Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Father of all Rats

The Father of all Rats
(A Vietnam, Dilemma, 1971)

Vietnam, life was cruel, for the rat population on Cam Ranh Bay, at Alpha Dump. Tons of ammunition were kept partially underground with a mound atop. Scarcely did we ever open the iron doors to that enclosure, save it needed to be ventilated, and cleaned, and inspected every so often, usually every three to five months, thereabouts. And to be frank, I counted days as they slipped by closer and closer to that deadlines, and checked the duty roster to see if I was on this unfortunate duty assignment, of cleaning it out; it was a four man job.
       Sergeant Crusher, his real name I forgot, but he looked like the Wrestler they called The Crusher, in the 1960s, who I went to see him once at the Minnesota St. Paul, Armory, wrestle, he was a crowd pleaser.
       Matter of fact Sergeant Crusher and I once got into it once, it was a harsh fight. Anyhow he was tasked to oversee that the job got done, and I, being a Corporal, at the time, was his second in command, and we had two Privates, all tasked to do this, duty, one that no one, wished to do.
       “We have five thousand tons of ammo in this storage vault (more liken to an enclosure, the size of an Olympic swimming pool) and believe me not, hundreds of rats!”
       He told us straight out, as we stood inches away from the locked doors, two large doors.
       “There is no diminutive way rats can escape once inside this enclosure, it is a steel-walled prison inside there for the most part, and the few ventilators that are here and there, are protected with firm wire-mesh. Although some of the smaller rats chew their way in but never leave; the ventilators are quite small themselves. The rats increase and multiply over this long period. So they become imprisoned in this storage unit, eat the wood crates, and so on, and then turn to cannibalism. And by the time we do our inspection and inventory, the majority of the rats will be dead, yet those  that are left, the survivors, and it will be a score of them, will be huge colleagues: as Darwin said: the strongest and the fittest, and the most fiercest.”
       Still standing by the doors, I could hear the rats passing back and forth, going on like: squealing and crying. Then as the sergeant put the key into the lock of the door, said abruptly:
       “Woops, I forgot to mention, there is an attached room to the ammo vault, additional and luckier rats will have found their way into that room to steal food, we keep can rations there, and they gnaw their teeth into the cans to the point they break their teeth, you’ll notice tooth fragments everywhere. There will be a blood-splash all about, and that is what we’ll have to clean up. 
       “Which reminds me, may I suggest you all stand to one side, so the rats do not feel cornered when I open up the doors, we don’t want them to think we are trying to trap them again, let them run, they will be the father of all rats, and by measurement, some will be scaled at twenty inches from the tip of their tail to the tip of their nose.  Have no pity on them if they challenge you during their escape. If you feel compelled to use your M-16, go ahead and do so. If possible shoot once in the air, and then at them, and don’t shoot one another in a frenzy.”
       And when he opened the doors, we all looked slowly toward that ominous blackness, in what was quite distinctly an active rat-hive, and out thundered a cloud of dust, blackness, and blobs and flashes of reddish-brown, to dark brown, to complete  black rats,  it at first left us in hushes, aloft their rumbles, the voices hundreds of feet running every-which-way, Crusher stepped back in his usual casual way, and gave no orders at all, save in low conversation with himself, we were all compelled to shoot at them, regardless if or not they were about to challenge us. And I know not why—it must have been spontaneous with all of us (except Crusher) —in that we wanted none to cling onto us, to avoid being dragged away with the horde; our hands went for the trigger of the rifles, and my hand gripped and pressed the trigger, on automatic.  We were all deafened by the reverberation and boom of the rifles and chaos of the unceasing rats’ diabolical thunder, it was a bizarre sight.  It was one audacious orgy, of red-blood. They came out as if there had been a color-riot inside what might be related to a bunker under fire, while others, more beat-up, whom were like gigantic serpents, crowed out through the two doors, per near one on top of another, bitten half to pieces, like ragdolls, the fur on their backs torn off showing flesh.
       Aye— (a diabolical thought) I was for a moment curious to see what might happen should one of us get caught by two or three of those mongrel-giant rats, ere one could gain the safety of the trigger of his rifle.
       The stink, and dust filled my mouth and strangled my lungs as if I had fallen into an outside latrine, and down into its abyss. Piercing its way into my pores, under my skin, I was obfuscated, confused, by all this onslaught.
       Thereafter, one of the privates laid down in the grass and had a fit; poor private! He looked the sickest, bleakest creature I had ever seen, and when he gained his senses, he was so miserable, helpless there was no point in him assisting us. Thus, us three, started our tasks, and told him to remain on watch outside: the expression his face was of pain and he pressed his head with his one free hand uselessly about, ever seeking to spot a rat with his M-16 hanging lose in his other hand, and failing to find one, as the tropic darkness drew all around us… (to where I got a glimpse of the remarkable sunset)
       “Oh damn it, damn it” Sergeant Crusher lamented. “How in heavens name are we going to get this done by midnight; just one person like that can screw up a crew!”
       In the hexes of chaos, I take great delight in the little things, that being, rats cannot fire M-16s, but the Vietcong, the enemy can. And that was for me foremost of concern, not rats or a scandalized fellow soldier.

