Wish I were Khalil Gibran...then I'd already have it written.
The Lost Prophet
To leave Oceanview for points south, you've got to follow a very precise path to the surf zone...in the tracks of the vehicle that preceded you, because he...hopefully...didn't hit one of the multitudinous mines, or other pieces of assorted ordnance that this part of Viet Nam has accumulated over the years.
And why the surf zone? Because salt water is really good at neutralizing land mines, that's why. Get to the hissing wave-wash, and you can turn south for the bright lights. Well, the rear, anyway, to not get shot at so much for a few days.
There was one fly in the ointment. We'd had a storm,. and the most recent vehicle to pass had been an APC, which had a narrower track. Which meant that The Dude would have to choose which side of the tank would be exposed to a possible mine by running over virgin soil.
"Which side, TC?" He stopped the tank and tried to pass the buck.
"You're driving," I said, and feigned a yawn. "Home, James, and please drive smoothly so the children aren't awakened.
"Who's James?" asked Sonny. He was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, enjoying the South China Sea breeze.
"The Dude's changed his name. He wants to be normal," I offered.
Biff, from within the turret: "When my rabbi goes to mass."
Sonny was perplexed. "So y'all really James?" he asked The Dude over the i/c.
"Yep. Brother of Jesus, and leader of the Jerusalem Jesus Movement after my 'Bro got the axe."
"That's blas...uh, blast-feeny."
"Blasphemy. Yes, it is, and I apologize. Now, Sonny, are you in the loader's hatch?"
"Then we shall expose the left side of the tank, to elevate your consciousness should we encountered an unplanned and exothermic chemical reaction."
"Uh...well, thankee!" said Sonny.
And The Dude carefully placed the left track in the APC-blazed path, ensuring the safety of our beloved Son of Dixie.
Of course that meant that any mine we hit would be on the right - my side - so I dropped a little lower in the cupola.
Fortune smiled, and after the slow progression through the dunes and down to the water, The Dude executed a smart fifty-ton right-face, and punched the throttle. This was fun, riding all that good American steel and power down an empty beach, throwing roostertails of water and sand high into the air. The suspension bearings would have to be repacked, of course, but they were due for that anyway, and we could enjoy the ride with a clear conscience.
Biff tapped me politely on my shin, signaling that he wanted a bit of air, so I scooted out of the commander's hatch and sat crosslegged on the turret roof, while our gunner blinked in the sunlight, like a groundhog on a sunny February day.
This was freedom, married to authority...roaring high, wide and alone...well, wait. In the distance there was a man, standing, right in our path. "Dude?"
"I see him. Beach or water?"
"Water. Let him stay dry." We angled left, into deeper water, to give the mystery man a chance to dodge us by going toward drier sand.
"Well, TC, now what?" The man had matched our movement, and was holding up his hand in the classic signal, Stop.
"Sonny..." But the loader was a step ahead of me, and he placed the binoculars in my hand before I asked for them. The figure resolved into an old, old man...one hand was raised, and one held a walking stick. "Dude, stop for this guy. Biff, get on the coax, just in case." I didn't think it was some kind of weird trap, but Charlie had his own way of doing things, and I wanted Biff on the 30-cal.
The Dude brought us down from the high of our seaborne rush to a gentle stop, ten feet from the old Vietnamese. He lowered his arm, and stood there, quietly regarding us. He neither smiled nor frowned, and the nearest village was miles away, and how did he get here, anyway?
"Want me to talk to him?" The Dude was the only choice, since he knew the language.
"Yeah, go ahead. Ask him if he needs a lift." We weren't supposed to carry Vietnamese on joyrides, but we couldn't leave the guy here.
The Dude slipped out of his hatch and down the glacis armor, dropping into the eddying surf, while Sonny took his place at the wheel, just in case a quick getaway was needed. One did not live long by trusting circumstances that seemed benign.
I couldn't hear the conversation over the idling engine; not that I would have been able to follow. The Dude gestured with hos hands, and with shoulder-shrugs, and the old man used his free hand, leaning still on the stick.
Then he spoke sharply, and I heard him, lifted the stick to tap The Dude on the shoulder, and pointed it at me. I flinched.
And that was it. The Dude politely put his hands together under his chin, and bowed. He received a nod in return. and a gap-toothed smile. The the old man turned to his left, ANd started truding up the beach, toward the dunes.
Sonny vacated the driver's position as The Dude remounted. "Well, that's a first," The Dude said when he was back on i/c.
"He said he was waiting for us. He was here to tell us our fortunes."
I watched the old man make his painful way across the sand. "And?"
"Well, Biff's going to college, and he's going to be a teacher of souls. Sonny's going to be a doctor."
"Ah hates needles."
"Well, yes, Sonny, and I'd hate to have you give me a shot."
"What about me?" I didn't believe this stuff, but I wanted to be included in the game.
I didn't like the sound of that. "Uh, what?"
"TC, he said you're going to be here for a long, long time."
I really didn't like the sound of that, so I changed the subject. "What about you?"
I heard the i/c click, but before The Dude could speak, there was a WHOOOM! from the beginning of the dunes, and a geyser of sand rose high into the sky, along with what looked like bundled rags.
"Yeah," I said. "And we were listening to our fortunes from a guy who just blew himself up. Let's get outta here, I hear the ice cream machine at the club's working again."
The Dude gunned the engine, and we thundered south, toward the ice cream and cold beer that would make us forget the prophecies that now rode as fragments in the air, and swirled in the rising sea.