©2015 Rogue Snafu is © 2015 to his creator.
Snafu had never set out to earn his Skull. Scrawny, scarred and with a chewed ear, he hardly had the look of a soldier that everyone, even generals, would soon be saluting. They called it heroism; Snafu called it desperation, which in the end was probably what had earned every Skullhead his prize. Snafu wore it proudly, though, as was expected of him, particularly considering what he had to go through to get it.
Monsters. It was such a dull sounding word. "Monster." Like someone who monsts. The word didn't make sense to Snafu, but it was the only word that really could describe the massive things that began to claw their way out of the ground or swoop down from the sky to feast upon some defenseless city. Snafu's regiment had been formed shortly after the military barely managed to take down Flopsy and Wingaling, and although Snafu had earned his nickname early on, they still for some reason let him finish his training.
His first action came on the day when Flattop crawled ashore. There weren't too many veterans in the group in those days so the casualties were pretty grim. Ironically, Snafu only managed to avoid being one of them himself because he was petrified. The big bastard stepped on those who ran but overlooked Snafu entirely. He survived, and even managed later to squeeze off a few rounds, although in the end it was someone else who got the Skull. He made a better showing against Gonzo, and better still against Noodleface, and then later Hothead, the twins Roach and Toke, and Bulldyke (don't ask). By the time Hellhound showed up the fighting had become almost routine.
Then came Big M-F. The soldiers didn't mince around his name like the media did. That son of a bitch was for real. Bigger than any other, enormous in fact, with a face only a mother could love, and then only if she was blind and insane. That was hardly the worst of it, though. Unlike any of the others, this beast was smart. He did not just attack the civilians. He herded them, trapped them, and once he did...let's just say that he did not just eat them, not right away. Casualties were enormous, but the killing stopped short when Snafu and his boys dropped in. The people that survived all had the same thing to say about the way Big M-F turned and looked at the arriving soldiers. He seemed pleased, as though they were just what he had been waiting for.
Monster-assaults all followed the same script, more or less: deploy, surround, harass, confuse, hit the soft spots, and sooner or later, boom, someone would take a well-placed (or maybe just lucky) shot, and the big baddy would come crashing down. Then would come the light show: big bolts of lightning shooting out all over, the air heating up and rushing out like a little nuclear blast, and the big corpse just dwindling down and down and down, shrinking away until it was the size of whatever it had started out as. Nobody could ever figure out how or why, but while the scientists scratched their heads and tried to come up with theories, the soldier didn't care. They would make off with the head and then whoever got that last shot would have the honor of wearing the Skull to show everyone that he was a badass monster-killer. Salute!
Big M-F, though, had apparently not read the script. First Squad started the assault to draw his attention while Fourth Squad came in from behind, but unlike the big lummoxes that came before him, Big M-F did not take the bait. He ignored Fourth Squad entirely and focused his attention on First, coming at them slow and on all fours, every one of his teeth showing in an awful grin. They fell back, but Big M-F was quick and was on them before they could make a break for safety. He trapped them between his big foreclaws and everyone was sure he'd snap them up, but to everyone's surprise, he did not; instead, he raised his head and showed them his throat. First Squad went full auto, hammering his throat and underbelly with everything they had.
Then something happened that sent the new recruits scrambling and made even the veterans' blood ice up. All of the monsters made some sort of noise. Wingaling's screech left people's ears ringing for days. Hothead had a hiss that hit the back of your neck like claws on a blackboard. What came out of Big M-F, though, was more horrifying than anything. A grunt at first, low and cold, and then another, and another -- a chuckle. The ugly bastard was laughing at them.
There was not even a smudge on Big M-F's scales after more than a thousand rounds. Someone shouted "Eyes!" First Squad halted the barrage and waited for the brute to look their way before they poured another ton of metal straight into his face. Big M-F did not even flinch. Turning his head to the side he lowered it down, deliberately presenting his eye to them so that they could watch their bullets bouncing off of it without leaving so much as a dent.
Fourth Squad was raining hell down on Big M-F's tail in a desperate effort to get his attention but he was not buying it. Raising his head, the beast opened his mouth in a colossal yawn before lumbering forward. First Squad stuck to their post and fired a few rounds into his underbelly, and then concentrated their aim between his hind legs. That maneuver had very handily brought Flopsy down, but this time it was no use. Those were armored, too, apparently. But Big M-F stopped moving forward and stood still for a moment. His eyes closed, almost as if he was enjoying it.
