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• INCITING INCIDENT – Foreshadows primary conflict, introduces secondary characters and setting. New Guinea, 1944 Lush tropical humidity swirled lazily, engulfing the pristine white beach. Frigate birds glided like calm kites, soaring with their great majesty over indigo waters. Flying rainbows of lorikeets flitted through the dense rainforest edge. Coconut palms flap-flapped their giant leaves, their fringy leaflets twisting gently this way and that. Waves broke out on the reef without much force during low tide. The intense beauty and tranquility of the island was the stuff of postcards. Piles of reef fish—samut and jamgunmari—glistened in a hand-hewn outrigger canoe not far from two women fishing in the sea near the mouth of the Song River. Tamika’s distended, pregnant belly jiggled so hard that her mother, Waya, worried the baby might plop out onto the reef right then. She touched her daughter’s belly. Tamika couldn’t contain herself. “Oh Mami! You know my wasakan so well!” They spoke in a local dialect similar to Sepik, one of hundreds of native languages in the island nation. Tamika lowered her kavan fishing spear with peals of laughter, squatting on the reef where she stood, her palm frond skirt swirling in the sea around her like a ballerina’s tutu. Please, bikpela pukpuk, give us time to get back to the village for this child to be born! Waya thought. She chuckled along with Tamika, her black skin shining in the tropical sun, her tight island afro sparkling with sweat and salt. A distant roar could be heard like a wave crashing on cliffs or the mounting of a thunderstorm. The women did not react to it, caught in their playful moment. “When he sees the samut up close he will scream, ‘Aye Mama Tami! My eyes are so big!’” Waya teased, happy tears catching her while she imagined her grandson’s delight. The distant roar came closer. A swarm of wasps perhaps? Something buzzing in the sky, metallic, fast approaching. Waya turned her head toward the noise, eyebrows lifting in panic when she saw a US Curtiss Hellblazer warplane bearing down on them, flying low and deliberate. They had seen such planes and other kinds too, but when they rarely flew over the village, they were much higher and further away, and not as menacing. Tamika saw her mother’s frightened face and without hesitating, dropped her spear and ran. The two women, one elder and one pregnant, raced without careful footing over the sharp reef. The knee-deep water made their escape a desperate comedy of stumbling, regaining footing, and tripping again. Tamika tumbled, sparing her belly but bloodying her knees. Her mother struggled to lift her from the water. Not long after, the real terror began: a full strafing run of the beach. The plane bleated out shots like raining hot hell. The women ran ahead of the bullets pelting the sand, their reef-bloodied feet hurrying as fast as their legs could go. Utterly panicked, they dove for a rough-hewn log and sod pillbox, constructed at the edge of the beach near the forest’s edge. The bullets ripped through the wood, some penetrating into the structure through the slits, some embedding in the thick logs. Their breaths heaved in gasping spurts, gagging on the thick tropical air, tears streaming down their frightened faces. They clutched each other tightly, screaming and crying in the howl of the persistent gunfire. Waya hid her face in her daughter’s neck, praying the unfolding nightmare would stop. The plane continued firing away down the beach, pulling up at the end of its run, flying off into the sky. It was over as fast as it started. Waya lifted her face as the echoing monstrosity melted into thumping background noises of waves rolling onto the reef. But an unfamiliar sound remained: a gurgling, rattling noise. Waya scanned around, realizing with alarm—it was Tamika. Tamika gasped, slumped to the ground, her chest and pregnant belly gushing blood. Waya, flustered, panicky, scooped up sand by the handful pressing it uselessly into the pouring wounds. Her wails and cries shook Tamika but were of no help. Tamika coughed out words through a watery, blood-filled mouth, “Mami, tell mi wontak about my love. Tell mi Bunop I loved catching the samut for him. Oh Mami!” Tamika’s eyes widened. “Huutuutuu. Huuutuuutuuu…” Waya called out with a prayer to their elders. Tamika gasped in a long, rattled rush, the last exhale she would ever make. She spasmed with a final release of blood from her lips and died in her mother’s arms. From her knees, Waya cradled her daughter’s body, shaking it while railing an oath: “May the laleo who has struck down my daughter be he cursed. May the winds and seas and rivers bring him misery. May the day come when his spirit is parted out for the whole!” • OPENING SCENE – Introduces protagonist, other key characters, normal life before main conflict, second complication, tone, setting. The streaked ethereal light of the rainforest interior captivated the senses: the riot of greens, the cascade of shadows, humidity hanging like thick perfume, all enveloping. On an island where the sapphire ocean met the aquamarine sky, and the distant surf crashed on a shallow reef, trimmed in