Methven - Day Twelve - Part One
The past six days have gone by in a blur. Of course, the fact that we've practically been living on hinch nuts has a lot to do with that.
But, as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.
. . .
In order to give us the best possible chance to heal up from our battle with the rats, Læ put Mantami and me on third watch with her. The other guys had dragged all the rat carcasses downslope and we could hear feeding noises and the sounds of fighting through the night. Luckily, whatever it was that was making all the racket left us strictly alone. By morning, scraps of fur and bone were all that was left of the ratpile.
We broke camp early and spent most of a fairly uneventful day climbing a series of progressively-steeper pitches. I did most of the lead climbing, although, as usual, Mantami showed his "Way of the Scout" stuff to get us up a couple of the more difficult slopes. We camped for the night on a ridge just below the timber line.
"Dude, like, I was talkin' to Bill, y'know? And he was all, 'These mountains are, like, just like rock formations back home,' y'know? And I'm all, 'Like, duh,'? But, then, he's all, 'They're, like, granite, but, like, not like any granite I've ever seen,' y'know? And he's all 'the meta-something-or-other intrusions appear to be unique', y'know? He was, like, totally stoked on this place."
"I have to admit that, rats aside, I kinda like it myself."
"It's cool, y'know? But, it's like, freaky, too, with all the weird animals and stuff. Y'know?"
"Yeah, but, let's face it, you've got dangerous animals living in wilderness areas on Earth, too."
"Dude! I'm, like, totally cool with the wild thing, y'know? But the unicorns and the rats and that, like, 'cowboy' thing, y'know?"
"Pith calls it a 'thunderpuppy'."
"Yeah, dude. 'Thunderpuppy'. That's, like, a totally awesome name for it. Anyway. The thunderpuppy and all the rest, they're like, so different, y'know? From what I know, y'know? They, like, totally creep me out."
"Maybe I'm just not as sensitive to the differences. To me, they're interesting, rather than threatening."
"They don't, like, threaten me, y'know? They just creep me out."
"Sorry to hear about it."
"Dude. So, like, you and the Pithster are, like, totally buds, huh?"
"We grew up together."
"Awesome. So, like, were you in the Vietnam War, too?"
I shook my head.
"No. My lottery number was in the high two-hundreds. They never got around to calling me and I sure wasn't going to volunteer."
"So, if they'd called you, would you have, like, gone?"
I shook my head.
"Probably not. Around Berkeley, that wasn't a very cool thing to do and I was pretty opposed to the war."
"So, what would you've done?"
"Run away to Canada, I guess."
"Dude! No way!"
"Yes, 'way'. A lot of people did that."
"Dude! Turn, like, traitor and totally go into exile? No way!"
"As opposed to getting my ass shot off in some godforsaken rice paddy in fucking Vietnam? Hell yes, 'way'. No shit, 'way'. I was against that war from the time I was fifteen years old. Give my life for Tricky Dicky? That's a 'no fucking way', dude, believe me."
"Yah? So, like, your homebud went."
"Pith was drafted. Lottery number 47. They called, he went. You want any more explanation than that, you'll have to ask him."
"Fair enough, dude, fair enough."
"So, why'd you go?"
"Piss off the 'rents. Y'know?"
"The Dadster went totally non-linear when I told him, yah? I'm all 'I'm gonna join the Army, all right?' And he's all 'You're what?' And I'm like, 'You can't stop me, 'cause I totally did it already.' And he's like..'Shit. You're eighteen. I can't stop you. Bummer.' It was awesome."
"So, I guess the Army agreed with you, then."
He shook his head.
"The Army totally sucks, dude. I just put up with it 'cause I knew it, like, really pissed the Dad-monster off, y'know? To know I was a PFC--'a mere PFC' as the Dadster would put it--and he couldn't do anything about it made it, like, worth while to me, y'know? 'Cause I knew he totally hated it."
"Is that why you hang out with Tong?"
He frowned at me.
"You're like, totally direct, dude."
"Mostly not. Tong is, like, my bud, y'know? But, yah, I guess that makes it even better."
"That Tong is your buddy?"
"That your dad hates it?"
"Because Tong's black?"
"Black. Poor. Uneducated. Blows his nose on the draperies. That kind of thing."
"So you're just using the poor guy to get revenge on your daddy?"
He face lost all expression.
"That's an ugly thing to say."
"I notice you don't sound like a surfer boy any more."
He gave me a hard look.
"How I choose to present myself is my business..Dude."
He looked away.
"I totally love the Tongster. He's, like, my bestest bud. We're tight, we hang, I dig it. Sure, it pisses the Dadster off and I like that, but it's, like, not the point, y'know? Tong had, like, a majorly bummeristic childhood. Total opposite of mine. His daddy's a Vietnam vet. One of those spooky ones, y'know? Flashback city. Got strung out, left his family. Turned into a homeless guy. Total bummer situation."
