I may not have expected it, but life at the camp was pretty good. At the very least it was much better than what I had expected. I’d thought life would be very similar to the last time we were in the national park, but somehow it was more fun. Perhaps it was because we weren’t too scared of nature as we were last time, and so we simply made our camp right next to the river. No one cares if tigers would come to drink water, we aren’t scared of them. (Not a challenge, by the way.) When we weren’t finding food, we would go in the river to swim, and we even went climbing and exploring around the nearby hills just for fun. That area of the national park also had a larger variety of fruits, and the river actually had prawn, instead of just fish, giving a larger variety to our diet. I was glad to say the least. I hoped that we would be able to stay there until someone toppled the current regime, although the lack of information about current events was a bit infuriating at times. It was peaceful there and we could wait it out. Someone was bound to revolt. Living in settlements? It was no life to live. I applauded someone like Mayor Philip for having the will to stand up against the Great Leader, whoever he is.
But in the deepest corners of my mind, and although these are thoughts I tried to suppress all the time, I knew that trouble was bound to come some day. When we went exploring new areas, we had seen soldiers patrolling around. I remembered what the soldiers had said while I was frightened, hiding in the bathroom as they looted the cabins. They’d said the soldiers were going to sweep the national park clear after they were finished with Greyville. Well, Greyville was finished, I’d thought when we arrived back to the national park. Where are the soldiers?
And the soldiers have come. Their number slowly increased, but we had chosen an area very deep into the national park, and they haven’t penetrated to us yet, but the sheer amount of soldiers crawling around was greater and greater. Soon enough the early morning meetings were nearly always all about the soldiers. We reviewed our plans again and again. There was one thing we were most afraid of- that the soldiers would finally see the wall. The problem with an indestructible fort was that it only took one glance to know that it was out of place in the deep forest.
That morning, we had another intense morning meeting.
“Is there a way we can hide this camp?” asked Sophie.
Isaac sneezed. “Are you out of your mind? There’s no way we can do that! We’re not ninjas.”
Sophie’s face become flustered. “I didn’t mean making it invisible or something. I meant camouflaging it. Making it look like there’s nothing out of the ordinary here. You know, is it possible to plan trees and stuff around this wall? Obscure it from view?”
“We can’t move the trees.” I pointed out.
“Grow smaller ones around.” Sophie said.
“Maybe it’s possible.” Toby said thoughtfully.
“It’s too artificial.” Anne said. “There’s no such thing as a square in the middle of the forest. And there would be no bamboo spears growing out suddenly.”
I groaned. It was pretty clear this was a discussion that would achieve nothing. “I’m going to go to the bathroom.” I mumbled, which for us meant ‘go to the river and do your own personal business that no one wants to know about’. I walked out of the entrance.
In the distance, I saw three soldiers staring right back. I gasped, and quickly vanished back into the safety of the walls.
“That was fast.” Toby said, grinning. “I don’t really approve of urine in front of the entrance though.”
“They’re here.” I shouted. “They’re here!”
“The soldiers.” I said quickly. Everyone seemed to jump out of their seats at once and climb up the walls using the ladder, peering up. Isaac muttered that he hoped I was hallucinating, but he saw for himself. Three soldiers indeed. I climbed up and stood with Toby. Anne stood with Isaac, for she was the one assigned to be the back-up, as she still had the bullet wound that she complained sometimes hurt.
“What in the world will we do?” I muttered to Toby.
“We have the plans.” he replied. “Have faith in them. They will not frighten us.”
The three soldiers started walking slowly towards us. Toby jumped down and threw a gun up to me, which I used to aim directly at the soldiers. I wondered what I would do if they shot me right back, but luckily they all held up their hands.
“We come in peace!” one of them shouted. “We wish to talk to you. Let there be no violence.” Slowly I pulled my gun down and shouted back to them.
“Stop right at our walls. We will come out to talk to you.” I jumped down, and so did the rest. We then hesitated. If the soldier had a gun and decided to shoot all of us, we’d be dead. I decided not to take any chances and took my own, along with another bamboo spear, although it would be of little help. I was reluctant to be the first to walk out, but clearly the rest were going to follow my lead, so I took a deep breath and went out of the door. I groaned to myself. I still needed the toilet.
I then changed my mind.
“Actually, we’ll let them come in.” I whispered to the rest. “We’ll have them sit here in our meeting place. Toby and Sophie, you two will stand on two side of the walls, gun in hand. If anything goes wrong, if they threaten me or show a weapon, I will wave my hand and you must shoot.”
