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.

The defiant one…A short story…

Jim Wilson Jr, avid hunter, outdoorsman, tracker, and conservationist climbs from his Toyota 4X4 and grabs his pack out of the bed. Shouldering the pack, Jim grabs his 30-06 and starts his trek into the woods. The smell of early morning dew and earth tingles his senses. Deliberately, he pushes on toward his stand at the top of the hill. Jim has chosen a prime area to hunt this winter. His stand has a tremendous view of the wetlands below him and the sun comes up just left of his line of sight.

“There is nothing greater than being in the woods.”

The early morning is quiet, the only sound is the chattering of squirrels and the occasional call of a sparrow looking for its mate. Jim climbs into the stand, just as dawn breaks. Reaching into the pack, Jim takes out a hot thermos of coffee and pours some of the hot liquid into his canteen cup. The coffee serves a dual purpose, it helps Jim wake up, but it also keeps his hands warm. Binoculars are placed to the right of Jim on a small ledge. Slowly, critters creep out and visit the watering hole below his stand. Alert, Jim keeps an eye out for something to feed his family, but the game is not within the governmental regulations. As the evening approaches, Jim loads his gear into his pack and slowly walks out from his stand. Glancing at his watch pensively, Jim realizes he mistimed his departure.

Night is upon him.

Walking down the hill in the dark proves to be tricky for Jim. The moon is full, but the landscape appears differently at night than it does in the daylight. Jim’s boots keep slipping on the wet grass, and several times he must stop to get his bearings. In the darkness, Jim hears sniffing coming from behind him. “Oh Lord, what is tracking me?” Jim turns and, in the moonlight, he can make out the silhouette of a bear. “Oh, dear Lord…” The bear stands on its hind legs and Jim starts to curl into a fetal position. Without warning, the bear mauls Jim in the ribs. Flesh rips as the razor-sharp claws cut into the skin, the snap of bone resounds through the night air. Gasping, Jim tries to find cover between him and the angry behemoth. Scrambling away, Jim attempts to put distance between him and the bear. The bear isn’t having it, instead of relenting, it charges after Jim.

The bear doesn’t let up in its assault. As Jim scrambles for safety, the bear continues to maul him. Adrenaline surges through Jim’s body as he attempts to get away. Cuts are bleeding from Jim’s torso, legs and hands. In the dark, Jim can make out a cliff. Without another thought, Jim rolls off the side and prays that he isn’t leaping from the pan into the fire.

As Jim rolls off the side of the cliff, he hits a tree on his way down. A branch breaks off and stabs into his side. Grunting in extreme pain, he continues his descent to the bottom. Crashing into the bottom of a ravine, Jim lies there aching from the pain pulsating through his body. Gingerly, he pushes himself upright. “Oh, my Lord. I have lost my pack, my first aid, and my rifle. I have to find some shelter and clean these wounds.” Stumbling in the dark, Jim crumbles next to a tree. Leaning against it, he takes stock of where he is and the approximate location of his vehicle. “The truck should be uphill, and about five miles from here.” In the dark, Jim can hear running water.

Crawling to the small stream, Jim washes his cuts. Removing his jacket, he uses his Case knife to cut his jacket into bandages. Wrapping his wounds, he seeks a place to wait for daybreak. He slowly makes his way to a tree and leans against it. As the night slowly passes, Jim prepares for his journey to his truck. “Surely, someone has reported me missing. Maybe, one of the search parties will locate me before I am eaten by this bear.” As he thinks about the attack, he sharpens an oak limb to defend himself with, should he encounter the bear again.

On the horizon, dawn breaks.

Jim stands to his feet and pushes himself toward his goal. As daylight filters into the woods, Jim slowly makes his way up the side of the hill. Throbbing pain racks his body, but still he pushes on. “Lord, I don’t want to be stuck out here for another night with this psycho bear.” Urged on by fear, Jim keeps moving gradually forward. After what seems like hours, Jim finally crests the hill.

