Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Review (Rant) on Terry Pratchett's 'Men At Arms'

So I had intended to keep this blog more focused on making things, sewing, cute children, making house beautiful, medieval things etc etc.....But not anymore.  Ok, so about Terry Pratchett's Men at Arms... WHAT?????  I had read Night Watch. Yeah it had the double entendres, the constant 'jokes' about prostitution (and...birth control??) of someone I deemed disturbed by it all. But it took you into Sam Vimes head. And it rang true, mostly, I loved Vimes/Keel, the whole book was about fatherhood, and lost fatherhood, in a way I still am unravelling. There was one moment where deep into the book, I was flabbergasted, stunned, when Vimes acted (what I thought) was out of character, killing the comatose torture victims because 'they were past all human help.' Throughout the book, I had been extremely impressed with Pratchett's 'nose' (=his understanding and intuition of things). But there, I was stunned. Were common sense Brits who could see through communism and understood human nature and all that really this much closer to the Liverpool Care Pathways euthanizing death traps then I had hitherto assumed? But no, its bigger than that. VImes wouldn't have killed them, because that would be Vimes giving up. And if Vimes (who really really cared about people, and is highly disturbed by evil in the world, and doesn't believe (rightly so) that the petty discworld gods care or do something about it) gave up, he would kill himself.
       Throughout the book, (and in Men at Arms too) Vimes struggles with despair, with trying to fight evil in a world so full of it that will always be full of evil no matter what you do. (And now I understand why the Last Judgement is sooo important. To keep going, to fight for justice and truth now. The commees are wrong. To believe in heaven, in a final reckoning and righting of the world, is the only way to cope and keep fighting for justice and truth and mercy in this one).  SO. So, I really liked Night Watch, even though it left me grieving, there was a sky in it. It ended with a baby, with the washed out doctor who had to help prostitutes with birth control, getting to deliver a child at the end. And the grief part, with Vimes grieving over Keel, because he is the only one who remembers him now. He grieves over the lost father, and that he had to be his own father instead, because his father was killed? I havent untangled it yet.

