I still have my shopping list. We didn’t make it to Prague.
The forests here are a little threadbare. I think they might have taken some shelling but everything just looked unhealthy. Along an old road weaving through a forest clearing, we bumped into a soldier with a torn uniform heading the opposite direction. As we drew nearer, we could see his face was caked with blood and he was talking to himself. Doc insisted we stop and so the UAZ was stopped and the Doc administered to him while the rest of us covered him with our rifles. The Colonel was silent and kept watching the tree edges for an ambush. I could feel his tension.
Between Doc and Dal, they managed to get a few sentences out of the soldier – something about a local warlord ahead and his entire unit being massacred. Again, we didn’t have the ammunition or the numbers for a conflict so Colonel got out the map and compass and we routed a path which would avoid anything looking like a settlement or a crossroads.
It would add a day to our journey but what’s a day compared with the rest of your life.
The soldier was heaped in the cramped back of the UAZ and I ended up on top, presenting a very tempting target for sniper fire. I guess God was with me that day as I made it through the first day without dying. Small achievement I know.
As night fell, we made camp and the Colonel took first watch. I had closed my eyes for what felt like ten seconds when the Colonel was rousing me. He had Monk on watch and he pushed a weapon into my hands and hissed at me to be quiet. And then, under the baleful moon, we headed out of the camp and into the wilderness.
I was still half asleep as I tramped through the forest but the Colonel woke me from my dazed stroll with an elbow to the ribs. He made signals to look ahead and that’s when I saw them. Two burly figures dressed in deer skins, making their way towards the camp. I readied my weapon but the Colonel froze me with a steely stare – his eyes were focused behind me though. I felt the hot breath of something close, a stink of offal and the Colonel lunged, blade in hand and plunged it into the heart of whatever monster was behind me. He stabbed it a dozen times as it swore at him, before resting and then, bloodied and panting, grabbed me by the arm and made for the camp. I looked back and it was a hunter, like the two before, but this one a bloody steaming mess in the night, the moonlight glistening off the blood pooling on his wounds. He’d barely had time to make a cry before the Colonel had ended him.
We ran. We ran until our lungs were aflame and Monk was there, looking terrified as we burst into camp. Colonel roused everyone and everyone was issued a weapon, even Dal. We established the perimeter and Colonel was in the centre, making sure everyone stayed frosty. The only noise I could hear was the faint moaning and chattering of the soldier in the back of the UAZ. There wasn’t a mouse or a barn owl that was fit to entertain us.
A stillness descended on the camp and the moon burned round black holes into our night vision. We watched and waited for something to approach. I don’t know how long it was, but I know that I didn’t sleep the rest of the night.
As the dawn broke, the Colonel got us all moving again. The tension of the night before evident in the drawn faces and red eyes of everyone. Doc made sure the lone soldier was comfortable and we got the UAZ cranked up. We were still going to make the detour but I thought that was a bad night. I was sadly mistaken. We’d pissed off some pretty horrible people and we weren’t going to be rid of them easily.