In honor of October and Halloween, I’ll be uploading a new story every Tuesday this month. These stories function as prequels to a novel I’m writing called Survivors, revolving around a group of people suffering from PTSD after living through horrifying situations.
Vietnam, April 1973
“Who the fuck decided to put you in the army, son?! Did they not realize what a fucking waste of space you were?” Col. Danvers was screaming at one of the new arrivals. Typical initiation for fresh meat. Poor kid looked like he was fresh out of high school. Skinny, with big horn-rimmed glasses and a look on his face like he would rather disappear into the earth than go through this.
“I’m sorry, sir!” The boy said as he tried to gather items from his pack. The strap had broken as he was picking it up, causing it to fall and unload the contents all over the jungle floor.
“GODDAMN RIGHT YOU’RE SORRY! PICK THIS SHIT UP NOW!” Colonel was in a bad mood. He usually just yelled at the new kids once, then let them walk away, fresh shit in their pants. This time though… something had him on edge.
Gerald walked over and stooped down, helping the kid clean up. Bad enough he had to come to fucking Vietnam, now he’s getting screamed at when he’s fresh off the plane. Gerald remembered what those days were like. They seemed so long ago.
“I’ll take it from here, Corporal.” Gerald told the older man as he picked up the last item from the ground, stuffing it in the kids pack.
“Is this weak piece of shit yours, Sergeant?” Danvers asked Gerald, still at attention, staring the kid down.
“No clue, sir. What’s your name, son?” Gerald turned to the kid, noticing the scared look on his face. He wouldn’t last a week out here.
“McCoy, sir.” The boy straightened up and saluted, realizing that he had two higher ranking officers standing in front of him.
“Well, I better not catch you fucking up again, McCoy!” Danvers yelled at him one more time, then turned on his heel and walked away, looking for someone else to scream at.
“You caught him on a bad day, kid. Try to lay low for a while.” Gerald told him as he walked away. McCoy looked after him, not knowing whether to cry or run back onto the plane. The only thing he knew was that this was going to be awful.
Gerald was woken by the sound of someone yelling at him and shaking his bunk.
“Get up, asshole. We’ve got orders. Hotel squad ain’t come back from their patrol yesterday. We’re supposed to go find ‘em.”
It was Fox waking him up. Fuck. Gerald thought to himself, Colonel probably assigned the whole peanut gallery to go look for them.
Gerald rolled off his bunk, landing lightly on his feet. He had been in Vietnam for four years now, starting out as a low ranking private. Now, he was a Sergeant, which typically got him out of the grunt work and more dangerous runs. Something bad must have happened if they were sending him with a patrol.
He walked into the officer tent, and saw Col. Danvers waiting, along with five others. He looked around and took note of his squad for the day.
Fox, the asshole that woke him. Guy had been here longer than Gerald, but they knew he was too unstable to hold any kind of rank. He got off on killing, and volunteered for the dangerous missions whenever possible. If this war ever ends, the army is going to have to drag his ass back home.
Harris was there too. No surprise, he was Fox’s lackey. Did whatever he said and seemed to enjoy the killing just as much. Gerald knew he would have his hands full with just these two alone.
The Samson twins. They were good kids, Derek and Darren, but the other soldiers around camp typically just referred to them as Samson One and Samson Two. Only way they could be told apart was that Darren, Samson 2, had part of his left ear missing. Lucky son of a bitch managed to be far enough away from an enemy grenade to only lose half an ear instead of his whole head.
The last one in the lineup was the new kid, McCoy. He looked even more nervous than he had when he dropped his pack, and Col. Danvers was eyeing him. Danvers knew fear when he saw it. He lived for it.
“Hotel Squad went on patrol yesterday and has yet to return.” Danvers started in, wasting no time on the briefing. “They were due to hit a small village northwest of here, and radio in once they arrived. We never received any transmission from them. ETA for their return is going on twenty hours at this point. We need you to find them.”
“Do we think it was someone in the village or VietCong?” Gerald asked the Sergeant, pressing for more details on what to expect.
“Don’t fuckin’ matter. We’ll blow them right back to hell no matter who they are.” Fox chimed in from the corner he was sitting in.
“You are not to engage unless provoked.” Colonel Danvers glared over at Fox. “I’m warning you. If Sergeant Farron tells me of any bullshit you try to pull, you’ll be locked up stateside before you can make some smart as comment.”
Fox glared over at Gerald. They hadn’t gotten along since the first day he arrived in camp. Gerald had been a critic of the war all along, he was only here to get his time out of the way and get some money to go to college later. Fox was here because he belonged in this hell.
“You are to leave immediately. Radio in and make a full report once you reach the village.” Danvers dismissed them with a wave of his hand.
“Yes, sir.” They all said in unison, walking out of the tent. Gerald didn’t have a good feeling about this. At best, Hotel squad was lost in the jungle. At worst they’re either captured or dead.
They had been walking through the jungle for at least five hours. The sun was setting, and they hadn’t found anything. Gerald was leading the pack, with Fox, Harris, and the Samson twins behind him. McCoy was bringing up the rear of the group, twitching at anything that moved.
“So what we gonna do once we get to this village, assuming we don’t find them?” Harris asked.
“We beat some Charlies until they tell us where the hell they are.” Fox said gleefully. Gerald could tell he was itching to kill someone, and he didn’t like it one bit. Why would Danvers give him the most trigger happy bastard in camp for this?
“You ain’t beating anybody long as I’m here.” He said back to Fox. Gerald didn’t look, but he could feel Fox’s eyes burning into his back.
The village was up ahead. Gerald motioned for all of them to lower their weapons, and turned his light on to cut through the creeping darkness. A grisly sight met him.
“Holy fuck.” He whispered.
“God help us.” Samson One said, crossing himself.
It looked like a slaughterhouse at peak time. The ground in the middle of the clearing was red, with blood pooled wherever it could collect. Off to the side, they could see a small pile. An arm was jutting out of the top, fingers outstretched to the heavens, warning them away.
As they stared at the carnage that met them, a small man walked out of the nearest hut. He was ancient, long silver hair falling down his back in a ponytail, and a scraggly beard reaching almost to his waist.
“Go.” He said to them as they approached. Others stepped out of the huts around them, clutching makeshift weapons. A couple of them held the assault rifles that were likely taken off the dead soldiers.
“We just want to know what happened. Then we’ll leave you alone.” Gerald said, holding his hands up in a gesture of peace. “We were sent to find our people. How did this happen.”
“They attack. We defend.” The man spoke back in broken English.
“Fuck that. What kind of monsters could do this? They’re torn limb from fucking limb!” Fox was spiraling quick. Gerald could tell his bloodlust was rising. He already wanted to kill something, now he had his excuse.
“Calm the hell down, Fox. We’re going to find out what’s going on.” Gerald said back to him, putting up his hand in warning.
Thunder rumbled ominously in the distance. A storm was moving in, and the sun was going down. Gerald knew they needed to diffuse the situation and get back to camp, quick.
“At least let us get their tags. Please. Their families deserve to know they’re gone.” He appealed to the old man, pointing at the tags hanging from his neck, hoping for some sense of mercy for the poor souls.
The man threw a bundle of tags to the ground at Geralds feet. They clattered together, their chiming adding to the animosity in the air.
“Now go. Tell your leaders stay away, or else.” The man said to him, waving them away.
“FUCK. THAT.” Fox said, grabbing a woman that was standing near him and pointing his gun at her. “You tell us what the hell happened here. I’ll be adding a fresh corpse to that pile every minute you don’t answer.”
“Fox, let her go.” Gerald said. His voice was low, menacing. His laidback nature was gone, replaced by the cold steel of someone who had already seen too much bloodshed.
“Don’t think I fucking will.” Fox said, pressing the barrel of his gun against the woman’s temple. “Boys, take your pick”
Harris and the Samson twins each turned their rifles on a different villager. McCoy looked on, hands at his side, mouth open. He hadn’t been here a week. What kind of hell had he been dropped into?
