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Author's Note: The subject of this story was on active deployment at an undisclosed location at the time of interviewing, but graciously contacted me via Skype to relay their story. Quotes are taken from a rough transcript. His actual name, as with all subjects of my stories, is changed for privacy reasons. We will call him Jay.

Jay described his childhood as being one of rationality, being unafraid of monsters or things that go bump in the dark.

“If there was something to be scared of, the human race would’ve been killed off in the Dark Ages, right? You know, back when all we had to defend ourselves were torches and pointy sticks? Yet here we are today, the dominant life form across the whole damn planet with guns, bombs, satellites, and all these other wonders of modern technology. As I got older, I started realizing that really the primary enemy of humanity is itself.”

It was this conviction that would spur Jay to join the United States Marine Corps the day he turned 19 in November 2001. Spurred on by the horrors World Trade Center attack, he cleared basic training and was deployed to the Middle East in mid-October 2002. Like many soldiers in those times, he was wounded, although never severely, and had many close calls to enemy fire and traps like IEDs. He had to take lives when necessary to defend himself and his teammates. In short, he was no stranger to the ways of war. Through it all, he had a sense of pride having made it through intact, both physically and mentally. That would change during a mission in the wilderness foothills of Afghanistan.

At some point during the earlier years of the War in Afghanistan, Jay had attained the rank of Corporal and was in charge of a four-man USMC fire team as their designated officer. His commanding officers had received local intelligence of a large, high-priority weapons cache of top-grade weapons in the mountains nearby. According to the source, it included Mk. 153 SMAWs: extremely potent anti-tank rocket launchers. The cache was also comprised of new AK-104 and AK-102 assault rifles, as well as a number of other weapons far superior to the typical armament of Taliban insurgents. Jay’s fireteam had then been assigned to protect an arms convoy as part of two full squads. Their higher-ups gave J and his fellow Marines the assignment to find, secure, and dispose of this cache before it could be used to attack the arms convoy. Setting out under the cover of night with four fireteams, they were delivered within ten kilometers of the supposed objective. They proceeded silently on foot, using thermal night vision to proceed as the thick clouds that night often came over the moon, leaving the area in near-pitch blackness.

Jay was in charge of Charlie, the third fireteam, making up the western flank of the formation with Bravo holding the east and Alpha comprised of two fireteams comprising the center. They were advised to be careful and follow the rules of engagement as civilians were likely in the area, and, at that stage, the war was already losing public support. With that in mind, the Marines were all on high alert.

Several hours into their trek, things started to turn strange. The Alpha squad leader, who was about a kilometer east of Charlie, began communicating with Jay over their radios, reporting a substantial blood trail being located. He emphasized that particular word: substantial. There were also bloody human handprints and signs of bodies being dragged. It was not impossible to come across the kill site of a leopard or even wolves, although the latter are less common in Afghanistan. It was not unheard of to discover the remains of a human caught off guard and dragged into the wilderness. However, Alpha also reported discarded weaponry: multiple automatic weapons and many spent shell casings on the ground, indicating automatic fire from multiple combatants taking place. While the Marines were no longer of the belief that animals were to blame for the massacre, they were unsure whether to pin the event on tribal or gang violence, which none of them had ever seen quite like this. After communicating their findings, the Marines were told to proceed with the utmost caution, but Jay described that the worst was yet to come.

Fifteen minutes later, Bravo squad reported their own findings of a small hillside dwelling that looked recently occupied. Food was on the table and candles were still lit, but there was more fresh blood on the floors, walls, and even the ceiling. The rooms were littered with more discarded weapons and spent casings. According to the squad leader, the front door had been torn off its hinges from the outside and flung several meters from the structure. Bravo also located the suspected weapons cache in one of the rooms, having been opened with some of the weapons discarded in the process of being loaded.

Jay noted that, at this point, the Marines were getting spooked and then communications inexplicably began to cut out, leaving the fire teams unable to report to command and barely able to contact each other. Before the signal was lost altogether, all squads agreed to hunker down in nearby defensible positions and wait for the interference to clear up. Jay and the rest of Charlie proceeded to a neighboring hill and settled into a hollow with an unobstructed view of their surroundings. The weather, which the Marines blamed for the communications blackout, remained clear of rain or severe winds but the clouds did not thin out, restricting their vision to their thermal optics.

