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Jungle

About this story

This is entirely a work of fiction. I wrote most of it, if not all, sitting at the bar counter at the Black Eyed Pea restaurant at 900 Airport Freeway in Hurst, TX. I was working there at the time and the bartender, Matt I think, left me alone a few hours one afternoon. I think I might have had Dr Pepper and a veggie combo plate.

Jungle

Dear Joseph,

As you well know, I can't tell you where I am or where I'll be. I can tell you we're in the jungle and have been for nine weeks now. My unit is moving soon, into another patch of uncivilized territory. The natives are ferocious, but no match for modern combat troops.

Yesterday, at 0500, my company attacked a village. They were about six men there. The rest were women and children. The men came out, offering themselves so the village would be spared. The C.O. gunned them down. Cries erupted from the village. Women cried for their husbands, their children, fearing death.

We had surrounded the village, covering all exits with machine guns. Pat shouldered his M-79 and fired three grenades into the village. The deflagrations shattered the wooden huts. He fired a phosphorus. Whole sections began to burn furiously. We knelt on the soft ground and shot to kill targets of opportunity. I think I shot eight or nine children. I can still see their bodies when I close my eyes. Two pre-adolescent girls came out first, naked, brown skin glistening in the heat, short dark hair waving in the wind, faces distorted by terror. Bang. Bang. A big red patch appeared on the first one's chest and she collapsed without a sound, suddenly lifeless. The second one took the round in the stomach, just under the belly button, and fell backward screaming, hands reaching momentarily to the unmerciful sky. I watched her tiny body writhing in agony on the grassy expanse. I was about to shoot her again to end her misery but another child appeared so I adjusted my weapon's line of fire ten degrees to the right and buried a round in the lungs of a six year old. I shot more, killing at random, holding back the tears. I could hear the screams of the little girl grow faint, until she was finally quiet. After two minutes, we moved in, holding our M-16s at the hip. Everyone was dead. Everyone but the little girl. She was lying in a pool of blood, barely breathing, eyes closed as if asleep. In shock, I assured myself. I stood over her shivering body, tears running down my cheeks. I looked around at the carnage, a strange mix of orange, red, green and brown. I unholstered my 9mm beretta and shot her in the head, careful not to splatter her brain all over the place.

Back at the camp most of us sulked, feeling defiled by the death we had unwillingly inflicted. Byron cleaned his gun again. Stoll had found a bottle of Jamaican rum. Pace and Larson filled another sandbag and lobbed it over the bunker which was supposed to protect us from an artillery the enemy did not possess. Our C.O. - we called him Attila privately - had taken to the commo bunker to report another victory. I wandered about the camp. It was still early. We were all utterly bored.

In the evening, the C.O. gathered the sergeants to his bunker for a staff meeting. We stayed outside by the fires. The perimeter patrols came and went silently, crisscrossing the surrounding jungle and carrying enough firepower to overthrow a third world government. Later that night they caught a native; tall, muscular, lean. His tattoos spoke of valor, his scars of experience. His jet black eyes scared us. They looked like the eyes of a beast, the eyes of a monster. Once the patrol had left the man in our care, we proceeded to interrogate him. It's funny how the barrel of a gun applied to a man's temple can make him locatious. Larson tied him face down in the dirt, spread eagle between four posts. We left him there for the night.

At 0200, the sentry assigned to the prisoner came to our bunker and poked his head through the cloth door.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I think you'd better come." He said, a shadow on his face.

With my rifle and web belt I walked outside in the night. Larson was kneeling in front of the prisoner, whispering in his ear. The man looked terrified. His eyes were wide open, his pupils dilated. His lips were pulled back in a somehow comical rictus. Three other soldiers came out to watch. Larson spoke some more then stood, unbuttoned his pants and moved behind the prisoner. He knelt between the man's outstretched legs and stuffed his penis in the dark hole. The prisoner winced then grunted as blood began to flow. Then Larson withdrew. He reached into a pocket and produced a tube and a little box. In the box was a large bug I had never seen before. He fitted the tube to the man's butt, dropped the bug inside, removed the tube, careful to leave the bug inside the man. Indescribable fear gripped the man's face. I turned and left, unwilling to witness more.

An hour later, the man began to scream; long, sharp howls. The hair on my neck stood straight. When I tried to sleep, I dreamed. Horsemen on horses trampled little babies on the bloody cobblestones of an ancient medieval city. Fiery faces faced me with cold steely eyes and clenched jaws. Swords glittered in the pale moonlight; horses' breaths formed misty clouds that dulled the eerie shadows cast by instruments of war. In the background, the cries of a little girl mingling with the coarse screams of another beckoned my soul past the threshold of reason.

Before dawn, I rose heavily from my cot. A nagging thought harassed me. Had it all been a dream? Had all this staggering madness come from within me?

Outside, I saw Larson sitting on an empty ammo crate. Service pistol in hand, he stared at the dirt between his feet. The prisoner was still there. I walked over to the bound man and saw something I will never forget as long as I live. He was still alive, breathing, yet only the white of his eyes showed. His tongue was out of his mouth, parched dry, bloated. His stomach was fat. Ants covered his lower body, a steady stream of the little insects columning out of his torn rear, carrying him away one little bite at a time.

I shot him in the head, careful not to splatter his brains all over the place. I heard a shot from behind. I did not have to turn around to know I would find Larson's body sprawled, a smoking gun in hand.

I returned to the bunker and stared at my own gun for a long time. The sun came up. Clouds covered it. Rain began to fall. Someone barked orders outside. I stared at my gun. All I could see was a little girl falling backward. All I could hear were whimperings of pain and deafening explosions. Finally someone entered the bunker. I watched him take my gun from my hand. He carefully set it down on the little table. I closed my eyes and cried. I don't remember who the man was, nor do I care to know now. He held me in his arms, my sobbing head against his chest. He stroked my back gently, more gently than I thought possible. The little girl would not go away, the little girl who fell backwards. He kissed the back of my neck. I felt a tear drop from his cheek to my jaw.

I was overwhelmed. This man was crying for me, crying because I was in pain, crying because he loved me. I was afraid to look, afraid to find out, afraid to know. My broodshed eyes cried for relief and my tired body for rest. I laid on his lap, hands covering my face, ashamed of my weakness.

When I awoke, I was alone. My gun lay still on the small table. The rain had stopped and the noonday sun shone brightly overhead.

The two bodies were gone. Everything was back to normal. The rain had washed away the impurities of the night. The light shone on new ground.

I wrote this to let you know what happened that day. I will want to forget it before I return to the States, but I wanted you to know.

Dear Joseph, I hope to return home soon, sane. But if I don't, please take care of my wife Marie, and my two daughters, Elizabeth and Catherine, whom I love above all others.

James.

© 1992 Christopher Mahan.