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The Ghoul Part 4

"A military group encounters a terror from the desert sands while in Iraq."

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At around 5 o'clock the next morning, I was awakened by Sam shaking my shoulder. “Dave, you need to get up,” he said.

“What? What? Why? What's happening? What’s going on?” was my reply.

“It's Chris,” Sam said. “He's missing; he's not here.”

“What do you mean he’s missing,” I asked, sitting up.

I wiped the sleep from my eyes, and I saw that Sam was speaking the truth. There was no sign of

Chris. We hadn’t had any equipment with us; it had all been lost in the artillery attack.

“How do you know he’s missing? Do you think maybe he went back to the barracks?” I asked, “maybe try to salvage some of the stuff that we lost in the motor attack.

“I've already been over there and checked,” Sam replied. “I've also asked around here, and nobody else has seen him. A couple of platoons of grunts came in from patrol last night, pretty soon after the attack. They never found the guys who attacked, by the way. They did see tire tracks and the site that they were launching from, though. Anyway, I just finished going over there talking to them, but they haven't seen anything out of the ordinary. If you don't know where he is, we're going to have to go let somebody know that he's missing.”

“Did you check the warehouse?” I asked.

“Yes, I've been over to the warehouse. I've been all around the Command Center, and around the entire perimeter. I woke up in the middle of the night, around 0300 to make a head call and he was just missing, I figured I would see him on my way over to the heads, but there was no one. That's when I started getting worried and decided to try and find him. I’ve been looking for the past 2 hours. There's nothing out of the ordinary except for the warehouse,” Sam said.

I looked at him, knowing where he was going with this. “What’s out of the ordinary?” I asked.

“You remember how last night we thought the board might have been shaken loose and the body would be right next to the hole?”

“You mean the way you thought,” I corrected.

Sam hadn’t heard, or, if he did he hadn’t responded. “The board is still away from the hole, but there is no body. I checked when I went to look for Chris. I’m starting to freak out man. Where’s Chris? He couldn’t have just walked away, right? What if he was kidnapped?”

“Chris wasn’t kidnapped,” I said, perhaps a little too sharply. “We were all in the command center last night, so we would’ve heard if people broke in and took him from right next to us. I do admit, though, it is strange that he’s missing. Especially, since you’ve been looking for him since 0300, I’m lost for ideas, so let’s do this the right way. Let's go let the higher ups now. Just, don’t mention the FOB 500 or the body. We were attacked, we came in here, now Chris is missing. That’s all,” I finished.

“Agreed,” Sam said. “I just hope someone knows where he is.”

I had tried to keep my emotions in check, but at this point, I had started to get really, really worried. At this point, I started to get really, really worried. Chris could be a goofball, and sometimes he didn't take things seriously, but he was still one of my best friends. He was quiet, sure, but that was his personality. It wasn’t like him just to go off on his own. He liked being around people, even if he didn’t talk a lot.

As we walked over to the higher-ups sleeping area, we looked around the area trying to see if we could see any trace of Chris, but we didn’t have any luck. We reached the master sergeants hooch, and, with a certain amount of trepidation, we knocked on his door. The door swung open almost like he had been waiting for us, but we could tell in an instant that we had awoken him. Words were quickly exchanged, the situation was explained, and within a half hour Sam and I along with one of the platoons of infantrymen were dispatched to the nearest village try and see if Sam had taken off. We received an assurance from the master sergeant that some of the other platoons would search the base.

We entered the village and were immediately struck by how quickly it seemed that we had stepped back in time or entered another world. The village was arranged in a haphazard fashion, scattered over an area about the size of an acre. The villagers had grown accustomed to the presence of military forces in the area, so as we came in, they all left their houses and stood by. They knew the drill; they fully expected their houses to be searched. It had been their new normal for the past couple years. We split up into four-man teams and started searching the village. We left no stone, bed, or storage chest unturned, but there was no Chris to be found. No hint of him. Nothing. Disappointed we began to gather to head back to the base. As we started to file by, the tribal village elder took a step forward and began talking. We all stopped and stared at him. The lieutenant that was leading the patrol came back to us, and he called our interpreter over. “What is he saying?” the lieutenant asked the interpreter.

The interpreter, a man named Wasad, began listening, then started replying to the man in Arabic. There was a lot of back-and-forth, accompanied by voices being raised by both men, wild gesticulations, and what looked like the glistening beginning of tears in the old man’s eyes. He made quite a few gestures at Sam and me, so there was little doubt that what he was saying had something to do with us. Shaking his head, Wasad turned to the lieutenant and translated, “he says these two are cursed. He says they have awoken the ghoul, and there is no help for them. He says that their friend has been taken by the ghoul, and they will be next. He says their souls are tainted and that they are damned. Nothing can be done to help them. They will be taken by the ghoul. It is just some silly, old superstition that people tell in order to get children to stay in line.”

