On entering the building, ‘M’ passed through the remaining rifle in his possession, together with all the ammunition he had acquired, through a food hatch, an aperture that was positioned centrally in each cell door. The recipient of this mini-arsenal, a tall but gaunt, deeply undernourished Australian serviceman, immediately grabbed the firearm and bullets and roused the others that shared his cell – then loudly yelled to ‘M’ to stand well back, he intended to blow the door- lock with the rifle now in his control – he duly did so, the noise that emitted from the weapon was ear-shattering, to say little of the wood splinters, dust and debris that completely enveloped the entire area. ‘M’ screamed to the Australian personal that two more weapons lay on the ground just outside – together with the bunch of keys that he had dropped whilst racing to the prison building – the keys remained on the dusty surface – but the guns were soon in the possession of the now, semi-liberated Antipodean prisoners – then, all hell broke loose. ‘M’ opted to remain within the cellblock during the inevitable conflict that transpired outside – more scared than he had ever been during the course of his lifetime – he then vomited and retched repeatedly, not knowing what was occurring only feet from where he lay – he remained in his crouched position for over 8 hours, only lifting himself when silence was absolute – when the gunfire had subsided and no hint of voices could be heard from the outside of his fragile sanctuary.
As he reluctantly exited the cellblock, the full moon gave off an iridescence of floodlight magnitude, enabling ‘M’ to scan most of the camp landscape with relative visual ease. Scattered across the central area of the encampment, lay a number of dead bodies, seven of which were the Laotian/Vietcong guards, plus that of the cook, he being quite dead, sustaining bullet wounds to both the head and chest regions of his anatomy – yet, still brandishing a steely machete, tightly clenched in his right hand, defiant even in death. The other cadavers that lay strewn across the central ground, approximately fifteen in total, were those of the inmates who had, through utter exhaustion, failed to reach freedom, some dying from bullet wounds, the majority from lacerations received to their emaciated frames from machete’s and sharpened knives various.
As ‘M’ attempted to count the dead that surrounded him, primarily to ascertain how many had actually survived the forlorn escape bid, he detected movement to his immediate right, some ten yards from his position, in the flickering light from under a tree – he caught sight of one of the presumed Vietcong dead, moving – and groaning as he did so. ‘M’ approached the fallen guard and bent down to recover a pistol that was positioned only inches from the dying man. He then raised the weapon and placed its barrel into the open mouth of his former captor – and pulled the trigger – he never handled a firearm again.
Oddly as it may seem to those of us who have never endured such bestial viciousness, ‘M’ confessed to me that he was overcome with hunger pangs of no equal; and this only moments after the ‘mercy’ killing of the guard – he was a different specimen now, hardened beyond compare, with his family ‘gone’, as with his home and small holding far in the south destroyed – and utterly alone in a world that had seemingly forgotten him – he was also starving – nourishment was now the priority – he then stealthily moved in the direction of the camp kitchen.
‘M’ consumed the remains of rice in the bowls of the surprised and now deceased guards, contained within these wooden containers was evidence of some meat ingredient – snake he suspected – yet, the hot spice that infused the cooked animal flesh in question – and despite the fact that this source of nutrient was stone cold, ‘M’ devoured every grain of rice and each sinew of meat that was now freely available to him – the net result of ingesting such a plethora of food led to more vomiting – with his deflated stomach unable to cope with the windfall of sustenance that had descended into the lower reaches of his digestive system – food brought a continuance of life – but over-indulgence to a deprived belly nearly brought death – an ambiguous irony of no parallel – but distressful reality nonetheless.
He then drank copiously from a substantial, natural reserve of water, that of which the Vietcong had been using to quench their thirst, and then storing the liquid that trickled from a jungle chamber of porous rock in both metal and stone containers – bodily scrubbing for the Vietcong militia however, being addressed solely by the availability of a nearby stream, without soap or any other bodily cleaning aid to cleanse – this measure denying the enemy to determine the precise location of Vietcong legions, those strategically deployed deep within the rain forest environment.
Surrounded by dead bodies that now totaled no less that fifty, ‘M’ nevertheless opted to remain within the confines of the kitchen until dawn, then make a break southwards, once again through the thick vegetation and undergrowth that he had been dragged through by the Pathet Lao militia, several months before – the Vietcong, in his opinion, would all too soon, descend on the camp and restore the former stronghold, wiping out those who did not subscribe, or fit the communist credo – how astute he was.
Come day-break, ‘M’ speedily embarked on a task to prolong his life, just a little longer, by firstly stripping the shirt, trousers and footwear from a deceased, yet surprisingly, easily manipulative guard, one who had either passed through the rigor mortis stage prematurely – or one that had succumbed to death considerably later than ‘M’ had originally determined.
Once adorned in his ‘fresh’ attire, ‘M’ plucked a fly-infested, headless chicken from a rusty hook that overhung the food preparation area – then enclosed the long-dead bird within a composition of green leaves and thick grasses that sprouted abundantly throughout the forest – held together by the laces of the footwear of a fallen Vietcong soldier – the same of which enabled him to craft a satchel to place across his shoulder – thus allowing for the conveyance of a small quantity of water – he may have been dying – but he was not yet dead!
As he quietly and respectively tip-toed over the many deceased that greeted his every step en-route to the camp egress, ‘M’ faced an abhorrent and undeniable truth in that he was the only one to come out of it all alive.