You ever get the feeling that things are about to get worse?
As luck and dumb fate would have it, we weren’t able to escape the area as quickly as we hoped. A puncture on the UAZ and an alignment problem with the axle which Monk couldn’t explain in simple enough terms left us stranded about ten miles from our last camp. The Colonel put us to work immediately with getting some camp netting up and harvesting tree branches to make a proper hide.
Monk said he thought he could get the UAZ up and running but this was the last time. We were running on empty for gas and parts. So, we unloaded our patient and put him, Doc and Dal in there. Monk worked on the repairs and I prepped my weapon. I just knew the Colonel wasn’t going to sit and wait for us to be tracked.
And sadly, I wasn’t wrong.
We tracked back to our late night position, where the Colonel saw the hunters and not a word was said when we found where one had succumbed to the Colonel. Nothing but a damp patch of ground was left. The Colonel paced back and forward a little, biting on his thumbnail, and then he muttered something about there being no tracks. Which wasn’t uncommon for hunters of course, but the problem is that I could see plenty of tracks, but these were dogs or something.
When the sun was at its highest point, we started to track back to our new camp. Over a small ridge we came to a stone cottage, a single plume of smoke from its lonely chimney. Kneeling in the yard outside, grubbing around for roots was a white haired old lady with olive-brown skin and about two teeth in her head. The Colonel approached slowly, weapon on his shoulder, and the woman greeted him first in Polish and then in heavily accented German. It was all double dutch to me, I could barely keep up but she kept pointing at the direction we came and saying the same word again and again. The Doc later told me that it meant “werewolf”, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t listen to crazy old women in the middle of nowhere after the world has collapsed.
We gratefully accepted some eggs and turnips from her garden, freely offered, but the Colonel gave her his last cigarettes and a United States patch from his uniform which seemed to delight her. I was delighted with the thought of an omelette in the morning.
The walk back to the camp was slow, our return route was over much rougher terrain than the way there and it was dusk as we arrived back. I was starting to jog back, holding the eggs in my hand triumphantly when the Colonel again hissed at me to be quiet. He pointed out two shapes in the camp and I have to say, my blood froze. It was those damn hunters again.
As my eyes got used to the twilight light, I could see that they had Doc and Dal on the ground and were shouting something at the lone soldier. There was no sign of Monk. With the practiced grace of a man who’s gotten in and out of stickier situations, I could only watch as the Colonel crept forwards. He was about thirty yards from the hunters when one of them pulled out a large knife and plunged it into Dal’s chest. I couldn’t breathe, I didn’t think it was even happening. Dal crumpled like a scarecrow untied from a pole and then I saw the Colonel move; he rushed the first hunter and football tackled him into the dirt. The other one looked around and started to circle, looking for an opportunity to strike at the Colonel’s back. I heard a shout and the Colonel collapsed, the same blade that had ended Dal was now embedded in the Colonels leg. I scrambled with my weapon, fingers numbed by shock, trying to find the safety. The hunters rounded on the Colonel who was now shouting my name. I could barely move.
The first hunter pulled the knife out of the Colonels leg and licked the blade. I still couldn’t move. The Colonel cursed at me and I could do nothing. They killed him then. Just put the knife in and out until he stopped cursing me. And I felt grateful as I couldn’t bear to hear any more.
What shocked me from my terror was a staccato burst of gunfire and the two hunters went down. Monk had been hiding under the UAZ and witnessed everything. He’d had a machine pistol we’d salvaged earlier as his main sidearm and it made short work of the hunters. He ran to free the Doc and see what they could do for the Colonel and Dal, but it was too late for both of them. I plucked up the courage to come in from my hiding place and Monk didn’t say anything to me. I lied to the Doc that I’d been too far to do anything and she seemed to accept it.
Everything has changed now. Earlier we had leadership, direction. Now we are just three lost souls somewhere in Poland. And the lone soldier? Doc says he’s getting better, but he’s still no use to us.
Useless. Just like me.