This is my Friday Fiction piece for the Vamplit Blog this week. I hope my friend Efi Loo likes it.
The edges of the jungle dance to the tune played by the vibrant colors of the burning village, twisting, cavorting shadows interspersing with the unknown entities hiding beyond where no light will go.
I know what lurks within the boundaries of the dense undergrowth. Most of what resides there is not good. Death lives and thrives at its core and spreads out to capture ever more territory when the veil of darkness works in its favor.
For now, at least, the fire is saving those of us still alive from being entombed within the snare of annihilation. I wonder if that's a good thing, though. Sure, we're saved for now, but at what cost? Capture later on? Torture?
Some fucking life! Yet, some of us can't condone rolling over and accepting a fate of doom. Better to resist and fight 'til the end than to subjugate yourself to the wishes of the tormentors.
Fuck! I don't make the rules. This is war. One side wins; one side loses. It's as simple as that.
Most of the villagers waste no time in leaving their former homes. No sense in staying now. All that remains is burned rubble and ash. We help those who need it to get on their way. Their stares tell me what I already know without a word having been spoken: the burning of their village, the forced evacuation from the little they owned was our fault. Yeah, in their minds, the 'Cong were after us and this was all a retaliatory move.
How the hell are we supposed to fight and win a war where no one respects us or what we are trying to do for them? They would rather roll over and capitulate to the Commie bastards than fight on their own behalves.Not all of them; but a great many feel that way.
It appears that twenty or so of us are left. No sense in leaving now. As long as the fires are raging, we're safer where we're at. We better dig in, though. Once the air around us loses the brilliance of the fires and the all encompassing darkness takes over, we're sitting ducks.
"C'mon guys!" I holler out. "You know what we have to do. Let's do it."
"But, Sarge . . ."
"No buts, soldier! Just do. That's an order!"
The Captain and Lieutenant both were killed in the battle. Lucky me. I'm in charge now. These guys are my responsibility until I get them back to safety.
My eyes scan the horizon looking for signs of the enemy when it comes into view, rushing around in some sort of haphazard circle, completely on fire, howling in pain, the stench of its burning fur filling the air. I run out from my point of shelter behind a mixture of unburned wood planks and a few sand bags with a blanket and a couple of canteens in my hands. Reaching the distraught animal, I can now tell it's a cat: a rather large, strangely shaped animal perhaps, but a black cat none-the-less. I douse it with the contents of the canteens, and as gently as I can, smother the rest of the fire out while cradling it in my arms. There is no resistance from the animal, almost as if it is entrusting me with its care.
"Geez, Sarge, what are we going to do with that critter? It's just going to die anyway."
Staring in to its eyes, I see a sign of intelligence I wouldn't expect from a mere cat, but I see more as well: I see an animal on the mend, rapidly morphing back into what it was before the fire tried to consume it. I'm puzzled. How can this be? It should be merely existing at best, not thriving as it appears to be doing.
"Doesn't look like it's dying to me, Corporal," I say.
He takes another look, stares back at me, and shakes his head. You know, Sarge, this ain't normal. It ain't right."
Sweat pours from my brow, a mixture of confusion, anxious bewilderment, and just plain heat responsible for it. "Maybe so, but it's not bad anyway."
The big tom cat purrs in my arms, getting stronger by the moment: and seemingly larger. Even after this short amount of time, I feel as if I can barely hold it any longer.
Shit . . .shit, things start spinning around me, standing no longer an option. The big cat jumps out of my arms as I slide down on to the ground, using a tree to slow my descent.
"Oh, my God! You've been hit, Sarge! There's blood all over the back of your shirt," one of the men says.
That explains the sudden weakness; I'm coming down from my endorphin rush. The battle is over for the moment. My body is returning to normal. But in this case, normal isn't good. The bleeding; I have to stop it now before I bleed out or go in to shock.
The sight of my blood creates panic in my men. They don't know what to do. They're inexperienced as it is, let alone with this sort of thing.
"You have to cut my shirt off and press down around the wounds. Once I'm stabilized, you'll have to remove the bullet; maybe more than one-I don't know."
"But . . .but how will we know when it's okay?"
"I'll tell you, that's how. If I pass out, you're on your own."
Trembling more than I am, the shock already starting to move in on me, the Corporal slices my shirt open with his knife and calls a couple of the others over to help him out. They gently remove the worst of the blood with what's left of my shirt and apply pressure to the wounds.
