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The Ghouls

By: Dale C. Uhlmann

Chapter One

Something indescribably horrible was taking place at the U.S-run Al-Fateem POW camp in Baghdad, a horror that could be but glimpsed in the ghoulish nightly ritual supervised by Base commander Paul Frazier. For fourteen straight nights now, the cold, pale light of the desert moon had been his only witness to the macabre sight of a phalanx of enlisted men, their perfectly pressed olive green fatigues stained with the blood and putrescent flesh of whatever it was that seeped from the body bags that they touted on their way to some secret spot in the Iraqi desert. On this, the fifteenth night, their grim nocturnal task was interrupted, as it had on the previous night, by a chorus of unearthly noises that resembled the collective cackle of wild hyenas, but with a different, distinctly human, quality.

But this sound, as the men had known for some time, was neither hyena nor human, and whenever they heard it, they would abruptly halt, frozen in terror. Only when these infernal cries had temporarily died away would they resume their assigned duty, but whenever they had started up again, as they always would, all movement would cease.

Faced with yet another delay, Lt. Colonel Frazier now decided to take matters into his own hands. The sudden, sharp retort of his assault rifle now, much to the men's relief, silenced, at least for a little why, the unholy chorus from the desert.

"Move out!" his harsh, slightly hoarse Appalachian-twanged voice commanded.

"No!" shouted Private First Class Louis Barnes, a young African American soldier. He had not wanted to openly disobey orders, but the words had gushed forth from his throat, forced out by a fear stronger than that of his commanding officer-a fear of what was awaiting he and his fellow soldiers in that desert, of an enemy for which all their advanced training would prove utterly useless.

Frazier's stocky frame shot like a comet toward Barnes, and soon the burly CO was in the young man's face. "What did you say, you fucking piece of shit, you?" he demanded, the veins visibly bulging in his oak tree of a neck. "Sir, with all due respect," Barnes replied, trying to conceal his fear of both those things in the desert that hungered for his flesh, and of his own irate superior officer, "it's suicide to go out there, especially since they're after only one of us, and -- permission to speak frankly, sir?" his voice rising in anxiety.

Frazier said nothing, but tightly gritted the teeth in his pit bull jaw and simply nodded his massive head in reply

Barnes then continued, galvanized by both the same drive for survival that had sustained him long ago on a different battlefield, the tough streets of West Chester, PA, the racially divided mining town in which he had grown up. As he spoke, the desert again reverberated with those ravenous, unearthly cries, and he glanced nervously around him trying to keep one eye on Frazier and the other from where he thought those sounds were coming from. "Sir, I know every man on this base would gladly die for his country if he had to, but I don't think any of us joined this unit just to defend your personal right to…"

The deafening blast from Frazier's rifle, which he had just fired at point-blank range into Barnes' upper chest, had instantly silenced the young man's voice, and had immediately turned his strong, lean body into an inert mass of blood-drenched perforations. His still spasmodically twitching corpse would fill yet one more body bag. There would be no further rebellions that night, and the phalanx would carry on. The creatures' cries had once again been silenced by the sound of the rifle shot, only to resume with greater intensity, and hunger the closer the men, with their accursed cargo, moved toward their damnable destination. Some, if they allowed themselves the luxury, wondered which they feared more, these monsters, which were far more terrifying than any creature they could have conjured in their darkest nightmares, or the beast who commanded Base Al-Fateem, and who had cold-bloodedly murdered Louis Barnes.

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Chapter Two

In West Chester, PA, Barnes' parents promptly received a letter officially registering their son as an MIA, lost during "insurgency resistance exercises." But Barnes' father, Carl, who had lost his right leg in the Vietnamese Tet Offensive, would simply not accept that explanation. As he explained to his wife Florence, he had seen the army all too often "Fonzie" official records in order to cover up their own mistakes. He had therefore sent several letters to the Provost Marshal's Office demanding an official investigation of Base Al-Fateem.

So it was that the task fell to Colonel Thomas Shegeta, a veteran of both the Vietnamese and Gulf Wars who had since earned a law degree, and had forged a reputation as a tenacious investigator. Close friends said that his first love had always been the army, the second the law; it seemed as if there had never been enough room in his body for more than one commitment at a time, hence his failed fifteen-year-old marriage, and his estrangement from a teenage daughter, who, three years ago to this date, had tragically died in a Washington, D.C. hospital of leukemia before her father could get a late flight out of Chicago, where he had been prosecuting a commissioned officer implicated in a drug-dealing scheme. His ex-wife had never forgiven him for his absence, nor had he forgive himself for having missed the last chance to tell the daughter that he had dearly loved how sorry he was for having been a total stranger during most of her childhood. It was apparent that his now almost total immersion in his duties (he practically lived at the Provost's Office, both night and day, his fluorescent light often burning brightly well past 10PM) was, in a large part, therapy.

Sitting across from him in his office, in front of his paperewn oak desk, was Major Reem Alazar, a twenty-two-year-old Egyptian American who had recently been assigned as Shegeta's assistant. In the ten months that they had worked together, it was apparent that they respected each other's expertise and accomplishments. In addition, they shared at least one common experience: racism. Shegeta, a third-generation Japanese American whose great grandparents had been incarcerated in a Honolulu relocation camp during World War II, had learned to fight the "dirty little Jap" slurs that he had grown accustomed to, but never comfortable with, while in the military. Perhaps this determination to prove these puny, narrow minds wrong had been partly responsible for his marriage-endangering total commitment to the Army, and now to the law. Even now, whenever he visited a military camp as part of an investigation, he knew that, despite his rank, despite his medals, and despite his official Provost Martial title, some of the men he encountered still weren't sure if he was a "real" American or not.

Reem felt that she, too, had to constantly prove herself, despite her college, military, and law school training-to prove that she, a person of color, was a "real" American, and, in her case, not a "towel head," a quickie mart owner bitch, nor, most recently, an Al Qaeda terrorist. Plus, she had had always had one other barrier to overcome: sexism. She was not only a woman, but an arguably exotic-looking, attractive woman at that, thus leading some male Neanderthals to think that whatever intelligence she possessed must be centered in her bust and thighs. Some even smaller minds were convinced that she and her Superior were sleeping together, the only possible way, according to their constipated logic, that she could possibly have earned her high position. Nothing could have been farther from the truth, however. In fact, if Shegeta regarded Reem in any other way than as his professional associate, it was most likely paternally. Perhaps this was because she was about the same age that his late daughter would have now been had she lived.

But now the two had a different foe to confront than racism or sexism: a young soldier's disappearance, and a most unsatisfactory explanation by his CO.

"Major," Shegeta informed Reem bluntly, "what I'm going to tell you is strictly top secret, and is not to leave this office. If the media were to get a hold of this before we're ready to act, there would be hell to pay."

"Yes, sir," Reem replied, putting aside the MIA report on Barnes that the two had been studying.

"Two months ago, even before this MIA incident, we had reason to believe that, well, for want of a better word, 'improprieties' were going on at Base Al-Fateem."

"Improprieties, sir?"

"Take a look at these, Major," responded Shegeta, who handed her a manila folder marked "CLASSIFIED." The photos she found inside confirmed the Colonel's insistence on confidentiality. "Are these what I think they are, sir?" asked Reem.

"They are," Shegeta replied glumly. "Photos of Iraqi POWS being tortured by our own personnel, in plain violation of the Geneva Accords."

"The same treatment that we've supposedly liberated these people of?" asked Reem.

