The Iraqi Desert

GSGT. Jackson sat in his hole, covered by his ghillie suit, waiting for his coordinates.
“You’re aware,” Jackson whispered into his tac-comm, “that we’re looking to bag some vulture headed, giant Junebug, right?”
SSGT. McEvoy whispered back, “Roger that. It’s orders, Gunny. That’s it. Orders. Just like any orders we’ve had. We have our target, we’ll get our target. It’s all that matters, Gunny… All that’s ever mattered.”
The two sergeants waited in silence.
After several hours in silence, Jackson’s tac-comm crackled, “Gunny,” McEvoy whispered into the mic, “I have activity.”
“Negative target, Gunny, Iraqis with a crate… Looks like they’re digging in the sand, now.” SSGT McEvoy told him.
Jackson answered back, “Roger that, keep an eye on them, see if you can spot what’s in the box, what they’re digging up, could be valuable recon, Mac.”
“Roger that: watch the box.”, crackled back into GSGT Jackson’s earpiece.
“Holy! … Gunny… the box is full of bones… human bones. I count … nine skulls… Looks like there’s still some shreds of … cloth, or flesh on random bones… Hold… switching to the high powered scope.” McEvoy reported.
“Confirm the number of skulls, let’s be exact, sergeant.” Jackson told him.
“Roger that… Confirmed. I see nine skulls, that’s a niner. Confirm the flesh, and.. or cloth… Hold… Uhhmmm… Gunny… some of the bones are broke, and some have chunks torn out of them. Repeat, chunks torn out of them, negative on cuts, something’s been at them.” McEvoy told him.
“Roger… Watch for our target.” Jackson instructed.
“Copy that.”
They waited the rest of the day in silence, until McEvoy whispered into the tac-comm after the sun had set and the waxing half moon had risen, “I’m moving in on the grave they dug, we have negative activity, and I want to see if there is anything marking who those people are.”
“Be careful, Mac.”
”Yeah. Roger that. Out.”
Jackson watched his partner’s movements with his scope. He watched him move forward, and hit the ground, watching for movement, before rising and moving again. McEvoy repeated this process at random intervals, until he reached his destination.
After taking another look around, he started digging in the sand with his issue shovel, pausing every few minutes to listen and watch.
GSGT Jackson looked to the entrance of the cave, and seeing no movement, watched his partner dig, for a few moments, then scanning again. McEvoy stood up, peering at something in his hand, then crouched suddenly.
“Gunny!” came the anxious voice on the tac-comm, “aw crap, man… someone’s coming… I’m outta here, man.”
“Get out of there… quick! Stay low, be quick!” Jackson whispered to his partner.
McEvoy set out at a running pace, back toward his setup position, crouched and moving as fast as he was able. Jackson swung the rifle back around to watch the cave entrance, but could see nothing. He kept watching, waiting for his moment.
McEvoy ran. He didn’t know what was behind him, but from the sound it made coming up the hall, it didn’t sound good. The clicking and dragging noises he heard had made his heart skip a beat, and he now felt like he had a lump in his throat, the size of a baseball. He stopped over the ridge of a dune, pulled out his binoculars, and looked.
“My god,” he whispered, reflexively. There it was, right where he’d been digging. It was sniffing the ground, and looking in the direction he’d run. ‘Why doesn’t Gunny take the shot? It’s right there…’ he thought. He pulled his M-24 off of his back, and flipped the safety to the off position. Then, like a bolt out of nowhere, the creature started running in his direction.
“Oh crap!” SSGT McEvoy took off running, again, pausing momentarily for a couple of seconds to fire a few shots at the approaching beast. “Gunny! Take the shot!” But there was no response. No bullet like the hand of god to deliver him from his pursuer.
McEvoy ran.
He stopped, and fired a few rounds at the creature, until he heard the action stick in the process of ejection. ‘That’s what I need… yep…’ He started running again, reaching to his tac-comm, ‘Oh! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!’ He flipped on the tac.
Jackson waited for any sign from the cave entrance, any movement, any target that he could take down. He suddenly heard the tac-comm crackle, “Gunny! Take the shot! It’s right behind me!”