tropical forest—it was glorious, magnificent, and surreal. That is, if you were a tourist in the Bahamas, but this was New Guinea. This was war. Murder Inc. rumbled through the wet, insect-filled, godforsaken jungle. The grinding, metal-on-metal rumble-screech of a tank that had seen too much tropics was an all too familiar symphony for the infantrymen who marched dutifully along, flanking the damn thing as it crunched and flattened the recently patrolled forest ahead of them. Its cheery little American flag luffing off the rear was all the more reason to be pissed off, except duty was duty and stuck on an island was stuck on an island. A handful of men plodded alongside or behind the tank, their US Army uniforms in various states of decay. They scanned the dense vegetation, the palpable tension of the trek drawn in deep lines on their filthy faces. The tank slopped through a wide pool, blocking the patrol path. It veered off into the bush, bumbling along its familiar soggy track. The men took their time navigating the hip-deep, tea-colored, stagnant floodwater. They were a little delicate about it all, since day in and day out wet feet and boots and gear meant mold and jungle stink, and worse if fungus or tropical bacteria found even the tiniest wound. If the invisible germs worked their way into the equation, there was festering, fevers, infections, illness, limb loss, or possibly death to look forward to. Go ahead and scratch an insect bite. Keep at it boy, let it puss up—and it was often a quick way out of your post. Maybe out of your life too, but at least out of this unending green hell. First Sergeant Lou “Alice” Carroll took a step into the glorified puddle. The twenty-five-year-old was tall and jaded, formerly a country lad with all the freshness and small-town wonder beaten out of him. His girlish nickname came with the similarity to the popular author’s moniker he was christened with. Family had started it and the military sealed it. Of all the things he’d been called over the years, ‘Alice’ wasn’t so bad. In fact, he had come to prefer it. Alice grimaced when the water reached his crotch. Unenthusiastically accompanying him into the pool was Corporal Eloy “Boon” Mortenson, an age-mate to Alice. He was another white guy, but with thick black hair and cool gray eyes who was serene and older than his years. Mortenson had become a “boon to mankind” during basic in a particularly mud-encrusted war game, where somehow, he produced enough clean wipes for all of the men to remove the grime from their eyes and mouths. A guy who could get stuff was a blessing indeed. Following them was PFC Maxium “Max” Johnson, a youthful and eager nineteen-year-old Black city kid. They all wore full battle kits in the sweltering New Guinea sun. Alice carried an older fifty-round cylinder Tommy gun, but Boon and Max had M1 Garands. All of the men kept them out of the water over their heads, taking awkward steps in a lurching dance through the slime. Alice scanned the forest from the middle of the pool. Nothing. He stared down, taking a minute to forcefully pull his foot out of the muck—damn near taking his boot off, the mud was so thick here. “Alice!” Boon whispered, surprised. Alice snapped his head up, his bright blue eyes shining. A shadow moved on the other side of the pool. The men sloshed up next to the bank, fanning out. The shadow continued to move slowly, not hiding, not evading—merely going along. The shadow finally stepped into a shaft of light: a wounded Japanese soldier in severely rotten battle fatigues, his helmet covered in a mesh of leaves. He shuffled with a pronounced limp, using his long gun as a crutch, the barrel packed with mud. He glanced at the soldiers, resigned, squaring his shoulders to them. The men drew their weapons. “Hands up, Jap!” Max shouted. The Japanese soldier shifted on his crutch. Max glanced at Alice, standing poised with his weapon. “Hands up like this!” Max raised his hands in surrender, his rifle hanging from a strap on his shoulder above the surface of the water. Slowly, and with great pain, the Japanese soldier lifted a hand. His other steadied himself against his gun-cane. A single shot rang out. The Japanese soldier took a hit to the face, dropping him instantly. Alice’s machine gun smoked. Max slowly lowered his hands, turning around, mouth agape. “He would’ve hated our food.” Alice shouldered his weapon, sloshing through the remaining pool and into the damp forest in the direction of the distant tank. Boon and Max remained frozen in place. Boon shrugged it off almost visibly like a dog shaking off too much water. “Another day in paradise, kid.” Boon hiked out of the water onto the bank, swatting at the undergrowth with the butt of his rifle. Max stood transfixed by the dead Japanese soldier, lingering more than he should have. He tucked his chin, said a silent prayer, and oozed his way out of the pool to follow the guys, conscious of his own pronounced limp. Alice, Boon, and Max fell in line again with Murder Inc., flanking the grumbling tank with less intensity, the fight blown out of them. They trudged for several long minutes through a grassy clearing in the middle of the forest, a former flame-torched section, now