"You got it. Saddam would have appreciated the irony."

He was right, for the photos comprised a catalog of degradation, humiliation, and torture, both psychological and physical. The mildest of the photos showed several prisoners, dressed in Federick's of Hollywood lingerie, being forced to retrieve food that had been dumped into a toilet bowel. The worst depicted a Base officer dropping a live rat down the top lid of a metal face box that had been clamped over a prisoner's head. In between were photos of electric prongs being attached to a prisoner's exposed nipples.

"May I ask how our office got these photos, sir?"

"Well, I've managed to engage the service of a Kurdish double agent who's been able to infiltrate the Base, so far, without the CO's knowledge-fortunately for our man."

"Can you tell me anything about the CO, sir?"

"He's Lt. Colonel Paul Frazier, a loose cannon whose been reprimanded in the past for disciplinary abuses against his own men. I'm convinced that he's personally authorized these latest atrocities-and Private Barnes' disappearance. What his father's actions have done is to grant us the authority to conduct a full investigation of his command. I know that you've wanted an opportunity to take part in a major field assignment, Major, and this is as big an assignment as they come, but I think you're ready.

Reem was truly gratified by the confidence that her mentor had placed in her, and welcomed the challenge of assisting him in his investigation of Base Al-Fateem, a place where horrors even more unimaginable than those that they had just learned of awaited them.

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Chapter Three

At Base Al-Fateem, Lt.-Colonel Thomas Frazier took, at least what he considered to be, some well-deserved R and R, a break from extracurricular brutality. Joining him in his private barracks was an Iraqi prostitute dressed in American combat fatigues, a uniform fetish which seemed to heighten his pleasure in the oral sex that he thought she provided so well. As he climaxed in her mouth, his cell phone rang, interrupting the unauthorized--and, at taxpayers' expense--carnal activity. "Thank God," the girl sighed in relief, wiping the overspill from her lips with her pocket- handkerchief. "I thought that monster of yours was gonna dislocate my jaw!"

"Shut the fuck up, and get out!" ordered Frazier, as he hurriedly zipped up his trousers. Once the girl had left, he handled his cell phone, which he had whipped from his accessory clip, and sat on his bunk, frowning at the news from his Second in Command, Lieutenant John Bowers, of the Provost Marshal Office's upcoming investigation.

"So, we're gonna have company, heh?" he snarled, "the Jap and the A-rab! Don't worry, Jack, they'll find nothin'. We'll put on our best dress uniforms, clean up the camp, and whistle Yankee Doodle Dandy until it comes out of our assholes-and nobody'll be the wiser…yeah?…he's comin' to? Well, don't finish off the muthafucka off till I get there."

Frazier grasped his rifle and hurried to a hidden bunker where Bowers, who had been waiting for him, unlocked the door of the two-by-our holding cell that confined Jagroop Abazal, Shegeta's secret informant. The young man's face was a bloody, clownish mask of deep welts and scars, but Frazier was still not satisfied. "I can still see his eyeballs," he complained, and promptly struck his victim across the upper bridge of his face with the butt of his rifle, now practically swelling both eyes shut. Frazier then knelt beside Abazal's now prostrate body.

"I've got news for you, you fuckin' towel head," he whispered into Abazal's right ear. "Ya did good. Your boss and his Arabian bitch arrive tomorrow, but you won't live to see 'em. Too bad. You were really countin' on getting some of that pussy of hers, weren't ya?" Abazal bristled at Frazier's insinuations, but was too weak from loss of blood to do anything else but lie on the cold, hard cell floor in agony. He did, however, have enough strength to momentarily lift his battered head and, between intermittent tortured gasps for breath, utter one question: "Are you going to get rid of me like you did Barnes?"

"Shit, no," smiled Frazier cruelly. "He was only a nigger. You're a full-blooded I-raq-I-and a fuckin' spy at that." The smile was now gone from his lips, as he explained fully what he meant: "I'm gonna turn you over to THEM1" These words froze Abazal with fear. As if he were viewing things through cracked lenses, or in a hazy dream, he now groggily saw himself being drug, upon Frazier's orders, from the cell by two enlisted men, who then unceremoniously threw him into the back of a jeep, which they then drove to the same secret desert location to which they had driven only forty-eight hours earlier with the body bags. A live offering this time, Frazier had felt, would be a more potent appeasement, and keep the vengeful creatures away from his door-and from his own body-one more night. The two men dumped Abazal on the now twilight-bathed desert ground as if he were yesterday's garbage, and shoved plugs into his ears so that they could not hear the unholy wails that once again filled the air as they drove back to the base. Abazal's heart almost stopped as he saw, through his heavily swollen eyelids, the malevolent shadows of the five man-like demons that slowly emerged, on their two hind legs, from behind a gigantic sand dune. Fortunately, this sight caused Abazal to go into early, fright-induced shock, and he was mercifully spared the sensation of experiencing every inch of his flesh torn and consumed whole from his ravished body.

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Chapter Four

Frazier stood in front of a full-length mirror in his office, fastidiously straightening his tie and the lapels of his brown full dress uniform, all the while practicing a salute as phony as the facade of a medieval castle in a low budget B movie. In fact, that was exactly what Frazier was preparing for his official visitors: a movie, with himself directing an Ode to by-the-book-military protocol. With his cast already chosen and firmly in place, Al-Fateem would be transformed into "Any Base U.S.A.," without a hint of its corruption, brutality, or horrors. One cast member, however, refused to play her assigned role. Neljia Fahar, an Iraqi-born Coalition interpreter who had been assigned to the Base eight months ago, had witnessed first-hand Frazier's savage treatment of the POWs, and a terrible secret that she, despite her fear of what Frazier might do to her, knew she had to somehow disclose to the Provost Marshal's representatives.

Shegeta and Reem arrived on a late Thursday evening, during the middle of Iraq's summer season, even at night, a stifling change from the unseasonably cool, and rainy, Washington, D.C. spring weather they had just left behind. But the two had come prepared, in their short-sleeved summer fatigues. Frazier greeted them courteously as they disembarked from their plane, promising full cooperation with their investigation. As Frazier introduced the two to his Second in Command, Bowers couldn't help thinking that he had seen Reem somewhere before, and was determined to find out when, and how.

In the meantime, after they had been escorted to their official quarters, Shegeta and Reem briefly conferred in the hallway between their two quarters after the two enlisted men whom Frazier had ordered to carry their luggage and gear had left, and they could speak privately.

"Well, that went smoothly enough, don't you think?" Reem asked.

"So does white-wash on a fence, Major," replied Shegeta. "I've met Frazier before, and believe me, he's a master at turning on the charm when he has to."

"One thing's for sure, conceded Reem, her arms crossed over chest contemplatively, "we've found no Pentagon directives for 'insurgency resistance exercises.' So they had to have been authorized by Frazier. Where do we start first?"

"With Barnes' bunkmate. Fear of Frazier will probably limit what he feels he can tell us, but we still might be able to get through to him. We'll start tomorrow, after I get in contact with Abazal."

"Yes, sir," replied Reem.

"Right now, I think I'll have a drink at the Sahara, that little bar off the Base, before turning in. You're welcome to join me if you like, Major."

"Oh, no thank you, sir," Reem blushed, generally appreciative of the offer. "I think I'll stay here and edit these depositions and interrogatories before turning in."

Her smile, highlighted by a most becoming dimple, reminded Shegeta of his own daughter, Rose. He grew sad at the sudden reminder of words never spoken, and of her achievements (she had been studying to be a ballet dancer) never shared or celebrated.

