The Last Firebase

A Vietnam War horror story. Bit of a chinky outline form. Seems like there’s something there after a re-read.

The Last Firebase

  • A platoon of battle hardened grunts march out from their firebase and head deep in the jungle.  

  • They patrol the region and encounter no resistance until they enter a small village.  They dispatch the VC and force the villagers out into the jungle as they torch the buildings and blow up the tunnels underneath.

  • Arriving at the extraction point Lt. Simmons raises their pickup on the radio.  The pilot says they cannot extract now and head to the secondary extraction site.  The LT finds out the base is under heavy attack and all choppers were providing fire support for the soldiers there.

  • En route to the site they encounter NVA regulars.  Sgt. Miller is concerned at the appearance of regulars so far south.  After a brief but viscous firefight the NVA patrol is defeated with one prisoner captured.  He sneers at the Americans and says that they will be repaid for their evil and that North Vietnam bows to no colonial power.

  • Arriving at the secondary site with prisoner in tow LT raises the firebase command post on the radio requesting extraction.  Colonel Johnson tells him extraction is impossible that all of the choppers have been taken out by a massive assault and that the firebase had briefly been overrun until they had taken it back.  “Simmons, you and your men are just going to have to hump it. And keep that prisoner alive, we took a beating and I want to know why and how the NVA were able to surprise us like this—if your gook has any intel I want it.  We’ll be cleaning up fucking bodies for a goddamn month around here!”

  • Grudgingly the platoon hikes towards the firebase.  After a week in the bush they begin to draw near the valley that the firebase overlooks.  Simmons and Miller note that the glow of lights is not visible at the base across the valley and comment that the Colonel must still be accepting trouble.  One more day across the valley and ascend the mountain the following morning for the final approach to the base

  • The platoon encounters a platoon size group of NVA corpses.  They were not killed in battle, but had killed themselves. It seems the animals have gotten to them.  Tran is extremely nervous.

  • One of the NVA begins to move.  The medic glances at him and shakes his head.  “He’s wounded too badly to help. Jesus, he’s already eaten up with jungle rot.”  One of the GIs removes his canteen and bends down the injured man. He tries to pour some water in his mouth.  Tran yells and tries to stop him. LT restrains Tran and is shocked that he can speak English. The wounded NVA takes a bite out of the soldiers arm.  “Goddamn it!” he yells as he shoots the wounded man in the head. “Fucking gook was still trying to fight even though his war was over. Mother fucker.  Doc, can you patch this up? Hurts like hell.”

  • That evening Simmons tries to check in with the base.  There is no response. They blame the overgrowth of the jungle and cheapness of the radios.  Sentries raise the alarm twice through the night. Someone seems to be moving just beyond the reach of the claymores.  No sign of anything come dawn.

  • The approach to the base is as though the grunts are walking through a nightmare.  The trees are blasted to splinters some entirely uprooted by artillery strikes and bomb runs.  The top third of the mountain is covered with bodies. Thousand upon thousand lay facing the firebase on all sides.  Smoke rolls off of ruined helicopters and buildings within the wire and without. The soldiers trudge on in absolute shock.  Tran begins shuddering and gibbering.  

  • Miller walks up to Simmons, “Jesus L.T. this wasn’t a simple attack by a regiment.  This had to be a whole division, maybe two if the other slope looks the same way.” Simmons replies, “Fuck I know.  The Old Man said they had been overrun and retaken the base, but I don’t see how that could have happened. Unless there was a second wave after I spoke to him.”

  • A hoot surprises the men and Pfc. Philips is smiling jubilantly as he points to the command post and the U.S. flag that still flies above it.  Miller slaps Simmons on the shoulder, “Hot damn! Looks like you’ll be able to ask him yourself!” and begins jogging towards the summit.

  • The soldiers approach the wire ill at ease.  Lt. Simmons begins signaling the platoon by hand when they are not challenged by sentries.  You can hear the soldiers click the safeties on their weapons as they warily watch all around them.

