Score

Sabine, hiking fast. Torn by brambles, whipped by fir branches.

When she hears the crack of a twig she drops and lies flat. screened by dense-growing ferns.

Two more men. She smells them before she sees them. They stink of fear-sweat. And gun grease. And nylon cloth. And fear-sweat again. Sweat is shining on their grease paint darkened hands and faces.

They’re in the same dark Ultra paratrooper Nazi type uniforms as the previous team, gliding through the primaeval forest.

Sabine peers at them, through the fronds of the lush fern that screens her, as they move softly in the fog. In the diminishing rain and the reek of metal and sweat.

They’re holding their light automatic rifles at ready and are using signs to “speak” to each other.

It seems they sense Sabine might be near but they are looking in the wrong direction.

Sabine hears it: a rattle of branches. A swishing in the ferns off to her left.

She shuts her eyes. It sounds like a deer. Yes. Probably. That.

The Ultra agents are too stupid to suspect it is a deer based on the gliding rush and the tapping of fern fronds — how could it be a human being? Even a little girl? It’s too swift, too sudden, too glissando, like musical notes played by an accomplished musician.

The agents are stupid, and fearful, and jumpy. They make tense hand signals to each other and jog double time toward the glissing rushing ferny sound.

To head it off. Off at the pass. Idiots.

Tense, their eyes wide and staring out of the smears of black grease they’ve layered on for camoflauge.

Sabine wants to laugh. To laugh herself sick. She doesn’t. She rolls over very quietly, unslings the rifle from her right shoulder, and lays it flat beneath the fern. Then she rolls back onto her belly, meantime reaching down to grasp the hilt of her combat knife, which slides from its sheath in total silence.

She lies there, her breasts pressed flat, her heart beating. One of the man hurries past her only three yards distant — she sees the black clad legs moving briskly.

He’s jog-walking with his rifle pointed at the direction of the deer-gliding-sound.

Sabine’s eyes move. She takes in the location of the other man. He disappears behind a clump of pines. He’s about twenty yards off.

Silence. Silence, except for the drip drip of rain water from the massive branches above, and the shrills of a few distant birds.

Sabine adjusts her grip on the knife. Reverse grip. She braces her elbows.

The Ultra agent is now seven yards off, with his back to Sabine.

She pushes off the rain soaked leaves and runs fast and silently until she is directly behind the Ultra agent. She taps his elbow. He spins, eyes wide, and tries to hit her with the rifle barrel. Sabine ducks it and flows to his right side and with one smooth movement leaps onto his shoulders, wrapping her legs around his neck. Then she drops her body to one side — in the same direction the agent was moving — speeding up his spin to a whirl. He loses his footing on the mossy earth and they’re airborne. Sabine lands first on her left shoulder with the tight grip of her legs on the man’s neck, the momentum of the fall tossing him over her. He comes down on his back on a decaying log that shatters. He grunts. Sabine releases her leg grip and rolls onto his chest, smashing down with her knees as he gurgles and tries to scream. Whips her knife edge across his throat just under the ear twice, once for each artery.

She rolls off the twitching body, snatching up the rifle one handed and spinning as she rises. Putting her forefinger into the trigger guard, she brings up her weapon and sights the other Ultra man, who has turned at the noise and is standing there  looking amazed in a patch of sunlight. She presses the trigger three times, hitting the man twice in the chest and once in the wide open mouth. He falls.

Sabine runs to him, keeping the rifle steady, looking for movement. But he’s dead. Sprawled backward, blood pattering from the back of his skull. Sabine lowers the rifle and jogs back to the first man. He’s dead, too, his blind eyes staring at the canopy. She tosses the smoking rifle on his chest.

Ultra: 0. Sabine: 4.

Gone

As it rained harder, the cold drops plinking and hissing on the barrel of the automatic rifle and dripping from her bangs, Sabine jogged back to the other man she’d killed. She slung the rifle over her shoulder by its strap, crouched, and tore open the small knapsack strapped to the dead man’s back.

She tried to avoid his gaping eyes.

She was trembling from hunger. In the knapsack she found five foil wrapped energy bars, military rations. She ripped the foil on one and bit off a large square.

