I appreciate this opportunity to share my story, as I have felt the need to speak of it for quite some time. I understand that this is supposed to be a forum for fictional entries about ghosts. What I have to offer you today is quite real. The ghost, or whatever you choose to call the entity in my story, has left us. But for two months last year, the ghost appeared with such regularity that many of us today cannot walk past the site of his visits without expecting to see him.
I live on a small Marine base in Al Anbar Provence, Iraq. We call this little corner of paradise Camp Korean Village. The original buildings on the base were built about fifty years ago for the Korean workers that built the Iraqi highway that runs past the base. Other than that one detail, we knew very little about the history of this place. Before the war, the forty or so concrete buildings that make up the original village were vacant. Today Marines, soldiers and civilian contractors like me, live and work in what was once a small Korean town in the Iraqi desert.
The Al Anbar desert surrounding Korean Village is a vast, almost featureless plain of dust and rocks. Directly behind the base is a huge rock mesa that is completely unique to this barren region. I don’t know what the locals call the mesa; to us it’s simply “the Rock.” Every day our trash truck is escorted by a detail of Marines out of the camp to dump our trash in a pit below the Rock. And every day a group of Iraqi men wait in the shade of the Rock to pick through our trash for food and firewood. One day last September, we heard that the trash scavengers had deserted the pit. Around here when such a sudden change occurs in the local inhabitant’s routine, the Marines assume some sort of attack to be imminent. The Marines sent a team out to the Rock to search for hidden explosives while the base went on alert for possible attack. After the Marines reported finding nothing suspicious outside the camp, security was relaxed; though the locals were still absent from the trash pit.
It was almost midnight when the call came over the radio ordering us to go to the bunkers. I was still half asleep and fumbling for my clothes in the darkness for what I assumed was just another security drill. But as I was pulling on my boots, the sound of automatic weapons firing on the perimeter altered my assumption. I hurried to the bunker to wait in the darkness with my coworkers for the “all clear” order so we could return to our bunks. As we stood there waiting, the guards manning tower six, the guard tower right behind our hooches were pouring ammo into the darkness at an alarming rate. We cracked jokes and tried our best to appear unaffected by the possibility that our side of the camp was under attack. After what seemed like hours, the firing stopped and the night became quiet. We waited anxiously in the bunker for another half hour before we were finally allowed to return to our hooches.
It was a dark night but the crescent moon was very bright and I could see well enough to find my way back to my hooch without using my flashlight. I had just stepped through the narrow opening between the blast walls when I heard the sound of someone crying. I turned around and there before me stood a small child. Though I could not see his face in the moonlight, I was sure it was a boy of maybe three or four years old. I stared at him for a moment, shocked at the sight of a small child where there should be no children. The boy was crying softly and murmuring something I could not understand.
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
The boy continued crying. I reached into my pocket to retrieve my flashlight and when I directed the light toward the child he seemed to vanish into the bright beam of light. I could still hear his crying before me but I could see beyond and around him with my light. It was as if he were only a shadow that could not exist within the light. I felt a cold chill run through my body as I walked backwards to my hooch to escape the invisible crying child. Inside my hooch I struggled to listen for the crying through the closed door as my heart was pounding in my ears. I stayed there in the darkness for a long time listening, and hoping not to hear him, before I finally returned to my bed to try to sleep.
The next morning the camp was buzzing with rumors about the previous nights’ shooting. We even heard that the Marines were going to replace the Ugandan guards at tower six because the Ugandans were refusing to man it. Over the next few weeks almost all of my coworkers reported some kind of contact with the “ghost child.” Some of them tried to photograph the ghost, someone tried to record the crying. As for myself, I began sleeping with the TV on so I would not hear him. One rumor that came down from the Marines was that the locals claim the child was the son of a Korean engineer that had been murdered along with the child’s mother while on a picnic at the Rock. According to the story, the parents’ bodies were recovered but the boy was never seen again. It had been assumed that the child wandered off into the dessert and died of exposure. The locals claim the ghost child wanders the desert crying for his dead parents.
We seldom speak of the ghost boy any more; it has been months since anyone claims to have seen or heard him. The locals returned to their trash scavenging as before. And the camp gossip has turned to other subjects. I think some of my friends miss the excitement of those spooky events. As for myself, I still sleep with the TV on.