Colonel Thompson's regiment was driven from its remote outpost deep within the heart of the mysterious orient. The men were as much pioneers as they were soldiers, straddling the boundary between civilization and the vast unknown covered in impenetrable jungle.
Thompson and his troops hacked their way through jungle only to find themselves lost in fields of razor sharp elephant grass that stood so high and dense; anything could have been hiding in its depths. They had abandoned an airfield in a “strategic retreat”. The deeper they went into the wild, the quicker it seemed to grow back in their wake and soon it had swallowed them completely.
They were following a murky river that The flowing red waters tormented the dehydrated marchers who were sharing only a few canteens of potable water at this point. The heavy air was wringing out their bodies like sponges and the sun was peeling away their flesh. Their sweat-soaked uniforms clung to their bodies that were withering away with hunger.
Insects feasted on them, and their flesh was painted with jagged rosy red wounds from stabbing thorns and snapping branches. Death was everywhere; it was in the wind that rustled the leaves of the trees where phantom snipers perched like birds of prey, it was in the buzzing wings of insects that carried every plague and parasite that the jungle could muster. Death even swam unseen in the river's waters in the form of microbes that liquified the insides of the delirious heat tormented men that drank it.
Thompson's regiment was hastily thrown together. It was composed of veteran elements of the Royal Marines, native conscripts, and Chinese mercenaries. The only shared motive between them was eluding their Japanese hunters who were leaving their disemboweled comrades strewn across the jungle.
Thompson had little idea of where the Japanese were in their advance, and that terrified him. Occasionally he would hear the roar of their long range guns or the screaming engine of a plane would pass by overhead forcing him and his men to scurry into the brush.
It wasn't just the human hunters Thompson was trying to outrun though. The distant rumbling of approaching thunder could be heard as a brewing storm began to cast its heavy dark shroud over the sky. Time was of the essence. Thompson had seen jungle downpours. He had seen the lazy river turned by the torrential rains of storms turn into rushing riptides that swallowed the land around them and swept away helpless men caught in the unforgiving current. They would sometimes march past their bloated corpses days later. Their waxy flesh melting in the sun and being consumed by the hoards of insects whose job it was to break us down and scatter what remained around the jungle.
Every night men could be heard screaming in their sleep about a samurai sword coming down across the back of his neck or a bayonet running through his beating heart. That soundtrack of nightmares is what Colonel Thompson listened to every night as he stared up at the canvass ceiling and thought about the ways would most likely die in the next few days. There was thirst, starvation and dysentery, and also the increasingly likely prospect of his subordinates “relieving him of his command.' Thompson began daydreaming about the moment a snipers bullet would fire out of the darkness of the jungle and find its way into his temple. Would death be instant like a switch, or would it be a multi-staged process? His eyes vacant eyes rolled over to the rushing water just a few meters away. He wearily locked eyes with an alligator that was lazily floating along in the current.
“Hadn’t thought of that one.” he muttered.
“excuse me colonel?” answered Major Nightingale.
“Huh, oh nothing of any importance. Are we close to that village yet”? Thompson said changing the subject.
“Yes. Sir and the forward parties say they saw crates with the royal air force insignia on them.” The baby-faced major informed him.
Colonel Johnathon Thompson hadn't expected to see combat this late in his career. He didn't have the flamboyance that many senior officers had. He wore the same khaki uniform as his men. He was on the shortish side with dark downcast brown eyes and a light brown mustache. His skin had turned red in the jungle sun. He was 41 years old and I the twilight of his career when he had been bumped up to Colonel and given the futile assignment of holding the airfield against the Asian hordes.
His military aide was Major Lawrence Nightingale. For every bit as undistinguished as, Thompson was Nightingale was even more unmemorable. He was a short man, a bit on the stout side. His sandy blond hair had receded to about the middle of his head, and was shaved down to little more than stubble resulting in a scalp that was almost constantly peeling. He was a quite but direct man. Only speak when spoken to was the mantra he lived by, but when it came to performing his duties there were few officers who carried them out more efficiency and unquestioningly than Nightingale.
Thompson tried hard to be as accessible and sympathetic a commander as possible and so he spent as much time among his men as he could. Thompson was a firm believer in being diplomatic. He knew being an officer in a war was walking a tightrope between ruthlessness and compassion. It had all been explained to him during his officer training courses. He found most of the advice seemed to work, but as with anything in life there were always unforeseen variables.
