"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light." -
The first ten hours of journey went fairly smoothly. I was very tired but managed to walk solidly without incidents. As I reached the lower valleys, the trail winded through a monotonous thicket of common pine trees that typically grew in that region.
I came to a deep gorge and walked for another hour around it, until I descended down a passage through some sharp rocks which allowed me to reach the river and cross it over a fallen dead tree. The water at that point was only about half a metre deep but furiously fast. I shouldn’t fall or it would be a very dangerous swim. With a leap or two, I made it to the other side.
A few meters above the sandy river shore, another corridor was visible which clearly lead to the top of the gorge. Climbing up to the top took half an hour with no difficult passages. At the end of it, an open magnificent prairie opened before my eyes.
I took a brief rest over the soft grass, half asleep half awake. My brain kept counting the minutes left to get to destination as I meticulously recalled every bit of detail from that phone conversation. I half slept a little bit more, then jumped on my two feet and walked, walked for my dear life!
The ground quickly got wet and muddy. Half hour later, I entered a forest as a thick fog raised and made my walk that bit more difficult. I kept checking and checking again my position with an old compass, to make sure I was on point. It was getting quite cold and the fog had brought a small drizzle with it.
A feeling of dread took hold of me. I realised I was desperate, exhausted and very far still from the rendezvous point. I felt dizzy in that suffocating fog. And then, stupidly as it seemed, I asked myself why I even wanted to survive so desperately, so childishly. My head started to drift away desperately. I wanted to stop, my feet wanted to rest. Hadn’t I seen how easy it is to die, so simple sometimes, so fast? This could be a perfect place to let go of it all. It would be easier, painless.
It got even colder and I realised I was wet. That drizzle had managed to soak me. In an almost sleepwalking state, I put my waterproof vest on and continued to advance across the treacherous terrain, shaking those thoughts off my mind, one by one, like poisonous spiders.
I was scared. Yes, that’s what it was! I was very scared and I was tired, I was hungry and I was alone. I had lost everybody I cared for, everyone I had ever loved! Why to continue then, so stubbornly, so aimlessly? Why to run for shelter when there is nothing worth living for? Was I mad? What right did I have to live? Hadn’t I learned after Janice’s death? Hadn’t I learnt how elegantly one can die, without complains, without any ceremonies?
When she closed her eyes on me, across that thick protection glass, alone, without the touch of my hand, alone in that confinement box, that day one layer of me was blown away into the wind, forever. She had my child in her, she was eight months pregnant, and I lost her. I lost all I cared for in this world, that day. And I had the nerve of looking at her dying and not taking my own life that very minute! The brave pilot, the brave military man who stared at death in the eye.
I felt sick, profoundly sick, I was sick of myself, of my life, of my ambitions and dreams, that shit that had pushed me along this stinking life since my early childhood. What nonsense, sickening self-preserving nonsense.
My feet stopped and I leaned over, exhausted, to catch a long breath. What a horrible place this was. How did I manage to arrive here? Where was I?
My head was wild, out of control, wild fire. I couldn’t think straight. Thoughts came through me like bullets through paper, unstoppable, painful, piercing, thrashing! I had to breathe, breathe deep, faster.
I took my back pack off, pulled the bottle from the side pocket and took a sip of the water, that fresh mountain stream water. Then another sip, and another. A deep soothing moment passed, maybe longer. I tried to calm down, slowly, very slowly.
Why did she have to go? Janice, my love. “I adored you with every inch of my body, with every molecule in me. Why did you have to go, so painfully, so sudden? I hadn’t had time to say goodbye, to hold you in my arms and warm your dying body as death slowly took you away. I remember stretching my hand over that glass, pretending aimlessly to be inside that cubicle with you. What a pathetic theatrical gesture, from the safety at the other side of that divide.”
What would I hero do, a soldier, the best of the stinking lot, in that situation? Wouldn’t the brave hero die for his love, to then travel to the other world and rescue her lover’s soul, like Orpheus did? Love must be boundless, non-negotiable.
“They took you away an hour later, down to the morgue, and I kept staring at that confinement door hoping to see you appearing again, unharmed.”
That was a year and a half ago.
I heard growls. Not far, a kilometre maybe less. The fog muffled any sounds. It could be something else. Suddenly I could think more clearly. I kept calm. Those sounds had managed to rob me from my devouring dreams. I still had one day ahead of journey. Another ten kilometres to destination through what now was a quite difficult terrain.
Another growl interrupted my thoughts again. This time closer. Much closer but still far enough not to be a concern. I should walk quickly, I should stay focused. My heart started to gallop loudly. I felt the tiredness in my legs, in my neck, my shoulders. I was weak, I was hungry, very hungry.
I grabbed hold of my machine gun which by the way hadn’t been used since I left the base with Parker. It was loaded and it was heavy with its beautiful die cast metal. My finger on the trigger and my left hand firmly gripping the barrel. Manly.
I kept my eyes on the foggy ground. I could only hear my steps slopping on the muddy ground and my heart thumping in my chest. My eye pupils were open wide, enough to allow me to view through almost no light.
Then I remember her. She would come back to me regularly. She would visit me in my sleep or in moments of pain and anguish. She never left me. I felt her presence every minute since that wrecked day.
My steps were delayed in thick mud. Each step required a heavy pulling of the leg and then a push forwards to the next step. It would take me days to reach the base in this conditions.
My thoughts drifted back to her. I could smell her beauty. I could feel her soft skin at the touch of my fingers. I met her after my divorce almost accidentally. I was a wreck in those days after years of being emotionally abused. She never knew how much she saved me, like a ray of life, my angel. And I came to love her like I never loved anyone before or since.
We built a life together. Slowly, she helped me become a pilot and overcome my lack of self-confidence. She was there during my promotion and as such she was also my first passenger in a solo flight, an experience she always remembered with some fear and with great excitement. With her I burst into life. I had all a man could ask for. For three full years we were the happiest on the face of the earth. Then suddenly life changed and death came to take it all.
Now in the darkness, her face became clear to me, blended in the shapes and shades of that foggy cloud. Her face, gentle as ever, looked into my eyes. Her cheeks were adorned with her curly long hair down her magnificent chest, her glossy puff nipples, beautifully shaped like the breasts of a sphinx or the the silky torso of a Venus.
I felt I was losing the ground under my feet. The fog kept moving around me, entangling me like a venomous viper, lit by the hidden moon, across the tall pines above. The wet pine needles enriched the air with subtle maritime tones. It all reminded me of her and only her. Blended with the forest mist, with her elegant smile and her delicate fingers, gentle and magnificent as marble. I was nauseous. I might be lost. My boots were drenched and my arms paining with he weight of the heavy gun.
Then suddenly, from nowhere, a piercing growl cut through my head as I was violently hurled to the ground by a tremendous force. I hit the damp floor face first and lost the gun with the impact. Terrifying fangs sharp as steel tore through my trousers. The first pointing tooth cut into my flesh as I screamed from the top of my lungs in agony and terror.
As the beast pulled me and tossed me in all directions, I searched madly for my machine gun which had fallen not far, in a puddle only one or two feet from me. I could see one predator only, growling at me in the dark, intent in butchering my leg to the bone. Maybe a wolf? Maybe a wild dog?
But then another brutal force hit me, pushing me away further from my gun. My jacket was ripped by larger fangs. A second beast? Something else? I rolled over the ground, my mouth soiled in mud and blood. I was being eaten alive while my muscle fibres were gradually exposed to the hungry animals.
Just before one of the beasts planned a second attack, I gathered all my strengths and hit the devilish thing in the head with my sharp elbow. I hit it behind the ear, throwing the creature some three metres away from me. The second beast was intent in chewing my boot, a stupid task in fact, as those military boots showcased the finest and almost indestructible leather and rubber in the country. This gave me a valuable advantage of several seconds.
I quickly crawled back to the paddle to find my machine gun. It had to be there somewhere. This was my last chance.
Like a fish out of water, I desperately touched around everywhere in the water. My anguish grew each passing second. I heard the creature growl not far behind me planning a last but final assault, probably aiming at my head or neck as I lay tommy down on that infernal forest.
Then my hand finally found it! I felt the reassuring touch of the metal. I grabbed it with all my strength, two fingers on the trigger and a hand on the powerful five inch barrel.
As both creatures growl for flesh, I released the safety lock with the confidence of a sniper, I took aim with my two hands and opened fire on the first monster in front of me. The machine gun spat fire and in so doing, it lit the monstrous canine features of both animals, mutated or not, that were devouring me. The first beast to fall had been eating my boot. It was at close range and I easily fried its skin. Easy target.
Then I aimed at the big one who by then was leaping on to me with the force of a bull. I saw its wild deep predatory eyes glittering in the night, fuelled by hunger and anger. I instinctively rolled around on the floor a couple of times with the machine gun tight to my chest, and opened fire towards my previous position where the beast had aimed to land. I must have unloaded a whole cartridge on to it. The dead carcass jolted on the floor as if hit by an electric shock, splurging blood all around it.
My fear had turned to savage aggression, wild excitation and then finally, relief. I screamed at the sky until my lungsburnt. Then collapsed on my knees and weeped.
They were dead. Whatever they were, they were no more. I was badly hurt, my ear swollen and possibly infected by now, covered in blood and mud. Half my boot gone and my legs gored around the groin. I needed stitching but didn’t have anything with. I was in bad shape.
Time was over. I needed help. I must have been near the base but also not near enough to make it. I resumed my walk, limping my way with the aid of a large heavy stick. I checked again my compass co-ordinates. I was on track. All my body ached sending shivers down my spine. I madly wanted to rest but I knew that stopping now would certainly mean death. I walked and walked, gradually losing consciousness and determined to continue until the bitter end.
I must have marched another two kilometres, not more, when I collapsed from exhaustion. It was the end of the line for me. Half of my body was gored and losing blood through the infected wounds.
I fell on the floor over a pack of soft leaves. My breathing was weak. I rested. I took a long deep breath and gave in. I thought maybe it was the coward thing to do, but it felt right. What would a hero do at that point? What would Orpheus do in my position?
I let my body go, my energies fading slowly. I was at peace at last, smelling the aromas of the forest, the fresh mountain breeze and the scent of pine needles and corns, as I drifted away. She came again. She touched my hair that’s how I know she came. I could feel her presence always in advance. I caved in and let go off life, to find peace.