my face in her hands.
“Don’t! Don’t go out there! Please, Ant, calm down!” She said. Suddenly she leaned forward and kissed me, the taste of her lips, the feel of her tongue darting into my mouth, the pressure of her mouth against mine, suddenly bringing me back to reality.
It’s what somebody wants… slithered through my brain.
I relaxed, and Bomber slowly let me go. I’d dropped my flashlight in the snow, and when Bomber let me go, I picked it up slowly, anger still making my head pound.
“What the fuck is going on?” Nagle asked, walking over to the outer doors and kicking the chocks up so she could close them.
Beyond her, in the snow, dark shapes moved around just beyond the reach of my flashlight, as if they were edging toward her but unwilling to brave the light.
Four shadows… my mind insisted.
Once the doors shut, the wind cut down, and Bomber went into the day room to shut the windows in there while Nagle shut the inner doors.
I simply stood there, next to the ruined snowman, shaking with the after effects of too much adrenaline. Whoever had done this had been in my room, had gone through my stuff, and had done this knowing I’d find it.
“We’ve got a psycho.” I said. Nagle and Bomber turned and looked at me.
“Shit.” Bomber said, looking around the CQ area, panning his flashlight. Snow was thick on the floor, wind had scattered the paper from the bulletin board everywhere. He walked behind the desk and stopped. When I shined the light on him his face was bloodless.
“What?” Nagle asked.
Bomber wordlessly held up the phone receiver, the black plastic looking unclean in his hand somehow.
Three inches of curled cord dangled from the receiver.
“What about the log?” I asked.
“What do we do?” I asked. My brain was whirring, running through the logic chains and permutations.
The majority of the decision trees ended up with all of us dead.
“I don’t know, Ant. Punt?” Bomber came back around the counter and stood next to me. Nagle was on the other side of me, keeping her flashlight on the doors of the hallway and the rec-room.
And the bathroom.
“We need to get back to the others, we’ll have to form up in Lewis’ room, I don’t want to move Carter.” Nagle said. I nodded wordlessly, trying to figure out our next move.
No matter what we did, we were in danger.
Roll the dice or play it safe?
“Roger that.” I said.
Bomber led the way, through the doors, the wind shrieking and the door hinges screaming in protest. Our shoes left snow in the hallway as we walked in silence down the hallway.
“Do we tell them?” Bomber asked suddenly, breaking the eerie quiet.
“I don’t know. This is way above my pay grade.” I answered.
“We need to tell them. There’s a psycho loose.” Nagle added.
“Except for one problem,” I added as we pushed through the second set of doors. I started to reach for the door handle to the middle stairwell and pulled back with a hiss.
“What’s that?” Bomber asked. All three of us stood at the door to the middle stairwell.
Above us, in the darkness, the landing was coated with red ice. On the other side of the door the wall was coated with the same.
“One of them might be the psycho,” I told them.
“Shit.” Nagle summed it up.
Bomber nodded, and wordlessly we all started walking to the end stairwell rather than take the middle stairwell.
I led the way, checking up with my flashlight. Nagle came in next, flashing her light down the stairwell, leaning over and looking all the way to the bottom. Bomber closed the door behind him and we all stood for a long moment in the stairwell. After a few moments of silence, broken by a sobbing scream from upstairs, we began plodding up the steps to the second floor.
The door opened with a shriek that echoed down the hallway, and Hewitt popped his head out the door.
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on yet?” he asked.
“Tell Daniels that we’re forming up in Lewis’ room, 245.” I told him. “Bring all your blankets.”
“Fuck you, tell me what’s going on.” He answered. I could smell the booze on his breath.
“Stay in your room and freeze to fucking death then.” I snarled back, moving past him.
Jacobs answered his door right away, and asked us to wait for him while he grabbed all the blankets in his room. He had 2 other room mates, both of whom had gone back to CONUS for Christmas, and he grabbed their blankets too.
Hernandez had more than just blankets, he’d grabbed his sleeping bag and his room mates sleeping bag.
“I busted the locks on their wall lockers.” He admitted.
“Good man.” Bomber said, taking one of the sleeping bags. “Good thinking.”
We all walked down the hallway. Outside the wind was howling, inside moans and screams echoed through the dark hallways.
I unlocked the door to Lewis’ room with my key and we all went in.
I was half afraid that the room would be empty except for Carter’s corpse.
“Lewis?” I asked into the darkness.
“I’m here, Ant.” I almost wept at the sound of his voice.
“How’s Carter?” I asked, moving further into the room. The others followed me.
“He’s shivering.” Lewis answered. “I think he’ll make it.”
“Thank God.” Nagle breathed.
“We’re going to form up in here, I’ll explain when everyone gets here.” I said. Nagle walked over and sat on one of the empty beds, taking a blanket offered by Jacobs with a wan smile and wrapping it around herself.
The temperature in the barracks was still dropping.
I was almost ready to go down to their room and drag them out when Hewitt and Daniels showed up. Hewitt wasn’t carrying anything, but Daniels had blankets in his arms, including the quilt he usually kept on his bed.
“What the fuck is going on, Ant?” Hewitt asked.
“I don’t know.” I admitted.
“Someone needs to go down and start the generators.” Lewis said.
Nagle barked a harsh laugh and held up her hand when everyone looked at her. “Sorry, it’s just that that ain’t happening.”
“What do you mean?” Hewitt again with the nasty tone. I caught myself looking at his hands.
They were clean.
“The generators are gone.” Bomber answered. “I don’t think they were ever there, but even if they were, someone stole them.”
“Bullshit.” Hewitt snarled. “You three are full of shit.”
“Then go check, high speed.” I snarled back.
I’d hated Hewitt since he’d gotten there in June. He was a nasty mouthed fucking bigot who talked shit about people behind their backs while being all nice to them in person. During REFORGER he’d taken my Walkman from under my pillow and took it out to guard duty with him, and I caught him putting it back with dead batteries.
“I don’t need to to know you’re fucking lying.” He sneered.
“Call me a liar again.” I snarled, taking a step toward him. My muscles were still thrumming with the adrenaline from that fucking snowman, and my frustration and fear had built up into a temple throbbing rage.
“You’re a fucking liar, Ant.” He sneered, “What are you going…”
Dropping my flashlight I hit him while his mouth was open, catching him right on the lower part of the jaw, and I felt it go under my knuckles. He started to spin with the blow, but I wasn’t done with him. I put my left into his stomach, folding him up, and drove a knee into his face. Everything went red as I went with him down to the floor in the darkness.
Bomber and Hernandez drug me off him. I was shouting that I’d beat his ass for that goddamn snowman bullshit and everyone was staring.
Lewis was sitting up, and it was obvious that both he and Carter were naked under all the blankets.
Eyes went from me to Lewis.
“Lewis… why are you and Carter naked?” Daniels asked. Nagle was kneeling down next to Hewitt, checking his pulse.
“Hypothermia.” He said. “Gotta warm him up or he’s going to die.” He laid back down and pulled the blankets back over the two of them.
“Oh.” Daniels said, then turned to me. “What snowman?”
I filled them in on what we’d seen so far.
Hewitt woke up during the recounting, and his glare told me that he didn’t think it was over. I hoped not. I wanted to beat on the racist cocksucker some more.
“Blood? No fucking way.” Jacobs protested.
“Go look.” Nagle said.
Jacobs borrowed Nagle’s flashlight went out the door, and I locked it behind him.
Less than five minutes later he was hammering on the door. I opened it up and he rushed into the room, his face pale.
“There’s fucking blood everywhere!” He half yelled.
“No shit, Sherlock.” Bomber answered.
We filled them in on the rest, including the snowman. Thankfully Bomber omitted the part where I almost went charging out into the snow.
There was a loud crash outside the room, and all of us jumped.
“It’s getting cold as fuck in here.” Hernandez said. “We’ve got to do something.”
“I’ve got a plan.” I said, and everyone turned to look at me.
“Bomber, Nagle and I are going to go out there.” I said.
Everyone stared at me.
Outside the door to the room there was a long drawn out scream.
Bomber, Nagle and I walked down the hallway, only my flashlight leading the way. Nagle and Bomber had given theirs to the few people left in the unit that were all gathered in Lewis’ room. The barracks creaked and groaned around us, and a steady slamming noise could be heard coming from somewhere in the building.
Frost glittered on the walls and floor, with patches of ice here and there. When we pushed the midpoint doors open there was a crack of breaking ice and the swirl of wind around our legs. Once again I caught the odor of something dead and rotting.
“Someone’s opened some more windows.” Nagle said when we paused on the other side of the doors. Upstairs there was a scream of agreement that floated down the stairwell behind us.
“Who do you think it is?” I asked.
“If it’s someone from the unit, it has to be either the guys from CQ or someone from the unit that we didn’t know was back.” Bomber said, rubbing his hands together. “Kee-Rist, it’s cold.”
We kept walking toward my room, and I pulled my keyring out of my pocket. We stopped in front of my door. We’d agreed to grab the extreme cold weather gear out of our rooms before we followed through with my plan. A plan that held a little bit more than a trace of desperation. Sadly, it was pretty much our only hope, and it carried more than a little bit of risk.
I reached out, put my hand on the handle of my door, and reached forward with my key.
And my door fell inward, pivoting in my hand and smashing me across the shins, knocking me down and taking Nagle with me. I laid there for a moment, a little stunned by the fall, bouncing my head off the ice covered tile, and the fact that my door had just fallen the fuck off!
Bomber panned the light into my room as I looked up, and my heart sank.
My roommates and my wall lockers were all open, the doors hanging half off the hinges. Our TA-50 scattered around, down stuffing blowing out of the room and into the hallway. My desk drawers were yanked out, the three 3-drawer chests broken, my stereo and computer smashed.
My windows open.
“Someone kicked open your door,” Bomber said as Nagle and I got to our feet.
We went in and looked around. My blankets were ruined, the quilt my grandmother made me shredded, the cold weather gear was hanging from the end of the bunk bed, sliced down the back and stuffing pulled out, and my longjohns tied into a noose and thrown over the chair in front of the desk.
My Guns N’ Roses poster was shredded on the wall, my award letters torn off the wall and laying on the snow dusted floor, and my poor Amiga-500 was shattered in front of the dented refrigerator. It looked like someone had taken my typewriter and used it to beat to death the rest of the electronics in the room. My Amiga monitor and my roommate’s television were smashed and set on the beds, the mattresses torn down the middle and the stuffing ripped out. Ice glittered where water had been poured on the beds.
To top it off, all my roommates and my clothing was piled in the middle of the room and was nothing more than a mass of ice and cloth. Someone had poured water on the clothing or soaked it in the shower before throwing it in a pile in the middle of my room.
“I think someone doesn’t like you.” Bomber finished, no trace of his usual good humor and his Texas accent thick enough to smother someone. Nagle was moving through the room, staying in the beam of the flashlight, poking around in the wreckage that not too long before had been my room.
“Ya think?” I asked. Someone had even cut the fingers off my black gloves and torn up my trigger mittens. And then left them on my desk, a chunk of ice, to mock me.
My knives were broken, the hilts and the blades laid out nice and neat on my dresser. My Zippo lighter collection was destroyed, the lighters pulled apart and then crushed and then set up nice and neat on the dresser, next to the knives. 3.5 and 5.25 floppies were either broken and scattered around or crumpled up and thrown about.
My alarm clock was smashed and then set back upright on my roommates dresser, the hands pointing at midnight.
Everything was gone. Everything I owned, everything my roommates owned, was destroyed.
All three bottles of Wild Turkey had been broken and left on my bunk.
“Let’s try my room.” Bomber suggested after a few minutes. I nodded mutely, trying to figure out who had done it and why, and coming up blank.
We all walked the few doors down to his room. We paused for a moment, listening the banging noise from inside, beyond the door.
Bomber gave me the smile that he usually got right before he clocked someone in the face. I smiled back and drew my knife from the sheathe on my belt.
He turned the handle, and I held up three fingers, jerked my hand and folded one, did it again, then finally made a fist. With a shout he threw open the door and both of us charged into the room.
Bomber’s windows were open, wind whipping snow in.
His wall lockers were open, the doors banging back and forth.
The mattresses on the bunks were bare. His wall lockers empty, even the one with his civilian clothing. His walls were bare. His room mates’ lockers were empty. His TV was gone. Even his rodeo buckles were gone off the walls.
His room was bare. Only the desk, the dressers, and the beds.
No three drawer chests, no desk drawers, no dresser drawers, even his bathroom was stripped bare.
It was if nobody lived there.
“My room…” Nagle said, and we looked at each other.
Without bothering to search Bomber’s room we hurried to the stairwell, jogging in our haste to get there before whoever had ripped Bomber and my room to shit got to hers.
Bomber went first, banging through the door and heading for the steps, flashlight casting wild shadows on the walls.
And slipped on the first step.
Bomber yelled and went face first down the stairs, bringing his arms up over his head as he pitched forward into the darkness, the flashlight flying from his hand.
I thought he’d slipped on the ice and lunged forward to grab him.
And felt my foot go out from under me right at the edge of the steps.
I windmilled, reaching out and grabbing the steps going up and swinging hard against the banister. Nagle screamed Bomber’s name. Bomber cursed as he bounced off the steps.
My knife fell between the stairs, vanishing into the darkness with a metallic clatter.
I managed to keep from going headfirst down the stairs, holding onto the slick steps and breathing hard. Nagle had grabbed my jacket and was pulling me toward her, an action I was grateful for as I scrabbled for a toehold. It took a couple seconds, but she managed to get me back onto the landing.
Bomber was groaning on the halfway landing, so we knew he was alive.
Nagle bent down and ran a hand over the edge of the landing, then reached down and felt the first step.
“They’re coated with ice. Thick ice.” She told me.
“I’m fine, thanks for asking.” Bomber groaned. “Assholes.”
Nagle and I moved down next to him, moving slowly. The flashlight had landed on the landing, casting bizarre shadows in the stairwell.
Above us there was another scream, almost mocking what had just happened.
Bomber had slammed into a mop bucket that hadn’t been there the last time we had been on the steps and the sight of it told us that the ice on the steps wasn’t an accident, that someone was supposed to go down the stairs and probably break their neck.
Or get knocked out or injured bad enough they couldn’t move and then freeze to death.
“You alive, Texas?” I asked him, squatting down next to him and rubbing his shoulder.
“Yeah, no worse than a bull ride.” He said, sitting up.
“I’m going after my knife.” I told them, scooping up the flashlight.
Bomber nodded, and Nagle looked doubtful, but she didn’t argue.
I looked down the steps, into the darkness, and had a sudden change of heart.
Someone had moved from fucking with us to setting traps.
What was down there in the darkness?
“Fuck the knife.” I said, helping Bomber up.
“No, we go after it.” He said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Right now we’re unarmed, and I don’t think we want someone running around with a knife that the whole company knows is yours.” Nagle answered before Bomber could say anything. “We need your knife.”
I nodded, and together we walked the flight and a half of stairs, taking it slow and shining the flashlight on the steps to watch for any more traps.
At the bottom of the stairs we found my knife, laying on the floor, the matte black Gerber blade waiting patiently for me to find it.
That wasn’t what had our attention.
The door to the orderly room area was wedged open, and in the light of the flashlight we could see down the short hallway to the door that led outside.
It was wide open to the snowy night.
Staring at the door and the hallway, I reached down and felt around till I got ahold of the knife and slowly straightened up.
Footsteps were outlined in snow.
Footprints that came from outside and stopped halfway to the stairwell door.
Nagle covered her mouth, her eyes wide, and she backed up till she hit the steps and fell on her ass. Bomber was staring at the footprints, his mouth working silently. The wind went from swirling in the entryway to howling up the stairwell a split second after glass shattered high above us.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the footprints.
“No. No no no nonononononono…” Nagle moaned.
“It can’t be…” Bomber whispered, barely audible over the wind.
“Don’t.” I pleaded. “Don’t say his name.”
I knew, right then, who was fucking with us. Who was stalking each of us. Who had killed the four men on CQ. Who had nearly frozen Carter to death.
Carter, the only person still in the entire barracks who had been part of the First Twenty.
Except for me.
I turned to tell them something, anything, to try to deny what the snow outlined footprints told us when we heard it.
Low, bubbling laughter.
I’d read about evil, heard about it from fire and brimstone preachers in my youth, been told I was evil by my mother, and thought I’d seen the aftermath of evil by coming to 2/19th.
The laughter that echoed from the darkness of the stairwell above us was something that made everything I thought I knew about evil pale in comparison.
The evil I’d known before was a small child holding her breath till she crapped her pants because she was denied a pony.
Silence, except for the howling of the wind, descended on the stairwell as we all looked at each other. We heard the rush of footsteps coming down the stairs, the banister began to shiver, and we knew what was happening.
He was coming down the stairs.
We moved into the orderly room hallway, and I turned, grabbed the door, and tried to pull it shut.
It didn’t budge.
“Come on, Ant!” Nagle yelled, pulling on my sleeve.
“Fuck this! I can take him!” I snarled, pulling my knife from the sheathe.
“No, you can’t.” Bomber yelled, grabbing me by the back of my jacket and pulling me away from the door. “Come on!”
“Ant, we need you.” Nagle said, her voice cracking with fear.
We could hear him coming down the steps.
We were trapped between the stairs, where something dark and evil was rapidly descending toward us, and the blizzard outside.
“Come on!” I yelled, turning and heading toward the door. We had a chance. If we kept out heads together and didn’t panic, we could do it. I sheathed my knife as we headed for the door, the freezing wind bringing tears to my eyes. “Kill the flashlight so he can’t follow us!”
“Are you fucking crazy?” Nagle asked, flinching from the wind as the light went out and the hallway went completely black.
“We’ll go down the hill to the ski resort! We can make it!” I yelled, grabbing Nagle’s hand. “John, grab her hand and don’t let go!”
One step out the door and the blizzard took us. The wind screamed around us, slicing through my heavy fleece lined denim jacket like it was tanning oil. Snow smothered me, blinding me almost immediately. My face, ears, and hands went instantly numb. The wind cut through my pants and my balls felt like someone had just kicked me square in the sack, then gave a dull throb, then just vanished.
All of it in less than a heartbeat.
I took a hard right instead of heading straight, reaching out with my free hand to put my hand on the wall of the barracks. I squeezed Nagle’s hand and moved as quickly as I could, keeping my hand on the wall.
Forever passed till I felt the corner of the building, and I made sure Nagle made it, then kept moving, the incline telling me we were moving toward the front of the building. The snow made it treacherous going, and I knew if I slipped, I’d lose my bearings as I rolled down the incline, past the building, and possibly across the road and into the German woods.
That’s what the killer was. The incline at the sides of the barracks, the 15 foot drop, where it was so easy to slip, lose your bearings, and freeze to death before you even understood what had happened.
I half drug Nagle up the hill, blind, deaf, and numb. I hoped she still had ahold of Bomber, my best friend.
The ground leveled out and I knew I was either crying or sobbing in relief. A handful of steps more and the next corner came. I followed it, until I hit the picket fence that surrounded the lawn of the company. I pulled Nagle close, and reached out till I felt John’s denim jacket, then pulled him close too.
“We’re almost to the front entrance!” I yelled.
“Thank God.” Bomber yelled back.
“He probably thinks we’re dead!” Nagle yelled.
“Let’s go! Hold onto my jacket!” I hollered back, and climbed over the fence, Nagle holding onto me throwing me off balance. Still, once I was over I remembered that it was left to the front of the building if I faced the fence from the inside.
Not that I was worried. I was starting to warm up.
Nagle came next, followed by Bomber, and we fumbled along the building till we found the steps and the alcove that led to the CQ area. The wind hammered at us as we fought our way up the steps and pushed our way through the outer doors.
The lack of wind felt like someone had just wrapped me in warm blankets.
We pushed open the inner doors, and Bomber clicked on the flashlight.
The CQ area was empty, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
Moving as silently as we could, we snuck down to Nagle’s room. She reached for her key when suddenly Bomber reached out and stopped her.
He shined the flashlight in his own face and shook his head, pointing at first me, then him. Nagle’s eyes opened wide, and it took me a second longer to realize what he was saying.
Our rooms had been trashed. God only knew what was waiting for us in Nagle’s room.
I closed my eyes for a second, thinking fast, then dug my keyring out, my numb hands clumsy. I moved a couple doors down the hall and waved at Bomber to shine the light at the nametag on the door.
I jammed my key in the lock and unlocked the door, quickly opening it and waving Bomber and Nagle in, then quietly shutting the door and locking it.
Nagle grabbed a chair and drug it over to the door, putting it under the door handle to keep someone from opening it even if they unlocked it.
Stokes’ room smelled of strawberries.
“Tell me this isn’t happening.” Bomber whispered, clicking off his flashlight.
“It’s happening.” Nagle said.
“What the fuck did we do?” Bomber asked, his teeth chattering, “Why the hell is he out to kill us?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think it’s Tandy.” I said, moving by feel over to Stokes’ bed.
“Why the fuck not? You saw the goddamn footprints.” Bomber swore, coming closer to me. I pulled her heavy quilt off her bed, wadded it up, and set it on the bed.
“If it was Tandy, he wouldn’t have fallen for it. He would have snatched us and killed us one by one when we were outside.” Nagle answered for me. “That’s his world out there, we wouldn’t have made it to the side of the building.”
“Bingo.” I said, reaching out and grabbing Bomber by the jacket. “Come’re, Nancy.”
When she bumped into me, I reached down and grabbed the heavy quilt, a gift from my brother to her, and wrapped the three of us in it. Nagle’s arm snaked around me and pulled me tight against her, and a second later Bomber was pulled tight against the two of us. Bomber was wiggling, and I wondered what the fuck he was doing.
“Nothing gay.” Bomber said, and I felt his fingers unbuttoning my jacket and then my flannel, finally pulling up my shirt. A second later Nagle smothered a giggle and I knew he was doing the same to her. Then we pressed together, shivering and shaking in the middle of Stokes’ room, naked chests pressing against each other. We pressed our faces against each other, trying desperately to warm up our faces.
“What’s the plan?” I asked, shaking so hard I was sure that I was going to dislocate a hip or something.
“Your brother’s room,” Nagle said, her teeth chattering.
“Hey, yeah, doesn’t your brother still have your dad’s pistol in his wall locker?” Bomber added. He was quaking as bad as I was.
“Yeah, he does. And a shitload of knives.” I answered.
“We warm up, take his cold weather gear, take his pistol, grab some knives, then go with the original plan.” Nagle finished. She suddenly giggled.
“What’s so funny?” Bomber asked.
“This is like one of my best masturbation fantasies, having two guys pressing against me.” She whispered, and we all smothered laughter.
“I don’t think now is the time to warm up that way.” Bomber whispered, his voice mock serious.
We stood there for a long time, shivering against one another, until I suddenly groaned in pain.
“What?” Nagle asked, sounding afraid.
“I can feel my balls again.” I groaned. It felt like a ball of lead in my stomach, my balls throbbed, and my cock suddenly felt like it was on fire.
“That’s a good sign.” Nagle whispered. “My nipples feel like someone tried to bite them off.”
“Ha, tough luck suckers, I don’t feel anything like…” Bomber suddenly groaned and sagged, forcing me and Nagle to hold him up. “Oh God, someone is squeezing my balls.”
Finally we were warm enough, and not in pain enough, to move around. We put Stokes’ blanket back on her bed, dug out a towel form her dresser and dried our hair, then moved over by the door.
We listened closely, moved the chair, and eased the door open.
Above us a scream sounded out, but we ignored it and slipped out into the hallway.
“Lock it?” Bomber asked.
“No, leave it, we might need somewhere to run again.” Nagle said.
“Good plan.” I agreed.
We’d agreed to go to the end stairwell, and we moved quickly and quietly to the heavy door.
It was propped open, and wind howled down the stairwell.
For once it was going to work for us.
We slipped up the stairs, being careful to watch for ice or anything else, and snuck into the second floor hallway.
My brother’s room was only a few doors down.
I counted doors, and waited for Bomber to catch up with the flashlight. He shined the light on the door nameplate just to be sure.
There his name was.
I put my key in the lock and went to turn it.
And it didn’t budge.
I tried again, both ways, but it didn’t move at all.
I went to pull the key out, and it slipped out of my hand.
“What the fuck?” I asked.
Bomber shined the light on the lock, and all three of us groaned at once.
Clear, thick liquid had welled up around my key, a single drop slowly creeping down the face of the lock from beneath my key.
Just to make sure I reached down and touched the drop with my finger, then rubbed my finger and thumb together.
“Back back back.” I hissed, and Bomber led the way, Nagle following him, and me pulling drag. We hurried as fast as the frost and our boots let us move quietly, ghosting down the hallway and into the stairwell. Bomber turned off the flashlight and we moved quickly and quietly down the stairs.
The stairwell door was open still, but at least the door across from it that led outside was still chained shut. The end stairwell didn’t go any further down than the ground floor, so when Bomber waved Nagle and I back, we didn’t go up the steps, but instead ducked down and scooted toward the back of the stairwell, hiding under the steps.
Bomber knelt down, then peered around the corner slowly, careful not to move too fast. After a moment he waved us forward.
Nagle squeezed my hand for luck.
We moved as quietly as we could back to Stokes’ room, slipping in and checking the room thoroughly with the flashlight after we put a chair under the handle again and locked the door.
We sat down on Stokes’ bed and wrapped her quilt over our shoulders, snuggling up together. Nagle was shivering the worst, so once again she was between Bomber and me. The cold was getting worse, and we had six men upstairs who were counting on us to do something, one of whom was suffering from hypothermia already.
“He’s one step ahead of us.” Nagle whispered, her teeth chattering. “This is insane.”
“I noticed.” Bomber answered. He had both hands jammed down his pants and I followed suit, cupping my genitals and hissing in pain at the contact of my ice cold hands on my already sore genitals.
“We’ve got to do something.” I said. “Otherwise, we’re just sitting here waiting to die.”
Bomber checked his watch and cursed. “It’s not even 0600.”
“Are you sure?” I asked. It seemed like a lifetime had gone by.
“It’s 0500.” He told me, and I stifled a groan. Sunrise wouldn’t be until 0800, and the whole time it was just going to get colder. And sunrise wouldn’t help, all it would do is turn the entire world white. If we tried to go outside during the daylight we’d be in even worse shape.
“Put the blue lens in and hand me the flashlight, I’m gonna toss Stokes’ room.” I said, holding out my hand. Bomber took a moment, then handed it to me. I slipped out from under the heavy quilt and began checking over everything.
Stokes was on leave, not at Graf or Bremerhaven. Her TA-50 would be here at least, and if we were lucky, her two roommates stuff would be here.
I hit jackpot in a dresser drawer full of panties.
Keys. It looked like the three women had taken the spare keys for their locks and agreed to hide them in the room in case someone came home and had forgotten their keys or one of them asked another to get something out of their wall lockers and bring it to them in the field.
I opened the wall lockers, shivering in the cold, and almost started crying with relief.
Their extreme cold weather gear was there. To top it off, one of Stokes’ roommates worked in the motorpool, so her heavy coveralls were hanging in the locker. I brought out the coveralls, the parkas, the cold weather masks, the field jackets and liners, the parka liners, and the pants.
In Stokes’ and her room mates’ rucksacks was the mandatory roll of 550 cord. In Stokes’ 3-drawer chest I found her leatherman, and their flashlights were on their rucksacks.
When I found the vibrators, I gave silent thanks for big pussied women. Three of them were D Cell hummers. I silently promised I’d never make any jokes about deep or wide women again. I promised that if I got out of it, I’d find a big pussied woman and worship her for an entire weekend. Any woman who used a D-Cell vibrator was my personal goddess from here on out. I promised to sacrifice a virgin to a big pussied woman. I promised to build an altar to them and dance naked around it on the full moon.
We got dressed silently, layering on the cold weather gear, everything but the boots, which didn’t fit any of us. We split up the flashlights and Nagle carried the extra one along with the batteries. My knife got transferred from my belt to hers.
Bomber and I both were going to carry entrenching tools.
Not because we thought we were going to do any digging, but because you can kill a man with one.
Something that had gone from drunken BSing theory to a seriously real possibility.
“What if he’s in the hallway?” Bomber asked.
“Doesn’t matter.” Nagle said from behind the mask.
