FALLUJAH – November 11 2004

check the sights of M4 for the fourth time that evening. I know that the weapon is zeroed, I did it in the days before the invasion started. Still after last night and the knocks my rifle took as we climbed over rubbish and debris, I need to be certain.

The sun is setting off to my left. We’ve taken five minutes of break. Not enough, not by half, but the enemy isn’t going to let us rest. The Bradleys have rearmed in the dying light and now they’re ready to go. I grab a quick bite from an MRE and then we’re off.

We’re checking buildings, going from house to house and clearing rooms. We spend the morning destroying caches of weapons, documents and equipment. Anything the insurgents can use we don’t want in working order behind us. Now we’re moving again. The going is slow but it has to be. Earlier we found a house with wires strung everywhere all connected to an aircraft’s drop tank loaded with fuel. The whole house was just a big fuckin’ IED, enough to take out the platoon.

We approach the next house, the windows are boarded up. Jacks blows the hinges with his shotgun and sound echoes around the quiet streets. The dying sun is at our backs and light fills the room. I’m first through. I see shadows bounce around the walls and a shape that could be something in the corner but my Surefire torch reveals nothing, just the dark.

We clear the house: no enemy.

We clear the street: no contacts. The whole place seems to be deserted. The sun is gone now and we all lower our NODs into place turning the street into a green highlighted landscape. In the distance M1s can be heard rolling up the street, blasting away at Texas barriers and IEDs. The Sarge gets a call over the radio that the tanks need some infantry support. He gives his acknowledgement and we take off.

The street is ablaze and we raise the NODs. There’s plenty of light to see by. Nearby an Abrams rocks as she sends a 120mm shell into a building. It blows away a support pylon and the whole thing collapses, filling the street with dust. I see shadows in the dust and hear wild screaming from within. I call out contact and fire three rounds into the swirling grit. Others take up the firing and we fire and manoeuvre into the maelstrom. The wind picks up and the dust clears. I see shadowy figures racing down an alley but when I pursue all I see is a burning car halfway down and no enemy.

We enter the first building on our right and take up position on the roof once it’s cleared. The Sarge sets up an all-round perimeter defence, each of us with our own sectors to cover. I’ve got top-cover looking out over the street and down the main road. I got that because I got the ACOG sight on my rifle. After the tank blast the street is quiet again. I can see the shadows of dogs as they move around the street picking at the corpses of the dead. There’s a pack at the top of the street chewing on a body. I watch one as it moves under the remains of a building. It’s sticking to the shadows all the way. I can just make it out. A black spot in the middle of more black. I can see other dogs avoiding the shadow, tails lowered and heads bowed low. One dog rolls over onto his back and I can hear it whine. I lower my NOD again to get a better look. There’s a fire burning not ten feet from the dog and I can see the beast clearly.

And it’s not a dog. It ignores the whining dog and walks past it. The creature is black, so dark in colour that it actually stands out against the darkness behind it. I try to see the thing through my ACOG sight with the NOD. But it doesn’t really work. I bump the arm of the soldier beside me. Nieves.

“Hey, check this out,” I say. I point out the creature still lurking in the shadows.

“Just a dog. Fucking mutts are everywhere,” he replies.

“Big dog.” I know it’s not a dog, but what can I say. It does look like a dog. Four legs, tail, neck, muzzle. But it looks wrong, not like a dog should.

Then it’s gone. I see it again in the street, by a body. It has its head down; sniffing at the corpse, still just a black shape in the dark. Then it seems to open its mouth and at first I think it’s licking up the blood but it has its head buried in the body’s mid-section, and the corpse, well, I thought it was a corpse, arches its back and screams a high pitched wail. I don’t think; I fire into the body and Nieves, who saw the movement, does as well. We shred the body and I pump several rounds into the dog. But it’s still standing, still tearing at what has to be a
corpse now. I fire again, the sergeant orders me to cease fire.

“What are you shooting at?” he yells.

Nieves answers, which is good because I can’t seem to move. The dog is staring at me and I can’t tear my eyes away from it.

“That dude out there, Sarge. The fucker wasn’t dead. Started squealing when the dog bit his guts.”