“All of you, put your goddamn guns down1” Gerald said, screaming at them. “That’s a fucking order!!”
A villager moved to attack Fox. Gerald couldn’t tell if it was lightning or the muzzle flash that he saw. Thunder boomed along with the gunshot, and the woman fell dead at Fox’s feet.
“YOU GODDAMN IDIOT!” Gerald screamed, rushing at Fox. Fox raised his gun and fired once at Gerald, hitting him in the stomach.
“FUCK!” He screamed, the bullet tearing through his belly. “You bastard… I’m going to make sure you fry for this.”
“You won’t be doing anything.” Fox sneered, leveling the rifle at Geralds head.
There was a crash as lightning hit feet away from them, blinding them all, the shockwave making them stumble. McCoy was knocked back into the trees, sprawled on his back. He sat up in a daze.
Where the old man had been standing, there was a large scorch mark. The old man was nowhere to be seen. Gerald looked back to Fox, who was bringing his rifle back up to aim at Geralds forehead.
“Well if that ain’t the weirdest shit I’ve seen.” Fox said, looking at the burn mark. “Serves the old fucker ri-“
His boasting became screaming as he was flung into the air by what looked like another bolt of lightning. He flew up at least fifteen feet, coming back to the ground on his head. McCoy looked on, still on the ground where he landed, frozen in fear. He heard the crunch as Fox’s neck snapped.
“What the hell…” Harris said, jabbing at his captive villager.
Lightning flashed by again, but McCoy noticed this time that it wasn’t coming from the sky. The bolts seemed to be streaking across the clearing, from one side to the other. Occasionally it would arc upwards, coming back down and settling in the trees. It was almost a solid mass, moving and stopping as it pleased.
Harris gasped, dropping his rifle and clutching at his midsection. He had been ripped open when the bolt streaked past him, entrails spewing out in ropes onto the ground.
“Shit.” Samson One said. He looked over at his twin, silently communicating the idea to run. They both dropped their hostages and fled in opposite directions toward the tree line. The lightning streaked by again, running a loop around the both of them. McCoy saw Samson Two’s head disappear, and a geyser of blood spray from the stump that was left.
Samson One looked back and screamed. They had come into this world together, now they left it together. He was shorn in half by the bolt, falling to the ground and briefly clutching at the entrails coming from his waist where his bottom half had been moments before. Letting out a silent scream, he expired.
Gerald wasn’t sure what he was seeing was real. He knew he was dying. The bullet would have done a lot of damage and his blood was mixing with the viscera and dirt of the jungle. He must be imagining all this.
The lightning stopped in front of McCoy, hovering in the air. That’s when he was able to see it for what it was. A serpent, at least twenty feet in length, coiled around itself. It floated in the air, electricity crackling and arcing off its scales as it studied him. It had small arms coming out of it’s front, and more spaced out as the length of its body went on. The head was gruesome and majestic all at once, with sparkling blue scales, the color of lightning itself, as if it had harnessed nature. No, it was nature. This was something older than humans. This was the planet itself. This was what had killed the other squad, and it was going to kill him next.
“Don’t hurt him. Please. The kid is innocent, he didn’t ask to be here.” Gerald pleaded with the serpent. It turned around, looking from him to McCoy, as if deciding their fates.
Lightning struck from the sky again, and the serpent was gone. The old man stood in its place. He moved toward Gerald, picked up the bundle of tags he had thrown earlier, and handed them over.
“Go.” He said, nodding to McCoy to take Gerald. He scrambled over, leaving his gun on the ground, and helped the injured man to his feet. Taking one last look back at the old man, he nodded, and began helping Gerald away.
They walked in silence for a few minutes. Finally, McCoy had to speak.
”Sir, what the fuck was that?” He asked, stammering and tripping through the darkness. The storm had descended among them the same time that the serpent had, and every flash of lightning made him jump. He could feel Gerald next to him, his breathing becoming more labored.