Leaning against a tree to let his strength build up, Jim hears sniffing. Jim turns the oak limb over and grasps the bark. “Whatever happens, don’t let go of your weapon. If today is the day you die, take this bear with you to Valhalla.” Jim turns and the bear stands on its hind legs. With a shout, Jim rushes the bear and drives the sharpened oak limb into the bear’s side. Wounded and bleeding profusely, the bear roars. Angrily, the bear mauls Jim repeatedly, until exhausted from a lack of blood, the bear falls on Jim’s broken body.

Ragged breaths whistle through Jim’s broken nostrils. Cuts bleed freely from his face and torso. Turning his head, Jim starts to chuckle. In the distance, he catches a glint of a windshield. As the sun reaches its apex, Jim’s life slowly drains from his body. He closes his eyes as a last act of defiance.

“Just my luck, I get into a life and death fight a hundred yards from my truck.”

The face of the enemy…A short story….

“Please, stay indoors. You’re being quarantined for your own protection. We will let you know when its safe to leave your home. Thank you for complying.”

Joe Thunderfall listens to the emergency broadcast and shakes his head. “I didn’t fight over there to be imprisoned here.”  He walks into his living room and sits down at his computer. As he pulls up his blog, he is bombarded with news articles and headlines. This new “super-virus” is spreading fear with every new day. A group of Senators have brought forth a bill to help stymie the bleeding of the economy and Joe chuckles.

“Let the game begin!”  As Joe places his fingers on the keyboard, there is a knock at his door. “Yeah?” Bursting into his house, his 16-year-old niece throws her arms around his neck. “Hiya, unc. What’s good? You hear about the virus? The Senate is going to end this thing with a vote tomorrow!”

Joe snorts. “Oh yeah? That’ll be a first.” Anna looks at her uncle and scrunches up her nose at him. “You have no faith in the government, do you?” A mirthless grin stretches across Joe’s face. “I believe this, Anna. There is nothing they can’t make worse. Anything they fix is completely broken. Tell you what, they’re voting on it tomorrow. You come over and we will watch it. If it goes through, you can throw it in my face.”

“Deal!” Anna and Joe shake hands and the deal is done. “Until tomorrow, Anna. I need to get this post done.” Anna smiles and nods her head. “Just so you know unc, I am looking forward to telling you, I told you so.” Joe laughs and begins typing.

As Joe finishes his post, the news interrupts Five Finger Death Punch and the lyrics to “Wash it all away” is cut off. “We interrupt this broadcast for breaking news.” Joe listens as the reporter explains why the bill which would keep the economy from completely tanking, has been killed on the floor of the Senate. Laughing, Joe gets ready for bed. “Poor Anna, she has so much to learn about life and the government.”

The smell of fried bacon, potatoes, and hot coffee stirs Joe from sleep. Stretching, he can see Anna standing in the kitchen. “Hey kid, what are you doing here so early?” Anna looks down the hall and then puts sugar in his coffee. “There is no school today. Everything is closed. You were right. The bill never stood a chance, did it?”

Joe walks down the hallway, his GI Joe pajamas are almost too small for his enlarging belly. “Well Anna, you must understand this fact about the government. It is comprised of two types of folk, givers and takers. One group of people worked on the bill and understood we should come together in this time of crisis. They are the givers. Then the other side decided a crisis is a prime opportunity to stuff the bill with things they want for themselves. Their motto is, “screw the little guy.” Guess who they are?”

Anna looks at the countertop. She sighs and mutters, “the takers.” Joe puts his arm around his niece. “Yeah. In times of crisis, our elected officials should work together. Instead, they would sacrifice us all on the altar of greed and political gain. When you reach 18 understand this Anna. Hold the government accountable for what they do. Do not, under any circumstance, surrender your personal liberty for any reason. Because once you give it away, you will not get it back.”

Anna nods. “Why are you so bitter, uncle?”

