Authors: Rex Miller
Tags: #Horror, #Espionage, #Fiction - Espionage, #Fiction, #Intrigue, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Horror - General, #Crime & Thriller, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Espionage & spy thriller, #Serial murderers, #Fiction-Espionage
He began to lose it with the heat mirage shimmer of agony. Ray Baby Meara, cut off from his fellow ground pounders, who were lost somewhere back behind him, swallowed by the earth, was befuddled by the pain that burnt him as it screamed in his ear.
“Callsign to handle, you copy? Over.” It shrieked at him over the radio.
“Bounty Hunter, Pallbearer Six Actual,” crackled through the fierce heat.
“Most frigging affirm, Pallbearer Six.” The Command Post. Six Actual, the Man his own self.
(Viet for captain) McClanahan, who lived in a trailer called Der Bunker. Twelve feet below ground level, within B-40 range of Monster Mountain, Dai Uy held Meara's life in his hand. Dai Uy would work the magic for Raymond Meara and save him.
he beast sensed something, another presence, a thing that went unidentified, but these were the important nudges that he always listened to with the greatest care. The thing that had saved his life innumerable times poked him again, and told his life support systems to saddle up and hustle.
He moved, an apparition in the darkness of the woods, a freezer-big thing in a cammoed tarp the size of a small vehicle, loaded with a ruck most men would not be able to lift. In one enormous gloved hand he carried a belted M60, the other held his master blasters and det gear. His huge, meaty chest was covered with grenades, many of which were short-fused and meticulously taped to him. A massive fighting Bowie hung upside down from his Alice unit, and everywhere you looked there were claymores strapped to him. One custom-made 15EEEEE bata boot sprouted its own “hush puppy"—a silenced .22 sentry-duster, and across the back of his humongous duffel a sawed-off twelve gauge topped off the ensemble. Unlike the usual combat loads, Chaingang's twelve was filled with a curious mix of sabot-sleeve and fleshette loads. The first shell was a power-load behind a hardened lead slug in polyethylene—it would penetrate an engine block at close range—and the next capped a hot load behind twenty needle-nosed nails. They fanned out at three thousand f.p.s. Tree-cutters.
Bunkowski was literally armed to the teeth: Part of his arsenal was a martial technique he'd perfected during long, hard time in the slams, a vile thing called the Breath of Death. There was no more deadly hunter-killer team than this lone assassin.
Stocked with enough freeze-dried long rats, the so-called LURP rations that were a specialty of the house with recon patrols out in the superbad bush, Chaingang could go for weeks without resupply, living off the fat of the land, so to speak, taking a bit of protein here and there ... roving and killing.
The big death dealer silently blended into the blackest pocket of shadows and was gone.
ime shifted. Tenses commingled and became confused. Then was now. Past was future. Raymond imagined that he keyed his radio and whispered for blessed relief from those nagging aches and pains.
Bounty Humper One, he thought, calling in air support, we got mystery aggressors. Phrases wobbled and curved grotesquely in the heat, and Meara's imagination distorted them like the visions in a funhouse mirror.
They're on the way, Bounty Mountie One. Gut up and hang tough! The phantoms were coming. Phantoms streaking out of Udorn; fast movers that would come and get some. Light up slopes. Kick dink butt. Take serious names and dig big gook graves. It was blazing noon inside Meara's head.
He fought to get his bearings. He knew that he must prepare precise coordinates. He tried to think. He thought he was roughly northwest of the VNSF compound, home of the dreaded Look Deep Duck Back. To the south was the buried trailer of Dai Uy McClanahan. No, that wasn't right. Southeast? He and these other fools, they were proudly lost. Pathfinders, Rangers, Airborne, headhunters, and assorted scouts, all wearing the double-bad bloody skull patch of Deathsquad Recon, lost to the mothering world.
A quartet of specks materialized in the sky of Raymond Meara's imagination, shattering his fantasy with pain as noise, the noise of a hundred earthquakes and a thousand sonic booms. They brought pain as smoke, heat, discord, and, the worst of all, pain as napalm. Hell-hot, death-black, stinking petrozap of oxygen-sucking napalm exploded Raymond's world. It killed Look Deep Duck Back, Pathfinders, Rangers, Airborne, headhunters, scouts, brave soldiers, cowardly lions, and buried the Dai Uy dead in his air-conditioned double-wide beneath twelve feet of concrete, steel, sandbagged berm, rubble, and Monster Mountain real estate.
