The Milwaukee Misfits were four Special Forces soldiers who somehow found their way from a small Wisconsin suburb to the desert sands of Iraq.
Late one Thursday in July, the team was making its way home down a steep, rocky face. Karow, their scout, was busy scanning the face of the opposite hill for snipers. His scope never fell on enemy soldiers, but he did find a series of small caves that could definitely be an Iraqi stronghold. He radioed to Connor and the team made their way down the mountain, across the sparse valley and up the other hill.
They approached cautiously and then found the caves Karow had seen. There were three entrances to the caves. One was large and tall enough for a grown man to walk through. The second was a bit smaller and would require a grown man to crouch to enter. The last was small, so small that a large man would have trouble crawling through it.
Famosa, the demolitions expert, and Connor, the teamís leader, quickly cleared the two larger caves and found nothing. Karow stood guard over the third hole and thought he heard something echoing in the tiny cave. When the others had finished their search of the other caves, Connor knelt at the opening to the third cave. The echoing was rhythmic, almost musical. He tossed a flare into the cave. The flare went about six feet into the mountain before striking the back of the cave and dropping out of sight into a deep hole. The flare echoed for some time, bouncing around as it fell down into the hill.
Karow, the smallest of the group, volunteered to investigate. Connor did not like that option, but knew his team had to take risks to gather the information they were seeking. Karow stripped out of his pack and gear and slid into the hole wearing only his fatigues and a .45 pistol. The red beam of the flashlight held in his teeth illuminated the ground in front of him. It took only a few seconds for him to crawl the distance from the cave entrance to the hole. He slowly peeked over the edge of the hole and looked down. The red flame of the flare that Connor had thrown was gone. It had disappeared down this second hole, indicating a much deeper hole that they imagined. Karow studied the walls of this second hole, looking for any signs of it being passable. There were no true foot- or hand-hold but he felt that a determined individual could spider-walk down the hole. He shimmied back to the caveís entrance and reported to Connor.
"Lt., itís a lot deeper than we thought. I canít even see your flare at the bottom."
"Ok, Reggie. Any signs of a passageway?"
"Itís possible, but itís definitely not an easy way to go. I could get down there if you want. The trick is finding my way back out."
The sun was beginning to set and Connor wanted them out of the area and into a bivouac camp before dark. He turned to Famosa.
"Esteban, do you have enough charges to collapse that hole and close this cave?"
"I am out of C-4, but we can bring it down with some grenades."
"Do it! Itís getting dark."
Famosa collected the remaining grenades from each team members and tossed them into a small canvas bag tied to his waist. The other team members retreated about 100 feet from the entrance, while Formosa prepared to destroy the mysterious cave. He pulled the pin on two grenades and tossed them into the cave. His throw sent the grenades into the cave and then down into the hole. He heard them bouncing off the walls of the hole for a few moments.
The two grenades detonation sent a shockwave through the mountain beneath them. Famosa prepared the throw another grenade to seal the cave itself when a thin black smoke began to slip past the entrance of the cave. The smoke swirled around the mouth of the cave, spinning and whirling into a tiny vortex. Famosa took a step back and dropped the bag containing the rest of the grenades. He struggled to keep on his feet as the loose rocks beneath him started to give way. The smoke spun wilder and began to take shape.
"What is that, Famosa?" asked Connor.
"I didnít do it!"
"I didnít ask what you did, I asked what it is?"
"I.I donít know!"
The smoke folded into itself a few times and thick, puffy wings slowly sprang from the shadowy black mass. The smoke continued to move and change and the men stood in awe as the wings unfolded revealing a large, muscular body within the swirling mist.
"What fool dares to disturb my slumber?"
Famosa was still struggling to maintain his footing, but memories from a childhood spent reading fantasy books about the desert came flooding back to him. He was still studying the situation but felt compelled to reply.
"Are you a genie?"
"A Genie? I am no mere genie, I am Afrit."
Connor turned and whispered to Karow "Be cool, but get me a bead on that thing. I need a gun on it ASAP."
Karow slid his rifle off his shoulder and poured himself to the ground, making as little noise or movement as possible.
Connor decided to take control of the situation. He slung his rifle over his shoulder and stepped forward. He was not a trained negotiator or diplomat but wanted to get his men out of this situation as safely and swiftly as possible. The explosion might alert enemy soldiers hiding in the mountains, so they could not waste time. He did not know what else to do to prove his peaceful intentions so he held his hands in front of him, palms up and walked toward the cloud.
"I am Lt. Connor, U.S. Army. We donít mean to disturb you. We donít want to hurt you?"
The creature let out a laugh that boomed like thunder across the mountain.
"Hurt me? You have guns all over your bodies. Guns are used only for hurting others. It was men with guns that put me here. And now the men with guns will pay."
The thick black mass turned toward Connor. Karow tried to draw a bead on the creature, but every time he looked through his scope, he saw only smoke. There was nothing solid he could fire upon. Famosa finally regained his footing and unholstered his pistol, pointing it at the mass that was attacking his boss. Patruno jumped to his feet and began running to save Connor. Connor tried to unsling his rifle, but he was too slow. In an instant the cloud surrounded him. Smoke swirled around him and he disappeared within the dark cloud. He choked as the smoke filled his nose and lungs. He clawed desperately to free himself from the formless shape that had consumed him.
As he struggled, images began filling his head. Images of a happily married man selling fruits and vegetables from a roadside stand in ancient Persia. His stand was one of many lining an urban market filled with tents and shops. He was in Baghdad, selling the yield from his gardens to support his family. The images shifted and the man was being accused of a crime. He was accused of committing adultery and impregnating the daughter of a king. The accusations led to the man being tried and sentenced to death for his sins. Connors brain struggled to work through the images flickering like a slide show in his mind. A constant image throughout the onslaught showed a second man overlooking the proceedings and smiling. The man was of royal bearing and seemed to know something, yet remained silent at the trial. The man was the father of the baby growing within the princess. It was this manís sin that had been blamed on the simple vendor. It was those sins that had led to a judgment of infidelity and rape against the innocent man. It was those sins that led an innocent man being taken at gunpoint from his home and callously thrown into the hole that Connorís team had found. His life was lost. His loves were lost. The man slowly wasted away in this tiny, dark prison. As he wasted away from starvation and dehydration, his body consumed itself until only his rage remained. It was this manís spirit that powered this creature and this manís rage that was choking Connor.
Sensing that Connor had learned the story behind his rage, the creature released him and the billowing smoke rose high above the four men.
Patruno saw the release of Connor as a sign of benevolence from the shadow-spirit. Tales of the 1000 Arabian Nights again filled his head.
"So, if you are a genie, doesnít that mean we get three wishes or something?"
The cloud whipped around and took shape directly in front of the large soldier. A smile seemed to form in the cloud, corresponding to where a face would have been.
"Would you like to have your wishes?"
Connor ran toward Patruno, waving his hands over his head, hoping to distract his teammate before he answered.
"You bet I would."
The smile disappeared from the smoke and the mass pulled away from Patruno, spreading its mighty wings and gesturing with cloudy, hazy hands.
"Then simply state your wish and It shall be done."
Connor was running across the unsteady ground. Connorís voice cut through the air, "donít do anything. Donít say anything else. Thatís an order." Connor was running across the unsteady ground.
But the words reached Patruno a second too late.
Patrunoís mind had wandered back to his wife and child, all alone at home, while he had been trudging along in the desert for the past six months. He had heard the pain in her voice, the sadness at his absence. He had always wanted his wife and son to be happy and made a silent wish for them to have everything that they ever wanted or needed in the world. This silent wish was plucked from Patrunoís mind and given life by the shadowy Afrit looming over him.
The smoke form swirled above them and then wrapped itself around Patruno giving him a glimpse of his secret wish. His wife was dancing, zipping through the house on her toes, spinning around to some unheard music. His son was in the backyard playing. A football flies through the air. His son catches it and screams with excitement as he imagines himself as the players he watched every Sunday on television. His wife is simply giddy as she continues her dancing. Suddenly she moves to the back door and gestures outside. She curls her finger and waves for someone to come inside. Patrunoís son throws the football back through the air. The ball is caught by object of Patrunoís wifeís attention, a blonde mustached man wearing a Houston Texanís Jersey. Patruno instantly recognizes the man as his wifeís childhood sweetheart, a man that she had been dating before he was killed in a car wreck in high school. He was now filling her thoughts and making her so happy. Patrunoís glimpse of this world came to a crashing halt as the smoke cleared from around him.
Connor slid to a stop at Patrunoís side. He wrapped his hands around him to keep him from falling. Connor turned to the black mist above him.
"What did you do to him?"
"I simply answered his wish."
"You did what?"
Connor turned to Patruno. "What is he talking about? What wish?"
Patruno was mumbling to himself. "Sheís happy now. Theyíre both so happy."
Connor shook Patruno, trying to break past the blank stare.
Suddenly, Patruno shifted in Connorís grasp. His hand darted at Connorís belt and removed his .45 pistol from its holster. Connor was unaware that his pistol was missing until the shot rang out. Patruno collapsed to the ground, blood streaming from a gaping wound in his head. Connor pushed himself away from Patrunoís body, shocked at what had happened. Connor turned his attention back to the smoke, but it was now dancing in front of Formosa.
Formosa was lost in a trance, staring at the mists swirling in front of him. His eyes blazed with a happiness that Connor had never seen. Formosaís face swelled with pride. He was a Medal of Honor recipient. He had been awarded countless medals and was regarded as the greatest living American soldier. Schools were being names after him and his family was beaming with pride at each ribbon-cutting. The images flashed past him faster. He was revered, idolized and cheered wherever he went. It would never end, and he knew he would never leave.
