1968 / Vietnam
The Huey passed over dark jungleland like an over-sized dragonfly, as we sat clutching our rifles, listening to the deafening whir of the blades, not saying a goddamn word.
There were three of us (me, Ricky and the Captain) plus the pilot.
But the Captain wasn’t a real captain. No, sir. He had civilian written all over him in ball-point legalese.
Then again, this wasn’t a real mission, and all of us knew it.
Something lit up below.
“Nah,” the Captain said. “Not it.”
Wasn’t exactly VC we were hunting. It was something else. “You’ll know it when you see it,” the Captain said. “Trust me.”
They hadn’t exactly given us a choice to be here. Ricky and me weren’t saints, and when you fuck up too many times they’ve got you by the balls.
Neon glow. Trees parting like grass before a buffalo.
The pilot set us down, we got out, and the pilot took off.
“Gonna tell us what the fuck it is now?” Ricky asked.
The Captain took out some kind of electronic gizmo and started walking, so we followed him.
I hated being in the jungle. Night got real dense real quick down here, and the insects…
Ricky pointed his rifle. “Stop. I heard something.”
“It’s silent,” the Captain said.
“Could be soldiers.”
“If it’s here, there aren’t any soldiers.”
I could see them both sweating in the moonlight, and my rifle wasn’t dry either, but we pressed on.
We came to a corridor of upended vegetation.
Neon in the distance.
The Captain motioned for us to stop.
“Now,” he said, fishing around in his pockets, “get ready because it’s going to happen fast.”
He took out a small metal sphere, looked at us in turn, and tossed it to Ricky.
“The fuck is—”
“Doesn’t matter, just hold it. And don’t shoot until I give the signal.”
We were both looking at the neon glow ahead.
It seemed to be getting brighter.
We got ready.
This was it.
It’s hard to describe what happened next:
The neon rushed at us looming for an instant as a horned demon and it took all my willpower not to unleash on it and Ricky did lighting up the jungle bullet after bullet and the demon became neon again and dove into Ricky—
And I shot Ricky to motherfuckin’ kingdom come. Just ripped him and that thing open, and I swear to God he glowed for a moment when he fell dead.
The Captain retrieved the sphere.
We walked on shaking legs an hour in silence until we got to a village. But there wasn’t a living soul there. Just a stench and hundreds of bodies: women, children…
The Captain took out a pistol and pointed it at my head.
My rifle didn’t work.
“Sorry,” he said, “but it has to stay secret.”
I retched, looking around at the eviscerated corpses.
“Thank you for your service.”