Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter 48

Chapter 48

That sound coming through the disintegrating mist cast an eerie emotional blanket over everyone for a moment. It took a while for the people inside the Olive Branch compound to answer our knock on the inner gate.

After listening to them bluster and complain Thor stopped them with a growl. “I’m not asking for a favor, a hand out, to see the inside of your sanctuary, nothing. All I want to know is if you can normally hear them praying.”

Abe Rhodes pushed through the gate shaking his heads and muttering something about “paranoid ijits” under his breath. Then to Thor he said, “No. And we shouldn’t be hearing ‘em now. They are way outside their territory. We beat ‘em off last time but at some cost to ourselves. Seeing how your crew is professionals at this so to speak …”

He left that sentence hanging. Thor just stood there a moment then looked at the crew. “The world is changed. We all worked for a contractor before. My authority over these men for that dangerous work was based on what we had all agreed to and got paid for doing. We have stayed together since then for mutual protection and by default I’ve continued as the leader.”

“Are you saying you need to be hired to work?” one of the men from Olive Branch asked.

Rhodes rolled his eyes Heavenward as if asking for patience. Thor didn’t but I could see he was fighting for some. “No. I’m saying I don’t have any authority to order these men to do what you are asking. If any of them do this, it will be because they feel it is necessary and the best course of action, not because they’ve been ordered to. Not anymore.”

Barkley stepped forward quietly, “I’ll recon.”

Alfonso said, “Sure, why the heck not. Seems we might owe them some trouble to pay them back for what they’ve given us.”

Chuckri said, “I can’t risk taking our children out there until I know the road is cleared.” His way of making his choice for his family.

Surprisingly Hal then stepped forward. “If I have your word that someone will take care of my niece and nephew should something happen to me I’m on board. I have some experience from being on the southern border for five years. The drug cartels weren’t exactly gentle lambs. And here I won’t have to worry about political correctness or treating them with kid gloves.”

Richards said, “I’ll cover the outer gates.” He turned to look at Elsapet and I realized something was growing there. Good for them.

Montgomery showed up and fussed and mumbled then said, “Reckon I ain’t just gonna sit around. Richards will need some back up and that’ll be me. Long as I don’t have to run around I expect I’ll be fine.”

Everyone was standing around nodding and getting in the mood when there was a huge explosion and the outer gate simply didn’t exist anymore.

From that point forward bedlam reined. The mist was disintegrating but it was still there despite the hour of the day. It must have been some weird, local weather phenomena because it was like the humidity was actually holding the mist in place and not wanting to let it break apart.

There was screaming and caterwauling from every direction. I looked around but couldn’t find Thor. I was on my own whether he’d meant me to be that way or not. I tried to put my worry for him aside. This was his job and now I needed to do mine. The barrage of ordinance continued. I couldn’t see where it was coming from but the mist also hindered them from taking good aim and they were dropping short of getting into the Olive Branch compound.

I saw Pilbos, Taniel, and David and grabbed them. “Corral the animals or do something with them! If they get under foot it’ll be a bigger mess than we already have!” Giving them something to do and a direction to move put a bit of speed in their step.

Next I saw Bedros trying to help his mother and wife to a safe place. I snagged Tovmas and Soghomon next. “Take the women and children and put them with the animals, away from the fighting as much as possible. You and your cousins need to ring them and protect them.”

“Take this, you may need it.” said Soghomon as he and his brother went off to take care of their family. He left me looking at the shamshir and I wondered what in the heck he expected me to do with it. Then a yelping battle cry sounded behind me and I suddenly understood though shooting them was much easier.

If I heard the word “shai-taan” once I heard it way too many times. Why on earth did they seem to continue to come after me?

There was a lot more of the enemy than I had thought there would be. I already seen “gang” violence from big to small – from the road out of San Francisco where it was anarchy to the farm where the “gang” was cohesive based on a ideology and they day before where the Muslims were a gang based on their religion, but I had never seen it on this scale. They just seemed to keep coming and coming and coming. For every one I shot or … well, let’s just say close in fighting suited the shamshir better than the rifle … another one or two would show up.