"As you wish," Shegeta answered, managing a modest, but, Reem noticed, sorrowful smile of his own. "See you tomorrow, Major."

"Good night, sir," Reem responded, struck by her normally cool and collected Superior's unexpected display of emotion.

Meanwhile, a meeting of a much different nature was being held in Frazier's quarters.

"You tell those sonsabitches," shouted Frazier, "to stop fuckin' around, and start stringing up some of those towel head shit-kickers in that Goddamned village by the balls! …or they'll be joinin' their buddy Barnes in a desert hole of their own. Damn it, Jack, I don't know how that fuckin' thing could have come off my finger during that skirmish, but if any ex-Bathists or Al Qaeda find it, my ass'll really be grass!" Frazier paused as he noticed the troubled look on Bowers' face, and asked, "What the hell's the matter with you? You haven't said a word since you got here!"

"Paul," Bowers answered hesitantly, "you and I go all the way back to Basic Training together. Please don't ask me to go back with you to that village the next time you need to …"

"Since when do I 'ask' for anything around here? I'm the CO, remember?"

"I know, Paul, but … "

"But nothin'. You've never been squeamish before, so why are you startin' now?"

"Christ, Paul, we've got an official Provost Marshal investigation going on here! The truth is bound to come out about what you did, and how this whole fucking nightmare started."

"What I did? What I did?" Frazer was so angry that his gnashing teeth nearly bit off the end of the Camel cigarette he had just lighted. "If I remember correctly, you were right in there with me that day."

"Yeah, but I didn't know that you were gonna deliberately kill innocent people -- kids, to -- just to get to one man!"

"That 'one man' was Shakiel Kahar, one of Iraq's top ex-Bathist terrorists!"

"I know…and I know that this is different than any other war we've been in together…but I'll never forget those poor kids you took from that family and …"

"You said it yourself. This war is different, and what we did sent a message to anyone even thinking of harboring terrorist operatives in my backyard!"

"And what about those things waiting for us in the desert? Are you trying to tell me that this isn't some kind of payback - but something that isn't gonna claim not only you, but each and every one of us before it's through?"

"As long as we give 'em what they want--what they need -- they'll leave us alone."

"Yeah. And we all know what they really want, don't we, Paul? How much longer do you think we can keep goin' back to that village for fresh 'supplies,' just to keep they away from …"

"As long as it takes!" Frazier defiantly answered, crushing the cigarette in a glass ashtray and reaching compulsively in his breast pocket for another, an uncharacteristic trembling of his hands betraying some hidden misgivings about a question which even he realized there was no easy answer.

"I need a drink," Bowers then disconsolately announced, conceding the futility of further discussion on the matter, and left by jeep for the Sahara Lounge. There, he noticed Shegeta sitting alone at the bar, his presence instantly reminding him of the close proximity of his assistant, the young woman whose face he had been unable to get out of his mind from the moment of their arrival. With lust providing a temporary distraction from his current concerns, he decided to 'pump' the Colonel for information that he thought could give him an 'edge' with Reem. He still was trying to remember where he had thought he had seen her before. Perhaps Shegeta could give him the answer.

As he saddled up next to Shegeta, ordered a beer, and tried to make his acquaintance, the Colonel could see that he was merely truing to curry favor with him, and took an instant dislike to his unwanted companion. Bowers spoke loudly, so that his voice could be heard over the club's blaring jukebox, which, due to Coalition presence, was now playing American top 40.

"You know, Colonel," Bower remarked, " the Lt. Colonel is real happy you're hear. Now, he knows what's being said about him behind his back -- rumors started by jealous ass-kissers -- and he wants to clear the air as bad as you do…he really does."

"Look, Lieutenant," Shegeta answered, glancing up from his scotch and soda, "we're here on an official investigation of Private First Class Barnes' disappearance …"

"Oh, well, I can tell you all about that," offered Bowers good-naturedly, deceptively trying to put a quick end to Shegeta's suspicions.

"Not here -- not in a bar," brusquely replied Shegeta, punctuating his admonishment with a cautionary upraised finger. "You'll get your chance later, during an official deposition, and under oath. Major Alazar will let you know when."

"Oh, Major Alazar. I was gonna ask you about her, Colonel. Uh, mind if I smoke?"

Shegeta shook his head, and Bowers promptly added to the haze of second-hand smoke that inundated the dingy, dimly lit bar with one of Frazier's camels that they shared. "Now. Major Alazar," Bowers continued, returning to the new topic of a conversation that Shegeta was now becoming weary of. "How do we know we can really trust her, Colonel?"

"What the hell are you talking about?" asked Shegeta, now annoyed by Bowers' increasingly unwelcome presence.

"Well, don't forget, even if she -- say, where did you say here parents were from?," asked Bowers, betraying his ignorance.

"I didn't," answered Shegeta, then adding, 'Egypt.'"

"Egypt, huh? Well, even if she's not Iraqi, she's still Arab."

"So what? She was also born in the United States. She's an American citizen."

"Yeah, but you remember that old saying, Colonel, about blood being thicker than water?"

"My, you're just a fountain of clichés, tonight, aren't you, Lieutenant? Well, in case you didn't know, I happen to be an American citizen, too, even though my great grandparents were Japanese. I'm sure you noticed the family resemblance," added Shegeta sarcastically. "Now, if we were fighting the Land of the Rising Sun again, what would that make me?"

"Ah, come on, Colonel, that's different! Your people have been one of us for a long time now. We've gotten used to you!"

"Lieutenant, I've got better things to do tonight than to listen to you crazy racial theories! Now, if you'll excuse me, it's been a long trip, and I've got some sleep to catch up on."

Shegeta started to rise from his stool, but Bowers motioned for him to stay seated.

"No, wait, Colonel, please," Bowers said. "I've got a question for you, and it won't take long-and it doesn't have anything to do with your case."

"What is it?" warily asked Shegeta, lowering himself again into his seat.

"Major Alazar. Is she, like, hot?"


"You know…horny! I just can't help thinking that I've seen here before, and now I think I no where!"

"How would you know? They all look alike, right?" Shegeta replied contemptuously.

"No…no, tell me," Bowers asked lasciviously, leaning forward with a presumptuous air of confidentiality. "Does she give good head? Does she like it in her cunt, or up her ass? How about between her big tits?, because, I'll tell ya, I'd really like to-"

Shegeta cut short Bowers' gutter talk with a sudden, vice-like grip on the Lieutenant's testicles. "Do you like your balls?! Do you like your balls?" Shegeta demanded, his right hand squeezing harder and harder until Bowers' face nearly turned several deep shades of purple, his breath coming in short, tortured gasps. "Because If you ever talk about Rose …" This unexpected Freudian slip surprised even Shegeta, but he quickly corrected himself, and then continued.

"… Major Alazar that way again, I'll tear out your nuts and pin them to your uniform!"

He then released Bowers, who fell off his stool, and on to the barroom floor, in an agonized heap. Shegeta, now confident that he had made his point, courteously bade his uninvited guest good night.

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Chapter Five

A resolute Neljia Fahar glanced over her right shoulder nervously as she approached Reem's quarters. She understood fully the terrible risk she was taking, but more terrible still was another day of living with the knowledge of what Frazier had done -- and would continue to do if he were not stopped. If this knock on Reem's door would be the first step toward dispelling this great evil, she would take it.

