14 Mar Desert Bats
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"Desert Bats"Written by Jarvis B. Chavez
Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
As I hurriedly stumbled down from the back of the troop transport, I fell on all fours onto the hard desert ground. The sun had just finished setting in the desolate canyon, and it was pitch black. I pulled on my night vision goggles and yanked on the straps to adjust them to better fit my head. I then looked in the direction of the ridge directly above me. I quickly scanned from left to right to see if I could spot anyone. For the moment, nothing was visible.
My name is Corporal Nick Bison, and when I had first joined the U.S. Army, I never envisioned myself fighting the supernatural, fighting… vampires! I was currently serving in Afghanistan with an infantry unit. We received orders to check out some intel indicating that the nearby hills were harboring enemy troops. These troops were reportedly sneaking back and forth across the border using the hills. We were supposed to check it out and report back to base. If we found large numbers of them, we had orders to radio in for an airstrike on their location.
We were a group of nine men. Our squad leader was Sargent Marinos. Corporal Savage and I were the next in charge. I pulled a clip out of my pocket and loaded my automatic handgun. I holstered it and checked my backpack to see if I had extra ammo for my M-16, and checked for my bowie knife. Luckily, it was all there. I peeked around the truck, and felt beads of sweat run down my face. There seemed to be no movement in the canyon.
The mission had been nothing but trouble from the start. Just before we reached the cursed hills, our radio operator informed us that there was some type of interference in the area and he could not send or receive any communications. Corporal Savage said that it was probably due to the different types of magnetic ores in the hills and rock formations. The Sarge agreed and made the decision to continue in spite of the situation. He said we would just have to do our reconnaissance and wait to get out of the area before we could radio back to base with our report. Translation: we were on our own! If we ran into any problem, we would be unable to request help or immediate evac. Maybe we should have taken that as a bad omen. Of course, we didn’t, and we hiked into the area as ordered.
We came to the foot of the range, and located a trail that took us deep into the heart of the mountain. The path led us to a fork in the road, where the path split in two. One led off toward a smaller canyon and the other to a larger one, according to our map.
We separated into teams. Corporal Savage would lead one team and the Sarge and I would lead another. Our walkie talkies didn’t work, so we agreed that just before dusk each team would send a man back to meet at the fork to update the other regarding what they had found, and await further orders.
My team was in charge of sweeping the smaller of the canyons. We fanned out in different directions. The canyon was curved, and we could not see the end of it. The Sarge sent two men on ahead to scout it out. The canyon walls were barren, with only a few shallow caves. They could only accommodate one man lying down in a fetal position.
A short while later, one of the soldiers came running towards the Sarge and myself. “Sarge,” he said, “we found an abandoned military truck at the very end of the canyon, sir!”
It was an old transport truck, that had a tarp covering the back. All of its tires had been ripped to shreds and the hood was open. Upon closer inspection, it appeared someone had broken the engine into pieces. This left us scratching our heads.
“What do you make of this, Sarge?” I asked. He rubbed his chin.
“Well, this is the same type of truck used by the enemy. The truck may have had some kind of mechanical problem and broke down. They couldn’t repair it, so they disabled it to make sure no one else could use it.”
It seemed like a reasonable explanation at the time. We looked through the truck and found nothing; it was clean. We spent the rest of the afternoon searching that canyon with a fine-toothed comb. It was just before sunset when all the men reported in, saying the canyon was all clear.
The Sarge walked over to me and said, “Get one of the men to go back to the fork, and wait for Corporal Savage’s messenger.” Then the Sarge turned towards the men and said, “The rest of you, take 20 and have some chow, while we wait for the Corporal’s report.”
We all took a seat on the ground and broke out our rations. I ripped open my package. Score! “I got a packet of jalapeno cheese spread with crackers!” I yelled out. The Sarge turned to me and said, “You lucky bastard.” The jalapeno cheese spread was a highly sought-after MRE item. As I was about to rip open package, there was a loud explosion. “What the hell was that?” I exclaimed. The Sarge jumped to his feet and looked towards the sky. A plume of smoke was rising in the distance.
“That’s coming from the next canyon,” remarked the Sarge.
“You mean Corporal Savage’s canyon,” I replied. We both looked at each other. I turned and yelled out, “Gear up, we are gonna go get Corporal Savage and his team!”
We were getting our gear on to leave. The Sarge decided we should store some of our heavier gear and our radio in the abandoned truck for now; we needed to travel light. We would return for our the rest of it later.
