Bitten Under Fire(2)

By: Heather Long

With another snarled invective, the second soldier flung the shovel into her poorly dug grave, then seized her by the arm. His fingers biting into her flesh hurt like hell. When he dragged her away, she tempered the brief flare of elation.

She had no guarantee wherever he took her would be better.

Bits of foliage snapped at her legs as they cut through the jungle. Even though she hurried to keep up, he kept increasing his pace.

When they reached the village, she studied the collection of mud-brick huts surrounding a central fire pit. It had a tribal feeling to it, hastily constructed and using only local materials. No women or children were visible, just more guerilla soldiers like the one dragging her, a couple of pigs, and one very sad-looking cow. The sun-heated ground left little waves rising in the air, shimmering and waving.

Her captor dragged her right up to one of the little buildings, opened the door, then flung her inside. She landed on the dirt floor. The torn skin on her knee opened up, and pain jarred through her. The door slammed closed—with him on the other side of it—leaving her alone in the hot building.

“Is it you?” Collin’s horrified voice reached her. When she pushed herself up, she turned in the direction of the voice, then suddenly found herself with an armful of little boy.

Wrapping his arms around her neck, he held on fiercely.

“Hey, kiddo, sorry about that. They wanted to see if I was any good at gardening.” Keeping the quip light would hopefully alleviate his fear, even if it didn’t do much for hers.

“They’re going to kill you.” Collin’s voice trembled and climbed. He wasn’t old enough to have gone through the voice-cracking changes of puberty. And she was determined he be allowed to live long enough to endure the perils of said development.

“Not today,” she assured him. Faking confidence she could do. Fake it until she could make it. “What about you? Are you okay?”

She couldn’t really assess his condition in the dusty gloom of the cabin. What windows the place had were closed over by shutters. It stunk of urine, sweat, and what she could only describe as fear.

“Really hungry,” Collin complained. “And there’s water in the corner, but it’s nasty.”

Water in the corner, really? They could both use some fresh water right about now. Her lips were dry and cracked. With all the sweating, she hadn’t had anything to replace the fluid she was losing. In the short term, that was okay. In the longer term, dehydration could do wicked things to the body and mind.

“We’ll take a look at it, shall we?” She rose on shaky feet, and Collin helped. He wouldn’t release her hand, maybe desperate for the security that contact with a stranger provided. Though they really weren’t strangers anymore, were they? She was a friendly face in the hellish destruction erupting into his safe life.

She understood the need. They’d faced the fear once. They could do it again.

Hand in hand, she and Collin walked over to the barrel. A musty, almost brackish smell came from the water. It wasn’t too briny—likely it had just been sitting in the barrel a long time. In these hot conditions, though, that meant insects could be in the water, and the very thought made her skin crawl. Using the hem of her torn sarong, she dipped it in then lifted it to test the fluid against her lips.

Parasites sucked, but she’d have to live long enough to have an issue with it. She also had all of her shots up to date, another perk of traveling the world. If it existed, she’d been inoculated.

“Gross,” Collin announced. His courage seemed to have buoyed with her arrival. Grateful for his colorful response, she still grimaced. The water didn’t taste foul, but it wasn’t pleasant, either. If they could boil it, they’d both be better off.

With her eyes gradually adjusting to the low light inside, she tried to see what they had. A fireplace was inset against one wall, with a funnel leading up—hopefully to release smoke. There was no wood stacked near it. She doubted they had peat…maybe they used dung? If she could get some wood or enough material, she could get a fire started.

In the corner of the room was an oversized box frame with a dilapidated mattress, stained to hell, with no blanket or pillow.

They’d apparently spared no effort in the five-star accommodations.

“Hey, kiddo, are you hurt? Are you bleeding anywhere?” She turned her attention back to Collin. Her leg was dripping blood where she’d torn open the scrape. It hurt like a bitch, but she’d certainly survive.

He shook his head solemnly. “Just hungry. And I don’t want to drink that water.”