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I was always close to my uncle, even if I was too young to truly know or understand him. He was a military man for the whole time I knew him and usually told the most batshit crazy stories you could imagine, but they were never exaggerated or made up. He was in Desert Storm and came back telling us about all the things that were over there. We were positive he was making up the part about the camel spiders, but the Brittanica set my grandparents had proved it to be true! He talked about how big they were, how fast, and skin-crawlingly ugly and nightmarish they appeared. He also made sure to mention he'd only really seen them twice.
I heard of a few other things, but nothing like the Likho. That's the one that haunts me to this day.
Of all the things he'd seen in the Middle East, he wasn't really in action. He was near a few bomb blasts, but not really in conflict at any time. He was a member of intelligence and mostly made his way as someone who translated and studied regions, maps, and... well, aside from that, I'm not sure. There was a lot he wasn't able to talk about.
On his way home from his final tour there were some considerable casualties and the damage done to his fellow soldiers was pretty horrendous. While getting his paperwork together to get out, he saw a man on a gurney. The man was lying on his back sobbing uncontrollably, holding his head in his hands. The blanket covered what was once legs, but now only two uneven stumps.
"It'll be okay, you'll be fine," he reassured the soldier.
"That isn't what I'm worried about, of course I'll survive!" the soldier snapped back. "I was supposed to be heading home, but now I'm stuck here in this shit-hole! They told me in this condition, to transport me would take the place of two people... I'm stuck here until the next transport! This place is lighting up more and more every day!"
My uncle swallowed hard, sizing up the man and the situation. His decision wasn't an easy one, but he felt it was the right one. He gave up his seat to let the wounded soldier go home. My uncle was there when the soldier was being transported away, about to head out of the hellish warzone and back home. "God bless you," he had told my uncle. I suppose God was too busy...
He was prepared to stay there in place of the wounded soldier, but admittedly relieved when he was told he wouldn't need to stay behind. Instead, he was to be moved to Poland. His charity had at least gotten him away from the desert. His new job was to brief those incoming soldiers as to what they were about to walk into and get the new Intelligence members up to speed. A minor detour on an otherwise smooth-sailing trip home. Too bad no good deed goes unpunished.
The Polish base was typical, but run down. It hadn't seen much use since WWII and the locals were timid. He made sure to note that they weren't nervous and uncertain about the soldiers; quite the opposite, they were always happy to see the men in uniform and most liked being near the base, if the opportunity was there. They spoke of some creature that was nearby, a local fear. They called it "the Likho." It was a beast that came out at night and terrorized the locals, supposedly searching for things that had belonged to its child; things that the townspeople had stolen. This didn't surprise my uncle. He'd heard plenty of local horror stories and the reputation that the Polish people near the base held was one that was less than flattering. He'd assumed this was a way to keep the youth in check and prevent further theft, on-base and off.
While out walking one night, he saw something that would forever change his life. A local resident was running, full-sprint, with someone hanging onto their back. Thinking it may be an instance of catching one of the thieves in the act, he began running after them. The thief heard my uncle's footsteps and turned quickly, yelling something in Polish. My uncle didn't understand any of what was said, as his language skills were only the areas of German and Arabic, but he did understand the panic and strain in the young thief's voice. The screaming of the thief was harrowing enough to stop my uncle, a hardened soldier, mid-run. When he saw the creature hanging around the neck of the thief, all the horror he heard in the man's screams made sense.
The figure around his neck had long, bony hands and fingers that seemed to dig so deep into the man's flesh that his skin threatened to tear at any moment. As the creature's fingers slipped and the grip slid, a trail of boils and lesions were left in the wake. The head was down, but a clearly audible howling was coming from it; a howling like a strong wind cutting around the pane of a loose window, but more intense and loud. My uncle was frozen in his tracks and felt the prickles of goosebumps running across his skin, but when the head of the creature around the thief's neck rose to face him, he felt every hair rise at once.
One long eyeball stretched down the figure's head, like a stretched oval and slitted like a snake's pupil. The mouth was opened wide to a deformed extent, howling and haunting. In the dim of light, my uncle could still swear that the skin was pale and loose, like brittle wrapping paper.
The sudden motion finally tore my uncle's vision away from the creature; the thief had his hand opened with a gold coin stuck to his palm. The man made continual throwing motions with his hand opened, but the coin didn't budge, as if fused to his flesh. The creature watched the wordless exchange between the man and my uncle and slowed the howling and released the thief and seemed to drift off into the air, being swallowed by the darkness of the night.
My uncle was still reeling from the impossible horror he'd just seen when the thief ran to him, still speaking Polish, not quite yelling anymore but speaking rapidly and frothing at the mouth. He took my uncle's hand and began rubbing his hand, the one with the coin, against my uncle's palm, still speaking wildly and nodding, tears streaming and a forced smile. He began to understand, but as he was about to take the coin, the creature, the Lihko, appeared again as suddenly as it had disappeared. It clenched the thief's head and let one demon wail screech out into the air. It was deafening, the thief appeared to scream, but was muted out by the unearthly noise coming out of the Lihko. The Lihko's head stretched more and more, becoming more disfigured and horrific as the wail continued. Finally, the thief's eyes rolled back into his head and the coin fell into my uncle's hand. The lifeless body of the thief fell back, someone through the Lihko, and to the ground, motionless. The creature stood in silence and stared at my uncle, not so much at him, but through him. He wasn't sure how long he stood and stared before the shock wore off enough to let his body run. And run he did, back to the base, back to MP, harder and faster than he thought he possible.
The MP building wasn't far from where this had just happened, but in his horror and desperate run, he still felt as though his muscles were pumping napalm. The MPs saw that he looked as though he were in serious danger and quickly rushed to his side to support him while others ran to the door to see what he was running from. "Where the hell have you been? Didn't you hear that?!" he finally managed to choke out.
But they didn't. The night had been silent and normal. Somehow, the deafening screams, the yelling... none of it had been heard by another soul. "What's that in your hand? Looks like an old American coin," one of the MPs mentioned. My uncle finally looked down into his hand and saw the coin he'd found, an American $5 gold coin. He shook his head quickly and told them of the body he'd found, the dead Polish man. The body was there, but the autopsy revealed it was nothing more than a blood clot in the brain.
He'd sworn himself to never telling anyone what he'd seen for fear that they'd think he was crazy. He was always pretty level headed, in my eyes. Granted, I didn't know him long. He died when I was young. He drowned. It was unusual considering he was always in great shape and was an excellent swimmer, but people drown, I suppose. In his will he left us all different things, including a nice jewelry box for my grandmother. She died recently, lived a full, long life. While cleaning up and dividing her things, I ended up with her jewelry box. I thought it might be worth a few bucks.
There was a hidden compartment at the bottom of it though, covered in felt. It had an old, worn-looking gold coin. I thought it was great at first and kept it, but then I noticed how loud the wind has been at night lately...
I'm not a superstitious guy, but I had this nagging dread when I'd look at it. I kept hearing my uncle's story again and again. So I sold that damned coin to one of those "recycle your gold" places. They told me it would be for other things. Boiled down and used with other metals to make gold earrings, class rings, even part of the gold flecks on some video game cartidges... Anything they can make a profit on, really. They only need a little gold to mix with other metals to get that gold-like appearance. I made my cut and they'll make theirs. And that was that, but the wind hasn't stopped howling and I think I saw a reflection of a cat's eye out my window last night.