The day dawned grey and foggy, threatening to rain but never quite fulfilling that threat. He woke to the sound of a diesel motor, perhaps a semi tractor, travelling east on the highway. He was stiff and cold, and reluctant to move from the scant warmth of his makeshift bed. Groaning, he sat up and surveyed the surrounding terrain. A cloud or fog had crept in during the night and visibility was limited to less than 100 feet in any direction.
Hunger gnawed at his belly, so he retrieved his meager food supplies from his pack. He was now down to 2 days of half rations, and the prospects of adding to his supply were slim. He had no snares, no traps and the available plant life for foraging this time of year was limited severely. He knew he could find more cattail down by the riverbank, but normal ways of preparing it were better suited to a stationary camp, rather than being on the run.
Irregardless, it was food and would have to suffice for the time being. He broke camp and went down to the riverbank to gather more roots and perform his morning functions. After satisfying nature, he brushed his teeth and washed his face. In all he gathered about 2 lbs of roots which he washed thoroughly and stuffed into his forage bag, which he then put in his pack to process later.
Using some of the twigs he had gathered for the previous nights fire, he started a small fire in his tin can tea candle stove. It had been built to accommodate natural fuels as well as the tea candles. He brought some water to boil and then added it to his eating bowl, into which he had added a package of his oatmeal. He dumped a packet of Cider into his mug and poured the last of his hot water into it. The warm meal cheered him slightly and after cleaning up, he prepared for the dreaded river crossing.
The fog was thick on the river, great for hiding him as he crossed, but bad for his own visibility. For a few moments he debated the wisdom of fording the overgrown creek. Perhaps he should cross the road instead. The fog would hide him from view and he could skirt the few homes that were on that side of the road. The sound of a vehicle, coming from the west rendered that option useless for the moment.
He could hear the vehicle slow as it crossed the bridge, and it stopped a few yards down the road. He hurriedly donned his gear, just in case, and was validated mere seconds later as he heard the dogs disembark. It was time to move, no more time for exploring options. He had filled in the fire pit and erased all traces that he had been there when he broke camp. That had been a wise move as he had no time to do so now. He moved silently to the river and began his bone-numbing journey across the rain swollen expanse.
The tone of the dogs barking now changed; they were on to him! He only had moments to cross the river before the dogs reached the river bank! If he hurried too fast he could lose his footing and be swept away to drown! The water was up to his waist and rising fast. He could feel his body’s warmth being sucked away as he struggled to maintain his footing. He was halfway across now, and the water was getting no deeper. The current was tugging at him ferociously though, threatening to pull his feet out from under him at every step.
The fog was working for him, hiding his escape from certain detection under more normal weather conditions. As he reached the bank on the other side, the dogs finally made their way to the opposite shore. They were busy snuffling out his scent, and didn’t notice the faint movement in the fog across the river. He had eluded them once more!
He was having weird dreams.
Helicopters and talking bushes and lots of running.
Dusty rescued him from the bizarre by waking him. It was still dark, but Dusty had a fire going in the fire pit, so there was some visibility. Dusty handed him a cup of hot coffee, and began to cook up some sourdough pancakes. Sleepily, he looked around him, taking in what he could see and filing it away in his memory. They ate in silence, each lost in their own thoughts about the events that were currently shaping their lives.
Dusty told him that he couldn’t go with him any further. He had a brother to lay to rest and vengeance to extract. He had a man to kill! They went seperate ways back at the tracks and Dusty gave him some parting advice:
“Stay off the tracks and keep to the brush. The next town is just a mile and a half ahead. Go slow and take your time. There is one more trestle ahead, do not cross it. Cross the river below the trestle at dark. It is shallow there and won’t wet you much above your ankles. Be safe my brother!”
That last bit, the “brother” part, was what he needed in the way of encouragement. That there were people in this world such as Dusty and his late friend Eddie cheered him and gave him the desire to overcome the odds, rather than be overcome by them. They said their goodbyes, gave each other a great hug, and set out upon their chosen paths. One man to escape certain death, the other to bring certain death to a man.
Dusty returned to the camp and retrieved a bundle from a small hut. He touched up his camo face paint and once again donned his Ghillie suit. He left the camp as silent as a shadow. Upon reaching the tracks, he headed west, back to the trestle and the sniper. He hoped the sniper was still there, for he intended to kill him. Not fast, like Eddie had died, but very slow and drawn out, as he had learned from the North Vietnamese. He was going to enjoy this very much. “For you, Eddie” he said in a whisper. He disappeared into the brush close to the trestle, silent as a ghost, intent upon its haunting.
He traveled as Dusty had suggested, slowly and keeping to the underbrush. Although it took a amazing amount of time to move such a short distance, he was glad that he had followed the advice, as he saw several patrols walking the tracks. He marveled that they were spending so much manpower to find him, and then he got a rude awakening!
When he reached the trestle, he could see why Dusty had told him to cross the river below it. It was patrolled by a 4 man squad that had arrived in a HUMVEE. A rural access road ran parallel with the tracks for about a hundred yards. An old Ford pickup was coming down the road, only to be stopped by the men from the trestle. They waved the truck over to the side of the road, and when it complied they made the occupants get out while they searched the vehicle.
