As they stood there, someone tugged on Lt. Youngâ€™s coat. It was a pygmy, who spoke to them in Chinese and pointed south, seemingly to the bridge. He seemed quite excited and happy. Lt. Young didnâ€™t want to leave the group and, on suggestion from the others, they all followed the little man. He ran across the bridge and, about 20 yards beyond it, was another Chinese pygmy armed with a Japanese sub-machinegun. He smoked a stinking cigarette. Their guide led them over towards bamboo bars on the ground.
The two Chinese spoke and Lt. ThÃ©ard walked over, his hand on his sidearm. Lt. Atkinson and Sgt. Underwood followed him.
The bamboo bars covered a large pit some 20 feet across and at least 15 feet deep. The walls of the pit were brittle stone and dirt. The bamboo cage had been built atop the pit. A small hatch was in the middle of it and a rope lay on the ground nearby. In the bottom of the pit were two Japanese soldiers. One of the men appeared to be dead. His arms were covered in blood and his eyes looked up without seeing. Blood covered his mouth as well. The other sat not far from the dead man and appeared distraught.
â€œHey, you should come and look at this!â€ Sgt. Underwood said.
The other two men walked over to look. The Japanese soldier had looked up when Sgt. Underwood called.
â€œI wonder if he can speak English,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
â€œAmericans!â€ he cried out. â€œYou damned Americans! You â€¦ you did this. This is you! You did this!â€
â€œWhat did we do?â€
â€œYou have allied yourselves with monsters! Monsters! Bastards!â€
The manâ€™s clothing and hat were a mess. He was dirty and disgusting and, Captain Elloitt realized he was frantic and on the verge of going mad. He guessed the Japanese soldier had been down there for a long time.
â€œYou! You ally with sadistic demons!â€ the Japanese soldier called. â€œYou come to Japan to destroy it! You are allies of these monsters!â€
He pointed at the little Chinamen, who laughed and giggled at the pathetic man. One of them spit on him.
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œWhat monsters?â€
The soldier just pointed at the two pygmies standing nearby.
â€œMonsters!â€ he said. â€œYou cannot trust them! They are monsters! Have you been eating their food?â€
â€œYes,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
â€œThen you are as bad as they are!â€
He broke down, tears welling up in his eyes.
â€œDo we know how the other guy died?â€ Sgt. Underwood asked.
Lt. ThÃ©ard knew heâ€™d need a closer look. He started to fiddle with the chain but it had a lock upon it. He looked at the pygmies and pointed at the lock.
â€œUnlock,â€ he said. â€œUnlock.â€
The two men looked at each other.
â€œGet the key,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œKey. Unlock.â€
One of them looked at the other and they spoke in Chinese.
â€œUnlock,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said, drawing his sidearm. He pointed it at the lock. â€œUnlock.â€
The two spoke in Chinese again and the guard shrugged his shoulders. The unarmed man quickly walked away and returned a few minutes later. He had a key and Lt. ThÃ©ard took it and unlocked the lock. The two tiny Chinamen backed away a little, the guard keeping his sub-machinegun ready.
â€œIâ€™m a doctor and I want to examine the body,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard called down into the pit.
â€œYou are a filthy American!â€ the Japanese soldier yelled back up, his voice choked with emotion. â€œYou are a filthy American.â€
Tears flowed down his face as he just lay there.
â€œCan you jump down?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard asked Captain Elloitt. â€œBecause I canâ€™t get down in there.â€
The rope was knotted and he pushed one end down into the pit. Captain Elloitt climbed slowly down, taking his time and being very careful. Sgt. Underwood aimed his Winchester at the Japanese soldier.
â€œKeep your handgun ready,â€ Captain Elloitt called up. â€œI donâ€™t trust these little guys.â€
Lt. ThÃ©ard watched the small Chinamen carefully. The guard had moved his sub-machinegun to a cradled position in the crook of his arm. The other one had a Chinese rifle slung over his back.
When Captain Elloitt reached the bottom of the rope, the Japanese soldier didnâ€™t move. It stank of urine and feces in the pit. The living soldier looked sallow-faced and ill. Captain Elloitt didnâ€™t see any water source in the horrible pit. He tied a rope around the dead body and then lit a cigarette and gave it to the Japanese soldier. The man accepted it and took a long drag on it though he looked at the American with resentful eyes.
The guard said something to the other Chinaman and he walked back to the village.
Captain Elloitt climbed up and they pulled the body up out of the pit as the Japanese soldier smoked the cigarette, never removing it from his mouth. The ashes dropped off the end and fell on his shirt but he didnâ€™t seem to care. They got the body up onto the top of the cage.
Lt. ThÃ©ard examined the body and found the man had died due to blood loss. Cleaning up his arms, he found they had been chewed directly up the veins, accounting for why the body was bloodless. It looked like the man committed suicide by opening up his own veins with his teeth. It was quite horrible and he thought it a terrible way to kill himself.
