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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Chasm of Dread - A Story of Viet Nam {#BlogBattle}

Time for this week's #BlogBattle, the keyword-driven flash fiction contest hosted by Rachael Ritchey.

The word this week is CHASM.

Chasm of Dread

Slow time on bridge guard, with dusk falling, the sun far down behind a wall of clouds over the central highlands.

"Smoking lamp's out, guys."

Sonny stubbed out his dreadful cigar, and carefully wrapped the butt. "Just when ah'm a gittin' to the good part, TC."


There was an ARVN platoon dug ito fighting positions forward,, and The Dude said "Hey, TC, here comes their officer."

I looked up. The Vietnamese lieutenant waved, and slowed. "Mind if I join you for a few minutes?" His English was unaccented.

We rose. It wasn't required that we salute him, an officer of a foreign army, but he did deserve respect. "Sure."

He was tall for a Vietnamese, and in the fading light I saw that his eyes were not dark mahogany, but gray. Unusual.

"Thanks, guys. I don't suppose y'all have a beer?" he smiled, not expecting one, but Sonny climber up the glacis, dropped into the turret, and reappeared a moment later with a can of Miller.

"Here, L.T, catch. Sorry it's warm."

The lieutenant smiled a broad, delighted smile, deftly catching the can without jarring it. I figured he'd hold it till morning.

But no...he popped the top, and sucked back what foam there was, leaving himself a weirdly Santa-like white moustache and beard. It was kind of upsetting, since these guys were our security, but there wasn't much I could say.

He sat down with us, sipping the beer. "So how's it going?"

The Dude was as uncomfortable as I was. "Uh, it's going OK...sir."

"Never mind the sir. Name's Troung." he offered his hand, and we all shook it, comrades together, of whom one was having a pre-guard-duty beer.

Troung caught the feeling. "Relax. You're safe. Charlie won't come tonight." He patted his chest. I guarantee it.

There was a powerful confidence in his tone, and something sad, too. I noticed that he wore a US Ranger tab on his shoulder, which may have explained the confidence.

But why the sorrow?

The Dude asked quietly, "How do you know?"

Troung pulled out a pack of cigarettes, shook one into his hand, and was about to light it when The Dude said, "Uh, sir..."

The lieutenant flipped open a zippo, and his face was orge-lit in the flame. he puffed, and said, "It's OK. Charlie won't come. Not with me here, not tonight."

I was tempted to snatch the thing out of his mouth. I didn't share his confidence.

But The Dude asked, "What's a Ranger doing here?" It was a good question; the Vietnamese Rangers, especially one of their number who went through the US school, were valued assets, hunters. They didn't stand post.

Truong blew out a cloud of smoke. "I come from U Minh. They sent me here to give me more time."

It was Greek...well, Vietnamese...to me.

But not to The Dude.

"What happened?" he asked, with warmth and sorrow that matched Truong's.

"NVA main force crossed the border, and holed up in the forest. We needed to pin them so the arty could give them a walloping, but the local units wouldn't go into the U Minh. Bunch of superstitious gooks...so it was me and a couple of Nung fire teams."

He took a drag, and said, "See, I'm as American as you guys. My Dad was a Catholic lay missionary, and during the war a family hid him from the Japs. In 1945 he went back to San Francisco, and took the eldest daughter with him. My mom."

"So why're you an ARVN?" Biff asked.

"It's my country. My people. I jined up in the states, got tabbed, and then decided, well, I owed it to these guys to fight with them. So The Army did the paperwork, and I became Marvin the ARVN." He looked down. "I regretted that."

"Why?" asked The Dude.

Troung didn't answer directly. "See, the locals were afraid of U Minh. But I'm an American...no 'Forest of Darkness' can scare me, right? And the Nungs...they aren't scared of anything."

"Yeah," said Sonny. "Ah done heard of them."

"So we went in. It was spooky. You spend ten minutes there, man, that place is evil. You know? Death drips off the trees." He shook his head. "But the Nungs didn't care, and I had to lead them. had to set an example. Can't control those boys elsewise."

"Did you find the NVA?" The Dude asked.

"No." The answer was short.

"Ah," said The Dude.

"Our point guy found a fissure in the ground, and we figured, well, they might be in there. It was dark, and we couldn't see the bottom...but there was no movement, no smell, nothing." In the bush you can smell people before you can see them, and since the Nungs ate a different diet, they were good at that.

"So the guys were lined up on both sides, looking in...curious, like. And then the flame came out."

"Mr. Charles carrying a flamethrower?" asked Sonny.

