Episode 54 - Rigid, the skeleton of habit alone upholds the human frame

My left arm was healing pretty well. The bullet wound had turned into a quarter size scab, a bit nasty looking but luckily, I had gained total control of my arm again. Being back at the Mulberry Ridge was somewhat nerve wrecking. Temperatures had dropped down considerably and I still didn’t have enough evidence to incriminate Dr. Johnson and the mysterious Dr. Ivanov. Which meant a lot of trouble for me: I had to spend winter hiding in the forest. Without proper gear I was bound to freeze to death. While in the Town of Arcadia I had bought matches, a small pocket knife, cigarettes and some fishing hooks. Stuff small enough to fit in my pockets. If I was going to make it out here I needed a better sleeping bag and some winter gear, like a jacket and some skis perhaps. The obvious place to find all I needed was Base Camp. It wouldn’t be hard to sneak in there; Malloy could even help me with a few things, if I could contact her. I have been spending nights at Penn’s Cave, on the other side of the river, for a few days now. Besides providing me with shelter and concealing a fire pit, the cave was once one of Ben’s hide outs. I had hopes that maybe he would return there at some point. After stocking up on fire wood yesterday morning, I decided to find Malloy. Using my radio I found out that a Fire Team was patrolling the hill side 1 click north of the pond. Not certain if Malloy was part of the patrol, I took my chances and headed across the river towards the hills. I turned my radio off and proceeded quietly up river. Finding the patrol team was easy; after all, I was a Marine Scout Marksman. The team was composed by Malloy, Redman, Rodrigues and a new, but much older, husky team leader. I instantly felt bad for Malloy: Sgt. Palmer didn’t give her the leader position. Crouching behind the thicket, I followed them to a trail intersection leading to Camp 1. Through the tall grass I could see them getting closer to my position. Thankfully, Malloy was the last one in formation. I waited long enough till everyone passed the intersection and then I made my move: Covering Malloy’s mouth, I strongly grabbed her, trying not to touch the vegetation behind me. - It’s me! John! Relax lady - I whispered in her left ear. She stopped struggling. When I let her go, the first thing she did was to spit and wipe her mouth. - God Lord! Your glove smells! - said Malloy disgusted. - We gotta be fast. I need a favor… I need some winter gear from the shed - I said quietly. She looked at me funny and then said: - Why don’t you get it yourself, there’s no one at Base Camp right now. -she told me in a snotty manner. - How come? What’s going on? - I asked confused. - Haven’t you heard the radio chatter in the past 10 minutes? Roy found human remains by the pond’s shore. Everyone is heading over there right now. Anything else? Are you ok? I heard you got shot pretty bad… Aren’t you hungry? - Malloy asked impatiently. - I’m fine. Listen you better go. I’ll get in touch with you later. - I told her rudely, while gesturing to her to get back in formation. She got back on the trail, maybe 20 feet behind the other men. Seconds later the burly Marine signaled her to hurry up. They didn’t notice her absence. I left them to their patrol and headed southeast towards the pond. - A body? Could it be Ben’s? My mind went for a spin, while I struggle to get through the thick brush as fast as I could. From the distance I could already tell the water level at the pond was really low. The dry weather this fall had really made an impact here. Trying not to leave footprints behind, I advanced through the dry thicket, watching my bearings. The pond’s low water level revealed a totally different landscape. Huge boulders once covered by water presented themselves in full. Roy was just parking the Jeep by the water and I could see Dr. Johnson’s yellow Gore-Tex jacket glowing away. And then I saw it. Half buried in the wet sand an adult size skeleton laid alone at the pond’s bed, close to the old waterfall. For my relief, there was a 1990’s issued helmet close by. It wasn’t Ben. It was probably one of the poor Marines whose body disappeared in last decade. I hid behind one of the massive rocks which used to be by the pond’s shore and watched the men carefully. Sgt. Palmer and Roy secured the perimeter, while Professor Evgeny and Dr. Johnson investigated the skeleton in the sand. I was too far away to hear what they were saying. Using my binoculars I searched the scene for clues. One thing was certain: it was a Marine’s body alright. The skeleton still had part of a “USMC Hot Weather Boot” in its right foot. By the markings on the leather, it looked like a turtle bite. For a while the men watched Dr. Johnson play with the bones. Roy went back to the Jeep and brought back a wooden crate. I had my eyes so tight against my binocular lenses they started to hurt. The doctor placed most of the bones in the crate, leaving the torso and the skull behind. Dr. Johnson then picked up the cranium off the sand like it was a beach ball and stared at it for quite some time. With no ceremony, he even cleaned up the sand from inside the skull’s eye sockets. There I wondered if the Doctor had something to do with that soldier’s death too. Malloy’s team had to be arriving soon. I had to get moving. Certain that the skeleton didn’t belong to Ben, I headed towards Base Camp for some good ol’ shopping. After gathering what I needed, I went through Dr. Johnson’s tent. I thought if could find the tracking device and use it to find Ben, I could have Ben himself as validation for all the bad things that have happened at the Mulberry Ridge. But the Doctor was a really good con artist. There was nothing of importance in his tent. Later that night, back at Penn’s Cave, I was filling pretty good. I had my old pair of skis back, more ammunition, food, my sleeping bag and the rest of my winter gear. Crossing the river was tricky: I had to make two trips across. I even managed to get some of Sgt. Palmer’s cigarettes. The old man switched to non-filters. I couldn’t really blame him for it. It’s been a hell of a month for both of us.

by Corporal John Harris, October 19, 2006