A Sick Twist of Fate…A short story…

Tim Williams looked out his library window and stared at his vehicle under the open carport. His mind is aflutter with unfinished thoughts. Facing east, he waits for the sun to rise. “It’s Saturday. I may get my allotted two hours with her today.”  Starry Wilkinson, a woman of exquisite strength and beauty, is the woman referenced by his thought. Her grayish mane, bluish-grey eyes, and natural beauty are second place to her wit, intelligence, and kindness. To boot, Starry is a journalist who worked as an anchor at the local television station. She spent her weekends volunteering at the hospital in the children’s wing. Tim is madly in love with Starry. “Can you believe it’s been eight years since I began pursuing this woman? That must be some kind of record!” As with all things, the beginning started off hot and heavy. It took Tim two weeks to pop the question. Yes, Tim is slow. Still, after one failed relationship after another, Tim knew he had met the woman of his dreams. His eagerness coupled with her suspicious nature had led to a more restrained approach to their friendship. “Days have turned into weeks, weeks into months, months into years and I am still holding on. Hope springs eternal. Is this friendship/relationship going to be as futile as the war I fought in? Will there be a payout at the end?” Tim mentally shrugs his shoulders and waters his cactus on the windowsill. “I guess we will find out.”

A shadow crossed the window, and Tim looked up. A red hawk, perched precariously upon his carport roof, gazed into the window. Tim watched the hawk. Annoyed by his appearance in the window or Tim’s sudden movement, the hawk flew off. “I don’t blame him. What I see in the mirror frightens me too.” Tim’s free hand wiped at his bald head and he looked at his watch. “Crap. I need to get started cleaning. I want Starry to enjoy her visit with me tonight. She will like what I’ve done with the library.”

Tim began in the kitchen. He tossed empty Gatorade containers into the 42-gallon trash bag. “It has taken me time to make peace with whom I was during war, but Starry never doubted me. She is a godsend. Still, after eight years and minimum change in my status, I am growing tired.” Frustration settled into Tim’s mind. “What am I doing? Am I wasting my time? What if there is no future where we end up together?”

Time has passed with the quickness of molasses dripped from an overturned quart jar. Instead of drawing closer, Starry and Tim saw less of each other. The void in Tim’s heart grew with each day without her. Starry became a social butterfly. Blessed to live in a small town, she became the director for every social event within the city limits. Slowly, the chasm between the two seemed insurmountable to Tim. “From sunup to sundown, Starry is busy. I would call, but I’m sure she is working, and I don’t want to be a bother.” Instead, Tim tried to find other things to do to occupy his time. Finally, he hit upon an idea while he stacked lumber in his shop. “We could do a day trip today. I could make a picnic basket, we could ride to the lake and watch the waves come in. It’s not expensive and a bit redneck-ish but it’d be fun.” Tim walked back into the house and packed a basket. Spiral ham, tomatoes, a loaf of homemade bread, mayo, mustard and a few other ingredients filled the basket. When he completed the preparations for lunch, he took the basket and a clean blanket out to his truck. He picked up his phone and punched in Starry’s number.

“Hello?”

“Hey,” Tim said. A goofy grin crossed his face. “What are you doing?”

“Sleeping. Do you need something?”

“No, I stacked lumber in my shop and thought I’d see if you felt up to a day trip to Lake Homer. I made a basket and packed everything in my truck. All that’s missing is you.”

“We can,” Starry answered grumpily. The grin faded from his face.

“No, it’s okay. Get some rest.”

“Tim, wait. I don’t want you to be mad. We can go, I worked late last night and have to go back tonight. Let me get dressed.”

“Starry, it’s okay. I knew you had to work. It’s no big thing, okay? Get some rest. We can do it some other time.”

“Are you sure? Please don’t be mad at me.”

“I’m not. Sweet dreams.” He quietly punched the red button and tossed the phone on his workbench. “I guess I will unload the truck.” Tim took the basket in hand and walked into his cabin. He placed the food into the fridge and walked back to the truck.