Pallbearer Six Actual? Anybody? Only pain remained to answer him in the stinking petrochemical afterbirth. Snake Eyes.
He shivered, captured by the misery of icy, intimidating silence. Pain so terrible and cold that it made him forget the hottest flames, isolated him, shocked his brain into numbness, and paralyzed its victim for the slow kill.
Imprisoned, gripped in the chilling claws of death, caught inside the heart of agony as formidable and unassailable as a sheer ice cliff, frozen immobile like some fossilized, prehistoric biped, Meara's fantasy of pain allowed him to whisper but not to breathe, and he knew it would make him die slowly, as it tortured him inside the freezing mass of glacier-like hurting.
Help me, he begged, into the darkness of his imagination. But no one responded. The phantoms were gone. The captain was gone. All his good buddies were gone. From whence would cometh the magic? He had never felt so alone, trapped and terror stricken inside the ice-cold walls of silent, crushing pain.
“God Six Actual, this is Bounty Hunter One,” he whispered in desperation. “Do you have a copy on me, God?” Heavenly Father, who gave your only begotten son, Jesus, please forgive me for my sins.
Staunchly devout agnostic Raymond Meara prayed that God would make the magic happen, that He would forgive him and save him.
He wanted to hear the thunder crack, see the clouds speared by shafts of gold, hear God's majestic voice shatter the block of pain.
” he wanted God to say “I didn't recognize you."
Meara tried to attach some thread of reason to this newfound ability of his to suddenly suspend all disbelief. For the first time he was quite prepared to believe in the power of prayer, and that one might obtain a miracle. What about the weeping religious icons? Those magical pictures that teared up and cried on cue? Weren't these miracles? He thought about the power of secret incantations. The shroud. The ark. The mystery of the robe. The laying on of hands. The dark virgin of the basilica of Guadalupe, whose fabled tears had been witnessed, impossibly, in the cornea of the Virgin Mary's weeping eye. Surely not all of these inexplicable miracles were ecumenical hoaxes.
A man doesn't think about getting shot. Sure, he thinks about it, but he never believes a projectile will really hit him. Maybe that other dude, that guy over there, maybe he'll catch a bullet. But nobody thinks it will actually happen to them. Certainly not to that closet Christian, Raymond Meara. Fight it, ace, he thought. Don't slip away yet.
The monsoons had cut through the woods like a giant backhoe and there was a good-size slough, there at the edge of what would have been called a deep ditch bank back in the little Missouri country town he was from.
They'd been moving parallel to it when Charlie hit them from the woods, coming through the other side soundlessly, underlining the oxymoronic nature of the phrase military intelligence once again. First and second squads. Recon—what was left of it—totally lit up.
Meara had been running toward the nearest trees when he'd been back-shot. It was liked being smashed in the kidney by a wrecking ball. You're history. Never any doubt how bad it was. Every breath made him want to scream.
The moon that had been far away, hanging out there in the black velvet so pale, back when they were moving along the ravine's lip, now seemed to shine like a searchlight pointed at him. He kept listening for his bros, listening for returning fire in the mad minute of noise.
I know why you weep, dark virgin. I, too, cry from a weeping eye. Hail, Mary. Full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Mary, Mary, quite contrary
. A steel door slammed on the irreverent doggerel before it could utter a sacrilege. Reverent Ray.
An inane loose thought.
It snakes across his brain.
From out of left field.
A thought-burst from a girl whose name he's forgotten.
“It's almost Christmas,” she's telling him. It was December back in the world. “Wal-Mart's is like a battlefield,” she tells him.
Wound-trauma trivia. What was it like there on the battlefield, Ray? Oh, it was sort of like Wal-Mart's. Nobody would get it. Pain knifed through him before he could finish the joke and he cried out, unable to catch it in time.
Still noisy. That's good. But all the same kind of fire, and that's not so good. He could only hear the Soviet-made AK-47s cracking away nearby. He tried to force himself to think about something other than the pain and his mounting fear.
AK, he thought to himself. Spell it out. He tried to see a piece of paper and write the letters AK with his mind, but he couldn't spell Avtomat Kalashnikov and midway through the exercise the fear broke through and took over again.
He knew he was shot bad. It never dawned on him that he'd been hit twice. All he could concentrate on was the one he'd taken in his lower back. He knew what he had to do. Get a battle dressing out. Get the wound covered. Lie chilly.