After apologizing for the lateness of the hour (it was now 11PM, although Reem had not yet put her work and retired for the evening) and introducing herself, Neljia asked for but a few minutes of Reem's time. Noticing her unexpected visitor's ashen expression and troubled tone of voice, Reem consented, and invited her to sit down in the folding chair next to hers. Neljia's normally steady voice quivered as she began.

"Major, I can tell you all what you and Colonel Shegeta need to know-about the tortures, about Private Barnes' disappearance, about that horrible day two months ago -- and about-THEM!"

"Ms. Fahar, anything you have to say officially about these incidents should be under oath, and in Colonel Shegeta's presence, too. Now, tomorrow …"

"Tomorrow may be too late! He's planning to return to Talazar Village any day now … I don't know when, but soon -- he must! It will be only a matter of time before they reach the Base to search for him, and when they do …"

"What are you talking about?"

"Frazier, and what he's done to bring this horror from hell to all of us here. Major Aalzar, you're of Egyptian blood, I know. Surely you've heard of the 'al ghul.'"

The word filled Reem with dread, for it brought back the Arab folklore that her grandmother had entertained her with on rainy afternoons, tales which had caused her, as a child, to check in every corner and under every bed for the ghouls, shape-shifting desert demons who could transform themselves into both animals (most commonly hyenas) and humans, and lure their victims to their secret lairs to feed on their flesh. These tales were a part of her people's heritage, so she could not so easily separate herself from those childhood memories. But she was also a Western-educated woman who had been taught the importance of putting such superstitions behind her. Moreover, she realized that her Office had a job to do, and it was not to investigate monsters.

"Are you trying to tell me that supernatural forces are responsible for these strange events at Al-Fateem? Ms. Fahar," she continued, shaking her head incredulously, I can't …"

"Please, Major. First hear me out, and then you, and later, Colonel Shegeta, can judge my credibility. But let me speak, I beg of you, and I may be able to save innocent lives."

"Go on," Reem replied.

"Two months ago, intelligence reports revealed that Shakiel Kahar, a notorious ex-Bathist operative, was hiding out in Talazar Village, just thirty miles east of Baghdad. Convinced that someone there was offering him shelter, Lt. Colonel Frazier personally led an armed platoon into the village. Although Kahar was no longer there, the platoon saw heavy hand-to-hand fighting with the insurgents who had remained on some undisclosed assignment. Afterwards, when Frazier interrogated the local populace about what he thought they knew about the operation, he wasn't getting the answers he wanted, so he decided to send a warning to any would-be harborers by lining up an innocent family, including five small children, two girls and three boys, before a makeshift firing squad. He had all of them shot! That's when the horror began!"

Neljia's voice shook with emotion at the terrible memory, but she composed herself, and continued.

"When the family's maternal grandmother learned of the atrocity, she vowed revenge. The villagers said she was a witch!"

"Ms. Fahar, what are you trying to tell me?"

"She placed a curse on the Lt. Colonel and the Base by calling up, from the netherworld itself, the 'al ghul.' Hordes of them began to appear in the desert. They started killing desert animals, devouring their flesh whole, and ravishing burial grounds for corpses. Then, one day, they attack some of our men on patrol; they barely escaped with their lives -- bullets had absolutely no effect on them! Frazier then returned to the village, and forced the truth out of those who had witnessed the old woman's ceremonial resurrection of the creatures. He then tortured her in the same way in which he'd been tormenting the poor POWs here. She refused to call back the curse, and died revealing but one fact: that the curse would end only with Frazier's death. He's their real target, and they started moving closer and closer to the Base. Frazier decided to take action by returning to the village. There, he mowed down their homes with tanks, and killed hundreds and hundreds of people. Then -- oh God!"

Reem placed her hands on Neljia's shoulders, now wracked with grief, and steadied her. She then continued her story, nearly sobbing. "He had his men place the corpses in body bags, and deliver the remains to these creature's latest reported location, in order to appease them, to keep them away from him at least a little while longer, so that he could buy more time to find a way of getting rid of them permanently."

"And Private Barnes?"

"I'm not sure, but I'm convinced that he had had enough, and had refused to go along with this nightmare any further. There's no doubt in my mind that Frazier then killed him, and fed his flesh to those ghouls!"

"Ms. Fahar, I don't know what to make of any of this, but if even half of what you say is true, Frazier must be stopped!"

The worst of it is, Major, that he's got to go back to the village for more victims to feed to these creatures; the supply is nearly exhausted now."

"But you've got to understand," explained Reem," the Colonel and I need proof before we can act in order to bring Frazier to justice."

"I'll get you your proof--I promise--but now I must leave. If Frazier notices that I've been gone for too long, he'll become suspicious. But I promise to get you and the Colonel what you need to remove him from command, and to put him away forever!"

Reem thanked her. As she watched Neljia hurry away, she locked her door, and began to assess the fantastic story that she had just been told. But her concentration was jarringly interrupted by another unexpected knock.

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Chapter Six

"Who is it?" Reem asked.

"It's Lieutenant Bowers, Major," the slightly slurred voice responded. "Colonel Shegeta asked me to deliver a message to you."

"What is it?" she asked suspiciously.

"Well, it's pretty detailed, Major. May I come in?"

"Just a minute," answered Reem, unlatching the door, but against her better judgment. Still, she told herself, he might have an important message from her Superior after all. When Bowers entered, it was obvious that he had had more than a few beers following his encounter with Shegeta. His gait was unsteady, his eyes bleared, and his breath wreaking of alcohol.

"Now, what is it?" asked Reem.

"You know, Major," he said, swaying to and fro in an alcoholic haze. "Ever since you've arrived, I've been asking myself, 'Self, where have I seen this girl before?'"

"Lieutenant, you said that you had a message from Colonel Shegeta. Kindly deliver it and leave. It's late, and I've got some work I'd like to finish before I go to bed."

"Oh!" he replied sarcastically, "do I sense some displeasure in your voice, Major? Good! I've heard you Arab gals get real horny when you're pissed!"

"Lieutenant, you're drunk," Reem said disgustedly.

"Drunk, huh? Well, you'd drink, too, if you've seen the things I've seen here!"

"Look, if you don't have a message from Colonel Shegeta, I want you to get out -- now!"

"What are you gonna do, Major? Bring charges against me? Huh! What a fuckin' joke that would be! I can see it now, on CNN."

"What are you ranting about?"

"Oh, I know who you are, baby. You're Fatima, "the Baghdad Babe!"

Bowers, upon first meeting Reem, had confused her with a similarly exotic-looking Middle Eastern girl, a stripper (ironically, despite her stage name, Israeli, not Arabic) who had performed at a Milwaukee gentleman's club that he had once patronized. The beers that he had just consumed had merely deepened the misconception.

Reem had had more than enough of Bowers' drunken fantasies, and ordered him to leave immediately, or she would call the Base guards. But the combination of lust (he had not had sex since the most recent attack on Talazar Village, a whole month ago) and alcohol had rendered Bowers deaf to her ultimatum. "Remember those lap dances you gave me, Fatima?, and the twenty dollar bills I stuck in your garter? Well, now I've got something bigge -- and longe -- you can put in there now!"

With that promise, he forced himself upon Reem, tearing open her buttoned fatigue top and burying his face in her exposed cleavage. Even though he held both of her arms immobile and pinned down her slender body with all of the power of his bulky, two hundred-eighty-pound frame, she was able, with as much force as she could muster, to ram her left knee into his groin, instantly immobilizing the testosterone-driven brute. As Bowers slumped to the floor in agony, gasping for breath, Reem fled from the room.

A few minutes passed, and Bowers began to catch his breath, and to regain his strength. As he unsteadily rose to his feet, he heard footsteps in the hallway.

"Fatima? Fatima?," he asked hopefully. "Is that you, baby?"

Following the sounds, Bowers entered the darkened hallway, his sex drive having only been intensified, despite Reem's resistance, by the sensation of her body. He grew more excited with every approaching footstep, and was soon at full erection again.

"You're sorry, ain't ya?" he confidently asked. "You really want it, don't you, Fatima? O.K. I ain't mad at ya. Come and get it, baby!"

As the footsteps turned the corner, a loathsome howl blasted Bowers' ears, and a powerful pair of scaly arms and razor-sharp talons grabbed him by the neck, hoisted him in mid-air, and flung him across the hallway. Within five minutes, his flesh had been ripped from his bones, and the skeletal remains, with absolutely nothing left of value for scavengers, deposited just outside of Frazier's barracks.

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Chapter Seven

"Jack! …Jack! Oh, God! …Jack!" Frazier shouted, as two guards carried what remained of Bowers' body on a stretcher to his barracks when it was found the next morning. When they removed the burlap sheet covering the body, Frazier immediately recognized Bowers' dog tags among the putrescent collection of clothing and muscle dangling, like strands of limp spaghetti, from the slimy bones. Instantly, his stomach heaved, and he could make it to the latrine in time to vomit. He was surprised, because he had long thought that death had ceased to faze him, but this was different, he told himself -- this was Jack. After collecting his thoughts, he returned to his quarters, and ordered the guards to place the sheet back over the body, hide the remains in the Base freezer for the time being, and bury the corpse in the desert at nightfall.

After they left, Frazier sat down in his black leather swivel chair and smoked a cigarette, contemplating his next move. He knew fully well what Bowers' death really meant: at least one of the ghouls had finally reached the Base. If he didn't act quickly, he told himself, it would only be a matter of time before he himself would look just like that nauseating bag of bones.

A sudden and jarring knock on his door abruptly turned Frazier's attention to other matters, for, demanding immediate entrance was an irate Colonel Shegeta.

"Where is he, Frazier?"


"Lieutenant Bowers. I want his ass under camp arrest-now!"

"On what charges?" Frazier brazenly inquired.

"Sexual harassment and attempted rape! He got loaded at the Sahara last night, and made up some bullshit story that I had given him a message to Major Alazar. She let her into her room to find out what it was, and he tried to rape her."

"These are very serious charges, Colonel," Frazier smugly replied, "but, unfortunately, he isn't here."

"Oh, and where is he?" asked a highly skeptical Shegeta.

"A sudden death in his family. He left by jeep for Baghdad Airport earlier this morning."

"Isn't funny, Frazier, how often people seem to just disappear from this Base? First Private Barnes, and now Lieutenant Bowers!" He could also have added Jagroop Abazal, whose whereabouts he still had not been able to locate, but, fearful of tipping off the Lt. Colonel about Abazal's mission, he decided not to mention his name, although this was yet another mystery that he was determined to solve.

Shegeta continued. "You realize, of course, that I fully intend to check your story by subpoenaing the Airport's official passenger list?"

"Of course," replied Frazier.

"In the meantime, tell Perkins that his deposition has been scheduled for 1PM today."

"Yes, sir," Frazier said, but once Shegeta had left, he gave vent to his true resentment of having to defer to the Provost Marshal Office's authority. He was used to giving orders, not taking them. "Fuck you, Jap!" he muttered to himself. "You won't live long enough to subpoena that list," and he earnestly began to think of some possible way of involving Shegeta in a solution to his other "problem."

Meanwhile, Shegeta's deposition of Perkins, Barnes' bunkmate, had gone nowhere. It was obvious, as Shegeta had expected, that Frazier had gotten to him before he could, as the young man could not, or would not, tell him anything new about Barnes' fate. He merely explained that their unit had been sent out to patrol suspected terrorist rebel desert sites, the exact locations of which he could not specify, and that he and Barnes had become separated in the ensuing melee when the rebels attacked. What exactly had happened to Barnes after that, he claimed, whether he had been taken prisoner, or killed, he did not know?

After thanking Perkins for his cooperation, and dismissing him, Shegeta met with Reem in her barracks to confer with her about Barnes' answers. There, he was astonished to find, in Reem's company, Neljia Fahar, who then repeated the same fantastic story that she had told Reem the previous evening.

Like Reem, Shegeta, too, had grown up with folklore that told stories of ghouls. In Japanese culture, they are known as "Jikininki," or "man-eating ghosts," walking cadavers whose very sight can freeze mortals in fear. But this was the twenty-first century, and Shegeta now regarded such stories as nothing but frightening, yet entertaining, folk tales. Still, he could not so easily discount Nejia's description of Frazier's atrocities in Talazar Village.

"If we only had proof," he, like Reem, reminded her. This time, Neljia had a definite plan in mind. Since the villagers trusted her, she, in the company of Asawan Hassan, a tribal councilman with whom she had become friendly, would convince witnesses to testify as to Frazier's activities in the village. Shegeta agreed to let her try. What she would return with, however, would prove ultimately more valuable to their case than any three of them could ever have imagined--but, at the same time, unbelievably dangerous to all.

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Chapter Eight

Talazar Village: a small, poverty-ridden Third World community that, against its will, had become the leading actor in a drama with profound implications for the rest of humanity. Only a native Iraqi like Neljia would not have been astonished by the lack of sanitation, water, and plumbing, the livestock droppingsewn pathways, and primitive tents. Indeed, her own family had grown up in such a village. If anything, she was the anomaly, a Shiite Muslin woman who, though proud of her heritage in so many ways, had long ago rebelled against her culture's subordination of women, and was the sole woman in the village this morning without a head covering. They certainly had no reason to trust Lt. Colonel Frazier, whose atrocities against them rivaled even those that they had faced under Saddam, and decades earlier, the British. To them, they had always simply exchanged one tyrant for another.

Warmly greeting her this day as she parked her jeep beside a cluster of burlap-canvassed huts was Asawan Hassan, a robust, smiling mustachioed man in his forties.

"Ahh, Ms. Fahar. And how are you this morning?"

"Just fine, Asawan. I'm wondering if you could help me." As she spoke, she removed her sunglasses and stuck them in the pocket of olive green military shirt.

"Oh, for you, Miss, anything," he replied, bowing courteously.

"I'd like you to take me around the village and introduce me to some of the tribal families I haven't met yet. I need information that some of them may have about Lt. Colonel Frazier's operations here."

"Of course, Missy," he answered. "Let us start here," he pointed about thirty feet away, in the direction of several lean-tos over a high, sandy ridge.

There, she spent several hours interviewing half a dozen different families. Each villager she talked to -- man, woman, child, the young and the old -- cowered in fear at the very mention of Frazier's name, as the man were a demon in human form, although none could provide either the lead or the evidence that she was looking for. These same disappointing results were repeated everywhere else in the village.

Around 4PM, she had just about decided to call it a day, when her attention was drawn to the outraged screams of two small boys, a mere two feet away from her, engaged in a fierce tug of war over a shiny object that glittered in the blinding desert sun. As the boys' mother tore the two combative children apart, the object fell to the ground, just next to Neljia's boots. A small U.S. Army insignia in the upper right hand corner of its centerpiece caught her eyes, and she impulsively picked up and examined the object.

