Sunday morning, August 11, 3:50 AM
Whew!! This one's going to be a bitch! Jason stared into the dark sky and felt the cold breeze on his face. He crawled out of the sleeping bag he had never intended to use. A Mini-Maglite taken from its resident pocket of the back pack by his shaking hands showed him it was 3:52 a.m. His body buzzed as internal chemical changes washed through him in a continuous barrage of discomforting sensations. The emotional and psychological shifts felt as stable as water sloshing from side to side in a moving aquarium. His body shook and jerked at random intervals as neurons fired without pattern. This is not good. No shit. OK, let's see what we've got here.
He took a deep breath, tried to relax his body and mind as much as possible, letting his shoulders droop and rolling his head from side to side. He instinctively knew it would take all his training and resources to survive. OK. It's me against the universe. And I'm going to kick ass this time. So let's get our shit together, folks. He shivered as a hot, sharp cramp jabbed his gut. His head spun slightly. Medication withdrawal was well underway.
OK. Let's have the facts. Last medication: Friday evening, 6 p.m. Roughly 34 hours ago. Time required to get down this hill and get back to the highway: 4 to 6 hours. The details seemed to lay themselves out before him as if on a computer printout. Leaving now, in the dark, may not gain me any time, but I sure as shit ain't going to just sit here. Time back to Denver once I get to the highway: 4 hours to the house, if I'm lucky. So, that's 34 plus 6 plus 4; 44 hours. Jeezus! It'll get pretty freaky towards the end. Should put me back in Denver around 2 o'clock this afternoon. I can do that.*
"You're shittin' me! You'd better go back to Plan A, boy. You've got us to deal with now!! And we're going to fuck you up!!"
He moved quickly, fighting the impulse to drop everything and run. His movements were very deliberate as he stuffed the sleeping bag into its sack and lashed it to the pack, even as his hands shook uncontrollably. He used the exercise to force himself to act rationally, to keep his cool. He swung the pack up and buckled it on. With the help of his small flashlight, Jason headed down the mountain. The demons were out in full force, interrupting his thoughts with their thoroughly intimidating comments. And so the internal dialogue began and would quickly heat up.
Overwhelming, thoroughly uncontrollable panic washed over him in momentary waves, teasing him with the fact that, as soon as the wave lingered, all would be lost. Jason now faced the task of overcoming the primordial instinct of the "fight or flight" response that his body was having to chemicals gone completely haywire.
Without continued medication, the demons would steadily grow stronger. A ripple ran up and down his spine followed by a cramp spiking his gut. OK, you fuckers. It's you and me again. So fuck you. He made it about 30 yards in the dark before he lost his footing on the loose rock.
Damn. Sorry feet, I should have taken care of those blisters. O.K. What have I got? Less than a quart of water. Half a candy bar.
"And not a chance in hell of outrunning us."
Hey, FUCK YOU!.....O.K. Now just calm down. We'll take this just one step at a time. Hold nothing in your mind but the next step. Fuck the rest of the world. We're going down.
"Fuckin'-A you're goin' down. And we're going to take you down. You're a piece of shit."
Out loud. Step light. Shift weight. Hop-step to the side. You've got it. Just keep it up. One step at a time. Why's this happening so soon? Did I miscalculate? He saw the page from the Physician's Desk Reference as clearly as if it were floating in the air in front of his face: "Rapid decrease of dosage or abrupt discontinuation of this drug can cause convulsions, seizures, coma, and death." What was their word? Status Epilepticus....which means, roughly, 'shit out of luck.' Well, all I've got to do is stay in control for another few hours. One step at a time. Keep talking to yourself. Just stay in control. You can do this.
"Right. Good luck, sucker."
Another 10 hours. Just don't think beyond that point. Just keep moving. God damn, I've got to get off this mountain. No shit!!
"Another 10 hours is all it takes. I don't know where the hell you think you're going. But you'd better get there fast. Just remember, we'll be right behind you all the way."
Bullshit! One step at a time. Don't think about it! One step at a time. Oh, God, just get me home quick. Jeezus, it's scary out here all alone!
