I awoke in the hospital, restrained to the bed with soft restraints. My "escort" sat nearby, though, in truth, they were more of a guard. They're sole job was to make sure that I was not a danger to myself or anyone else. The nurse on duty, I know her, have worked with her for the last year, looks at me sympathetically when she comes over to check my vitals. She doesn't stay and chat, which is fine. I can't talk any more, though why I don't know, and the doctor's haven't been able to tell me. She is a nice enough woman, a captain in the army. But now she looks at me with sympathy, and I do believe, a bit of fear. I am allowed up, though they bring in another escort to make sure I don't try anything, and taken to the bathroom where I can relieve myself, shower and shave. When I came back to my bed, the sheets had been changed, and lunch had been brought. The Major, a psychologist, will be in to see me a little later, I am told. I nod. I can't speak.
Perhaps I should back up a little and explain things more thoroughly. After all, this whole business barely makes any sense to me, and how much less so for you, who have not lived what I have? Who has not seen what I have seen? Oh, yes, they tell me that I imagined the whole thing, that I did this to myself, but if only they knew.
Where to begin. I should say that I am in the United States Army, and have been for about 7 years now. I joined in 2002, after the terrorist attack in New York, and enlisted to become a medic. I have served three tours of duty in Iraq, and I have seen some strange things, though nothing near as queer as what I saw last night. Was it last night? I'm no longer sure, to be honest. You see, they have me hooked up to IV's, and they have not been too forthcoming about what they are pushing in to my veins. I think they worry that I might become violent. Ah, I digress.
This last tour of duty took me to Al Asad Air Base in the Western region of Iraq, the Anbar Province, which I am sure you have probably heard of in the news. Al Asad, when I arrived early last year, was home to some thirty thousand Marines, not to mention Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers. The base had been in US or Coalition hands since early 2004. I am assigned to the Combat Support Hospital, colloquially called a CSH (pronounced cash), and have been on Al Asad for nearly a year. Why these events should happen now, I do not understand, but I shall try and lay them out for you as accurately as possible.
My First Sergeant instituted the police of Charge of Quarters during the week, and Staff Duty on the weekends. This meant that someone sat in an office from 5 in the evening, until 8 in the morning during the week, and from 8 in the same time the next morning on Saturday and Sunday. Now, I had been assigned to CQ and Staff Duty a number of times during this deployment, and while I noted that the building that was our Headquarters was of strange construction, and of a rather eerie atmosphere late at night, I had noted nothing out of the ordinary.
So it was that on the night of the 3rd of January, 2010, I was on Staff Duty. It was a Sunday, and so I found myself in the headquarters building all day, with no one else about. The Command Post is always staffed, but they stay behind a locked door, and aside from them calling on the radio for something, I never see them. My morning, on this particular day, was spent moving items out of my container housing unit, or CHU, and cleaning said CHU, in preparation for leaving Iraq. We were, at the time, less than 30 days from handing off our mission to the next unit. So a good deal of my time that morning was spent cleaning and moving. The afternoon passed quietly, as well, and I found myself sitting in the office.
Now, I have said that the building was of a rather queer construction. I say this, because a good deal of the building was window lined hallways surrounding a central courtyard. The courtyard itself is not very big, you could, if you wanted, fit a volley ball court inside, but we had a wooden stage, and something of a bar set up inside, with benches and tables, and a white painted board used as a projection screen. There were many nights that the unit held parties in this courtyard, and most Saturdays they had a movie or two running after it got dark enough. There was one branch off the square that jutted out to the West, and the Eastern side of the square was a double thick hallway, with smaller, atrium-like openings between the twin halls.