I fought my way over to the gate where Richards, Montgomery, and a few others were trying to keep the oncoming enemy down to a minimum. “Montgomery! Where are your toys?!” I yelled to be heard over the screaming.

He shook his head. “Thor’ll kill me if you get hurt Kid.”

“And someone else’ll be dead – maybe him, maybe one of the kids, someone – if I choose to sit around and not contribute the way I can.” I was pleading with him and with both knew it.

He reluctantly nodded in the direction of a rucksack a few feet away. I picked it up and then took a deep breath. I knew what I was planning bordered on idiocy but the only way to stop the flow was to turn off the faucet. If the faucet wouldn’t work then I’d have to turn off the water main. What we were doing now was like bailing out the titanic with a tea cup. We needed to cork the hole.

Rather than go out through the main outer gate I went to the small break in the wall where another piece of their ordinance had gotten closer than was comfortable. Even in all of the chaos I was able to tell that the amount of ordinance had slowed down and begun to come at more regular intervals. It wasn’t “shock and awe” anymore but more like going from a string of black cats to a single bottle rocket at a time.

Getting from the wall to the tree line was not easy and took time. I had to belly crawl most of the fifty yards of open ground. Doggone if it didn’t remind me of some of the drills Coach would put us through during practice. Most of us learned to wear something with deet in it to keep from getting eat up by chiggers and grass gnats. I didn’t much care for those drills then any more than I cared for doing it while I was trying to avoid being shot at. I ate a lot of dirt and grass when I was forced to duck and I’d given a lot for a helmet.

There was several times I could have killed one of the enemy as they pounded past me but my goal wasn’t to engage anyone until I absolutely had to. I had to keep my goal in mind though it was hard to resist the temptation and drive that fired me as my adrenaline wound me tighter and tighter.

Finally I made it to the tree line but didn’t stand up. I crouched in the bushes trying to get my bearings and see if there was a path that I could follow. That’s when I spotted Alfonso. I crawled over to him and was almost too scared to turn him so that I could see him.

We both sighed in relief, “@#$% Kid, I thought I was a goner for sure this time.” But he sounded funny, like he couldn’t get enough air. “Easy Kid, I think … I think … ahhh.”

I looked all over but didn’t see a chest wound. I carefully lifted his shirt and saw the beginning of a bad bruise but no blood.

“Alfonso, hey man … can you hear me?” I whispered. His eyes were clinched shut, he was obviously in pain. “Look, you’re out here in the open. I’m going to carry you over to that clump of bushes. It’s going to hurt.” One eye cracked open to glare at me and I figured I had just stated the obvious.

When I got him over there and he no longer had the urge to puke I told him, “I have to go. I can’t believe these people are still coming. If they came all at once we’d be sunk.”

“Couple of headmen fighting and they’re telling their troops each to do something different. Too many cooks, not enough pots. Watch ‘em and see what I mean. They only have so many guns. They send a group forward and when they fall they have to send men out to get the guns and come back or get the guns before they move forward. Craziest thing I ever saw … and not all the soldiers really want to be here either. They’re sending out their dregs first – their cannon fodder – to beat down our people and they’re holding back their real soldiers to clean up at some point.”

“Where?”

“Kid you can’t take them on alone. Let me get my wind back.”

“No time. Just point me in the right direction … and where’s Barkley, Chuckri, and Thor? I don’t want to accidentally blow them up.”

“Blow them … ah, you been listening to Montgomery again haven’t you?”

“Not his idea this time. I’ve got a plan but you’ll save me some recon time if you’ll just stop acting like you need to change my diapers and let me get to work.”

His lips thinned and then relaxed and a look of appreciation came into his eyes. “OK Kid. Whatever you’re up to, make sure it hurts ‘em bad. They are using the clear space that was the highway to run things from. They aren’t really letting their guys go off into the tall grass … expect they are afraid of the number of AWOLs they’ll get that way. All of their munitions are back from their main line under heavy guard … they don’t trust their own people by the looks of things. As far as the rest of them go I don’t know, we got separated. Kid …”

“What?”

