Chris jumped in after Sam got out, and, on our signal, he mashed the accelerator down, and he was off. As we watched him race around the track, I considered asked Sam if he had felt uneasy in the warehouse like I had, but decided against it. Sam was a good friend, but he could be brutal and borderline cruel if you were acting, in his opinion, like anything other than a man. I turned my attention back to Chris as he raced past us, through the warehouse, and began his final lap. I thought that he was going faster than Sam and I had, but I wasn’t sure. He entered the first turn, then the second, then the third, then finally the last one. We heard the Humvee engine screaming as Chris tried to get every last ounce of speed from it. We saw him shoot through the open warehouse door, then, there was a problem. As we watched Chris started drifting to the left, then he shot to the right. The Humvee rocketed toward a wall, but suddenly, stopped. The nose of the Humvee disappeared and the taillights, which we had covered with a quantity of tape to avoid being seen, were pointed drunkenly up at the roof of the warehouse. As we watched, the back end of the Humvee settled down back onto the ground with a huge crash, but the nose was still not visible “Sinkhole,” was the only thought I had as we ran to where the stranded Humvee was, desperate to see if Chris was alright.
As Sam and I skidded up to the side of the Humvee, we heard Chris groaning, so at least he was still alive. We looked in through the window and were relieved to see Chris looking back at us. His face was white, and you could tell that he was dazed, but otherwise he seemed on. His eyes focused on us and, groggily, he asked, “What happened?”
“Jesus Christ, are you ok?" was Sam’s reply. “We saw the crash and had no idea if you were even alive. What the hell went wrong?”
Chris shook his head as if trying to clear the cobwebs from it. I noticed that he winced as he moved. No doubt he would be sore for a couple of days. “I started drifting as I came through the warehouse, so I tried steering back to the center. Guess I overdid it,” was his response.
“Are you sure you’re OK?” Sam asked. “Do you want us to go get a corpsman?”
“I think I'm OK, just feeling a little woozy,” was Chris’s reply.
“Well, at least sit down for a second,” I added as we helped Chris out of the Humvee and set him on his feet. “You were flying when you crashed. You’re damn lucky you didn’t get more seriously hurt.”
Sam and I turned our attention to the Humvee. We had no real idea what exactly had occurred, but we had a pretty good idea. Chris had said that he oversteered, but if that had been fully true he probably would have crashed into the wall of the warehouse from the inside, which would’ve been really bad news. Instead, it seemed that something had stopped him mere inches from the wall. It appeared that as Chris was driving, he had hit the leading edge of a board that was lying down and had crashed through into a sort of crevice. Sam and I quickly sized up the situation and decided that since the back of the vehicle was on the ground, we may be able to back it out. Sam jumped in, put it in reverse, and was able to reverse the vehicle, exposing the dark hole that the tire had punched through. We were all surprised; obviously, this hole had been here the entire time that we had been driving the FOB 500, but we had never come this close to the interior wall of the warehouse before. Not really surprising when you think about the fact that we would always try to stay in the center of the warehouse as we came through.
Chris and I leaned over the hole trying to see in; we were joined shortly thereafter by Sam, who had the foresight to bring a flashlight. As he clicked it on and shined in the hole, the contents became suddenly, gruesomely clear. A body lay on its side in the hole. Dry, desiccated, almost mummified. It lay in the fetal position, not covered by anything. It's dry, thin arms and hands looked like sticks of firewood, and as we looked, we noticed that they had been handcuffed together. We also noticed that there was still a rag tied around the mouth as well. It was clear that whoever this was had been tortured and executed. If there was any doubt, the gaping hole in the back of the head clearly pointed to a close range shot from a pistol.
“Is that what I think it is?” Chris asked
“If you think it's a body, you're right,” was Sam's reply
“We can't just leave it there, ” Chris said
“I say we leave it and get the hell out of here,” I replied. “Somebody was bound to have heard that crash, and we're still going to have to figure out how we're going to explain the dented front grill, Chris.”
“You guys need to relax and calm down,” Sam said. “The crash wasn't that loud, plus it's two in the morning, we're the only ones awake beside the guard. You know how deeply the Staff NCO’s sleep.” Sam did indeed have a point. The SNCO’s on the base were known for being very deep, very heavy sleepers. They were known for setting multiple alarm clocks and having young Marines wake them up in the morning by beating on their doors. Rumor even had it that one of the officers had slept through a firefight the year before.
