Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Small Boat

Heron In A Boat photo by Dave Meier

The Small Boat
by Larry Heyl

Caution returned quickly after the heat of the battle. Medjak looked about, listening for any unusual noise. He could still smell the explosives and an awful sweet smell almost as pervasive as the powder. The smell of death.

He made his way down the valley picking through the wreckage. If he could just get back to his unit before the artillery started firing again he could make his report and sleep. Recon was good duty except for the artillery, the land mines and the snipers. Damn, theres one now. Medjak ducked behind a rock just in time. Bullets hit the gravel around him. He returned fire into the trees. During a momentary silence he rolled into a gulley and continue moving. He didn’t know if he killed the sniper or not and he wasn’t sticking his head up to find out.

When the gulley he was in petered out he found another one and made it to the river without being shot at again. His unit was about two miles upstream if they hadn’t moved. If they had he could track them. He’d done it before.

Looking up the river he saw a small wooden boat floating toward him. So peaceful and serene it floated freely down the river as if carrying aristocratic children out for a punt. Afraid of enemy troops lying in the bottom of the boat he climbed a rock on the river bank. Looking down into the boat he could see it was empty.

He didn’t think. He didn’t worry. He acted immediately out of survival instinct. He slid down the rock and when he hit the ground he kicked off his boots and stripped out of his uniform to his underwear. He wrapped his uniform around his gun and crawled to the river. Sticking his gun in the ground bayonet first his jacket sleeves hung loose and rippled in the wind. He rolled into the water and went right under swimming hard to where he thought the boat would be. Breaking water gently he took a quick breath and spied the boat. Under again and he could see it floating over him. He came up with one hand on the back of the boat his nose and eyes barely above water. As he let the boat pull him downstream he heard shots and saw his uniform jacket jump.

After the boat pulled him around the bend he risked pulling himself up into it. He lay on the bottom of the boat breathing heavily. Sometimes the tree limbs closed off the sky and he floated under a green canopy. Other times he saw nothing but blue sky. After a half hour he felt safer but he still laid quiet in the bottom of the boat. Just a month ago he got separated from his unit and went three days without food. He could do it again. In three days he would float 100 miles or more leaving the war behind. But that was still in the future. For now he didn’t move. Laying still in the bottom of the boat he prayed.