Monday, March 7, 2011

Friday Flash Fiction (Cycle 21) Finding a way back home

Flash Fiction Friday :This week’s story challenge is to explore a character’s defense mechanism at work in under 1500 words in any genre you want. Let’s see if we can top last week.

The rain is cool and refreshing as I walk, the morning dark and comforting as I carry my burdens both in my head and in the duffel bag on my back. Every step I make I feel my boots sink ankle deep into the mud of the waterlogged dirt road I am walking on. My feet are heavy with the weight of my wet socks and the splash of every step I take only soaks the legs of my old blue jeans. I do not care, the road I am on is taking me home bringing me closer to the one place I can find refuge.

Lightning flashes somewhere close answered a second later by thunder, the steady rain that has been my companion on this seemingly endless journey increases its tempo obscuring visibility but I know where I am going. On my right are the woods I hunted squirrels and rabbit during my childhood. Looking through the mist and rain toward those familiar trees, I wonder why no developer has not snapped up all that land and built the usual golf courses and condominiums. On my left begins the slow swampy slope to the marsh and the sea that my family has worked since before the Civil War. If the weather was clear, I would be able to smell the salty musk of the marsh, something everyone who makes their living by the life it protects and nurtures comes to love.

My solitude is total, as if I am the only inhabitant of my own personal world. But I know everyone is busy, dad and my younger brother Sam should already be on the boat weaving through the channels to the ocean where the long shrimp nets will be dropped and they will troll for days traveling south until the freezer is full. Mom will be pulling a double shift at the hospital and will find an empty room there to sleep when she takes a break before going back on duty for another sixteen hours. She hates being alone at the house with dad and Sam gone. All this is good; it will give me a few days to adjust to being home before mom finally returns to check on the place.

My steps are strong and continuous and before long the old house emerges from the mist. Nothings seems to have changed since I have been away, the tin roof looks new but granddad's old rocking chairs still line the porch looking like worn sentries who refuse to give up their posts. Further back, almost behind the house I see the work shop with one of dad's spare shrimp nets strung up for repair. Close by is granddad's old 1952 Chevy truck, still in the same place it was the day he surrendered his driver's license, the old man died a couple of days later and the family just never had the heart to move the thing.

Stepping on the porch and out of the rain, I throw down my duffel bag and collapse into one of the rocking chairs. I admit it now, I am beyond weary, my soul aches and all I want to do is sit, watch the rainfall, and wait for mama to come home. Despite the rain, which had long soaked every part of my body I can still feel the dirt and dust clinging to me from those dry and desolate places where my friends and I fought for so many years.

Stripping off my soaked boots and socks I sit in the rocking chair listening to the rain. If I concentrate, I find that the metallic drumming of the rain falling on the tin roof is able to drown out both the voices and the faces of the people I saw die over there. It is a small relief but I hold onto it as tightly as I fall into a priceless oblivion.

The rain ends late into the night and off in the distance I notice small lights approaching, the first thing that comes to mind is the enemy and that they have somehow penetrated the perimeter. My muscles tense and I actually reach for my rifle before I realize they are fireflies dancing in the darkness. Feeling stupid, I grab my duffel and retrieve the key hidden above the front door. Inside the house, the only sound is the ticking of the clock on the mantle above the fireplace.

Going up the stairs and down the hall I find my old room unchanged like everything else except for the stack of letters I sent home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Knowing my parents read them in my room to try and feel closer to me I feel ashamed at what I put them through, the torture of always expecting the next letter to be a notification of me having been killed in action. As I unpack my belongings, laying them on my bed the colorful ribbons and silver lieutenants bars on my dress uniform add to my shame as I realize they cost far more than they were worth.

After a shower and finding clean clothes still in my dresser, I move back down to the living room almost ghost-like in my silence. I lay my green beret on the small table next dad's recliner, a statement that I am home for good. I open the door and windows letting the cool night breeze blow through the house. It seems like days since I have eaten but outside the chirping of crickets and the buzz of cicadas sing songs of my return and I lay on the couch to listen. Sleep claims me and I drift away figuring I will call the hospital in the morning to tell mom I am home.