"The Tongster never fit in. Just like me, only different. His dad is black and his mom is, like, totally Vietnamese. So, he's, like, too Asian for the black gangs and too black for the Asian gangs. He was just a wanna-be until he got into the Army."
"So Tong joined up voluntarily?"
He shook his head.
"Dude. Tong got popped for armed robbery. He totally knocked over a 7-11 and they caught him, y'know? The judge gave him a choice: 2-5 or a 2-year hitch."
"So, Tong and me got to be buds, y'know."
"Yeah, he told me about your little whachamacallit..your friendly fire incident."
"Are we gonna do this again?"
"Okay, dude, so he told you. What did he tell you?"
I told him.
"So, yah, all that stuff happened and Tong and me just kinda became, like, really good buds or something, y'know? I don't know. We just kinda hung out together, y'know? We knew something the Army, like, didn't want us to know. Something the Army didn't know we knew. Y'know? Something we knew that they didn't want us to know and didn't know we knew."
"Stop. You're making me dizzy."
"Anyway, we got rotated out together, we got stationed at the Presidio together and we totally got our discharges the same day. Once he saw his mama, Tong didn't have anywhere special to go, so, like, I invited him over..and he never left. Y'know?"
"He told me you look after his mother."
"Tong told you that? I should kick his ass."
"It's just something I do. Mrs. Lowe's a nice lady. I can afford it, so why not?"
"You don't do it just to piss your father off?"
He shook his head.
"No. The Dad-monster doesn't know, like, anything about it, y'know?"
It was my turn to shake my head.
"You're a strange guy, Blandy."
. . .
The next day we made it over the ridgeline we'd been climbing toward and descended into the valley beyond by rapelling down a pretty sheer set of faces. The climb down went quickly and, once we made it to the valley floor, we picked up what even I recognized as an actual trail.
We made excellent time from there. Between lunch and dinner, I'd estimate we hiked a good twelve or thirteen miles. We found a campsite not far from one of a seemingly endless series of mountain streams and spent several hours practicing fencing and archery before turning in.
I had the middle watch with Bill and Carleton. I was just completing my first circuit when a voice from the darkness called out in the Traders' Tongue.
"Ho! The camp!"
I strained to see into the gloom. We'd pitched camp in a small clearing, and the mountain forest was a wall of impenetrable blackness around us.
"Who goes there?"
"That question is for us to ask. Lower your weapon, Mr. Tourist."
Carleton spoke from behind me.
"Do as he says, Drew."
Reluctantly, I slung my crossbow over my back.
"Enter, Mr. Ranger, and be welcome at our fire."
Carleton pulled on my shoulder.
"Go wake Læ and the others."
I glared at him.
"Why don't you go wake Læ?"
He ignored me.
"Good hunting to you, stranger!"
"Good hunting to you."
I turned to look at the stranger who had stepped out of the forest and my mouth fell open in surprise.
He looked a lot like Mantami..if Mantami were naked, except for a kind of Sam Browne belt dealie, and almost completely covered in fur. The stranger/ranger's face was tanned and weatherbeaten, but the rest of his body was as furry as Sasquatch. He looked almost exactly like a short, squat Amish guy with a low forehead..only wearing a gorilla suit.
"We welcome you to our fire, stranger. Would you and your companions join us in a meal?"
The Vomisa--it had to be a Vomisa--regarded Carleton a moment before responding.
"You honor us with your hospitality. May we know our hosts' names?"
"I am Carleton of Earth. This is Drew, also of Earth. Our company includes other Earthers, two Centrans and Mantami, a child of Khasim Clanhome."
"Shut up, Drew."
"We are of Khasim Clanhome."
"May we know our guests' names?"
"I am Natasi."
Other Vomisa materialized out of the woods.
"I lead two hands of kinsmen."
"Join us, then, Mr. Natasi."
"I am honored, Mr. Carleton. May we see our kin, Mantami?"
"Of course. Please come this way."
Bill had had the presence of mind to wake both Bruno, who slept outside the entrance to Læ & Carleton's tent, and Blandy, Mantami, Pith, and Tong, who were bedded down in the big one. Bruno must have waked Læ, because she followed him out of the little tent just as the Vomisa ranger strode up to a wide- eyed Mantami.
"I am Natasi of Khasim Clanhome."
"I am Mantami, also of Khasim Clanhome."
"You claim kinship, Mr. Mantami?"
"Yes, Mr. Natasi."
"You are too old to be a child."
"But, you are not an adult."
"No, Mr. Natasi. But, I have sinned."
(Copyright© 1997 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)