"Hey, you ain't alone. We're here with you. And you know you're going to fuck up. You can't keep it together for much longer."
The burning in his stomach and the sense of ultimate doom were nearly intolerable. Tears welled up in Jason's eyes as he forced himself to stay calm. He fought the sudden feeling of restraint and confinement brought on by the straps of his backpack. He knew it would be a valuable asset, a tie back to the real world as his nightmare intensified, reminding him where he was and what he was doing there. His jaws were locked so tight his teeth ached. He thought briefly of all the reasons he couldn't succeed. Shut up!! Hop-step. Watch the light. One step at a time.
OOWCH!! Lost footing again. Jason landed hard on the rocks, banging his left knee and hip into the uphill slope that he could barely see, jamming his palm onto the scree, hitting his elbow. The hillside seemed to attack his upper thigh with a ball peen hammer. Shit. I've got better things to do than this. He had turned the flashlight off to conserve batteries when he thought he had reached a portion of fairly level ground. And the sky was getting lighter and he could discern the treeline below him. But now a pervasive feeling of doom hung over him like a thick cloud cover, forcing him to pick up his pace.
"You're not going to make it, are you?"
Fuck you. Goddamnit! FUCK YOU!
Tears streamed from his eyes as the feeling of defeat pounded in his chest, the feeling of fear and panic gnawed at the collar of his jacket. The feeling of the tremendous pressure of the open sky smashed down on him, almost making him stop and drop to the ground in submission. The skin on the back of his neck tingled. But the feeling of being utterly alone drove him down the mountain at an unsafe pace. He was numb with pain and he could barely keep himself from running. Now all thoughts of moving towards his goal of getting back to Denver were slowly turning into a feeling of fleeing some unknown danger. Just keep going. One step at a time. Just keep going. You'll get there. There was more than just a twinge of doubt in his voice. Fuck, I wish I had that gun. I'd use it now!
"You are experiencing technical difficulties."
The announcement resonated through Jason as if his bones were amplifiers on a public address system. He had just entered the dark fortress of the trees that blocked his retreat. His whole body vibrated. I'm O.K. Just breath deeply. Take it slow. Oh, shit, I gottagetoutofhere. Surges of emotion washed over him, tossing him from side to side in a sloshing barrel of fear and panic. One step at a time. No need to run. Keep your shit together. You're on your way home. Just keep moving.
"Yah. And we're right behind you all the way. And you know how fun that can be, don't you?"
Tears streamed down Jason's cheeks as he stumbled through the thick growth of trees on his way down the hillside in the morning light, sliding, slipping, loosing his footing, almost running at times. O.K. Slow the fuck down. You're O.K. Keep it together. OhgodIwanttobehome. It was now sometime around 8 o'clock in the morning and he was still making his way down the mountain. If he could have stopped to consider that, he'd have realized something was terribly wrong already.
He was now crashing through thick pine branches that poked his face, jabbed his chest and shoulders. The branches snagged his pack frame, throwing him off balance, stopping him cold in his tracks, causing him to twist and turn and shake himself loose nearly every step of the way. The trees were reaching out at him from all sides: front, left, right, top, even from behind. They wanted him stopped. They were intent on slowing him down. They threw him to the ground as their branches and hidden traps of dead wood tripped him. GOD DAMN YOU!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! Jason's voice, through his tears, echoed in the emptiness of the trees on several occasions.
He had penetrated the barrier of the trees and was using old, overgrown jeep trails that criss-crossed the mountain side whenever he could find them. At times, the half-existing paths he followed suddenly disappeared, leaving him standing in the middle of an unmarked forest, surrounded by hostile, angry trees, crushing the breath out of him with their oppressive weight, stealing all his oxygen, leaving him choking in their midst. At other times, the trail would turn up hill, going against his intuition to head straight down.
But he had found, in most cases, that by getting off the trails, by cutting his own trail down the hill, he came to rock drop-offs and cliffs that he could not handle. It was always the wrong way to go. So he would have to back track.
Stay on the trail. Just stay calm and keep moving.
