Mann relieved me at breakfast, and Stokes and I ate eggs and rat meat. Mmmm. Everyone looked sandy-eyed. I’d plugged in the phones about zero five hundred, and nobody had called. Pervert or not. I’d decided that the radiator had proven that this wasn’t a haunting, this was a building that was old, falling apart, shittily maintained, and half-assed rebuilt.
Stokes was staring at me oddly when I stood up and stretched. Cobb was smoking a cigarette and I reached down and grabbed it, taking a drag, then handed it back to him. I didn’t smoke, but the taste of the cigarette would get the nasty taste out of my mouth. Cobb grinned at me.
Mann had unlocked the doors, and I headed down to my room. Fuck this, I wanted a shower. Oh fuck, my laundry. I’d forgotten all about it. At least I’d put it in the drier. It had sat in there for several days, but I was worried that I’d open the drier and find old SS uniforms replacing mine.
When I went into the laundry room, my laundry was on the counter, neatly folded and separated.
No. No fucking way. I thought, picking it up and heading out of the laundry room. No fucking ghost, anywhere, is going to fold laundry. Not even some anal retentive dead Nazi SS instructor. To me, it was just further proof that all of this was just structural.
I managed to unlock my room without dropping my laundry, and kicked the door shut behind me. I put away my laundry, and caught sight of the flask of Tequila that SPC Thompson had given me.
Fuck it. I took the bottle with me into the bathroom, turned on the water, and waited for it to heat up. When it heated up enough, I stepped in and sat down cross-legged. I pulled a couple hits off the bottle, stood up, set the bottle on the sink, and took care of business.
Finished with memories of my wife and last meeting, I washed off, then grabbed the bottle again. I took a long pull standing there, with the water sluicing down my back.
The lights went off in the bathroom, instantly plunging it into darkness.
I took another hit off the bottle and leaned my head against the tile of the shower.
I missed my wife. I missed my friends. I missed my twin sister. I hoped my twin brother had gotten anally raped to death by a moose.
The lights flickered.
I took another long drink, nearly emptying the flask, and thought about Susan. I used our wedding ring to make clinking noises against the bottle. The water was hot, smelled faintly of rust, but it was hot. I missed her voice, I missed her smell, I missed the way she would cuddle up to me in the middle of the night.
The light flickered, buzzed, and went out.
The light came on with a snap, and I turned off the shower. I dried off, drug on my blue and gold PT shorts, and went out into my room. I’d left the door open, and the steam had boiled out of the bathroom and coated the whole place with frost.
“What the hell were you doing in there, jerking off?” Stokes asked me. She was sitting in the chair that normally went under the desk, with her leg stretched out.
“Yeah. What the hell are you doing in here?” I asked. Oh shit. She probably knew I’d been wondering about her.
“It’s too noisy down there. They’re getting a block and tackle from Third Shop along with some pallet jacks, and they’re going to load all that Nazi shit you found onto some trucks,” she told me. “Mind if I sleep in here? Mine’s on the first floor, and they’re dragging all that shit right by my room.”
“I snore.” I told her, vaulting into my bed. One hand on the edge of the bed, and just fling myself into the top bunk. I pulled the green blankets off and tossed them on the floor, then slithered underneath the comforter I’d brought with me, buried in my duffle bag.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” she told me, picking up the blankets.
“I’m married,” I told her. She tossed the blankets up on the bed and climbed up painfully.
“Good. So we know where we stand.” She pulled off the leg brace and tossed it on the floor. I rolled over and faced the wall.
I couldn’t get my mind off of her titties against my back until I went to sleep.
I woke up first, seriously in need, and pressed up against her. I sighed in the cold and dark, pulled her hand off me, and slid out from behind her. Climbing down the front of the bunk wasn’t easy, but I didn’t tear my dick off, so it was good.
I took another shower.
When I came out, she had managed to get down out of the bunk, and was sitting on one of the spare beds.
“Go ahead, towels are on the shelf,” I told her, walking up and opening my drawer to get a clean uniform. She nodded and limped into the bathroom, shutting it and locking it. I wanted to laugh. less than a half hour ago, she’d been holding... never mind, I was married, I didn’t need to think about that. Besides, we were asleep, so it didn’t count.
I was finishing lacing up my boots when she screamed.
I walked up to the door and knocked.
“It’s just the lights,” I told her.
“It scared me.”
“Just wait it out.” I answered.
“OK.” I went back into the main part of the room, and took the time to shine my boots. They needed it. Tuck the dagger into my boot, and I’m good. I dry-shaved, tossed the razor in the garbage, and sat down.
According to my little map in my green notebook, the third floor and the attic weren’t refurbished. I was willing to bet that there was a hole in the wall or something. I made marks on my little map. I was sure it was electrical problems and structural problems.
There’s no such things as ghosts.
Stokes came limping out of my bathroom, naked in all her glory, towelling her hair. I could see the scars running up and down her bad leg, and another thick scar underneath her left breast. She’d gotten messed up in that wreck.
I turned around and waited till she got done dressing.
“Don’t you like me?” She asked.
“You don’t even look.”
“Never mattered to anyone else.” Her hand fell on my shoulder.
“It matters to me,” I answered, putting my hand on top of hers and squeezing. My wedding ring glinted in the light. She held my hand a moment longer, then stepped away, taking her hand with her.
I waited till she cleared her throat and turned around. She was dressed in her uniform again, and I was painfully aware of just how much that uniform concealed, how shapeless it made her look.
Together we walked down to the CQ area, she asked me about the circumstances of joining the Army, I grunted in response. I let her use me for balance when we were going down the stairs, I didn’t want her to risk hurting her leg.