They had stumbled across a downed RAF cargo plane in the tropical depths. The plane had crash landed and was a twisted metal mess tangled in vines and tree branches. They spent hours searching, but the pilot and the cargo were nowhere to be found. The men had been ecstatic to find the downed cargo plane in the middle of the jungle and the fact the supplies had already been looted dampened their spirits and made survival seem that much more improbable. Moral was a hard thing to keep up in the looming shadow of starvation, and Thomson knew that gnawing pain was enough to dissolve unit cohesion especially amongst foreign soldiers with at best dubious loyalties.
Luckily Thompson's scouts spotted the crates in a village inhabited by a tribe he had never heard of. The natives seemed to know who they were and were apprehensive about going, but Thompson could ill afford to let those supplies go.
His eyes drifted back to the alligator. The black slit in its yellow eye was still firmly fixed on the Colonel. The alligator had no problem surviving the jungle, in fact, there was a wide variety of life that seemed to thrive here yet Thompson and his soldiers of the industrialized world were helpless in this savage realm they had been certain was conquered.
“Sniper!” A voice shouted out
. Everyone fell to the soft ground. Whether or not there was actually a sniper was usually about a one in two chance. A trooper's mind became so preoccupied with death he became certain he could see its twisted silhouette in the distance or hear twigs breaking as it swiftly approached from the jungle's dark depths.
The entire herd came to a halt and waited for Thompson their Sheppard to deal with the monster in the dark. Thompson crawled along the ground to his forward observers.
“Mortars forward! Hit the tree line!” He shouted.
Thompson used his binoculars and scanned the trees in the distance. He could see the branches giving under the weight of whatever was moving in the leaves There was the thumping of mortars being launched from their tubes, seconds later explosions tore apart the branches and sent wood shrapnel flying through the air in every direction.
A chorus of high-pitched screams could be hear emanating from the plumes of smoke and dirt. As silhouettes began to disperse through the exploding tree line. Thompson could see there wasn't a single Japanese sniper amongst the terrified clan of monkeys. They shrieked and cried out in their animal language as the soldiers rained death on them. Having no understanding of a mortar strike it didn't occur to them to hit the dirt.
“Shit!” Thompson lamented. “Cease fire! Cease fire”! He repeated. “They’re just monkeys!”
“What?” was the response from one of the men in charge of the mortars.
“They're just bloody monkeys!” Thompson shouted again. There was grumbling as the men got their feet and prepared to move on.
“Well, I suppose they looked a bit like a sniper from here sir.” Nightingale said in a way mean to vindicate the spotters. Thompson shook his head, and they marched past the maimed primates left scattered on the jungle floor, just screaming causalities of war like their Homosapien counterparts.
Thompson knew this level of anxiety was normal among troops traumatized by battle. He had an intimate understanding of the torments of war. These men lived in a perpetual nightmare. They were like animals caught in a trap. For them, the concept of the future was impractical, and men with no future were already dead. A perpetual state of fear overwhelmed their senses and was quickly eroding any sense of reason they might have still had. War had shattered them and left only fragments of humanity.
Playing hide and go seek with death had left them with nowhere to turn but to comradely for any comfort, but when one locked eyes with death even that most intimate trust could vanish. The reptilian brain doesn’t factor in brotherhood when making decisions.
It was another 6 kilometers to the native village. They lived in a collection of thatch-roofed huts reminiscent of what had been recreated on numerous movie sets. Fires dotted their village and the columns of smoke rising into the sky created an ominous haze over the mysterious savages
They were called the Sumarkhulas. They were people who had freed themselves from the ripping currents of time and were content to sit on the banks of the river they lived on and followed its example of perpetual stasis. They had never heard the word country, and they were unfamiliar with the term empire. For them, these concepts had no association and no meaning.
Thompson decided to approach as a diplomat. He appeared from the jungle with Nightingale at his side and without the remnants of his disintegrating army. The officers brought along a young native named Togan to translate and only four royal marines as their security detail. As they approached, they could see Royal air force cargo crates. They had been torn open and emptied of their contents.
Alert to their presence the villagers streamed from the trees and assembled to meet the ambassadors of war from the modern the world. The painted people watched them approach in a weary silence that put Thompson on edge. He wore an exaggerated smile in the hope it would convey friendly enough intentions as well as hide his fear.
“Sir I think its best to turn around.” Togan whispered urgently.
Taking Togan to the village was a bit like taking a frightened dog to the vet. The wide-eyed boy walked on wobbly legs and he talked in low whispers. It seemed as though he might run away at any moment.
“Major, tell him I am a colonel in her majesties army and I have little cause to be afraid of people in loin cloths carrying sticks”. The Colonel said through his teeth.
“Sir you talk slower if I translate.” Togan pleaded. Thompson rolled his eyes
Thompson raised his arms and waved to the waiting tribes people. “Hello, I am Colonel Thompson; this is Major Nightingale we are officers in the English army.” he called out. He was answered in silence. “Well, go on,” Thompson ordered Togan under his breath. Togan took a minute to think then shouted something completely intelligible to Thompson.
There was still no reaction. The Colonel and his entourage dared to proceed no further. Togan tried again, giving a somewhat labored translation complete with some exaggerated body language. The crowd parted and a man with long limbs attached to a short paunchy frame emerged from the mass of people. His face was painted with near kaleidoscopic crimson designs of astounding perplexity. He looked Thompson up and down before uttering something in his guttural language. Nightingale glanced at Thompson who only shrugged.
Togan's eyes widened, and his mouth contorted into a grimace.
“Well, what did he say?” Thompson demanded.
“He say we can meet the....the....” Togan's beady eyes inflected up, and his head bobbed as he searched for the right word.
“Chief? Thompson interceded.
“Yes something like that.” The native answered.
The enigmatic representative motioned or them to come forward, and they followed him to the chief’s quarters.
The Chief's lair was a rectangular log structure that sat on an incline in the earth that elevated the house just slightly over every other structure in the village. It was the residents every chief was given during their tenure as leader.
“Its sort of the jungle's palace.” Thompson explained to Nightingale after it was explained to him.
They were seated at a table in the center of the room that sat in the glow of the light that flooded in from the skylight cut into the ceiling. The chief sat across from Thompson and Nightingale with his entourage standing closely behind him. The royal marines were barred from entering.
The chief was a lanky man. His frame was like a set of rods that had been bolted together. Bright red veins crawled across his milky white eyes. The designs painted on his body were more crude and far less intricate than those painted on his emissary. His shaggy ebony hair was down his dark and crackled face by the heavy jungle air. He sat solitarily across the heavy wood table. There was a faint hint of the smell of iron in the air. In the light, Thompson could see the markings had been painted in blood.
“Tell the chief in the most cordial fashion you're capable of that I am Thompson Colonel in her majesty's royal marines and that I would like to....”
“I understand you Thompson Colonel.” The chief said with surprising clarity.
Thompson was caught off guard. So much so he didn't think to inform the chief it was actually Colonel Thompson.
“Oh.” Replied Thompson was maintaining his smile. “Well, good that will make all of this a lot easier.” he said.
“I am Sarkar. I am everything here.” The chief said raising his hands into the air.
“Well, its an honor to meet you.” Nightingale chimed in.
“You have come for the food haven't you?” Sarkar asked with a smile.
Thompson was just as surprised by Sarkar's directness as he was by his grasp of a language he could never possibly have heard.
“Yes that is correct.” Thompson said in a delayed reply.
“Why?” Asked Sarkar
“Why?” Thompson repeated.
“Why should I let you take them?” Sarkar asked clearly enjoying himself.
Thompson wanted to avoid any confrontation at this point. He preferred to spare the ammunition and manpower.
“Well”, he began as he wracked his brain trying to come up with an the most attractive option he could give in his current position.
“If you return the supplies, you will surely curry favor with the British Empire and we always reward loyalty. Plus you may feel free to keep the crates they came in” Thompson said, concluding his sales pitch. The chief shook his head visibly annoyed.
“That is what he offered me as well” He waved his hand and one of the tribesmen dumped the contents of a brown leather pouch on the table. They hit the wood with a thud. The sky blue eyes were staring up at Thompson from behind large round goggles. His dirty blond locks were growing out of the tears in his leather head gear, and his breathing mask was covered with crawling black insects presumably devouring the flesh around his mouth. It was the pilot's head
“Also taught me how to use your tongue.” The Sarkar said with a smile that showed his black and yellow teeth.
“For the love of god” choked Nightingale as he held his hand up to his mouth.