  • As they enter the firebase they see a handful of corpses.  Surrounding one of the Quonset huts is a group of three dead US soldiers.  Sporadic rifle fire bursts from the hut and wounds one of Simmons’ men. Simmons barks a couple of orders.  Major Hawkins yells out from the hut. “Identify yourselves if you can speak!” “Lt. Simmons and 2nd Platoon sir!”  The Major comes out of the hut swearing.  “I’m sorry, damn, I’m sorry.” The major looks around at the full strength platoon and looks at Simmons.  He grins broadly, “Welcome back to Firebase Johnson!” Simmons asks “Firebase Johnson sir?” “I figured I’d redesignate it after its fallen commander.”

  • Inside the CP the soldiers quickly put it back into order.  Philips tries to raise someone on the radio. “Only thing out there are ghosts son.”  Simmons and the others look to the major. Before we were overrun we were able to pick up a lot of traffic on the radio.  We’re the last firebase. Every single firebase north of Da Nang has fallen. The Marines at Da Nang are having a hell of a time holding out; that is if they are still holding out at all.” Hawkins looks around.  “Does anyone have any water?” Simmons hands Hawkins his canteen. “Is this from the field?” Simmons nods, “It’s purified.” Hawkins nods and drinks deeply. “Good. Goddamn gooks poisoned our water the last time they overran us.”  “What happened here sir?” “First things first. What strength is your platoon?” “6 full squads sir, no casualties save the one you clipped.” “Excellent. Pull back some of the sandbags and mortars and fortify the area immediately around the CP.  Establish a tight perimeter and I want claymores tripled and 360 around here. I’ll brief you and your platoon sergeant and you can filter it down.”

  • “The NVA just poured out of the mountains.  No one knows how the fuck they got past the DMZ, but they are here none the less.  The radio has gone silent so I can only assume that we are now the only firebase left north of Da Nang.  Everyone was getting hit, from Khe San on south. It wasn’t a recon either, a fully coordinated assault, it’s massive.  Westmoreland needs his ass cashiered for this one. Since the artillerists are gone and the magazine was blown, we are no longer operating as a fire support base.  As far as I’m concerned we are now the only defense left for the Republic of South Vietnam and we’ll defend them against all enemies.” “Sir?” “What is it Simmons?”  “That won’t sit real well with the men.” “Fuck ‘em. But if it helps then tell them we’ll just hold here until we can evac and let Airmobile rebuild this place. Tell them whatever the fuck you want.”  “Yes sir.” “We also have another problem.” “Sir?” “You may have noticed the lack of American boys laying dead out there. There are some but not a battalion’s worth.” “Yes sir. I figured they didi’d.”  “You thought wrong son. They died. Every last one of them died and hard too.” Simmons “There were a lot of NVA out there. It must have been hard.” Hawkins snaps, “It wasn’t’ just the Goddamned gooks!” Hawkins begins cackling and laughing until he coughs while staring at Simmons and Miller.  He is clearly mad. Sobering he continues “We were able to retake the base. Hell we had two batteries of tubes pounding the hell out of the mountains and the battalion was at damn near 70% strength after we retook it. We didn’t get wiped by the gooks. We were able to fall back in order and regroup.  It started in the aid station. First just one but then the numbers kept growing. Wounded men were dying there you see. Then one of them moved.” “Sir?” “Moved damn it. He wasn’t dead, but he wasn’t himself. The medics restrained him. Then it happened again and again. If I’d known then I would have gone in there myself and put them out of their goddamn misery.  But we thought they were just in shock. By the time we realized something was going on there was nothing we could do. It was in the water and many had drunk it. I didn’t and several other patrols that had returned, like yours but unluckier. Maybe luckier depending how you look it, fuck I don’t know.” “How did you manage to not drink the water?” The Major waves his flask at the LT.  Those who drank went down much slower, but they still ended up in the aid station and eventually died. But then they came back. One of the restrained men broke free. He tore apart a medic with his bare hands and teeth. Then the medic did the same thing to someone else soon after. It just kept getting worse and worse.” Hesitantly “The NVA?” “I’m fairly sure. This shit didn’t start until after we had retaken the base.”  “No sir, what about all the Vietnamese out there? Will they get up?” Hawkins shrugs, “Don’t know, they haven’t yet. No one who died on the wire or at the trenches got back up.” “Then where are our dead sir?” Hawkins loses it. “Don’t fucking ask me that? Alright. Fuck I don’t know.” Pacing “What the fuck was I supposed to do. The Quartermaster stores were destroyed when the magazine blew. I ate all the MREs I could find.  All of them. Fuck Simmons you guys were out there for three weeks. I had a war to fight goddamn it.” “Major Hawkins, sir? What are you…” Hawkins screaming “I’m not about to eat a fucking filthy goddamn gook Simmons. You want to eat a gook you go the fuck ahead. I know our boys are clean, who knows what diseases those fuckers out there have.”

