The War They Hide From You

For three weeks the war has been going on and nobody seems to have noticed.

It seems surreal when I’m on my way to the entry, the armor already on my body and the weapons hidden in the back.

The only thing people seem to have noticed is the smell. I overheard a few comments, my neighbor even went up and down our apartment block to check for a fire. Of course he didn’t find any. I’m wondering whether it really is in the air or whether it’s just in my clothes.

Of course not just the fact that this war goes on in secret – this whole situation seems surreal. For the last six years I was an exterminator, killing bug infestations, extended cockroach families and wasp hives most of the time and the occasional small mammal invasion. And then I’m pulled into this.

It started three weeks ago, on Tuesday afternoon, with a phone call. The caller, a male with a military tone, asked to be put through to the business owner. Ten minutes later we sat in the truck. Thirty minutes after that we were strapped in body armor. After two hours each of us had their kit complete. The main part is a small flamethrower.

Small because it has to fit in the pipes.

I don’t know how long they lived down there. All I know is that there are many and that they are fast.

They are beige, nearly white, with all black eyes. Round faces and about the size of a large dog, but they hobble forward rather than walk or run. Even the small ones can jump somewhere from a foot (0.3 meters) up to about six feet (2 meters) when they are in the bigger pipes. Who knows what happens when they go overground.

The thing is that they do but I was told that they have only been spotted a few times, usually in abandoned buildings. I saw one of the holes they dug, there is one right to our entryway, it’s about big enough for a dog to crawl into.

The first time I went in we were four and there was a military in the front and in the back and I was in between them with one of my colleagues to make sure that none gets too close. Now that has changed, we only go in in teams of twos and once I even had to go in alone but I climbed right back out after a minute because that’s just plain suicide.

Their claws are huge. I can’t even describe it. I don’t know where they hide them when they walk usually – you can’t hear them touching the floor or anything. They only reveal the claws when they get close, when they attack. When we were still in teams of four one of them cut straight through a guy’s shoulder, inches away from me. One moment the pipe was empty, the next it leapt around the corner. It went so quick that neither of us pulled the flamethrower in time.

I don’t know why the flames are the only effective thing. Maybe because you don’t need to target well, so even when they are fast it’s hard to miss. And they are always fast.

Somehow today we managed to go four hours into the pipes without meeting a single one. We heard them taunting us, most of the way they seemed to be just around the corner. There were clicking sounds or grinding sounds and when we turned the corner there was fresh blood running down the walls. Maybe they were baiting us somewhere, or maybe they were just waiting for us to take a break or be inattentive, or maybe they just have fun teasing us. God knows what those creatures think.

The day before yesterday it was completely different. I was jumped three times and Quan nearly six times. That’s when you have to do the cover to the back, they always try it from the back.

Up until last week I was wondering why they keep sending us down there. So many of us “got lost” down there, I think it’s just a matter of time until Quan and I “get lost” too. Can’t they at least send proper soldiers with proper training? Why the hell did they sign us up for this?

They say they’ll use military courts if we refuse. I’m just surprised they even let us go home – but I guess they know where I live.

I can’t eat anymore because I can’t get the smell out of my nose. Something between burning tires and a bad barbeque. No matter what I try to eat, it all tastes like rubber barbeque.

It’s so weird that they don’t make any noises. They don’t squeak or anything when they burn. They just jump and the flames hit them and a moment later they fall on the floor and we hold the flame onto them until they stop moving. By that point they are usually burnt black. Still it’s necessary, at the beginning I hit one of them and the body hit the floor and it barely moved, but when we got closed it jumped straight back up. That claw was only an inch from my stomach.

I have nightmares of them squeaking. I don’t know whether that’s my brain compensating or whether they scream on some level we just can’t hear consciously. But in my dreams, when they fall, they scream with high-pitched voices, like children.

Every time I walk the streets I feel like shaking people, like grabbing their shoulders and screaming in their faces “Are you blind? Don’t you see?”

I don’t know how it’s kept secret. I mean, there must be people that notice when their friends or family go missing. I wonder whether those houses are really abandoned or whether there are maybe people inside and at night the things dig a tunnel and clamber out and pull the whole family inside.

I guess they must be eating the children right away, that’s why we only find their heads and sometimes some leg bones.

Last week Quan and I found one of their nests. We were told what to expect but that’s not the same as seeing it. Or as smelling it.

There were about fifteen bodies, squeezed into one of those maintenance rooms. I just couldn’t look at them. With everything paralyzed except for their eyes. They must have seen us in the corridor and then when we shot the flames into the room to prevent surprises. And then they saw us and they must have hoped that we were there to save them.

I was told not to look, but you can’t just cut somebody’s stomach open and not look at their face. Those eggs inside their bodies, nearly transparent but bigger than a football, and the people’s eyes are still moving.

The two where the stomach moved were the worst. Quan was covering the corridor and I had to cut them all open on my own. I didn’t even know whether it would jump out or something. It didn’t. It just kept gnawing on the intestines.

With the flames, with the movement in the stomach it nearly looked as if the man was moving, trying to shift his body away from the heat. Of course it wasn’t the man himself. But I had to keep the flames on the body until it stopped. I was just glad that the man’s eyes stopped moving before that.

In the nests it’s nearly always men. There were a few women but always obese ones. Maybe women’s bodies are too small to hold the eggs or to feed them enough.

And why do they pull the bodies away from their nests afterwards? I just don’t understand. They seem to eat them there, but why the hell do they need to pull the bodies a quarter mile away from their nest. I never knew there was enough blood in a human body to even make such a long streak of blood.

I just can’t describe it. You see the people’s eyes, red and full of tears and fear and you know that they are begging you to be pulled to the light. But all we did was cut the eggs open, and then the flamethrower.

I don’t even eat during the day but when I get home I still throw up.

I just hope it’s true that the people don’t feel pain.

Three weeks and I’m still alive. I walked today for four hours in those pipes, this time Quan was securing the front and I was securing the back. I shouldn’t have looked when he said “Don’t look.”

We didn’t see any of them but as said we could still hear them. And then this body, a young man, maybe not even eighteen yet. The thing in his stomach must have hatched already, there was just a gaping hole. And his right leg was lying half-way down the next pipe, with the flesh sucked or ripped out the skin was hanging on it, less like skin, more like a white and red shirt wrapped around the bare bone.

Stomach open, leg ripped off, and still the worst were the eyes. I can’t forget those eyes. I see them even now. A red hole where the left eye should have been. And the other eye rapidly moving from Quan to me and back.

He knew. He knew what had happened. He knew that we couldn’t do anything to help. He was just figuring out which one of us would free him from his misery.

On the way back, when we got past the other two bodies, those where the eyes were missing, I slit their necks. Just in case. Quan stopped and looked away and waited for me to finish.

I wonder how many of the ones with both eyes missing are still awake.

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