Dark Hearts….A short story….

Dusk settled on Fredericksburg, Mississippi. Swamp moss hung off cedar trees like mistakes dangle from a past best forgotten. Bullfrogs croaked from the banks of the swampy wetlands. Lanterns pierced the darkness intermittently as johnboats were pushed in search of frogs and fish. Loud music played from the juke-joint that never shut its doors.

Sue Ann Mobley wobbled back to the bathroom to fix her makeup. Hungry eyes watched her as she stumbled and giggled. In the dimly lit hallway, she put her hand on the wall to balance herself and turned the knob with the other hand. Burping, she made it to the counter and peered at her countenance in the mirror.

“You got it, babe. Every man out there wants only you.”  Sue Ann added color to her cheeks and applied a fresh coat of lipstick. She pressed her lips and together and threw a seductive glance in the mirror.  “I may be divorced but it doesn’t mean I have to be alone!” Slowly, she made her way back to the dance floor.

“Hey doll, you wanna dance?”

Sue Ann sized him up. Her eyes drank him in, and she gave him a seductive look. “Tall, dark and handsome, of course darling. Let’s dance.” She shimmied and judging from her moves, this wasn’t the first time she had partied like a rock star. Suddenly, her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, my God!” Sue rushed outside. Leaning over the rail of the bridge which spans the river, the night’s consumption of liquor spewed out. Taking several deep breaths, Sue giggled. “I think I need a drink.” She wiped her mouth and turned around. Sue pointed and slurred, “I know you” and then succumbed to the darkness.

Drip, drip, drip, the sound of water splashing on the floor tiles brought Sue Ann around. “Oh, dear God, my head is killing me. I will never party again.” Sue’s fair hair hung in her face and she tried to move it, but she couldn’t lift her hands. Looking down, she noticed her hands are shackled. “What in the….”

Someone unseen tightly gripped Sue’s hair and lifted her head violently up. A rough hand pulled her hair back from her eyes, and she stared into the skeleton mask of her captor.  A cry escaped Sue’s throat. “Who are you?” Skeleton mask answered with a swift kick to her midsection. The biker boot knocked the wind out of her, and Sue Ann returned to the darkness.

———

“Sheriff, I’m telling you Sue Ann ran out of here with her mouth covered the other night. She never came back in.” Joe the Bartender shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to her, that’s the God’s honest truth.”

Sheriff Lancaster shook his head. “Well, me and my two deputies have our hands full, we are gonna have to ask for help on this one. Ain’t nobody seen her, and her momma is worried sick.”

“Well, you want something to drink before you head out?”

“Yeah, give me a Dr. Pepper. What I owe you?”

“Not a thing Sheriff. Good luck on finding Sue Ann, this place just ain’t the same without her.”

Driving down Main Street, Sheriff Lancaster considered the case of the missing girl. “She’s only 22. Maybe she run off with a boy. Kids get into all sorts of craziness now days.”  Pulling into his assigned parking spot at the courthouse, Lancaster got out and strolled into his office. “Patty, call the State Police, I gotta have a chat with ‘em about this case.”

Without acknowledging her boss, Patty lifted the phone and dialed the number. “State Police on line one, Sheriff.”

Lancaster sat behind his metal desk and picked up the phone. “Sheriff Lancaster here. I have a problem and need some help, if ya’ll don’t mind helping me out.”

“We’re here to help, Sheriff.”

Lancaster spelled out the case and what he had deduced so far. After a brief but terse conversation, he hung up the phone. Grabbing his keys, Lancaster stormed out of his office. “I’m going to be out for a while, Patty. Some young hotshot should be coming by. Holler at me when he gets here.”

“Okay, Sheriff. Should I contact you on the short wave or call your cell directly.”

“Either, I will answer when I can.” Patty nodded, and Lancaster walked out the door, praying for a miracle. Sheriff Lancaster called his deputies to meet him at Walker’s Bridge. It spanned a small river which bordered Louisiana and Mississippi. Rumors were when a truly bad person was caught on either side of the bridge, they made a one-way trip to the middle of the bridge for a come-to -Jesus meeting. No one had jurisdiction over the middle of the bridge, so like Vegas, what happened there, stayed there.

