Friday, February 1, 2013

Tonight, I May Tell You a Lie

While the true date was January 31st, 2013, I entered a time warp.  And everything I'm about to write must, therefore, be a lie.

I was instantly in WWII, leading a group of four other commandos, like myself.  Our objective was a simple reconnaissance mission, and although we had to leave it earlier than we would have liked to, we did accomplish the mission.

That was secondary to the action, though.

It was 11:00 p.m., and as I rode my super-stealth scooter, muffled and quiet by its inferior engine size, I was late, but had already communicated with the four commandos I would end up leading, even though we all went into the mission as equals.  They forgave me early.  As I sat in a mess hall, before the mission, I had a feeling--a gut feeling, which I always listened to but didn't on this night--that the enemy would spot our transport vehicles and be on our tails soon after we entered their territory.  I kept this feeling in as I rode toward our rendezvous point, where they in a car and I on my scooter turned our motors off and began our deliberate, camouflaged, quiet march directly past enemy guard shacks, as we had before, and into the heart of enemy-held ground.

You never really get used to the nervous feeling of going past those shacks--it's not that you fear they will do anything, per se--you fear that they will notify some larger force that then really has a chance to take out your squad.  That was the real fear.

On this night, that's exactly what happened--that fear had been realized.  A bigger force had been notified, and was hot on our trail.

But we wouldn't know it until the search lights boomed on, shining through the windows of the building we were in.

But well before that, at 11:20 or so, we confidently entered the building, snapping our reconnaissance photos and recording sensitive audio signals.  We ran ultra-high technology tests to see if a certain type of enemy was present--an enemy that had proven extremely elusive in prior missions.  While we were satisfied that we had captured more than enough information to call the mission accomplished, for the operational part, anyway, we weren't satisfied with the amount of data and wanted to stay longer.

That's when one of the commandos, whom I'll call the Scot, said, "Lights."  We immediately dimmed our own sources of lights and stepped into a hallway, out of the range of the lights, between doors and windows, just barely.  Being the oldest among us at 40, I did feel a responsibility and thereby did start advising on what to do.  "Keep perfectly quiet," I said.  "Your camera is still emitting light," said another commando, who I'll call the Black Irish.  I said to her, "Just leave it on but drop it into my bag."  I didn't want her to accidentally snap a photo, setting off a flash, if she tried to turn it off and made a mistake, and the search lights lit up the whole of the building as the patrol moved around it, lighting it from both sides.  They were 15 feet from us at their closest point.

Three lady commandos and two men, we were.  The ladies all seemed very calm, and so did the Scot.  It was me who was the most energized--I suspect because I felt that for our survival, I must come up with the right plan, but I was not the leader.  We were just a group; just a team.  After the lights turned off and the patrol seemed to move away, I knew better--I had seen the tactic used before.  I said, "They're pretending to be gone, to see if we'll come pouring out.  We have to stay here, dead quiet, with no lights, for a while."  They agreed.

As we sat and whispered incredibly quietly, I could not help but tell them what was on my mind.  "I knew it!" I said with as much of an exclamation as you can have in the softest whisper.  "When I was there tonight, in the mess hall, my gut told me that a patrol would come, and would know we were somewhere near.  And I didn't listen to it, and it's always right--I knew it!  I will never ignore that instinct again."

We sat there, silent, in the dark, listening to our own hearts beat in our ears, wishing it wasn't happening so we could hear the outside better.

"Here's what we can do," I suggested.  The Scot and I knew the area already, whereas the Black Irish, Daughter of Elder, and the third woman whom I'll call the Silent Thinker, had seen the area few times before.  "If we go out the way we came in, taking the lane out to the main road, we can just do our normal routine of pretending to be civilians since I still believe the patrol is waiting out there, by the main road we followed in.  Or, we can go out the back way, loop wide around the building, and move through a patch of trees to the beach, which is neutral territory, and then we can re-join the main road some distance up the beach and certainly pass as civilians.  The problem is that if we go and loop around, there is terrible barbed wire that will probably cut us up a little."

Daughter of Elder asked, "What does your gut tell you now?"  She caught me off-guard with the question... I had not yet considered my gut feeling.  I had only just begun weighing the two options.  After a moment, though, that feeling crystallized to some degree and emerged.  "To be honest, my gut says we should loop around and go for the beach."  "If they find us, though, just leaving down the main lane out to the main road, won't we just as easily pass as civilians?  We should hardly be arrested," she said.  "Probably, but civilians on enemy ground are far more suspect than civilians on neutral ground."