“Why not?” I asked, clenching my fists. My fingers were burning and tingling, a good sign but a painful one.
“We’re going out her window.” Nagle told us, and Bomber and I nodded.
We opened the window, and jumped out, landing in the snow outside the barracks, trying to keep our balance.
We were tied together by about 5 feet of 550 cord, one end of the cord was tied to the crossbrace on Stokes’ window, and I fed it out as Bomber led the way across the yard. We climbed over the picket fence, and I took care of something real quick.
Across the street.
Zero visibility. The pressure of the wind was forcing us offstep. Breathing was like a knife in the chest it was so cold.
I was letting the 550 cord run between my fingers, keeping tension on it, and I heard Bomber curse as he ran shin first into the bumper of a car. I could tell he was moving around, checking something, and then he came bumping back, pulling Nagle into the clinch so she could hear what he had to say.
“Flat tires.” He yelled.
“Roger!” I yelled back.
We went past the cars and started up the short incline that led to our motorpool. Fifteen or twenty feet up, maybe 10 feet from the end of the car. The incline was brutal, but working together we managed to climb it.
I kept tension on the 550 cord in my right hand, my hand dropping down to the D-ring I’d clipped to the parka to reassure myself it was there while I kept my shoulder against the chain link fence that was all that stood between us and the motorpool.
Finally I felt Nagle yank on the cord that connected us, and knew that Bomber had managed to cut through the fence ties on the ground and had lifted up the fencing far enough for us to get underneath.
I ducked underneath the poncho that Bomber had put down to keep the ends of the chainlink fence from tearing through our cold weather gear while we crawled under the fence. I gave thanks to Bomber’s innovation and kept feeding out the 550 cord, keeping tension on it. Every few steps I checked the D-ring, just to be sure.
Finally the wind suddenly eased and I bumped into someone’s back, stumbled to the side, and felt the side of the motorpool garage against my body.
We’d gone less than 500 yards, and I felt like I’d run 10 miles in full combat gear. My muscles were trembling with exhaustion, I could feel the sweat running down my back, and I couldn’t seem to get enough air.
We skirted the motorpool building, looking for the door, until I bumped into Nagle’s back. I stood there, in the howling darkness, my feet freezing in my combat boots, so cold that they just painfully throbbed with shooting pains in my toes.
Finally I heard a crash over the wind, and saw light pour out of the suddenly opened door.
All three of us rushed into the building. Bomber threw down the entrenching tool, it was bent wrong, the blade twisted and buckled, but it had done its job. I tied the 550 cord off on the door, then unsnapped the D-ring and set the assembly aside. I kicked the door shut and breathed a sigh of relief.
We’d made it.
It was warm in the building, and we quickly peeled off the cold weather gear, anxious to stand underneath the vents that the huge heaters pushed hot air into the motorpool building through.
All three of us stripped naked, standing beneath the blowers. Nagle still held my knife, I still held onto the entrenching tool, and Bomber kept a lookout, the flashlight still in his hand.
It took awhile, but we were finally warm, and we got dressed in the clothing we’d started with, leaving the heavy coveralls and the cold weather gear laying out on a tool bench right under a blower so it would dry and warm up.
Of course I watched Nagle out of the corner of my eye. I could tell by the smile she shot me that she knew I was watching.
My balls still hurt, or I’d have probably gotten hard right there.
Four CUC-V’s, plugged into the wall to keep the fluids warm and circulating, were sitting in the motorpool bays. The sight of them made me breathe a sigh of relief. A quick check of them showed the steering wheels were still locked and they didn’t have keys in the ignition, but that wasn’t a problem, there were two sets of keys for every vehicle. One back at the company, the other in the Motor Pool Sergeant’s office.
“We’re fucking golden, Ant.” Bomber grinned, rubbing his hands together. “We’ll grab one of these, load Carter into it, we all pile into the other, and we go down and tell the MP’s what’s happening.”
“Hooah.” I grinned.
Nagle was looking around, shining a flashlight into the dark or shadowy areas of the bays as we headed to the office. She was frowning while she did so, chewing on her lower lip.
“What’s up, Nancy?” I asked her, slowing down and looking around. The motorpool bay was big, but it was largely open, anyone coming at us would be seen quickly, and between the three of us, would get royally fucked up.
“We’re forgetting something, but I don’t know what.” She told me. “I just know it.”
“Does it matter?” I grinned, pointing at the NCOIC’s office door.
“I think so.” She said softly.
We moved up to the door and checked it. It was locked, but I slammed the point of the entrenching tool in between the door and the frame, right at the lock, and with a wrench tore it open. We went in, grinning, and I opened the keybox with one good whack with the entrenching tool.
It was empty.
Just a piece of paper that someone had written “MISSING SOMETHING?” in red ink.
The lights cut off, and the blowers went dead.
Between the time the lights went out and the emergency lights cut on, we heard running feet, that dark and evil laughter, and a loud booming noise.
He was still one step ahead of us.
Bomber jumped away from the door, cursing, and I felt Nagle grab me when I went to run into the bay. Her fingers dug into my arm and she pulled me back with surprising strength.
“Don’t.” She whispered. “He probably knows you’re the type to charge in, and he might be waiting.”
The realization that my anger and fear had almost pushed me into making a terminal mistake washed over me. Exhaustion, fear, and pain were driving me toward making mistakes, and mistakes were something we couldn’t afford.
“We need to get weapons.” Bomber said. “We’ll grab axes and head back to the company, hole up in Lewis’ room till someone comes for us.”
“Won’t work.” I said, shaking my head.
“Why not?” Bomber asked.
“We’ll freeze to death by this time tomorrow.” Nagle said, and I nodded.
“Fuck.” Bomber looked around.
“Wait, I’ve got an idea.” I said.
“Let’s hear it.” Nagle said, “I’m out of ideas.”
I told them quickly, and they nodded.
“Are you sure you can do it?” Nagle asked when I got done explaining it.
“I’m sure.” I told her. “Well, I’m pretty sure.”
I went out the door first, entrenching tool in hand, my nerves hyped up, but nobody jumped us. We stuck together and gathered everything up, then made our way back to where we’d left the parkas and other cold weather gear.
To where it had been.
The empty tool bench silently mocked us.
“GODDAMN IT!” Bomber yelled.
“No worries.” I told him. He looked at me like I’d grown a second head. “Follow me.”
We went back to the offices, past the emergency showers and into the locker room. While Nagle stood watch Bomber and I began ripping open the lockers one after another, pulling out the winter coveralls, any gloves left behind, anything we could use to replace our missing stolen cold weather gear.
I watched the door while Bomber and Nagle layered four sets of coveralls on, and put on some of the motorpool guy’s lucky/work hats. Once Bomber was done, I went over and did the same, layering them on. More than a few of the motor pool guys had left socks in their lockers, and we pulled them on over our hands until we had makeshift gloves. Before I pulled on the socks, I smeared thick grease over our faces, rubbing it onto our lips and around our necks.
It was thick, bulky, and hard to move. The grease felt sticky and gross, the socks stunk, but it reminded me of childhood, and the memory of throwing snowballs with my siblings made me smile. We waddled back out into the motor pool bay, the emergency lights only giving off a dull yellow glow that was barely enough to see by while we retied ourselves together.
Bomber fished the compass he’d taken from Stokes’ room out of his shirt and let it hang from the string. We’d used engineer tape to fashion makeshift loops on our belts for the axes we’d grabbed. I opened the door, and we drug our supplies out into the howling storm. I reached down, found the D-Ring with a smile, and clipped it to the rope around my waist.
This time I took the lead for a little while, Bomber and Nagle dragging the heavy part of the load, until Nagle tugged on our tie to stop me. Then she took the lead while Bomber and I drug it through the snow and gravel. We were almost to the fence when Nagle took Bomber’s place.
We pushed our supplies under the fence, squirmed under it, and wrapped the poncho around Nagle, tying it off with a rope.
“Ready?” I shouted.
“Ready!” they shouted back.
I grabbed the 550 cord from where I’d looped it into the fence to keep tension and tugged.
And felt it give. Cursing, I reeled it in, coming up with the end in only a couple of minutes.
Our lead back to the barracks was gone.
Without a lead, our chances of missing the barracks and tumbling down the hill or getting turned around in the snow were almost assured.
Once again, whoever it was thought they were one step ahead of the three of us.
I tapped Nagle, who tapped Bomber, and they gathered close. When Bomber turned on the flashlight and shined it in my hand, we could all see that the end wasn’t cut, wasn’t snapped, but had been untied.
We had to get back. It was more than just us.
The wind howled with glee and whipped the snow around us.
The cut line snapped against my glove, driven by the wind, and I could see Bomber shake his head. The blue lens over the flashlight gave him and Nagle’s faces a bruised look in the darkness and the snow.
I dropped the line, reached down, and grabbed the D-ring and tugged on the line threaded through it.
It held firm.
“Not this time.” I snarled, and the other two nodded in agreement.
“You two grab it, I’ll lead.” I said, and led the way down the hill.
They lost control of the package and it slid down the hill, coming to a stop when it slammed into the bumper of a car. Even over the wood we heard the sound of crunching plastic and breaking glass. Still, a quick checkover in the dim light showed that it was all still good.
Bomber and Nagle grabbed it and picked it up, carrying it across the tarmac. The line on the D-ring was tied off to the fence, and I quickly used the axe to chop through the little white picket fence. After that, Bomber led the way, using the compass, and led us to the edge of the building.
“Stokes’ room?” Nagle yelled out.
“Negative, he was in there to untie the line. We’ll bust in the center fire escape and then we’ll have to take the middle stairwell.” Bomber answered.
“Back me up.” I answered, and started in on the door lock with the axe. Three hits to rip through the steel lining of the door, and a few more to smash the lock up good enough to pull open the door.
The smell of death and decay rolled over me when I opened the door, the darkness beyond the door more absolute that the darkness I stood outside in. Snowflakes whirled and danced, vanishing into the gaping maw of the door.
I clicked on the flashlight I’d stolen from Stokes’ room, the beam muted by the snow howling around us, and stepped into the barracks.
It was somehow colder inside the building.
To the right was the stairwell access door, ahead of us we’d have to go up three steps, but we’d be inside the barracks proper, in the center hall that went the entire length of the building.
Nagle and Bomber followed, Nagle coughing at the stench that rolled over us. The wind outside didn’t break it up, but seemed to compact it, to concentrate it somehow in the small emergency hallway.
Once they got the package in, they shut the door, and we stood there for a long moment.
“When I find that bastard I’m stomping a mudhole in his ass,” Bomber said, cracking his knuckles through the socks.
“At ease that shit.” I said, reaching down and grabbing the package. “Nagle, you lead, Bomber, let’s do this.”
Bomber and I lifted it up and Nagle led the way through the side access emergency door, which opened with two quick hits with the axe, then we moved carefully down the stairs with the package, trying not to lose our balance with how heavy and bulky it was. Our sock covered hands wanted to slip, and the grease on my hands made the socks both tacky and slick, the metal biting into my fingers. The cold of outside having numbed up my fingers and made them feel like stiff clay.
Nagle opened up the bottom door, and we ignored the shriek of rage from above us, ignored the sobbing wail that rolled down the steps, and pushed into the short hallway and stopped in front of the door of the furnace room.
“Did you lock it?” Nagle asked me, and I shook my head. Bomber was standing next to me, shivering, his teeth chattering loud enough for me to hear it.
I pulled the door open, revealing the cavernous black beyond. A third of a city block long and wide enough for twenty men to stand at arm’s length from one another. It was supposed to be designed for our unit to hold formation in during the winter.
Now it was menacing. Something could be in the blackness. Someone could be waiting in there, wearing a pair of NVG’s with a knife, pistol, or rifle in their hands, watching us in the doorway with a dark and evil smile.
“Let’s go.” I broke the silence, bending down and lifting up the package. Bomber nodded and grabbed his side, and with Nagle leading the way, we headed back into the furnace room.
It took us about 10 minutes to locate the water heater we were after. According to the datasheet next to it, the big fucking oil fired heater was responsible for only one thing.
We set down the heavy load, and stood in the darkness for a minute, stomping our feet and smacking our hands together to get circulation moving again.
“John, go through the breaker for this heater on the wall, Nancy, come here.”
John clicked on his flashlight, the red lens making everything blood smeared, and disappeared into the darkness. Nagle came up as I stripped off the socks and glove liners.
“This is gonna hurt.” I grinned at her.
“Shut up and do it.” She said, unzipping the coveralls one by one and tearing open the two vests we’d all layered in till I could see her T-shirt.
I slipped my hands under her shirt, sliding my hands underneath her breasts instead of cupping them, and the soft weight enveloped my hands. She hissed in reaction to the cold of my hands, and I gritted my teeth as the explosion of painful tingling engulfed them. I couldn’t feel my pinky fingers, and I hoped the flesh wasn’t blackened and dead.
“Done.” Came Bomber’s voice from the darkness after a few thumbs and a loud *clack* noise. “How you too doing?”
“He’s fucking freezing.” Nagle bitched.
“I can kind of feel them.” I answered. “You still got the leatherman?”
“Yeah, I’m coming back.” His footsteps drew closer, the swinging red light of his flashlight bobbing in the darkness.
“OK.” I said, pulling my hands out from under Nagle’s shirt. She quickly buttoned up while I kept talking. “This thing is supposed to be a four forty system, but let’s hope that this thing can provide enough power to get it to work a little bit.”
I kicked the side of the 1.5KW generator we’d hauled all the way down, with 2 5 gallon cans of mogas strapped to it. We had two coils of electrical cord on it, along with one of the mechanic’s toolkits that had been left outside of the tool truck. I was never so glad someone had broke reg in my life.
“Nagle, you act as my light, John,” I said, accepting the leatherman from him.
“Yeah?” He turned and was looking in the darkness.
“Don’t fuck around. Anyone comes at us, kill them.” I told him. The reflected glow of the three flashlights was enough for me to see him nod, his jaw clenched.
I used my knife and the leatherman to rip the housing off of the bottom of the water heater, cutting the wiring that led from the junction box to the heater itself, and then tracing it.
Wind howled, creatures in the snow gibbered and screamed, something off in the distance in the dark menace of our barracks kept slamming, and once we heard laughter echo through the room.
The whole time I worked as quick as I could, tracing the wiring and figuring what needed to be connected and what could be abandoned, and deciding eventually that I didn’t know enough about what the fuck I was doing and I had to leave everything hooked up.
Nagle and Bomber were silent, only the sound of their breathing once in awhile audible over the wind. I started losing track of time, once aware I’d closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
It was then that I realized that I had to get off the pot and hurry up, or I’d freeze to death laying on the floor and John and Nancy wouldn’t even know.
John. My best friend. I remembered drinking beer with him at Oktoberfest, watching the German women dance, and how he pulled me into the crowd to pushed me at a thickset blond woman who caught me.
She spun me around, dancing with me, and her lips were sweet when we kissed while we were dancing.
What? Nagle had been sitting at the table, and when I looked over at her she’d yelled my name, whistled, and clapped. Her clapping rose to a roar and…
I lifted up my hand and bit between my thumb and pointer finger, the pain pushing everything back. Working quickly I took the three phase wire I’d cut away from the wall and drug it next to the generator, using guesswork to figure out which wire to put into the threaded connection, and tightening down the nuts with my fingers.
“That’s it.” I said. I was shivering from laying on the concrete floor, my core temperature having leaked away into the bones of the building. I was sleepy, and swaying on my feet from having tried to trace all the wires.
All that time laying on the concrete for nothing.
“Ant, here.” Nagle said, wrapping me in her arms. She wormed one hand in between us and unzipped by coveralls, then hers, and pressed her bare chest against mine, the heat off of her taking my breath away. “John, he’s freezing.” She complained.
I felt another set of arms go around me, and the chill of the wind was cut off even as my cold clothing was pressed into my back.
“Goddamn redneck moron.” John muttered. I felt kind of bleery. “Come on, man, wake the fuck up.”
“I’m OK.” I said after a few minutes. “I think I’m OK.
“Is it hooked up?” John asked, looking at the lashup job I’d done on the generator.
“Yup. Fire it up.” I told him. He nodded, bent down, and wound a rope he’d taken from around his neck onto the generator.
It took six tries before it fired up.
Something under the water heater began clicking, and John knelt down, reaching out and pressing his thumb against the bright red rubber button.
The water heater clicked, there was a thin whine of the fans coming up to speed, and then pale light erupted from the bottom as the whole oil-tray rails lit up. The generator was making sputtering noises, and John bent down and began fucking with the top of it.
“This thing isn’t built for this,” he muttered.
“Then we’ll get another one in a couple of hours if it burns out,” I chattered.
“Let’s secure the room.” I muttered, still holding onto Nagle. She felt like she was burning up with fever, like she was made of hot coals.
I’d almost killed myself.
“Wait, Ant, you’re not ready.” She told me. I felt Bomber’s hand touch the back of my grease covered neck.
“You’re still really cold, brother.” He told me. I just nodded and leaned forward slightly, letting Nagle hold onto me.
I heard John pick up the Makita drill and watched him vanish into the darkness, only the bobbing of the red lensed flashlight giving him away.
After a few moments the drill whined, and Nagle pulled her hands from under my arms and shoved them down my pants.
I almost screamed as those red hot hands, made of lava or burning iron, cupped my genitals.
“Christ, you’re cold.” She breathed in my ear.
“Can’t… think…” I told her. I knew that I should like her hands cupping me, but all I could think of was how badly it hurt. I knew that the warmth pressed against my chest was important, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember why.
“Once John’s done, we’ll go upstairs and I’ll warm you up.” She promised, then flicked her tongue out and touched it to my earlobe.
And sputtered as she licked the grease I’d smeared my ears with.
There was a loud groan that made the air vibrate, as if the building was giving birth, followed by a couple of loud snapping noises that made me jerk back from Nagle, sure that the support beams had broken and the building was about to collapse on us.
Then the water tank gurgled loudly.
“Feeling better?” Nancy asked me, zipping up the front of her coveralls.
“Yeah.” I told her, following suit. The adrenaline had helped.
The drill had stopped, and I could hear boots coming toward us.
“That you, John?” I asked.
“Ayup.” He said, flicking the red light up to his face and smiling. “Got it done.”
“Good, let’s get the fuck out of here.” Nancy answered.
We grabbed the axes, dragged the extra stuff over to 2nd Platoon’s war stocks and hid them under the tarp, and hid one can of mogas under HQ Platoon’s tarp and the other under motorpool Platoon’s tarp.
We headed back out into the small hallway, and Bomber shut the door.
I slapped all four hasps shut and Nagle threaded the heavy duty vehicle locks into them.
“That should give us a little time.” I said. John nodded, reaching up and tucking the two-way radio behind the emergency light. The transmit button was taped down.
“Let’s head upstairs, check on the others.” I suggested.
Another long groan shook the air, this time followed by the sounds of a hundred men hammering on the door, and the air inside the stairwell seemed to shimmer with the enormity of the sounds.
The stench of decay rolled over us again.
“CQ Area. I want to check the barometer and temperature.” Nagle said, and we all nodded.
We moved carefully up the stairs, the ice glittering in the light of our flashlights, and by unspoken assent we ignored the red ice the glittered with malicious glee on the wall.
The hallway was dark, and we could hear something moan and rattle down the length of the hallway.
Somewhere there was the tinkle of shattering glass.
John led the way, pushing through the doors, and we walked carefully down the long hallway, pausing at the double doors that led to the CQ Area. We all glanced at one another, knowing good and damn well anyone on the other side of the glass would be able to see our colored flashlights.
All of us nodded, and John pushed the doors open, snow piling up as the doors swept it away in an arc.
Flashlights had been set in the snow to perfectly illuminate the three snowmen sitting in the middle of the CQ Area, surrounded by wind driven snowflakes.
All three of them had BDU softcaps, one had a rodeo buckle, another a black lace bra, and the third had a pair of broken knife hilts jammed into where the eyes would be.
“Fucking bullshit!” John yelled, balling up his fists and taking one step forward.
That was when the dark figure who had been standing by the stairwell door stepped around and swung an axe.
And hit John in the stomach.
John folded around the axe handle with an “Oof”, pulling it out of the figure’s hands and going face first into the snow, his hands at his midsection. The figure laughed, nothing more than a formless shape in the darkness. John’s flashlight had fallen so it shone on the snowmen, who smiled at us with empty heads full of snow and secrets.
“Motherfucker!” I yelled, lunging forward.
The figure whirled, and I had a hand on it for a second, grabbing a handful of cloth that was torn out of my grasp as it darted into the stairwell.
“Ant, come back!” Nagle yelled, but I was past hearing her.
The figure ran up the stairs and I followed, grabbing the banister on the landing and swinging around in a 180 to follow and maintain my momentum.
And ran into the heel of a boot.
It smashed into my mouth and my nose crunched. Blood filled my mouth and sheeted down my face as I stumbled back against the wall, then threw myself forward again, fury filling me.
Killed my best friend!
The figure turned, but I got a hand on its back, grabbing the cloth and pulling.
They crashed into me in the darkness, and we both went down, them on top of me.
An elbow hit me forehead, but I shrugged it off, trying to wrap one arm around the figure’s throat, kicking with my feet as we struggling in the darkness of the stairwell landing.
The elbow hit me again, this time in my nose, and everything went gray for second, my hands dropping limply to the floor as I lost where I was for a second. A blow hit my face again, and pain filled me.
The jet hit, and flames surrounded me, snatching the breath from my lungs, searing my flesh. I knew my hair was gone, and I squeezed my eyes shut, still pounding forward, trying to get out of the fire before it consumed me.
With a roar I opened my eyes again, seeing the figure sit up on top of me, long, inhuman arms reaching down and hands wrapping around my throat as they leaned forward and put the pressure on me.
Their hands weren’t quite seated, but I could see the white of their teeth, pulled back in a maniacal grin, in the darkness of the hallway.
Nagle was yelling, the flashlight beam skittering around the stairwell, silhouetting the figure’s head but not revealing who it was.
They figured they’d won. I was on my back, and they thought dazed, laying on the stairwell landing.
My hands came up, between their arms, and swept outward, just as I’d been taught, collapsing their arms at the elbows.
In the same motion I grabbed the back of their head in my hands, and I heard them squawk in surprise.
I brought my head up as I pulled them down, still roaring in fury. Around me fire roared and people screamed, while the stench of burning jet fuel and roasted flesh filled my nostrils.
They screamed as my forehead hit their face, and I felt teeth cut my forehead. They punched at me as I let them pull back and then did it again, feeling something crunch against my brow.
They rolled off me, kicking, and the toe of a boot caught my shin even through the padding of the coveralls. I didn’t care, and I drove my fist twice more into their head, neither one of them perfect shots, since they glanced off the person’s head, but more than enough to keep fighting.
“ANT!” Nagle’s voice was a scream.
I saw the dim flash of steel reflected in Nagle’s frantically searching light, and instead of going for the knife I brought up one arm to block it.
First rule, son, is that you’re going to get cut… My father’s voice echoed from when all of us boys were lined up learning another lesson at his knee.
My other hand reached out, fingers finding the ear…
The shock of the knife arm hitting my forearm made my shoulder groan in the socket. If he’d gotten me with the blade, I didn’t care.
My thumb pressed into the dent, and I crooked it, pushing as hard as I could, and I felt it sink into the socket, the eyeball squishing to the side.
They screamed that time, the knife falling next to my head, and a punch drove my head against the tile and I was surrounded by flames and dying again and roared with rage back at whoever it was. Still, my arms dropped again, and I knew I was running out of steam. I roared in denial as the flames surged around me and I felt the searing heat on my back, and punched them in the face, aiming for the teeth I could still see clearly, and bright pain burst between my knuckles. They fell back, and I rolled over, trying to get up, but they were faster and above me.
They kicked me twice, scrambling up, and the second shot caught me under the chin, snapping my head back into the tile. I sat back up and drove a punch into the knee, reaching around behind me frantically. My hand found the knife they’d dropped, the other one trying to block the kicks they were flailing at me, ignoring the ones aimed at my ribs and stomach and protecting my face. The boots thudded into my ribs and I yelled in triumph as my hands wrapped around the hilt. I brought it around, and slashed them across the shin, but another kick caught me on the side of the neck and my already numb and bruised body jerked. I got the knife up, and got ready to defend myself.
But they were scrabbling away, up the stairs, and I could hear them sobbing as I pulled myself up. Muscles screamed and my vision swam, and I knew blood was running down my face, but I didn’t care in the slightest.
I’ve got you now, motherfucker… hissed through my brain.
I took one step when I heard her.
“ANT!” Nagle, her voice filled with fear and dismay.
My attacker, or her and my (probably) dead best friend?
I turned and went down the stairs, stopping when Nagle turned and faced me from where she was crouched down next to Bomber, bent over and rocking back and forth while she was sobbing, the matte black of my Gerber fighting knife in her fist. She looked at me, then turned to face me, straightening up.
“Is he…” I asked.
“My fucking gut hurts.” John moaned, rolling over. The axe was embedded in the layers of coveralls.
“Don’t say anything, lemme see the wound.” I said, falling to my knees next to him.
He was my best friend. He’d been there through everything. Even when I got divorced, he’d been there. With a drink, with a shoulder to cry on, with an outstretched hand to pull me to my feet and support to help me carry on. He was my best friend.
I loved him.
I pulled his hand off the axe and dug my fingers into the cloth, terrified at how deep the wound had to have gone.
And found the axe stopped.
“What the fuck?” I asked, then pulled the axe free.
No bleeding, and I unzipped his coveralls and pulled them open.
The axe had hit the flak vests we’d wrapped underneath the top layers of coveralls.
The vests we’d used to break the wind and to add more padding.
The wide blade, the way John folded around it, all of it made it so the axe didn’t penetrate the twin layers of thick Kevlar.
“I THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD, YOU FUCKER!” I yelled, fury surging over the relief.
Nagle laughed. Sitting there in the dark, with the wind howling around us, she began laughing. Tears were rolling down her grease covered cheeks, blown to the side by the wind,
I started laughing too.
“It’s not funny, my stomach really hurts.” John groaned, and I held out a hand and pulled him into a sitting position.
“I thought you were dead, you fucker.” I said, still chuckling. The wind agreed, chuckling as the gust wound down and it picked at us, plucking at our clothing and trying to worm cold fingers in with us.
“So did I.” John admitted. He looked at his stomach, where there was only a red mark. “Hurts like a motherfucker.”
“Be right back.” Nagle said, standing up. She shined her flashlight behind the CQ counter before going around it, and checked the handle on The Closet.
I watched her shine her flashlight inside, and squeezed John’s hand. I hadn’t let go of him, and part of me didn’t want to. I watched the doors to the outside, both sets open to the night, and John kept an eye on the staircase door and the hallway door.
Nagle came back, shaking her head.
“What?” I asked.
“Gauges are smashed. so’s the breaker box.” She told us, and I shook my head.
“It’s not him,” I told them. “Whoever it was, there wasn’t anything supernatural about them.”
Nagle shined the light in my face, and Bomber whistled. “Whoever it was fucked your ass up.”
“Yeah, but if it’s one of us, we’ll fucking know.” I told her, smiling, “I wrecked him up good enough the he won’t be able to hide it.”
“We need to get back to the others.” Bomber said, and I nodded, scooping up a handful of snow and pressing it on my nose. That made me hiss in pain, the pressure of my hand making sparks appear in my vision.
“Just a second.” Nagle snarled, and began kicking down the snowmen. I could hear her panting with exertion, but Bomber and I just watched.
“Now we can go.” She said, stepping back from the massacred snow people.
Bomber and I nodded, and we went down the hallway, through both sets of double doors, all the way to the end stairway.
The first stairway might have John’s attacker or their friends in it, the second one had been booby trapped before, but so far the third one had been safe.
We checked the steps quickly, shining our lights on the steps and then the landing, but didn’t find anything.
“Why isn’t this one fucked with?” I wondered.
“They need one they can use to move up and down quickly.” John answered as we climbed the steps. He stopped and bent over slightly, breathing heavy. “I think I’m hurt, Ant.”
“Drive on, John, it isn’t much further.” I told him. Nagle pushed by him and moved ahead to the landing, opening the door to the second floor hallway and looked out of it.
