Authors: Cambria Hebert
A paranormal short story
by Cambria Hebert
My name is Vance, and I work for the United States government. And that’s all I know about myself.
Every other detail about my life, my friends, about
I have no idea how I ended up stranded and unconscious in a war-torn country or how Rachel managed to get me back to her tent. But I’m here, and so is she. All I have are literally the clothes on my back.
But when her emerald eyes look at me, I feel like I have more.
I feel like being blank might be a gift. I feel like maybe it’s a relief to not know who I am for a while.
We get one night together. One night of pleasure I know I will never forget.
And then I remember.
Sometimes reality bites.
BLANK Copyright © 2014 CAMBRIA HEBERT
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form without written permission except for the use of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Published by: Cambria Hebert
Cover design by Cambria Hebert
Edited by Cassie McCown
Copyright 2014 by Cambria Hebert
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
he loud rumbling of the V22 Osprey engine was almost deafening. I could have worn the earplugs that were issued to us. We all
have worn them, but we didn’t. Sure, with the engine noise, it was hard to hear anything else, but it was possible and I wasn’t about to muffle any kind of noise that I needed to hear.
Most people would call that paranoia.
I call it being prepared.
Sure, we were flying at thirty thousand feet in a government plane filled with Black Ops warriors… but that didn’t matter. Why?
Because we were currently flying over enemy soil.
Some men might not be able to hear the faint whistling of a missile on a path to destroy their plane, but I could. We all could. It’s the reason we were Black Ops, but not just any Black Ops team… We were the government’s best-kept secret. Not even the other Black Ops teams knew about us.
We completed another successful mission, not that we’d had any failures. We didn’t fail—
. That’s why the government overlooked our differences from the other warriors they employed. It’s why we were granted an enormous expense budget and got all the cool toys.
We were good at what we did. We survived when we should have died. But just because we were good at war didn’t mean we liked it. We did it because we were the only ones who could, because the innocents back in the States needed us to do it. If we didn’t, we might not have the freedom that everyone else was granted. It was ironic, really, that we fought for freedom—freedom for others when we really needed it for ourselves.
It had been a long year. Mission after mission. Country after country. Being back in the United States was sure to be jarring. Civilization was something I had grown accustomed to not seeing. I had grown used to sand, endless amounts of sand, and bare, solemn landscapes. Of people who squatted by the side of the road just because they had nowhere better to be. Men who sold trinkets to Americans because we were the only ones who could afford to pay for such items. I was used to bathing when we found a body of water and using baby wipes in between.
I was used to hearing gunfire and screams. Seeing the hollowed cheeks and the bloated bellies of people whose ruler made it impossible to eat. I took peace in the fact that we were trying to make a difference, knowing that my actions might not always be kind, but the intent behind them was.
I didn’t have anything or anyone waiting for me to return; the people I valued most, the men I considered my family, were all aboard this plane, but it would be nice to sit and have a beer with them without worrying about enemy gunfire.
A sound, faint yet utterly distinctive, caught my ear.
I swore. The beer would be great, if we made it home.
We were definitely survivors, definitely hard to kill. But being a passenger on a plane flying thirty thousand feet in the air that had just been marked by a missile was something
“GO, GO, GO!” I yelled, tossing off the harness that was strapping me to the side of the plane and jumping to my feet. The guys were already doing it, having heard the telltale whistling.
This was the reason we had parachutes strapped on at all times.
I raced to the door and threw open the hatch, bracing against the change in pressure, planting my feet to prevent being sucked out into the endless night. I turned and saw everyone readying to jump.
“We’ll rendezvous in the sand. Take out anyone who isn’t one of us,” I shouted.
I locked eyes with every guy right before he jumped into the sky. They would be okay. Then it was just me, Brick, and Pyeatt. I was close to all these men, but these two especially.
“Go,” Pyeatt yelled, stepping back from the door.
I wasn’t about to let them stay behind. They were getting out while they could. “I’ll see you on the ground,” I yelled and shoved him out the door.
Then it was me and Brick.
