We Proud, We Few
My name is Private James Riggio ofSan Francisco,California. Number 823579. I was commissioned in the United States Marines at the age of nineteen and have dutifully served out two years of service. I spent six months in the brig for drunken disorderly conduct; it was a reduced sentence from attempted murder. I am using this journal not only as a commemorative of what and who I was, but as a hope that whom ever finds this journal will know I was the last to survive.
The Dark came on September 23 2012. I was aboard the Transport Ship Titan, on my way to Fallujah as a refill for the casualties we were acquiring inIraq. Front line duty.
War is hell. It was said before and I echo that sentiment now. I was taken out of my normal life, we all were, and thrust into a mechanical existence. We ate when told, we slept when told, even pissed and shat when told. They said they were training you, getting you ready for what you were going to see. They said if you didn’t listen you would die. They were wrong.
The two hundred men and women aboard that transport were terrified. We knew the war had run beyond our control and we also knew we were replaceable; we were there to replace those who had been killed for god’s sake. Our lives were so different from the carefree drama of high school, we were young and stupid, but we’d become young and deadly and scared shitless for what lay before us.
On the fourth night aboard our frigate, at seven P.M. the sun disappeared. I was down in the deck with Johnny C (John Carvecchio if you could pronounce the last name, only a handful of us could) playing cards, losing as usual. When the Dark hit it was rumored that Captain Luddy went to his cabin, took out his Good Book and began to pray, leaving command to Lieutenant Vasquez. Vazquez promptly ordered the boat stopped so we wouldn’t crash into anything. People argued later that his decision was bad, considering we were in the middle of the ocean without anything on the radar, but really, where would we have gone?
Johnny and I carried on for at least a half an hour before then intercom buzzed that we were all to get dressed and report to the deck.
We were in the room with twenty others all equally feeling lazy. Life on a ship can do that to you, even when it’s only a couple of days. You’re there on a ship with over a hundred men, all equally nervous and bored. There is little room so the thought of exercising goes right out the port hole. You sit and wait for your shift to start, talking about the same things to the same people, either lying in bed or sitting in a chair. You get so tired you can’t think.
When we got up deck Lt. Vasquez was yelling and it was pitch black. He had a torch, of all things, a torch! PFC’s Roberts and Kanon had flashlights and every light on deck was lit up like Christmas, but the dark still pushed in on us.
“Listen up troops!” Lt. Vasquez yelled. “Get in formation and shut up!” He waited a few seconds for us to comply and once we did, his voice dropped significantly. “Something big has happened. Now we can sit here and whine about our plight, or we can do something about it! I got hold of the mainland and they said that the same thing happened there, the sun has gone away. There is no intel on the matter so we don’t know if it was something the Terrorists did, or if it was something cosmic.”
He stopped for a moment and I looked into his eyes through the flickering light of his torch and I saw fear. I gained respect for the man in that instant, because his Captain had gone and he stood there in an impossible situation and took charge. That took balls.
“This catastrophe has nothing to do with our main objective however, we are on this boat to back up our fellow troops inIraqand that’s what we’re gonna do! Now do I hear any objections?”
“Yes!” It was flat top Sam and he looked like he just shit his pants.
“What did you say private?” Lt. Vasquez got in his face. “You think I don’t know how to make a decision? You think you can do better?”
“No sir! I think we are in end times, sir! I think we should wait here for the judgment of God!” Flat top Sam reached up and took hold of the St. Christopher medal that hung around his neck.
“Well I’ll be damned, private, you might have a spine after all, but I wasn’t askin’. Do you see any horsemen around? Are you the second coming? I don’t fucking think so! Sergeant, take this bastard down to the brig!”
Lt. Vasquez turned his back to the rest of us and looked out over the water, when he spoke he didn’t turn.
“Gentlemen and Ladies, these are not end times, this is not Armageddon, and if you believe otherwise I suggest you keep you mouth shut or you’ll end up with the Private flat head in the Brig!
“Ya’ll have nothing to fear. God would never hurt the Core and you all know that, so get the fuck over yourselves!”
He turned and I couldn’t tell if the fire was burning in his eyes or if it was reflected from the torches.
