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hvysmker
March 27th, 2015, 08:11 PM
Darkness lifts through closed eyelids as a nurse snaps a switch inside the door of the ward. A harsh light that invades the privacy of my mind, forcing it into the reality of day. My waking mind refuses to note the sounds of moaning and softly spoken expletives as the others awake. It almost takes a conscious effort to hear those common sounds. They are so all-prevalent as to be ignored by a tortured being. Like when I was a kid living next to a busy highway, the sounds of pain and anguish are filtered out before reaching my consciousness.

Consciousness -- damn consciousness. Better to remain in that in-between state where I drift in a land without pain, without worry, without being -- conscious. Without feeling limbs that no longer exist, except in some hellish hole or covering a branch of a nameless shrub in Vietnam; hardly worth looking for or saving. Shredded flesh no longer part of a body, too peppered with shrapnel to ever think of saving, fit only for the sustenance of myriad creatures inhabiting a far away jungle.

Consciousness, consciousness brings only more pain, pain and realization that I will never walk, never swim -- never love. Yes, even that part of me is gone, replaced by a transparent plastic bag. The world will never be cursed with my progeny.

I wait eagerly for one of a small army of military nurses to travel slowly down our row of beds, dispensing relief, drugs giving welcome solace to suffering near-human objects that were once human beings.

Between all of us we have half the normal quota of limbs for our numbers, three fourths of the expected minds, and only a tiny fraction of the hopes and dreams of a normal group of mostly teenage men. And I do mean men; not boys, not soldiers, no longer simple kids. There are no children in combat fatigues, at least not if those fatigues are covered with the red mud of jungle combat.

One of the women, in a clean white uniform, stops at my bed; some young, some old, but all women. No girls in this ward, not after the first few hours or days of seeing our pain and endless suffering.

At least they can get a break at the end of their shift, go home and hug their husbands, or get drunk as a lot of them do. We, the patients, don’t have that option. Our only solace being at the end of a needle, or the sliding of a pill down a throat dry from screaming.

Being in recovery, meaning not in immediate danger of dying, I get a handful of pills, along with a paper cup of warm water. I gulp them hastily, yearning for relief; not as much from blossoming pain as from the fruits of my own thoughts. Thoughts of living with only one arm, half-working, and no legs at all. The arm is still good, but missing two of five fingers. Land mines aren’t selective, they’ll chomp happily on anything available.

I hear it was an American mine. That’s what I heard Sammy tell someone while they loaded me on the chopper. Doped by morphine and a shot of illegal "H" I was still, but barely, conscious at the time. A welcome time because either shock or morphine kept the pain away. I felt I was looking up from a well, tunnel vision, as my dulled brain recorded the scene. . . .

***

“I found a piece sticking out of Terry,” I heard, feeling my back thumping to the bare cool metal floor of a chopper, “It was stamped ‘made in Detroit.’ Probably for WWII.”

I can see it in my mind. My grandmother carefully fitting a wad of TNT into a casing, hundreds of them piled up in crates at the rear of the room. Ever so carefully, she would have turned that specific shaped charge for a perfect fit as the casing traveled slowly down a conveyor belt to the next station to have a cap screwed on. Later the cold killer would be stacked with its fellows ... at the back of the room.

It would have traveled, much as I had, to that godforsaken jungle. To lie dormant, waiting thirty or forty years -- patiently waiting. Recently, a fuse with safety pin had been inserted. Even more recently, safety pin removed, it had been waiting to make my acquaintance.

I lie quietly until the pills take effect, waiting for a welcome surcease of a too active thought process. The pills bring only temporary peace. I’ll float on a cloud, no pain, thoughts drifting, never coalescing into a viable pattern, drifting without rhyme or reason, without cohesion. . . .

***

“I don’t give a fuck,” Sgt. Jefferson stared into my eyes, face six-inches from mine, “you get your ass up on point. Thomas has been into that fucking weed again. He’s stoned and you have to take his turn.”

“But sarge, he’s not that high. It even helps to have a toke. Your senses are sharpened,” I argued. “You’re new here. A lot of us do it before walking point,” I lied, not wanting the job. Sgt. Jefferson was a newbie, not yet acclimated to the way things were really done, still full of that rule book bullshit.

Hell, us older guys knew how to keep that right glow, just enough of our favorite drug or alcohol to function at peak, not enough to slow us down. He would learn, or die. But, for the moment, he was both a newbie and in charge of the patrol. It’s one thing to be right, another to be dead right.

“Sarge, I only got two weeks left. I’m too short to walk point.” A last ditch attempt to get out of it.

“And I’m new. I don’t wanna get killed on my first patrol. I want experienced men up there, and you’re it.” He turned away to check Thomas’s equipment. “Now get up there and go to work.”

I noticed the eyes of some of my buddies as I parted concertina wire and stepped outside our encampment. Even though it was to be a routine patrol, making sure the VC hadn’t come up near our camp or planted anything during the night, I could see they were glad it was me and not them leaving the relative safety of our forward base.

“Hey, Terry, watch your step, man,” a friend, Turner, advised as I struggled down the embankment into Indian Country. Although they were trying to be silent, keen senses could hear the rest of the patrol following in my footsteps. The jungle smelled of mold and fresh grass. The first part was easy, as long as some asshole on our side hadn’t planted a mine or booby trap in the wrong place. It had happened in the past.

Eyes moving almost as rapidly as my heart valves, I walked down the berm and into a cleared area we kept around the base. We kept it flat and empty of vegetation, plowed so that any footprints would show. I walked about twenty yards to the side before entering the plowed area. It wouldn’t do to let the VC see the point where I had left base. Of course it would be changed the next night in any case, or we might be gone by then; you never knew.

Came the moment of truth. With the others following at intervals, I entered the jungle. There were paths but we never, ever, used them. Paths were too easy to mine and ambush. Always shove or cut your way through. My job was to keep a very, very, close eye on the ground in front of me as I broke my way through semi-thick vegetation.

I pretty much ignored anything in the distance, above, or to either side. Others behind me had those assignments, just as mine was the ground in front. I looked for anything suspicious, especially shiny, like a wire, or out of place, such a candy bar – which had killed one guy once. He bent down to pick it up, later finding himself picked up – one piece at a time.

I also had to check branches and limbs I shoved or went past, since they could also be booby trapped. Point man was the most thankless job in the army. One little mistake and “Boom.”

I took no chances, on occasion using a bayonet to probe the ground, moving my head back and forth rapidly to better use peripheral vision to catch slight movements or the shine of hidden metal. I was intensely aware that at any time I could feel a “click” through my boot that meant I was standing on a live land mine.

Oh, how I wished I'd had a toke or two of weed under my belt to calm me. I wondered how far back Sgt. Jefferson was? If I could sneak a jolt of liquid speed from a small bottle under my shirt. The trouble was that speed would keep me going, but not ease my fear. It might even cause me to take unnecessary chances.

Time stood still as I made my way slowly, picking up speed as I became more confident. I pretended I was alone, rabbit hunting back in Illinois and looking for tracks. In this case they would be metallic or plastic tracks.

“Hey, how’s it going Terry?”

I jerked at the sound of a loud voice behind me, froze in place, pulled back to the real world. It was the new sergeant, making his way in my direction while dodging around angry grunts, “I called a break. Guess you didn’t hear me. Take it easy and relax. I’ll send Evens up to take your place for the next hour.” He was talking to me, for some reason wanting to seem comradely.

Sweating, eyes still moving, taking time to get out of patrol mode, I sat back on my heels, the ordeal over for a while at least, and lit a Camel. It was from a “C” ration cigarette package; packed during and for a long gone war, in 1942. It still tasted wonderful as I pulled smoke into my lungs.

I sat back and looked, looked at the asshole stupid enough to yell on a jungle patrol. Any VC within a half-kilometer would know we were there.

“Man, this heat,” he continued, examining the trail ahead and to the sides. “Pretty country though. Better than New York City, where I grew up.”

I wasn’t paying much attention, sitting back while trying to let tension flow from keyed-up flesh. Lost in my own actions, I didn’t notice the fucker. Not until I saw him bending tp reacj through branches, reaching for something ahead of us, deep in the brush.

“Hey Terry, how did this get he. . . .”

The next thing I knew I was on my back in the shrubbery, eyes red with blood, my own or Jefferson’s? A few seconds later I heard a spat of gunfire. It seemed like hours or seconds later before someone was lying heavily across my face as they bandaged my wounds.

I had an impression of olive-colored military bandages crossing my sight, to finally settle over my eyes. I could still smell, smell that sharp odor of fear, cordite from the explosive permeating both clothing and flesh, mixed with the distinctive odor of jungle mud.

There was no feeling except for the prick of a needle as I was injected with morphine. No pain, only a dull feeling of being picked up.

"Hold still, Terry," I heard Peter's voice and felt another prick on my arm, "this'll help some, a little horse to ride home to the World," as he gave me a shot of illegal heroin.

My last impressions were the feel of cold metal through new tears in my uniform as I landed on the floor of the chopper. . . .

***

Now I lie like a vegetable, except for one partial fist clasping a tiny paper cup. Two eyes staring into space as a drugged mind struggles to attain that welcome blankness, the kind that erases time and space, prevents and ignores the pain of broken bones, dreams, hopes, loves -- and life itself.

The End.
Charlie

tmason
March 27th, 2015, 10:37 PM
Very cool story; I especially like the "thick" imagery in the beginning while the character was on the hospital bed and then flashing to the events that led to him being in the bed. I could envision it clearly.

Really rich stuff; did you serve?

