Upon being found guilty of Glorious' death, Chet Fikes had a choice: he could go to prison or he could go to Vietnam. Marc, Glorious' brother, is not going to let the judgment rest. He joins the Marines in an effort to find Chet and do what the Arkansas justice system failed to do.
When Marc finds Chet cowering in a bombed-out bunker, Marc can't believe his good fortune. However, luck runs out on both men and their platoon when the sun sets at mid-morning and it begins to snow.
Patricia Snodgrass lives in rural North East Texas with her husband of twenty years, their son two dogs and three cats. She holds a Master’s Degree from Texas A&M University, Texarkana. Patricia has published three other works, “Mercer’s Bayou,” “Marilyn” and “Destiny’s Mark.” She also contributed text and research to two comic art books. She has written numerous short stories, essays and book reviews. Glorious is her first Mundania book.
Fifty klicks southwest of Da Nang
Marc Wilkins was point man. He slogged through knee deep black mud which sucked and smacked around inside his waterlogged boots. He grumbled to himself as he and his small patrol marched through heavy rain-soaked elephant grasses, muck and mire. Each step a supplication to the God of the Unknown Soldier to keep his feet clear of trip wires and pongee sticks.
Marc’s fatigues clung to his back, compliments of the dense humidity that surrounded him like a wet woolen coat. His sinuses burned in a way that reminded him of a hot August afternoon during hay harvesting season. Before he’d joined up, he supplemented his allowance by hauling hay, and for a moment, the memory of gently rolling foothills and forests came to mind. He hated the thought and put it away as he blew snot several feet from his nose, the clear liquid spinning like gossamer threads into the muck swirling around his feet.
He wasn’t ordered to go out into the front and hunt Charlie. He volunteered, although that request was initially denied. His first orders landed him a sweet gig in Camp Zama where he spent his time jacking off as a helicopter mechanic. If he was smart he could quietly spend the rest of his tour there, sport fucking girls dressed as geishas, drinking sake and repairing bullet riddled gunships.
That wasn’t what he went to Nam for and found the entire gig frustrating. And as far as Marc could tell, he had been aptly rewarded for joining up instead of having to be hunted down. But he didn’t want the reward. He didn’t want to be comfy and he didn’t want to chase girls. He could have done that at home. He had no particular patriotic ambitions. He wasn’t so enamored of his country he was willing to die for it.
His reasons for coming to Nam were personal. Very Personal and it burned inside of him like an over-stoked boiler. Chet Fikes was here. And well within shooting range, too. That’s all that mattered to him. That and the timing, of course. Finding his sister’s killer in the rubble of that burned out firebase, whimpering and wetting himself like an overgrown child was the greatest stroke of luck he’d had yet. Although he wanted to with all his heart, Marc couldn’t just step up and blow the cracker’s head off. It had to look like an accident. At the very least, it had to look like friendly fire.
Yes, the death of Marc’s sister was called tragic by all the good talking white folk in Overton. They clucked their tongues and shook their pasty heads; said it was a shame. Glorious was a good girl, they said. A sweet child. But she was in heaven now with the Lord, right? She was in a better place. She’d never suffer again. But that was precious little consolation, and all the sugar coated platitudes in the world didn’t change the fact that his baby sister was the victim of a hate crime.
And what made it doubly bad was the fact that Chet’s miserable piece of shit daddy had ties with the Arkansas legislature due to a brother who had bigger ambitions than hocking low rent cars (It’s newsed!) and trying to revive the grandeur of the Old South on the weekends. Because of Uncle Warbucks, Chet got the travel and adventure tour of Southeast Asia, care of Uncle Sam, instead of waiting out the clock in Tucker Max.
Marc grumbled under his breath, blew out another thin strand of snot into the muck and slogged deeper into the swamp. He glanced at the man flitting in and out of his peripheral vision. Hatred seethed and boiled in his gut. Step on a land mine, please, God help you, Marc thought as he gripped his rifle tighter. Trip on some fool wire and get the worst and last blow job of your life. Please, Lord, please.
