2: Beneath Orion, Worlds Apart 05bySpartan22©
IX -- In Foxholes
The force of the explosion behind him threw him out even further as he hurtled down towards the rocks below. During the fall his training kicked in; Patton tried to line up his body and evenly distribute the impact just as if he fell out of a helicopter or parachuted rapidly towards the ground.
He expected a tremendous amount of pain knowing his body would most likely tear apart along the jagged rocks. And that was best-case scenario; there was a high probability he wouldn't feel a thing because he could die on impact.
Surprisingly, neither of those things happened -- at least not exactly. Luke did feel pain as he landed along his side -- his right thigh and right elbow were screaming -- but for the most part the dry bush he landed in softened the majority of the blow. He suppressed his screams of pain, gritting his teeth.
Luke instinctively patted down his entire body, checking for injuries from head to toe, making sure he was still alive and ok. His heart skipped a beat and he held his breath, recalling a story told by his instructors during Survival Training. Back in Vietnam, an Air Force aviator ejected over enemy territory and upon hitting the ground, he ran from the crash site initially unaware that he lost both of his legs and had been running on nothing but stumps.
That story played over and over in the back of his mind as he checked a second and third time, making sure he was still in one piece. Fortunately nothing was broken, but his thigh would have a black and blue bruise the size of Texas.
Trying to stand, Luke managed to pick himself up and shake off the pain, heading down the mountain and doing the best he could to put the enemy behind him. For all he knew they were standing in the dark and on the ledge looking down at him, their weapons trained on him. Time was of the essence.
His rescue ride was busy in combat but at least he now knew there was a large American force in the area with the single purpose of finding and bringing him home.
Besides, he knew the enemies weren't about to jump off the cliff after him, so he at least had a head start. He evaded them once; he could do it again. Most importantly, at least Wayne was safe. He was tough, too; even though he didn't know how severely he'd been shot, Luke knew he'd pull through. He just knew it.
As Luke awkwardly ran attempting to put as much distance between him and enemy as possible, bearing through the pain in his leg, he couldn't help but wonder what percentage of the current geographical area actually had trees or bushes. Easily less than one percent, yet the one that just happened to cushion his landing was fairly big. Before his leap of faith, Luke actually thought they were above the timberline, meaning zero vegetation. Given the obvious, they must have been just below it.
His mother and father had always taken him and his little sister to church, and he always supposed there was a God but he never really dwelled on it. It wasn't a matter of deliberate neglect; Luke was just always too busy with homework or computers or school to really give it much of a thought. The revelation of what had just happened was not only earth shattering to him, but it seemed to defy logic.
It was like the old adage, 'There are no atheists in foxholes.' He was injured, he had no method of communication since he gave his radio to the Lieutenant, Search and Rescue couldn't get to him in time, and he didn't even know where he was.
He was alone.
Never before had that saying rang out so clearly and meant as much to him as it did now.
Eventually he was far enough away that the gunfire faded off in the distance. The intense noise was replaced with an eerie quietness, but it was just as disturbing. He was far from the enemy, but he was also far from help.
He kept running.
The rescue zone was too hot; Luke never had a chance and he knew it. He was glad that the Lieutenant made it out, but that was also bittersweet. Trying to survive and stay alive without a leader's guidance, let alone a partner, felt like an impossible task.
In fact, being alone in enemy territory was absolutely frightening.
Luke was worn down and tired, and he wanted to give up. His body had been long exhausted, and his mind and spirit finally caught up. Two of the other three crewmembers were dead, and he didn't even know if the third would survive. He wanted him to, but he just didn't know.
Westwood was the team leader, the patient and calm vet that kept them together and enabled them to focus on their mission. But now he was dead. Cash had an incredible amount of experience; he would've known what to do if he was in Luke's situation, but he was dead, too. And Wayne; he kept Patton sane, cracking jokes through the toughest of situations, but he was gone now too. Luke at least had motivation when the Lieutenant was with him; in fact they both motivated each other. They were much more effective as a two-man team.
Luke was by himself, surrounded only by his hopeless thoughts and tormenting demons. He just wanted to stop and let the monster come and kill him.
A huge part of him cursed the fact that he didn't die when they were shot down out of the sky, and that he even survived when he landed on the rocks. Why couldn't he have snapped his neck when he fell? It would have been easier. But it seemed like he cheated death only to prolong his inevitable fate, as if the devil himself was toying with him.
He tried to be strong -- he wanted to be strong, but defeat was working its way into his mind and planting its roots.
God, please just kill me, he thought, half praying to God. I can't take this; I can't do this alone. I'm tired.
Luke was operating on minimal sleep. He had to convince himself to keep running and push through the exhaustion, as much as it hurt. Every muscle in his legs ached as if he crossed the finish line of a marathon, only to find out it was also the starting line of a second marathon. It took everything he had, both mentally and physically, to run as far as he could, but he kept running.
He knew he had to stop and rest; hopefully he would soon find a place to hole up, somewhere far from enemy insurgents. There was a tremendous evil out there and it would stop at nothing to hunt him down and murder him. That frightening thought made Luke want to give up.