      Then I read an excerpt from 'The Last Hero' in which Captain Carrot is AWESOME, but...better then his gods. By a really, really, really, really long shot. So I read MEn at Arms, and I love love loved Carrot. He was a different kind of hero than Vimes, in that he is young, and innocent, and 'naive' (vs cynical) but in Pratchett's desparate human attempts to explain Faith (vs. Vimes despair and coping with a messed up world). Carrot is all justice ('simpleness'), truth (never lies), kindness and valuing each individual human being for their own sake, humility (like Captain America, real humility), 'earnest innocence' (=purity. He drinks milk when they go to bars, and he doesn't even 'get' dirty jokes when people tell them.) and he really loves the law (he memorizes the dictionary  like 'Laws and Ordinances of Ankh-Morphork). And innocent, idealistic, law-memorizing Carrot collides with a city like Ankh Morpork, with legalized prostitution and legalized assassination, full of corruption and rank human nature to its core. As Josh said, he would either
  • A. crumble and become like everyone else, or 
  • B. commit suicide. (Vimes is teetering on the B option with his despair. Copes by living like a monk and giving his pay to widows and orphans.) or 
  • C. (the option Pratchett doesn't give him) Transcendence. A god that is higher than this mess, a god that stands above the human squalor and says wrong is still wrong (even if its legal).
Because otherwise, who's to say prostitution and assassination is wrong?(2 consenting adults...and hey we all die anyway and they make it quick).  What is crime even? What is the bloody point of it all? In Night Watch there is a lot about LAW, about how it is what makes order and all. Sam's badge. The thin veneer on rage and horror, the difference between Carcer and Vimes. All that. But who came up with it? What makes it Law?Men like Vimes that care (though they aren't the majority) but why? What if a man like Vimes decided murder was A-Ok but theft wasnt. As does happen with the Assassins guild that Vimes can't stand but just has to deal with, poor guy. What if tomorrow they legalized ALL THE CRIMES. Then would Vimes be irrelevant? He struggles with this in Men at Arms. But he's right to struggle, because REALLY WHAT IS THE DAMN POINT OF IT ALL???  (and here we can be thankful, thankful that we have souls that can be damned, that there is such a thing as damnation, because damnation means there is something to be dammed from, such a thing was water, as rivers of living water flowing from the Light, the Light that came into the world, and the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.) But here is the problem of Pratchett's self-described humanism. Us humans (ok, certain humans, like Vimes who looks after widows and orphans and wrestles with a fallen world) are bothered by all the mess. And we can try to minimize it (like Pratchett with prostitution) or hate it and struggle with despair (like Vimes despairing and wanting to give up on the Watch bc whats the point, and Carrot says 'its better to light a candle then curse the darkness' and Vimes doesn't buy it. Altho thats what he does...but he struggles with deep deep despair. The euthanizing sequence is starting to make more sense now.)  But whats to stop a Vimes type from euthanizing the world? Wouldn't that work to? Because humanism doesn't work. It leads to deep despair. Because you can't minimize all the sin (starting with theft and sexual sins...but its harder to minimize a torture chamber, that Vimes walks into in Night Watch where he despairs).  Humanism is despair. Its not just atheism, I can do whatever the hell I want cuz there is no hell and no heaven and lets live it up. Its humanism, I (and others, esp criminals) can't do whatever the hell I want because, even though there's no hell, we are humans, and um, it matters, it matters....Humanism is despair.  ok, so this post turned into a digression. The rant about how Pratchett doesn't understand Carrot is forthcoming...But basically Pratchett doesn't understand what makes Carrot tick (Faith vs. Naivete), and how Carrot (who sees even a dwarf's tools and other peoples desks as sacred, who goes out of his way to swear the oath commiting himself to sacrificing and guarding) would see sex/commitment. At all. Pratchett is always seeing/describing Carrot from the outside, and he doesn't understand how he runs. He gets so much characterization right, because I think he is cutting and pasting from the data sets he has in life, but he never really understands Carrot. And thus, he makes him do things that he would never do. And he still doesn't get how faith (not willful naivete) keeps you back from the brink of despair.*  (*Pratchett even has a digression on how each of the policemen deal with the messed up ness in the world...)  He doesn't get it. Like in the Last Hero, Carrot is too good for his gods. Except this god is Terry Pratchett. Humanism runs into a snag. When we meet something better than our standard, higher....

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Morning People--More Hospital Scenes

The old man groaned. Mary lifted him gently, inch by inch, his rigid limbs trembled. Diella realized what she was trying to do, and shifted the pillow back. Mary pulled until the small of his back fit into the bend of the hospital bed. Then pulled the blanket firmly about him
“We’ve got to keep the bend of his back in the bend of the bed”
“Better for his circulation. And he needs to sit up a couple hours a day, so he can see the larks”
She pushed him toward the open window, so he could see out over the junkyard, with the vines growing over the rusting cars, and the swallows darting from their nests. It was a bright clear morning. The birds chattered.
“Thank you, Mr. Johnson. You’ve been a hero” she gripped his hand. “I’m sorry about all this pushing and pulling, I’ll be back in half an hour with your breakfast, and George should be here with the stories very soon.”
Then she bent her head by his, and prayed through the Our Father. Mr Johnson was not speaking any more, his eyes just stared. But Anja imagined she saw his lips trying to move as she prayed. When it was over, Mary smiled at him, (her warm camp-fire like smile, Anja thought)
“I’m be coming back”
And she kissed his old cheek, fussed with the pillows one more time, and then followed Anja down the hall. She always did that for all the dying, Anja noted. Though Anja had yet to see her even hold the hand of her boyfriend. If that's who he was. That man all bulky in coats and gear, but quick and silent as a cat, holding his shoulders like a king.  It started the night when she was on the malaria floor, she had come up to the dying floor for gauze wrap. She saw Mary working, and then this man came,  She ducked down by a patient’s bed and watched. It was all too novel-like and mysterious not to. The two of them talking in their little circle of lamplight in the darkness, like a stage-light, and him giving her mysterious packages. After that, she found reasons to help out on the dying floor at night. But she’d mostly been disappointed, the handful of times he came they just stood by the pillar, whispering, and then he’d disappear in half an hour. And the mysterious package he’d given her, Anja found on further espionage into hall closet, turned out to be beef jerky and granola bars.
 She’d asked Tessa once, who he was, why he was so mysterious, and why he left so soon. Tessa had told her to mind her own business, but on further prying, had cryptically said “perhaps he has reasons to be mysterious.” Which only made it that much more interesting. 

