The patrol consisted of three soldiers and their commanding officer. The commanding officer wanted to join the patrol, get a scope of the land for himself. The soldiers under his command were to learn from his example, but really, the commanding officer simply wanted to be out in the field rather than back at base, filling out forms and reporting to his superiors.
If he was too far in the field, they would simply wait until his return.
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However, the soldiers under his command were taking this patrol seriously. It is no wonder that they spotted trouble before their CO.
“I hear movement,” the young soldier said, his keen ears perking up at the sound of distant crunching.
The commanding officer halted and listened, also picking up the sound now that it was brought to his attention. The sound was gravel and sand crunching beneath bare feet; had it been beneath boots the sound of it rubbing against the rubber would be heard as well. The CO ducked low, the other soldiers following suit.
The sound was close, so it came down to hand signals until they could identify the possible threat. The commanding officer signalled for them to follow, have weapons ready, but with the safety on. The source of the disturbance had to be identified as a threat before they provided a lethal reaction.
“It’s not another patrol,” one of the soldiers thought. “Ours is the only one down this way.”
“There’s only one of them, but one can be very dangerous if they have a decent weapon,” another soldier thought.
“A saboteur, most likely,” the third soldier thought. “Bare feet for quiet movement, a single man carrying enough explosive could do a lot of damage.”
All these thoughts passed through the commanding officer's mind in an instant, as well as many other darker thoughts. However, he was not going to attack without confirmation. It could just as easily have been a fool from the village straying too close to the area of operations.
The patrol spread out and approached the sound as quietly as they could, but if their target listened as well as them, it would be aware of them.
And it was.
As the soldiers neared the sound, it vanished altogether and the ground found nothing but emptiness amongst the trees. Aware that the target could have easily hidden behind one of the trees, the soldiers made themselves ready for an ambush.
The commanding officer decided it was time to speak and identify who it was they were seeking out.
“Whoever is in these woods, identify yourself,” he ordered. “You are trespassing in dangerous territory, if you do not identify yourself, you will be considered a threat.”
The commanding officer waited, repeated the phrase, and then twice more in English, in the hopes that he would receive a response. The silence was all they received, so they settled knowing that whoever it was, they were to be considered a threat. Guns were held at the ready, safety off. It was to be a hunt now.
The commanding officer didn’t have a rifle or machine gun, as this was supposed to be a patrol into the peaceful territory. He grunted his displeasure, knowing that after this encounter, he would be in some trouble for not equipping himself with a standard patrol weapon. Yet, despite this feeling, he was glad to have a pistol and nothing else.
Bigger weapons were harder to manoeuvre in the dark, easier to lose control of when the gun flashed or jumped with the recoil. Fire a few shots in even a slight panic and you would lose your target and maybe your bearings as well.
The crunching sound returned and the patrol closed in on each other, back-to-back. Everyone heard the sound of footsteps, but each identified the source coming from a different location. Guns were raised, ready to fire the moment they had a target. The footsteps approached and the tensions rose.
The footsteps stopped short of the clearing, the sound finally settling on one source. Upon hearing it, all four soldiers turned to face the edge of the clearing. Flashlights identified nothing but marks in the gritty sand of where the target had stepped.
The soldiers were confused for only a moment, as another footprint appeared, then another. The sound returned, the prints were there, but not the person who made them. It would have been so easy to fire their guns at whatever was creating them, to even panic and let emotions take hold of the trigger, but they were transfixed.
The footprints got closer and closer until they stopped short of the commanding officer at the front.
The soldiers under this command looked at him and he stared down at the last footprint. He felt a hand push him out of the way and for a brief moment he thought it was the invisible entity, but it was one of his soldiers. Everyone stepped back and the footsteps continued straight past them and out of the clearing. The sound continued as well but soon faded.
The soldiers didn’t know what to think of that encounter, but they decided to return to base. The commanding officer did not give the orders, nor did he argue with the soldiers. Instead, they all forgot about rank and walked as equally scared men, worried more about what they heard than what they saw.
As for a report of the incident, not one of them could confidently write anything more than an eventless patrol. For one, they weren’t sure if it was a mass hallucination or not. Discussing it further was out of the question. Not only did they struggle to find the words, but they also didn’t want to linger on it further.
Their behaviour was easy to identify as a form of trauma, but the other soldiers refused to believe that the soldiers were experiencing PTSD from a patrol, so they assumed it was past combat catching up with them.
These soldiers did not refuse the opportunity to go home when they were presented with it.