Tim took out the revolver in the center console and checked to make sure he had loaded it. He closed the door and leaned against the porch. “This loneliness is too much. War took so much from me. Some of my friends never returned home, the ones who returned came back with serious issues. I am alone. It’s just me and the darkness. He flipped the gun around and stared into the barrel. The black frame reminded him of the loneliness in his heart and a tear rolled down his cheek. “There is nothing left for me here. I don’t want to be alone anymore.” 

The revolver is cold against his temple. He thinks of his friends lost in combat action, of the innocents who died because of the war. He closed his eyes. Tim’s loneliness dissipated in the hammer’s sound hitting the firing pin and the smell of burned gunpowder.

Tempest…

A while ago, I sat out to write a story about a dysfunctional family, who went on a trip via sailboat. Of course, it got laid to the side so I could focus on other things. Roughly two days ago, I found the thumb drive it was saved on. So, I am in the midst of changing it, hopefully sharpening the dialogue and correcting bits and pieces of it. I hope to present it in the upcoming writer’s contest and work it into a published work for NANOWRIMO.

Thanks for reading.

Freeman

P.S. Tempest will be published here for all to read. I wouldn’t leave my visitors to Freeman’s Front Porch Musings out. 😉

The Red Room…a continuation of the short story…

Tia awakens to a silent house. “Jesus, I’m late for work!” Rushing to the bathroom, she strips off her clothes. After showering she throws on the brown uniform and rushes out of the house. The diner is nigh vacant when she arrives. “Only the usual culprits are hanging around this evening.”
She walks behind the bar, and one of the customers gives her a flirty smile and winks.

“Howdy, Tia. How’s it going?”

Tia flirts back and bats her eyelids. She sweeps her graying hair out of her eyes and smiles.

“Hey! Can I get you some more coffee?”

The patron nods and Tia fills his cup. The man spoons in some sugar and blows on the hot beverage.

“I saw Gina headed to Dairy Queen earlier. Is she in summer school?”

“No. Why do you ask?”

The man shrugs and sips his coffee.He lets out a satisfied sigh, and then he continues.

“Well, she had an overnight bag thrown over her shoulder. I thought she might have homework.”

“Well, thanks for letting me know.”

Tia walks to the back and takes the phone off the hook. She punches in the number and waits for an answer. She doesn’t get one. “God, what am I doing wrong with my daughter?” She continues to call during her shift to no avail. As the sun rises from its bed, a patrol car pulls into the lot. Tia watches them approach.”Good morning, officers.” They nod and walk up to the counter. “Morning, Tia. May we speak to you for a moment?” Tia nods. “What has this child done now?”

They walk to a corner booth and sit down across from one another. The senior officer looks Tia in her eyes, his mouth a singular hard line.”Tia, we have some bad news. Gina is in the hospital.” Tia stares at them dumfounded. She goes to sip her coffee, but spills it on her apron instead.”What? What happened?” The cop gives no answer to her question but continues. “Gina is at Forrest General. We can give you a lift to the hospital if you would prefer.”

“What happened to my daughter?” The senior officer pats her hand. “It would be best if the doctor tells you, okay?” Together, they walk to the car. The hospital is a short drive away, and while they are making their way to it, Tia runs scenarios through her mind. “God, please let my baby be okay. Please, please don’t take her from me. I’ll be a better mom.”

The officers usher her into the hospital and they enter the trauma wing. A doctor stands by to receive them. “You must be Gina’s mom. I’m Dr. Twain. We can talk in my office.” Dr. Twain places a steady hand on her shoulder and guides her to an office no bigger than a utility closet. Kindly, he gestures to an empty chair for her to sit in. “There is no easy way to say this, ma’am.” Dr. Twain’s Southern accent is syrupy and he speaks in a quiet, professional voice. “Gina is a victim of rape. She fought her attackers and made her way here. We found her in the parking lot. From all appearances, there were more than one rapist.”

“Oh dear God…”

“I know this is tough to hear; and I am sorry to be the one to tell you. Your daughter needs you. We will take care of her injuries, but you must decide on how we proceed.”Tia nods her head and wipes the tears from her eyes. Her hazel eyes are cloudy with fear and anguish.

“May I see her now?”

“Yes, we sedated her and she is resting, but you can sit in the room with her.” Tia follows the doctor to a room in the far corner of the hospital wing.” The room is dark, but it does nothing to mask the damage done to Gina. Large, purple bruises mark her face. Gina’s lips while still retaining their fullness show cracks. Dr. Twain pulls her shirt up to reveal the bruises on her ribs. Black bruises around Gina’s neck are turning purple.

Tia falls to her knees and begins to cry. A nurse bends down and pulls her into a hug. “It’s going to be okay,” she says. She holds her until Tia stops crying.

“I need to use a phone.”

“Come on, I’ll take you to it.” Tia nods to Dr. Twain and walks down the hall with the nurse to the phone. She thanks the nurse and punches in the number.

“Hello?”

“Wiley? It’s Tia. Someone hurt my baby.”

Reptilian…A short story…

The silence is menacing in the all-white room. I look around, white paint hides the blemishes of past paintings. It’s suffocating in here. A lone ceiling fan, the paddles made from fake wood, stirs the same air around the room. My nostrils tingle. The overpowering smell of bleach is intrusive. I sit in an aluminum chair and count the outlines of concrete brick. I make it to forty when the door swings open and a bald man, wearing squared off glasses, walks into the room. He sits behind an all-metal desk and flicks on the lamp.

“How are you today, Wiley?” His beady, green eyes bore into me, like a hawk watching a field mouse from high on his perch of pine. I look at the floor and shrug.

“I feel lost.” His green eyes never waver. The lens on his glasses are smudged. He pulls them off and wipes at them with a grey handkerchief. 

“Explain.”

“I don’t know how to Dr. Walker. I am stuck somewhere between apathy and righteous rage.” Sweat beads on my forehead, a sense of foreboding creeps in. “Crap. I’ve shared too much.” Dr. Walker puts his glasses on. His thin lips form a singular, hard line. 

“What has you in such a tizzy this morning? Is it family issues? Are you having trouble sleeping?”He stares at me, intently trying to gauge my responses by my facial expressions. I stand and walk to a potted plant in the corner of the squared room. 

“It’s nothing.”

“Then why are you stuck between apathy and righteous rage? Something has triggered this visit.” I touch the plant. It’s plastic. “Like the people who run this country. There is nothing real anymore.” I can feel his beady, green eyes on my back and the knowledge of it makes my insides quiver. 

“I don’t know where I fit in. It was a mistake to come here.” He motions to the chair and beckons for me to sit. I don’t move. Me and the fake plant occupy the corner. 

“There is nothing wrong with feeling like an outcast. All people experience it. War has made you leery of human interaction. It’s normal to feel out of place after seeing what you’ve seen.”

I sit on the floor. Me and the potted plant is rooted to the foundation. My face itches, I rub it. The long hairs of my beard hurt. I stare at the empty walls. “At least they aren’t on fire like the homes and businesses of the recent riots.” Down the hall a scream rings out. Instinctively, I flinch.

“Are you upset about the recent riots?” My neck itches, I rub it. I interlace my fingers. Sweat drips into my eyes, and I begin to rock.

“Where did we go wrong? Was it the lowering of the standards of conduct in a polite society? Did it have to do with interfering with the discipline practices of the family?” I mutter and rock. 

“I can’t hear you,” Walker says. He walks over and sits on the floor next to me. “I am here to help you. You can trust me.” I stop rocking. The presence of Walker is infringing upon my peace. “Go away,” I mutter. “He thinks you’re crazy.” I scoot across the floor and put my back to the wall. My chin hidden behind my knees; I stare at Walker like a mongoose stares at a snake. “He has beady eyes. Reptilian! He is a reptile.” As I rock, I watch. Finally, Walker stands to his feet and looks at his watch. “Would you like to schedule another appointment?”

I watch as the reptilian, human caricature sits behind the metal desk and pulls out an appointment book. “He is one of them.” I shake my head, sweat is flung from my hair.

