Characters: John (Gen)
Summary: A retelling of an Urban Legend as it happens to John (pre-Series): Room for one more-- dreams that foretell a death somehow tied in with something in the dream.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 60_minute_fics 'Urban Legend' challenge, though this one was about a 90-minute story instead (action blocking and geographical research really slow things down).
Autumn is crisp in the ‘Nam, cool at night and in the mornings before the heat of day makes the jungle humid all over again.
John shuffles down further in his sleeping bag, knife up next to his hands and machine gun right under his kit. Four more hours, and then he’s on lookout. He tries to sink back into sleep, ears always half-alert for a noise that signals trouble.
The warmth lulls him down into the darkness of slumber, into a twilight forest where the sounds of night creep in. This is a forest from his past—a hiking trip in Colorado back when he was fifteen or so.
John walks along the edges of a stream, following the flow of water downhill as the sky begins to fade. Mosquitoes whine near his head, moving him along faster. He struggles to place his feet without twisting his ankles, the path next to the water rocky and uneven. Up above, he hears a sound: Whoosh-snap. Whoosh-snap. He can’t identify it. It’s not like anything he knows. The noise continues on as he shivers in the sudden rush of wind.
Biiiiiiiiirk. A piercing scream overhead makes John clap his hands over his ears. That sound is familiar, though much too loud. John looks up, half-expecting to see nothing against the darkness of the sky. What he does see drops his legs out from under him. It has to be his imagination—because nothing that big can be real.
Blackness drops and lifts, brushing the tips of trees as it comes closer. The crashing of branches marks the downward arc of the eagle. In a swift dive, it grabs John in its talons. The last thing he feels is the agony of his ribs crushing under the eagle’s strength as it lifts him up toward the sky…
John jolts awake with a gasp. He’s sweat-soaked and breathless, his stomach screaming with the remembered shock of the ground falling away beneath him.
He gulps in air steadily, adrenaline coursing through him. He tries to rub away the prickling along his skin as he struggles for calm again.
This is not the first time this nightmare has come to him. Its first appearance spoiled the end of his R and R, drove him out of Mai Huong’s cottage to the bar at the end of the village. His last bout was a week ago. His own half-bitten off cry broke him out of it, and he was upright and shaking by the time the images dissipated from his head.
A night bird calls in the distance, breaking the cadence of the frogs in the underbrush. John runs his hand absently through his hair. The stillness bleeds away, and the jungle resumes its song.
The morning brings new orders. They’ve got a tactical mission 7 klicks to the north in a farming region on the edge of Kon Ho Nong.
John packs up quickly, shouldering his kit as his unit files off toward their destination. A couple of hours could find them in the middle of combat again, though it could always happen sooner. A soldier learns that there is no downtime—there is only the relative safety of a few given minutes. To move is to risk walking into a trap. To stay is to risk an ambush under cover of night.
The sun beats down as they cross quickly through an open field. No activity reported in the area, and going around the edges would double the time to their destination.
Ping! A bullet whistles to John’s left, and Barger in front of him crumples to the ground.
“Dave. Dave!” John shouts. He drops down to check Barger’s pulse, but it is already ebbing away.
More bullets fly in from the sides, and Stanger suddenly stiffens behind John and lands on him with a crash.
“Nggauugh!” John yells. The effort strains his battered chest, the pain growing stronger as he shoves Stanger off of him and rolls up to a crouch.
Att-at-at-at-at! Utt-ut-ut-ut-ut-ut! John follows the sounds with his scope, returns fire in a sweeping spray. A few isolated rifle cracks are still coming from that direction, and he one-hands a pair of grenades off his belt. He pulls the pins with his teeth and lobs the grenades long and far into the distance.
Whoom! Earth explodes in shower of pebbles and weeds where the grenades landed, sharp screams on the edge of the detonation. Dust rises in a slow cloud, a brown film dimming the color of the far-off sky.
In the silence that follows, John surveys their situation. Six men down in the fifty or so feet to front and back. The rest of the unit is too far ahead to see.
Muffled gunfire breaks out half a klick to the east, but the enemy area to the west remains quiet. John crawls from man-to-man, assessing damage and doing what he can. A rope tourniquet on Montero, a t-shirt compress on Hastings’ shoulder. The smell of blood hangs heavily in the air.
The buzz of flies becomes louder around him, before the whock-whock-whock of a helicopter cuts over through the sky.
There are two wounded men in the chopper when it lands, and John helps load three more. The others will be carried ahead on foot—the dead are less urgent than the living.
“You okay?” the medic shouts at him.
“My ribs hurt, but it’s nothing can’t wait ‘til later.”
The pilot leans around out of the front of the chopper.
“Room for one more—might as well get on and take care of it now.”
John walks forward and sets a foot on the doorway. The blades turning overhead seem to move in slow motion, and a chill rises up in the chopper’s shadow. John’s stomach twists as a vague feeling of uneasiness steals over him. He stands there frozen, as the pilot reaches over to help pull John’s kit inside.
The pilot eyes are hidden by his sunglasses, the rest of his face half-covered by a black baseball cap. On the front of the cap is an eagle—mouth open in a scream and talons stretched out before its dark, wide-spread wings.
John wavers in the sunlight, his throat dry and the inside of his head humming.
The pilot grins, and the effect is sinister in his bony, too-thin face.
John grabs his kit, and steps back out of the chopper.
“I’m okay,” his voice creaks out. “I’ll wait. Don’t want to chance making the ride too heavy.”
“Suit yourself,” the pilot says stonily. He gets back in the front and the medic swings the door shut.
John moves quickly away from the chopper, out of takeoff range and over toward the unit’s trail.
The helicopter lifts into the sky, blades sweeping in a drunken circuit as it leans in a long arc back toward Da’nang.
John rustles up the rest of the men, arranging transport for the bodies among the soldiers that are left.
A loud explosion splits the air, and John nearly drops the man he’s hauling. He sees the chopper lurching unevenly, smoke billowing as it weaves brokenly on an aimless path. It stutters and groans, before suddenly falling from the sky.
The impact shakes the earth, the rolling wave of motion catching the edge of John’s agitated heartbeat.
In the deafening silence, a black cloud boils up out of the fire from the crash.
And overhead, the quiet shatters as an eagle screams.
----- fin -----