Weeks passed in what was like a blur. Soon, months had passed. It’s funny how people say that time passes quicker when we are happy, and just an hour seems like forever when you’re stressed or disappointed or just plain unhappy. This wasn’t true for me. I desperately wished for some general in the army to rebel against the Great Leader and bring down his regime, but there was no sign of that happening. We continued to see patrol cars along the roads, and when they passed we had to duck away as quickly as possible, hopefully to avoid being seen.
Once, I was with Toby at the cabins, because we needed new boxes of matchsticks. We heard a patrol car coming by, but we didn’t hide soon enough, and soldiers soon poured out of the car in pursuit. Toby and I had ran for our lives; we knew we couldn’t head back to the tents, for if we did it spelt doom for the whole group, and luckily we knew the area far better than the soldiers. We managed to find some bushes to hide behind as the soldiers went past us. It had been a close call.
But the soldiers were not much of a worry to us now. Instead, there weren’t much to worry about. Food, although rather repetitive, was secured; shelter was certainly not a problem. Our clothing were wearing down and were becoming little more than rags, after months of wearing (and they weren’t used softly; we were always trekking the hills and walking through rough ground), but I didn’t really care. It wasn’t a fashion show, anyway. No one in the group really cared about their outward appearance. A minor annoyance was the fact that the small waterfall and pond was farther away, and because the girls would go bath first, then the boys, on some busy days it was nightfall before I had a shower, and I did not have a chance to go and have a relaxing dip in the pool. Still, it was hardly a pressing issue.
The only thing that recked my mind was the fact that I had no idea how long it would be before I could return to a normal way of life. (And by normal, I mean running electricity, back at home, democracy restored, attending school). There was no clear path for the future, no clear end to the madness and chaos that had befallen on the country. I gritted my teeth, both because of that unpleasant thought and because of the fact that I was becoming terribly bored of eating canned fish. Although sometimes we had fresh fish, canned fish still formed the majority of the meals.
In a bad mood, I decided to sleep early that day. I disappeared into my tent. Half an hour later I emerged from it again, heading for our own self-dug toilet pit that stank. It was placed away from the tents, and when I went in I always felt like barfing. I certainly miss the civilized toilet.
When I came out, I thought that I could hear footsteps. I suddenly froze and reached to my back for the bamboo spear. No one in the group went around without a spear strapped to the back anymore. We had became that cautious. It was a moonless night and I could hardly see. I did not bring a flashlight with me. I swore silently. If a tiger pounced on me during this time, I could hardly defend myself. I would be dead.
The footsteps took a very long time before they became louder. It was not gradual, as if whoever (or whatever) was walking thought that I could not hear him, and wanted to make a silent approach to me. Good luck with that, the ground was covered with brown leaves that made a crunching sound when you walked over them.
“Who’s there?” I called out. There was no answer.
Or was it a supernatural thing? I thanked myself for having emptied my bladder. If I had not, it would have already released.
If it was a ghost…I did not want to even confront the idea. I wanted to run, but it seemed like my legs were nearly paralyzed. I could only move in small steps. I’d heard tales of ghosts that haunted the forests at night, even stories of how some people have came into the national park to find dead, decapitated people lying on the ground. I had doubted the legends, but no longer. The wind was blowing, and the trees started to shake and shudder. In such a night, anything could happen. The footsteps became louder as the leaves were crunched, and suddenly the sounds were much closer to each other.
I decided to try to head back to the camp.
It was at this time when someone jumped on me. I crashed to the floor. The attacker cried out something that I did not understand. Damnit, was it the van driver’s ghost coming to exact vengeance? I used my bamboo spear to hit him, and he rolled to the ground, crying out in pain. I stood up, and saw that he was certainly human, which was a comforting piece of knowledge, but all comfort was soon lost; he was only a second slower than me, and immediately he began attacking me again. I was utterly confused to who this person was and why he was attacking me, but I did not have time to ask. I could only defend myself.
He seemed to have learned martial arts, for he tried to attack me using his bare hands. This proved to be a bad choice for him, as I had a bamboo stick to protect myself. He then pulled out his own spear, and brought it right onto my shoulder. It hurt, and I nearly fell down again.
In moments we were having something similar to a sword fight. The man had enormous energy, like the van driver, and I could feel that my bamboo spear was starting to bend. I decided that I could not fight him here. He was a madman, one who attacked without reason. I broke and ran as quickly as I could back to the camp. Not a glorious victory, certainly, but I would rather return and get help unharmed than break an arm or leg and be unable to come back at all.