        The gray clouds of the evening, the light of the moon—all of it as I gazed upon it going out to sea, out into the South China Sea (Cam Ranh Bay is based within a peninsula, a cove of sorts with the sea next to it), there appeared an exquisite polished moon overhead, I could see between the clouds the hollow of the smooth craters on the moon, it looked like one large crater, its surfaced rippled outward joining other craters. And all around me as I ventured inside and out of the bunker, and bring out bags of debris to be burnt, one could hear fog gossip.
       I noticed also, a sour grin on Sergeant Crusher’s face, he was thinking of rice wine back on home base and a girl waiting for him in his little hutch perhaps eating fried chicken, I knew she liked it and he bought and brought  it for her on a regular bases, saying to me often, “You can get all you want from her, or those like her, just bring fried chicken,” and he’d chuckle about it; our base camp being several miles away Alpha Dump.
       There was a certain harmony, into this pallid warm night that rose, palpitating with a misty gray tinting into the atmosphere.  I could see, barely see, shades of greenness that passed as I gazed upon foliage all about, ethereal pea green, copper green, gold green, orange green funny what the gray night and the light of the stars and moon can do, all the greens were beyond description, delightfully haunting. And the private was still searching for rats, stepping on smaller reptiles, and jumping a mile high every time he did, hollering:  “Oh! Come here! Look, look! A rat, look I got a rat! No a lizard!”
       The rats are smarter than lizards I think, and the lizards being reptiles need more sun to make them move, and at night, they don’t move all that quick, being cold blooded, they get their energy from the sun, not necessarily protein, like mammals do from meat, and the rats I do believe were frightened far into the thicket.
       The reflection of the glimmering water, with its glistening changeable blue dark gray like silkiness,  on our way back along the shoreline of the South China Sea, was dazzling; it was past midnight. The changeable colors made for a wet pearl gleaming tint of light on the water. Everything in the sky softly moving, sinking, as I listened from the back of a five ton truck, hearing the wavy water, “Huh!” Sergeant Crusher muttered, “I’ll leave it to you to make out the report, I’ll sign it and hand it in in the morning, I got wine and chicken and a Vietnamese woman waiting for me Corporal, you don’t mind do you?”
       And then came my hush in the darkness, and nod of my head, indicating a ‘yes,’ and the night was all night, and dark was all dark, and the moon turned into a gibbous moon, and we came to revere, he and I, and the private as we all leaned our forearms upon the wooden rail alongside the top edge of the five ton, and wooden planks used as seating, we sat side by side, capturing the silent and dark lilac dim sea at right angles.

       My mind now has went back to the earlier part of the day, that part that turns into night, I didn’t miss it, there had been a beautiful a most remarkable sunset this evening, I do believe because of the foreign winds that blow across the white sandy shores of the South China Sea, the dust being driven up high into the air: winds that blow across;  a perpetual wind  that is; of blushful  grays and greens, should I ever wish to paint it on canvas in the future, it shall be but a little task. I am writing this, at 1:00 a.m., on the back of a five ton truck, as I sit braced, wedged by Crusher and the other private, the one who had the fit, he is driving the truck, it is something to occupy his mind, Crusher said, which is good, while all of us back here are in a dead still, me with a flashlight to take notes; I shall use these notes to be expressed in a future text, I do trust.

No: 1027/ 10-12 & 13-2014
For Rosa who likes a good suspense story