The remaining marines only traveled about 500 yards further then gave up, it was pitch black and the trail seemed to be closing in on itself. They went to ground and tried to rest, but fear, stress and the things that go bump in the night kept the up most of the night. When the morning sun gave enough light to check the surroundings they saw no sign of VC or NVA. No sign that anyone had come this way in a very, very long time.
Hilson dug into a box of C-rats and opened a can of pear slices and some crackers. He was trying to figure out what do do now. Carter got up and in a crouch crossed the short distance between them. He lay next to Hilson. "We gotta go back for Momon" he said in a half whisper. "Wha the fuc you talking bout? " Hilson said "Momon's dead, you saw." "I didn't see nothin" Carter responded. Hilson shook his head "What about what was in the river huh? Think Momon is stumblin around without his guts?" Carters eyes were wide with adrenalin, "we don't know what that was, maybe a dead snake or somethin, may not been Momon at all."
Hilson looked at the 19 year old marine, then around at the others, they were all watching the old man of 26. He took a deep breath and thought about it for a second. They were all worried that if they got hurt or fell back he wouldn't come back for them either, after all he had left Simpson and now he was going to leave Momon too. He closed his eyes, right, what the hell.
He spoke to the squad in general. "Listen up you screw balls, Williams and Hendricks, stay here, set up a def position and keep your eyes open. The rest of you, leave your shit, weapons only, we gonna go back and look for Momon." Carter exhaled as if he had been breathing this whole time. It was a waste of time, Hilson knew that, but this was important to the boys, they had to try." He slipped off his Alice pack took out his extra bandolier slipping it over his shoulder he rose and motioning to the rest of the young marines to follow he back tracked up the trail towards the river where Momon 'disappeared'.
It didn't take long to reach the waters edge in the day light. Hilson was a little upset that they hadn't traveled further than they had the previous night, but in the inky blackness it was hard to judge distance. "Gallaria up stream" Hilson motioned with his M-16. "Jones, down." Jones nodded and they both started up the shoreline looking for Momon, perhaps injured, laying somewhere nearby. Hilson sat down, his eyes on the far side of the river, more concerned with the VC than the possible success of this rescue mission. Carter had retrieved the long piece of bamboo and was frantically probing the water, for what? Hilson had no clue but he let them do their thing.
Hilson looked at his military issue watch, zero-five-forty. They would be marked over due now for sure. Even if they assumed the L.T.s radio had fritzed out. Hilson silently prayed, "God let them find us" but he knew that was a fools hope. After a few minutes Hilson was about to call it when Galleria stumbled back and fell to the ground next to him. Hilson looked at him, despite his filipino skin , he looked pale, his breathing was ragged. "What's wrong with ...", you, Hilson was going to ask but Galleria, now his most reliable marine rolled to one side and threw up. Mostly bile and stomach acid but he continue to wretch for a few moments. "God damn it" Hilson snapped and popping to his feet he called out to Carter and Jones, "with me." and he took off in the direction Gallaria had been scouting. Fifteen yards away he found Momon, he was laying on his back, his head tilted to the sky. His esophagus was ripped from his chest and it looked like a piece of ringed rubber hose, laying off to one side. His rib cage was torn open and they reminded Hilson of kitched cabinet doors left open. Momon's heart, lungs and all his internal organs were gone. His crotch was missing and his pelvis was broken open, even his bladder was gone. He was empty like those plastic visible man kits that kids put together. Except all the pieces were gone. Hilson choked back his own vomit and forced himself to look for Momon's dog tags. They were gone too. Jones pulled up short and Carter pushed up behind him. One of them whispered "Sweet Jesus" but Hilson couldn't tell which. Hilson looked around briefly, no weapons, no pack, nothing except Momon's Kabar strapped to his thigh. Hilson bent over and took the blade from the sheath.
"Lets get out of here" Hilson said. "We can't leave him like this" Carter protested. "WE ARE GETTING THE HELL OUT OF HERE" Hilson insisted. The marines reluctantly followed the sergeant back to where Galleria was silently praying for the soul of his friend.