Sophie gulped at that. I knew she wasn’t prepared to do this, but I knew Anne would be worse than useless if she actually had to shoot. I felt sympathy for Sophie. Toby was ready for anything, but the rest of us were not prepared to kill.
“We come in peace.” the soldier said again. He was standing right outside the entrance.
“Come in.” I said to them. “Please sit down.” The three soldiers looked at each other and reluctantly sat down with us. Isaac and Anne also sat. I looked around and saw there were no more stones left, so I decided to keep standing. It was better to be ready and on your feet anyway.
“Why have you come?” Anne asked, opening up the discussion.
One of the soldiers cleared his throat. “We have orders from the Great Leader to clear the national park of all insurgents. Therefore, we have come hear to ask that all of you come with us and we will find the settlements your family is in and send you there.”
I nodded, as if this was a reasonable thing. “What if we don’t?” I asked bluntly.
“A contingent of soldiers will arrive to tear down your camp.” replied the soldier, just as bluntly. “We will still try to avoid a loss of life, but there will still be no mercy. Because you did not obey the orders, you will be sent to a prison camp until it is decided you can go to a settlement. If any of the soldiers are harmed, you may be executed.” Somehow those sentences contradicted each other.
“Is this all you have to offer us?” Isaac asked. “What sort of a negotiation is this?” I winced. That was not exactly the politest thing ever.
The soldiers showed no sign of emotion. “It is the will of the Great Leader.” another one of them said. “What he says is what will happen. Only the island of Estina and you rebels are holding out against us. All others have failed. You will, too.” I blinked. Were these soldiers brainwashed? I then realized the age of these soldiers. They were probably not that much older than us. I’ve heard of reeducation camps before in communist countries. Perhaps these have been reeducated.
“I take it that you do not accept. You will not be coming with us.” said the soldier. “Very well. We will give you more time to think. Ten of us will arrive here tomorrow to find out your new decision, and based on it we will act. I do hope you choose wisely.” That was clearly a threat and without a word more, all three of them walked out of the camp.
There was silence until Anne broke it.
“Well…that was fun.”
“I noticed something interesting about what he said.” Isaac said. “He mentioned that the island of Estina is still holding out. Mr Smith had also said that. Remember him, that old guide-soldier? Estina must be strong.”
“We have no more time.” I snapped. “Get ready. The last time I checked we made more bamboo spears and now have forty of them. Well, take twenty out and poke them to the ground right next to the walls. Climbing the walls will not be easy for these soldiers.” I blinked at myself. When did I become a leader like this? “Someone go and fill all the buckets with water. Catch fish and have them dried. We may be able to stand them, but not be able to come out for a day.” I paused as I got another idea. “Wait! I have another idea. Take all of our firewood and put them in a ring about four meters away from the walls. Also get lots of water. Buckets of it.” The others looked at me with a puzzled expression but I grinned and said, “You’ll soon see why.”
Isaac asked, “So you command others, but what will you do?” I swore silently. No, nice was not a word synonymous with Isaac quite yet.
“I will help with the bamboo spears.” I said. Toby came down and gripped my shoulder.
“Don’t worry. They won’t be able to do a thing to us.”
I hoped with all my mental strength that that was true.
* * * * *
The defenses were finished up quickly. There was nothing much to be done, after all. Everyone had strapped two bamboo spears to their back as backup, and we reintroduced the system of sentries.
That night, dinner was not an enthusiastic time. We all ate silently. I searched through my own thoughts and I found that I was actually afraid. Afraid of what, I asked myself. Of the soldiers? Of being imprisoned? Of death? I smiled to myself. I had once read that a man’s ultimate enemy was death. There was nothing worse than that and I smiled at the thought that no matter what, I would probably still survive the day to come, unless a bullet hit me, and unless I shot down a soldier I’d probably not be executed, even if we failed. No matter what, I would live. It kinda hurt me when I realized that this was a very cowardly thought, but I decided not to shut them out. After all, they were my true feelings; military strategist I might have become, but I still did not have the courage of, say, a soldier who’s been through a hundred battles.
I sighed. Courage. I would need that in the day to come.
* * * * *
I gritted my teeth as I looked in the distance. There were just too many soldiers. They had delivered more than they promised; ten was the number they had said, but fifteen came. Five more soldiers could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Everyone was on the same side of the wall, although we would spread if the soldiers started attacking. I looked grimly and Anne and she looked back, understanding. This would be hard, harder than even when we were charged at the tents with little defense.
A soldier walked over to our camp once again. He opened his mouth, to speak, but Toby simply fired a shot up in the air as a sign that we did not care for any terms of surrender. We would fight and that was the end of it. I wondered about how the soldiers were going to take the fort. We would shoot if they came near and there was no easy way to come near. We had made our little fort well.
I soon got my answer. The soldiers got together in a double line, the first line with eight people and the second with seven. The first line raised their guns and immediately started shooting at us. We all ducked down and everyone swore out loud.
“Trying to avoid a loss of life.” Isaac muttered grimly. “Very well, friends, very well.”
“Spread out a bit.” I said. “We don’t want to be all bunched up and make an easy target.” I looked up and immediately they shot again, but thankfully I ducked down quickly enough. I understood what they were doing. “When the front line soldiers aren’t shooting, the second line will shoot.” I told Anne who was by my side, although I guessed that she would already have identified this. “We need to fight back. They’re getting closer all the time.” I raised my hand up with the gun and just shot without looking at where it went.
“Well, this isn’t going to help.” Anne snapped. My mind raced. I looked at Isaac and he was cowering very low. I rolled my eyes. That isn’t gonna help, Isaac, thank you very much.
“Just get shooting.” I shouted out to everyone. “Make sure they can’t get close enough. They’re going to have to run out of bullets soon. Try to get high enough and aim at the leg of someone. Anne will shoot first and the last to shoot will be Sophie; the rest of us shoots in order.”
“Yes, commander,” Toby said, while Anne quickly got a shot. I got one next, then Isaac, then Toby, then Sophie. I looked and saw that it worked. The soldiers had had to stop working, although we did not get anyone down yet. We did about three more rounds of the bullets. I gritted my teeth. Our bullets would run out before theirs did. There had to be another way! My heart raced. I was trapped in a not close to well-defended makeshift fortress with a line of soldiers waiting to come and capture me. This must be the end. But wait… I thought of the emergency plan I had made. Yes, it was time. “Get me a matchbox, and the cooking oil we got from Greyville.” I shouted. Toby looked at me, confused, but hurriedly got one out of his bag and threw it to me. I lit one ran out of the fortress as fast as I could and to the ring of firewood around the camp I had told everyone to prepare. I heard bullets zipping past me, but I had run to the other side of the fortress and I was far away from the soldiers still. I quickly poured some of the oil on the wood and then lit a match on the ring and threw it into the oil and firewood. A big flame lit up and it quickly spread out with the ring as I ran back into the safety (or half-safety) of the walls. We all cheered as the fire encircled us. I had made sure that the ring did not completely encircle us and had one gap directly at the entrance. We were not trapped and yet there was no way the soldiers could come through. It was hot, though, but I did not mind.
“Bravo!‘ cheered Toby. “Great job! You really are a military tactician.” I grinned at that but I knew that I had already run out of tricks and the fire ring would only bring a temporary respite, unless the soldiers would give up.
“Everyone come to the entrance.” I shouted. “There’s nothing to fear from the other sides now, but the soldier could still rush through this gap. We need to shoot the leg of anyone who tries to get through.” Sure enough, a soldier was already appearing in the distance, but Sophie shot and the soldier rolled away just only barely quickly enough. I clapped for Sophie. It would have taken her an effort of will to shoot a single bullet like that.
Three more soldiers tried to come through, and one was event shot to the leg by Toby and he had to be dragged away quickly by two companions. I winced at the cries of pain from the soldier. Too bad but we had no choice.
Finally, the soldiers stopped attempting to rush the entrance, and after a while nothing happened. Then we heard the sound of a car’s engine. They had left.
We all broke out into jubilant cheering. We had won, against all the odds! Toby and Sophie gave each other a quick hug, while the rest of us congratulated ourselves. No prison camp for us then. “Let’s extinguish the flames,” I said, wiping a tear of joy from my eye. Never before has any victory tasted so sweet.
However, something caught my eye. It was a piece of paper, lying on the grass. Isaac walked over to pick it up, and as he read it, he frowned.
“What does it say?” I called and walked over to him. The rest quickly followed and I took the note from Isaac’s hand, reading it out loud.
“To the rebels: you have defended your little camp successfully today. I must say I have a grudging admiration for your plans. However, the Great Leader’s will is still to be carried out. We have already poisoned the river. You will no longer have a water supply. We will also arrive tomorrow with fifty troops to secure your surrender. You will be taken to a prison camp. There is no escape from us, my teenage friends. Running away from us will simply mean you are going into the hands of other soldiers, other divisions. Signed, Staff Sergeant Adam S.”
I simply froze there as I felt like I had just swallowed a hard, cold lump into my stomach.