A Good Day Ruined: a Story

A bit of an experimentation in meta narrative. Dunno.

A Good Day Ruined

The ringing in Scott’s head hadn’t stopped since morning. Well, what passed for morning anyway. He couldn’t remember what he had done the night before but he suspects it got out of hand as rough as he was feeling. After a couple missteps getting dressed, Scott had to sit down and put his pants on one leg at a time. Clenching the last bent cigarette between his teeth he grunted as he burns himself with the last bent match. One deep drag later and it’s time for coffee. The coffee maker died a week ago and he was still too broke to replace it so he boiled up some water and knocked some instant coffee crystals into a mug and sat down waiting for the kettle to whistle at him.

 Life alone did not suit him too well. He was a solitary creature but he still needed a modicum of human contact and he got that and more from work. The kettle was taking its sweet assed time so Scott hustled back to the bedroom side of his studio apartment to finish getting dressed. He pulled on a t-shirt from his previous job and buttoned the shirt from his current job over it. The kettle still hadn’t sounded so he went to grab a cigarette to find the pack empty. An exasperated wheeze escaped his lips as he dug through the ashtray collecting candidates for re-burn. Gathering the four butts that hadn’t been smoked to the filter helped Scott realize he needed another pack sooner rather than later. Fifteen minutes later and four dollars and twenty seven cents was the total haul from the couch cushions. A bumper crop of change for sure. He was confident that he could make up the deficit and buy a pack when he raided the change under the car seat. The kettle still hadn’t whistled. When he checked it he found out he didn’t turn on the burner. Fuck. Too late to start again. Scott choked down the crystals as he slammed the door shut behind him.

He walked into work twenty minutes late but he didn’t mind. He found enough scratch to buy a pack of smokes and a cup of real coffee so he took his time and treated himself. The asshole manager tried to chide him and didn’t care for Scott’s dual excuse of nicotine and caffeine. It didn’t bother Scott because he didn’t care about his job too much. A shitty, dead end gig at a shitty, dead end twenty four hour copy shop. Scott worked third shift and no one else at the shit hole wanted that shit shift so his job was safe for the most part. It was Friday night so that meant another night of tedium and church bulletins. Most of the churches submitted text documents these days and part of the service involved editing so Scott was always up to date on the latest fish fry and Platinum Club meetings by the time each document was ready to go. Trinity Lutheran even had a secretary who couldn’t spell “angels” so he always had to change her “angles” to “angels.” Sometimes he didn’t though. As he started working he decided that tonight would be one of those sometimes. 

Twenty minutes into the shift Scott finds himself bored and in need of another cigarette. It was too soon for one of his allotted breaks so he grabs the trash bin and wheels it out the back door. He parks the bin near the dumpster and lights a cigarette as he leans against the wall. Whilst contemplating his lot in life he falls into a reverie. Things aren’t going too bad. He’s got a job, an apartment, what passes for a car and an ex-girlfriend who still constantly nags him. Up until now he would have said he has his health too but recently he developed a small, intermittent cough. From the smoking, no doubt. He was still young and could quit anytime he wanted to. It’s not like he had the lung cancer or anything. He’d have the doc check it out the next time he had enough money for a check-up. He takes a last, long pull from his smoke and crushes the butt beneath his foot. He grabs the half full bin and drags it back inside with him. Someone else can take it out or he will bring it out again later in the evening. Back to the wonderful world of church bulletins and flow charts.

