The Jungle's Black God by Joseph A. McCullough V

Strange things happen during the time of war.

FROM: Sgt. Richard Harrison
7th Precinct Police Department
Richmond, Virginia

TO: Gen. Robert Somenche
Army Intelligence Dept 6 (C:BM)

In response to your request, I am forwarding a transcript of the story of Corporal Alexander Gregson as he told it to me two days ago on July 4, 1968. These are his exact words from a taped session, except for a few that I added for the sake of comprehension.

There were seven of us going on the deep recon. Lt. (James) Ellery was in command. It was my first recon mission behind the Vietnamese lines, though I had done similar ones at the front. The mission was simple. We would be dropped in by helicopter 50 kilometers behind the lines just before dawn. Then we were to march twenty kilometers north and radio for a pick up. Any findings were to be reported upon our return, and under no circumstances were we to engage the enemy.

On the helicopter I sat between (Pvt. Mike) Johnson and (Pvt. Darren) Marsh, our radio man. Lieutenant Ellery noticed my nervousness.

"Suck it up, Gregson, the chance of enemy contact is light. You're gonna make it back."

"May be in a body bag though," put in (Cpl. Ronald) Lake, the M60 gunner.

"Fuck you, Lake," I shouted back.

"Shut up, both of you," snapped the Lieutenant and the conversation ended. I felt like throwing up.

I don't remember exactly how long we spent in the chopper, but it didn't seem very long before it set down in a small clearing in the early morning mist. I remember thinking that there was no way they wouldn't hear our chopper setting down. It was so loud.

I was the last one out, and seconds after my feet hit the ground, the chopper lifted into the air and sped away. Ellery shouted a quick order for us to assume the standard column formation of a squad on recon. Being the attached medic, I marched in the center with the Lieutenant. Sergeant (Christopher) Mitchell was on point.

Hours passed as we marched through the dense Vietnamese jungle. Every footstep seemed to echo and announce our presence to the entire country. Everyone was really tense, except Lake. He smiled all afternoon like it was a walk in the park. It didn't save him.

That evening, after we had taken a ten minute break for dinner, and resumed marching, it happened. Sgt. Mitchell threw up his arm in the signal to stop, then he motioned for us to get down. Too late. A machine gun opened up on our right. I saw a bullet explode through Lake's throat as he moved to a crouch. He didn't make a sound as he fell to the ground. I heard a scream though. I looked and saw Marsh on the ground, blood spreading across his abdomen. Gunfire came from every direction. I crawled on the ground to Marsh. All of the squad was on the ground now, firing back at the enemy. They say the only way out of an ambush is to charge it, but that's easier to say in a chair at home than when you're behind a tree in the field.

Just as I reached Marsh, I glanced over at Johnson, who was crouched behind a tangle of roots. In the instant that I looked, the top of Johnson's head blew off. Blood and brains exploded onto the tree beside him.

I heard Ellery shout over the gunfire.

"They're surrounding us! Fall back. Fall back."

I didn't know what I was supposed to do. I saw Mitchell point and shout something to me. I couldn't hear what he said, but I hoisted Marsh over my shoulder and ran the direction he'd pointed. Marsh was heavy, loaded down with the radio, but I was running for my life.

I didn't know where I was going and didn't care. Twice I tripped and fell as I ran through the trees. The second time, Sgt. Mitchell helped me to my feet. I could still hear gun fire all around. He told me to keep running, and I did. I continued to run, carrying Marsh, until I felt like my lungs would burst. Behind me, the rest of the squad, whoever was left, was firing and running after me.

I was about to give up, sore in every square inch of my body, thinking that being shot would be better than having to run anymore, when I broke into a clearing. It was perhaps a hundred square feet. On the far side, a cliff face rose twenty feet in the air. I squinted at it, wondering if I was delusional, or if I really did see a giant face carved into the side of the cliff -- an oddly blank, expressionless face. It was nearly as large as the cliff itself. Its mouth formed a great cave on ground level, easily large enough for a man to enter. Beside the great face, two upturned stone hands jutted out from the rock. I could have laid down in either one of them with only my feet dangling over the edge.

It was a stupid move, to run in the cave. Exactly what you shouldn't do when being chased, but I was panicked and hurting. I ran across the clearing, with Marsh moaning on my back, and down into the cave. Into total darkness.

I snapped on a flashlight that I carried in my combat vest, but instead of looking down into the cave, I looked back behind me. Ellery and Mitchell ran across the clearing. Mitchell stopped once to fire a spray of bullets from his M16 back into the trees, and then kept coming. I turned back around and looked down into the cave.

