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Author's note: This is my entry for Cornconic's Random Title writing contest. The category I chose was Military.



FUBAR

There are two universal truths I, Captain Dan McCartney, have learned in almost five years as an officer in the US Army.

First: crazy shit can and will happen. I’m talking about things that people will laugh and swear you made up when you tell them. I’ll give you a couple examples.

I was in Ranger School as a young second lieutenant, fresh out of the infantry officer basic course, and a guy named Andy I vaguely knew was jogging with me to the latrine. The ranger instructors insisted we travel in a buddy pair everywhere; when you’re as sleep deprived as ranger students are, they don’t want anyone accidentally wandering off into the woods alone. Andy’s folding knife, which was dummy-corded to his belt so he wouldn’t lay it down somewhere and forget it, fell out of his pocket. It snapped open when it hit the end of the dummy-cord, rebounded back into the air in a perfect arc and, incredibly, landed point down into his thigh, nicking his femoral artery. I managed to get a tourniquet on his leg before he bled out. You could run that scenario a thousand times and I bet you couldn’t recreate it again. A helicopter life-flighted him to an Atlanta hospital quick enough that he survived. The instructors gave me a “major plus” spot report for my actions, but it still wasn’t enough to help me pass the patrol grade in Darby phase, and I landed in the recycle platoon until the next class came through. Whatever. I tabbed eventually. But I digress.

Another time, about a year later after I’d gotten to my line unit, my division was deployed to Iraq. We’d lost contact with the combat outpost one of our sister platoons had been manning, so our company commander sent me over with my guys to check it out. What we found was almost beyond belief: the outpost and a few blocks around it in all directions was annihilated, wiped out like they were smote by the hand of God himself. The only thing we found was my fellow platoon leader, Mike Landry, unconscious in the center of the blast zone and naked as the day he’d been born. How the hell had he survived? I talked to him after he eventually woke up, but something had clearly broken in the guy’s brain as he was raving about magic talking stones and monsters in the desert.  It happened, and I saw it, but I have no idea how.

Huh.

I haven’t thought about Mike too much in the last few years. With everything going on the last couple days, I wonder…

Anyways. The other universal truth I’ve learned from the Army is that there is an acronym for everything. That infantry school I was at before Ranger? IBOLC. That’s Infantry Basic Officer Leader Course. The Ranger instructors? RIs. Even the tourniquet I used to save Andy’s life is called a CAT or Combat Action Tourniquet.

I got back from deployment, returned to Fort Benning to go to the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course (that’s MCCC – M triple C), and decided to take a job as a company commander at airborne school to stabilize the family for a little while. The work is fairly repetitive as the class itself is only three weeks long with a week to reset between. It’s about as boring as jumping out of airplanes can be, honestly. There are four companies and each one is offset by a week. So, every month you shepherd a couple hundred students through ground, tower, and jump week, and help the company behind you with their jump week while you reset. Rinse, wash repeat. At least, that’s how things went for the first six months.

Last week was supposed to be my company’s tower week. The two-hundred fifty-foot towers are some of the most iconic landmarks at Fort Benning and give a handful of students the sensation of what parachuting from an airplane will be like before, you know, actually jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft. We had to cancel. That was a common enough occurrence; when there are high winds you don’t want airborne students to get blown into the struts of the towers, so cancellations are pretty regular. It takes so long to get a student hooked up in their chute, raised, and dropped, that a fairly small percentage actually get to do the towers anyway. Last week, we didn’t have to cancel for high winds.

Remember universal truth number one. Usually, the crazy shit is isolated, small things that no one would believe like an improbable knife wound or a destroyed outpost in the middle of a war zone.  Not this time.

I don’t know where the fog came from, I’m not sure anyone does.  It was like reality tore open and this hungry seething whiteness just came pouring out, enveloping everything. It seemed like it started somewhere in the coastal northeast, but eventually it started cropping up here and there all along the eastern seaboard. We started getting reports that similar pockets had occurred overseas too, seemingly at random, flooding towns and cities and countryside alike, seemingly indiscriminately. In sci-fi novels it would be some kind of military experiment gone wrong, but I’m here to tell you that’s not what this was or, if it was, nobody told me.

