War is Hell, literally.
I Saw the Dragon by John Oak Dalton (A Weekly Spooky Original Story)
A soldier of fortune has to hold a hill in a war-torn African country, and spends a long night with ghosts… and something else.
Music by Ray Mattis http://raymattispresents.bandcamp.com
Produced by Daniel Wilder
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When I left Desert Storm in ‘91 all I had done was run Saddam back in his rat hole. We let him off just like my grandpa told me they did to the Nazis back in World War II, when he drove a tank right up to Berlin, and then had to sit there and wait for the Russians to come and trash the place. That was us, in 1991. Got up to Baghdad and pulled the parking brake and sat there. So when my buddy Chisholm started talking about being a soldier of fortune afterwards, just like in the magazines, I was bored enough to try it. We thought we’d be like Crockett and Tubbs, only with less Phil Collins. We signed up with this for-hire outfit, and the first place we mustered out to was this African country that doesn’t even exist anymore. It was run by the government and then the rebels and then the government, and if they were sitting on oil, or had anything anybody else wanted, it wouldn’t have gone on like it did. The only thing they were exporting were refugees, only most of them got shot down at the border, so there weren’t even that many of them. So the government had this Russian Mi-46 copter, and they dropped us in a hot LZ at the top of a big hill where the country’s only television station was. Man, we came in on that thing “Ride of the Valkyries” style with just that one big red light at the top of that tower blinking at us. That big red eye, looking right at us. We were supposed to secure it to keep it out of rebel hands, only when the three of us got there about a half dozen rebels were hunkered down inside. We couldn’t just frag or burn the place so we shot it out with those guys. That was because when it was all over, the president of this country wanted to come up there and make a big speech over the TV to the whole country. He was that kind of guy. Chisholm got it right through the eye so that was the end of that adventure. It wasn’t like he had read in those magazines. The other guy, whose name I forget, got shot in the leg, and it wouldn’t have been so bad but we didn’t even have a piece of masking tape to put over that wound. We weren’t ready for any resistance or much of anything. It was a half-assed thing we did really. Eventually they got bold and kept poking their heads out farther and farther, and finally we got lucky and shot two of them. Then the rest of them ran out the back door and down the hill, and I stormed in the front door by myself because the other dude had already died too. Bled straight out and it shouldn’t have happened. There wasn’t anybody to lay down any covering fire so I could go chase the SOBs that killed my buddy Chisholm. No revenge for me. Again, not like in the magazines. Inside wasn’t much. There was a lobby with a couple of folding chairs, and then a studio about the size of a hotel room, and a room where all the machinery was. VCRs and stuff, all wired together. They still had their lunch set out in the lobby and a coffee pot on and that came in damn handy real quick. I secured the area and waited for reinforcements. It was funny, they had just loaded up all the VCR machines with movies and they were running nonstop on that one TV channel. All the boxes looked like somebody walked out of a Blockbuster back in the States and was racking up hellacious fines. It was illegal-looking as hell, but I guess running movies all day made the average person think the government was going to be okay. No need to panic kind of thing. I guessed it wasn’t going to turn out that way after all. I was up there a couple days and nobody ever came up that hill. I sure learned a lot about those movies, though. Saw them over and over. At noon played The Gods Must Be Crazy and then at 2 p.m. was Love Brewed in the African Pot, and those were kinda boring. Then at 4 p.m. it kicked into high gear and they showed Shaft in Africa. Then at 6 p.m. they showed Savage Sisters. At 8 p.m. Black Mama, White Mama. Then at 10 p.m. was Bloodfist and I love Don “The Dragon” Wilson so I always watched that. Then at midnight was The Gods Must Be Crazy again and it started all over. Y’all can have Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris or whoever. The Dragon had a legit fighting career of his own and made more movies, too. And I have too much respect for all those guys to try and guess who would win in a fight. It’s stupid anyway because you would need three time machines to make it all work out and that’s never going to happen. Just watch the first Bloodfist movie. But after a couple days of these movies playing over and over I got pretty bored, so I looked all around the studio to see what there was to see. I’m pretty sure now what I thought was a big oil stain on the concrete floor of that studio was actually an old bloodstain. In fact I am very sure of it. But what