Tag: Burma Road Novel Excerpts

The Burma Road, a novel, Chapter 37, “Bye Bye, Lucky” (Excerpt 4)

It’s September 1st 1945, and we’ve been hearing rumors that surra, a contagious blood disease, has broken out among the herd.  I worry about my mule Lucky, but no one knows what’s going on.  There’s talk of a new drug being developed stateside that could be used, but all I’m hearing is gossip, nothing’s for sure.

We’re eating lunch, and Sarge comes into the mess hall and orders us to the corral.  “Chow time’s over, assholes, get there on the double!”  His face is scrunched up and he seems really pissed.  I wonder if it has something to do with Lucky.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Just the same old shit,” he snarls.  “Those mules never hurt anyone.”

“What?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he snarls.  “Get over to the corral, now.  Move it!”

Bradson, Holt, and me gather our stuff and head out, but I’ve got a bad feeling. When we arrive, the veterinary officers are gathered at the front.  There’s about fifty of us just standing around.

Finally, a sergeant speaks.  “The animals are sick.  They got a blood disorder and it’s spreading quickly.  We’ve been collaborating with Chinese Combat Command, executing a strict program of testing and isolation.  But we just got word to destroy them.”

My heart stops.  Shit!  I hope Lucky’s not sick.

“Your orders,” the officer continues, “are to herd them to the gorge.  We’re gonna slaughter ‘em there.”

 Nausea passes through me.  Not again, I think.  When will this killing stop?  I’m sick of burying the ones I love.

Bradson just grins.  “Sounds like fun!  How’re we gonna waste ‘em?”

I glare at him.

“Gonna blow the mountains above the gorge.  It’ll crush the mules and bury them in the rubble.”

I’m stunned by the brutality.  This must be what’s eating Sarge.  He’s an ass, that’s a given, but that prickly cactus he calls a heart’s got some feeling.  And he should be mad; slaughtering these mules is just wrong.  “That’s not right, killing them,” I whisper to Holt.  “They’re as valuable as us gunners.  Shows no respect!”

Holt nods, his face white with shock.

This is unbelievable!  I think.  How can they give us these orders?

Bradson just spits.  “You morons don’t know how to have fun,” he says, nastily.  “This is gonna be one helluva mission!”

“Yeah, one helluva mission all right!”  I’m so furious I could deck him.  This is insane, I’m filled with rage—fuming like a one-legged cock losing its fight.

The sergeant isn’t finished.  “We’ve got our demolition crew out there now, setting the charges.  Orders are to get the sick mules over to the gorge.  Make it snappy!”

About an hour later, we’re standing at the bottom of the canyon with close to two hundred mules.  The steep, rocky cliffs surround us, and I shudder.  My stomach’s as tight as a fist.  I look up. The mountainsides are riddled with TNT.  Killed me when I found out Lucky’s one of the sick ones, but according to the vet’s diagnosis she’s got the disease.  I refuse to believe it.  “I’m so sorry, babe,” I whisper in her ear. “I’d give anything to save you.”

Holt looks over with wet eyes.  He seems to know what I’m feeling.  It’s only natural.  Been caring for our mules eighteen months.

Sarge must’ve seen this coming.  But if he knew they were going to kill them, he would’ve tried to stop it.  Failing to make a difference must be what’s eating him.

I look down at Lucky and my heart sinks.  She senses something’s up; she’s pulling on her tether and braying loudly.  Every pitiful whine shatters me.

“Hurry up!” a high-flown sergeant orders.  He tells us to secure our mules with the makeshift shackles we’ve fashioned. 

My hand shakes as I tie Lucky down and give her one last pat. “So long, angel,” I whisper, and I scramble up the mountainside.

After we’ve all gathered at a safe distance, the demolition crew blows both sides of the pass.  The sound is deafening as rubble thunders down.  I smell dust as it rises from the gorge, while boulders crush the helpless mules.   Debris thrusts into the air, then settles back to the rocks below.  A hard, tight mass fills me as I realize Lucky’s gone, and my already broken heart rips open once again.

“Holy shit, that’s a sight!” Bradson whoops.