Joe sighs and sips his coffee. “Because Anna, I have seen the face of our enemy and it is us.”

Madness…A short story…AWID

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.

Dark Places…a short story…

“You know, sometimes my mind just wanders off to visit places I never should have been. It don’t ask, it just leaves, and there I am stuck in some third world dump, fighting for my life, wondering if I will make it home to my baby girl.” Alexa Kinder looks at Tom Briarberry and smirks. “It just wanders off, huh? You sure it ain’t running away from its owner?” Tom shakes his head. “I don’t wanna go to these dark places, but it’s like I can’t control it. There’s a fighting side to me, and it wants loose.” Alexa puts her arm around her friend. “My mind wanders too. It’s an affliction we all have. It’s a curse of being human.”

Tom looks into Alexa’s black eyes. “Where does your mind go, Alexa? How did you get them black pupils?” Alexa giggles. “The pupils are because of genetics. We aren’t going to talk about where my mind goes, okay?” Tom pushes himself to his full height of 5’7 and leans on the wooden fence bordering Alexa’s grandfather’s property. “Why not? I told you where mine goes.” Alexa blushes and turns her head. “Because, I don’t want to talk about it. Can you respect my wishes, Tommy?” Nodding his head yes, Tom ponders his friend’s sudden defensiveness.

“You ever get back on that horse what threw you?” Alexa shakes her head, her blonde French braid shakes with the motion of her head. “No, Tom. It hurt me. I am frightened to get around him now.” Scratching his beard, Tom spits on the ground. “You were peerless, Ms. Alexa. Straight up, you were the greatest I ever seen. Is that accident with that horse, where your mind goes?” Alexa’s eyes grow cloudy as she leans close to Tom. “I said to let it go, Tom. Please, don’t keep asking.”

“Okay. I won’t ask no more. Did you know I got hurt over there in the Middle East?” Alexa looks at her friend. He is shorter than her 5’10 frame, but there is something about Tom that makes him seem gigantic. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a tan that borders on red clay, Tom fit all the makings of a stellar mate. “No, I didn’t know you got injured. What happened?”

Tom scratches at his beard. “We were escorting trucks back and forth, bring supplies in an out. Traffic backed up on the supply route, and we had to dismount. We trying to get an opening so we can get through, but nobody was listening. A loud bang came from behind me, and I saw my friend fall. I run to him, but he’s gone. I never heard the second bullet. Doc says it went through my helmet like butter on a hot roll. My head stopped it. “

Her blue eyes fill with tears as her friend recounts what happened. “Is that why you sometimes slur, when you speak?” Tom nods. “Yeah, that and the VA took my teeth. I told ‘em I had one bad tooth, but they wanted the rest. It’s why my mind goes to the dark place. I want to get my hands on the guy who killed my friend. He didn’t do nothin’ to nobody. K.C. was a cook, not a grunt. The Reaper got him. You know what we did?”

“No, what did you do Tom?”

“I got on that horse what about killed me. My friend deserved to be honored, I needed to prove I was capable of moving past the pain.” Alexa sobs and throws her arms around Tom’s neck. Tom pats her back and pulls away. “You can’t hide forever, Alexa. Someday, you gotta confront the pain, and only then can you heal. Riding ain’t the pain, it’s the fear you aren’t as good as you used to be. The bones heal, but the mind fractures.”

“How did you get out of your dark place? Did you get out, Tom?” Tom grins, his mouth stretches into a mirthful smirk. “I walked. The dark is always a part of you. Put one foot in front of the o’ter. You know that fortune cookie, Facebook wisdom about two wolves? Be careful what you feed, darling.” Glancing at his watch, Tom nods at his truck and Alexa waves goodbye. Alexa turns back to watch the horses work.

As Tom gets in his truck, he watches Alexa walk toward the homestead. “Some lessons can only be learned from personal experience; they can’t be taught via an instructor.”