The Western arm of the building held the Physical Therapy and Audiology clinics for the hospital, and it was here that I worked most of the time. The clinic was laid out such that it was two hallways, connected by a third hallway, with a large open room also connecting the halls. The third hallway had a latrine and a supply room coming off it. The primary hallway, and I call it that simply because it was the most used, was the southern of the two halls. Walking in the door, on the right was a door with a window next to it. Inside this door was my desk, where I played receptionist for the PT clinic. Behind my desk was the Respiratory desk. To my left, back towards the outside world, was a locked supply room, and to my right, the audiology booth. Right across from my desk was the connecting hallway with the latrine on the outboard side of the hall, and the supply room on the right hand side, towards the center of the building.
Passing down the main hall, through a set of wooden double doors that were built for a narrow people, was the hub of the building. I call it a hub, because it held the two main oddities for this building: a staircase to the basement, and an elevator shaft. In my time here, and the time of all the hospitals that had used this building, the elevator had been out of order, and had rested in the basement, the doors closed. To my knowledge, none had ever been inside of it since the base was taken. The stairs wrapped around the elevator in a horseshoe. To the right was another hallway that was lined with windows on the courtyard side. The opposite side was lined with offices; the Hospital Commander's office, the Sergeant Major's office, the Chaplin's office, and finally, the Staff Duty office.
As I said, the building was mostly hallways surrounding a central courtyard, and so, immediately across from the Chaplin's office was another hallway, again, the left side, lined with windows, and the right, as well, except for one part, where there was an office. Used to be an office. The room had been emptied about a month ago, and the two wooden doors that led into it were kept locked.
Now, I have given you the major areas of my interest on this list night, save for the basement, but I will get to that later. I will not go into detail on the location of the company commander's office, or the command post, nor will I discuss the dental clinic, as I have no experience with them, or the Mental Health side, as they are a rather private bunch.
As I say, I found myself sitting in the office that afternoon, quite bored with the duty that I was assigned. And so my boredom lasted until early evening, after dark, when I walked out to walk around the building and make sure all the doors that needed to be locked, were in fact locked. I started on the ground floor, completely willing to take my time on this floor as I knew that there was another person about, should I absolutely need to talk to someone. Once this was completed, I slowly descended the stairs into the basement. I should mention that the walls upstairs are all painted white, with bulletin boards, cork boards, and posters here and there. The walls in the basement, though, were stone grey, only recently painted white. The floor was still grey, and was constantly dirty, despite the best efforts to keep it clean. At the foot of the stairs, the basement splits into three hallways. To the right, the hall way is short, and ends in a stone wall. There is a metal door to the right of that, and inside is a small storage room. To the left from the stairs, the hall goes past the elevator, the doors opened just enough to tantalize the eye with a peek inside the car. Beyond the elevator is a built up wooden wall, then a metal door that is propped open. Beyond the door, the hallway bends to the right 90 degrees, continues for perhaps ten feet, then bends to the left 90 degrees, where it turns into a ramp leading up to a set of cargo doors. Just before the left hand turn, there is a door to the right. I should say was a door to the right, as the doorway is now filled in with wood, and had an AC unit stuck in the top portion.
Back at the stairs, straight ahead there is a set of glass doors. The one on the right was constantly open (I had never seen it closed the entire time I was here), and the one on the left was closed. The bottom pane of glass was cracked and spider-webbed, though amazingly still inside the frame of the door. How this had come to be, I had not heard, but it had been that way for as long as I had been there. Despite the basement being open, sound does not travel well between the floors, and one standing at the railing of the stairs would be hard pressed to communicate with someone standing fully in the basement.
Most of the doors in the rest of the building had been replaced with wooden ones, giving the place the look of an office building. The doors looked nice and were functional, but a look at the door jambs showed that all was not well here. The outer doorjambs were made of metal, verified by knocking on them, while the inner ones, the ones that were built up to accept the wooden doors, were of wood. The doors in the basement were another matter entirely. All of the doors, save for two at the end, were original from before the invasion. They were metal, heavy, and some of them had handles that made one think of an airlock, or a prison. The doors were solid, with no windows, and no slides. I have it on good authority that the building was once a hospital, though what kind of hospital would need these kinds of doors is beyond me. Especially one on an air base.