And then he sat on them. In an instant they were obliterated, none of them having time even to yell. Big M-F ground his haunches against the street and then gave that horrible chuckle once more before standing up. What was left beneath him made even the veterans choke back their breakfast.
The order came to cease fire, since ammo was just being wasted at that point. The shooting stopped, but it was almost as if Big M-F took that as a cue. He leaped, pretty nimble for such a big ungainly-looking brute, and started bounding down the street, big shoulders smashing into buildings on either side of him, rounded a corner and made straight for the staging area. The incident commander, his commander crew, and the whole of the reserve unit were caught entirely by surprise when how-many-thousand-tons of monster suddenly came roaring toward them. Flanking fire did not slow him down; he ignored the grenades popping against his chest and bore down on the command post like a missile. One final leap and he was upon them, the street exploding into fragments from the impact, soldiers toppling everywhere. Rearing up on his hind legs, Big M-F gripped the tops of the buildings for balance and began stamping methodically, one foot after the other, wiping out the command post like a nest of roaches.
It was all over within thirty seconds. Big M-F swung about, slamming his tail down on the wreckage for good measure, and charged back the way he had come. There was no time to fall back. He chased down each of the surviving units, crashing into their positions and roaring like hell, and when they ran he stayed right on their tails and used his feet to drive them before him until he had the entire detachment cornered together.
They had long since emptied their magazines. There was nothing for them to fight with. There was nowhere left to run. And Big M-F knew it.
The slaughter that followed was slow and agonizing. Big M-F took his time, plucking up soldiers one by one and torturing them, pulling them apart, gutting them, crushing their heads, all the while leering and drooling and chuckling like a big scaly lunatic. His enjoyment was obvious and obscene, and one unlucky handful of soldiers became intimately acquainted with it as they died. The ones that tried to run suffered the most, their lives ending in a way that was too depraved for words.
Half of the detail was wiped out, and there would have been no survivors at all had not a few copper-jacketed raindrops pattered against the back of Big M-F's head just as he was reaching for his next victim. The monster was surprised -- or perhaps intrigued -- enough that he abandoned the rest of his captives, and stood and turned and searched about for the source of the annoyance. He found it standing on the roof of a nearby hotel tower: a tiny figure, alone, popping away defiantly with nothing more than a pistol. Big M-F snorted and let out a mocking roar, then leaned down to let the bullets ping harmlessly off of his muzzle. His face twisted into a hideous, fang-filled grin when the popping gave way to a single click, and then very slowly and deliberately he reached down.
Snafu squeezed the trigger once more for good measure, then spun around, tossing the pistol aside, and started running hell-bent for the rooftop door. He knew that he had no chance of reaching it, but he had to keep up the appearance. At least he did not have to fake a scream of terror when two rough fingers swept in from the sides, pinched him hard, then hauled him brutally into the air.
Big M-F studied his puny catch closely, holding it up close to one eye for a breathless moment before he made that awful chuckling noise and began to squeeze, and as with the others, he took his time. Snafu groaned and wheezed as the air was pressed out of his lungs. A rib gave way, making his legs jerk, and then another, and another. Big M-F was crushing him to death, bit by bit, his cruel gaze fixed on the little soldier's face as if savoring every second of his suffering. Another crack, another bone splintering. Blood began to trickle from the corner of Snafu's mouth. He could not breathe. Consciousness was rapidly fading, which was not part of the plan. With the last of his strength Snafu ducked his head and bit the tip of Big M-F's finger as hard as he could.
It had about as much effect as biting a brick wall, but it managed to get Big M-F's attention. The monster stopped squeezing and narrowed his gaze, peering scornfully at Snafu's face for a second before the savage grin returned. Snafu coughed and cringed as the monster's immense jaws opened wide before him, and then he was thrown violently forward, landing with a pained grunt upon a vast and slimy tongue.
"It's about time, Asshole," Snafu choked, as Big M-F raised his head and prepared to swallow. Snafu could not lift his arms, but he could still use his fingers to pop the pins on the two frag grenades and let them roll down the monster's tongue until they disappeared into the gaping throat. He never heard them go off. There was just a blinding, strangely silent flash, a sensation of falling, a painful impact that broke whatever inside of him was still intact, and for a moment, darkness.
