Disclaimer: The Rat Patrol is not my property. They come out to play sometimes, then I send them home.
Hitch was alone in the desert. He couldn't remember how or why he was in the desert alone, but he was. He also didn't know what happened to Troy, Moffitt, and Tully.
Hitch trudged along, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. He stopped every so often to look around, but the landscape never seemed to change – sand and dunes as far as he could see. No vegetation or life anywhere. No wind. The only movement was that of the sun as it made its way across a cloudless blue sky. He would then remove his kepi and wipe the sweat from his face with a sleeve of his shirt before returning to his journey. He had a pounding headache.
Where was he going? Hitch didn't know. According to the sun he was walking due east. However, without a map he didn't know where he was let alone where he was going. But he pushed on anyway.
The heat was oppressive during the day and when the sun went down it was freezing. Hitch turned around and watched as the sun began to disappear on the horizon. It seemed funny to him, but for some reason the days and nights were shorter than he remembered.
Moffitt pulled one of the soaking rags out of a bucket of water and wrung it out before pressing it against Hitch's forehead. The private moaned softly, but didn't wake up.
Troy knelt down and asked, "How's he doing?"
Moffitt sighed. "We have to get his fever down." He pulled the blanket up around Hitch's shoulders as he said, "He's beginning to shiver again."
"Why did he wait until he nearly collapsed to tell us he was sick?"
"We were in the middle of a mission. There wasn't much we could do."
Troy said, "Yeah, I guess. Did you give him penicillin?"
Moffitt nodded. "Yes, almost two hours ago."
"What about morphine?"
"He hasn't shown signs of being in a lot of pain so I'd rather not. I am going to crush up two aspirin to mix with water and try to get some into him. It should help with the fever and any minor aches he may have."
Troy gave a nod. "Go get it ready. I'll stay with him."
Hitch was shivering with the cold as he walked through the short night. But he knew that when the sun came up again the temperature would quickly climb high.
At one point Hitch felt something slide down his throat and he began to cough. Whatever it was it had a horribly bitter taste. He tried to spit the taste out, but there wasn't enough saliva in his mouth to spit with. He decided to try and ignore it.
Sleep. Hitch so badly wanted to sleep. At night it was too cold, and with no shade to be found sleeping in the desert heat during the day was suicide. So he kept moving as the sun began to rise in front of him.
When morning came Tully was sitting with Hitch and dutifully changed the cool rags on his friend's fevered brow.
Moffitt appeared and knelt down with a cup in his hand. "How's he looking?"
Tully sighed. "He goes through fits of shiverin' like he's cold, but he's still burnin' up."
Moffitt handed the cup to Tully and got a prepared shot of penicillin out of his jacket pocket. "I'll give him this shot and then we can get some of that into him."
"What is it?"
"Aspirin and water. I've been giving him that and the penicillin about every four hours."
Tully asked, "When can we get him to a doctor?"
Moffitt replied, "I don't want to move him until his fever breaks."
"When me or one of my sisters got a fever my mom put wet socks on our feet."
Moffitt lifted Hitch's head a little and put the cup to his lips as he said, "Wet socks? I think it's worth a try."
Hitch stopped and coughed as something wet and bitter slipped down his throat. It was the third time it happened and he wished whatever it was would stop, although for some reason his headache wasn't as bad has it had been.
A few minutes later Hitch stumbled and fell as if something had grabbed his right foot. He sat up and looked at his feet. His right foot suddenly felt cool and wet. Then the same thing happened with his left foot. Hitch quickly untied his boots and pulled them off. His socks were only slightly damp from his own sweat.
Hitch put his boots back on and got to his feet. The sun was going down again. Soon the shivers would begin.
Troy went to check on Hitch. He knelt next to Moffitt, who was sitting next to the private and asked, "Any improvement?"
Moffitt wrung out another rag and replaced the one on Hitch's forehead. "Perhaps a little. At least it appears his fever has stopped climbing."
"It's a good thing you decided to start packing penicillin in the med kits. It's come in handy a few times now."
"Yes and I'm going to have to remember to restock it when we get to a field hospital."
Troy questioned, "Any guess as to when we can get Hitch to that hospital?"
Moffitt sighed. "If his fever has indeed stopped climbing, it should break in the coming hours. I would hazard a guess that we may be leaving in the morning."
Troy noticed the socks on Hitch's feet. "Um … what's that about?"
Moffitt smiled. "Tully's idea. Apparently his mother would use wet socks to combat fever in her children."
Troy chuckled. "If it works, I'll send Mrs. Pettigrew some flowers."
Hitch watched the sun rise as he trudged on through the sand. So tired. It was sometime later that he realized the day didn't seem as hot and the night hadn't come in hours. He hadn't had the shivers in a long time.
More bitter stuff slipped down his throat, but this time he simply swallowed and didn't cough. For some reason Hitch believed that it was somehow helping him.
Then something started happening. The landscape slowly began to change, turning green with lush trees and grass. Hitch stopped and looked around. It looked familiar … but he couldn't quite place it.
He walked on and the landscape continued to change and he came across a park bench. It was made up of iron armrests and wooden slats for the seat and back. Hitch looked at curiously. Then it hit him. Central Park on Manhattan Island.
Hitch remembered that once when he was probably nine or ten his parents took him to Manhattan for a weekend holiday. They took him to Central Park. He remembered the green grass and trees, the winding paths. He had so much fun there … and he remembered laying down on a park bench with his mom and dad on either side of him. His head was on his mother's knee, her fingers gently caressing his head as he fell asleep.
Hitch took a deep breath and staggered to the bench. First he sat down as a kind of weakness overcame him. Then he leaned to one side and laid down. Sleep came.
Hitch's fever had finally broke and he was sleeping peacefully. Tully covered his friend with an extra blanket and went to inform Troy and Moffitt.
The next morning they loaded Hitch into one of the jeeps and headed for the nearest field hospital.
It was hours before Hitch finally awoke to see Troy, Moffitt, and Tully sitting next to his cot playing cards.
Tully was the first to notice that their friend was awake. "Hey, sleepyhead, how're ya feelin'?"
Hitch frowned a little. "Where have you guys been? And why did you leave me alone in the desert?"
Troy asked, "What are you talking about?"
"I spent days walking through the desert all alone. Where were you?"
Moffitt said, "Hitch, you weren't alone. We were right there with you trying to get your fever down. It took some time, but it finally broke and we were able to get you here for treatment."
Hitch was confused. "But I was … and you weren't … then I walked out of the desert straight into Central Park."
Tully smiled. "We're a long way from Central Park. You were dreaming."
Hitch scrubbed his palms over his face. "But it seemed so real. I've never had a dream so real."
Troy said, "You were pretty sick there for a while."
Moffitt nodded. "The best thing for you now is sleep. So just relax and close your eyes."
Tully said, "We'll be here when you wake up."
Hitch's eyelids were getting heavy and he yawned. "Promise? It was awfully lonely out there."
Troy smiled. "Have we ever lied to you?"
But Hitch was already asleep.
Moffitt smiled as he looked at Troy. "Don't forget. You owe Tully's mother some flowers."