He booked in alone on a Sunday evening. In the solitary one kilometer walk from the gates of the camp to his bunk, a malignant presence tailed him. Every street lamp would abruptly be seized of its light into a deathly blackness every time he crossed under it, only to flicker back to life after he passed it.
There were moving shadows and flickering lights in the windows of the empty shells of buildings around him. He knew he was watched with ubiquitous unseeing and unseen eyes. But this omnipresence was matched only by the cold pervasive mist shrouding the parade square, like a ghoulish miasma.
He noticed that their shadows were moving even while the platoon remained stationary at attention at the square. The same shadows followed his platoon as they ascended to their fourth level bunks. No, it couldn’t be their shadows.
Sleep was a struggle between the capture of slumber and the smothering shadow and its embodiment of terror in its most abject sense. Behind his hermetically sealed eye lids, his eyes were fully conscious, and behind his clenched breaths was a laboured hammering in his chest. The taps in adjacent toilet were running at full blast, accompanied by horrifying screams that couldn’t possibly be within the range of a human vocal chord. His bed and his locker cabinet shock ferociously till the break of dawn.
The eerie mist of the night before dried away with the distant light lumbering in from the Eastern horizon at 6am. With dawn came the realisation that the chevrons on his corporal rank had somehow burned away over the night and were now as charred as cremated ash, and that the crest on his beret was fractured right down the middle, as if snapped by furious hands.
A prevailing belief in the armed forces posits that the crest of the beret, having been blessed by priests of the seven major religions of the nation, is an immensely powerful and protective “talisman” against the supernatural. Another superstitious belief also posits that an inexplicably shattered or burnt religious talisman is an indication that it has protected one from a malicious, if not also, a particularly powerful supernatural force.
He has since replaced his broken crest and he now sleeps hugging his beret.