Jason didn't have a map, so he didn't know which trail he was on or where it was going. As if he would have taken the time to stop and read it, or even understand it if he did. Most of the four-wheel drive trails wouldn't even be on a map anyway. But his general plan was to head down, back toward Fairplay, and catch Highway 285. It was somewhere southeast of him, probably 15 miles away if he could find a straight line to follow. But there just didn't seem to be any lines at all, much less any straight ones.
You're in deep shit, Orr. You'd better get help as soon as you can. You'd better get to the road fast and hope somebody will pick you up. No, wait. You can't let anybody see you like this. Oh, God, you gotta get home. Gotta get back to the hospital. As his feet slid out from under him again, this time on wet leaves, a surge of nausea washed over him. Fuck. What am I doing? I gotta get out of here. The closeness of the trees with their canopy-like cover began to smother him. There was nowhere to run except through more trees.
"No way, fucker. You're in this for the duration."
Oh, Jeezus. Leave me alone. I gotta get out of here. VA Hospital. Gottagethelp.
As bad as it was, the movement down the side of the mountain wasn't as rough as the movement Jason was experiencing internally. His platform of consciousness was tipping from side to side, almost toppling over backwards into some unknown abyss, causing an off-balance, vertigo feeling. Jabbing, stabbing pains attacked his stomach and intestines. His skin crawled with an unbearable sensation of a silk curtain sliding back and forth beneath the surface, polishing the bone, tingling like little worms slithering under the skin.
Oh, God. Diarrhea!! Oh, God. Jason fumbled with the pack's hip straps and finally ripped his pants off as he threw himself down on his side and drew his knees up, overtaken by a body gone out of control. He was burning up energy in his panic flight down the mountain, crashing into trees, tripping over fallen pine and spruce and aspen. And now this, as a final statement that self-control and dignity were being stripped away.
Jason lurched as the bowel spasm shook him, burning a hole through his gut and blowing precious moisture out onto the ground. He didn't dare stop talking to himself for fear the other voices would gain control. He had no recollection of the candy bar in his jacket pocket beneath the forgotten canteen strapped to his shoulder.
Food and water. Remember to find some food and water. And get the hell off this mountain, outta these trees. You haven't got much time left. Just find your way down. You'll be O.K. Just get to the hospital.
"I don't think you've got any time left, fuckhead. You're ours, now."
O.K. Hard to concentrate. Got to be extra careful. Got to get up. Get away. Colorado Springs the quickest. Straight east, mountain peaks at your back. Don't run. Remember. One step at a time. Stay down. Don't let anybody see you. Every cell was buzzing, picking random spots to cause the muscles to spasm. His nerve endings were becoming raw, especially in the limbs that were trying to move, trying to navigate him away from this suffocating location, this prison of trees, away from the personal hell he carried inside. Coordination getting weird. Just keep moving.
"We're right here, Jason. We're here if you want to stop and talk to us."
OH, FUCK. Get me out'a here. God, keep them away!
Sometime during the midmorning, Jason concluded he had crossed down the back side of a ridge that now separated him from the highway. Other than that, he didn't have the slightest idea where he was. He began to back-track, climbing up and over some substantial terrain. At times he found himself trying to run through the trees. His pack caught on the branches and he forced himself to slow down. His face was slashed by stiff, dry branches, poking at his eyes and tearing his cheeks and forehead. He found some wide, clear Forest Service roads but they all seemed to be going the wrong direction, as if he knew which way that was. And something kept him from walking out in the open, down the road itself. So he kept to the trees. It was much slower going. In a matter of a few hours, he had burned up every bit of fuel his body had. His chemical balance was gone. He was well on his way to being totally out of control.
The road. Stay away from the road. They'll be looking for you. Keep low. Stay in the bushes. A tremor shook Jason's body and his soul worked another notch looser from its moorings. For at least an hour, he had been moving parallel to the highway. Or mostly parallel, from the brief glimpses he would get of it through the trees. A mix of disorientation and fear kept him from getting too near the road. His internal clock and compass were broken. It was mid afternoon and he had not yet made it as far east as Fairplay. In fact, he was almost six miles to the south of where he intended to be. He hadn't had food or water in nearly 30 hours.