The were all in shock, Carter, Williams, Jones, Hendricks and even Galleria. In fact Hilson wasn't too sure he wasn't in the same shape. The were making good time, fear was driving them on in spite of their exhaustion. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing sometimes. Williams was on point but not by much, perhaps twenty yards or so. Carter and Jones were next, the way their heads were on a swivel they reminded him of those little toy dogs that people put in their rear windows. Well, at least they were staying alert. Galleria was hanging back with Hilson, he would be damned before he let the slope-heads come up on them from the rear. The trail had taken a upwards slope for the last half mile or so. Hilson looked back down the long trail, their escape route, from here he could see that there were rugged mountains arching away on either side of them. It would be beautiful if his friends were not dying and several hundred fucking pissed off VC weren't on their heels. Well, life was a bitch.
Galleria leaned over and whispered "Sarge, got any i-dear what zactly kilt Momon?
I never seen nothin do nothing like that afore." Hilson had been trying very hard NOT to think about that, but there was no getting around it now, so he answered as best he could, "Oh, maybe a VC-a-gator or a pack of beavers, how the fuck am I supposed to know!" Galleria was silent and Hilson began to feel a little bad for snapping like that at the best marine he had left. "Galli, I don't know. Really, I have no idea, I have never seen anything like that either." This time his voice was hushed and more conversational. "He looked like someone scooped his innerds out with a spoon." Galleria said quietly as he looked back over his shoulder. "Well, lets keep it out of the conversation with the kiddies shall we? " Hilson offered. When they turned back to their front, they saw the other three jarheads standing at the crest of the ridge, not moving, just looking down the other side.
"What the fuck are you guys doing?" Hilson said as he and Galleria s0ed up to catch up with them. "Sarge, you better come look at this" Carter said When they all were on the ridge together, Hilson could see what had frozen them so. Stretched out in the valley below was a city, or what was left of one. In the center was a tall circular tower, enormous vines growing up all around it to two-thirds of its full height, easily 150 feet. The peak of the tower was carved in a grey stone and looked to Hilson like an artichoke. There were tall, skinny windows cut into the tower in a spiral manner, probably to provide light to a stair case. Dozens of buildings radiated away from the center, some small others far larger, most looked as if they were single story but a few were two and even three storied buildings were to be seen. All were covered with a mat of green, giant vines and even tree trunks grew over and among them. The further from the tower the more dense the jungle covering until it was impossible to tell where the buildings left off and the jungle began in earnest.There was no sign of any human activity. In fact no sign of life of any kind.
"Wow" Hendricks said quietly. "Too fucking right" Galleria added. And they started down the hill towards the lost city. "Hey Carter, ever see that old movie about Gunga Ding?" Williams asked. "Shut up Williams" Hilson said as he charged his M-16.
The marines moved slowly down the path, everything around them was covered with vines, various mineral deposits, fairly dripping with age. "Creepy huh?" Willaims said. To a man the others said in unison "Shut the fuck up Williams." They had moved a little less than a hundred yards into the complex when Hilson stopped when they walked into what might have been an intersection of walkways, there were raised "L" shaped stone boarders arranged so the intersection was outlined, he turned to the last of the procession "Williams you and Carter you stay here, watch our backs, one on either side of the trail, if there is any trouble we are all going to regroup here, gottit?" The marines looked at one another, Williams spat an the ground then said "aye aye sarge", Carter added "roger that." The two marines took up positions allowing them to hide behind two of the "L" shapes, they lay down, one facing the way they came, the other looking the way they were going. "Keep it on a swivel you too." Hilson said as he followed the remaining marines deeper into the city.
Williams leaned against the ancient stone work and slowly slid down until his ***** hit the ground. He was holding his rifle across his chest in such a manner that he could bring it up quick to fire position. "Hey Carter" he said in a hushed voice. Carter leaned forward and peeked off to the left then sat back on his haunches. "Carter!" Williams said with a bit more urgency. Carter closed his eyes slowly and sighing deeply he said "yes dear?" Williams was irked at Carter's response but he asked his question anyway, "Think the gooks are still after us? Do ya? Huh?" Carter peeked around the corner again, raising just a bit so he could see the distant tree line. "How the hell am I supposed to know?" Williams was undeterred. "Well, if you was a gook, would YOU still be chasing us?" Carter turned and looked at the young marine shaking his head, "If ~I~ was a GOOK? What the fuck are you talking about?" Then he pivoted his head back where he was supposed to be on look out. Williams looked around his corner, to look down the path that the rest of the Americans had traveled. "It's like this Carter, if I was a gook I would just go home to my hoochie mama and have a nice bowl of rice and rat meat instead of chasing a bunch of dinky dow Marines though this damn jungle." Carter looked at him and said "it's too bad that you ain't a gook then." Williams smiled, pleased with his deductive prowess.