“No. No appointments. I have to go.” I leap to my feet and rush from the room. “Don’t look at anybody. Nothing is real. Everyone is cold-blooded. Reptilian!” Hurriedly, I rush out of the intrusive environment. I gasp for a breath of clean air. The warm sunshine lights on my shoulder. People mill about me, I look around. I am trapped on a planet full of snakes, where nothing is real. 

In the quiet of my mind, I hear a snap. 

A bad day…A short story…

“Morning, unc. What are you up to?” I look over the top of my glasses, not my good pair, they are for church but the old, ugly readers I wear for typing. My nephew stands in the doorway letting out all my cold air.

“Shut the door! Are you trying to cool off the entire neighborhood?” Lancelot Hopkins appears startled and slams the door with a loud bang. I stare at him for a moment. 

“What are you doing here,” I ask. He shuffles to the couch and sits beside me. With a flourish he jams his hands into his pants pocket and his mouth becomes a hard line. 

“I’m having problems at school. Sometimes, I think my professors are out to put to the screws to me.” I pick up my MacBook Air and punch in the password. 

I glance to my right and nod my head. “It can seem that way,” I said. “Have you spoken to your professor concerning your feelings?” Lancelot shakes his head, his dirty blond hair flows with the movement.

Lancelot guffaws. “Why would I do that,” he snickers. “Do you think they would tell me if they were?” I lock eyes with him. “Yeah. Generally, that’s how the world operates.”

“Unc, he called me a dirty white boy.” I open my blog on WordPress. “How should I start this post,” I wonder. Lancelot taps me on my shoulder. “Did you hear me,” he asks. I nod. I have no long flowing locks. It feels like a thousand degrees here in Mississippi, I’m glad to be bald. “Yeah, I heard you. Did you go to class dirty?”

Lancelot stares at me incredulously. “No-” I put my hand up. “Then who cares what he called you. You have to stop taking offense to everything.”

My nephew leaps to his feet and kicks at my boots. His temper tantrum is punctuated with violent hand gestures. Left, right, up, down, I watch as he transforms from a coherent, well spoken young man into this caricature of a three-year old upset he isn’t having his way. 

“No wonder you don’t get any respect,” I said once his temper is under control. “Have you ever considered therapy?” He stares at me, his blue eyes flashing furiously. “I don’t need therapy.”

“Uh-huh. What you need is to have your butt kicked up around your shoulders. Grow up. Stop letting little things drag you down.”

Lancelot kicks my boots over. “What he said was racist.” I laugh out loud. “Seriously? Someone call the news! I can hear it right now: Breaking news! Racism is alive and well. Tonight, we have a disturbing report where a college student is called a dirty white boy. Caligula’s sister is standing by to report from the campus. Take it away!”

Lancelot walks toward the front door. “You’re making fun of me.” I pout and he stares at me. “Aww. You need to realize something here, hoss. The world isn’t fair. It doesn’t owe you anything, neither does the individuals living on this spinning rock. This is your life. You either take control of it or you blame your shortcomings on other people. Grow up. Stop being a freaking loser. Get out of my house, your stupidity may be contagious.”

I watch as he walks off my porch. “It’s so easy to look for reasons why you can’t make it. There goes another one who will end up blaming society for their shortcomings in life. God help us.”

A bit more Shame…an unedited work…

“Oh, boy.”

Hours pass but finally, Shame finds the poacher’s body. Slipping out of the assault pack, he looks around. Blood soaks the ground. On the poacher’s body, deep lacerations cover his back, and bite marks are upon his throat. Shame pulls out the two-way radio given to him by Rachel Winterborne. 

“HQ, this is Shame. How copy?”

“Go for HQ, Shame.”

“Roger, I have found the missing person.”

“Say again, Shame?”

“I have found the missing person. My location is about a mile west of mile marker 390.”

“Roger, help is en route.”

“Roger, out.”

Glancing around the site of where the attack happened, Shame locates black fur hanging off of a broken branch. “A black panther. Great. Why does it have to be an animal?” As he waits for the wardens to arrive, his mind takes him back to his last war. 

“Sheik Al-Mahdi has requested our help. Packs of ravenous dogs are attacking children and adults alike. If you come across packs of dogs during your patrols, put ‘em down.

“Roger, sir!”

