Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
Wind blew across the dunes as the Sun bore down on the desert sands. Three men staggered across the parched earth, mildly delirious from dehydration and hunger.
Sergeant McKay squinted his eyes toward an object far off in the distance.
“Corporal Langley, do you see something up ahead, or are my eyes playing tricks on me?” Sergeant McKay asked the corporal as he wiped sweat from his brow.
“Sir, I’m not sure.” Corporal Langley muttered.
McKay looked around and noticed Private Barnes was no longer bringing up the rear.
“Corporal! Where the fuck is Barnes?” McKay bellowed.
Langley looked around, then turned to meet McKay’s gaze.
“He’s gone Sir.” Langley answered as he set pace for the object off in the distance.
So many good men…McKay thought as he matched Langley’s pace.
As the two men drew nearer, it became apparent that the object was the entrance to a desert village.
“Well, would you look at that sarge.” Langley said as broke into a trot.
Who the hell stuck a village out here in the middle of the desert. McKay wondered as they approached the town.
The two men entered the village cautiously, their eyes peeled and their bodies tense. An eerie silence filled the air as they walked slowly, inspecting their surroundings. The men reached the edge of the small village without seeing a single living thing.
“Does this seem weird to you?” Langley asked the sergeant.
“Weird ain’t the half of it brother.” Sergeant McKay answered, clearly feeling unsettled by the lack of people.
“Sergeant, look!” Langley yelled.
McKay shifted his gaze to a small shack that Langley was pointing at. He caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye.
“What did you see?” McKay asked.
“It looked like a child. They ran past that shack over there and into that building.” Langley informed him, his finger pointing at a two story, windowless building.
“Let’s move, at the very least we need food and water. We aren’t going to last much longer out here if we don’t find any.” McKay said, moving to take the lead.
“Copy that.” Langley said as he fell in behind McKay.
The two men approached the run down building and entered through the wooden front door. Immediately a foul smell attacked their nostrils.
“What is that smell?” Langley hissed as they cleared the first room.
“Stay focused Corporal.” McKay said as they moved to the adjacent room.
A rustling sound could be heard coming from behind a closet door at the far end of the room. They moved quietly across the concrete floor and stopped in front of the closet. The sound stopped. McKay motioned for Langley to open the door as he readied his finger over the trigger of his rifle. Langley opened the door and pulled back to give McKay room for a clean look into the closet.
“There’s nothing in here.” McKay announced.
Langley peeked into the closet and appeared just as confused as McKay.
“We just heard a sound from in here.” Langley said, shaking his head in frustration.
A loud bang came from somewhere upstairs.
“This seems…off sergeant.” Langley said, his unease growing rapidly.
“Shake it off corporal, your mind is playing tricks on you.” McKay barked in response.
Coming from the guy that thought Barnes was still with us for two days after he disappeared, right. Langley thought as he followed McKay up the stairs.
As the two men ascended the stairs, the putrid smell became overpowering. McKay gagged and covered his face with his sleeve.
Langley snapped his head to the right of the staircase as he heard a child giggle. He watched in horrific disbelief as a small girl with brown hair, wearing a white dress, disappeared into a wall. The wall turned to bright red, then immediately converted back to its original dark grey.
“Sarge, did you see that?” Langley asked, not daring to take his eyes off the wall.
Silence followed his question.
“Sarge?” Langley asked, before turning to look where he had last seen sergeant McKay.
McKay was nowhere within his line of sight.
Langley heard another giggle coming from a room to the left of the staircase. He shivered as his brain tried to rationalize what to do.
Fuck it. He thought as he descended the stairs and quickly exited the building.
“Langley, where the hell have you been?” McKay asked angrily.
Langley stopped as he stepped out of the building. He looked at McKay with a confused expression.
“Sir, why did you come back outside? I turned around and you were gone!” Langley said angrily.