GSGT Jackson ignored the desire for silence, “What is your location?” he said into the mic, just a bit louder than what would have made him comfortable.
SSGT McEvoy’s frantic voice was hard to make out, “vember delta niner niner seven one four six niner three. Repeat. Approaching coordinate november delta niner niner seven one four six niner three.”
Jackson quickly adjusted his positioning.
McEvoy yelled, “Dune… capped ridge… I’m going to run right… over the top of it. Target is … two… meters tall. Shoot to kill! Target is trailing my position by… … … thirty seconds, that’s three zero seconds… and closing.”
Jackson could hear SSGT McEvoy’s ragged breathing, knew he had one shot at this, if he missed, his partner would likely not survive this night.
“Not on my watch….” he whispered.
Jackson located the dune, and focused just above it. He only waited about fifteen seconds before he saw McEvoy cresting the top, running for everything he was worth.
“Come on, sergeant, lead him to me…”
McEvoy crested the top of the dune, and started down. Jackson remained focused.
Twenty seconds went by, when what looked to Jackson to be a very large vulture’s head came up over the top of the dune. He only hesitated a moment, before adjusting his aim for the momentum and movement of the creature and squeezed the trigger.
McEvoy ran. His lungs on fire, his legs feeling as though they would collapse at any moment. But he ran. His weapon was jammed, and he knew that if he stopped, now, he would collapse, anyway. To stop meant death, and he wasn’t ready to give in. Not like this. Not to be eaten by some ugly bugbird in the middle of an Iraqi desert.
Just then, he heard it. Oh that sweet sound. He heard the ‘fwip’ of a round fired from a firearm go over his head. He heard something hit the sand behind him. He turned long enough to see the creature on the ground, and making no effort to remedy the situation.
McEvoy stopped running. He hit the sand, and he lay there. Breathing heavy, feeling like his lungs would explode, and now seeing white spots in his field of vision. He maneuvered himself into a sitting position, and yanked his sidearm out of the holster. He chambered a round, and thumbed off the safety, holding it in his lap, pointed more or less at the creature’s head, and sat there.
Jackson jogged up to McEvoy’s position, holding his weapon trained on the creature as he approached.
“You alright, Mac?” he asked his partner.
McEvoy looked at him. “Oh, yeah, Gunny… I’m just … peachy. Having a great time… thinking about doing this again, tomorrow… You up for it?”
Jackson snorted, “Hey… sorry I couldn’t get him earlier. I kept watching the cave, waiting for something to come out.”
SSGT McEvoy raised one eyebrow, “Well… something came out… Wouldn’t you say?”
Jackson looked at him, “Well, sergeant, either it came out while I was panning to the cave entrance… or there’s a second entrance, ‘cause I sure as hell didn’t see it come out.”
McEvoy stopped arguing… he knew Jackson’s tone, and when he pulled rank, the discussion was over. Jackson went over to the beast, tapping it with his boot, first, then with the barrel of his rifle. When he was satisfied that the creature was dead, he removed his rucksack and pulled a thick roll of a vinyl like substance out, and unrolled it. He unzipped the very large body bag, and worked the creature into it.
He marveled at the freakish beast… It certainly looked as that corporal had described it. Head of a vulture, long thick hooks for ‘arms’ and a beetle like carapace. The only thing the corporal left out was the clawed feet.
Jackson held up the head in McEvoy’s direction.
“That’s a pretty good shot, though, isn’t it? 300 yards. In the dark. Moving target. Weird lookin’ … thing. And the round went right through the left eye. I’m impressed, if I do say so, myself. And… well… I do.”
McEvoy managed a genuine smile, and was grateful the other man didn’t need his help. Jackson zipped up the body bag, and attached the harness to it.
Jackson looked at his partner… “What do you say we blow this joint, and get a beer? I’m buyin’.”
GSGT Jackson raised the extraction team on the radio, and gave their coordinates.
Ten minutes later, sergeants Jackson and McEvoy were silently sitting in the Chinook, with their cargo. Each man lost in his own thoughts…