He didn’t know why it surprised him that there was no snow or that he hadn’t yet seen a Mountie, but he was glad to have finally crossed the border, albeit through the dense forest with one hill leading to a mountain that lead to another valley. He was so tired, the sweat making his clothes stick to his skin, the salt dripping into the many scratches he’d gotten while running and hiding among the trees and bushes. It was worth it to him; there was no way he was ever going back as long as they expected him to go and die, or worse, come back looking like some of his older brother’s friends. His father could call him selfish and a traitor all he wanted, but there was no way that Christopher Egeto was going off to fight in some crazy war that was killing and maiming all the young men on his block. Hell, forget about his block—it was killing most of the young men in the country. He wondered, as he made his way through the forest running parallel to the deserted Canadian highway, if he’d ever know just how many teenagers had been killed in Vietnam.
Of course, he reminded himself over and over as he kept hoping for some sign of a hotel or a deserted barn, there probably wasn’t much hope in finding the truth, and there probably wasn’t much hope of finding a hotel either. He decided to abandon all hope of a hotel and concentrate on finding some sort of farm where he might be able to hide out in the barn. He looked for the telltale little inroads that usually indicated a farm. At least, they did back home, but he’d never been to Canada before and he wasn’t real sure how they did things up here. He felt foolish for making such a spur of the moment decision, but things at home had gotten too heated, his dad checking on him all the time, making sure he was still planning on honoring the commitment he’d made. He’d tried to explain it all to his father, but it was no use. There was no way the old man would ever understand—his father had fought in World War II, his grandfather in World War I, and it was just a given that all three of his sons would make the same kind of sacrifice and fight in Vietnam if they were called. And Chris had done what was expected of him, just as he’d always done. He’d enlisted, signed all the papers, and was now a deserter, although he’d never shown up for official duty and had never even been through basic. There was no way he was ever going back. So, with little more than fifty bucks in his pocket, a hastily packed rucksack, and a lot of guilt for leaving his momma like he did, Chris found himself alone in a foreign country, wondering if he hadn’t made the biggest mistake of his life.
It was probably due to these feelings of self-pity that he didn’t see the sheer drop that came up on him so suddenly. His ankle screamed as he felt it twist beneath him, and his rucksack fell off his shoulder and beat him to the bottom of the little ravine that seemed endless. He put his hands out to brace himself as he rolled, trying to protect his face, but he felt the knuckles of his left hand slap into his nose. It probably wasn’t broken, but he was sure that there would be plenty of blood. Great. He sighed as he came to a stop in a little gulley. Something else to attract the wild animals. Do they have coyotes and bears up here? He took a minute to get his bearings before trying to stand on his ankle. His lungs were incapable of holding in the scream before his spine registered the million pinpricks that shot through his leg. There was no way he was going to be able to walk on that, not without help anyway. And if he’d cursed out loud like he’d wanted to, he wouldn’t have heard the snap and pop of the twigs just beyond where his rucksack had landed.
Wondering how he was going to be able to defend himself in his condition, he tried to stand up and hop toward the copse of trees off to his right, hoping that he’d be able to climb the closest tree before whatever was coming got to him. He’d only made it a couple of yards before his ankle started screaming again, the sweat plastering the hair to his head. He could feel a slight breeze in the July air, but it wasn’t enough to cool his heated skin. And for the first time since he’d begun his journey, Chris thought he might actually die anyway. Fucking ironic, he thought with some disdain. Won’t die in Vietnam, but in some stupid Canuck forest a couple hundred miles from home.
“Who’s out there?”