The last of the day shift left at seven leaving Scott the only employee until morning. That was fine by him. The job was almost enjoyable when he was alone. It was Friday which means the night will be slower than most nights. Who wants to go to an all-night copy shop on a Friday night? No one. Well… mostly no one. There were three people in the store two of whom were making self-serve copies and a third who was pretending not to look at porn while using the internet. It was the same guy every few days. He’d come in early and stay late looking at porn almost the whole time. Who doesn’t have internet at home nowadays? That guy apparently. Scott looks at the clock. Holy hell. The twelve hour shifts were a killer but he needed the money and his mighty steed needed an oil change. He won’t be rolling in it at eight bucks an hour but it almost paid the bills. He glances at the clock again and realizes he’s almost alone in the store. There was him and the porn guy and that guy won’t need anything except access to the soda machine and the bathroom. Scott reaches in his pocket and pulls out a thumb drive. He pops it in the computer and opens the drive’s single file. The document flashes on the screen and he begins to type:

The pain in Mack’s back had been bugging him all morning. Well, what passed for morning anyway. After a couple missteps getting dressed, Mack had to sit down and put his pants on one leg at a time. He shakes the last cigarette out of the pack and lights up on the stove burner. It’s time for coffee. The coffee maker died a week ago and he was still too broke to replace it so he boiled up some water and knocked some instant coffee crystals into a mug and sat down waiting for the kettle to whistle at him while he finished his cigarette. 

Life alone did not suit him too well. He was a solitary creature but he still needed a modicum of human contact and he got that and more from work. The kettle was taking its sweet assed time so Mack hustled back to the bedroom to finish getting dressed. He pulled on a company issued t-shirt and looked at himself in the mirror. Three days of beard growth and unkempt hair was going to have to do because he was running late. The kettle still hadn’t sounded so he went to grab a cigarette to find the pack empty. An exasperated wheeze escaped his lips as he dug through the ashtray collecting candidates for re-burn. Finding the solitary butt that hadn’t been smoked to the filter helped Mack realize he needed another pack sooner rather than later. Fifteen minutes later and five dollars and sixty eight cents was the total haul from the couch cushions. A bumper crop of change for sure. He was confident that he could make up the deficit and buy a pack when he raided the change under the car seat. The kettle still hadn’t whistled. When he checked it he found out he didn’t turn on the burner. Fuck. Too late to start again. Mack choked down the crystals as he slammed the door shut behind him and headed out to start his day.

Mack ran into work ten minutes late looking as frazzled as usual. He acknowledges the cashier at the front counter as he draws off a cup of the free coffee the store provides for customers. The bitch of a manager tried to chide him and didn’t care for Mack’s apology because she had it in for him anyway. It didn’t bother Mack because he didn’t care about his job too much. A shitty, dead end gig at a shitty, dead end used book shop. Mack worked second shift and no one else at the shit hole wanted that shit shift so his job was safe for the most part. He was a shift leader and his crew was a bunch of screw ups. That didn’t bother him too much because he knew he was a screw up too. Chief screw up. For reasons other than accepting this shit job. Today would be more of the same. People will bring in piles upon piles of garbage in expecting to make a mint off of it and some would no doubt end in screaming and sometimes tears. 

Thirty minutes into the shift Mack finds himself bored and in need of another cigarette. It was too soon for one of his allotted breaks so he grabs the trash bin and wheels it out the back door. He parks the bin near the dumpster and lights a cigarette as he leans against the wall. Whilst contemplating his lot in life he falls into a reverie. Things aren’t going too bad. He’s got a job, insurance, an apartment, what passes for a car and a girlfriend who doesn’t constantly nags him. Up until now he would have said he has his health too but recently he developed a small, intermittent cough. From the smoking, no doubt. He was still young and could quit anytime he wanted to. It’s not like he had the lung cancer or anything. He’d have the doc check it out the next time he went in for a check-up. He takes a last, long pull from his smoke and crushes the butt beneath his foot. He grabs the half full bin and drags it back inside with him. Someone else can take it out or he will bring it out again later in the evening. Back to the wonderful world of moldy books and trashed LPs.

