Episode 12 - There will be sleeping enough in the grave

If there is one thing we all hate doing in this mission is the night guard. Even Sgt. Palmer can't stand it. The nights at this time of the year are really quiet. The crickets are gone and so are most of the birds. Occasionally you can hear one or two foxes barking, down in the valley. Because we all had trouble staying awake, a communication officer from Twentynine Palms Base, calls us on the radio a couple of times a night. His name is Anthony Padalino, code name "Night Rider". Through him we get our news from the outside world, game scores and sometimes a sporadic new joke. We don't speak for too long, I only know he is from Cleveland. I was on guard duty last night when he came on the radio. - Hotel Pond Patrol this is Night Rider, do you copy? Over. It took me a while to realize what was happening, I had fallen asleep - Night Rider, this is Hotel Pond Patrol. I copy you loud, clear and awake. Go ahead over. Corporal Padalino took a few minutes to get back to me - Roger Hotel Pond Patrol, things are really busy here at Palms Base. I can't talk much to cub scouts tonight. Are you alright? Over. Just as I was ready to respond his wisecrack comment, I heard some movement by the yew shrubs. I quickly responded - Night Rider, this is Hotel Pond Patrol. 10-6, going to standby until next contact. Out. I put the radio receiver down and picked up my pistol and flashlight. I could still hear the rustling in the brushes. Whatever it was, it sounded like it was looking for something. With my flashlight still off, I made my way to the shrubs. But then I accidentally stepped on some dry twigs, making a loud crack. Silence took over the noises in the shrubs. And as I attempted another step forward, the creature reacted by striding down the shrubs, passing the mulberry tree towards the pond trail. Just fast enough so I could only see the brushes moving. I was about to follow it, when I remembered what Sgt. Palmer said a few weeks ago - Every person in this camp is responsible for one another and most important, I am not going to loose another man in this mission, understood? - I turned back to the tents and saw Ben already holding his rifle. - I heard it too, Harris! Did you see it? - he asked me uneasily. If I wasn't sleeping when Night Rider came on the radio I would've heard the noises much earlier. The worst part: if the radio hadn't come alive and awaken me, I would've been caught by surprise or even be dead by now. And few months ago I was bragging on how great of a Marine I became. I feel like an idiot. At this point Sgt. Palmer was out of his tent holding his pistol as well. I reported the incident to a group of half dressed men, some still wearing underpants, like Dr. Johnson. - I want you and Kaplan (Ben) on that trail right now! - ordered the sarge while tapping on my shoulder. It was too late. With no night vision goggles, our flashlights were only another sign that we were approaching. It wasn't a rabbit or a fox. It sounded much bigger like a horse or an elk. Only not as tall, otherwise i would've seen it over the shrubs. Ben and I scouted the trail for a couple of hours. By following the broken leafless branches across the trail, we ended up at the exactly spot where I found Dan's bag and camera in the beginning of the month. - That proves nothing - said the sarge in reply to Dr. Johnson's defense of Dan's theories. - And I don't want to hear another word about lack of equipment, make a list! - he continued, now speaking about the goggles. This morning we went back on the trail, but we found nothing new. The cage in the pond was still in place. But now I know. I know there's something in the pond. We all do.

by Corporal John Harris, November 24, 2005