I can hear what they’re saying but I can’t look away from the damn dog. I’m looking at it front on now and I can see its face. It’s still dark on dark but I can see things that shouldn’t be there. And then it’s gone. In the distance machine guns rattle. For the rest of the night, we’re caught in a fight that lasts until after sun-up and I’ve forgotten about the dog.

The 13th is more fighting, at last light the fighting dies down; we lost three men and are all feeling pretty low but the enemy dead are far more numerous. We’re on another roof, overlooking a T-junction. From my vantage point I can see a two insurgents; one is leaning against a wall slowly rocking back and forth and keening softly to himself as he tries to hold in his guts. The other is in the middle of the street. A Bradley 25mm took his legs off and now he’s trying to get to cover leaving a dark smear on the road. To his credit he’s not crying out or anything just trying to get to cover. Both guys are less than two hundred metres away from me and I could put a couple of shots into each one if I wanted to but three of my friends are dead and I don’t feel like being merciful to the enemy right now. I take my eyes off the street for a second and glance behind me. My three fallen platoon mates are lying in the centre of the roof, arms by their sides and helmets covering their faces. I have two magazines full of ammo set on the ledge beside me and they came from one of those men’s pouches.

Soldiers shouldn’t think of their own mortality. But my friends are dead. I turn to the street and see the dog from last night sniffing at the blood of the legless man. There’s heaps of light from fires and I can see the beast clearly through my ACOG sight. It’s black against the orange street. And it’s no dog. I know that but I keep calling it a dog because what else could it be. Legless man has seen it now and suddenly he screams and starts to crawl faster. Gutless is screaming now too and I turn to him to see three of the dogs pulling at his guts. A shadow crosses his face and his scream raises an octave. His high pitched keening has got the whole platoon’s attention. They can all see the dogs, the things, the monsters of shadow that are out there. Legless has been pounced on and he adds his screams to the noise. The beasts are silent as they feed; but the men scream and scream. An M240 opens up next to me ripping up concrete and spraying blood and meat into the air as the rounds tear into Gutless and the pack that’s chewing him. The whole platoon opens up. Rounds shred the men and the dogs, concrete dust flies up as the road is pockmarked with bullet strikes. Sarge calls a cease fire.

Silence returns to the night.

“Fuck me.”

I don’t know who said that. All I can focus on is the street and five dogs looking at us. I can feel the malevolence pouring out of their eyes. Whatever they are. We shouldn’t have disturbed their meal. Then they’re gone.

Behind us someone screams, as one the platoon spins. It’s our dead. The things are eating our dead and our dead are screaming like the men in the street. We can’t think. Don’t think. We start shooting up the dead; blasting the dogs and our own. One dog turns to us and howls. The closest men drop their weapons and cover their ears as the beasts’ moan fills the night over the din of our weapons.

I change mags as a dog leaps. It’s just a shadow. Just black. And it passes through the Sarge who stiffens up like a board and topples off the edge of the roof. The platoon scatters, men are panicking; wild shots fill the air. I can hear the meaty thud of rounds striking flesh. Christ, we’re shooting our own. Another dog howls and leaps; Nieves is the target and like the Sarge he stiffens as the beast dives right through him but there isn’t a mark on his body. I rush to his side. He’s whole and complete no wounds at all. Just pale as a ghost and dead. The men are screaming as the dogs tear through them.

The stairs are on the other side of the pack and I can’t get to them. A dog howls and I cover my ears as the noise cuts through my head. I feel a tooth pop from the pitch and I scream with the pain. I dive to the edge of the roof and roll over the ledge into the street below. I fall ten feet to the road and hit flat on my back knocking the wind out me. As I struggle to breathe a dog appears above me; staring at me with his dark face. I look into its eyes and all I can see is dark. All I can feel is dread and death coming for me. My limbs are like lead and I can’t move them. I can’t hear my platoon anymore. The street is silent. The dogs are all around me.

* * * * *

Shaun has had an interest in writing throughout his youth and has written a large number of short stories or flash fiction just for the enjoyment of it. It was not until he was twenty-seven years of age that he decided to take his hobby of writing a little more seriously, and he has since completed a lengthy novel, “Zicastor”, which is currently being split into a series of three. Originally from Canberra, Australia’s national capital, and now living in Townsville, Queensland, Shaun has been involved (and is still involved) in writers groups such as the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild, and Writers in Townsville Society. He blogs here.