Volume 1 Number 1
Late morning on a Saturday. We were walking in the woods. It was overcast and drizzling with patches of fog, so that the men on either side of me looked like ghosts. When I could see them, that is. I was dressed to blend in: camouflage pants, jacket, helmet, and face paint; black boots and rifle; OD green web gear and aid bag. The warlike, woodscrafty look was spoiled by my brassard; a white armband with a red cross stitched on. "Here I am, shoot me" it seemed to shout, but in the grayness it wasn't easily visible.
It looked like a scene from a war movie, but it wasn't a movie, and it wasn't war. We were citizen-soldiers, weekenders on a training exercise.
Just our rotten luck that it was wet and misty. We advanced slowly, trying to stay quiet, trying to spot some trace of our adversaries. I moved into a fog patch. My foot slipped on some wet leaves and I fell. The ground was farther than it should have been.
"Shiiiiiiiiiit!" I yelled, as I slid down the slope of the small ravine that the fog had hidden. I reached the bottom, bruised and battered. I sat for a moment, then levered myself up. I stepped down with my right foot and a wave of pain shot up my leg and hit me in the head. Everything went dark.
When I came to, I was lying on my back. The fog was thinner now. In front of me was a huge beech tree. I was still dazed, but I thought I saw some movement by the tree. I must have taken a hit to the head, because I could swear I saw a woman pressed against the tree trunk. No, molded to the tree trunk. A woman? What was she doing here? She was curling around from behind the tree. I could see a face, arm, shoulder, the curve of a breast, but her eyes and hair were what I remember most. Her eyes were brown, like bark, with flecks of green, like leaves, and her hair was leafy-green, with tints of bark-brown, and tangled in it were beech leaves. I stared at those achingly beautiful eyes, and they stared back. I didn't dare look away, for fear of losing that sight.
"Doc! Do-oc!" I heard faintly. I said nothing, did nothing, transfixed by her gaze.
"Doc! Where are you?"
Then louder, closer, "DOC! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?"
My head snapped toward the sound. Instantly I swung my head back. The woman was gone. Where I thought she'd been was nothing but some knobby outgrowth of the beech tree. The eyes were two discolorations on the bark.
"I'm...down here! I fell! I think I broke my fucking ankle!" I kept talking until they found me.
"Hey Doc, you gotta tell us how to get you outta here."
I looked at the tree again, not wanting to leave it. "Go. Get the medics. I'll wait here."
Sgt Schuster frowned. "Negative! Can't leave you here to be caught by the enemy."
"What enemy? First platoon? Break both my arms and both my legs and I could outfight those pissants," I said.
Schuster clapped me on the back. "You're hard-core, Doc! You are hard-fucking-core! We'll carry you. There's a hardstand road maybe half a klick to the west."
The RTO was already rattling off grid coordinates to the ambulance crew.
I gave instructions and my ankle was splinted. Hollens and Roberts linked hands and made a seat.
"Here ya go, Doc. Someone else can rest us off when we get tired"
I sat down. As they carried me past the beech tree, I snatched a leaf and held it tightly in my hand. A short time later, I was being loaded into an ambulance. The rear doors closed and the ambulance headed into the cantonment area. I opened my hand, and gazed at the strands of hair, leaf-green with tints of bark-brown.
Illustration by Amanda Burkinshaw