Sunday, December 5, 2010

Skinwalker Part 1

An old man sits on his porch. Military cap on head and cane by his side. His face creased with the ravages of alcohol. Eyes hardened by the blood of war. He stares at the boards beneath worn Moccasins but cannot see his shadow.  This perturbs him greatly. A man without a shadow is a man without a soul and both left him long ago.  He’s never spoken of his past. His wounds have barely healed.  At 86 years old, he's dying and needs to tell the wind of his shame. He fingers shining metal and remembers.

Running wildly, rifles in hand, teenage boys chase rabbits. Fire flushes them from warrens and pot-shots echo through the valley.  It’s Saturday, 'free day' at St Mary’s Catholic Boarding School. Lapin roasts over an open fire, watched carefully by another, when he hears the news that sends him screaming towards the young hunters,
 “Pearl Harbor was bombed! Pearl Harbor was bombed!”
Startled they stand steadfast in their tracks.
“Where’s Pearl Harbor?” asks one.
Incredulous that Hunter Lawrence doesn't know, a chorus of five then yell, “HAWAII   Fool!” 

“Who did it?”
“Why did they do it?”

“They hate Americans”

“What us too?”
“Yeh, us too”

Each tender brave then makes shakes hands and makes a promise, sealed with rabbit blood and spit. They will enlist and shoot Japanese, not rabbits.

The dry dust of early summer billows as two Jeeps speed along the school’s driveway. Five boys sit on the cooling steps and watch the approaching vehicles, "They're military," says Hunter Lawrence who hasn't forgotten last year's promise. "Wonder what they're after?" The question goes unanswered as five braves, elbows on knees and chins in hands watch the tiny convoy grind to a dusty halt and a uniform emerges.
"Where's your headmaster son?"

Hunter leads the way. Boy and man walk briskly down a phenol scented hallway.  Headmaster Logan is in his quarters, probably having a nap. The uniform is ushered into an ante-room and politely asked by the boy to remain. Leaving him behind, Hunter bolts at speed to raise Logan.

 He hammers on the door. A sleep deprived senior emerges, massaging his eyebrows between index finger and thumb. "Hunter what's the fuss?"
"A soldier sir, he wants to speak to you?"
"A soldier? On a Saturday?"
Logan turns and grabs his jacket before both return to greet their guest.
 The Marine stands as they enter and proffers an open hand. The two men sit on large leather chairs with a table in between. A briefcase is revealed and papers shuffled.
"That'll do Hunter."
The boy retreats and closes the door but is soon joined by his companions who clump together, ears against the wood.
 "Mr Logan, we're on a recruitment drive," begins the Marine. "We're experimenting with a new initiative involving native speakers. You have a few candidates of interest. Since they're wards of the state, all you need to do is sign a release and the boys can enlist."
 Excited mufflings from behind the door are unnoticed.
 Logan looks perturbed, "These boys have another three weeks of school and they're only 17."
"I'm aware of this Sir, but we have need of them in San Diego. They have value to us if this project gets wings. I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to tell you more."

 Not one to stand in the way of warriors, Logan signs, releasing all five boys.
 The scrambling behind the door is clearly audible. All five scuffle from the door as the knob turns and stand in line like wooden Indians as Logan and Marine emerge.
 "Men, you want to help your country?" Each beams and nods in agreement. This is the fruition of their pact. "Grab your things then, you're coming with me."
 Hasty efforts are made as bags are packed and excitement burns. "You won't need that son," bellows the Marine, as Hunter tries to slide a .22 rifle into a soft leather sheath. "We'll give you a gun soon enough."
And in another billow of dust, two Jeeps depart with their new charges. Headed for what? They do not know.

Heads are shaved and billets assigned. Uniforms folded neatly on each cot. Today boys become men and arrange themselves scruffily when instructed, amid a troop of white recruits. The colour of their skin appears to both amuse and disgust their comrades who whisper disparagingly and ridicule their race. Hunter is aware but does not react. He's going to be a Marine and that in itself is enough.

After roll call, he is approached, "Marine! Do you speak Indian?’ Hunter resists the urge to say ‘No’ and nods respectfully, stands square and announces, ‘Yes Sir, I speak Navajo.’ After years of being discouraged to speak his native tongue, he is ecstatic but does not yet understand the importance of the question or the impact of his answer. He is to be chosen to send messages that the Japanese can’t interpret as a code talker. He will hone the craft, speak his language in ways it has never been used, confuse his enemy, pass secrets, aid victory. But first, he must learn the military craft.

Bootcamp is tough but times are desperate and enthusiasm kicks in. Hunter Lawrence is fit, he’s always been fit. A fine physique due to good genes and the flush of youth and he excels. Boarding school has instilled discipline and he is commended for his fastidiousness and attention, much to the chagrin of his white companions who resent his every accolade.  Already accomplished with a gun, he masters bayonet, scouting and patrolling.  At commando training he’s a natural and leaves his troop eating his dust. He effortlessly endures thirst and lack of food while the others gasp for their canteens and complain about rations. There is a widening rift between the white and red men made all too obvious by their under-breath deprecation. Hunter Lawrence hears it all but does not react. Their time will come.

With boot camp completed, it is time to learn the code. English into Navajo - Navajo into code. The Japs are comfortable with Morse and many have been educated in the West but they've never heard anything like this. Colonels are "Silver Eagles," Japanese, "Slant Eyes" each first letter of the Navajo translation forming the letters of the message. It's intricate and complicated despite the principle being so simple. It works. What was a trial will be implemented and a bright eyed, Navajo boarding-school boy will get his chance to change the direction of the war.


  1. Ah ... a collaboraton ... once I realised that, it all started to fall into place.

    I am sensing a massacree in the making ... looking forward to it.

  2. This is interesting coming from someone in Australia. It's a collaboration?

    There are many books and at least one movie that tell the story of these boys. Their role in WWII was amazing. Every so often, I see a story in the press about the death of one of them, not surprising given their ages at recruitment.

    So your story is a timely one. I'm anxious to see where you take it.

  3. Rock on. Definitely needs some editing, though.

    Missed character development opportunity here: "Men, you want to help your country?" Not all American Aborigines feel the US is their country.

    You are going to do another draft, yes?