When Snafu's vision cleared he saw Big M-F thrashing about, choking and gargling. Blood poured from the beast's jaws, and for the first time it wasn't someone else's. The great head jerked violently from side to side, the monster clawing wildly at his throat before slamming down to all fours and retching. Everything that was in his stomach, some just bones, others still twitching, spewed down in a gory cascadel onto the street. More blood followed, more gargling; big M-F shuddered and dropped to his belly, and with a final, feeble gurgle, closed his eyes.
Snafu winced as bright blue bolts erupted from the giant's body and danced all around him. He watched them paint smoking patterns into the pavement. The air boiled. As his vision dimmed he watched the mammoth body dwindle down and down and down, shrinking away. He never got to see how Big M-F ended up before darkness fell, and this time, stayed.
Snafu awoke with a start and sat up, grabbing for a rifle that was not there. Even after fumbling the lights on it took him a moment to convince himself that he was safe in his room. There was no sound save for the frantic pounding of his heart. "Shit," he moaned, "not again."
Were the dreams starting to come more frequently? Snafu put the thought out of his mind. He was not about to check himself into psych-ward, get himself tested for that post-traumatic stuff. The military did not have a good track record of helping out guys who were starting to crack. Besides, he was a Skullhead now, which meant he was supposed to be a badass. Heroes weren't supposed to wake up whimpering and crying -- damned good thing that Skullheads all got private quarters. He wondered idly if any of the others were plagued by dreams...and maybe that's why they let them sleep alone, out of earshot.
He turned and peered sourly at Big M-F, or what was left of him, the last remnants of whatever thing that had somehow turned into a rampaging giant before he had killed it, and it had shrunken and shriveled back to ... whatever it had been. The bleached white skull now rode around on Snafu's own head, every waking moment, so that the whole world would know that he was a hero. That was the tradition, at least. "Just remember who won that fight, Asshole," he muttered.
The dreams weren't coming any faster or slower. He knew exactly why he'd had one tonight. In a few hours he would have to stand at a memorial service for the men who'd died fighting the one that the media decided was the "King of All Monsters." Big M-F had been the worst of them and since his death, not a single monster attacked, or was even sighted. That was good news, of course, but it bothered Snafu how quickly the public forgot. Of course, the past year did not seem that long to him. He'd spent a third of it in a medically-induced coma, and another third in doped up on pain meds. His memory was bound to be fresher, and the thought that he'd be stuck standing there, staring out through Big M-F's eye sockets while they read the names of his dead pals and fired rifles and shit -- well, no wonder he'd had a bad dream.
The ceremony was even longer than Snafu had feared it would be. Even after it was finished he had no peace. The Brass insisted on a press conference where they could make more speeches and parade Snafu around like a trained Skullheaded monkey. Big Hero. Savior of the world. Just smile for the cameras and salute the flag and wait for the others to come drag you off to the bar for some anesthetic.
"Can you comment on the planned disbanding of the unit now that another monster attack is considered so unlikely?"
Snafu was jarred by such a question coming out of left field. He had been given training in fielding every stupid thing that the press threw at him, but that one had not been expected. Before Snafu could answer his commander jumped in. "Absurd!" he barked. "These soldiers have unique skills that can be applied to a variety circumstances. There are plans to deploy them in the event of blah blah et cetera on and on..."
Snafu stopped paying attention. His unique skills had been spent mostly on television appearances and parades, while his unit, even the other Skullheads, were for the most part relegated to backing up firefighters, search and rescue, and other duties that did not require a weapon to be fired. Even their training schedule was starting to be cut. With no monsters about, the world did not feel the need to keep its monster fighters at the ready.
Just a year. Short memories. There would probably not be another observance until the fifth anniversary, and then the tenth, and then the twentieth. People like to forget horror. Snafu figured that, in the end, it was probably for the better.
His pals were waiting for him when at long last he was dismissed. Just as he'd hoped they whisked him straight to the bar, where they'd already drawn his favorite brew. His money was no good there, and that was all right. He could be grateful for that tiny bit of good that had come from it all.
Snafu sat up with a shout and clawed the blanket away from his body. He stared into the darkness, fighting to drive away the lingering images. His mouth felt dry, his whole body tingling. He noticed that his shorts were wet, and for a moment he thought that he had done something that he had not done since he was five years old, but he quickly realized that he'd actually done something that he had not done since he was fourteen years old.