It wasn’t long before people started realizing there was something…no some things in the fog. Cell and radio signals were severely disrupted wherever the fog appeared, and the phenomena were too dense for even our ISR platforms to generate good imagery through. When news reports stopped coming out of the afflicted areas there was no way to see what had happened. The national guard got called in, made emergency relief sites with bottled water, blankets, and medical tents the way they do. They set up checkpoints, though what road barriers were supposed to do to stop viscous roiling fog, and all the badness in it, I couldn’t tell you. Then we lost contact with them. Everything in the fog just sort of…stopped being. About then was the time when something big, like epically indescribably huge, surged out of the Pacific Ocean near the Mariana Trench. The storms around whatever the incident was were so bad that, just like the fog, there wasn’t much to go on and no imagery or news reports to speak of.

It felt like the end of the world.

I kept going into work. Duty, honor, country, and all that, though the wife tried to tell me I should stay home with her and the girls. I had to keep going in. Just because weirdness was happening didn’t mean that I could renege on my obligations. States of emergency don’t apply to the military, damn it. We’re the ones that run toward the sound of gunfire.

The pocket of fog appeared in Columbus, GA, just outside of Fort Benning, where my family lived, three days ago, its insinuating whiteness as dense and roiling as ever. I was at work, of course. Couldn’t not be there, even though the girls hadn’t been going to school. I tried calling home immediately, got no answer. The cell signal was fucked, right? I haven’t heard from them since, and the higher ups wouldn’t let me leave to check. I know they’re gone.

Don’t ask me the specifics about how I’m standing here, acting jumpmaster on a C-130. I’ve got nothing else to live for, so I may as well work. A couple days ago we realized the fog wasn’t just appearing out of nowhere, see, it was also spreading, growing, like a cancer. Why is a company commander in TRADOC, that’s the arm of the military specifically dedicated to training, leading sixty-four troopers on a one-way trip? Because there is no one else. We’re supposed to jump into Birmingham, me and about a third of what was, until last week, the dirty nasty “legs” incorporating my crop of airborne students. I don’t know who’s making these calls, and at this point, I don’t care. I’m just following orders.

I got to meet the Air Force major that was going to be piloting our little excursion a couple hours before we left. The woman was visibly scared, even though she was probably ten years older than me. What do I have to be scared about? Everything I’ve cared about is gone. Becky, Rachel, Trish. Fuck. It was all I could do to keep from laughing when I saw the tears in the pilot’s eyes. We’re all dead already anyway.

The approach is rocky. I look out of the open door and, where I’d normally be able to see landscape flashing beneath, can’t see anything past the seemingly infinite blanket of whiteness spreading below me. Bracing myself against the door, I lean out. Towards the horizon I see a break in the fog, where it hasn’t spread yet. I’m sure the OPORD, that’s Operations Order, told me what the purpose of this mission was, but honestly, at this point, I don’t really care. We’re getting close to the drop zone. That’s DZ.

I pull back inside to look at the soldiers sitting in two parallel rows along the length of the plane. A totally inappropriate laugh threatens to overwhelm me. These fucking kids haven’t jumped even a single time, and now they’re jumping into combat. Well, something like it anyways, maybe something worse. Many of them have their heads down and I can hear mumbled prayers. Based on the smell, at least one has shit themselves. Idiots. Don’t they know we’re all dead?

I get their attention, give the five-minute warning. We’re almost to the DZ. Once we’re on the ground I’m supposed to reconnoiter and…what? Assist with evacuation? Where the fuck are you supposed to go at the end of the world? The manned national guard outposts got taken…somewhere. Maybe we’ll just try to kill something, anything, whatever unnatural things are in the fog. I absently stroke the equipment bag strapped to my side concealing the ancient M16 inside it. Before yesterday the rifle had been used exclusively for training, the only rounds it ever saw blanks, its barrel stopped up impotently with a square red adapter. Now, though, my magazines are filled with green tipped live 5.56 rounds, NATO standard. I’ll need to be sure to save one bullet for the end.