Before long, Jay’s team identified a group of seven well-armed insurgents walking in their general direction, all very heavily armed and well-equipped but seemingly unaware of the Marine presence. Having the high ground and a firepower advantage, Jay’s team prepared for a confrontation if the enemy wandered too close. However, as they moved to within earshot, one of the Marines who were more fluent in the local dialect reported that they seemed spooked. Indeed, the Taliban were acting nervous, looking around in all directions and all but stumbling over themselves. If they knew American troops were nearby, they seemed unconcerned.

At that moment, Jay spotted an eighth figure approaching the opposing group, bright on thermals like the Taliban. This one was unarmed, a man dressed in a simple white robe that covered his full body as he walked down the hill towards the insurgents. When they noticed the newcomer, they began to yell and point their weapons, screaming even louder and sounding more alarmed. Jay was about to inquire why, but his fellow Marine, who was transfixed on the stranger, pointed out how they were moving. He had not been walking but instead moved in a swaying motion, his legs immobile and hanging slack. His feet appeared to be several inches off of the ground and the arms hung limp at their sides. This unsettled even the Marines, one of whom described him aptly as moving like an old marionette-style puppet.

Jay was the first to distinguish something even more bizarre the more he observed the figure: just behind it was a faint, almost indiscernible shape. Something was moving against the background of cooled rock, dust, and sand. All he could perceive was a dim movement, like a shadow. The stranger himself was not moving: it was being propelled.

And, before any of the Marines could react, that is when all hell broke loose. Suddenly the entire entity showed up bright on their thermal scopes as it began to move much faster. It had not been a single object that Jay had seen, it was a writhing mass of tendrils or limbs slowly uncoiling themselves and now they darted towards the Taliban like bolts of lightning, grabbing most of them, whipping them around and dashing their bodies against the rocky ground or flinging them into the air. Their rapid bursts of gunfire and frantic screams of anguish seemed to do nothing to slow the entity; if anything they merely seemed to excite or enrage it.

One insurgent at the back of the group managed to get out of reach and, disregarding his few surviving comrades, fired an RPG at the attacker. One of the tentacles struck it out of the air off to the side where it detonated harmlessly and came around to grab the insurgent, seemingly extending itself several meters to do so.

Confronted with this abomination well within their kill range, Jay quickly made the decision to extricate his unit while the unknown attacker was occupied. As they crested an adjacent hill, he looked back and saw, to his horror, that the thing was dragging the massacred Taliban corpses into a maw located in the middle of where the tentacles joined atop the rest of its body. It was consuming those it killed, which explained why they never saw a single body at the previous sites. There was a palpable unease as the Marines quickly regrouped with the other teams, and while the other team leaders believed the story they all, understandably, agreed to not share what they had encountered with their superiors. The mission had been accomplished, the cache had been located, demolished, and while all known hostiles had been killed in action thankfully all the Marines were home safe.

It was at this point in the interview where Jay became quiet, clearly unsettled having looked back at what he and his men had experienced. As we concluded our interview, he made this comment in his own words:

“I think the event resurfaced some memories from my childhood. The old man was a marine biologist; really into deep-sea life. He loved showing me pictures of those fuck-ugly things like the goblin shark, creatures that have every reason to live down there in the dark. He had a sick sense of humor… Mom wonders where I got it. One I recall was the angler fish, this hideous basketball looking-thing. It lures in prey with this little glowing thing they can move around to get attention. Once the fish gets too close, it opens a mouth that’s like two-thirds of its body and boom! Fish is gone.

That’s what we call it now, the Angler. Those of us still alive who saw it, anyway. God knows where it came from, or where it is presently. As far as I can tell and believe me, I’ve looked, any further stories of encounters have not made it out into the world. Hopefully, that’s just because commanders of their respective forces have been really good at covering up the stories… or maybe anyone else who had stories to tell never survived.”

Author's Note: Jay, as far as our most recent communication, is alive and well, having retired from the Marine Corps after two consecutive tours and has adjusted well to civilian life.