64. The Movie Wasn’t Over

The Movie Wasn’t Over

He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psalm 121:3-4

*** If you haven’t read from the beginning of this three-part section, start at post 62. Do You Believe in Demons?***

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

I thought of a dark engine racing towards us on seeping red tracks. “Bring it. Bring whatever you got.” I said, unmoved by yet another empty threat, and an exceedingly strange one at that. “They’re just gonna crash into the wall of angels protecting us.” I had no idea if this was true, but based on what we’d experienced thus far on our deployment,1 I thought it might be. 

It sat down with its back against the HESCO in the same spot it had returned to at least three other times, a place it described previously as its “safe spot.” Olsen stood near the door to the hooch, while I remained standing to its left side. By this time it was a little past three in the morning and the now properly chilled desert air sent a light tremble up my back and out my wrists. 

This trip to the Twilight Zone started over five hours ago. Now there was no way out. Prayer only angered it, Scripture made it laugh, and continuing a candid conversation with a demon, though profoundly interesting, seemed foolish at best and deadly at worst. I had no strategy, no idea what to do next and to be honest, I was so absorbed in the moment I never thought of a proper way to end this. Olsen and I just knew we couldn’t leave.

For the next few minutes it continued deflecting our meager prayers with insults and more sinister, reverse laughs. The thing’s patience, however, was running thin. “The time for peaceful negotiations is over,” it said, standing up and turning its back on us. It walked away, toward the northern exit where a three-foot long shovel leaned against the corner HESCO. Picking it up with Jameson’s left hand, it plopped it in and out of the right. The sound of the wood handle patting against the palm underlined the satanic grin on its face, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s iconic smile in The Shining

It said, “You know which Psalm I like?”

“What?” I asked, my eyes shifting between the shovel and its burning eyes.

“Psalm 91.”2

I’m not sure why it brought this up. Though the thought to pray Psalm 91 crossed my mind several times during this lengthy encounter, I don’t think I would have remembered to pray it at this moment without the reminder. Up until this point, I felt unnaturally secure and in no immediate danger. Now that this thing held a shovel and had every intent to wield it like an ax, I figured now would be a good time to pray.

When I held out my left hand and started reciting Psalm 91, it grew furious. Olsen was closer, so it looked to him. The thing reared back the shovel and positioned James’ body for a mighty blow. This whole time I’m watching Olsen, who stood there, feet planted. He stared in disbelief at the weapon as it was cocked back. With only a few seconds to evade a fatal strike to the head, still, Olsen didn’t move. The shovel began its descent.

Maybe his mind was as blank as mine. My body and mind were motionless. The logical thing to do in this moment would be to tackle and disarm him, but we both stood there, watching, staring as this thing attempted to murder Olsen without a shred of survival instinct kicking in.

He’s not going to move?! I thought, continuing to recite the psalm. Olsen flinched when the shovel reversed course an inch away from his face, as if colliding with an invisible metal object, silently bouncing several inches back. My eyes widened. Though I continued chanting, I slowed down my utterance in utter shock.

“UUUGHHH!” It shouted, turning its back on us and taking a step away, “I can’t even hurt them!” It turned back around, gripping the shovel harder, dipping its bodyweight down for an overhead swing able to split Olsen’s skull. I looked towards Olsen, still reciting the psalm. After he realized what happened, he assumed a superhero’s pose, hands resting on his waist, elbows bent, chest out and smiling. The demon’s homerun swing halted yet again, quivering as it ricocheted off Olesen’s nose without touching it. Twice now the same thing happened. My eyes didn’t deceive me.

It turned to me with a blank smile, pointing the shovel’s spade at my face before pulling back for a crushing blow. Now would be the time to move, and in any normal circumstance, I most certainly would. My natural instinct when faced with immediate physical danger is almost always to run, or at the very least, attempt to de-escalate. But yet again, I couldn’t move. I was frozen, not exactly in fear, but in an utter absence of mind, as if something else held me in place by turning off all my natural inclinations to do otherwise.

With my left arm still outstretched it heaved the weapon towards my head. If everything that happened thus far was some elaborate prank, that would mean James had such great control of his swings that he could reverse a home run hit centimeters from the intended target. However, my reflex kicked in and I bent my left arm up as if holding a shield. Had he decided to juke me by swinging for my head with all his might, he would have calculated his hit to stop near my face. Unable to react to my sudden movement, he should have smashed my forearm. But yet again, the impact faded instantaneously before touching a hair.

I let down my arm and grasped the shovel without thinking. Its grip loosened, shoulders slumped, and knees started to buckle. Tossing the shovel aside, I moved in as it now hunched forward. It no longer had any strength left to move James’ body. Once again, reacting out of pure, absent-minded impulse, I slid my left arm around his low back, and my right along his slouched shoulders, pressing my right cheek against his mid back.

