This jungle is a living creature. The cicadas buzzing. The birds chirping. It’s near impossible to sleep at night. The air is so humid you could swear it’s raining. Oh wait, damn, now it’s raining. And I’m weighed down by 30 pounds of tactical gear, on point, looking for possible threats. “Only two hours more of marching,” Lou says. Lou’s short for Lieutenant. Crow has my back, even though he’s said, “Vallon, if you turn your back on me I’ll bury my tomahawk in you.” Behind him, sloshing slowly through the mud, is Lou with Marlowe bringing up the rear. Crow and I got our own deal worked out where we both carry each other’s death letters. His is to his parents, mine to my own. Lou didn’t want to, and Marlowe’s too much of a loud Southern boy to be trusted with it. Crow was more concerned about the honor a paleface could have. He always talks about how his great-grandfather was a real Indian, one who defended his honor and family, but how the white man had now robbed Crow of being like him by drafting him into a war. Despite all his talk, I think he has a thing for poetry. I once caught him reading a small book filled with ‘em … STOP.
Right there. In the clearing. A movement. Too quick to get a gauge on it. It was there. Then it wasn’t. I stare for a full five seconds. Then the jungle explodes into an inferno. There’s gunfire everywhere, wait, actual fire now. Charlies are learning they don’t need to shoot us to win, just burn us all to hell. Lou’s down now, gripping his bleeding leg, Crow’s nowhere to be seen and Marlowe … oh s— Marlowe. He’s face down in the mud, no movement. I’m running now, trying to make my way to Lou, almost there … then a rifle butt blinds me from out of nowhere. Everything’s black …
I’m alive. I wake up in a hut that smells like death. I try to get up, but my wrists are tied. I turn my head. There’s Lou, beat to hell but breathing. No sign of Marlowe. Same for Crow. Where could they be? My uniform’s gone. My tags and Crow’s letter, all gone. They see me awake and throw a bag over my head, dragging me outside. Oh God, this is it. I hear Lou moaning and being pushed next to me. We’re both thrown down into the dirt. Our bags are pulled off.
Empty eyes stare back at me. Dead eyes. Marlowe. He’s been stripped of his equipment and propped against a wall. He looks like he’s been dead for days. How long has it been? The leader must be thinking about this too and slaps me in the face before forcing me to turn my head at the body, no, bodies of people. He speaks aloud, in perfect English. “This is what happens when you come to my country. I go to yours to learn and study in your schools, and this is how you repay me? That’s my family there. You burned my village down so I cannot go home. Now you will not go home either. You will die here with them.”
The fires are burning now, the moon is out. Lou is standing with slumped shoulders. He gasps as the leader thrusts his knife into Lou’s chest. With a quick swipe, he slashes Lou’s throat and kills him. His empty eyes look at me as he falls to the ground. He cleans the knife and, with a flourish, stabs me in the chest. It burns and hurts something awful. I’m on the floor, looking up as he gives the word for his men to finish it. One raises his gun and aims … but drops it. There’s a small dart sticking out of his arm. The next one catches him in the throat . He goes down screaming as his friend turns to face the onslaught and catches a tomahawk in his chest. There’s whooping and screaming as Crow runs from the jungle, tackling and snapping the last one’s neck before turning to the leader.
The leader tosses down his knife and utters one more curse, “They will do to you what they did to me! You will see.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Crow says, striding up to him, “They already have.” He plunges his knife into the man’s throat. Then black …
Crow turns around, looking at the scene. There are fires everywhere and Vallon doesn’t look too good. A finger at his neck confirms what he figured. Lou, Marlowe and now Vallon. And for what?
He searches the nearby huts until he comes up to what must have been the lead man’s dwelling. A small cot, a book with an open envelope as a bookmark. His envelope. He opens it up and finds a book of poetry by Yeats. On the page it reads:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world;
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.
He grimaces and looks at the burning village. At the dead leader. At the bodies of his family. At Marlowe, Lou and Vallon. At the jungle.
He stares and mutters to himself:
“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned …”