Hello everyone. I thought I’d share a new chapter with you, as U have very nearly completed the first draft of Rogue, and am hoping to have it with you in early Spring 2023. In this preview, we meet a young soldier about to take part in his first “wookie patrol”.
There was a southerly breeze that brought hints of the warmth back home to Second-Lieutenant Wade Garric as he looked out at the darkening Washington sky. Over 2,000 miles away in New Orleans, the sky would be painted molten shades of pink, gold and scarlet red. Here though, less than 150 miles from the Canadian border, the sunset was cloaked in mauves, indigo and swirling black, all too ready to descend. He waited at the gate, knowing he was a few minutes early. A foot patrol crossed the yard, the two soldiers moving quickly, purposefully, and silently.
A side door in the gate tower he was standing next to opened, and a figure emerged, the silhouette made visible by the ghostly glow of the halogen wall lamp in the stairwell behind. The man was stocky and well built, and was wearing an army cap. As he stepped towards Wade, he recognised the man as Major Clarke. Clarke was a professional soldier with significant notches from America’s recent military history on his belt, and years of experience under it. He was known for being tough but fair, and Wade felt a slight swell of relief as the Major stopped beside him.
“All ready for tonight?” Clarke asked.
“Yes sir,” Wade snapped in reply, knowing it wasn’t really a question.
“Hope you enjoyed your dinner, as you’re gonna be seeing it again real soon when that smell hits you,” came a cackle from behind.
Wade didn’t need to turn around to know Master-Sergeant Amos Dugas had joined them. The two had been friends since they’d first arrived at Fort Skookum, both being New Orleans born and raised. Despite his loud and unsubtle demeanour, he was glad the skinny blonde Cajun would be on the patrol with him. He was still bothered by Clarke’s presence though. No regular patrol he’d ever been on required a senior officer to tag along. He wondered how true the rumours were, what he might see out there. He tried not to think about it.
Garric turned as he heard the rumbling engine of the approaching vehicle. The Humvee drew up alongside them and stopped. Clarke climbed into the front passenger seat, nodding to the driver as he did so.
“The Second-Lieutenant will take it from here, son,” the Major commanded.
The Private behind the wheel nodded, even seemed relieved as he climbed out and left the door open. As Wade got behind the wheel, he stowed the M4 rifle to his side. This also aroused his suspicions further. As the driver, he would be the last to get to his gun. So, if an initiation or prank of some kind was being planned, the guy with perhaps the only gun clipped with live ammunition wouldn’t accidentally maim or kill anyone else.
“Keep that handy,” Amos chided him. “I guarantee you’ll need it.”
“Up top, Dugas,” Clarke ordered, his impatience showing.
Wade smiled as Amos snapped to and threw open the hatch, giving him access to the Humvee’s Browning M2 50-caliber machine gun. He swivelled it left and right on its mount to check its movement wasn’t restricted in any way. He thumped the roof to signal all was good.
“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly are we going to be encountering that requires a 50-cal machine gun?” Wade asked.
“Maybe nothing,” Clarke replied. But I have an OP coming up that might require a few good men, and I’ve had my eye on you two for a while. Let’s just say this is an opportunity for me to see how you cope when things get hairy. As you may have gauged, this isn’t Dugas’s first Wookie patrol. But when I said I was looking for someone else, he mentioned you. Don’t let me, or your friend down son.”
“No, sir,” Wade replied.
He’d heard the others talk about the so-called Wookie patrols. The word Skookum, after which the fort was named, was a Chinook word that meant ‘evil god of the forest’. He knew what to expect. They’d go out, complete their rounds, then at some point, they’d be attacked by a group of Marines in gillie suits, a type of camouflage material that had the appearance of long strands of matted hair. It made anyone wearing it very difficult to see in the undergrowth, and at night, there was almost no chance of detecting them. Wade would go through the motions of being surprised when it happened, at least at first. He knew the drill.
As he pressed down on the gas and passed under the large gate between the two guard towers at the front of the fort, he looked left and right. For some reason, he looked over at the fence that hugged the boundary. 10,000 volts of electricity ran through it, constantly. One click out, another fence, intersected by just the front and rear gates, encompassed the entire fort and surrounding forest. It too was electrified and patrolled under guard. He’d never thought about it before, but tonight, the setup bothered him. He’d never come across anything like it on any base he’d been stationed on previously. As a special forces training facility, it wasn’t unusual for there to be a slightly less orthodox layout. But he still couldn’t help wondering. What are they trying to keep out? He thought.
Clarke indicated for him to turn left, and he found himself driving through a gully bordered by the fort on one side, and the forest on the other. The bushes and underbrush began to intensify, and Wade eased off the gas a little. Clarke’s eyes were fixed on the treeline, and he seemed to be acutely listening to the night’s sounds. A little further on, the gulley swept right, away from the fort. The lights of the buildings and the hum of the fence faded quickly, disappearing altogether within a few seconds.
“I think we’ve got company sir,” Dugas yelled down into the Humvee’s interior.
Wade stifled the grin that wanted to spread across his face. They still weren’t too far from the fort, but were out of sight. This was the perfect place to launch the ambush. He was resolved to play along, even if he did feel slightly disappointed they weren’t going to wait until they were further round to stage the performance.
Clarke banged the dashboard, and Wade instantly brought the vehicle to a stop.
“Whatever you do son, don’t turn the engine off. You just sit here idling, understood?”
“Three bogies, approximately eighty yards to the east,” Dugas whispered.