Everyone was sitting in the CQ area, and there were people I didn’t recognise. Dinner was spaghetti and out of mermite cans again. I did a quick head count, and came up with 25. Oh joy, we’d been reenforced. All of them were E-4s and way too old for their rank.
“There’s the man,” Cobb said. He lit a cigarette and handed it to me. I took it, I didn’t smoke, but it was polite.
“What?” I asked.
“You’re the furnace man. Mind showing some of these guys how to reload it?” Cobb asked. He had an evil grin, one I matched.
“No problem,” I answered, walking over and picking up the heavy flashlight.
“Your seven, form up on Private Monkey.” Captain Bishop said. He stood up and handed me the .45. I checked the action, and put it in my thigh pocket.
“Be back in 10 minutes. Get your parkas and your gloves.” I told them. I’d carried my parka under my arm, my gloves were in my left thigh pocket. I’d only been here a few days, but I’d learned quickly.
“You guys close that hatch?” I asked. My ribs ached still.
“Yeah, we closed it,” Mann said.
“We moved all that shit out of there. You wouldn’t have believed all that shit down there.” Smith added. “Over twelve trips with the 5-ton to clear it all out.”
“Barring anything unusual, we’ll be ordering a replacement water heater and furnance, and the engineers are going to send down some electrical guys and plumbers to check the building out.” Captain Bishop interjected.
I nodded. He didn’t prod me for a correct answer, or to expound on whatever I had to say.
“How was your rest?” Cobb snickered. I stared at him, and after a moment, he looked away.
“Fine.” I answered eventually. There was mumbling, but that was about it. Stokes looked at me strangely, and I smiled at her.
“Private Monkey, you mentioned these.” SFC Vickers had two boxes of fuses in his hand, I took them and tucked them into the pocket of my BDU blouse.
The newbies had finally gathered back up, and I put on my parka, buckled it, and pulled the .45 and transferred it to the pocket on my parka.
“Monkey, take this,” Cobb told me. I looked down, and he was holding up a coil of 550 cord that had a bunch of D-rings hanging off it.
“Thanks, Cobb,” I replied, taking it and putting it in my cargo pocket. He was right, it might come out useful.
“Let’s go, troops,” I said, and led them down the hallway. I had to leave them there, while I went back and got the master key. Someone had locked the stairwell door. They all looked at each other oddly when I unlocked it.
When I pushed open the door, the lights in the hallway and the stairwell cut off. Two of the emergency lights cut in, and the stairwell stayed dark. There was a low moan that echoed through the stairwell, and an answering shriek from the upstairs hallway.
Someone swore under their breath.
“At ease that shit.” I growled, stepping into the stairwell. We went down to the bottom floor, and I unlocked the stairwell door. I waited till everyone was in the little hallway, and I pointed at the door.
“Once we are past this door, there are no lights, it is a dirt floor, and do not trust what you hear.” I told them.
“Come on, Private, save the fucking ghost stories, we’re not greenies.” one guy laughed. I just stared at him for a moment, then he dropped his gaze.
“If you men and women are done.” I stated. Nobody said anything, and I unlocked the door.
“Jeeze, what an asshole,” someone whispered. That’s why you don’t whisper, numbnuts, it carries.
The stench of something wrong gushed out and enveloped us. Someone coughed, but I just pushed my way into the darkness. The light from the flashlight was dim, but I wanted proof this time. My regular flashlight was still off, with the batteries in my pocket.
Someone bitched about the smell, and I told them all to shut the fuck up. I didn’t say anything, I was counting steps.
Twenty steps in, the flashlight flickered. At thirty five, it cut out.
We stood in the darkness. The water heater was slowly breathing in the darkness, and I could see the glow of the furnace in the distance.
“What happened?” someone asked. Female.
“Happens all the time.” I answered, clipping the heavy one to my parka belt and dragging out my regular, issue, flashlight. I replaced the batteries, and the dim light turned on.
“Follow me.” I told them. Someone swore softly. I could feel the hair on my neck raising up, and the goosebumps forming. I couldn’t hear any strange noises over all the racket all the fucking noobs were raising.
We got to the furnace, and I instructed everyone on how to keep a furnace fed and cared for. They asked about the wheels, and I told them that there was no way to tell what the fuck they were for. This wasn’t a steam furnace, this was an old style coal heats air air floats up type furnace.
I hated the big black fucker.
We’d taken about a half dozen steps when my flashlight cut out. I couldn’t resist, I ghosted away, found the wall with my hand, and leaned on it.
“Remember, ghosts don’t exist.” I whispered.
I heard them cursing, yelling for me, and in general being pissed. After a few moments, the sounds stopped, and we could all hear the basement.
The hissing breaths of the water heater, and the grinding chuckle of Mr. Furnace. There was a scampering noise, and someone screamed.
“SOMETHING JUST RAN UP MY LEG!”
I chuckled. Mr. Rat would do that. I felt a fierce joy, an obscene thrill at torturing these guys and girls like this.
Not so brave now, are you, fuckers?
I swapped out the batteries, and turned on the flashlight. I shined it around, and found them scattered everywhere.
“What the fuck is wrong with you people? Don’t you have any goddamn discipline? Look at this bullshit. The goddamn rotten wood hatch to the sub-basement is about three feet from you, dipshit. That’s a twenty foot fucking fall to concrete.” I walked up to each of them. “Next time this shit happens, STAY THE FUCK TOGETHER!”
I was grinning fiercely, convinced they’d learned the danger of this goddamn building. I led them back to the CQ area, locking the doors behind me.
“Cobb is missing.” Captain Bishop told me.
I suddenly wanted a cigarette.