E. C. Apperson lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He's had short stories published in online and print publications. Currently, he is working on a horror novel titled "Beyond Hell." Special Forces was first published in Alternate Realities
Sergeant John Raker stared in horror as the last of his men,
Private Rogers, fell into a forest of waist high grass without a sound.
The man’s green fatigues blended in with the tall stalks making him almost
invisible. A whole platoon of twenty men had fallen to an unseen foe. Sweat
tickled his cheeks as it dribbled down to his chin. Raker quickly scanned
the patch of dark green ahead. He had to make a decision, whether to go
forward and maybe fall like his men, or stand his ground until he figured
out exactly what had happened.
As a fighting man, he needed to see his enemy in order to
adequately formulate a battle plan. Fear wasn’t a part of his inner working,
but in this instance, a slight tingle ran up his spine. He wouldn’t let
that tingle bother him though . His eyes darted downward at the company
patch on his sleeve. It had been a proud moment when he’d received that
patch after six months of rigorous training.
An hour earlier, they’d dropped from a shuttle and parachuted
onto this colony planet. Their job was as an advance force to make sure
the colony ship could land safely and the people embark on a new adventure.
They free fell for over three minutes before reaching five thousand feet
where they pulled their ripcords. The colony ship circled high overhead
in a close orbit. The Captain of the Mercy, a streamlined colony ship, would
wait until an “all clear” was sounded from Raker before dropping onto this
unexplored world. At this point, Raker had serious doubts whether he would
ever be able to send that message.
With all of his senses strained at full alert, he slowly
scanned the grass just ahead. Pulses of adrenaline knotted his arm muscles
making a tattoo of a hula girl on his right arm appear much larger than
it actually was. His body, a tense-fighting machine ready for anything and
everything, awaited a signal from his brain to either attack or stand at
ease. He had to find out exactly what had taken his men. When the first
man, Corporal Wilson, fell into the grass with a slight thud, Raker had
stopped in his tracks. One by one, he’d watched as his other comrades fell
into the green ocean of grass ahead. Most stiffened for a while before falling.
More sweat dripped off his rugged chin. Laser pistol in hand, he inched
forward, trying in vain to see what had attacked his men.
More sweat tickled his face as he worked his way forward
a few more inches and stopped. Something green with small blue dots crawled
onto his left spit-shined boot. It appeared to be a caterpillar, slightly
larger than the Earth variety, but it still appeared to be a caterpillar.
Could that small creature have somehow bitten or stung his men? Raker stood
stock-still, anger for his fallen comrades apparent in his features.
A feeling of extreme dread crept up his spine, and then pure
terror erupted into his mind, numbing his whole body. Somehow, he kept from
passing out and falling into the same grass his men had fallen into. His
years of rigorous training far exceeded the others and saved him from the
same fate. His jaw muscles flexed as he fought within himself.
Fearless in his resolve to stay conscious, Raker slowly closed
his eyes and put himself into a slight trance. The trick was to blot out
all outside stimulus. He’d learned this feat from an old Master Sergeant
while he was still a corporal. Slowly, he fought the emotional drain that
gripped his mind. He’d never felt anything so intense, but recognized it
for what it was, a human weakness. The trance helped to control his runaway
terror. In the intricate matrix of his mind, he counted cadence . . .hut
. . .two . . .three . . . four.
Once again, anger flared within him for his friends. He had
to do something, anything to find the hidden danger and eliminate it. Raker
inched forward once again with the intent to confront and destroy the enemy.
Sorrow emerged and shocked him out of his trance. Tears strained
to stream out of his eyes, but Raker swallowed the urge. Tears would be
a foreign substance to his rugged features. He hadn’t cried for many years,
not since his mother’s death some twenty years before. He fought back the
sobs that tried to rack his body, his being, and his very soul. The caterpillar
managed to work its way up to his chest. It stopped near his silver wings.
The badge of courage that signified his ability to parachute into hostile
territory gleamed in the morning sunlight. Little beady eyes appeared to
study the shinny object.
Son-of-a-bitch, he thought. How could something that small
be intelligent enough to study his badge? Maybe it was just the shiny appearance
that drew this little creature. Raker wasn’t sure he really wanted to know
one way or another. A gentle breeze brought the scent of far off wild flowers.
Gradually, the sorrow that had invaded his soul diminished, leaving behind
a breath of freshness to his mind. Maybe it was true; a good cry could cleanse
the soul? Even though he hadn’t cried, he’d sobbed within. His mind dropped
back into a defensive position, ready to strike out at any foe.
Darkness descended upon his vision. Panic gripped his heart
like a tidal wave, the crest rising to its highest point within seconds.
A sharp stabbing pain permeated throughout his whole body. Conditioned to
pain, it had taken seconds for this mind to register that he’d been hit
with a huge dose of it. His body had reacted first by squinting his eyes
tightly shut, then shutting his mind down for an instant.
Raker stifled a sudden need to laugh. If this was all the
unseen foe could throw at him, well, he wasn’t about to give in to a simple
thing like pain. No, not him. Several years earlier, he’d been wounded in
Africa. It had been a rather nasty wound near his groin, but he’d withstood
the pain. No, this enemy couldn’t take him down that easily. He sighed and
relaxed a little.