“Be careful.”

I nodded thinking that that wasn’t what he was going to say but I didn’t have the luxury of teasing it out of him. Having a direction I went parallel to the road as fast as I could. I bypassed the main line and again had to fight temptation not to stop and do something deadly. Not all of them looked Arab and then I was reminded that only twenty percent of the world’s muslims from the Middle East. Nearly seventy percent of the world’s muslims are from Asia. That would explain why they were having so much trouble working together. I saw small groups of ethnically similar men clustered here and there. None of the groups were “mixed.” I figured there was either a language barrier or it went even deeper than that to their very roots of how they practiced Islam. I knew I could use this but how was the question.

I wanted to throw those little exploding golf balls … those V40s … into the groups standing around so bad I could taste it. I wanted to cause mayhem right then and there. I concluded I wasn’t a soldier, not a real one, I was just a fighter and it took almost too much energy for me to stay focused on my mission. I wanted to pound on everyone, do some major crunching. It wasn’t until I forced myself into football game mode that I gained the best control of my emotions and drive I’d had up to that point.

For some reason I kept thinking of Vika. I knew if I didn’t do this thing I planned to do her life, assuming it was left to her, would be a horror. Women under the yoke of Islam suffer terribly compared to the freedom and equality of Christianity. Supposedly the Koran says that a man should take only one wife yet multiple wives as a lifestyle is prevalent in Islam. Muhammad is supposed to have said that the ink of the scholar is more holy than the blood of the martyr yet we see how that works in “modern” Islam, especially as it relates to women. For all that little girl had done to me I couldn’t stand the idea of her being further victimized by the enemy I was facing this time.

Now it wasn’t just about plugging the hole, it was cutting the head off the monster. I was hoping that if I could destroy the leadership whatever stability and truce the groups had reached would fall apart making them easier to pick off or even better, would make them fall back into the constant in-fighting so that they would eventually destroy themselves. It was going to have to be a surgical strike and I wasn’t really built for it. I needed a quarterback’s strategic skill and agile body and all I had were my oversized body parts and a desire to end this nightmare as quickly as possible.

I worked my way back and finally found their munitions dump … and nearly lost my lunch at the same time. God must have been with me because there was no time to think, no time to ready myself, plan … nothing.

Thor, Chuckri, and Barkley had obviously been in a brawl and were surrounding by fairly self important looking men. They were about to be beheaded. My breath left my body and I got cold and then hot as a furnace. I was no longer in control of my body, no longer calling the shots. I barely had time to set myself but it didn’t seem I needed to.

They had forced my love and the other two men into kneeling positions side by side and they had tied them up and put sacks over their heads. I couldn’t hope that they would know what was coming and lend some help. Three traditionally dressed executioners were lined up behind them. It looked like some weird tableau from a museum of ancient history.

I grabbed all the V40s out of the rucksack that my hand would hold while I was taking off. As I all but flew out into the open area I flicked my wrist in the direction of the munitions dump, not even bothering to aim. God must have had angels guiding them along. I gave a screaming yell that said nothing yet made plain my rage.

At the same moment I hit the first sword-wielding executioner the V40s went off. My momentum carried me and the first man I’d hit into the second one but it was the blasts from the exploding munitions dump that pushed me into the third executioner and the two men on the other side of him. Shrapnel exploded out and cut almost everyone that had been left stand standing off at the knees in a full 360 degrees. My ears rang and even my eyes hurt from the percussion but I didn’t stop. The squiggling mass under me was still moving and I was bound and determined to stop that in a very permanent way … and I did and in a way I prefer to leave between God and I.

I turned to find all three men struggling with their bindings. The first one I could reach was Barkley and he nearly broken my nose before I could convince him it was me and to let me help him. He was in the best shape and then started helping Chuckri.

I reached Thor who was barely moving though it appeared he was trying. I touched him and he jumped. “Easy Big Boy. Just me.”

