Son of Fire, Son of Thunder

Staff Sergeant Diego Santos

Behavioral Health Department, Main Clinic, Marine Corps Base Quantico

In two years, fifty-six days, fourteen hours, and ten minutes I will be brutally killed by a demon.

I’ve watched my own death in my dreams nearly every night since I was eight. I’m used to waking up because of teeth breaking my skin.

You might think that sounds like a tough break, but don’t shed any tears on my behalf. The rest of you poor saps have to live with doubt and worry and fear. You have to think about finding a career, marrying the right woman, raising kids, working hard, planning your retirement, getting cancer, and shit like that. Me? I know the exact minute when I’ll be ripped to bits.

Just lucky, I guess.

There’s only one downside to knowing the exact moment when your life will end horribly.

I hate when people waste my fucking time.

The psychologist had been asking me questions for fifty-two precious minutes. I’d finished telling him about kicking doors and fighting house to house in Fallujah, and one particular story where I’d shot a guy in the neck right when he was about to light me up with an AK, when the doctor asked, “And so how did that make you feel?”

How was it supposed to feel? How should a normal person answer? I did my job. How’s it supposed to feel when you do a good job? I am a United States Marine and I have been trained to close with, engage, and utterly destroy the enemy, and I am extremely good at my job. I’ve deployed to Iraq three times, Afghanistan twice. As soon as I get home I volunteer for the next open billet. Better me than anyone else, I’ve got nothing better to do to prepare myself until the appointed time, and mostly because I can’t die until I’ve fulfilled the holy mission assigned to me by Almighty God.

But that wasn’t the answer this man was looking for. He wasn’t worthy enough to understand the truth. I needed him to think that I wasn’t crazy. I had to keep the demons secret. It wasn’t time for the apocalypse yet.

“It was very frightening, sir.”

I watched the doctor’s face as he glanced down to scribble a note on his legal pad. Just write that I’m normal and quit screwing around. I’d always assumed that a psychologist’s office would have a couch for the patient to lay down on, but I just had a stuffed chair and he sat behind a desk.  He looked up at me and it was obvious he knew I was full of it. I’ve always hated lying. It’s easier to just not say anything at all than to make shit up. “I’ve read your file.”

They say that if a shrink declared a Marine sane, he’d be unfit for duty, but I had a reputation for crazy even by our standards. My last CO had decided that I must have a death wish, and that was how I’d ended up here, off to see the wizard. Mandatory Evaluation Time. “I would expect so, sir.”

“An impressive list of commendations and fitness reports, but these After Action Reports . . . A complete disregard for personal safety, placing yourself in harm’s way, not just volunteering for every dangerous assignment possible but making up new ones. There are serious worries about your stability. Did I even read that last one right? Attempting to draw sniper fire?”

“It makes them easier to spot and neutralize, sir.”

“And the most recent incident?”

I scowled. It would have been certain death for anyone else . . . I couldn’t tell him that one of the Afghans had been possessed. “An opportunity presented itself. I acted.”

“You acted alone against an entrenched, numerically superior foe, after your rifle platoon had been ordered to wait for reinforcements.” He looked me right in the eyes. “Are you trying to get yourself killed, Staff Sergeant?”

“No, sir.” My answer was completely truthful this time. I’d accepted the hour of my death. It would be blasphemous, not to mention impossible, to thwart His will.

The doctor’s Blackberry buzzed. He picked it up and read the display. Our time was up. “That’s it for today, but I want to schedule another session for tomorrow. Same time. We’ll pick up where we left off.”

More wasted time. But I was stuck here, spinning my wheels until it was decided that I wasn’t a danger to myself or the Corps. “Of course, sir.”


That is the intro to the story I have in this year’s Crimson Pact anthology. Want to read the rest?  And while you are there, Dead Six is out this week.

DEAD SIX is out today!
Here is a podcast interview with me