“Here, watch this.” Sam bent down, grabbed the dry arms, and used them to haul the husk out of the hole. “He only weighs about 40 pounds,” Sam said. “He's really, really dry. It feels a little bit like sandpaper that the sand has come off of.” As Sam laid the body back on the sand, illuminated by the flashlight, we saw that the body was indeed a male, but with everything dehydrated and dried, it was a little hard to tell.
Sam laid the body on the sand, and we all looked down at the body. “Sucks to be him,” was all Sam said.
“That's disgusting, touching that thing,” I said. “You really shouldn't be messing around with that; you have no ideas what diseases it could have.”
“It's fine,” Sam said. It doesn't have any diseases.”
“How do you know? I really agree with Dave,” Chris said, startling us both a little bit. Chris had been so quiet that I had almost forgotten that he was here. “I really think we should put that thing back in that hole, cover it up, and get back to our room. I’m getting a bad feeling.”
Sam didn’t answer. Instead, he suddenly reared his leg back and kicked the body in the side as hard as he could.
“What the hell?” I yelled. “What’re you doing?”
Chris didn’t say anything; he just backed away quickly. As we watched Sam, the one kick quickly became a flurry. He looked like a madman, kicking the body again and again in the side. As he kicked, we heard him muttering under his breath. He was cursing Iraq, the military, the Iraqi people, everything you could think of. We had had no idea that he had this in him, but as the abuse of the corpse became more extreme, we realized that he had a lot of hate inside that he had to get out.
Eventually, Sam stopped kicking and, breathing hard; he stared down at the corpse. It still bore a resemblance to a body, but it appeared that every rib was cracked, the bones of the withered arms were broken, and the legs were bent in the wrong directions.
“You did a freakin number on that thing,” was all Chris had to say.
“Anything you wanna share?” I asked.
Sam sat down heavily on the sand. He looked down between his knees and when he looked up; I saw something that I never thought I would ever see. Tears were streaming down Sam’s face. As I looked in wonderment, I noticed more tears leaking from the corner of his eyes. “Kayla left me. She said that she still loves me, but she needs someone that will be there for her when she needs someone. I’m stuck in this Godforsaken country and can’t be there for her. She found someone else. She told me last time we talked on the phone. I don’t know if I can take it anymore man. I hate this place; it cost me the one thing I love more than life itself. It’s dirty, disgusting, everything. We’re trying to help these people,” at this he shot out his foot again and kicked the corpse that he was indicating, “and they don’t care. All it’s doing is costing us things that are dear. People are dying, losing limbs, you name it. All I wanted was to go home, and now, I don’t have anything to go home to.”
Chris and I looked at each other, unsure of what to say. Sam had put his head back down and started to really bawl now. Sobs were racking his body as he let all of his emotions go.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Chris asked softly.
Sam looked up and said “I didn’t want to admit it. It seemed like admitting it would be proof that it had happened. I was afraid. Haven’t you noticed how angry and off the walls I’ve been lately?”
“Sam, no offense, but you’ve always been a little crazy,” Chris said.
This got a reaction out of Sam. Even in the midst of this crying jag, he smiled, which caused him to cough a few times. Eventually, the crying began to subside and, when Sam looked up, his eyes were dry, but you could still see the tracks of the tears that had coursed down his cheeks. Sam took in a deep breath, looked at us a little sheepishly, and gave a smile. “Please don’t mention that guys. It just…I really loved Kayla. Still do, I guess. Maybe things can go back to the way they were when we get home, but…I’ll just have to wait and see. I am feeling a little better now. I’ve been holding that in for a couple of months now. She broke up with me pretty soon after we arrived and I’ve been holding it in since.” Sam’s smile grew even wider, and he got a glint in his eye that I knew all too well. He was going to push the envelope, try and regain some of his composure the best way he knew how. “Watch this,” was all he said.
As Chris and I stared, Sam stood, turned and within a couple of seconds, we heard a wet, splattering sound as Sam relieved himself on the body.
Continued in The Ghoul Part 3