Not the Face, Not the Face!

The wind blew unsteadily up the valley. Not wind, really, more… at home you would call it a breeze. Here, in a place that felt like the geographic center of Afghanistan (and almost was), a word like breeze, with its pleasant freight of spring days and sailboat play, felt out of place. And somehow breeze was a day word, not right for a moonless night. So what’s the right word?

Absence of the right word left an abscess in the mind, an irritating hole in the sentence that none of the test words that came to mind seemed to patch properly.

There was a rustle in the night, a deer in the leaves, another soul in the sheets; but there were no leaves here, where shortsighted, needy humanity had denuded the landscape of every inflammable root and branch in winters forgotten by every living thing. There were no deer, although the King’s hunting and fishing preserve at Ajar was nearby, nothing but a sole, elderly,  dog-loyal caretaker had made even a futile effort to preserve it. There were no sheets, for it was time to be on watch, and no one was looking out for the souls of the whole task force but one man and the ANA kandak’s two dogs, one in their main camp, and one in the observation post on the stony summit to the east. To be sure, the Afghans were supposed to post a watch as well, but judicious night-vision use had told all of us all we needed to know about that: it was a responsibility honored more in the breach. The outpost’s vicious, abused mastiff was what they counted on to wake them, whether the approaching threat was the ancient enemy, angular Pathans with ready grins and robust knives with t-reinforced spines, or US SF who would chide them for the lack of security.

It was hard to generate enthusiasm for the grunt work of security in a race that accepts having one’s throat slit by night as just one of the breaks — “if allah wills it,” with a shrug. So security was a responsibility that devolved, de facto, on the Americans, one ODB and one to three ODAs from different Groups, states, and cultures.

The diversity of the Americans melted to insignificance against the foreignness of the natives. They were the dies that forged us as a unit.

They weren’t bad, and some of them were outstanding fellows, those Afghans. But the most westernized and cosmopolitan of them was very different from us. We loved them, but as with the Montagnards, just when you thought they understood them something happened that made you realize you would never understand them.

Even if you died for them.

And something was moving. It was rustling. It made no sense.

Time for a 360º scan with the NVGs. As high priority as we were, we still had either-or night vision googles or weaponsights. Most of us passed up the PVS-14 for PVS-7 goggles, not the absoute state of the art, but for a B-Team averaging well over 20 years’ service, who all remembered when you had one miserable PVS-5 per team and were glad to get it, we were rolling in clover, night-vision-wise.


So what was making that noise? It was closer. Is there some cover that a lean, turbaned warrior could be slinking his way through? Was there — –


My face! Get it off my face! My –“ and the scream ended in a strangled gurgle.

An alien on the face? OK, this is a dream, aliens are not real, you’re not in Afghanistan, you’re awake now. Hell of a way to wake up and what is still attacking your face?

Ah. Good morning, Small Dog. Thought your human had slept in long enough, did you?

You would think the critter would know by now that tongue-in-nostrils is not the way said human likes to transition from REM sleep to fully awake. You’d think.

16 thoughts on “Not the Face, Not the Face!

  1. Aesop

    And while you’re up, I’d like to know by what depository of primal memory every small house animal knows from birth to stick the wet nose and whiskers into the eyes/nose/mouth of humans to fully awaken them in about 0.2 seconds.

    I swear I’m going to start using wet washcloths the same way on unarousable drunks in the E.D., purely as a scientific inquiry into the phenomenon’s efficacy.

    1. Hognose Post author

      You guys just need a therapy dog in the ER. Or maybe an array of them. For unarousable drunks, an adorable little poodle or similar. For the 6’8″ 350 lb. belligerent type who’s slinging orderlies and deputies around the whole ED, maybe the soul brother of that ill-tempered mastiff.

    2. Mike_C

      >start using wet washcloths the same way on unarousable drunks in the E.D., purely as a scientific inquiry
      Haha! I can definitely see the temptation. But also, whoo boy, I can see the headlines now: Former Marine* found waterboarding hospital patients.
      *IIRC; hope I got that right!
      But if I were on the hospital IRB and a well-thought out formal proposal for same (wet washcloth to nose, NOT waterboarding!) appeared, I’d vote to approve the study. Then again, I once was counseled that the old “hold the hand of the suspected malingering ‘unconscious’ patient above his own face and let go” maneuver was not an approved diagnostic procedure. […] At least not if anyone is watching.

      Isn’t Small Dog on hiatus from jumping on furniture and people because of nerve problems or something?

      1. Hognose Post author

        Very hard to communicate to SD that he’s not supposed to leap. Leaping is a poodle thing even more than a dog thing in general. (Funny, hyenas in their matriarchal packs have almost the same meeting ritual as dogs). So anyway, we’re supposed to keep Small Dog in a crate. Instead we’ve leap-proofed the downstairs (stuff in every seat unless a human is in it) and closed off the upstairs and those rooms we can close off.

        At night I carry him upstairs and let him find his own place in my bed.

  2. DSM

    “wet nose and whiskers into the eyes/nose/mouth of humans to fully awaken them in about 0.2 seconds.”

    That is one profound statement of truth.

  3. Cap'n Mike

    Small dog must be doing better if he made it up on the bed.
    Scottish dog usually gets me with the younger in the ear.
    The maddening times are when I get up and she immediately curls up in the warm spot I just vacated.

    Wet washcloth = water boarding
    Nice one Mike
    I’m a long time fan of the sternum rub.

  4. guy

    “…Absence of the right word left an abscess in the mind, an irritating hole in the sentence that none of the test words that came to mind seemed to patch properly…”

    Help! There’s a word like cirussus, or sirrusus, or something that means something like ‘light breeze making slithery sounds’.

    I just can’t think of it now.

        1. Hognose Post author

          Funny how things stick in your mind. I was reading an Allen Drury book, might have been the first one, Advise and Consent (the whole series is golden BTW) and he used it, and I had to look it up. Sure, I was maybe 15 but having to look something was was, for me, a rare experience, at least in my native language. (He used the word to refer to that familiar stirring of a crowd anticipating a speech in Congress, that time, IIRC). Then several times more in the series he used it again and I remember thinking, “Drury, you magnificent bastard, you got me the first time, but not now. I looked it up already!”

  5. KenWats

    My Large Cat enjoys simply walking across the domestic staff when they fail to rouse sufficiently early. 20 lbs of feline spread across 4 relativley small paws equals a lot of ground pressure. When that fails the paw to the face (with claws retracted) is ussually enough.

    1. H

      I once woke from a nightmare about drowning to find one of the cats for whom Mrs and I were staff licking my nose. Flying lesson administered. Problem not repeated further.

  6. Haxo Angmark

    that was some..good…writing. Maybe time for Hognose to pen an autobio

    best f/h English-language account that I know of, by any man from any war, is Denis Barnham’s ONE MAN’S WINDOW, written by a journeyman Spitfire pilot @ Malta, April-June 1942

    this snippet by Hognose was close, very close. I’m now going to read it again

Comments are closed.