Blood, Sweat, & Fear Ch. 05bywildsweetone©
The bird's screech awakened me. At least that's what I had first thought. Then I thought it was Martin's toxic smelling armpit, which my face was leaning against. Finally, I realised it was Miles who had woken me. He was asleep but every now and then, his body would jerk. His hand would come up and shove me in the back like he was pushing me forward.
When I turned toward him, the moonlight showed the stark anguish on his face. He was having a nightmare. I'd read in a magazine something about not waking a person during a dream so I decided then to not wake him. I moved back a little. I had hoped to give him some space. I was still too close as he proved when his clenched fist swung from nowhere to land heavily on my hip. It was unexpectedly hard; my yelp of pain woke him instantly.
He figured out what had happened for himself.
"Sorry, Bess," was all he said. Then he had stood and walked off into the night.
I had found him easily enough. He was sitting slumped on some rocks at the river's edge.
"Are you okay, Miles?"
"It's me who should ask you that," he replied without looking up. I thought briefly at that point, about going back to Martin and sleep. I quickly dismissed the idea. I wasn't likely to sleep. I sat down beside him.
"I was in 'Nam. I still have nightmares." With his head in his hands, he went on. "I can't seem to shake them off. I guess I don't deserve to be able to."
"Why?" A single quietly spoken word was all I could master at that point.
"Some bad, unforgivable things happened in 'Nam. And I did nothing to stop them. There were times when I stood by and watched them happen."
"What kind of things?" I didn't really want to know but that morbid fascination took its hold on me.
"Things you'd never understand. Hell, I don't understand them myself." He shook his head then, in despair.
I figured from what I'd been through recently I was stronger than I'd ever been. So, I encouraged him. "Tell me, Miles. Tell me what happened to give you nightmares where you shove and hit out at others in your sleep."
Three minutes of hearing only the river moving went by. I'd decided to quietly wait, all night if necessary, until he spoke. I didn't have much longer to wait.
"It was hot as hell," he began. "It had rained hard all morning. Hell, it'd been raining for weeks. We'd been walking through heavy jungle. The fucking new guy in front stopped, so I'd stop. The guy behind me would give me a shove with his barrel against my back. Then I'd shove the guy in front. It happened a few times until the fng learned to keep his distance.
"We'd been walking through jungle a click or two. I was soaked to the skin as usual. We all were. Every noise startled us, not that we could hear much above the rain, that made it worse, though it meant they couldn't hear us so well either. I loved the rain; we hardly ever fought in it. We walked for another hour before the rain stopped. It was when we were drying out that it happened."
He stopped, stared straight ahead at the moonlight reflecting on the water. I knew he didn't see it.
"This family had heard us. We had been very quiet, but they must have heard us. They'd walked straight up behind the fng in the squad, startling them. The two fng picked up their m6s turned and deliberately killed them. It happened so quick." He paused a moment then.
"And, you wanna know what else Bess?"
"What, Miles? Tell me." Though what he had just told me was horrific, I knew the worst was about to come.
"After, when we checked the bodies, we found a young girl. A kid really. She was no more than seven or eight years old. She had a bright electric blue dress on. The top part was covered in her blood. It had torn at the side. We saw two hand grenades that had been strapped to her body under the dress. They never went off.
"A kid Bess. A little kid for God's sake." He wiped the back of his hand angrily over the tear as it rolled down his cheek.
"Here's the stinger part, Bess. Later on that night, the squad were rolling about on the ground laughing their asses off about it."
It must have been the mother in me, I moved close to him then. I held him tight, rocked him as he grieved.
He shoved me away. "Leave me alone, Bess. Go away."
I figured I was about as useful as a fly on a skeleton then. I left him to his memories, walked to the river, stripped, then waded in and sank down into the icy wetness. I lay there for what felt like hours, just soaking, letting the grime slowly wash off my skin. The night sky had lightened a little by the time I moved in the water. Most of the dirt and sweat had washed off, the little that remained I rubbed away with my palms. Then I waded to the edge, picked up my clothes and took them back into the river to wash. The dirt came off easily enough. The sweat stains were something an hour of scrubbing would likely clean up. But I didn't have the luxury of that hour. I scrubbed them as best I could, then dressed myself. I figured that it wouldn't take long for the heat of the day to dry the clothes again.
A low quiet whistle had me looking over to the opposite side of the river. I couldn't make out any details, but the silhouette I saw bent in a bowing motion. I didn't wait to find out what that meant. I quickly put my shirt back on, then raced out of the river back to Martin. Miles, I figured, could look after himself.
Martin wasn't there. I fell to the ground my palms pressing the dirt where he had slept. It wasn't warm. The daylight still wasn't bright enough to see his footprints, so I didn't bother looking. I ran as quickly and as quietly as I could back to Miles.
"Miles, Martin's g…" I stopped. The rock was bare. He wasn't where I'd left him. I checked around to make sure I was at the right place. The rocks seemed the same.
I spent another fruitless half an hour searching around between the river, the rocks and the sleeping place looking for clues as to where they'd gone. I didn't find a thing. The sun had risen; it was clear enough around the edge of the river to see any tracks, which either of them may have left. Not one clue. Nothing.