I was paying attention to at that time was this little hatch I saw in the floor. I opened it, and a ladder made out of what looked like scrap wood kinda leaned against the frame and was gone into the dark. I unsnapped a flashlight from my belt and thumbed it to life, shined it around down there. I saw that this ladder went down into a basement. Actually more like a root cellar, with dirt walls and everything, and there was a bunch of movies on shelves down there, and a TV on a card table with its own VCR. Of course there were rats scurrying around everywhere but they’ve never bothered me that much. Dumb I guess, I was hoping that’s where they kept the booze, or maybe the dope, or hell, even some fresh vegetables like my grandma stored in her root cellar in Indiana, back in the day. Since none of that good stuff I was hoping for was down there I decided, maybe it’s time to change up the programming. Maybe people out there hiding in their houses waiting for it to be over were sick of watching the same five or six movies too. Only when I started kind of ducking my head down there and looking at those shelves, these tapes all had hand-written labels so I didn’t know what was what. But like I said, bored, so I took one and I popped it in. At first I just thought it was a straight-up torture video that maybe the government had made. Political prisoners. You heard about that kind of stuff. It was for sure shot right out the back door of the studio. There were guys in soldier uniforms and they had…I guess they were knives. And a guy tied to something. Not a chair. Something else. It wasn’t all made of bones but some of it was. Only now I realize it wasn’t torture so much. It was…a ritual. I was damn glad I never saw that bone couch or whatever it was around there anywhere. Where they kept that thing, I hope I never know. I had seen some bad stuff by then in Iraq, but I got sick of this pretty quick and tried to shut it off. Only I couldn’t get the VCR to quit. So I unplugged it from the wall…and it still didn’t stop. The pictures kept playing. That I couldn’t unsee. And the sounds. So eventually I just backed up the ladder and pulled the ladder up behind me and shut the hatch and rolled a tripod over the hatch. But I could hear the sounds coming up through the floor. And the blue flickering light from those old TVs, showing around the cracks. Even when I went out into the lobby, those sounds were right under my feet. A man dying. Evil men laughing. The scrape of bone. The whispers of knives. And that was messed up because that root cellar wasn’t that big. It sure wasn’t under the lobby, but I heard it just as clearly as when I was pushing that tripod over that hatch. Well that was a long-ass night and I couldn’t wait until morning. Only morning didn’t come. It stayed dark and I noticed my watch had stopped, so I’m not exactly sure how long that period of time was, but it was a long time. And the threads starting coming loose and I guess at some point I just fired my M16 into that darkness until I ran out of bullets…and that was a stupid thing to do. To run out of bullets, when there are still voices…and darkness. Because I knew that in that…endless dark…I was going to need some weapons. What I thought I was going to do with those weapons, except for shoot at more shadows, I don’t really know. But I was still a solider then first and foremost. I knew Chisholm and the other guy’s guns were where they fell. Same with the two guys we killed. Plus I thought I saw those rebels throw down some Chinese knock-offs of Mister Kalishnakov’s beautiful AK-47s…when they were tear-assing away. And of course there were knives and machetes and toenail clippers and everything else lying around everywhere. The first step out that front door was the hardest. But those sounds and voices fell away, and that was something. And the dark wasn’t too bad at first, and I could see a bit and didn’t have to feel around too much. Which is good because when that hot wind blew a little bit your direction, it didn’t smell good. You can figure out why. So I was doing okay, all things considered, getting my little armory together. But then Chisholm stepped out in front of me, right out of the darkness. For a crazy second I thought somehow he had survived that bullet, even though he still had a hole where his left eye should have been and not much back of his forehead. He said a lot of stuff to me I won’t repeat, mostly because he gave me a righteous ass chewing I deserved…but the one thing I will say is that he told me a lot of blood had been spilled right there and that something woke up. Something woke up. And that plays into what happened next. He was right. Of all the stupid things I did when we hit that LZ, leaving a bunch of dead guys lying around, showing no respect for the dead, especially my own dead… Oh, man. I just remembered that other dude’s name was Cord. So I thought it was going down “Christmas Carol” style when the second ghost stepped out from around the building. And it wasn’t Cord like you would think. It was Don “The Dragon” Wilson. And he was not dead