Friday, September 01, 2006

Photos From The Attic - Part Three

Part One of this story can be found here.

Every time we stopped to rest we could hear them, the crack of a branch as it was pushed aside with a hand, the snap of a twig as it gave beneath the weight of a body moving forward; no matter their stealth, we knew they were there. They'd been following us for hours, perhaps drawn by the snuffling sobs of Carter, the youngest in our small band of soldiers. It had taken several hard slaps to his face to get his crying to a low volume. Perhaps they'd heard his wailing; it's not everyday you see a colleague lose their head to a sniper, is it? Perhaps they'd spotted us as we moved out, withdrawing into the shadows offered by the jungle foliage. It could just as easily have been the thwack created by the flailing hands of Smith as he swatted flies, moths, gnats and mosquitoes (he pretended to know the difference, even though we all flapped our hands at any flying insect in case it came at us with a taste for blood). It's not as if we could simply tramp over and ask them: why are you following us?

We were their enemy. They were ours.

I remember it clearly. It often plays in my head at night, the flash as they released the flares, the onerous thump of trees being smacked by machine gun fire; I recall the clicking sound as the leaves were stripped, even above our shouts of panic and the slap of our feet on the muddy ground. Blindly we ran, trying to dodge unseen foe, unseen weapons. From which direction they were coming I do not know to this day, we could have been running towards them at one point such was the fear we all felt. I suffer today, still, from the effects of the acrid smoke; it burned the lining of my lungs, but the army said it wasn't negligent. How can that be? They sent us in there; yes, we were doing our duty, but no one told us it would lead to certain death for so many of us, of them.

The day had started as a typical innocuous day for us new servicemen. We'd been deployed away from the front, to get acclimatised, to learn the ropes. We thought we'd be safe, that we'd be back in the arms of our respective families in no time at all. Three weeks and the closest we'd got to being injured was playing football or burning under the hot Oriental sun. That was all to change after breakfast.

The four of us sat together, a small team of local lads - we'd known each other at school, even though there was a five-year gap between Carter and myself. We were looking out for each other, watching backs and hoping those same people we covered were doing the same for us. You had to stick together, no one wanted to be left alone, to be left out. That's how we came to be hiding out in the jungle, how we came to be under fire. Of course, knowing what I know now, well, it gives things a new perspective. Hindsight is a bitch like that.

I was scraping the last of the egg yolk on my plate, a yellow pond through which I dredged a slice of white bread, the texture of cardboard. It needed yolk to make it palatable, thatÂ’s the army for you. Lieutenant Campson came in, pointed at us, directly. There could be no getting out of it, the first operation. A hush descended on the mess tent; I couldn't manage that last piece of bread, probably would've choked me. That hindsight: might have been best to choke to death than go through what we all went through. Listen lad, it wasn't easy, even for the veteran soldiers, but for us newies it were fucking horrible. Pardon me language.

I'm sorry lad, I'm feeling tired now. I need to rest. It's my lungs, I think I mentioned.

Make yourself useful and get in that kitchen, make yourself a drink. There's a bottle of whiskey in the cupboard above the sink, bring that back with you. And give me that photo again, let me look just once more. Now, let me rest a little; I'll not be able to sleep, not with those screams haunting me, not now you've made me think about it just when I thought it was starting to fade.

This story is continued here


purplesimon said...

Here's the next instalment of Photos From The Attic, which I hope will build into something a little more considerable than my usual efforts.

I'm writing this while decorating my home and working for a couple of clients while I look for work, so I won't be keeping to any kind of schedule.

Anyway, don't forget to start at the beginning; let me know what you think, what you like and what you dislike.

purplesimon out...

Tanya said...

Gripping piece of story telling, however, I feel the style has shifted since the first two and that jolts me a bit. Could just be me then. But the material is fabulous and being sucked into a piece like this... well... you know you are good anyway... but it's satisfying to come away from an instalment already wishing for the next before you've hit the end of the first paragraph.

purplesimon said...

Thanks T,
There's a reason for the slight tonal changes, as we're reading a different narrator for each chapter so far.

There is to be a main narrator, so you can find something solid to hold on to, but it's going to take more than the first three chapters to bring that to life.

The next one will make more sense.

I hope so, anyway!

purplesimon out...

lryicsgrl said...

My oldest daughter, just left for her first day of HIGH SCHOOL, this is the first year of four....I've got another hour, until my younger daughter, starts her first day of MIDDLE SCHOOL, the first year of three.

Anyway, thanks for giving me the good read, that I am enjoying between my "break".

I am confused though, and maybe it isn't necessary to know? If these are American soilders, they wouldn't use "lad", to describe "boy".

Despite, this little "confusion", I am engaged, happily in the, off to part 4.