Shaking his head at the superstitious beliefs of rural villagers, the interpreter walked away. Sam and I looked at each other, and I could tell Sam was scared, which was evident by his wide and open expression. The old man was still yelling and pointing at us, but everyone else seemed to have realized that the show was over. Disappointed by our failure to find Chris, we all begin to walk back to the base with heavy hearts and the old man's words weighing heavily on Sam and my heads.

As we walked back to FOB Smitty, Sam and I began to fall back a little in line, and we found ourselves walking next to Wasad. An Iraqi by birth, Wasad had immigrated to the United States as a young boy when some members of his extended family had been executed by Saddam’s Republican Guard. Growing up in the United States, Wasad was a naturalized citizen, but still very proud of his Iraqi heritage. He had signed on to come back to his native country to serve as an interpreter because he believed very strongly in what the United States and our allies were doing. As a native Iraqi and not a member of the military, Wasad had an “in” with the people in the areas we patrolled. True, he was still an outsider, but he knew some of the customs, stories, and intricacies that were foreign to us.

“Hey, Wasad, I got a question for you,” Sam said as he walked along.

Wasad looked over at Sam and me. He grinned and said, “I’m surprised you waited this long to ask. You want to know what a ghoul is, don’t you?”

I grinned back and said “guilty. We’re just curious. Is this like a ghoul that people in America know?”

Wasad shook his head and, clearing his throat, he hawked a large glob of phlegm out of his throat and onto the sand. “Not really,” he said. He took a deep breath and began, “the ghoul is a creature that lives underground. It usually feasts on dead bodies, which is why they are usually found in cemeteries. They have long claws that enable them to dig through the dirt and to also claw their way through caskets and burial shrouds. They usually don’t bother live people, but they have been known to abduct people, kill them, and then eat them. It is usually described as being human in size and appearance, but that is only because they take on the appearance of those that they eat. The only effective way to kill them is via fire, by burning. Guns, knives, weapons like that are worthless. Fire purifies whatever it touches, and since the ghoul is an unholy creature, purification will kill it.” At this Wasad shrugged and continued “or so they say. This is all just a superstition, just like Ireland’s Loch Ness Monster or the Pacific Northwest’s Bigfoot. This is a tale usually told to frighten children in order to get them to obey their parents. Those villagers don’t know what happened to your friend, but they do resent having Americans in the area. They were probably trying to frighten you all away. Don’t worry.” With these final words, Wasad sped up and caught up to the lieutenant leading the patrol. Sam and I looked at each other, but we didn’t speak. We were seriously freaked out at this point but didn’t want to say anything else. We walked back to the base in silence, contemplating what Wasad had said

Over the next couple days, a couple more attempts to find Chris were made, but nothing had come of it. It seemed like Chris had just simply been swallowed by the desert. Sam and I wandered around the base, seeing if we could find anything, but absolutely nothing had changed. The hole where we had reburied the body still remained empty with the board still thrown to the side. The day that Wasad had told us the legend of the ghoul we had snuck back to the warehouse, an unspoken agreement that we were going to see if any tunnels we connected to the hole our purpose. We both felt foolish, but we would feel a little bit better if we knew for sure. As we stood on the edge and peered in, we could see the faint outline of where the body had been laying on its side the first timer we saw it, but that was all. No body, no tunnels, no Chris. Sam and I discussed covering the hole back up with the board, but we decided against it. I think we were both afraid of what we might find; that we would return and the board would be thrown back again.

The days began to quickly blur together. Shortly after Chris disappeared, our orders to return to Camp Fallujah were put on hold so we could assist with the search. Since nothing had been found, Chris was officially declared MIA or Missing in Action. There was nothing we could do. We were told that if he turned up, we would be the first that would be notified. Eventually, we received new orders that we were going to be returning back to Camp Fallujah. We start to gather our things, that is, what we could have salvaged from the rubble of the barracks. We had been staying in the command center along with everybody else. Considering how much of our gear was still buried under tons of rubble, we were returning to Camp Fallujah considerably lighter than when we arrived. We were unable to salvage anything of Chris’s from the barracks. Plus, we figured, if he did turn up, he would need what was there, so we left it.

Continued in The Ghoul Part 5

Written by Jerseyboy1316
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