I clutch my fist to keep from smashing it in his face.  He’s such a bastard! I just want to deck him!  Then, my anger’s too strong, and I aim my fist, slamming him with a solid one-two punch.  It lands smack in the face, and knocks him flat.  He quickly palms his bloody eye. Gonna have a bruiser, that’s for sure.  But the asshole deserves every purple inch.

Bradson’s furious and gets up, grabs me by the shoulders, and pummels me.

I taste blood as it streaks down my face, but I blast him again with ferocious venom.

He doubles over. “Gonna kill you, cocksucker!”

Holt squeezes in between us.  “Cut the crap!”

But we’re still pushing hard to get at each other, with Holt stuck in the middle. “I said cut the goddamn crap!” he screams.  He’s so loud my ears hurt.  “We’ll get thrown in the brig, you assholes!”

I finally step away, look Bradson right in his swollen eye, and scowl.  “Tell me you don’t deserve that!”   

He thrusts his body at me, and is just about to hand me another knuckle sandwich when he stops, spits, and glares out his bloody eye.  He swallows hard, then takes a step backwards.  “Okay, okay, I give up!  I know how it was with you and that mangy beast.  It’s a tough break, Holloway.  I get it.”  And with that, he storms off.

Holt’s just standing next to me staring down at the jumble of rocks below and shaking.  “We’re always burying someone,” he sputters.  “I’m sick of it, just fucking sick!


© 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.

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.


The Burma Road, a novel, Chapter 27, “Midway to Namhpakka” (Excerpt 2)

I’m with my friends BJ and Bradson.  We’re in B Company, part of the 475th Infantry Regiment, also known as the Mars Task Force—a special long-range penetration outfit.  We’re on our way to Namhpakka, marching up a narrow elephant trail through the Burmese mountains.  The endless path switches back and forth and rises through rough rock until I’m dizzy.  Our column pushes forward relentlessly, like a powerful train on a track carved from granite.

We’re about halfway up, and I gaze over the side.  It’s a huge drop—further than three Empire State Buildings! 

BJ trembles as he grabs my arm and franticly points a quarter-mile ahead where C Company is making their way up the steep incline.  “Check out Silver’s mule!” he shouts.

I look up and see Private Silver struggling, anxiously grasping the mule’s tail, holding on for all he’s worth, but the spooked animal is in a crazed battle with the tight pass.  It fights wildly, scuffling out of control on the cramped ledge.  Suddenly, it charges ahead, pulling Silver behind like a tethered dog.  The soldier hangs on desperately, as his panicked mule stumbles, plunges forward, then skyrockets right off the cliff.

I’m stunned. We’re left here standing in the quiet, listening to rubble scuttle over the bluff.  The smell of hot, flying dust is thick in the air.  None of us can speak.  Then my heart flips to my gut as I realize Silver just fell 2,500 feet to his death.

“Mother Fucker!”  Bradson croaks, his eyes wide with terror.

We stop to refocus.  I grit my teeth and swallow the vomit that’s exploded in my mouth.  I turn and look at my buddies—their faces ashen.  It’s a few minutes before I can think. Silver’s gone.  Any optimism I felt about victory in Namhpakka crashed down that cliff with him.  I’m definitely up against two formidable foes: the Japs and this savage terrain.  But there’s no time to mourn.  We’re soon scaling the trail again.  We move forward, braving the torturous switchbacks that crisscross the mountain in one long, monotonous train.

Got to make bivouac before dark, I think.  Or I’ll be navigating blind.  I can’t get Silver’s dying out of my head.  It keeps replaying in my mind over and over.  This place’s a swarming viper’s nest.  But orders are clear: Keep going ‘til we reach Namhpakka—then crush those Nips and take Burma Road.



© 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.

The Burma Road, a novel, Chapter 13, “Sweet Goodbyes” (Excerpt 1)

Georgie sure loves to dance!  Said his lil’ sis taught him when they were in junior high.  She’d pull him into their parlor and show him all the latest moves.  She’s a real hoofer. When she learned the Jitterbug she took him to the center of the room where Georgie pulled up the carpet and they bounced and slid across that hardwood floor like it were ice.  He’s no dud; his sis talked him into entering a local contest and they took first prize.  He’s won dozens of trophies, and he’s the real deal—I’ve seen him dance, he tears up the floor!