Panting, Snafu stumbled to the bathroom and flicked on the light. His own face peered back at him haggardly from the mirror. A quick inspection confirmed the source of the moisture, and numbly he cleaned himself up, then leaned heavily on the sink and tried to slow his heart back down. Too much booze, he thought. Bad idea, especially when so keyed up. It made sense that he would dream of seeing the battle through Big M-F's eyes. He'd been staring out through the bastard's eyes all day while being forced to relive the worst moments of his life, and then spent the night pouring poison into his body. No wonder he'd had such a crazy dream.
But why, he wondered, was he still hard?
Snafu reluctantly stopped by the base doctor's office. Not quite ready to be slapped with the label of "shellshocked," he did not mention the dreams -- only that he was having trouble sleeping. The intern that spoke with him seemed to have much better things to do because he handed Snafu a bottle of tablets, told him to lay off alcohol and to call him if the problem did not clear itself up in two weeks. "Light duty for four days," he grunted. "Give this note to your C.O. On your way out, send the next guy in."
That night, Snafu sat on the edge of his bed and stared at the pill bottle. Some rest, some nice drugs, and you'll be as good as new -- typical military psychology. The bottle recommended one to two tablets and had a warning label so long that it had to be folded over three times. Strong risk of addiction. Hallucinations may occur. Increased gambling, sexual, or other overpowering urges. Dizziness, coma, or death.
"Really?" Snafu said glumly. "I don't think so." He set the unopened pill bottle on his nightstand, then crawled beneath the covers and clicked off the light.
His flailing arm knocked the lamp off of the endtable, and its clattering impact upon the floor woke him. He lay panting and sniffling, swiping the tears from his eyes, for several minutes in the darkness. "Damn it," he whimpered. "Fucking damn it!"
Get a hold of yourself, Soldier! his inner voice barked. They're just dreams. Just stupid dreams. Your mind is just being a dick. What's done is done. Can't bring back the dead. Gotta live with it and move on. Yeah, that all sounded good. He swallowed, waited for his heartbeat to settle down, then anxiously slipped his fingers down to his crotch to see if that moisture was back. To his relief it was not, but...where were his shorts?
Snafu leaned over and retrieved the light from the floor. His shorts were nowhere in sight. Had he kicked them off while he was thrashing about? They were not under the sheet, nor did he find them under the bed. Confused, he hustled into the bathroom, and let out a sigh of relief when the flicked on the light and saw the shorts draped over the rim of the tub. "Well, fuck me," he laughed. "You're definitely cracking up, Snafu. Can't even remember when you took these off."
He sat down with a sigh of relief on the edge of the tub and stared at his feet, and after another moment he stopped laughing. He stared harder. "What the...shit?" he whispered out loud.
Both feet were covered with mud, and when Snafu leaned down to wipe it off, he was shocked to find fresh blood mingled with it. Alarmed, he twisted the tap, swung both legs into the tub and hastily began to rinse the dirt away. It dissolved beneath the flow and fell into a swirling pool of tan and red that gradually faded into the drain. When all of it was gone he patted his feet dry with a towel and felt all along the pads. He grasped his ankle and pulled first one foot, and then the other up as close as he could to his face, but he could find no trace of any wound.
Silently, Snafu turned off the tap and shuffled back to his room. Three tablets spilled out of the pill bottle when he shook it. He popped them all into his mouth and swallowed, then collapsed back on his pillow and stared at the ceiling, and stared, and stared.
It would be two full days before Snafu finally plodded, hollow-eyed, from his room. The first person he bumped into was Fubar. "Hey, Buddy!" Fubar boomed, his voice jangling Snafu's nerves more than it ever had. "Damn, don't you look like shit!"
"Not been sleeping well."
"Yeah? Sucks, man. You sick?"
"No. Just tired. I..."
"Good! Suit up, then! I need a second for this patrol."
Snafu rubbed at his eyes. "Light duty," he muttered.
"Heck, this is as light as it comes. We're going on a possum hunt."
"Oh, yeah, right, you probably didn't get the memo. Big search and rescue operation going on. This bootleg mining camp up in the hills got caught in a landslide."
Snafu's gut knotted.