Marc’s men flitted among the shadows like half seen specters. The remains of the small patrol consisted of eight men. Two lance corporals--Chet being among them--one sergeant, the rest privates and Handy Dan the Radioman. They’d lost Kerry O’Brien, their medic during the firefight two days ago. Marc scowled at the thought. He looked down at the filthy greenish brown water swirling around his boots, half afraid of what might be lurking underneath. On a day like today you just know O’Brien’s dance card would have been full.
There were originally twelve in his patrol but Charlie whittled them down to four. Marc and his men had picked up four survivors from the bombed out fire base two days earlier, partially making up for the men lost to booby traps, VC and bush snakes. He had seen them in the rec hall in Da Nang a few weeks before he was deployed, but too much beer, joint smoke and music blaring from the rundown juke box in the corner didn’t do much to help him keep track of names. He didn’t worry about it too much. He’d been in several different units since his sojourn in January, and after a while faces faded in and out of his memory, like ghosts on a train.
The one face Marc didn’t forget was Chet’s. He recognized the scruffy tow-headed boy instantly, although he was gaunt, his fatigues clinging to him like the rags off a scarecrow, his eyes wide and haunted. He was squatting in the far corner of the firebase when he went in to do a sweep, found Chet shaking like a wet Lab and pissing so hard he filled his boots.
The men were standing outside the base, smoking and shooting the shit when Marc happened to come across him. He was surprised at his great stroke of luck. It was as if God himself set Chet down before him and said, “Knock yourself out, kid.”
Marc pulled his piece and aimed it at Chet’s head. His finger trembled on the trigger, his heart pounding so hard he couldn’t hear anything but the massive rushing river of blood pumping up into his brain. He had his objective. It was only right to punch a slug right into his mud and gunpowder encrusted head; that fool head that gazed up at him from between frightened fingers. That face with the arrogance wiped off its puss and those huge eyes gazing up at him the way a beaten child cowers in the presence of a drunken raging parent. It would have been over then, Marc ruminated as he stepped carefully over a rotten tree stump. Totally and completely over. Done in by friendly fire.
I’m sorry Sarge, but he just came out of that dark corner there and I shot before I saw. I thought he was Charlie. I couldn’t help it, man, I couldn’t. Nobody would have argued about that. Hell, Marc could even manage to muster up a tear or two, just to make it all look legit. Word was out about Chet anyway. He’d been a punk assed bitch in high school, and a punk assed bitch in the Corps. Basic didn’t change him. If anything, it just made him worse. At least that was the word going around.
Nothing would have been said. Nothing would have been done. It was the VC backwater bush after all, and Charlie was everywhere. Marc could have gotten the satisfaction he craved, and at the end of the mission he would return to Japan and to the pleasant monotony of daily repairs, sake bars, bath houses and geishas. Whether it would really go down like that or not didn’t matter; it worked out well in Marc’s mind.
There was one thing that Marc hadn’t counted on as he contemplated the demise of his former friend and current enemy. As he flipped off the safety and prepared to pull the trigger, an image of his mother stood poised between him and his quarry. He could see her quite clearly: tall, slim, dark and beautiful, wearing her crisp white nurse’s uniform and prim white starched cap. For an instant he caught a hint of her scent, the smells of motherhood, of Chanel and rubbing alcohol. Marc’s good heart infuriated him, and refused to let his finger pull the trigger. He lowered his weapon, and Chet gazed up at him, his expression frightened and somewhat befuddled. Rage flared up in him again and he moved to give Chet a swift kick to the teeth. But before he could do that, Sarge came in and his opportunity slipped away.
There’d be other times, Marc reasoned as he continued his present-day journey down the water soaked forest. Plenty of times to make it go down. After all, it wouldn’t take much to overlook a trip wire, or mistake a nest of snakes for vines or perhaps...
He cast a glance at Chet moving slowly around a mass of waterlogged vines. Perhaps I could arrange for Mr. Privileged White Boy to spend some time in a VC pig farm. Yeah. He smirked underneath his brain bucket. That’d be bad. That’d be nation wide.
A vague sensation of unease that had bothered him since the beginning of dawn patrol grew stronger, so strong in fact that he could no longer ignore it. Marc emerged from his self-imposed funk and paused, drinking in the dank smelling air around him. Something ain’t right, Marc thought. He raised his hand and stopped. His patrol stood motionless, every man alert. Be alert, Marc thought as he scanned his surroundings. The world needs more lerts.
Marc cocked his head, wiped the sweat off his brow and listened as he watched the forest around him.
A chill clattered up his backbone. I’ve been hearing a whole lot of nothing for the past half hour or so, he realized. This is a jungle, after all. Where are the bugs? Where are the birds? No monkeys howling in the trees? I haven’t seen an ibis or a heron in ages. What gives? Marc turned slowly, adrenalin coursing through his veins. Oh shit, we’ve stepped into it. He realized. Here I was thinking about how bad I wanted to do in Chet when I should have been thinking about how to get out of this shit hole. Now we’re all probably done in, all because I have a hard-on for Chet the honky.
His flank men stared at him, puzzled. Sarge glared at him. Chet shrugged, his lips twitching into that stupid lopsided grin Marc despised. He resisted the urge to rearrange the man’s face with a machete.
Gene Mankins, a twenty year old lance corporal who sported a bad case of acne, moved toward him.
“What is it?” Gene whispered.
“Listen,” Marc said.
The patrol stood, straining to hear what they feared most.
“It’s so quiet,” Gene noted. His voice was dampened by the heat and silence, so much so Marc could barely make out what the man had said.
“Too quiet.” Marc agreed. The deadness reminded him of the time he got to sit in a soundproof booth when he was thirteen. “And it’s the wrong kind of quiet, too,” he added.
Dan Thibodaux appeared at Marc’s elbow. “Radio’s graveyard dead,” he said. “There’s no static. It’s on. It’s working, but nothing’s happening.” He jerked, startled. Dan pointed up into the trees. “Something’s up there.”
The patrol gazed into the canopy.
“Monkeys?” Marc asked, his lips barely moving.
“That wasn’t no monkey, man,” Gene said.
“Maybe,” Chet replied.
“Let’s get out of here,” Marc said, the urge to move out of the area unbearable. The men murmured in agreement, the sound flat in the early morning air.
They proceeded about half a klick more. Marc’s dark ruminations about offing his flank man extinguished. The delicate hairs on his arms and the back of his neck were rising. He watched as his feet sucked and plunged into the mud without making a sound. Then the realization hit him, startling him so profoundly that it shook him at the core of his being.
How can this happen? I can hear ourselves talking, but there’s no sound coming from anywhere else. How can that be?
Just as he was about to mention that to the others, an abrupt rustle of silently moving branches caught his attention. Marc signaled for them to halt again. As one, the men turned, their weapons drawn as they gazed up at the canopy.
“Something’s moving up in there.” Gene said. “Something’s up there and it ain’t Charlie.”
Marc nodded in agreement, his eyes not moving from the spot where the tree limbs bent.
“It’s a bird,” Sarge whispered.
Mark shook his head. He’d caught a glimpse of something...something that his brain was struggling to process. A bend of a branch, a rustle of silent leaves, then Marc shouted. “Look, there! There! There!” Everyone gasped, startled at the impossibility of the thing they had all just witnessed. Something thick, flat and black detached itself from one tree and glided to another. The trees rustled in silence as the black thing melded into the darkness. Marc had the sudden and uncomfortable feeling that he was somehow trapped inside a silent movie, where nothing made a sound, except for their own voices, and that was as dull as flat iron.
“Jesus Christ, what was that?” Pvt. Jerry Pertwee asked.
“A bat,” Marc said, breathless. “It was a bat.”
“Fuck you man. That was no bat.” Gene exclaimed.
“Shut up,” Sarge snapped.
Marc shuddered, feeling suddenly and unpleasantly cold. Sarge jerked his head, indicating they should go. Silently agreeing, Marc moved the patrol forward.
What originally felt like a breeze cooling his sweaty skin had changed dramatically as the small patrol proceeded deeper into the jungle. At first, it was a relief. The dank humid air had lifted and it was now considerably cooler. Marc dismissed it, thinking that perhaps a storm was brewing somewhere nearby. Since they were under a dense tangle of trees and swampland it was hard to see much of the sky, although he noted that for some reason the sun hadn’t begun glinting through the trees yet. That in and of itself was odd and Marc wondered about that, but not too much. He was after all, still point man, and he was far more worried about getting shot at, captured or impaled by a Cong booby trap than why the sun hadn’t cleared the trees. He let the uncomfortable feeling pass, concentrating instead on wading through the muck that threatened to suck his boots off with each step. Finally he couldn’t ignore it any longer. The sky hadn’t lightened, and his inner workings told him that the sun had risen quite some time ago.
Marc shivered. Jesus, it’s gotten cold, he thought. It’s like walking through a slaughterhouse in January. But that wasn’t the only thing that was bothering him. Something was watching them. Something with large, slanted eternally dark eyes peering at them through the foliage. Marc couldn’t see them directly, but he had caught glimpses more than once through his peripheral vision. He probably would have never seen them except he caught the glint of one of those eyes blinking. He was tempted to shoot at it, but as soon as the thought came to him, he felt a dread unlike anything he ever experienced. If I did, he knew, I’d bring the whole jungle down upon us.
Whatever those eyes were attached to, he didn’t know and didn’t want to know. All he knew for sure was that they weren’t human.
Get a grip, he scolded himself. You didn’t see nothing. And don’t go apeshit and start shooting everything in sight either. It’s best, he assured himself, to just ignore those eyes, and to keep moving forward. Eventually, Marc was certain, they’d be out of the jungle and into open land. There he could see the sky, and know what was going on.
“Did you see something?” Gene whispered. “I could have swore I saw something—”
“I didn’t see nothing, fool, now keep quiet,” Marc snapped.
“Damn,” Kyle Blackwood whispered after several moments of silence had passed. “The temp is dropping like a brick.”
“Yeah,” Marc agreed. His voice sounded eerie, as if he were talking through a malfunctioning telephone. “Must be a storm in the area.”
“It don’t feel like no storm coming man,” Gene said. “And I could have sworn I saw something with a big ugly head waddling through those bushes a klick back. Like something from a freak show.”
“And I’ll tell you something else, boss,” Kyle said. “Gene’s right. We’re being followed. There’s some kind of bug-eyed freaks out in them trees. I didn’t get a real clear look at them, though; just once or twice out of the corner of my eye.”
Marc nodded. “I know.”
“It ain’t Charlie either.”
“I know that too.”
“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, boss,” Kyle said.
“I know we ain’t. But whatever you do, don’t mess with them eyes out there. Just let them look.”
“Yeah. But I don’t like how they’re looking, you know? Like those eyes are crawling around on my skin or something.”
“Keep quiet,” Sarge said.
“And I’ll tell you something else,” Kyle said, after a lengthy pause, “I can’t hear a single solitary thing, but I can hear when you fuckers are whispering, and even then it sounds like you’re all talking through a tin can. . Now how is that possible?”
“I don’t know,” Marc admitted.
A soft black something flitted amongst the trees. Marc felt his skin crawl into tiny bumps. A flicker of shadow, a soundless leap, the bend of a branch and the flight of something blacker than the darkness around it slid high up into the canopy. Marc suppressed the urge to run. It’s really following us, he realized. No, not just following us, stalking us. And if we run, it’ll take us down. And the eyes will be watching, and whatever belongs to those eyes will be scribbling notes on a pad, watching all the while we’re being scarfed up like dog food.
“Confidence is high,” Kyle gazed up into the trees, “it letting us see it like that.”
“It might just be curious,” Marc said.
“Yeah, and there’s mites on a chicken’s ass.”
“Should we shoot it?” Gene asked Sarge.
“What, and bring the Gooks down on us? No chance,” Sarge replied. “Ignore the bat and advance forward.” He shuddered as he gazed back into the trees. “I’ll feel better when we’re on high ground. We’re too exposed here.”
“But we’re in the middle of a swamp.” Kyle said.
“Exactly,” Sarge replied. He motioned towards the right. “If that thing comes at us I want enough room to swing a cat around in.”
“I’ll get your cat swinging room,” Marc nodded. “In just a few more klicks, I think. I’ll see to that.”
Snow fell. Huge heavy flakes filtered down between the trees and spiraled down upon the startled patrol. Marc looked up, flakes sticking onto his cheeks and eyelashes.
“It’s not supposed to snow here,” Gene said, his eyes so wide Marc could see the whites, his voice muffled as if he were talking into a pillow. “This is a tropical zone; it’s not supposed to snow.
“No shit, Sherlock,” Kyle replied, his tone nervous.