“Now, now Major.” Thompson said through clenched teeth. “Let's not get upset. Chief you had every right to take the pilot's head what with him crashing uninvited in your neck of the woods and all. We just would have preferred if you handled the situation differently.”
“We were visited by the soldiers of the red circle. Your enemies.” The chief interrupted. “They brought us rice and fish. You come here trying to take. Why should I talk to you?” He demanded.
Thompson was at a loss for words. He reached into the breast pocket of his uniform and pulled out his wallet. “Look I have a 100 pound note here. That will get you quite a bit of fish and rice”. He said as he placed the money on the table. The chief glanced at it.
“What will I do with a drawing?” He asked.
“No, you don't understand. This is the legal tender of the empire, the rule of which this land was under and will be again. There will be much more where that came from as well as plenty of fish and rice as long as you cooperate.” Thompson said.
“The red circle army brought us food not promises.” The Sarkar said coldly.
“I can appreciate that, but you clearly know little about how the Japanese do business. Frankly I'm surprised they didn't burn the village and shoot everyone here. The British Empire is just and we are spreading the wonders of civilization all across the globe. Her majesties navy rules the seas world and the royal air force has dominion over the skies. We are everywhere, and the red circle doesn’t have a chance against us. We are the only ones who can protect you from them.” The Colonel said brazenly.
The Chief was silent for a moment. He picked up the note and stared at the portrait of the Queen.
“Ok, I will give you back your food.” Sarkar said after a moment.
“Thank you Chief we, are in your debt as of today.” Thompson said extending his hand.
“Join me for food.” The chief said ignoring Thompson's outreached hand. Thompson assumed the gesture just wasn't part of the culture.
“Oh, why thank you,” Thompson replied warmly.
“Sir we really should be getting back to the camp.” said Nightingale.
“Nonsense.” answered Thompson shaking off the visibly apprehensive major. “There's no reason we can't dine with our gracious hosts this evening.” Thompson said with a nod to the chief. “However we really must make haste if we are to beat the storm.”
They were served a clear broth filled with a pale pink meat. Thompson picked up the bowl and sloshed the contents around. He looked over at the quivering Major, who hadn’t even made a move for the bowl. He then looked back at the chief who was swallowing it in large gulps.
“Don't you like?” Sarkar asked sounding almost confused.
“Of course, it looks delicious we just like to take a moment with our food in England is all” He said as he brought the rim of the bowl to his quiver lips and took the smallest swallow possible.
“Very good.” he said glaring at Nightingale who then, took a sip as well. It was a bit gamey but over all the officers were pleasantly surprised.
“I'm inclined to ask Sarkar..”
“Inclined?” the chief parroted back.
“That is to say I really would like to know what sort of deal did you make with the Japanese? We had found that they usually aren't so generous in their dealings with the native tribes.” Said Thompson.
“We found one where they had burned all the huts and left all the heads in a big pile.” Nightingale blurted out.
“Right.” Thompson sighed.
Sarkar scoffed. “I gave them Quarnar.”
Thompson set his bowl down. “You gave them what?” He asked.
Sarkar shouted something in his native language and the same man who had dropped the head on the table gently placed another smaller brown pouch down in front of Sarkar. Sarkar smiled and pulled the knot holding the bag closed. Thompson and Nightingale leaned over to look inside. It was filled with a fine blue powder.
“I gave them a key to the other world.” Declared Sarkar.
Nightingale picked up the pouch. He held it up in the light and took a whiff of the before setting it down.
“Oh well, I'm glad everything worked out then.” Said Thompson somewhat dismissively.
“What does that mean sir?” Whispered Nightingale.
“Apparently he's been giving the Japs some very good opium or something of the sort.” Mumbled Thompson.
“When's the last time you saw the soldiers of the red circle?” Thompson asked.
Sarkar shrugged. “The iron birds with the same red circle land over the hills.” he said nonchalantly.
The information was enough to startle Thompson. Were they near an enemy airfield? How far had the Japanese advanced?
“Tell me about your Majesty.” Said Sarkar.
“Oh, you mean the queen?” Thompson clarified.
“Yes this Queen, who rules, the seas.”
“Well, I will put it as simply as possible. She is sort of the chief of our village, which is Great Britain a tribe that has dominion over most of the world.” Thompson proclaimed.
“Must be big tribe.” Said the Sarkar.
“Very.” Said Thompson. “We have buildings as high as hills and...”
“Do you like the food.” Sarkar interrupted.
“Yes quite good. What do you think major?” Thompson asked turning to Nightingale.
“Very hearty.” Replied the Major.
“Good, its made out of the....HAHAHA” The chief’s voice fluctuated several octaves as he burst into laughter. “Its...” he managed to hiccup before being seized again by laughter.
“I don't follow.” Mumbled Thompson with a mouth full of soup.
“Its from the belly of the glass eyed sky man!” Sarkar shrieked before convulsing with laughter.
It took Thompson a minute to process the statement. He looked down at his spoon and stared at the pink meat, and the terrible realization finally took hold.
Nightingale had already bolted from the hut and could be heard vomiting outside. Thompson soon followed. They fled from the village and the hysterical laughter that would echo in their minds, an unrelenting torture that would persist until they were finally freed by death.
Thompson and Nightingale quickly agreed never to discuss what had happened with anyone. It was a wound they would let fester in their psyche’s.
Being an unwilling cannibal was bad enough, but without those supplies Thompson's men faced imminent famine. He had tried diplomacy it had failed. Now the only option afforded to him was to annihilate the tribe and at this point he was fine with that.
They tribe quickly forgot about the strangely dressed white men that had been in their midst, and life resumed again, the same way it always has. It took much more than a minor intrusion to interrupt what has persisted for untold generations, but today Thompson was determined to be that storm that washed them away forever.
In a chaotic raid resembling, an Indian attack on a group of settlers in a bad western Thompson and his men sprang from the bushes. There was nothing tactical about the massacre. The soldiers swarmed the village spraying bullets and spitting a sticky fire that adhered to the villagers huts, as well as their flesh. In only a few ticks of the minute hand on Thompson's watch, an entire people's had been removed from the planet. Only their corpses remained, and in due time those would only be ash. The soldiers vented in an unrestrained orgy of violence and soaked the jungle with blood. Thompson toured the killing grounds looking for the chief. He was planning on making his sneering the face the last thing the painted cannibal ever saw.
He stopped next to a group of soldiers that were circling a large hut built around a tree. They were shouting taunts up to the people hiding their heads as they circled like sharks. One soldier began firing up through the floor there were several screams and blood exploded out of the bottom of the tree hut spilling onto the soldier's face.
“Ah God, that's disgusting!” The young man shouted before stepping back and firing a few more rounds.
“Wait a moment lad.” Thompson ordered. The soldier lowered his weapon and backed away. Just yards away a soldier wearing a rusty flame thrower was burning spraying a hut with napalm.
“You there with the flame thrower!” Thompson shouted
The young man stopped and gave Thompson a startled look. “Me sir?” He asked
“Yes you!” Barked Thompson. “Burn them out of there!” He ordered up at the wooden structure.
“Yes Sir!” The young man replied running over. He took a second and pointed the flaming nozzle up before ejecting a stream of fire. The burning hut began quaking with the panicked natives who were screaming with the same shrill pitch as the monkeys.
Genocide had turned out to be a tiring activity and the soldiers decided to take a moment to rest among the carnage. Thompson sat alone under a tree watching his men much the same way a Shepard watches sheep. The burden of what had happened back in the hut was sitting in his stomach like a weight. It had been instantly trans-formative. It was a moment that would bisect his life into two eras. He never did find Sarkar. He had either run away or had been reduced to an unrecognizable charred and melted shell. Thompson did take some solace in this.
The thunder rumbles and the first flashes of lighting were reaching across the sky. They had to move soon. The coming storm had sold his men on storming the airfield. It was the only way they would have any adequate shelter. A shadow cast itself over the contemplating Thompson.
“Colonel.” a voice snapped.
Thompson looked up and saw a young captain standing at attention. He was probably no older than 19. Very short and with skin as red as cooked lobsters. “Yes?” He replied to the baby-faced officer.
“There are a few things I think may demand your attention before we attack sir.” The captain informed him.
The first thing that demanded the commander’s attention was an incident brewing amongst the native conscripts. He summed Togan, and they found the conscripts in an isolated clearing. They were standing in a circle as one of their own writhed on the ground babbling in his alien tongue as he slipped into bouts of tears and laughter. Thompson didn't need to understand the man to know he was speaking the language of madness.
