Thursday, 7 February 2013

Some more from "A Dollar for The Ferryman."

A little more from "A Dollar for The Ferryman."
Our two main characters, Stacey and Sandman are stranded in enemy-controlled territory and have not been picked up by rescue helicopter.
They now have no choice but to make their way north and try for another pick-up.


As Stacey and Sandman made their way slowly through the humid forest, the closely growing trees and undergrowth frequently blocked their progress, and they had to resort to cutting their way through. Struggling slowly through the thick undergrowth, she felt sweat beginning to bead beneath her shirt, with the salty liquid seeping through the fabric. Sweat was beginning to drip off her face, into her eyes, and trickling down her cleavage.
She alternated between wiping the beads from her face to tugging the shirt that kept sticking to her wet body. Sandman had taken his soaking shirt off and had tied it over his head to stop at least some of his sweat running into his eyes. Stacey wished she could do the same; but if she took off her shirt, she'd most likely burn her shoulders and back from the intermittent, lancing sunlight. That was the problem with being so fair-skinned. At times, they were in such dense growth, the shade lulled Stacey into thinking she might remove the shirt. Then, just as she was preparing to take it off, they'd enter a clearer area, where the sun was pounding down with relentless force, reminding her why it was a good idea to keep the shirt on. The heavy, thick air hung in front of them. That was the trouble with these dense, tropical rainforests; the humidity rose rapidly until it was like trying to breathe through a wet facecloth. Added to that; with the number of things that wanted to kill you... poisonous, or carnivorous plants, snakes, ferocious insects... it really was not a place to be in by choice.
Following Sandman; Stacey fought her way through the foliage, carefully shoving aside plants and tree branches out of her face; trying not to break any twigs or disturb anything that might give their supposed pursuers any clues as to the direction in which they were moving. At one point, she had to stop to untangle her leg from a vine that had caught her. Sandman stopped and came back, pulling out his survival knife with which; he cut her free. As they were about to move on, they caught the faint sounds of high-pitched North Korean voices penetrating the relative silence. They were distant, but did it mean that they were being tracked? Stacey glanced at Sandman.
'They could be almost anywhere within two klicks, with the echoes in this wood, right?'
He nodded.
'Yeah, and if they move in this direction we have to be ready for them. Now come on. Let's move.'

Picking up their pace, they kept moving north; heading for a paler patch of light through the trees about five hundred metres ahead of them. Suddenly, Sandman stopped dead and held up his hand. There! Very faintly, far away to the north-west; a familiar sound drifting on the wind… ebbing and flowing. Stacey strained to listen. Sandman glanced back at her. Yes! The faint thrum of a helicopter. She nodded.
'It's a Huey!'
Forgetting the oppressive humidity and discomfort of their soaking clothes, with a new burst of energy they headed towards the lighter patch. The forest floor started sloping down. In a few minutes they reached the edge of the tree line overlooking a large open field of elephant grass. It sloped away for close on a klick before it reached another tract of forest. Crouching at the edge of the field, Sandman pulled out his survival radio and switched to Guard channel. This was risky; the Dinks were known to monitor this channel, but his guess was that they had no idea as to where the transmission would be originating. He keyed the mike in the handset, and it immediately emitted a high pitched tone. He swore quietly, turned the function knob to the next setting, and hit the button again. Still a tone sound. He turned the knob one more click and tried again. This time when he keyed the mike it was silent. Pressing the push to talk button he spoke quietly into the microphone.
'Sand man to chopper. Sandman to chopper… Over.'
No answer.
He repeated the call. There was still no answer. He checked the survival radio for damage. Everything appeared to be OK. He repeated the call…
Sandman to chopper... Sandman to chopper… Over.'
The distorted, faint, and broken radio call crackled from the listen speaker.
"Ghost-rider Three to Sandman. I read you."
'Ghost-rider Three, this is Sandman. I can barely read you. You are breaking up.'

The sound of the Huey was becoming more distinct. Surely to God, the radio reception must improve soon. The emergency radio crackled again.
"How do you read me now?"
The Huey pilot's voice wasn’t quite as bad this time.
Sandman keyed again.
'Ghost-rider Three, I read you better. Over.'
"Gimme a grid, Sandman."
'Wait one.'

Sandman pulled out the damp, rubberised survival map and scanned the surrounding area.
'Sandman to Ghost-rider Three; grid Eight-one-niner, Zero-one-seven.'
"Say again, Sandman."
'Repeat; Eight-one-niner. Zero-one-seven.
"Ghost-rider Three to Sandman. ETA your position… six mike. Over."

Sandman keyed again.
'Roger, six mike.'
He glanced at Stacey.
'Six minutes out. Let's get ready.'
She nodded; then suddenly grabbed Sandman's arm.
'Listen. I thought I heard something back over there.'
She pointed to the tree line across to the south-east. Sandman strained his hearing. Nothing. What he could hear was the approaching helicopter, but that was all. The Huey was coming from somewhere over to their right. He glanced at Stacey.
'Where did you hear it?'
'Over there, I think.'
She pointed to their left, almost parallel to the tree line. Sandman stared hard in the direction that she had indicated, but nothing was visible... nothing moved. She shrugged.
'I can't hear it now. Perhaps it was just some forest creature.'
The noise of the approaching chopper was drowning out anything they might have heard. The survival radio came live.
"Sandman. Pop smoke. Over."
Sandman pulled the ring pin and heaved the smoke grenade out into the field. Thick yellow smoke began billowing from the grenade cylinder and began to drift upwards in a dense cloud. The radio came alive again.
"I see lemon, Sandman!"
'Confirmed Ghost-rider Three. Lemon popped!'

The sound of the Huey was really close, but it was still not visible. It must be behind them over the triple canopy. The noise of the Huey's blades slapping the hot, humid air was getting much louder.

Suddenly, and without any warning; the sound of heavy automatic gunfire tore across the forest. It was very close. Stacey and Sandman ducked instinctively and quickly surveyed the surrounding area. The gunfire was coming from their left, somewhere in the tree line. A Huey slick came blasting almost directly over them and swept out across the open field. From their position, they could see the green "flaming onion" tracers tracking the Huey. As they crouched watching; they saw the chopper begin to take hits on its left side. The engine suddenly began making a rattling noise and black smoke began hazing from its jet pipe. The pilot immediately aborted and swung up and away to the right with the tracer grasping at his tail with its green claws. The pilot was obviously in serious trouble as he flew out of the fire zone on an egress flight path dangerously low to the ground.
Sandman crouched at the edge of the tree line and looked out across the open field. The yellow smoke grenade had finally stopped producing smoke. The long yellow cloud about a hundred metres away was blowing further across the open field and slowly dissipating. He snorted.
'Shit! We might just as well have put out a fucking great sign that declared; "OK, Dinks. We Are Here! Come And Get Us!" We're gonna to have to try to outsmart these little bastards by sticking to the forest.'
He turned to Stacey.
'Well, so much for a pick-up. We'd better get moving. We're gonna have to get cute, or the little bastards will box us in. I figure they’ll try to push us farther north. They'll think it's obvious for us not to head west because we'll be afraid that they will trap us against the Mekong River.'
Stacey nodded. She ached all over, and her thighs were rubbed and stinging from her sweat-soaked pants and underwear. She gave him a resigned grin. Being rubbed raw was a damn sight better deal than the alternative of being captured, and what they knew they could expect spending a fun vacation in the Hanoi Hilton. Picking up their remaining supplies, they moved off silently into the forest.
The vegetation was becoming much thicker. Visibility was only about a dozen or so metres in places. They came to a slight depression in the ground where the earth and leaf mould appeared to be considerably damper than the surrounding forest floor. There was likely to be a stream close by and judging by the slope of the forest floor, of the land it would be heading west. It would give a good reference point in relation to the survival compass that Sandman was carrying; but there was no way they could avoid leaving footprints, however carefully they moved forward. They would have to chance that the Dinks wouldn't come this way.
Moving on; crouching under overhanging vines and carefully avoiding the thick ferns that might conceal any number of nasty surprises, they pushed their way farther into the forest. Visibility was down to less than five metres; the undergrowth was lush and thick, and the effort was beginning to slow them down.
As Stacey ducked under some particularly thick undergrowth, a sticky vine snagged her and she was forced to stop to try to untangle herself from it without making too much noise and creating too much movement. Sandman came back to un-hook her. As he did so, they both heard footsteps rustling through the ferns. Someone was coming down the trail on the far side of the depression. From the noise, they couldn't be any more than twenty metres away. There was no sign of movement, but the sound was heading directly towards them.
An NVA soldier appeared, walking down into the depression, his weapon held across his waist with the muzzle pointing towards the ground. He was working his way through the thicker vegetation, stopping to wipe his brow. He spotted the tell-tale footprints ahead of him in the mud and leaf mould. Tightening his grip on his weapon, he looked around cautiously. The foliage rustled to his left. Raising his weapon, the first soldier froze. Another NVA soldier appeared from the undergrowth and raised a finger to his lips, then motioned that they should move forward. Slowly, they began moving towards the thick clump of thorn bushes where Sandman and Stacey were concealed. Sandman silently drew his survival knife. A North Korean voice suddenly called out from the direction from which the two soldiers had appeared. There was movement through the forest out there. The two soldiers stopped and turned back, but not before one of them had peered directly at Sandman's and Stacey's hiding place.
Gradually, the rustle of their footsteps receded, and the other sounds of movement in the forest faded away as the patrol moved on. Sandman and Stacey remained where they were pressed down into the damp leaves until they could hear nothing except the sounds of the forest. Suddenly, Sandman froze. Stacey began to say something, but he cut in,
'Don't move a muscle… don't even breathe!'
She shot him a frightened glance. What was wrong?
Very slowly, he reached for a long twig. Then she felt something moving up her leg. Her stomach knotted with the fear of the unknown. Sandman inched the twig towards her. She felt it touch the damp cloth of her combat fatigue pants where, whatever it was that was on her, was slowly moving up towards her waist. She could see the sweat beading on his forehead as he delicately manoeuvred the tip of the twig. Suddenly, he flicked the twig with a rapid wrist movement, and in the same instant, dragged her towards him. She glanced over her shoulder and caught a glimpse of a huge, russet-red centipede scuttling away into the leaf mould. She stared at him with frightened eyes, and began to shake uncontrollably. At last she found her voice.
'What the hell was THAT?'
He breathed out and wiped the sweat away from his eyes with the back of his hand.
'THAT, was a Giant Red Centipede; a big one. The chances are that they won't kill you, but if you are bitten by a big one like that, the pain is enough for you to wish that it had killed you. They're fast and mean, so we won't be doing too much more romping about in the leaves in this goddamned place. It seems like the Dinks have moved on, so we'd better get going.'
He consulted the cracked and stained, thin rubber survival map.
'If we keep north for another three klicks and then turn west, we should reach the Nam Ngum River about half a klick north from Ban Pakknoung ville. According to the map, there's a ferry there. Our best shot though, would be to head to the north-west, following the Nam Gnang River valley which leads up to Highway Eighty-one and on down to Lima Site One-forty-four. It’s a long, tough haul but we'd be out of this goddamned forest, and following the river would keep us close to water… as long as you don't mind it tasting of purifiers. The long haul bit is the climb up to the strip. It's just to the south-east of a tiny ville called Ban Naphouak, the strip is known to the guys as "Ban Da Bom." They'll be able to get a Porter in there to pick us up.'
Stacey nodded.
'That sounds like the best plan. The ferry could be risky.'
Sandman nodded his agreement.
'Yeah, you're right. It would be safer…. But are you up to another forty klicks across country?'
She grinned.
'I may be blonde, but I'm not some fragile, sweet little thing!'
He returned her grin.
'And don't I know it, baby-girl!'

The novel now stands at 56,500 words... probably getting on for one third of the way through. When finished; I will probably release it in eBook format only, which will be available from in various reader formats.

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