“Howdy Sheriff.”

Lancaster looked up from his phone and watched his two deputies walk over to his truck. He liked to watch them walk. Twin sisters Lucy and Emma Walker crowded around the driver side window.

“What’s got your dander up, Sheriff?”

“I called the State Police for help with Sue Ann’s case. Ya’ll find anything?”

Lucy shook her head; her long brown hair moved in rhythm to her shake. “Not a thing boss, it’s like she was never here.”

Emma chimed in, “Everybody saw her run out, but nobody saw her leave. If that’s the case, she should be here. She could have fallen into the river, but surely the body should have washed up by now.”

Lancaster grunted. “So much for having anything for the hotshot the staties are sending.”

Lucy and Emma smiled. “Who are they sending?”

“Some guy named Whitman. Supposed to be a real good detective.”

“So, is he a State cop?”

“No, he is a P.I. The staties said they can’t spare any of theirs and recommended this guy.” Lancaster wiped at his fat face. The sweat seeped out of his pores. As he ran the handkerchief across his forehead, the radio cackled.

“Sheriff, there is an Aldrich Whitman here to see you. He said it’s about a case.”

“Alright, Patty. I’m on my way.” Lancaster looked at the girls and gave them a smile. “Ya’ll keep looking, I will go deal with Whitman.” The deputies nodded, and Lancaster raced off toward town with his siren blaring. Entering the town limits, Lancaster shut off the siren and pulled into his parking place. Walking up the steps, he noticed Patty smiling and chatting with a young man.

“Hi, Sheriff. This is Aldrich Whitman.”

“Sheriff, nice to make your acquaintance.” Whitman extended his hand, but Lancaster ignored it.

“Come back here to my office, Whitman.” 

Nodding, Whitman turned to Patty. “Ma’am, it’s been a pleasure. Are you free for dinner tonight?” Patty smiled and nodded. Whitman smiled and trailed after the Sheriff.

Walking into the office, Lancaster motioned to a chair. “Have a seat.” Whitman sat in the high back chair.

“Do you know why you’re here, Whitman?”

“Yes sir, I am here to help you find a missing girl.”

“That’s right, and none of that consists of you flirting with my secretary.”

Whitman chuckled. “Is she your girlfriend, Sheriff? You got dibs on her?”

Lancaster knife pointed his hand at Whitman. “Listen here boy, you’re here to find this missing girl and nothing else. Get done with the job and get out of my town.”

“What type of evidence do you have concerning the case?”

The Sheriff shrugged. “None. There is no evidence that this is anything more than a runaway girl.”

Whitman stood to his feet and met the Sheriff’s eyes. “You brought me here for nothing? There is no evidence of an abduction?”

Wordlessly, Lancaster shook his head. Whitman glared at the man, when there was a knock at the door.

“Yeah?”

“Sheriff, its Lucy and Emma. We might have found something.”

Silver linings…A short story….

As I glanced around my cabin, I became overwhelmed by the enormity of my task. “Who do I think I am, to have undertook writing a novel? I don’t understand the formation process or even the made-up rules of dialogue. I’ve winged every piece of writing from my broken mind.” Art is placed on the cedar walls of my home, a penciled piece of birch trees in winter, a black and white photo taken from 1966, and more should have inspired me, but I am lost.

A knock at my door caused me to pause and shift focus. I glanced out the blinds and noticed the brown UPS truck in my driveway. I opened the door, and the driver smiled at me.

“Hi. I need your signature for this package.” The driver was a cute brunette, about 5 feet tall, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her eyes were a deeply pale blue. I couldn’t help but notice she was a complete package herself.

“Sure thing. Have you had a good day?” She shrugged her shoulders and forced a smile. Those blue eyes locked with mine and then she turned her head away.

“It has gone as it was supposed to go, I reckon. Sometimes, our cards are trashed and we gotta throw ‘em back in the pile.”