Connor reached Formosa, but saw the a blank stare coming over him. Formosa had received a vision of all he had ever wanted and Connor feared the he might not be able to bring him back. He turned to curse at the cloud, but saw that it had moved to Karow.
Karowís head was following the movements of the shadow before him. The movements had become dance-like, almost hypnotic. A silent wish was made in Karowís heart and the swirling mist surrounded him.
In Karowís mind he had become the epitome of his greatest ambitions. He had long fancied himself a warrior, a killing-machine, bred and built to be a pure instrument of war. He saw himself treading mightily on glorious fields of battle leaving a wake of fallen foes before him. He felt a weapon in his hands, it was a large massive weapon, but it felt light in his hands. He was then at the controls of a thundering vehicle, pouring flame and red hot metal from its cannons. His enemies fell like dominoes before him. He massaged the metal trigger in front of him. It felt so powerful. He felt so in control. He slowly squeezed the trigger and laughed as liquid fire leaped from the gun and knocked down a thousand men at one time. He pulled the trigger again and again and soon the battlefield was littered with the torn limbs and bodies of his foes as he strode triumphantly across the field.
The smoke began to recede and the haze was lifted. As the cloud was peeled back he saw Formosa lying before him. Fifteen bullet holed riddled his body and blood flowed freely on the ground beneath him. Formosaí smile never wavered and he felt no pain as his life slipped out of him.
Smoke trickled from the barrel of the gun in Karowís left hand. He looked down at his right hand and saw the last sight he would ever see. His last grenade rested in his palm and the pin lay in the sand, carelessly tossed an eternity before. He lifted his hand to throw the grenade away, just as it went off.
Connorís horror at the deaths of his teammates began to cloud his mind. He unslung his rifle and fired wildly into the cloud, as if a shower of lead could wash away the cloud. His rifle clicked empty and he reloaded. Another spray of bullets flew at and through the cloud. Again and again he reloaded until all of his ammunition had been spent. He tossed his gun aside and, fueled by frustration, shame, and rage ran directly at the cave where the shadow had emerged. He pulled his knife from its sheath and began hacking wildly, the mists swirling away from him with each cut.
The smoke wrapped around him now.
"What is it your deepest wish, Connor? What secret desire drives you?"
"No. I will not make a wish. I will not. Do you hear me? My desires are mine and mine alone!"
But you have already made your wish. I can see it in your heart. And now it will come true."
The smoke crawled through his nostrils and into his lungs. He felt the shadow creeping into his mind, showing him the outcome of his desires. In an instant the Afrit was gone. He had tried to suppress his wishes, but could not hide his rage against the creature that had taken his friends. He had wished for the creature to be destroyed, to no longer be a threat to him. His wish had been granted and he had released the trapped soul of a man murdered to protect another manís sins.
The smoke was gone now. Connor felt a release from the terror that he had just faced. His legs gave way and he slipped to the ground, relieved that the torment had ended but forlorn over the loss of his friends. Then another thought came flooding into his mind. He had not made a single wish. He had made two. His lifeline, the tether he used to hold off the onslaught of selfish desire, had been his teammates. He had thought on them when the question was asked. He needed them at his side to face the monster.
He pounded the ground at his side and thought to himself, "what if that could have been my wish? I could have brought them back, instead I thought only of myself and now I am all alone."
A raspy voice snuck from the darkness.
"You are not alone. Not anymore."
The smoke that had dissipated began to coalesce once more. This time, there was not a single plume of smoke, but three.
The plumes shifted and folded together until the faces and forms of his three friends emerged from within them.
"Misfits? Is that you? This isnít possible. My wish must have brought you back."
A shadow bearing the face of Patruno answered "Your wish did bring us back."
"But I thought my wish was for you to be alive."
Karowís voice spoke from the second plume of smoke.
"You wished for us to be together, to face this problem together."
Famosaís voice came from the third plume.
"You never thought anything about us being alive."
Connorís eyes widened as he realized what he had done. Yet, even the sight of his friendís face within the dark cloud, he felt a sense of kinship with them.
"At least we are all together again. Now we just need to find a way to get out of here."
"You donít understand, boss," chimed Connorís shade. "We are together. Here, forever. We will be together. Our spirits are tied to this place. This is where our blood was spilled and this is where our spirits will dwell."
"Our spirits? You mean all of us? But Iím not dead."
The three plumes began to billow powerfully into the sky. The smoke from the three plumes began to block out the sky, drawing a thick darkness over the mountain. Connor pulled a flare from his pocket, but its light could not penetrate the smoke. He dropped the flare as he began to choke on the fumes. He pleaded with the clouds to release him. He fell to one knee, rasping for breath. He swiped at the smoke, hoping to move it away.
"Why are you fighting it, boss? It was your wish for us to be together again. And now we will be together forever."
Patrick McCully attended the University of Texas at Dallas as works as a police officer.
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