There was no time for us to exchange heartfelt messages. No time to shake hands and pay any last-minute respects. Because at that moment, the missile connected. I heard the metal of the plane dent in anticipation of the hit and I threw myself at Brick, sending him flying out. The explosion rocked the V22, the impact snapped my head back, and the force of the bomb propelled me out the door. Flames licked at me, following me through the hatch and into the sky. I hadn’t the time to plan the jump; I was basically thrown from the plane. Fortunately, my brothers had. I knew they were probably far closer to the ground than I and they were together.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t alone.
I was sharing the sky with bits of the plane that moments ago had been carrying us home.
A very large piece of debris hurled through the sky right at me. I had enough time to pull the ripcord on my chute before it slammed into me and everything went black.
* * *
I was conscious. But instead of allowing my eyes to fly open, instead of jack-knifing into a sitting position, I held perfectly still. Giving away the fact that I knew what was going on around me could be a mistake. I had yet to ascertain where I was, if I was safe, and if I was among friend or foe. I held my eyes closed, forcing my face to remain relaxed and my body limp.
It was quiet here.
I wasn’t lying in the sand and I wasn’t in a plane either. I was indoors, inside a place that didn’t smell like sweat and blood, so it was possible I wasn’t being held prisoner. Then again, maybe I was meeting the first ever kidnappers who cared about cleanliness.
From out of the quiet came the sound of water being poured, and then the strike of a match followed. I resisted the urge to open my eyes. The sound of the flame catching and lighting filled my ears, but I wasn’t concerned. It wasn’t a large flame. Then the soft sound of a curse took my attention.
sound almost made my eyes spring open.
It was the sound of a woman.
A woman who was cursing indelicately at a burned finger.
My lips actually twitched in a smile.
But then my almost-smile faded. The sounds I was listening to were faint at best. Why were they so clear to my ears? I lay there listening, her curses dying out and the only sound being the small flame. I heard a slight tear and I couldn’t help but imagine feminine hands dunking a tea bag into a mug of hot water.
I was thirsty.
When no other sounds were made, I opened my eyes. The lighting was dim and I couldn’t tell if it was night or if all the windows were covered. I blinked, staring up at a tan canvas ceiling. I was in a tent. The good news was this wasn’t a tent any of our enemies would have. The bad news was I had no idea where I was or how I got here.
Preparing myself for a fight, I cleared my throat. It was a deliberate sound, made loud enough to alert whoever was in here that I was no longer out. There was a muffled gasp from a few feet away and then someone was approaching—coming into my line of vision.
Every muscle in my body tightened and readied for a threat.
I did not expect what I saw.
It was a young woman with wide green eyes and high cheekbones. Her skin was flawless, tanned and shiny from the heat. It was easily one hundred and ten degrees in here. Her hair was dark and glossy, pulled into two low pigtails that fell forward over her shoulders as she leaned forward to stare at me.
She gasped audibly and jumped back when she saw me staring. “You’re awake.”
I didn’t answer. I was still judging the environment.
She hesitated, her hands fluttering at her sides before she visibly steeled herself and came closer. “Are you in any pain?”
I turned my head, not focusing on her, but on the rest of the room. It was definitely a tent—a structure made out of canvas, the color made to blend in with the sand. It didn’t have poles like a regular tent; it had a frame made out of either wood or metal, then wrapped in heavy-duty canvas. The tent was then sprayed with some sort of hard plastic on the outside to protect it from the elements and the extreme heat, giving it more of a permanent feel. It was still a piece of crap, but it was an efficient piece of crap.
We were alone.
“Where am I?” I asked; my throat was dry and my voice sounded like I hadn’t used it in days. “What day is it?”
She stared at me for long moments, not saying a word. She seemed a little frightened. I guess a passed-out guy was a lot less threatening than one who actually moved and talked. Slowly, I sat up, ignoring the aches and pains that assaulted me as I moved. I was stiff. I had been lying here a while.
“What day is it?” I asked again.
“It’s… umm… Wednesday.”