We made our way to the next canyon, following the smoke to a large cave opening at the top of the canyon wall. As we got closer, we saw something lying near the foot of the canyon. It was covered in black soot. I walked ahead, and immediately recognized it as one of our men face, lying down in the sand. It was PFC Kowalski! I turned him over and saw blood pouring from his abdomen. He then opened his eyes and let out a gasp. I yelled out, “He’s alive! Nadolny, get over here now!”
Our combat medic Private Nadolny ran over. He quickly pulled his pack open and retrieved bandages and an IV bag. The Sarge came over and kneeled down beside Kowalski. “Easy there, soldier,” he consoled. “Let Nadolny patch you up.” He leaned in closer. “Tell me what happened.”
Kowalski looked up at the Sarge.
“We decided to sweep the big cave first.” He pointed to the cave opening just above us. “There is a tunnel that leads down about ten feet to a lower level. That’s where we were attacked by a bunch of them. One of them sliced me open like a fish. The Corporal shot it in the face and grabbed me. We couldn’t hold them off, so the Corporal gave us orders to fall back. We were overwhelmed and started dropping like flies. The Corporal and I managed to make our way back towards the mouth of the cave. He then pulled out two grenades from his pack and said he could not let them get out of the cave. He pushed me out of the cave and he ran back towards the cave. Then there was a big explosion.”
“Christ!” the Sarge exclaimed.
“Corporal Savage took all those bastards with him,” I added. Then Kowalski just closed his eyes and fell limp.
Nadolny looked up at the Sarge. “He’s gone.”
There was a moment of silence.
“So, should we start digging for possible survivors, Sarge?” I remarked.
“Negative, Corporal Bison,” replied the Sarge. “This mission is over. We don’t have the time or equipment to dig or mourn for anyone! That explosion got our attention and may bring more of the enemy looking for their men. We will swing back to pick up the gear we stored in the abandoned truck. Luckily for us, the sun is setting now. We will use the cover of darkness to get out of here. We have the night vision equipment we can use. As soon as we clear the radio dead zone, I’ll call in for extraction.”
I turned towards the men and yelled out, “Okay, you heard the Sarge! Two minutes, people! Get hot!”
As I stood up, I saw the sun sink slowly below the horizon. All of a sudden, we felt the ground shake violently. We saw what looked like a black swarm of bees rocket out of one the smaller caves further down the canyon. This swarm then slowly maneuvered straight towards us. As this swarm drew closer we noticed it was not bees coming towards us. The Sarge raised his machinegun and yelled out, “Incoming!”
What happened next felt surreal! It all seemed to be happening in slow-motion. The things broke flight formation and landed on two legs. There were five of these creatures. One landed just in front of the Sarge, only a few feet away from me. It towered over the Sarge, who was six-foot-two. It was at least seven feet tall.
The thing was covered in a leathery-looking gray flesh. It was thin and lanky like a runner. It had a bulbous head with pointy ears, and long arms. A large pair of membranous bat-like wings sprang from its back. Its most memorable features, however, were its large, glowing red eyes, like that of a demon out of hell! For a second, I could’t move; I felt frozen in place.
The Sarge opened fire on the thing. At that point, my instincts must have kicked in because I raised my weapon and started shooting at it. Everyone started firing off their weapons. The machine gun fire was deafening. You could see all the rounds hit the thing. The creature fell back from the sheer impact of the rounds being shot from both the Sarge and me. Then, slowly, it got back up off the ground. It bared its long fangs and stared us down. It looked pissed! It let out an ear-piercing shriek. All our rounds had done nothing to the thing! It immediately leaped toward the Sarge. The thing pulled the machine gun out of his hands and tossed it aside. It then grabbed the captain’s head, pulled up on it, and forced his head back with a loud crack. His body fell to the ground.
The thing then turned towards me. It ran at me and grabbed me around my ribs and squeezed. I felt a shooting pain run right through me. I involuntarily dropped my M-16. The next thing I knew, the beast leapt toward the sky and we were airborne. I quickly pulled out my sidearm and rammed it into the creature’s mouth, discharging it several times. The bat’s head snapped back violently, and its body shook like it was having some kind of seizure. We came crashing to the ground like a ton of bricks. I managed to roll clear of the bat. We had landed on top of the hill opposite the mouth of the cave. I saw the creature trying to get up. It was doubled over as if it was in pain. It was holding its head with its two hands. It stumbled around like it was drunk, and then wandered to the edge of the hill and fell to the canyon floor.