“Day after day, we killed wild dogs by the dozens, and they still came. They preyed on the young and the weak. Throats ripped out, clawed to pieces. What a horrible way to die. I don’t care what this poacher did, he didn’t deserve to die like this. No one does.”

A snap brings Shame back to reality. Slowly turning his head, he notices a presence. In the shadow of a towering white oak, he can barely make out two yellow eyes staring at him. With the swish of its tail, the black panther turns and moves deeper into the woods. 

“Shame, are you out here?” 

The radio squawks out the call, and Shame keys the mic. 

“Yeah, I am here.”

Before long, Rachel strides through the brush into the holler where Anthony Morley’s eviscerated body lies. Rachel doesn’t even look at the body, she walks directly to where Shame stands. 

“What is out there? What killed Anthony Morley?”

“A black panther.”

“You’re kidding.”

Shame shakes his head. “No, I’m not kidding. I saw it with my own eyes.” Rachel shakes her head and runs her fingers through her silver hair. 

“Do you know what you’re saying? Black Panthers are rare. Few people ever see them. They’re solitary animals. Can you track it?”

“Maybe. It’s like any other animal.”

“Except this one killed a man.” 

Together, Shame and Rachel walk to the body of Anthony Morley. Rachel pinches off her nose and turns. Running to a bush, she loses her lunch. Gasping for air, she wipes her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Are you okay, Rachel?”

“How can you stand there and not mind the smell of dead flesh?”

“I’ve fought in many wars. Stay here until your back-up arrives. I will see if I can’t find this cat.”

As Shame turns to walk deeper into the woods, Rachel touches his shoulder. “Shame, be careful.” Nodding his head, he picks up his assault pack and bow. 

The hunt is on.

The rewrite continues…AWID…

As time goes on, my psyche’s scarred by the various things I’ve seen, and the things I’ve done to stay alive. I use humor to hide the pain inside. 

“Morning, Freeman.” SSG Jayme Willard walks into my room. “You are to report to the office for a briefing.”

“Morning, Sergeant. Am I going somewhere?” SSG Willard chuckles as he walks out of my room. “I guess I am about to find out.”

I push away from my desk and walk down the hall to my platoon’s office. Inside sits my platoon sergeant, and two people I don’t know. They look up as I enter. 

“Morning, Freeman. How are you feeling this morning?” I force a smile. The two other people look on but say nothing.

“Fine, Sergeant. What is going on?” I am waved to a chair next to his desk. I sit and wait for whatever is coming down the pipe. 

“These folk sitting across from you need help with something.”

I look at the representatives who are seeking help. Both are males in their forties or early fifties. They nod in my direction and I nod back. Both men have beards, although one is tall and slender, the other is of average height and built like a stonemason. Their eyes are soulless.

“Okay, Sergeant. Where am I going?”

“There is a troubled spot up north, and our friends have asked for some support in executing their mission. They require the best, you will go north and help them. The rest of us nobodies will stay here and carry on.”

“Roger.”

“Pack for a minimum of three days, but you may be there for seven. Gentlemen, you can brief him on the rest.” The tall agent stands, I call him Stretch. He stares at me for a moment and then he begins his rehearsed speech.

“We have an area swamped with insurgency. They have access to small arms (rifles and RPGS), and they are executing anyone who disagrees with their ideology. We are the scalpel that will remove this cancer.” The average agent chimes in, I call him Goon. “This is a joint task force. Our mission is precise, there is no room for error. Meet us at your squadron headquarters at 1330 for a full briefing. We will see you soon.” I glance at my watch, it’s 1000. 

“Roger, understood.” Both men stand and exit the room. My platoon sergeant nods and I follow the two men out. I pack an assault pack. I filled it with uniforms, extra magazines for my weapon, energy drinks, and clean socks. “Sometimes, there is no greater feeling than changing your socks.” I lie across my bed and wait for the next briefing.

Twenty minutes prior to the briefing, I leave my room and walk to squadron headquarters. As I walk in, I am greeted by the squadron XO. 

“Are you lost, Freeman? What brings you up this way?” I chuckle. Major Williamson smiles and shakes his head. “What’s so funny?” I shake my head and look at the floor.

