They'll come at dawn. They always come at dawn.
They've been coming for three weeks solid, and we've been back stepping every day. We lost Outpost Charlie last night, screaming on the radio for hours. Command said sit tight. The radios kept transmitting after Charlie went down, picked up after they went silent. Not screaming anymore, just whispering on the channel, voices sliding past each other, overlapping. Someone took a 9mil to the radio last night, after they started whispering about how they died. It's fine. We've got a spare set.
We're down to a platoon and some medics. Word is, we've been recast as a MASH unit. Funny, I remember that show; none of the kids do. Don't think we'll be coming back for syndication though. Supplies are slim. Ammo's down to the heavier grade of rock. But we got MREs. Gotta to love the army. If we get hit today, we're screwed. But we got enough prepackaged ravioli to make barricades out of.
The boys are tired. The kind of bone tired where they're barely there sometimes. And that's dangerous, considering we're all armed. Medics have started doing this funny thing where they find the guys who haven't slept in three days, stick 'em in the neck with a syringe, and put 'em in the infirmary till they wake up. Real funny. But now they're giving me the eye, and I know I'm on the list. Fuck it.
All we've got left in terms of real firepower is a couple mortars, a stock of grenades that were issued for the Korean War, and the Ontologist. Skinny guy, Oxford wingtips, and narrow-framed glasses. He's either scary as all hell, or kinda pathetic. I used to pick on guys like him in high-school. Chess Club types, you know? He's been around for about a month, and I haven't heard him say six words. Just stares at you like you're made of glass. Like you've got writing on your forehead. Like you're already dead. Spooky little fucker. I wanna stuff him in a locker.
Command says it's coming, and we're on the block. Armor's inbound, but that's just icing on the cake. Funny how little Howitzers do to something that's not supposed to exist. Just kinda make it angry. 105mm rounds are the proverbial glove slap. Should be a hell of a show.
Captain says get locked and loaded, and warm up the trucks. He's not stupid. Things get hot, we're on the trucks and riding like hell. Man's setting himself up for court-martial and a sanctioned gunshot. Smart man doesn't see himself living past this. Well, that's up to someone outside our command structure, who has a taste for choir music. And I haven't seen him down here with us.
Ontologist moseyed over to the contact line a while ago. Real nonchalant like. Hopped up on some sandbags with a book, keeps reading it while we mill around trying to find rounds for all these toys we know won't do a damn thing. Just sits up there, like it's all fine. Little fucker gives me the creeps. Night rolls in like a wet blanket, half fog. Can't see for shit. And the Ontologist starts eyeing the horizon. Re-crosses his legs, and turns a page. Not a care in the world.
It starts real dramatic like. Like someone just unzipped the sky, showed us all what's been hiding behind the clouds all this time. Violent purple light from above, like a rave party without the music. I can't help but stare. It's fucking amazing, in it's own way. There's a gap in the sky. It's about at cloud layer, I think. Can't be sure. But it's a gap, keeps growing and growing, like it's being pulled open. Weird light. Something's wrong with it, some texture to it that drives your eyes crazy. My sergeant's got Ray-Bans on and it's night out, except under that damn gap. Crazy shit. Captain's yelling loud, say's we're gonna bug out real quick. Supplies are mostly loaded, with enough space left to seat about half of us. The smart guys are slipping carabiners onto the trucks, gonna hang right off the sides. Says a lot about a guy, knows when to run. And here I am, still training my rifle on the sky, like some idiot. Captain says we need just another minute. I'm close enough to hear the truck motor make this sound like a wood-chipper eating itself. I'm guessing we need more than a minute.
And then it all goes wrong. The sky's not zipped open, it's fucking bleeding. And the blood isn't pooling - it's walking. And you'd better believe it's coming this way. Captain's screaming at someone to fix the goddamn truck, but everyone else is quiet. Everyone's just looking at this thing that's coming. And boy, is it coming. And then it stops. I don't know how I can tell you it's looking down when it doesn't have eyes, but it is. It comes to a complete halt and just looks down. And wouldn't you believe it - there's the fucking Ontologist, a hundred yards out, in front of this fucking thing, just looking up at it.
You ever see a guy hit by a bus? That's what I'm expecting when the things pulls up an arm and starts to swing. And then it freezes. And then it stops existing. It doesn't so much fade out, as it unmakes itself right there. It's like seeing an old VHS tape played in reverse while the film burns. Like a Polaroid folding itself into nothing. My eyes go screwy watching it, and I hear someone hurl. I hope it's not me.
Sky doesn't do the crazy rave lights anymore. Just zips right up, nice and cloudy. And the Ontologist walks back towards the camp, easy as can be. Nods to the Captain, and - I'm about to lose it - goes to his bunk. Just easy like that. Not a care in the world.
"Son," the Captain looks deflated."What the hell just happened?"
The Ontologist looks back calmly. Distracted, maybe annoyed. "I reminded it that it didn't exist. Simple, really."
He looks over the rest of us for half a second, and that's when it clicks. His eyes aren't calm behind the frames, they're clear. So clear it cuts when he looks right at you. He's walking away like it's Sunday morning, not a care in the world. I can hear him humming, real low, and I wish I could shoot him. It's Don't Fear the Reaper, tuned for skinny bastards in dress shoes.
No one else gets the joke.
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This story is an absolute GEM.
Written to stave off brain cell death during a college philosophy course. The writing perspective threw me for a while, but I'm proud of the end result. Planning Axiology next!
Slicked up that final section.
I had that sone stuck in my head the other day.
I had that sone stuck in my head the other day.