I wrote the following a few years back while in the hospital at about 1 in the morning. I would get woken up at midnight for vitals and could not fall back to sleep for a few hours. So I started writing what I dreamed about. This night I dreamed about Damn Victor and then wrote it out. It is not pretty and is much grittier than my normal writing. I came across it today and thought I should share it.
By Eric Johnson
“Damn Victor!” Sergeant Gerald spit.
Victor, he was from San Antonio. Home of the Spurs. Given name of Frederico Victorious Garza. Now he was just Damn Victor.
Victor was good. It served him well, most of the time. This time…
Sergeant Gerald, or “The S G” as we call him, knew survival in these dense woods. He knew the paths not to take and how to never see a trap. He called it walking hard. It worked, but as the name implies, it was hard.
He lit a cigarette now looking down at Victor. Victor was still breathing, but we could all tell it was just nerves. It would take multiple people to carry him out due to him being in pieces. Small things upon the ground here, small sticks and pieces of bark were aloft in the rivets to blood pouring away.
“Someone will be along very shortly to check on that noise.” The S G stated flatly. Everyone turned in opposite directions guns ready and ear pricked for movement.
There was no sound except that constant murmur of the leaves in the canopy banging together in a light breeze. Two leaves hardly make any noise at all, but stand in a thick forest and a light breeze can sound like air support bearing down on your position.
They were in control in this forest; we were the invaders trying to drive them out. They knew every step to take, every root protrusion to move along and knew where every single trap was. No, we would not hear them. Chances are two of our men would fall before we hear the first shot.
As one, we turned back to Victor. Damn Victor. Damn Frederico Victorious.
Today he was too good, or so he thought. That is what did him in. He was a master at spotting traps, wires, pits, even knowing where mines were by how the leaves lay upon the ground. He could move through a mine ridden field and watching him looked like watching a person do ball room dancing all by themselves as he went left, right, slowly turned and proceeded sideways. What was even sillier to watch was the line of people moving along behind him trying to step everywhere he stepped.
That was not his task today. Today he was supposed to be number 3. He would be the second to take over for the bushwhacker.
He would not have it. “Trail’s only 20 feet away and clear as an April afternoon in Texas after the rain.”
He liked to talk in similes that made Texas sound great.
So number one was Ernesto. He was also from Texas, from the Del Rio area. He was very quiet, a little stringy, but hewas one mean one with Bertha. Bertha was our bushwhacker blade. A 26” machete forged from hard carbon steel and the whole team had their tasks in keeping her beyond razor sharp.
Oh everyone had their own machetes, a standard 18” for some and a large 24” for others who could handle the weight. But Bertha took anything down. When we had to walk hard but needed to move fast, that is when Bertha was released from her nest, carefully honed, oiled lightly and then the first ceremonial chop through some thick foliage. If she went clear through, we knew we were going to do well. Today a half inch branch stopped it on the first swing. Be aware though that it cut through about 4 other slightly larger branches. Everyone went silent.
The S G spoke up and took the Handle from Victor; it had been his turn for first chop. Damn Victor.
The Sergeant took a new swipe through which cleared the brush like it had gone through spaghetti noodles and then handed the Bushwhacker to Ernesto.
A light of excitement came into Ernesto’s eyes as he took the handle. Come to think of it, the only time that Ernesto really seemed alive was with Bertha in his hand. He spoke a little more, always talking back towards number two in line about life in his home town. But the key to keep him in this good mood was to never ask him what he was going to do when we went back. His mood would darken quickly; he would look down at Bertha and then start with a new fury into the brush.
Today Victor was supposed to be number three, a pretty easy job for a while until one and two cycled through their turn.
Ernesto was still only halfway into his cycle and usually ran over when he came to a cross path. Smartly he called up Victor who quickly accessed the trail. It was really a light rain gully; the flow of water here kept seedlings from take a firm footing and washed away the roots of those that did. But it also made a fine path when dry.
Victor pointed to the uphill side and made out two wires. The downhill side was clear from this vantage point. Where we needed to cross was safe.
