The Mission

-Strange – 8 Pages –

The cold dark basement smelled of rotting mold and stagnant water. Cobwebs lined the floor joists above moving only slightly to the wind of Larry’s breath. A pinprick of light showed through small holes in a window that had been painted black. The rest of the small dirt basement floor was mostly in shadow, but as his eyes grew accustomed to the dark Larry could make out the shapes of bare benches and long forgotten shelves. Every now and then Larry would see a rat scurry under the stairwell. The animal would pause for only a moment, look at the intruder in its realm, and then run off as though it had business of its own to attend too.

The wooden chair beneath him felt hard and the back of it poked him painfully into his ribs. His wrists ached as the ropes around them cut into his flesh. Gray duct tape held him firm to the chair and made breathing difficult. A red scarf was stuffed in his mouth and another piece of tape held it there. The smell of his sweat-drenched uniform pummeled his senses.

Larry had been sitting for what seemed like hours in this quiet purgatory, unable to move or scream for help. Several times he had fallen to sleep and dreamt he was somewhere else, where he was free, breathing fresh air, and eating some grand feast. Only to awaken to this nightmare, this hellish circumstance, this mind-numbing torture.

Somewhere outside, he could hear the faint sound of gunshots echo through the stonewalls. It frustrated Larry that he couldn’t be out there helping his fellow soldiers. It’s what he was supposed to be doing, he was trained to kill, and that was what he wanted to do. More then anything he wanted to rip the life from the bastards that captured him, tied him up, and left him to die in this god-forsaken basement.

The funny part of the whole thing, Larry thought to himself, was that he used to love to play in his grandparent’s basement. They had a wondrous old house that stood on the same plot of land for nearly one hundred and fifty years. It used to be the town’s first postal station where pony express riders brought news of the country’s expansion and letters from distant relatives. Later it became a small mortuary until it was sold and had been a single family home ever since. It was always creepy sleeping in the old house knowing that dead bodies used to lie in state there. He never did see any ghosts, but sometimes just the thought of something is enough to scare you.

“They’ll be here any minute to rescue me,” Larry thought to himself as he tried to keep his spirit up. One thing he was taught was to never let emotions control his thinking. Emotions could lead to depression and a feeling of hopelessness when captured. He tried to hold on to his mind and think of other things like how he got into this mess in the first place.

Larry was with a special operations unit sent to this area as a scouting detail. They were supposed to observe, take down any information they could acquire, and then report back. Overall, a simple assignment with minimal chance of causalities. The target was a small private commando training camp located high in the Appalachian Mountains in southern Virginia. His unit was supposed to find its location and get as much detailed information as they could. The only problem was that they never made it far enough to find the camp, instead they came across a much scarier enemy.

Deep in the mountains are people whom time and society have forgotten. These people have lived separated from the rest of the world for hundreds of years. They are self-sufficient, growing the food they eat, raising livestock, and living in the same home that generations of their family have lived in before them. It had become a society that shunned the modern world and had an extreme dislike of strangers, especially anyone representing the government.

When Larry and the rest of his squad came upon these people, they questioned a few to gather information on the commando unit. Little did they know that as they were talking, several men were setting up an ambush behind them. As his team started to leave one of the old, dilapidated houses, the men attacked killing one of Larry’s team. His unit ran for cover and fired back, but the men had fled. They held their position for a few moments and then made a hasty retreat to the body of the fallen soldier. When they got to him, they found that the radio he had been carrying was shattered by high-powered buckshot.

One of the soldiers made a comment that the shot looked as though it must have come from behind. Just as he said this, several shots whizzed past them. It sounded like a swarm of bees buzzing in Larry’s ears. The men fell to the ground and began to look in the direction of the house they had just left. The long dark barrel of a shotgun could be seen in one of the windows, and then another appeared at the front door.

Confused, the men low crawled to a nearby tree trying to find cover. The squad leader pointed to Larry and signaled for him to make his way around the building for a rear assault. He nodded and then leapt to his feet and rushed through the low underbrush and tall trees. The rest of his squad fired at the house in hopes of distracting the people.

