There was no light. The sun had set hours ago, and angry dark clouds covered the moon and stars above. The wind had died down hours ago, and the silence was so complete that it felt oppressive. The Amazon Rain Forest looked as it always had, dark and gloomy, with countless nameless terrors within its bushes and trees. It was an average night for the Amazon, but it was a horrible night for U.S. Marine Sam Fuller.
It had been a couple of months since the spreading drug cartels had attacked a U.S. detachment in Brazil. President Mason, who had been itching to send troops to limit the cartels’ growing influence in the region, jumped on the chance and sent thousands of troops into multiple countries across South America. Sam was part of that surge. It was two months since he was sent out of the Army base in North Carolina. Two hellish months…
Suddenly, Sam’s radio crackled. “Delta group, we’ve received the orders. Prepare to move out. From here until completion we will observe radio silence.” He almost jumped at the sudden noise in all the stillness, but he was able to control himself. A few seconds later, bushes moved as U.S. troopers left their camouflaged positions and stealthily crept into formation. A couple of minutes later, the troop moved out, treading softly and scanning their surroundings. Adrenaline pumped through Sam’s veins as he nervously crept forward. He glanced at his comrades for reassurance; the knowledge that there were others in the situation felt comforting.
Up ahead lay an open field, in the middle of which was a small house. The field had crops laid out in rows; Sam couldn’t quite tell what the plant was , but it reminded him of home. He had grown up on a farm that had been in his family for generations. Sam thought that it was incredible how unattractively quaint and small the place had seemed, when right now he didn’t want to be anyplace else. It’s ironic, Sam thought, I joined the military to run away from life on a farm, and yet here I find myself back on one. He didn’t have much time to muse on this, though, for the troop was starting to move forward stealthily once again.
Before long, the troop fanned out. Sam and another marine, Jeff Warner, had been charged with securing the house and making sure that there were no enemy combatants there, and once that happened, the other soldiers would advance further to where their intelligence told them the enemy really lay. Reportedly, the owners of the farm were working in league with the cartels. A steady stream of information confirmed that the cartels made regular shipment drops on the northeastern quadrant of the farm, and that they used a small portion of the fields to grow their crops. Tonight was supposed to be an especially large drop, and so Sam’s commanding officer had told him that they would stake the place out.
Sam and Jeff were standing outside of the house now. He held up his hand, motioning for Jeff to stand at the ready, and then Sam lifted his weapon and violently kicked the door in. Running forward, he scanned the first room, and then he and Jeff ran to one of the side rooms and kicked that in as well. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye Sam saw a door on the other side of the room open, and he whirled around and aimed his gun in that direction. What Sam saw surprised him.
Standing in the doorway were an old man and woman, their eyes bleary from having been woken up. When perceiving two American soldiers standing with their weapons trained on them, the couple raised their hands meekly and sat down in chairs, as instructed by Jeff. At least, Sam thought that was what he was telling them to do; Jeff was speaking in Portuguese, a language that Sam had absolutely no knowledge of. After Jeff was finished, Sam nodded to him. “Go ahead and check those other two rooms.” Jeff walked over and kicked open the other two doors, keeping his gun up as he peered into the rooms. After a moment, Jeff turned back to Sam and nodded his head. Taking out his radio mouthpiece, Sam murmured, “House is secure, move out and complete the operation.”
Looking out of the window, Sam could just make out the dark shapes of the marines silently moving across the field, toward the supposed drop sight. The dark, fuming clouds were a blessing to the operation, as it made it much easier to move undetected. He turned back toward the old couple that ran the farm; he was still astounded by what he saw. They looked worn and depleted; with graying hair and wrinkles on their faces that came from too many hours of working under the sun. Humility emanated from them, and they seemed resigned to their fate, whatever it would be.
Jeff walked toward the front door. “I’m going to check the outside grounds to make sure that we won’t get ambushed.” Sam nodded, and Jeff walked out the door.
Sam looked back at the old couple. Feeling slightly impulsive, Sam said, “Do you speak English?”
The man nodded. “Of course I do. By the way, you can tell your friend that there is no one near this house except the troopers you just sent away.”
“Yeah, well I’m sure you’ll understand if I let him verify that,” Sam said with a hint of sarcasm. After a moment’s pause, Sam said, “You don’t look like cartel members to me.”
The man’s face shifted, and his eyes were shining with demoralized repugnance. “Well, maybe that’s because I’m not a member.”
Sam shook his head. “We have confirmed reports of drugs being grown in your fields, and for months there have been scheduled drops that have been carried out here.”
The man laughed humorlessly. “Do you think that the cartels will only use their members? Or that if they use somebody, they would have them join the cartel? No, my young friend, they use everyone and everything. They are even using you at this very moment.”
Sam felt startled as the farmer said this. There was something penetrating about his gaze, he was beyond grief, he was merely disillusioned. “What do you mean, they’re using me?”
“Well, the invasion has given them an excuse to increase prices. Your president is unwittingly making his enemies richer than ever. You see, they use everyone. Especially those who don’t like them.”
It seemed crazy, but as the old man kept talking, Sam started to see similarities between him and Sam’s father. He thought about his little farm back in North Carolina, and the ache of longing accompanied his memories. As Sam looked out of the window, he saw the U.S. troops in the distance, now engaged in a firefight. The enemy was putting up a good fight, but it was clear that the Americans were going to hold the day. The cartel security guards may have been well financed, but they were no match for the awesome power of the U.S. marines. Turning his attention back to the man, Sam said, “So, if you don’t like the cartel, then how did you end up getting mixed up with them?”
The man shrugged his shoulders. “It’s quite simple, really. A group of men approached my home one day, armed to the teeth. They said that they were going to use a part of my lands for their business, and I had no choice in the matter. If I refused, they would simply burn my fields and my house in front of my eyes, and then leave me to wander away a ruined man.” A fierce gleam entered the man’s eye. “The farm has belonged to my family as long as anyone could remember, and I wasn’t going to go down as the man who would allow it to be destroyed.”
“And you didn’t think about the fact that you would be classified as an enemy combatant to the United States?”
The man waved his hand impatiently. “This happened years ago, when the very thought of U.S. troops down here was laughable. And our own government had many issues to deal with; they didn’t realize that the cartels were advancing into this region, and they wouldn’t dedicate much-needed troops to defend a small-time farmer. I did the only thing I could do.” An explosion made the area light up for a split second— apparently the marines had found a helicopter that was meant for the drop, and they had taken care of it. That could only mean that the skirmish was coming to an end.
When Sam spoke, he was a little more somber, “I understand what you mean. My father feels the same way about our place back home. He enlisted, as a young man, in order to get away from his life. When he came back, though, he vowed never to leave the farm again. He was absolutely furious when he learned that I joined the military…” Sam had no idea why he was sharing his life story with this old man, but it felt good. “I never understood, and I never felt that way. I used to think my dad was crazy to think that…” Sam swallowed hard, and then continued, “I still don’t quite feel the way he did, but I understand now. And right now, the only thing I want to do is to go back and tell him. That’s all I want to do.”
The old man looked sadder than ever. “Well, unlike me, you have a very achievable goal, and I really hope you succeed.”
“What do you mean, ‘unlike you’? You still have your farm, don’t you?”
The man’s voice was soft as he held back deep emotion. “Look.” Sam looked out of the window and cursed softly to himself. He had forgotten that it was U.S. policy to burn on sight any illegal drugs. The fields off in the distance were now ablaze. Sam had seen this before; the fire was never checked by the troopers that started them, and so often the flames would spread far passed the illegal substances that it was supposed to target. In this situation, the flames were on schedule to destroy all of the farm’s fields. It’s all burning… burning…
Suddenly, lightning flashed across the sky, and rain came down in sheets. The torrents of droplets fell with a fury that Sam had rarely seen during his tenure in South America. After a few minutes of the rain, the seething flames that were racing across the fields were extinguished, with a little smoke and the remnants of plants the only proof that it ever existed. Suddenly, the door opened and Jeff came in, soaked to the bone. “Whew, it’s a good thing that the fire destroyed all the drugs before the rain came, this storm is going to last for days.”