The Well in the Jungle
Three nights. That’s how long it had been. Nguyen neither felt hunger, nor pain. He waited expectantly, his face upturned at the sky for the moment he knew would arrive. Phan’s body lay crumpled in front of him. The clouds covered the sky ahead, but he knew it would clear as the night progressed. Tonight was the night after all. Tonight, he would be liberated from this well.
Nguyen held his battered M16 close to his chest. The sound of his breathing reverberated down the closed confines of the well. Its walls were slick with algae. The water only reached his chest as he sat cross legged down the bottom of the well. Phan’s body looked like a discarded rag-doll, he thought, his life had oozed out of him, his blood darkening the water. During the day, the sun shone down the circular opening of the well. However, it was always cold in the bottom. Nguyen welcomed the monsoon rain, as it poured cool water from the sky. Under the cover of darkness, Nguyen drank from the well, drank the blood of his friend, his brother, his only companion in solitude mixed with the water that was around him.
As Nguyen waited, he thought of the war. The war hadn’t stopped, even after Nguyen’s father’s death. The Americans kept pouring into the country. At only 17 years of age, Nguyen was drafted to take his father’s place in Vietnam’s defense efforts. The Government had decreed all able-bodied men in Vietnam to join the effort against American attack. Nguyen was trained to shoot from the shadows. He trained to make himself invisible in the Jungle. The Americans would have be taken out by surprise, because they had the better guns, more ammo, and better training, but they didn’t know the Jungle like Nguyen did.
The night Nguyen and Phan jumped into the well was the night his battalion had been assaulted by Americans. The young recruits were sent to a remote part of the jungle, charged with scouting a new region. There were rumors of Americans setting up camp nearby, but these rumors were unconfirmed. Nguyen’s battalion moved quickly through the forest. Nguyen walked with Phan in silence.
Nguyen examined Phan’s body, changed by death. In life, Nguyen and Phan were close in age. Phan didn’t speak much, and being with him helped Nguyen work on his stoicism. However, Nguyen felt like he knew everything there is to know about Phan. Nguyen heard Phan murmur in his sleep through the night, recounting conversations with his mother, arguments with his father, and the hard work of farming. Nguyen learned of Phan’s love for a woman, whose name he never mentioned. He heard Phan speak of his training, as he said things he never would when awake in his sleep. Hearing Phan talk lulled Nguyen to sleep every night.
Nguyen knew Phan was scared. Phan had spent the night tossing and turning, his murmuring was absent because he wasn’t sleeping. Nguyen lay soundlessly next to his friend, unable to sleep without Phan’s soothing words. When morning came, Phan sat up, his eyes glazed with visions of death. Nguyen looked at his friend who appeared to be tuned into visions of a different world. As Nguyen arose, Phan turned to him and said, “My friend, you’re lucky. You will survive.”
These words rang in his head as they walked through the forest. The Americans would be unprepared, Nguyen thought. He was wrong. Nguyen saw helicopters skimming the top of trees. The Vietnamese soldiers were heavily camouflaged, but the sound of the blades sent shivers down their spine. Distracted by the helicopter, the young recruits missed the group of Americans that had surrounded them. Suddenly, there was a CRACK, and the soldier 30 ft. to Nguyen’s right dropped with a heavy THUD into the mud below. For a second, there was silence. Then bullets rained on trees, as the Americans fired. The rain of bullets pelted the recruits, as they fell like flies into the mud. Phan slammed into Nguyen and pushed him behind a tree. Nguyen saw the whites of Phan’s eyes shine like the steel edge of a dagger, as his face contorted in horror. Nguyen signaled for Phan to start crawling, as bullets continued to hit the trees around them.
They heard planes above, the Americans must have been planning an attack all along, and they knew they would be found soon. They carried on. Nguyen crawled through the forest, trudging along blindly to find a place to hide. Then, they heard the voices.
Their accent was Southern. “Just like the movies,” Nguyen thought. They ambushed us. Nguyen and Phan scrambled away from the sound, as the Americans surrounded them. They climbed the tree nearest to them, and they slowly made their way through the woods. As they moved, they reached the edge of a clearing. Phan motioned for Nguyen to climb down, and on the ground, there was a well. It was a common well, but who would have dug one out here in the forest? Nguyen was puzzled. Phan took a stone and dropped it in the well, the stone made a quiet SPLASH as it hit the bottom. The Americans could descend on them any second, they knew, and Phan motioned for Nguyen to jump. They faced each other, still not fully comprehending what they were about to do, and they jumped into the well.
Nguyen broke a bone in his left leg. He stifled his scream as he bit into his hand. He couldn’t stop Phan from screaming. Nguyen reached across, and attempted to hold Phan but to no avail. His screams pierced through the day. As Nguyen looked up, he saw shadows in the circular opening of the well. The Americans had found them. They looked down at the two Vietnamese soldiers cowering down the bottom. One looked to the other, as they decided what to do. One shone a flashlight down to the bottom, its iridescent beam illuminating Phan’s screaming face. The other soldier took quick aim and shot Phan in the head. Nguyen screamed, as he fired his M16 wildly at the Americans. None of his bullets reached them. One of the Americans had lit a cigarette as he stood staring at the scene below. He seemed to be talking to his companion, who was nodding. The first American dropped his cigarette in the well, and they walked off, leaving Nguyen to die.
As Nguyen recounted these events in his head, he felt numbness envelop him. His childhood had returned to him, his adolescent years flashed like a red hot iron through his mind. Phan was ready, and tonight was the night.
And the moon, as if in response, started moving towards Nguyen. First, it only occupied the center of his circular frame of vision, but soon, the moon was all he could see. Around the world, tsunamis rose and battered human settlements as the moon started its slow descent onto the Earth. The Earth spun faster due to the flux in gravity, and earthquakes began tearing through cities. Waves pelted the shores, and the Moon turned gold as it accelerated to meet the Earth. Nguyen roared into the night, screaming with every ounce of strength left in his body. The water around him churned red, as Phan’s body and his own was illuminated in the moonlight. Finally, he found himself floating through the well. He clutched Phan’s body, as they rose through the well. He gulped fresh air as he got it, and screamed at the world, his rage mirrored by the destruction of the world around him.
Nguyen reached the moon, and the moon reached him. The world began its demise, as Nguyen lost consciousness.
Salin Shakya is proactive, detail oriented, and sincere. His stories try to reflect these values.