Thurman P. Woodfork

THE HILL

IWVPA Double Tap Award for War Poetry: November 17, 2006
Awarded: November 17, 2006
Roberta Flack is softly singing, “He was strummin’ my pain… yeah, he was singin’ my life…” And, of course, as if summoned by the music, it all comes drifting back again.

Ron starts wearily up that same old hill, eyes intent, walking carefully, his senses alert. At an odd noise, he feels his ears twitch as they try, with a long dormant feral instinct, to swivel and pinpoint the sound.

“My God,” he thinks ruefully to himself, “I really am becoming an animal.” It’s the third time they’ve climbed this particular hill; but familiarity has not bred contempt. He knows who’s waiting somewhere upon those heavily forested slopes; he can feel their eyes on him. No wonder his ears twitch.

He moves steadily on, keeping his distance, following the man ahead of him as they warily climb higher and higher through the green gloom. Sweat starts to form under his helmet and run into eyes. He brushes it away with an impatient swipe. No time for blurred vision.

As he takes another step, shots suddenly ring out, and a blow slams into his hip, jerking him off stride. He hits the ground and rolls over onto his unhurt side.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” he thinks, as he tries to gasp air back into his shocked lungs. Something wet is running over his throbbing hip, and he doesn’t want to look.

Finally, he does, and sees the water trickling from his punctured canteen, which has twisted almost behind him.

He keeps still, breathing deeply for a moment, as bullets whip through the air all around him. Then, anger wells up, red and hot, and he fires into the dark foliage off to his right, hoping to hit something, anything. The firing stops as suddenly as it began, and he lies there, cursing softly to himself.

Turner, who had been trailing Ron and saw him twist and go down, crawls up to him. Seeing the dark, wet stain spreading down Ron’s pants leg, Turner exclaims, “You’ve been hit, man!”

At that, Ron starts to laugh, a little bit hysterically. Turner thinks he’s going into shock; Ron sobers at the concern on his friend’s sweaty face and shakes his head. “No,” he says, “but you’ll have to share your water with me.” He shows Turner the ruined canteen, and they both start to laugh with the release of tension.

Turner rises to his knees, then his head jerks oddly and he falls backwards in an awkward sprawl. He lies motionless on the ground as blood slowly wells out of the hole where his right eye had been.

The memory of that single shot hangs in the heavy, muggy air. Ron drops the canteen, screaming for Doc, knowing full well it’s useless.

He shakes his head abruptly and pushes the ‘Stop’ button on the remote as Roberta croons, “He sang as if he knew me, in all my dark despair… “

The music stops, but the memories keep playing.

Photo ©Copyright 2001 by Thurman P. Woodfork
Photo ©Copyright 2001 by Thurman P. Woodfork