John W Partington
suspend disbelief - have an adventure

Knight of the Dragon

How did I end up here? I hate the jungle, I hate swamps, I hate fighting mosquitoes the size of Bengal tigers.

It seemed so easy at the time. Canada was involved in a peace-keeping operation in south-east Asia. I was sent over as a radio operator to work at a station base: air-conditioned office, half-hour coffee breaks, and trips into town. I was supposed to come out of this with a nice big pay cheque and an ugly orange ribbon. Somehow that peace-keeping operation turned into a second Vietnam War, only Canada decides it's in the best image of national prestige not to withdraw its troops. That finds me, Drake Goodman, a year later, stuck in a jungle fighting an enemy that I can't see for some country that can't even produce a good fucking pizza.

I think that's the reason why I didn't care when the thing appeared.

I was on a combat patrol, me and five other guys; three others had already been waxed. We divided up their ammo, and then threw the bodies under some logs. We radioed in the location on the off chance that somebody at Command wanted to collect the remains before they were devoured by bugs. I doubted anybody would.

I was holding my trusty rifle and eight mags, fully loaded. I also had five fragmentation grenades and one white phosphorus incendiary grenade. I managed to round out my complement with three para-flares, a light armour rocket I got off an American in trade for five dirty magazines, and a service pistol. The ammo weighed a lot, but it did not slow me down. You don't become Airborne if you can't haul ass and fortunately, I was built like an ox.

6'6" is a stupid height for a radio operator, and even stupider height for somebody trying to hide in the jungle. I weighed two hundred and fifty-six pounds of solid muscle, and I needed all that muscle just to keep upright.

I must have looked quite the sight with all that ammo and grenades strapped across my webbing. Under the web was my flak jacket. Under that I was resplendent in my stained, torn and dirty combat uniform. The only comfort items I had were my ranger blanket and ground sheet that were slipped through the D rings of my butt pack. I had all the other shit a soldier is supposed to have, but I rarely used rain gear, bug juice, or my right-angle flashlight. The only other things I had that I considered useful were the loads of green paint, and the machete I had through the back plate of my web.

My helmet had the traditional "Victory or death", "better dead than red", "Airborne # 1" and other sayings on it. I only started wearing my helmet recently. I had always thought that they were useless because nobody aims for the head. They go for the centre of mass.

That is what I used to think until some shrapnel took off the right side of my face. I am not hampered by the damage but did receive a really ugly scar. The mark itself looks like some sort of long-necked bird in flight. A real imaginative person can make out wings, a long neck, a head, and a long tail. The cut is a series of deep gashes that start behind my right temple and work downward, covering my cheek with the tail looping around under my chin. One of the bird’s legs was a deep crack across my lips that left my mouth in a perpetual snarl.

Regardless of the many job perks, such as free funeral and live combat, I had to say with all honesty, I really hated my job. The problem was that I was damn good at it. I was a killing machine. In unarmed combat I was a god. In close-quarters fighting I could maim, kill, or destroy at leisure. I was a very good shot, not the best, but that is the reason we had automatic fire. I was thinking to myself about how much I hated my job, a decision between a lot and a great deal, when the thing appeared in front of me.

It looked sort of like a hole but it was not a hole. I would have been able to see the edges of a hole, or the bottom, or punji sticks or something but this thing was a four-foot circle of flat blackness just lying on the ground.

I then thought it might have been black paint on the ground but discounted that because I still would have been able to see the ground and twigs and leaves. A manhole cover? No. It was a big circle of nothing, black nothing, but still nothing. I spent a couple of minutes trying to figure out if it was some new sort of trap. I was going to throw a rock on it but then decided "fuck it!" I placed my right foot over the dark blotch and stepped down.

Big mistake.

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