Ernesto hoisted up his blade and submerged himself into his work again. Number two passed Victor and then so did number four. Victor stood looking downhill.
The S G caught up to him told him to take his place in line.
“Trail’s only 20 feet away and clear as an April afternoon in Texas after the rain.” He replied.
“Damn you Victor,” said the Sergeant, “I don’t need this right now, get into line. We need to be in position by twelve hundred hours.”
“Sir, I can scout the parallel trail and make better time and report back anything ahead.” Victor said in his overly confident Texan way.
Time was being lost and truth be told, they could use a scout report. The S G slightly looked up and to the left for a moment, a sure sign of conflicted thought in him, and then waved his hand down the downhill trail. Victor was going in an instant.
“You are still number three, return with your report in time for your shift.” The Sergeant ordered after him.
A waved hand as the figure disappeared into the parallel trail was the only response. Then he was gone from view.
Going on the trail was quick and easy for Victor. There were wires and he even spotted a couple of mines where the dirt on the ground was a different color. They never thought to put the dirt back in the hole in the same order it came out. He stopped and examined each wire and disabled those that were quick and easy to do. He still was able to keep very good time ahead of the bushwhack team. Ernesto moved fast with Bertha, but Victor could almost run this trail with his eyes closed.
Perhaps that is what happened to him. It was too easy. He was not ready for what got him. It was a herring wire.
Sometimes when you are moving through to forest, a trap is not the main trap but something to merely distract you into the real one. This was one of those. It was a herring wire. These were strung between a couple of trees at ankle height and easy to spot.
Victor spotted this wire and kneeled down to examine it. That’s when he heard the click. His knee had just triggered the land mine.
He cursed himself silently. He was the one who named these things herring traps. He told other people how to watch out for them.
A red herring is a statement someone uses in an argument to distract you from the real issue at hand. Listen to any political speech, and not only can you hear them, but you can count them.
The wire between the trees led to no trap. Herring traps usually didn’t, and that was their tell. It was there to get to you investigate or step over without looking for the mine beside the wire.
Any shift in weight would now trigger the firing mechanism. He considered his options. There were very few. His only chance was to get the team here to possibly dig out and disarm the mine. And that was a slim to none chance anyway. Digging usually disturbed the mine and led to detonation anyway.
He reached back without looking for the radio and found it easily enough. The first gentle tug failed to free it, but he felt one of the catches give. The second tug freed it, but too easily. Victor inadvertently tossed the radio on the path beside him and then gravity carried it sliding slowly into the gully there. Victor could not move quickly enough for fear of shifting his weight. He saw his only slim to none chance sliding away. He was going to have to jump.
Lucky Charles was a legend in the troops. Everyone knew of him, but no one knew him directly. It was always through a buddy who used to serve with a buddy of his in another division. Lucky Charles did everything that should have gotten him killed. He somehow always survived. He did not do it to prove anything; people just said he was stupid. He was reported one time to walk into an enemy encampment, filled his canteen, took a long drink, refilled it again, and then left. No one saw him, and if they did no one took notice of him.
So tales tell of Lucky Charles’ jump. LC was walking in the woods and stepped onto a mine. The dirt beneath his feet gave way and he froze solid as he felt the click of the firing mechanism through his boot.
“Charles? Why you stop” His Commander asked him.
Charles was not feeling so lucky. He stood solid still, sweat pouring down his face. He looked down at his boot. The commander’s eyes followed his down. He saw the tell tale traces of the mine. Most anyone would have caught it. Dirt was a different color. Charles would not have caught it, he was too stupid.
The commander pulled off his pack as the others of their troop gathered around. He pulled out his folding spade and motioned to another soldier nearby to do the same. They did not get to start digging. A gunshot rang out through the forest, about a quarter mile distant.
The commander made his appropriate curses. More shots sounded, closer.
Everyone got down instinctively. The commander tossed the shovel aside and pulled a length of rope from his pack.
“Boy, we ‘bout to get you killed.” The sergeant told Charles. “Right sorry ‘bout that.”
The sweaty face of the condemned just nodded.
The commander tossed an end of the rope to Charles; it just hit him and fell.
