I’ve faced gunfire. I’ve faced mobs. Fire. Natural disasters. War. Pestilence.
And the thing that scares me the most is putting a part of myself out there. Writer’s Digest has several competitions every year, and I decided to enter one. And that’s frightening. I mean, here I am, a self published author, no real idea who I’m going up against, and I’m tossing a piece of my soul out there. It’s a simple story, but it might as well be a baby and I’m tossing into a cage full of starving hounds. It will be torn apart, every word and period analyzed, and with luck, it won’t be chewed up and spit out.
I almost chickened out.
But as we said in the military, “No Guts, no Glory.” I reckon the worst things that can happen here is I’m out thirty bucks.
So, with out further ado, here’s the entry. A little story (which if I’m administered truth serum, tortured, and threatened, that I might admit is true) which I call SOMETHING OUT THERE. Enjoy,
SOMETHING OUT THERE
I sipped my beer and looked across the table at my fellow Military Police. I was out for a rare evening beer with them at the NCO club. Sergeant-Major Catlin, the ranking enlisted man in our MP Battalion, had joined us. It was a little uncomfortable having him there. But the discomfort was negated by the fact he’d been buying the beer.
He was busy reading a newspaper and ignoring us except to yell for more beer anytime ours started getting low. But then he folded the paper and looked across the table at me.
“Sgt. Diaz, aren’t you from the San Luis Valley?”
I nodded. “Yes, Sergeant Major. Why?”
He pushed the paper over to me. I looked at the newspaper. “UFO BUZZES CRESTONE!” the headline proclaimed. I pushed it back towards him.
“I’m sure that was the most normal thing that’s happened in Crestone in some time,” I assured him.
“It says here that the Valley is a hotbed for UFO activity.”
I shrugged. “So they say. I’ve spent thousands of hours under those skies. When people are reporting things in the sky, I must have been looking the other way. I’ve never seen anything in those skies I couldn’t explain.”
All the MPs chuckled. It doesn’t help your rep one bit to be from a place where “weird” things happen. And it doesn’t help when everyone else sees things, and you don’t. And you’re supposed to be one of the best detectives on Ft. Riley!
“So you’ve never had anything weird happen you couldn’t explain?” he asked.
I sipped my beer, and then put it down. The beer was getting warm, and since American beer starts tasting terrible when warm, I figured if I wanted a cold one, I’d best tell my story.
“I didn’t say that, but listen, if anyone ever asks, this story never happened. Deal?”
Everyone said, “Deal.”
I took one more sip of the warm beer and started my story.
“It was Iraq, nineteen ninety-two. The Cease Fire was in effect following the Gulf War, but we were still camped deep in that country, right outside an empty Iraqi airbase. The place had a huge ammo dump that we’d be blowing up within a few days, and we were guarding it carefully.
“One night, my buddy Jonesy and I, decided we’d go out and keep watch. All the other MPs were dog tired, so we decided to give everyone a bit of a break and take the night watch. We checked our weapons, communications, NVGs (Night Vision Goggles), and everything was good to go. We drove out, parked, and sat on top of the Humvee, watching, chatting and quietly passed the night.
“It was nice to spend some time with a friend. We hadn’t had much of chance to catch up for a few weeks. We were parked just a dozen meters back from a road that bordered the ammo dump. We had good fields of fire in all directions if needed, and could see hundreds of meters in all directions, to include across the ammo dump. There was no moon, but we had a beautiful star-filled sky. For being in the middle of a war zone, it was sure peaceful.
“Along about one-thirty in the morning, we heard someone walking along the roadway. We hushed, looking and listening. Our first thoughts were some local or a soldier hunting for souvenirs. I remember turning on my NVGs, and I started looking in the direction of the sound. The NVGs turned the pitch dark Iraqi night into a bright black, green, and white landscape. I could easily see the abandoned guard shack a few dozen meters away, the fence that ringed the ammo dump and the small man-made hills that covered the ammo dump warehouses.
“But there was one thing I wasn’t seeing. That was whoever was walking around out there.
“By now, the footsteps were receding, and my first thought was that someone had slipped past us.
“Then I heard them stop, turn, and start coming back.
“I jumped behind the M-60 machine gun and pointed it in the direction of the noise.
“Jonesy already had his M-16 ready. He jumped down from the Humvee, and whispered, ‘Cover me!’ He quickly ran to a position where he could surprise whoever it was walking along the road.
“The steps got closer and louder. Each second, they drew closer and closer to where Jonesy was crouching. Then the footsteps sounded like they were passing right in front of him. Slowly they receded into the distance. About a hundred meters or so down the road they stopped, turned and came back. Again, they got louder and louder, passed Jonesy, and kept going down the road.
“Jonesy ran back and looked up at me in bewilderment. ‘There’s no one there. They went right by me, and there’s no one there.’
“He relieved me from the machine gun. I grabbed my rifle and ran out to the road. I looked up and down the road, and especially in the direction of the footsteps. I could not see who or what was making them. A man walking down the road would have been as easy to spot as a man walking across an empty parking lot in the middle of the day.
“Again, the footsteps repeated the pattern. Going down, turn, and came back towards me.
“They got closer, sounding louder with every heartbeat. I brought my M-16 up, the butt of the rifle cradled into my shoulder, the muzzle pointed at the sound.
“They came closer, louder, and now they sounded as if they were mere yards away. If someone was there, I was in no danger of missing if I fired. I’d made no effort to hide, and had taken my position directly in the path it seemed to be traveling. My weapon was pointing right at the source of the sound. It got closer to me. Now it was right in front of me. I could have butt stroked it with the rifle; it was that close.
“And then, it was walking away from me.
“I stared after the sound, listening as it marched away.
“What in the world. There was no logical explanation for what I’d just experienced.
“And then I felt a chill run through me as my mind supplied an answer. It was an answer that I entertained for several seconds, and for several seconds I was close to real panic as my mind brushed up against something ancient and terrifying.
“Come on, part of me said. That answer can’t possibly be right.
“But another part said, There’s sixty-five thousand years of human history that states there could be something to the idea that of a ghost.
“Then the other, more rational part of me said, You’re joking. There is no scientific explanation right now. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one. And it sure as hell doesn’t mean it was a ghost. They don’t exist!
“I lowered the rifle and slipped it back onto safe. For a minute, I stared down the road, listening to the footsteps. In a minute, they would stop, turn, and walk the path back up the road.
“I stood there dumbfounded, faced with an answer that made no sense but hit all the checkmarks. It just couldn’t be.
“The footsteps stopped, turned, and were headed back.
“’Screw this!’ I said.
“Thoroughly spooked, I ran back to the Humvee and got on top with Jonesy. We didn’t say anything for several minutes as the pattern continued to repeat itself over and over.
“After several long minutes, Jonesy said, ‘Will, you know what that sounds like?’
“I nodded. I knew what Jonesy was thinking.
“I told him it sounded like someone walking their guard duty, and he agreed.
“After about an hour, the footsteps stopped. The rest of the night passed peacefully. When the sun came up, we examined the area, and the only footprints we found were ours.”
The waitress brought a fresh round of beer to the table and placed a cold Coors in front of me. I took a sip of it.
“I know there’s a logical explanation to that night,” I said after a minute. “I just haven’t found it yet.”
“Did anyone else report anything?” Sergeant-Major asked.
I took a breath. “When we were relieved and got back to the tents, Mac came up to us. He’d run the team the night before. He comes up to us asked if we’d heard anything odd.
“You mean like someone walking back and forth like they were walking a guard post, only no one was there?” I asked.
“Of course not,” Jonesy and I answered at the same time.