“What the hell are you talking about? I thought you followed me into the shack and when I looked back you were gone. I looked around, then I walked out to find you leaving this fucking building!” McKay yelled as he pointed at the building Langley had just walked out of.
“Bullshit. You ran when that girl disappeared into the wall.” Langley said accusingly.
“I didn’t see any girl. You need your head checked corporal.” McKay said, staring daggers at Langley.
McKay turned away from Langley and began to speak.
“Barnes, keep an eye on our friend here.” McKay said, sticking his thumb in Langley’s direction.
Barnes? You gotta be kidding me. Langley thought as he stated at McKay.
“Sarge, there’s no one there. Barnes is dead.” Langley said, as he began to question his own sanity.
“Barnes is not dead, he’s standing right here. Quit screwing around. You two are on me, let’s check the next building.” McKay said as he headed towards the closest building.
Langley shook his head and followed after McKay.
McKay hustled into the entrance of the next building and Langley followed suit. As soon as Langley set foot in the door, he stood face to face with a large dog. The dog had enormous teeth and dark matted fur. It growled at Langley, who in turn backpedaled out the same way he came in.
“Damn it corporal, quit screwing around!” McKay yelled from inside.
Langley poked his head back in to see that the dog was gone.
Maybe I really am losing my mind. Langley wondered as he entered the building for the second time.
“Help!” McKay yelled from upstairs.
Langley sprinted up the stairs to find McKay in a standoff with a tall man wearing a turban and shorts.
The man smiled and let out a laugh before disappearing into thin air.
“Did you see that one asshole?” Langley asked.
McKay looked at Langley before suddenly falling motionless on the floor.
“Sarge!” Langley yelled as he ran over to him.
Langley lifted McKay’s head and suddenly felt a wave of dizziness come over him. His eyes fluttered shut as he lost his balance and slumped over on the floor.
Langley’s eyelids felt like lead as he struggled to open them. He could vaguely hear voices as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
His lips were dry and his skin felt as though it was on fire. A groan escaped his lips as a headache grew from a dull ache to an avalanche of pain.
“Langley! Wake up, come on buddy!” A voice yelled off in the distance.
“How long has he been on fluids?” A familiar voice asked.
“Since we found them, it’s 50-50 right now. The desert is unforgiving.” A different voice said.
Langley’s eyelids shot open.
“Holy shit, welcome back corporal.” Sergeant McKay said, a big smile spread across his face.
“Thought you were a goner” He continued.
Langley looked around at his surroundings. His arm had an IV with a fluid bag attached. He looked left and right. Barnes was laying on a bed next to him. Langley looked up at McKay, a look of pure confusion plastered on his face.
“Ah, I bet you’re wondering what happened. Allow me to explain.” McKay said, sensing Langley’s confusion.
“You and Barnes here were driving a supply truck to a town north of base camp. As luck would have it, you ran smack dab into a bit of an ambush.” McKay informed him.
Langley just stared.
“Anyways, somehow you two got away on foot and lost your pursuers. Unfortunately for you, you guys got lost too.” McKay continued.
Langley shook his head.
“No sarge. I was with you and…” Langley said frantically.
Sergeant McKay raised his hand to silence him.
“You guys were lost in the desert for three days before we found you. When we got to you, you were screaming about dogs, children, and all kinds of strange things. You were hallucinating. Three days without water will do that to you. You’re lucky to be alive.” McKay said as the pieces began to come together in Langley’s mind.
Langley looked over at Barnes.
“Is he gonna make it?” Langley asked.
“We think so, he’s tough as nails.” McKay answered as he turned towards the door.
“Get well soon corporal.” McKay said as he walked towards the door.
McKay stopped before opening the door and turned to his left.
“Do you think they’ll buy the story?” McKay asked someone Langley couldn’t see.
McKay looked intently at the wall as if he was listening to someone speak.”I sure hope so!” McKay said with a laugh as he walked through the door, leaving Langley to his thoughts.
Credit : Charles Jonathon Truax
Dedicated to Sr.
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