“Well, just what the hell is wrong with him?” Thompson demanded.
“He lose his mind.” One of the men had answered before Togan had a chance to translate.
“Ah, second time that's happened today. I must be lucky.” Thompson muttered under his breath.
“Battle fatigue is quite common.” Said Thompson.
The man shook his head. “No his spirit has been fouled by the poison.” He said holding up a small dart between his fingers. Thompson took it from him. The tip was stained with the same color blue as the powder from The Chief's hut.
“Hmm, some sort of primitive chemical warfare weapon.” He mused. “Well, how long will it take him to come out of it?”
“He won't.” Replied the leather faced native. “He is lost forever in the fog.”
Thompson watched the man fall flat on his face. He coughed into the dirt for a while. When he lifted his head blood was, seeping from between his lips. He smiled exposing his crimson-stained teeth.
“God.” Thompson grimaced. “Well, do what you have to with him I suppose, but do try and be quick.”
The native saluted and Thompson left. There was a splattering sound followed by a shriek. He didn't look back.
The Major was the second concern voiced by Captain Schultz. The solitary major was sitting next to the pile of villagers the soldiers had made. He stared at the charred and twisted mass. They were tangled together by their limbs and stared out from every side of the mound with a dozen vacant eyes. The smell was overwhelming. Thompson's stomach churned, but he had nothing to throw up. He tried to hold his breath, but the acrid stench forced its way into his nose and onto his taste buds.
“Major?” He uttered. Nightingale was silent.
“Major?” Thompson repeated. Nightingale was sitting with his legs stretched out absently rolling a ball of mud around in his hands. He gazed at the bodies with unblinking eyes.
“Major Nightingale.” Thompson said about more forcefully.
Nightingale looked up at the major still rolling the clay around in his palms.
“We are moving out Major.” Thompson reminded him
“Oh, right.” Nightingale muttered.
This was bad. They were less than an hour from attacking a Japanese position they knew almost nothing about and the second in command had lost himself in a breakdown. Thompson sighed and knelt down next to the troubled officer.
“Nightingale.” He said putting one hand on his shoulder. “I know what you're going through I really do, but I need you out here. If we have any chance, we have to keep our head's on our shoulders or we won't be leaving this jungle.”
“Whats the point in leaving.” Nightingale said in a voice devoid of any emotion.
“I'm sorry Major.” Said Thompson, but I have to send you to the rear when we capture the air strip I'll see to it that everything possible is done for you.”
Nightingale didn't answer.
The scouts watching the airfield reported no signs of any sentries or any activity whatsoever. Besides one derelict float plane, the place seemed to be abandoned. It was a small installment built around a makeshift runway. It consisted of four barracks hastily crafted log barracks and a control tower.
The occupants were gone, but there was evidence of them everywhere. The barracks devoid of soldiers still had rows of cots most of them with pairs of boots and discarded rifles and uniforms piled next to them.
The wind echoed through the dark, drafty cabins like a moaning specter, but there was not so much as a whisper from the Japanese.
Rust was spreading through plane's steel body like an infection. Vines were slithering around the craft like snakes; small lizards darted across its wingspan, and a cloud of insects had settled around the cockpits shattered window.
The cargo door was open a tapestry of spiderwebs had been woven over the entrance. The soldiers crept up and peered in but were quickly scared off by the 8 eyed beasts dancing across the threading.
“Someone get in there and check the hold!” Barked Thompson.
“There are enormous spiders all over this thing!” One of the young Tommies shouted back.
“Well, clear it off with the flame thrower or something than just try to not blow us all up!” Thompson shouted throwing up his hands.
After the napalm had burned itself out the men crept up the plane. When the all clear was given, Thompson stomped up the ramp and glanced around inside. The sun had turned the cavern into an oven. There were only three wooden crates aboard the craft, each of them contained viles of the blue powder.
“Burn in.” Thompson Ordered.
The office connected to the control tower was nothing more than an office furnished with only a chair and a desk. An open flight log was on the desk as well as a mug of lukewarm tea. It was as if someone had been working there until only a few hours ago. The communications equipment sat silent and unusable. They were still severed from the radio waves that had been their an invisible link to civilization.
After they captured the air strip the first few drops of rain had fallen through the trees and in only seconds sheets of water began to fall from the sky. The troops made a hasty retreat into the barracks and Thompson took up residence in the office.