Some of the doors in the basement still have bullet holes in them from when the coalition forces took the building by force. There were four doors here that I specifically needed to check, though I usually checked the others as well. The first door was the mail room, which was actually the second doorway on the left as I entered the basement. The first doorway was missing a door, and lead into a strange room. It was narrow, with two faucets in one wall. The faucets were set over squares a yard wide with drains in the center. They brought to mind some sort of shower, though without curtains or a wall to separate them. I should note that this did seem to be a common theme among showers that I have seen in Iraqi buildings during my time in Iraq. Other than the showers, which were not functional, the room was empty, and I usually did not pay much attention to it, nor did I last night. The mail room was secured, so I signed off on the check sheet and continued on. The next three doors accessed different parts of the supply room; the storage room, the arms room, and the office, respectively. Each of these doors was locked, and I signed off on those as well. The classroom was the last door on the left, and these doors had been replaced at some point, and were now wooden. The doors were locked, with a padlock at the top, so I quickly passed on to the next door, the one in the back of the hall. This door was one of the originals, as well, and the place where the bolt used to be was gone, punched out either by shotgun blast or breaching charge. The door was secured with a padlock, and beyond, I knew from having been in the room, was a supply room full of education supplies; training aids for bandaging, IV's, CPR and what not. I tried the lock, just to be sure it was secured, then checked the door to the education office, and found that door locked.
I was much relieved to be almost done with this portion of the walk through, but felt my breath catch as I approached the next door. The door was opened slightly, though it should have been locked. The padlock still hung from the hasp, but the lock bar was not connected to the wall any more, and I could see pieces of cement hanging from the screws. I should mention that at the time I was rather unarmed. I carried a hand held radio, clipped to my belt, and had a pocket knife and a Gerber folding knife on me, but nothing else. I was undecided, for a moment, about whether to investigate the door being open, or to just note it in my log and let the command decide what to do with it. Against my better judgment, I suppose, I decided to investigate, just in case. This door lead into the oddest room I had seen in the entire hospital. We jokingly called this area the padded room because of the punching bag suspended from the ceiling in the back, right corner. It was the room to come to if you needed to vent your aggression or annoyance with the other staff of the hospital. I slowly pushed the door open, reaching into my pocket for my Phantom Warrior flashlight. While not a terribly bright flashlight, as it is designed for tactical operations where light discipline is a factor, it is a sturdy light. The lights in the room were off, and I decided against turning them on, as I did not know what lay beyond.
The room was laid out as I remembered it, with the punching bag hanging motionless where it should be. In the back left corner is a doorway with a single step down that leads into a very tiny room with two more doors leading out of it. I shone my light around, but didn't see anything out of the ordinary, no foot prints on the blue mats on the floor, nor anything out of place, so I was about to walk back out when I heard a soft scraping sound. I could not determine exactly where the sound came from, aside to say that it came from further in the darkness, so I slowly made my way back to the doorway. From the tiny room, as I said, there were two more doorways. One to the left, with two more steps down, that was empty, but to the right was a room with large pumps and circuits for the air conditioning system of the building. Two large ducts circled the room, barely leaving room for a person to squeeze between them and the wall to access the equipment in the room. Now, I had heard rumors when I arrived that there were secret tunnels that ran under the base, starting in the back of this room. I had never taken it upon myself to investigate this rumor, though I do admit that the curiosity was there.
I shone my light about the AC room, but did not see anything out of the ordinary, and, again, was about to retreat to the main part of the basement when I heard that sound again. It was a soft scraping, as though leather against the cement floor. My mind conjured up images of all sorts of things that it could be, but nothing that encouraged me to continue, and yet I found myself sliding between the air conditioning duct and the wall to reach the inky blackness that lead into the tunnels beyond.
I will say, at this moment and in truth that I did not expect the tunnels to amount to much, if anything. I expected that I would find some sort of service corridor that reached only a few hundred feet, if that, under the building. It was with this belief that I pressed forward, passing beyond the ducts, and into the dark hallway beyond. I could hear my breath echoing in the darkness, and could imagine my heart beat being loud enough to hear.