A rapping at the counter draws Scott’s attention away from his story. It’s Porn Guy. What the fuck does he want? Change for a twenty. Scott counts out ten singles and a pair of fives and sends him back to his porn. He glances at the clock. Its 9 p.m. Time for a smoke break. He makes sure the store is empty and he locks the front door as he hustles over to the used book store next door to snag some of their free coffee. He grabbed his thermos on his way out and was hoping their carafes were full. Slllluuuurrrpppp. They weren’t anymore he thought as he pumped the last drops out of each one. Technically it’s half-caf since he emptied out both the regular and decaf dispenser, but when it’s sixty four ounces of half-caf it doesn’t matter that much. He smiled and nodded at the bored cashier as he hurried back in the rare event that someone wanted to make copies or if Porn Guy wanted out.

    Refreshed, Scott decides to edit the last few church bulletins and get those out of the way. He saves his progress on his story and closes the file for the time being. The churchy folk will be rolling in bright and early to pick up their orders. He finished the last edit on Trinity Methodist’s bulletin and started the print run. He stares at the clock for a few minutes. It’s twelve o’ clock. Six more fucking hours of this shit. He briefly slams his head into the counter and grabs the trash bin to go have a smoke. He dumped the bin in one go and leaned back against the wall tamping his cigarette. As he lights his smoke he notices a giant shooting star in the night sky. It screamed overhead as it slammed down with explosive force into what Scott thought was a residential neighborhood. He stubbed out his cigarette, grabbed the bin and hustled back inside to turn on the radio. He quickly fumbled with the dial as he sought out the local AM news station. The speakers squelched to life as he finally found it. A droll voice droned out the night’s scores for local and regional sport teams. Scott sighed. Maybe he imagined the impact. As he was about to turn off the radio he glanced out at the road outside as flashing lights drew his attention. He saw what looked like the town’s whole police department and entire fire department screaming down the road. He decided to leave the radio on because something big was definitely going on. 

    He told Porn Guy to keep an eye out online for some strange local news though he thought Porn Guy would be too busy looking at his porn. He walked back across the store and sat down behind the counter. As an afterthought he hopped back up and turned on the front door’s magnetic lock. Can’t be too careful with all the police out at a potential disaster site. Scott went to peek out the back door. The area of the neighborhood looked considerably brighter than it usually did. He thought he heard some strange shrieking noise carried by the wind but soon decided it was just the wind blowing through the dumpsters. Curiosity piqued even more he heads back inside to find something to do while he listened to the most boring talk radio station in the world.

    A pair of emo kids walked up to the front door and gave the handle a pull getting Scott’s attention. He looks up and nods as he buzzes them in. Boy and girl both had bottle blackened hair and were wearing un-ironic Smiths shirts with their skinny jeans and studded belts. Scott shakes his head and then realizes he feels like an old codger being judgmental towards the younger generation. The two pay for some time on a design computer so they could put together a flyer for their band—of course. Scott gives in to his judgmental nature and goes back to disregarding anything that comes out of emo kids as having no substance or value. As truly vapid as their beloved Smiths. The radio squawks an emergency broadcast system alert and then explains that a meteorite had crashed into a residential area obliterating some of the homes. The announcer advises people that it will take a little longer for a response as it would be the county handling 911 calls until things were sorted out. Now that he knew what happened the excitement was over—for him, anyway—and he plugged his flash drive back into the computer and opened his story:

    Mack was flipping through a stack of wet and ruined magazines trying to figure out how to break it to the man who brought them in. He couldn’t pay the man a cent for them and there is always the risk of a loud confrontation when the offer is no bucks. The storefront windows explode inward as a furious sound erupts in the parking lot setting off every car alarm. Mack pulls a piece of the shattered glass out of his face and glances out into the parking lot and sees only fire and fury. He runs outside with almost everyone else who was in the store. His car is gone. Obliterated. Toast. Swearing and worrying he takes comfort in the fact that every other employee vehicle is gone too. Misery loves company. The heat keeps everyone away from the crater. He looks back at the building and a loud shrieking sound emanates from the crater. The guy from the copy shop takes off on foot leaving what’s left of his job behind. Those who can leave do so. The bookstore staff finds itself between a rock and a hard place. They run back inside the bookstore and hide the best they can. Some in the stacks and others heading for the backroom and office. The manager locks herself in the office and refuses to let anyone else in with her. Those in the backroom cuss at her and let her know what they think about her inept handling of the store the past couple years. 