The pursuer was not as agile and speedy as I was, and I reached the camp before him. Toby and Sophie were already outside, probably woken up by the sound of my running, and Toby had a torch shining, while Isaac and Anne were coming out from their tents. Somehow Toby was not in his nightclothes but instead wore his normal day clothes, and when he saw the attacker running after me, he immediately came to me and joined in the fight. Anne and Sophie quickly came in as reinforcements, but Isaac took longer.
After only a short amount of time, the attacker rose his hand up. “Stop!” he cried. He threw his weapon to the ground. Now that we stopped, I could stop to assess the man. He was about seventeen years old, slightly older than me, and
“Who are you?” Toby snarled at him.
“I…I…I’m just a camper. Well, my group consider this our territory, and I thought you were a soldier, and I was on sentry duty, so I attacked.”
“That wasn’t very smart.” Toby commented. “Soldiers have guns.” I thought of his sentence. My group consider this our territory. That doesn’t sound good.
“Well…um…yeah, I guess so.” He paused. “My name’s Martin. What’s yours?”
“I’m Toby. The guy you tried to beat down is John. Here’s Anne, Sophie and Isaac.” Toby looked to me and said, “I suggest you not tory to beat people around the moment you see them next time.”
Martin laughed, but it sounded fake. “Uh, sure. Anyway, um… tomorrow our groups should meet! Yeah, that’d be nice.”
“Just a question,” I said, “but when did you arrive into this area.”
“Oh, about a week ago?”
I rolled my eyes. “We’ve been here for more than a month. We need to share territories.”
“Uh..um…yeah, sure. Anyway, I…need to head back. Bye.” Without a word more, Martin walked away into the darkness of the night.
“Well, that’s a strange guy isn’t he.” Anne said to no one in particular.
I groaned. “And why am I always the one who receives the violence?”
Sophie chuckled. “You seem to have the luck.”
“I think we need to keep an eye on this new group. If anything, we should be the one that has the right to this little land, not them. They’re intruding on our turf.” Toby said.
“Maybe I was right to say we should put in defenses.” Isaac grumbled, although I think I was the one who suggested it.
“Not a time to fret over past decisions.” Anne said. “We need to know if whether this new group is hostile or not. Then, we need to plan accordingly. If there’s going to be another group here we need to make sure we don’t start fights or anything.”
“Judging from this Martin guy, we should keep away from them.” Toby said. I nodded in agreement. “If he’s going to attack people at the first sight of them, it shows they’re not a very friendly group of people.”
“I don’t believe what he said.” I declare. “If you actually think someone is a soldier, why would you want to attack him? Soldiers have all got guns. Martin didn’t have a gun, he only had a stick. It’d be suicidal to attack an armed soldier.”
“Yet another reason to be suspicious, then.” Anne said. “I think we should put someone up on guard tonight, or otherwise-”
“I’ll be on guard.” Toby interjected. “We all understand what might happen ‘otherwise’, Anne. no need to explain. Everyone should sleep with their spear right next to them, and have the spares near you. We must not be attacked unprepared.”
“If the attack ever comes.” Sophie said. “Let’s not get pessimistic about all this and get some rest. Good night.” She disappeared into her tent, and the meeting broke. Anne and Isaac followed to their own, while I sat with Toby.
“You’re not going to get some sleep?”
“No, I’ll keep you companion.”
“That’s nice. Well, what do you think?”
I chuckled. “There’s too many weird things about Martin. I was scared as hell when he suddenly came to me and knocked me over.”
“Well, I was too when suddenly I heard running footsteps. I thought the soldiers found us and were coming to take us captive.”
“I think this group might be even worse than the soldiers. Let’s hope they don’t have any firearms.”
Toby scratched his chin. “If they do, we’ll need to play servant and go along with them in everything. If they don’t, then, well, we’re their equals.”
“They’re older than us though. And if they have more people, well, we’ll have to do our best to get along.”
We remained silent for a long time. Finally, Toby lit up a candle and pulled out a chess board, then challenged me for a game. When the sun finally rose, we’d played a few dozen games, with Toby winning the majority of them. I blinked sleepily. “I think I’ll go take a short nap,” I said, but then suddenly from the forests people came out. Martin was among them. The teens in the group were all about the same age as Martin, but they looked very scruffy, their clothes simply rags put around their body. They did not look in the slightest bit welcoming and friendly.
“Hi, guys.” Martin said. “I’m back.”
Toby and I look at each other, while the others emerge from the tents. I took a deep breath.