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Watch Duty



The wind jerked the door from Roman’s grasp and slammed shut. The sound startled Deveraux and caused him to whip around with his weapon trained in the direction of the noise. Roman froze as he stared at the gun his partner held and raised his hands to show he wasn’t a threat. The rain, the wind, the fog, it was all a bit too much for the soldier and after the mission his unit just completed, Roman understood that his young partner may be a little on edge.


“Easy, easy, kid.”

“I’m sorry. I heard the door slam and I reacted.”

“Well, at least you didn’t fire without looking.”


The unit was forced to retreat from a firefight with insurgents and found refuge at an abandoned rebel base. Roman and Deveraux were assigned first watch from the watchtower, while the rest of the unit tended to their wounds, rested and tried to contact their command staff.


Deveraux slowly drifted to the far end of the watchtower and retreated into his thoughts. Roman knew from years of experience that the reality of war was finally kicking in for his partner and getting through this first night would be crucial to his survival…and Roman’s.


“Hey, kid, what’s on your mind?”

“You ever think that what we’re doing out here will haunt you?”

“Not at all, I’m fighting for freedom, I’m fighting for my country. That’s an honor.”

“Where’s the honor in killing children? There was nothing but children in that village.”

“Children with guns and rocket launchers. We lost American soldiers tonight.”

“When this is all over, I don’t want my soul taken over by a damn haint.”

“A what?”

“A haint.”

“What the hell is a haint?”

“It’s hard to explain, but it’s like a ghost, better yet, a spirit that hasn’t moved on from the physical world.”

“Is this more of your Louisiana voodoo stuff Deveraux?”

“It ain’t voodoo. People have been fighting haints for centuries. Everyone in my family painted part of the porch or a door or window blue to keep the haints away after what happened to my Uncle Monroe.”

“And what happened to Uncle Monroe?”


Roman didn’t believe in ghosts, but if he was going to be stuck 150 feet in the air during a torrential downpour, a good ghost story may help pass the time. He wanted to laugh, but Deveraux looked troubled by the carnage he was just part of and whatever happened with Uncle Monroe.


“Uncle Monroe was a card man, a gambler. One night, he lost the rent money in a poker game and the thought of telling my Aunt Lucille frightened him more than the man who won his money, so he decided to rob him. He followed the guy home, waited a few hours, and then busted in on him with his gun drawn. He took all the money, anything he thought was valuable in the house and a bag of gold coins he found hidden in the floorboards with an old Bible.”


Deveraux stopped talking and stared into the distance. Roman followed his glare but didn’t see what Deveraux did, a painful memory that changed his family forever. He decided not to rush the story, but now he wanted to know about haints and Uncle Monroe.


“About ten years later, Uncle Monroe woke up in the middle of the night screaming at the top of his lungs. He wouldn’t stop, my aunt couldn’t calm him down. Then he passed out. The next night, more screaming. My auntie woke up and he was sitting in the corner, sweating, rocking back and forth. He went on like this for the next two weeks. She would find him talking to himself, staring at nothing for long stretches of time or just shaking.”


He stopped again. This pause was longer, seemed more painful. Roman waited patiently to hear how the story ended. He still didn’t believe a word Deveraux was saying, but trading lies was a military pastime.


“Aunt Lucille had the pastor come down and pray for him, but Uncle Monroe started speaking in tongues and the preacher said the devil had taken hold of him. He lost a lot of weight, his hair turned white and his skin got really wrinkled. A few nights later, Aunt Lucille didn’t wake up to screaming, instead it was shotgun blasts. Monroe was running around the house shooting and crying. He didn’t say a word, just shot his gun, and cried more. Aunt Lucille ran from the house in her nightgown and hid at a neighbor’s. The next morning, Uncle Monroe was nowhere to be found when she went back to the house. She followed the trail of devastation left by his shotgun to a shed around 500 feet from their back door and there he was, dead, with a hole in the back of his head.”


Roman stared quizzically.


“In the back of his head?”

“Yeah, the police ruled it a suicide, but the family knows it was the haint that killed him.”

“How does a ghost shoot a man?”

“A haint isn’t a ghost, it’s a spirit, it gets in your soul. It didn’t pull the trigger, but it sure as hell killed my Uncle Monroe.”

“You’re one crazy SOB Deveraux!”

“Call me what you want, but when the karma of all of this killing comes for you, don’t call me then.”


Roman ignored the warning from the young man and went to stand guard on the opposite side of the watchtower. For the first time, he thought about what he was doing in this land far from home, killing children, destroying life for others. He glanced over at Deveraux, who was staring in the distance, now unaffected by the conditions. 

He was at peace and there was a war brewing in Roman’s mind. 



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