By Rhea Salas
Michael Stone has been a Marine since he was 21 years old, and has dedicated the last 15 years to its service. Working his way to the top, Mike found himself as Sergeant in his platoon, constantly being sent out into Cambodia to search for any suspicious activities that had been reported in the area recently. It was suspected that there may be a tie between the political leaders and the leaders of Iraq.
Mike was once more on a mission with his group of 10 in the deepest jungles of Cambodia, scouting out the area, taking his men on hour-long treks through the tropical jungle of unloving heat and heavy humidity. The sounds of animal calls, whistles and screaming was something one got used to when trouping through untamed bushes, and no one ever left alone, minding the strict buddy rule. The heat was unrelenting, showing no compassion for her guest’s comfort, with insects so aggressive that they could come and carry a man off while he slept.
There were no startling noises, no sounds of warning or creeping intuitions of danger. There was only quietness among the chatter of tropical wildlife, the type of quiet that you would find if you were in a large city such as New York. She beckoned the men to relax, comforting them with dancing foliage, sweet smells of honey and dampness flowing into their bodies like an intoxicating drug. Each one began to give in, slowly moving from tree-leaning, to setting down their packs of equipment and guns, then sinking down to the moss-covered floor on heavily piled branches and debris. Something was bringing them to such an unnatural, relaxed state, and Stone could sense a change in the air. What is this?
No one knew of the mysteries that have been talked about in these woods, and being American Marines, they pushed the gossip aside as old woman’s nonsense. No one listened to the warnings about how the forest comes alive, how She devours anyone that enters her domain as a stranger and to steer clear away from the middle of the Holy Wood.
Stone sat in a small hovel that was opened in the roots of the Great Trees, putting himself half in its protective shell, covering his back with a hard wall of wood and his head from the sudden onset of heavy rain that would happen with no warning, going from hot and humid in the sun, to sudden flash floods from the fat drops of water that would suddenly open up above their heads in a down pour.
Watching his men unnaturally fall asleep one by one, Stone’s nerves tensed up and sensations of his familiar tingling in his spine warning him of danger. He jumped up, yelling at his men to get down and be on the look-out while he searched the area for their potential dangers. But his men didn’t respond to his orders, only sinking further into the ground and slowly being covered by wild foliage on the forest floor. Mike tried to shake them, running to each man and abrasively man-handling them in an attempt to rile them up, only to have no response to his efforts.
Jumping up, he crouched down low, attempting to find the location of danger and what to do about it. Running, he jumped from tree to tree, roots to roots, rocks to rocks. He began to hear running next to him, but each time he would try to find the source, nothing would appear. No clues were left for possible answers, no prints or even a visual made on what could be out there. Stone darted from bush to tree, making his way up the hill north of his men. Looking back down from where he came, there was still a glimpse of his men lying among the greenery despite the light going darker.
“No man is left behind,” thought Stone. Pushing forward and upward, Stone came into a haven of giant trees somehow holding together the crumbling stones of an ancient and forgotten temple. Carvings into the stones displayed pictures of tropical animals dressed up in finery of some far off forgotten world. Monuments that once stood tall and proud, now lay in crumbled decay of the forgotten ruins. What was once mighty and proud was now hidden among the trees, no longer worshipping the temple gods, but the colossal trees that now protect it among their roots.
Stone heard the sound again, stopping dead still and listening with his deeply trained instincts; but again, nothing gave itself away.
He crept along the edges of the walls, winding between the brown and green trees, plants and bushes that overgrew in the dense temple foliage. Monkeys could be heard high in the trees, singing and screaming their songs to each other, or perhaps they were screaming out their rage at Stone’s intrusion upon their territory. Silent but slinky sounds of slithering and sliding could be heard behind and around Stone, while night swept in with a powerful fist, overtaking any visual Stone could use. Sounds so loud and obnoxious, screeching and shattering any space of quiet that could bring rest and comfort. Louder and louder it got, moving shadows swirling and rustling around Stone while he stood close to the fingers of the trees which had protected this temple, and hopefully him as well. Not being a man to easily spook, Stone had the determination for the discovery of reality, among tales of magic and forest consumption.
A sudden quiet followed the hidden moon, an eerie quiet after all the racket of the last 10 minutes. No longer were there screams, no longer slithering or whipping of wings, swooping objects that are hidden from sight among shadows of the devil’s darkness. No whisper, no faint sounds of far-off species that awaken in the night. Not one sound broke through the wind.
What once looked like mighty trees protecting a crumbled stone temple had now turned into faces of revenge. The loving embrace of Mother Nature circled around the stone walls, swirling her objects around and around without a sound, defending the sacred area against the intrusion of an outsider. Stone began to move again, slowly on one leg, then the other. He could no longer see any visuals, no longer pin point the direction of sounds which had died a sudden death and moving on instinct and gut feelings. He had left his equipment down in the camp, only grabbing his needed protection and weapons. He could remember every detail of his entrance, however, and began to move his way there. A sudden crack in the night gave Stone only a moment’s notice of potential danger, but no warning of where. The floor gave way under his feet, sucking him into the warm, black oblivion of a deep unknown.
“Officer, where is your leader?” asked General Lynn. The platoon of men had been called in for a formal debriefing session after their sudden arrival. “Sergeant Stone is missing, and all you women can tell me nothing of his where abouts?” He yelled.
“No sir,” spoke the second in command, “we have no idea where Stone ran off to. We were just getting ready to set up camp for the night and settle down until daylight, when Stone just up and took off.”
Another solider spoke up, determined to explain the circumstances. “Sir, we tried to call him back to us, but he had a wild look in his eye, grabbed up his gun and took off up the hill, sir. We followed him, but alone with no packs gave Stone the advantage of running up hill. We lost him sir. We yelled and called, but could find no sign of him. It’s like he disappeared off the face of the earth.”
“Send men out there to look then,” Yelled General Lynn. “If he went AWOL, we have to find him now, before he is found by the enemy. He has been a solider since he was born, and I lose no soldiers!”
“It is so sad! They say that he has been missing for 6 months now. AWOL they had originally thought, but then a local discovered his remains down in a cavern. Looks like it collapsed right under him. They said it took two weeks before they could uncover him completely of all the debris. What makes it even worse, is on the night he went missing his wife had called and gave notice of her delivery of their first son. He never even knew about it before he died.”
“Unfortunate! Waste of a good solider if you ask me. What happened for him to up and leave his men like that?” questioned one of the gentlemen.
“Don’t really know. The report said that his men were making camp when Stone just up and took off up the hill, disappearing in the shadows. Something buzzed up his skirt and sent him to his death. None of his men reported that there had been anything to lead them to believe Stone was losing it, but they noticed that he had stayed real quiet and seemed agitated that whole day. Just came otta the blue!”
Folding up his paper, the retired General Lynn stood up from his chair in the Care Home, gave his good nights to the two men at the table, and ambled his way to his bed, lost in his own thoughts of the lost comrade.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing