In the middle of WWII, a disturbing mystery begins...
|Inside the control tower, Major Anderson was scanning the horizon with a pair of binoculars. He quite liked being stationed in Honolulu. The warm Hawaii weather suited him fine, a marked change from the dismal London rain.
Spying on a pair of white fairy terns, he marveled at their grace as the feathery animals soared over the waves.
When the war is over, I think I'll take up birdwatching. This thought sparked a faint hope in his heart. Hitler was quickly losing his allies, perhaps even the whole damn war.
But until then, Major Anderson was forced to continue standard operations: Keep one eye on the air and another one on the sea. At any moment, the Japanese could launch an attack from either. He intended to give them a surprise of their own. The air base was equipped for every situation, fully prepared to unleash Hell upon any foolish enough to come within range.
"I repeat; please identify yourself and state your origin." An air traffic controller spoke into a receiver. Scrunching up a freckled face, he peered at the radar scanner.
"Major Anderson, sir!" He called out.
Putting the binoculars down, the Major approached the instruments and examined them. "What's the situation, Corporal?"
"Sir! It appears to be one of ours, but we have radio silence, sir!" The green blip grew slightly closer as the oscillating line swept over it.
Frowning, Major Anderson consulted the communications log. "Is this the same aircraft that issued the distress call an hour ago?"
"It appears so, sir!" The radio controller pressed a button and spoke into the receiver again. "This is Hickam Air Base, identify yourself and state your origin."
Examining the notes, Major Anderson muttered to himself. "S-O-S, under attack...? There haven't been sightings of enemy activity for quite some time." Not allowing himself to be complacent, he issued a recon mission immediately.
"Send out Delta team," He instructed. "I want a heavy sweep conducted."
"Sir, they appear to be heavily damaged, sir!" The Corporal gestured at the approaching plane.
Inspecting the incoming aircraft with his binoculars, Major Anderson could see black smoke trailing from the right engine. It was a Douglas C-47, a transport vessel for military personnel. Letters on the hull designated it as X-25, scheduled for arrival earlier that day.
"Clear them a landing zone!" He barked to a Lieutenant. After saluting the major, the officer ran off to carry out the order.
"They're losing altitude quickly," Major Anderson remarked grimly. The plane limped towards the air base as the unseen pilot struggled to keep it airborne. Deep tears scarred the exterior, panels missing from the fuselage.
It looked like they'd taken heavy missile damage, but it was highly improbable. Unless the Japs snuck a warship under our noses... But I already had scouts sweep the area.
Veering towards an empty runway, the smoking aircraft attempted an emergency maneuver. Bouncing on the pavement, it performed a dangerously sloppy landing. Brakes squealed, slowing the hurtling vessel. Sparks flew as a wheel broke loose, sending the crippled plane skidding sideways.
Major Anderson winced as the smoldering wreck came to a stop. "I want ground crew to search for survivors! We need to know if the Japanese launched an attack and where!"
Private Eckhart stepped into an oily puddle of water as he approached the silent plane. There was no visible movement inside. It was difficult to see through the cracked windshield, but he glimpsed a figure slumped over the dashboard.
After assisting with the boarding ramps, he followed behind several medics as they entered the pilot's compartment.
It reeked of rotten eggs. The foul stench made Eckhart's eyes water. Clearing his vision, he gazed at the gruesome scene before him.
The co-pilot wheezed over a broken steering wheel, blood bubbling from his mouth. His torn uniform revealed deep lacerations scoring his ribs and stomach. Glimpsing welcome faces, he smiled faintly.
Bloodshot eyes rolled back as he slid off the instruments and fell towards the floor. The medics gently caught him, carefully placing the wounded man on to a stretcher. They carried him out as Private Eckhart examined the other body inside the cabin.
Curled below a seat, the dead pilot was gripping a pistol in his cold fingers. The other hand clutched his torn throat, ribbons of flesh hanging from gory threads.
Bullet casings littered the floor around him. Eckhart stared at the holes pockmarking the interior, gaze stopping at the cargo bay door. A great number of rounds had been fired into the area surrounding a large tear. Long claw marks scarred that fissure as if some animal had gotten loose.
