I dream of snow. Wading across the painted desert landscape, my boots press into the soft powder. “Ugh, what a horrible smell. It smells like someone died here.” The crumbles of powder crack and fall from the faces of innocent women and children butchered in the name of tyranny. Gasping for air, I fall out of bed and land on my knees.
“It’s okay. You’re not there anymore.” My throat is clogged with the taste of blood, and I run into the bathroom. Leaning over the sink, I cough until chunks of bloody phlegm are dislodged from my larynx. “Regardless of how long I’m home, I can’t escape that horrible place.” Tears of pain dot my cheeks, and I wipe my eyes bitterly.
“I don’t know what’s killing me quicker, the alcohol or the burn pits.” Night after night, I struggle with dreams of sand, bullets, explosions and broken limbs. My mind is fractured. In some ways, I’m not sure if I remember it correctly or if somehow, I managed to get it all wrong. Whichever the case, it all seems real to me.
Angrily, I slam my hand down on the counter. “Well, come on with it already. If you’re going to take me, let’s get it over with. There’s no point in prolonging the inevitable.” The mirror tells the tale of a broken man. A man who went to war to set things right, only to lose himself in the process. It’s safe to say, I’m bitter about how things turned out. Turning the light off, I walk out of the bathroom and into the kitchen.
My one-bedroom apartment is sparingly decorated. The state flag of Mississippi hangs on the front door along with a sign informing intruders that I don’t call 911. A sofa bed, recliner, a 47” Vizio television, PS4 and laptop make up my earthly possessions. Jameson whiskey bottles litter the top of the fridge. “I’m living it up. There are no strings on me.”
The smell of lime poured on the bodies lingers in my mind. I can see the broken bodies, whether it’s a hallucination or dream, I can’t tell you. Children are gathered nearby, their eyes devoid of hope. Soldiers smirk, their only defense against the chaos, dark humor. The darkness encroaches ever closer.
I’m lost in the darkness.
In the dark, I can hear the footfalls of my enemies drawing near. The inky blackness smothers any hope I have of finding my way out of it. My depression and anxiety restricts my ability to formulate an escape plan. In the purest sense, I am sinking into the pit of misery. “God, help me. Where are you when I need you the most?” The maddening cackle of my tormentors ring out in the dark. My heart beats with the fury of a thousand waterfalls.
“Where do I run to? How do I get away?” These questions have no answers, they are as vacant of possibilities as the eyes of the dead-yet-living children, I saw that day in Iraq. In many ways, I wonder if my mind broke from seeing the thousands of bodies laid side-by-side, knowing the torture their lives held until their untimely deaths swept them from this plane of wretchedness. Either way, I’m sure it didn’t help.
From a distance, the lime scattered on the bodies to keep the smell of decomposing corpses down, looked like pure snow. It wasn’t until you drew close that you recognized the horror it hid. “The same could be said for my life. I’m devoid of hope, slowly decomposing into nothingness. All I want is to go home and forget about this crap.” Being at home hasn’t helped me, the war has followed me home.
“Mr. Freeman, how are you today?” I look up at my nurse as she brings in my medicine and a tiny cup of water. “Can you loosen the straps, so I can take my medication like a big boy?” She smiles. “No, just tilt your head back and swallow.” She shoves the medicine into my mouth, and I swallow the pills.
In my mind, I can hear the cackle of madness and it frightens me.
In hindsight, my showing up Josiah in front of his troops didn’t go as well as it should’ve. As I slept in the bed from last night, a rough hand touches my shoulder. I look up into the raged eyes of Josiah.
“You got all the answers don’t ya,” he asked. I look at him and stifle a yawn with the back of my hand.
“What are you on about, Josiah?”
“You couldn’t tear me down in private could you? No, you got to turn it into a show in front of the entire council. Well, guess what? They chose to go with your plan.” Veins creep across his forehead, his voice is a narrow whisper in the dank caverns.
“You misunderstood what I was trying to say. I have no desire to one-up you, Josiah. Feel free to bum rush a main camp in broad daylight, but don’t volunteer me to do it.”
The look he sent me was one of pure hatred. His fists clench into rock-hard weapons. I prepare to receive several blows before I can leave the bed.
“Someone must rescue our hostages. Who’s going to do that? You?”