“Keep moving,” Sarge commanded.
“Shut your yap.” Sarge motioned with his eyes. Marc scowled and resumed his march.
The patrol fell into a nervous silence, like restless horses just before a thunderstorm. Charlie jumping out of the bushes they could deal with. They could manage a firefight and give back as good as they got. They understood booby-traps, poisonous insects and snakes. But this was beyond their comprehension. It kept them alert, but nervous also, which was a dangerous combination. It was only a matter of time, Marc thought, when someone was going to cut one loud wronking fart and the entire patrol would go berserk.
Keep cool, Marc told himself. Keep your head, cause if you don’t we won’t make it out of here. And I for one want to make it out of here. Camp Zuma rose in his mind and for the second time since he volunteered for this gig, he seriously wondered what he was doing slogging out here in this shit infested hellhole. He caught a glimpse of Chet, now little more than a shadow himself, as he scanned the area. Is it worth it? Marc asked himself. Is going through all of this bullshit really worth trying to get at him?
Yes, it’s worth it, Marc reassured himself. Of course it is. Glorious is never going to see another sunrise, or ride another horse. She’s never going to finish school, or fall in love or get married or have children. She’ll never grow old. Instead, she’s molding in a box beneath the earth waiting Judgment Day. And what about me? I’ve been deprived of ever becoming an uncle, thanks to him. Thanks to him people think I saved her little white friend, and left my own baby sister to drown. Thanks to him my life is shit. And what about him?
What about him?
Does Chet feel the least bit guilty about what went down? Did he miss one minute of sleep knowing that he murdered one little black girl and maimed her friend beyond healing? Or does he think that we black folk are little better than animals, without souls, without feelings, thanks to a loving God who made us slaves?
I don’t need no God like that.
Marc paused, shocked at such a blasphemy toward a God he’d worshipped faithfully all his life. But so what? He wondered. There ain’t no God out here. Not out here where it’s cold when it ain’t supposed to be and eyes black as the devil’s heart are peeking at us from behind the trees. God, like Elvis, has left the building.
Hatred flared again. He glared at Chet’s profile, wishing with all his heart that the man would be struck dead at any moment. “You’re going to get what’s coming to you, you honky son of a bitch,” he said under his breath. “God might not be out here, but I am, and when I’m done, nobody will know, not even him.”
“Keep it down up there,” Sarge snapped.
Marc nodded, swallowing hard, startled that he’d actually articulated what he had been thinking, and moreso, how did the other’s hear him? Everything was muttered under his breath. Theoretically only his mouth and his brain bucket knew what had been said. How could the air be so dampened but my voice carry so far? For fuck’s sake, I could have just stepped up and shouted in Chet’s ear that I plan on wasting his sorry ass. But then again, he amended, when he saw a slight shudder go across Chet’s shoulders; it ain’t no big secret anyway. He knew I was going to do him back at the fire base. I hesitated then, I won’t do it again. And it’ll be his mistake thinking that I don’t have the balls to do it. He smiled to himself, and in his mind’s eye he could see the shocked look on Chet’s face just as the bullet Marc fired severed his frontal lobes. But, then again, the pig farm is still a good idea, he ruminated. Out here, there’s a veritable banquet of possibilities for old Chetty Boy.
The snow fell harder, denser, yet there was no luster to it. It piled up like the fake plastic stuff Marc’s teacher had used whenever she’d decorated the classroom for Christmas. He let a few flakes fall into his hand. He rubbed it between his forefinger and his thumb. It was gritty, like sand. He looked up, noticing that the snow was accumulating in the branches. Trees, unused to such a burden snapped quickly, landing silently in the mud, which was also freezing at an alarming rate.
Marc paused for a moment, watching the snow fall into the water. Tiny tendrils of ice spread like spider webs along the surface. There was an abrupt ‘thunk’ as a fish leapt from the freezing water. What seemed like seconds later, hoarfrost formed on their helmets and encrusted their equipment.
“I miss the heat.” Kyle’s complaining voice carried like low thunder. Sarge hissed a warning. Marc nodded, shivered, his fingers digging deep into his M-16. The shadows deepened.
The sun set, and even as the skies darkened, Marc felt the eyes boring down upon him, regarding him as intently as if he were an insect underneath a microscope.