“Don’t know, kid.” He answered. “Fuck. Set me down over here. Get back to camp. They can come back for me later.”
“You won’t make it until they can come for you!” McCoy said, not fathoming leaving the only decent person at the camp for dead.
“I ain’t gonna make it anyway. Much of a bastard as Fox was, he’s a decent shot. I’m fucked.” Gerald said, his breathing becoming more shallow with every word. “Go. Get the fuck out of Vietnam. Tell them exactly what you saw and they’re bound to let you go. They’ll definitely think you’ve lost your shit.”
“I can’t. I can’t just leave you here to die.” McCoy started to cry, his tears blending into the rain falling on his face. He never wanted to be here. This goddamn war was supposed to be over, he was supposed to be going to college, doing all the dumb shit that college comes with. Getting drunk, chasing girls, partying… not sitting in a jungle watching the man who saved him dying.
“Tough shit. Go.” Gerald brought his pistol out of its holster, waving him off. He knew what he was getting into coming out here. He wanted to serve his country. He didn’t think he would see half the things he had experienced. There were bigger monsters back home in Washington than that thing back there, and he wasn’t going to let them have McCoy’s blood on their hands along with the countless others they already took.
Gerald lifted the pistol to his temple.
“NO!” McCoy shouted, leaping toward him. He managed to knock the pistol out of Gerald’s hand. It discharged as it hit the ground, hitting McCoy in the left ankle.
“Ah, Jesus Christ.” Gerald said. This kid was too goddamn stubborn. Gerald wanted him to get back to camp, but the kid couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Guess we’re going back two cripples.”
He leaned over, picking up McCoy on his left side. McCoy was still screaming, the pain tearing from his ankle up into his knee.He leaned on Gerald, hopping on his right leg as they moved forward.
“Alright, McCoy. Let’s get through this so once you’re recovered I can kick your ass for injuring yourself.” Gerald gritted his teeth. Adrenaline was surging through him now, giving him a second wind. They were at least two hours from camp, and he knew the weather would only make them slower. He had to get the kid to safety.
“Only if I can kick your ass right back for trying to off yourself back there.” McCoy laughed through gritted teeth. They began the trek, two broken men supporting each other on their journey back from hell.
By the time they arrived back at camp, dawn was breaking. They both collapsed at the edge of the main campsite, and were quickly put on stretchers and run into the medical tent. Gerald went into emergency surgery to have the bullet removed from his stomach. McCoy was taken to have his ankle cleaned and disinfected. He floated away on a wave of exhaustion and morphine.
Lightning flashed, waking McCoy from his fitful sleep. Sitting bolt upright, drenched in sweat and tears, he screamed.
“Easy, easy. You’re okay now.” A voice said near his feet. A man in a doctor’s coat was sitting there, looking at him with an expression of worry.
“Where’s Gerald, is he okay?” McCoy asked. Please don’t be dead. Please, God. He prayed silently.
“He’s resting in a private room. It’s going to be pretty touch and go for a few days, but I have faith he’ll pull through. Gerald’s been here longer than I have, and he’s a tough son of a bitch. You, on the other hand, weren’t so lucky I’m afraid.”
McCoy pulled the sheet over his legs back, looking down at his foot. It was heavily bandaged from the ankle up to the knee, mummified almost.
“The bullet completely shattered your ankle, and managed to sever your Achilles’ tendon. I’m afraid they’re going to have to amputate. You’re both going back stateside.”
McCoy looked at the doctor, not comprehending his words. His leg felt fine. Hell, he could get up and walk out of here right now.
“I know this is tough to take son. They’re doing great prosthetics now though. You can get a brand new leg no problem at all. Uncle Sam will foot the bill, of course.”
“Foot the bill…” McCoy repeated after the doctor. He chuckled to himself, eventually turned into a full on belly laugh. The doctor didn’t seem to catch on to the joke.
2 thoughts on “Survivors: Fortunate Son”
Terrific premise and so well told. Excellent.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it.