“No. I don’t want to rescue people either. You still don’t understand. I don’t want you or anyone else to be making plans that include me, unless we speak about it beforehand. You respect me, and I’ll respect you. Simple, right?”
His eyes show no sign of comprehension, but he nods his head anyway. Without another word, he turns and walks out of the open room. “I may as well get out of bed. There’s no telling what else may happen,” I thought to myself.
Councilwoman Bowers meets me in the hallway. Her eyes reflect her inner storm. Sweat dots her head, her silver hair is damp from the perspiration. She waves me down.
“The council chose to go with your plan. We have sent out scouts to watch the main camp from the ridge. Do you have any suggestions on where to stage the ambush?”
“It’s difficult to plan an ambush when pertinent information is missing, Councilwoman. Does the council have graphics?”
“Do you mean maps?”
“Yes, ma’am. I need a topographical map, and a protractor/compass.”
“We should have that material somewhere in one of our office spaces. I’ll send for you when we have it ready to go.”
She struts off into another part of the cave. Sound carries throughout the open area. “There’s no such thing as a private conversation. I’ll have to remember that tidbit in the future. Although it’s weird for people to be silent for this long.”
As I walk to the wash area, people huddle together in small cliques. Whispers are the new form of communication. I start to clean up, when a young boy, no older than 9, rushes into the latrine.
“Are you Michael Finny?”
“Yes,” I respond. He looks at me and tells me to follow him. I walk behind him, and he leads me to the council room. Mrs. Bowers, Josiah and Terry sit around a table. A large map is in the center of the table, the three of them gesture and mumble in low voices.
“Thank you for joining us, Finny.” Terry nods at me, Josiah scowls, and the Councilwoman crosses her arms.
“Yep, you’re welcome. Thanks for inviting me, Councilwoman Bowers.”
“We have the, uh, what did you call it in the hallway?”
“Right. So, where do you think we should set this ambush?” Josiah glares at me. I look at the graphic and point out a narrow canyon. If they head south, we can take them in this canyon. We could have a team in place to kill the lead and rear vehicles. Both teams will have fire superiority from an elevated position. That will seal the fate of any enemies in the killzone.”
Terry, Mrs. Bowers, and Josiah stare at me in shock. I look at them and wait for the question that is bound to drop any moment. Josiah licks his lips and asks the question:
“Have you done this before?”
“Yeah. A long time ago. In another life before I became a history teacher.”
“You said we can do this if they take the hostages south. What happens if they move them north?”
I point at the graphic. The contour lines on the map are very close together, reflecting steepness.
“It’s going to be hilly, which means more than likely we will be on equal terms. Any advantage we have in an ambush would vanish with the use of vehicle machine gunners.”
“So, it’s hopeless,” Councilwoman Bowers said. Terry and Josiah look at the floor. “We will have to pray that they take them south.” I shake my head no.
“It’s not hopeless. We may catch a break, and we can hit them at night. Although, the odds of our hostages surviving a fall down the mountain would be nil. Still, it beats what the future may hold for them in this concentration camps.”
“The media calls them indoctrination camps. They say it’s to bring us back into the fold.”
“Uh-huh. I’m sure we can ask the Holocaust survivors about their stay in said camps. Or the Japanese held in camps during World War II.”
Josiah and Terry begin to fold the graphic when a scout bursts into the room. He doubles over and pants. His fellow scout is hot on his heels.
“What is going on? Why are both of you here and not gathering intel?”
“They are moving the hostages.”
“When,” Josiah shouts. Both scouts look at him. “Spit it out, you worthless scouts.”
“Tonight. The guards said they would roll out at 1930.” I clap a hand on each scout’s shoulder. “Did you happen to hear what direction they would be traveling?”
“South, Finny.” I smile. “Awesome. Great job, guys. Thanks for bringing us this information.”
Councilwoman Bowers walks the scouts out. Josiah looks at me. “Do you want to go to the armory. We have a party to plan.”
“You bet. Let’s go check out the party favors.” Together we walk down the hall.
In the armory, cases of ammo lie stacked against the walls. Weapon racks hold M-4s and M-16s. There are boxes of bullets, boxes of claymore mines, and crates of 40mm grenades everywhere in this small room. “I like it!”
