Megan kept still. She was listening with her entire body.
There were tells that every soldier knew; some taught in basic training, but most learned over time. Silky footsteps whispering in the grass. The metallic chatter of a bullet rattling in its chamber. The muted thunk of gear on gear motion. The slink of a knife pulled from its sheath. The stuttered breath of that last fearful gasp. A nervous heart. All these were thumbprints of an intruder.
Satisfied that no one was nearby, she looked up and yawned into the wide-open night sky, arms outstretched. Reaching down, she grabbed her pipe, craving something to occupy her mind and perhaps wake her up a bit while on watch.
Megan kept her tobacco in an old piece of tin gear her father had passed on to her. The square tin had a tight lock and was initially intended for use as a tinder kit for survivalist purposes. She pinched some tobacco from the container and filled her pipe.
The tobacco had the perfect humidity for smoking straight from the tin; which is to say, dry but not brittle. No drying time would be needed. The aroma of the War Horse was unremarkable but pleasant in its quaintness. It had a vinegar-clean smell of fresh hay, leather, earth, stewed apricots and a touch of lime rind with sour notes.
She sparked her father’s old lighter. Another night at the watch. Another stopped clock. Smoke in the sky.
The false light took easily and immediately she tasted the sweet earth of the bold burley. It brought to her mind the fresh walnuts her father was fond of roasting at the hearth fire on weekend nights. Above the burley were hints of the topping added to the tobacco that tasted like fermented cherries smashed on a leather strap and salted; sweet, tart and piquant with a touch of anise. It was subtle, but there none the less and enjoyable.
She smoked deep. She should have had her full concentration on her duties, but they weren’t. At the moment, aside from the pipe, a small portion of her attention was also placed on the steady release of sand from one of the bags that made up the piecemeal barrier that supported her tired back. It had absorbed a bullet earlier in the week, and someone hadn’t changed it out or plugged it up.
The campy smoke of dark-fired Kentucky sat just under the burley within the smokes profile. Reminiscent of the bonfires her family would have when it was time to clear brush on the farm. It mixed with fire and spice on her tongue.
She blew a smoke ring, listening to the hole in the sandbag. It was a small sound, a hundred tickling ticks tap-dancing the most extended act of their lives. It must have been a little hole as well. Would probably take a few days before she’d be able to tell which sack was leaking.
She’d find it.
Deeper into the smoke, at mid-bowl now, the topping began to wear off, making room for other subtleties to be detected. The perique played a spicy tune with hints of aged plums and raisins on the back end. It sent ripples of dark-fruit tang along her tongue as she smoked, searching for new flavors.
Finally, the Virginias held everything together at the base of the operation with sweet hay and the flavor of fresh mud in the rain. Though subtle, they played an essential role in pulling everything together with a sugary tang to unify the blend.
It was sublime smoke, but cut too short —
A canvassy rustling sound smashed her thoughts and swept them away in an instant, followed by a bolt of liquid lightning that shot from her tailbone to the tip of her nose when she heard him closing in from behind.
She could hear the breath caught in his throat. He must’ve taken a long way round and gone through the jungle! Clever! Or stupid? She thought as she reacted, almost too late to stop him from slitting her throat.
Catching a glimpse of the charcoal-colored blade in her peripheral vision, she snapped her palm against his inner wrist with a single solid strike. “Closer than I thought,” she whispered and swallowed a mouthful of fear.
In response to her ferocious counter-attack, he let out a short grunt — Megan felt the hot breath brush the hairs on her neck. It stank of rotten fish and — was that vodka? His knife flopped clumsily from his hand and into the darkness.
She spun to face him, at the same time pulling her sidearm from its holster.
“Trezeppa ayn poontah!” He howled through chapped lips, nestled in an unkempt beard that seemed to include a few slimy flecks of past meals knotted in it. She didn’t know what he said, and she didn’t care.
“Coup de Veilen!” He yelled.
