4 of 5 stars.
The horrors of war are compounded by a savage monster that may yet prove to be group hysteria and a side effect of PTSD and the drugs the surviving platoon members are given to cope. This is the right type of psychological horror where even the traumatized narrator can’t tell what’s real and not. The novella also depicts the painful road through therapy for the battered vets.
Davis, along with his Lieutenant and fellow grunts Han and Lee, are the only ones to come out of a bloodbath in Fallujah. He barely remembers the extraction, nor Germany. Stateside, Walter Reed becomes home:
Rehab was about confronting pain, inviting it in, asking it to sit down and have a beer so the two of you could talk for a while. Rehab was not leaning on the heavy-duty opiates and their synthetic friends; it was remaining content with over-the-counter options and ice-packs. It was the promise of a walk outside–an enticement that made Davis’s palms sweat and his mouth go dry.
With time on his hands he remembers the insurgents pinning them down, the creature descending from the skies like a demon vampire or alien and tearing the enemy to shreds. And nobody running. Then it turned on them, ripping them open with swipes of its claws and drinking their blood leaving no one untouched and few alive. Then the creature unfurled wings and flew off. . .
Davis’s former platoon soon discuss similar memories, but they keep these hallucinations to themselves lest they be deemed psych cases. Then, the nightmares and seizures accompanied by deepening hallucinations start, and always from the creature’s POV . . .
This short story was included in the anthology The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2010 edited by Paula Guran. I’ve previously reviewed this author’s “Bloom” and “Children of the Fang”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]