We load what we need into packs and head out. Upon arrival to our ambush site, I call the group together. I lay out the plan so we are all on the same sheet of music.
“Josiah and a six man team will take out the lead vehicle. Terry will lead the second team and take out the rear vehicle. I will be the floater. Which means, I will help out where I can. Once we have taken out the convoy, focus on releasing the hostages. Then we can scavenge. “
Together, we set the claymores up to disable the vehicles. Then we climb to our fighting positions. In the distance, headlights break through the evening darkness.
As the vehicles draw close, the claymores detonate. At the same time, the teams aim for the machine gunners. Rapid shots ring out in the canyon. Those who were still alive in the vehicles dismount. “Bad mistake, you should’ve kept to cover.” Bullets rip their fleshy bodies to shreds. It’s over before it ever gets going.
Terry and Josiah take their teams and sweep through the wreckage. The hostages hug their saviors and together we scavenge what we can use from the victims of our assault.
Then we make our way back to our hideout.
A smattering of applause greets our return. “Jesus, we left over twenty bodies in that blood-filled canyon. It’s not something you should applaud.” I kept my peace, though.
“How did it go,” Mrs. Bowers asked. “Who did you rescue?” I shake my head. “I don’t know, ma’am. I wasn’t in the search party. Some of the team members seem to know who they were.”
“Did you see Tim or Beth,” she asked.
“At least we have some of our people back.”
“Yes ma’am, that’s important.”
We walk to the dining area and I pour me some Corn Flakes. She watches as I pour warm milk over the dry breakfast food.
“Do you think Beth is dead, Finny?”
“If she isn’t, she may wish she was,” I thought in the quiet of my mind. “Nah, she is still alive.”
“Do you believe that or are you trying to comfort me with kind words?”
“I don’t know what to believe, ma’am.”
“Okay. In your experience, do you believe my children are suffering at the hands of the wicked doers?”
Tears fill her eyes as her imagination runs rampant with different scenarios. “My poor Beth. God only knows what those heathen have done to my sweet child.”
I nod and stay silent. Her tears trickle down her cheeks, but she doesn’t sob or wail. Instead, she is a mother who fears her children’s demise in a world gone mad.
“How do we free Beth, Finny?”
“I don’t know. We need a lot of intelligence before we can launch an attack to free her.”
She shakes her head no. “We can’t wait, Finny. We go and get my daughter. I don’t care how much it cost me, or how many we have to sacrifice to do it.”
“That’s grief speaking,” I said. “You don’t mean that. These folks look up to you, they seek your guidance. You won’t throw it all away on some foolishness.”
“I don’t want her to suffer. She is only 21.”
She looks at me, there are no tears left. She pats my hand and walks away. I watch her go.
In the evening light, I take a 45-70 lever action rifle with a 3 X 9 X 50 Leopold low-light scope and creep out into the night. Snow drifts down as I make my way to the main camp. Huge lights burn away the dark, I stick to the shadows.
“Jesus, what are they doing to people here?” Across the yard cages are in a row. People fill the cages and the snow continues to fall. Guards stand around and torment them.
“Go get the girl, you know the pretty one, Beth.” The guards laugh as the people in cages sob. I lie in the snow and wait. A guard brings Beth out and throws her to her knees.
A guard stands in front of her and smirks. “Hello darling, I’m about to ruin you for all mankind. When I’m done, no one else will ever replace me.”
Two guards hold her down. I move the rifle scope to where it would be most effective. Then, I pull the trigger. The bullet struck Beth between the eyes and tore into the guard center mass. Blood and brain matter color the snow red.
I move out in the darkness as the sirens wail. The lights drive the shadows away, as I run for the darkness.
This morning I woke up and grabbed my Bible. I opened it and it fell to I Kings 18. This chapter of the Bible gave me the story of Elijah and his confrontation with the prophets of Baal. “Whichever God answers by fire, let him be God!” Long story short, Jehovah answered by fire and the false prophets were destroyed. Chapter 19 saw Elijah on the run for his life. He raced to the mount of God (Mt. Horeb) and God asked Elijah, “why are you here?”
To get to the gist of it, I will summarize and paraphrase what happened next. The winds blew, an earthquake occurred, and fire fell. God wasn’t in any of these things. He was in the still small voice.
