Like countless times before, I lay waiting for the target to enter my crosshairs. I lowered my heart rate, controlled my breathing, and slipped my finger inside the trigger-guard of my weapon. The cool groove of metal was a familiar friend, as was the sharp odor of well-maintained gunmetal.
But some weird shit had been going down lately. I hadn’t mentioned any of this to my superiors at HQ; to do so would’ve surely meant the end of this hardcore operator. Numerous ultra-risky but successful missions behind enemy lines in various global hotspots meant nothing in my line of work.
To go fucking crazy, lose your finely-honed edge, meant getting capped by one of your own. Put out to pasture, adios amigos.
Sprawled under my protective camouflage-net canopy, clad in a Ghillie suit, I was virtually invisible in the early morning light. I recalled the first time it happened, about a month ago, when I saw the dead man in my sights. I’d been a heartbeat away from squeezing off a high-velocity 7.62mm round into the cranium of a hard-ass Colombian drug-lord when it happened. One second it was just fucking Esteban in my sights, the next, Esteban and Mr. Partially Decapitated Skull. I remembered him, of course, from a mission several months ago. A hard-ass Taliban shooter named Ahmed something. I’d fucking took him out with a clean and easy headshot. My kill was now totally screwed because I’d lost my focus, my heart jackhammering I thought it would burst out of my chest like the thing in the first Alien movie. But there he was, standing next to Esteban and grinning up at me—fucking up AT ME—with half a face, pulped sickly gray brain-matter and shattered skull glistening, torn crimson flaps of flesh dangling past its slack jaws.
I blinked my eyes, pulling my face away from the Unertl scope mounted atop my Mk12 sniper rifle. I wiped hastily at sweat droplets beading my forehead. Fuck. Ahmed the Grinning, Half-Headed Idiot was still there. He even had the balls to raise one sickly gray hand at me, but Esteban didn’t notice, just stood there smoking a thin black cigar.
Needless to say, mission aborted.
I lied to my superiors. No big deal.
Until it happened again. And again.
The last few times I had even more surprises, lucky me! Instead of one appearing like magic, there were two from different missions. Unrelated kills, but I guess I deserve it, right? I’m not a saint but I’ve always been a good soldier. Never heard of this happening to a hardcore operator like me before, and I’d even thought briefly of talking to a shrink, but knew that wouldn’t go over well sitting on the proverbial fucking couch spilling my guts. I’ve killed so many I’ve lost count. I see the faces sometimes, in nightmares.
Apparently, that’s all changed now. If it were all the same, I’d rather have the goddamned nightmares, than this madness.
Was I going bananas? Heading down the nuthouse trail? I suppose so, but I didn’t feel on the edge of insanity. I remembered reading somewhere that most crazy people never even realized they were cracking up.
Before this current mission, I’d decided if it continued I was out. Go AWOL, to hell with the consequences. I’d rather take my chances running from my former Black Ops employers than be locked up in Black Site cell waiting for my cup full of mind-numbing pills. The most likely scenario would be having me put down like a rabid dog.
With growing dread, I knew things might not be going to go that way. Recent developments seemed to suggest that. I soon discovered I was correct on that point, fuck it all.
My current target appeared right on schedule. I sighted in the scope’s crosshairs solidly on the head, and my buddies came out of the supernatural woodwork. They were so happy to see me. It would’ve been a Hallmark moment, except for the gaping toothy grins, splattered brains, and dangling red flesh.
They brought friends. Lots of friends, God bless ‘em!
I very nearly lost it, crazy guffaws of laughter spewing out of my mouth. Then I regained control and thought: What the fuck! I focused on my target, the reason for being here at this moment, and squeezed the trigger. Not my best shot—okay, I was a little distracted—but it had the desired effect. X out another bad guy.
Then I started firing rapidly at the corpses. Not the smartest thing, I knew, as I fired off one round after another, watching the bullets puncture already dead flesh. Bodies writhed and jerked, crumpling to the ground. But damn it all if they didn’t brush themselves off and climb right back up again.
Headshots, you fucking idiot! No body shots, just headshots!
I wasn’t concerned about the bullet-riddled comrades of Now Deceased Bad Guy spotting my position, yet. The netting and camouflage blended me into my surroundings. The Mk-12 barely made a sound, thanks to the Wonderful World of Sound Suppressor Technology. The shots came off not much louder than a muffled belch or fart.
However, I was growing concerned at the increasing number of dead, those loyal fans, my ever-loving victims.
Dozens of those dead and decaying cocksuckers now stood below at the bottom of the shallow ravine. I couldn’t view them all in the scope so I detached it from the rifle and dropped it on the ground. My situation had quickly gone from Truly Fucked Up to Seriously Up Shits Creek.
I still had plenty of spare ammo, as well as my 9mm sidearm, but maybe not enough to kill them all…before they got to me.
I considered cutting loose, running like hell. Keep running. I got to my knees.
Fuck that shit.
It wouldn’t stop, ever. I knew this like a dying man knows he’s sucking in that last and final breath.
Crouched under the netting in my niche, I set aside the still warm and smoking Mk-12. I reached for the crumpled pack of Camels in my breast cargo pocket, and my battered Zippo.
Shuffling, rustling sounds suddenly came from the undergrowth a dozen yards behind me. I could smell them, even as I fired up my last cigarette and took a long drag. They reeked worse than days-old road-kill, rife with decay.
I pushed back the netting, and stood up.
They greeted me with open arms.