Miracles happen in the strangest places
A Time To Die
By Bertie Williams
"Mark . . . we'll never get past those guns on the ridge!"
"We have to. I don't care what you gotta do, get those people past those guns,"
He was calm, the way he always was. Nothing I knew perturbed him, ever. I admired that. I looked upon Mark McClain like he was the proverbial hero. The go-to, get-it-done guy that everyone looked to for problem solving. I'd seen him in action, too. I'd seen him take a valley loaded with Resistance Forces with only ten men and a couple of grenades. I thought he was the most brilliant tactician I'd ever known.
"Mark, I don't know about this one. That ridge is at least forty-five feet high. Everyone is on the ground below and we're going to loose a lot of fighters.
Mark placed a hand to his forehead and dragged it across his brow. He did that when he was unsettled.
"Sam, I said, get those people past the guns."
He looked at me with a level stare, his eyes boring into my brain. I tried to stammer a reply, but turned around instead and headed toward the area where a group of men and women stood waiting.
I studied the people I had as a company. They were a rag-tag bunch of male and female farmers and laborers. Not that they wouldn't fight. They had exhibited their talents on more than one occasion, especially their fondness for cutting throats, but here we were outgunned and out numbered.
"We have to get rid of the guns on that ridge," I said.
Imelda stepped forward from my group. I had a team of twenty-five crack forces, mercenaries of the best order to work with. But, along the ridge there were at least fifty armed men, machine guns and rifles.
She chewed a chunk of chicken, cleaning a bit from her teeth with a dirty fingernail.
"I'll take them, Sam."
Imelda was a surprisingly effective female. Though small, she was quick and skilled. A Karate champion, street fighter and survivor I knew that when she said she would get something done, it was already over.
"See that old guy over there?"
Imelda pointed to an aged man covered with tattoos from head to foot. He wore little more than a breach cloth and carried a long stick, with a skull on its upper end.
"That's Clerio. He's the village elder. He knows a way up onto the ridge that isn't guarded."
"Well, what the Hell are you waiting for?"
"The Gods aren't with us yet."
"Imelda, those men on the ridge ain't gonna wait for Gods."
"You want those people with you?"
I surveyed the people Imelda referred to. Some of them had rifles, some pitchforks; some clubs. But all of them had that determined coldness set hard into their faces. War was an expedient for them. Those so called Resistance Fighters had burned or butchered everything these villagers had held dear. In such instances the drive for revenge could not be ignored. They would fight and die, and do so willingly.
Mark hurried over. His face was set in that grim, intolerant look that told me we had little time left to haggle.
"They won't move," I said as he lay a rolled map down and spread it out across a make-shift table.
"The God's are not with them."
Imelda said something in Indio and the people came near. Clerio raised his staff and mumbled some words. The people stepped back.
"See?" Imelda said, tossing the naked chicken bone onto a camp fire.
"Talk to them. Tell them we can't move until those guns are taken out."
"I did, Mark. They're following their holy man's advice. They won't do anything until the Gods are with them."
Mark walked over to Clerio and looked at him with those iron eyes that sent fear into his troops. The old guy stared back with a level, un-intimidated glare.
"Get those people over there and start shooting!" Mark yelled at Clerio.
Unperturbed, he turned his back on Mark and walked close to his tribe. To a man, they squatted down and refused to move.
"We can't take them with just twenty men."
"I know." I said placing my hands on my hips.
"He knows another way up onto the ridge, Mark." Imelda was busy strapping on her bandolier as she spoke, rounds of dull colored ammo cartridges the only change in tone to her olive drab fatigues.
"Ask him," Mark said, "when the gods will be with them?"
Imelda rapped off her Indio and the old man answered.
"He said not until the night."
"Great!" Mark exclaimed, "we gotta kill a bunch of guys we can't reach and can't see."
The dark descended heavily. It was misty, soaking everything with a layer of fine moisture. Every-so-often a burst of machine gun fire from above reminded us of our task. Mark had received a radio communiqué from headquarters wondering over the delay. Mark had forged some excuse but I could see he was not a happy man.
Clerio stood up suddenly and began to chant. He swung about slowly in a circle, and sipped something from a gourd that he had hung around his neck. He danced and twirled for about fifteen minutes. Then, he stopped, raised his staff, his arms and his voice. He spoke words that excited his people. They stood up and grabbed their weapons. Clerio called a young boy, no more than thirteen to his side. He spoke something in Indio to him and he crossed the grounds to where Imelda stood. The boy uttered some words to Imelda and she hefted her AK47.
"Come on," she said to me, "the gods have arrived."
I stepped forward, my rifle in my arms and Clerio placed a restraining hand on my chest. He rapped off some Indio and Imelda gave me the translation.
"You can't go with us. You are not Indio. The boy and seven others and me, will go."
I stood back and looked at the kid. He was small, a frail looking teenager.
"He's not even armed."
"He's not gonna fight, he's just gonna fit through the hole at the end of the passage. The cave we're going into is sacred. Only Indio can go."
I looked at Imelda, she was a native of these parts and had all the experience necessary to deal with these people. I stood back.
"So, what's the plan?"
Imelda crossed over to the table where the oiled skin map lay waiting. With an infra-red pen light she showed me the path the villagers would take.
"See here? There's a ridge along this side of the mountain that looks like its overgrown with trees so you can't ascend any higher. But these folks know of a cave hidden in the brush that goes back and up to the ridge. They bury their dead in there. We'll all go up, the kid will fit through the hole at the end and then use a machete to open the hole wider. The entrance will be behind the Fighters. We'll take them by surprise. When you hear the first explosion, go out along the valley and then through. They'll be too busy fighting us to take notice of you."
"At least take a few of your mates with you."
"Can't do that. Sacred ground, remember? And, besides, the gods said take only ten."
I exhaled. I didn't like the plan. There were only four rifles in the group, the rest armed with clubs or farming tools.
"Tell them to take more rifles."
Imelda shook her head.
"These are warriors. Even the women will fight. But they must do this their way or the whole plan will backfire. Clerio said he had to convince the gods that the guns they had would work well. I think you'd best leave it as it is."
I looked eastward and saw the pale sun was rising. Clerio waved his troop, three women including Imelda and seven men counting Clerio, out of the camp along the floor of the culvert and veered to the right. Crouched down, they hid behind gorse and rock, flitting from cover to cover as they disappeared down the pass.
All was quiet, too quiet. We waited, holding our guns at the ready, lined up along the entrance to our camp. We were situated in a cul-de-sac to the left of the ridge line. We had engaged in fierce fighting just two days before in order to hold this place. We had taken down at least thirty of their number and Mark thought that the Fighters were wary of us. I chewed gum. It was a habit that calmed my nerves. I added another piece and let the sweetness flow down my throat. If this worked we would be able to re-take the villages to our west. If not, we would all die. Just another days work as far as I was concerned.
Mark was silent as usual. He never spoke during a fight except to bark orders. He looked at me and nodded and I nodded back. He seemed confident, I wish I could feel the same.
We waited. And, waited and waited. It seemed to me that there was something wrong, but no gun fire was heard from the ridge. The sun had begun to filter through the thick mist.
"They're wasting their cover of darkness . . ." Mark began, but he was interrupted by an explosion that send debris, the larger part of a machine gun and body parts raining down off the ridge. Mark signaled us forward and we proceeded along, the remaining machine guns firing both down on us and to their rear.
We could hear the wild battle yells of the people on the ridge and the villagers that remained with us answered them. They charged forward, running through the culvert at which end was an embedded nest of Resistance Fighters. My guys heaved grenades as we drew closer, darting from rock to shrub seeking cover from the relentless guns.
Another explosion, and another sounded loud and directly overhead. Debris poured over the edge of the cliff as we pushed forward, the villagers shouting in unison dove straight ahead, behind my column of fighters. We ran, shot, ran again, shot again and gained ground slowly. There were still a number of machine gun nests above us and they splattered bullets, hitting a few of my soldiers and one or two of the villagers. Still, we pushed forward.
From above us there came a tremendous roar, as if a volcano had erupted. A brilliant flash of light shot up, illuminating the retreating mist and the machine gun nest in front of us with bright, white light. The villagers in our group began a chant, "Aiya-ha, aiya-ha" as they ran along the culvert. The lilting chant was answered from above us.
Mark and I looked upward. The light was flooding down off the ridge like something liquid. It seemed to have a corporeal presence. It was not solid but it looked thick like syrup. It flowed downward, over my forces, me and Mark and rushed onward toward the nest. We heard a loud yell from above us and looked up. Clerio stood on the rim of the ridge looking down on us. He held his staff high, yelled out "aiya-ha!" and jumped.
He fell rapidly. The next few moments amazed us. We watched as he came to within three feet of the ground then slowed and landed. His face was a study of fierceness; a frightening aspect. He raised his staff and shouted words in Indio. I heard Imelda call me from the ridge. Looking up I saw her wave her hand, urging us forward. Clerio stood at the front of the line and yelled more Indio words. The excited villagers followed him and so did we, up a slight incline and over the walls of the machine gun nest. Some died, some were wounded but we took the nest. Clerio led the charge. The men and women of the villages clubbed, hacked and decimated the thirty men that held that position. My forces shot a few, but the rage with which these people flooded forward used their passion to defeat these men. Clerio emitted a bright bluish-white light throughout the fight. Like a human beacon he led his people to victory.
It was all over except burning the corpses. The villagers pulled their dead to the side and carried them away. Imelda spoke with them, then returned to Mark and me and told us the brunt of their discussion.
"How did he do what he did?" Mark asked, his eyes betraying his astonishment.
"The gods were in him."
Imelda smiled, laying her hand on Mark's shoulder.
"You don't understand the Indio faith, Mark. Clerio requested a way to defeat those who had despoiled the god's loyal people. The gods answered and made Clerio invincible. On the ridge, he was the first one out of the hole after young Rodrigo enlarged the opening. He ran right up to one of the gun installations and cut off a guy's head with his machete. I tossed a grenade into the middle of them and they blew sky high. He went to each group, I swear, bullets couldn't touch him. I never saw anything like that before. My daddy told me about stuff like this, but I never believed him. I thought he was just telling me old tales from the glory days. I tell you what, though. After this action? I quit. I'm going home."
Mark and I exchanged glances, still not certain if we should believe our eyes. Overall we only suffered five losses. Mark radioed for a chopper and we bagged and tagged our dead. One half hour later we were in the sky, looking down on a battle ground that had taught us a lesson. Guns and bombs were destructive things, they were good for defense and murder. But, these villagers had taught us something even more valuable.
"They defeated trained killers with little more than their faith and fortitude." I told Mark as we boarded the chopper.
"And, the gods . . . don't forget the gods."
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