by S. H. Linden
part 1 of 2
For a moment he thought he had made it. But the fence seemed higher than it looked when he had been on the ground. Now that he was in his early seventies, everything seemed longer or higher than it had looked when he was in his twenties.
Nam had done a number on him, and he had paid his dues: one Silver Star and three purple hearts and a gimpy left leg. As he was heading for the top of the barbed-wire fence his mind flashed back to his last two days in Nam.
He and Dino, his best friend, were hiding in the tall grass while a group of VC’s were searching for them and two other guys who had gotten separated from their unit.
The four of them were prepared to die if they were discovered. They had dug deeper into the tall grass and lay quietly with their weapons beside them. Grenades were in front, easy to grab, and all their mag clips were fully loaded.
Dino had called to their unit and told them their coordinates, hoping they could get a chopper sent to pick them up before it was too late. But if the rescue couldn’t be made, then bring on the mortar fire. If ten or fifteen enemy died along with these four men, then it would be a good day, according to some U.S. generals.
The small group lay quietly for a couple of hours. During that time they heard the VC’s shouting to each other while searching for the hidden American soldiers.
Night came, along with mortar shells landing all around them. The group hugged the jungle ground, with its insects, snakes and flies, and its creepy tall grass until the dirt was up their noses and they could hardly breathe. Still, they were alive and safe for the moment. Eventually the shelling stopped and they could relax a little.
Finally the men stopped whispering.
Frank Moore lay quietly in that rotten jungle, afraid to whisper out to Dino. He also couldn’t keep his eyes open anymore and was starting to fall asleep. And the only noises he heard before the soothing dream-like sleep took him back home that evening and away from the jungle was his dog Rusty barking.
In his dream he was fourteen again, at his parents’ farmhouse. He saw his dog wagging his tail and running to greet him. And he had his shotgun in his hand. “Rusty” jumped up on his hind legs and leaned on Moore’s chest, licking Moore‘s face. The dog knew it wouldn’t be long before he would be jumping into the pond and retrieving a dove or two for tonight’s dinner.
A noise awakened Frank. He opened one eye, and for a moment he forgot where he was. He could hear someone or something crawling through the grass toward him. He didn’t have time to think or shout: he automatically pulled the pin on a grenade and threw it at the noise. It went off, then he heard a scream, then silence. He smiled at the thought of one less VC chasing after him.
But he couldn’t go back to sleep again. He lay there most of the night, hearing moaning until it stopped.
* * *
Dawn was beginning to break. Frank Moore slowly turned his head to where he had last seen Dino, except there was no Dino. He quietly called out, “Dino... Dino.” He waited a few minutes until he realized he had to take a piss. He got up and urinated. He also noted that the two guys that had joined them the night before were also gone.
Frank Moore quietly called out again, “ Dino... where the hell are you?” but Dino never answered. Now Moore was worried. He crawled out towards the noise he heard the night before; and he tried to see the horizon, but he saw nothing except tall grass and further away the jungle of torn-up vines that the mortar fire had destroyed.
He pulled out his field glasses and things were brought up close. In the distance he saw one leg, then moved the glasses and saw another leg. Both legs had army boots on. He became sick to his stomach because he knew it was a U.S. soldier’s legs. He got up and started running toward the still body. As he got closer he screamed: he recognized Dino.
The grenade had blown off Dino’s arm and had made a gaping hole in his stomach. Moore bent down with tears running down his cheeks and gently picked Dino’s head up and pressed it hard against his chest. He tried to answer his thoughts.
He guessed In the middle of the night Dino had crawled out to relieve himself and he was heading back. But he had made some noise and Frank Moore woke up and tossed a grenade at the noise. Instead of killing a VC, he had killed his best friend.
Moore heard the chopper. It seemed to be landing, maybe to pick up Dino? He stood up to wave at the chopper pilot. He saw the pilot had seen him. Then a rifle cracked and a sniper bullet hit him in the left leg. And he fainted.
* * *
It took Frank Moore and the hospital, that saved his left leg, to get him walking again. Nurses and physical therapists tried to cheer him up but no one had the right formula.
Moore didn’t mingle with other wounded patients. Some seemed resolved that a loss of a limb was expected if you were doing front-line duty. Others gave him a cold shoulder when they found out he had killed a fellow soldier with a grenade tossed blind. Secretly they called him a “nut case.” Moore heard the rumors.
He just kept to himself. When he would go outside, with the aid of a cane, he sat for hours on the hospital garden’s benches, he watched the birds and butterflies going about their business and smiled occasionally. Sometimes he faced the sun, with his head tilted up to let the warm rays burn into his skull and brain. Still, at the end of the day, he kept seeing Dino’s torn body.
Sometimes nurses would come up and sit on the benches with him. They had tried to cheer him up, but it was to no avail. He wouldn’t talk about that day in Nam, almost two years ago. All he wanted was to be left alone and get the hell out of the hospital. Maybe if he could go home and see his parents his view of the world would get better?
The thought sunk in: he wanted to go home again.
* * *
He was nearing the top of the barbed wire fence. His fingers hurt from pulling himself up to the top where he could reach the sharp barbed points and press them down. If he could get over the fence he was sure he could get away. He had brought street clothes and money with him in a pillowcase he had tied around his back with a bathrobe belt.
He looked back at the guard shack and could see the guard was reading a magazine. The night was pitch dark. The only sound he could hear was an occasional bark from the guard dogs on the other side of some buildings.
He had planned the escape for two weeks until a new moon had risen and made the hospital grounds dark. He was fed up with the hospital and the psychiatric doctors, who kept telling him he needn’t go on punishing himself. It was just a mistake that came sometimes in a battle where you were fighting for your life. They kept saying he was showing progress with his leg. If he could just understand that killing Dino was an accident, he probably could be released in about three months.
Moore pulled out a pocket handkerchief and quickly wrapped his right hand so that he could press down the barbed wire. But he found the handkerchief wasn’t heavy enough, and he could feel the barbs piercing the cloth and punching small holes in his hands.
He managed to get his right leg over the fence but the left leg was giving him trouble. He couldn’t raise it high enough to completely clear the top, and his pajama cuff snagged on a barb. He couldn’t get it undone, but he got part of the leg over the fence, tearing the cuff and making a gash in his leg.
Then his strength gave out and he had to let go. The torn cuff stayed with the barb during the hard fall to the ground. His breath had been knocked out of him. He was bleeding from a gash.
He lay on the ground for several minutes trying to catch his breath and gain strength. Off on the far side of the hospital grounds he heard the dogs barking and running towards him. They had heard him fall.
He got on his hands and knees and quickly moved behind some large shrubs, hoping the guard wouldn’t see him. The dogs kept on with their incessant barking to the spot where he had fallen.
Moore could see the guard look out the window and, seeing nothing, go back to reading his magazine again. After a short while his telephone rang. He answered, listened, then sat up. He put on a jacket, grabbed a flashlight and went out to where the dogs were still standing and barking. He shone the light in the general direction where the dogs were looking but still saw nothing.
Heading back to the shack he pulled out his cell phone and dialed a number. “Hey, Chuck, I got a call that said there’s a missing patient. The dogs are going crazy by a spot near the fence. I think we should go out and look around... Don’t know if it’s a nut case or not, but bring a gun with you.”
Chuck came out of the main hospital building and the guards went to a fence gate and opened it. By now the dogs were barking crazily. They sniffed the ground and moved from shrub to shrub where Moore had been moving on away from the dogs he knew would be let out.
Shining their flashlights on the ground right where the dogs were pointing, the guards saw spots of blood. The dogs sniffed around then started off in the direction that Moore had taken.
“He’s heading for the river. Come on,” the first guard said.
Up ahead Moore heard water running. It must be the creek he had seen when they had brought him back to the hospital after a day in town. They had been taken to a movie in a hospital bus. Moore knew he had no time to waste and struggled to his feet and walked as fast as he could towards the sound of the water.
When he arrived at the creek he took his shoes off and tied the laces together and hung the shoes around his neck. He walked carefully in the water until he was in the middle of the creek. The water felt good on his gashed leg. He let the water clean the wound.
Quietly listening to the sounds of the countryside he still couldn’t see the dogs. But he knew they would eventually arrive. He laughed quietly to himself. Some escape, he thought.
Moore continued upstream for about fifty yards from where he had entered the water. He waded to the opposite side and slowly climbed out and hid in some bushes. He dried off his feet with his shirt and put on his shoes.
He hoped he could remember where he had seen a road from the bus. He knew there were some houses in the distance.
He also knew that people that lived out in the country set up traps to catch rabbits. People here grew their own vegetables and ate what they could catch if the opportunity arose. He had to be careful where he walked. But it was hard to see a trap because it was so damned dark.
Frank Moore headed to where he thought the road was. He walked as fast as he could but his leg hurt like hell.
* * *
Copyright © 2010 by S. H. Linden