“Oh, shit.” She breathed, freezing in place. “Oh my God. Ant! Bomber!” She whispered, and the tone held something I’d never heard from Nagle in the years I’d known her.
I moved up, and looked out in the hallway.
Another snowman faced the stairs, in front of us.
Its arms were sticks, taken from the trees outside. The buttons were Class-A brass buttons. It wore a BDU softcap with E-5 rank on it. Its mouth was made of something that glinted wetly. Its nose was a shattered flashlight. The eyes were surrounded by pink snow.
Its eyes were blue and covered with a thin sheen of ice.
Its human eyes.
The blue eyes stared at us, hugely round and pushed into the face of the snowman, who’s smile mocked us with good cheer. The wet strip was a strip of uniform, too dark for water, that glittered in the light.
It hadn’t been here before we’d headed for the motor pool.
“Let’s go.” Nagle said, her voice only a little unsteady. I looked at the snowman’s face again and swallowed around a huge lump in my throat. “Quietly.” she hissed.
She led the way into the hallway, moving slowly, shining her light carefully on the walls, on the floor, and on the ceiling.
Bomber and I edged by it, the blue eyes staring at us as we went by, surrounded by pink snow.
Icicles hung from the tile ceiling and from the plastic covering the fluorescent light fixtures.
Bomber suddenly fell against the wall and vomited, everything he’d eaten the day before coming up in a steaming rush. Bile splashed on the wall and the floor, steaming in the cold, and he started to fold forward.
I rushed forward and grabbed him, pulling him to his feet.
“Come on, John, keep moving.” I whispered.
“I’m really hurt, Ant.” He moaned as I threw his arm over my shoulder.
That axe had hit him hard, he’d gotten his arms in the way and managed to half catch the axe handle, he’d folded around it and bled away some of the force, and the Kevlar had kept the bit from ripping into him, but I’d seen that swing.
Nagle stayed just in front us, sometimes looking back, as we took forever to stumble halfway down the hallway.
Just a quarter block…
Finally we were at the door, and Nagle knocked on it and waited. She knocked again, this time harder, and still we waited.
Footsteps thudded above us, heavy deliberate thuds that went from behind us toward the other end of the building.
A scream echoed down the hall, the wind making my eyes water.
The doors the divided the hallway in half were open, or the stairwell door was wedged open. That was the only way the wind could be that strong.
“Who’s out there?” Came a voice.
“It’s Nagle, Ant, and Bomber, open up, Bomber’s hurt.” She said.
There was a moment of silence, and then the locks to the door snapped loudly in the darkness of the hallway. The door creaked open, and I could see Hernandez staring at first Nagle and then Bomber and me.
Bomber took that second to throw up again.
“Hurry up, there’s someone out there.” Hernandez whispered, stepping back and motioning us frantically.
“No shit,” Nagle sneered, pushing Bomber and I through the door.
Hernandez’s face was blurry in the flashlight, and if I moved my head too fast I kept getting sparks shooting across my vision. Even the dim light from his flashlight was bright and hurt my eyes.
We staggered in and I heard the door lock behind us. I pulled John into the living area of the barracks room, past the bathroom and wallockers that were built into the walls.
People were huddled in small groups, and on the bed Lewis was still burrowed under the covers with Carter. One of them was snoring, and part of me dimly knew that it was a good sign.
“What happened? Where have you been?” Hernandez asked. Nagle ignored him, walking across the room and grabbing the handle of the radiator and cranking it.
There was a loud knocking noise that seemed to start a thousand feet below us and slowly work its way up to the radiator, which trembled and shook as insane howler monkeys beat on the pipes with clubs.
“What the fuck?” Jacobs asked, shining his light in Bomber’s and my faces.
“I’ll explain in a minute.” Nagle said, “Hernandez, get a wet washcloth, I need to clean off their faces.” She came over and grabbed my arm. “Ant, Bomber, I need the two of you to sit down on the bed.” She gently guided us over to the edge of the bed that Daniels was sleeping on. We sat down and Nagle prodded Daniels till he sleepily scooted away from us.
Hernandez came back and Nagle took the washcloth from him and handed him her flashlight. “Keep it on Ant’s face.”
“Jesus, what happened to him?” Hernandez asked.
“He got his ass kicked in the stairwell after someone hit Bomber in the stomach with an axe.” Nagle snapped, starting to wipe off my face.
She pulled down my lower lip and swore. “You’ve got a bunch of broken teeth, Ant.” She told me, wiping my lip. “Goddamn it, you’re bleeding everywhere and I can’t get that fucking grease off of you.”
“An axe? They hit Bomber with an axe?” Jacobs asked, looking over at Bomber, who was still leaning against me with his arms wrapped around his stomach. He was moaning softly to himself and rocking back and forth, and I put one arm around him and pulled him close.
“Yeah.” Nagle answered, her voice flat and cold. “Someone tried to kill him.”
“Who?” Hernandez asked.
“How the fuck should I know. Whoever it was beat the shit out of Ant, too.” She stopped in the middle of wiping off my forehead. “Hey, Dez, shine the light here.” Hernandez did what she asked and she leaned forward, one finger reaching out to touch something that seemed to feel like it was embedded in my brain, that she was poking her finger in there and rooting around.
“Goddamn, Ant, you have a tooth stuck in your forehead, man.” Jacobs said, coming over and standing next to Nagle.
“Bastard kicked me…” I slurred. The whole room stunk of jet fuel, but something was wrong. Something important. Both Nagles were scrubbing off my face, two head and four arms connected to one too-wide body.
“I know, honey.” She said, then turned to Hernandez, “Wake Lewis up, get his sewing kit and see if he has any rubbing alcohol for spit shining his boots in the bathroom.” Hernandez nodded, and she went back to wiping my face, carefully circling my nose. “And see if he has a Leatherman.”
“Stomach hurts.” Bomber groaned, then leaned forward and retched loudly, bringing up only strings of bile. Nagle shined the flashlight into the small puddle he made and sighed with relief. It was a clear yellowish color.
My stomach rumbled in agreement, and before I could stop myself or warn her, I leaned forward and threw up on the floor, splashing Nagle where she knelt in front of me. I only heaved a few times, and it made my head swim, with bright sparks across my vision and I almost passed out from the pain in my head.
“Oh baby.” Nagle said, reaching her arms out and gathering both of us up. She was still dressed in the coveralls, the cold dampness feeling good against my face. I was aware I was shivering, cold but somehow light and fuzzy warm. My head rang, and my thoughts were jumbled.
“What the fuck?” Daniels asked, rolling over. He shoved at my back. “Get the fuck off my bed.”
I collapsed against Nagle boneless, closing my eyes. My head hurt really bad.
“Get up, Daniels, Ant and Bomber are fucked up.” Jacobs said. “Christ, he’s bleeding everywhere.”
I felt Daniels moving around behind me, every movement making my skull hurt and ring. I cried out in pain as the bed rocked, and both Bomber and I retched again.
“Help me lay them down.” Nagle ordered, and I felt hands on me. “We gotta get them out of these clothes. You two strip them, I gotta get out of these wet clothes.”
“I’ve got some blankets.” Hernandez said, and I felt someone unzipping my clothing. I fought, briefly, crying out and trying to get the hands off of me.
I was trapped in the stairwell, fighting someone I couldn’t see, with flames roaring around me, people screaming, and the stench of jet fuel filling my nostrils.
I felt lips against mine, and I opened my eyes to see Nagle kissing me, her eyes shut as her tongue grazed my lips. I let her strip my clothing away, marvelling at how it felt like she had four or five hands. My boots were pulled off, and I was aware of her stripping off my wet socks and underwear.
She stopped kissing me and I pawed at the air, trying to get her back.
“Easy, Ant, I’ll be there in a second, I gotta undress.” She whispered huskily.
“He’s got a really bad bruise on his stomach.” Jacobs said, and my hands moved down, looking for the bruise they were talking about, and finding that I’d been stripped naked. I rubbed my stomach, looking for sore spots and trying to warm up my hands. Someone laid a warm blanket around me, and I shivered on the bed.
“Dammit, that axe must have hurt him worse than…” Nagle’s voice trailed off into a purring noise and I squirmed under the blanket, feeling someone’s hands on my stomach. There was silence for a moment, just a buzzing background noise, a thick noise that seemed to increase or decrease at random, but I knew it was important even if I didn’t know what the noise was or why it was important.
A sharp pain yanked me out of the memory of Nagle rubbing her breasts on my chest, and I tried to pull loose of the hands that were holding me, tried to pull my head loose from the pressure that was holding the side of my face against the bed.
“Hold him still, goddammit!” someone screamed, their voice jagged broken glass that ripped and tore at my eardrums and then lacerated my brain.
The pain stopped, and I tried to curl in a ball to cry. My mother had been beating me, and I’d managed to crawl under my bed where nobody could see me cry from the welts the belt had left on my back.
Fuzzy warmth wrapped around me and drug me down. It was like I was slipping into warm dark bathwater. I was tired, so tired, and my head was pounding. I could feel myself floating deeper and deeper into the water. There were loud noises around me, but they were distant, remote, just faint ripples in the warm water that surrounded me, cradled me, and drew me into its warmth depths.
You’re dying, dumbass… My brother’s rough voice suddenly intruded.
My brother’s voice yanked me out of the warm water, and I recognized the warm feeling for what it for what it was.
On your FEET! My father’s voice rang in my head, and I jerked involuntarily as the words my father used to wake us boys up and that were used to call attention to an officer entering the room rang in my head, impossibly to deny. Someone had propped my feet up with something which I kicked away when I jerked. I opened my eyes, aware of how they felt gluey, almost like my eyelids were stuck together. My jaw throbbed with agony, and someone had a hold on my hand and was pulling at something inside of it. My ribs ached, and my head felt like it was full of glass, but I was wide awake, staring at the dimly lit room. Adrenaline flooded my system as I fought that warm languorous feeling.
With a groan I tried to push myself up, and a hand pressed against my chest, pushing me down with a force I couldn’t resist.
“Stay down, Ant.” A voice ordered.
I’d heard those words, plenty of times, after getting an ass kicking in a new school or when some of my brothers ganged up on me. Three or more on one, and I’d usually ended up on the ground, and when I tried to get up, they always said the same thing. It provoked the same response at that moment as it had in the past, and I yanked my hand free, smacked away the hand pressing on my chest, and sat up, spitting what I knew was a mouthful of blood out and glaring around me.
Instead of a school locker room or the back yard of the house, I was in a barracks room, and it took me a second to realize where I was.
Nagle was sitting on the bed next to me, dressed in a set of PT sweats that didn’t quite fit her. She was glaring at me, while Jacobs stood next to her holding a flashlight.
“Are you done?” She asked, reaching out and grabbing my hand. “Stupid boy.” She chided. She looked at my hand under the light and sighed. “You pulled the thread out of the needle, you dumbass hick.”
“Thread?” I was still a little confused as to what had happened, and I was having trouble focusing my vision.
“You gashed open your hand pretty bad.” Jacobs answered. “She’s trying to stop the bleeding.”
I held still while Nagle threaded the curved needle she had in her hand and then put two more stitches into my hand.
“How long was I out?” I asked.
“It’s almost 0800, you were out for about a half hour.” Nagle said, lifting up my hand and using her teeth to snap the thread after she made a complex little knot. “Long enough to take care of most of your injuries.”
“My fucking mouth hurts.” I bitched, running my tongue along my front teeth. There were some jagged stumps there, and I counted three teeth broken off on the bottom and one of my front teeth on the top.
“Not surprised, your lips are fucked up pretty good and I think your nose is broken too.” She set the needle down in the small brown sewing kit and then scrubbed her face with her hands. “And I think you have a concussion.”
I smiled at her, feeling the pain as the expression pulled at sore spots in my face. “I’m good.” I lied. My left eye wasn’t focusing very well.
Why is always the left eye in my family? I wondered. Two of my uncles, my aunt, one of my sisters, and one of my brother’s all had eye patches. All of them on the left eye. One of my grandfather’s had lost his eye fighting in the Pacific.
I looked around at the room. The curtains were drawn over the windows, but at least it felt warm in the room. The other two-way radio was on the desk, Hernandez sitting next to it, staring at the door, with one of the heavy axes we’d taken from the motor pool in his hands. Lewis and Carter were still snuggled up on the bed across from me, but I could see that Carter’s face didn’t look so pale, even if the one earlobe I could see looked blackened.
That reminded me.
“How’s your nipples and toes?” I asked Nagle. She flushed then smiled.
“Nipples are sore but OK, but you, me, and Bomber have frostbite on our ears and toes.” She told me. “Your pinky looks like its in bad shape.”
There was a crash from above us, then another, then a scream. I looked at Nagle and tried to lift an eyebrow but stopped when the pain in my forehead spiked.
“Yeah, that’s been going on the whole time.” Hernandez offered.
“How’s John?” I asked, turning to look at him. He was curled up in the fetal position, holding his stomach and shivering.
“I think that hit busted up something inside of him.” Nagle said, shaking her head. “He’s got a bad bruise on the right side of his stomach.”
“He’s lucky.” Jacobs said, toeing the pile of clothing in the middle of the floor. “It should have split him in half.”
“Not. Down. Yet,” Bomber groaned, and tried to sit up. I held out my arm and let him use it to sit up.
The thing that had been bugging me suddenly crystallized as John sat up.
“Where’s Hewitt?” I asked, looking around. He wasn’t gathered up in the room, and I doubted he was in the bathroom taking a shower or leaving a dump. Nagle looked around and swore.
“He left about twenty minutes after you did.” Jacobs supplied, and I cursed. “What?”
“Daniels! What color are his eyes?” Nagle asked when Daniels looked up from where he was sitting on the chair.
“How the fuck should I know? It’s not like we’re fucking.” Daniels answered. “Why?”
“No reason.” Nagle lied, and I nodded.
“Anyone got a plan?” I asked, swinging my feet off the bed and slowly standing up. The world tilted to the left for a moment and I put my hand on Nagle’s shoulder to steady myself.
“Yeah, put some fucking clothes on.” Jacobs laughed, moving over to the dresser and digging in it.
I waited till he threw me a pair of boxers, then went and went in and took a piss. My dick was red and painful, and my balls still ached. I winced at the fact that the soft tissue of my penis looked chapped.
“Nagle, check Bomber’s dick, make sure it doesn’t have frostbite.” I said loudly, making sure there wasn’t any blood in my urine. With the ass kicking I’d taken during the night, I needed to make sure.
“Oh sure, ask the chick.” She laughed. “It looks red and raw.” She called back as I staggered out of the bathroom.
“Oh sure, tell everyone about my dick.” Bomber bitched, his voice low and pain filled.
“Do we know what the fuck is going on?” Hernandez asked. From the radio there was a steady moaning noise, once in awhile broken by a shriek. The door to the stairwell must have still been open down there.
“We’ve got a fucking psycho on the loose.” Jacobs said. “We already knew that.”
“But who the fuck is it? And why are they doing it?” Hernandez asked, looking at each of us in turn. “I mean, I can understand wanting to kill you, Ant, but for fuck’s sake, most people don’t even know you’re in the unit.” He smiled at me and tried to smile back, wincing at the pain in my mouth.
I nodded as he continued. “I mean, what the fuck did we ever do to him? This shit is just crazy.”
“Yeah, it’s just that. Fucking crazy.” Jacobs shrugged. “It’s not like the unit hasn’t had its share of crazy people. We probably wouldn’t understand why he’s doing it even if he told us.”
“He’s doing it because he can.” Nagle said. “He’s getting off on it.” She shivered and I knew she was remembering when we panicked down in the orderly room area.
“So what if some asshole is playing games? We can all take him.” Jacobs said.
“Except he won’t hit all of us at once.” Nagle pointed out. “He hit Bomber with the axe and tried to run off, Ant chased him and as soon as he had Ant alone is when he fucked Ant up.”
“He cut our safety lead.” Bomber grunted, slowly swinging his legs off the bed. “Oh man, my stomach hurts.” He retched again, just bringing up a thin string of bile. Lewis was going to have a hell of time G.I.ing his room.
“He stole our cold weather gear, and wrecked up Bomber and Ant’s rooms, as well as made it so we can’t get into Ant’s brother’s room.” Nagle added. “He may be fucking with us, but that doesn’t make what he’s doing any less deadly.”
“And the stairwell was covered in blood.” Jacobs added. “It’s sprayed on the wall by the door. I think whoever it was killed someone in the stairwell.”
“All right, who do we know it couldn’t have been.” Hernandez asked.
“Bomber, me, Ant, Carter.” Nagle stated. “I’ll extend all of you the benefit of the doubt.”
“That’s all of us.” Daniels said. “Shit.”
“No, the guys on CQ.” I added. “They are either part of this, or got taken out. Someone’s using a master key, and when I went down there when all this shit first started, they were gone.”
Bomber pushed himself to his feet and staggered to the bathroom, stopping once to lean against the wall lockers and retch again.
“Could it be…” Daniels started, looking around nervously.
“Don’t even say his name!” Jacobs yelled. On the other bed Carter stirred sleepily and Lewis raised his head up, blinking.
“No way.” I told them. “He would have ripped me apart, or would have killed us out in the snow. The blizzard wouldn’t even phase him. Whoever is doing this is alive.”
In the bathroom it sounded like Bomber was shitting his guts out. He groaned loudly, full of pain, and we all looked at each other.
Nagle was chewing on her lip, then looked up. “What about 1SG Quinten?” She asked, standing up.
A cold wind blew across all of us at the mention of the former 1SG.
“No way he’s still alive.” Hernandez said, pointing at the curtains, “The blizzard would have killed him. Besides, nobody has seen hide nor hair of him in months.”
I could hear Nagle reassuring Bomber, and heard Bomber retch and shit loudly at the same time.
“Yeah, but he never was found either.” Lewis piped up, looking around. “He sure as fuck hooked Till’s ass up.”
We all nodded. Lewis got up from the bed and grabbed a pair of boxers to match the one I was wearing out of his drawer and pulled them on, then started getting dressed.
“Nobody’s come back either, we’d know.” I added. “Aside from us, everyone lives off post or over on main post in housing.”
Nagle led Bomber out of the bathroom. He looked like death warmed over, and I could see the bruise Nagle was talking about. It was dark red, obvious against his pale skin, just to the right of his navel and going almost all the way across to his hip. He was sweating and shaking, obviously weak, as Nagle led him back to the bed.
There was another crash, followed by the pounding of footsteps moving from above us and fading away.
“I say we go out there, find them, and beat the shit out of them.” Lewis said. “I’m sick of the racket he’s making.”
“Go on ahead with your bad self.” Nagle told him. My head throbbed and I sat back down next to Bomber, who had curled up in a ball after Nagle had tucked him in. I was waiting for the dizziness to pass, but it seemed to be getting worse, and my stomach clenched with nausea. I spit blood on the floor and tried to ignore the way my teeth throbbed.
“Hey, I’ve got to clean that shit up! Don’t spit on my floor!” Lewis yelled.
“Sorry.” I said. I laid over on my side. “Wasn’t thinking.”
I closed my eyes for a moment, and felt someone press something in my hand. “Here, Ant, spit in this.” Lewis said, his voice a lot more gentle. I opened the eye not pressed against the matress and looked. It was an empty beer can.
“Thanks.” I said, closing my eye again and pulling the can to my chest. I could feel someone tucking the blanket in around me, and when I opened my eye I could see Lewis’ legs, and closed my eye again. My head was pounding and my jaw was throbbing agony. I kept playing with the broken teeth, each time my tongue touched part of them it sparked agony through my mouth. I could feel the splits in my lower lip, all three of them, and the split in my upper lip at the corner. I’d taken more kicks to the face that I’d thought, or that one kick had been really effective.
I remembered the feeling of the heel of the boot crashing into my mouth.
“Wake Ant up every hour or so.” Nagle yawned. “I’m going to take a nap, I’m fucking exhausted. Keep an eye on Bomber, wake him up when you wake Ant. Keep an ear out for noises on the radio.”
“Roger that.” Jacobs said. I heard some rustling and bed springs squeak. I knew that Nagle was curling up on the other bed, and briefly thought about pushing myself up and snuggling up with her.
“Don’t leave the room.” Nagle finished, yawning again. “He’s out there, and he knows where we all are.”
A loud crash from somewhere in the building made me twitch.
He knows… followed me into sleep.
My dreams were full of pain, and I kept getting woken up. I just wanted to sleep, I was exhausted, my fingers, toes, nose, and ears burned like fire, my cock hurt, and my mouth and head felt like someone was kicking me in the face repeatedly. I kept dreaming of my 18th birthday, of fire and flame. In the dreams I inhaled and the fire streamed into my mouth and swirled around in my skull.
When the light shined in my eyes again and someone was calling my name I managed to roll over on my side and push myself up into a sitting position.
“Easy, Ant, easy.” A voice said.
“I’m good.” I said. My head was ringing, but my vision wasn’t as blurred at as it was. My brain felt like it was working again. I’d gotten my ass kicked by someone on the stairwell pretty good because I’d charged into an ambush. That was nothing new, I’d had my ass kicked before. Hell, my own mother had almost caved in my skull when I was 13 by slamming a cast iron skillet against the back of my head.
“The hell you are.” Jacobs answered. “Your face is one big fucking bruise and you weren’t too good a little bit ago.”
I looked up, and noticed that the room was lit up, the curtains open to reveal nothing but swirling white outside that was glowing with proof that the sun had risen while I was sleeping.
“You were crying in your sleep.” Hernandez added. I looked over at him, the pain in my face telling me that I was snarling. He saw my look and raised a hand. “I’m not calling you a pussy, dude, just telling you.”
“Yeah. I’ve been told that.” I sighed, and went to rub my eyes. My head exploded in pain and I jerked my hands away with a hiss. “Hewitt back?”
“No.” Hernandez shrugged. “Think he’s gone?”
“He’s fucking toast.” Jacobs answered, and I nodded. I looked around, and noticed that a few people were missing.
“Where’s Nagle?” I asked.
“Her, Lewis, and Carter went down to refill the generator.” Jacobs told me.
“How long have they been gone?” I asked. There was a thump outside.
Jacobs went to answer when there was a banging on the door and we heard Nagle yell for us to open the fuck up. By the time I got to my feet Jacobs had the door open so that the others could get in. Jacobs slammed the door and locked it behind them.
“How’s it look?” I asked, moving over to Nagle and grabbing her in a hug. She was ice cold, and I held her for a moment while she shivered.
“Bad. There’s not much snow on the ground out there, but the wind is awful.” She told me, stripping off the parka she was wearing and dropping it on the floor. “I looked outside, we’ve got zero visibility out there. Temperature’s up, but not by much.” She folded the parka up and rubbed her hands together. “And I’ve got good news.”
“What?” I asked, pausing on my way to the bathroom. Lewis was waiting outside the bathroom door, and I figured Carter was in there.
“We grabbed some MRE’s out of the platoon’s war stocks.” She said, and my stomach rumbled. “How’s your mouth?”
“Hurts.” I admitted, stepping forward when Carter came out of the bathroom carrying his parka and Lewis went in.
“I’m gonna check on Bomber.” She told me, and I waved to her. I heard another thump, and started to turn around when Lewis came back out, buttoning up his pants.
I took a leak, noticing it looked like my dick was peeling, and came back out. Everyone but Nagle and Bomber were tearing into the MRE’s, Lewis and Carter arguing over the ham slices. I looked over and Nagle was waving me over.
“He’s in trouble.” Nagle told me when I bent down to her. “Feel.” She took my hand and pressed it to his forehead.
He was burning up.
When I took my hand away he muttered and went to roll over, crying out from pain. His eyes opened for a moment, rolled back in his head, and he went limp again. Outside, the thump sounded again.
“I think the hit with the axe ruptured something inside of him.” She whispered.
“We gotta do something.” I told her, sitting next to her. Nagle smiled sadly and wiped the bottom of my lip. Speaking had split open my lip and I could taste blood.
“What are you going to do, carry him on your back to main post?” She asked, wiping my chin again. “Damn, Ant, he really did a number on your face.”
“Could have been worse, he could have stabbed…” My voice trailed off and I looked around the room, pausing from where I was picking up my clothing from the night before. “Where’s the knife I was carrying?”
“On the desk.” Jacobs told me. I stood up, ignoring the dizziness, and moved over to where Jacobs was pointing. I heard that thump again, but was concentrating on the knife I’d taken from whoever attacked me in the stairs.
The knife was a bayonet, standard issue for the unit, and the number was engraved on the back. The bayonet was someone’s standard issue, and I wondered if whoever’s it was could have been the one who was roaming around the barracks.
Still, it told me more than a little, and concentrating on it helped clear the cobwebs still clogging my brain. I pulled my T-shirt on and then buttoned up my flannel.
It wasn’t who we were all afraid of. If it had been, he wouldn’t have used a knife, he would have ripped my guts out in the stairwell, and he would have taken us one at a time in the snow.
Whoever it was, I knew the following: The were male. They were injured. They were a member of the unit. They weren’t about to take us on more than one at a time. They had already killed one person. And they had a place to lair up where they weren’t worried about freezing to death.
I bent down and pulled on my socks and boots, feeling the pain in my toes and there was a weird feeling that I knew was my pinkie toenail peeling off.
I jumped when Nagle slid up next to me, worming under my arm. I hugged her and kept staring at the bayonet while there was another thump outside. It was pretty rhythmic, so I figured something had torn free and was banging against the side of the building.
“What?” Nagle asked, reaching down and flicking the bayonet with a fingernail. I noticed that the skin under her fingernails was black, just like mine. Frostbite.
“Nothing. How long was I out?” I dimly remembered asking that before.
“A couple hours. You should be resting, you look like hell.”
“I’m fine.” I answered.
Jacobs laughed from behind me, and I noticed his laugh had kind of a braying sound, almost horselike.
That crossed him off.
“You’re just like your fucking brother.” He laughed.
I turned from the bayonet, trying to smile and feeling pain in my mouth when I did.
I looked at Bomber, who was moving around on the bed, moaning in delirium, his cheeks flushed. Then at the others, who were all eating, then down at Nagle, who was in the crook of my arm.
I opened my mouth to speak when there was the sound of shattering glass, the curtains billowed out, and Jacobs fell out of his chair with a shout. Cold air billowed into the room, with snow following, and the temperature dropped suddenly.
A hammer was laying on the floor, and Jacobs was holding onto his head, cursing, the MRE scattered around the tile. Hernandez was yelling, and so was Lewis, both of them moving over to the window. Carter had bent down next to Jacobs, trying to pull his hand away to get a good look at the wound.
Nagle had ran over to Bomber, making sure he was tucked in, and I almost tripped over the chair running over to the window.
I couldn’t see shit outside but howling snow.
Lewis turned and ran for the door, and Nagle jumped up and grabbed at him.
“Don’t, Lewis!” Nagle yelled, right as Lewis reached for the lock.
Hernandez was next to me, looking into the snow, squinting his eyes.
Behind us, Lewis was arguing with Nagle. He wanted to go after whoever had just thrown a fucking hammer through the window. I realized that while you couldn’t see too far from the windows, that didn’t mean anything. I opened the window, ignoring the glass that fell onto the floor, and leaned out to look.
I could faintly see the window below.
Visibility was around 10 to 20 feet. Not far, but…
“We’re going to have to find somewhere else!” Nagle yelled over the howl of the wind whipping into the room. “We gotta get Bomber somewhere warm!”
“Roger!” I yelled back, grabbing the coveralls I’d worn the night before and pulling them on. They were still damp, but they were warm, and I grinned when I felt the stiffness of the Kevlar in between the sets of coveralls.
Lewis had grabbed his rucksack and was busy unlocking his roommates TA-50 lockers and grabbing down the rucksacks. Our unit insisted that everyone have their shit packed for an alert, and it had been winter long enough that the rucks should have been packed for cold weather. At least all 3 had the waterproof bags at the bottom that I knew would have the cold weather sleeping bags stuffed into them.
There was the banging of metal on metal that made me spin around.
The radio on the desk.
“Nagle!” I called out, quickly zipping up the last coverall.
“I hear it.” She answered. “You guys head down to the platoon offices, Ant and I have to hurry!” she called out, her hands busy zipping up the cold weather gear she’d just taken off.
I grabbed the bayonet and the knit ski cap that was on the desk while Nagle told the other to be careful with Bomber, not to jog him around too much.