The windows had a view of the barracks, but Thompson could see anything through the total darkness of the night and the pounding rains. Lightning would reveal everything in flashes.
There was no working generator around, so Thompson sat in the glow of a solitary lantern set in the middle of the room. The flame cast a boarder of shadows around the room including Thompson's elongated silhouette.
Thompson stared out the window into the blackness and sipped away at a glass of warm gin. The burning pine flavor coated his throat and burned his stomach, but he was determined to force down as much as he could. He would only find relief from the day's events in the emptiness of a blackout. He considered asking the medic for a small morphine drip.
A flight log, a coffee mug, and a half filled astray was all that was left. Thompson sat among the lonely remains and occupied himself speculating on what happened to the men that left them behind. It appeared reasonable enough to assume they weren't coming back. Wherever this had been, it had been lost and reclaimed by the jungle.
Still the gnawing fear was growing inside him. The men that slept were like Goldilocks, oblivious to the dangers of being caught in the predator's den. As the commanding officer, he couldn’t afford to be that vulnerable.
His toes tapped and his knees shook as he nervously ran his fingers through his coarse facial hair. He stared at the silent communications counsel, his unblinking eyes were looking inward. His mind played through mental constructions of the moment the door was kicked open and a charging man catching him like a startled animal would ram his bayonet through his heart.
Something heavy hit the door and as he feared he became paralyzed. He stared at the door and waited. Something pounded against it again making the Colonel jump from his chair.
“Sir its Private Roberts”! A voiced echoed through the door.
Thompson could finally exhale.
“Come in!” He shouted.
The Sentry entered. His dripping poncho instantly created a murky puddle around his boots. He was panting as if he'd been running.
“What is it Private?” Asked Thompson raising his head
“Sir its the natives they, they left sir.” The young private managed to fumble out.
“Left?” Repeated Thompson with arched eye brows.
“Yes sir ,” Roberts said. “I'm sorry sir. I couldn't rightly stop them. There were too many of them, they would have killed me sir.” Roberts said hoping that would vindicate him.
“No, no you were right private. Where are they going?”
“Wouldn't say sir. They just walked off into the jungle left their weapons in a pile just outside the perimeter.”
“Why the hell would they do that?!” Shouted Thompson glaring out the window.
“I don't know I'm sorry sir.” Roberts reiterated.
Thompson fell back into his chair. “I hope this whole damn jungle burns.” He muttered turning away from Roberts and staring back down at the floor. Roberts lingered for a moment.
“Forgive me sir, but are you alright?” Roberts asked.
“I'm fine private.” The colonel replied before noticing the half empty gin bottle sitting out on the desk.
“Please Private help yourself to a little of that bottle there. You boys earned. it.”
“Really sir?” Answered a wide-eyed Roberts.
“You can just drink it out of the bottle I'm sure we all have the same jungle diseases now.”
Roberts nodded and took a gulp. His eyes watered, and his lips quivered he was clearly trying to hide his distaste.
“Go ahead you can have more.” Thompson said, and the private forced down another generous helping of the foul liquid.
“Private Robert's is it?” Asked Thompson.
“Yes Sir.” the private answered helping himself to another swig.
“Where are you from Robert's?” Thompson asked.
“Born and raised in London sir.” The private said.
“Any family to speak of?” The Colonel prodded.
“Yes Sir, two sisters and a brother sir.” Was the answer.
“Married?” The colonel asked forcing the small talk on.
“Fiance sir asked her right before I received my draft orders sir.”
“Oh...well congratulations.” Thompson said sarcastically.
“Thank you sir.” The rosy cheeked Private answered robustly.
The conversation halted, and an uncomfortable silence settled in.
“Roberts.” Thompson muttered.
“Yes sir?” Roberts said lowering the bottle from his lips.
Thompson took a moment.
“How are you going to explain all this to her?” He finally asked.
The private drew in a deep breath. “Well, I suppose I don't really know sir.” He said taking another drink. “Huh.” Thompson grunted before falling back inside himself. The silence descended again, but was shattered when something crashed through the window. Thompson jumped up and drew his service pistol from his holster. There was something round rolling past his feet. He jumped away and whatever it was hit the wall and stopped. “What the hell is that Roberts?!” Roberts screamed before firing his rifle through the shattered glass.
“I think I might have got him sir!”
