The Junction
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The Junction

Part 3

Rain is falling in straight lines, hot and heavy, the humidity sapping my strength. I’m six hours into the eleventh day, having crossed the Cambodian border at Anlung Veng.

My shoulders continue to ache. I’ve tried self massage but each time I relax my grip on the steering wheel the damn thing snaps left or right as the truck wheels try to climb out of the water filled ruts, each time slugging me with more pain. I remember Frank’s warning about landmines, the importance to stay in the ruts of leading vehicles, and the tension in my shoulders increase. It’s just our second day in the jungle and the U.N escort has warned us to be alert, the Khmer Rouge have been active in this area.

The first I realize something is wrong, I’m twenty feet from careening into the back of truck 1. My eyes focus on the rippling water, momentarily hypnotized, before stamping on the brakes, sending a small tidal wave rushing along the rutted track ahead of me. My chest tightens, my forehead wet and chilly.

Two U.N. soldiers leap from the rear of their armoured car. Both sinking calf-deep in the mud before struggling toward a clearing in the undergrowth. They move like men waiting to be ambushed, their sub-machine guns primed, as the hum of the armoured car’s gun turret swivels on its axis.

Through my mud-splattered windshield I watch two more soldiers appear, moving stealthily, covering their comrades backs from what presence remains out there, invisible to me. One soldier stumbles, hands disappearing in mud up to his elbows. He’s a young soldier, maybe twenty-five years of age, struggling to keep his A.K.47 pointed at the undergrowth.

Instinctively, I leap down and slosh my way toward him. Another soldier is waving me to get back, but it’s too late; the sight before me makes my guts heave, vomit surging up my throat, blasting out with such force it bends me double.

I look to the sky. It feels impossible to draw in enough oxygen and my nostrils flare like those of a bull under stress. My stomach again wretches and disgorges the vomit.

The buttery, cocoa-coloured face would perfectly grace an advertising board in London’s West End. She is young, her once shining black hair, now caked in mud and shining red, covers her split skull, strands of which lick into her gaping mouth. I try to avoid staring at her tongue, hanging from her lips which, in any other circumstance, might seem erotic, except that only her head lies here, twenty-feet from her body. The young soldier steadies himself, looks down at the body, but briefly, and follows his mates. The girls torso has been sliced open. A child’s head and one tiny, but perfect arm, are visible in this horrific scene.

I turn away, chucking up more remnants of vomit. The world is going to hell and no-one knows it.

Her blood has yet to congeal; something the soldiers are acutely aware of. Perhaps her killers are watching us. An uncontrolled warmth trickles down the inside of my leg, seeping into my boot. Dear God, I whisper, come down here and protect me.

The movement is slight, the merest tremor of a tiny finger. I stare a few seconds more; it twitches again on the woman’s blood-puddled stomach. I scream, Get a medic…now! Dear God, have mercy on the child. My cry for help is answered by a woman.

It’s Olga, slipping and sliding her way forward through a swamp. She looks at me, resting a hand on my arm, You okay? I nod, disbelievingly, unable to utter a sound.

There is a growing agitation among the soldiers, anticipating an attack, automatic weapons hair triggered, eyes straining and buzzed with fear. If so much as a twig snaps right now, the whole area will be cut down with gunfire.

Olga, with her eyes focused only on the miracle of a child, opens her bag of instruments. The soldiers are waving for us to return to the trucks, but Olga isn’t leaving. It feels like forever, that in this moment I will die in a far off place, muddied, bereft of religion, of prayer, and of hope. It doesn’t escape my mind that Katherine is carrying our child at home.

Olga! Olga!

Through the blanket of rain, a man is coming toward us. Frank, moving with the power of a carthorse toward the macabre scene. It wouldn’t matter what the soldiers were warning, Olga needs him. His legs powering across the suffering ground. It is a shining moment in the filth of reality. Olga doesn’t respond, she is working at birthing this child.

It is hard for me to imagine such ferocity and evil can exist in such beautiful surroundings. Hell, I realize, is in one place, disguised by the beauty of heavenly skies and waves of emerald trees, within which hide the most unmerciful killers.

Frank drops down at Olga’s side. He doesn’t interfere in her concentration, just lets her know he’s there, will always be there.

The silence is now deafening. Nothing moves in the undergrowth. Then Frank, his head uncovered and sodden with rain, looks around this scene. He leaves Olga’s side and moves to where the girl’s head is lying. He picks it up and, as if an angel, carries it back to the body, placing it from where it was struck, as if she were looking at the possibility of her child’s birth.

Olga stands up, a baby in her arms. She gives the child to Frank, a girl, who cradles her in arms that have hoisted two-hundred pound men off the ground and ran with them. Through the rain and muck we head toward the trucks, followed by two lines of soldiers.

I wait in my truck and watch as the soldiers clamber nervously into the armoured car. It moves off, spewing water and sludge from the rear wheels. I slam the gear lever forward, exerting anger and mumble to myself — I’m driving into hell.

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The Junction is a digital crossroads devoted to stories, culture, and ideas. Our interests are legion.

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Harry Hogg

Harry Hogg

I was born in London, adopted, lived my youth on an island off the coast of Scotland. Now living between Colorado, Missouri, California. I write to be loved

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