Follow the oyster shell road, follow the oyster shell road...
Although he doubted either Rust or Salzwedel would hear him, Blow struggled to quell a giggle forcing its way up in tribute to the munchkin voice that set to chirping in his head when Rust mentioned their immediate objective: the road he said his grandfather had built of oyster shells leading from the boat landing to his boyhood home somewhere beyond in the rain-blasted darkness.
Blow succeeded. The effervescence never made it to his larynx, dying along with the voice that prompted it as Rust's search for his grandfather's road took longer than the off-hand confidence in his voice had suggested. The search included walking across it without knowing.
“Uh, hold on. We done missed it, boys.” The same confidence in Rust's voice now irritated Blow, the way someone answering a telephone with a convincing “hello” turns out to be a recording. Yet it quickly became evident Rust's confidence was real. It had not not been shaken by the mistake. “I t'ink I know where we crossed it,” he shouted through the raucous wind. He flicked the lantern on and off, imprinting the glistering spectral image of his yellow slicker amid the enfilading horizontal rain. “C'mon,” he ordered, and started plodding back they way they'd come. Rust missed the road again, but this time Blow found it, a couple of steps behind.
“Shit!” is how he marked the find after tripping and sprawling face down with a heavy splash. “Whoa!” came Rust's voice, and the lantern flicked again, blinding Blow with its reflection off the water inches away. Strong hands from behind gripped him under the shoulders and pulled him to his knees.
“You OK?” Blow heard Salzwedel's voice. He tried to nod. “Hey,” the history teacher continued, his breath steaming in Blow's ear, “Some of them on Bataan made it, you know. There were survivors.” This time what made it was Blow's giggle, finally freed if only for the wind to whisk it away without recognition. The mirth producing it flew off as well when a new, more formidable emotion strode onto center stage.
“The road!” Rust shouted. He'd flicked the lantern on again, taken from Blow the “stone” his bandaged hand had landed on when he fell and that he'd pulled out of the inch-deep water when Salzwedel lifted him up, and seen it was most of a half of a bleached white oyster shell. To be certain, the older man stomped several times then knelt, thrust a paw-like hand into the water and pulled it out brimming with shell fragments. “She's here,” he said, iron certainty now in his voice, although the exuberance it replaced remained in the toothy grin that stretched across the bottom half of his moon face. He turned the lantern off, handed it to Blow, and splashed to his feet. As blackness joined the surrounding wind and its merciless rain, the confidence of command returned to Rust and from there reached Blow and Salzwedel like protective cloak.
“Stay close behind now, boys. She a pretty narrow road and she snake around some. The tide she comin' in right fast now. We best keep movin'. You have any trouble you holler, hear?”
The mini-patrol surged forward. Feet still splashed with each uncertain step, and the rain still blasted them, and from the side instead of at their backs, but without the mud gripping their boots the men made better time than before. Blow had meant to count his steps when they started up the road, but he was distracted by the water at his feet which seemed to be getting deeper despite their movement away from the shore. He was too tired to spend energy asking how much further they had to go. The wailing voice told them they were getting closer. It seemed almost directly in front of them. This time the mournful cry ended in words, clearly understood despite sounding like a newborn calf's bawling: “Help me! Somebody help me!”