- Abandoned -
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Table of Contents
a religious thriller written by
Ronald E. Boutelle
Chapter 32: The Trail
Instead of nine, the group that stood waving goodbye to the villagers now numbered close to fifteen, including Haridas and several others from the village. This was all duly noted by a large monkey sitting on his haunches, wondering where they were going.
photo by: Khairul Rizal
Since Haridas had insisted that Maria should wait until she had talked to her father, other than the fact that he was alive, Maria knew little more about him than she did a few days ago—except that a Khmer soldier had said that her father had performed some sort of marriage ceremony. The only way she was going to discover the truth about him was to be patient—something she accepted and understood. Still, it was not easy.
At first the column of people making their way down the trail was unorganized, Judy trying her best to keep up.
Walking toward Elephant Mountain
photo by: Laetitia
About a mile after leaving the village, Sutton called a halt. Since it was ingrained from both his training and nature, Sutton said that he wanted to stay up ahead with the two soldiers who were taking the lead. After they started moving again Blake could see that Judy and Maria were going to spend most of the day talking about the orphanage and cooking—just the cue he needed to excuse himself so that he could walk up ahead and find Sutton.
“Oh Blake, just a minute before you leave. We were wondering if there are any wild elephants here, seeing how we are climbing Elephant Mountain?”
Smiling—“Good question, ladies. I’m really not sure. But there must be because we saw a lot of them in Angkor Wat. Plus, remember that one temple with all the elephant carvings? Either way I feel we are safe. But if you see one be sure to take its picture.”
“OK”—both Judy and Maria began to laugh. “Just teasing. Don’t worry about us and I’ll keep my camera handy. See you later.” Once again Judy and Maria started laughing as Blake disappeared up ahead.
“Hey Blake, I see you left the ladies behind.”
“Well, they’re busy talking to each other and making friends. It seems like Judy and Maria have really stuck a mutual cord concerning the orphanage.”
“Yeah, I noticed that, too. But you know, it doesn’t surprise me. Those two gals are the best. Isn’t it funny, Blake?”
“What’s that, Major Sutton?”
“How long has it been? About four months? Remember? It seems just like yesterday—finding the bomber and then you finding that pile of rocks! What a twist of fate that was. Boy, was I ever confused when you said someone had survived the crash. I mean, there was no way, but who else could have left that flag for us to find? That’s one for the books! Whew! What memories!”
Blake was lost in thought, too. “I know what you mean, Major Sutton. Finding that pile of rocks just standing there all those years, undisturbed. Almost like it was being protected by God just so we could find it. What was the chances of that—and I can still hear that metal detector squalling? How can we ever forget?”
“You’re absolutely right, Blake. And here we are now—on this trail. I mean, this would have been the furthest thing from our minds—to be back in Laos just a couple of months later. I don’t know about you but I’m just awe struck at what has happened to us—Maria, Judy, Angkor Wat, Nick still alive, and now this.”
“Whew, you said a mouthful, there, Major Sutton. All because we found that letter. You know, none of this would be happening if we hadn’t have found it.
* * * * * * * *
Another morning arrived—much further up the mountain—the scenery as spectacular as ever.
Elephant Mountain’s western slope
photo by: Sean Maynard
Barely making two miles a day, the group continued on their way toward the temple—toward Nickolas and toward so many unanswered questions. Slowly, step by step, they climbed Elephant Mountain.
Fortunately the temperature wasn’t too hot and although at times the clouds looked as if they meant business, they had only experienced a brief shower. But everyone knew how that could change at any moment. Early in the morning it was even chilly.
Right around noon Sutton motioned for their Khmer guides to halt for lunch. Besides being hungry, their progress had now brought them to a creek, situated next to a small clearing.
Sutton could see Maria and Judy walking toward them. As soon as he told them about the break for lunch, Maria had her backpack off and the little stove that Blake had given her, unpacked and ready to light. The Cambodians, in their own way, also started small fires. Soon everyone was laughing and eating—mostly rice and vegetables.
Maria had even tucked away some of the new spices that she had recently discovered at the orphanage. Everyone was busy preparing lunch. In a nice dress, the young Khmer girl who had given Maria the flower garland quickly cooked hot chapattis for everyone; filling the air with a wonderful, toasty aroma.
photo by: Claude Renault
It’s amazing how much food a few handfuls of rice and beans can make, and everyone appreciated the warm meal. Sutton thought about the Vietcong he had fought almost 20 years ago and how they seemed to go on and on forever with just the smallest amount of rice. The culture—the people of Southeast Asia—were certainly attune to a lifestyle and diet that suited them in every way.
After lunch Blake took Maria for a short walk into a grove of tall trees that were standing nearby. The Khmer said it was safe but not to wander far. Taking out his trusty Nikon, Blake asked Maria if he could take her picture. Smiling ever so slightly, Maria sweetly nodded—producing a photo that they would treasure forever.
photo by: Blake
Sutton stayed with Judy to pack up. Squatting next to the stream where they could get their pots clean, Sutton washed while Judy dried.
“I remember right before my husband passed away—we had camped out like this. I know it has been several years but I miss him.”
“I’m sorry, Judy. I know all too well how certain things can suddenly remind us of painful events from the past.”
“Thank you. I just never thought I would go camping again. Well, not exactly camping but you know what I mean.”
“You never told me what happened to your husband.” In a way he knew better to ask, but he wanted to know.
“Well, I’ve been meaning to tell you. My husband was very fortunate in business and we were able to do pretty much anything we wanted. He had first come to Cambodia to build computers but when he saw the plight of the children, he was deeply concerned. He decided that we should move here and begin the work that I’m now doing.
“We had only been in Cambodia for about two months when one day a huge typhoon flooded the entire city. We had just bought the property that is now the orphanage. Anyhow, the rains just kept pouring and he was out in his jeep trying to rescue some of the homeless children that were trapped by the flooding waters—when he drowned. A little girl had been swept off her feet and he jumped into the raging water to save her but the current overpowered them both.”
Sutton could see large tears forming in Judy’s eyes. He reached for his handkerchief and handed it to her. Neither of them spoke for several minutes. Sutton then said, “He was obviously a very good and brave person.”
“Yes he was. Everyone who knew him admired him. He had many wonderful qualities and I was extremely fortunate to have known him for as long as I did. Even though he has been gone for several years, the work that I’m doing here in Cambodia is dedicated to his memory.”
“Judy, that’s the way it should be.” Sutton could sense how much this remarkable woman was beginning to mean to him.
“Oh look, here comes Blake and Maria. Welcome back. Alright ladies, we’ll let you two finish up here because we need to be up front with our guides.”
Looking at Maria, Judy said, “Oh, that’s fine. I’ve been really enjoying her company.”
“Hey Blake, you and Maria see anything interesting?”
Maria, beaming with excitement, proceeded to tell everyone of the fantastic view she and Blake had just found. “We could see right across this gorge and hear the sound of a river—and there were these large birds just circling above it, not even flapping their wings. And right near the tops of the trees there was a white mist. It was so beautiful.”
Sutton smiled and said, “Well, Maria, your father has certainly chosen a beautiful part of the world to live in.” Turning to Blake, Sutton then said, “Let’s you and I go on up ahead and get everybody ready to move out. Judy and Maria can finish up here with the others.”
“OK, let’s go.” Maria moved closer to Blake and gave him a gentle hug. The two men smiled and turned, with Sutton in the lead.