The door opened up into a pitch black and freezing hallway. There was about a half inch of snow on the tile, and the wind blew it around as the currents changed from the door being opened up and letting the wind blow in. My ears and nose started to ache, and pulling the air over my broken teeth made my eyes tear up.
“We’ve got to hurry.” Nagle said, leading the way. She knew I was hurt, that I was slower than her, all the injuries I’d taken stiffening up while I had slept. But she also knew me well enough to know I bounced back pretty quick, and like my brother, had a high pain tolerance.
We took the end stairwell to the first floor, and I led the way, my stomach muscles tightening involuntarily at the thought of an axe coming out of the darkness. Nothing happened, and we quickly headed down the hallway to the middle stairwell. I’d been right, the middle hallway doors were wedged open, and the wind blew down the hallway. Pulling the door open, the wind snatched it out of my tingling burning hand and slammed it against the wall with a boom.
From the darkness below we could hear the impact of metal on metal.
Leaning forward, I put my mouth near Nagle’s ear. “Keep back from me, don’t come in unless you have a clear shot.” I told her softly, and she nodded. I led the way, aware of the blood that had run down off the second floor landing and then down the wall next to me before it froze.
Too much blood for someone to lose and survive.
I could hear the banging below, and knew it was echoing through the stairwell, and I smiled in the darkness. Down below I could see light, and knew that whoever was down there had opened the door to the end of the loading dock, either to give themselves light, or that’s the way they’d come in.
Round two, asshole…
I moved silently down the stairs, Nagle keeping a little ways back, and I stopped when I could see the doorway at the bottom of the stairs.
Someone had wedged it open, dropping the chock, and snow covered the floor, ice on the steps. Whoever had done it was beyond, and I could hear them banging on the locks to the basement. I could also faintly hear the roaring of the little 1.5K generator. So far it had held up like a champ.
I tightened my grip on the bayonet and went down the last of the stairs, pausing at the bottom of the stairs, unwilling to blindly charge again.
A parka with the hood up, stained with something dark, Mickey Mouse boots, heavy gloves, and an axe being swung with both hands at the last two locks on the four Bomber had installed onto the heavy security door.
Beyond him the door to the loading dock was wide open, revealing the swirling white of the snow, and I saw a length of 550 cord on the end of a D-ring swinging from the pushbar of the door.
Something clued him in. The crunch of snow, maybe, or perhaps some sixth sense that only the batshit crazy get.
Whatever it was, he spun in place, the axe held in both hands.
He was wearing a cold weather mask, completely hiding who he was, only the strip across the mouth unsnapped and showing bared white teeth. One eye was closed and purple behind the slit and I knew I was grinning at the sight.
I hefted the bayonet, feeling warmth on my chin as I raised the naked blade of the bayonet. His one good eye widened as he saw me.
“Miss me?” I grinned, watching his axe, his feet, his whole body. To use the axe he’d have to get his feet under him right, or he’d overextend.
I fully intended on killing him.
Keep the blade low, other hand in front just below throat level, knees bent, feet apart, be ready for a thrust or slash. Watch his axe, watch his body movement, and watch his eyes. My father’s voice, low and soothing, ran through my brain as I dropped my knife hand back down by my side and brought the other one up.
I didn’t bother wasting breath on talking, I had nothing to say, all my attention was focused on him. I’d come in low, go for the inner thigh or a thrust near the belly button. He’d be too guarded for a straight under the breastbone thrust, the parka was thick enough that a side thrust might not work.
I’m going to make you scream… I want to hear you scream…
For a long, endless split second he just stared at me, standing in front of him with the bayonet in my hand and blood in my eyes.
I saw his eye flicker a second before he moved, tensing to avoid the axe blow.
Instead, he threw it at me.
Not overhand, not like a lumberjack, but just thrust it away from him so it flew at me.
I dodged it for the most part, but the end of the end of the axe handle popped me in the mouth, sending it spinning behind me. I heard Nagle curse, but didn’t pay any attention, everything locked down on the man in front of me.
He whirled and ran, heading toward the outside and the loading dock. I knew better than to try to throw the knife. Even during practice when I was a kid, I usually missed the target or the knife hit hilt first, usually to my sibling’s laughter and my father’s frustration.
His hand snaked out and he grabbed the D-ring right before he plunged into the whiteout.
“Ant, dont!” Nagle yelled out, thinking I was about to plunge after him.
“Fuck that, he’s mine!” I bellowed, sliding to a stop next to the door. I made a “keep going” motion at Nagle, who hurried up to me.
“Ant! Come back!” she shouted out the door.
“Where are you?” I yelled outside.
“Ant! Wait, I’m coming for you!” She called out, then turned and looked at me. She reached up and wiped my chin. “You’re bleeding again.” We shouted a few more times, to convince him that once again we’d ran out into the snow, and Nagle gave a pretty convincing scream that she let trail off.
We headed back toward the door, and I looked at the locks. He’d managed to smash two of them off the door, but the other two still held.
“That was a good idea.” I told her, jerking a thumb at the emergency light where the radio that matched the one upstairs was hidden. I realized there was nothing to do about the locks but hope he didn’t get through when we weren’t looking, and headed into the stairwell.
“He wants us to suffer.” Nagle stated while I bent down and grabbed the axe.
MOTORPOOL PLATOON 2/19 was burned into the handle. I showed her, and she nodded. I handed it to her and led the way up the stairs.
I was feeling no pain. My vision had sharpened up, even though things were a little blurry at a distance, the pain had just flowed right out of my body and while I was a little cold, I sure as hell didn’t feel the way I had when I had woken up.
We paused for a moment at the first floor stairwell and looked at one another.
Faint light was leaking in through the shattered windows of the stairwell, with snow blowing in. The liquid on the wall was still red in the daylight, and had frozen up by the top, with long trails down the wall, longer toward the edge of the landing. The top step had blood icicles hanging down from it, and matching small chunks of hardened blood underneath them.
Without a word we both headed up, rounding the landing only after looking at the steps next to us that led up in order to be sure nobody was standing there. Each step was only two inches thick or so, separated from each other by metal supports on each side and the middle. Snow and ice crunched under our boots as we got closer, blood covering the first step down, and completely coating the landing. Blood sprays were on the fall wall, having run down the wall before freezing. The wind from the broken window sliced through our clothing as we stood there, silent, looking at where someone had been murdered.
And then had their eyes cut out…
“Christ, Ant, who do think it was?” Nagle asked me, bending down to reach forward and touching the blood with her fingertips.
“Someone from CQ.” I answered. Bloodsmears were frozen in place, where whoever had been murdered had been drug away, and I turned to look at the steps heading up in the wan light.
Frozen blood streaks were on the steps.
Whoever had been killed had been drug up the steps, to the third or fourth floor.
“Check it out or head back to the others?” Nagle asked me, keeping an eye on the small window in the door.
“Up.” I grunted, wiping my chin and ignoring the blood I left on the sleeve of the coverall. Breathing hurt, the cold air making the whole front of my face throb.
Nagle nodded, and I led the way, keeping the knife in front of my chest, and checking the stairs the led up from the midway landing to make sure there wasn’t another boot waiting to introduce itself to my face.
Only our boots crunching in the snow and ice made any noise beyond the wind screaming through the broken windows. Both of us were breathing quietly, and I knew that Nagle was straining to hear anything out of the ordinary like I was.
The barracks, of course, showed its hatred of all living things as we rounded the landing.
Something slammed, and a scream echoed down the stairwell, followed by a rhythmic hammering that made the air vibrate and punished the eardrums. There was a loud groan, like some huge beast giving birth, and the stairs shuddered under our feet.
On the third floor we found the door opened, and a glance down the hallways showed that there was almost two inches of snow on the floor, the doors between the halves of the hallway were laying on the floor almost covered by snow, and I could see the wind whipping the snow around in front of each doorway.
Someone had opened every door on the floor.
“Up.” Nagle said, her voice barely audible over the creaking and snapping of the building. I glanced at the steps, and saw that the blood trail continued up.
And a bloody handprint was frozen halfway up the stairs.
I knew I was smiling again, and I knew that my lips had cracked open from the cold and from my smile, but I didn’t care.
We headed up, and paused at the door. It was almost completely dark, the last window in the stairwell about five feet below our boots. Still, we could make out the landing in the dim light. There was another bloody handprint beside the door, and the door handle was smeared with blood. There was a large smeared mark, and I knew that whoever was doing this had laid the dead man down long enough to open the door.
You’re up here, aren’t you, you son of a bitch…
I pulled the door open, and saw a figure in the darkness in front of me.
They were wearing a BDU cap, and they were short and squat, arms outstretched and gleaming eyes in the darkness.
Nagle pushed by me and kicked it at the base, the snow exploding outward. The whole thing fell down, and I waited till she got done swearing and kicking it before moving into the hallway after her.
The BDU softcap had E-2 rank on it when I picked it up off the tile floor.
“Nagle, hush.” I said softly, and she stopped kicking at the snow.
It was cold in the hallway, but it was warmer than the rest of the barracks. The tile was clean, and there was no ice on the walls or on the ceiling. There was a frozen bloodstreak that led to the right, down the hallway and through the doubledoors that separated the fourth floor hallway.
The building groaned again, and my ears popped as the pressure changed in the hallway. Wind was blowing in from behind us, into the hallway, and I pulled the door shut.
“He’s up here.” Nagle said softly. I nodded, looking around us. She pulled a flashlight out of her pocket and clicked it on, flashing it around, and stopping on the wall in front of us.
I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU
was smeared on the wall in blood.
I glanced at Nagle, who giggled, and I shook my head. I pushed past the double doors, confident that Nagle would follow me, back me up, and together we walked down the hallway, looking at the doors as we passed them. Nagle flashed the light long enough for us to see the name.
SSG. SFC. SGT. SSG(P).
This was NCO country.
I knew who the door the thinning traces of blood would lead into before we found it.
Nagle looked at and nodded. She’d known it too.
We passed by the room, and I promised myself that we’d come back, heading toward the platoon leader and section leader offices at the end of the hallway.
The doors were locked.
“He’s hiding out up here.” Nagle said again, and I nodded, my fingertips on the doorknob and pressing on it rhythmically. No reason, just something to do with my free hand while I played with my broken teeth and thought.
“Let’s go check on the others.” I answered, turning to the stairwell door.
“Worried about John?” Nagle asked as I pushed the door open.
“Yeah.” I admitted.
John was my friend. I didn’t make friends easily. Acquaintances, yeah. Sorta friends. Sure. But real friends? No. That meant letting them in, letting them know about me, and having to trust them.
My mother and two of my brothers had taught me that nobody could be trusted.
“He’ll be all right.” Nagle promised as we started down the steps.
The light was dimmer in the stairwell, and I knew we were losing the light. During the winter we didn’t get much light. Not as bad as Alaska, or Bremerhaven, but bad enough.
The building groaned and shuddered again, hard enough that I could feel it in the steps. I glanced at Nagle, who looked back at me worriedly.
“This doesn’t feel right.” She said, stopping me before I opened the second floor door.
“What?” I asked, tightening my grip on the knife and then easing it up. My hands stung, and I wanted to make sure I could keep my grip.
“The building. I think something is wrong.” She said, and I glanced through the glass window on the door.
“Uh-huh.” I told her. I kept probing the broken top tooth with my tongue. She was right. We’d never been back during a storm, but I hadn’t heard noises like that since my dad was stationed at Texas and a tornado had touched down near the house. The barracks was made of cinderblocks and concrete, where the barracks it had replaced had mostly been wood, it shouldn’t have been making those kinds of noises.
The second floor hallway was dark and cold, with wind screaming through and pushing the thick snow around. Footprints marred the snow, and the door to the platoon area was jammed open. Light from the windows made it bright enough to see, but I could tell we were losing the light fast.
Looking around, I noticed that the prints all went to first platoon’s area.
“Back me up.” Nagle told me, walking over to the closet and opening it. She shined the flashlight inside and pulled out a broom. She quickly swept the floor, pushing all the snow to the edge of the room before putting the broom back.
“Smart.” I told her.
She knocked on the door, then knocked again.
“Who is it?” Hernandez asked.
“Ant and Nagle. Open up, it’s freezing out here.” She yelled.
Hernandez opened the door, revealing where First Platoon hung out when they weren’t off working. Desks and tables, with large windows opposite of the door.
Smart to use this one. It was off to the side, and instead of the window only being about 20 feet off the ground, it was around 80 feet if you backed up far enough to throw something. Starting about 5 feet from the edge of the building it was a sharp dropoff of almost fifty feet. We’d travelled along the small 5 foot path, and up the incline that matched the one that dropped into the woods.
He’d have a tough time throwing a hammer through the windows.
Just in case, Lewis and Jacobs were hanging blankets over the windows.
Bomber was on top of a mattress that had been put on a table. Hernandez locked the door behind us, and Nagle and I quickly stripped off what we were wearing for cold weather gear. Nagle walked over to where they’d put the MRE box on a table, next to the radio and a big pile of blankets, while I went over and stood next to Bomber. He opened his eyes and looked at me when I reached down and felt his forehead. He was burning up.
“How ya doin’, John?” I asked.
“You’ve got blood on your chin.” He answered me. “You eating raw meat again?”
“No, man. I cut my lip. How ya feeling?”
“My stomach hurts. Got any beer?” He said, and tried to sit up. He cried out and fell back, his eyes rolling back in his head. I checked his pulse. It was fast, his heart hammering. I went and got a chair, pulled it over next to him, then sat down and held his hand.
“Eat.” Nagle told me, dragging over another chair and handing me an MRE before she sat down. She handed me several applesauce packets. “The guys saved these for you.”
“Thanks.” I called out. When Lewis and Jacobs turned around from where they were stacking the tables against the blankets I waved the applesauce packets at them. They nodded and went back to work.
Nagle pulled the blanket back while I ate, looking at Bomber’s stomach. The bruise was a deep dark red, about two inches wide at the middle and narrowing down to a sharp end on both sides. She pressed gently on his stomach, starting up by his ribs and working down.
He was covered in sweat, and the scars he’d picked up during his life were in stark contrast to his flushed skin. He was breathing fast, and stirred slightly when she pressed down his ribs.
“His ribs aren’t broken.” She sighed, then moved lower. I looked at his “Don’t Mess With Texas” tattoo and remembered when he got it. We’d been drunk as hell, and it was the weekend after he’d fucked a bigfoot, which explained the furry foot beneath it. I’d thought about getting a tattoo, but had passed, preferring to watch him get it and laugh at his expressions.
Nagle’s fingers traced down his stomach on the left side, and he just stirred a little when she pressed on the left side all the way to his balls. She grabbed his penis, which was peeling the same as mine, and pushed her fingers into his testicles, feeling around.
“He’s not herniated.” She told me, and I nodded, squeezing the applesauce into my mouth.
“Where did you learn to do all that?” Jacobs asked from behind me.
“Books. I think I know what’s wrong with him.” She said softly, then reached over and pressed her fingers hard below the bruise and held it.
Bomber just moaned slightly and shifted.
“Hold him down.” Nagle ordered, her fingers still pressed deeply into his stomach. I nodded, and grabbed his arm, dragging it to his side from where he was trying to push at Nagle and leaning on it. Jacobs walked around and grabbed his other arm.
“Hernandez, Lewis, hold his feet.” She said. Both of them came over and did as they were told.
She whipped her hand back, and John screamed, long and loud, his voice full of agony. He fought briefly to get loose, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he kicked and fought to get loose.
Then he collapsed, going limp.
We all looked at Nagle, who was staring at John with an expression of sadness on her face.
“What?” I asked, my stomach clenching.
“The axe blow ruptured his appendix.”
The light was dimming in the room, and we were all silent, gathered around the table Bomber was laying on. We had him wrapped up in blankets, laying on a mattress, on a table at the side of the room, against a wall. His skin was flushed and he was sweating, his fever strong enough that I could feel the heat rolling off of him. His eyes would flutter open and he’d mumble before lapsing unconscious again.
I’d heard him whimper for his mother, whisper his sister’s name, and say both Nagle’s and my own name. I ignored the way Lewis and Jacobs looked at me, ignored Daniel’s snicker when Bomber kept repeating my name till I reached out, took his hand, and told him I was there. Nagle glared at them when I sat there crying, and when I raised up my head and glared at them they went away and left John and me alone.
When I went over to grab another MRE, Carter came over and stood next to me.
“You doin’ OK, Ant?” He asked me in a low voice. With the wind howling outside, making the windows shake, and the screaming and booming sounds inside the building, I knew nobody would hear us talking quietly.
“He’s dying, man.” I said. “He’s gonna die right on that table.”
“He’ll be all right, you’ll see.” Carter told me, squeezing my shoulder. “Someone will come soon.”
“No, they won’t.” I told him. “Today’s Friday, it’s a 4-day weekend before Christmas next week, nobody’s going to think anything bad has happened.”
“Don’t think like that.” He told me.
“And you’re forgetting the psycho outside.” I told him. “Why the fuck were you sleeping in your room with the windows cracked open?” I asked him.
“What? No I wasn’t. I keep my windows shut.” He told me.
“When I found you, your windows were cracked open, you damn near died of hypothermia.” I told him. “I know, I’m the one who found you. Bomber and I carried you to Lewis’ room.”
“Thanks, I guess.” He was quiet for a moment. “You think it’s…”
“Don’t say his name.” I interrupted. “He’s the last fucking thing we need right now, with a goddamn psycho on the loose.”
“He’s out there, you know.” He said.
“I know.” I answered.
We were quiet for a second, while I tore open the MRE and dug out the jelly.
“You know what happened, don’t you?” He asked me. I had the jelly in my mouth and was squeezing it out and into my mouth. I raised an eyebrow, and he went on. “His body disappeared from the morgue.”
I swallowed the grape jelly and glared at Carter. “Stop talking about him.”
A rumble that shook the whole building stopped him from saying more.
Squeezing a packet of peanut butter into my mouth I turned away and went to sit next to my best friend, leaving Carter standing there with the MRE’s.
Nagle sat next to me, reaching out and putting her hand on my thigh as I ate and stared at Bomber. He kept tossing his head back and forth, moaning with delirium, and all I could do was stare at him like a monkey doing math.
“I wish my brother was here, he’d know what to do.” I said, shoving the wreckage of the MRE into the brown plastic bag.
“We need to think.” Nagle said, her face barely visible in the dimming light from outside. We were losing the light fast, maybe 15 minutes until the world went dark again.
“What good is it going to do.” I asked her, squinting. Things were getting fuzzy again.
“Your head still hurt?” She asked me, pulling her flashlight out of her pocket.
“Mostly my teeth.” I admitted. She covered my eye, shining the light in my face, then uncovered it, repeating it twice.
“Looks like you slept it off.” She told me. “Your pupils are good now.”
“You sure, things keep…”
“Ant…” Bomber called out, and I turned away from Nagle.
“I’m here, man.” I said, reaching out and grabbing his hand.
“I’d invite you home with me for Christmas but my sister wants to fuck you.” He mumbled. He was staring at the ceiling. Before I could answer he sighed and his eyes fluttered shut. He was still breathing steadily, but he was out again.
The room got steadily darker. Outside the room we heard screams, thudding, and crashing noises.
Carter and me kept looking at each other. We’d heard those noises before. Carter kept looking at his hands, and I knew he was remembering, the same as I was, the night the barracks had burned down. How we’d all packed into the two CUC-V’s for the trip back, my brother unconscious in the back of the vehicle, Smith clenching his teeth and fists with the pain from his burns. Cobb coughing from smoke inhalation.
And the fact Tandy had vanished out of a windowless bathroom.
I dozed off again, my arms on the mattress and my head on my arms. My teeth and head were killing me, despite what I told Nagle.
I woke up later, the entire room dark, and the sound of wind howling outside. Nagle was leaned against me, her arm around my waist, and I leaned down in the darkness and kissed the top of her head.
Bomber groaned in pain.
Pulling Nagle closer to me, I cuddled up and nuzzled the top of her head. She was my closest friend, aside from Bomber, and having her cuddled up next to me made me feel better.
Someone had been murdered and drug into SGT Jakes’ room.
There was only one problem with that. I remembered that we had 3 Jakes in the unit, one female, two males. Sergeant Jakes, who had been on CQ, lived on the third floor, since he wasn’t promotable yet. The other SGT Jakes, from motorpool, was promotable, and he’d gone home on leave.
I didn’t know if those tracks had been in the hallway when I first woke up, we hadn’t gone up to the 4th floor until Nagle and I had headed up there.
And what the fuck was going on with the snowmen?
I shifted and Nagle lifted up her head. Her hand came up and touched my face, feeling around for a moment, and then she kissed me, and long gentle kiss, and I opened my mouth when her tongue brushed my sore lips.
“What should we do?” She asked me, whispering in my ear. “You still smell like grease and rubbing alcohol.”
“I’ve got a plan, but it’s kind of a ‘fuck you’ plan that might not be that good of an idea.” I told her softly.
“What is it?” She asked, and I told her quietly what I figured out. She was quiet for a long time. “Very… Kurt Russell…” she whispered, then licked my ear.
“I felt that.” I smiled against her face.
“Good. Don’t tell anyone else, I overheard Daniels saying that for all they knew, you were the psycho.” She told me. “Daniels told the others you could have gotten your face fucked up, and Bomber could have gotten hurt, while we were killing the CQ team.”
“Great, this is the last thing we need.” I told her.
“Shhh.” She suddenly whispered.
Someone was walking around outside the door. Both of us stood up quietly and went over to the door. I heard a door open up, then shut, and the footsteps kept moving. The footsteps moved up to the door we were standing up next to, and I pulled Nagle back.
The handle jiggled, and the door pushed slightly in as someone tried it on the other side. I heard the key slide into the lock and I waited until the door unlocked and the handle moved down. The door started to open slowly and I got ready.
When I heard a single footstep I kicked the door as hard as I could. Someone cried out and I whipped the door open on the rebound. Nagle turned on the flashlight, shining it into the room, and I saw the cold weather mask covered face and the bayonet in the person’s hand as they stumbled backwards.
He whirled and ran, his footsteps thudding against the floor, but I didn’t go after him.
Nagle’s flashlight had revealed the NVG’s he was wearing.
Everyone behind me was exclaiming, Daniels and Lewis demanding to know what was going on, Carter yelling that it was Tandy, and Jacobs yelling “Go after him!”
Instead, Nagle slammed shut the door and locked it again.
“We go after him, he’ll kill us.” She said simply, turning around and shining the flashlight around the room, stopping at each person’s face. “He’s got NVG’s, he’s got cold weather gear, and he’s got the CQ keys or at least a master key. Not only that, but he’s armed with a knife.”
She paused for a long moment, the silence broken by a shriek that shook the door.
“Unless someone has a plan, then I suggest we stay right there.” Nagle said, then shined the flashlight into my face, then onto Bomber, who lay on the mattress. “He damn near took out Ant, and he might have taken out Bomber, and all of you know he’s a tough bull riding son of a bitch.”
Nagle reached out and grabbed my hand, walking back with me to the table where Bomber was laying. She sat down, pulled me into the chair next to her, and then pulled me face first into her breasts, holding me tight and shaking.
The room was silent, except for the noises in the building, for a long time, until there was a rumbling that shook the entire building. The building groaned, and I could feel the shaking through the tile of the floor that made me look up from where I’d been relaxing against Nagle’s tits.
“What the fuck is that?” Daniels asked.
“If it is what I think it is, we’re in a fuckload of trouble.” Carter suddenly spoke up.
“What?” I asked, then winced as my teeth throbbed.
“Avalanche.” He stated, the word filling me with dread.
“No way, the motor pool is in between the snowpack and us.” Lewis said.
“Doesn’t matter.” Carter answered, “The motorpool isn’t that big compared to an avalanche, and the snow would have swept around it real easy.”
“You guys ready to admit it wasn’t me?” I asked. “Or Bomber?”
“Nobody said it was you.” Daniels spoke up.
“Then let’s keep it that way.” I told him, pulling Nagle close and cuddling her.
“Who is it then?” Daniels asked, “Because I sure as fuck can’t think of someone who’d want to kill me.”
“Why don’t you ask your room mate Hewitt?” Nagle snapped.
“Nobody asked you, bitch.” He snarled back.
“What did you call her?” I asked, standing up.
“Fuck you, Ant. I’m not afraid of you.” He told me, and I heard a chair scrape in the darkness.
“Guys, calm the fuck down.” Hernandez barked. “It’s bad enough we’ve got someone out there trying to kill us, we don’t need you two killing each other.”
“Tell that fucking psycho to step off.” Daniels’ voice was harsh in the darkness.
“How about I break my foot off in your ass?” I asked.
“Calm down. Now.” Hernandez barked again.
Silence fell, broken by the shriek of wind outside the doors. I felt a draft whisper by my face and frowned.
“Who’s near the door?” I asked.
“I am.” Lewis said.
“Is there a breeze under the door?” I asked.
There was silence for a second, and then Lewis started cursing. “Goddamn it, there is.”
“Throw a blanket in front of the door.” Hernandez suggested.
I opened my mouth to suggest something else when we heard it from the table over by the MRE’s.
Metal on metal crashing together.
He was trying to bust open the door where our pathetic little generator was again.
“Ant and I are going, who else?” Nagle asked, letting go of me. She clicked on the flashlight and moved toward the table where we’d left the cold weather gear we’d been wearing.
“I’ll go.” Lewis offered.
We dressed quickly and silently, and I handed him one of the heavy axes as we headed toward the door.
“Open it.” Nagle said to Hernandez, who nodded jerkily.
The radio was still letting us know that whoever was out to kill us was still trying to hammer his way into the furnace room.
Hernandez pulled open the door, and Nagle’s flashlight showed us an empty room. The wind hit us in the face like a hammer, and snow swirled in the room.
I went first, Nagle following, and Lewis followed. Straight to the middle stairs, and we eased open the door. Nagle shut off the flashlight, and we all paused for a second.
The sound of him hammering on the door with something floated up out of the steps, and I led the way down the steps, the naked bayonet held tightly in my fist. I planned on gutting him with the same knife he tried to stab me with, leave him stumbling around with a confused look and his intestines hanging out.
It was pitch black at the bottom of the stairs, and I waited for a second. I could see a hint of motion in the darkness right before there was another crash of metal on metal.
“I’ll turn on the light, you kill this asshole. One…” Nagle said softly into my ear. I felt the cold trickle of adrenaline down my spine. “Two…” I slitted my eyes so that I wouldn’t be blinded when she hit the light.
“Three.” She hissed, flicking on the light.
The light revealed the same guy, night vision goggles strapped over the mask, another axe in his hands. His head whipped toward us, and Lewis shoved me aside to step forward, hefting the axe in his hands.
“We got you now, asshole.” Lewis said.
Two steps back, and the guy in the parka hefted the axe in his glove covered hands. Lewis followed him deeper into the hallway. Beyond them the door was chocked open again, and I could see a D-ring hanging on the door again.
Lewis took two more steps forward. “Put the axe down, dude, and nothing will happen.” He said, his voice full of confidence.
I knew it was going to happen before the guy even moved, but Lewis didn’t even see it coming.
The figure threw the axe at Lewis, spun in place, and ran to the door, pulling the D-Ring free and vanishing into the snow.
The axe hit Lewis in the face, sending him staggering for a second, and he dropped the fireaxe he was holding, his hands going to his face.
“Motherfucker!” Lewis yelled.
And ran out into the snow.
“Lewis!” I shouted as he disappeared into the snow. “Goddamn it, Lewis!”
Nagle and I ran forward as a loud scream sounded out, and skidding to a stop at the door. Lewis was still screaming, and the wind blew the snow into our faces from out in the darkness.
Rich deep laughter, full of something that made goosebumps raise on my back, rolled out of the darkness and over us, audible even over the screaming. Nagle and I looked at each other, and Nagle’s eyes were wide with her pupils open. She looked vulnerable suddenly, and the idea of tough as nails smart as a whip Nagle frightened chilled me even more.
Nagle had been a rock to lean on since she’d gotten to the unit, and like John, she’d been there during my divorce, had been there when I was so hurt, and had held me as I cried from the pain and agony that filled me. She was tough, had four years in the military before I ever met her, and was braver than hell, willing to back me up when even some of the others wouldn’t be there. Her being frightened made something in me turn small and afraid.