â€œWhat happened to him?â€ he asked, leaning down into the pit. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œHe died honorably,â€ the Japanese soldier replied. â€œI do not have the courage.â€
â€œThis looks like he did it to himself. Why?â€
â€œGet me away from these monsters and I will tell you anything you want to know. Just get me away from them!â€
Four more Chinamen came out of the fog from the village. Two of them had weapons over their shoulders but the other two were unarmed.
â€œHow long has he been here?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said to the prisoner.
â€œA week,â€ the soldier replied. â€œHeâ€™s been here a week. There were five of us when we first arrived.â€
Lt. ThÃ©ard turned to the other Americans.
â€œYou wanna get him out?â€ he asked. â€œIt might p*** off the pygmies.â€
The four new pygmies moved forward and started to pick up the corpse.
â€œWhoa whoa!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œBack off!â€
He pushed one of them aside. The others jabbered at him in Chinese.
â€œLeave it,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
The pygmies chattered among themselves.
â€œThey donâ€™t understand why you want to keep a corpse,â€ the Japanese soldier called up. â€œCorpse keepers!â€
â€œCan you speak Chinese?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
â€œOf course I speak Chinese! Who would come to China without speaking Chinese?â€
â€œWhat are they saying?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re taking the corpse away. I know where theyâ€™re taking it.â€
â€œWhere are they taking it?â€
â€œGet me out of here. For the love of â€¦ please. Get me out of here!â€
â€œYou wanna get him out?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know if we should trust him,â€ Lt. Atkinson said.
â€œHe said there were five, right?â€ Captain Elloitt said.
â€œBut he speaks English and he speaks Chinese,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
â€œHeâ€™s useful,â€ Lt. Young said.
â€œHeâ€™s useful,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œItâ€™s a good thing I didnâ€™t just shoot him in the head.â€
They discussed it briefly.
â€œLet the little guys take the body,â€ Captain Elloitt said.
Lt. ThÃ©ard gestured towards the body and the little men nodded at him and hefted it up, taking it back towards the village and vanishing into the fog. That only left the guard with the sub-machinegun who stood back from the oubliette and watched.
They discussed getting the soldier out. Lt. ThÃ©ard told Sgt. Underwood not to point his rifle at anyone but to have it ready. They talked about how to get the Japanese soldier out and whether or not he could get out by himself. The Japanese soldier had not moved yet.
â€œAre you injured?â€ Captain Elloitt called down.
â€œNo,â€ the Japanese soldier replied.
â€œCan you climb outta here?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard called.
â€œYes, if they let me,â€ the Japanese soldier called.
Lt. ThÃ©ard lowered the rope once again. The little Chinaman guard moved to the edge of the oubliette to better see what was going on. Lt. Young walked over to the little man and offered him a cigarette. He didnâ€™t take it but watched what the others were about. Lt. ThÃ©ard told the Japanese soldier to climb up and the little Chinaman brought his gun to bear as the soldier did so. When Lt. ThÃ©ard drew his own sidearm, the Chinaman pointed his sub-machinegun at him. He said something in Chinese.
â€œWe need him!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œHe speaks our language.â€
The Chinaman shook his head and said something in Chinese.
â€œClimb back down,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œClimb back down.â€
The Japanese soldier, who had not climbed up very far, did so. The Chinaman said something and gestured towards the rope.
â€œTell him that he speaks English and we can talk back and forth with you and him,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said, still watching the pygmy closely.
The Japanese soldier said something in Chinese. The Chinaman replied.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t care,â€ the Japanese soldier said. â€œHe says if I try to get out of this pit, he will shoot me dead.â€
The Chinaman said something else to the soldier.
â€œHe wants you to pull the rope up and close the gate,â€ the soldier called.
â€œI donâ€™t want to get into a confrontation, right now, with these guys,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
Lt. Young took out a dose of morphine from his medical kit. He suggested giving it to the Chinaman to bribe him into looking the other way for a few moments so they could get the soldier out. Lt. ThÃ©ard noted he was not even going to know what it was so why bother. He thought the best bet would be to morphine the Chinaman up to get the soldier out of the cage, but he knew it wasnâ€™t instantaneous so it probably wouldnâ€™t work.
The Chinese pygmy spoke again.
â€œHe says again to pull the rope up and close the gate,â€ the Japanese soldier called up.
â€œWe donâ€™t have to save him right now,â€ Sgt. Underwood said.
Lt. ThÃ©ard pulled the rope up.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he said to the soldier.
The Japanese soldier didnâ€™t say anything but turned from him and went back to where he had lain before. He threw himself down onto the floor of the oubliette once again. The last of the cigarette burned out as he did so and he spit it out of his mouth.
Lt. ThÃ©ard locked the lock but then slipped the key into his pocket. The Chinaman didnâ€™t seem to notice. He watched them all carefully and then said something in his own language and pointed back towards the village. Lt. ThÃ©ard pointed down at the Japanese soldier and then made an eating motion.