The moment he stopped running to take a breather, the pain returned in his right leg, surging from his thigh down to his calf. While his elbow seemed to be getting better -- he could at least move it around in a circle and seemed to have full range of motion -- his shoulder injury from the helicopter crash felt like it was getting worse, despite the Lieutenant's best efforts at first aid. The longer he stayed out here, the greater the chance his shoulder would get infected.
The sun was beginning to crack the darkness along the horizon. It would be morning soon, and Luke had to stay hidden. He quickly made his way further down the mountain to a field of rocks and boulders; there were even a few areas with sparse patches of dry vegetation. Luke found a small depression in the ground surrounded by two large brown rocks, each one about six or seven feet tall. A small but thick broom bush rested in-between the giant stones and across from Luke, making a perfect U-shape area. It was hard to tell in the darkness, but the area looked like it might be inconspicuous enough.
Luke grabbed a small branch lying on the ground and carefully slid down in the depression, quickly sweeping with the stick to make sure there were no snakes or uninvited guests in his temporary resting facility.
Laying his back against one of the boulders, he took a deep breath and tried to relax. He straightened his legs; they immediately radiated a dull throb as if he could feel his heart beating through them. If an army of insurgents stumbled upon him at this very moment, he wasn't so sure his legs would let him stand up and run.
At least this looked like a good hiding spot; Luke would hole up here for a little while. At least long enough to get some sleep. Assuming he could actually sleep. He didn't exactly feel safe, but this is as good as it would get. Maybe he would have a chance to get his mind right and find an ounce of peace.
God, just get me out of this. One way or another, dead or alive; I don't even care. Just get me out of this.
Eventually he lay down on his back, using a small stone for a pillow, and looked up at the stars. There was hardly any moonlight, but the stars were incredibly bright. He had never seen the stars so brilliant before. Luke recalled a time when he was back in his hometown in California, back when he was in high school. He vividly remembered looking up at the stars out in the sticks, about an hour outside of the city, one arm around his girlfriend as she snuggled up against his chest. In that single moment, the world was perfect. The stars in the sky; he would have bet they couldn't get any brighter.
It was so serene; the stars, the crisp air, the quiet of the night. Luke almost imagined himself in some kind of place where he couldn't be touched or harmed, as if it was a safe zone. He couldn't explain how, but much of his fear seemed to go away. He wasn't naïve enough to think he was in the clear, and he certainly wasn't sure if he would make it out alive, but it was as if a sense of peace was slowly descending upon him. It was as if, while he was looking up into the serenity of the world, God was looking down on him, offering His peace and His solace.
A slight smile crept up on his face as he looked up into the sky; it looked like God had heard him after all. Live or die, God had heard him, and God was with him.
Maybe it was because of the lack of residual city lights, but those stars back home didn't seem nearly as radiant as they were now. Just looking up at them was peaceful. It gave him a chance to recover; his heart rate slowly went down, his adrenaline was wearing off, and at least for now his brain no longer had to think ten steps ahead.
While his field of vision was narrow, thanks to the two large boulders, Luke immediately noticed the three stars making up the belt of Orion hanging in the night sky far above him. The way they twinkled against the dark contrast of the night sky was absolutely beautiful. As wonderful as it was to look up at the constellation, it was becoming hard to keep his eyes open. Luke blinked a couple of times. He tried as hard as he could to keep his eyes open, not wanting this rare moment of peace to slip through his fingers.
As exhausted as he was, he didn't want to fall asleep just yet; the stars were the most beautiful thing he had seen since... well, Kaylee herself.
Kaylee, another true blessing from God. Luke was just worried that he may have realized that a little too late.
In fact, Luke wondered if Kaylee was also looking at Orion at that exact moment in time, even though they were worlds apart.
Probably not, but given the time difference, the sun probably just went down in California. Still, Luke was hopeful. Maybe Kaylee was out in the countryside, and maybe it was just dark enough for the stars to come out. She was probably with her friends -- probably had a new boyfriend because girls that gorgeous were never single for very long -- but maybe she just might happen to look up at the same constellation.
He closed his eyes for just a few seconds, fully intending to open them so he could look at Orion a little longer. Luke figured he had another hour, maybe two, before the night turned into daylight. If Kaylee was also stargazing, he didn't want to miss it. He would look up, too, and they would at least have that connection even if he could never again have her for his own.
If Orion was the last link to keep even the tiniest part of them together, especially if he should he die in this Godforsaken land, he didn't want to miss this moment. He couldn't miss this moment.
His eyes fluttered for a second, but it was easier to keep them closed. Just for a few more seconds.
As Luke opened his eyes again Orion had already disappeared, faded away into the bright blue sky. At first, he was confused; he didn't even remember falling asleep.
When Luke realized Orion was gone, he knew any connection he could've made with Kaylee was gone, too. He missed it.
It was like he lost her all over again, and just like last time, it was all his fault.
