An Uncapped Pen

March 29, 2008

Chapter 15 – Some Assembly Required

Filed under: Writing — cindylv @ 4:24 pm
Tags: , ,

Bridie stood on the back step with her hands on her hips. She sighed. She dropped her arms, turned around and sighed again. Folding her arms across her chest, she shook her head.

“Girl, you gonna break somethin’ fighting up inside yourself. What’d I tell you the other day, hunh? Suck it up and . . .”

 “ . . . soldier on,” she finished with him. “I know it, but I get so darn mad!”

Before he could respond, the back door swung open and SSG Jackson trotted down the steps carrying a clipboard and jingling a set of keys. “Let’s go, Wilkins.”

Bridie trotted along behind, struggling to catch up to the longer-legged men. She guessed she wasn’t the only one who didn’t want her on this detail.

“She following you for any particular reason?” Jackson asked Charlie.

“Sarge tol’ her come along with you, too.”

He stopped and turned around. “You’re the instructor?” Instructor?

“Simpson told me he had two for me. One, a trainer.” SSG Jackson stared at her.

“My name’s Traynor. I’m not an instructor, though.”

Jackson just shook his head. He looked up at the sun and walked away saying, “Ain’t got time for this shit.”

Bridie and Charlie caught up, but stayed a few paces behind. They followed him to the company hardstand to retrieve a vehicle. Jackson stopped without warning and checked the tag on his keys. “Son of a bitch!”

SFC Simpson assigned them the last pickup truck, a small utility truck with a single bench-style seat. Jackson unlocked the driver’s door, reached inside and popped the lock on the passenger side. “Get in.”

Bridie looked up at Charlie. No way was he going to fit into the middle. She climbed inside and slid across next to SSG Jackson. With her knees sideways to avoid the gearshift, there was no room for Charlie to get in.

Jackson engaged the clutch and started the truck. “What the fuck are you doing?”

Charlie tried again.

“Wait a second,” Bridie said. She scooched back to the passenger seat, opened her legs to put one foot on either side of the stick shift, then shifted back to the middle. How very lady-like, she thought. Good thing Maisie can’t see me sitting here like this.

Charlie folded up and wedged himself in next to her. Jackson reached between her legs without looking at her, found first gear and pulled out. First stop was the Triple S, Self-Service Supply, for cleaning materials and expendable supplies. SSG Jackson had a list. He stood next to the truck checking off items as Charlie and Bridie loaded the bed with boxes, shovels, trash cans, and a rake.

“We need to head over to Post Engineers for wood, rope and block. Ain’t no way we’re gonna fit it all in here.” He told Bridie to finish loading the truck while he walked over to the Engineers with Charlie. She was waiting in the passenger seat when he returned alone.

He pulled out of the parking lot and took a left on Mizner. “I’m gonna drop you off at the staging area, and come back and pick him up with the lumber.”

Bridie looked out the window as he drove through the officer’s housing area and past the parade field. She stared at the bags of trash piled up along the front of the Tech Library. SSG Jackson downshifted and turned on the gravel road at the end of Grierson, and came to a stop. The engine idled. He turned to look at her.

“The gate?”

She looked up and saw the heavy chain across the road. She fumbled at her seatbelt and scrambled out to remove the chain.

Trees blurred at the edge of her vision. Where the heck were they going? She saw a sign posted on the edge of the gravel road. Point five. Who goes to all the trouble to put up a road sign that only says point five? No place name. No direction. A half mile? From where? To where? She glanced back at SSG Jackson, working the gears smoothly. He certainly seemed to know where they were going, but he didn’t feel like sharing that information. He was treating her like a little kid. Get in the truck. Sit down. Shut up. Don’t ask questions. Well, he hadn’t actually said any of those things to her. It just seemed like she shouldn’t bother him with questions.

The road widened in a clearing. She saw a sign identifying Lower Huachuca Canon Recreational Area, complete with picnic tables with barbeque grills, horseshoe pits, and public bathrooms. He didn’t even slow down.

“Can you at least read a map?”

Bridie took the sheet he offered and struggled to unfold it in the cramped compartment without bumping into him as he coordinated shifting and steering. What kind of map was this? When her father drove to Florida every other year for vacation, her job as navigator meant she flipped the pages of the AAA TripTik following the highlighted interstate highway through page after bound page. She had no idea where to start.

“Forget it,” he grabbed the map before she could refold it.

She looked out the window.  One point two. Well, we’re certainly making progress, she thought. The trail spilt apart and they followed the left fork toward Upper Huachuca Canyon according to the sign. Two point four. Around another hairpin turn, climbing the entire way, SSG Jackson worked the gears as they slid and skidded up the mountain. Holding herself stiffly, she braced against the bumping and sliding inside the cab. SSG Jackson seemed to be a part of the truck as if the normal forces of the physical world didn’t apply to him. Either that, or he just ignored them as he ignored her. They came to a sharp curve to the right. Jackson braked sharply. The little truck skidded and came to a stop at a makeshift barricade at the end of the main road. She saw a signpost announcing the elevation was 8250 feet ASL, and an arrow indicating that Crest Trail, Brushy Canyon Trail, Sawmill Pond were to the right along a primitive trail.Jackson checked the map, shut off the engine and jumped out. She watched him pull a compass out of his pocket and align it with a mountain peak in the distance. He made a mark on the map, turned and sighted another point.

“Get this stuff unloaded.” He took off at a fast jog.

She watched him for a few seconds, then he seemed to melt into the woods. “Don’t leave me here alone,” she mumbled to no one as she reached into the back of the pickup. Yes, she thought, this was much safer than the Tech Library where she might bleed to death from a paper cut, or go blind from looking at porn. She dragged a couple boxes from the back of the truck and wandered around trying to figure out where he wanted them. She gave up and started stacking cartons at the base of a tree. Trash cans and bags, a package of fluorescent pink plastic tape, a case of spray paint, what the heck were they going to do out here? She noticed she was breathing hard after moving the boxes. Over 8,000 feet in elevation, there wasn’t much oxygen around here. She unloaded the shovels and a rake, just as he appeared in the clearing. He grabbed the pink tape and a trash can. “Get a shovel and the trash bags. Let‘s go.”She turned around with the shovel and ran toward a break in the trees where she thought he’d disappeared, but he was gone. She heard something moving through dry leaves a few yards and headed in that direction. She caught a glimpse of moving branches to her right and adjusted her course. Up hill and scrambling without a clear trail, she pushed on gasping for breath, hoping she was following him. She used the shovel as a hiking stick, planting it and pulling herself up. If she could just catch her breath, but before she could finish her thought, she heard pounding. She followed the sound through the trees until she came to the clearing where he was tying a length of pink tape to a stake hammered into the ground. The entire area was covered in rocks the size of softballs.“Base camp,” he explained.

She nodded, as if that made everything clear. She focused all her attention on controlling her breathing.

He pulled a canteen from his hip, unscrewed the cap and took a long drink. “Water?” He wiped the mouthpiece with his sleeve and passed her the canteen.

She raised the canteen to her mouth and put her lips where his had just been. As she drank, she thought about germs and talking to strangers and the dangers of assigning females to a remote post and here she is in the woods with a strange man drinking from his canteen.

“I’m gonna go back and get the next load. You get this area cleaned up.” He indicated the general area with a sweep of his arm. “The rocks. Make a perimeter. Define the area. This here’s gonna be the main assembly area.”

She looked at the field of rocks and back at him. He handed her the top of the canteen. “I’ll be back around 1630.”

She screwed the top back on, not believing what he was saying. He was leaving her here? Alone?

“I asked you, where are your gloves?” He walked toward the edge of the trees.

“I, uh, I don’t have any,” she mumbled. He was leaving her here alone.

He turned around, pulling off his gloves. “You’re assigned a job, you show up with your tools!” He flung the gloves at her feet and disappeared into the trees.

She stood still, holding the canteen at her chest. Listening, looking. After a few minutes, she heard the truck start up and the sound of gravel crunching as he drove away.

“You can’t just leave me here alone!” she yelled. “You can’t just drag someone up the side of the mountain and leave them to die!” Sixteen thirty, he said? She looked at her arm where her watch used to be. Her watch was on the desk in the Tech Library. She had no idea what time it was, or how long it was going to be until he came back for her.

She bent over, picked up a rock and hurled it into the woods. “Fuckin’ green beanies,” she grumbled. “Like smoke.” She threw another rock. “I hate the Army.” She tripped and caught herself. “I hate Fort Huachuca!“ She sat down with her back against a tree trunk. “And I hate these fuckin’ rocks!”

“Well, SuperTroop. These rocks need moving. Pick yourself up and get ‘em moved.” She stood up and found his gloves. “You show up for a job, you bring your tools!” What’s his problem, she wondered as she slid her hand into his damp glove. She thought about his hands, the reddish blonde hair, his freckles, and shook her head. “Just move the damn rocks, Traynor.”

In Basic Training, every field location was ringed by painted rocks. She’d never given any thought to how they got there, they were just there. “Just move ten and take a break.” After ten, she took another drink from the canteen. Good thing he’d left her the water. How thoughtful!

She squinted up at the sun, wondering how many hours until he’d be back. She took off her fatigue shirt and hung it from a tree branch. Another ten rocks. At first, she concentrated on one area, moving every single rock she saw. Then she decided to work to establish a perimeter and fill in the border as she went around. After a hundred rocks, she gave up counting.

 “I’ve been working’ on the railroad. All the live-long day,” she sang. She couldn’t remember the next line. “. . . pass the time away. Can’t you hear the whistle blowing, rise up so early in the morn. . .Can’t you hear the . . . something, something . . . Dinah blow your horn!” Her voice filled up the empty space around her.

The wind died down and she heard a deep rumbling sound. Tanks, she thought. The 40th Armor Brigade getting ready for the weekend drill, Frank told her. More rumbling. Sounds just like thunder, she thought. Sunshine glaring and an occasional cloud was all she could see in the thin slice of sky above her between the mountain tops and the trees. Tanks, she repeated as her boot squished something soft and slippery.

 “Yuck! What is that? Dog crap?”

She looked around and noticed greenish-brown piles of the stuff all around the clearing. “What kind of idiot brings a bunch of dogs up here?” She found a stick and started scraping off the bottom of her boot. She noticed the stuff was full of seeds and was that fur? And bones? “What did you people feed these poor dogs?” Since the wind died down, the smell was more noticeable.

The birds stopped chittering in the bush. The woods got very quiet. Bridie turned to look. Had SSG Jackson come back? Was he laughing at her with dog crap on her boots? She didn’t see anyone, but she felt like someone was watching her.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

No answer. She took a step back and turned around. There was no one there. She was being silly, scaring herself like this! A twig cracked. She froze. Dry leaves rustled. She turned. She wasn’t alone anymore. She heard a snuffling sound, and more leaves rustling. She turned around again. Where was it coming from? A grunt. A snort. A little closer now. She backed up against the tree and watched.

The first one broke through the bush and into the clearing, followed closely by two more. She backed her way around the tree and watched. Another one wandered into the clearing, sniffing the ground. They were about two feet tall, a little over three feet long, black hairy beasts with tusks and long snouts. They sniffed, snorted and pawed the ground. A wave of raw musk assaulted Bridie’s nose causing her to gasp. Startled, the leader lifted his head and let out a screech. The brush erupted in a tangle of hooves, tusks, teeth and dust.

Bridie ran blindly, uphill and as fast as her legs would move. She tore through branches, tripped over rocks, but kept on running. The things were chasing her. Like pigs, but not like any pigs she’d ever seen before. The screeching noise they made terrified her. It came from every direction, and echoed. Somehow they’d gotten in front of her and she was surrounded! Her heart pounded. Her lungs screamed for oxygen. Her vision grayed at the edges and she knew she wasn’t getting enough air. She whipped her head back to see how close the beasts were as she reached the crest of a hill. Up and over, she kept running as the earth disappeared from beneath her boots.



  1. I had a little difficulty getting into this one–SFC, SSG–they were probably explained in earlier chapters, but with the DC format, it’s hard to remember. The total absurdity of army protocol comes through loud and clear, along with the theme that junior enlisted person is expected to be clairvoyant.

    I’m guessing these beasts are collared peccaries (javelinas), which are about as dangerous as a warren of rabbits.

    Comment by Steve Wylder — April 8, 2008 @ 2:10 pm | Reply

  2. I liked this one. It’s glad to get back into this story again. I think you really nailed the dynamic between the two of them and how someone in a position of authority treats the junior person. She cracked me up when she started ranting about hating “the fucking Army”.

    Comment by Lisa Kenney — April 23, 2008 @ 5:50 am | Reply

  3. Thanks, Steve and Lisa. I’m sorta stuck in the next chapter, so I put everything on hold until after the Writer’s conference. I’ll post about that this weekend. I had to take a long, hard look at where I was and where I planned to be going. I have some big changes to make in the next few days. Once I get my arms around these changes, I’ll be catching up with everyone else. Thanks for reading!

    Steve, you’re right about the javelinas. Creepy looking things, but they have been known to charge and attack. I recently read an account of a pack attacking a woman who was walking her dogs on a street in Tucson — quite unexpected!

    Comment by cindylv — April 23, 2008 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

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