She watched as he clumsily felt for the gun in his belt. He must have encountered a viper-vine on the trek to her post because there was a strip of the vampiric foliage still coiled around his right bicep. He shuffled a few steps backward and nearly toppled, searching for balance.
Her heart sank. She held the gun on the drunk bastard as he stumbled around her post.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” She yelled at him, knowing full well her intoxicated assailant would not understand her.
“Urh?” He straightened a bit, held a sideward gaze as if listening. He swayed slowly, still searching for his gun.
“YOU – HAVE – GOT – TO–” She stopped suddenly, noticing he’d ripped off his company patch and removed his dog tags, thus erasing his own identity. He must have broken from camp in a moment of blind spontaneity and charged into her guard.
Suicide perhaps? Were things that bad on the other side?
He was a foot shorter than her, old and grizzled as a worn leather sheath. With waves of empathy, she returned her gun to its hold when she saw that the weapon he was fumbling for was no longer in its holster. This was no enemy. This was a sick man.
The blood that seeped from his arm wound where the venomous thorned vine had torn at him was bothering her. How could he just stand there and bleed out like that? Couldn’t he feel the thorns pulling at his muscles? The tightening. She’d seen a green heel break down in tears just from getting a small one around his thumb — this man was undoubtedly going to lose an arm if he didn’t react quickly.
She slid the knife from her belt and pointed at the wriggling mass of plant on his shoulder. “I WANT TO HELP YOU!”
“URH?” His eyes swelled with drunk confusion as she closed in with the knife.
She was now close enough to touch him. “I’m just going to cut the –”
At the moment she touched him, he flinched, panicked, and roared, “Nurah!” He instinctively pulled a gun from his vest where, in a moment of clarity, he must have realized he stashed it.
She didn’t give him the time to aim. Her knife bit deep into his neck, opening it from one side to the other. The weight of his head pulled the skin apart as it slumped back, further opening the wound, ripping sinew and widening like a sad smile. The blood gurgled from the enormous gash and from his rotten mouth as well.
“I wanted to help you, you idiot! WHY DIDN’T YOU LET ME HELP YOU!” Megan screamed around her now dead pipe at the pile of soldier in the grass. She knew it didn’t matter. He was already gone.
She cut the vine from his arm and tossed it in the fire.
Megan settled back against the barrier. She listened to the viper-vine squeal and sizzle. She listened to the bag of trickling sand and set about cleaning her pipe.
Other Tobacco Notes:
Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania’s Warhorse Readycut is a solid, quality crossover tobacco-forward aromatic with strong burley and dark-fired Kentucky notes. It burns nice. No goop or doddle. And it remains enjoyable for the whole bowl.
Strength Notes: For medium strength both in nicotine and smoke density.
Cut: A medium ribbon with perfect humidity straight from the can that requires no drying time. I smoked it straight from the tin with no problem.
Nicotine Strength: The nic hit is medium with a slight tingle on the tongue.
Drink Pairing: I enjoyed this tobacco with a cup of coffee.
Smoking Time: Best enjoyed at night when you are ready to reflect on your day. It has a medium burn time and took about an hour to smoke in a medium bowl.
Pipes Used: Comoy’s Holiday Pipe, straight. It works well in a medium to large bowl. Otherwise, it will smoke in just about anything. There is a chance of ghosting with a blend topped such as this, so keep that in mind.
Age When Smoked: Fresh from the tin.
3/4 Stars. A very well-crafted crossover aromatic with a memorable aroma.
|Brand||Standard Tobacco Company of Pennsylvania|
|Blended By||Russ Ouellette|
|Manufactured By||Lane, Ltd.|
|Contents||Burley, Kentucky, Perique, Virginia|
|Flavoring||Other / Misc|
|Packaging||2 oz Tin|
|Where to Buy:||TobaccoPipes.com|
All photos are the property of Justin Day at Photography By Day Studio. You can find more of my work here.