with fresh green undergrowth sprouting through the blackness. Max stared at the ground, afraid that if he faced Alice, he would give away his contempt. It was disrespectful to yell at a Sergeant, no matter if he deserved it. War was war after all and shooting the enemy was part of it. But, thought Max, poor Jap obviously had seen enough. He could have been a prisoner of war with no threat to anyone. “I surrenda!” boomed a heavy Australian accent. Max startled out of his reverie. Alice mechanically swung his weapon toward the voice. Boon did the same, a shoulder’s distance away. Jimmy “Crackers” Murray stepped out into the clearing, hands over his head. His crisp white T-shirt, combat boots, and Australian Army-issued fatigues were all annoyingly unspoiled, even by sweat. He wasn’t wearing a weapon or helmet, so his mop of bright red hair lit up the green hell surrounding him. He sported polished dog tags and a half-smoked stogie he was systematically chewing in his shit-eating grin. He exhaled a bolus of blue smoke, “I swears to ya boys! I gives up!” “Steady, men! We have a prisoner,” said Alice, keeping his Tommy trained on Crackers, serious. Max gave his superior a wary glance. “Oh fer crissakes, Alice! I’m just yankin’ you, mates. Ain’t seen a Nip fer months.” “Steady.” Alice slowly squeezed the trigger. Boon stayed trained on the target with him. Oh shit! Max thought. Is he gonna shoot Crackers too? “On my command,” Alice stayed rock solid. Boon didn’t flinch. Max trembled, his weapon bobbing in place, holding it as commanded. Oh God! This can’t be happening! Crackers backed up, his smile fading. He lowered his hands, waving his palms back and forth as if to create a screen to hide behind. “No need to chuck a wobbly here, mate.” Alice raised a hand to his men—and Crackers turned back the way he came, mud flying from his polished boots. Alice fired high, knocking a palm frond onto the retreating Aussie, showering him in ants. “Muthafuckas!” Crackers leapt like a gazelle slapping and swatting at himself as he ran, hollering and cussing all the way. Alice laughed, the tension popping like a balloon. Boon stepped up, slapping Alice on the shoulder. Max was dumbfounded. His first tour in this godforsaken war and he ended up with these assholes. “You better hope he doesn’t poison our hooch.” Alice wiped a tear. “Don’t worry. That crazy dingo’s gotta drink it too,” he laughed turning to Max. “Alright, fall in. Fun’s over.” Boon and Alice continued to chuckle, jogging toward base with Max shaking his head behind them. • ACT I FINAL SCENES, DIALOG DEMO – End of normalcy, deepening key character’s relationships, sets up plot twist. Later that night, the company circled a blazing fire in the camp square. The men sat on logs or stood behind them wearing their Garrison, officer’s, patrol, or utility covers, and even a few helmets for the occasion. They clinked metal cups, bowls, coconut shells—anything that would hold fluid. The audience passed around jars filled with homemade liquid blindness. This was the special hooch from the Aussie camp. It was distilled from nipa stalks, the pre-flowering part of the abundant palm trees the men trudged past in the swamps. The sugary inflorescences were used in many native food preparations and were perfect for fermenting. Add some water, cover with broad fresh leaves to keep the majority of bugs out. After a couple of weeks or longer if the guys could wait, strain it through a mostly clean T-shirt. The finished bush tipple had a dominant flavor of lighter fluid with subtle notes of sweet crude. The fermentation process hadn’t been defined enough to get nuanced flavors. But whatever, man. Did the trick. A palm leaf fan fluttered in front of a face. Bird of Paradise feathers stuck above a fancy hairdo. The fan SNAPPED, revealing Alice in drag: a palm frond skirt hung over his dress pants and boots, charcoal accentuating his eyes, red annatto seed paint on his lips. No shirt, but tied-on coconut halves like a bikini top. Or boobs. Alice exaggerated his strut, hips swinging to the music blaring over the crappy mess hall speakers: BOOM-CHACKA-LACKA-BOOM! The men all roared and catcalled. Several native New Guinea workers huddled at the fringes, smiling. Mekene and Jack giggled standing next to cheering, sloshed GIs. Crackers and Boon were similarly costumed, swaggering out to the music behind Alice. Crackers staggered drunkenly, catching himself. More howls. Alice, Boon, and Crackers danced a clumsy two-step they imagined resembled a tribal stomp. They waved their fans. The audience clapped enthusiastically along. The music dramatically stopped. Max waved to Alice from the record player. He held the tone arm, the record spinning. Alice raised his hands over his head, fan fluttering like a shimmery crown. Greg “Zog” Dunbar, a thirty-something unshaven soldier near the front of the stage area, was one of the “great unwashed” as Alice knew some of his infantrymen to be. Where Alice strove for less filth in his world, it seemed some of the guys were either oblivious to it or attracted it in a manner that stuck to them like armor. Zog’s cigarette dangled from his lips with the ash too long and a cup in his hand sloshing