The airframe shudders. I whip my head back to the open door and see, impossibly, the fog has expanded upward towards us, rising hundreds of feet to meet the C-130 in the brief period I’d been focused on the aircraft interior. The plane shudders as it’s enveloped, and I hear dull thuds as something impacts the exterior skin. A sharp shattering of glass, a scream from forward towards the cockpit, and abruptly the red light behind my head turns to green as the plane starts shaking even more violently. We aren’t at the drop zone yet, but the pilot has decided we need to get off the plane, time now.

Fuck.

The panic in the lead trooper’s rolling eyes is evident. I took the jumpmaster class, sure, but these weren’t the conditions we practiced in. I scream at the soldiers, telling them to stand up and “hook up” connecting their carabiners to the taut cable running the length of the aircraft. This is important; the c-shaped piece of metal is attached to their parachute’s static line. The static line is in turn what causes their chute to deploy and keep them from being so many bloody smears on the landscape.  Typically, we’d have reserve chutes attached to our fronts, in the rare event our mains wouldn’t properly deploy, but none of the riggers showed up to work this week so we’ve had to make due with just the mains.

I’m surprised when the first man in the stack runs by me and jumps out the door before I can grab him.

He didn’t hook up.

The second man in the stack did, but instead of handing me his carabiner like we specifically taught him to in the first week of the course, he flings it at me and jumps out the door. I try to catch the wildly swinging static line he’s left behind, but can’t manage to get ahold of it. The line catches around the upper arm of the third man in the stack as he jumps, ripping his bicep into his forearm. I can hear his scream as he falls towards the earth below.

It’s at this point that claws begin peeling away the thin sides of the aircraft body, ripping long tears in the metal as if it were tissue paper. I make a tactical decision, shoving the fourth man in the stack backwards, hook my own chute up, and jump.

The silent count in my head reaches “three-thousand” before I feel a tight jerk upwards as my parachute opens above me like an olive drab, life-preserving flower. As I fall, I can’t make out exactly what is crawling all over the exterior of the C-130 as it flies away from me, but the smoke billowing from the wings and the stressed metallic scream issuing from the engines makes me think everyone left on board won’t have to worry about it for long.

As if in answer to my thoughts, a brief flash of orange followed by a sensation of pressure and heat causes me to swing easily in my risers. The plane disappears in the fog, spiraling down and down, a horrifying sound of shearing metal the only way I know when it finds the ground.

My own descent is considerably less violent, though without a horizon to focus on, I’m surprised when I hit earth. I’ve always said that despite the techniques we teach at school that the difference between a good and bad parachute landing fall, that’s PLF, is luck. There’s a reason we teach techniques for landing in power lines or water. This time is no exception. I fall ass over tea kettle, but luck is with me and, after reaching up to my shoulders and pulling the release rings to ditch the chute, assess that I’ve made it down in one piece.

Normally I’d pack my chute into its carrying bag and take it with me, but at this stage of the end of the world, I don’t think anyone will be reusing it. I’m not particularly concerned about enemy forces identifying my infiltration point either. I unhook my equipment bag and put my rifle into operation, locking and loading a thirty-round magazine. I leave the now empty equipment bag with the chute and stumble off into the surrounding fog, unsure of where I’m going.

I hear screams from the southwest so figure I should probably head that way. Visibility continues to be minimal, and I find myself wandering through enormous pine trees toward the horrifying sounds. Eventually I reach their source. The third man in the stack, the one whose bicep was relocated, apparently also made it to the ground. Well, not exactly to the ground; his chute got caught in one of the pines and he dangles helplessly only two feet above the ground.

Normally in such a situation we teach students various techniques to extricate themselves, but the troop’s injured arm would have made any of them all but impossible, and that would have been before the wild dogs took an interest with him.

A pack of mongrels have beset the trapped man from all sides, snapping and biting. They’ve managed to disembowel him, his innards pooled on the ground beneath his feet, the steam rising and becoming lost in the surrounding fog. His screams, and the pack’s interest on turning the soldier’s insides into his outsides, have kept them from realizing I’m there. I take careful aim and blow the head off of one, hoping to scatter the rest.

