The Balance SheetMature

Young US Marines, in their youthful vigor, violence and unfailing sense of indestructibility destroy an artifact in the jungles of Vietnam. The world is out of balance and the cost of restoring it is great indeed.

          Lieutenant Harvester was an idiot. A complete and unmitigated idiot.   He didn't even realize just how stupid he was. Staff Sargent Brian Hilson did not benefit from that blessed ignorance. He knew how stupid he was for following these orders.  He and eight other soon to be dead heroes were working their way down a narrow ravine that ran along side one of the tributaries of the Thatch Han River, about twenty five clicks west of provincial capital of Quang Tri. Hilson was very uncomfortable so near the Laotian boarder, not many Americans ventured here except a few spec force and the occasional spook. Outside the narrow trail they were following the jungle was so thick he could not see more than ten feet into the undergrowth. The hillside rose steeply on either side of his squad and the steep drop in elevation made Hilson feel like he was being flushed down a toilet. He gripped his M16 and swallowed hard. His mouth was dry and his head was pounding. It was over a hundred degrees in the green but the air was not absolutely still but the sweat running down his back felt like ice water. His black plastic framed glasses tended to fog up and he cursed his near sightedness. Not for being nearsighted, but for not being nearsighted enough to have gotten him out of this place. He promised himself that if they survived this he was going to frag Harvester, big time.  He knew that son of a bitch was up on the hill behind them with the other two squads watching him and his men work their way towards death. He let his imagination run for a moment and even silently mouthed "sniper!" and then "BANG". Imagining Harvester getting his ticket punched for this SNAFU.  Fucking officers.

        Vietnam's insects were deafening in the deep green, he hated bugs just a little more than  he hated snakes and  almost as much as he hated this God damned country. He hated its never ending heat and rain and misery. He hated the people, their language and their willingness to die. Viet Nam was a shit hole. His mind drifted for a moment, the flash memory of a hootch mama taking a shit on the side of  highway one, her expression when an ox  that was pulling a plow 20 yards away got blown to bits by a land mine. Her screams as she scrambled to her feet, her legs covered in her own excrement and how she ran towards the ox, all the while trying to pull her pajama bottoms up, her Viet jabba jabba even less intelligible through her tears and screams. He didn't know if she was upset about the ox, or who ever it was that had been behind the plow. Probably both. Regardless, the deuce and a half they were riding in or any others in that convoy didn't even slow down. 

Reality was hammered back into place suddenly as the cacophony went silent, like God had turned the sound track off. Simpson on point froze and his left arm went up, elbow bent to ninety degrees, fist so tight his knuckles were white as bone. Everyone else stopped in their tracks and they slowly squatted down to one knee peering into the dense foliage praying that nothing was going to happen. "Please God, please, please." He knew that prayer was on the lips of each and everyone one of his men but it didn't matter. God was looking the other way that day, or perhaps he was distracted by some free love hippies in San Fran.  Anyway they were screwed and they all knew it. Seconds ticked by, eyes strained into the dark forest. Nothing, absolute silence. He could hear his heart beating, he could feel the blood in his ears. He kept his mouth open so that so his breathing didn't sound like a steam engine. His black plastic framed glasses were fogging up. "Calm down! " he told himself silently. He remembered his fathers words from the last big war, "son, just do something, don't freeze up, just do something". He heeded that advice and slowly turned around and signaled the marines behind him into a box defensive position. Two left, two right,  one to the rear, the other two marines between him and Simpson had their weapons in fire position. All of them wishing they were someplace, anyplace else. Another twenty seconds, he looked up at the Lt. praying that he didn't yell down the valley to ask why they weren't moving.

        What happened next surprised everyone, no one more than the LT, heavy  machine gun fire from at least two positions raked the bluff behind them. and he could hear the shriek of mortar rounds passing over them towards the rest of the patrol. He could hear screams and explosions the return fire started out slow and steadily decreased, he looked back up the hill and could see shadows moving from either side of the ridge towards his fellow marines. The gook heavy weapons were sighted in on that ridge, they didn't have a chance. Soon the bark of VC AKs went unanswered by the marines. The black pajama boys couldn't have been waiting for the marines here, Uncle Sam's Misguided Children must have walked right into a base area for the little yellow bastards. It must have been like the best gift ever for them. Better than a pony; merry fuckin Christmas Uncle Ho.  The Marines had been wiped out in less than 90 seconds. His squad was too far down the trail, too far out on the limb to do anything but watch the rest of them die.

He reached for PFC Carter, the jarhead closest to him, grabbing him by the flak jacket he shoved him down the trail, "GO GO GO!! RUN!!" he yelled and all nine of them raced away from the carnage and into the dark unknown of the Vietnam jungle. Luckily it had all happened so quickly and with such violence that none of his squad had much time to do anything to draw the fire of the heavy machine guns. Not yet anyway, but  the gooks knew exactly where his squad was he knew that they were next. Right now they had only one hope, one chance.  Run.

The End

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