The Burma Road, a novel, Chapter 24, “The Shweli Slide” (Excerpt 3)

It’s pure luck we’re crossing the mountains during the dry season. But our fortune changed, and we hit a freak storm. It’s been three days of constant showers. Thank God it’s no monsoon, but the rains have been so close together nothing has a chance to dry. We’re making our way to Mong Wi, and we need to get down this mountain to the east side of the Shweli River. But it’s a nightmare of a mud slide, and I have no idea how we’ll do it.

“This grade’s too steep,” Sarge says, frowning. “We’re gonna have to dig some steps.”

We all groan.

“Why the hell are we always first?” Bradson whines. “Those bastards in H-Squad don’t have to do a thing. We bust our buns cutting stairs, and all they have to do is climb ‘em.”

“Shut your trap, asshole,” Sarge glares, then turns to the rest of us. “Get your machetes and shovels out. I want to see pretty little rungs down the side of this damned mountain. Pronto! No more bitching.”

Bradson clamps up and starts chopping at the mud, his machete hacking up big clumps. We’re all working hard, but the mountain’s covered in slime, and we’re skidding around like greased pigs.

Suddenly, Bradson loses his footing and lands hard on his butt. He slips down the incline, building speed as he falls. Jabbing his shovel into the mountain to break pace, he groans, but the tool cracks in half as he continues to slide. Finally, he reaches bottom and tumbles right into the river. He stands up, shakes the water from his clothes, and spits.

“He looks really pissed,” I say, as he stares up at us, glaring.

We’re whooping with laughter—the sight of him skimming the mountainside on his ass was funnier than a Bob Hope comic routine.

BJ looks down at his wrist, pretending to be an Olympic judge with a stop watch.  “Private William Bradson has graced us with one beautifully maneuvered ass-dive down Shweli Slide, breaking the standing record in just one minute, fifteen seconds.”

“Give that donkey prick the gold,” I say. “He’s got great form.”

“Don’t forget the deduction for a broken shovel,” Sarge adds. “Too bad, it was almost a perfect performance.”

We all howl as Bradson wrings out his shirt. He’s not thrilled.

“Back to work,” Sarge says with a big smirk.  “You cocksuckers had your fun, now build my stairs.”

After about two hours of backbreaking effort, the steps are done. We’ve climbed down to the river, and are waiting for the rest of the troops to join us. But it’s a real rodeo, like having front seats at the local hockey game, as we watch the squads gingerly make their way down. It’s still pretty slippery, even with the steps we built, especially with a mule in tow. After about seven units climb down, the path is soggy again, and the men are sliding in the thick mud. H-Squad’s Sergeant Gray is at the top, mouthing off at his squad and waving a shovel in the air.

“Looks like H-Squad is gonna have some fun rebuilding our stairs,” I say, as I realize what the sergeant wants from his men. I’m happy, seeing their predicament. It’s not fair we have to be the only ones battling the mountainside. Those bastards need to share the burden.

“Serves ‘em right,” Bradson snorts. “They’re always cashing in on our hard work. It’s time they sweat like the rest of us.”

Just then, a mule-skinner leading his charge down the steps loses his footing. He lets go of the halter-shank and tumbles down the mountain, landing drenched from head to toe at the river’s edge. His mule, still fully loaded, is squatting on all fours and sliding down behind him. She flops completely over on her back, legs kicking, but miraculously finds footing and straightens up again.

“Well, I’ll be damned if that ain’t one graceful critter,” BJ drawls.

The mule then makes her way back down the trail in one piece, with the heavy load still intact.

“Gotta love my Molly,” the fallen mule-skinner says with great affection.  “Always lands on her feet, no matter what.” He walks over, adjusts her pack, and scratches her ear.

“Kind of like Bradson here,” BJ jokes.  “Only he always lands on his ass.

We all laugh, as Bradson stares back at us, fuming. He loves to dish it out, but can’t take it!

“All right, girlies,” Sarge orders. “Get to work! We got a bloody bridge to build!”

 

© 2019 Jeanne M. Halloran, all rights reserved

No portion of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or use of any information storage and retrieval system, without express written permission from the author.

 

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