They turn, disconcertingly, as one. I feel a pit drop in my stomach as I realize the fiends all have red eyes and horrifyingly human faces. They’re smiling at me. The one I shot stumbles to its feet and turns with its packmates, the hole in its forehead seemingly causing it no particular issue. Fortunately, my training takes over. I shoot the trapped,dying man in the head. Thankfully, he doesn’t share the dogs’ resiliency and, with him put out of his misery, I turn and run.

Unearthly howls follow me as the pack takes up pursuit.

I sprint, blind, and come to a screeching halt as I almost run into an eight-foot wrought iron fence. Not waiting to look behind me, I sling my rifle over my shoulder, grip the top of two of the posts, and hoist myself over the barrier with the strength of desperation. Teeth snag the pant leg of my fatigues, but I kick and manage to free myself, painfully wrenching my shoulder as I land on the far side of the fence.

I don’t pause, unsure of whether my pursuers can supernaturally vault the fence or, perhaps a more mundane if equal concern, how close the nearest open gate is.

I haven’t traveled far before I stumble, tripping over something unseen and jarring my injured shoulder as I hit the ground. With a curse I realize I’ve fallen over a gravestone. I’m in a cemetery.

I lie there just for a moment, trying to catch my breath, let the heart hammering in my chest slow down just a little, when cold, claw-like hands erupt from the earth and grasp at me hungrily. I scream, rolling and tearing myself away. To my unbelieving eyes the soil near the grave begins to cave inward, and a rotten, animated corpse begins clawing its was out of its own grave, creaking moans that elicit the agony of the pit emitting from its throat.

I recover quickly, putting two quick controlled pairs in the corpse’s head. I notice the earth around the nearby graves starting to shift and realize there are far too many enemies in the immediate vicinity. Before long I’ll be overwhelmed if I maintain my current position, so I decide to conduct a tactical withdrawal.

I’m fortunate to discover a nearby mausoleum, break the lock with the butt of my rifle, and shove my way inside. I slam the door shut behind me. The darkness of the dank tomb is only slightly denser than the fog. I flick on the flashlight attached to the side of my rifle barrel and see the walls are lined with more graves. Faint pounding noises from them tell me that the dead outside these walls aren’t the only ones to have awakened, but so far these ones seem incapable of extricating themselves.

At the opposite end of the mausoleum sits what appears to be a large stone altar, two unlit candles on either side of it. I move, thinking to possibly push it against the door and offer me some additional protection against my pursuers, but soon reach the conclusion it is far too heavy.

Howls and moans growing ever closer, I realize the altar is in fact another tomb, with still more scratching noises emanating from its interior. I make yet another tactical decision and manage to slide the heavy stone lid about a foot and a half off the top of the casket.

The creature inside starts to sit up and I shoot it twice in the head, causing it to collapse back into its grave, dead again. Shoving the newly unanimated corpse to the side, I scramble into the stone coffin with it and, pushing with my hands and feet, ignoring the white agony of pain shooting through my wrenched shoulder, manage to shift the lid back into a closed position.

Though muffled, I can hear the door of the mausoleum erupt inward, the scamper of dog paws soon followed by the sounds of unsteadily treading feet. Scratching then on the lid of my apparently ineffective hiding place, howls of rage.

I sit here now in a shared grave with another dead man, the barrel of my rifle pressed to the roof of my mouth. I won’t let them take me, won’t let them devour me alive like the trooper in the tree, but I will hang on as long as I can. Rule number one: crazy things can and do happen, and they aren’t always bad. Maybe the cavalry will miraculously show up. Maybe somehow the girls are still alive

The corpse next to me stirs again, but I manage to free my boot knife and ram the Tanto blade through the soft spot of its throat, causing it to fall still once more.

I wait, finger on the trigger, and almost laughingly remember universal truth number two. Yeah, the army has an acronym for everything, even my current situation. FUBAR. Fucked Up Beyond All Repair.

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Written by Shadowswimmer77
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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