Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
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It made a sharp cracking noise. My God.... I'll never be able to forget it, I guess. It was a sharp cra-a-ack with a sort of muffling thud back up behind it, sort of... God. Her right leg. I can still hear it. It didn't go like the others. Had to really work with it. God! And her face. There wasn't any expression to it, but there was this kind of explosiveness though. Wanta blow my brains out every time I think of it.
It was so weird, anyway, landing over there all of a sudden. Had seen guys on TV slugging through jungle and swamp and this really tall grass called elephant grass. Watched it on TV for years, and then, boom, there I was in there too, all dressed up in green with this stupid helmet down around my ears, and a black rifle in my hands like I knew what I was doing, and that red mud staining these big floppy jungle fatigues to a pukie kind of rust color. Just boom! All of a sudden there I was slogging around in the TV set like I knew what I was doing. Weird, really weird.
But, I don't know, all of that's fine; I just can't never seem to get it out of my mind these other things, like this woman lying there in my mind forever with that face like stone, no sign of pain, no crying or yelling, nothing. Just staring at us like we weren't really there too. That's probably what did it in the first place, come to think of it. But, I don't know, my God! It just happened, and there's no pretending that it didn't. I don't really know what happened, tell you the truth.
We had been working this AO, this area of operation for a whole month, seemed like a million years. A day was like a week over there. Lots a booby traps and stuff. Guys were getting it all the time. Being careful didn't even mean nothing. Every day, just about, somebody got a leg blown off, or his guts ripped open, or just plain got his lunch entirely; and every time it happened we all got really scared, and then we'd get kind of sad... no not sad... morose, ugly black killer mood, and then by the next morning we'd be like stone inside, making all kinds of promises to ourselves about getting even; bringing it home to the Little Man, we used to say.
This one time we were tracking these gooks, four or five of them. Tracked them all damned morning, hot on their trail right into a village, this crummy little village on the edge of a rubber plantation. We knew they were in there. We made up our mind things would get even. We slapped a few people around, burned a couple hooches, but there was no sign of these guys, and nobody was talking. Then, God it was weird, we saw this old lady, all of us at the same time, just about. She was squatting in the dirt under a big old tree, you know how they do. It was getting on to lunch time, and the sun was so hot, you know how it gets over there, like it can suck the very life out of you. The flies were going nuts too. Maybe that's what did it, the flies. You know how they can almost get into your brain with that noise; and we were starving and the heat was boiling our brains. Maybe that's what did it. You know how it gets over there like it's gonna suck the blood right out of you.
Anyway... God... like I say, we all saw this really old woman squatting like it was Sunday morning in the park or something, and scratching in the dust with a twig. That miserable red dust, it was all over everything including us, sticking to the sweat on our faces and arms and necks, itchy and slimy. Well we all knew, and this is what's really weird, we all knew at the same instant, all of us together that she knew exactly where those little VC bastards got to. God, it was like our minds all melted together into one. We knew she knew; and we knew she knew that we knew. It happened just like that, just, boom, like snapping your fingers. All we needed was the details.
So we gathered around and started to question her. She totally ignored us. That's what did it probably. Ignoring us like that, and us in this mood, and the heat, and stuff, and she just squatting there in the dirt, scratching with that miserable stick, and just stoned ignoring us all like we didn't matter, like we were a bunch of jerks, or not even that; made us feel like we didn't even exist at all like we really
was nothing but a TV show or something. It got to where we weren't even thinking about them gooks we had been tracking, we just wanted to crack her mind open for treating us like that... I guess. Maybe that's what did it.
Then there was this thing happening between us all, this rage like, building up slowly; slowly like somebody blowing up a balloon or something. We hid it from her, but let it build and build and build as we questioned her over and over again, giving her a couple kicks now and then in the legs and the back. One of them was a real blow. She lost her balance and, before she went down, a couple of us (can't remember who) grabbed her by the arm pits, and dragged her over to this big tree stump, and draped her over it face up. Wish it had been the other way around. Can't never stop seeing her face; her nose working desperately to breathe so she could keep her mouth closed to look calm. And her eyes looked like she knew everything in the world.
Nobody said what to do or how to do it, we all just did it together. Weird.
We questioned her some more, really yelling now. There was like this power in our brains like when you drink too much, only nobody was drinking, it was this twisting sort of sensation, with a kind of groaning. Our boots were making a lot of dust.
Broke her right arm. Absolutely certain she would tell us where they went; but all she did was gasp really loud the way somebody does when you throw them into a freezing cold pond or something. She just stared up at the sky. Everybody was quiet for just a second. But we started yelling louder. Broke her other arm for her, and both her legs too. God I'll never forget trying to break her right leg. It was sturdier than the other one, I guess.
My God.... I honestly don't know how that kinda stuff could happen. I come from a really good family.
Ron Wichers writes: I lost a limb fighting in Vietnam in 1970 with an infantry unit. I studied History at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and Biblical and Systematic Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. Four of the Myrmidons series [of which there are 13 stories] have appeared in a Florida Panhandle anthology titled The Emerald Coast Review, published annually by the West Florida Literary Federation. WUWF, the National Public Radio affiliate, has aired dramatic readings of seven of my stories and has accepted several others for future broadcast.