An unseen heaviness overpowered the thing and crumpled it to the fetal position, pulling me to my knees along with it. The gravity surrounding us wrung me out. I sobbed. With uncoordinated, near hyperventilating breaths and streaming tears, I wept under the weight of the joy and peace that crushed us. I knew it was over.

Olsen knelt down and put a hand on James and prayed. As I continued to wail, James convulsed and let out an extended, otherworldly dry-heave.


Then he went limp.

My tears subsided, but I remained in place, muttering prayers of thankfulness. James laid motionless for several long seconds. After about ten, I felt his body flinch. I loosened my grip slightly, but before fully withdrawing, he sprang up in total confusion.

“Get off me! Are you fuckin’ gay?”

I let out a sigh of relief, glanced at Olsen and chuckled inside. He’s back.

Olsen exhaled a pent up breath and laughed. “No.”

James stood up. “Why did you guys pull me out of my rack?”

“We didn’t pull you anywhere dude.” Olsen said, still smiling.

While raising to my feet, I turned around when I heard a voice. “Everything alright? I heard someone crying.” It was Villalobos.

“Yeah, we’re good.” I said.

“So weird. Musta been Wilson.” Lobos said, walking away with a shrug. Wilson was the black sheep, who always found a way to screw up and get yelled at. He was recently demoted for a negligent discharge.3I was relieved to hear Villalobos covered our tracks for us by jumping to some random conclusion on his own.

We heard stirring from inside the hooches. Doc Green exited the door, scratching himself with a yawn, his eyes barely open.

“The hell are you guys doing?” he said in a stupor. “Sounded like a freakin’ exorcism.” 

Olsen and I looked at each other and let out a single, nervous chuckle. Green shuffled his way through the northern exit to the piss tubes.4

After Green went back to bed I looked at Jameson who still looked at us suspiciously.

“What’s the last thing you remember?” I asked.

He responded with an attitude. “We prayed for Schmidt and then I went to bed.”

“You don’t remember any of it?” I said. Hearing this blew my mind. I thought we spoke with James pretty much the whole time, when in fact the thing manifested as soon as he started shivering after my prayer. 

“Any of what?”

“It’s 3:45 in the morning. Nobody went to sleep. We’ve been out here since nine last night.”

“Quit makin’ shit up.”

“He’s right,” Olsen said. “I came down from post at twenty-three hundred and came over when I saw you guys talking.”

I started summarizing the whole night. Shortly after beginning my recap, James interrupted me, looking at his hand. “Why do my fingers burn?”

“Because you were petting the embers of your cigarettes,” I said.

I continued my recap for about a minute when he coughed.

“You alright?” Olen said

“My throat feels like it’s on fire. It tastes like sulfur, like I ate a box of matches.

“Now that I cannot explain,” I said with astonishment.

For the next hour we tried to convince Jameson that he was literally possessed, and now the demon left him. We shared the gospel, hoping things would make sense now so that he wouldn’t fall prey to another attack. For some reason, we labored all this time but neglected to mention any of the dreams he, or rather it shared with us until it was approaching five in the morning. I stood face to face with him, still high on adrenaline, trying to convince him of what happened. Then I remembered the dreams.

“That thing gave you nightmares. Remember the old, ice cold, black-eyed freaky dude grabbing you by the throat and breathing on you? Your eyes became his eyes. That’s when he got you. And then you had the dreams where your friends were eating you.”

His jaw dropped. With his raised eyebrows and gaping mouth, he said in a hushed voice, “I’ve never told that to anyone in my entire life.” Finally the gears turned in his head. His eyes tilted downward.

“Well you shared it with us,” I said emphatically. “I’m telling you dude… you had a demon.

I saw thoughts rattle in his brain as his eyes shifted ever so slightly. “I just… I don’t know, It all sounds so crazy,” he said. 

“Hey James, it’s getting late,” I said, resting my hand on his shoulder. He no longer squirmed beneath my touch. “Just try to get some rest, you and Olsen have a patrol in a little over an hour. We’ve got plenty of time left on deployment to wrap our heads around this.”  

“Yeah,” he nodded, “Okay.” I gave him a squeeze and a nod, then we finally parted ways.

My scraps of sleep were perforated by the clunks and clicks of first squad leaving for their patrol at 0700 and the frantic skittering of mice up, down and in between the layers of our hooch. Even without the interruptions, I doubt I could have slept long with the thrill of the past twelve hours still lingering in my body and mind. By about nine or ten I sat up on my cot and opened my journal to reread the seven pages of chicken scratch I scribbled down before passing out. I sat there gaping at the intersection between reality and fiction, feeling like I fell into the lead role of a major motion picture. And movie wasn’t over.

  1. See post 57. Combat Action Ribbon
  2. Psalm 91 is a psalm of protection. I wrote about it here.
  3. A negligent discharge, or ND is when someone fires their rifle unintentionally.
  4. On deployment they shoved large PVC pipes into the ground for us to use as a urinal. Once the hardened ground saturated completely, they were pulled up and new ones were placed somewhere else.

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