We all agreed to go for the beach.  The weightiest factor was probably that my gut feeling had already proven perfectly sharp that night.

I said, "Follow me; we're going to move slow."  I believed that the enemy patrol may still be as close as 20 or 30 feet away, and now we were walking only with small patches of light that the gibbous moon leaked through some of the broken windows, into the hallway that led to our exit--every step on broken plaster or wood fragments worried us... every creak and groan and crack sound was certain to be the one that would give us away.

We moved slowly and deliberately to the exit, looping long around as planned, and then looked as best we could down the lane to see if the patrol was still there.  We could see none, yet we knew that the beach would be the safest bet, even though we would have to pass more guard shacks to get there.  After a brief discussion of options, it was a unanimous vote to continue on the path to the beach.

The guard houses we had to pass were ones we had never even reconned before.  We didn't know if they would have dogs, or if they had automatic trip wire that would illuminate an area where it was activated.  As we moved down a small road toward the beach, between two guard shacks, I stopped them just before we got to the shacks.  My gut was speaking again.  "I have a feeling this area may be rigged with alerts, so I think we should run these last 30 yards to the beach."  There wasn't agreement, but no disagreement.  We ran for it.  The moment we started, I could feel my legs vibrating and going numb as the pain of my conditions shot through my low back and up my right knee.  The truth is that I had been ordered not to run, at all, but if they had known that, I would have been pushing papers in some supply depot somewhere if the word got out... but it went off without a hitch; there were no alerts, no dogs, and no guards saw us.  We were out of harms way for the moment, but deep down, we knew we would face the patrol eventually.  Lady of Elder was attacked by the rare creature on the beach known as the Dock of Prey, but she quickly neutralized it and shook off her pain.  While my own pain was still growing by the second, I masked it with occasional stops in our walk to shift the weight in my body away from the most painful areas.

We came up with a new story since we couldn't use our original cover story due to the area we would be emerging from when the patrol found us.  We batted the details back and forth--discussed what curve balls the patrol might throw our way in any line of questioning.  We molded a plan, whispering as we walked.

After the tension of the previous hour, which included our penetration of enemy lines, strategic reconnaissance  and impromptu escape, I noticed a thing that we had all been ignoring.  "Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers," I said.

The moonlight, so bright then, was just dimmer than a setting sun, casting a wide, white path of ripples on the bay.

We did stop, and look, and admire.  We all know from previous experience that it was these moments that life was made of--these moments, of seeing beauty at a time when the odds wouldn't even have you alive--these moments were the fruit of defying the odds.  The moonlight, on the small waves, was vibrating like a thousand glowing violins moving to the same conductor.  Even in the cold breeze, it was a remarkable and spell-casting sight.  We were stunned by the beauty of the moment in every way.  And then, as commandos do, we marched on to face our fate.

Not two minutes into our walk as civilians down the main road, the patrol spotted and stopped us.  As I saw it approach, I think we all considered finding cover, but I said, "Be calm, and just act normal.  You are entirely within your right to be here right now; you are just civilians, and you know our story."

The pulled near, and questioned us briefly.  We stuck to our story, and while they didn't seem satisfied with it, they didn't have enough reason to waste more time interrogating us.  As we continued on down the road, we told quiet jokes among ourselves, mostly about how ineffective the patrol had been in not finding us, and then in letting us slip right through their hands in plain sight.  It's hard not to joke about it--it's entirely unbelievable.  But it happened.

Those four commandos went on their way in their vehicle and I went mine after some chat about the war and other odds and ends.  While I don't believe in destiny or predetermined futures, I couldn't help but find the strangest irony in this night.  As I rode my super-stealth scooter back down the road to return to my base, I remembered thinking back to when I said, "Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers..." That sentence reverberated in my head, mesmerizing me even as I rode down the road, thinking back to saying it while seeing the moonlight.  "Smell the flowers..." and it was in that instant that I ran over an already dead skunk in the road, which made my scooter smell just like him, even after extensive washing.

Was it a balance?  Was it required that if one got to smell roses one night, he would have to smell a skunk on the same night?  Is the price for moments of beauty simply moments of ugliness?  I don't know, but it seemed like more than chance was at work that night for the five of us.  There seemed to be an unplanned perfection in it.  Those are the nights people remember for a lifetime, where the full range of the senses is employed, the full range of emotions crosses through the heart and mind, and the full meaning of the utter simplicity in existence gongs like a church bell in the highest tower... that night was a symphony of flawless effort and perfect balance that I was happy to have conducted, for a little while, back in WWII.

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