“Your Captain is indisposed so I’m calling the shots. Let it be known that these are my decisions and mine alone. We will be continuing on our course with the use of our instruments on board. Electricity still works so go about your duty like you would before. Nothing has changed. We still need to help our brothers and sisters inIraq. Dismissed!”
He stood and watched us filter back under the deck, the fire in his eyes still blaring. He was the best leader I ever had. It was too bad he didn’t last longer.
Those of us who were on duty went back to it and those of us who weren’t went back underneath. Johnny and I took up our game again and life seemed to go on as normal, but there was something sinister in the cabin with us; something palpable. I could feel anger radiating in the room and when I looked into Johnny’s eyes I could see that he could as well.
“What the fuck man!” It was Denise Ramirez who started the mutinous rebellion. “How the fuck could he lock up Flat Top like that? Where the hell’s the captain?”
Ramirez looked around the room pausing slightly on each one of us, gauging our response. She got to me and saw fear and guilt in my eyes; I think I might even have looked down breaking the eye contact. It took a few more minutes before anyone spoke.
“So what are you gonna do about it?” Donny Johnson said from the corner with a Gung Ho look on his face, a perfect imitation of James Dean.
“I say we confront the Lieutenant. I mean, what happened to Captain Luddy? How do we know there hasn’t already been a mutiny led by Lt. Vasquez?”
I wanted to remind her the sun just disappeared, that there might be more pressing issues ahead of us than worrying about upsetting the command line, but I kept my mouth shut. I like to think that if we could’ve stayed united what happened wouldn’t have, but in reality we were scared animals in a metal cage. At some point we were gonna end up at each other’s throats.
Donny Johnson shook his head and broke the silence.
“I don’t think you have to worry about that, you would’ve heard something if the captain has been ousted. Things like that just don’t happen quietly. We need to let the Lieutenant do what he’s doing and fall in line.”
The room was dead quiet when Johnson finished. It seemed Ramirez was just probing out, trying to find someone who would join her cause, but once she met up with resistance she backed off.
The work was done, everyone in our cabin felt it, that terrible action once voiced almost seemed like a possibility now that the sun had gone away. The Sun had gone away! This wasn’t just some terrorist act. The Lt. could say anything he wanted, but we knew the truth, you can’t take away a constant and say it was all a lie. This was not a normal event. This would change the way the world existed; hell, it was happening already just aboard this small frigate.
We spent a few more hours in silence below deck, reading, playing cards or just laying in our bunks, but eventually the time came and we went on duty. It was a sigh of relief for most of us, because the cabin had became stuffy and seemed infinitesimally small packed with all those personalities.
I loved being on duty, you got to look out over that great blue expanse, gently moving, swaying in a chaotic blend of beauty and terror. There was nothing better in the world. But now there was nothing. I could feel the movement of the ocean and through what light we had I could see the water rippling, but it was like seeing through ink. It was such complete utter darkness it almost made me sick. It wasn’t night, there was no moon, I could see no sky; if it put my hand in front of my face I couldn’t see it unless I put a flashlight too it.
I suppressed my nausea and stood guard. I could still feel the wind blowing against me and I could feel the slight mist of the spraying water so I acted like I was blind. I felt for everything and it ended up being more valuable than trying to see it, though slower.
Eventually my shift ended and went back below deck and joined the other bunch, hoping that they’d be more at ease now that they had some time to cool down, but the opposite seemed to be true. There was tension in the air, almost like static and instantly I wanted to be back out on the deck. I could feel fear and impatience creeping up my throat like bile, but I swallowed it down crawled into my bunk and listened to the silence in the room. We slept with the light on that night.
We all slept longer than we were supposed to; all except Ramirez who didn’t sleep at all. I could only imagine the schemes she thought up that sleepless night.
When I woke the previous day felt like a dream and there beneath the soft glow of the florescent light I felt calm. I was sure everything that happened was a dream, that I would go up on deck and everything would be back to normal; the sun shining brightly as we passedSicily. The Captain would be back and we would get to Fallujah, hell maybe the war was already over. One could hope at least.
We all dressed in silence, one person rising from their bed after another, until we were all up and dressed and sitting around the room. It could’ve been a normal day, one like any other, but you could see in everyone’s eyes that they weren’t prepared to go up deck and check for the sun. Such an odd thing to worry about, wondering if the sun would be up.