    Scared shitless, Mack still has to see if anything is outside or if everyone scared themselves into a frenzy. When he glances out from between the stacks he sees something massive and apparently tentacled heading toward the front of the store. As he slides back he sees a tentacle drive through the back of a cowering customer’s skull. He chokes back a scream and hopes someone else saw that. Instead he hears a horribly distorted voice call out that everything is safe. Somehow he knows the…the alien—what else can you call it?—is behind the dreadful sound. But as the saying goes, any bait can catch a fish and a hapless coworker hustles up to the corpse on the end of the tentacle. As they say how relieved they are the tentacle bursts out of the dead customer’s mouth and through the employee’s face. Now everyone screams and the giant monster outside responds with a deafening shriek.  

    Knocking draws Scott’s attention back to the real world. He looks out the door and sees a harried looking mother and her young child. He pushes the buzzer and lets them in. She’s in hysterics and her kid is crying. She says she is from the neighborhood where the thing landed. Not crashed but landed and how someone was attacking the first responders. Scott runs to the back door and pushes it open to listen. Sure enough the wind carried the sounds of sporadic gunfire and a high pitched shrieking sound. Scott was suddenly frightened. When he came back in the radio announcer was relating the exact same thing the woman told him. He instructed people to shelter in place and not to go outside. This got Porn Guy’s attention and even the emo kids were listening with rapt attention. Would guess so since no one has really heard something like this since Orson Welles started his Halloween eve broadcast some seventy seven years previous. A pall of silence has fallen over the group of strangers. The emo kids are clearly scared shitless and the mother tries to weep silently which does nothing to calm her daughter. Scott doesn’t know what to think. He’s so medicated that his affect is as flat as can be in an end of days, alien invasion type of scenario. He is frightened—it’s as though one of his stories has come to life—but he is still uncertain of what role he has to play. 

A knock at the door draws everyone’s attention. A young girl about ten years old is calmly knocking and asks through the glass if she can use the phone. Scott hurriedly presses the buzzer as the mother opens the door for her. She walks inside and drones out a thank you. The child has a flat affect as she then repeats her request to use the phone. Scott takes her back to the phone behind the counter and returns to the sales floor with the others. The girl picks up the hand set and starts talking. She rattles off a string of numbers. Three, five, seven, two, nine, ten, four, three. When she replaces the hand set there is an odd bit of goo left on it. She slowly walks to the sales floor. Scott asks about her mother and the girl assured him she had nothing to fear. He begins to get an uneasy feeling and the other people sheltering in the copy shop appear increasingly nervous. The girl moves in a rigid and jerky manner. It looks as if something is wrong with her teeth. Soon all the refugees find themselves on one side of the store and the girl is on the other. She continually asks the most mundane and banal questions. She asks about the weather, vehicles, and oddly enough she inquires about everyone’s family structure. Porn Guy screams and runs out the back door gibbering. Scott soon sees what sent Porn Guy running as the emo kids screamed and ran to the front door. They began pounding on it in a frenzy while they screamed. The young mother shielded her child and cowered as Scott slowly backed away. 

The latest arrival has many teeth that come to a razor sharp point. Her eyes are solid black. She looks at each person in turn and asks what humans eat. The radio squelches to life as the now harried announcer states that the aliens can assume the form of human children and to not assist any children that come to you unaccompanied. Fuck. Scott begins shaking as the girl smiles at him and slowly advances. He realizes that the monsters that are invading are not towering, tentacle beasts bent on annihilation. They are something much more terrifying. They are small, awkward, malevolent mimics of earth children. And they are hungry.