Wei of the Swamp
Sweat ran in rivulets as Wei Tsu Tin struggled forward fighting the waist-deep water and dense undergrowth of the Okefenokee swamp. Not an inch of Wei’s skin was dry. The areas of deep folds and tight crevices were starting to chafe. As he peeled yet another leech off of his arm, the general cursed the ancestors of the Americans that he and his troops were chasing deeper and deeper into the swamp. Then he cursed all Americans as well as their “free” country. Where were the riches that he had been promised? Where were the assets to be recovered for Wei’s own homeland. How would these backwater savages ever repay their debt?
A shout rang out at the front of the formation interrupting Wei’s thoughts. An American had been spotted in the distance.
“Should we follow, sir?” asked Wei’s second-in-command.
Wei gave the question careful consideration. Once again, intelligence had been sketchy. Wei had photographs, taken by a remotely controlled drone, that showed activity around a series of huts in the general direction that he and his troops had been traveling, but hard evidence had been lacking. Hard evidence had been lacking for this entire American campaign, Wei lamented.
“Find some dry ground and send two scouts to track the American”, Wei ordered.
Wei’s second-in-command saluted and sloshed off to provide instructions to his platoon leaders.
Dry ground was a rare commodity in the Okefenokee. There were occasional meadows between the tens of thousands of acres of swamp water, but they were few and far between. The general’s second-in-command and his platoon leaders consulted the map of the swamp. Based on the map, there was a meadow only a few hundred yards to the north-northeast – nearly opposite the direction the scouts needed to go.
Wei’s number two gave the scouts their orders and then ordered the platoon leaders to turn toward the meadow.
Wei sighed in anticipated relief as his troops set out in the direction of what he hoped would be dry ground.
While the four platoons turned northward, the two scouts moved as quickly and quietly as they could trying to pick up the trail of the swamp-dweller spotted minutes before.
The swamp-dweller watched as these maneuvers unfolded. The northward movement of the main body puzzled him momentarily until he recalled that a relatively dry meadow lay in that direction. The realization amused him somewhat. It would take hours, perhaps even days, before the Chinese troops’ leather boots and heavy cotton uniforms would dry out. The swamp veteran could imagine the raw spots already rubbed near bloody from the chafing of wet clothing against skin unfamiliar with swamp water.
The two scouts were now moving in the direction of the American observer. He slowed his breathing and held absolutely still as they passed within a few feet of his hiding place. Once they had passed, the American observed as the two cut back and forth for sign.
“They’re not entirely without skills,” he thought to himself.
As the pair of Chinese troops worked themselves deeper into the swamp, the lone American picked up their trail. They moved like men much more accustomed to marching in formation than navigating difficult terrain. As they cast back and forth for sign, they followed a rigid zig-zag pattern virtually oblivious to the natural flow of the swamp and its terrain.
The American drew closer as the Chinese scouts became more engrossed and confused. They stopped briefly to talk and then began working their way back in the direction from which they had come.
The wily swamp rat watched for a moment, projecting the movements of his quarry. Their pattern was so unvaried that he could predict their movements several dozen yards ahead. Like a six-foot snake, the American glided quietly through the water and tree roots ahead of the man closest to him. There would be a spot, when the two scouts were farthest apart, that one could be taken without alerting the other. He took a breath and ducked under the water.
Suddenly and without warning, the first scout was dragged under the water. Steely hands and sinewy arms slithered around him like the death grip of a giant constrictor snake. He fought and struggled to get his head above water … to catch a breath … to fill his lungs with air … to fight. The swamp-dweller drug the Chinese scout to the bottom like a gator drowning a deer. Once they reached the bottom of the shallow swamp, the American’s weight shifted, his legs wrapped around the U.N. soldier like a wrestler going for a submission and then the scout’s neck snapped. His body went limp as the life and fight drained into the pungent waters of the swamp.
The American quietly surfaced for a breath. As he wiped the water from his eyes he saw the second scout zagging back in his direction. Once again, the man who had lived as a boy in the swamp slipped beneath the surface of the water and moved softly and silently in a new direction. He wanted the second scout alive.