Without saying a word I slowly got up and walked for the door. I knew the truth, but I had to suspend disbelief, I simply had no other hope. So I left my fellow crewmates and made my way up the stairs hoping to catch a glimmer of that shining beauty, that golden orb of wealth, but when I reached the hatch I was greeted with the cold black air.
A terrible truth hit me when I opened that door. The world had gone black. Gone black and cold. It seemed to be even colder now than before, though I guess that makes sense. If you take away the source of all that energy, you were left with merely nothing.
How cold was it going to get?
I shut the door, tried to shut my mind and went back down to join the others.
“Still dark?” Johnny said.
I didn’t have the courage to open my mouth, I was afraid of what might come out of it if I did, so I merely nodded. I walked back over to my spot across from Johnny and began to shuffle the cards. I got through two shuffles and was about to deal when the lights went out.
“What the fuck!” It was distinctly Ramirez. It seemed that it might not be the rabble-rouser in her that wanted to act against Lt. Vasquez; she just couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
I sat still in the horrible darkness and felt the engines of the ship come to a halt. We all sat in silence, except for heavy breathing, and waited for the lights to come back on. Perhaps it was just a short? I mean no one knew, it could be anything. We sat for what could only have been about ten seconds, when I heard a small, “oh, fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck.” In rapid progression. I could hear the terror in his voice, he was a second away from panicking and I could do nothing about it. I couldn’t recognize his voice and I couldn’t tell where the crying was coming from, so I just sat there praying he would hold it together.
“Thank fucking Christ!” A small flame erupted in the middle of the room and I saw the panicked face of Ramirez hunched over a Zippo lighter. Her statement seemed perfect, it succinctly displayed sentiment we all felt. The electricity went out, but could there still be fire? Could there still be light?
Despite her discovery, terror still hung in the air. It was still possible the lights had just blown, that someone would get them working again and soon, but just one glance outside gave truth to the gravity of the situation. We would never have light again.
“ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck” That panicked voice continued on throughout the discovery, pausing only slightly when the Zippo flame burst into existence. The timber of the voice rose and sped making it readily apparent whomever it was, was gonna blow a gasket.
It all happened within a matter of about a minute, between the lights going out, the panicked voice and Ramirez striking up her Zippo. Just one short minute when we acquired our first casualty.
The panicked soldier sped from the room, screaming as he did so, his breath coming in long gasping strides. I could feel wind blow by me as he charged. The port door crashed open and footsteps clacked down on each stair, I heard the hatch to the deck open and more panicked screaming, then very faint, a crash of water.
“Man overboard!” I heard someone yell.
There was clamoring of a few bodies trying to get up the stairs and screaming from above deck. I heard three more distinct splashdowns and more ambient splashing. No one ever got back on board.
In the bustle Ramirez’s Zippo went out, leaving us once again in the dark. I sat not moving, staring off into the blackness, hoping, praying, that I was dreaming.
It took about five minutes for Lieutenant Vazquez to mobilize everyone on to the deck for a head count. The initial group that panicked all seemed to take their own lives, trying to swim for land rather than stay in our metal casket.
On deck the Lt. was able to create makeshift torches, which he lined in strategic places around the deck to keep it steadily lit.
“Listen up! I don’t want any more panicking. We are obviously in quite a situation, but we have to take this as we would anything else. I want everyone to take any spare undershirts they may have, strip their bedding and sleep on springs. You are to make at least five torches a piece. Is that understood?” He paced, but when no one spoke he continued. “You are not to light a torch if you are in a room with another lit torch. You are not to light a torch if you are within 100 feet of another torch. If you come within these parameters the person who enters must put out their torch. With expediency people! We don’t know how long we’re going to be out here so I need your complete cooperation if I’m going to get us out of this. Is that understood?”
I stood in silence relishing the soft light of the torches. I took away the memory of the colors, the dark gray of the metal, the tans and whites of the clothes. I still remember them, however faded and convoluted the image may be, I still remember those colors, but what I remember better was the bright red splash of blood on the front of Lieutenant Vasquez’s uniform.
“Blasphemer!” Captain Dick Luddy burst out from his cabin storming at the Lieutenant.
