It was just another night at the border patrol. Though the war had ended and a truce was signed nearly a week ago, the cold air still seemed thick with gunpowder and debris. The night was still and dark and an eerie silence loomed, over the single lane road running along the border, as he walked down the lane from check post 12 to 15. Rue had done this walk every single night for the past week, it was routine. “this is Rue, checking in, just crossed 13, over!” The radio cracked in the tower 13.
“affirmative we got eyes on you, no smoking on the job Rue” buzzed back a guy from tower 13. Everything was much causal after the war was won.
Roger that, Rue spoke to the thick air as he tucked away the radio into his pocket and took another puff of his cheap cigarette and let out a ring of smoke which looked like a part of his soul that he had let out.
Post 13 to 15 marked the darkest part of his patrol. Tower fourteen was destroyed in the first few days of the war and so were most of the streetlights along it. Which now stood, rotten, in a line, like the heads from Easter island, facing into the woods on one side of the road and their back to the grasslands beyond.
Rue could make out the thin line separating the vivid dark in front and the lights from tower 13. The darkness coming closer with every step. A moment of hesitation ran down his spine like ice but he never stopped. It was routine.
Surrounded by darkness, now he could feel the cold air under his uniform and a heaviness weighed down his lungs and shoulders. The clouds, looming ominously overhead, like black sheeps, hiding the stars away.
Walking slowly over the cold tar, riddled with holes made by mortars and grenades, the only sound Rue could here was that of his footsteps. A dead thump of his rubber sole over the broken road. He stomped a little louder, familiar sounds do make a man comfortable. Darkness gets to the best of us.
“damn its a cold night!” He exclaimed to himself. ” I took bullets for my country, one in the arm and second in the shoulder, still I am out here while those lazy officers laze around in their towers” he kept talking to himself, trying to block out the gloomy woods and the mood that it made, that would give goosebumps to a grown man.
He was now approaching tower 14. It lay in rubbles, a pile of stones, not as glorious as their win. All the members of the tower had died. Attacked by a complete battalion and no help was sent. Left for dead.
Rue removed his cap and lowered his head but didn’t stop. A cold gust blew making the branches crackle with life and making a whistle sound as it blew through former tower 14 which was now barely 100 m away.
It scared him, more than it was supposed to. He hurried his pace and slightly looked up to catch a glimpse of something dark laying on the ground and crawling. A racoon? Too slow to be one. A human body? Too twisted to be a human. A dead human body? Too fast to be that. Rue froze, dead on his tracks. He wanted to reach for his rifle or turn and run back as fast as his legs could carry. But he was too scared to even flinch. He could hear a dead thump again. But it wasn’t his shoes. It was his heart. It was pacing, and he could feel a vein pulsing away in his ear. He stood there for what seemed am eternity. Not moving an inch. His eyes fixed on the shadow or lump or whatever it was as it reached the end of the road and quickly disappeared into the bush.
His heart, though seasoned through wars to be cold, was now burning. He stood there. Still frozen. His head started to get dizzy. But now he could see the lights of tower 15. Still far, which seemed further away now.
Rue snatched the radio from his pocket and blurted away in a hurry “15 can you hear me!! Need backup on 14!”. Radio static. The only reply he got. He knew he had to run or stay and fight.
A bustle in the bush right next to him, he knew it wasn’t the wind, coz air was still now. He shot forward, running as fast as he can. His shins hurting like they would break and ears burning to hear the sounds coming from behind. He couldn’t dare to turn.
The scene at tower 15 was the same, smokes and whiskey was being passed around when the radio blurted to life
“He… Some…. Ue!” abruptly cut and followed by a screeching noise… Like a sharp metal on another metal.. Making a man shiver in pain and cover his ears. Then silence followed. Only static.
“seems like Rue is here, go and check what took that bastard so long. He’s gonna get a hell of a beating for that noise” a senior said to his subordinate. He went out to have a look. There was no one in sight. Darkness on the road leading to tower fourteen and the tower 16 on the right with the lights all over it the road seemed clear on that side. He turned to climb back up the tower.
Just then he heard a faint regular thumping. He turned to realise it was coming from the dark side. But he couldn’t see anything. It was the sound of someone running. The boots hitting hard against the tarmac. The sound was coming closer and closer. It was almost there at the border of the dark and light from tower 15 when the sound stopped in the darkness. And the steps went back slowly and a slower more regular thump of a walk was audible as it retreated back to tower 14.
Next morning Rue was reported AWOL.