Finally, covered in sweat, Larry made it to the side of the house where he pinned his body to the wall. Holding his weapon in both hands, he slid down the wall until he reached the corner leading to the back of the house. He stopped long enough to catch a shallow breath and then turned the corner ready to shoot. The back of the house was empty except for an old dog that barked wildly as Larry stepped carefully towards the back door. As he approached, he leaned against the back wall, and it creaked against his weight. With his left hand, he turned the rusted doorknob and opened the door slightly. He took a deep breath and held it as he readied himself to burst inside the house.

Suddenly, before he could move the wall behind him ripped open as two huge hands reached through the jagged hole grabbing Larry and throwing him to the ground. Boards fell on him as a large man emerged from the house. Larry tried to roll over, but the man reached down with inhuman strength and lifted Larry into air. He could see the man’s face as it smiled a toothless grin at him and then once again threw Larry several feet in the air. He hit a tree in midair and fell helplessly to the ground. Still trying to catch his breath, he saw the massive man lumbering quickly towards him. Larry, still holding his weapon, tried to regain his senses and pointed his rifle at the man. Before he could pull the trigger, the behemoth wrenched the weapon away and struck Larry in the head with it.

The next thing he remembered was waking up in that cold damp basement with no one around.

One of the rats he had been seeing started slowly to move towards the chair. It stopped several times and rose on its back legs to look and smell the human who sat bound to the chair. Larry’s nose had finally stopped bleeding and cuts along his arms and legs had dried, but the smell of bloodied flesh made the hungry rat take chances and move closer. Helplessly Larry watched the furry animal through swollen eyes as it crept along the floor finally stopping at Larry’s feet.

Its nose twitched at the thick musty air as it lifted it’s body up and placed two tiny front paws on Larry’s pant leg.

All Larry could see was the long-curled tail of the beast, but he could feel it when the creature began to climb. A shiver streaked through his body as the animal found its way to his lap. He struggled in a futile attempt to break his restraints, which caused the chair to shake. The rat didn’t move for a moment and Larry flexed his thigh muscles trying desperately to dislodge the horrid mammal. Finally, he started to rock the old chair hoping that the animal would flee, but the smell of blood was too strong for the starving rat to deny. He rocked the chair harder and harder as desperation took over his mind. His momentum finally tipped the chair with its passengers to the floor throwing the startled rat several feet away.

Quickly recovering, the animal raced away into the darkness.

Larry closed his eyes as the rush of adrenaline began to fade. He laid there helpless as a bead of sweat rolled down his nose and dripped to the floor. A small sharp rock imbedded in the dirt poked painfully into his cheek. He tried to move when he saw, coming out of the shadows, several rats sitting up on their hind legs facing him. Their noses lifted to the air as they started to cautiously move towards him. Larry lifted his head from the dirt and struggled in the chair. He heard a crack from the wooden back of the chair and felt it loosen. With all of his might, he pressed against the chair’s back until it snapped. Still held fast by the tape, he pumped his legs and flexed his back trying to crawl away from the approaching creatures.

The rats continued to advance on the writhing man, either not afraid or just not caring as he wiggled and pushed against the dirt.

Larry rubbed his face against the sharp rock trying to remove the tape from his lips. The jagged stone tore at his skin as the ground began to turn red with his blood.

The fresh smell only seemed to invigorate the animals and they moved closer. Several more of the animals appeared from the shadows and joined the group. Some even bit at each other as they worked into a fever driven by the scent of blood.

Larry finally tore the tape from one side of his face and spit out the saliva-soaked rag from his mouth. He then continued to crawl toward the stairs.

The rats pounced on the rag and roll around the floor with it. One picked it up and tried to run until another grabbed the squealing animal and attacked with vicious long teeth. The bloodied animal drew the attention of other rats that descended upon it and tore at its body eating its flesh.

Horrified Larry watched as the animals ripped at the creature until nothing was left but some bones and entrails.

After finally reaching the stairs, he lifted his head and rested it on the bottom step. Exhausted and weak he tried to call out, but the dust from the dirt floor had lodged in his mouth and all he does was cough. Finally, after swallowing hard he managed to yell for help.

The rats after devouring the carrion now focused their attention back to Larry. More of the hideous creatures had emerged; enough of them are present that from Larry’s point of view it looked like a wave of brown moving towards him.