“Yeah, not every hand we’re dealt is a winning hand,” I said. “Yet, I have been told that behind every dark cloud hides a silver lining.”

Her teeth flashed a quick smile and then she handed me the device for me to sign.

 “Is there a silver lining to being divorced? Have you ever been treated like you weren’t enough? He tossed me in the trash with the rest of the crap he no longer wanted.”

I took the stylus and signed my name on the screen and handed her the device back. I paused and took a moment to find the words to respond to her query. A lone tear trickled down her left cheek and she wiped it away and sighed.

“Yes ma’am, I have walked that road before. The silver lining takes a while to be revealed, but there is one in divorce. When you’ve recovered yourself, you will have found the prize at the end of the darkness.”

Her blue eyes seemed to grow transparent, and they showed the pain in her heart. “Has it taken you long to recover yourself? How long did the timeline seemed to take?” Her voice seemed to be quieted by her inner chaos.

“It took me years to recover from the horrible things we said to each other. Even when I had moved past what was said, I still couldn’t find it in myself to believe I was worthy of a second chance at love. So, it could be said I’m still not recovered fully from the pain of divorce.”

“So, my life has passed me by? I don’t get another opportunity to feel validated?”

“I didn’t say that, what I’ve simply tried to point out is that the work is yours to do. You must put the work in to fully recover from the pain. Once you’ve recovered, then you will be able to risk it all again.”

She sighed and rubbed her hand across her face. A forced smile crossed her freckled face and she nodded her head. “Thanks for being kind and having listened to my troubles,” she whispered quietly.

“No problem. It’s the least I could do.” As I watched her get into her vehicle and drove away, I considered my own situation.

“Maybe, it’s time I took my own advice.”

Poisoned…AWID…a short story….

“What makes the green grass grow? Blood, blood, blood bright red blood drill sergeant!”

I bolted out of bed. A towel is draped over my chair, I grabbed it and wiped off my body. The mattress cover and sheet is soaked. I pulled them off the bed. I had only one mattress cover, so, I changed the sheets and threw the wet ones in the washing machine.

A cold shower did wonders for my tensed body. “I am really getting tired of sleeping on soaked sheets nightly. I need help to overcome these nightmares.”

The next morning, I called my therapist Joy, and we chatted about the nightmares. Joy gave me hope that these nightmares could be cured, but I held little anticipation it would ever disappear completely from my life.

“Why don’t you write down how you feel during these episodes,” Joy asked.

“Um, because I am usually in the process of having them?”

“You don’t have any recollection of the nightmares when you come out of it?’

I pushed my tongue against the roof of my mouth and became silent. The dreams are always the same, the dead folk that I have killed, and maimed, or seen killed or maimed show up nightly by my bed. Then there is this small boy, who was shot in the torso multiple times; he visits me in the dead of night. He is the only one who ever spoke to me. With his brains in his hands, he held them out to me and asked, “why?”

“Are you there, Freeman?”

“Yeah, I am here.”

“How often do you see these nightmares?”

“Every night, they are always the same.”

“Write it down, and when you feel your soul is cleansed, burn the books.”

“Okay. Thanks, Joy.”

I hung up the phone and sat in my blue recliner. My head has begun to hurt, my eyes are sore, and I am irritable due to a lack of sleep. Calling my bank, I checked the balance of the account. Satisfied, I had enough money to cover my writing supplies, I walked across the street to Family Dollar. The store is packed with customers, but I made my way to the back and picked up a notebook and a couple of ink pens. “This should be enough to get me started.”

After making my purchase, I walked back to my house. I climbed the three flights of stairs to my apartment and locked the door, then I closed the blinds and moved my recliner to the side in case a firefight should arise. The notebook and pens are pulled out of the bag, and I sat down to unburden my soul.

“How does one describe the carnage I witnessed every day for two years? The swollen dead littered the streets, their stomachs protruded with nauseous gases which were built up in the 130-degree days. Then some evil person would open them up and stuff their torsos full of explosives and leave them on the side of the road until our convoy came by.”

I stared at the empty page and tried to find the words to describe the insanity of a war we would never win, against an enemy we seldom saw, and the loss of life which was too high. My pen never moved, the words never discharged from my mind to the paper, but I could feel the scars being ripped open as I lost myself in the memories of yester-year.

“It was a hot….no, I hate those people for what they made me do…” My heart was so conflicted, I could not make a sentence. “Where do I begin?” Then amid my confused state, I heard the voice of an old drill sergeant.

“Sometimes, you must use backwards planning to achieve a complete picture. If you haven’t moved forward, start at the end. Take it one step at a time and work from the end to the beginning.”

My soul cleansing began with these words, “I’m lost.” As by magic, the pen began to move. Each word that discharged from my mind was a poisoned arrow in my heart. I began to sob as I snatched more and more arrows from my psyche. Little did I know, my trials and tribulations were only beginning.

I wrote all day, the poison dripped from my pen, but I felt lighter. After taking a shower, I changed into my sleep clothes. Barefooted, I walked into my kitchen and made myself a cup of coffee. I scrunched my feet on the carpet and took a seat next to my mother.

“What are you watching?”

“Criminal Minds.”

It was an episode where the team had found bundles of shoes at a pig farm, and I watched it until I heard the siren song of my medication calling to me. I hugged my mother and bid her a good night. Exhausted from unburdening my soul, I climbed into bed.

“Get out! Go, go, go, the building is on fire. Fire consumed everything, charred flesh, burnt children. Up and down the supply routes, fires raged.”

I bolted upright in the bed, gagging on the smell of charred flesh. Sweat dotted my forehead, my sheets were soaked once again. Slowly, I made my way to the shower and bathed to get rid of the imagined soot and smell of charred corpses off me.

To steady myself, I placed both hands on the wall and let the water run over me. “I’ve slept all I will sleep tonight.” My eyes are scorched from a lack of sleep. I peered into the mirror and noticed my eyes are bloodshot and vacant of hope.

My apartment was dark, and I could hear my mother tossing and turning in the living room. I tiptoed to my bedroom and opened the window to allow the cool air to circulate. I switched on my desk lamp, and I crawled into my bed after changing my sheets. The Dean Koontz novel, “Dark Rivers of the Heart” lied on my bed, so I cracked it open and began to read. To keep from falling asleep, I placed a pillow between my back and the wall and leaned back with the book.

Snow drifted past my windowsill and momentarily captivated my senses. Gradually, I turned my attention back to the book. I’ve read this book many times, but I’ve always enjoyed the character Spencer Grant. As I read, I felt my eyes get heavy and start to droop.

Rolling off the soft bed, I dropped to the floor and began knocking out pushups until I could do no more. Breathing heavily, I picked up the book and sat at my desk. The notebook caught my attention, and I shut the book and placed it to the side. I took a pen out of the drawer and opened the notebook. Words dropped out of my mind and onto the paper.

“The Middle East has to be my least favorite place to have lived. Snakes, camel spiders, scorpions and insurgents made my life unbearable. There are nice people there, same as there are here in the United States. However, the nice people are often subjected to the rule of tyrants. The innocents paid the ultimate price when it came to combat. Now, those who I’ve witnessed dying visit me in my dreams. I fear the judgement of a wrathful God, if I was to take my own life. Would my punishment be delved out by those who were harmed due to the reaction of those of us caught in crossfires, or ambushed with IEDs? I don’t know, and this lack of knowledge has frightened me into inaction. My choices lied somewhere between suicide and a miserable existence with no sign of change.”

Writing the poison out of my heart was cathartic, by the time I was finished, my wounds were ripped open and flowing freely. I considered that writing may exorcise the vileness, I’ve often felt when I was doped up or in a drunken stupor. It wouldn’t take long for me to realize that writing is only one avenue I would use to purge the darkness in my heart, but it was not the long term answer I had been seeking.

Titans and shadows…A short story…

“How many years have I languished in this prison?” The scorching rays of sunlight seemed to be beamed directly into my eyes. Why not?  It’s not like I don’t spend enough time being tormented in this place. Rock walls with jagged edges line my cell. My home away from home is dank, dimly lit, and filled with rats. Yeah, rats.

I have no bed, a dirty mattress is flung into the corner, and a bucket is given to us to relieve ourselves. Between the stench and the rat-chewed mattress, I gave up hope I would ever leave this place. I’ve carved the days I’ve spent in this sewer into the rock face.

Guards fractured my wrist when they last visited. It never healed correctly; the injuries seldom do. We are often bruised, battered, and left for dead. Escape is a fanciful daydream never realized. Outside my cell, screams of the tortured filled the hallways. “The sound of hatred pulsated within these walls. Fractured bones, fractured souls, death came for me from the darkness.”

The Keeper of this prison appeared outside of my cell. His blackened eyes, broken nose and gap-toothed smile are pressed against the bars of my cell. Words are not exchanged. My every move is observed and noted. After a prolonged period, he spun around and walked away. Two type of guards milled around my cell. The usual guards are lightly armed with tasers, and batons. They are replaced with black-suited, heavy-armored titans.

These behemoths are densely muscled, and heavily armed. “Why have the titans been deployed?” Usually, the juggernauts are released upon “high-valued” targets. These unfortunate souls are considered well-informed, hoarders of information, and of despicable character. I glanced at each guard and wondered who they were here to break. My question is answered by two titans as they arrived at my cell. One of the guards opened my cell door and gestured for me to come out.

“Prisoner Alpha 001 move forward to my location.”

 I moved forward until I stood before him. He raised his arms, and I followed suit. His partner stood behind me and searched me from head to toe. Satisfied with the results of his search, I am marched into the Keeper’s office.

“Stand here, prisoner.” One of the gigantic titans gestured at a place on the floor and I stood there, awaiting the torment I would endure. The door closed and I am left alone in the office. As I looked around the workplace, I noticed there are no rats. I am so mesmerized by the lack of rodents; I missed the door being opened. The Keeper appeared in front of me, before I realized his presence.

“Prisoner Alpha 001, you are charged with violations of disturbing the peace, felonious assault, and manslaughter. You’re sentenced to 35 years of torture provided by yours truly.”

“Yeah, that’s what the judge sentenced me to.”

“You’re judged, declared guilty, and shalt be pummeled into submission.”

“You’ve agitated me for the last time, Keeper.”

One of the titan’s walked up behind me and swept my legs out from under me. The Keeper kicked his steel toed boot into my solar plexus and the wind rushed out of me. Both titans grasped me by the arms and snatched me to my feet. The Keeper slammed his gauntlets into my ribs. The broken bones splintered and then he went to work on my face. My jaws snapped at the hinges, and shattered teeth fall out of my mouth.

“What inspired perspective do you have to share now, Alpha?”

Blood seeped out of my mouth; my breath comes in ragged gulps. I smiled through my busted lips. I mumbled a few words, but they are choked off in my larynx.

“What?”

“You shortened my sentence. Thank you, Keeper.”

With a frustrated shout, The Keeper whipped out a knife and slammed it repeatedly into my torso. The titans released me, and I crumbled to the floor. I laughed and The Keeper stormed out of the office. As my blood leaked out on the ground, and my life slowly drained from my body; I heard the scrambled footfalls of rodents.

“Aw, rats.”

Actions…..AWID….a short story…..

Visor pulled low, I glanced across the crowd of people on the verge of rioting. Amassed, in the middle of the ocean of folk, stood one lone man on the hood of a beat down Toyota truck. He was armed with a gas mask, bullhorn and righteous indignation.

In Arabic, he shouted for us to go home. The ocean of people swelled with the chant, and they trudged in our direction. Like mindless zombies, they drew closer and closer to our position. I shoved a riot control grenade into my grenade launcher and took up a position away from the rest of my team. The lone man, whom I nicknamed Toyota, charged out of the sea of people and confronted me. He gestured wildly in my direction, while he lifted the bullhorn to shout more threats. The crowd roared with his chant and tempers flared with the desert heat.

“Do I feel threatened? Well, yes I do.”

Without a word spoken, I lifted the grenade launcher and shot the ringleader in the chest. The rubber grenade flew true and hit Toyota in the torso. He crashed to the ground; tiny shards of bone protruded from his robe. I walked over to him and knelt beside him. Groans escaped his lips, and I waved at him.

“You okay, man?”

“Ahhh…”

“Hey dude, are you okay? What happened?”

He brushed my hand away and continued to groan. As a trained combat lifesaver, I started the steps of evaluating and treating a casualty. I treated the instigator for shock and loaded him in a vehicle. The medic checked my work and gave me a nod.

“We’ll take it from here.”

“Yeah, alright.”

The crowd had slowly dispersed and only a few diehards had stuck around to see what else would happen. In the distance an angry Lieutenant stormed toward my team and me.

“What in the name of all things holy, do you think you’re doing?”

I snapped to attention and whipped out a professional salute.

“Sir, I prevented a full-blown riot from occurring by shooting the instigator.”

“Are you brain dead, Sergeant?”

I removed my helmet and tapped the side of my head. Then, I made a show of asking myself questions and answering my queries.

“I don’t think I am allowed to answer your question, sir.”

Angrily, the Lieutenant stepped close enough for me to count his nose hairs. Nostrils flared, he jabbed two fingers into my chest plate.

“You wounded a man on our first mission. Do you realize your action jeopardized all our lives?”

“The Rules of Engagement stated if I felt threatened; I have the right to defend myself, sir. Therefore, today I felt threatened. I defended myself and my team. The riot ended before it ever began. You’re welcome.”

Without a word, the Lieutenant spun around and stomped off. I took several deep breaths and composed myself. As the sun dipped in the western horizon, I walked back to my team.

“Well, that was intense. It’s going to be a long fifteen months.”

Meat….A short story….A Walk in Darkness….

There seemed to be some type of unrest which lingered in the air. As if a visit from the Reaper would happen at any moment. I cradle the handgun and wait for the inexplicable and unexpected to occur. An explanation might be called for, if I survived the doom which loomed on my doorstep.

Iraq didn’t teach me much, but it drove home the need to listen to your instincts. Firefights popped off without advanced notice. If you were caught unaware, you died. There are no words to explain this feeling. Part of me is cagey, another part excited and still another part wonders if I have missed a step.

Red tracer fire would illuminate the moonless nights, the sharp crack of IEDs would send shrapnel into trucks, leaving them mangled and eviscerated heaps.

Survival meant nothing then, it means even less now. The broken husk of a past that can’t stay buried is the only memory left in a life given to battle. When the war was finished, we had nothing to show for the killing, the maiming and the destruction left in our wake. Victory was never an option. From the moment we arrived, we had already lost.

We were sold out before the first bullet was ever fired from a rifle, before the splash of cannon fire demolished entire sections of cities. The cries of the wounded were drowned out by the ching of cash register drawers being opened and the payout being given. It would be hilarious, if so, many people weren’t blown into pieces for no other reason than making some politician richer.

There is blood on the risers, our blood, their blood, human blood. Bloodied, broken but unbowed, we the forgotten will never forget. Shattered upon the blood-soaked sands of a land time has misplaced in the annals of history, we made our stand. For what purpose did we stand? I can’t remember, but I know the cost was too high.

With war, nothing is ever simple. Yet, it should not be so complicated that we can’t achieve victory. Our soldiers deserve a chance to purchase triumph on the battlefield. If the reward is scars and lifelong trauma, then victory must be achieved at all cost. Otherwise, what is the point?

When we returned from the killing fields, life went on. However, it left us behind. We stand in our home country, but our minds never leave the battlefield for long. Family and friends can’t understand why we aren’t “normal” or why we refuse to waste words concerning events that occur in our government and personal life. Because deep down we know people don’t want the answer to these questions. Instead they want to be comforted with lies; so that the illusion is maintained.

Dream your dreams of a life that holds meaning. We stand prepared to do violence on your behalf, so that your children may live a life of peace. Bloodied, broken and unbowed, we are the guardians of freedom, and the meat in the grinder.