Opening the door, he gasped.
The rest of the crew hadn't fared much better than the pilots. Another medical team stood in the bay; silently staring at the bodies sprawled around the interior. They all displayed strange gashes, gaping wounds of unknown origin. A headless officer lay reaching for something while an infantryman cradled his missing jaw.
The horrible odor was stronger here, making Private Eckhart gag. "First time seeing someone's insides?" A medic asked as he inspected intestines spilling from a corpse.
"No, it's this wretched stink." He said defensively, wiping his mouth.
"It's sulfur," The medic sighed as he stood, surveying the other lifeless passengers. "Never liked the smell myself."
Covering his nose, Eckhart examined a stiffening soldier. The dead man's mouth hung open in a silent scream, lips swollen and bloodless. His face had a strange blue-gray pallor. Several other bodies matched that complexion. Seeing Eckhart's questioning glance, the medic explained.
"Hypoxia. They must have slowly suffocated after the hull breached. Well, at least a few of them did."
Not only did each corpse have similar slashes, but each man had emptied their weapons at the unknown assailants. Countless brass casings lay across the bloodied bay floor.
"Think they went crazy from lack of oxygen?" Eckhart asked the medic. He shrugged and pointed out that the odds were unlikely.
"Do you see any gunshot wounds on these men? Even their knives are clean unless you count a few with this stinkin' goop."
Spotting a combat knife, the medic picked it up. A viscous black substance covered the blade, strongly reeking of sulfur.
After carefully placing it into a canvas bag, the corpsman searched for more clues as Eckhart followed.
The odd black liquid was found on several other places, sprayed against a wall, on the edges of a broken window and even spotting the ceiling.
A torn panel caught his eye. Inspecting it, the combat medic muttered to himself. "Doesn't look like anti-aircraft shells to me. Not even a fighter plane could make this kind of damage."
Turning to the Private, he gave an order. "Get some grease-monkeys in here. Report our findings to Major Anderson."
Major Anderson rubbed his face wearily as he tried to make sense of the information. A thorough inspection of the transport plane revealed no signs that it had taken enemy fire. Despite that, something or someone ripped off wing panels and smashed windows inward. There was even evidence of internal tampering, destroyed junction boxes and broken communication equipment pointed to possible traitors among the crew. But if there was, they would have performed most of the sabotage while outside the moving plane.
Anderson poured a glass of scotch, pondering the bizarre mystery.
The dead crew had unloaded magazine after magazine into the hull, but whoever they shot at vanished. Even the pilots had defended themselves from something inside the cabin. And yet, the attackers left no bodies. Just traces of a foul-smelling secretion.
Of the thirteen crew members that left the California base, twelve were accounted for. A severed arm belonging to the missing man was found beside a tear in the hull. The report surmised that his body must have fallen out mid-flight.
Any hope of learning the circumstances fell on the only survivor. But even that turned out to be a dead end. The unconscious co-pilot succumbed to his injuries shortly after receiving medical treatment. He left no statement of the attack.
Major Anderson placed the file down and sighed. Central Command was less than pleased. He would have to fly out, delivering the report in person.
Leaving the base made him a little uneasy.
The men were all spooked, spreading rumors about disembodied voices cackling in the night. Several mechanics complained that someone was messing with repairs, stealing tools and puncturing hoses. Most of the officers tried to squash these stories, but even they began hearing strange growls from inside the garage.
Searches for the source of these disturbances always turned up empty. The inhuman voices would dissipate upon investigation, leaving confused men to spread fear throughout the ranks.
Gremlins, the soldiers whispered. Trickster demons that Hitler summoned, sacrificing Jews to the devil in exchange for power.
Snorting at the idea, the Major poured another glass and downed it.
Hopefully his second in command could manage to keep everyone in line while Anderson received an unpleasant interrogation from his superiors.
The next day, a message from Central Command came through. Major Anderson never arrived at the California air base, despite having left several hours before. A rescue party was sent out, scanning the seas for telltale signs of wreckage.
But three days of tireless searching turned up nothing.
No trace of the plane was ever found. As for the midnight disturbances, they silently vanished along with Major Anderson.