63. Tracks Forged in Blood

Tracks Forged in Blood

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth…

Ephesians 6:11, 14

Truth is stranger than fiction. What you are about to read actually took place on the night of October 17th into the morning hours of October 18th, 2011. In case you accuse me of sharing a fantasy, I must say that I am no creative genius. Never in my wildest dreams could I conjure up a story as crazy as this.  Everything I wrote about in my last post,  what you are about to read in this one and the next, surprised me as much as it might shock you. I can empathize with you, if you are a skeptical reader. I’d have a hard time believing this to be true if I were in your shoes. But know that I would never have the audacity to claim something as wild as this to have happened if it truly did not. All I ask is that you read this with an open mind and come to your own conclusions. Though opinions may differ on why this happened, what happened still remains the same. My worldview has a category to explain these events, so if yours doesn’t, then you’ve got some work to do. Or you could choose to take the easy road and label me a fool, crazy, or a liar. Regardless of where you stand though, buckle up, because you’re in for a wild ride. If you haven’t read it yet, read part one first here

***Most names in this post are altered.***

“Hey Olsen,” Jameson said, “Do you believe in demons?”

I held my breath.

“Ohhh yeah I do,” he said with conviction. “You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff I’ve seen.”

I couldn’t even believe he said yes, let alone anything he was about to share with us. Of all the thousands of active duty infantry Marines that could be there that night, how was it possible that the one who happened to pass by was one of the incredibly small minority who knew anything about spiritual matters, let alone had first hand experience? Not only did he say he’d seen multiple exorcisms, he shared hair raising stories that would make any Steven King novel sound like a children’s book. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember him describing some of his extended family’s involvement with occult practices. He recalled stuff floating in his home and an aunt bursting out of a room, screaming at him with blackened eyes.

He also spoke of an uncanny ability he had to detect unsavory people or situations, and a knack for both having and obeying promptings to make decisions he otherwise would never make. For example, rather than walking behind the hooches and slipping through the flaps to sleep as he usually did after post, that night he was inclined to go to the front door where James and I chatted. Olsen also shared that in college he followed his sixth sense down a dormitory hallway he’d never entered to a room he’d never been where he stumbled upon a sexual abuse conflict that would have turned to rape, had he not been there to chase away the assailant. Some Christians categorize this as a spiritual gift called “discernment,” which perhaps he had, but at the very least, he knew his gut instincts well and followed them, instincts that brought him to be standing before us and now thoroughly enmeshed in our discourse.

Once Olsen finished sharing his spooky stories, things got weird… really weird.

“I’ve also had some freaky dreams too,” Olsen said.

James lit up. “Have you ever had this one dream with a creepy old guy in it?”

“The one where he’s way off in the distance?” Olsen asked.

“Yeah, he’s got that long gray hair and this ice cold presence,” James said.

“Dude, and that crooked cane.” 

“And he had this huge wrinkle across his forehead.” James said, tracing his index finger above his brow.

“And those pitch black eyes.”

“Yeah, yeah, creepy as hell!”

I’m stood there listening with eyes wide and mouth open, wondering what in the literal hell was going on. 

“So in my dream it’s pitch black,” Olsen said, “I see him far away walking towards me slowly. As he’s comin’ closer I feel the temperature drop. I’m all freakin’ out and I can barely move, so I look around and I see this tall man in a robe. He’s shining so bright I can barely look at him,” Olsen raises his hands as if shielding his eyes. “I can’t see his face, but he felt warm and safe, so I just took a few steps and stood next to him,” Olsen hopped half a foot to his side and stood up tall. ”When I looked back, the creepy dude just stared at me. He looked pissed. Then he turned around and walked away.”

“That’s not what happened in my dream,” James said. 

“Really?” Olsen said. I still remained motionless and speechless.

“Yeah, so that same guy is coming towards me and I’m so scared I can’t move. But I can look around and I see a bright light way off in the distance. I try to run but I’m basically frozen it was so cold. Then he comes right up to me, grabs my throat, stares into my eyes and breathes on me, and then I see my eyes in his eyes. My eyes are gone and when I open my mouth to scream, locusts come out.”

Up until this point, I thought James was being harassed by a demon, but when I heard this freaky dude breathed on him and he now had his eyes, in my mind I was like, “Yep, he’s possessed. No doubt in my mind.” 

Olsen and I exchanged a look. We were on the same page.

“Yo James,” I said, “That’s not good.”

“I know I was scared shitless.”

“But hear me out,” I continued, “Olsen had the same dream, and I’m guessing because he was a believer at the time, Jesus was right there and protected him. But in your dream he was so far away, you couldn’t reach him.”

