"Frog in My Throat"
My name is John Masters, and as I sit here writing this, I realize that today is an anniversary of sorts. It’s been almost fifty-two years to the day, of the event that changed my life forever. I hope that by putting this out to the world, I can find some justification for not coming forward sooner. I don’t know if the government is still monitoring me or spying on me via my digital devices from some remote location, but I refuse to live in fear any longer. I’ve suffered from various health problems for the last few years… and now, at seventy years old, there isn’t much they can do to me except make threats of course. They probably think that the public will deem the story unbelievable, coming from the mind of some conspiracy crazed lunatic but I refuse to take this story to my grave on the off chance that they may try the experiment again or something just as horrible. So, here it is…
In 1966, I was stationed on a mountain top near Bayreuth, Germany, questioning my decision for enlisting in the army in the first place. Before I enlisted, my drinking was out of control and with the subzero temperatures and everyday boredom of military life, it spiraled even more out of control. I was getting in some scrapes and those in authority were hinting that I might need a judicial nudge or maybe a loss of a rank to drive the point home.
In my mind (which wasn’t functioning too well at the time), the solution to my problems lay in putting in transfer orders to Vietnam. I hoped this would at least buy me some time and get me out of a bad situation. While waiting for my orders to come through, I decided to take a week’s leave to visit Norway. My friend Rota had just returned from there and he talked so excitedly about hotels on these fantastic Fjords that I decided see them for myself. I also thought that time away from the post might be beneficial to myself and those in charge, “out of sight, out of mind.” I snagged reservations at Hotel Ullensvang on the shores of Hardangerfjord and off I flew. Well, not exactly flew, I took an 18 hour bus trip, coupled with a ferry across the North Sea.
After being deposited at the foot of a mountain, we climbed into an old Volkswagen van and lumbered up the mountainside. For most of the trip the driver fought to keep the van from swerving off the road and plunging to our deaths into the mile-deep chasm on our right. It appeared that guardrails weren’t in fashion yet. From time-to-time, I glanced over to my right to notice my fellow passengers with their heads buried in their hands. I then realized that they were praying; something that I then wished I had learned. With every bump and shake, I waited for the trip to come to an end at the bottom of the chasm.
Somehow, some way, we finally made it to the top. The van reeked of vomit as many of the passengers had hurled their lunch. I was ever so grateful to exit the van and feel the ground under my feet again.
I glanced at the driver as he exited the van, and he looked like he had been through a war. His face was ashen as he took a long pull from the flask he retrieved from his jacket. He noticed me standing there and held out the flask. I almost drained it. He laughed and in broken English, mumbled something about the ride back down the mountain, which I assumed would be even more harrowing. The driver stated that his name was Anders and that if I needed anything, the manager knew how to reach him.
The hotel looked magnificent from the outside and my room looked more like a suite. For a corn cob from Iowa, this seemed like the ultimate luxury. I rested a bit before heading down to the lobby to grab a bite to eat and some drinks- many drinks. Looking out toward the lobby, I noticed that almost everyone was lined up outside to watch the “miraculous” sunset. I was more of the midnight variety, like vampires and alcoholics, I detested the sunlight. After eating a light dinner, consisting of fried verdace (Baltic herring) and mashed potatoes, and sloping down five scotches, I decided to take an evening stroll around the grounds.
I headed for the front door to explore the grounds. Through the window, it appeared that the fog had rolled in out of nowhere. As I passed through the doorway, I took a deep breath and felt something hit the back of my throat. I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt like it was caught in a vise, and I was pulled back into the hotel and was slapped on the back so hard that I could feel the pain all the way down to my toes. I regained my breathing and turned to find the doorman standing behind me.
He was a large gentleman with the physique of a bouncer. As large as he was and as small in stature as I was, I prepared to take a swing at him until he pointed to the floor. There before me, mixed in with my drinks and dinner, was a large tadpole. At that moment, I knew he had saved me from choking to death. He then pointed outside and through the glass, I saw people grabbing their throats and dropping to the ground. Their bodies jerked for a few moments, and then they just lay there, motionless. Others, men in uniform, had donned masks and goggles, and they just seemed to stand there and watch as the men, women, children and babies fell to the ground, taking their last breaths.
I looked at the doorman frantically. He reached over and handed me a set of similar gear. He helped me put it on, and we both headed through the door into the fog to try to help.