It was then that Wade heard Dugas pull back the slide of the 50.cal, and he caught the gleam of the brass, chain-linked cartridges in the magazine. The bullets were real. This time, he couldn’t quite repress the shudder that rippled down his spine. If this was a set-up, they were trying real hard to convince him otherwise. Nobody was inclined to take chances with that kind of fire-power. His eyes snapped to the treeline.
For nearly a minute, there was nothing but the sound of boughs and branches creaking gently in the wind. Then, from within the darkness, the booming hoot of a great horned owl pierced the night. Wade was just beginning to feel the edge of the adrenalin wearing off, when a deliberate, decisive crack emanated from nearby. As he peered into the black, he thought he saw movement, a blurred shadow moving between the trees. A second later, a good-sized branch smacked into the side of the Humvee, and dropped to the floor. Wade heard Amos swing the Browning in the same direction.
Wade didn’t know why, but he felt a certain urge to check the rear-view mirror. He glanced up, and froze. Glimpsing past Amos’s legs, out in the gloom, he saw two amber dots low to the ground, and appearing to edge closer. He recognised them instantly as eye-shine.
“Sir, directly behind us, about thirty yards out. Potential tango,” Wade reported, not taking his eyes off the mirror.
“Sneaky sons o’bitches ain’t they,” declared Amos, swivelling the gun around.
With the windows cracked open, there was no escaping the sudden, seeping stink that crept into the cabin. It was like a skunk, rolled in dog shit, had died in the back seat and been left to rot there for a few days. It took all his self-control to force down the vomit that wanted to fly out of his throat as it filled his nostrils.
“Jesus H. Christ, that’s one unhappy monkey,” Amos declared under his breath, wiping at his streaming eyes.
“Throw a flashbang Corporal, let him know we’ve seen him,” Clarke ordered.
Amos picked a canister up from the seat below and pulled the pin, tossing it gently behind the Humvee. Wade instinctively covered his eyes as he saw the others do the same. Above the sound of his thumping heartbeat, he distinctly heard the thuds of heavy steps coming towards the vehicle. Then he heard the fizz, pop, and crack of the flashbang, and the dazzling blaze of light projected onto his closed eyelids. Something behind the truck was screaming in rage and pain, moving away at high speed. Something else on Clarke’s side was roaring, but also moving away. The noise seemed to penetrate every fibre of his being, resonating in his chest. At one point, it was so loud he almost couldn’t hear anything at all. As the glare from the flashbang faded, he opened his eyes wide in terror, unsure of what he would see. In the rear-view mirror, all he could see was Amos’s grin. And to the front, the reach of the headlights showed only the trees.
“They don’t like bright light,” Clarke explained. “You may want to remember that.”
“They sir?” Wade asked.
“I’m not rightly qualified to tell you exactly what they are,” Clarke replied. “But tonight, and on the op, they are your enemy. Let’s move on.”
As Wade shifted the Humvee into gear and pressed down on the gas, he heard something large thrashing its way through the scrub on his right. Through the open window to his left, something there too was mirroring their movement. It agitated him. There was little cover there, he would expect to be able to see it. He kept glancing out into the shadows as he drove, trying to get a fix on what he was listening to.
“Maybe time to roll up the windows, bud,” Amos suggested.
“Not a chance, I want to hear them coming,” Wade replied. “Plus, I’m not sure how much good a pane of glass will do against the thing that threw that tree branch. That pitch must have been from over a hundred feet, and if it hadn’t hit the truck, it would’ve been out of the ball park.”
“Maybe when we catch up, you can try signing them up to the Mariners,” Amos laughed.
“They certainly need all the help they can get this season,” Clarke replied.
Wade wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but the Seattle Mariners were pretty much the only Major League team in Washington state, and they got game tickets every now and again. It was more about hot dogs, beer, and buddies for him though.
Wade felt rather than heard the impact of something hitting the ground, again somewhere to his left. He came off the gas, letting the Humvee roll along as he reached for the M4. Clarke was watching him out of the corner of his eye, but said nothing. The thing, whatever it was, was too close. He didn’t have time to say anything or warn the others. He slammed on the brakes, whipped up the rifle and thrust it out of the open window. He closed his eyes, registering the slight crumple of grass underfoot a few feet away, almost parallel to him. He eased the barrel an inch to the right, slipped the safety, and fired.
There was a sucking sound, like an inhalation of breath taken in surprise. Then a low, guttural, curdle of a growl started somewhere in the darkness. It built in resonance and pitch. The sound exploded into a series of shrieks, whoops and utterances that when heard together, almost had the same rhythm and pace of language. For a moment, he felt like he was being scolded. As he heard Amos swing the big Browning round, Wade caught the flash of something white, loping off into the darkness. He realised it was a set of long, yellowish fangs, being bared in his direction. It barely registered with him that they were eight feet off the ground.
“Well, look at you, shooting down range on your first Wookie-patrol,” Amos declared, grinning.
“Tell me straight sir, I didn’t just shoot a Marine in a gillie suit, did I?” Wade asked, disturbed and confused by what had just happened.
“No son, you didn’t.”
“So, what did I shoot then, and shouldn’t we be going after it?”
“As to what it was, you’ll find out soon enough,” Clarke replied, meeting his gaze. “And in terms of going after it, no point. Even at that range, that rifle’s basically as effective as a pea shooter.”
Clarke shrugged, ending the conversation, but he looked Wade up and down for a moment, as if sizing him up.
“Welcome to the Skookum squad,” he finally said. “Report to the briefing at 07 hundred. But in the meantime, get us the hell out of Dodge.”
Wade felt a chill as they drove back to the safety of the main fort. He looked once again at the perimeter wall and electric fencing, fighting the shudder that came with the realisation that they were designed to keep something in, not out.