Entry 46 – Oasis
We made good progress that day and I estimated we’d reach the target area in two days, three at worst. Jim (who once again seemed to be taking everything in stride) suggested forming a raider detachment, giving them the fastest vehicles we had – effectively armed sand buggies – and sending them to scout ahead and occupy the objective until the arrival of the main force. We dismissed the idea right away. Who knows what could happen. It was the right call, as we learned later in the night.
The dusk caught us entering a desert oasis. It was small but lush and seemed to teem with life, an island of green and blue in the middle of a sea of sand. We had to hustle to erect our tents along with large lamplights designed to banish even the darkest night.
That evening was an odd one. The veterans of the Algerian experience stuck together, clearly distancing themselves from the “fresh” troops, who acted perhaps more carefree than they should have. Me and Gail felt their unease and decided to triple the sentries and give them our best equipment (including advanced thermal imagers) so that nobody would get caught off-guard.
We spent the night huddling in our tents. After a day spent in sweltering autumn heat, the night felt almost cold despite the temperatures never dropping below 75 degrees. And dry too – whenever we took a sip from the water provided by mobile purifiers, we could almost taste the soft Saharan sand, our thirst barely quenched.
The first sign that something was not alright came early in the morning. After another night of sporadic sleep, our radios lit up with an emergency signal intended for situations where the person in distress was unable to talk. The entire camp immediately burst into motion looking for the signal’s source. We found it soon after. One of the guard groups was gone. It was the most experienced one, led by Krause, a German-American veteran known for his no-nonsense attitude and almost unnaturally blue eyes.
Worried, we rushed to their assigned position. All their equipment was there, left behind. At first glance, it looked they had stripped all their clothes and walked off into the desert. There were no tracks in the sand but that was to be expected – the constant breeze would cover them in under an hour.
But at second glance... the clothes were moving. We surrounded them but kept our distance, none of willing to get any closer in case we ran into some nasty surprises left behind by whoever dispatched our troops. Finally, with nobody willing to risk it, I took it upon myself to investigate. Moving slowly towards the pile of clothes, I poked it quickly with my rifle’s muzzle. The movement stopped for a second but then resumed. I slowly moved one layer of clothes after another with the tip of my barrel until the source of the movement became obvious.
A dozen or two inch-thick worms were writhing underneath the empty fatigues. As soon as the sun touched them, they emitted a high-pitched scream and turned towards me all at once.
It wasn’t their presence that shook me to the core of my being. Sure enough, they were disgusting by themselves, their hairy pale bodies somehow evoking the memories of my worst nightmares. It was the fact that each of these worms had a human eye where its mouth should be – and they all stared at me.
Two dozen unnaturally blue eyes.