I gotta get outa here. Oh, God. Please. Justletmegethome. Just this one last time. The waves of panic slammed him forward as his legs jerked out of control. He pitched forward onto the marshy ground near an aimless stream as he came out into an open meadow. Across the meadow he could see some highway, heading roughly southeast. At least it was if he had any certainty about which direction was which. He headed in that direction, intending to get a little closer but not go right up to it until he figured out what road it was. No tellin' who uses that road. Might be crawlin' with V.C.
Jason was building his paranoia about being seen by anyone. At times, he found himself running along in waist-high growth, staying low to the ground. He was having a hard enough time moving forward at all. If anyone did see him, they would have thought him totally drunk, barely functioning. It took him over half an hour to cross the meadow due to a combination of his own mental and physical instability, and the fact that he kept hitting marshy spots in the field spotted with small ponds and a cold, rambling stream that he crossed at least four times. He actually lost count. He was moving as fast as he could, though he would occasionally circle around a clump of bushes and move back the way he had just come.
He was now less than 50 yards from the highway, down the embankment but separated from it by thick bushes and a full, knee-deep ditch. A synchronized spasm of all his muscles threw him to the ground. Jason was acting beyond any strength he knew he possessed just to remain on the ground, making himself breath calmly and quietly. Or at least that's what he felt. His pulse raced and he panted heavily. He was drenched in a cold sweat, drenched in cold mountain stream water, drenched with the oozing wash of primal fear.
Gotta scream. Gotta run. Jeezus, I gottagetoutahere. NO! You're alright. Hang in there.
As the surges of muscle spasms and fear washed over him like splashes of ice water, Jason knew this was the hardest thing he had ever done. And he knew he could finish it.
"You gotta be shittin' me, little man. We're going to crush your bones!"
Oh, shit. Here they come. Keep down. Run. A car passed on the highway above the embankment, ignorant of the battle being fought in the bushes below. Keepmoving. Run. Gottagethelp. Stay calm. Just keep moving.
"Time to party, Jason, old buddy." It was well past three o'clock in the afternoon.
Jason had drained his internal resources and was running on empty. On top of sweating under the hot sun as he kept up a brisk pace in an attempt to flee unseen and unseeable enemies, he had consumed no food or water since yesterday noon. The pocket had ripped off his jacket and spilled out the candy bar long ago. This, in conjunction with depriving his body of the medication he had become addicted to, pushed him to the edge.
Oh, please, God. Don't let my body make a fool out of me. Just let me die quickly. Oh, please! Just this last time. Please, God. Do it quick...do it now...let me die!
Jason felt the adrenaline surging through him as though someone injected him with shots of pure speed. His body convulsed again, every muscle in spasm, his stomach retching. From the outside he looked like a puppet being jerked around on rubbery strings. On the inside, sheets of sheer terror broke over him like mirrors shattering into millions of gleaming shards, the pieces coursing through his veins, slicing, cutting, shredding...moving like razors in a dizzying whirl that left his soul in shreds, bleeding itself dry.
Oh God, justletmedie!!
An odd thing about feeling so psychically violated like this. I just wish I were dead. There's got to be a door somewhere that leads out of here. Maybe it's down this way. I gotta get out of here!!
Terror beyond belief washed over his racked figure, subsiding only long enough to let him realize he was trapped. Trapped in a body gone hay-wire, out of control. If he could move, he'd have run screaming until he dropped. Fortunately or not, he couldn't even move. He had already dropped.
"Got you now, asshole." The brown amoebas floated overhead, encircling him.
Oh God. The pain. The terror. I'll take the pain. Just let me out from under this blanket of terror. God, just let me die!
The terror. It was like a baggie thrown over his head to suffocate him with his own fear. It smothered him and exploded in his chest. It reached into his mind with an iron glove and ripped out his very essence.
Oh shit. If I could only get up and run. Gotta make my legs work. Gotta get out from under this backpack.
The adrenaline kept pumping, a bit less now. Just enough less to stop the world from spinning around, to where he could feel the ground, the cold wet pasture. His arms and legs would try to kick and crawl and push and move his wretched body in whatever way they wanted. There was no purchase on the slick ground, but his thrashing continued none the less.
There's no where to go. It's all inside me. It's all right here, forever. There'll be no getting away. Ever. Not while I'm alive. Maybe not even after that. But I've got to die. Oh, please!
"No way, baby. We're here to kick your ass." The amoebas settled around him.
Unconsciousness, like a dark shadow rising up from the underworld, grabbed hold of him, pulling him down to its unfathomable depths. Down into the unknown pits of memories and fantasies. Down into his own personal Hell.
The Van drove slowly along the road, its search lights panning the ditch and shrubs along both sides. They weren't going to let him get away this time. "No fuckin' way you're getting outa this one, asshole. Your ass is ours!!" The scruffy figure of the bearded muscle man, leather vest made from an old jacket, tattoos randomly placed on the hairy skin of his stocky arms, perfectly fit the gravelly voice that bellowed into the twilight. He banged a piece of chain against the door as he leaned out the window. Each time it slammed against the metal, it seemed to pull Jason a little further out into the open.
Figures were climbing in and out of the slow moving vehicle through the open side doors. Some carried rifles. Some carried flashlights. Boots crunched along the asphalt as flankers stalked the roadsides in front of and behind the dull green van. "Come on outa there, you little fucker. Get your ass on up here. Now!!"
Jason crouched as still as he could, trying his hardest to blend in with the leaves and branches. Shit! Just keep calm. They're going to go right by. The first two didn't see you, so just sit tight. His heart raced so fast and so loud he was certain it could be heard above the low rumble of the badly tuned engine. Another man on foot walked slowly by, pausing less than six feet in front of the clump of shrubbery where Jason hid like a scared rabbit. The figure turned slowly in his direction, the lights of the approaching van illuminating jungle fatigues and face paint. With a low growl, the man moved on, repeating his slow turn to inspect the roadside ditch another ten feet further down. Oh, shit! I wish this were over with. I wish I was outa here!
"Well, sure enough, little buddy. We'll get you out of here. Hey fellas, look what I found here!" He had come up from behind, further from the road on Jason's outside flank. The branches had slid silently off his leather clothing. "I think I found a fuckin' new guy! Yawweee! An FNG!!" The massive hands lifted Jason out of his hiding spot, hurling him up the embankment and sprawling him onto the road. He was too startled, too scared to do anything but lay there. His mind had gone blank.
A large, dirty, black boot sunk into the soft pit of Jason's belly. The man who had just walked past him now stood over him, kicking him again. Now the others were gathering around, taking turns kicking and pushing with their feet. Within those first few minutes there wasn't a spot from Jason's head to his feet that wasn't kicked at least once. Still he just lay there, powerless.
"Hey, let's take this dude for a ride." The sneering suggestion was answered by a murmur of approvals. "Let's help this boy into the van. What say, men?"
Rough hands dragged and pushed, tossed and punched Jason from the surface of the road to the inside of the van. "Here. Gimme those!" The dog tags Jason clutched in his right hand to keep them from rattling were ripped away. "Hey, Fuckin'A. We gotta take this one back. This one's from Nam."
The murmuring chorus of the mob responded with "Yah!!" "Hey, you bet!!" "Let's take this fucker back to the JUNGLE!!!"
NO!! NO!!! Please. NO!! Let me go. Get away. I don't want to go. Jason shouted as loud as he could, but he heard no sound. NO!! God!! Let me go!!! The terror was overwhelming.
AAAWWWWW! He screamed as loud as he could, but there was no sound.
Fear beat on him every bit as hard as the hands and feet raining down on every
part of his body. There was no way he could protect himself. There were too
many of them. He couldn't move. He couldn't keep from crying out. He
couldn't stop the screams and the tears. He couldn't stop his own panicked
jerking that was so easily stilled by the dozen or more captors holding him.
He knew he was dead meat.
To be continued...
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