â€œAre you eating him?â€ he said. â€œAre you eating them?â€
The Chinaman looked at him blankly.
They walked back to town, Sgt. Underwood suggesting they go to the gunsmith. Lt. ThÃ©ard noted neither Sgt. Underwood nor Lt. Young would be able to run with their back injuries. Sgt. Underwood pointed out he was not going to be able to run either. They talked about looking for a cart, though Lt. ThÃ©ard didnâ€™t think the Chinamen would give them one. They hadnâ€™t seen any wagons at all, actually.
â€œI wonder if we can get the wagon, get the soldier, and just leave without having any kind of confrontation with these people,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œJust try and leave.â€
â€œBut the problem is, figuring out which way to head,â€ Lt. Young said. â€œWe could be behind enemy lines, or we could be far off. I donâ€™t want to â€¦ uh â€¦ we need to figure out which way to go.â€
â€œIf we break the soldier out are we going to take him with us, though?â€ Sgt. Underwood said.
â€œYes,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œHe can talk. He speaks Chinese. We need him. Heâ€™s useful. He speaks English and Chinese.â€
â€œHeâ€™s an able body,â€ Captain Elloitt said. â€œHe can actually help.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the problem,â€ Sgt. Underwood said. â€œHeâ€™s an able-bodied enemy.â€
â€œYeah, but right now, I think heâ€™s our friend,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œOur enemy is our friend and our other enemy is even worst. So apparently, thereâ€™s something worst going on.
They entered the village and saw some kids playing with a ball, kicking it around. It was a strange looking ball and Lt. ThÃ©ard hobbled towards them, trying to get them to kick it to him. One of the tiny children did so. It was very heavy and bounced along the ground. When it reached him he realized it was a Japanese soldierâ€™s head. All of the Americans looked at the human head the children were playing with. Lt. ThÃ©ard, Captain Elloitt, and Lt. Young stared at the thing in horror while the other two men, though shocked, were not as disturbed by the terrible sight.
A cute little pygmy girl ran up to Lt. ThÃ©ard and held out her hands, wanting him to give her the ball back. Sgt. Underwood ran over to the head and kicked at it, which made a loud cracking noise. It spun away at a weird angle and he guessed heâ€™d kicked it in the face, probably crushing the nose. One of the other children ran over and grabbed it, dashing off into the fog. The other children followed, giggling and laughing. The little girl glared at Lt. ThÃ©ard and waved one hand angrily at him before running off after the other children.
â€œWe should probably get out of here,â€ Lt. Young said.
â€œYeah, we need to get out of here,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
They went to the barns and looked for any kind of carts or wagons. The barn that held the gunsmith had plenty of parts and ammunition but no cart. The other barn held livestock and the upper loft was filled with rice straw and hay. Bins of rice were in the lower part of the barn, probably used for feed for the various birds in town. Both buildings were made of timber and very solid but there was no sign of any kind of conveyance in either of them.
They spotted more of the friendly Chinese pygmies. Only Captain Elloitt and Lt. Atkinson noticed something they had not seen before. Some of the pygmies had sharp teeth as if they filed them to points. It was the first time they noticed it and, as they started to pay more attention, saw that most if not all of the pygmies had that same feature.
â€œI think if weâ€™re dead set on this whole rescue the Japanese guy plan, we should come up with a plan,â€ Sgt. Underwood said.
They discussed rescuing the soldier. It was suggested waiting for night when the two who did not have injuries to their back or leg might be able to go to the gunsmith and try to get enough guns for everyone. Then they could get out of the village and stop by the oubliette to get the soldier. They realized the road didnâ€™t go past the oubliette. Lt. Young wondered if there was a boat or a canoe in the river. They talked about getting a boat to go downstream and escape. Captain Elloitt suggested throwing ammunition into the forge in the gunsmith to create a distraction. Then they could run out of the village and go.
â€œRun?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard asked, looking at his broken leg and foot.
They decided to try to find a boat instead. They still figured they could use the distraction and then escape in the confusion. Sgt. Underwood thought it a better plan than his - to blow up the shrine.
They went down to the river to look for a boat and found several Chinese pygmy ladies and children washing clothes. One of the little Chinese women glanced at Captain Elloitt and he recognized her from the house. She batted her eyes at the man and looked at him demurely, shyly smiling at him with her mouth closed.
They didnâ€™t see any boats on the river. The water was dirty and they couldnâ€™t tell how deep it is though it looked about 50 feet wide. It was slow-moving and they guessed it might be fairly deep.
Lt. Young suggested since news traveled fast in the village, they could break out the Japanese soldier and then float down the river to the next village. Lt. ThÃ©ard agreed it might be a good plan if they couldnâ€™t find a cart. They still had their floatation vests, which he had used to bind his leg. However, he figured he could remove them from his leg and use them.
They returned to the hut where they found fresh food and more buckets of water. The cooked meat in the food looked like pork, as far as he could tell. They ignored it and ate the fried rice. Captain Elloitt threw the meat into the fire so the pygmies would think they ate it. They also boiled more water. Sgt. Underwood still felt terribly ill and had the runs.
