I wake up the next morning refreshed, with only the mildest of hangovers from my bender the previous evening. Since school is off for Thanksgiving, I even take the liberty of staying in bed until late in the morning. This is the first time I can remember since the incident in the cave that I have slept through the night without nightmares. It’s still a terrible thing to think about, but maybe Gabe was right; by facing my fears I may eventually be able to conquer them and come to grips with what happened. Maybe I’ll even be able to attach some kind of meaning or purpose to them.
Obviously, I came out of my coma after the destruction of the command post. It was about two weeks later when I woke up screaming in a military hospital in Germany. It was another three days before I was calm enough for the doctors to remove the restraints. I talked to some kind, but professional military police who were hoping to get a few details about the events from me. They filled me in on what they knew.
Basically, once my outpost had missed its second check-in, my commander spun up one of our sister platoons to patrol over and see what was going on. What they found was me lying naked and unconscious in the middle of the destroyed patrol base. By the look of things, a bomb had gone off and destroyed everything for about a quarter mile in every direction including ten houses, a mosque, and the local police station. Miraculously, I was the lone survivor, my only injury three deep gashes down my right shoulder blade.
I told the MPs the whole story of what happened in the cave, about the giant centipede monster, the relic, half my platoon being devoured and the other half slaughtered during Tahir’s betrayal. Not surprisingly, they didn’t believe me. Equally unsurprising, neither did the next group of MPs that talked to me, the internal affairs investigator, my commander, and at least three different psychologists they had analyze me. Everyone’s best guess of what actually went down was that Tahir came onto the base, turned his coat, set off a massive suicide bomb, and everyone was vaporized; neat, easy, and much further within the realm of the rational and reasonable. I tried pointing out the inconsistencies with that narrative, at the very least to get someone to go try and find the cave to corroborate my story, but ultimately it was just too crazy. No one would listen. In the end, the doctors and psychologists slapped me with a traumatic brain injury label and nine months later I was out of the army with an honorable discharge and twenty percent disability.
And crippling self doubt. Oh, how I questioned myself. Having a dozen professionals tell you again and again how what you’re saying is impossible, how there is no chance on earth that things happened the way you think they did, starts to wear on your resolve after a while. For a time, I managed to convince myself that the whole thing was actually a lie cooked up by my mind from the shock. But I always came back to the dreams, and the screaming, and the scars.
The one piece of evidence that would have truly helped convince everyone of my story was, of course, the relic itself. But that was never found. I managed to talk to my fellow platoon leader, Lieutenant McCartney, who found me lying in the rubble. He told me that truthfully neither he, nor any of his men, had seen anything resembling the stone I described. He’s a good man and had absolutely no reason to lie about something like that, so again, more questions were raised than answers. It’s possible they simply missed it in the wreckage, or that it was somehow destroyed in the blast, but in my gut I know that’s not the case. Somehow, someone took the thing out of my unconscious grasp for their own purposes. Who and for what, I can only imagine.
I make a fresh pot of coffee to help deal with the lingering hangover effects and sit down at my kitchen table. The sun is streaming in through the window over the sink and I take a deep breath, drinking in the aromatic smell of the brew and finding myself truly relax for what seems like the first in a very long time. There’s a knock at my door.
I jump up so fast I knock my chair over backwards. I take two steps and dive across the hallway into the bedroom, grabbing my glock from the nightstand. Furtively I creep down through the living room and position myself next to my slab of a door, gun held at the ready. The knock sounds again, this time accompanied by a voice.
“Mr. Landry, are you there?” The voice speaking is female and sounds tired and more than a little anxious. I move to look through the peep hole and see a woman holding a sleeping child standing in front of the entryway. The kid looks to be about six years old. The woman, a brunette, has bags under her eyes as if she hasn’t slept in days but even those don’t keep me from realizing how remarkably attractive she is.
I shout through the door, “Who are you, lady, and what do you want?”
“My name is Sarah Wilder and something terrible has happened to my husband. I have reason to believe it’s coming for me and my daughter next. Please, Mr. Landry, I was told you could help me.”
“Yeah? Who told you that?”
“A woman. Some psychic. It sounds crazy, but she contacted me out of the blue, before everything started to happen. She said when I needed help that you would be able to give it to me.”
“I don’t know any psychics Mrs. Wilder, and you’re right that does sound crazy. Sorry that I’m not about to take you on faith here.”
“She said you’d say that. She also said to show you this.” A piece of paper slides under the crack of the door. I bend to pick it up. It’s a computer printout of a photo of an object lying on a table. It’s grainy, but there’s no mistaking the round stone about the size of a half dollar, smooth but for the slightly raised bump in its exact center. The relic.
I disengage the locks and struggle to heave the door open. The woman squeezes through with her child and I close and lock the door again behind her. The kid hasn’t stirred throughout all of this and must be completely exhausted.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Landry. I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me.”
I sigh. “Ma’am, I have a feeling the fear hasn’t even started yet. Let’s let you put the kid down and get you a chair and some coffee. Then you can tell me what’s happened from the beginning…”