I awake in my VA hospital bed, the morning sun is shining through the dirty windows and I sit up trying to shake off the drugs that allow me to escape this reality. Outside my room, others like me slowly shuffle down the hall toward the cafeteria. We are a motley crew dressed in identical cheap blue robes and slippers. My head spins as I stand up and walk over to join the crowd, I see hulking orderlies standing close by, watching the psych ward inmates making sure they do not get out of hand.

Breakfast is the finest VA lowest bidder cuisine, runny eggs, under cooked sausage, and bland oatmeal. I wash it all down with seven cartons of the plentiful chocolate milk, the high point of my day. I look around at my fellow inmates sitting in the cafeteria, a see a few that I served with in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Good guys, but like me something happened to them that despite all the training they just could not handle. It doesn't matter what caused it, that bullshit about honor, courage, and duty goes out the door the second bullets start flying. When that happens, the only imperative is watching the backs of your buddies but good soldiers and innocent civilians still die for unknown reasons we wonder about in the psych ward dayroom while we play spades, and watch Spongebob on the old television.

The politicians know the real reasons why we fight but they don't tell us grunts. They just smile on television and occasionally visit as the next election approaches talking with the staff in the rehabilitation wards while jockeying for pictures with the amputees.

They never come to see us, the injuries here are more abstract and do not make for good photo ops. For once, I would like to have one ask me about the little girl I saw burned black after a Predator drone fired on the wedding party the operator took as a Taliban gathering. I would even tell him about a local village chieftain that tried to work with us in the hope of getting a new well dug for his village only to have the Taliban skin him alive one night.

Sitting at my table, I feel the rage build inside trying to take control. One of the nurses sees me begin to shake and comes over to check. She would be pretty if she did not look as haunted as I do. Watching close by are the orderlies ever ready to take me down if I become aggressive. I allow the nurse to guide me to my room, once we are back and I lay down on my bed and try to look outside the dirty window and see something of the world. Thankfully, the glass obscures everything but I still feel the desperate need to go home, to feel safe. I can’t though, while fighting America’s proclaimed enemies my parents’ house burned down one night killing my entire family. The mission was so important and I was so far from civilization I did not learn about it for nine months.

The nurse hands me a small paper cup with a couple of blue pills inside. I take them and after a swallow of warm water, the tired nurse offers me a sad smile and walks out of my room. I lay my head down and close my eyes; the warm feeling of safety starts to spread over me.

Soon it is raining again and I am walking the dirt road towards home.


RegCPA5963 said...

great detail and the story was very nicely written. I could see every scene in high def. Thanks for sharing

Oso said...

Damn this is good Beach.I was enjoying the detail of the old home, the shrimp nets."the buzz of cicadas sing songs of my return" was a beautiful line.
It took until the third sentence in the VA that I understood, the part about the fire really drove the point home.
As did the repetitive dream.Dang.

I can't do what you do, the detail. I enjoy your work,bro.

Windsmoke. said...

This story flowed along like a meandering river through the desert canyons with fantastic attention to detail that hooked me right from the first paragraph to the last, very well done indeed :-).

Commander Zaius said...

Reg: You welcome, still had to come back several times and fix typos.

Oso: Thanks my friend. Just playing around.

Windsmoke: Had a few more sections in mind explaining a few details deeper but ran over the word limit.

Anonymous said...


This is some damn good stuff. Poignant and the tone and style of the writing matched perfectly the story and theme. I’m still feeling that melancholy hang on.
If I had an internet presence, trust me… I would re-tweet the hell out of this.


Akelamalu said...

Oh my, I was so disappointed to find he wasn't home after all. :(

Fantastic writing Beach, you kept my attention right to the last full stop.

Commander Zaius said...

