We were deployed to China, a ways north of Songzi, near the Yangtze river, after several reports of farmers turning up eaten, or melted like they had been doused in acid. Normally, this alone probably wouldn't have reached our ears, if it weren't for the rumors surrounding the incidents. Locals believed that the area had been cursed by malevolent spirits, and heard screaming or cries for help in the night. The sun would rise, and usually, nobody would even be missing, because everyone was too frightened to investigate the sounds - calling into question what exactly was making them. A witness's grandson later recorded it, and released it on the Internet. That got our attention. It's been taken down on most places, but we all got a listen before our deployment.
At first, all I could hear was the wind, but then, a man started to scream in the distance, yelling 'help' or 'help me' in Mandarin over and over again. It sounded normal, but it kept going on, and after a minute, I started to get this horrible chill down my spine, like something was wrong with what I was hearing. Every call had the exact same intonation as the last, right down to the smallest detail, to the point that it didn't even sound like a language. It reminded me of the parrot that Barry's cousin had, an African grey who liked to repeat the sound of somebody knocking on the door, so if you weren't used to it happening over and over again, you'd actually think there was someone there.
Then, another man joined in. It was a different voice, but it was yelling roughly the same thing, and would occasionally break up the cries for help with a scream of pain, only the scream would sound exactly the same every time. It was probably one of the most disturbing things I had ever listened to, just because of how unnatural it sounded, and I wasn't alone - every one of us agreed that something wasn't right, and I wasn't looking forward to finding out what that something was.
We flew in from Taipei in a UH-60M, and had civilians cleared out in advance, tracing along the river until we hit our mark. It was night, and the stars shone brightly through the dark clouds overhead. It was me, Jefferies, Barry, and Tanner, since Sprite was busy being analyzed in R&D, and we were armed with three railguns, power armor, and my favorite electrical cannon, which I took to calling Vera. We weren't equipped with our usual cloaking modules, because according to command, we were there to draw out the enemy - whatever that enemy turned out to be. Everything was shrouded in a dense fog, billowing over the land below in the pale glow of the moon. We rappelled down into the mist, and landed in the middle of a rice paddy with a splash, the muddy water coming up to my shins. The bird flew off, and we were left alone in the humid darkness, switching on our night vision. The terrain was dead flat, and you couldn't see much beyond a couple lights way off in the fog. Barry took out his nav equipment, and got us oriented.
"That way," he said, motioning ahead. "About six-hundred yards."
"Tanner, take point," said Jefferies. Tanner moved forward, and we followed, creeping through the mist that swallowed us. Save for the stirring of water in our wake, it was completely silent, and even with our heavy armaments, I felt a sense of vulnerability in the back of my mind, like I could be attacked at any moment, and would be dead before the others could even react. We crossed over a watery gap between the fields, and continued onto the next. Tanner raised his hand, motioning for us to stop, and pointed his firearm at something in the water. I crept forward with the others, and saw that it was half of a bisected corpse, his innards strewn between the stalks. His face had been melted into his skull, as though sprayed with a powerful acid.
A sense of dread washed over me, then, and I could feel the presence of eyes watching me - something that I couldn't see, but could surely see me. The others shifted with unease, and I knew that they felt the same thing. Tanner advanced through the night, and we followed closely behind, my finger slipping into the trigger guard as the wind began to howl upon the air, rustling through the rice that swayed between us. The feeling of being watched slowly intensified, and I glanced back at every opportunity, expecting to see the horror that stalked me, but it was never there. It only watched, and waited, lurking in the shadow of the billowing fog. I heard something, then, far off in the distance. Screaming. An old man yelling for help, repeating himself again and again, but the cries were getting closer every time, until they almost sounded like they were directly in front of us. Tanner stopped, finger on the trigger while he peered into the howling mist. Other voices began to shout, coming from all around us, like we were surrounded by a crowd of invisible onlookers, but they all repeated themselves with the same terrifying, unnatural cadence. I heard a piercing scream from directly behind me, and spun around in a panic - yet nothing was there. Every voice ceased at once, and the air fell to a deathly silence.
Paralyzed with fear, I lowered my gaze to the water, and saw a man's face looking back at me, his dead, sunken eyes peering up from a skull of pale, drooping skin, like the flesh of a drowned corpse. Slowly, it rose above the water, standing upside-down on its unnaturally long, slender arms as the other half of its enormous body revealed itself. Looming above me was only a dripping, vertical maw of sword-like teeth that split down into the creature's yawning torso. All I could hear were the drops of water that fell from its horrifying frame, and the quickening heartbeat that drummed in my ears. Before I even knew what was happening, it snapped down on my arms with a vicious crunch, and ripped them clean from my body. A blinding pain tore through my senses, and I collapsed to the ground, screaming in agony as blood gushed from the ragged stumps where my arms used to be. A cascade of deafening bangs cracked through the air, the others opening fire on the creature with their railguns, and blasting it back in a spatter of blackened blood, yet as soon as that blood struck my armor, it only hissed and bubbled, eating straight through it and sinking into my skin in deep, penetrating welts. I writhed in horror and pain upon the ground, trying to pry the smoking armor from my body, but to no avail. The joints melted together, trapping me inside and leaving me to the mercy of the nightmare's acidic blood.
A chorus of hissing and snapping growls sounded from all around us as more of the creatures emerged from the mist, dashing toward my squadmates on their long, spindly arms while their gaping maws flailed above them. Most were blown back by the barrage that followed, but two flopped into the water with a splash, shuddering and recoiling as their terrifying mouths opened wide. They lunged forward, vomiting projectiles of corrosive bile that struck Barry and Jefferies, who could only scream in pain as the acid rapidly ate through their armor. Jefferies ripped his chestplate and mask off in time, but Barry wasn't so lucky, and his armor fused to his skin with a bubbling hiss, forcing him to his knees while he shrieked in absolute suffering.
Tanner ducked as another glob of bile just barely missed him, and unloaded a shot into the oncoming horror that spat it, splattering the area with its acidic blood. Jefferies picked up his railgun, and rejoined the fight, bisecting one of the nightmares with a deafening boom. I was beginning to lose consciousness from the blood that gushed from my severed arms, but all I knew in that moment was adrenaline when another of the creatures rose from the water just ahead of me, slowly advancing toward me as its gaping maw drooped before it. I yelled for help, scrambling back, but the others were too busy fending off the rest of them. Looming above me with a shuddering rasp, the otherworldly terror snapped toward me as I fell back into the water, its massive teeth scissoring shut inches from my face. I kicked the horror off me, knocking it back into the muck. Spitting the blood and water from my mouth as it leaked through the melted remnants of my mask, I crawled away on the ragged stumps of my arms, desperately pushing myself forward with my legs, but I could hear the nightmare advancing from behind, its hissing growl stuttering through the air.
The boom of a railgun cracked overhead, and a white hot pain burned through my skin as my back was spattered with the creature's blood. The dizziness began to overtake me, and darkness crept into the corners of my vision, my blood gushing into the water around me. Too weak to hold myself up, I collapsed, and felt my mind slip into the void.
That was the last thing that I remembered.
I woke up for a moment in the helicopter, Jefferies looking down at me overhead, but so much morphine was running through my veins that everything was just a haze of color. The pain was unbearable, even through the drugs, and when I realized that my arms were still gone, I tried to scream, but Jefferies and Tanner only held me still, the pale light of the full moon shining from beyond as I slowly slipped back into oblivion.
I can recall flashes and images after that, but nothing coherent enough to describe. I woke up again two days later, in the medical wing at HQ. My entire body was wrapped in bandages, and I was restrained so I couldn't move. I was in an unimaginable amount of pain, and no matter how many times I hit that morphine button, it really didn't make much of a difference. Barry laid in the bed next to me, his torso wrapped in bandages from where he had been burned.
I don't remember how long I was there for. Even with all the tech available to us, it must have been over a month. Barry got out before me, but he still came to see me every day, and he kept me up-to-date with what was going on. Two other squads cleared out the rest of the creatures after Jefferies was forced to call an emergency evac. At least, we hope that they were cleared out. We're still not sure how they got there in the first place.
The brass took to dubbing them maneaters, which seems very appropriate. Their calls, we're guessing, were actually the calls of their last victims, repeated to lure in any good Samaritans wondering what happened to their missing friends. Barry, who's buddies with a coms guy on one of the cleanup squads, told me they heard one calling for help, this time in English. It was screaming in my voice.
In the meantime, I've got some prosthetics coming my way, so I'll be back in the fire soon enough. No rest for the wicked, as they say. We're keeping stateside for the next one; something called Operation Dagon, set in the corn fields of Kansas. Anything more than that, I can't tell you just yet.
I'll see you all soon, and remember to leave a snack on your doorstep tonight.
It's hungry, and it's watching you.