about. “Put ‘em down sweetheart! Daddy will buy you a razor!” he jeered. Alice ignored him, clearing his throat, “We women from Wonga Wonga have come to save you poor savages!” “Who you callin’ sa-vaj, Dame?” slurred Zog. Alice lowered his fan, waving it him. “Yes, we women know you boys have become savages. You no longer wipe your feet to enter the mess hall.” Cookie shook a fist from the audience. “Damn straight!” “You sleep in the mud, you bathe in the mud, and you all got creeping crud!” chanted Alice gesturing around with his fan. “Woot! Woot! Here we go!” called Zog. Everyone laughed. They clinked their motley drinking vessels and took deep draws of the rotgut. Boon stepped up with hands on his hips, not as smooth or unaffected by the jeering men as Alice. His coconuts floated on a mat of thick black fur. “Yessir. You boys ‘er crawlin’ with leeches an’ mosquitoes an’ other bugs an’ shit.” The audience cheered and continued to congratulate themselves. Dan-the-Washer-Man gave Mekene a drunken squeeze around his shoulders. The tribesman was not a fan of the gesture, but he smiled nonetheless trying to be a part of the white man’s folly. Mekene peered off into the forest, startled. Something in the periphery of his vision caught his eye. The other New Guineans in attendance appeared similarly worried and noiselessly slipped away from the fire pit. Jack lingered, non-verbally imploring Mekene. He gently shrugged off Dan’s chummy arm and put a paternal hand on Jack’s shoulder. Jack melted with him into the shadows. “And best of all, you lousy sonsabitches, you got malaria and beri beri. But we pretty lassies,” Crackers keened, listing to one side. Boon steadied him. The crowd roared anew. “We beautiful lasses is goin’ to save your sorry asses!” Cheers. Everyone was on their feet now. Alice paraded with his fan fluttering. “Yep. We have come from afar to take you all home. Back to a place where mud means farmin’ and music ain’t from the East.” Boon and Crackers stumbled in a semblance of a marching dance around Alice. “But first,” Crackers paused, ripping a fart. “A bit more choke and ya woulda started, Drongo!” teased Hugh from across the fire pit. Crackers turned around, pulled down his pants, bent over, and mooned the audience. “But first, you jokers gotta kiss my bum,” he called. The crowd exploded. The hulking Cave Bear lead the pack to get at Crackers first. “Aw, c’mon fellas! We’re having a show here!” Alice crowed, trying to wave them back. He leaped clear of a punch. Boon stepped forward, clobbering the fist-thrower. Alice made for the back of the surge, taking a second unseen punch in the face. He dropped, sprawled out in the mud. Max regarded him, shaking out his hand. “You ain’t in Kansas no more, Sir,” he said the last word a bit too loudly and with a bit of spit before he swayed back into the crowd for more brawling. Behind him, Crackers and Boon duked it out with the masses, their coconuts flying. ¨ ¨ ¨ Dress hats and various articles of clothing were crushed in the mud along with helmets, bootleg jars, and other remnants of the evening encircling the slowly dying fire. Some of the men sat around and drank. Most others had cleared out. Crackers was passed out, slumped over a log ass up, pants down, with a small US flag sticking out of his crack. Alice sat on the ground near the smoldering fire. His coconut breasts were askew, but somehow miraculously attached to his body. His makeup and hairdo were a mess, skirt long gone, and a shiner was starting to form under his left eye. He hummed softly to himself drinking out of a glass jar he had no doubt found discarded. Boon stumbled over, putting a hand on Alice’s head. “You ‘k?” “Sure thing.” “Great night, man.” “’Bess one yet,” Alice smiled, taking a swig, sitting the jar shakily on the ground. Boon chuckled, patting Alice’s head. He staggered off into the dark. Alice reached for a discarded pith helmet, dumping over the glass jar, the remaining hooch pooling on the wet soil. He dragged the hard hat under his head for a pillow. It sat relatively flat with the liner missing. Some fool no doubt had used it for a drinking vessel. He was out instantaneously. Across from him, Crackers passed wind making the flag flutter. ¨ ¨ ¨ Deep in the sweltering darkness, when the forest was full of night song and the animals with many voices ebbed and flowed together as one, a bright moon shone, obliterating the stars. Although the blackness was more complete under the forest canopy, whatever the silvery halo of moonlight touched made it glow with a shimmery, metallic shade. It gleamed off of the damp ground, the tents, and the tops of trees, making the open space of the compound resemble a black-and-white movie. The fire was long out. Alice slept alone on the ground next to the fire pit, head propped by the helmet. Crackers and the others had made their way, if not back to their bunks, then somewhere else to pass out. A slight CRUNCH vibrated nearby. Alice continued to peacefully snore in passed-out comfort. Without warning, hands snatched Alice by the head, body, arms. Another took the helmet. Silent. Swift. Intense mercuric darkness swallowed the scene.
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