"Bunch of illegals, they figure," Fubar continued, not noticing Snafu's discomfort. "Any of'em that weren't buried probably hightailed it. You and me get to round'em up before they freeze to death or fall in a ravine or something."
Snafu swallowed. "A landslide?"
"Yep. Nasty one, I hear. Whole mountainside came down on'em."
"Are they sure it was a landslide?"
"Well, what else could it have been?" Fubar caught sight of Snafu's expression and frowned, and then his face softened and he clapped Snafu hard on the shoulder. "Oh, I know what you're saying. I feel the same way. Almost wish that the big baddies were back, right. Well, it sucks to be us, Dude. The monsters are gone. It's just good old-fashioned Mother Nature now, and guys like us are stuck doing clean-up work. Hey, at least a landslide ain't gonna chase you down and try to swallow you whole, right?"
"No," Snafu croaked. "They don't do that very often, do they?"
Fubar was too preoccupied with chattering that he did not notice Snafu's silence as their runabout bounced its way up the mountainside, following an old logging trail until it faded. "Well, here's our stop!" Fubar trumpeted, leaping from the runabout and snatching up his gear. "Let's see how many possums we can catch!"
"Be quiet," Snafu muttered.
Snafu started. "Uh...be quiet!" he said quickly. "I thought I heard something."
Fubar cocked his head and listened, then broke into a grin. "Nah, ain't nothing. Come on!"
They trudged along a rocky trail that led up the mountainside and down again into a deep valley. Fubar figured that anyone trying to hide out would probably head to someplace secluded like this, as if anyone could somehow fail to hear them coming with Fubar's constant full-volume monologue.
Wretch. Destroy him.
"What?" Snafu stopped short. "No..."
Fubar glanced back. "No, what?"
"Uh...no...that...I'm sorry, what were we talking about?"
The barking laugh that erupted resonated right at the base of Snafu's skull. "Man, you really are out of it! Must've been one hell of a bender you went on. Next time, invite me, hey? Anyway, I was just asking how come, after all we've been through, we still get treated like a buncha janitors? I mean, come on, the budget getting cut down more and more, every month. Soon enough we'll have to be buying our own boots. And after all we did for them!"
Snafu stumbled to a halt, swaying. Fubar did not notice. He just laughed. "I'd sure like to get a decent wage one of these days. Hey, maybe we could get'em to make a movie about us. We could play ourselves. Or maybe we could play each other, just for a laugh."
You are more than this.
Unseen, Snafu fell to his hands and knees. He felt from head to toe as though electric eels were squirming through his veins.
"Well, at least we got jobs. Gotta do what you gotta do. Ya just gotta be strong, I guess."
He called you weak.
The ground dropped dizzyingly away from Snafu as though he were being hauled into the air, even though hands were still planted firmly. Where there had been scrubby bushes a mere second ago there were now just tiny seedlings sprouting between his fingers.
"So whattaya gonna do?"
What are you going to do?
Even though the air was warm Snafu trembled violently. He locked his gaze down on Fubar, who looked now more like a mouse than a wolf. He licked his lips.
"Hey, Snafu, are you hearing me?" Fubar turned around, paused, looked up, and then fumbled frantically for his rifle. "Holymothershitfuckercock!"
A flick of Snafu's finger sent the rifle spinning into the night. Fubar gasped, eyes wide, backpedaled, and then yelped as Snafu's hand lunged forward and clamped around his body, engulfing him from shoulders to bootsoles.
"Snafu? Dude, what the fuck??"
Snafu breathed in quick, shuddering gasps. He hoisted Fubar to his face and stared broilingly at him through the sockets of his skull. He could feel the mad fluttering of Fubar's heart against his thumb. He was getting hard, and quickly.
"Snafu? Oh, shit. Help! Someone, help me!"
Snafu's tongue rolled out between his lower canines. Saliva dripped, unnoticed, from its tip and splattered on the ground far below.
"For God's sake, help me!"
Snafu's fist clenched powerfully; Fubar gaped, gurgled, and then burst. Snafu continued to squeeze even everything that had been inside was out.
Panting, Snafu opened his fist, allowing the flaccid remains to drop to the earth. He could not take his eyes away from the redness painting his fingers. They quivered as he drew them to his mouth and tasted what was left of Fubar. "Prey," he stammered.
Power. Supremacy. A god.
"Yes," Snafu gulped, tears mustering in his eyes. "A god."
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