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Stories About Charlie

It was 1998, in a U. S. motor-pool on Zoeckler Station, South Korea.

“…and the shine on your boots’ll catch the eye of Charlie and he’ll see you.,” Specialist Josh Thorton said in a comical croaky voice “ … and you know what happens when Charlie sees you.”

“YOU’RE DEAD,” Bo and Josh said in unison. Actually they were Private Henderson and Specialist Thorton, but in Korea things tended to get less formal because we spent so much time alone together in the “box.”

“..and Charlie’ll come in the night and sneak up on you and when you least expect it,” said Josh.

“YOU’RE DEAD.” The twenty year old guys could go on like this for hours.

"Charlie's running through the jungle..." as Josh ran between trucks.

"Charlie's crawling through his tunnels.." as Bo crawled under the huge semi-trucks.

A few months later I was alone in the “box” with Josh. Lights blinked and fans whirred and we worked at computer consoles sorting out dumps of numbers into edited pictures of the situation. There were about three hours of quiet mind compressing analysis, then came the long quiet night.

“All done.” Josh gave the billiard ball sized track-ball a hard spin to celebrate.

“Almost done,” I said.

“Need help?” Josh asked.

“Nope,” I said.

“The box” was a semi-trailer that was lined with lead so signals wouldn’t escape. It was surrounded by satellite dishes, generators, and antennae. Beyond that it was surrounded by several layers of high security fence, watched by Military Police and cameras. There had to be two people inside the trailer at all times, because two people are less likely to be compromised than one. It got painful when there were only two people, and one of us had to go to the bathroom really bad. Our shifts were at least twelve hours long, and we got to know each other pretty well.

“My arm is still numb from the anthrax shots they gave us,” Josh said.

“Can you feel anything?” I took his offered hand and tweaked at his fingers and poked him.

“Nope.” He showed me a little burn. “I even took a lighter to my hand, nothing.”

“Wow. Did it go numb right away? Have you told anyone?” I asked.

“The medics that gave us the shots said that they probably hit a nerve and that I’d be able to feel it again soon,” he said.

“I don’t think we needed a tenth of the shots the army gives us. If I were in Vietnam or Africa, maybe,” I said.

“Oh, it’s midnight, time to load the crypto,” said Josh. He got up and opened the safe and pulled a strip of paper from a dispenser. The strip had little holes punched into it. I took the strip, flipped a few switches to make the box loose its fill and ran it through a scanner slot and flipped switches and nope the lights didn’t sync up.

“I don’t have a knack for this,” I said after my fourth fail.

“Let me try.” He licked the strip of paper, then ran the strip through, the box took its fill. My eyes scanned the rack of transmitters and receivers. All the lights were blinking the way they were supposed to. All the dials read the right numbers. I looked at the computer console where printed messages showed up, nothing of interest. We sat back down.

“Last weekend, I was in Seoul and I met an American girl on the subway. She was coming back from China and was going to visit the Museum of War. I went with her. The museum was awesome, and she read a lot of the rugs and artifacts to me from Chinese. They had some wicked bottle rockets that they launched from things that look like the racks we get our mail from,” I said.

“Ancient MRLSs. Cool,” Josh said.

“What’s an MRLS?” I asked.

“Multiple Rocket Launch System,” he said.

“Did you know that Korea fought in Vietnam? I didn’t know that,” I said.

The phone rang.

“AEPDS, Specialist Anderson speaking,” I said. It was our sergeant, checking in on us.

“They used the same kinda stuff in Vietnam,” said Josh.

“Really, I’d heard that in the jungle, soldiers had to watch out for booby traps, but . . .wow. Those bamboo bottle rockets looked nasty. One was the length of this trailer,” I said.

“My dad was in Vietnam,” he said.

“So was mine,” I said.

“I always tried to get my dad to tell me about it. He wouldn’t, so I started talking about ‘Charlie’ and one day he just started laughing,” said Josh.

“So that’s how you got him to start talking?” I said, incredulous.

“Yea. I was in the back seat of the car with my brother… ‘and Charlie sees the shiny bald spot on the back of your head.’”

“My dad has told me one story, but I don’t know him very well.,” I said. It got silent. His dad’s stories were too sacred, or too gruesome, for him to share them with me.

There was the sound of heavy boots on the metal ladder. The door opened. Sergeant Jackson was here.

“Go eat, Specialist Anderson,” the sergeant said, and I left for an hour.

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