Lewis screamed again, a sound of agony, and Nagle bit her lower lip as she looked at me.
“Stay here.” I told her and she nodded, and got down on my hands and knees to start to crawl into the snow.
Less that 10 feet into the snow and I felt the edge of the loading dock. Lewis was screaming louder now, or maybe I was just closer to him. I slid off the loading dock, squinting my eyes as the snow blew into my face and numbed my cheeks, earlobes, and nose. I knelt down in the snow and crawled forward, reaching out with my hands.
Lewis’ screams jangled my nerves, and my imagination conjured the guy in the cold weather mask using a blade on him, carving on him with a bayonet.
Carving his eyes out…
My hand bumped something, and Lewis screamed even louder when I grabbed it in the darkness and pulled on it right when my brain identified it as a shoe. He kept screaming, sobbing screams of animal agony as I moved up the leg.
It was bent wrong, and I could feel something sharp and hard underneath the cold weather pants he was wearing. Moving further up him he grabbed my wrist, first trying to bat my hands away, then grabbing onto me and pulling on me.
“For fuck’s sake, stop screaming!” I yelled, grabbing him by the chest.
“My fucking legs, oh God, my fucking legs!” he screamed.
I moved behind him, grabbing his collar, and started dragging him back the way I’d come. He was screaming, begging me not to move him, pleaded with the simple “don’t” as I first drug him around and then pulled him through the snow.
The loading dock should be behind me.
I kept pulling, through the darkness and snow, bent over and dragging Lewis, who lapsed into silence by the third step. I knew his legs had twisted around, but there wasn’t shit I could do about.
Another little sliding half step, the wind trying to knock me over.
I couldn’t hear shit, and started to lose where I was. I couldn’t be too far from the loading dock, could I? I only crawled forward for a few moments, Lewis couldn’t have gone that far off the dock before he hit and broke his legs, could have he? He couldn’t have crawled far on those legs, could have he?
Another step, and still nothing behind me.
Was I heading the wrong way? Was I going to suddenly lose my balance and fall backwards, to roll down the hill and vanish into the woods? Was I crossing the parking lot away from the building instead of toward it?
Had I killed us both?
Where was the goddamn loading dock?
Another step, leaning back, and my ass hit something solid, bouncing me forward and I lost my balance in the dark and wind. I pitched forward, landing partially on Lewis, and my hand hit something soft right before I went face first into the pavement with a bright white flash. Lewis jerked and screamed, punching me in the side, and I accidentally kneed him as I pulled myself to my feet, keeping hold on his collar. He screamed, weakly, and stopped.
I slid my arms underneath him and lifted, my teeth pounding and making my eyes water. I heaved him up on the loading dock, and he rolled out of my arms, screaming and flailing. He backhanded me across the face and my knees when out, making me collapse on the ground. I twitched, confused, trying to figure out where I was, and pulled myself up. Lewis’ scream reminded me, and I climbed up after him and squatted down next to him, digging my hands in his collar.
“Nancy!” I yelled. I knew my voice was a half-hysterical scream. I had to find Nancy.
“Ant!” I heard, but couldn’t tell which way it came from, the wind whipping it around me and pulling it away.
“Nancy!” I screamed, pulling Lewis against the building. I couldn’t feel my fingers or feet, and my face was completely numb, only sparks of pain where my ears should be. Somehow things seemed to have gotten darker, and my mouth was raw intolerable agony.
I reached out and touched the wall, then began pulling Lewis to the right with one hand, knowing that it couldn’t be too far until I hit the end of the loading dock. I moved slowly so that I didn’t pitch over backwards and break my head on the asphalt.
You’ve killed both of you, you idiot… hissed through my brain, but I shook it off and took another step backwards.
If he came at me right then, in the snow, he’d fuck me up, probably kill Lewis too, before I’d even know he was there. My brain summoned him up coming out the darkness at me, stabbing me in the kidneys, grabbing me and slitting my throat, burying an axe in Lewis and then me, pushing me backwards down the hill and letting the snowstorm take care of me.
Suddenly I realized that I’d been standing there in the dark and snow, unmoving, while my brain played out all the ways the guy could kill us.
A hand clawed out of the darkness, grabbing my collar, and pulling me.
I screamed, batting at it with one hand as I tried to drag Lewis away with the other, trying to lunge away from the hand and into the safe concealment of the snowstorm, but the hand had a hold on my collar too hard and drug me toward the owner of it.
Struggling with one hand against my attacker I was pulled into the hallway, out of the snow, and into the light of Nagle’s flashlight. She was staring at me, her cold weather cap pulled down to hide her auburn hair, and she pulled me close.
I threw my arms around her, shivering with cold and relief, and held onto her tight.
“Don’t ever do something that stupid ever again.” She growled into my ear, hugging me tightly.
“I got him. I got him, Nancy.” I kept repeating, holding tight to her. “I found him out there.”
“Drag him in.” She ordered, letting me go. I nodded dimly, bent down, and grabbed him before staggering a few more steps back, pulling him across the wet floor. In the light of Nagle’s flashlight I saw that he was leaving a streak on the floor, and that both of his legs were twisted wrong. I managed to get him clear and Nagle slammed the door shut with a boom before turning back to us. I kept dragging Lewis back, dimly trying to get him away from the doorway, not really sure where I was going.
When I looked up and saw the yawning opening of the furnace room I jerked back, dropping Lewis and staring at the furnace room.
I could smell decay thickly, and something moved further in the darkened room, an inhuman roar rolled out of the doorway and hammered at me.
I screamed, backing away from the wide opening where some unimaginably large creature was roaring.
Nagle appeared in front of me, shaking me, and I tried to fight her off for a moment, my head swimming and sparks shooting across my vision. She shined her flashlight in my eyes, then snapped it off with a curse.
“Sit here.” She told me in the darkness, pulling me down on the floor. I nodded and went limp, aware of how nice it was that the wind was gone, how warm it was getting in the stairwell. I felt like I was burning up, and bright sparks appeared in my vision as I sat in the darkness.
There was a tooth jarring whining noise, and I looked up blearily, my fingers fumbling on the buttons for my jacket. Nagle was putting on another hasp with the drill, and while I watched she tossed the drill into the darkness and pulled the door shut, cutting off the roar of the beast in the darkness of the room.
I’d managed to get the jacket open and was trying to get out of it when Nagle finished snapping new padlocks onto the hasps. By the time she turned around, I’d stripped off my shirt, panting with the heat filled the hallway.
Nagle turned around and stared at me for a moment, then leaned down and lifted my head up, shining the flashlight in my eyes. She pulled my shirt back down, her mouth opening and closing and making strange noises that I couldn’t understand.
I tried to fight while she pulled my jacket back onto me, buttoning it up, paying no attention to me trying to tell her I was hot, that it was too hot in the hallway. I closed my eyes.
Out of the blue she slapped me, the back of her hand biting into my broken teeth and splitting back open my lips. My eyes popped open and I reached for her, but she batted my hands aside and stood up.
“ON your FEET!” She bellowed, and I jumped up, swaying for a moment, the urge to punch her in the face blowing away the sleepiness. I shivered for a second in the cold and stared at her.
“Grab him up, soldier.” She snapped. I glared at her. “Now!”
Feeling anger dully pulse at my temples, I bent down and picked Lewis up, still glaring at the woman in front of me. She snorted and turned away, heading up a set of stairs. She turned and looked at me then barked “March!” at me. I followed her up, glaring at her back as she called out the steps.
She held open the door, and I followed her into a dark hallway, lit only by the flashlight she was carrying in her hands. Once we hit the double doors she held them open long enough for me to stagger through with my burden.
“March, soldier.” She snapped at me, and I snarled at her as we headed down the hallway, passing open doors where wind and snow was blowing in the rooms beyond. The next double doors were held long enough for me to get through, and the wind almost knocked me over, making me stagger, but I followed her to the next door.
“Open the hell up!” The woman (was she an officer? Who the hell was she? Who the fuck did she think she was, screaming orders at me? She wasn’t even in my chain of command) bellowed, hammering on the doors.
The doors opened up and the woman pulled me through and into the room.
“Set him on the table.” She told me, and I nodded jerkily. The woman was familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I staggered over to an empty table and set the guy I was carrying down on it.
The woman grabbed my arm and pulled me over, sitting me down in a chair.
“Ant, do you recognize me?” She asked, flashing a light in my eyes. I winced, mumbling at the pain. “Ant. Do you know who I am?” She asked again, and I shook my head.
Doing that was a mistake as I suddenly leaned forward and threw up on the floor, my head swimming. I would have fallen forward except for someone was holding onto me, holding me while each heave caused pain to explode in my head. I was vaguely aware I was shivering while someone was holding onto me.
Someone wrapped something warm around me, and I shivered as I suddenly became aware I was freezing. I was being guided up, and after a few stumbling steps I was aware of hands laying me down on something hard.
“Keep him awake, I gotta make sure Lewis survives.” A woman said, her voice tearing into my ears and scrambling my brains. Sparks shot through my vision again, and I was aware I was shaking under the blanket someone had just put down over me.
I kept trying to go to sleep, to let the warmth and darkness pull at me, but every time I tried I got jerked back to half wakefulness by lights in my face, being shaken which made me almost heave all over again.
Someone was screaming, and I could hear someone else shout “Hold him, goddamn it.” over the screams. Then the screams finally broke off, and I was glad that whoever it was finally shut up.
My clothing was stripped off, and I was wrapped with a warm blanket that felt like someone had wrapped me in warm clouds. When the damp cloth touched my face I tried to push the hands away, mumbling through my swollen lips and broken teeth.
“Hold him down.” I heard a voice, Nagle’s voice, order, and hands grabbed my arms and legs. I felt swiping motions on my face, and I was finally able to open my eyes when the cloth passed over them. There were lights set up, and the room, even though it was dim, was bright enough it made my eyes water.
Nagle was wiping my face off with a hand towel that was covered in blood.
“Nancy.” I managed to push past my broken teeth.
“Welcome back, Ant.” She said, stepping back. “Can you sit up?”
I grunted and used an offered hand to pull myself up, ignoring the way my head swum and my stomach heaved. I swung my legs off and stared at the floor, waiting for it to stop moving. After a few moment I stood up, my bare feet striking the cold tile floor. I got dressed quickly, pulling on my damp Levi’s and my shirts
“Sit down, Ant.” Jacobs told me, coming over to me while I was lacing up my combat boots.
“How’s Lewis?” I asked, staggering over to the chair I wanted and sitting down.
“Nagle saved him.” Jacobs told me. I grunted and reached out touch Bomber’s forehead. He was still running hot, his skin slick with sweat. “He broke both of his legs. What the hell happened down there?”
“He fell off the loading dock.” I answered, probing at my broken teeth with my tongue.
“Who’s out there?” Jacobs asked.
“How should I know?” I snarled. Why the fuck wouldn’t he go talk to someone else. I wanted to sit next to my best friend, fuck everyone else.
“Ant, I want you to get some rest.” Nagle said, coming over and putting her hand on my shoulder.
“I’m all right.” I lied. The sparks were gone and my vision had settled down, even though the dim light made everything past a few paces kind of fuzzy.
She held up three fingers. “How many?”
“Three.” I answered. She nodded and smiled.
“Hold still, you got something on your lip.” She told me. She leaned forward and kissed my lower lip, and when she pulled back I could see she had blood on her lip. “That hurt?”
“Nope.” I lied again, smiling.
“All right. I need you to stay here, watch Bomber and Lewis.” She told me, then stood up. “Listen up, we’ve got to shut some of the doors and windows, or we’re not making it through the night.”
“Who put you in charge?” Daniels snarled.
“Nobody, if you don’t want to go, then stay in here with Ant and Lewis.” She snapped. “Are any of you going to come with me?”
“I will.” Hernandez answered.
“I’m with you, Nagle.” Jacobs threw in.
“I got your back.” Carter finished, walking over and picking up an axe.
“I’m in.” I said, standing up.
“The fuck you are.” Nagle told me, grabbing my arm. She tried to steer me to a table where a few blankets were spread out. “Get some sleep.”
“No.” I answered, shaking her hand off my arm.
“Ant…” Nagle tried.
“No. He killed my fucking best friend.” I stared at her. “Give me my knife.”
She looked doubtful but took my knife off of her belt and handed it to me. I clipped it to my belt and stared at her.
“What’s your plan?” I asked.
“We go out, shut the windows and doors on the this floor, and the hallway doors. We’ve got to cut down the wind or we’re going to freeze to death before morning.” She told me, then looked beyond me. “Ready?”
The others told her they were, and I nodded.
Everyone turned on flashlights, I dropped mine into the top pocket of my Levi jacket, and Nagle moved over to the door.
“Stay together, don’t go charging off, and watch carefully.” Nagle told them. “This guy is strong, he’s fast, and he’s willing to kill.”
I heard Daniels scoff in the darkness and had to restrain an urge to go back there and cut his fucking throat.
Nagle opened the door, our flashlight beams lighting up the platoon area in front of us.
The room beyond was windswept and full of wind driven snow. I blinked my eyes, trying to keep snow out them, as the wind drove the snow into the room behind me.
“Let’s go.” Nagle said, heading toward the hallway door.
I stumbled after and told myself it was the wind pushing me off balance.
“Why is this one shut?” Jacobs asked, reaching toward the door handle.
“Don’t.” I told him, grabbing his wrist. I looked at the door the shiver that ran through me had nothing to do with the biting cold.
“Aren’t you going to check this room?” Jacobs asked, glaring at me and snatching his hand free. “Nagle said to check every room.”
“Jacobs, you don’t want to go in there.” Carter said, stepping away from the door. I followed suit, watching as Jacobs looked at each of us.
“What the fuck is in there?” Jacobs asked, following when Carter and I headed into the next room to close the windows.
“We don’t know.” Carter answered, shutting the windows.
There was no use taking the blankets on the beds, I could tell with a single glance. Water had been poured on the beds, turning the blankets into solid ice. It had been the same way in every room, clothing piled on the floor with water poured on them, the beds soaked sometimes before.
It was a standard tactic of warfare. Deny the enemy supplies and material.
When we closed the door, Carter swung the axe and knocked the door handle off. I pushed at the door, but like the others so far, it didn’t budge.
Behind us, there was a knock at the door.
All of us spun around and stared at the featureless door, only the room number and the door handle breaking up the expanse of brown paint.
There was another knock from inside the room, hard enough to shake the door.
Jacobs reached for the door, and Carter grabbed him before I could.
“You don’t want to do that.” He told the other man. “Come on, let’s finish the rest of this section.”
I could tell Jacobs wanted to ask about it, ask why we didn’t go into the room or check it at all, but he closed his mouth and followed when we went to the next room. Hernandez and Nagle were down on the other end of the hallway, doing the same thing we were, closing windows and doors and knocking the door handle off.
Deny the enemy.
I glanced back over my shoulder at Room 221 when the knocking sounded again.
Fuck that room.
A little more work, and we met up with Nagle and Hernandez, Nagle holding the axe and glaring around at the ice glittering on the walls. Hernandez was dragging a mattress with other mattresses piled on it.
“We lucked out, he missed a couple of mattresses and I managed to find some blankets and sleeping bags.” Nagle said. “We need to get back. I need to check on Bomber and Lewis.” I nodded, leaning against the wall. The whole front of my face hurt.
“Why can’t we just go looking for him?” Jacobs asked, looking around.
“Because he’s one step ahead of us the whole way.” Nagle answered. “He’s thought this through, he knows the people he’s stalking, and he knows that some of our first instincts will be to go on the offensive.”
She looked at each of us, her gaze lingering on me a moment longer.
“He’s not stupid enough to forget he’s hunting trained soldiers.” She finished.
I nodded dumbly, and followed when she started heading back. “We’re down two men, three if you count Ant, he’s killed four men as far as we know, and we’re cut off and isolated.” She paused at the doors to the platoon area and looked at all of us. “And every time we’ve charged after him, we’ve come out second best.”
She banged on the door, but nobody answered. She hammered on the door again.
“Open the goddamn door!” She shouted, banging on the door again.
“Open this goddamn door or I’ll kick it down!” She bellowed, hammering on the door, this time with the haft of the axe.
“Fuck this, Ant, kick it in.” She snarled, and I stepped forward.
The door whipped open, and Daniels stood there, holding onto the axe and staring at us wild eyed.
“Get in, for fuck’s sake, hurry up!” He yelled, staring past us.
“What?” Nagle asked, coming in. She grabbed his face when he didn’t answer. “What happened?”
I ignored them, moving up next to Bomber and staring down at him. When I touched his face, his eyes opened.
“Hey, Ant.” He smiled.
“How you feeling, John?” I asked. His skin was flushed, sweaty, and burning hot.
“Not too bad. My stomach hurts pretty bad.” He told me.
Behind me Daniels was telling Nagle that someone had been laughing and hammering on the doors, mocking him and trying to lure him out by being quiet. How the guy had kicked at the doors, laughing at him.
“Your appendix burst.” I told him.
“Fuck. I’ve got…” He paused for a second, and I expected him to lapse into delirium again, but he continued after a moment. “Maybe eight days from when it burst.”
“Where do you get that idea?” I asked.
“My dad. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, and my grandmother didn’t take him to the doctor for eight days.” John told me. He coughed and groaned. “You all right? Your face looks like hell.”
“That’s how I normally look.” I answered, and he laughed.
“Ant, help me get up. I really gotta shit.” He told me.
When I helped him up, Nagle immediately came over, yelling at me to lay him back down. It took a minute of arguing, but she agreed to let me take him to the bathroom.
I stood next to him while he took care of business, then helped him back out into the main room. He was breathing hard, but had managed to straighten most of the way up.
“You catch that fucker who hit me with the axe?” He asked.
“Yeah. He’s the one who did this to my face.” I answered.
The mattresses had been pulled to different spots, Lewis laying on one, and Nagle was sitting on where two of them had been pushed together along with a pile of blankets. Daniels was over by the door, sitting on the floor, with an axe in his hands.
“Come on, let’s get some rest.” I told him, guiding him over to Nagle.
He nodded, crying out when he laid down, and Nagle made me lay behind him, then piled the blankets on us and slid underneath behind me, wrapping her arms around me from behind.
“I’ve got you, Ant.” She whispered, “I’m not going anywhere.”
“I love you.” I told her.
“I know, Ant.” She said, hugging me.
I dozed off, exhausted, my face throbbing. I’d barely gotten any sleep, and for the first time in as long as I could remember nobody kept waking me up and shining lights into my eyes.
Metal clanging against metal woke me, and I sat awake, yelling out “GAS GAS GAS” and grabbing for a mask that wasn’t there. Adrenaline flooded my system, and I held my breath as I fumbled at my waist. Just a second before I’d been struggling through fire and death, and the next second I was trying to get a mask on before the lethal toxins burned out my life in 19 seconds flat.
The clanging noise was coming from the radio on the table.
“Nagle.” I hissed, reaching down and shaking her.
“Go jerk off, Ant, I’m not horny.” She mumbled, rolling over.
“ON your FEET!” I bellowed out, climbing up.
Bomber and Lewis both screamed as they tried to answer ingrained habit and get up. Bomber managed to get all the way to his feet, standing there swaying, while Lewis grabbed his legs, sobbing in pain. Everyone else jumped to their feet, and I could tell that the clanging hadn’t penetrated anyone’s mind but mine.
I moved over and grabbed my jacket, pulling it on quickly, and turned around, making sure my knife was on my belt.
“He gets in there and kills our generator and we’re dead.” Nagle said, standing up. Her nipples stood out from her T-shirt and I had an image of nuzzling them with my nose flash through my mind.
“Who’s coming with me?” I asked, buttoning up my jacket and grabbing one of the cold weather caps.
“I’m with you.” Jacobs said. “I’ll beat that motherfucker’s ass.”
“Ant, stay here.” Nagle said, pulling on her fluffy jacket. “Stay with John and Lewis.”
“No. You stay back, they need you more.” I told her. She opened her mouth and then glanced at Bomber, who was pulling on his pants. “John, you need to lay down or you might tear something up in there.” She said softly, moving over to him and touching him. John looked up, his face pale with red spots on his cheeks. His eyes were glassy.
“Gonna help. Not down yet.” He slurred. You could see the fever burning in him.
“I’m with you, brother.” Hernandez said, pulling on the parka.
“Bomber, I need you to protect Nancy and Lewis in case he loops around.” I said, and Bomber nodded.
“Let’s go.” I said, and Hernandez unlocked the door and pulled to open.
Outside of the door a figure loomed, arms outstretched, leaning toward the door.
Jacobs stepped forward, swinging the axe he was holding, the heavy bit striking the figure in the chest with a solid thunk as the axe went home. Snow exploded outward, and Jacobs stumbled forward, cursing.
The snowman’s head fell off, the BDU softcap plopping into the snow, and we stood there for a second, staring at the snowman that Jacobs had just taught not to fuck with him.
“What the fuck was that?” Jacobs yelled.
“He’s fucking with us, it’s supposed to scare us.” I said, moving past the snowman’s remains and scooping up the BDU cap. E-3 rank. “We need to hurry.”
Jacobs pushed past me, slogging through the snow that had blown in through the broken windows of the platoon area, his feet kicking up sprays in my flashlight. He pushed through the doors and into the hallway, and I hurried to catch up with him.
“Jacobs,” I called out, and the other man slowed down, the axe swinging from his hand as he walked, “The second floor landing is covered in ice and blood, so watch out.”
“Ice, yeah.” Jacobs sneered. “Anything else you want to tell me before we kill this asshole?”
“Be careful, and let’s try to sneak up on him.” I told him. Jacobs scoffed as we approached the double doors. He pushed through, and pulled open the door to the stairwell. The blood glittered darkly and I tried to ignore it.
Jacobs hurried down the steps, rushing ahead, the axe held in both hands. We went past the first floor, the banging of our friendly barracks psycho covering our approach. Jacobs didn’t pause at the next landing, swinging around the landing and stepping forward. He was grinning, as he went to step down the first step.
And hit the wire across the step.
The ice on the wall broke away as his foot caught the wire, and he yelled as he pitched forward, throwing out his hands to catch himself, the axe vanishing into the darkness of the stairwell.
“Jacobs!” I yelled, Hernandez echoing me as I moved down the stairs.
The banging quit.
In the beam of my flashlight Jacobs landed face first on the floor, stunned, his legs twitching.
Two steps, still yelling for him, and it happened.
Jacobs had just lifted his head up, one hand reaching forward, his foot still kicking as he tried to get purchase. I was four steps down, risking taking two icy steps at time, Hernandez was right behind me, trying to get to Jacobs and help him up.
I thought the guy would take the chance to run, to disappear back into the snowstorm again. Throw the axe, whirl around, grab the D-Ring off the door, and vanish into the blizzard, to taunt us further.
I was wrong.
The axe blurred out of darkness, coming from high up, through the doorway, the frost on it sparkling in my flashlight light. I could see the sharp edge of the axe, read MOTORPOOL – 2/19 SW on the handle, see the heavy gloves wrapped around the end of the axe handle.
It was frozen in time for a long second.
Right before it hit Jacobs just below the neck, dead center in the back, the sound of the axe biting through flesh and shearing through bone obscenely loud in the windy hallway.
Jacobs feet jerked, and his hands scrabbled at the tile.
I was yelling in denial, trying to move faster through the molasses that had seemed to crystallize around me. Hernandez was yelling Jacobs’ name, both of us trying to get down the stairs.
The hands released the axe handle, and the wind shrieked around us, matching Jacobs’ strangled scream.
My feet hit the landing, and I jumped over Jacobs, seeing the figure ahead of me in the beam of the flashlight clipped to my jacket pocket.
Once again he had on the cold weather mask, NVG’s, a parka, and heavy gloves. His Mickey Mouse boots squeaked as he pivoted, a perfect rear march my brain told me, and he reached his hand out for the D-Ring hanging off the door.
“Nagle, we need you down here now!” I bellowed in the split second I made my decision.
I spun around, jumping past Jacobs, pushing Hernandez out of my way, brushing his hands off when he tried to grab me.
“Don’t leave us, Ant!” Hernandez yelled as I ran up the stairs, “Come back!” followed me as I spun around the landing that the guy had wired, and pounded up to the first floor.
“Goddamn you, Ant, you coward!” chased me as I kicked open the door, grabbing the door jam to give me speed. I shouldered through the double doors and ran down the hallway, my knife tight in my hand, my boots thudding against the snow covered tile. I snatched open the door of the first stairwell, and jumped from the top of the stairs, hitting the landing and bouncing off the far wall to jump again, landing with both feet on the bottom floor.
I yanked open the door to the orderly room, and my flashlight swung across the door on the far side, revealing it to be wide open.
With a D-ring attached to 550 cord on the handle.
I walked in, smiling wide enough I could feel my lips split.
The wind was pushing snow into the orderly room hallway, slicing across my cheeks and making my teeth throb painfully.
The 550 cord was shivering, pulling tightly.
I stepped up in front of the doorway, resting one hand on the chocked open door, the other holding tight to my Gerber. With the toe of my boot, I lifted up the chock, holding the door open.
He stepped out of the snow, lit by the flashlight, and his eyes opened wide at seeing me standing there. One eye was swollen shut, the other bloodshot, and I could see his teeth bared in a snarl. I made sure that he could see the knife in my hand, made sure he could see me bare my teeth in a smile.
“Miss me?” I asked.
He inhaled deeply, I could tell by the way the parka lifted and the shoulders shifted. When he exhaled it was in a plume that the wind whipped away at the same time as it shredded by cheeks with the tiny ice crystals that would soon become snowflakes. His eye narrowed, and I could tell he was trying to make a decision.
He’d have to come through me to get into the barracks.
I had a brawler’s reputation, and the shit my brother got involved in splashed me and tarred me with the same brush. I was smaller than him by 4 inches and 25 pounds, with less of an explosive temper, not as quick to start swinging a fist as him, and my rep was easier than his. I hadn’t killed someone.
The asshole in front of me had.
Probably Bomber. Maybe Lewis. Definitely Jacobs. Almost for sure the 4 men on CQ.
For a psycho who had torn up the barracks and killed seven people all that stood between him and the icy claws of a blizzard and the warmth of his hiding spot was another supposed psycho.
It was obvious that he knew he had a problem, and while we kept saying I’d come out second best in the stairwell, I doubt’ed that at that second, staring at me hefting the knife with blood running down my chin and broken teeth, he thought that I’d be easy to take.
All it would take was one good knife thrust, and even if he took me out, I’d still win.
Time stretched out, the split second we stared at each other drawing out further and further. Even the dancing snowflakes seemed to be held in midair, suspended while we stared at one another.
He took a step back from the doorway, shifting his feet and raising his hands in the standard Judo training pose.
I laughed, swept the knife down on the 550 cord, parting it from the D-Ring it was hooked to.
The cord snapped back at him, vanishing into the snow.
“Buh-bye.” I smiled.
And slammed the door.
I grabbed the fire extinguisher off of the wall and turned to the door, slapping the knife into the sheathe real quick. Two hard hits and the pushbar snapped loose of the door. Two more hard hits and the lockbox was crushed and mangled.
Turning around, I rushed up the stairs, tossing the fire extinguisher away as I headed past the mailboxes. I hurried up the stairs to the first floor, and retraced my steps moving fast.
I came back to where Jacobs was laying on the floor, ignoring Hernandez glaring at me. I bent down and grabbed the axe Jacobs had dropped when he tripped off the steps, moving into the short hallway that led to the war stocks storage and the furnace room.
Hernandez was yelling something at me, but I didn’t pay any attention, moving forward and standing in front of the doorway. Hernandez yelled again, but I stood there, staring at the darkness.
Snow whipped around, and the wind flowed in from the outside, past me, and up the stairwell. My eyes stung, my teeth throbbed, and my balls hurt from the cold, but I didn’t care. Just like Hernandez’s voice, the snow, the wind, the cold, the pain, all of it was remote and unimportant.
All the mattered was what I knew was coming down the side of the building, blinding feeling his way through the wind driven snow, one hand on the side of the building.
Come on, bastard…
He took longer than I thought, but not as long as I figured he would.
