Episode 17 - You should not blame the wind if it reveals your secrets to the trees

Sometimes it's hard not to think about your childhood during the holidays. When I was a kid, my dad and I used to drive up to Niagara Falls every end of the year to get a tree . We would sneak in someone's property where the pine trees were abundant and pick the most beautiful one. In one particular December, my dad had already sawed half of a tree down when a Park Ranger came running down a hill. We were at the Devils Hole State Park cutting down a tree. Or like the Park Ranger said - Damaging State Park Property. My dad got a ticket and we were escorted out of the park. We drove home without a word being said. When we arrived home without a tree, my mom asked what happened. And my dad managed to blame it on me - You had to wear that stupid orange t-shirt, didn't you? - said my father with rage. It was a "Thundercats" t-shirt he had given to me the Christmas before. I never cared much about the holidays from then on. But spending the end of the year with Roy, some 15 years later, may have redeemed my belief in the coming of the New Year. We spent most of the time in Roy's house and neighborhood. We visited Roy's mom a couple of times too. Roy cried every time we left the hospital. Often he would turn his sobbing into a chuckling and tell me an old joke, trying to conceal his feelings. I also met his sister Joleanna. She's much taller than Roy and a very attentive woman. She cooked us spaghetti and meat balls on Christmas Eve and it was probably the best I ever had. After dinner that night, we set around the kitchen table and had a few beers. Joleanna then asked me if I had seen what Roy brought her from our mission. - What? A twig? - I said sarcastically. She went to her room and came back with something neatly wrapped. I could not believe my eyes. Inside the wrapping paper there was a scute. A turtle scute bigger than my hand! - Roy!? Are you out of your mind? - I said in disbelief. As it turned out, Roy found the scute (which is a bony external plate or scale from the shell of a turtle) in one of his patrols by the pond prior to our departure from the Mulberry Ridge. He thought it would make a nice souvenir. If he told the sarge and the others they would've kept it for analyzes. - You're damn right about that Roy! The scute is the proof about Dan's theories, man! - I said. Then I felt bad about nagging on his sister's gift. I felt bad about yelling at Roy. But after Joleanna socked Roy's arm and called him a fool, some sense came to Roy's head. So Roy and I agreed that once we arrive back at the Pond area, we would pretend we just found the freaking thing and we would give it to Dr. Johnson or to Sergeant Palmer. Beside the gift incident, everything else went well. After New Year's I spent a few afternoons looking for a present for Captain Schneider. I ended up getting her a hand-made handbag that Joleanna suggested. I love how things are so much cheaper after the Holidays. I had a few hundred dollars left, so I bought a nice "thank you" card for Roy's family, put the money in it, then placed it with the mortgage bill sitting by the living room coffee table. And then it was time to leave back to The Mulberry Ridge Area, to face the truth of about our giant creature. We arrived at our Command Base on time and soon we were reunited with the rest of the men. Ben spent his time off with his aunt Ann. She has a cabin by Mt. Bachelor in Oregon. Dr. Johnson was as jolly as ever and the professor seemed well rested. We went for a debriefing with Major Munsch. If keeping an oversized scute in my duffle bag wasn't enough excitement, the major announced I was going to become the team leader for the Pond Patrol Mission for the next couple of weeks, so Sergeant Palmer could get some time off. The first thing that came to my mind was the creature. Then, if the men would actually respect me as their leader. - Corporal Harris, I need to speak to you in private. The rest of you are dismissed. Please report at hangar 18. - ordered Major Munsch. As the men walked out of the room, Dr. Johnson saluted me by raising his hand to his cap. It was then that I realized the gravity of the situation. But the major made things a bit better, by telling me I was qualified and I shouldn't have any problems. He gave me some paper work to look at including some radio codes for different mission scenarios. - I want the place safe Harris! - said the major in a toned down voice. You will also be in charged of the supplies and ordering them. But Alan should give you a hand with that before he leaves. - the major continued. I was overwhelmed. But I made used the opportunity to ask for a few things, like a vehicle to retrieve some of the supply pallets dropped by Captain Schneider, or even to collect fire wood. - I'll keep that in mind, corporal. That should be all. Good luck and good work! - said the major. I made my way to hangar 18 where our helicopter was waiting for take off. I was so submerged in my thoughts that I forgot about Captain Schneider's present in my bag. It was no use anyway. She wasn't our pilot for today. She must've been on leave. It was probably good. This way I can give her present in a better time. Ben, Dr. Johnson and I left first, arriving at the Mulberry Ridge around sunset. Some guy called Carlos Rodriguez, a private from Camp Lejeune, had just broke his arm while climbing down one of the observation towers. The sarge was cleaning his M4 Carbine. Everything looked the same, except for the snow: it was gone. I was introduced to some of the recruits, including to Lance Corporal Albert Grisham who was going to stay with us for the next two weeks till the sarge got back. - We need even numbers, Harris. - said the sarge. The other three recruits boarded the helicopter short after. Sergeant Palmer and I talked for a while about the mission details and then he called out Grisham again. - And there's more Harris. I want you to take a look at this thing. - whispered the sarge. He handed me another scute. A smaller one, but big enough to be from the same animal. Grisham had found the second scute by the pond, exactly where Roy had found the one I had in my bag. I was somewhat relieved. - I'm taking this scute for some tests when I leave. Don't say anything to the others till you receive the results. I don't want Dr. Johnson going turtle crazy yet. My brother is ill and I wish I didn't have to go. Is that understood, soldiers? - asked the sarge to Grisham and I. - Yes, Sir! - we replied. Man, I sure hope Roy can keep a secret.

by Corporal John Harris, January 05, 2006