I waded through the murky swamp with one hand raised, holding the dynamite. It had to be kept above the water-line otherwise the bridge would only half-fall. Under my waist the mud slid away with each step. Multiple times now I baptized myself in the black, disgusting water. If it meant I had leaches, so be it. It was my duty to plant these charges.
I slipped again. I began to fall forward. With a quick motion I turned by body to fall into my back. I extended my arm to keep the dynamite dry. When I opened my eyes above the surface I could feel something move on my face.
Was it more leeches? A part of a plant? A venomous snake? Who knew, but none of that mattered anymore. I didn’t even bother brushing it away.
My hair moved as the water and sludge found passages created by gravity. All I could think of was worms. Spiders. Snakes. Ticks. Leeches. Disease.
I would have three bacterial infections when the day was done. I would most likely have parasites that would never go away.
I pushed through to the last wooden pedestal. With my right arm I readied the explosives and with my other I smashed the metal grip-teeth into the soft wood.
Planting it, I wrapped the whole mess in tape. I went back the way I came. With no more explosives, I swam it, even though the swamp floor was well within reach.
The tall grasses fought me every step of the way. Cattails bobbed as I grunted and huffed back to the small group of men at the other shore. They waited behind sandbags, M60’s ready to fire. I crawled out of the mess and my sergeant reached down to help me up.
I took his hand, and upon standing I wanted out of my clothes as fast as possible. The water ran in between the different layers. My own clothes seemed to molest my whole body at once.
“I wouldn’t have touched him after that, sarge,” Lyman said.
He was the machine-gunner’s loader. He was lying down on the dry earth with his head propped up on the sandbags. A cigarette was almost done. Next to him lay a pile of thrown butts. It was beginning to meld into the dirt.
“Hey Lyman, go fuck yourself,” I hissed.
I went to him with open arms, going in for a disgusting hug.
He shot up, rearing back out of fear. The man had said multiple times that he was a bit of a germophobe.
“Whoa, get the fuck back! Get away!” Lyman shouted, flinching.
He took a step back, forgetting exactly where the sandbags were. He tripped over them and fell over. The side of his face landed in the water, and he pushed himself up, snaking away from the water as if disturbing it any more would awaken the gods of disease.
I was already there, anyway.
“Jesus Christ, Gasoline! You bastard!” he reacted.
“What’re ya gonna do?” I removed my army jacket.
He took an aggressive stance. Watching my every movement.
The shirt took a bit of effort to remove. It pulled at my skin as it sluffed off. Water and chunks of mud flecked all around.
“Stop it Gasoline! You’re gettin shit everywhere,” Fishhook grunted from his position at the sandbags.
I looked around at the others. They all stared at me, Lyman, and the sergeant with passive indifference.
“I just swam through the physical embodiment of the god damned hanta virus for you fucks,” I said.
With no reaction from any of them, I threw my soaked shirt at Lyman.
He shot out of the way with wide eyes.
“You FUCK!” he shouted.
“Let’s calm down, private,” the sarge could have been talking to either one of us.
I laughed as I stripped off my pants. Lyman got farther away, ready for my spite.
“Where’s my hose-off?” I asked to everyone.
“It’s right there. Calm your tits,” sarge pointed past the circle of men.
It was a metal tub. Above it hung a black plastic bag.
“Half and half?” I asked Gorilla as I went past.
He looked up from his whittling.
“I put in a bit more. Thought you would need it. We’ll help you get the leeches off after your shower,” Gorilla nodded.
Although he wasn’t muscular, he was just as hairy as a Gorilla. His body hair seemed to leak out of everywhere it could. Even his buttons on his shirt, through his undershirt.
I got my name after being caught with a gallon of gasoline on night. I refused to tell the MP’s why I had it, or what I was planning on doing with it. I left it as a mystery. Once I found out it was a story around the base I left it. I never told anyone.
“Thanks, man,” I told Gorilla.
My shower was refreshing. The muck filled the bucket. My skin burned from the caustic chemicals passing for cleaning agents. My eyes were held closed as hard I could through the whole procedure.
As I stepped from the bucket my eyes opened and Lyman’s fist was already too close to do anything.
It slammed into my forehead and the bridge of my nose. Pain shot through my body as I reeled backwards. I tripped on the bucket behind me, falling over onto the earth. Tree roots stabbed me in the back. I yelped.
But I was happy about it.
“Good,” I spat blood, “Lyman’s pissed.”
I forced a laugh.
“Don’t you ever do that shit again, Gasoline,” he pointed as he shouted.
Gorilla took him in a half nelson to subdue him. He dragged him towards the others and sat him down. They began to calm him, and keep him from rising again.
When Gorilla came back, I was naked and covered in bits of dirt and leaves. My head was dulled, filled with resentment of everything.
Without a word, he pulled his canteen out and splashed me down as I got up.
“What an asshole,” I said, nodding towards Lyman.
He showed no reaction, “You talkin about yourself?”
I shrugged. He wasn’t wrong.
A sound came to me. A whizz, then a loud crack. A bullet had passed by my head. I shot to the forest floor, my body once again getting covered in dirt.
“Fuck!” I shouted.
Fishhook opened up with the M60. The swampy forest was filled with sound. I crawled as close to the sandbags as I could. The leeches on my back pulled painfully as they scraped the earth, holding onto my flesh with their suckered mouths.
“Come get some you bastards!” Fishhook shouted just over the sound of constant gunfire.
From my position I could see the trees. They rattled with enemy gunfire. Branches were cut, leaves snipped away. They all fell. It was like watching invisible groundskeepers moving at the speed of light.
“The bridge! Blow the bridge!” Lyman was shouting with cupped hands.
We were all tucked behind the sandbags, with no room to move until there was a break in the gunfire.
The sarge was at the plunger just inside the tree line. He looked across the shoddy bridge and froze. Hesitation. I shot my head to the side to see what he saw.
Kids. They had kids walking in front of them, shooting over the tops of their heads as they marched.
When I turned back to the sarge his head was gone. He fell, towards the plunger.
“No!” I shot up.
I ran and then leaped. I slid along the ground, ending up with my arms up, supporting the weight of the sarge’s body against the plunger.
Lyman arrived a second later and pulled the body away. I let go, and he pulled me up.
He gave cover fire as everyone filed away from the sandbags, into the woods.
We retreated into the evening.
Gorilla removed the leeches by the light of a zippo. I shivered against the fog. We forgot to grab the medical bag in our retreat.
It was for nothing. I got malaria for nothing.