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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

Special Forces
E. C. Apperson

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 loud.

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 nasal voice.

“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?”

“Hell no.”

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.

“Careful, Sarge.”

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 the sight.

“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 understand.”

“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 him?”

“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 path.”

It actually took almost two days before Moore relaxed enough and reverted back to a more youthful outlook on life. By then he’d peed his pants at least three times much to the delight of Raker and his men.

Two days later, the colony ship landed with the understanding that they’d all have to undergo initiation by the inhabitants of this world. One by one, each colonist was introduced to the tiny creatures with the understanding to keep their thoughts and emotions in check. “Pretend your on a playground,” Raker instructed them.

“Sarge, what do you think this place will be like in a hundred years?” Corporal Wilson asked.

“Well, one thing’s for sure, there won’t be any war.” They both laughed. It was time to depart on their next assignment. A rather large colony ship was shipping out from Earth for an Y-Class planet in three months. Raker figured he and his men would take that assignment. The only one who didn’t leave was Private Jackson. He cited the joy he received from the small creatures made him feel like living once again. Raker granted him an on-the-spot discharge.

Back on the Mercy, Raker stared down at the lush world where a new settlement was about to embark on a fantastic adventure side by side with those little caterpillars. Maybe someday when he felt like retiring, he’d come back to this world. With a sigh, he strapped in for the voyage back to Earth.

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Bonnie Mercure , your Fiction Guide at the dowse Fiction Hub, is a dark fantasy author. Visit her website

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