I braced my feet as his hand slipped off the side of the building and into the doorway. Watched as he turned, hands going out to the sides of the doorway. He was illuminated by my flashlight, and I knew that as soon as he finished turning he’d spot me standing there with the axe.
He had the NVG’s on again, which surprised me a little. He hadn’t had them on at the orderly room door, and I idly wondered just how much use they were in the freezing cold.
His body language told me that he hadn’t been expecting to see me again.
“Hey, baby.” I grinned.
And smashed him in the NVG’s with the end of the axe, like I was doing a bayonet thrust.
He stumbled back into the snow, and I lost sight of him. Two steps and he’d be off the loading dock, but I wasn’t going to lay bets on that he’d fall easily.
Instead, I slammed the door shut, and like the other one, I kicked the chock down and bashed the mechanism all to shit.
Every instinct I possessed, that my father had put in me, that had hammered into me the DI’s, told me to go after him, go on the offensive, pursue him as aggressively as possible and get the momentum back on my side.
Instead, I turned from the door.
Nagle was knelt down next to Jacobs, and when I looked over, she shook her head.
“He’s not dead yet.” Was all that she said.
“We can’t leave him here.” Hernandez said. I nodded
“No, we can’t.” Nagle answered, touching the axe and the dark stain around it, then looked up at me. “What happened?”
“Jacobs hit a wire, and the fucker nailed him with an axe.” I answered. “Is there anything you can do?”
“And then?” She pressed, still examining Jacobs. “Hernandez said you ran away.”
I looked at Hernandez, feeling a burn of fury lick through me. I took one step forward, and Nagle held up her hand without taking her attention from Jacobs, stopping me dead.
“What did you do?” She asked.
A couple minutes was all it took for me to tell them what happened, and Hernandez nodded once I explained my actions. The whole time Nagle checked the injury, even checked the axe, shaking her head.
I wanted to deny him an easy way to move around away from us, was the simple explanation.
“Grab his feet, Hernandez.” Nagle ordered, “I’ll grab his arms. Ant, hold the axe, try not to let it move around too much.”
When he got picked up, he screamed thinly, faintly, and Nagle shushed him gently.
We moved up the stairs, slowly, and the blood slicked stairwell was no longer the thing that brought out horror like it had the first time we’d seen it. The wind whipped down the hallway, but not anything like it had before we’d sealed all the doors shut.
I had to hold open the door each time, and Jacobs kept moaning as we moved. I figured that an axe blow like that would have killed him, since whoever it was had the strength to rupture John’s appendix with one blow.
When Carter opened the door to where we were hiding out, the room went silent.
“Put him on the table.” Nagle ordered, and I held the axe still while we slid him on the table. “Ant, I need the first aid kit.” She told me, and I went over and grabbed the first aid kit from where it sat on the wall.
She pulled out the gauze, the tape, and other stuff. She took the rolled up gauze and folded it up neatly into small packs the size of her hand, then climbed up on the table, straddling Jacobs.
“Hold him down.” She ordered, and held at her hand at Hernandez. “Not you, Dez, I need you for something else.”
“What?” He asked, while I grabbed one leg and Daniels grabbed the other. Bomber was trying to get up, holding his stomach and swinging his legs down. Lewis was watching with bright eyes, broken chair legs splinting his broken legs.
“Grab the axe-head, and when I tell you to, pull it free by pulling straight up.” She ordered. Hernandez nodded, and she looked to make sure that everyone was ready. “All right.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, then stared at the wound. “Do it.”
Hernandez pulled it straight out and blood poured out of the wound. For a split second I could see splinters of yellow-ish white in the wound before the blood covered up the splinters of bone. Nagle pushed the gauze into the wound, putting pressure on the wound, putting her full body weight onto it. Jacobs screamed and thrashed, and Nagle yelled at us to hold him tighter, don’t let him up.
“He’s lost a lot of blood.” Nagle said, slapping down a large gauze pad. “I need strips, get me the rest of the cloth strips.” She snapped, all business. The over-sexed and flighty version that everyone had come to know was gone, instead a hard hatchet faced woman, her auburn hair pulled back by a tie, hard looking hands covered in blood, with a voice that refused to be ignored, had replaced her.
Daniels let go of Jacobs’ other leg and grabbed the bandages off the table from where Nagle had bandaged and splinted Lewis’ legs. He handed them to her, thrusting them at her as if he wanted to be rid of them, and Nagle just pulled them out of his hands and began laying them on Jacobs’ bag and measuring them, knotting them together quickly.
“All right, when I say, lift him up so I can slide these underneath.” She ordered, and Hernandez and Carter nodded. She stared for a moment, then said “Lift!” When the two other men lifted him, Nagle quickly looped the cloth underneath, then told them to set him down.
She cranked the bandages as tight as she could against the folded cloth on top of the pad she’d placed over the gauze that covered the wadding she’d jammed in. Jacobs had went unconscious again, and Nagle climbed off the man.
“That’s all I can do.” She said, looking around. “Anyone else think of anything?”
“Chest tube?” Carter suggested.
“I wouldn’t even know where to start.” She admitted.
The building groaned and shuddered, the vibration evident under my boots. I looked around at the room, barely lit by the few fading flashlights placed at critical points to light up the room.
Bomber was leaning against the wall next to the bathroom, sweat running down his face. Out Lewis was propped up with two rolled up sleeping bags, eating an MRE. Out Hewitt had been missing since right after we left. Out Jacobs was unconscious on the table. Out Four men on CQ. Out, out, out, and out.
Out of thirteen of us, eight were out.
All we had left was Carter, Daniels, Hernandez, Nagle, and me.
My tongue kept probing the broken teeth, almost relishing the “zing” of pain when I hit the exposed nerves.
Nagle came over and sat down next to me, handing me my own MRE before wiping the blood off of her hands with one of the little wet-naps out of the MRE. I was glad, for the first time in my life, for the Chicken Ala King meal, even though it looked like warmed over cat shit. It wasn’t hard to eat with my shattered teeth.
She finished wiping off her hands, then turned to me, put her arms around me, and began quietly crying. I held her, glaring at any of the others who stared, and squeezed her tight. It took a little while until the sobs stopped, and she looked at me with reddened eyes.
The tip of her nose was bluish and waxy looking, the same with her earlobes. She was missing her eyelashes, and her face was peeling. Her skin was peeling on her cheekbones, and her face was harsh in the shadows cast by the flashlights.
She was still beautiful to me.
“I don’t know what to do, Ant?” She admitted. “I don’t think I can save Jacobs or Bomber.” More tears spilled from her eyes. “What do I do, Ant?”
“What you’ve been doing.” I told her. “I don’t even understand what you’re doing.”
She smiled, wanly. “If Bomber dies will you still love me?” Her voice was a little girl’s voice.
“It wasn’t you.” I said. “You didn’t hit him with an axe.” I felt pain in my mouth, and knew I was snarling. “You didn’t kill him, some fucking psycho did.”
“We’ve got to stay here, wait for them to come get us.” She said, a bit louder.
“What about Jacobs?” Daniels asked, looking up. Nagle just shook her head.
The barracks rumbled and groaned again.
“We’ve got to check on that.” Carter said, standing up.
“I’ll go.” I said, letting go of Nagle.
“Anyone else?” Carter asked.
“With Ant? Fuck that. So far every time someone goes out with Ant, they come back all fucked up.” Daniels said. “I think I’ll stay here.”
“Coward.” I spat.
“Fuck you, Ant.” He answered.
“So, nobody?” Carter asked, “Figures.”
“No, I’ll go.” Nagle said, starting to stand up. I put my hand on her shoulder and shoved her down.
“No you won’t, you’ll stay here and try to keep them alive.” I told her. “We need you to keep them alive.” She looked up and nodded.
“Daniels, come with us.” Carter said. “Hernandez and Nagle can hold down the fort.”
“Fine, but so help me God, Ant.” Daniels said.
“Yeah, yeah.” I sneered, touching the knife on my hip.
We opened the door to the platoon area and stared. The broken windows had let in almost six, maybe eight inches of snow, and more was blowing into the room as we stood there.
“Holy shit.” he breathed, looking at the snow coating the floor, the ice on the walls, and the complete lack of footprints. Even the ones we made when we hauled Jacobs into the platoon office were gone, eradicated by the wind and new snow.
The building rumbled again.
“We’ll check the first floor.” Carter said, and I nodded as he continued. “We’ll check the doors, see how far the snow has piled up.”
The stairs were freezing, with wind blowing in through the broken window, frost and ice coating the walls and ceiling. We stood at the first floor landing, the two doors leading out, one into the CQ Area, the other into the first floor hallway.
Carter pushed on the CQ Area door, grunting for a moment before giving up. We went into the hallway, to find the hallway doors pushed open by snow. The snow was at least three feet deep in the CQ Area, and when we shined the flashlight we could see that it had pushed in through the doors, shattering the glass panes on either side of the doors, destroying the doors.
“We’re dicked.” Carter said, and I nodded. There was another rumble, and I saw the snowpack in the CQ Area push a little deeper into the building. The whole building shook and groaned like it was in pain. “Any ideas?”
“There’s a medical pack in the CQ Area.” Daniels said. “We might want to dig it out of the snow.”
“If we can’t find it, we’ll kick open the door of headquarters platoon and see if any of the medic bags are there.” Carter said, ducking down and moving across the snow.
It was only about six inches of packed snow on the far side, and the snow had only spilled over the counter enough to cover the counter, the phones, and the chairs that had been left.
We could barely see, the dimness seeming to swallow up our meager and pitiful flashlight beams as we skirted the snow that had thrust its way into our building. The snow had pushed open the bathroom doors, broken open the dayroom and the rec-room, and the unisex bathroom door was a wide open maw of darkness.
“This is right below us, we might want to move somewhere else in case this part of the building collapses.” Carter said, turning to speak to us.
I was behind Carter and Daniels, my flashlight and Carter’s both shining on Daniels, who had paused just for a moment. Carter was facing Daniels and me, which meant that he saw what happened next perfectly.
A pair of white hands, with blackened flesh at the ends of the fingers, at the end of inhumanly long arms clad in ice crusted BDU’s, shot out of the unisex bathroom doorway.
The hands grabbed Daniels by the shoulders, and before he could do much more than gape in surprise, the hands tightened with a loud crunch noise, I saw the talons that had replaced fingers sink into the flesh.
Before we could do anything, Daniels was snatched into the darkness by those pale claws, snatched so fast and with so much strength that his boots were left behind in the snow. Snatched so fast he didn’t even have a chance to scream.
Snatched off his feet and into the bathroom by cold white hands that ended in blackened talons.
Carter and I both screamed like little girls.
In the bathroom a scream sounded that suddenly ended in a bubbling and gargling scream and a lewd crunching sounds.
Daniels’ boots sat in the snow in front of the unisex bathroom door, steam coming from the dampness left by Daniels’ feet before he’d been yanked clear out of them and into the darkness of the bathroom.
The crunching went on as Carter and I screamed.
“RUN!” Carter yelled, his eyes bulging in the dim light from my flashlight.
I whirled around and ran for the stairs, slipping in the snow as I scrabbled for purchase on the snow covered tile floor. I ripped open the door, completely ignoring the wind that shrieked around me, and charged up the stairs. I could hear footsteps hammering after me and ran even faster, panic filling me.
Both of us were still screaming as we rounded the landing and ran for door that opened up into the hallway of the second floor. Ice shattered under my boots as I took the steps two at a time, running as fast as I could, and slammed into the bar that opened the door, crashing the door open to bounce off the far wall. I whipped out my hand, grabbing the doorjam, my momentum swinging me around, and I put a shoulder into the twin double doors, trying to turn so I could head into the First Platoon Area.
White hands with blackened talons…
“Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck…” Carter was yelling, a steady mantra.
We got the door and I stopped myself before I tried to just charge through the double doors that led into the platoon area, instead stopping and hammering on the door hard enough the shake them.
“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!” I screamed.
Carter smashed into the door with me, hammering on the door.
“OPEN OPEN OPEN OPEN!” He shouted.
The locks clicked and we threw the door open, running to the far side and spinning around to stare at the door, which was open to the large room where people hung out, smoked cigarettes, and drank coffee while they waited for whatever job the NCO’s decided to send everyone out on.
“For fuck’s sake, close the goddamn door!” Carter yelled.
“What?” Nagle asked, shutting the doors and locking them.
“Where’s Daniels?” Lewis asked from where he was sitting on the mattress.
“He’s fucking gone!” I screamed, snatching up one of the fire axes.
“Tandy! Tandy got him!” Carter yelled, looking around for a second and grabbing up another axe.
“Bullshit, Tandy isn’t fucking real.” Lewis said scornfully.
“Tell him that!” Carter yelled.
“Daniels sure as fuck just found out he’s real!” I yelled at him.
We told them what had happened, how we were only down there a few minutes before Tandy had drug Daniels into the bathroom.
“It’s that other guy fucking with us, there’s no way Tandy is out there.” Lewis said.
“YOU DIDN’T SEE IT!” Carter screamed. “No way that was the psycho!”
“Calm down!” Nagle bellowed over us. “Are you sure Daniels is dead?”
“What do you think, Nancy?” I asked, “Tandy grabbed him!”
“We gotta check. We have to make sure.” Nagle said, looking around. “We need to find out if he’s dead.”
“He’s fucking gone.” I spat. Carter nodded.
“We don’t know that.” Nagle said slowly, “We need to check and make sure.”
“Then you’re doing it by yourself.” Carter snarled, “Tandy’s out there, I’m staying right fucking here, and there’s nothing you can say to make me go.”
Nagle looked at me, her eyes pleading. “Ant…”
“I’ll go.” I said, then sighed, turning to Carter. “He’s going to kill us all sooner or later, James, and even if he doesn’t, we’ve got someone else to worry about.”
“Don’t care. I’m not going down there.” Carter answered.
I nodded to him, understanding perfectly why he didn’t want to go down there. Each winter a couple more of the First Twenty vanished. Each winter our unit suffered between twenty and forty “casualties” that were listed as “Death by Misadventure” or “Cold Weather Injury” or “Causes Unknown” officially.
Sometimes it seemed like nobody really cared what happened to us.
“Ant, I can’t go down there alone.” Nagle pleaded.
I sighed, setting down the axe. “I’ve got your back, babe.”
Hernandez stared at us for a long moment, his sense of duty warring with his fear of what might be out there. He glanced at our wounded, looked at my face, then stared at the door for a long time, and I knew that he was thinking about was out there in the darkness, wind, snow, and cold. He’d heard the stories of Tandy, he’d been in the unit long enough to hear the stories.
“Fuck, I’m short too.” He complained, “I’m a double digit midget.”
“Stay here.” Nagle said, shaking herself. “You and Carter need to guard the wounded in case the psycho tries to kill them.” She pointed at the axe on the table. “If he breaks in, use those on him, don’t stop until he’s in at least four different pieces.”
Hernandez and Carter nodded as I moved up to the doors. I waited for a few moments until Nagle moved up and put her hand on the handle to the door.
“Ready, Ant?” She asked, smiling a wan smile at me.
“Yeah.” I told her, and she opened the doors. Outside the footprints we’d left were already gone, swept away by the snow and wind. The only light was from our flashlights, and the snow seemed to just absorb it, banishing what feeble light we had into darkness. Behind us the doors shut with a whisper and we heard the metallic click of the lock, and the scraping sound I knew was someone putting a chair on the handle to keep someone from opening it if they managed to unlock it.
“He’s going to kill us, you know?” Nagle said, looking around and panning her flashlight around.
“I can take him unless he runs again.” I said, “He got lucky in the stairwell.”
We started slogging through the snow in the room, heading toward the stairwell door, and she smiled at me, looking sad.
“We let the snow in, we let winter in,” She told me, pulling open the door. “When that happened, we let Tandy in.” She finished as we moved into the stairwell. “He’s going to kill all of us.”
The stairs were empty, full of windblown snow, and I winced when I inhaled the cold air and my teeth erupted into pain. I squinted, trying to see the stairs through the snowflakes, but they stayed blurry.
“What’s wrong, Ant?” Nagle asked, seeing me squint and cock my head.
“Nothing. Fucking snow makes it hard to see.” I said, and she grabbed my arm, pulling me around to face her. She shined her light in my face.
“Your eyes are fine.” She reassured me. “Come’on, maybe we can save Daniels.”
I nodded, and we hurried down the steps, pushing open the door to the first floor hallway. She stopped when she saw how the snow had pushed its way into the building, shattering the glass panels on either side of the outside doors, ripping loose and mangling the two sets of doors that had acted as an airlock.
There was another rumble, and the building groaned again, shivering under my boots. The snowpack that had forced its way through the doors moving forward a couple of handspans deeper into the room. The NORAD clock fell off the wall behind the almost snow covered desk.
“Jesus.” Nagled breathed, a plume of warm steam coming out of her mouth.
The only sound was the wind shrieking through the hallways and the crunching of the snow under our boots as we made our way toward the unisex bathroom door. Nagle led the way, shining her flashlight on the snow, and stopped in front of the door, waving me over.
Fear clenching my stomach I stopped next to her and looked into the bathroom.
Nagle and I moved into the bathroom, looking around the corner where the sinks, mirrors, and toilet stalls were, Nagle’s flashlight picking up the small window high in the far wall that was only six inches high and maybe a foot and a half wide. A light dusting of snow covered the tile, but the door was wedged open by the packed snow that had been forced into the CQ Area.
The bathroom was completely empty.
No tracks, no blood, no bodies.
Only Daniels’ flashlight shining up at the ceiling.
“Fuck.” Nagle breathed.
“Let’s go.” I said, turning around. We went back out into the CQ Area, and I checked behind the counter, coming up empty for the first aid kit. Nagle kept flashing her light around the room, often pausing on the open doors of the rec room, the dayroom, the two bathroom doors (male and female), and the open dark maw of the unisex bathroom.
I looked up, opening my mouth to tell her we were out of luck, that I couldn’t find the first aid kit.
Behind Nagle a dark form stood, and when I passed the flashlight onto him, I could see his one good eye, bloodshot, staring at Nagle.
Nagle, who was right in front of him, maybe two feet away.
Behind him, footprints disappeared into the first floor hallway.
He brought the bayonet up as I started to move, yanking my knife free from my belt.
“Ant?” She asked asked I put one hand out to vault over the CQ counter.
The knife came down.
In my mind, I had it all worked out. Vault over the CQ Counter, land on my feet, reach out with one hand and snatch Nagle forward, use the momentum generated by that to get in close, slam the knife into his belly and give it a quarter twist before dragging it out and doing it again. He’d cut me, probably good, but that was rule number one in a knife fight. You’re gonna get cut. I knew it, he probably didn’t.
My feet hit the snow on top of the floor, and went out from under me.
My head bounced off the counter, and everything vanished in a white flash for a split second.
Nancy Nagle was turning, one arm coming up to protect herself, falling toward me. The knife was still coming down.
My head hit the snow covered floor and bounced. My whole body went tingly and everything went blurry. There were two Nagle’s fighting with two killers. All four of them were fuzzy, out of focus, and my legs and arms twitched spasmodically as I tried to get my body to get up, get to my feet.
get up get up get up get up get up get up…
Nagle hit the floor and the figure put a boot into her stomach. She screamed, a choking, high sound of animal agony.
ON your FEET! My Father’s voice rang in my head, impossible to deny.
I was on my feet, one hand against the counter to keep myself balanced. The knife was in my hand, heavy, but familiar. I thrust myself away from the counter, toward him, the knife back and away from my body.
He was bending down to grab her.
The knife looped out, around his neck, and I grabbed the top of his parka, pulling his head backwards, and the Gerber, a birthday gift from my brother, sliced around the front of his neck, biting deep and catching on something for a moment.
An elbow caught me in the mouth as he suddenly straightened up, sending stars spangling across my vision, making me stumble back against the counter.
He turned and faced me, standing up straight and holding the bayonet in his fist, point down. Standard downward stabbing hold. I could see his bloodshot eye through the hole in the cold weather mask, his teeth, missing one of the front ones, bared through the little slit in the mask. The part that covers the mouth was hanging down, and I knew it was to let him breathe.
I was using the counter to hold myself up, everything blurry around me, my head ringing with pain. I needed to vomit, my stomach cramping, and nausea making my head swim.
There was a slash across the throat of his parka, stuffing puffed out of the slash, and the button at the middle of his throat had a bright mark where my blade had scored across it. I’d missed the kill, forgot to take into account the thick cold weather gear.
Nancy was crawling away, leaving a black trail in the snow, her flashlight and mine still illuminating the snow filled room around us. She wasn’t whimpering, wasn’t crying, just slowly crawling across the snow.
You killed Bomber….
It was tough standing up on my feet, since I couldn’t feel my legs, but rage began to drive me. Fuck what I was taught, screw the whole “keep your cool” mantra.
You killed Nancy…
Overwhelming fury could do a lot.
I shook my head, reminding myself I’d taken harder hits at the Green Goose Club in Fulda, that this asshole didn’t have anything on me. I was made of twisted steel and sex appeal. All the ladies love a killer.
He came at me, knife brought back over his head, trying to rush me against the counter and use his large size and bulk to pin me and then finish me off at his leisure with the bayonet…
I stepped into him, grabbing his upraised wrist, letting him grab man, and drove my forehead into his face. My vision went white, but something crunched. The hand on my wrist weakened and I pushed the blade forward, feeling resistance. I smashed my forehead forward again, feeling another crunch. The blade went in a little further and I twisted my wrist.
He screamed then, and I kneed him in the crotch, the blow losing most of its power from the cold weather gear protecting him.
Something landed on my shoulder, sparking bright pain that I quickly ignored.
And then that happened…
A hard yank pulled his hand away from mine, and I grabbed him around the waist like I loved him and was drawing him in for a kiss. He used an empty hand to drive a fist into my side, and our feet tangled up and we went down on the floor. Hard.
Another white flash, and someone was screaming, punching me in the face, each punch causing a white flash in the darkness.
I pulled back my arm, yanking it free of whatever was holding onto it.
And drove my fist, Gerber fighting knife leading the way, all the way to the hilt into something.
Another white flash, and I knew I was being pushed away, landing on my back in the snow, but the room had gone pitch black. I could hear a sobbing noise, and I grabbed out with my other hand, my fingers wrapping around a large boot. I grabbed it and pulled, and heard someone hit the ground with a scream.
I drove my knife into the leg just above my hand, twisting the blade around and dragging it off to the side.
The other boot came back and hit me in the face, invisible in the darkness.
Sobbing and moaning, something moved away from me in the darkness, but I couldn’t remember why it was important. I managed to push myself onto my back, staring up into the pitch black darkness.
I laid there, in the darkness for a long moment, just staring into the blackness. I kept probing at my broken teeth, and the pain made sparks appear in my vision.
“Ant?” Nagle’s voice.
“I’m here, Nancy.”
“Ant, honey, I need your help.” She said softly.
“Where’s your flashlight? I’ll help you.” I told her, rolling onto my side and pushing myself half up.
“Ant, oh fuck, Ant.” She said, and I heard movement in the snow. I whipped my knife around at it. “Dammit, Ant, stop it!” Nancy yelled, and I laid down on my side in the snow.
Another rumble, and I felt the snow push me a few inches in the darkness.
“Ant, I’m going to touch your face, OK?” Nagle said.
“OK.” I said, laying there. I felt her gloved fingers glide over my face. I heard her flashlight click several times, but no light illuminated the room.
“Ant…” Her voice was full of pain and sorrow.
“Yeah?” I reached out to touch her face and felt her grab my wrist in the darkness and pull my hand over to her cold cheek.
“Baby, I’m sorry.” She told me.
“I think you’re blind…”
Nagle grabbed my wrist and then pulled the knife from my fingers. I could feel warm drops hitting my face, and felt her cold gloved fingers on my face, touching my eyes, the warm throbbing agony of my nose, then across my lips, which felt overinflated and pulsed in time with my nose. Her hands left me, and I heard a rustling noise, a crunching in the snow, and then her hands were guiding me up to my feet. She threw my arm over her and gasped as I leaned against her. Something large and tubular was pressed into my hand, and my boots crunched in the snow as I tried to get my feet under me.
“Come on, baby.” She muttered, pulling me forward into the darkness. We turned to my left, and I slammed face first into the doorjam, screaming, dropping whatever I was holding in my hand and grabbing my face as I went ass first into the cold snow. Sparks filled my vision, chasing one another in the darkness, and my teeth awoke with a roar of agony that made my head swim.
I fell over to the side and vomited again in the snow.
Her hands were touching me, rubbing my back, rubbing my high and tight.
I’d lost my hat.
“Come on, Ant.” She muttered, pulling me to my feet when I was done retching into the snow. “I’m sorry, I so sorry.” She mumbled, pulling me forward. We paused for a second, and she grabbed my wrist, putting my hand on the banister. “Come on, Ant, I need you.” She said. She was breathing hard, and I felt her shiver under my arm.
I tripped and fell face first on the landing, barely getting my arm up in time, and I lay on the landing, my foot kicking as I tried to process the instructions to get up, while my lower body kept trying to walk up the stairs.
“I’m hurt bad, Nancy.” I groaned, finally pushing myself up. I stayed on all fours, retching into the snow again, every heave filling my vision with bright white and causing a sharp pain in my head that made me want to do it again.
The snow covered ice chilled my knees through my pants, pain radiating from my kneecaps, and the wind whipping around me in the stairwell.
“I need you to get up, Ant, please, I need you.” She begged, pulling on me.
It was pitch black in the stairwell, and I crawled around until my hands hit the stairs. I fumbled over till I grabbed the railing and used it to pull myself up.
Beneath us a door crashed open, and something screamed long and loud.
The stairwell vibrated as something began walking up the steps with slow, deliberate footfalls. Something that moved in the dark, the snow, and the wind.
One foot in front of the other, keep moving, it was all I could do in the darkness. Retch while you move, don’t stop.
The footsteps were slow, deliberate, unhurried.
“Come on, Ant!” Nagle yelled, pulling on me. I stumbled against her and she drug me through the snow, one arm thrown across her shoulders. Into the wind, the snow biting my cheeks. My earlobes shrieked in pain as the wind changed directions. My feet were going in all kinds of different directions.
Behind me, in the darkness, I could hear the staircase thump with each step of whatever dark thing was rising out of the depths of the building. The building where the winter had been let in.
The building where not only a psycho was more than likely holed up, but a building where the cold, the ice, the winter had been allowed in. The building where something with long arms, clad in tattered and dirty BDU’s, with white hands that had blackened flesh at the fingers and gleaming white bones for talons, hunted in the cold and dark.
Someone was whimpering in the darkness.
There was a banging, and I flinched back from the flashes of white light and the pain that each impact made, but someone, nancy, pulled me back, almost pulling me off my feet.
“Open the door, please, you have to hurry!” Nancy called out.
There was a scraping noise, and something pulled me forward, out of the wind and cold and into warmth. Not a warm room, but not the killing cold that was outside the room.
“Oh fuck, what happened to you two?” Carter asked, and I felt someone grab my arm. I pulled back, snarling, and swung at them.
Fuck you and your cold weather mask…
“He can’t see.” Nancy half sobbed. “Ant, Ant, relax, it’s Carter.”
Someone grabbed my arm, and this time I let them drag it over their shoulders. I went limp, my legs drained of energy, my legs disconnected from the rest of me. My brain was telling them to walk, to carry me forward, but my legs were ignoring my brain and taking a break.
“Can you do anything?” Carter asked. I retched again, bringing up nothing but a few strings of saliva and bile, and agony across the front of my mouth.
“In a minute. Get me the first aid pack, Hernandez.” She ordered, and I was being sat down in a chair. “Carter, get a cold towel and clean off his face and his head.”
“What happened?” Lewis asked.
“Ant got his ass kicked by Santa, what does it fucking look like?” Nagle snarled.
“Fuck, he’s bleeding everywhere.” Carter answered, and I felt them move away.
There was rustling noise around me, and I resisted the urge to curl up in a ball and cover the back of my head with my hands.
“Did you find Daniels?” Lewis asked.
“He’s fucking gone.” Carter and Nagle said at the same time.
“Nagle, you’re bleeding!” Hernandez said.
I felt a hand fumble at my shoulder and I half turned, slapping it away, trying to move away from it.