As I looked over the edge to see it lying lifeless on the canyon floor, I saw another one of those things sink its fangs into the neck of Private Watson. The rest of these things look like they were actually feasting on the flesh of my team. I turned away and tried to think of what to do next. I need to warn the Army. I got up and headed in the direction of the canyon, where we had stored the rest of the equipment. As I ran, I looked back occasionally to see if I was being followed. I was able to double-time it back to the canyon by being able to go over the hill instead of around it, like we had done earlier. I managed to climb down the canyon wall safely. When I reached the truck, I grabbed a radio and an M-16 we had left behind.
I was going to stick to the Sarge’s original plan to use the night vision goggles to help me get out of the canyon. My mind was still spinning from everything I had just witnessed. Were these things really vampires, like from the movies? What a time to be caught without a cross or a clove of garlic! They are referred to in legend as the undead, meaning they are practically invulnerable and can’t be killed easily. They didn’t go down with machine gun fire, that’s for sure. Their hides seemed to be quite thick, and tough, like an elephant’s. However, the bat that grabbed me seemed to have felt the rounds I let off in its mouth. Could it be that they have delicate tissue inside its head and mouth like we do? I didn’t see blood spurt out of its head, but maybe that tough hide of his kept the rounds from blasting through. It was something to think about.
I cautiously maneuvered my way down the canyon. I would only stop to take cover behind rocks or the occasional tree. I saw the bats fly overhead a couple of times, but I was never spotted by them. I also would hear their high-pitched squeal echoing off the canyon walls. This made it difficult to pinpoint the direction the sound was coming from. I used to think the people of this region were just overly superstitious. They would tell fanciful tales of jinn and ghouls living deep in the desert. I guess all legends have their basis in fact. In any event, these things did not show themselves until after the sun set. That was the one part of the legend I was hoping was true. If I could make it until dawn, I had a good chance of surviving.
My adrenaline must have been pumping at full blast. I swear I don’t even remember how I got to the foot of the mountain range. I saw the open desert in front of me. Alright, I thought to myself. I pulled out the radio and fired it up, hoping that I could get a signal out. Shit, nothing but static. That was okay, I rationalized. All I had to do was walk further away from the mountains and I should have been able to call out.
I swung the radio over my shoulder and started to walk. The sky started to turn to a light blue; the sun was about to rise. I walked for another 15 minutes. I again fired up the radio. This time I got a signal. I immediately got a female voice. Holy shit, I thought, it’s working!
I provided my squad’s info. “All of the members of my squad are dead!” I said. “I repeat, all members of my squad are dead, killed by enemy fire. Confirming a force of 50 hiding in caves. Immediate extraction needed. Requesting airstrike at the following location…”
I pulled out the map that had the coordinates. I read them off to her. Just before I read off the last number, I heard an intense whooshing sound coming from behind me. I turned and saw one of those things flying towards me at incredible speed. I dropped the radio and reached for my sidearm, but I was too late. It rammed into me with full force.
I awoke on the ground of a cave. I felt a searing pain coming from my neck. I put my hand to it and felt a huge gash. One look at it confirmed it was covered in blood. Suddenly, I heard movement just in front of me. I tried to get up but found I could barely move. Then there was a hissing noise that seemed to be coming from all around me.
A moment later, a ghastly form walked out of the darkness into the moonlight that was coming in through some opening in the cave. It was a female version of these bats. It had breasts hanging from its chest. She was smaller and thinner than her male counterparts. Behind her were two taller bats. They flanked her on both sides like they were her bodyguards. I sensed many others around me even though I could not see them.
All of a sudden, they stopped and peered at the ceiling of the cave. That’s when I heard it, an explosion. Leave it up to the Army, when in doubt about a coordinate, to just bomb the whole mountain down. I let out a laugh. I pointed my finger towards the sky and said, “That’s my people.” I then hit my chest with the open palm of my hand. “Hey, queen of the damned, let’s see you guys get up from this.” I gave her the finger. She looked at my finger and seemed to realize what it meant. She bore he fangs and hissed at me. That’s when the ceiling came crashing down on us.
“Colonel Austin,” I heard over the radio, “this is Major Trevor. We just completed the bombardment. Our intel was correct, sir.
“Yes, sir, I will get a small recovery team out there before nightfall. Don’t worry sir, we will comb through all the debris for any valuable enemy intel. We will stay there all night if we have to.
“Yes, sir, I am going out personally to take command of the search. No, sir, I foresee no problem with this operation.”
Credit: Jarvis B. Chavez