It was a blue onyx ring, and underneath the flag was a grinning skull and crossbones, surrounded on either side by two jagged lightning bolts. Instantly, she realized that she had found her "smoking gun," and began to question the boys, with their mother's permission, while she and Asawan looked on.

Neljia learned that, shortly following Frazier's first visit to the village, the older boy had found the ring in a divot near the place where the American forces had fought hand-to-hand that day with the insurgents. The two boys had been taking turns carrying the ring in their pockets (it was much too large for either one of them to wear) and showing the prized possession to their friends. This day, the older boy had refused to let his younger brother have his turn, for, he claimed, recently having selfishly kept it a day longer than he had been entitled to. She asked him to let her have the ring, as it was a very important possession that belonged to somebody else, offering in compensation some small Iraqi coinage for both of them, but making him promise to share the money equally with his little brother. The boy eagerly agreed, and she had she wanted. Quickly, Neljia retrieved her sunglasses from her shirt pocket, put them back over her eyes, and jumped into her jeep, the ring clenched tightly in her right hand.

As she drove off, Asawan smiled and waived goodbye. But when her jeep had disappeared from behind a dune, his smile turned into a sour frown, and he walked grimly back to his tent. Once inside, and away from prying eyes, he pulled a out a cell phone from beneath is black tunic, and called a secret number that he had been given. His message to the person on the other line was short and to the point: "Lt. Colonel Frazier? I have some important news for you, my friend."

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Chapter Nine

The ring that Neljia now brought back to Shegeta and Reem would indeed prove to be the Rosetta stone to this entire mystery. The two immediately recognized the macabre emblem as a possible Special Ops (or Operations) identifying symbol. It would be totally characteristic, they deduced, of the arrogant Frazier to wear such a symbol of what he no doubt regarded as his special power. These emblems were carried only by select military personnel engaged in top-secret counter-insurgency operations, as in the Vietnam War, a fact that had only been revealed to the public with the theft and publication of the Pentagon Papers. Otherwise, such information was so highly classified that only an individual with the highest possible security clearance could access the OSI's (Office of Security Operations) files. But this was the task now confronting Shegeta and Reem, for only one with such a clearance could access the information necessary to verifiably identify the ring's emblem as Frazier's Special Ops symbol.

Fortunately for Reem, she had a friend, a secretary in the State Department who was frequently invited to staff cocktail parties. If she could somehow ingratiate herself with an "on-the-make" OSI operative, perhaps she could use her influence to "persuade" him to use his Top Secret Crypto Clearance to give the information they needed. Reem was convinced that, once she explained the seriousness of the matter, her friend would try, since she still owed her a favor for having asked a top Pentagon official for a letter of recommendation on Elaine's behalf. Elaine agreed, and, during a party that same evening, she managed to flirt with an OSI official whose reputation, as a lady's man would make Bill Clinton blush. Not needing much encouragement to take the next step, he arranged for an intimate encounter -- one that, unbeknownst to him, she would control every step of the way -- in the back of his private limousine following the party. Just before he could hike her skirt above crotch, she put an end to his amatory petting and groping with an abrupt and stern warning: she would tell his wife about their "meeting" if he did not stop right then and there and grant her what she called a "little favor." At considerable risk to his career, but fearing more the resulting public scandal (his wife was the daughter of a retired four-star general) and the steep alimony that he would have to pay in a messy divorce suit, he agreed to use his clearance to discover Frazier's top-secret Special Ops emblem. It was indeed, as he informed her the next day by an email that two would both delete from their computer files ASAP, a skull and crossbones surrounded by lightning bolts, and carried by members of a highly elite counter-terrorist unit that Frazier had headed in Afghanistan preceding his assignment to Base Al-Fateem. On a smoke break outside her workplace, and away from eavesdroppers, Elaine used her cell phone to tell Reem the news.

"Thanks, Elaine. That's just the information the Colonel and I need! Was it hard?"

"Oh, you might say that," Elaine joked. "He could barely keep it in his pants, so, yeah, I guess it was hard!"

Elaine burst out laughing, "That's now what I meant, and YOU know it!"

"I know," Elaine answered good-naturedly, "but, hey, what's the point of being a hero if you can't have a sense of humor about it? And, besides, girl, now you owe me one!"

"O.K., Elaine. Thanks ever so much again---goodbye."

"That's wonderful," said Shegeta when Reem, now accompanied by Neljia, informed him of Elaine's discovery, with "That Special Ops emblem positively places Frazier in the wrong place, and at the wrong time, during a totally unauthorized visit to the village conducted without previous State Department approval. Combined with the photos that Reem and I have of the prisoner abuse here, we should have more than enough to nail Frazier. The main thing now is to get Neljia out of here as soon as possible, before Frazier has a chance to find out what you've discovered."

"Right," Neljia nodded and smiled.

"I've already made arrangements to place her on the first flight out of Baghdad airport in the morning, Colonel."

"Very good, Major! Well, good night ladies, see you both tomorrow morning," he bade them courteously, and left the barracks for a nightcap at the Sahara.

"Good night," they replied. The women then went their separate ways, Reem to bed, and Neljia to her barracks. As she reached her door, however, she felt the cold steel of a Swiss army knife pressing against her jugular vein, accompanied by a familiar voice.

"One fucking scream, and I'll cut -- I will!" vowed Frazier.

"How…how did you know?" She gasped.

"Asawan Hussan is a friend of mine. I pay him well for his 'services.' Now, come on," he ordered, leading her, at knife-point, to one of the many holding cells on the Base. She didn't have to guess what cruel fate awaited her there.

"Where's the ring? Where's the ring?" demanded Frazier, as he ordered a burly guard to deliver yet another blow with the steel-tipped lash that had already opened deep cuts on the bare flesh of Neljia's back, buttocks, and legs. The woman, who had been stripped to her white bra and panties and chained to an iron bar like a sacrificial lamb, clamped her teeth tightly together and remained stoically silent throughout the whole agonizing ordeal, determined not to give this monster even the satisfaction of hearing her scream, let alone of telling him what he wanted. The guard momentarily paused in order to wipe the copious sweat-as well as spray lets of his victim's blood-from his brow, but soon resumed the lashing. Then, Neljia motioned that she had something to say, causing Frazier to order his guard to halt, and to approach her.

"Well?" Frazier demanded, yanking her head up by her mop of long, coal-black hair. She opened her eyes, mustered what remaining strength she could, and hoarsely but defiantly uttered three words, "Rot in hell!" before spitting in his face and expiring.

"You fucking idiot!" Frazier furiously admonished the guard, after wiping his face with a pocket bandana. "You went too Goddamn far! Did I, or did I not tell you not to put all of your weight into it? Now she's dead, and before she could tell us where the ring is!"

"What are we going to now, sir? Let those things out there have her body?"

"No," answered Frazier, as his lips curled into an evil grin. "I have a better idea!"

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Chapter Ten

Shegeta returned to his barracks later that night from the Sahara, having attempted to take the edge off the tension of the investigation (and his still lingering guilt over Rose's death) with a few extra whiskey sours. He wearily removed his full dress uniform jacket and loosened his tie, preparing for bed. As he turned in the direction of his closet, his eyes were drawn to a trail of still moist bloodstains just outside the door. Warily, he took his colt 45 from his bureau drawer and carefully approached the closet. Flinging open the door, he was horrified by the sight of Neljia's still lingerie-clad, bloodstained body, which had been thrust up on the closet shelf like a bundle of yesterday's soiled laundry. Interpreting the macabre gift as a gauntlet thrown down by Frazier, Shegeta phoned Reem about the heinous crime, and told her to get dressed and meet him outside immediately. Pocketing the Colt 45 in his trousers, he caught up with Reem and went over his plan with her to confront Frazier, and to have it out with him right away.

Suddenly their conversation was interrupted by the most unearthly sound they had ever heard -- an inhuman, blood-curdling howl -- followed by another noise, a man's agonized screams. As the two hurried to the source of the tumult, the witnessed a sight that would haunt them for the rest of their lives.

There, in the middle of the Base grounds, was the most loathsome creature that either of them had ever seen, a thing that resembled a man, but which clearly was not human, with its scaly, lizard-like skin, bulging eyes, protruding saliva-dripping fangs, and sharp claws. The creature had leaped onto the guard's back, and was feeding on the man's right forearm. Shegeta emptied his Colt 45 into the monster, but to no avail, and then flung the now-empty and useless gun onto the sandy ground. The bullets had not even scratched its body armor, and it continued undaunted its voracious feeding on the guard's soft flesh, and without any further resistance from its victim, who had now died of shock.

Abruptly, a loud voice, Frazier's, rang into the desert air: "Shegeta! Alazar! Get away! I'll handle him!" With that, Frazier issued an "All go!" order over his walkie talkie to a passing helicopter, which dangled from a rope a large bundle whose overwhelming stench instantly identified its putrescent contents, the last human remains from Frazier's previous attack on Talazar Village. The creature instantly dropped its kill, and, attracted by the scent of new game, followed the chopper's direction, over a hill, and out of the Base.

"Come on," motioned Frazier to Shegeta and Reem, and they accompanied him to his barracks.

"What was that? What was that thing out there?" Shegeta demanded.

"I would have thought that your friend, Neljia, would have told you, Colonel."

"So everything she said about those creatures was true?" asked Reem.

"You saw it yourself, lady," replied Frazier.

"You fiend!" she responded. "You're responsible for these horrors! I don't know whose the real monster-those horrible creatures, or YOU!" They do what they do because of instinct, but you torture-you kill-because you love the pain, the bloodshed! You've killed helpless prisoners, innocent men, women, and children, and now Neljia, all for the sake of your own personal power!"

"In case you didn't know, Major, there's a war going on here!"

"But that doesn't justify," Shegeta interjected, "the unspeakable horrors that you've committed, including that poor woman's death. What you've done in this country is to undo everything this nation has tried to change!"

"I've heard just about all I care to hear from you!" interrupted Frazier. "You've been behind a fucking desk too long! You've forgotten what true counter-insurgency is like! With every POW a torture…every towel head's life I take … each new bit of information I get, and each message I send saves another one of OUR boys' lives from a terrorist operation!"

"You can rationalize your actions all you want," Shegeta shot back, "but you're STILL a criminal-a murderer-and the sooner justice is done and you're brought before a military tribunal for your crimes, the better off this place will be!"

"And whose gonna do it?" sneered Frazier. "You?-- Her?-- your little A-rab girl friend over there?"

Now incensed, Shegeta lunged toward Frazier, who, moments earlier, in anticipation of such a move, had pressed a secret warning buzzer on the floor with his left boot, alerting the guards to danger. Three of them now burst in and restrained Shegeta. Frazier laughed sarcastically.

"That's right, Shegeta. Show this little bitch what a man you are! You have to act the hero, don't you? That's why I left Neljia's body in your closet. I knew you'd fly here, just like Superman to the rescue, just to kick my ass! Well, 'hero,' that's just what I wanted, because I've got special plans for you!" He now cast a steely, threatening eye on Reem. "And her!" He then ordered the guards to drag Shegeta to the holding cells, while he personally manhandled Reem, at gunpoint, into following them.

Frazier promptly had Shegeta locked in an interrogation room, and ordered the guards to stand outside the door, while he hurried Reem off to some unknown destination. What seemed like hours passed, when, finally, Frazier returned, gun directly aimed at Shegeta, who demanded to know Reem's where abouts.

"She'll be joining us in a minute," Frazier smiled sardonically, leaning over a chair directly across from Shegeta.

"Frazier, you're crazy if you think you can just kill us without the Provost Marshal's Office coming here to track us down!"

"All I need to do," Frazier coolly replied, "is to tell them that you two were killed in a terrorist attack … simple. But I'm not worried about that. Right now, I want to know what you've done with my ring. I want it back! … you know why."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Frazier," Shegeta calmly replied.

"Don't you screw with me, mutthafucka!" You know what I mean! -- my Special OPS ring -- the one that you've no doubt already tried to match my file to! If it should fall into the wrong hands, I won't have to worry about those ghouls anymore, 'cause I'll be as good as dead anyway!"

"Do you think I'd tell you where it is, Frazier? You can torture me all you want, but don't think you can get anything out of me! I spent six months as prisoner of the North Vietnamese, and I never broke!"

"YOU? Who said anything about you?" Frazier slyly grinned, and shouted to the men outside, "BRING HER IN!"

Two guards, one on either side of her body, guided Reem into the room. They had to: her head was encased in the same metal face box with the retractable lid worn by the unfortunate prisoner she had seen in the most notorious of the classified photos. Following behind was the guard who had been previously stationed outside the door, and carrying a wire cage, which he was told to place on the interrogation table. The cage was draped with a leather covering, but it could not silence the frenzied squealing of its confined inhabitant. From its noise, Shegeta could tell that it was an especially large rat that had no doubt been starved to ferocity.

"All right, Shegeta, here's the deal," Frazier announced. "You tell me where the ring is, and I'll promise to kill both of you quickly! If you don't, Prince Ali Baba here gets her pretty face chewed up by our hungry friend!"

Shegeta didn't care about himself, but he knew that he could never allow himself to consign Reem to such torture.

"Well, what's it gonna be, 'hero?" Frazier demanded. But before he could voice his agreement to Frazier's terms, the Base was raked by the blast of deafening gunfire which Frazier promptly ordered one of the guards to investigate.

"Come on, Shegeta, what's it gonna be?"

But once again there was no time for any answer, for the guard instantly returned with the shocking news that now totally changed Frazier's plans. "Sir, come quickly! The ghouls are overrunning the Base!"

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Chapter Eleven

This unexpected crisis was the only thing that could distract Frazier from his current quarry, and he immediately bolted from the room to the scene of the tumult, gun still in hand, and commanding the guards to accompany him. Shegeta then rushed to Reem's aid, and pried the metal facemask from her head.

"ARE YOU ALL RIGHT? ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?" Shegeta fervently asked.

"Yes," Reem unsteadily answered, trying to readjust her eyes to normal light.

"Oh, thank God! Thank God!" Shegeta said, holding Reem in his arms like a father comforting a badly frightened child. "Rose, if I'd lost you again, I don't know what I'd …"

Once again, he was shocked by the Freudian slip that he had just committed, but quickly recovered, bolstered Reem up by her shoulders, smiled, and said, well, come on, Reem (because they had both just faced such harrowing danger together, he now felt free to dispense with formalities while addressing her for the time being), "we've got to see what all this is about." She bravely smiled, and nodded

The two rushed outside to witness a most extraordinary sight: a virtual army of ghouls, about fifty in all, had penetrated the Base, having torn right through the camp's protective electrified fence. Frazier had ordered his men to try new weapons against the rampaging fiends, but grenades and mortar fire proved no more successful than bullets. As each new cloud of smoke created by the weapons cleared, Frazier could see through his field glasses their unscathed hellish faces driving onward, bent on his destruction. As Frazier scanned the camp with his glasses, he sighted Shegeta and Reem observing the proceedings from the safety of several garbage cans that had been line up in a corner.

