As it’s Halloween, I have a little treat for you all today. Author S.S. Hampton Sr has written a short story just for us, hope you enjoy.
by SS Hampton, Sr.
Black, eye-burning smoke rolled down the highway. Scorching heat from an 18-wheel tractor trailer on fire became an unholy beacon within a lake of flames. An ancient shadow-filled desert illuminated by shining stars, a waxing gibbous moon, and bright forked lightning created misshapen shadows that loped over the desert with RPGs with pointed bulbous warheads, PKM drum-fed machine guns, and AK-47s with curved banana clips. Between the glow and the shadows, hungry voices hunted, voices that belonged neither to the night nor daylight.
Specialist Dillon Frank watched and listened from where he lay next to a clump of bushes that rattled in the moaning desert wind. He didn’t know how many insurgents there were, but they were all on his side of Main Supply Route Tampa, the Kuwait-Baghdad logistics lifeline upon which thousands of 18-wheelers rumbled up and down to supply the Coalition Forces. Sooner or later one of them would discover him. He had to get to the other side of the MSR where he would be safe within the darkness, the same darkness he disliked his entire life. That way, they would be backlit by the fire when they came after him. Easy pickings with his M4 Carbine, especially with the Close Combat Optical and the little red dot in the eyepiece. Whatever the red dot fell upon, that’s where the round went.
Dillon took a couple of quick breaths and scrambled to his feet.
The crunch of sand under combat boots was deafening. Even without the fire the night was hot, especially when burdened with helmet, body armour, ammunition magazines, and a combat knife.
Shouts. Howls. The zip of coloured tracer rounds through the night.
Sparks danced around his feet.
Shouts and howls drew closer.
He couldn’t make it!
A squat, ugly, yet beautiful shadow emerged from the darkness. The rapid chatter of an M240 machine gun filled the air. In the fire light blackened streaks marked the side of an HMMWV gun truck, the tireless work-horse of the Iraq War. The front right door swung open. A tall figure wearing a helmet and Night Vision Goggles waved him on while the rear passenger door opened.
Gasping, Dillon reached the door and froze as cold air from the interior washed over him.
“Get in!” the soldier shouted as tracer fire washed against the side of the truck, creating showers of sparks. The gunner fired again from behind the roof mounted gun shields. Dillon leaped into the cramped, dark vehicle. “Go,” the gun truck commander shouted.
“My God, holy shit.” Dillon savored the cold air.
Gun trucks had air conditioners, but move the hand an inch away from the vent and there was nothing. The interior was always a broiling oven, especially with desert air rushing in through the open gun turret.
“You okay?” the soldier asked in a gravelly voice that carried over the growling engine.
“Yeah, yeah, thanks,” he stammered. His dry mouth tasted gritty and sooty. “Got any water?”
“No,” the figure in the left passenger seat answered in a cool feminine voice. The cyclops-eyed snout of an NVG masked her face beneath the helmet. Fingers clad in elbow-length fire retardant gloves danced lightly across a bulky medic bag like a line of figures being led up the slope of a hill.
“None,” she replied.
No water in a gun truck in the Syrian Desert on MSR Tampa? That was unheard of. He saw the NVG wearing gunner looking down at him. Beyond the gunner a flash of lightning lit the starry night. Still breathing heavily he leaned against the ballistic window that was a partial protection against bullets and shrapnel.
He wrinkled his nose at the smoke-tainted cold.
“Who are you guys?”
“Staff Sergeant Kent Schwarz,” the soldier answered. “This is Night Rider.”
Dillon identified himself as a mobilized Nevada Army National Guard Soldier from Convoy Support Center Navistar, a mile south of the Iraqi border, and in-country only since July.
“Where you from?” he asked.
“Convoy out of Arifjan,” Kent said. “Headed north and heard the radio traffic about you being lost after your convoy was hit.”
Several days before, a convoy had come out of Camp Arifjan in southern Kuwait and at Navistar picked up Dillon’s four escorting gun trucks for the 45 18-wheelers. They dropped the convoy off in Baghdad and for the return journey picked up a south-bound convoy. They were approaching the Kuwaiti border when an IED took out one of the 18-wheelers. He got out of his gun truck when he saw the Kuwaiti driver futilely struggling to get out of the burning 18-wheeler. And then insurgents, explosions, and gunfire hit.