As I’ve looked around at the world today it is filled with chaos. God isn’t to be found in politics, careers, or other vices. As usual, He is the still small voice that would speak peace to a world of calamity.
I would leave with one last Scripture. “Fear not; for I am with you.” I am thrilled to know that I don’t walk alone through this madness.
Be safe out there.
“What’s it like being a veteran?” I turned to the voice coming from behind me. A stark-faced lad peered at me from wonder-filled eyes. “Don’t be rude,” I chided myself. “He’s just a kid.”
“You wanna know kid,” I asked. He shook his head and his blond tousled hair bounced in the sunlight.
“Okay. I have a good time at social gatherings but dread going. I’ve detested crowds but love church. I’ve enjoyed being social but not to social.
I like being accepted and welcomed, but not to accepted and welcomed.
I enjoyed people’s company-except when I haven’t.
My mind has held an entire universe; it’s dark, horrible and homey. The things I’ve seen, did and heard changed me forever. I’ve lost my way. Everywhere I’ve looked for a way out of the darkness is pitch black.
What’s it like being a veteran?
It’s like being a person locked inside another person. Like being a prisoner in a war you can’t escape, in a quadrant of infinity, stranded on a deserted island with nothing but your worst memories. It’s horrible. Fulfilling. It’s a nugget of truth in a world of chaos that is on fire! It was the best of times and the worst of them.
In summation, being a veteran is great.”
The sunlight warms my shoulders. The blond haired kid appeared devastated, but I felt better about my walk through darkness..
Good morning everyone.
It’s almost six in the morning here and I am just getting up. I must be becoming sorry in my old age. NANOWRIMO is just around the corner. The challenge is to write a novel in thirty days. We also have an election next week.
I really want to compete this year.
The past four years, I have tried to complete AWID. The first year was the closest I’ve ever gotten to finishing the story. Every year after, it has been one issue or another. I don’t know what has fired me up to write AWID today.
Perhaps, it is because 2020 has taken so much from me. I’ve lost my dad and grandmother this year on consecutive days. The world can be a cold, dark place. Even stories of loss and tragedy should be tales of redemption.
Either way, I am looking forward to competing and beating my personal best in NANOWRIMO this year. I’ll catch you guys later.
“You aren’t worth a crap. Sure, you’re a great provider, but you’re not worth knocking in the head when it comes to being a husband or dad.”
I turn and look at my ‘wife.’ Her eyes brim with hatred. It has been said love starts with a look, and if you follow that thought to its logical conclusion, so does hatred. She glares at me.
“I am sure you aren’t at fault for any of our troubles. You’re condescending tone notwithstanding, you’re a paragon of love, faithfulness, and selfless giving.”
The punch I didn’t see makes me see stars. My head spins around, and I taste blood. Red heat fills my cheeks, and I lick my lips. I turn around and the second punch lands in the same exact spot. Now, I am ready to hurt her.
It was either self-discipline, or the threat of my career ending with a dishonorable discharge that keeps me from taking her to the woodshed. Instead, I turn and walk into the bathroom. Running cold water over my hands, I wash out my mouth. I look in the mirror and my daughters watch me wash out the blood. “Please God, don’t let my daughter see me lose my cool. I want her to grow up believing her daddy is a good man.”
With my bloody mouth clean, I grab my keys and leave the house.
Sometimes, you can’t win for losing. In a year, I’ve lost everything I ever gave a hoot about. My marriage is all but over, my career is circling the drain, and I’ve put on over 100 pounds on my 160-pound frame. Oh, and to top it off, my Dodge Ram truck that is a little over a year old is in the junkyard. A head-on collision put the finishing touches on my broken husk of a life.
Still, I didn’t want to give up on my marriage. “Maybe we can go to marriage counseling. We are due an intervention.” At dinner, I brought up the subject of counseling.
“I am not the problem,” she said. She thrust her hand in my direction and spat her venom in my direction. “You’re the issue. You’re keeping me from living my life. There are guys standing around the block waiting to get with me. Get the papers and let’s get this done.”
“Guys standing around the block….Jesus….she hates me….”
She isn’t through. My loving wife continues to berate me. “For once be a man and take charge. Go get the papers so I can be free.” I can’t find any tears to shed for my broken life. There are no tears for my broken marriage.