"Shit!" he muttered to himself. "I forgot about them! You," he said to one of the three guards, pointing to the garbage can-lined corner, "get 'em in here -- NOW!"

Even though the guard did not relish the idea of leaving the safety of his Superior's office just now, he did what he was told, and ordered Shegeta and Reem, at rifle-point, to accompany him to Frazier's office.

"Well, well, well," Frazier chuckled mockingly, as the guard led his captives and locked the door. "I'm glad you two decided to rejoin my little party!"

"Go ahead and gloat, Frazier," Shegeta answered. "You may have us…and you may very well kill us…but it doesn't much matter now, since it looks like you'll be joining us any minute now!"

"Well, that's where you're wrong, 'hero!' Those things want Paul Frazier -- Lt. Colonel Paul Frazier-and they're going to get him! Once they do, they'll return to whatever fuckin' place they came from, and they'll leave us alone." His eyes then scrutinized Shegeta closely. "You're about my height and size. Our clothes should fit each other perfectly!"

Shegeta and Reem both instantly realized what devious plan Frazier now had in mind, but it was too late, for Shegeta then ordered one of the guards to put Frazier under by knocking him unconscious with a blow to his head from his rifle butt. He next ordered the other guards to help their companion strip Shegeta of his clothes, his shirt, still- loosened tie, and trousers, while Frazier began removing his own clothes. Quickly, all three guards, under Frazier's further orders, dressed Shegeta in his own cap and fatigues. He then commanded them to unlock the door, and to throw Shegeta's body out to the ghouls. "They've never seen my face," Frazier gloated, "and when they see those official medals and my dog tags, and the Officer's insignia on my cap, those dumb muthafuckas won't know the difference!"

At that moment, however, a revelation, triggered by a sudden flash of memory, came to Reem, and she rushed toward Frazier, grabbing him by shoulders, and beating him on his broad chest with her fists. "No! Please, no! Don't!" she begged. "Oh, no! Don't!"

"Get her off of me!" Frazier commanded. But just before the guards could fling the apparently hysterical girl away, Reem had reached into her right side slacks pocket for a small, inconspicuous object, and deftly placed it, unnoticed by all, in Frazier's left pocket of the trousers that Frazier know wore.

"Now!" he ordered, "open that friggin' door, throw him outside, and let those fuckin' bastards have him!"

The guards did just that, and then quickly relocked the door. The ghouls were now just two feet away from Frazier's barracks. At that moment, Shegeta, still prostrate on the ground, came to, but he could do little more than stare in horror at the advancing demons. As the creatures approached the "gift" that had been left for them, Frazier looked on through his office window, smiling so broadly that he reminded Reem of a hyena.

Scarcely had the smile formed, however, it was immediately replaced by an expression of utter panic--of terror--for an amazing thing had happened. The undead army had paid absolutely no attention to Frazier's bait -- despite the identifying medals, dog tags, and insignia -- and were marching obliviously forward, sidestepping Shegeta's body completely. In a heartbeat, they were breaking through the locked, steel-reinforced door like Sherman tanks through a ply woodshed. Something had told them that Shegeta was not Frazier -- that their quarry was inside the barracks, and Frazier couldn't figure out how.

In any event, he had no time to, for the ghouls were instantly inside the office. One of them, who had gotten there first, quickly disposed of the guards, who had fired at them in vain, by stopping their hearts, one by one, with a powerful body blow. Then, they zeroed in on Frazier.

What took place next, before Reem's horrified eyes, nauseated her beyond words, but afterwards, she couldn't help thinking, at the same time, that it was still better than he had deserved. One of the creatures instantly went for Frazier's right, cauliflower (due to a bar room fight that he had been in years before) ear, and promptly chewed the tempting--and presumably tasty -- morsel off, resulting in its owner's ear-piercing, agonized screams, which were drowned out by what sounded like the monster's howl of delight. Three others then leaped on Frazier, and forced his head backwards with such unnatural force that, in what seemed like mere seconds, it was literally torn from his neck. The now headless torso, its arm flaying and thrashing about uncontrollably as blood gushed from the empty stump between the crests of the shoulders, stumbled about like a weak-kneed, punch-drunk prizefighter before finally collapsing to the floor. Instantly, a mob of hungry ghouls piled furiously on the beheaded trunk, and, in a white shark feeding frenzy, devoured his flesh and organs whole, leaving only strands of clothing and muscle fiber on the remaining skeleton.

Then, an even more unbelievable event took place. When the monsters had finally gotten their fill, a dense fog began to inexplicably form around the creatures, completely enveloping their bodies until they became virtually invisible under the mass of thick mist. Within moments, the creatures' howling, which, up to this point, had been non-stop, gradually dissipated, and the room became, at long last, silent. Soon, the fog lifted, and the creatures were gone. Reem knew that, their mission completed, they had returned to their unearthly abode, leaving only the disgusting remains of their carnage behind.

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Chapter Twelve

Shegeta, having witnessed these same incredible events from the safety of the doorway, hesitantly entered the barracks, except for Reem, the room reeking of the pungent odor of the creatures' butchered victims.

"Reem, Reem, what happened here?" Shegeta asked.

"Look there," replied Reem, pointing in the direction of Frazier's skeleton. Beside the left thighbone, and couched within what had remained of the exposed and tattered trouser side pocket, was a small object that Shegeta immediately recognized as Frazier's Special Ops ring.

"Just as he was about to have you thrown outside, I placed the ring in your trousers pocket, so that it would be on his person."

"But why, Reem?"

"Because I'd just remembered a story that my grandmother had told me long ago, that, if the ghouls had been summoned to avenge an injustice by killing its perpetrator, they would find their victim, no matter what trick or disguise employed, if their quarry had on his or her person an identifying object or keepsake. It would draw the creatures like a magnet. Well, that's what happened. They went for the ring."

"Then, it's all over, isn't it, Reem?" Shegeta asked, paternally placing his right arm around her shoulders as the two ventured from the butcher house which had once been Frazier's office into the compound, the hazy smoke still visible from the previously exploded grenades, and mortar fire.

"Yes sir, it is," she smiled.

They had only one task remaining: to take over temporary command of the Base, and to file their official report with the Provost Marshal's Office. In it, they included the evidence of Frazier's crime--the tortures, his atrocities against the Talazar villagers, and his murder of Private Barnes and Neljia Fahar. They could not, however, tell the full story, knowing that no one would ever believe them. They simply explained Private Barnes' murder, for example, as Frazier's attempt to prevent him from testifying about Frazier's mistreatment of the POWs, and of the attacks on the village. Besides, they felt that no one really needed to know the whole incredible truth, as justice had already been served. Frazier was dead, and a more humane commander would now be appointed to head Base Al-Fateem. Reem was right; the nightmare was over.

But one or two countries away, in Saudi Arabia, other innocent families were suffering, and injustices committed by other parties had to be avenged. So it was that a convoy of Al Qaeda-confiscated jeeps was delivering its own body bags, stuffed, too, with some foul putrescence, to another remote desert location.

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