“Thank God you guys came along.”
Kent chuckled. “Yeah. Happy Halloween.”
Dillon grunted. He had forgotten it was Halloween night.
“Relax,” the female medic said soothingly.
The growl and vibration of the engine was hypnotic, threatening to lull him to sleep. He looked over Kent’s shoulder. The unending MSR disappeared into a deep blackness, except when lit by the lighting. He glanced up past the gunner. There was a starless gloom overhead.
“Something wrong?” Kent asked.
The NVG equipped driver glanced at Dillon.
“No, no.” The gun truck shook as if in a strong wind. He licked his dry, cracked lips. He was thirsty. “Can you tell Navistar you found me?”
“No need,” Kent replied.
“They’ll think I’m Missing In Action.”
“We have you,” the medic said. Her lips curled into a thin smile as she patted his hand. “That’s all that matters.”
“Staff Sergeant, I think we should let Navistar know.”
“We have you,” the medic repeated, fingers curling around his wrist.
A snicker came from Kent.
The gun truck picked up speed.
An unpleasant chill raced up Dillon’s neck. Something was wrong, very wrong.
“Wait, let me out.”
The medic’s fingers tightened around his wrist.
Kent turned slightly. “Why?
“Let me out.”
The gunner spoke for the first time. His voice was raspy, distant, as if coming from a deep pit. “Can’t do that.” He leaned into the gun truck, arms hanging on the ring of the gun turret, and smiled with ghostly white teeth.
Dillon shook not from the cold, but fear. His soul was screaming for him to flee, even if it meant running into the insurgents again. He stared out the window. In the glare of lightning spindly trees and plump bushes became skeletal figures and fat demons.
Then the gunner was inside the truck, perched on the toes of his boots and elbows resting on his knees, looking like something hungry. Kent turned around, a hint of a smile on his lips. The medic’s fingers were like an iron vise.
Dillon screamed and threw the door open. Kicking and using the butt of his M4 to punch at clawing hands, he threw himself halfway out the door. Overhead the early morning sky flashed gray before he tumbled across the hard sand. He rolled to his feet. Night Rider was backing up.
A north-bound convoy appeared in the distance. He sprinted toward it, waving his arms.
Night Rider stopped, Kent and the medic emerged.
“Dillon,” Kent said calmly.
The lead gun truck of the approaching convoy stopped.
“Who the fuck are you?” the gunner shouted.
Dillon identified himself.
The gun truck commander got out and pushed his NVGs up. “Show me your ID.” He studied it, then Dillon.
Dillon trembled as the medic floated across the sandy median with long, red hair fluttering in the desert wind.
“Dillon,” she whispered.
“What’s wrong? Let’s go!”
“Calm down. I’m Staff Sergeant Campbell.”
Campbell jerked as if spooked and surveyed the area. After another heartbeat he said, “Where you been at?”
“Where you been?”
Dillon explained about the ambush.
“Yeah, we heard. That was close to midnight. Your convoy looked for you, but there was too many insurgents. The Quick Reaction Force couldn’t find you either.”
“Another gun truck picked me up.”
“Night Rider. SSG Kent Schwarz and his crew, including a female medic. Out of Arifjan.”
Campbell gave him a sharp look. “Night Rider?”
“Soldier, Night Rider was a gun truck two years ago, back in 2004. Blown up by an IED on a convoy mission on Halloween night. Kent, his crew, and the medic were burned to ashes. We were in the same company.”
Dillon shook his head. “No. No. They picked me up.”
Icy fingers caressed the back of his neck as a soft voice whispered, “Dillon.”
He cried out and looked over his shoulder at the medic. Her red hair shimmered in the dawn wind. Scrambling into the hot gun truck, he pulled the heavy up-armoured door shut.
Campbell stared at Dillon. After another glance around, he climbed into the front seat.
“Notify Navistar we got their soldier,” he said, “and then let’s get the hell out of here.”
About Stan Hampton Sr
Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.
He has had two solo photographic exhibitions and curated a third. Hampton’s writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.
His latest writing is a science fiction horror story, Monologue, and will be released by Melange Books in 2017.
Hampton can be found at:
Thank you for taking time to write this story for my readers.