She shut her eyes, chewing. She could feel the energy of the food — a paste of high protein carob and nuts and dried fruit — enter her body like lightning, and tears flowed out of her squinted eyes, mingling with the cold raindrops. She tried to chew slowly, but within instants she was shredding the foil from a second energy bar. She stopped halfway from the end to drink a long metallic gulp of water from the dead man’s canteen. Gasping. Then she drank again, tilting her head back, shutting her eyes. Bliss.

Choking and retching a little, she screwed the cap carefully back onto the canteen. Then she rummaged further into the knapsack and found the back plastic box. It was a First Aid kit. Standard issue. She clicked it open. Scissors. Gauze. Alcohol swabs. Everything. She shut the box and laid it on the dead leaves.

Next? Amazing. Stuffed into its small plastic pouch, a waterproof rain poncho. Sabine wrenched it free, spread it, and slipped it over her head. She put up the hood. There. Although shuddering, she already felt warmer.

She found extra clips for the rifle, too, and a thin dark wool sweater, and a collapsible spirit stove and two small cooking pans. The other man would have exactly the same items in his pack. That meant seven more energy bars, another canteen sloshing full of clean water, another first aid kit — Sabine shuddered with joy. What luck. What stunning luck.

I’m off, she said to the corpse. I’m out of here. It was wonderful to hear her own radiant, singsong voice over the crackling rain. But first, one thing.

Searching the front pockets in the corpse’s Ultra issued military fatigues, she found it. The homing device. She pressed a button, and it flashed vivid red. It was picking up the signal from the chip in her ankle.

Sabine opened the first aid kit. She ripped apart one of the packages of alcohol swabs with her teeth, and wiped down the point of her combat knife.

Rain was popping on the rich foliage all around her. The Ultra agents must be spread out for a miles in the forest. It might take the next team up to twenty minutes to reach her position. No time, Sabine said. No time for fire, or boiling a pan of water. Pas de temps. Only time for this.

She sat back in the mulch of rotting leaves, pushed the plastic hood of the poncho back, wiped the loose strands of clinging hair from her face to get a better view, and braced her right foot on the left knee.

She searched for the little white scar and for the bump. Keeping her lips tight and trying not to clench her teeth too much, Sabine pushed the point of her combat knife into the flesh. Blood jumped out. She felt dizzy, then sick.

She worked the point in deeper, touched the microchip. She was whimpering now. She thought the voice in her throat sounded like a panicky animal. A wounded cat.

She cut deeper, keeping her grip firm yet relaxed, and then, with a grunt, levered the microchip out along with a splash of blood. She clamped a gauze pad on the wound. Hard. Panting, the breath whistling in her nostrils.

Then, just three times, she wailed. Wailed into the rain and fog.

Sabine wiped the knife blade clean on another gauze pad and sheathed it. The pulse throbbing in her ears. Blotting out most of the roar of the shattering rain.

As soon she trusted herself not to faint, Sabine sterilized the cut with splashes of antiseptic fluid and wound a bandage around and around the ankle, then taped it down tight. The pain was vivid, hot, intense. Use it, Sabine, she said. Okay? Use it.

She shut her eyes for a moment and breathed in and out slowly. Okay. She could use the pain to help keep her head clear. It was just a matter of breathing right.

Okay? Oui. Ca va.

She jogged back to the tiger pit. Stepped down into it, carefully avoiding both the sprawled body and the cruelly pointed stakes. She unbuckled the other small knapsack and slung it over her shoulder.

And the rifle? No. This was already too much weight.

She’d get far, far away from that deadly microchip and then discard whatever she could manage. She’d shed all extra weight. She’d travel light, like the rain and the wind. She’d get to a highway. Then, clearly, she’d be gone.

Mexican Killing Ballads

MEXICAN KILLING BALLADS by Okamoto is available as a shocking and beautifully crafted little e-book from Amazon/Kindle.

How can you decide if you want to read this dark, gory, poetic and rather crazy little book of stories and micro-stories?

Do you like violence and mayhem told in a morose, sensitive, melancholy and lyrical way?

This despairing little book contains a “planed-down-to-bareness” story that is one of my own personal favorites of all I’ve written over the years: “The Coffin Maker’s Son.”