“Who!?” Yelled back Thompson. Roberts didn't answer he ran out the door and into the wall of rain. Thompson ran to the door being held open by the gusting wind and shouted out into the unending darkness.
“Roberts!! Get back here!” He called out, but no reply came from the black. He turned to what had been thrown through window. The round shape was resting against the wall. Thompson creeped towards it and saw the leather cap. It was the pilot's head. The wind slammed the door shut, and Thompson fell against the wall.
“Oh God, Oh God help me.” The Colonel Whimpered.
The light flickered and the shadows blurred. He looked at the lantern. The flame's glow was diminishing as the kerosene depleted. He looked around the darkness was dissolving the walls. He shivered. He could feel the encroaching darkness brushing against him and the air turned to ice in his chest. The grinding of his teeth was drowned out by the rain that growing louder as it fell harder it was like a million little fingers tapping against the walls.
“There's no way out. Goddammit there's no way out.” He felt the sting of tears in his eyes, and his face burned.
“We're not getting out of here.” He shuddered.
Thompson spent untold moments with his face buried in his hands. Soon it dawned on him that even though there had been shooting and yelling none of the other soldiers had appeared from the barracks. Nothing besides the unrelenting rain could be heard outside. Is it possible they couldn't hear it over the storm? Thompson's ears strained, but nothing stirred.
“Colonel.” The utterance made Thompson's heart stop. Nightingale was standing in the door way.
“Major.” Thompson said quickly standing up. “Major we've been attacked is everyone on alert?” Thompson asked hoping the Major would be willing to forget what he saw.
Nightingale didn't answer. He stumped forward his arms swinging at his sides. His paper white flesh was covered with a tattered white shirt, his boots were unlaced and water poured out over the sides.
“Major?” Thompson said again. Nightingale leaned against the wall, and his eyes fluttered.
“Major let's get you back to the medics.” Insisted Thompson.
“Colonel.” Nightingale whispered.
“What is it Major?” Thompson said trying to restore his aura of authority.
“Those monkeys, from ,” The Major said as he slowly slid down the wall.
“What about them?” Said Thompson.
“Do you think they'll remember what happened?” Asked Nightingale.
“Well, I'm no naturalist, but I assume the ones that lived will. I really don't know Major.” Said Thompson said flatly.
“Do you think they'll ever be able to go back to their trees again?” Nightingale asked.
Fury overtook Thompson's fear. He marched over to Nightingale and slapped him hard across the face. The Major had no reaction.
“Major you have to snap out of it. We have to keep it together. When we get out of here, we will get help. By God, I swear it I will even see the head doctors with you, God knows I need them too, but if you keep this up you won't live through this!” Thompson hissed.
“Whats the point of that?” Nightingale asked in the same sedated voice.
Thompson didn't answer.
“Those monkeys we shelled they don't know what happened to them. They will spend the rest of their lives wondering will the fire rain down on them again.” They might not be able to talk like us, but they certainly can recognize death sir. Anything living can. They learned today the difference between life and oblivion is but a mere second, and they'll never be able to go back. They'll never be able to be what they were.” The Major said as he broke down into tears.
“Major, Major listen to me.” Said Thompson. Have you ingested any of that blue stuff from the plane?
Nightingale wiped the tears from his eyes.
“Huh? Oh, a little bit I suppose sir.” He sniffled.
Thompson sighed. Major I'm taking you back to the medics.”
“They're...they're gone Sir.”Nightingale said weakly.
“What do you mean they're gone?” Demanded Thompson.
The tears were streaming down the Major's face. He was trying to catch his breath.
“We can't leave this jungle sir. We are here forever....” Nightingale sobbed.
Thompson stared at him a moment. “Nightingale, Nightingale where are the medics?” He asked softly.
Nightingale didn't answer. He pulled out a small pistol from his pocket. Thompson stepped back.
“Major put that weapon away!” He ordered.
Nightingale ignored the order. “There is only one way to escape a living hell, sir. My only way out is your only way out.” The sobbing Major said.
“Major I order you to...”
Nightingale put the barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger. A shot rang out in the small room and the Major's blood spattered against the wall behind him. His body slumped down, his pupils dilated, and he was gone.
Thompson looked on at the body. Its glassy eyes stared up at him just, the same as the pilot. The lantern’s light had wavered a final time before it was finally extinguished, and the Colonel was engulfed by the lonely and endless darkness.