I stepped off the bus into three fucking feet of snow. I was the only one on the bus, and the driver had laughed viciously when he slammed the door to the bus and roared off in a cloud of diesel fumes.
The building I was looking at was old, white, and covered with snow. It looked vaguely familiar, and there was a path carved through the snow, which went from three feet where I was standing, to over my head.
Holy Christ, what did I get myself into?
BOOM BOOM BOOM! Three rapid-fire explosions shook the trees and caused flakes of snow to drift down from their nearly-bare branches. I looked around, but no sign of where it came from. Sighing, I grabbed my duffle out of the snow and headed through the carved snow channel to the building. While I was walking, there was another set of explosions. That would explain why all the snow was on the ground but the branches of the trees were bare.
Inside the building wasn’t much warmer, but at least Class-As were warm. I had on my nice, shiny E-2 rank, awarded for excellence during training at AIT, and was all giddy and proud of myself.
It took a while of wandering around, but I found a woman, who offered to call my unit and have them send someone down to get me. She told them I’ll be in the cantina in the building, and then showed me where it was. She commented on my wedding ring, telling me that post housing is at a premium, and the nearest town is a little over four miles from post.
Great, I’m in Sleepy fucking Hollow. No biggee, I joined up to avoid a nightly ass-pounding in jail. Not to say I wasn’t going to join anyway, it’s just I ended up in the custody of the US Army a bit earlier than planned.
So I was sitting there eating nachos and drinking soda when the guy showed up. He looked shit-ass miserable, wearing Mickey-Mouse boots, a fucking parka, and cold weather trousers.
“You Monkey?” he asked, moving over to the radiator and standing over it.
“Yes. You from the unit?”
“Yup. Finish your nachos,” he told me. He then went over and ordered a beer. He sat down across from me, cracked open the beer, took a long pull off of it and then belched.
“Who’d you piss off to end up here?” he asked me.
“Nobody. I was actually assigned here after AIT. Everyone else going to Germany had orders for 21st Replacement, I had orders for here,” I told him. “Why? What’s so bad except the snow?”
“Counting you and me, the unit total now sits at eighteen people,” he grunted. “You had to piss off someone.”
“Eighteen? As in ten plus eight?” The thought boggled my mind.
“Yeah. The other two hundred are supposed to be along in the next few months. You think that’s fucked up, wait till you see our barracks.” He finished off the beer, snagged a couple of my last nachos, then stood up and buttoned his parka.
“Let’s go, kid.” I caught his rank when he grabbed his cold weather cap off the table. E-4, but he looked about nine thousand years old. I silently followed him outside and into a Chevy Blazer, which he fired up, and we pulled out in the streets.
“It gets cold her about August, there’s usually snow on the ground by late September, and it stays till about March or April, from what I’ve heard from guys who have been here,” he told me. “Most of the buildings were built by the Nazis in World War II. For example, our barracks were built in the 1930s and refurbished last month. Here, let’s grab your TA-50 so you have your cold weather gear; I don’t want you to freeze to death in the middle of the night.” I nodded, followed him in, and we rousted a German guy reading a porn mag to give me my equipment. He didn’t make me sign anything—didn’t even have a list; he just handed me all this shit, and waved us out the door.
“Don’t they keep accountability?” I asked, throwing the second duffle bag full of gear into the back of the CUC-V.
“Why? Nobody gives a shit about us or this place. DoD couldn’t give a shit less what we do out here. You can literally murder someone out here, and maybe, just maybe, Stuttgart will give a shit enough to send someone to investigate if it’s an officer. If it’s winter, it’s chalked up to cabin fever. Hell, last week the engineer company lost two guys; nobody knows where they went, but since no vehicles are missing and they left their cold weather gear behind, we figure they are dead. We’ll probably find them in the summer.”
Oh Lord Jesus, where did I end up?
We were driving for a good twenty-five minutes, left post, and were on the range roads. We passed a corner that warned that in the last year, twenty-two troops had been killed by taking the corner too fast. Given the way the CUC-V leaned when we took the corner, it didn’t surprise me.
Finally, we pulled up to a three story white building. It was starting to get dark. Only a handful of lights were on. We went inside, and I noticed that it was warm in there. The first time since I left Frankfurt.
“Hey, Carter, this is Private Monkey, he needs a room and some linen,” the guy said, and the specialist behind the desk opened a box on the wall, pulling out a key while the PFC opened a closet and grabbed a sheet set, two wool blankets, and a pillow. They handed it all to me before going back to watching some fucking show on the little TV.
My guide walked me upstairs, and down to the second half of the building, through the double doors. He stopped to look around and shivered.
“There is only you in the whole section. Some of us sleep in the day room for comfort,” he told me, pointing at my door.
“Why?” I asked, unlocking it and pushing it open. It smelled of paint and sawdust, and something else. Something that gave me goose bumps.
“You’ll see.” He dug in his parka and pulled out a bottle of tequila, which he handed to me. “Stay warm, kid. When you wake up, go ahead and come down to the day room. I think we got an officer today, but right now, we don’t have formation or anything like that.”
I nodded dumbly, completely confused. This is the Army? This is Regular Army? This is Active Duty? What. The. Fuck.
The door slammed, and suddenly it felt like the room had gone shadowed despite the fact that light was on.
Okay, shower and bathroom to my left, lockers to my right. Short “hallway” exactly as long as the embedded wall lockers were long. Fairly large room, with a radiator, refrigerator, two desks, two dressers, and two sets of bunk beds. I walked over, turned on the radiator, and listened to the clanking and thumping and other noises that radiators made.
Looking out the window, I could see fencing with rolls of razor wire on top and guard towers. Empty. Nothing in the huge lot, no movement in the towers. Turning away from the window, I drew the curtains to help the room warm, and began putting my stuff away.
Everyone else in my AIT was sent to places like Umatilla, Black Briar Creek, Red Stone Arsenal, Johnston Atoll. I was sent to a fucking place that doesn’t even have a goddamn name—that wasn’t even up to full strength. I began to suspect that the (ReA) after the unit name meant “ReActivated” since we may or may not have an officer.
I jerked off in the shower thinking of my wife and went to bed. It was cold, but I was used to that from juvie.
I woke up shivering, cold as shit under my blankets. There was someone in my room; I could feel their presence. I didn’t move, didn’t open my eyes, trying to focus on the person. I’d learned the trick in juvie. I kept my breathing the same, but the air was ice cold and made me cough and sit up.
My room was pitch black, and freezing cold. I swung off the top bunk, and when my feets hit the floor, the floor actually had fucking ice on it. What the fuck? I stumbled over, still positive someone was in the room with me, and fumbled for the light switch. I wasn’t anyone’s punk—if there was someone in here with a hard dick in their hand, I was going to bust open their skull.
My room was empty, but there was frost above where my head had been, and there was frost on the floor. I could still feel someone watching me, and whoever it was fucking hated me. Cold and completely unnerved, I gathered up my blankets, grabbed my key, and left the room.
The hallway was dark and cold, and I was in my socks and wollen long johns. My breath plumed out in front of me in the light of the few lights that were on, and I walked the length of the hallway, pushing through the double doors, and eventually went down the stairs. Not all the way down; there was another landing below, but a hand-painted sign read “DAY ROOM/CQ AREA” on the second-floor landing.
I pushed through the door, and found myself in the same room I’d originally entered the building through. The Specialist was leaned back in a chair, dozing, and the PFC was reading a book. I could hear snoring from another room, and, dragging my blanket, I went in there.
There were fifteen people in the room, all of them huddled up in chairs, their blankets wrapped around them. I dropped my shit in an empty chair and went back into the CQ area.
“Hey, why’s it so cold?” I asked the PFC. He looked up and then looked around.
“The furnace went out.”
“Why the fuck did the furnace go out?”
“Nobody’s loaded coal in it since earlier today.”
“Why the fuck not?” I asked. He smiled, like he knew a secret. He reached up, grabbed a key, and came up to the desk. Taking a piece of paper, he sketched what I figured was a map to the building.
“OK, we’re right here. Go down that hall, through the double doors, go through the first door on your left, go down the stairs and exit the stairwell. There will be two doors on your left, mailboxes and a single door on your right. Go through the first door on your left, use that key, go all the way to the back of that room, and you’ll find the furnace and a mound of coal with a shovel in it. Open the furnace, load up the coal, and use the can of gasoline to wet down the coal and light it up. Then come back.” He pointed everything out on my map, and I suddenly realized he was talking a coal furnace. What the fuck? I’m familiar with them; the house my father owned on the West Coast had a coal furnace.
I nodded and he handed me a key and a flashlight before going back to his book. Grumbling, I went back upstairs to my room, dressed, grabbed gloves, and went back down to the CQ area. I didn’t say anything, but I was positive that there was still someone in my room. The hair on the back of my neck wouldn’t stay down.
So, I followed his directions to the bottom floor. I noticed one thing he’d forgotten to tell me. There was a door that would lead outside, but it was locked and chained shut, and the chain was fairly new.
Curious, I unlocked the door and swung it open.
A bare dirt floor and an unfinished ceiling stretched out into the darkness. There was an interesting smell and could hear a heavy, labored breathing noise in the darkness. The goosebumps and heebie-jeebies that had faded while I’d walked through the building came back in force.
I was glad I was fully dressed.
I stepped into the room, onto the dirt floor, and walked into the darkness. I passed the source of the heavy breathing, and turned to look for it. An old electric water heater sat there, massive and ominous in the puddle of illumination from the flashlight. I could see where pipe fittings were leaking steam, making the wheezing, heavy sound of breathing. The air wasn’t warm or moist, it was still cold, and I could see the glitter of frost on the walls around the loose pipe joints.
I wasn’t in the Army. There was no way this could be the 80s Army. Somehow, I’d ended up in the 1950s.
I heard a skittering behind me and whirled around, flashlight held close. A pair of beady eyes glared at me from the darkness. I felt the cold shiver run down my back, and realized that I didn’t belong down here. That something down here didn’t like us. Didn’t want us in the building. It or they wanted us gone, wanted us to leave. Or wanted us to die.
The eyes suddenly moved forward, revealing themselves to be of a huge rat, easily as long as my forearm with its tail. It rushed me, mouth open and eyes bright.
“FUCK YOU!” I yelled, took a step forward, and kicked that big ugly motherfucker back into the darkness. It made a crunching sound and aborted shriek. I backed up, slowly, not fully in possession of my faculties, not even aware I was backing away from the door I so wanted to escape out of.
When my back hit the far wall, and the shovel against the wall fell on the dirt, I screamed. I’d discovered in Basic Training and AIT that my voice carried. This time, however, a yell that could have been heard across an FTX firefight just fell flat, without even an echo.
I was nearly bald, but my hair was standing straight up. I could hear crunching sounds out in the darkness, and my fertile imagination conjured up ghouls pushing up from the dirt, gnawing on bones of past interlopers.
Spinning around, I saw an honest-to-god kerosene lamp. My hands shaking, I clipped the flashlight to my chest pocket and fumbled through lighting the lantern. I had my back to that cavernous room, and I was nearly sobbing with the knowledge that things were closing in on me. Things that wanted sweet, warm, flesh to gnaw.
The lantern provided a dim bubble of warm light, and I could see the glint of metal off to my right. Sure as shit, it was furnace. That did nothing to ease my feelings though. The furnace was big, it was black, and an old Nazi insignia was visible above the furnace door. The sight of it made my blood run cold. My imagination supplied screams coming from the furnace as I stared at it.
It wasn’t a furnace, it was huge, black beast, lying dormant, that demanded living sacrifices to be fed into its maw.
“Fuck that. It’s a goddamn furnace, this is a fucking basement, and this place is a shit hole,” I growled up, feeling anger well up to replace my fear. I was goddamn soldier, a killer Uncle Sam had ordered forged in order to kill motherfuckers. I wasn’t going to be afraid of a fucking furnace, an ugly dead rat, and some goddamn darkness.
I pulled open the door to the furnace, located the coal pile, and began shovelling coal into the furnace, just like that fuckhead PFC who’d sent me down here for a laugh at my expense, had told me to do.
I poured gasoline on the coal and lit it up. I then located the feed chute and loaded it. It came as no surprise that the feed-chute was full of cobwebs. These guys had been just shovelling coal onto the grate and lighting it up.
As a final “fuck you” I took the shovel and knocked the Nazi emblem off the fucking furnace.
Fuck those dead motherfuckers.
Holding the lantern, I walked the length of the basement, ignoring the little noises. That breathing? The hot water heater. That gnawing noise? Mr. Ugly Rat’s relatives feasting on his corpse. Those footsteps behind me? Echoes.
I stopped suddenly, and heard the footsteps continue on for another step or two.
I will not look behind me. I will not run. Monsters are not real. I will not run. I will not look behind me. Monsters are no FUCK IT! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!
I hit the door, kicked it open like it was a movie, and slammed out into the hallway. I pushed the door shut and held it, shaking and sweating.
As I was locking it, I heard a tapping noise, but refused to open it.
“Cocksuckers. Hope they like it in there,” I growled. I blew out the lantern and set it by the door, then retraced my steps back to the CQ area. I glanced in, but counted fifteen people, still sleeping.
The Specialist was there, still dozing, but the PFC was missing. Good, fucker won’t freeze to death, but let him stay down there till morning, the fucking prick.
“Dude, you’re back!” I heard from behind me. I jumped, and spun around. The bathroom door was closing, and the PFC stood in front of me.
“Damn, you were gone almost an hour. I was starting to think we’d have to mount a rescue mission for you. DId you go in?”
“Yeah. I reloaded the coal, the radiators should start heating up any time,” It was starting to dawn on me. Nobody had been playing jokes, nobody had been fucking with me.
“Nice work, Private. In the last two months, nobody has managed to do it, and most of us won’t even go in there,” the PFC told me. I nodded dumbly.
“So it wasn’t my imagination?” I asked.
“No,” he told me, then leaned in close. “These barracks, fuck, this whole post, is haunted.”
I felt a chill run up my back.
Welcome to Germany, PV2 Monkey. You ain’t seen nothing yet.