“Nothing, sir. I am here for the briefing.” Every time I see the XO, I can’t help but chuckle. When we were home in Texas, he complained about soldiers not saluting him. One day, some friends and I caught him at the commissary buying groceries. As he walked out, we stood a few feet apart from each other. Every two steps, he had to stop and salute us. Finally, he stopped and gave us all one salute. Angrily, he threw his groceries in the car and we never heard about saluting again.

“The briefing is down the hall, last door on the left.” I thank him and walk down the hallway. The door is open, people sit around a horseshoe table. I take a seat toward the middle. Stretch and Goon walk in and close the door. 

“Okay, gentlemen. Let’s get down to brass tacks. We selected you to carry out this mission. You are the best and the brightest your unit has to offer. We can’t guarantee your safety, because we are walking into the jaws of hell. The odds of you returning to this place is nil. Does everyone understand? However, if we succeed in our mission, we will destroy a huge part of the insurgency and liberate the populace. Valhalla will sing our praises. Gather your gear, we roll out in fifteen minutes.”

We all stand to our feet and secure our gear. Together, we fall into step and walk to our vehicles. My riding buddy is a tanker from another unit. He nods at me, and I nod back.

“I am Hank, but everyone calls me Buster,” he said in the way of greeting. I chuckle and shake his hand.

“I’m Freeman, and no one calls me Possum.”

Buster laughs. “Why would anyone call you Possum?” I shake my head and open the door to my vehicle. “When I was young, my parents would rock me to sleep. When they put me in my crib, I would wake up. My dad started calling me Possum because I always faked them out.”

“Man, that is a great story.” I look him in the eyes. My mouth tightens into a mirthless grin. “Yeah, and if you tell anyone, I will make sure you don’t tell anyone ever again.”

“You’re joking, right?”

“Sure. I’m joking. According to Stretch and Goon, we are dead already. We just don’t know it yet.”

“Do you think it’s that bad? Are we all going to die?”

“Only the Lord knows. I guess we will find out.”

Hours pass, but we finally make it to our destination without incident. My new home for the next week is a small camp with a few scattered buildings. Hank and I walk to our assigned hooch and throw our gear onto a bunk near the doorway. A Marine sticks his head in the doorway and looks at us.

“Y’all with the newly arrived task force?” 

“Yeah.”

“There’s a formation in five mikes at the motor pool.”

“Roger, understood.”

Hank and I walk to the motor pool. Hank is a good ole boy from Alabama. His accent is thick enough to cut cane syrup. A good natured man, he hasn’t missed an opportunity to smile, except for now.

“I guess we are about to find out what they want us to do.”

“Yep. I’m sure it’s what they always want us to do. Find the enemy, destroy the enemy. It’s a straightforward job.” Hank guffaws.

“Where are you from, Freeman?”

“Hattiesburg, Mississippi.” We walk up to the gaggle of people standing around a Humvee. Goon stands on the hood, his Ray Ban shades shining in the late afternoon sun.

“We go into the city in three days. The city has insurgents and civilians in it. The point of this task force is to limit civilian casualties, while removing the threat of the insurgency. The DFAC is in the center of camp. A shoppette is next to it. Make liberal use of both.”

They dismiss us. Hank and I walk toward the dining facility. “Hopefully, the chow is better here.” We walk into the air-conditioned tent and stand in line. Shepherd’s Pie, mashed potatoes, gravy, and various other foods are on the line. 

Grabbing a tray, the cooks load our plates, and we walk to the nearest empty table.  In the background, a television plays the news. ‘Experts’ spout their opinions as truth concerning the war. “This war is being carried out on a false premise” one military ‘expert’ shouts. Hank looks up from his food. 

“Whatcha wanna bet, the ‘expert’ has never even made it to a combat zone, much less picked up a rifle and fought for something he believed in.” I nod and try to swallow a mouthful of mashed taters and gravy before responding.

“Mmmhmm, you’re right. It’s easy to sit at home and spout off at the mouth, when someone else’s kid will go fight the war. These fools make me sick.”

“Me too.”