He gasped and then wheezed, “Ro …. chelle?” The weakness of his voice had my heart stuttering.

“Yeah. Let me …”

He coughed behind the sack, “Go. They’ll regroup. You … you need to get out of here.”

“I’m going, and the three of you are coming with me.” I was finally able to the bag from off of his face. They’d practically strangled him with the cord that had kept it in place. One eye was completely swollen shut, his nose was obviously broken, there was blood coming from the ear on that side as well, and his face was an awful shade from the near strangulation.

He grunted and his one good eye widened. I turned and brought up my rifle and fired on the four men that had tried to come at us. There were small explosions still occurring and there was a lot of screaming and crying going on within the blast zone, there was also a significant amount of silence from some of the bodies.

“Can you two carry Thor between you?” I asked Chuckri and Barkley.

They looked like they wanted to say yes but had to honestly answer no by shaking their heads. I sighed, “OK, you’ve already grabbed weapons. If you have a plan better than this one sing out. I’ll help Thor, you two act guard … just don’t get in front of me because if I have to shoot my aim isn’t going to be as good one handed. Alfonso … alive by the way … is guarding some cover. Anyone seen Hal?”

Chuckri nodded and said, “He went down.”

Barkley asked, “What then?” He was asking what my ultimate game plan was.

“I’ve still got the rucksack. There isn’t a whole lot left in it but from the look of things there isn’t anything left in their munitions pile.” I steadied Thor, trying to ignore the fact that I knew I was hurting him. His leg was injured as well but he was still trying not to put his full weight on me. As we went into the tall grass I lowered my voice. “There is no way anyone missed that explosion. It is going to cause some confusion, for our side as well as they try and work out what has happened. I get you guys into a position you can defend and then I see if there are any heads left on the Hydra.”

They would have objected but we had to stop and duck behind a thicket of small blackjack oaks. What I observed made me smile, but not in a nice way. I was right. With the right push the enemy groups had started to fight against themselves. I hadn’t expected it to happen so quickly so there must have been some pretty significant pre-existing problems.

I would have let both groups fight it out and let the winner run away but as soon as one group had killed the ones in the other and were making their getaway I felt Thor’s hand on the one that held my rifle. It hadn’t been on safety since I left the wall so it didn’t take much push for the combined pressure of Thor’s finger and mine on the trigger to burn the escaping enemy.

I looked at him and he mumbled, “No mercy. No survivors to try another day.”

I nodded and then we continued. The line of men that I had passed through was still there but it was much thinner and less organized. The enemy’s own leaders were screaming and carrying on something terrible. They were trying to whip their men into a frenzy but I noted it was having the opposite effect. They looked more desperate than determined.

Giving Thor my rifle to hold one handed while he balanced himself with the other by leaning on me I pulled three more of the V40s out of the rucksack. We walked through the line, hidden by the commotion and the bushes and tall grasses and trees. But as we got to an open area I flicked the three little balls. The first one I threw. The second one I flicked pretty hard. The third one I tossed only far enough so that we didn’t get caught in the blast radius. They went off at different points along the line so that no one could tell where they came from. I felt a slight push from behind as the force reached out and touched us.

That was it, the line broke but not everyone turned tail and ran. What they did do was start shooting every which direction in panic and began shooting their own. The more this happened the more that began to participate in senseless “friendly fire.” We left the worst of the chaos and I finally found Alfonso after nearly panicking myself when I couldn’t locate where I’d left him.

I turned to leave and Thor tried to stop me. “No.”

“Thor,” I said suddenly near tears. “Do you think I want to go now that I’ve found you? I didn’t even know you were there! And now I’m going to have to go out there and flush some of those men this way and I don’t like it. I have to trust that despite your injuries you can do what you have to do. And what if I’m wrong?!”

Chuckri said, “You’re not.” When Thor threw a look at him he said, “You know she’s not. This is the same stunt we pulled during that ground engagement outside of Fallujah.”

Thor took the rifle that was passed to him but he didn’t look happy. “Come back soonest,” was all he said through clinched teeth. I nodded and then went out into the woods praying that God would guide my feet and put a hedge of protection around the men. The big action was over with, we’d cut down the enemy’s numbers and destroyed the resupply for their weapons during this engagement. Now we had to continuing trimming the hedges so that this didn’t turn into a true siege and give them time to regroup as Thor had warned.

No longer did I pass by the enemy. If one came within my range I did what damage I could, preferably of the permanent kind but I know that wasn’t always the case. I found the shamshir I had dropped at some point in the fighting and did as much damage with it as I had before. With my rifle I would shoot into a group and they would run in the opposite direction … and right into the men’s fire. Not all of them ran that direction but enough of them did.

The action was intense and insane. I turned to burn another few rounds and had to pull up. It was Mr. Rhodes with a group of men. They had been headed in Thor’s direction.

“Don’t go there … you wouldn’t like it.” The sounds of gunfire and screaming was heard from that direction and then silence.

Mr. Rhodes turned his head and looked at me and with a very dry voice said, “Do tell.”

I don’t know how much longer it was … how much ammo was fired, how much blood was spilled, how many men met their maker and had their Judgment … but eventually the only sound left in the woods was that of the dying.

The time after a battle ends isn’t mundane but it doesn’t take pages to write either. Richards and some medics from Olive Branch rounded up all the wounded from our side including our men. Those of us still mobile walked the woods and dispatched any enemy that still had life left. Am I proud of that? No. But it was war … and war that I felt was ultimately for the souls of men. So it wasn’t pride I felt but I felt honor … that I’d been allowed to be part of protecting innocent people from the tyranny of mad men because what else do you call people who would create and fill those stoning fields? That I was alive and able to fight another day if that was what I was called on to do. That God had blessed me by letting me be the one that had been there when Thor needed me like he had been there for me so many times.

So I decided I could live with what I had done, not because I was proud of it but because it was a duty that I had been called upon to perform. The only time my stomach got queasy was when Hal, who had taken a bad gash to the head when Chuckri had been taken and was found insensible nearly two hours after the battle passed out from blood loss, told me that the he’d heard from the Olive Branch people in their observation posts. The section of Cape Girardeau that had been the enemy’s stronghold was on fire and it looked like it might spread to the rest of the city, pushing the residents further and further west in front of the firestorm. I thought of the innocent women and children that had already suffered so much under the despotic rule of men. Then I thought of the story of God’s commandment to Joshua regarding Canaan. I wasn’t Joshua but I believed in God’s Judgment, in the fact that He created us so He could do to us as He pleased, so maybe that was where I would have to leave it.

Hal said, “Civil war or attack by the people they’d been terrorizing … who knows? Either way they did for themselves when they decided to try and throw so much at us at the same time. Most likely underestimated the troubles coming at ‘em from behind.” His niece and nephew slept close by and I thought it was pretty significant that Markrid was paying particular attention to them … and Hal … and had her little baby’s basket nestled there as well.

As bad as our enemy had suffered we didn’t escape scot-free though it was light in comparison. One piece of ordinance came down inside the Olive Branch compound and two men were killed as a result. They lost another in the forest when he lost his head with battle fever and ran full tilt into a heavily armed group of the enemy. We were blessed that those were the only deaths but there were a lot of injuries.

I don’t know how many the Olive Branch people suffered. Just because we’d just fought a battle together hadn’t suddenly opened their borders to us, I do know that they had several injuries that they worried would turn into fatalities without God’s Grace. For our group Thor and Hal were the worst and of the two it was Thor that worried everyone most. Alfonso was recovering quickly though he didn’t move quickly at all.

Thor’s kidneys had been bruised and he had blood in his urine though that had started to clear up by the next morning. He also had a couple of cracked or broken ribs and significant surface bruising all over his body. The broken nose was painful as was the eye. But it was the fever that he started to develop that really was cause for concern and what kept me from being able to breathe any sigh of relief. For me, the end of this battle would be determined by Thor’s battle with the infection that seemed to be setting in to wage war in his body.

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