Methven - Day Six - Part Five
"WAKE UP! WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!!"
That was Pith's voice, coming from behind me. Unlike me, he hadn't wasted a second gawking at our fast-approaching unwelcome visitors. Instead, he'd done exactly as Læ had ordered him to do--arm himself and wake the others.
It occurred to me that I'd always felt vaguely superior to military types. Something about the culture of instant and unquestioning obedience to orders from supposedly "superior" officers had always struck me as repellent. I've never been very good at dealing with authority figures and institutions based on hierarchies of them just rubbed me entirely the wrong way.
At that exact moment, I began to appreciate exactly why the military ethic is the way it is. While I'd been gaping at the oncoming pack--close enough now for me to begin to distinguish individual bodies from the darkness beyond our firelight--Pith had instantly turned to the task of rousing our companions.
Why the difference?
Because he has been trained to follow orders, as I have not.
As Læ reached my side and turned to face the rats; as I got my first good look at their sinuous; weasel-like bodies, narrow, pointed snouts and almond-shaped, tilted black eyes, as Pith skidded to a stop beside me; I finally grasped that, if it were not for his military training, I would be just seconds away from death.
Instead, thanks to that very knee-jerk, robotic response to a superior officer's orders that I felt so superior to, I had comrades-in-arms on either side of me and I could hear reinforcements on the way and my ass might still be grass, but, goddamnit, I at least had some faint chance of living through the next few minutes.
It was something to think about.
Maybe it was the effect of Pith's Mendocino greenbud, but it seemed like time--which had been racing like a bike messenger chasing a delivery bonus--slowed down to a leisurely stroll as the members of the rat pack spread out to our flanks.
There were a lot of them.
I heard the other guys skidding to a halt above and behind Læ, Pith and me. Gravel loosened by their arrival pattered on the backs of my legs and bounced down the slope into the faces of the lead rats slinking toward us, belly-down, heads weaving back and forth, looking for openings.
So much for attacking our flanks.
It didn't hurt.
I felt it tug on my leg, worrying at it and trying to overbalance me as, with seemingly infinite slowness, I brought the edge of my saber down on its skull.
Lessee..this would be prime--blade down and to the inside, with the wrist pronated. What do you know? I guess I am getting the hang of this, after all!
It blinked its evil black eyes at me in annoyance and shook its head furiously, ripping my boot.
Oh..tough guy, huh?
This time I hacked at its neck and it shrieked and died, releasing my leg, just as one of its fellows leaped for my throat.
I stumbled, trying desperately to wrench my blade free from the first rat's spine and managed to make my new opponent miss its intended target. It slashed at the side of my head as it overshot, twisting in mid-air and laying open a six-inch gash above my left ear.
I wrenched my weapon free from the corpse of the first rat and spun to face the second one.
It leaped again and took my point square in its chest, driving itself onto my blade as it savagely struggled to reach me with those razor-sharp incisors. I heaved on the hilt of my sword and, despite its weight, managed to flip it over my head and into the darkness.
I whirled back around to face the outside of our combat circle, just in time to see Læ sink her foible six inches deep in a rat's eye, killing it in a single stroke.
As if by telepathic command, the surviving rats, their ranks greatly reduced, scrambled away, leaving us surrounded by the cooling bodies of their casualties.
I brandished my saber over my head and shouted after them.
"Fuck you, you assholes! Come BACK, you COWARDS!"
The blood sang in my veins. I was high as a space shuttle on adrenaline and stress. My arms shook with reaction and my right hand still maintained a death-grip on my weapon's hilt.
The attack was over. I had survived.
I turned to face Læ.
"I'm great! I'm wonderful! I've never felt better in my life!"
"You're bleeding, Mr. Wilde. And in shock, if I'm not mistaken. Bruno? Would you be so kind?"
"No sweat, Læ. Drewsie, you better sit down, buddy. I'll be right back."
"What do you mean? I'm fine, I tell you."
"No you're not. You have a nasty gash on your head and that ankle doesn't so look good, either."
I looked down at my right leg. It wasn't pretty.
The hiking boot had been shredded. The boot and the ground around it were saturated with blood and a good bit of it was clearly mine. I could actually see the white of bone through the fleshy mess of boot, sock and skin.
And there was something dripping off my ear, too.
I put my hand up to the side of my head and it came away sticky and red.
I stared at it, stupidly, as the world tilted and went gray.
. . .
"You with us again, Drewsie?"
I looked up to see Bruno's smiling face looking down at me.
"I..uh..yeah. What..What happened?"
"You fainted. Shock'll do that to you."
"Well..that's a first."
"Can you sit up?"
"Uh..yeah. I think I can."
Bruno gave me some water and a pill.
"Here, take this."
"What is it?"
"Something to knock you out and keep you out 'til tomorrow morning."
"What if the rats come back."
"They won't. Now, swallow."
I did. The pill was tasteless. The water was delicious.
"Okay, now close your eyes."
"Because this is going to hurt."
Bruno cut off what was left of my right boot and most of my pant leg for good measure. He started rinsing, then washing my wound and sometime before he started sewing me up I went back to dreamland.
. . .
I should have felt like crap this morning. My ankle hurts and both it and my scalp itch like fire ants were biting them. And I've been feverish all day.
Even so, I feel damn good.
Between us, we exterminated nineteen of the things and put the serious hurt on more than that.
None of us died.
Mantami did get badly hurt. The first rat to attack him got past his guard and chewed on his face and hands for a while. Another one nailed Tong pretty good. Læ, Carleton and Blandy escaped without a scratch and the others took only minor damage.
Not, as the saying goes, too shabby.
It's funny, you know. I argued so hard against Læ's insistence that I train for combat with everybody else and, if I'd been successful in talking her out of it, I'd be dead or very seriously injured now. Instead, I'm alive and reasonably well and feeling pretty good about myself.
This little adventure is changing my mind about a lot of things.
Take the military mind, for instance. It saved my ass last night, no question about it. If Pith hadn't followed Læ's orders without hesitation, I'd've been Purina Rat Chow, for sure.
My change in attitude about that kind of reminds me of my experience with quadratic equations, in a way. Back in high school, I had one helluva time wrapping my mind around quadratics. Try as I might, I just couldn't get the hang of them.
Then one day at Cal, one of my first rock climbing instructors had us calculate how long it would take before we'd hit the ground on a 2,000-foot fall, assuming no air resistance. It had me surrounded until this brainiac physics major showed me how to work out the acceleration by plugging real-world values like 2,000 feet and 16 feet/second² into a quadratic.
It changed my whole world-view.
The same kind of thing happened to me last night.
Now, I'm looking forward to Læ's fencing lessons. And I'm gonna ask Bruno to start teaching me unarmed combat, too.
As for following orders--well, we'll see. I understand the value of automatic obedience now, in a way I never did before. On the other hand, I have a lifetime habit of resistence to overcome and I'd be kidding myself, if I thought it was going to be easy.
But I won't freeze again. I know that much. And I won't be afraid again.
. . .
Læ put the kibosh on any travel for today. Good thing, too, considering the way I've been hobbling around our camp.
Bruno's been slathering his Day-Glo goop all over Mantami, Tong and me. He's been feeding us like draft horses, too, since the stuff cranks your metabolism into top gear.
Other than that, I've spent most of the day catching up on this journal. The writing takes my mind off this infernal itching and I have no idea when I'll get another opportunity, so I'm carpe-ing the old diem with both hands.
That's most of what happened over the last four days. While I still have reasonably decent light, I'm going to work on finishing some of the sketches I've done over the past few days.
I can't wait.
[Editor's Note: Click on the blood splatters at the left to view the scanned image of an actual page from Drew Wilde's diary. The image will open in a new browser window. To return to this page, simply close that window when you are done viewing the scanned image--T.S.]
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)