9 weeks later, he arrived in Saigon as part of the 52nd Infantry and was dumped in the middle of the jungle with his unit. Because of his initial hesitance to kill and obvious fear, he was extensively bullied by his fellow soldiers, often leading Frank to spend entire nights alone, sleeping up in the trees, taking the job of lookout just to be separated from those who bullied him. At night, in the trees, though his attention never wavered from his lookout duty, he would spend hours writing letters to his girlfriend and future child, sharing fantasies about their bright futures. Eventually Frank did make one friend in the jungle, a war journalist and bomb-specialist named Peter who Frank had admired for his fearlessness with his camera and his ability to defuse anything explosive, which had already saved their unit a few times. After weeks stationed in the same small camp, Peter convinced Frank to separate from his unit and be Peter's lookout and protection while he goes and investigates a secret tribal village that was rumored to be a refuge for Vietnamese mystics and supposed witchdoctors. Peter told Frank that if he helped locate this secret village and keep them safe, they could both take credit for the groundbreaking article that Peter would write, helping Frank launch a career in journalism.
They left hours later in the cover of the night.
Frank led them through the jungle, hacking and slashing through trees, stealthily avoiding the Viet Cong, clearing the path of snakes and spiders, all while Peter shot photos and shared information that he had heard about this secret village they were trying to find, escalating his fantasies of sharing the Pulitzer Prize.
Exhausted, fevered, and starving, they found it. On the surface, this "secret" village resembled a leper colony, with many of the helpless villagers suffering from obvious deformities and ailments, too weak to even oppose Peter and Frank's intrusion. Peter suggested that they leave, fearful of catching an illness and disappointed that the rumors weren't true. But Frank noticed a subtle glow emitting from behind one of the trees and insisted they check it out before leaving. Behind the trees was a makeshift grass hut marked with a symbol that looked like 2 serpents. Inside it, they found the secrets they were looking for. Unlike anything they had ever witnessed, they stumbled in on a group of deformed, decadently robed elderly men and women, chanting amongst a bright green smoke and dancing around a skeleton. And the skeleton…was alive. Peter's camera already in hand he managed to snap about 6 shots before they were noticed, and when they were, each one of these infected mystical tribespeople turned and screeched, their eyes glowing and their teeth gnarling. As the mystics held their hands up toward Peter and Frank, the living skeleton turned its head and looked directly at them as they fled.
Darting out of the village as quickly and as carelessly as they could, Peter slammed his shin against a rogue branch and got his entire leg stuck, stopping him from moving forward. Closely behind them, the trees began to glow green, and the screeching from the mystics could be heard in the distance. Hastily, Frank hacked at the branch with his machete until Peter's leg was finally freed just as they saw the mystics enter into their eyesight. Hobbled, Peter put his arm around Frank as Frank dragged them both as quickly as he could. The mystics not far behind, Frank knew the only way to hide was up in the trees, as he had spent nights there escaping his daily bullying. Mustering his adrenaline, Frank helped Peter up into a tree, and Frank followed, where they covered themselves in thick leaves and branches. There, they sat motionless as they watched the entire village of mystics and lepers pass beneath them. Hours passed as they sat in the trees. When they both felt they were finally safe, they descended from the tree and let out a large sigh of relief.
"We're going to be famous, Frank! These shots I got! What we saw!? Those…people?! I can't wait to write about it." Peter said, excitedly.
"Let's just get home," Frank replied.
2 steps into their journey, however, Frank's future fame instantly vanished. At the base of the tree they have been holding onto for dear life, Frank heard a click as his foot pressed into the mud, and he knew what had happened. He had stepped on a mine. Frank looked at the ground. Peter looked at Frank. Frank looked up and back at Peter and asked "Peter…can you help me? Can you do anything? Can you defuse this?"
Peter looked at Frank with a subtle hint of guilt for only seconds before he held up the camera and pointed to it as he said "I can, Frank, but…I'm going to be famous."
And just like that, Peter hobbled away into the jungle as Frank stood there, watching Peter abandon him, knowing that at any moment, Frank would face his biggest fear. He would die alone in the jungle. Tears in his eyes, and a body filled with regret and anger, he pulled out a pen and a piece of paper and began writing a letter to Lorna and his baby. He got as far as "I love y-" when the mine exploded, disintegrating most of Frank's torso and the top half of his head. Frank laid in the middle of the jungle in Saigon, alone, and dead.
For days, Frank's body lay still in the jungle, his love letter faded and nearly evaporated from the moisture of the jungle, his body affected the same way. Withered, dampened, and torn apart, praying mantises and ants had already begun taking shelter in his torso. It was at this state that a cloaked figure appeared amongst the brush. Surrounding the figure was a familiar green smoky aura. Hunched over Frank's lifeless corpse, the stranger opened a bag, removed a dead pig from it, and crudely removed the pig's intestines and eyeballs, discarding the other remains. The intestines were cut into two long pieces and stretched out on the wet ground. The eyeballs were shoved into the ends of the guts, and the stranger began to chant.
Smoke filled the forest, monkeys and other wildlife could be heard screeching in the distance, bright green lights emitted from the stranger's hands and reflected off of the condensation on the jungle leaves, resembling some kind of distorted third world disco.
More chanting. More rumbling. The pig intestines changed color, began to move, and then slithered their way around Frank's exposed dead arms, making their way to his hands. Simultaneously, Frank's muscles twitched, starting with his legs, and moving up to the half of his head that was still intact. His body began to stand, and soon it was fully upright. The stranger, still cloaked, stood back and watched as the intestinal serpents wrapped themselves around Frank's hands, moved their heads in place above Frank's severed nasal cavity, and seemed to mentally link with Frank's newly reanimated body. With the serpents' functioning eyes now floating above Frank's head, a brand new complete face was formed. At this moment, Frank's mouth peeled open and he let out a bellowing scream, which quickly changed into a subtle and confident smirk.
Frank was alive….
To Be Continued….
("Snake Eyes" will be displayed this Thursday, Jan 9th at Spoke Art in SF as part of the annual SupersonicElectronic show, and a limited "Snake Eyes" print will be released on Friday, Jan 10th exclusively on ZEROFRIENDS.)