“Let’s change the subject. I hate politicians and the media. Who’s your favorite team?”

“Pro or college? Football, baseball, basketball, or soccer?”

“Um, whatever you want to talk about Buster.”

“Well Possum, I like college football. Ohio State is my favorite team.”

“Ugh. That alone is worth a bullet. Why Ohio State?”

Hank laughs. He wags his finger at me. “The tradition man, plus I went to college there.”

Laughing, I took another bite of my Shepherd’s Pie. “Fair enough.”

“Who is your favorite team, Freeman?”

“College football? Alabama.”

We finish our meal and head back to our bunks. The night air is a cool 90 degrees, the moon is full. As we walk in silence, we hear indirect fire coming in. Both of us fall to the ground and cover our heads. The mortar hits a building and explodes. Jumping to our feet, we rush to where the explosion occurred. Emergency personnel help us pull people to safety. 

“Wow. Looks like they know we are here. Guess they didn’t want us to get bored before we kill them.” I look at Hank, his face is grimy. His eyes are cold, and his mouth is in a hard line. “Yeah, Hank looks like he could kill somebody.”

“Well Buster, boredom isn’t an issue.” The fire is quickly put out, and our casualties treated. Together, we walk from the ruined building, and make our way to our bunks. I throw myself across the single mattress and close my eyes.

“That explosion is just a small taste of the hell we will face. Might as well sleep while I can.

It doesn’t take me long to figure out that hell isn’t just a place, but also a state of being.

Warfighters don’t quit…AWID

General Sherman’s famous quote, “War is hell,” springs to mind as I watched Hank bleed out. We walked right into the killzone. “Thanks to that idiot Lieutenant.” Hank and I had sought cover behind a barrier made of sand, and God only knows what else. Thick, black smoke fills the air, the smell of burning rubber and human flesh makes it impossible to take deep breaths. We return fire and provide covering fire so our men can get out of the killzone. As usual, you never hear the shot that kills you. I hear a loud crack and Hank hits the ground. Blood pools in his lower torso, and I drag him to the corner and begin first aid. The bullet hit Hank in the liver, just below his flak vest. 

I open his vest and cover the wound with my glove. “Freeman, I’m dying. Put me out of my misery and continue mission. We have to help these people.” I can’t get the bleeding to stop. Hank groans and I prop him up against the barrier. 

“Hold this bandage against the wound, Hank. I have to beat back these clowns, they are charging us.” I put Hank’s hand over the wound. Lifting my weapon, I press the trigger and spray bullets. With the help of the other soldiers, we finally beat the insurgency back. I turn to Hank and sit down next to my friend. I put two fingers on his neck to check his pulse, but he is dead.

I stand to my feet, and can’t believe my eyes. Dead bodies litter the ground, blood stains the walls, the ground, and the faces of my fellow soldiers. Vehicles and buildings are burning. I grab Hank by the shoulders and pull him to the nearest vehicle. The entire scene is carnage. 

“God help us.”

As I walk back to my vehicle, a Sergeant Major stands outside his Humvee yelling into a hand mic. I feel something whiz past my ear, and I watch as the bullet strikes the SGM in the ear. His brains fall out of the side of his head.

“Jesus!” I duck and race to where the Sergeant Major had fallen. His body lies under the armored door of the Humvee. I check him and I see movement from the corner of my eye. Turning, I lift my weapon and track the insurgent.He comes out of the ditch, RPG raised and aimed at my friends. I pull the trigger three times. The bullets thud into his body and he slides down the ditch. Our new convoy leader signals for us to load up. We all jump into our vehicles and continue mission to the next rally point. Darkness falls upon us as we pull into our ‘secured zone.’

After the last vehicle has pulled up to the rest, we all download. I stretch. My body feels like it has been ran over. Wearily, we all trudge to the formation that Goon called. 

“We lost some good men today. However, we have dealt a critical blow to the insurgency. They know we are here. Today, they felt it. We should not get cocky though, these guys will not back down. We have to take this city. Hunker down for a couple of hours. Get some rest.”