The pain in his heart was too much; he couldn't keep it together any longer. Tears spilled from his eyes, trickling down his face as he realized he lost Kaylee forever.
It was going to be hot. Every drop of water counted. As he held the flex pack up to his lips, he was careful to make sure he didn't spill a single drop. Luke pulled out and ate the last of his rations for what little good it did; there wasn't much to eat and his stomach was still rumbling.
If nothing else, he was fairly confident in his hiding place so he didn't mind resting up a little longer. Even though he had already slept, his exhausted and broken-down body needed a little more rest and healing.
As quietly as he could, he did another inventory check of his equipment to see what he had left, also hoping to find a candy bar or a piece of gum or anything to eat, but he came up empty. Luke also made sure all of his gear was working properly. Lastly, he pulled antiseptic out of his personal medical kit, trying his best to apply it to his back injury and other miscellaneous cuts and scrapes. It stung, but given his situation he had no problem biting his lip and withholding cries of pain.
Lying down, he tried to mentally form some kind of a plan of escape, but he didn't have much to work with. There was still a lingering fear he had to overcome; he had to tell himself over and over that he wasn't going to roll over and die, that he'd figure out something.
As he lay there contemplating his best strategy, he felt something small crawling on his shin just above his sock and the top part of his boot. Quietly sitting up, Luke was perplexed to find a few black ants on the sleeve of his uniform. Pulling up his pant leg, he saw more than a few ants on his boot and sock, aimlessly wandering without purpose. His knee jerk reaction was to kick them off and smash them, but he remembered where he was. The last thing he needed was attracting attention and getting himself shot because of a few lousy ants.
Looking around to see where the ants came from he noticed a small anthill only a few feet away from him; the ants crawling on his uniform must have been a couple of strays. For some reason they left him alone when he fell asleep.
Luke reached down to his leg, initially deciding to smash them with his thumb. At the last minute he elected to hold his finger out, forming a bridge for the ants. Five of the ants crawled up his finger, spreading across his hand, each one traveling in a different direction. Luke made a game of it; by twisting and tilting his hand, he tried to see how many he could keep from crawling up his wrist.
While it wouldn't necessarily be classified as relaxing, it at least distracted him from reality. He wasn't sure how long he played with the ants; it could have been hours, it could have been minutes. It was hard to keep track of time, but judging by the position of the sun it was probably midday. Eventually he blew the ants off of his hand and watched them scatter in all directions as they landed.
As Luke gently flicked another ant off of his chest, he realized it was crawling over pocket on his uniform holding the small pocket-sized Bible his dad gave him before he deployed. Reaching inside, he pulled out the Bible. Luke randomly opened it, thinking it would be a good way to kill time and focus on something else.
Luke was in 1 Kings. Chapter 18, verse 16 began with a story that looked familiar, about the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel.
It was as if Luke was transported back to Sunday school. Before he even read it, he recalled how Elijah was called by God to go and present himself to Ahab. Up on Mount Carmel, Elijah -- the only prophet of the Lord -- challenged four-hundred and fifty prophets of Baal to see who the real God was. According to the Bible verse, Baal never answered. But the Lord did.
And not quietly, either. According to the story he threw down burning fire that was so hot it burned up the soil, the stones, and even the water in the trench.
Luke marveled as he read the story for the first time in years, recalling every detail as if he read it only yesterday. Completely engrossed in the story, Luke continued on to Chapter 19. He read the third verse:
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, Lord," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors."
The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He stood up taller, hovering over his Bible.
Ok, God, you have my attention, he said in his head, confident he could relate to how Elijah must have felt in that situation.
He continued reading:
5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you." 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
Luke glanced over at the pile of ants. Luke silently laughed and shook his head, drawing another correlation between him and Elijah.
God, I think I would have preferred the baked bread over the chocolate covered ants, sans chocolate. At least you have a sense of humor.
Holding the Bible in one hand while grabbing an ant with the other, he looked at the small morsel with reservation, although his hesitation quickly morphed into determination to survive. Cringing, Luke stuck the ant in his mouth; every muscle in his body tensed up as he gulped, swallowing it whole. As the ant went down, he tried his hardest not to gag, picturing the poor insect trying desperately to crawl its way back up his throat.
Yum. Well, it's official. Even if I live to see Kaylee, she'll never kiss me again knowing I sucked down an ant like a raisin.
He sighed, telling himself, One down, fifteen thousand more to go...
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
Folding the top corner of the page, he closed the small Bible and carefully placed it in the right breast pocket of his uniform. Luke had read the verse over and over, but he planned to reread Psalm 91 later on.
Night was just around the corner. Luke decided he would rest up one last time, but he finally felt mentally prepared and ready to go.
It was dark when Luke awoke. After stretching his arms, trying to carefully rotate his shoulder but avoid any sharp feelings of pain, he grabbed his gear and rifle, ready to leave the dugout. Pulling out his NVGs, he briefly fired them up just long enough to scan the boulder field for signs of life. He turned them off to conserve battery power after confirming there were no threats. Carefully he stepped out of the trench ready to continue his journey.