Episode 52 - You have to risk going too far to discover just how far you can really go

During my USMC Physical Screening Test, back in 1999, I ran the obstacle course with a scrawny fellow named Bruce Meyers. Through out the entire course he kept singing dreadful “Iron Maiden’s” songs, each related to a certain exercise. One of those songs later became part of a running joke about Private Meyers, who was always AWOL after long weekends of leave:

Ever moving onwards
Always on the run
Waiting for the sight of a loaded gun

I am a fugitive being hunted down like game
I am a fugitive but I've got to clear my name

As funny as those lyrics were at the time, right now when I think of them, they are no joke to me. They are my reality. With Sergeant Steiger still searching the woods to find me, I haven’t been able to get much rest this past week. September turned out to be a pretty frigid month and I’m just not equipped for this kind of weather. I needed to take action and not be on the mercy of the Military Police. I decided to head up to Arcadia, a town 45 miles north of Mulberry Ridge. I had about $120.00 on me. Perhaps there, I could get some extra supplies and even make a few phone calls. But most of all, I had to wait for things to calm down at the ridge. It was going to be hard. I had a pack full of gear and just a few MREs left. At the most, I could’ve hiked maybe 10 to 15 miles per day wounded, but honestly it wasn’t a realistic plan. Then there was the logging road and the cargo truck. - I’ll catch a ride! - I thought to myself. I woke up this morning to find the forest covered with a dense fog. My hair had frozen together with some dead leaves that I used as a pillow. My left arm was throbbing in need of attention. After changing out of my camo uniform, I ate some canned peaches and took care of the bullet wound. The logging road had to be close by: an old sign marked the boundaries of the defunct Mulberry Ridge Laboratories. If I was right, Baxter would be driving to Base Camp anytime before 1200 hours. I just had to wait for him to drive back. I spent most of the day following the logging road up north and scanning the radio waves for any Military Police activity. It was about 1400 hours when I heard Sgt. Steiger on the radio: - Blue 4 Romeo; this is Red 9 Nebraska, what’s your 20? - said the metallic voice through the speaker. The radio went silent for a few seconds, and then Baxter replied: - This is Blue 4 Romeo; I’m 10 klicks from the main gate, over. That was it. I didn’t even finish hearing their conversation. I buried my backpack under an aspen tree and headed for the main gates carrying only my pistol and the $120.00 dollars. I hid behind some bushes and waited. Within minutes I could hear the humming of the truck’s engine. I noticed that the long chain link gates were opened. I needed to make Baxter stop the truck. I ran as fast as could and closed the right gate just enough so he couldn’t drive through. Back behind the bushes, I sat and waited for my ride. Just as I planned, Baxter brought the truck to a full stop. He got out of the cabin, mumbling like an old man. Trying to be quiet, I warily made my way to the back of the truck. Baxter propped the right gate open and then he stood there for a minute, probably wondering how the gate ended up closed. I climbed in the truck bed and hid myself under the tarp. The ride was bumpy and the black tarp smelled like gasoline from the week before. From time to time I would sneak a look outside the tarp to see where we were. Seeing fields of wheat, I realized that we were close to town. Farms, barns and cows popped on the horizon, dispersed like pieces of Legos thrown out of a box. A train track now followed the road side along with timeworn telephone poles. Baxter made a left turn on an intersection, driving away from the train tracks. - I gotta jump out! - I thought. I managed to lay low by the truck’s back gate and when Baxter drove passed one of the many red barns, I jumped out of the truck. After running to the side of road, I looked back at the truck’s cabin. Baxter seemed undisturbed, driving away like he did before. A sense of relief made me smile. I lit my last cigarette and follow the train tracks heading north. After an hour or so of walking, I arrived at Arcadia. Because I followed the train tracks, I ended up at the warehouse district. No supermarkets, no restaurants or bars. I walked a few blocks around to find nothing but factories and storehouses. It was late in the afternoon and I was hungry. I walked another block heading east this time and found an Auto Service shop still open. I haven’t spoken to anyone in a week. I had to think exactly what I was going to say in order to sound like a civilized person. I stood by the front door for a while before I decided to go in. The place looked deserted. The lights were on but no one was in site. I walked down an isle, more interested in the tools hanging from the wall than in finding someone to talk to. - I’m sorry sir! We are closed. - said a female voice coming from the end of the shop. I was caught off guard. I mumbled something. Then a skinny girl, a few years older than me, came out of the backroom carrying a box. -Yeah, I’m sorry, I saw the open sign on, I figured you guys were still open - I replied politely. She shook her head. - Damned Michael! He always leaves without turning that sign off! - said the girl. She put the box in one of the shelves and walked to the front of the shop. Then she turned the open sign off. - Listen, I’m not buying anything, I just need some directions. - I told her. She wiped her hands clean on a dirty rag and extended her hand out. - I’m sorry, my name is Julia. We’re kind of short handed here at the shop so I’ve been pulling some extra hours this week. Where to you need to go? - she asked me. - Well, downtown I suppose. - I replied not so sure. She walked back to the backroom and kept talking: - Take Hudson Blvd. and make a right on Emerald St. A few blocks up and you’ll see Main St. - she finished. - Thanks a bunch! - I said making my way to the front exit. But before I could even open the door, she yelled: - Do you think you could give me a ride? - she asked. I started to laugh. - I’m walking, missy. - I told her trying not to sound too weird. She looked at me confused but didn’t seem bothered. - Alright, then. How about this… - she stopped talking, grabbed my hand and took me to the garage. - You help me put these tires back on my car and I’ll drive us both to town - she said pointing at one of the many beaten down Chevrolet Caprices in the place. - Done deal! - I said. We left the auto store not long after. She asked me all kinds of questions on the way to town, to which I tried to respond as vague as possible. She even told me to apply for a job at the shop. I got myself a cheap motel room for the night, a half pint of bourbon, along with a pack of cigarettes and some Chinese take-out. I also got a kiss on my cheek. Tomorrow I need to find the library. Julia told me they have internet there.

by Corporal John Harris, September 28, 2006