Lt. ThÃ©ard got some cloth from one of the villagers and rebound his leg, removing all five of the life preservers. They all appeared to be undamaged and he thought they would still inflate.
They discussed their plan. They figured the ones who couldnâ€™t run could go to the bridge and wait while the others dealt with the distraction and then they could flee. Sgt. Underwood was of the opinion he could get some of the rice wine from the inn and ply the guard with it to get him drunk. Then they could deal with him. Captain Elloitt suggested emptying one of their canteens and then filling it with the rice wine. Sgt. Underwood went and did so, quickly returning.
They realized if they were going to try to completely sneak out of the village, they might not need the distraction of the burning ammunition at all. They decided not to use a distraction.
They discussed which of the Chinese pygmies trusted them. They had been handing out a few cigarettes and the like to the townsfolk and none of them seemed suspicious or angry at the Americans. They talked about giving out chocolate or cigarettes to the people in the village, being friendly, to try to lull their suspicions even more. Lt. ThÃ©ard wondered if they only killed people and ate them once a month or something. Captain Elloitt pointed out there were five Japanese prisoners and now there was only one. When Lt. ThÃ©ard noted they didnâ€™t know how long the Japanese had been there, Captain Elloitt told him a week.
â€œBut they might have tried to escape and got killed,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
They decided to butter up the villagers. Sgt. Underwood went out into the village shared his cigarettes with as many of the villager men as he could.
* * *
Captain Elloitt, while walking around the village, spotted the little pygmy woman who had made eyes at him at the river. She walked to the man, smiling at him. She talked softly with him and then led him to one of the houses, rubbing his arm and his back. She was very pretty.
â€œHeâ€™s always the lucky one!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said when he saw the man being led away by the little woman.
Captain Elloitt noticed the little woman had sharp teeth as she continued to rub his chest and pulled him towards the house, coo-cooing at him in Chinese. She continued to try to get him to go with her, but he resisted, not willing to enter the house. She finally put her nose in the air and walked away in a huff.
* * *
Lt. Atkinson found several of the pygmies were hanging out by the statues behind the common house. One little man was sitting on the ground, whittling. A couple of children were playing some kind of game. A few of the pygmies were eating food by the statues. Lt. Atkinson handed out some of his own cigarettes out to the locals in an effort to befriend them.
Lt. ThÃ©ard found the creepy little area a little while after that. He sat by one of the statues, wondering if he would feel any kind of strange sensations. He didnâ€™t but he noticed the tusks were some kind of crystal and wondered, briefly, if they were worth anything. He wondered what would happen if he touched it.
* * *
Lt. Young walked around the village, hoping to find a break in the fog unsuccessfully. He was still unsure where they might be located. He was chagrinned to find he was getting used to the stink of the awful fog.
Then he saw what appeared to be a normal-sized man standing in the fog, just where he couldnâ€™t make out his features. The man appeared to be wearing black with a white collar and a long coat. He wore no hat on his head.
Lt. Young held up a pack of cigarettes and waved at the man who didnâ€™t respond at all. He walked towards the man who backed away into the fog and Lt. Young realized he was not walking backwards, but more seemed to just stay at the same distance from him without actually moving.
â€œWeâ€™re going to be in town until this evening!â€ Lt. Young called.
He chalked up the figure to his hitting his head in the crash the day before and walked off to try to find the others.
* * *
When Lt. ThÃ©ard heard Lt. Young shouting, he wondered to himself if the pygmies were faking that they couldnâ€™t speak English. That would be a very bad thing.
He inspected the statue a little more closely, touching it. The statue felt like stone but it was warm to the touch, almost as if it had been warmed by the sun. He looked up and realized the fog above them blocked the sun. He touched the crystal tusk and found it cold. He gripped it solidly and pulled on it but it didnâ€™t move. He looked down at the open hands in the lotus position. He took a quarter out of his pocket and put it into the hand of the horrible statue.
It was suddenly very quiet and when he looked around, he saw all of the little Chinese pygmies in the immediate area watched him closely. Lt. Atkinson, nearby, also noticed. Lt. ThÃ©ard looked back down at the coin and saw it lay right where he had placed it. He carefully walked away as Lt. Young came out of the fog.
Lt. Young told them heâ€™d seen a Caucasian-looking tall man in the mist but he was going somewhere quick, so he didnâ€™t want to stop him. He said heâ€™d told him they werenâ€™t hanging around, just in case he spoke English. They walked away from the statues as they talked and Lt. ThÃ©ard saw the pygmies had gone back to their business. He looked back where he had left the coin but was too far away to see if it was still there. He noticed the statue was looking towards him and was unsure if the head had been at that angle before, but felt it must have been. All of the statues looked in different directions. He was unnerved by the idea it had moved.
Lt. Young walked to the bridge and waited there, chatting with the locals and handing out cigarettes, while he waited for it to get dark. Sgt. Underwood soon joined him.
The others returned to the house and ate some of the fried rice, ignoring the cooked pork and vegetables.
After dark, they crept towards the bridge.
* * *
When it got dark, Lt. Young crept under the bridge while Sgt. Underwood crossed it, walking to the lone guard at the pit. It was a different Chinaman, this one armed with a Japanese rifle. He offered the little man his canteen.
â€œDrink?â€ he asked.
â€œNah!â€ the little man replied.
He took a swig and made a big to-do about how good it was, then handed it to the little man again. The Chinaman took the canteen and sniffed at it.
â€œOh!â€ he said. â€œOh!â€
He took a good drink of the wine and then handed it back to the American. Sgt. Underwood let the liquor touch his lips but didnâ€™t drink any before handing it back to the pygmy. This went on for some time, the American taking big tips of the canteen but not drinking any, and the Chinaman actually drinking it. At one point, he looked over the Chinamanâ€™s shoulder and saw, in the darkness, a man standing at the edge of the fog. It looked like a normal-sized man in a long, black coat with an indistinct face and no hat. When he got the flask back, Sgt. Underwood pointed over his shoulder.
â€œWhoâ€™s that?â€ he asked.
As the Chinaman turned, Sgt. Underwood blinked and the man was gone, vanished as if heâ€™d never been there. The little Chinaman turned back around and said something, obviously confused. Sgt. Underwood handed him the canteen again and he drank.
Soon the little man was swaying on his feet. Sgt. Underwood tried to take his rifle but the little man said something in slurred Chinese, then pointed to the pit and said something else. He put the rifle on his shoulder in the shouldered arms position. He took another big swig and then chattered with the man in Chinese, his best friend again.
* * *
The other men crept through the village. Though they spotted a few pygmies twice, they were able to stay out of sight of them. They got almost to the bridge when they thought they heard something very heavy walking around back in the village.
My statue, Lt. ThÃ©ard thought, a shiver running down his spine. Itâ€™s coming with me.
Whatever it was walked on two legs with a very heavy tread.
They reached the bridge and crossed it as quietly as they could.
* * *
Sgt. Underwood and the little Chinaman were just finishing up the canteen, the pygmy telling him some story that he couldnâ€™t understand. The little man was holding the rifle halfway up the barrel while he held his arms apart to tell some really involved tale when he suddenly stopped and looked towards the village. Captain Elloitt, Lt. Atkinson, and Lt. ThÃ©ard came out of the fog. Though Sgt. Underwood couldnâ€™t see them as more than shadows, they were the right size to be the three men. The little man watched them as they approached.
The three men approached the two, the little Chinaman swaying. He said something to them in Chinese. Captain Elloitt held up a cigarette and gestured it towards the little man. The Chinaman drunkenly walked over to him, stumbling. They could smell rice wine on him. As he moved to Captain Elloitt, Lt. ThÃ©ard walked to one side of the little man. Captain Elloitt lit the cigarette and handed it to him. As the little man reached for the cigarette, Lt. ThÃ©ard cracked him in the head with his makeshift crutch. It was only a glancing blow and the little man let out a cry and flung away the cigarette.
Sgt. Underwood walked up behind the little man and punched him in the back of the head. It was a glancing blow and the little man stumbled forward slightly. Lt. ThÃ©ard swung at the little manâ€™s head again but struck him on the shoulder, not really hurting him. Lt. Atkinson rushed the little man and punched him as well. Captain Elloitt did as well. The little fellow shrieked and then struck Lt. ThÃ©ard in the shoulder with the butt of his rifle.
Sgt. Underwood punched the little fellow in the head, hurting him this time. Lt. ThÃ©ard gave up with the cane and punched the little man in the face. Spit and blood splattered from his busted lip and a tooth flew out into the darkness. Lt. Atkinson tried to kick the man but only struck him in the leg. The little man was turning his rifle around as Captain Elloitt stabbed at the man with his knife. The little Chinaman turned the gun around and backed onto the bamboo cage of the pit. He put his foot through one of the bars and fell backwards, the gun going off and firing into the air.
* * *
Under the bridge, Lt. Young heard the gunshot and drew his sidearm. The noise came from the pit.
* * *
The little Chinaman yelled as Sgt. Underwood pulled the Winchester from his shoulder.
â€œDonâ€™t shoot!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard yelled. â€œPunch him!â€
Sgt. Underwood put the rifle in his left hand and then jumped on him, striking the Chinaman ineffectively. Lt. ThÃ©ard stumbled forward and punched at the little man, who screamed. Lt. Atkinson stepped forward and grabbed at the little manâ€™s rifle. The bars creaked ominously under him but didnâ€™t bend or break. Captain Elloitt rushed the little man, turning his knife backwards and hitting him with the handle of the knife. The Chinaman screamed and tried to fight back, slamming at Lt. Atkinson with the rifle but not hurting him.