Ray: Thanks, I have a tendency to write heavily about bombs and war stories, wanted to try something a little deeper.

Akelamalu: Thanks, you know after reading it several times and correcting most of the typos I sort of feel bad for my unnamed character now. May have to offer him and the tired nurse a way out.

Ingrid KV Hardy said...

Oh my, this just drips with mood and emotion. I take my hat off to you, I'd like to be able to capture that just half as well! I swear, one can see, hear, feel everything he does - including the ultimate tragedy...


Pixel Peeper said...

Beach, of all the stories you have written this one drew out the most intense emotions from me.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

Best one yet, double b. Your synthesizing of the mundane and the metaphysical is mesmerizing......but damned if it doesn't also stops you in your tracks. Extremely well done.

Ranch Chimp said...

Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh ... great story Bum ... maybe fiction, however alot of truth to it too at the ending ... I think you know what I mean. :)

Ranch Chimp said...

Yes Bum ... as Oso so well simply put's it ... "the detail" ... this is what make's alot of these so great.

Teresa said...

Very good Beach! You have so much compassion under that sarcastic shell of yours and we get to see it in your writing. Bravo..

Nance said...

That was lovely.

Thought it was about time I followed the blog breadcrumb trail back to my own neighborhood. I've read around a bit, am still not sure I'm in the right place, but I trust my friend Leslie at Parsley's Pics and she's put you in her hallowed blog roll. I've never gone wrong following her lead.

Greetings, neighbor. I look forward to more.

Commander Zaius said...

Ingrid: Thank you, would have developed the tragedy more if the word limit was a little higher.

Pixel: Being a veteran I have a lot of sympathy for what people in the services have to put up with and how many civilians in this country have failed them. I really worry about a nation that will freak over every little aspect of what that moronic Sheen is doing but refuses to think about the men and women fighting overseas.

Will: Like I said I actually believe I could have gone far deeper into the mind of the main character.

Ranch: Thanks! You know me well enough to understand where I am coming from on this.

Teresa: Don't tell anyone, I like my reputation as a hard boiled and world weary cynic.

Nance: Thank you and welcome! Please come back again! I'll drift over your way soon. I work at night and I'm about to call it a day.

Joyce said...

Beach, This was most difficult to read once, and even more so the second time, yet it demands to be re-read. I believe there is more truth here than one would like to admit. Having been close to someone who came home from a war, but never really came home from the war, I applaud you for this moving piece. Brava!

Life As I Know It Now said...

you have captured the horror of war very well. some scars can not be seen outwardly and those tend to be the worst.

Commander Zaius said...

Joyce: I really wish the Elites were forced to send their own kids into harm's way as part of the price for the positions of power. More to the point I wish the draft was still around because if it was Iraq would have never happened and people would have long since had enough of fighting in Afghanistan.

Liberality: General Sherman is a much misunderstood man and he was very right with his understatment about war being Hell.

Doc said...

For me, it read like a Walt Whitman poem. I think this is the best thing of yours I've ever read. I'm just blown away. Way to set the bar really high!


Unknown said...

You are a master of the spirit of place... I was there with you. You remind me a tad of Dash Hammet.

Commander Zaius said...

Doc and Gwen: Thanks guys!

John Myste said...

I am a fiction writer (alas, not proffessionally). I have written one novel manuscript, started five others, and I have written many short stories.

I participated in one flash fiction challenge.

Here is is:

Use these terms to write a 100 word flash fiction story. Must be exactly 100 words:

Raggedy Ann
double agent

If you are interested in the challenge, I would be interested to see what you come up with.

John Myste said...

OMG! Here is the sequence:

1. I printed out this story (and one other that I have not yet read).

2. I made my flash fiction comment.

3. I fetched some tea and read the first one, this one.

4. I said: "Wow." That was really good. It had the chill factor, which is the je ne sais quoi that truly testifies of the worth of a piece.

It was truly excellent and written in the form of literary fiction one would find in “The Sun,” not the tabloid, but the literary journal.

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