“ Hank is dead, God only knows how many more will die in this dump.” I walk to my truck and crawl in the driver’s seat. Stripping down, I take off my helmet and open my vest. It feels like my gear weighs a thousand pounds. 

“I’m gonna die in this freaking place. I will die lost.” Alone in my truck, I cry. I cry for Hank, for those who didn’t make it to the rally point, and I cry for me. It has been years since I went to church. My thoughts turn to God. Does He still love me? Will he forgive me for what I have done? When I am done here, will He be able to call me His son?

Exhausted, I lean back against the seat and in seconds, I’m asleep.

More from an untitled novel…

The cool September air is refreshing as Franken walks out to his vehicle. Al Wilkerson, the security guard selected to escort him to his vehicle walks two steps behind him.

“This is becoming something of a regular occurrence, LJ. Why don’t you try getting along with people?”

“People are a complete waste of time, Al.”

“So, you’re not going to be nice and apologetic to your boss? It may shorten your suspension.”

“I have a better idea. The military has plenty to offer. I am headed there now.”

“Son, you might-”

Franken tosses Al a wave as he tears out of the parking lot for the last time. 

The recruiting station is located in a bland strip mall, hidden away from the busy highway. “I suppose they figure if you come here, you are already sold on the idea to serve.” Franken parks and walks into the building. Teenagers sit in chairs talking to recruiters hoping to fill the void left by the terror attacks of September 11th. Patriotism has filled the hearts of every young man and woman in America. “All I want is a way to provide for my family. I love my country, but you can’t eat patriotism.”

“Hello. Can I help you?” Franken turns from a poster showing a soldier fast roping out of a helicopter. A soldier stands behind him. His name tag reads Givens. LJ nods and clears his throat.

“Hi, I would like to speak to someone about joining the Army.”

“Come on in. I am SSG Rupert Givens.” SSG Givens leads Franken to a corner desk. He motions to LJ to have a seat next to his desk. They talk of Franken’s expectations. After discussing what the steps are for joining and filling out numerous pieces of paperwork, SSG Givens shakes Franken’s hand. 

“Are you married, Franken?”

“I am.”

SSG Givens nods his head and places a hand on Franken’s shoulder. “Far be it from me to tell you how to run your house, but you may want to talk this decision over with your wife before you sign your and her lives away. Come back tomorrow, and I will explain the military life to her.”

“Okay.”

Franken walks out to his vehicle and drives away. “I have to tell her about the suspension but at least I have a plan for the future.”

The beginning…a preview of some untitled work…

The beginning of any story seems to be the simplest part of said story; nothing is further from the truth, even the story of me is filled with moments of complication. Who is LJ Franken? When viewed from the lens of billionaires, celebrity status, and the powerful, I am nobody. Until that fateful day in September, I was a milkman. After the towers fell, I was transformed into a killer. A focused razor of my nation’s rage. However, I have sprinted down a rabbit trail or as we say in Mississippi, I have my cart ahead of my horse. 

The beginning has me standing in front of the union steward, Hooker and my supervisor, Tucker. 

“Did you have to beat down your co-worker,” Hooker asks. I shrug nonchalantly. As far as I am concerned it’s just another day at a job that has no future. Tucker sighs. He is really good at feigning he is put out by my antics.

“You’re always in trouble, Franken. Why am I not surprised you beat down your help?”

“Both of you idiots act like I whooped him for no reason. Did you miss the part where he spit in my face?”

Tucker sighs and crosses his arms. Hooker shakes his head in frustration. Neither seems to be on my side of the conflict. Finally, Hooker moves close to me and gets to the meat of the matter.

“Franken, you know that the guy you ‘whooped’ is a minority, right? How do you think this will play out in this community that is 70% minorities?”

My lips pull back in a sneer and my brow furrows. “Who cares? If you’re dumb enough to spit in a man’s face, you deserve to get beat down, regardless of your race.”

Tucker nods his head. “You leave us no choice, Franken. You are suspended without pay for two weeks. Get your gear, security will escort you to your vehicle.”

I turn and walk out of The Clabber Wagon for the last time. “Screw it, I’ll join the Army.” I had no idea how fateful those words would turn out to be.