A new wave of emotion erupted throughout his body, pure pleasure!
Rather quickly, he sported an enormous erection. The feeling permeated from
his groin area spreading throughout his body. The intensity gave him a great
feeling of euphoria. In the back of his mind, Raker puzzled over his situation.
How could he be experiencing such emotions? He continued to count cadence
on the surface of his mind.
The pleasure he felt quickly turned into pain. Too much of
a good thing was not healthy to his body. He wanted to explode. Raker gritted
his teeth harder.
Gradually, the intense sexual pleasure faded away, as did
his enormous erection. With a sigh, he relaxed, then remembered the little
creature on his chest. He took a few moments to study the little fuzzy worm,
noting small differences in it and Earth caterpillar. This creature had
rather large round eyes compared to its body. It seemed to study him with
much the same intensity he gave it.
Nothing in his training prepared him for this kind of confrontation.
He’d been trained for combat and to live off the land no matter what world,
but not for such emotions. If anything, they’d taught him to throw away
emotions and rely on the basic instincts born in humanity during the caveman
days. Not far away, a moan pierced the warm breeze. Hope for his men flared
within Raker’s veins.
The communicator clipped to his waist crackled, then Jason
More’s nasal voice boomed from the speaker. “Raker, what’s taking so long?
You better secure that area so we can land soon. The colonists are getting
restless.” In charge of the colonists, Moore had been a thorn in his side
since they left Earth. Raker wanted to reach down and respond, but couldn’t
move his arm to do so. “Raker, goddammit, you better answer me.” The man’s
voice droned on for a few minutes, then sweet silence descended. Raker hated
that man. He turned his thoughts back to the problem at hand. Once again,
his body tensed.
At that moment, a new wave of emotion flooded his body, this
time rage emanated throughout his frame. Rage, not just any rage, but one
so intense, it sent blood veins to the surface of his face. Through bloodshot
eyes, a body of fire stretched like an ocean meeting the sky. His heart
beat to an unseen drum, ready to burst anytime. He struggled to stay upright
as his resolve weakened.
The taste of blood brought him back into focus. He’d bitten
his own tongue and the metallic flavor enraged his senses. His legs began
to shake, as did his massive arms. Red froth bubbled at the corners of his
mouth. A low moan reached his ears; it was from his own lips.
As quickly as it came, the unknown rage diminished. Enough
so, Raker could once again see his surroundings. The caterpillar still clung
to his chest, staring intently. Repulsed, he wanted to brush the tiny thing
from his breast, but failed to do so. The round of emotions he’d just experienced
left him extremely weak. Ashamed, Raker stared back and waited. What new
emotion would invade his mind, body, and soul?
After a few minutes of controlled breathing, he had better
command of his senses and with it profound sense of relief. The last of
the rage he’d experienced seeped away like a tiny golden tear, barely wet
in its existence, yet a vital part of his humanity. The caterpillar actually
appeared sad in a silly sort of way. Raker stifled an urge to laugh out
One glance at the sun alerted him that he’d been in this
position for quit some time. From orbit, instruments had indicated that
an average cycle on this world amounted to twenty-eight hours. The golden
globe in the sky had dropped to the far side of the clearing where a few
small trees dotted the landscape. Raker squinted. He’d been in this position
for at least seven hours. Where had the time gone and what about the others?
Earlier, he thought he’d heard a moan or could it have been him that moaned?
Slowly, he brought his hand up to flick the green worm off
his chest. From out of nowhere, pain flared in the back of his head. His
eyes bulged as his vision turned bright red. This time he couldn’t fight
off the blackness that invaded his mind. His last thought was of the colonists
that waited somewhere above for the signal that would never come.
Far off, his mother’s voice called to him. “John, John Raker,
you get home right now!” As a child, he’d played soldier many times with
the other kids on his block. Commonly known as the wimp of the bunch, he’d
tuck tail and scurry home anytime his mother called. The other kids called
him a ‘mama’s boy’. Texas dust always covered his small body prompting a
bath from his mother. She’d fuss over his paltry frame, complaining about
his unkempt condition.
After a good scrubbing, his mother would usually mutter small
words of love that made him feel good. He could see her lips moving with
her wistful smile, but couldn’t hear anything. Her arms embraced him in
a warm hug. He felt great.
Raker creaked open his eyes to a myriad of stars. Slowly,
memory returned! He sat upright amid those tall stalks of thick grass. In
the semi-bright starlight, he searched his clothing for the little creature
to no avail. It had retreated back from whence it came. Relieved, Raker
slowly stood on wobbly legs.
One by one the others woke up amid confusion. Each had been
in the grass for hours and urgently had to relieve the built up fluid on
their bladders. Apparently none had been permanently injured from the experience.
Each man had his own story to tell of the terror, pain, sorrow, and relief
from the little creatures.
Raker dropped down on a small mound to think over the situation
before contacting the colony ship. How could a tiny caterpillar evoke such
emotions and pain on a person? He didn’t have the answer. In his mind he
played back the moments just after touchdown on this world.