His brain told him to move and he started to and his body told his brain, I'm going to take a short nap.
Don't do that
, he said to his body.
. He thought about the assault rifles. Caliber. Operation mode. Type of fire. Cyclic rate. Muzzle velocity. Components. Reliability. “The AK-47 utilizes a curving, staggered-row, thirty-round box magazine."
He would survive. Go into publishing. Become a competitor of
. His publication would be called
Sporadic shots. A sustained burst. You never had to doubt what kind of weapon was firing, the AKs had their own distinctive crack. Box magazine is loaded by hand. Cartridges depressed the spring. Make sure the forward end is pointing first, then insert into the feed port on the bottom of the receiv—Jesus! The pain was bad. Charlie had sure snookered them good.
How easy it would be to go to sleep. The pain jolts were coming closer together, but that was a good sign, no? He wondered how much blood he was losing. He knew he should fight the dizzy feeling.
Another snaky image—he felt his heart pumping, and for an instant his heart was his enemy—as he visualized his blood squirting out into the night.
Move the operating handle to the rear. He was seeing the words
recoil spring guide
in a weapons manual just as he heard the footsteps. They were coming through the woods. No sixteens. No forty-sevens. Just feet.
, his brain told him.
, his body replied.
Do it or die
, it told him, and he started moving, inching forward.
The lightning bolt of pain shot through the layer of gathering cobwebs and he was wide awake and alert for the next few seconds. He was hurt bad. He was going to die. He made himself grit his teeth and keep moving down under the awful thing that he was touching there in the shadows. Moving down under the wetness.
He passed out but came to almost instantly, or so he believed, and saw figures in the deep shadows cast by the huge trees, under the seemingly bright Asian moon. He knew Charlie was right behind him looking at him. With a weapon. He hoped they'd shoot him well. Give him a clean head shot.
He tried not to think about getting a blade in the back, but all he could focus on was an AK-47 with a bayonet on the end. He wondered if it would be quick. A bayonet shouldn't hurt too much. Nice sharp thrust. In and out. Maybe they wouldn't hit anything. You could survive a gook bayonet. Stab wounds weren't any big deal.
Raymond Meara had no last rush of insight. Nor did he see his life flash before his eyes. His last thoughts were of the smell of blood and stink of the body that he'd pulled himself under, and Charlie's fish smell. He willed himself to freeze, willing his breath not to come in loud, ragged gasps, willing his heart not to beat.
And it was then that a huge, soft, swift-moving black thing came fluttering over him, enveloping him like some immense black Manta Ray swimming over a tiny fish, and he went under completely.
he beast was inert, vital signs locked down, frozen motionless ... waiting. The gigantic clown warrior had nearly waddled out of the deep shadows but something touched him, signaled his mental computer, and he stopped in his tracks.
A big, bright Kate Smith moon shone down on the Southeast Asian jungle that butted up against the woods. Blue feature to one side, jungle in front, open rice fields to the other side. He continued to wait, unhurried and untroubled, ignoring the swarming things that fed off him, impervious to assaults of such insignificance.
They appeared, sure enough, in a patch of saffron moonlight, perhaps a thousand meters in the distance. His weird mindscreen absorbed it in through the sensors, tasting the information and finding it palatable, chewing over the data, swallowing and ingesting the relevant aspects, then, when the cud was assimilated, expectorating it into the maw of his hungry computer. A meter was 39.37 inches, more than a yard. Ten football fields? A thousand meters. He was terrain-aware, shadow-cognizant, environmentally alert to woods, moon, jungle, darkness, rhythms of movement, textures and permutations of sight, smell, sound. He silently acknowledged their noise discipline. More than a squad. The remains of a broken platoon, perhaps, caught in the dangerous moonbeams.
He gathered in and collated more raw information, but the mindscreen functioned on its own, computing and assessing even as new data were factored: one klick was a kilometer, sixty-two hundredths of a mile. One metric yard was...
Their version of force recon? The ambush team? Of no consequence to the massive figure, who, unfortunately, was not currently predisposed to engage these little people. He would have enjoyed taking the last one down, squeezing off a big nasty wet one and putting the tail man to sleep. They would flatten, chitter, jitter-jive like monkeys as they hit the jungle floor. He had genuine affection for the little people, as he always thought of them. He really liked them. He really liked to kill them.