“What’s your point?”

“The whole breathing thing and your eyes in his eyes. I know this might sound strange,” I tiptoed around my words, “but I think you might… have something else going on.”

“What, you think I’m possessed now?”

Though I wanted to say “Yes, absolutely,” I managed to let out, “I think so, maybe,” with a questionable tone and expression.

“So you got this gift of discernment,” James said turning towards Olsen, “Have you ever felt anything off about me?”

“No, but I have felt something with Bennet.”

“So I must be good, right?”

“Well now I know something’s off.”

“Oh come on, I feel fine.”

“Hey James,” I said, “Do you mind if I fill in Olsen on everything you’ve told me thus far?”

“I don’t care.”

By the time I shared everything with him, there were no doubts left in his mind, we were convinced James had a demon. Over the next hour, James resumed his chain-smoking and cigarette ember petting while we tried to address the situation. We quoted a few scriptures and prayed a few prayers while James laughed many laughs. He never stopped asking us to leave, so after a long stalemate of nothing crazy happening, no odd voices, no spinning heads, no contorted expressions and no projectile vomit, I was ready to call it a night. Maybe we were wrong. Maybe I slipped out of Christianity into superstition. Maybe, no, definitely, I needed some sleep.

“Hey Olsen, I’m getting tired man, this isn’t going anywhere, so I’m gonna get ready for bed.”

“Okay, you can do that. I’ll stay out here with Jameson.”

I stepped inside the hooch and tiptoed to my cot. Rummaging through my pack, I grabbed my toothbrush and started scrubbing when I heard something press against the door. James and Olsen’s muffled voices continued in the background. Still brushing my teeth, I crept towards the door, turned the knob and gave it a light push, but something held it shut. I tried to make out what they were saying, but I only heard mumbling.

I glanced at my watch. It was almost 0100. I pushed against the door again. Still blocked. After a few minutes I decided to go back out. I cleaned up, exited out the back and walked around to meet them. 

“I thought you were going to sleep?” James said, hands crossed leaning against the door with a leg propped on it. 

“I changed my mind.” He scoffed and rolled his eyes, letting his weight off the door.

“Can you guys just leave me alone for ten minutes?”

Olsen and I agreed. We walked to the courtyard so we could keep an eye on James as we spoke. 

“He’s trying to scare you,” Olsen said.

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“I haven’t been scared at all.”

“Good. Fear gives him power over you, so just hold your ground,” Olsen said. 

I’ve thought about why I wasn’t scared that night, but I still don’t have a clear answer. Maybe some of fearlessness was due to ignorance. Though James glared at me, tried to intimidate me at point blank range, threatened to slam me against the wall and even shank me with his Gerber knife, I never once thought he’d actually hurt me. Perhaps if I saw a replay of the whole event, I’d be more scared now than I was then, but in the moment, I was so intrigued with all that happened thus far and eager to help, believing I was in a unique position to help in such a unique situation.

I glanced behind him and saw Jameson sitting with his back against the HESCO, facing the hooch, his arms around his knees and his hand visiting his mouth for a puff on another cigarette. We spoke softly together a few more minutes, keeping an eye on James as he lit another, still seated in the same spot. We walked back to him.

“I know what I have to do,” Jameson said, watching the smoke flow out of his mouth as we sat down, one of us on each side.

“What?” We asked.

“I need to get away from you,” he pointed to Olsen, then turned to point at me. “I need to get away from you.” After a short pause he added, “and Lieutenant King.”

“We’re Christians, James, we’re the ones who can help you,” I said.

“Where would you even go?” Olsen asked.

“I’ll run to Habib.”1

“Habib?” I asked.

“Yeah. Anywhere to get away from you three.”

“That’s a long run dude,” Olsen said.

“Well, I could  just tell Lieutenant King I’m suicidal and need to go somewhere safe. He’ll have to do something then.”

“James, you’re safe with us,” I said.

He groaned and stood up. As we followed him to our feet he muttered indistinct words, turned and fumbled his way towards the courtyard. He looked like a zombie attempting to jog, his feet shuffling awkwardly while his left shoulder jerked back several times as he ran along the HESCO, bumping against it more than once. We followed several paces behind.

Once he reached the firepit, he turned away from the courtyard’s exit and headed to the rear wall in a dysfunctional gallop, his arms nearly limp as if he forgot they were attached to his body. We stopped and observed him prop his hands on the four-foot HESCO and leap upon it then scramble up the next tier with such freakish urgency that he missed his footing and scuffed his right shin on the ledge before making his way up. Then he slipped out of view behind the final tier of barriers. 

