"The Stake"

"The Stake"

As told by Wayne Walker



                           The platoon had been moving slowly down the blue line all morning. The PFC felt alert

 and strong, the rucksack was no longer so much a burden as a part of him. He intently scanned the far

 bank of the small mountain stream to his left. He had learned long ago not to day dream, but he could

 not help being amazed at the absence of trout. He had bathed, shaved and drank from these cold, clear,

 bubbling creeks for month's now. He had turned over rocks and noticed the abundant insect larvae,

 seen the chubs and shiners, but never a single trout. 

                The column came to a silent halt, two meter spacing maintained. The troop in front of the PFC

        turned to his right and whispered to take a break while the point team checked out an intersecting

       trail. He turned to his left, passed the message back, looked sharply at a spot beside the trail and

        swung his ruck quietly down on that spot, sat on the sack, pulled out a can of peaches he had been

      saving and opened it without ever looking away from the far creek bank.

               The Platoon Sergeant moved up from his position near the rear of the column and whispered that

      he wanted to check out the other side of the creek and that the PFC would come with him. The PFC

     drank off the peach juice and followed the sergeant across the stream and up the bank. A few more steps

     and they found themselves in a Viet Cong base camp that appeared abandoned for about a week. The

     jungle ground vegetation was still trampled flat, twisted vines that had been used as hammock ties still

     attached to the trees. The PFC stood watch in the center of the camp as the sergeant explored the

     area. When the sergeant found the kitchen area with it's clever underground chimneys to absorb and

     dissipate the cooking smoke, the PFC entered a small brushy area that had not been cleared.

           There was a little curved path into the brushy area. Watching for trip wires and dug up spots he took

     a few steps. He noticed the whitened stake and the hard stare of deep set eyes at the same moment. He

     jolted backwards tripping on vines as his right thumb jabbed for, and missed, the M-16 safety, pulling

    uselessly on the trigger as the muzzle swept up the stake to the white unmoving face. The jungle brush

    stopped his fall and pushed him back upright. He looked into the cold stare of death, close enough to

    reach out and touch.

         He stood a moment to calm his breathing, almost enjoying, this time, the heartbeat hammering in his

    ears. The skin of the head on a stake had pulled back from the face, giving the skull a grinning

    expression as if it were laughing at the PFC's sudden fright. Could it be a POW, an MIA? The delicate

    cheekbones, small brow ridges, and short straight black hair clearly indicated it was an Oriental. There

    was a small pile of black cloth at the base of the stake, perhaps there would be dog tags or even a wallet.

     He tugged gently at the cloth and was startled again when two huge iridescent beetles ran out. They

    scampered across the leaf litter, their carapaces flashing crimson and lime and blue in the sunbeams.

        The PFC went back to the sergeant who was still happily exploring the kitchen area. Speaking aloud he

    said Sarge, we got to get back, they will be moving out soon. This time the PFC led the way.

       He sat back on his rucksack , finished the peaches, and lit a damp, bent Marlboro. As he smoked his

    gaze wandered from the bank to the dancing water. Looking through the water to the clean gravel bed, he

     dreamt of Brook Trout flashing in the sunbeams.