I guess my small bit of improvement would be to describe the physical characteristics of the other people; I couldn't envision them as clear as the surroundings. You describe the environment so well that the characters just seem to be "voices".

Hope that makes sense. Great stuff!

hvysmker
March 28th, 2015, 12:38 AM
Sure did. Two years in Nam and a brief medivac to Japan.

Charlie

CyberWar
March 28th, 2015, 06:52 AM
I suppose I can relate to the job.

Well-written, and well-spoken. I always enjoy a good war story, purely fictional or based in real experience.

hvysmker
March 28th, 2015, 01:28 PM
Thanks, CyberWar. I've never been to Latvia, but have worked with armies from Germany. England, and France, along with South Vietnamese from that era. In certain ways, armies seem to be pretty much alike, from swords to ray guns. Although a world apart and me now a civilian, we're still brothers. No matter the politics. We've no doubt shared experiences of everyday military life.

Charlie

tundrawolf
April 2nd, 2015, 07:09 AM
Thank you for your service.

I liked the story.

CyberWar
April 11th, 2015, 01:24 AM
Your notion about all soldiers being brothers, which I wholeheartedly agree with, reminded me of this song.

We are the hammer of the gods
We are thunder, wind and rain
There you wait
With swords in feeble hands
With dreams to be a king
First one should be a man

- Manowar - Warriors of the World -

Transcender
April 14th, 2015, 12:35 AM
I am sorry that you experienced Vietnam, hvysmker.

That being said, I liked your story. The past/present rotation was done well, I think.

Paladin
April 27th, 2015, 05:58 PM
Wow, I feel like I'm with them on patrol, good description and imagery. I also like how you give the characters a real human nature, the fear, the desire for relief, and the pain afterword's.

Kevin
April 27th, 2015, 06:46 PM
Another well-written piece. The mother as factory bomb-maker irony works well. The backstory last works.

One of the women, in a clean white uniform, stops at my --- first I thought 'no comma after woman'. Then I thought : 'well, this is like a parenthetical ( hope I'm calling it the right thing). So then I thought 'maybe em-dashes in place of the commas.' They don't type out on this forum. I can do them on word and transfer, but not here. Anyway...
But sarge ---"sarge", are we s'posed to capitalize that, like his name or 'Dad' versus 'my dad'?


“Hey Terry, how did this get he. . . .” --- maybe a dash instead of dots to show the sudden interruption. JAT

Strong imagery. All right then, cheers K

Tyrion
May 20th, 2015, 08:31 PM
This is an excellent piece of writing, it has a very genuine quality to it. I am reminded of Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead which I mentioned on a previous thread, especially the scene with the soldiers lying in their hammocks with the author relaying the silent agony, drudgery and misery of war. I like the very psychological approach you have taken, as it allows me to sense the character's conflicted state of mind - which I think must approach very near in written form to what the real trauma must feel like. It is very vivid. You also capture the 'soldier-speak' of the men very well, as did Norman Mailer. Interestingly, he drew upon real-life experiences of the Pacific War (WWII) for that book. As with others, I am a bit of a connoisseur of war novels. Thankfully I have never had to experience it myself but I have a deep abiding interest in the impact of war on the human psyche. This piece of writing is very evocative in this regard. Very well done.

robertdonnell
June 3rd, 2015, 11:45 PM
I like your work, A comment about my recent experience, I broke my leg, civilian work setting, but similar, the time from break to ambulance was quick but etched in my mind quite vividly. Initially I felt no pain at all. Then I got to the hospital, then the pain came mostly from some douchebag manipulating a snapped tibula and rough handling while undressing me. The morphine had little effect, I felt everything until they put me under. Some nurses were great some sucked. I had to learn to pee in a urinal (a crooked neck bottle). My next few weeks were the most uncomfortable in my life. My body chemistry was really hosed up.

Leonodas
June 13th, 2015, 10:50 PM
Really enjoyed the realism; gotta appreciate a good war story. Reminds me of "The Things They Carried", and that's certainly a good connection. Will you be expanding on this story?

gokedik
June 15th, 2015, 08:15 PM
I don't know if beautiful would be the correct word. Much more than a mere war story. You brought me in and I began to, involuntarily, empathize. I don't know whom can read this and not. We are very fortunate to have men, like you, to remind us that freedom has a price. And the courageous of us, also like you, are willing to pay it Thank you, patriot.

cdr112
June 17th, 2015, 07:36 PM
Very well written! I always marvel at a story so well told it was almost like I was there. I aspire to write with such imagery.

musichal
June 17th, 2015, 07:56 PM
Not only well-written, but also very absorbing. As others have said, thank you for your service. The realism of this work is palpable; well done, sir.

aggieamy
June 17th, 2015, 09:28 PM
I almost couldn't read this because it felt too real and too sad. Exactly what it was supposed to do.

Good choice on telling it in present tense.

ismith
June 27th, 2015, 09:33 PM
Well done!