I was in a tunnel about six feet tall, so I had to crouch down to fit with Marsh on my back. The tunnel was roughhewn but definitely man made. It sloped downward. I crept down the tunnel for about forty feet, until it opened up into a circular room, perhaps thirty feet across.

My gaze was immediately drawn to a niche on the far side of the room. In the niche stood a six foot statue of the blank man whose face was carved into the cliffside. The face and body were featureless. Its hands were held out in front and turned palms up. The fingers seemed to reach for the ceiling. A low stone table stood in the middle of the room. On this I placed Marsh. He was barely conscious.

For a few seconds I leaned up against the table and panted. The sound of gunfire brought me back. I looked up the tunnel and saw the shadowy forms of Ellery and Mitchell near the mouth, both lying down and firing out. I turned my attention to Marsh. I unstrapped the radio from his back and laid it to one side. Then I tore open his shirt and looked at the wound. He had taken several bullets in the abdominal region I fumbled around in my bag of equipment, but he needed a lot more treatment than I could give him here. He needed it fast if he was to have any chance of survival. Marsh moaned. I gave him a shot to try and kill the pain and began to bandage his wound. I pounded my fist down on the table in my anger at feeling so helpless.

I'm not sure how long I worked on Marsh, but I didn't notice the firing had stopped until Ellery put a hand on my shoulder. I jumped and reached for my pistol. He caught my hand and gave me a halfhearted smile. Ellery took a quick look around the room, grimaced at the blank-faced statue, and moved over to the radio.

"What's going on out there?" I asked.

"I'm not sure. A few seconds after we ran in here they quit shooting. They're still out there watching us."

Ellery took one look at the radio and shook his head. He turned a knob, but nothing happened.

"I don't know how the hell we're gonna get out of here," he told me.

"What is this place," I asked, looking around the strange room.

"Probably a shrine to one of their gods, damned if I know which one. I've never seen anything like this before."

I nodded and sat back from the table. Marsh's breathing changed rhythm, coming in quick gasps.

As I sat back, the light from my flashlight fell on the edge of the table. For the first time, I noticed writing running along the side of the stone table, carved into the rock. I looked at the Lieutenant.

"You read Vietnamese?"

Ellery nodded and crouched down beside me. I shone my flashlight across the script.

"What's it say?"

A puzzled expression crossed the Lieutenant's face as he looked at the words. "It's written in the Vietnamese alphabet, but I think it's another language." He pointed to the first word and began to speak. "Gro'nada." His finger moved to the second word. "Versh'cum." I started to feel a chill as he moved to the third of the four words. "Cal'va." He seemed to have trouble with the last word and took it very slowly. "Ni'ar'lat'o'tep." So many things happened at that second it's hard to remember what order they came in. Shooting came from up the tunnel, and Mitchell shouted something. Marsh screamed and lifted his back off the table. Blood poured through the bandages I had put over his wound. Behind Marsh, the stone statue began to darken.

Ellery and I could do nothing but stare in horror. We heard Mitchell scream that they were coming and that he needed help, but we couldn't go to him. The blood poured off Marsh, and, as we sat dumbfounded, it was absorbed into the table. The statue was now solid black, and it moved. Its hands slowly turned over and rose so that the palms pointed to the table where Marsh writhed in agony. I tried to move, to do anything, but my body wouldn't respond.

As Ellery and I continued to watch, we saw Marsh's whole body begin to dissolve and be absorbed into the table. I felt the bile rise in my throat. I looked up at the statue, and where once there had been an expressionless face, there was now a great, empty black smile. Marsh's body sank into the table until only his face remained. Then I heard Mitchell scream from the cave entrance.

As Marsh's face disappeared into the table, the trance released its hold on me and Ellery. I jumped towards the table, but my arms hit only the cool flat stone top. Ellery grabbed his M16 and turned towards the tunnel.

I looked up at the statue. It had turned to face me. A great rumbling voice spoke. "Your sacrifice is acceptable, what do you wish?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ellery fire once up the tunnel. Then his body was torn apart by bullets. Blood sprayed everywhere as he writhed in the fire and fell to the ground. I turned and stared in horror. The firing stopped, and something round bounced into the room: a grenade. I screamed. I screamed out, "I want to go home. . . ."

I couldn't understand anything that Gregson said after that. Every time he tried to speak, incoherent gibberish came out. What I do know is that I've got three separate witnesses who will swear that at 8:23 on the morning of July 4th, 1968, there was a loud clap of thunder and Gregson appeared on the steps of 245 Merritt Drive in Richmond, Virginia. It is the house where he grew up.

Send your comments to Joseph A. McCullough V


© 1999 Edward P. Berglund
"The Jungle's Black God": © 1999 Joseph A. McCullough V. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1999 Old Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: August 17, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004