“Hey, John.” I said, grabbing his hand with both of mine. I sobbed for a second, holding onto my best friend’s hand. “I can’t see, man. Tandy’s out there, and I can’t see. My careers over, they’re going to throw me out.” I began crying, lost and afraid in the darkness that no flashlight would chase away.
“It’ll be all right, Ant, you’ll see. Nancy’s got us, I’m right here, and you won’t let anything happen to either of us.” He told me, squeezing my hands. He coughed and then groaned. “We’ve never let each other down yet.”
“Oh God, this hurts.” I heard Nancy moan, and I turned to look at her. “Carter, I need your help.”
And saw only darkness shot through with bright sparks.
“She’s OK, buddy.” Bomber told me, squeezing my hand.
“You’re bleeding pretty bad.” Hernandez said.
“I fucked up, man.” I told him. He shushed me and squeezed my hand again.
“Next year, we got my parents’ ranch, and you can just fuck my sister.” He told me, and we both laughed, his laugh broken up by a cough and a deep groan. “Or we’ll stay in Fulda and drink till we’re bulletproof.”
“That’ll have to work.” I heard Nancy say.
My vision swam, and I leaned forward in the chair and began dry heaving, my head threatening to burst each time I tried to bring something up and failed. White flashes and bright sparks kept filling my vision. There was a roaring noise in my ears, which just made things worse. When things swam back into normalcy, as normal as sitting in a chair surrounded by blackness could be, I heard Nagle say “I’m going…” There were footsteps, and Bomber squeezed my hand. I could hear the door open, and then shut and lock.
“Who left?” I asked, holding tight to Bomber’s hand and looking around.
“Nancy. She’ll be right back.” Bomber told me.
“She’s going to try to get into the other offices.” Lewis sneered. “Stupid bitch is going to get killed.”
I tried to stand up, and fell back into the chair when Bomber tugged on my hand. Lewis laughed at me and I felt myself turning red. The anger made my head pound and I was sick again. I could vaguely hear a crashing noise, and the rhythmic slamming just made my head pound harder.
“You couldn’t find Daniels?” Lewis asked after a few minutes.
“No, the bathroom was empty.” I told him.
“Bullshit, he couldn’t have disappeared.” He scoffed.
“He didn’t ‘disappear’, you fucking moron, he was taken.” Carter answered for me. “Tandy fucking grabbed him right out of his goddamn boots.”
I nodded and groan as the motion made my head pound again. I was awash in a sea of agony. Cast adrift, the currents of suffering carrying me from jagged crest of pain to deep trough of agony. My mouth throbbed, my nose felt like it had been snapped off, I felt like I was breathing through ground glass, and my shoulder hurt like a bastard.
The sound of the door shutting and locking pulled me out of my haze of pain.
“Did you get anything?” Carter asked.
“Yeah, no thanks to you two.” She snarled. “I got the first aid kits out of platoon offices.” There was a short pause. “We got lucky, SFC Andrews had the platoon combat lifesaver bags in the locker.”
“Thank God.” I heard Hernandez breathe.
“I’ll check Ant first, then take care of the rest of you.” Nagle promised.
“Hey, don’t you have any painkillers in those bags?” Lewis asked, “My legs are fucking killing me.”
“No, they aren’t.” Nagle snarled, “Bomber’s appendix is killing him. Ant’s head might be killing him. Your legs are just fucking broken, now shut the fuck up.”
“Bitch.” Lewis muttered.
“Call her a bitch again, and I’ll stomp your broken legs, you ungrateful cock.” Bomber said, his voice low and ugly.
Footsteps moved over in front of me, and Bomber squeezed my hand.
“Ant, can you see this?” Nagle asked me.
“No.” I admitted.
“Lean forward.” She told me, then cursed. I felt cold fingers touch the back of my scalp and flinched. “Hold still, dammit.” She poked at the back of my head some more, and I dry heaved for a few moment when she pressed on my skull. My vision went white and a rushing noise filled my ears.
“Fuck.” She said. “All right, give me the suture kit.”
“Where did you learn all this?” Lewis asked. I went to turn my head but strong hands grabbed either side of my head and held my head still.
“Correspondence courses.” She admitted. “Dammit, I’d give my clit for a real aid kit. Like one of the SF bags.”
She pulled at my lower lips, and lifted my upper lip with her fingers, then touched my nose. I didn’t make much noise, but lets be honest, it hurt like a motherfucker.
“Ant, put your hands behind your back.” She told me. I let go of Bomber’s hand and put my hands behind me in the chair. A noose went over my wrists and pulled snug, and I tried to pull forward, but a hand and Nagle’s voice stopped me. I sat there while my hands were tied behind the chair.
“Hold his head.” She ordered, and I felt strong hands grab under my chin and the top of my head and arms wrapped around my skull in a modified sleeper. “He might pass out, but he’s going to try to fight us.”
Nagle stitched up my lips, the left corner of my upper lip, and four splits in my lower lip. She then put her fingers on either side of my nose and wrenched it into place. Sharp pains ticked up the back of my skull, and the tugging feeling meant someone was prodding at my brain.
I was being tortured. For the site codes.
“I’m not telling you shit.” I grumbled, and spit blood out.
More pain, and I tried to pull my head free, but whoever was tuning me up had me held too tight. Pain in my shoulder, that made me yell, and I slumped forward when it was done.
“Fuck you.” I spit.
They started on my face again.
Finally it was over, and I sagged forward. I sat in the darkness for a long time, the pain finally ebbing, and I remembered where I was and lifted my face.
“Ant, do you know who I am?” A woman’s voice asked.
“Nancy.” I breathed, and leaned forward, trying to find her. My cheek hit her stomach, warm and covered by a T-shirt. Her arms went around me gently.
“Untie his wrists.” She said, and the cords were unwrapped from my wrists. I threw my arms around her and held tight.
“So what’s the bright plan now?” Lewis bitched from where he was at.
“Ant might have killed him.” Nancy said, gently rubbing my back. “So now we try to wait out the storm.
“Someone needs to go for help.” Lewis said, like none of us had thought of that before.
“I might as well cut their throat myself.” Nancy retorted. “Anyone who goes out there is a fucking dead man. The wind is up, the temperature is dropping, and daylight is coming.”
“So fucking what? At least in the daylight they might make it.” Lewis sneered.
“Anyone out there in the daylight is going to get blinded, confused, and lost.” Carter added.
“Then someone needs to…” Lewis voice suddenly broke off and there was a sigh.
“Lewis?” Hernandez asked.
“Move!” Nancy yelled, pushing my arms away and leaving my touch. I groped around blindly and found another hand to hold.
“What’s wrong with him?” Carter asked. “He was fine a second ago!”
There was silence for a long time.
“I don’t know. He’s dead.” Nancy said softly. “I don’t know why, but he’s dead.” She sobbed for a moment. “God dammit, there’s nothing that wrong with him! Just broken legs.”
“Come away, Nagle, there’s nothing you can do.” Hernandez said softly. I could hear Nancy weeping quietly, and after a few moments someone took my free hand.
“Come on, Ant.” Hernandez said, pulling me to my feet. Whoever was holding my hand let go, and Hernandez led me through the darkness, until my feet bumped a mattress.
“Lay down, keep her calm.” Hernandez said, pulling my hand over till I felt Nagle’s hair.
I pulled her down on the mattress and wrapped my arms around her. She was shaking from her tears, and I nuzzled the back of her head, making noises that really didn’t mean anything, but meant everything to two of us.
We stayed that way for a long time, until she rolled over in my arms and kissed my bottom lip.
“Can you see me?” She asked.
“Nope.” I admitted.
She nestled against me for a long moment, then raised her head and kissed the side of my neck.
“I…” She began.
There was a hammering on the door.
“Guys, let me in.” Daniel’s voice carried through the wood. “It’s cold out here.”
Another three hard blows on the door.
“Guys, come on, this isn’t funny, I’m cold.” Daniel’s voice was inflectionless, drained of everything that made his voice his. Even his Brooklyn accent was gone.
“Come on, guys, I’m cold.”
“Ignore it.” Carter said, his voice low. “He’ll go away.”
“It’s cold out here, guys. And I think that someone’s after me.” Daniels voice said, and this time I could hear a faint bubbling sound.
from where Tandy bit out his throat…
“Just ignore it.” Carter repeated.
Daniels hammered on the door again.
In my arms, Nagle whimpered, pushed past her limit. She’s been with us almost every time, had kept her cool, but it was finally all catching up with her. The fact we were being stalked through a barracks that was more a ruin than a home, chased by someone living who got off on us suffering.
“Let me in.” Daniels whispered, his voice clear as a bell over the howl of the wind and the snowflakes whispering against the blanket covered glass.
The winter had been let in, and with it…
“Fuck off!” Bomber yelled from where he was laying on a mattress. “We know who it is!”
There was a sudden pounding on the door, loud enough that it made my vision flash again. I could hear the door creak and groan with the force of the blows, and knew it was bowing inward.
“LET ME IN!” the voice howled.
Above us, a voice shouted and boots crashed against the floor.
Nagle whimpered again and burrowed against me, shivering against the blanket I hadn’t been aware we were under until the wool grazed my painfully swollen cheek.
“OPEN THE DOOR!” the voice roared, and I heard the shattering of glass.
The wind picked up, howling around us, and the blanket was almost torn off of us. Snow cascaded across us, and I could hear the blankets snapping against the walls as the wind drove into the room.
Carter and Hernandez began swearing.
“The windows!” Hernandez yelled, somewhat unnecessarily in my opinion.
I went to get up, but Nancy’s arms tightened around me, holding me tightly. Her hand moved up and wrapped around the back of my neck, drawing my face down till she could kiss my swollen lip.
“Stay with me, Ant, please.” She whispered into my mouth.
There was a banging on the door again, but not nearly the thunderous impacts that had shaken the air of the room. I could hear Hernandez and Carter swearing, hear things moving around. Nancy was kissing me again, running her tongue over my lip and causing sparks of pain.
“Tell me I’m still beautiful.” She whispered. She was shivering, but her skin felt warm under my hands, it felt warm where I’d put my hands under her shirt to press my hands against her thick lower back.
I mumbled to her that she was still beautiful.
“Tell me you love me.” She said, kissing my lips softly.
The wind was cutting down, and I could hear things being moved around.
“I love you.” I whispered to her.
She was still shivering.
“He stabbed me, Ant, I think I’m going into shock.” She said, hugging me tight.
I squeezed her tight with my arms, squeezing with my hands at her lower back.
“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” She whispered in my ear.
“I hope not.” I answered honestly.
“Do you think Tandy is going to get us?” She asked, still shivering.
“Me, probably, same as Carter. The rest of you? Who knows.” I wrapped my legs in hers, rubbing her back. Her skin was getting cold. I pulled up her shirt and then mine then pressed my skin against hers.
Her breasts were cold and her nipples felt like ice chips pressed against my skin.
“I’m cold, Ant.” She told me, her teeth chattering.
“Please don’t die.” I knew I was crying again. Lost in the dark and one of the few bright points in my life was dimming in my arms. I held her tightly, kissing her face in the darkness, rubbing her skin, trying to keep her warm, trying to keep her alive against me.
I kissed the side of her face, and my lips found an upraised tear in her face with rough thread crisscrossing it. I kissed up the line, then across her forehead, ignoring the sound of the wind, pulling one hand back to shove down her pants in the front and the other one down the back of her pants.
My fingers were clumsy, but I squeezed and tickled, kissing the front of her face, ignoring the way it made my mouth throb. She shivered again, and pulled tighter against me as the banging picked up. I could hear Hernandez and Carter talking, but it was distant, far away, all that mattered was Nagle.
Her skin was cold, even where she would be warm, and she was shivering in my arms but mostly limp, barely responding to my movements. Her breathing was ragged and shallow, and she didn’t even react when I bit her earlobe hard.
The last time I bit her ear, she’d been in a drunken stupor and I’d used the pain to wake her up enough to get her off the floor of my room, out of the puddle of drunken vomit, and into the bed. The time before that I’d used biting her ear to wake her up enough to get her out of the shower and into my bed.
Now she didn’t even twitch, just shivered, her skin getting colder as the wind from the broken windows twitched under the blanket. I squeezed and pinched, trying to get her to move, to do something, anything.
…Please don’t die.
Heat blossomed in her skin, under my hands, and her shivering stopped. I was consumed with the feel of her skin under my fingertips, paying attention only to her.
She pushed me away suddenly, reaching down and pulling my hands out of her pants. Her arms wrapped around me suddenly and pulled me tight, holding onto me. Her skin was warm again, hot against mine, and she pecked a kiss at my face.
“Go to sleep, Ant.” She teased, holding onto me. “Hold me tight and go to sleep.”
I let her hold me, and let the darkness, warm and sparked with dancing white sparks, pull me in. I didn’t care about the wind howling, or the flapping of fabric whipping by the wind, or even the other voices.
I had Nancy, that’s all that mattered.
Please don’t die…
“Wake up, Ant.” Nancy’s voice pulled me from a dream of sitting in my brother’s room, holding still while his girlfriend mopped the blood off my face and he told me that I needed to stop getting my ass kicked so often.
I opened my eyes, and could see her above me.
She was smiling, and I could see her eyes, her hair, and her skin. Past her I could see the white of the ceiling.
I couldn’t make out any features, I couldn’t tell her expression beyond her teeth from smiling. I looked around, and I could see fuzzy blobs scattered around, but at least I could see something instead of darkness everywhere.
“I can see you.” I told her, wincing as speaking pulled at the stitches in my lips.
“You can?” She sounded happy, and a hand popped up, holding up three fingers. “How many…”
“Three. No pinky.” I said, and she leaned down and hugged me.
She lit a cigarette, and held it out to me. I was proud of myself for being able to grab the tiny white blur without burning myself. I knew it was a test, she was seeing if I was lying to her.
The nicotine felt good, easing the pain.
I noticed it was really warm in the room, and light was coming from the window. I looked over, but all I could see was brown with white edges.
“How do you feel?” She asked, leaning in close. She suddenly came into focus, and I could see she had a stitched up line from her eye to the bottom of her jaw, roughly stitched up.
“My head hurts.” I told her, pushing myself into a sitting condition. “How’s Bomber?”
“Unconscious, but breathing strong.” She told me, bending down and covering one eye. She flashed the flashlight in my eye, uncovered it, then repeated it.
“Still concussed.” She said, then made a face. “I think you might have a skull fracture.” She sighed and rubbed the side of her face. “We’re all beat up.”
I looked around, unable to identify the man shaped blobs standing up.
“How’s Lewis?” I asked.
“Dead.” She admitted. “Can you get up?”
“Yeah.” I began fighting to get up. “What happened?”
“I don’t know. One minute he was speaking, the next minute he was dead. No wounds, no nothing.” She admitted, stepping back and turning into a blurry blob as I got to my feet. She took the cigarette away from me and didn’t give it back.
“Why’s it so warm in here?” I asked, finding a chair shaped blur and sitting down. I should tell her that I still can’t see worth a shit, but right now, they needed me. They’d been there for me, I needed to be there for them.
“Hernandez and Carter figured it out, and we made it while you were asleep.” She sat on my lap and kissed my forehead. “We drug up a pair of GP Mediums, put one over the door, put one over the window and used tables and poles to hold it there.
“We put up the tent liners on the walls, and on the floor. Then we set up a stove, ran the stovepipe through the hole in the tent, and fired it up.” She told me. “Hernandez might have saved all of us.”
I nodded, and moved over to the blurry tables, finding a box quickly. I lifted up the brown bag, having to bring it almost to my nose to read the label. ‘Chicken ala King’ Great, well, with my teeth, it beat catshit and rice.
“Ant…” Nagle was next to me. I turned and looked at her, squinting.
“What?” I smiled.
“Give me the MRE.” She said, and I handed it over. She moved, I couldn’t tell what she doing very well, and she held up the package. “What does this say?”
I squinted again, tilting my head to try to read it.
I couldn’t even make out the black printing.
“Chicken and Rice.” I guessed.
She held it closer and closer, until I could see the blurry black lines and then it swam into focus.
Pork Patty with Beans.
“You can’t see, can you?” She asked. Someone else was coming up behind her.
“I can see.” I protested, fumbling in the box and pulling out another one. I held it up to my nose. ‘Chicken ala King’ I tore it open and turned around to see another blur standing there. Since it was skinned, I figured out who it was.
“Carter.” I nodded, moving over to the chair and pulling open the bag.
“Nagle says you can’t see.” He told me.
“I can see just fine.” I lied, squinting at my food.
“How many fingers?”
I turned my head, and my vision blacked out, sparks shooting across my sight. In a second everything faded in, like an old black and white TV, full of static, which slowly turned to color. I could make out his hand, the fingers blurry, but he was only holding up three of them.
“Three.” I answered.
“Ant?” Nagle asked. This time from the other side of me. I turned my head, and my vision did it again, this time making nausea twist my stomach. “Ant?” She called again, this time in front of me. I slowly moved my head, seeing everything blur out for a moment, until I was looking at her.
“What’s wrong with him?” Hernandez asked.
“Nothing.” I grunted, tearing open the foil and squeezing the chicken into my mouth.
“Concussion for sure.” Nagle said, like I wasn’t even there. I felt a slight stir of anger, I was sitting right in front of them, for fuck’s sake. “Maybe a skull fracture, maybe worse.”
“I’m fine.” I said, swallowing my food and ignoring the pain in my mouth. “Have you heard anything else?”
“No.” Carter said. “I’m going to try to get some sleep, it’s almost dark.”
I nodded, and my vision shut off again. This time I counted. Two and a half seconds. With a sharp pain in the front of my head right before my vision came back on.
I could see the blob that I’d decided was Carter move away, and slowly turned my head to face where I could see Nagle breathing. Her face was just a featureless blob, all I was able to make out was her hair, what might be eyes, and a blob.
“How bad is it?” She whispered, leaning forward.
“If I turn too fast, I can’t see. I can’t make out details much farther than my nose.” I admitted. “Think I’ll be OK?”
“I don’t know.” She admitted. “Your face looks like hell. I put like fifty stitches into you. He stabbed you in the shoulder.” She chuckled. “You had the bayonet stuck in the muscles at the top of your shoulder.” She shook her head and then took my face in both hands, leaning forward and kissing the tip of my nose. “Only Ant.”
“How bad did he get you?” I asked her, the red welt on the side of her face vanishing as she pulled farther than a foot away.
She shrugged, or at least I thought that’s what the movement was. “He cut my face, and stabbed me the through my right boob.” She moved again. “I didn’t even hear him.”
“He’s fucked.” I said, grinning. “I think I got him pretty good.”
“No, he’s in good enough shape that he smashed the shit out of our generator while everyone was being patched up.” She told me.
“Hey, shut up, I’m trying to sleep.” Carter said.
“Sorry.” I said, then leaned into Nagle till she swam into focus. “I think it’s time for Plan B.”
“The Kurt Russel plan?” She smiled, and I nodded slowly, figuring out as long as I moved slow, my vision didn’t cut out.
“When Hernandez wakes up.” I smiled.
She wiped off my chin with her fingers.
They were bloody.
“I think I should go.” Carter told me, a dark blurry form.
“We need you here in case he goes for the wounded.” Nagle told him. I just stood beside her, holding the axe in my hands, with Hernandez on the other side of her, holding an axe of his own. “You stay here, hold down the fort.”
“I wanna go.” Bomber said from where he was laying on the mattress.
“Fine, get up and walk over here.” Nagle told him. He tried to sit up and fell back with an outcry of pain. “That’s what I thought.”
“Why can’t Ant stay here?” He asked.
“My fucking plan.” I growled.
“Can you even fucking see?” Carter asked.
“Good enough.” I told him.
“He’s Ant, he’s good.” Nagle told him, then turned to the door. “Unlock the door, Dez.”
The locks sounded like thunder, and the door shrieked when it opened, the noise ripping down my spine and making my stomach twist. I swallowed back the bile and looked out into the platoon area.
I’d spend more than a few hours sitting out there, smoking cigarettes, BSing with everyone else, waiting to find out where I was going for TDY or to the field next.
The chairs were all covered by snow, pushed against the far wall. The broken windows, which were just dark blurs, let the wind in. Hernandez and Nagle’s flashlights panned out, settling on the space about three feet from the door.
It took my eyes a moment to focus well enough to understand what made both people with me inhale sharply.
Four snowmen, wearing BDU caps, one with a mophead for hair, all with outstretched arms. I could barely make them out, and stood still as Nancy moved close, kneeling down in front of one.
“Fucker’s been in our rooms.” She snarled, standing back up with something pink she’d pulled off the face of one. “This is my fucking vibrator.” I heard Carter snicker, and Bomber laugh, and she blurred right before John yelled.
“Don’t throw your battery powered fuckstick at me!” John laughed, then groaned.
“There’s three more out here, so unless you want to play ‘3 holes no waiting’ over there, shut the hell up, you Texas redneck.” Nagle answered. All of us chuckled. “Lock the door behind us.” She finished.
We moved out into the snow, and the sound of our boots in the snow seemed preternaturally loud to my ears. Nagle smashed down one of the snowmen as she passed them, cursing as she did so. The wind was howling down the hallway and swirling in the platoon area, the cold wind biting at my exposed face. The throbbing in my cheeks and nose receded within a few seconds, and I silently breathed a sigh of relief that the pain had vanished. I probably should have told someone, but what was I going to say? That I was at my limit?
We were all at our limits.
The snow dusting the hallway was thick enough to crunch under our boots as we moved into the hallway, the handleless doors blank as we passed by them. Simon’s room, where we usually sat and got blind drunk talking about sports. SPC Corman’s room, with the foosball table he’d bought. My brother’s room, with the key still stuck in the door.
“Hey, don’t leave me stuck in here, guys.” from behind the door of 221. A man’s voice.
We just kept walking, ignoring the door when someone banged on the door.
“Please let me out.” A woman’s voice pleaded as we kept walking toward the broken midway doors.
“Fuck you, bitch.” Nagle mumbled as we kept going. Past my room, where my stuff had been destroyed.
We stopped at the end stairwell, and Hernandez flashed the light at each of us before Nagle spoke.
“All right. When we get up there, we work as fast as possible. I’ll keep watch, so Ant, Dez, it’s up to you.” She told us. I nodded, and I think Hernandez did too, but it was too hard to tell in the darkness, with my blurred vision, and the snow blowing in from the shattered window behind me.
“Roger that.” I slurred. My mouth tasted of copper. The cold win had split open my lips again. and either the stitches had torn or I was bleeding between them, but it didn’t matter since I could barely feel the stinging pinch.
“I’ll lead the way.” I said.
“Why you?” Hernandez asked, reaching out and stopping me.
“I’m expendable.” I answered.
“What?” He said, he looked at Nagle, who was nodding. “Why?”
“Three reasons.” I told him. “Number one, I’m already injured,” I looked at Nagle, “I’m probably going to die anyway. Number two: Nagle’s the closest thing we have to a medic, and you’re still in good shape.” I took a deep breath, and admitted the one thing that I had learned through pain. “Lastly, I’m a boy.”
I pushed his arm away and headed toward the steps.
“What the fuck does that mean?” He asked.
“It means he doesn’t matter.” Nagle said in soft voice, and I nodded.
She was right. I was boy, boys didn’t matter. Boys went to war. Boys worked to provide for the family. Boys were nasty vile creatures who defiled girls. Boys were nothing but violence and stupidity. Boys shouldn’t be taught to speak. Boys didn’t need to go to school. Stupid boy. Violent boy. Disgusting boy. Nasty boy. Ignorant boy.
When it was time, boys died to protect those better than them.
I moved slow up both flights of steps, stopping on the fourth floor landing, shifting my grip on the axe. I could feel the anger and rage pounding at my head, and ignored the nausea, the sparks in my vision, but embraced the pain, welcomed it, nourished it.
Pain is nature’s way of telling you that you’re alive, boy…
I was really alive.
“Plan B, baby.” I said, then pushed open the door to the 4th floor hallway. Into upper NCO and Officer Country.
The hallway felt warm after the brutal chill of the stairwell, and I felt a slick sick pleasure at the fact that I was about to ruin someone’s day. There was no wind, no snow or ice in the hallway. The air was still, and I could faintly smell the stench of blood on the air.
“Let’s break shit up.” I said, then stepped forward and shattered the window with the head of the axe. The wind blew over me, ice crystals that hadn’t become snowflakes yet biting at my exposed skin.
Hernandez moved past me, Swinging the axe into the door. I moved past to the next door, leaned back, and slammed my boot against the door, kicking it clean off the hinges. I stomped into the room, breaking both windows with the axe before turning around and walking out of the room. Hernandez was in the room, and I heard glass shatter.
We made our way down the hallway, breaking down doors and bashing open windows. When we came to the double doors that separated the hallway Hernandez and I hacked the hinges off and stood there for a moment, the axes in our hands, when they crashed to the floor.
The building groaned and shivered around us.
At the far end I could faintly see that there was some kind of light, fuzzy and unable to be pinned down for what it was.
The light was partially blocked by a shapeless blob filling the vague square of light.
“I’m coming for you, bitch!” I bellowed down the hallway.
I stepped forward, holding tight to the axe, grinning at the man at the end of the hallway.
Behind me, Hernandez and Nagle began working on the next set of door as I stood there, reaching up to my chest to turn on my flashlight that I’d hooked to my pocket. I couldn’t see very well, but I wasn’t going to need to for what I was going to.
It was time to find out if I had what it took.
I began walking down the hallway, deliberately stomping on the floor, hefting the axe as I walked. Each stomp sounded thunderous over the wind, and the building shuddered as I stomped down the hallway toward the shape in the doorway. I felt the power infuse me, even the building was on my side, the pain was a welcome thing that warmed my muscles, drove away the fatigue and nausea, and made everything else but the shadow at the end of the hallway fade away. The sound of Nagle and Hernandez bashing open doors and smashing windows receded, all of it remote and unimportant compared to the shape at the end of the hallway.
When I’d taken a leak, I’d looked in the mirror, using the flashlight to let me see what I looked like. I knew what he was seeing, and I hoped that he wouldn’t realize just in how bad of shape I was. My face was a battered, bloody wreck, covered in purple and red bruises, with cuts and stitches in it, my teeth shattered and broken behind my split and swollen lips.
All I could do was hope he didn’t know bad off I was by how broken up my face was. Hopefully he wouldn’t realize that my head felt like even a light tap would make my head explode. Or that a sharp blow would probably render me blind again. My face was pretty much fucked.
At least I’d never been good looking.
I stomped down the middle of the hallway, staring at the blurry shadow in the middle of the double doors at the far end, maybe a football field away. Behind me there was more crashing, and I saw the shape shift.
“Come on, come on.” I snarled, spitting copper tasting spit on the floor. My mouth was full of it, and I knew that I was bleeding again. “Show me what you got.”
I was running on empty.
The door at the end of the hallway shut, cutting out the lights, and I stopped walking forward, my ears straining, knowing that all the chance I’d get is a quick dark blur coming at me. I squinted in the darkness, cocking my head back and forth, trying to get sight of him.
Another slamming door echoed down the hallway, and I felt the wind push against me and then cut off, changing direction for a brief moment before going back to the wind slicing across my back from where Hernandez and Nagle were kicking in doors and shattering windows.
Long moment passed, screams echoing through the building. From below us there was a shout and a crash, like a multitude of boots thudding against the floor. Moaning sobs swirled about our ankles or floated above our heads.
Nagle and Hernandez kicked in each door, broke each window in.
And let in the Winter…
The plan was simple. It was as old as it was effective. It had been used by Rome against Carthage, and it would work in the barracks.
Destroy the enemy’s territory.
Nagle and Hernandez stayed behind me, and I took two steps forward to the next door when they were done with the ones directly behind me. I kept close watch, barely able to hear above their panting with the effort they were putting out to bash down the doors.
When they bashed their way into SGT(P) Jakes room, Nagle gasped, and when the glass shattered, both of them hurried out.
“Jakes is in there.” She told me.
“Yeah?” I squinted toward the end of the hallway, maybe 50 feet away.
“He’s really dead.” Nagle told me.
“Someone cut out his eyes.” Hernandez said quietly.
“Anyone else?” I asked.
“No, just Sergeant Jakes.” She told me.
“Let’s finish this shit.” I growled, taking another step forward.
