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By Laura Nettles

Water drips down my neck form the hewn rock ceiling as I enter the recently liberated crypt. War crimes are the rumors, mass deaths and senseless torture. The miasma of decay engulfing me speaks to the truth of those words. Rotten meat, feces, and a host of other stenches mix in a deadly cacophony with a hint of yellow. My throat and sinuses start to burn.

“Masks on!” I call out. My men comply, unquestioningly. “Spread out! Document everything.”

Our lights pierce the darkness, illuminating faces frozen in screams. Some are shackled to the walls; others hang from the ceiling. All are flayed open, bare to the necrotic bacteria infesting these catacombs. The peace of the interred ancients mocks the respite these newer souls endure. Used, abandoned, eroded. All for what?

“Sir, over here!” echoes from my left.

I turn and join the military medic, whose steady lantern illuminates a scene that makes my heart stutter. There, laid out on a metal table, is a human dog hybrid. Limbs are emaciated, fur patchy, eyes livid. Drool mixed with puss is dripping from its bared teeth. The only being found alive.

The medic raises his hands placatingly and approaches the abomination. The human eyes in the human upper skull track his movements, the canine lower jaw wired shut with hideous metal protrusions.

“Easy, easy. I’m here to rescue you,” the medic says in a soothing tone to the poor chimera.

The creature’s eyes roll with terror so I keep behind and to the left of the medic so I can pull him out of danger if necessary. Something shiny glints in the lantern light.

The medic reaches forward with a steady hand. “Dog tags, sir. Private Arthur Ramirez. I remember his name. He was listed as missing in action a month ago.” Light glints off wetness now. “Uh, sir. He’s been disembowelled.”

Lengths of grimy intestines glisten beneath the torso of the dog human. My breath hitches at the sight. There is no saving this poor creature.

“I don’t know how he’s still alive. This is amazing science I’ve never seen before. There is so much we can learn from the process.”

“Is it reversible?” I steel my vocal cords, suppressing my emotions.

“Don’t think so. Not in the state he’s currently in. We would have to make another one to study the process first. There are documents under the table. They must hold the secret. Just imagine what we could do.”

“Not a chance in hell.”

Bang. Bang.

I lower my gun. The medic falls to the floor, arterial spray mixing with the gore on the ground. A gush of darker blood projects from the chimera’s forehead. Quickly, I douse the tortured, twisted body and papers in extra fuel for the lantern. Glass shatters around the flame as the light smashes, igniting the horror. No one else will find and continue this work.

Arthur Ramirez is liberated.

The End

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