     I take a drag on my cig and notice Emmy Lou’s walking over to me.  She looks real hot, with her shiny black curls hanging down and her blue gown shimmering.  Just last week I told her blue’s my favorite color.  She’s the bees knees tonight, with a big purple sash around her waist—can’t miss how tiny she is.  I could put both hands around, and still have them touch.  Yeah, Emmy Lou is one sweet honey! 

     “You look swell,” I say, as she slips her arm through mine.  I lead us over to where Cab Calloway is singing.  His band is playing Jumpin’ Jive, and the place is packed.  Georgie’s smack dab in the middle of the floor, and he’s got a real looker with him.  She’s all red hair and wearing a pink satin dress.  It falls down her knees with a huge round skirt that floats like a parachute.  She’s a flashing neon sign, I think, as she swirls like a bright comet toward us.

     A circle’s formed around them, and we have to shove our way through.  “He’s really something,” I say.  “The crowd’s going bonkers!”

     Just then, Georgie swings the redhead in our direction, jumping and jiving like a live wire. 

     “Check out that skirt,” Emmy Lou gushes.  “It’s flared out like a big pink umbrella!”  She’s got her arm laced through mine, close and cozy, and she‘s swaying to the music.  “Love how he holds her—even while he’s flying.  Look!”

     Suddenly, Georgie jumps sky high and does this huge horse-leap.  It’s like he’s got wings!  The crowd explodes and claps thunderously.

      “Holy Mackerel, he’s good!”

      I smile and nod.  “I’ve seen that move before.  It’s what he calls his Gambado—won a lot of contests with that.  He’s a real pro.” 

     The crowd’s still applauding.  Georgie’s redhead stops dancing, runs her hand through her hair, and drawls, “Well, I’ll be!”  Then she grabs his hand and finishes off the dance with a kick.  Cab beams down at us from the stage where he’s had a bird’s eye view of this amazing performance.

     “That pistol sure can dance!” Sarge says, as he leads his gal Betty over to us.  Sarge is usually stingy with compliments and nothing seems to impress him.  But I can see he thinks Georgie aced it with that Jitterbug.  “I’m electrified,” he says, as he pulls out a cig.  “That was one dynamite stunt.”

Meanwhile, the band strikes up a new song.  Cab Calloway, the Hi-De-Ho man, is energetically singing “St. James Infirmary”You can feel the music in your veins it’s so liquid.  I grab Emmy Lou and take her out on the floor to dance.

     I hold her close and feel jolts of desire, she’s just so perfect.  I’m crushing her against me and swaying to the music.

     “We should really be taking lessons from him,” I say, nodding at Georgie.

     Emmy Lou smiles and throws her arms around me, pulling me close. “You’re not too bad yourself, private.  You give a gal a good run for her money.”

     My cheeks grow warm.  I love to dance, but I know there are better dancers, like Georgie.  But Emmy Lou is like syrup in my arms—and just as sweet.  I could dance with her until the sun comes up, and then some. 

     The song ends, and I can’t think of anything to say, so I just hold her close.  She’s driving me crazy.  All I can think about is how good she smells.  “You’re fresh like lilacs,” I say, as I lightly brush her arms.   

     She smiles up at me.  I’m almost a head taller, and she snuggles right under my chin.  I’m so in tune with her that I could stay locked like this, just moving rhythmically, until the band goes home.  I can’t believe we’re breaking camp tomorrow.  I don’t know when I’ll get to hold Emmy Lou again.  This fucking war is just bad timing, why’d I have to fall in love now?  It’ll be forever before I get back to Tulsa. 

She tucks her head on my shoulder and I whisper, “Goodbye, angel.”  I shiver, and get an eerie feeling this’ll be the last time I’ll see Emmy Lou, but I quickly brush the thought aside.  The music stops playing, and I take a deep breath and promise myself I’ll be back when the Allies have their victory.  Emmy Lou’s my reason for living, I’ll hold her again when we win this damn war.


© 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.