Olsen and I exchanged a perplexed look. I thought he left this time. I figured one of us would have to run around or climb up while the other stayed back and watched the inner walls. We remained there in stunned silence for a few moments before Jameson appeared over the highest HESCO and hopped down from each level until he reached the ground. He dusted himself off and said, “Hey guys, I’m fine now. Don’t worry about me anymore.”

“Dude, you’re not fine,” Olsen said.

“Yeah, I am. I feel better,” he said, looking at me.

I paused for a few seconds, looking at him, wondering what to do or say. Then I thought of a diagnostic test. “Just say Jesus,” I said. His eyes swung open then jerked away from mine as he paced back to the spot where he sat before, Olsen and I following close behind. James sat down and slouched forward.

He sat there quietly for a half a minute. Then he took a deep breath and heaved a heavy sigh. 

“It’s no use,” James said. He jerked his head up and jabbed his finger in Olsen’s direction. “You didn’t even know I was here!”

Wait, what? Were we not talking to James anymore? Nothing had changed in his voice or behavior other than what seemed to be a new person admitting he, or should I say it, now spoke to us.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Olsen said with a smirk, “But we’re here now.”

“Who are you? What is your name?” I asked. No response.

“Even if you could cast me out, it wouldn’t make a difference,” it sneered. “I could go into any one of these guys here, Moore, Sinclair, Brown. Honestly it would be better if I were in Brown, I could do more damage.”

Though I realized I now spoke with something else living inside of James, and that conversing with such an entity was not a good idea, I couldn’t resist the chance to appease my curiosity.

“Where’s James right now?” I asked.

“He’s still here… but I’m in control now.”

“How does that even work?”

“I’m attached to James as the brain is one with the body,” it said, smiling. “You guys are weak.”

“I’m fully aware of that,” I responded. “That’s why we need Jesus.”

“There’s nothing you can do. A bunch of half-shell Christians. Christians these days are nothing compared to the ones of old. You’re nothing compared to John.” We knew no one by the name of John, either first or last name, but before we could ask further he rose to his feet and said. “You want to know how to cast me out?”

I rolled my eyes. “How?”

He turned to Olsen. “Kiss me.” Then it wrapped James’ right hand around Olsen’s head and pulled him towards its face. Olsen heaved his head back and pushed it away. “Seriously, guys,” it continued, “Let’s have an orgy.”

I laughed. “I knew you’d say something stupid. Why is it you put your hands all over Olsen but you can’t stand to touch me?” 

It smiled and looked at Olsen. “‘Cause I love Olsen,” it said, wrapping its arm around his shoulder and facing me with a smile. “Me and this guy go way back.” Olsen once again shoved him away, this time more forcefully. It turned and spoke to Olsen.

“How’s the wife and kid?”

“They’re doing just fine,” he said, glaring at it.

“Is your daughter a Christian?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure? She’s young. How could you know?”

“Because I do.”

“I doubt it. You know, if I leave James I could go into your daughter. Or I could find a man, break into your house and rape your wife. There’s nothing you could do all the way out here.” Though Olsen’s broad shouldered posture stood undeterred, I saw a small crack in his stare at its threat.

“You’re not omnipresent, only God is,” I said. 

It turned to me. “We may as well be. We travel through sin.” Of all the hollow statements it said thus far, this seemed to ring true. “That’s why there’s so many easy targets in the military.” It wasn’t wrong there either. The fact that there is an abundance of debauchery in the military is  uncontroversial.

It pulled out James’ phone and flipped through it, smiling. “I’m corrupting her,” it said, showing a picture of James’ wife. “It’s only a matter of time before she falls away from God.”

I prayed silently for God to put an end to this.

I jolted when it grit its teeth and said, “Stop praying, Decoup.” 

Prayer didn’t work, maybe Scripture would. I began quoting Psalm 23. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” It laughed, staring at the ground, his right arm clasping his left elbow that dangled by its side. “I love that one,” it said, joining me in reciting the psalm in a mocking tone. After a few lines I stopped, and so did it. Though it still stared at the ground, its smile grew to bizarre proportions, bringing to mind the conniving grin of the Grinch that curled up the creature’s face as he plotted against the unbearably happy inhabitants of Whoville. Then the thing hijacking James erupted into an irrepressible, backward laugh, the cackles fueled by wheezing inhalations. 

“A freight train is coming,” it said, “For Panda Ridge… on tracks forged in blood.”

  1. Second squad and the company headquarters was in Habib, several kilometers away from us.

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