“Captain please, go back to your cabin, we have everything under control.” Lt. Vasquez only raised an arm at the Captain, never even looking at him.
“No, you don’t. This is the will of GOD!” I remember the Captain’s eyes. Their feral stare, never blinking, filled with madness. I remember the crack of the gunshot and seeing Lt. Vasquez fall backward blood pouring from a hole in his chest.
Panic ensued. I think a couple of people rushed the Captain, while some ran below deck, while yet more jumped over the side. I hid. I scuttled away into the dark and hid. Don’t think of it as cowardice, think of it as survival.
The Captain shot and killed two others before he was brought down by three brave soldiers. Everything electronic had gone along with the sun, but guns didn’t run on electricity, they were mechanical. Our comforts were taken away from us, but not our weapons. Give a blathering idiot a gun and he becomes a deadly blathering idiot.
There was screaming and crying, I remember hoping that Johnny wasn’t in the fray. Soldier’s were killing each other to get on life boats, throwing each other off the side of our frigate.
I was unbelievable how quickly they all turned on one another. They killed and stole from one another for no reason, it was like being in a riot, with the false pretense of the Dark the reason they lashed out at one another.
Twenty minutes later I was sure all the life boats had been deployed, having heard them crash into the water. I tried to keep to the dark, scuttling around like a demon staying away from my shipmates, knowing that confrontation would only end badly, but when there were that many people on a boat there is only so many places to hide. The battle continued to rage, but I had secluded myself from it, I couldn’t even see the ambient glow of the light from all the torches on the deck. I was surrounded by the all encompassing dark.
I stay there trying to become one with the metal of the ship when I heard flint striking steel. A small light burst into existence bathing me in its soft glow, revealing the crazed face of Ramirez. Somehow she had separated herself from the rest and happened to come right to me.
“Ramirez, sit down here, save your light! Let this craziness pass and when it’s calmed down lets join back up with the others.” I don’t know if she could see my face, I assumed so and I hoped I could display my terror and empathy.
She never responded, but her face contorted beyond measure, her mouth dropped open and she let out a blood curdling scream, dropping the light and grabbing for her gun. I didn’t know what else to do. I charged her. I knocked her overboard, listening for her splashdown.
In the war on terror that was my one casualty, my one kill and it was friendly fire.
The fight gradually died down leaving me alone in the darkness. I haven’t been able to find anyone else since then. I hope Johnny got off and got to land. I hope someone comes and gets me. I hope the sun will come back.
Everyday I search the boat for others. I have to believe that other’s stayed. That others are alive. That I’m not alone in the Dark. The search is slow without light, but in my fight with Ramirez she dropped her Zippo and after two days of searching, I found it. This is how I write now, by the light of a Zippo.
If there truly is anyone left alive on this boat, we are among the dead and forgotten. The world has moved on and there is nothing else but us, floating here in our unforgiving metal belly of the whale.
The Zippo is running out of light now. This is the end whether I like it or not. It has been so long since the sun left that I have no idea how much time has passed, but when I feel my face there is a beard there. The mess hall was scavenged and I have finished what is left of the food, so I look to the sea. I look to escape from this metal belly. If there are people on this boat, the world has become too large and I cannot find them. I long for human interaction and I have nothing left on this boat. I have to believe there is another way. There may be sun back inAmericaand I just need to get back there. The only way is through the sea.
If someone finds this, know that I survived. Private James Riggio, who got in a bar fight when drunk and beat the shit out of my commanding officer after he told me I would die because in Iraq because I was weak. I survived. I made it. And if I made it this far I’ll find a way. I’ll find light.
This story came from a full length trilogy I’m writing called DARK. The basic premise (and it’s going to be followed with scientific fact, but not until the second book) is that the sun goes away and so does all the electricity. The novel is very, very long (possibly over 800 pages, and that’s just the first book!) and the world is very involved. When I was first ideating the novel I was having trouble because there was so much I could do with the world that I wanted something smaller. I wanted an introduction to the world where I could contain the action and characters. I also wanted to play with the idea that people with the utmost structure could be thrown into chaos and how they would deal with the situation. Hence soldiers on a boat. Hope you like it!
The podcast for this story is read by Ed Robinson and will be posted here on Tuesday!
September 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm