An Uncapped Pen

May 11, 2008

Chapter 16 – No Powder

Filed under: Writing — cindylv @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , ,
Huachuca Canyon
May 1981
Bridie heard birds chirping. She smelled dirt. Earth. She forced herself to open her eyes. She blinked. A lady bug crept along the underside of a leaf. Bridie watched it work its way to the edge, spread its wings and fly away. Another blink. She was lying down, her feet higher than her head. She closed her eyes again and waited for the next guy. The scoop.
On the obstacle course, the rule was that when a guy went down, the next guy in line scooped him up, gave him a shove to get ’em going again, and kept on running. She always tried to careful not to fall. She was terrified of being the guy who fell down. She lay there, waiting for the tug on her straps, the scoop. Where was the hell was the next guy?

She opened her eyes again. She’s the guy who fell, and the next guy. No one was coming behind her to help. She pushed up to her elbows and then eased herself over to sit up. Her head throbbed. Prone unsupported to sitting unsupported position, she thought. “No sling.” Bridie laughed out loud thinking about the rifle range, how tough she was with her M16. Sure, she was tough. Wasn’t she the one who just ran off a cliff chased by a bunch of wild pigs? Her head hurt too much to laugh.

She turned and looked up at the side of the cliff. She’d fallen about fifteen feet through the brush, landing on some large rocks. She pushed her bangs out of her eyes. Her hand felt sticky and wet. She looked down at the blood. Okay, she thought. My head is bleeding. A few scrapes and bruises, but nothing broken or sprained. Her legs seemed intact, but her trousers were torn in a couple places where she’d ripped through the bushes. She wished Maisie were here to put a band-aid on, and give her a cookie.

Hey, she thought. I’ve got a cookie! She reached into her pocket and pulled out the oatmeal raisin cookies she’d taken from the chow hall after lunch and ate one. Feeling comforted, she took a look around. She remembered the instructor in desert survival class telling her that the first thing to remember when you find yourself lost in the desert is to stay put. Let the rescuers come to you. The only problem with that idea was that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. Bridie didn’t know how far she’d run when the pigs chased her. She looked up at the cliff. She was in some kind of dry riverbed, about twenty feet across, with steep sides of crumbling dirt and broken branches. There was no way she could climb back up there by herself.

“Okay, Sergeant Barrett. What now?” She waited. No response. Sergeant Barrett was gone. Bridie ate her last cookie, crumbled the napkin and dabbed at the cut on her forehead. The napkin was dirty from her pocket. If Maisie were here, she’d probably tell Bridie, “You put that on your head, you’re gonna catch an infection.” Well, it wasn’t sterile, but it was the best she could do. She looked around again, squinting against the wind blowing through the canyon, tossing leaves and dirt in all directions.

Bridie sighed. “What the hell am I doing here?” She refolded the napkin and pressed a cleaner spot against the cut. “I should have just stayed home where I belong. I might have met someone, gotten married, bought a house on the lake, settled down and had a few kids. My own family. What the hell did I do, running away like this? Join the Army – See the World. And fall on your face!”

Bridie thought about the restaurant, her friends, the lake. The memory she created looked a little too perfect. A little too attractive. Then she heard Sophie’s voice in the back of her mind. “You know that Elmer from over at the Wonderbar? He’s looking for a wife since Josie went up with the pneumonia last winter. He’s what? Forty, forty-five maybe?”

“That’s it! Enough!” Bridie commanded herself as she resituated the napkin. “That life is over. You’re here and you’re gonna work this out, SuperTroop!” Elmer could use a nose hair trimmer, one with an attachment for ear hair. And he was closer to fifty, she’d bet.

She looked up again as a butterfly dipped below the rim on the cliff wandering from branch to branch, coming to rest on a wildflower a few feet from where she sat. “Do you know that you smell with your feet, Mr. Butterfly? Or maybe it’s taste. I can’t remember.“ She stood up unsteadily, waiting a few seconds for the jelly in her head to settle and followed the butterfly to the next flower. “Did you know that over 220 species of butterflies live in Arizona?”

The sun sparkled on the butterfly’s pale yellow wings. “Did you know that Miss Clark says your powder is really just scales?”

Unimpressed, the butterfly selected another target a few feet away. Bridie followed on wobbly feet. “She’s wrong, isn’t she? I know . . . I know she’s wrong. It’s magic powder, like fairy dust. Magic.” Bridie sat down quickly, before she fell. “Magic.”

Obviously bored with her knowledge of insect trivia, the butterfly flew around the bend and out of sight.

“Goodbye. Don’t worry about me,” she called after him. “I’m just fine.” She shook her head gently, and looked back at her own fragile wings. She didn’t see any powder left. “I’m just dandy.”

She rested for a moment, then looked back up at the side of the cliff. “Well SFC Barrett, what do we do now?” Bridie didn’t hear an answer. She was still alone. She took another look around. Uphill to the left, downhill to the right. She remembered running uphill when the pigs were chasing her. That meant she needed to go downhill and find a way to climb up out of this riverbed. And downhill was easier than uphill, right? She’d lost her hat. The canteen and her fatigue shirt were back at the assembly area. It was still light out, but the sun had disappeared behind the mountain. She had no idea what time it was or how long until SSG Jackson came back to pick her up.

She started down slowly, picking her way through the rocks, careful not to twist her ankle. She heard the deep rumbling noise again. Tanks, she told herself. The 40th getting ready for the Exercise. She made her way around the bend. Here, the wind tore through the canyon. Bridie bent forward slightly against it.

With no warning, a pair of helicopters buzzed the treetops. More green beanies coming out of some secret hiding place and heading back to the main post for the night. Maybe they could see her!

“Hey!” she yelled, waving her arms overhead. “I’m down here!”

They were gone before she got her arms over her head. Since no one even knew she was missing, they wouldn’t be looking for her yet. SSG Jackson was going to be furious when he got back to the assembly area and she was gone. She stepped carefully on a large rock, but the ground slid out from underneath the rock. Bridie fell to her knees and the rock slid another few feet. “Dammit! I hate these fucking rocks!” Her head spun. She wanted to cry. No one was coming to help her. She was hurt, scared and lost.

Stand up, she thought. What was that song, that cadence? “Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door.” Wait, she thought. How does that start? She reached back into her mind, back to Basic and the long PT runs when she was sure she’d die of exhaustion. Something about an airplane. She hummed a little of the tune. A C-130? The airplane that took Rangers to combat.

She sang softly, “C-130 rolling down the strip.Sixty-four Rangers on a one-way trip.”

Bridie stood up and forced herself to take a step, carefully testing the stability of the rock before putting her weight on it. It held.

“Stand up, hook up, shuffle to the door.
Jump right out and count to four.
If that main don’t open wide.

I gotta nother one by my side.”

She made her way to the next bend in the riverbed and continued downhill. The rocks were bigger and the ground more uneven here. Fighting the feeling of downhill momenteum, she crawled over each rock, one at a time. Another rumble from the mountain. She froze in place and looked up at the darkening sky.

“If that one should fail me, too.
Look out ground, I ‘m a comin’ through.
Tell my momma I done my best . . .”

The toe of her boot caught and she fell again. She rubbed her knee and pushed herself up again.

“ . . . Tell my momma I done my best.
And bury me in the leanin’ rest.”

The wind stopped abruptly. The leaves were silent. She couldn’t hear the birds chirping, even they held their breath. Bridie looked up at the sky and shivered. The temperature had dropped. She tasted something funny in her mouth, like metal. She swallowed. It didn’t go away. The hair on the back of her neck stood up. She reached up to rub the tickle away. The air around her tingled with electricity. She heard a tapping sound from somewhere above and behind her, like a clock ticking just before the release bell at school. She weaved unsteadily, straining to hear. The sound grew louder, a more regular beat. There. It was behind her. White spots bouncing up off the rocks a few yards from where she stood. Torrents of rain sheeting from the sky bounced up off the rocks like popcorn. Bridie stared. She’d never seen rain like this before. Then it reached her. Instantly soaked to the skin, she stood frozen in place letting the rain beat against her.

She needed to get out of the rain, but where could she go? The sky flashed white and immediately she heard a sound like the sky splitting open at the seams. She turned to run. But where? Lightning! Get away from the trees, she remembered. She turned again. No, don’t stand out in the open. She was stuck in the middle of this riverbed. Riverbed? She looked down. The water pooled at her feet. The one thing she knew, she needed to get out before it flooded!

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