But after that Tessa wouldn’t talk any more, and somehow made sure her nightshifts were always on some other floor. Which was ok. After witnessing a few deaths there, Anja decided it wasn't worth a smidgen of awkward romance. 
But she still hadn’t dared ask Mary about it. Perhaps for the fear it would turn out he was trucker or a rancher or something boring, and mostly because, well, she didn’t want Mary to know she knew. To know she had a boyfriend would be an invasion of privacy, somehow, like reading someone else’s diary.

Mary wiped her brow. She was small, and lifting the patients took a lot out of her.
“At noon we’ll have to put Mr. Johnson in the flat bed again, if you could help me again with that”
“Why don’t we just make the bed flat, I mean, it’s a hospital bed”
“Its broken”
“I thought you said we had a couple dozen working ones?”
“Not anymore”
“You can’t get any new ones from the hospital supply branch?”
Mary smiled wryly.
“It was them who took the working ones away.”
“To be distributed to hospitals who ‘were more vital to the community’”
“Well, how are we going to serve the community if we haven’t got working equipment? Hey, didn’t they take the oxygen tanks too? And—“
But seeing the pain on Mary’s face stopped. It was still raw. She realized for every oxygen tank and bed taken, Mary had to evict, or shut off the oxygen for a patient. Only to Mary they weren’t ‘patients’, terminal anyways. To her they were ‘Mr. Johannsen’, ‘Mrs. Gallenham’, “Jordan”….And Mary felt the shame of watching them lose the little she had been able to give them. Drat those bureaucrats. But had they been right? Didn’t an otherwise healthy college student or 7 year old child need the oxygen more than say, one of Mary’s terminal old people, or preemie who didn’t stand a decent chance?
“Well, we’re not a real hospital, we are a terminal ward after all. I guess we have to make the best of the leftover tech from the other hospitals, hah, its already like that with the patients”
“We’re all terminal”
She looked at Mary. She was angry. She never had seen Mary angry. Together they changed the bandages on the entire wing, Marys lips pressed together white, in silent fury.
The stepped out into the hallway. Mary held her face, slumping against the wall. She was tired.
“Look, if you need a break, I think I can handle…”
“No, Anja. Forgive me. I was wrong to hate”
 “For taking the oxygen tanks?”
“for taking the beds, the oxygen, the medicines, the surgery tools, the maternity unit, the---everything they’ve done to this hospital. It used to be what you called ‘a real hospital’. After the riots, I thought we could carry on, many people would know we weren’t monsters, I thought. But then the regulators came....and it’s like this now. The only reason they let us care for----how you said it, ‘the leftovers’---is because the‘leftovers’ no longer ‘qualify.’ So they may as well come to us, they think, come to our bombed out shell of a ‘terminal ward.”
It was the most words Anja had ever heard come from Mary’s mouth at once. 
“I must forgive them, Anja, but how? The bitterness, I hold on to it”
Anja shuffled her feet. She was embarrassed. How exactly she had become Mary’s confessor she wasn’t sure.
“Pray for me Anja, there is poison in me.  The patients deserve better than me like this. If they can forgive---and Anja, they have forgiven so much—then I can forgive---”
There was another silence.
“I confess to Almighty God, to Mary ever virgin, to Michael…
Anja really didn’t want to be here for this.
…and to all the saints that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word, and deed…
Anja was paralyzed by awkwardness
through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault….
Just when she thought it couldn’t get any more awkward, Mary was thumping herself. Anja inwardly groaned and shut her eyes. Mary was not a dramatic person. This felt painful, like watching a junior high school play.
…. and all the saints, to pray for me to the Lord our God. Amen.
Anja didn’t move, paralyzed by awkwardness.
Mary wiped her brow, straightened up, smiling in thanks, like Anja had just ordered her a sandwich from a cafe.
“Thank you for praying for me”
Anja nodded, because she didn’t know what else to do. It wasn’t that she didn’t pray. She just preferred now to think of the God of her childhood as a Higher Power, a force of love, who was there for you, somehow.
But this king on a throne whose peons had to beat their chests and wail about being the scum of the earth? It was all so…medieval.
“They’re talking about the Pastor Karol scandal.”
Mary looked sad, and bent back over the bandaging.
“Yes?” her fingers still pulling the gauze strips tight.
“Why do—why do you religious ones, insist on telling everyone your high standards?”
Mary was quiet.
“I mean, isn’t it better just to live them? Whey talk about the sexual commands in the Bible? This pastor scandal was a shame, but I know this happens all the time in the corporate world….we’re humans. It happens. But no one cares, because they don’t go around telling people what to do, that God sayeth thou shalt not...I mean, its good to have convictions, but why announce them? If you tell people that’s how they’re supposed to behave, one, they’re not going to listen to you, and two, it just makes them mad. Why even talk about them at all? Don’t let them know you have this crazy high standard, because then they use it against you when you can’t keep it, and they take it for granted, when you do. Isn’t it better to let your actions speak for themselves? And then, when you do mess up, it’s not as big of a deal, they’ll say, hey, my boss does that all the time, an only a handful of the pastors do it”
Mary finished wrapping the arm, and tied off the gauze strands. She stood up.
“Anja, did you ever wonder why we wear white at the hospital?”
“No, why?”
“So the dirt will show.”
She got up, and began to wash the open bedsores with a fresh bowl of water.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Going into the desert

O God. You know me. I didn't want to do this. I had my 5 million reasons this was a terrible idea.

When I was 14, we visited the west, and I asked my dad (in 114 degrees, where everything has prickles) 'why would ANYONE ever [choose to] live in Arizona?'   I likened the buildings to prisons, where everyone is trapped and guarded in their cells, by the merciless sun, blasting down on the rocks, where the windowless kindergartens with their insulated walls look like prisons. Where all is barren and blazing, and the green things there are prickly and must try so hard to survive, where my beloved deciduous trees do not grow.

And the very idea of leaving Pennsylvania, leaving all my friends, my aging frail grandmas, Sarah!, Leah, my most favorite church ever LWC (where they love me and treat me like family), Mrs. Runkle, my extended family, my favorite Christian Pediatrician and Christian Pre-natal Christian doctors. Drexel, my top choice of school for Josh, with happy (seeming) grad students and research Josh thinks is cool, and a stipend we could live independently off of.....To turn them down to go to ASU, to live IN THE DESERT 2,000 miles from any of my friends, twice as far from my family as I am now, small enough stipend we will have to live with my husbands parents.

 Drexel literally was my 1st choice out of 5. ASU was my 5th choice out of 5 (I threw a hissy fit when Josh applied).  Its crazy. Its insane. And yet. Yet. Now I'm doing it. Why? Because I asked You for a sign. And You gave it. Did you? I think you did. And I'm going on this promise. Why?

Because I longed to go to Drexel, but deep in my heart, did not have peace. And I prayed for signs. And this is what happened.

Sign 1: Long ago, my dream (when pregnant with Isaiah). In it, I dreamt we were living in Arizona, and it was ofcourse, hot and desert-y. There was a an old woman there, slightly reminiscent of Grandma Sheldon, but even older, in her 90s, and so incredibly beautiful. She was a church friend (in my dream) and there was something so important about her, and I wanted to be her friend, to know her, to hear what she had to say. And there was a campsite place with a water hole and chalky rocks...and my siblings (I know Elijah) were there, camping? And it was desert. But  the desert blossoming, there were flowers...(it was still desert) but most of all, the air was bright and heavy with this deep light, that was like solid joy, gold light, heavy with the presence, with the glory of God...

Sign 2: When I opened my Bible last night, praying for a sign, I read Peter's mother in law being healed.  

Sign 3: Last night, praying for a sign, opened my journal, back from when cousin Peter was lost, had written

"Nothing is Impossible with God (Katherine)    

Blessed be Your Name--though I walk through the wilderness, desert place
(walk through the desert w/ Peter-- like Orual, never let him go)" 

Sign 4: Woke up this morning, the first thing my eyes read as I was getting out of bed, I pulled up the sheets, and sitting right next to me was this

(Its from when we had to get a new phone because I sent Josh's through the wash, it was floating around the house because Isaiah played with it. It must have ended up in our bed.)
My eyes just landed on the 'Go' and the first thing I thought was, Go to AZ. I didn't know what to think, it was cheesy like the 'ave Maria' joke. I got up and went out.
Then when Josh woke up a couple hours later, and it was the first thing he saw, and he thought the same, Go to AZ.

Sign 5: This morning I logged into my email, an inspirational email from a church lady (who sends about one a day) titled "Faith vs. Reason"  Which in addition to its content (Drexel is the logical choice, AZ is crazy and defies logic and every marriage counselling book on the planet, and my own heart...), had the "Nothing is impossible with God" reference from my journal. 

YOU are the apple of God's eye.  Keep on shining for the Master.
Love and prayers,  Ma D

1 Corinthians 1:18-29
Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Another way of saying that is “knowing that God will honor His Word.”
Reason can be the enemy of faith, because it attempts to “trump” trust in God by encouraging us to rely on human intellect. This kind of logical thinking places confidence in man, but since we are not all-knowing or all-powerful, it leads to insecurity and worry.
All the while, God waits patiently for man to acknowledge his need of a Savior and then respond in faith. Reason says, “I can do it.” Faith says, “With God, all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Reason says, “Hurry and get yours before it’s gone.” Faith responds, “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). Reason wrings its hands and says, “There has to be a better way!” Faith looks at Jesus and hears Him whisper, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
God’s Word states that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It makes no sense whatsoever to them because Satan has blinded their eyes to the truth. But to us who are being saved, the Gospel is the very power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
In 1 Corinthians 1:19, God says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” Those who are of the world may seem to have the upper hand now, but a time will come when they will wither like grass. Only those belonging to Christ possess eternity. We need to lovingly share this truth with others.   

Sign 6: Josh got up in the morning, and went to read his Bible, opening it up at the bookmark. One page away from his bookmark was 1 Peter 4:12-13

 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

Josh brought it to me, interpreting the 'fiery trial' was Pheonix (where I say people are prisoners of the sun, then there's the fire-bird imagery too, and it sure will be harder for me then Philadelphia). But what I heard in that verse, was an echo of my dream, of when the glory of God was descending, so bright it filled the air like living light... the glory of the Lord being revealed. Then I finally showed Josh my journal entry. He noted the Peter reference. And I showed him the inspiration email I got that morning. Josh said he thought it was preponderance of evidence.

What is my 7th sign?   Mom felt this morning, that God was sending us to AZ, even though she really hopes we'll stay in Philly. At church yesterday, on the powerpoint, there was

 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

SO I am going into the desert. Away from all my support networks, away from all my friends, much further away from my family, away from my friends, away from Sarah and Leah, away from having my own kitchen and my own little place, away from green things and leaves and forests of deciduous trees and blackberries.

I am going into the desert. Why? Because, God is promising us, something to do with the dry land blossoming something to do with His glory descending through this. And so. We will go. God, come.

Its one of the hardest things I've ever done.

I'm not doing this for Josh. I'm not doing this for any one else but You. So come through with this God. Come.

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Morning People--Forest scene

Diella ran faster. She could hear the hum of the trucks, roaring on their gas pedals. Drat this open terrain. Just a little farther to the forest, where she knew the trucks were good as elephants on the cliffs. And there, she was a falcon.
Something hit her in the shoulder. Drat Drat Drat... She didn't have time to look, but in her head she was already figuring if her muscle or bone was hit. No pain yet. Figured. She was drunk with adrenaline. Seeing every blade of grass shoot past, aware of every straining muscle. Alert and alive as only the hunted hare know, alive as those who are about to die. If it had just hit muscle, just a matter of pain, she could climb the trees. But if it hit her shoulder socket, she would not be able to climb the trees. Not able to climb the trees....
They were firing now, and pretty good range too, she saw some vegetation cut down 10 meters to her right. She was running, running with every milliliter of adrenaline in her, her blood roaring in her ears. A bullet whistled past her ear. Now would be a good time to start praying. If she knew to whom.
There was a loud sound behind her, an explosion, but she had not time to look, even breathing felt a horrible delay in her one purpose, run. The forest neared, its first trees with their welcoming branches reaching out toward her—they shot past her, all around her, and she was up, up swinging higher and higher into them, gripping their familiar great branches, lost in the leafy masses of their ancient boughs. She flew up and out, her fingers remembering the holds before her mind could interfere, she was up, over the old compound wall, on the old oak...the pain hit her. Nausea. She gripped the branch before her, wrapping her arms and legs firmly around the old wood, catching a dim glance of something burning on the road beyond the treetops, before the darkness started closing in.


Peter knew something was up when he heard the roar of jeeps. There was usually only one, or at the most, two, patrolling this backwater road round the old forest preserve. Usually just some guard driving fast and trying to get this bit of the patrol over with around shift change, not paying that much attention, or driving slowly, enjoying the ride, with the windows down and the music high, often eating donuts. Peter patrolled this area of the wood. He'd watched the watchers for a while, perched high up in the treetops with his rifle, radio, and journal. And books. Sometimes. But he really tried to keep his eyes and ears open, though mostly it was just the handful of patrolmen.  And squirrels.
He's learned a lot about squirrels. How they act up in the nests, when they don't think anyone is watching, how they lined their nests with bunches of leaves, how they chirped to each other in the world of the treetops. He liked squirrels.
But today, the squirrels had scurried off, even at the first dull roar of a jeep. Peter knew that meant something was up, he wasn’t sure what. He’d prepped his AR-15, tuned his radio, and melted into the lookout branch. There were jeeps alright. A good 4 of them. The most he’d ever seen here. And they were roaring along, not just like men trying to finish out the route, either. More like the way the wild dogs would run on a chase. And then there was rabbit, a boy, running up ahead, in green and brown, his long hair streaking out like the tail of a kite. Running. Then there was a flash from the jeeps, several flashes.
It took a long 3 seconds for it to sink in, there a person down there, and they are trying to kill him. Peter swung into action, he aimed at the left window of the first jeep, where the flashes were coming from, and fired away. It only hit him as he reloaded, that there was a person behind those flashes. His stomach felt like he was going to throw up. The flashes were still coming from more windows. He aimed for the front tire of the first jeep, and neatly took both a front and back wheel out, then took out both back wheels of the second jeep, and one of the third, before he had to reload. But it had worked, the jeeps were screeching to a halt. Where was the boy? He saw him running toward the forest—no wait, was it a girl? And she was hit, blood flew out and hit the path. But he ducked his head down, some foliage twenty yards to his right shredded by a real automatic. By the look of the random fire, they hadn’t seen him exactly yet. But the fugitive was still be in range. He had to distract them. He fumbled for the grenades he kept with his snack crackers, pulled the pin, swung up, and aimed for the trucks. Only at the last moment, seeing those little toy men down there, he aimed wide. Then swung down against the branch, waiting for the explosion, “Dear God, don’t let this kill anyone.” If they’d seen him, it was over for him. “or them get me” he added, the detonation going off with his Amen.

She fought off the darkness—it was like a ring of shadow, of greyness—pressing in from the edges of her vision. She gasped for breath. Her arms felt like they were turning into someone else’s, disobedient to her commands. Hold on. Breath. Hold on. She clung to it like a drowning man to driftwood, drowning in a sea of treetops. She couldn’t hold the greyness, it rushed in, with incredible nausea, sealing out her vision.
He lay in the treetop quite a long time. He could hear the murmuring voices below him, his silence-trained ears could hear the crunch of the leaves far down below where they trod. It seemed there was some sort of heated argument.
            “…you kidding, and start a forest fire?”
            “What do you suggest, we start *&^*&^&* logging?”
The response was something indiscernible.
The cacophony of their tones reassured him, over the hammering of his heart. Then another voice cut in, a shout, but full of authority.
            “Idiots! What do…..watch….set a watch….what goes up must come down…”
His heart was hammering afresh. He could live a good while in the treetops, but not without water. He only had one and a half canteens left. Then how long before dizziness and dehydration kicked in…God help me. Make them stupid. Make them leave.
There was more indiscernible chatter, some of it pretty agitated.
            “I’m telling you it was a copter! One of those new quiet ones…”
Yes yes, it was a helicopter. Please make them remember a helicopter, God, please.
There was more debate. His heart was hammering so loudly now, he wondered if he was wearing it out. His uncle had once said you only had so many beats before you heart wore out. His uncle said that to justify not exercising, but Peter believed it now. His heart felt like it was bursting, squeezing all the life out of it. He realized he was breathing too fast, the green leaves above him seemed to tremble. He was getting dizzy. This was not good. He began to pray the Lords Prayer over and over, trying to block out the arguments below.
            Our Father who art in heaven…
            “Crazies don’t have that kinda technology! If you are saying…”
            “…saw a copter …. the treetops”
            Your kingdom come, Your will be done…”
            “….A copter here, and none of the surveillance picked it up?”
            “They don’t survey this place much, now do they?”
            “A copter that fires off single rifle bullets?”
            “But deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom…”
            “…Civilian copter with silencers? To what, not to disturb the tourists?!”
            “…. saw it hovering over the treetops....”
            “Makes no &%&^%& sense, why’d they have a …. silencers….undergunned….”
            “Our Father...”
            “…(^&)*(&(*& crack shot. You think a strafing copter could get out 5 wheels?..”
            “…aiming from the cockpit…”
            “Forever and Ever. Amen. Our Father…”
The voices were lower now, he couldn’t make out the words, just the faint sound of argument. Then perhaps one voice going on a while, he couldn’t tell. Finally, what sounded like commands. Then sounds that may have been spare tires coming out. He wondered about the window he’d fired into, if whoever had been there was arguing below, or was wounded, or…gone to eternity. He wondered if the girl had gotten away, if she’d been hit, if she was alive or dead somewhere in the woods once the adrenaline wore out. He was so tired. Finally he heard the sound of jeeps driving away, but couldn’t tell how many motors had ignited, wasn’t paying enough attention. But the squirrels hadn’t come back out of the nests yet. He wasn’t moving.
He watched the light angle deeper and deeper along the branches, turn gold, and fade away from the darkening leaves. The squirrels were back out, chirping along, leaping along the branches. Finally, as the darkness clung and grew in the tangles of twigs, he eased himself up along the branch. They had infrared, he knew, so best be careful. Very careful. Slowly he eased himself up along the branch. A squirrel across the road burst into a horrible altercation, probably a dispute over nests. That should distract someone not used to squirrels. A burst of fully automatic fire said that it had. He peered down, right there, with a back to him, were a couple of figures sloppily hidden against the rocks. Peter had excellent night vision, even if he was far sighted. They didn’t know two cents worth about stealth, the moonlight gleamed on their canteen cups as they drank their coffee. They were whispering together, both of them turned toward the offending squirrel. Probably rookies, left here to watch. But he couldn’t shoot those rookies, with their backs turned to him, drinking their coffee. If only he had a gun like those in his books, with the stun setting.
Best stay here till the moon set, and get down then. But the girl, what if she’d been hit. A nagging feeling, like every minute mattered, kept tugging at the corners of his mind. He had to get down. Soon.
An owl hooted. Another clip went off in that direction. Wow, these guys were idiots. Probably city kids, must be new to the patrol, probably had never spent the night in the forest before. A lot of kids never got out much these days. What with the war aftermath and all. Schools and parents didn’t want kids wandering the wilds, with discarded IED, and chemical weapons, and gi-hirion threat and all. It was safer to have the kids inside. It was sad, not knowing what rivers and mountains were except from computer games. Like the reality was in the scripted games, and real owls and squirrels were the imaginations in the dark, the backdrop of horror films, the unreality. But what was reality to them? Their scripted show of their politics and tailored news. They wanted the script. Slowly he eased himself across the rough bark, moving an inch or two, waiting for the moments when the wind stirred the leaves and brought the whole forest roaring like the sea, their leaves silver in the moonlight. It felt like hours. He didn’t even bother to touch the splinters and the sap that worked its way into his flesh. Finally, he was at the base of the tree. A good wind had picked up, and was sending clouds over the moon. A sudden curiosity seized him, to know what those two rookies were speaking of. He had to go that direction anyway, if he was going to look for the fugitive. He crept along, silent as a cat in the darkness. Soon he was so close he could hear their s’s. They definitely didn’t know 2 cents about stealth. Emboldened by their ignorance, he came so close he could hear their whispers.
“Charles, you are shooting at animals. That was an owl, I think”
“Oh shutup, Susanna, you let a whole clip go at that freaking monkey”
Monkeys indeed. It was a threatened squirrel. Did these kids think they were in the jungle? And anyone with the name Susanna should never be allowed in secret ops.
            “You think it was a copter?”
            “Sgt. Jennifer says she saw one”
            “Yeah, Sgt. Thomas didn’t seem to think the terrorists had copters with silencers. And all his fuss about the weapon used an all. He didn’t think it was possible”
            “Well, Sgt. Thomas is a %^$^%$. He thinks cuz he knows weapons and planes and copters that he’s better than anyone else in this unit. “
            “But would they fire a rifle from a copter? And a &*^(&* good shot too”
            “Dunno, coulda been an open cockpit”
            “None of us saw it”
            “Were you looking?”

            “Were you?”
They lapsed into stung silence.
            “I think Thomas would say anything to contradict Sgt. Jennifer. He hates her taking his place and all. And y’now, her being a woman “
            “You think he’s a sexist?”      
            “He tries to hide it, but yeah”
They lapsed into silence. Peter began inching his way away, wishing he’d done it when they were still talking. Another owl hooted, and he could feel them tensing up in the darkness.
“Who was that runaway, do you think?”
            “Captain wouldn’t say. I think it was one of those right wing terrorists”
            “You sure? She didn’t seem to have a weapon”
            “Could have been a spy, gathering intelligence.”
            “You don’t think it was an escapee?”
The boy snorted.
            “She’d be in a fluorescent jumper then. Not some sorta Lord of the Rings outfit”
            “Lord of what?”
            “Its…just a game I played once”
            “But she could’ve been a prisoner.You know they say there’s a prison compound here. Under the forest”
The boy grunted.
            “You think its true?”
            “Why’d they have it here? The fighting’s on the front.”
There was a silence, finally the girl spoke as one choosing words carefully.
            “Rumors are that it isn’t for war prisoners”
            “What is it then for, terrorists?” There was a sharpness to his tone.
            “You know how the rumors are” studied nonchalance.
They were silent. He began to inch away toward the rocks.
Suddenly both of them leaped up like a released bowstring, fully automatic weapons flashing clips after clip. He ran.
The blood screamed in his ears. The crack of bullets.  His feet crashed into ground; his heart crashed in his chest. Scrambling up the rocks, he was up up, the old tree, and over the wall. Looking back, he saw the muzzle points still flashing, facing off to the west. They were assassinating a herd of deer. He caught his breath. Idiot, he’d been as jumpy as the rookies. They could have seen him running with no cover, if they hadn’t been busy with the deer. He caught his breath, and swung across the branches, slamming into something, he stifled a scream.
It was a body. Still warm, slumped over the branch, his hand came back sticky with blood. It was the fugitive; he pulled back her cloak and pushed into her neck, feeling for a pulse. It was the longest second of his life. It came. He breathed again. It was weak, but there.
Quickly he felt for the wound, peeling back the cloak, right there, in the left upper arm. Ugh, a mass of blood clots. And was this bone sticking out? His fingers felt around the wound, as he tried to remember everything Ariel had taught him about staunching and major arteries when Caspar had been hit.