There is only stress and the cackle of madness in the encroaching darkness.
Regardless of time and space,
My soul would search out yours,
Dimensions, parallel or altered would not stop me,
From finding your love and warm embrace,
If it took multiple worlds and years to find you,
I would search the entirety of the universe to be with you.
Today, I had the pleasure of my little brother’s company. We chatted and caught a movie. In the afternoon, we worked on my old trucks. Anyone who knows me, knows I love old vehicles. Especially trucks. I am the proud owner of a 1999 Dodge Ram 2500 flatbed dually, a 1989 Chevy Cheyenne, and a 1984 Dodge Power Ram. I also own a 1989 Chrysler New Yorker and a 1965 Chrysler Newport.
Yeah, I like my stuff.
My brother and I sat out to get the Cheyenne running. It had been sitting out in a pasture for over a year. We put in a fresh battery, turned it over, and it fired right up. Then while I had access to him, we worked on my Power Ram. After some gas in the carburetor it finally caught and roared to life.
I sat on the seat and listened to the roar of good ole American muscle. “Dad is probably sitting in Heaven elbowing Jesus in the ribs,” I thought as it rumbled. “That’s a Hemi,” I pictured my dad telling Jesus. I could see my dad looking down on me and my brother, as we laughed at the smoke from the truck after two years of sitting.
I miss my dad.
Naming your favorite vehicle is like naming your favorite girlfriend. It’s hard to choose. Who says romance is dead? I can tell you the story to every vehicle I own. I bought the 1989 Chevy in Tennessee for 1800 bucks. It was sitting under a pecan tree. I love that truck. The old boy I bought it from attempted to convert it into a race truck. The points were filed to 3-8-3. Given the light body and semi-muscular 350, it has some quickness to it.
My 1999 Ram 2500 was my dad’s truck. Enough said.
The ‘84 Power Ram is a truck I’ve long coveted. My dad had a ‘77 Power Wagon with a 440. I was just a boy, but I fell hard for the truck. In polite terms, the truck was beastly. I loved it and swore I would have my own one day. I went to Tennessee to visit my parents and there it was in their front yard. My mom and dad sold it to me, and I have been the proud owner ever since.
Nothing beats the rumble of a powerful engine. Or the looks of those sitting in the lane across from you in traffic. The roar of headers and scream of burning rubber, man, it makes your heart pound. I am excited sitting in my recliner. It makes you want to turn up the volume of Sammy Hagar singing, “I can’t drive 55.”
I am thrilled I have my trucks operational again. My dad would be so proud.
I have considered a memory from Iraq for the past 13 hours. When I arrived in Baghdad early 2005, I was grossed out. The Air Force had bombed Baghdad into the modern-day equivalent of the Stone Age.
Sewage caked everything. Everywhere I looked, the biggest blow flies I’ve ever seen was on everything. When we went on patrol, every step made a crunch. There were so many flies they appeared to be black carpet.
The war in Iraq had many horrific moments. Many wild dogs littered the streets. These wild animals would drag children off and kill them. They would attack grown men. These dogs were covered in scabs and rabid. As nasty as these dogs were, they had nothing on the blowfly carpet.
Camel spiders, wild dogs, mangy sheep, and brown scorpions, I could deal with it all. However, the blowflies were too much. To this day, I have an insane hatred of flies. As the military restored power and rebuilt the damaged city, the flies disappeared.
I have been shot at, blown up and received four concussions during my first tour of the Middle East. Nothing has compared to black clouds of blowflies.
Of all the things I could have remembered, it was flies.
I have decided it’s time for new memories.
Later in the day, Doctor Amy comes back into my room and sits beside my bed. She looks at me with those cold eyes, but time has been good to her. Amy looks the same as she did in high school. Her hair is still golden. Laugh lines are minimal on her perfect face. She touches my hand and for once, gives me a sincere smile.
“It’s good to see you. How did the military treat you?” I wince. “The military broke me,” I think bitterly.
“It was a good experience, Amy. I met great people and got to do some traveling. All in all, I would say it was an eye opener.” She nods her head, and her golden locks bounce with the movement.
“What’s wrong with me, Amy? You’ve never been this open with me before. I’m just a lowly peasant after all.”