What I saw next was beyond belief. The fog was filled with thousands, no, tens of thousands of tadpoles, swimming around in the air as if in water. I was so overwhelmed I could hardly draw a breath. We started dragging the fallen into the hotel, but there was really nothing to be done for them. They looked like they had drowned. I confronted the doorman, and in his broken English, he explained.
“Once in a lifetime and sometimes less, nature throws us a curve.” He stated he had only seen this phenomenon one other time as a child. He explained further that when conditions were absolute, and the fog was just the right consistency, it was capable of supporting small marine life. This was one of those times. The gear he handed me, the goggles and mask, were protection against these minute creatures finding their way into our bodies. Too many of them could fill the lungs and block off all means of receiving oxygen, or the smallest could work their way into one’s eyes and permanently blind them. I was informed that people normally keep the gear within easy reach on nights like this, but many had gotten lax, as the instances of this happening were extremely rare. Because of this apathy, men, women, and even infants died needlessly that night, along with a part of me.
Exhausted, I headed up to my room and was consumed by sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. In my dream, I could hear banging, which just seemed to get louder and louder. I suddenly realized, I wasn’t dreaming, someone was banging on my door. I flung it open and staring at me was a bird colonel. He brushed past me into the room and said, “Sit down!” As I was already in some trouble back at the base, I complied. He pulled out some papers and shouted, “Read this and sign it.” It was titled, “Non-disclosure agreement” and as I read through it, it generally stated that the events of that night never happened and if I ever revealed those events to anyone, I would be subject to imprisonment, possibly for the rest of my natural life. “I can’t sign this, I replied.” “You can and you must if you ever want to be a part of the world again. If you don’t sign it, or if you disclose the events of this night, we’ll put you away somewhere where no one can ever find you. That is, if we don’t decide to eliminate you altogether.” He leaned in close and shouted in my face, “Do you understand?” I took a deep breath and answered, “Yes”. As soon as I signed the papers and handed them to him, he disappeared. At that moment I realized that the doorman’s explanation regarding the events of this night was bogus.
I decided not to stay on any longer, and the next morning I headed downstairs to check out. The desk clerk said it was all taken care of, and if I wanted to head out, I’d better hurry as the van was leaving shortly. On my way out of the lobby, I noticed that most of the people were dressed in military uniforms, including the doorman from the night before. No civilians in sight. I stepped back in the van for yet another harrowing trip, this time down the mountain. I thought the trip down would be filled with even more fear, but the event at that hotel still consumed me.
When we reached the bottom of the mountain, the same driver, Anders, called me over and offered me a drink from his flask. When he handed me the flask, he leaned in and whispered, “Don’t believe any bullshit about that event being a natural event; it was an experiment by your army which went terribly wrong. I had to sign the same agreement and between us, I’m sure they will be monitoring our movements for many years to come. Be safe my friend.” “You too”, I replied.
I returned to the base, and when I went to report back, the lieutenant on duty motioned to the corner of the office. Standing there was the same colonel from my room in Norway. “Remember the agreement or be prepared to pay the consequences. We’ve expedited your orders for Vietnam, so you’ll be leaving tomorrow. There will be no leave, you’ll be flying straight from Germany, across the U.S. to Oakland, and then on to Vietnam. If we find out you’ve talked to anyone about the event, remember, bad things can happen in a war zone. If you keep your mouth shut, you’ll be fine.” Not wanting to lose a life not yet fully lived; I kept the event buried in my mind, well, until now.
After I was discharged from the Army, I went off the grid, moving often from state to state. I felt completely dead inside. What little belief I ever had in humanity had been destroyed that night on a mountaintop in Norway. I still had that uneasy feeling that I was being followed. I was unable to hold a job for very long or stay in a relationship for fear of putting someone else in harm’s way. My life consisted of just using up time instead of living.
I’ve Googled many times to see if there’s any reference to the event, but found nothing. I even called the hotel once from a remote location and asked to speak to Anders, only to be told that he had died the night of the event, which I knew was a lie. He asked who was calling, but I hung up immediately. It sounded like the army had been on a quest to tie up loose ends. Over the years, I’ve often felt like I was being watched, and sometimes the phone would ring, and I thought I could hear breathing on the other end, but no one ever spoke. Once, around twenty years ago, I thought about going back to the hotel, but that idea faded as life moved on. Now, all that I have left is the memory of that “Froggy Night.”
I often wondered if our government has tried this experiment again somewhere else on some other unfortunate people. I’m sure they think that I’ll be perceived as some sort of fringe lunatic by disclosing the event. I just have a hard time believing that all those involved can be that callous and uncaring when it comes to destroying the lives of other human beings.