Below, the ocean danced.
Its dress of foam and azure swirled beneath the blades, ripples a lover’s tremble. Mist kisses arose from the distance between flight and surface, brushing with a gentleness he didn’t know existed. Almost, for the briefest of moments, could he forget the reason for his arrival, the call that pulled him from his wife and children on his fifth wedding anniversary. For a moment, the cool dampness caressed his cheek, and he imagined the cherry lips of his wife’s goodbye. For a moment, he could forget the name that drew him here.
This wasn’t the first time that monosyllabic word ravaged his home, decimated his halls of peace. No, he thought, and each call relayed another death. First Jamieson, then Mikey. The grim reaper with a smirk, they called him.
But each time the demon haunted his cell phone, it never seduced him. His proximity from the situation, his retirement from the corps left him out of hell. Yet hell knows no bounds, its ambitions so drenched arrogance as to lack an understanding of its own auspicious nature. This time, the demon and its miscreants struck too close to home; Lazarevic had fallen, along with hundreds of his brothers-in-arms.
This time, it was personal.
A crackle shook him from his reverie. He snuggled his helmet tightly over his head, dropped his polarized goggles over his jaded eyes. The perimeter looked clear, and his radio hummed with silence. Alpha Two, his field officer, clipped the rappel rope to his belt, and, with the remainder of Alpha Team, propelled from the chopper.
He watched from the interior of the metallic bird, scoured the coast from east to west. The silence was a façade; he knew that, and he knew that safe was just a shadow.
When the first scream perforated the radio, he almost fell from his bench.
“Alpha Three?” he shouted, “Alpha Three? Report.”
Screams transformed into gurgles; silence.
“Command,” the radio crackled. “Command. This is Alpha Two. Alpha Three has gone dark. Please advise. Over.”
He cleared his throat. “Alpha Team, this Alpha One. Assemble in Omega Formation. Did anyone have eyes on bogey?”
“No sir,” Alpha Four responded. “I see something moving. In the bushes? Oh my –” A crack and a scream interrupted Four’s update.
“Alpha Four?” Nothing.
“Sir, Alpha Two and Alpha Five are in Omega Formation. We’ve found Alpha Four. He’s dead; a hole carved straight between his eyes. There. Behind the tree. Pincer; go.”
He watched the two soldiers fade into the foliage, obscured by the trunks of trees. “Oh, god,” Alpha Five whispered. “What the hell is that?”
An unfamiliar chuckle commandeered the air waves. “Hello, boys,” the new voice said, seeping confidence and derision. “Your friends had to bow out. They had holes just burning right through them.”
“Alpha Five, stay in my line of sight. Alpha Five, I’m losing visual,” Alpha Two said. “Alpha Five?”
All radio chatter ceased. Alpha One sat in silence, waiting. Then, with the quickness of death, both Alpha Two and Five screamed. Five gunshots sounded, causing him to rip his earpiece from his head. He tore off his goggles and searched the beachhead below. Nothing.
Pfffft. That was the sound of death. His body jerked back from the impact of the slug, and he felt himself fall from the chopper. His wife’s smile, her beautiful, freckled face brushed against his neck and whispered, “I love you.” His baby girl, Addy, jumped into his arms and squeezed his neck so tightly he couldn’t move. And John, his pride and joy, smiled at himself after reaching base safely. And he smiled, too, in love with his life.
And as he fell, embracing the ocean mist that cooled his burning body, he saw the demon breach the foliage. From this distance, it was hard to make out, but he lurked and swirled within the shadows; and all he could see, as he neared his the terminus of his descent, were the fanged teeth exposed from that haunting smirk.