Truong shook his head, no. He didn't speak.

"It wasn't a flamethrower, Sonny," said The Dude.

"Mee-thane?" Sonny was persistent.

"No." The Dude spoke, because Truong was still silent, his head bowed, face intermittently red-lit by the cigarette.

"What was it?" Biff's voice had a slight tremor.

"Dragon," said Truong.

"Wait, wha..?" 

The Dude cut Sonny off.

"It took them all. I ran."

"Thar ain't now such thing," said Sonny. But in the dark night, he didn't sound convinced.

"Yes, there are," said Truong. "Dragons of air, and dragons of earth."

"Why didn't you shoot it?" Biff's voice had risen an octave. 

Truong looked at him with pity. "You don't shoot a dragon. You can't. They have armour..." his voice trailed off.

"It told you its name?" The Dude's voice was very quiet.

Truong nodded. "So I am safe, until he comes for me. I feel the vibrations in the earth. He's close. ARVN sent me here, to give me time."

"To put your affairs in order," said The Dude.


"And that's why Charlie won't attack. He hears it coming, and he doesn't want to interfere."

Sonny wouldn't give up. "Ah still think it was a guy with a flamethrower."

Truong looked up at him, and smiled. "Bless you...maybe you're right. Maybe you're right, at that."

He stood, thanked us for the beer and the company, and said, "Well, in the morning, them..."

And he walked off.

At 0200 a thunderstorm rolled in, and mingled in the thunder and lighting was the boom of a claymore, from a fighting position to the right of the road. And then a deeper, sharper BLAM.

"Charlie! shouted The Dude, standing radio watch. "Biff, traverse right!"

But all there was, was rain, and thunder, and lightning. The ARVNs had a mad minute, but there was no return fire, and theirs slowed down to a few nervous pops, the soldiers cowering in their holes, waiting for the day

When dawn was lighting the east, a Vietnamese sergeant came running back, and shouted to my, "Trung si, you come, di di! Please!"

I jumped off Ship of Fools and ran with him, The Dude hard on my heels.

The sergeant ran ahead, then slowed, and paced forward uncertainly. He turned back to us."Our trung uy, he was here..."

And there was a blackened hole in the ground, from which still rose wisps of smoke that smelled of sulfur. A claymore clacker lay to one side, the green plastic of the firing grips partly melted, and an M-16 lay beyond it.

Claymores don't make a hole.

And this one was deep. We couldn't make out the bottom

The Vietnamese sergeant asked, "VC mine?"

I nodded. "Yeah...VC mine, trung si."

"Where body our trung uy? VC steal?"

"I guess...uh, yes, trung si." The VC recovered their own bodies. They didn't typically steal ours, or ARVNs.

The sergeant shook his head. "Numbah ten place fo' fight position."

"Yes. Number ten."

He shook his head again, and wandered off. He was in command of the ARVNs now. he walked a little taller, but he looked back, just once.

"Well," said The Dude, "I guess Truong figured the claymore was worth a try."

The End

And yes...this is the way it happened. Draw what conclusions you may choose.

If you can, please do leave a comment. I am trying to answer all, and I am failing, but please know this - I read and treasure each one.

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  1. This was so good, Andrew! I have been showing it to my husband. We are both Army officers and veterans and have thoroughly enjoyed these.

    1. Maria, thank you! Your comment means a lot to me, and I'm so glad you're both enjoying these stories.

  2. I know you have several books, Andrew, but is this excerpt from one that is available at Amazon, or is it one that you are still trying to get ready for sale? I have several friends who I know would love to read your stories. We live fairly close to an air force base and have several military families in our church. Great job as always, my friend! Keep on pushing yourself!

    1. Beth, these stories will be collected into a book, and made available...pretty soon, I think. This is what I was meant to write, and I know now that God will take me through to its completion.

      It is very much a labour of love!

    2. I'm glad to hear and can't wait to pass it along to my friends!

  3. Well, that is a head-scratcher--what conclusions to draw, that is. Nicely done.

    1. Thanks, Cathleen.

      It's a true story, with some details obsured, but not the core. Anyone who's spent time in Southeast Asia, especially the U Minh or Seven Sisters area in the Delta, or the Laotian karst, will realize that dismissing the existence of such as dragons of air and earth is a Western conceit.

      If the locals say, Here be Dragons...it is best not to assume that they are wrong.

  4. I'm so curious about this belief in dragons there. I guess I'd be like Sonny and assume some manmade explanation. Thanks for sharing this story, Andrew. Such a worthy perspective.