After rolling up their parachutes, they’d piled them in one
spot and covered them with tree limbs for later retrieval. Raker assigned
Corporal Wilson as point man and they’d set off to reconnoiter a nearby
clearing that would be perfect for the colony ship to land in. Ready to
attack anything that threatened, the troop moved like a well-oiled machine.
They hadn’t gone more than two hundred yards when they meandered into that
patch of waist high grass. That’s when things had gone awry. After the first
man fell, Raker used hand signals to alert the others that an unseen enemy
was about. His men stopped in their tracks, but by then it was too late.
Raker gave the order to stand down and bivouac for the night.
His men were unusually quiet. The after effects of those intense emotions
had left them all rather sullen. His main worry was Private Jackson. The
man had just lost his wife before mission departure, but had insisted on
leaving anyway. He started to saunter over to Jackson, then stopped himself.
Sometimes it was better to leave things unsaid to a Marine.
His communicator crackled and Moore’s voice boomed from the
device. “Raker, I want a report and I want it now.”
Raker rolled his eyes at the stars overhead and flipped his
communicator open. With a sigh, he replied, “The area is not secure yet.
We were attacked.”
“Attacked . . .attacked by who or what?” Raker hated Moore’s
“I’m not sure yet. The only creatures we saw were some caterpillars.
I think they may be semi-intelligent creatures. They flooded us with emotions.”
“Caterpillars? Caterpillars? I don’t give a damn about caterpillars.
Step on them and send us an all clear so the captain can land.”
Raker started to tell the man where to go, instead, he completely
shut off the communicator so Moore couldn’t hound him. He then stretched
out on the hard ground to sleep away what was left of the night. A guard
was posted with instructions to wakeup a relief in two hours. Exhausted,
it didn’t take long for him to drop into a sound sleep.
The next morning brought another round of bickering with
More. Raker had to make a decision, whether to allow the colony ship to
land or force the issue of the tiny inhabitants of this planet. After all,
they were here first and defiantly posed a threat.
Curious, Raker wandered over to the edge of the patch of
grass and dropped onto his stomach so he could see between the stalks. “Whatcha’
doin’ Sarge,” Corporal Wilson asked much to Raker’s annoyance.
“I’m trying to find one of those little devils.” With a brush
of his hand, he parted some of the grass. Right away, two little beady eyes
caught his attention. Could it be the same one that had been on him?
“Are ya gonna kill one, Sarge?”
Within moments, a whole array of the little creatures stared
back at Raker. Puzzlement etched lines across his forehead. What were they
doing? Why were they staring back at him? Could they really be intelligent?
Raker reached out with his right hand, extending his index
finger toward the nearest of the caterpillars. His intent was to explore,
not to harm.
Somehow, he didn’t think the creatures would harm him. He
placed his finger in front of the caterpillar. It wiggled its way upon his
finger with finesse only a caterpillar could and stared up at him.
A warm feeling ran through his body. Quickly, it became love,
pure love. A small sigh parted his lips. Alarmed, Wilson cocked his hand
back to knock the caterpillar from his Sargent’s hand, but Raker slowly
shook his head, no.
Suddenly Raker understood what had happened. When they’d
entered the tall grass, they’d been tense, ready for a fight. The little
creature’s sensed that and responded in the only way they knew how, to send
raw emotion back at them. Now, relaxed, the creature was responding in a
favorable way. He had the answer. He wasn’t sure why it had given him the
sexual feeling, but decided it was still some kind of a defensive response.
“Here, take him on your finger.” Wilson backed up a step,
shaking his head. “Come on, it won’t hurt you unless you show anger or a
strong desire to harm it.” Cautiously, Wilson allowed the transfer from
Raker’s finger to his. In moments, the man had a smile on his face.
Raker snatched his communicator off his belt and called the
colony ship. After a short conversation, Moore agreed to land in a shuttle
to see what the fuss was with the caterpillars. Raker assembled all except
Wilson to await the stubby craft. Thirty minutes later, two smoke grenades
were thrown onto a sandy flat area to signal the shuttle where to land.
The small craft landed amid smoke and the door cycled open.
Raker knew Moore wouldn’t wait until the smoke cleared before he’d depart.
He chuckled under his breath as More’s gangly body exited the craft. The
man began hacking from the smoke.
“Raker, show me those little pests.” Moore shuffled over
to the assembled men and waited for Raker to lead the way.
“Follow me.” Not far away, Corporal Wilson still sat on the
ground playing with one of the caterpillars. Moore appeared to swell at
“What the hell’s going on?”
Raker laughed, then extended his finger and took the creature
from Wilson. A smile played on his rugged face. “Here, you take it and you’ll
“Who, me?” Moore asked.
“It’s just a stupid insect,” Moore said with a touch of disgust.
Raker dropped the caterpillar on More’s shoulder. Instantly,
the man stiffened and his eyes glazed over.
Wilson laughed, then asked, “I wonder how long it’ll take
“This guy isn’t a soldier, but he’s sure an asshole. I bet
it takes the rest of the day and most of tonight before he sees the right
Bonnie Mercure , your Fiction Guide at the dowse Fiction Hub, is a dark fantasy author. Visit her website