Swatting the flies away from my face, I sat down, angry with both of them for leaving me like that. My stomach was cramping again. I decided then that I needed to find some food. With my immediate need seen to, then I would go and look for the others.
I walked a little way back into the jungle. The shade the heavy growth provided was a welcome change. The heat hit quick and hard on the island. I found a scrubby looking tree with berries. I knew nothing about what was safe to eat and what would be likely to poison me; I figured that I was half way dead as it was, so it wouldn't matter what I ate.
I grabbed at bunches of the berries. They tasted reasonable, being hungry for three days anything would have tasted reasonable. The berries were a little bitter, but edible. I filled myself with them, then tore off the lower half of my shirt. I made a kind of pouch with it and filled it with berries. I went back to the river then, and drank all I could handle. I had nothing with me in which to store water.
With food in my stomach, I checked my rifle, then I decided it was time to head out and look for the others.
I decided that it would be a good idea to keep fairly close to the river, but instead of going downstream, as any good scout would know to do, I went upstream. I had a hunch that I'd find the others further inland.
I ducked and dived between the bushes. At times, it had been nearly impossible to move forward. Occasionally I'd been forced to wade through the water. At least it was cooling. Being in the river kept the flies off my body, for a little longer anyway. My stomach began protesting again a few hours later. I sat, hidden by an outcrop of sharp rocks, and ate the rest of my berries. I guess I had been lucky with them. I hadn't had any ill effects from the ones I'd eaten earlier. I wished I'd picked more. I hadn't seen any other berries during the day. I also hadn't seen that dark figure again, but I had a way too eerie feeling that I was being followed. I had already figured I was to be captured, as it seemed the others had been. It was simply a matter of time. Hell I figured at least whoever caught them all was likely to be feeding them. They were most likely better off than I was.
I waded into the water again to cool myself. Once soaked I moved on upstream keeping to the very edge of the bush. I heard the waterfall before I saw it. It took me about quarter of an hour more walking before I saw it. It looked so odd. The sun caught it as it fell and cast a rainbow of sorts across the river. The rocks behind the waterfall took on a bluish tinge. Vaguely I knew what that was. The water below the rock face seemed very deep, and very tempting.
I stripped and dove in. The water was freezing cold, I guessed that the mountain spring it stemmed from was very close. I swam freely for a while, then floated on my back.
It was then that I noticed it. There was a cave in behind the waterfall. I lay looking at it for a few moments longer, then swam to the edge, dressed and climbed the rocks for a closer look.
The rocks all around the cave were tinged with blue. The blue colouring one sees around old copper mines. That spurred me on. I climbed carefully and slipped in behind the waterfall. Inside, it was disgustingly wet and clammy. I moved deeper into the cave.
An odd light glowed from inside, I cautiously moved toward it. The light grew in intensity. Before I realised what it was, the ground began shaking. The rumbling noise was tremendous in my ears. I grabbed a handhold against the side of the cave and hung on tight as I could. Rocks rolled and fell against my legs. The rumbling increased. I let go and covered my ears. I felt myself tumbling forwards, I tried to grab a rock to steady myself with, but they kept coming away from the wet cave wall in my hands.
The light went out. I was falling.
I landed with a dull thud on hard wet ground. The rumbling had stopped. I'd opened my eyes but the light hadn't come back on yet. It was definite moaning I heard not more than ten feet from where I had landed. I waited quietly. Moments later the light glowed again. It was weak at first, then with full strength. It almost hurt my eyes it was so bright. It lit up every crevice.
I sensed movement before I saw it. To my left, a body slumped on the floor moved and moaned. It was covered in filthy rags. Glancing around me, I quickly found a wooden crate to hide behind. I peered around the huge open space I had fallen into.
It was a huge hole in the rock. Never having been deep inside a cave before I didn't know quite what one would look like. It was simply a cave. High up the tunnel where I had fallen through was a large black hole and over on the opposite side was a lit up tunnel that had railway tracks going through it.
The body moaned loudly. I looked over at it. It was in pain. Cautiously, I then moved towards it. I held one of the rags between finger and thumb and pulled at it. The dirty clothing slowly revealed its owner. I found myself looking down into the bloodied and bruised face of Lorris.
I fell to the floor beside her, clearing the rest of the rags away from her body. She had been wrapped in sackcloth. She moaned as I felt her body, checking for broken bones. Everything seemed okay to me. Her eyes opened but she didn't appear to focus on my face.
"Lorris, it's me," my voice in no more than a harsh whisper.
"Bess! Oh Bess, thank god you're here. Help me up. We need to get out of here quick!" Groggily she pushed herself into a sitting position leaning against the cave wall. She moaned. "Help me up Bess. We have to get out of this cave now. If they catch you here they'll kill both of us."
The urgency in her voice didn't have me doubting her. Carefully I placed my arm around her back and lifted her from the ground. She couldn't stand without support, so I let her lean against me.
We made it in shuffling form to the opening of the tunnel before we were rushed and slammed into the rocky cave wall.
"You are going nowhere!" A cold, oddly familiar voice eventually stopped our struggles.