â€œKill him!â€ they heard the Japanese soldier cry from below. â€œKill him!â€
â€œMan, these little guys are tough!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
Sgt. Underwood punched the little man in the face. There was a snap as his nose broke, and there was a gurgling noise before the little man went limp.
Lt. ThÃ©ard crawled over to the small gate and used the key to unlock it. He called for the others to get the guard off the cage and then he quickly lowered the rope for the Japanese soldier. He suggested getting something to tie the guardâ€™s mouth shut and they quickly ripped up some of the little manâ€™s clothing and bound and gagged him.
â€œCome up,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
The Japanese soldier climbed carefully out of the pit. He looked at them, obviously frightened. Then he crawled carefully across the bamboo cage to solid ground. Lt. ThÃ©ard pushed the bound and gagged guard into the pit. There was a nasty snap as the little man hit the ground below.
â€œI just wanted to get the guy drunk,â€ Sgt. Underwood said. â€œWhat the hell?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re eating people!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
â€œYou donâ€™t know that,â€ Sgt. Underwood said.
â€œI know that,â€ the Japanese soldier said.
Lt. ThÃ©ard heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming from the village.
â€œAll right, letâ€™s get in the river,â€ he said. â€œGet in the river. Everybody get in the river.â€
They made their way back to the village as quickly as they could, Captain Elloitt picking up the Japanese rifle.
* * *
Lt. Young, under the bridge, heard the heavy approaching footsteps. Then whatever was making the noise crossed the bridge above him, the wood creaking under its weight. It sounded very heavy and he was glad he couldnâ€™t see it. He wondered if it was some kind of Chinese elephant â€¦ walking on two legs. What was it?
* * *
â€œThese creatures are called the Tcho-Tcho,â€ the Japanese soldier told them as they made their way slowly back to the village. â€œThey ate the others who had been captured. There were five of us. Three were taken from the pit over the course of five days, leaving only me and Private First Class Go Gonshiro, who you saw taken from the pit. Two days ago, they told us they had butchered the other soldiers and fed them to us both. Private Go was ashamed at what heâ€™d done and managed to rip open his arm with this teeth that very night. I did not have the nerve. They left the body in the pit and gave me the choice of eating my dead companion or eating the food they gave me. Or both. Or neither. They didnâ€™t seem to care!
â€œThe only water Iâ€™ve had to drink is the dew in the morning and what dropped into the horrible pit when it rained. I hope they lied about the meat, but Iâ€™ve had the nightmares every night: the tiny men with sharp teeth, feasting on the bodies of my companions. Sometimes on myself. And sometimes I was joining them! Take me with you!â€
He grabbed at Lt. ThÃ©ardâ€™s jacket.
â€œIs there a way out?â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard asked. â€œIs there a way?â€
â€œI was unconscious when they put me in the pit,â€ the Japanese soldier said. â€œThey shot me with a dart! Their darts are poisoned! Donâ€™t let them shoot you with darts! Darts are bad! Darts are bad!â€
â€œLetâ€™s head back to the bridge, I guess,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œGet to the water.â€
The Japanese soldier told them he was Private First Class Nitta Haru.
â€œHow do we get out?â€ Private Nitta asked. â€œHow do we get out?â€
â€œWeâ€™re going down the river,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said. â€œWeâ€™re floating down the river.â€
â€œLetâ€™s go!â€ Private Nitta said.
He started off down the trail at a jog. The others followed as best they could Lt. ThÃ©ard drawing his 1911 Colt semi-automatic pistol. Captain Elloitt brought up the rear as he worked the action on the Japanese rifle. Only Private Nitta, Captain Elloitt, and Lt. Atkinson heard the tread of impossibly heavy footsteps ahead of them just before, looming out of the fog, came one of the terrible statues from the town.
The thing was even more horrible to behold as a living thing than it had been as a statue. It stood nearly seven feet tall, the bloated elephantine horror having a skeletal head endowed with webbed ears and a trunk that ended in a great, flaring disk. Long, intertwined crystal tusks sprouted from its mouth and the body was humanoid though mottled and stained.
â€œShoot it!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard screamed. â€œShoot it! Shoot it!â€
Sgt. Underwood and Lt. ThÃ©ard opened fire. Both missed. The horrible thing rushed forward and tried to grab Private Nitta, who screamed in terror. Sgt. Underwood backed away as he worked the action on his Winchester. Lt. ThÃ©ard hobbled to the right, trying to get around the thing. Lt. Atkinson drew his pistol and moved around that side as well, blasting away at the terrible thing but missing. Captain Elloitt shot the thing with the Japanese rifle and it stumbled back a step and actually bled!
* * *
Lt. Young heard gunfire and screaming from the direction of the pit. He decided to stay where he was for the moment.
* * *
Private Nitta turned and ran away, screaming at the top of his lungs. Sgt. Underwood fired at the horrible creature but missed. Lt. ThÃ©ard shot the thing in the leg. Lt. Atkinson also blasted the thing, his bullet grazing it. The horror lumbered to the right and attempted to grab Atkinson, who ducked out of the way. As it did so, it bellowed a cry that almost sounded like an alarm.
Sgt. Underwood moved forward, hoping to get a better shot. Lt. ThÃ©ard moved further back and Lt. Atkinson moved behind him. Captain Elloitt worked the action on the Japanese rifle frantically and moved forward for a, sidestepping Private Nitta, who continued to run away, shrieking, his arms flailing.
* * *
Lt. Young, still under the bridge, heard more gunfire and then heard an unearthly roar that shook him to the core. He pulled the cord on his life vest, hoping it had not been damaged when heâ€™d been flung around the cabin of the aircraft during the crash the day before. He was relieved when it filled with air with a hiss. He slid down the muddy slope under the bridge into the water.
* * *
Captain Elloitt thought he heard more terribly heavy footsteps coming from the village. Sgt. Underwood, Lt. ThÃ©ard, and Lt. Atkinson blasted away at the horrible thing. Sgt. Underwoodâ€™s bullet didnâ€™t penetrate. However, Lt. ThÃ©ardâ€™s bullet struck the creature in the eye and Lt. Atkinsonâ€™s bullet struck it in the throat. The thing stumbled backwards and crashed to the ground, making a sickening gurgle and spewing phlegm and blood.
â€œTo the river!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard yelled. â€œTo the river!â€
They headed for the river as quickly as possible, Captain Elloitt leading the way. Private Nitta caught up to them as they reached the bridge. All of them but Sgt. Underwood heard the heavy tread of something running their way from the village. They also heard Chinese voices and shouts of alarm, and they could see torchlight somewhere in the village.
* * *
With the approaching noises from the village, Lt. Young slipped into the water of the river. It moved slowly but he just let it carry him downstream of the bridge.
* * *
Lt. ThÃ©ard flung himself over the side of the bank on the left side of the bridge. He stumbled and fell down the incline to the water, screaming as his broken leg slammed into the ground several times over the 15-foot drop. Luckily the fall didnâ€™t give him a compound fracture. He ended up face-down in the mud at the bottom of the steep incline.
Captain Elloitt followed suit, running down the steep incline but tripping and crashing down to the bottom, his head slamming against a large rock there. Private Nitta ran down the incline as well but he didnâ€™t fall, dropping to his butt and sliding down most of it. He slid past the other two and into the water at the bottom, looking around, unsure where to go.
Sgt. Underwood and Lt. Atkinson climbed more carefully down the slope.
â€œOver here!â€ Lt. Young called from downstream. â€œOver here!â€
Lt. ThÃ©ard saw Captain Elloitt on the ground, his head badly bleeding. He painfully crawled over to the man and tried to bandage his busted head. Unfortunately, in the dark with the wet, muddy gauze, he was unable to do the poor man any good. He shook his head. Lt. Atkinson slid to a stop next to Captain Elloitt and tried to help using his own medical kit, as Sgt. Underwood slid into the water, not even seeing what was going on. Captain Elloittâ€™s eyes suddenly opened wide.
â€œI should have taken my chances at the house!â€ he cried out, wishing he had gone with the pygmy girl.
His eyes rolled back in his head and there was a rattle in his throat and he died. Lt. ThÃ©ard reached into the manâ€™s shirt and pulled his dog tags off, pocketing them. He also grabbed the life vest and tossed it to Private Nitta. The Japanese man put it on but seemed confused with what to do with it so Lt. ThÃ©ard pulled the cord and it inflated. Then Lt. ThÃ©ard grabbed the Japanese rifle.
They dragged themselves into the water. Something large was up on the bridge above them.
* * *
Downstream, Lt. Young made the mistake of looking back and saw the horrible elephantine biped standing on the bridge. As it disappeared into the fog, he suddenly found himself terrified of the mist that seemed to be all around him. He stopped paddling as any paddling meant he would be heading for it. He just drew his legs up close about his body, wrapped his arms closely to himself, and allowed the current to take him where it would.
* * *
As they desperately paddled away, something reached down from the top of the bridge and grabbed Private Nitta. As it lifted him from the water, screaming, Lt. ThÃ©ard worked the action on the rifle and fired at the horrible thing, missing it completely. Sgt. Underwood, seeing this, lifted his Winchester and aimed at Private Nitta, going for the mercy kill. Unfortunately, he missed as well.
The thing disappeared into the fog as they all paddled as fast as they could. Shrieking and screaming came from behind them. It grew fainter and fainter and then finally, mercifully stopped. Then gunfire erupted from the bridge, splashing into the water, over their heads, and all around them.
Though Lt. ThÃ©ard paddled underwater, trying to be quiet, he could hear the other two men splashing as they tried to get downstream as quickly as possible. He hushed them though it was doubtful the Tcho-Tcho could hear them over the sound of their own gunfire.
* * *
â€œWhat the drat is coming to get me!?!â€ Lt. Young cried out.
He shot back into the fog where he heard something splashing around in the water.
â€œItâ€™s us!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard yelled. â€œItâ€™s us!â€
â€œQuit shooting, damn it!â€ Sgt. Underwood called.
â€œQuit shooting!â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard called.
They could still hear the Tcho-Tcho shouting behind them and they continued paddling as quietly as they could through the water. They caught up to Lt. Young, who wasnâ€™t paddling but started when the others passed him. He had wide eyes and looked around, terrified of the fog.
They continued downstream, constantly hearing voices behind him. Sometimes the voices were from far away, other times they were closer. Sometimes shots were fired out in the fog.
â€œThe fogâ€™s chasing us, man,â€ Lt. Young hissed.
Soon, they came out of the woods and saw the water opened up into a pond or a lake. The current stopped almost completely and they could feel the water was not terribly deep. The bottom of the pond seemed to filled with debris. It felt like rocks and sticks but they moved easily as if they barely weighed anything. They continued paddling straight ahead in the hopes of finding the river again. The floor of the pond was deep in places but terribly shallow in others. They often felt their feet bump against the bottom. They realized they could stand up but the things under their feet seemed to shift as if they were terribly light.
Lt. Atkinson reached down and pulled up a very large bone, about half the length of his leg. It was very thick as well. It just looked like a big bone to him.
Lt. ThÃ©ard reached down and picked something up, seeing the co-pilot had something. His hand closed upon a round stone that was far too light and he pulled up a jawless skull. He dropped it back into the water and picked up a femur and then a rib. They realized the entire floor of the pond was filled with bones and they had been floating through the terrible thing for several minutes. Lt. ThÃ©ard suddenly never wanted to touch another bone. He dropped the one he was holding and pulled up his good leg, the other being broken and all, and paddled with just his hands.
â€œPut it down!â€ he growled at Atkinson, who still held another bone. â€œPut it down!â€
Atkinson dropped it back into the water.
Iâ€™m getting the drat out of here, Sgt. Underwood thought.
They made their way to the far side of the pond where a stream drained from it. The Chinese voices faded in the distance though at one point they heard the heavy flapping of wings. Underwood headed for the edge of the stream but Lt. ThÃ©ard told him it was the easiest way to move with the injured people they had. The sergeant nodded and continued downstream with the rest of them.
The stream eventually exited the valley and they soon found themselves under the stars. They made their way, a couple of days later, to another Chinese village and found one man there who spoke English. When they told him they were a group of downed American flyers and where they had crashed, the man was quite disturbed.
â€œThat was the fog valley,â€ the man said. â€œTerrible bandits live there who worship horrific gods and do terrible things to their victims.â€
â€œNo ****,â€ Lt. ThÃ©ard said.
They soon learned where they were and, though it was a thousand miles to where they were supposed to be, the local Chinese people helped them to get cross country to where they needed to go. From there, they were eventually transported back to the United States. During the trip, Lt. Youngâ€™s condition worsened and he got pneumonia. Lt. ThÃ©ard was able to nurse the man back to health even as Young raved deliriously the fog had gotten into his lungs.
When they returned to the United States, they were debriefed. Lt. Young claimed there were attack elephants in the valley but they escaped through the fog. Lt. Atkinson said the locals werenâ€™t friendly and they lost their captain. Sgt. Underwood related he was pretty sure the natives were eating people and gave the warning not to drink the water in China. Lt. ThÃ©ard told them about the village and that the people turned out to be hostile. He turned over the dog tags but said nothing about the elephant. He also related the strange pond full of bones, thinking some kind of genocide had gone on.
All of them were promoted in rank by one step and awarded the Purple Heart and the Military Order of China for their brave actions. Major Elloitt was awarded everything posthumously.
* * *
First Lieutenant Kaden Young was in terrible health the rest of his life with respiratory problems. His back did heal, however. He was honest about his terror of the fog and was given a psychological discharge. He returned home after he was released and continued to be a barber, though he never opened on a cloudy or foggy day. He would fear the fog for the rest of his life.
Captain Stephen Atkinsonâ€™s skull fracture was not good enough to get him discharged from the Army Air Force. He served in the war on various bombers without any real distinction. After the war, he went back into education, obsessed with Chinese culture. For the rest of his life, he dedicated himself to learning about the terrible things that had happened to him in the war â€¦ without success. He was never comfortable with Asians again.
First Sergeant Hunter Underwood never fully recovered from his fractured back. The injury was not severe enough for a discharge and he was kept in the Army Air Force. He transferred to the ground corps however, and continued to work on aircraft for the rest of the war. He never forgot those Chinese kids kicking that head around.
Captain Bryson ThÃ©ard never walked without a limp again. He transferred to the medical division and finished up his residency there. He never worked on anyoneâ€™s broken bones, however. He always had a nurse or a assistant do the work for him. After the war, he never showed off his medals or talked about the Fog Village. In his spare time, he secretly studied the occult, trying to find out what the horrible elephantine things were.