then and is actually not dead now either, so I think I was losing it a bit at that point. In case you couldn’t guess. But I told The Dragon to make more of those Bloodfist movies, because I loved the first one, and he ended up making six or seven more, so I gotta think, what was real that long night and what wasn’t? He made a lot of those movies, I’m just saying. I went back inside before I saw a third ghost. I had killed two other guys who were just lying there, and there was a whole shelf full of videotapes, and where they put the pieces and parts of the victims off those tapes I had no idea. I don’t know if victim is the right word. But a sacrifice…I don’t know, it sounds like something you just give in to. And I’ll give it to those dudes, they went down fighting. Screaming, but they were fighting, too. I was locked and loaded in that TV station, but those sounds kept coming out from under the studio, and there weren’t enough guns and knives to chase that away. I started thinking, was I better off hiding out there in the TV station or taking my chances out in that darkness. That tells you how bad that was, where my head was at. It wasn’t long after those thoughts I started hearing something I knew wasn’t off that tape…that tape that wouldn’t quit playing. I guess the right word for it was a murmur. A murmuring. Man, that’s a funny word. Murmur…murmuring. It was almost like it was right in my skull. Behind my eyes kind of thing. I’m not exactly sure, but I think it was a day, or maybe two days later, when I figured out what it wanted me to do. And it took me I think about another day to decide I was going to do it. So when I did, I tied a belt below my elbow and picked up the sharpest machete I could find. My first thought was I could just sacrifice a finger, maybe two fingers. But if it wasn’t enough, if it wasn’t…satisfied…then I didn’t know if I had the guts to swing that knife a second time. That voice, if you could say it was a voice, was more than a murmur at this point. It was getting damn loud in fact. So when I finally brought that machete down, I took the whole hand. Behind me, out of the TV, Richard Roundtree said, "Look, why don't you get rid of that jolly giant over there"…and then I passed out. When I woke, the sun was up. A big red sun. Never been happier to see one. There was blood everywhere, but just a little more inside me than outside me, and I learned that it was just enough. I left everything. I didn’t take a gun or a machete or a pocket knife or a toothpick. I walked down off that hill and passed a whole army on the way, but whether they were more rebels or the government troops I don’t remember. I passed through them all like a ghost and nobody even looked at me. I walked a long way, and finally it was far enough away that everything I saw and heard was more or less behind me. And that country was coming apart at the seams, but neither man nor beast gave me a second look. Maybe I was that third ghost. I grabbed a Ka-60 transport plane out of there and then caught a flight in Lagos. When I got back to the States I got pretty drunk and then I went to Iowa where Chisholm was from, and if you think this story is unbelievable you should have heard the story I told Chisholm’s mother about how he died. More like how he lived and fought and killed a hundred rebels and before that he personally made Saddam pee his pants and run away. Instead of telling her that we didn’t do much in Desert Storm but drive around, and he was a merc for about five minutes before he got shot right in the head. And he just lay there dead until he got up and talked to me and then he just lay there dead again, and I assume he got rolled down the hill into some mass grave. That whole place was a mass grave and I don’t doubt that’s why it doesn’t exist anymore. Nobody around to remember what the place was called. After Iowa I went back to Indiana and got a job selling cars. And man, if I thought I was around stone killers and crazy people before. This car selling business ain’t for the weak. You know, for a minute I thought about getting a hook on this stump and maybe getting back into it, into the mercenary game. And then I was like, come on man, a hook? Do you want another drink? No? Hey, that’s okay. I’m gonna hang out a while longer. Maybe go to an after hours joint after this. These guys at the VA let me know about a couple places. Like this warehouse where at night old guys are in the back playing records and they sell you beers out of a cooler, blankets over all the windows. People there all night dancing and dressed up and everything. It’s crazy, man, but sometimes I need an all-night scene. Yeah, because there are nights…. There are nights when this stump aches, and…and I hear those sounds under my feet again. And… Blue lights flickering. Like TVs don’t even make anymore really. And… You know, the murmurs. The murmuring. Right in the back of my damn coconut head. And I just want to stay up, you know, and make sure the sun comes up again in the morning. Just in case, you know.
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