When we finished, we stood in front of the double doors that led to the officer’s offices, Nagle and Hernandez breathing heavily.
“Where do you think he is?” Hernandez asked.
“Probably taking on Carter.” I spit, then reached out and put one hand on the doors.
They were warm.
I kicked the middle of the double doors as hard as I could, in between the handles, and blinked when the light almost blinded me.
The room was clean, maps of the company area, each of the ammunition FSTS sites, the ASP, our grid coordinates of Western Germany, marked with where units were, manpower strength, equipment. Several white boards broke up the company by platoon, listing everyone’s names, room number, and where they were. Up here is where the unit’s officers decided what we were supposed to do. Battery powered lanterns had been set up, and some kerosene heaters were scattered around. Against the far wall was set a bunch of OD green gas cans, marked ‘KEROSENE’.
He had a nice little lair here.
“Everyone take a door.” I walked over to the first door, kicking it open, then chopping at the hinges with my axe until the door wouldn’t close any better than any door in the hallway. Hernandez started grabbing cans of kerosene and throwing them through the windows. Nagle turned down each of the heaters.
Yeah, and then that happened…
The fifth door is when Nagle found his lair.
He had a nice little setup in an office with no windows. A kerosene heater, a stack of MRE boxes, and a couple cans of potable water. His sleeping bag was canoed on top of a sleeping pad and a shelter half. A stack of bayonets sat on a desk, next to a half dozen NVG’s, and a trio of fire axes. It took me a minute to figure out what each thing was, all of them nothing but blurry blobs any farther than two paces.
“What are you doing?” Hernandez asked me when I set the axe on the desk and straddled the sleeping bag.
“Returning a favor.” I replied, unbuttoning my pants.
While Nagle kicked open the next door I stood there, with the cold wind pulling at me, and pissed all over his sleeping bag.
When I was done, I grabbed the NVG’s, looping them around my belts on my bloodstained Levi jeans, and picked up the bayonets. Hernandez was breaking out the windows in one of the mission planning rooms and I passed him a set of NVG’s and a pair of bayonets. He let the NVG’s hang around his neck, and jammed the bayonets into his back pocket.
Nagle let the NVG’s hang from her neck and tucked the bayonets in her jacket pockets. She smiled at me, and I smiled back.
“Having fun?” She asked, letting the axe swing from one hand and kissing my lower lip.
“Oh yeah.” I answered.
“Mean ol’ boy.” She laughed, then kissed my lower lip for a second before biting hard. Her hand snaked around behind my neck and she pulled me closer as her lips bit deep into my lip. Her eyes were wide open and looking into mine. “Vicious boy.” She teased when she let go.
“Let’s find him and kill him.” I growled, turning away from Nagle, when what I wanted to do was drag her down on the floor, tear off her clothes, and take her right there on the tile.
“Where do you think he is?” Hernandez asked.
“Motor pool.” Nagle and I answered at the same time.
The building shuddered again as more snow slammed into it.
“You can’t go out there in that.” Hernandez said, waving a hand at the snow blowing in the windows. “You’ll be dead before you get 50 feet.”
I turned away from the dark room, walking toward the stairwell access. “We did it before, we can do it again, and this time…” I looked at Nancy and grinned.
“We’re after him. No problem.” Nagle finished as I opened the stairwell door.
Nagle let out a scream. I whipped my head around and my vision went black for a second.
It came back with a snap, and in front of me stood a dark figure, dressed in a parka, with an extreme cold weather face mask across his face. His hands were hidden by trigger mittens, but the left one still held the bayonet tightly up next to his head. He was close enough that I could see every detail about him.
His one good eye glared bloodshot rage at me as the knife came down.
And then that happened…
First rule, son, is you’re going to get cut…
I lunged forward as the bayonet came down, adrenaline spiking through me. My right hand caught the wrist of the hand the bayonet was in. I moved into him, my left hand slamming shot after shot into his side as we staggered to the side. I felt something give under the parka as we reached the edge of the steps.
Nancy was still screaming my name as I slung him down the steps.
I raced down the steps as he scrambled to his feet, crashing into the wall when he scrabbled down the next flight of steps. My vision vanished, but I didn’t care, turning around and hurtling myself down the steps as my vision returned. My palms slapped the wall and I thrust myself down and away, chasing him.
I saw him ahead of me, and drove a fist into his kidney as I slammed him into the wall. An elbow hit me in the face, and I staggered back, my eyesight vanishing, but I kept my hands up just in case.
He snapped back into focus just as the knife was coming down, and I slapped the knife away, throwing two right hands into his face before he could get the knife back around, bouncing his head off the wall. He screamed in pain and shoved me back, and I tripped over the step and landed on my ass, my vision crackling and going gray.
Instead of following up, he ran down the steps, and I reached between the bars of the banister and grabbed his ankle as he went by, ignoring the flare of pain and crunch in my elbow.
He screamed again as he went down face first. I got up and chased him, jumping from the top step, aiming my boots at him.
I landed in the middle of his back, and he shrieked as something crackled under my boots.
Right before my feet went out from under me and I went backwards down the flight of stairs, my head bouncing off the stair and a burning pain erupting in my neck.
“I’ll kill you!” He yelled, and I heard him coming down the stairs, my vision blurring and struggling to come into focus. I guessed, and lashed out with my boots, and felt a jarring impact as my boots slammed into him. He let out a high wheeze of agony, and fell on top of me.
We rolled to the side, and I kneed him off just as my vision came back.
Grinning, I got to one knee, my hand at my belt, looking up at him as he stood up to his full height, the bayonet in his fist. The flashlights from above cast crazy shadows on the walls, and for a split second I could see his bloodshot eye plainly.
The knife hit me in the shoulder, driving deep, through my jacket and shirt, the hilt slamming into my skin. He was staring down at me, his eye wide, his teeth bloody.
I twisted my knife, and he spit blood into my face.
He went forward, against me, and we went down the stairs. I lost him, tumbling, and I realized I was blind again when I came to a stop.
I was laying in something soft, and I could feel cold seeping in through my jacket, my pants, and my shoulder faded to a dull throb.
Nagle and Hernandez were coming down the stairs.
I felt something tug on something inside of my shoulder, rocking me in place, but all I could see was darkness, and I lacked the strength to even scream.
I’m out of gas…
My vision came back, tunnel vision, the middle strangely magnified, the edges blurry, but the center of my vision sharp and clear.
He was bent over me, one arm around his waist, his left hand reaching down toward me and vanishing from my vision. He rocked back, and I felt another pull of agony from my shoulder.
I couldn’t even groan.
“Goddamn asshole enlisted puke.” he snarled, letting go and standing up.
He brought back his boot and kicked me in the face, my vision vanishing in a white flash.
“ANT! ANT!” Nagle was coming down the steps.
He laughed, rich, deep, evil laughter.
Snow crunched next to my ear, and my body ignored my command to lash out and grab him as he went by.
I heard Nagle and Hernandez’s footsteps stop on the stairs as his footsteps rang on the steps, his rich dark laughter filling the stairwell.
“Run!” Hernandez shouted.
“Ant!” Nagle yelled.
“He’s gone!” Hernandez yelled back, “Run!”
I could hear him going up the stairs, his footsteps thudding in the darkness, his laughter leading the way.
“Ant! I love you!” She yelled down the stairwell.
I heard their boots pound back up the stairs.
I love you…
I lay there in the darkness, in the snow. I could feel the wind blowing in, and knew he must have gotten the door open. My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see, even though I blinked when cold snowflakes hit my unseeing eyes.
Footsteps came back down the steps, and paused near me.
“Stay down.” The voice was full of hatred, repeating the words I’d heard so often.
The footsteps crunched through the snow and disappeared, leaving me alone in the cold, and the snow.
Time ticked by, my shoulder growing cold, and it felt like all my warmth was pulling out of my shoulder. I could feel the freezing blade stuck through me, pinning me to the ground, pinning me to the ice and snow.
Sharp, cold icicles touched my face, slowly tracing over my face, pausing on my lips to tug them open.
There was a low, bubbling chuckle as the sharp icicle ran down my cheek.
I could hear footsteps pounding down the stairs.
“Ant, we’re coming for you!” Someone yelled.
The talon dug into my shoulder, pushing next to the blade, and then withdrew as soon as it dug into my flesh. There was sucking sound, then another low chuckle. It was wet, and cold, and without any humanity.
“He’s dead.” Nagle, sobbing.
“No way, he’s alive.” Carter.
I heard a low, bubbling hiss.
The darkness flashed, and I could see the darkness, but it was less absolute than it had been before.
A flashlight beam illuminated the dark form above me.
Deep, sunken eyes, nothing but black pits full of hatred and dark mirth. Gaping open jaws, full of broken and jagged teeth that were too long for the mouth. White skin, with the edges of the mouth pulled up in a horrific grin.
Grimy, dirty, tattered BDU’s, covered with frozen mud and a ring of frost.
A hand held in front of my face, at the end of a too long arm, the wrist and forearm protruding from a ragged torn BDU sleeve. The fingers were blackened, long, and twisted, with the fingerbones thrust through the blackened flesh.
My eyes flicked down, automatically, out of habit, and spotted the nametage as Carter, Nancy, and Hernandez all screamed at once.
The light hit the thing on top of me square, and it looked up into the lights, dark black circles around those even darker pits that were supposed to pass for eyes. The jaws gaped open and hissed, spittle flying out from between the jagged black teeth and spattering my face, the drops freezing my skin even deeper than the snow that had blown in and begun to cover me.
In a white blur he was gone, nothing more than a malevolent shadow that dissolved as soon as the light touched it, but my face still burned where those cold talons had traced over it.
I was aware I was crying silent tears, laying in the snow at the bottom of the stairwell, with an icicle jammed through my shoulder, spreading cold through my whole body.
Boots landed next to my face, and I braced myself for another kick to the face, more punishment.
Nasty little boys need punished…
“Shit, I think he’s dead.” Carter said, leaning down and looking in my eyes. He was pale, and glanced up down my body.
I knew he was looking out the door for Tandy.
I exhaled slowly, struggling to inhale. I was tired, so tired, and it was a monumental effort to drag air into my frozen lungs. I was so tired that the cold air being pulled past my teeth didn’t even hurt, didn’t spark the slightest pain.
“He’s alive, he just breathed.” Hernandez said. “Grab him, we gotta get him upstairs.”
Hands grabbed me, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling.
“Shit, he’s heavy.” Carter griped.
“Try having him on top of you.” Nagle popped back, and the other two chuckled.
My view tilted, and it got dark again, but without the white sparks that meant I was blind again. I could see the backspill of reflected light from the flashlights as they carried me up the flights of stairs.
“You two got him?” Nagle asked, and I heard them both grunt. There was a scream of frozen metal opening, and we moved through the windy room. There was a hammering on the door.
“John, open the door!” Nagle pleaded. “John, please.”
The door locks clicked, and I was enveloped by a warm cushioning warmth that surrounded me and lifted me up.
“Is that a fucking bayonet?” John asked, breathing hard.
“Yes.” Nagle snapped. “Set him on the table. Get his knife out of his hand.”
I felt fingers prying open mine, but I was unable to help. All I could do was stare up at the ceiling.
“Prop his feet up. Hernandez, you hold his legs.” Nagle ordered, moving around to my left side. My knife was pulled from my hand.
“Got it.” Carter said.
“Give it to me.” Nagle said.
I love you…
“Bomber, get the medical kit, Carter, hold his left arm. I’m going to need you to kind of hold his arm and lay on his chest at the same time when I tell you.” Nagle ordered. I felt tugging on my jacket, and then heavy denim ripping.
“Jesus, it went all the through.” Bomber said. His face appeared, and he grinning at me. I blinked, and he put his hand on my head. “This is gonna hurt a lot, Ant.” He told me.
The icicle in my shoulder wiggled. I blinked again, my vision darkening in whorls of black and white static.
I felt my jacket open and my shirt pull open.
“Thank God.” Nagle whispered.
“What?” Carter asked.
“That’s not his blood.” She said, pulling my shirt back down. More denim ripping, then I felt my sleeve pull off slowly, exposing my arm. “John, hold his arm right at the biceps, and put your other hand on his chest. Watch his head, I don’t think he can take much more damage there.”
“He can take it.” John grunted, staring down at me. “My friends aren’t pussies.” The absolute sincerity and confidence only a Texan can have.
“Hold him.” Nagle said, and the icicle started to slide out of my shoulder.
I just laid there, staring at the ceiling, as the icicle slowly drew out of my flesh, leaving behind a cold feeling that I knew was a layer of frost inside the wound.
I love you… Nagle’s voice down the stairwell.
“What the fuck?” John blurted.
“Frostbite. He’s got frostbite in the wound. Dammit.” Nagle bitched. “He was down there too long.”
The icicle sliding into the wound, freezing my flesh, and then pulling free, followed by an obscene sucking sound.
“I think it missed the artery. Goddamn, he’s a lucky one.” Nagle said. I felt something poke into my skin, the skin stretch, and then something thin and cold lance through the skin. “This is the best I can do. We’ll just have to hope he doesn’t bleed out.”
Scalding hot droplets of water were hitting my chest, sliding down my pectoral, into my armpit, and burning my skin along the way.
“Roll him over.” Nagle said. “Watch his head.”
I was limp as the hands moved me, and once again the thin sliver of ice moved through my skin, dragging a red hot wire behind it.
“Why isn’t he moving?” Hernandez asked.
“He’s in shock, and if he doesn’t have hypothermia, but he’s goddamn close.” Nagle answered. “All right, roll him over and strip him naked. Use the knife to cut his jacket and shirt off.”
I could feel my boots being unlaced and pulled off, then my socks. My pants were pulled down, boxers and all. I could feel my jacket, the jacket Nancy bought me in Frankfurt when we went to Oktoberfest, and my Iron Maiden shirt I’d gotten at Monsters of Rock 88, the day before the Ramstien Air Show. Nancy had gotten my the Monsters of Rock tickets, John had gotten me the Air Show tickets, being cut away.
Goddamn you, John Bomber, you’re going to be the death of me…
I was being picked up, cradled by strong hands, and I was staring at the ceiling again.
“John, strip.” Nancy ordered.
“What? Why?” Bomber asked.
“You’re running a fever, I need you to help me warm him up.” Nancy said, her voice brooking no argument. “Be some goddamn use, you inbred hick.”
“Hey…” John’s voice sounded wounded as I was set down on something soft and warm.
“Why isn’t he blinking?” Carter asked. “It’s really creepy.”
Nagle sighed, and I could hear her coming closer. Feel her coming closer.
“Brain damage. I think.” She paused, and her warm hand touched my face, closing my eyes. As soon as she let go, my eyes opened, and I was looking into her face, framed by her auburn hair. “Get the medical tape, we need to tape his eyes shut.”
I felt burning hot legs next to mine, then someone radiating heat like a furnace lay down next to me, hair rubbing against my arm as a thick arm threw itself over my chest.
You better be wearing boxers, fucker…
Another body slid in next to, and I felt it shiver. “Brrr, he’s fucking freezing.” A hand passed a roll of tape to a petite hand with blackened fingernails. The tape vanished, and I heard a tearing noise.
Nancy’s fingers brushed my eyes closed, then medical tape covered them.
“Is he going to be OK?” Hernandez asked.
“He’s Ant, of course he will be.” Bomber joked.
“Bomber?” Nagle said, her warm breath tickling my cheek.
“Yeah, Nagle?” I felt John shift.
“Get your goddamn hand off my tit.”
John’s laughter echoed in my head as I lay in the darkness.
“I’ll take first watch, you guys get some sleep.” Hernandez said.
“You get all the fun.” Nancy breathed in my ear, “I’m the one who wants to be sandwiched.”
Her words chased me down into darkness.
Pain. Pain woke me up.
My mouth throbbed, my head was a storm of agony, my shoulder was on fire, my ribs felt like they’d been caved in, and someone was moving my left arm, making my elbow grind and scream in pain. I was blind again, my eyes refusing to open.
I tore my right arm out of the grip and swung it, hitting something soft but firm. A hand grabbed my wrist and pulled my arm back down.
“Goddamn it, you pussies, hold him.” A woman’s voice snapped out. “Goddamn it, I wish I’d known it was dislocated.”
“Stay down, dammit, Ant.” A man growled, and I bellowed as I snatched my arm out of the grip and swung again, hitting something solid. Someone cursed, and I dropped my arm down to my waist, fumbling for my knife. The hands grabbed my forearm, yanking my hand away, and pinning it to the floor.
“Get the fuck off of me!” I roared, bucking, trying to get them off of me.
Trying to get Tandy off of me…
“Hold still, Ant, I’ve got to set your elbow.” Nancy said, and I felt a bare foot slide into my armpit. Two small hands had a hold on my wrist. “For fuck’s sake, hold on to him, he’s going to go berserk.”
There was a sudden yank, and my elbow flared. I screamed, kicking, fighting to get loose, trying to get loose. I felt someone throw themselves across me, firm breasts pressing against my chest, and lips mash against mine.
It hurt, fiery agony, but I wrapped my arms around her warm body and did my best to hug her, to hold her tight to me.
“I love you.” I managed to say, talking against her lips.
“You gonna live, brother?” Bomber asked me. The hands let go of my legs.
“I think I’m blind.” I said. Nancy giggled against me, then I felt her hands on my face, pulling something away that burned.
Light burned into my eyes, and I winced, blinking at it.
“Bright.” I said stupidly.
Nagle shaded my eyes, and her face slowly came into focus.
“Blink for me.” She said. I did, looking at her oddly. “Hey, don’t laugh, we had to tape your eyes shut.”
“Get me up.” I said, trying to push her off of me. “Get me on my feet.”
“Ant, no. You need to lay down.” She held my face gently in her hands. “You have a soft spot on the back of your head.”
“Dude, you shouldn’t even be alive.” Carter said from beyond my sight. “We thought you were dead when we found you. He fucked you up good.”
I remembered the feeling of my Gerber sinking into his stomach, the way I twisted it, and the way he spit blood into my face, and I grinned.
“What’s so funny.” Nagle asked.
“He’s fucked.” I answered. “I got him. Stabbed him low in the gut.” I stared into her brown eyes.
“Get me up.” I told her. She bit her lip, then shook her head.
“Fine, but if you so much as wobble, you lay back down.” She said, helping me sit up. I managed to not throw up or pass out, but my vision blacked out for a moment.
Bomber was sitting next to me, his face covered in sweat, wearing a pair of BDU pants and a brown shirt. He had his arms crossed over his stomach and was rocking faintly back and forth. I could hear Carter was digging through the MRE’s, bitching about the ones that were left. Hernandez was over changing the gas can on the stove, I could tell by the sound and the fact that his blob was browner than everyone else’s.
“How you feeling?” She asked.
“Thirsty.” I told her. She smiled, went over and got a canteen, tipping it into my mouth.
The water tasted sweet.
“We’re out of MRE’s.” Carter said, coming back. “This is the last one.”
“Fuck. Ant and Bomber need the food. They’re hurt pretty bad.” Nancy said.
The blob that was Carter made a motion that I assumed was a nod.
“Who goes to get it?” Carter asked.
There was a long moment of silence.
“Fine, you assholes, I will.” Nancy said, standing up.
“I’ll go with you.” I said, trying to get up.
“Lay back down or I’ll kick you in your melon head.” Nancy threatened. I held up a hand and laid back down on my back, watching Nancy turn into a blur.
“Hernandez, want to go with me?” She asked.
“No, but I will.” He answered.
I watched the blur that was Nancy get dressed, finally putting on a parka.
A rumble made the building shake.
I squinted as Nagle and Hernandez moved up to the doors, Hernandez unlocking it and pulling them open.
Outside the door, in the snow, was a half built snowman. Only the first two spheres set. The third, the smallest, was on the floor, with a blur on top of it.
A form was bent next to it, bent over, and OD green blur.
Nagle didn’t say a word, just stepped forward, swinging the axe as the figure jerked up.
It sounded like someone dropping a watermelon when the axe hit.
Nagle shrieked, a high, triumphant sound, and kicked him off the axe. He pitched over backwards as she straddled his body. She raised the axe, and he held his hands up wordlessly, his hands trembling as he begged her silently not to do it.
Right before she brought the axe down between them.
She planted her foot on him, yanking the axe free in a spray of feathers and blood.
And hit him again.
She yanked the axe free, taking a step to the side and leaning on it, breathing heavily.
“Fuck you and your snowmen.” She snarled.
Two days later Bomber was delirious, crying out to his mother, yelling at his sister, and talking to his father. I was in constant pain, and had pissed blood several times in between. Carter was silent, withdrawn, and refused to leave the light of the lantern.
Hernandez hovered over the stove, practically snarling at anyone who came close. Jacobs had died in the night, quietly passing away while I was asleep. He’d never regained consciousness after the axe had hit him, and he’d been cold before we realized he was dead when Nancy went to change his IV. She’d cried for over an hour after she had covered his face with the blanket once Carter and Hernandez had moved him over by Lewis.
During the night various people would knock on the door and demand, ask, or plead with us to open the door. We’d often hear scratching outside the door. The wind screamed, sobbing echoed through the room, and footsteps thudded above and below us.
Since just after daylight, we’d been hearing shouting, banging, and raised voices.
We weren’t falling for that old bullshit.
Nancy was laying next to me, her hand cupping my cheeks. She’d had a crying jag the night before, and I’d held her. She was smiling into my eyes, her brown eyes warm, and every once in awhile she’d lean forward and kiss my lower lip, gentle and careful of my split lips. It didn’t matter that I could hear screaming outside the door, or the thudding of boots on the ceiling, or crashing below us. It didn’t matter who was begging, demanding, ordering, at the door. She was warm in my arms, both of us only dressed in T-shirts under the blankets, and that was all it mattered.
There was a banging on the door, and a voice bellowed out over the wind. Bellowed something new.
“U.S. RANGERS! ANYONE ALIVE?”
We all stared at one another. Carter shook his head and mouthed don’t open the door to all of us.
We all nodded, staring at the door.
My hand fumbled out, and I grabbed my knife, trying to get my hand to wrap around the hilt. Nagle sat up and grabbed a bayonet. Hernandez and Carter grabbed axes and stood up.
“U.S. RANGERS! IS THERE ANYONE ALIVE IN HERE?”
I stood up, Nagle next to me, and we stepped between John and door, uncaring that we were only wearing T-shirts. Hernandez and Carter moved up next to me, both of them clad only in boxers.
Yeah, right. Ranger’s my ass, we weren’t falling for that bullshit.
“WE’RE COMING IN!”
The doors burst open, and we all raised our weapons.
Bright lights blinded us, and I dropped my knife covering my face as my vision went gray and black, staggering as my center of balance skewed.
“We got some live ones!” someone yelled out.
“Drop your weapons!” Another one yelled.
I felt Nancy pull my arm over her shoulders, and I stood there, in the darkness, as boots thudded on the padded floor.
“Get a medic up here!” Someone yelled. I felt hands grab me, and heard Nagle snarl at someone to get the fuck off. She went down on the floor with me, pulling me tight against her.
“Ma’am, set down the knife, let us take care of him.”
“No, you can’t take him.” She sobbed, but I heard something thunk right before both of her arms tightened around me.
“Ma’am, you have to let us take him.”
“No. You can’t have him.” Nancy sobbed, holding tighter.
Hands pulled us apart, and Nagle was crying as I was being laid back.
“What the fuck happened here?” Someone above me asked.
“Tandy…” I whispered.
The door to the hospital room opened, and someone new walked through the door. Nancy has visited me, and usually came back by despite visiting hours, sneaking in and laying in the bed with me. Bomber stopped by every day, bouncing back faster than me. I’d been questioned on what had happened, but told them I couldn’t remember anything. I told them that the last thing I remembered was Fulda, and then waking up in the hospital.
In the doorway stood a total stranger in BDU’s. A large man, he filled the doorway, shined boots to blond flat top over six foot tall. As he got closer I noticed he wore Staff Sergeant rank on his collar, and a knife in his boot. The left side of his face was scarred up and he wore an eyepatch. He was smiling as he came in and sat down.
One of the Rangers?
“How ya doing, Ant?” He asked me, reaching out and taking my hand. I gave him a weird look. “What?”
“Who the fuck are you?” I asked him. He stared at me for a long moment, then sighed.
“I’m your older brother, dumbass.” He smiled. “Do you remember our father?”
I shook my head.
“It doesn’t matter. He’s downstairs in the gift shop.” He peered at my face closely. “They said you might have brain damage, that your vision’s shot.”
I nodded slowly.
“Well, shit. Dad’s going to see what he can do to keep you in uniform long enough to heal up. He doesn’t want you to be put out over this.” The other man told me. He looked serious for a moment.
“Do you remember our mother?” He asked.
Nasty vile dirty useless little boy…
“Yup.” His tone was serious, along with his expression. “Why couldn’t you have lost her instead of me.” He shook himself and then smiled. “I got good news, she didn’t see a reason to fly to Germany just because you’re in the hospital.” He looked at me and shook his head, his face serious. “What the hell happened, Ant?”
“Eleven dead, man, and you don’t remember anything?” He asked.
“Eleven?” I asked. “Who?”
“Holy shit, your voice does work.” He smiled, then was serious again. “Two MP’s who went to check on you. The MP wagon was crushed against the barracks. The CQ, found butchered.” He was watching my face closely. “SPC Lewis, who died of an embolism from his legs. SPC Jacobs from someone taking an axe to him. They still haven’t found Hewitt or Daniels or the Lieutenant’s body. They only found the Lieutenant’s car up at the motor pool, but no trace of them. They’re officially listed as “Lost and presumed dead by misadventure” in the reports.”
He was silent for a moment.
“You really don’t remember?” He said, taking my hand again. “Goddamn, little brother, you gotta quit getting your ass kicked.”
I nodded, thinking fast.
“You’re lucky that girlfriend of yours took those correspondence courses.” He told me, reaching back down to take my hand. “She pretty much saved you and SPC Bomber.”
I nodded again.
…Goddamn asshole enlisted puke…
“Don’t worry, man. Nurenburg Army Hospital does good work.” He let go of my hand and touched his eyepatch. “I’ll sit with you.” He took my hand again. “Don’t worry, it’s not like you were a big talker when we were growing up.”
“Thanks.” I said. I found I actually meant it. He was comforting, and his nametag had the same name and initial as mine. Our middle initials were different though. Still, he felt familiar, and having him there made me feel safe.
Together we sat there in silence, me and a total stranger, waiting on another total stranger.
I wanted Nancy and Bomber.
The Texas night was clear and bright, stars shining down. My right arm was in an immobilizer, and the glasses on my face felt weird. The cigarette felt good, the nicotine washing away the nagging pains that had bothered me.
Bomber stood next to me, Nancy on the other, and we all stared at the sky.
“Fuck 2/19th.” Nancy said suddenly, breaking the silence of the windy Texas night.
“What do you think happened to him?” Bomber asked, his voice soft in the Texas night. Behind us, the lights burned brightly in his parents’ house.
“I don’t know.” Nancy said, snuggling up to me.
I’d been blind when they’d carried me out, Bomber had been delirious from fever and infection.
But Nagle had just been in shock, sedated like Hernandez and Carter. Carter had fought with the Rangers, and they’d had to disarm him by force. They’d carried him out screaming, strapped down to the stretcher.
She’d looked over to where she’d chopped up the asshole building snowmen, wanting to gloat over the fact that she’d gotten him back for stabbing her through the breast and cutting her face, for breaking Lewis’ legs, for rupturing John’s appendix, for breaking my skull.
The snow had been pink, indented.
He’d been gone.
Nancy had admitted she’d screamed until they loaded her onto the medavac, until they’d shot her full of drugs.
“Tandy gets hungry, I think.” I answered.
The feeling of the icy talon pressing into my wound, then withdrawing, followed by a lewd sucking sound…
I shivered, and Nancy hugged me. The scar on her face was thin and pink, plastic surgery had done wonders. They’d fixed my face, fixed my teeth, but I needed glasses. Bomber had bounced back in record time. All of us had suffered from frostbite. Nagle’s toes were bad, and they’d cut away my earlobes. Bomber, of course, was fine, the Texas fuck.
Out in the darkness a cow mooed and a dog barked.
“Fuck 2/19th.” Nagle said again.
“Fuck 2/19th.” Bomber and I agreed.