I feel myself slipping away, the pain not even able to keep me awake any longer, but if I drift off and don't fight it, I'm done for.
A hiss cuts through the air and all the hands are gone from my back. Instead, I feel the moistness of a rough tongue licking away at the wounds, saliva digging in to the cuts, stinging horribly at first before a sort of calming comes over me, and I fall off to sleep.
The fire is no longer burning when I come to. Everything around me is calm: too calm. I feel the presence of something, something close, but there is no noise, no movement, no odors, and nothing to be seen.
Yet, it's out there. Something. More than one; yes, they are patient, waiting for the perfect time to attack. But when, I don't know.
My men have laid me in a secure, partially dug out area. If something comes up, I'm in as protected a place as there is. But, my strength is returning fast. As with everything else that's happened since the arrival of my burning black friend, this makes no sense. I am recovering as fast as the cat did. It's almost as if he gave me some sort of life transference. The nine lives are going.
They're going fast.
My furry friend is next to me, purring contentedly, my arms around him. I notice that no sentries have been posted; not the wisest of moves, but I'm not concerned. Somehow, I know I'll be ready when the time has come for action.
I drift off to sleep again, but it's not a deep sleep; it's refreshing rest, but I'm still alert, aware of everything around me, my senses super sharp.
My friend wakes and stares at me, his yellow eyes telling me we can no longer stay where we are. The time has come.
"Corporal!" I say, shaking him, waking him from his sleep. "The 'Cong are coming. Let's get ready for them. I'm going out and flush them in to you from behind."
He wipes the sleep from his eyes and gives me an incredulous stare. "Don't worry," I say. "I know what I'm doing."
I grab my M-16 and swing to the left, somehow knowing where I am going, what I am doing. My vision is sharp, even though the night is dark as coal. I mow the enemy down and push the others towards my compadres.
My ammo runs out! However, the enemy is still here. There are many of them and only one of me. But wait: the cat, my ebony pal is here, and he has grown in size. He is about the size of a small tiger, showing his long teeth to the 'Cong, spittle coming down from the edges of his mouth, and his eyes . . .his yellow eyes are seemingly the size of saucers, and they exude not only ferocity, but cunning as well.
All eyes are off me for now and on the cat. Surely there is plenty of firepower for all of them to dispatch this unexpected nemesis easy enough. But wherever they shoot, the agile animal is one step ahead of them, appearing to know exactly where the bullets will land. Closer and closer he gets to them, his claws no longer retracted, ready for action.
Deep inside me, gut feelings talk to my soul, telling me what to do, alerting me to what I CAN do. My friend needs help; he gave me this power I now possess; the least I can do is help him out.
So fast I don't believe it myself, my body grows thick, black fur everywhere. The pain in my mouth is excruciating as huge canines form, dropping down in to sight before my mouth has completely adjusted to the new me, tearing through my human jaw, blood pouring everywhere. My screams travel on the moist, still air, and cause terror to come across the eyes of the 'Cong as they can't believe the change coming over me.
What's left of my clothing tears apart from my huge change in size, and I bat the useless garments away with my fully-formed front legs, my razor-sharp claws finishing the destruction of the fabric.
My friend advances from one side, and I do the same from the other. I still retain my human brain and reasoning, but my senses are super enhanced inside my cat persona. From the instant of my reformation, I was able to dodge the bullets and perform other miracles of agility totally hidden from me until now.
My friend's saliva! It saved my life once before, and it is doing so again. I sense we are the same now. We are brothers.
We slash and tear without abandon, bringing our antagonists to their knees; and then their deaths. Once we are sure there are no more of them left to usher in to their next world, he changes his size down to a large tabby, and my body morphs back to human form. Yet, my soul, my brain, my senses, belong to both parts of me.
I bask in the glory of what I have become and the powers I possess. But with these powers come responsibility. I must use my strengths wisely.
We return to my men, still waiting for the enemy to be flushed out to them. They can't help but notice the blood on my jaw, and the fact I'm stark naked is causing them to wonder what all happened when the sound of gunfire came from the jungles.
"Don't ask, "I say, waving my hand to the side. " The battle was short but brutal. The enemy are all dead."
The corporal looks at me and shakes his head. "Looks like you and that cat friend of yours are a lot alike. You both have nine lives."
I laugh. "We have less than that right now."
The Corporal is right in one respect: he has no idea how much alike we really are.
My yellow eyes capture everything around me. They always will . . .