Powerless, he watched as they advance on him. Even with all of his training, he couldn’t put aside the emotions that raged within him as the horrible creatures descended onto his body. They clawed at his head and ripped at his face. He could feel several of them gnawing at his fingers, their sharp teeth pierced his skin and rendered his flesh. The sound of the animals squealing was deafening as they bit his ears. Larry lunged his head forward grabbing one of the foul beasts in his mouth. He clamped down with his teeth and tasted the salty liquid that spurted from its tiny body. After spitting the rodent out, he tried for another, but it grabbed his lip and pulled ripping the skin.

Behind him, the rats had almost chewed through the ropes and Larry could feel the bonds loosening. With a mighty tug, he broke the final strands. Only able to bend his arms at the elbow, he reached for the tape across his chest and tore at it with his fingernails. The rats continued their relentless attack as blood poured from Larry’s face. He reached for the creatures on his chest and threw them only to have them rush back. The tape started to give way as he ripped madly at it. Finally, he was able to break the tape and reach the vermin on his face. Grabbing them in both hands, he squeezed the life from each of them and hurled them across the floor. Once he had freed his legs, he bounded up the stairs and burst into the house above.

A woman, holding a twelve-gage shotgun, whipped around and fired a shot into the floor beside him.

Larry rolled to a table for cover. He only paused a moment before leaping from the floor and tackling the woman. As he sat on top of her, he saw that she must have been in her sixties. The shock distracted him long enough for the old woman to knee him in the groin and throw him off her. Larry tried to regain his breath and reached out to grab her before she could get away.

She pulled away from his hands and ran to table, grabbed a large butcher knife, and then rushed at him. With only seconds to react, he grabbed the shotgun from the floor and fired several shots into the woman’s belly. The force of the blast sent her flying backward into the table where she laid motionless in a pool of blood.

Larry lied on the floor exhausted as he let his body start to relax. The shotgun fell from his fingers with a thud.

Suddenly a door across the room slammed open and the huge man that had grabbed him earlier, burst through. The giant man looked at the dead body lying on the table and then turned to Larry. With a bone-chilling howl, the man lunged at Larry who gathered his last bit of strength and wheeled to his feet.

He reached for the shotgun, picked it up, leveling the barrel at the behemoth. Larry squeezed the trigger but only heard the bolt click forward.

“Damn…” he thought to himself. “It’s empty.”

Lifting the weapon by its barrel, he swung it like a club at the man. The butt of the shotgun struck the massive shoulders and shattered.

The giant paused for only a moment and then wrapped his powerful arms around Larry in a bear hug. He could feel ribs breaking as the man constricted his chest and the taste of blood returned to his mouth. After several seconds, the giant released Larry and tossed him effortlessly across the room.

He landed inches away from the dead woman. Larry saw the knife still held in the woman’s cold hand and ripped it from her fingers, as he does a colossal hand grabbed him from the floor. Before the giant could wrap his arms around him again, Larry raised the butcher knife and plunged it into the man’s neck.

Releasing Larry, the man wrapped his hands around his throat as blood spurted through his fingers. The giant staggered backward until he fell.

Larry walked to the man who was now sitting on the floor. He could hear gurgling sounds as blood bubbles from his mouth. The man’s eyes were half closed as he stared at Larry in disbelief. Finally, the man leaned back and hit the floor dead.

Larry collapsed to the red stained floor as every muscle in his body screamed in pain. After several minutes had passed, he crawled out the front door, down the steps, and rolled onto his back staring up at the afternoon sun. The trees around him started to sway and the leaves began to blow and swirl around him. He heard what sounded like thunder off in the distance. It came closer as the trees nearly bent from the wind. Larry shielded his eyes from the sun and saw a helicopter hovering overhead.

Several lifelines were being dropped and men were propelling down. A voice called out to him somewhere in the distance, but he couldn’t make out the words. He saw a face appear above him blocking out the sun and he could see that it was a member of his unit.

“We’re going home,” The voice said. “Looks like we’re the only ones left.”

Larry faded in and out of consciousness and barely felt the medics place him in a gurney and strap him down. He tried to open his mouth to speak but couldn’t seem to make a sound.

“My God,” one of the medics cried out. “What the hell is that in his mouth?” He reached into the Larry’s still opened mouth and pulled out something brown. “Holy Shit, it’s the head of a rat.”

The End

Originally posted on 02/22/2006

More Strange Stories…

S. Michael Leier

Not a lot is known about this author, other than he submitted this very intense story back in 2006.

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