“You gotta catch it boy!” he said.
A couple of bullets went through the canopy above.
The commander threw the rope again, it was caught. Charley stood there and looked at it stupidly.
“Hold on tight boy!”
The commander played out a length of rope to put a little distance between them then pulled out all the slack. Several others lined up with him on the rope without even needing to be ordered.
“When I says to jump, you jump!” He shouted out.
The sweaty face nodded.
Everyone pulled the rope tight and tensed themselves, ready to pull.
The bullets played through the leaves around them. Somehow no one had been hit.
In recorded history there has probably never been a man jump so high. Charles was stupid but he obeyed orders to the very best he could. There was also the fact that the mine went off and threw him about 40 feet into the air. With everyone pulling, Lucky Charles soared over head and ended up on the front of the line.
“Now run like hell!” The sergeant yelled.
LC gained his feet under him and ran. He did not even ever let go of the rope. He pulled anyone who did not let go about half a mile till the commander got him to stop at a defensible position. When they got settled they were ahead of the advancing troops and managed to waylay them in an ambush and took them out quick enough.
It was not until after all the fighting was done that Lucky Charles came up to the commander and said simply, “I’m gunna need a new boot.”
The commander looked down and it looked as though someone had stolen a tennis shoe shape out of the stupid man’s boot. His bare foot was there and exposed, but the boot uppers were still there wrapped around his leg. The sock was probably lost in the run, but the foot looked perfect.
Victor looked down at his knee. The soil all around him was the dark black of the topsoil of the forest. Where his knee was had grey speckles of sand in it lightning from that rich black.
Lucky Charles had his boot to take the blow and a bunch of men pulling on him. What did Victor have? A radio out of reach and a trip wire that just went to the trunks of a couple of trees.
He considered his options and reached out with one hand and pulled slightly on the trip wire. It held firmly. He grabbed it with his other hand and pulled his body weight back against it. It held. Slowly, Victor prepped his muscles for release. He pulled his body back to put as much bend in his legs as possible. He said a silent prayer to his Lord and then launched himself.
The explosion was heard easily by The S G. The entire troop heard it and by the bearing, they knew it could only be Victor.
Victor’s life slowed down. His knees had not actually left the ground yet when the mine went off. He flew through the air from the blast, still holding onto the wire and was thrown down hard on his back on the other side. The breath was completely knocked out of him. Beside him a boot landed. Debris, dirt, and shrapnel rained down on his face and body.
He let go of the wire with one hand and reached for the boot. He was looking at the base of it and could just reach the toe with his finger tip. It took a couple of tries to move it. It was heavy for some reason. He pulled it around with some effort and found there was a leg still attached.
“That’s my leg there.” His own voice told him in his head.
It did not seem to shock him for some reason. He could not even feel any pain from losing his leg. Everything was just kind of fuzzy. He decided he would have to ask the doctors that put it back on for him why he did not feel it when it was taken off.
It was suddenly important to him to make sure he kept his leg, so he pulled it up to him and grasped it to his chest. His vision stated to fade around the edges, like a dark halo.
“Make for there!” Sergeant Gerald called out pointing at a 90 degree to the trail back down hill.
Ernesto nodded and went into high gear. It seemed only moment before he broke through onto the trail.
The Sergeant took lead and practically ran down the trail easily spotting the disabled and marked traps.
They arrived to find Victor there lying on the opposite side of the wire, clutching one of his own legs and barely breathing.
So here we are now, Damn Victor laying there, the enemy an unknown distance away and probably taking sight on us now.
“Navigator!” The S C barked. One man stepped forward.
“Mark this position on GPS for retrieval then take his personals.”
“The rest of you, we move now! That way!” The Sarge indicated back the way into the woods where they had been bushwhacking.
“Move in-between, one quarter mile, then bear right walk hard into target direction. Leave no trail!” He continued. “We move out now!”
Walking hard was hard. Walking between was the worst. You had to measure every step, find holes in the brush a rabbit would turn away from and leave no markings of your passing. But we would need to leave the area undetected so we could not be ambushed.