Did I write part 18? Some habits are hard to break. I spent 14 years at Fort Bragg in the 18th Airborne Corps. I guess its just in my blood. One day I’ll sit down and go over some of the things I’ve seen and done that don’t ever seem to break away from. Sort of like that elusive shadow we can never catch. I know I’m not the same man who stepped off that C-17 in Bagram, Afghanistan way back in 2002, or the one who spent time in Mosul, Iraq with the 101st Airborne in 2003, and then in Baghdad in 2005. I guess the point here and now is that by having gone through all of that I find fantasy an easy escape route. You know, just in case.
I am thrilled that so many of you are getting in to this tale. Edmund sure does have the cards stacked against him, and just when you think you’ve got it figured out these shadowy dudes from the government slink in. What are they up to? Well, you have to wait to find out. Enjoy part 8 and as always, read on ,my friends.
A Matter of Life and Death VIII
Bitter winds slashed into them, driving deep under the heavy winter gear and chilling them to the bone. On the move since dawn, Edmund led the group deeper into Wendigo territory. At least what he knew to be. Rifle in hand, he’d been following Harris’s blood trail. He wished it were otherwise. Edmund had no personal qualm with Harris. The man had been quiet, if subservient to the brute Cofield. The least Edmund could do was attempt to find their companion- and hope he still lived.
Cofield marched a meter behind. So close Edmund felt his breath on the back of his hooded neck. The animosity blaring off the man was raw, spiteful. Edmund couldn’t imagine any outside influence so thoroughly devouring a man. Or at least he hadn’t until now. Cofield was a bad man. Not evil, but with enough foulness in his heart it didn’t take much to set him off.
“Do you mind backing off? I don’t feel like getting my head shot off if you get jumpy,” Edmund uttered with a frown.
“Keep moving. I didn’t ask for your opinion,” Cofield warned.
Frustration boiled over. Edmund halted, spun, and confronted the mercenary. “What’s your problem? I didn’t do anything to you. I’m trying to help.”
“Fine. You want to know? I’m sick of little worms like you. Always hiding behind words when action is needed. Rolstein wants you on the team, fine. You’re here. That doesn’t make us buddy-buddy. Don’t expect me to save you when things go to hell.”
“You don’t know me…”
“Yes, yes I do. I’ve seen your type a thousand times. Last time was a young punk in Ramadi. He died quick. Sniper shot in the chest. He bled out crying for his momma before the medevac arrived. Every time I see you I think of him. Kid would still be alive if he learned how to shut up and do what he was told,” Cofield explained.
“Now, if you’re not going to find Harris I don’t need you,” he added.
Nothing else needed saying. Further confrontation was counterproductive and Edmund didn’t need having an enemy behind him with the monsters lurking in the unseen distance. He shifted the grip on his rifle and pushed on.
They continued the march for the rest of the day without finding any sign of Harris. Cofield fumed, growing almost desperate. The loss of one man wasn’t detrimental to their mission success, but it galled him to no end. Dusk was upon them and still neither he nor Edmund had found sign of Harris.
“He must be dead,” Jorge, their medic, muttered after he finished pounding in his last tent stake. “There’s no way he’d be able to survive wounded in this climate.”
“Who asked you?” Cofield snapped. A heavy glare permanently marred his face.
Edmund watched the exchange with interest. He hadn’t had much interaction with Jorge but recognized the need for allies if the situation continued to devolve. By doing so he also assumed the burden of responsibility for both Jorge and Mara.
As if on cue, Mara lashed out, “No one needed to ask. He’s stating his opinion! Harris is gone, Cofield. We lost him.”
“To Edmund’s monsters,” Cofield jerked his head toward the hunter. “Monsters aren’t real.”
“Then what took Harris?” she demanded, small hands on her hips.
“Bear. Wolves. There’s all sorts of predators up here.”
“None that would go after a group of people,” Edmund told them. His matter of fact tone left them all silent. “You don’t need to believe me, but I would. Natives have a name for it. They call it the Wendigo.”
“Wendi-what?” Cofield asked.
Edmund cracked a thin smile. “Wendigo. A half human- half monster that feeds on human flesh.”
He nodded. “More like a demon. If, just if this thing is real, we’re being hunted.”
“There’s a chance we can end up like Harris?” Mara asked.
Edmund paused before answering. How could he explain his feelings? Ultimately he knew the choice wasn’t his. His first encounter with the Wendigo left him rattled to the point he would never have considered returning if not for his daughter. If there was a chance Rolstein was being truthful, and that he could save Edmund’s daughter, returning to what he assumed was the lair of the Wendigo wasn’t debatable.
“Or worse,” he said. “We can still make it. All we need to do is stick together, get the flower, and get back to the extraction point.”
The inhuman howl sweeping over the rolling hills froze them all.