“You have a blockage in an artery. You won’t be leaving in the morning. We will have to do an angioplasty. We will do the angioplasty with a laser. It will be on the catheter and will open the artery. I need you to sign a few forms to give us permission to operate on you.”
“Sure,” I chuckle. “It sounds like something from a science fiction novel or movie.” She laughs, the sound of her laughter is beautiful. I laugh too.
“Okay. I’ll send the nurse in to bring the forms and they will begin to prep you for surgery in about an hour.”
I watch Amy walk out of the room. At the door she turns and looks over her shoulder and stares at me. “If something should go wrong, I want you to know that I regret not going to prom with you. You’re my favorite peasant.”
Her confession leaves me speechless, and she turns and walks away. At that moment I feel like King of the Mountain. I want to jump on the bed and roar. Or beat on my chest and roar. Roaring is somewhere in the mix. I’d better sit down and take it easy on my heart.
The nurse comes in and I sign the forms giving the hospital permission to take care of me. I also sign the one releasing them from being libel in case I die while on the surgical table.
Then they dose me, and I sink into the darkness.
After several minutes, hours or days, I come out of the surgery, and I feel as if I have been run over with a truck. A tray of food sits next to my bed and I reach for what appears to be cold soup. Suddenly, my heart begins to pound, sweat pours from my body. “Oh my Lord, my chest.” I crash back against the bed, the machine monitoring my vitals is screeching out an alarm. “He’s back….Death is here for me…” The head nurse rushes into my room, Amy comes charging in. Her perfect face leans close to me. “Stay with me….look at me,” she yells. I watch as Amy screams out that my artery is collapsing. I feel a small smile cross my face, and her perfect face is the last thing I see.
Death takes me by the hand and leads me to a better place. It’s not a bad death-for a peasant.
I crash to the floor, the cold hand of Death upon my chest. The pressure builds in my chest cavity. My breaths come in small gasps as I struggle against the pull of the Grim Reaper. “No! I don’t want to go with you! I want to live!”
Death doesn’t care what I want, he is here to do his job.
I push with my feet and lean against the wall. “Of all the ways to die this has got to be one of the most horrible endings in the history of ever,” I gasp. “It’s a good thing Amy isn’t here to see me squirm. I’m sure she would say something about peasants deserving a peasant death.”
The pressure eases off my chest, and I clutch to the hope that maybe I will survive this ordeal. I pull out my flip phone and dial 911. Briskly, I explain where I am, and what is happening. In minutes, I am taken to the hospital. As the paramedics wheel me in, a doctor meets us in the hallway.
It’s Amy Appleton. The freaking doctor who may save my life is going to be the woman who broke my love life. Crap.
“Wheel him into room #3,” she shouts. The nurses rush me into the ICU. They prep me for whatever is going to happen next. One of them injects something into my IV, and I drift off into a medicinal slumber.
It has been my experience that my dreams and medicine do not mix well. This time is no different from the million other times I’ve had dreams. I dream of peasants, guillotines, and a cruel ruler whose name is Queen Amy.
I drift in and out of consciousness. Finally, I crash into peaceful slumber, I am okay with whatever comes next.
Bright sunlight causes me to rub my eyes. I crack an eye open and look around for the streets of gold or at least my mansion that’s made just for me. Or a line that stretches from one quadrant of eternity to the other end of said eternity. Instead, I am in a hospital bed, a pretty nurse is standing beside my bed taking the readings from a machine.
She stares at me. Her eyes are the size of half dollars, panic registers in her voice as she presses a button and pages a doctor to my room. A pitcher of water is next to my bed. I pick up a Styrofoam cup and pour some water in it. Doctor Amy Appleton walks in my room. She looms larger than life like the nightmare version of Queen Amy.
“Well, look who is back in the land of the living…” I smile weakly. “Yeah,” I mutter. She slithers close, like a rattlesnake preparing to strike. Her eyes look at the machine and then she sits by my bed.
“Who knew cleaning up after other people would be so stressful on your little ticker? How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m okay. When can I go home?”
“When I release you from the hospital. If there are no lingering symptoms you can go home in the morning.”
She watches me with those cold, cold eyes. I squirm under her intense gaze. “It’s my senior year all over again. I should have went into the light,” I think to myself.
Yesterday was meant to be my last day on Earth, but I made it to another day. Now, I’m worse off for it.