"Hello?" I called out into the darkness, wondering, half fearing, that I would get a reply, but the only response that came back was the echo of my own voice. I pressed along, further into the darkness, listening intently for that sound. It came again, just as soft, but richer, deeper, somehow, as though it were nearby. I shone my light around the hall and noticed, for the first time, that there was some sort of writing on it. It looked vaguely like the Arabic script I had become accustomed to seeing in Iraq, but somehow seemed more ominous, more alien in that pitch black tunnel. I ventured on, examining the script as I went, noticing that the air took on a mustier, old scent, with an undercurrent of something sickly and sweet. The sound came again, this time as a footstep, and not as a mere scraping. It had the quality of a stealthy step taken, only to have the toes or heel drag at the last moment, and I looked around the hall for the source, shining my light where ever I looked.
Ahead of me the hall took a sharp turn to the left, and I imagined that I saw a shadow, some form, on the wall in the light, so I moved closer.
"Hello?" I called again. "Is there anyone there?"
Again no answer came to me, and I found myself at the corner, my heart pounding in my chest. The air seemed to thicken around me, and I could smell blood on it. Old blood. Blood that had been sitting outside of the body for too long. It is the same smell you find at a butcher shop, but stronger, more vile. I turned the corner and saw it.
There wasn't a moment's hesitation as I reached for my knife, though I knew not what I would do with it. The thing lurched towards me, carrying with it the sickly sweet smell of decay and blood, its mouth open, showing broken and blackened teeth. The skin of its face, for I could see little else in the beam of my flashlight, was pale and gray, deeply wrinkled around its eyes and mouth. The eyes were a dead white that I could feel focused on me. Something swung at me, and I moved aside just at its hand grabbed, ripping my uniform. I could feel a burning sensation across my chest as its long, ragged nails drug across my skin. I think I must have screamed, but I could not hear anything beyond the pounding of my heart in my chest. My knife opened, almost of its own will, it seemed, and I was stabbing at the thing before me.
The creature didn't even react as I stabbed it repeated in the chest with my knife, losing my grip once and slicing my thumb on the blade. It fell on me then, clawing at my face and neck. My flashlight rolled away into the darkness as I fought the thing off, trying not to gag at the stench that was forcing its way into my nose and mouth. My Gerber was trapped between us, and I could feel the handle of it pressed against my chest, but I couldn't dislodge the creature far enough to grab for it. I managed to hold the beast back with one arm while I reached for my Benchmade, thankful for the automatic knife as I pressed the button and heard the welcoming click of the blade locking into place. I struck with the knife, aiming now for the creature's eyes and temple, seeking to drive the black steel blade into its brain, hoping to kill it.
It was then I heard the voices, for I am sure they were voices, though I will never be sure whether they were human or not. The words made no sense to me, and I was too focused on trying to fight off the creature attacking me to remember them clearly, but that they were there, I will always remember. Finally the creature ceased fighting me, ceased moving at all, and laid its full weight on me. I pushed with everything I had left in me to roll it away, trying to get clear of it so I could escape this tunnel of horrors. That was the last thing I remember.
The Major, a portly man with a fringe of hair that circles from temple to temple is nice enough when he comes to see me. He tells me that they are afraid I am suicidal, and that the cuts and scratches they found on my face, neck, chest and arms look like they were self inflicted. I want to tell them it is not true, but I cannot speak, and I do not know why. They don't know, either, and the Major thinks it may be some sort of hysterical reaction. He is kind, and he tells me he thinks I will make a full recovery back in the States. The Captain comes by again after he leaves, and she still looks afraid. I don't blame her, I know I do not look like myself. I saw it when I shaved this morning. My eyes, normally a dark green, have paled considerably, and it looks as though I am developing cataracts over my eyes, though I can see just fine.
In fact, when the lights go out, I can see even better…