One of the men, who appeared to be soldiers, found something which he waved triumphantly over his head. When the driver protested and tried to retrieve his property, he was cut down by the soldier manning the m-60 machinegun on the HUMVEE. The other 2 occupants of the truck were forced to kneel in the ditch next their truck, and the man who stopped them pulled out his pistol and put a round into each of their heads!
He was stunned and sickened! What the hell was happening that such an action could be justified? He shook with an unbridled rage at what he had just witnessed. He wanted to kill those men in the worst way! Slowly the rage subsided to be replaced by a numbness, and then a chilling fear. He wondered if his sons had gotten to safety. A dread crept over him, causing him to fear that they had met the same fate as those people in the pickup. Then he threw up.
Was this to be his and his family’s fate? Shot in the head on some back road like a rabid dog? He now desperately wished he had included a small AM/FM/Weather radio in his pack so that he could monitor the news. If he included an earbud, he could listen without a sound for the outside world to hear. He crawled deeper into the underbrush and laid down. At the moment, he just didn’t have the strength to face the scene of the spectacle he had just witnessed. He fell asleep, and stayed that way for hours, until it was dark.
He was wet from his chest down, and his legs were starting to feel numb. His elation at having eluded the dogs was replaced with concern as he knew that if he didn’t get dry and warm soon, he would die of exposure. To make matters worse, it was raining again. If only he had packed some wool clothes, he would be able to warm up, as everyone knew that wool will keep you warm even while wet.
The fog made it hard to navigate; it seemed thicker on this side of the river. He checked his compass to be sure he was heading north, and not in some big circle back to the river. He had travelled this way for about 30 minutes when he encountered a likely place to stop and rest. A large maple had fallen sometime past in high winds and created the perfect combination of a thick trunk to block sight from the south, and a source of dry wood to build a fire.
He quickly took off his poncho and lashed it to some dead saplings to form a shelter. His teeth were chattering and his fingers were getting numb, so he pulled out the Mylar survival blanket and wrapped himself in it. He then laid out his folded ground cloth and sat cross legged on it. Forming a small tepee like structure around himself, he pulled the tin can stove from his pack and placed a lit tea candle in it. Soon it began to warm up inside the makeshift tent an his shivering stopped.
He needed to raise his core temperature so he began to heat some water for a cup of hot soup. The last of the soup. He examined the contents of his last ration pack: 2 packets of hot chocolate, 3 instant coffees, 5 teabags, 4 hot ciders, 5 bullion cubes, 2 packages of instant oatmeal, 2 granola bars, 5 books of matches, 10 pieces of Jolly Rancher hard candy, 1 package of raisins, 1 package of smoked almonds and one packet cream of chicken soup. Most of this inventory was unconsumed items from previous ration packs which he consolidated after each day. He kept the empty Ziploc bags for later use. If they were in good condition, they would hold water for crossing areas known to be dry.
It is difficult to boil any amount of water with a tea candle stove. It’s main purpose was to be a heater, and to be used for times like this, when you needed heat fast and didn’t want to wait for building a decent fire. The water would warm up hotter than body temp, and that was his main wish. Getting hot liquids inside him to bring up his core temperature. He decided to start out with the hot chocolate for the sugar content. Sugar = energy, energy = heat. He would then have a cup of beef bullion before making the soup.
Once he had finished the bullion, he felt the chill subsiding and he knew that he had beat hypothermia once again. As soon as he finished the soup, he would dig another Dakota fire hole and begin the process of drying his clothes. He checked his boots, and retied the left one as it was fraying at one spot. If he could get to C1, he would be in fat city. All the consumables in his pack would be replaced, he would have a newer pair of boots as well as a pair of Moccasins for wearing around camp, a wool sweater, 50 rounds of .38 special hollow points that he had reloaded, as well as a wool blanket, a set of flecktarn camo BDU’s, and a shoulder bag for carrying his food supply. There were also 2 pairs of new wool socks, more tea candles and a larger first aid kit.
He finished the soup and set about digging the fire pit. The ground was soft from all the rain so the digging went relatively quickly. He soon had a crackling blaze started and he began the process of drying out his clothes. Off came his coat and shirt, which he suspended from paracord supported with sticks. He wrapped back up in the Mylar blanket so as not to lose any more body heat, even though the fire was throwing out a lot. He decided to have a cup of tea, Earl Grey, to help maintain his core temp.
Soon, his shirt and coat had dried so he replaced them with his pants and underwear. He put on a fresh pair of underwear from his pack, and before he removed his boots and socks to dry, he made a nature call, and then he dragged in some larger branches which he would saw into small pieces to feed the fire. Including the folding pruning saw in his GHB had been one of his best choices. It was virtually noiseless past 50 feet and invaluable in camp use. They were inexpensive to purchase also, and compact enough to not cause a problem with packing them.
He sawed up the branches while the rest of his clothing dried. His boots of course took the longest to dry, and before he put them back on, he examined them closely. They were a sorry sight. He decided to use some of the duct tape on them as well as the paracord, in hopes to stabilize the soles so his feet did not slide around so much, giving way to painful blisters. He also checked his feet, putting the duct tape on tender areas as well as checking the wounds. They were healing nicely, in spite of the fact he was on the move so much. He finished dressing, rolled up in his poncho liner as well as the Mylar blanket, and fell into a deep sleep.
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