Knowing the day didn’t make anything clearer; in fact, it made me more confused. I ran a hand over my head. My fingers plowed through thick hair… That didn’t feel right, but I didn’t know why.
The woman backed away a few feet toward a card table that was against one wall. She reached down and grabbed a huge bottle of water and brought it over to me. She held it out, keeping her distance, still watching me with uncertain eyes.
“Thank you,” I said and took the water. I downed half the bottle in one gulp. It didn’t matter that it was stale and warm. At least it was wet.
“Why are you staring at me?” I asked, lowering the bottle. I hadn’t meant for it to sound so harsh. Her green stare was unnerving.
“I just… I guess I was used to seeing you with your eyes closed, and your eyes…”
“Is there something wrong with them?” I asked, thinking they felt fine.
“Are they always violet?” she blurted out.
I shrugged. It bothered me that I didn’t really know.
“That’s an unusual color.”
I shrugged again and drained the rest of the water.
“I have more,” she said, backing up toward the place she grabbed the first bottle from. Then she motioned to the corner of the tent. “There’s also some water in the basin over there if you want to wash up.”
I looked down at myself. I was wearing dirty camouflage trousers and combat boots. My blouse was gone, but I was still wearing my green T-shirt, which was ripped up and stained with blood.
“I cleaned you off as best I could,” she began.
I was tired of thinking of her as a she. “What’s your name?”
“Rachel, where are we?” I asked, thinking the name fit her perfectly.
I frowned. I wasn’t supposed to be in Kuwait, was I?
“How long have I been here?” I questioned, trying to remember something. Anything.
I swung my legs over the cot and stood. When I reached my full height, I could sense Rachel’s fear, but she didn’t step back. I was easily a foot and a half taller than she was. I went to the basin of water and washed my face and hands with a small bar of white soap. I had a shabby beard covering half my face and it was itchy.
“Do you have a razor?”
Rachel went toward a utilitarian bag by the door, withdrew a straight razor, and brought it over to me. I took it and used the soap to shave my face quickly. When I was done, I washed my newly smooth face, enjoying the way the water felt against my skin; it hardly mattered that it wasn’t fresh or cool. Because it had felt so good, I went ahead and washed my hair with the same soap, figuring it was better than nothing. It was strange to me—the feel of my hair—and I knew it must have grown in since I got here. But how much could it have grown in only two days’ time?
There was no towel when I finished washing so I stripped off my ruined shirt and used it. The words
you’re only as clean as the towel you dry off with
floated through my mind and I smiled. But when I tried to remember who said them, I couldn’t.
I glanced down into the tiny square mirror propped near the basin and studied myself, kind of like I was seeing my reflection for the first time. I was a large man, and my features supported my size, with wide cheekbones, a wide jaw, and a strong nose. My eyes were violet; I could see now why Rachel reacted to them the way she did. The color and intensity of my stare was likely unsettling. Hell, it even made me wonder what lay behind them. They were punctuated by thick, strong brows and dark lashes. My hair was a couple inches long, sticking up every which way, making me look like some madman, and it was so dark it was almost black.
I didn’t appear to have any serious injuries. There was a cut on one of my cheekbones that looked like it was almost healed, so it must have been more than two days old. My skin was olive-toned, deeply tanned, likely from being in the desert, and my face was now smooth. I turned from the mirror, not learning a thing other than I was one good-looking bastard (clearly, I had good self-confidence), and tossed my ruined and now wet shirt onto the dirt floor. Rachel was sitting at the nearby card table, and to her credit, she wasn’t looking at me. She was sipping a mug of tea.
“How did I get here, Rachel?” I wished my voice wasn’t so deep because, coupled with my large presence, I knew she was probably scared.
She set down the mug and looked at me, her eyes focusing on a spot above my shoulder. “I was out early the other morning and I saw you. You were lying on the ground, half concealed in sand. You were covered in blood, but you weren’t injured.” She frowned like that perplexed her, and after seeing all the blood on my shirt, it perplexed me too. “And you were unconscious.”