Day Destroys the Night
The night is moonless and dark with the stars doing little more than separating earth from sky. Daybreak isn't far off; he knows this just as he's always known it would storm just by the changes in the air. It is the voices, though, the whispered instructions continuously repeating that keep him running. A new day and he has been running for hours - days - and still it doesn't stop.
Breath is rasping through clenched teeth and his world is nothing but a green, gray and black blur. Quatre ducks through a thick growth, heading south by southeast. Always south and east. Moss grows on the north side of rocks and trees. A faint voice in memory says and Quatre wants to giggle. "No rocks. Too many trees." His voice surprises him and he stumbles. Too weary to stop the fall, the ground is hard and pain explodes above his right eye and on his forearm below his left elbow.
He rolls onto his back, breath coming in gulping pants. Too loud, he knows but death is almost welcome, now. A star seems to be winking at him, but fades from sight too quickly. In numbness, his mind works for more than a minute to acknowledge the light was a plane. And then he wonders why it flew with lights on and if it's one of theirs or the VC.
There is a scampering rustle, and Quatre holds his breath, stills all movement to listen. Sounds of pursuit have faded a long time before, but he knows they still follow. They always follow. He has escaped, gotten away from the camp just as the lieutenant said he would. The lieutenant.
The voice is back, harsh and clipped, demanding he be on his feet and for a moment, he's back in Leonardwood and is instantly standing. But that is months - years - ago. His feet begin to move, no longer running but the shuffling walk keeps him propelled. "South southeast. Moss," he mutters through cracked lips. A knot forms above his eye and the pain distracts for less than a second. "4827...62125, USMC Davidson..." Twenty-six names, twenty-six ranks, twenty-six serial numbers and he is reciting them, repeating the constant whisper that threads its way in his head.
Daylight is high overhead, and he is lying flat to the ground. His nose is partly filled with mud and the stink of a paddy is thick in the air. Quatre opens his eyes, blinking against the light. A bug flies into sight, alights on his cheek; its wings are a glossy, shimmering speck in the corner of his eye. His thirst is a living thing, though, and he is crawling his way to the edge of the paddy. Mud oozes between his fingers, coats his clothing and skin.
It is the sudden stillness, the silence of birds and bugs and absence of noise that warns him. He slips silently between the growing shoots, and lays as flat as he can among them, his eyes searching the shore in frantic bursts. There is movement, slight but deadly, and Quatre spots it and lowers his head deeper into the water. The lone soldier is joined by another, both dressed in worn khaki and carry rifles. Both are crouching down in the reeds, but while one fills their canteens, the other watches.
A fly, large and black, lands on the exposed bit of skin of Quatre's nose. Quatre closes his eyes against the pain of the bite. His eyes are watering and the sting becomes stronger. A minute, maybe more, passes, and Quatre opens his eyes. The fly is still there, but the soldiers are not. He raises his head slowly, waits for his ears to clear and listens as background of insect noise resumes.
His hand flashes, flinging an arc of water in the air. The fly falls into the drink, dead.
Quatre drinks again from the paddy, and only when his thirst is saturated does he climb the levy. He is on his feet once again, and running is easier. Time is immaterial. And still he runs.
South by southeast.