What Once was Maybe
All those years ago I saw you
The room blurred and nothing else mattered
The strangest thought I've had before or since ran through my mind:
All those nights fighting with myself, "a foolish consideration."
It took weeks for me to retain my composure
Weeks for me to start talking to you
Weeks before I found my own spine.
And finally, when my brain caught up with my heart, and my spine was settled, I realized it was not time.
And so I waited.
Years went by, we were friends, acquaintances, associates, and everything in-between, yet I said nothing.
I enjoyed what we had and appreciated what may be.
Time and time and time....
I remember walking up to you, thinking it was time
Instead I watched as you died inside, I had no idea why and never asked.
I simply sat with you and talked
And we talked about the past and the present
And we talked about your family and about mine
We assured each other we'd talk again
We assured each other we were here for one another
And I left
Years more went by
We were closer than ever before and
For the first time since I met you
For the first time in long, long years
Years of you with your boyfriends
Years of my girlfriends
I realized I couldn't simply walk away.
I stepped up, ready to speak
But the toils of the heart pulled me away,
I cracked a joke about my narcissism
You laughed, pure and authentic
And I walked away, telling myself:
I tried, I promise I tried to move on
I stopped talking to you and got with another woman
But walking through the gardens
Appreciating the flowers and fountains
I conceded in my heart it was time,
And so I went away, away and to you.
I asked you out to dinner,
My characteristic artificial charm and confidence fading away
I couldn't look you in the eye, no matter how hard I tried.
My heart beat with uncertainty,
My palms were sweaty,
Butterflies swarmed my stomach,
All things I've only felt while looking upon you the first.
"I'll let you know"
Were the only cryptic words you spoke
And I smiled and nodded
"And so I'll wait" is all I could return.
Time and time and time....
We were friends, acquaintances, associates, and everything in-between, yet I said nothing more.
I enjoyed what we had and appreciated what may be.
And yet the day came when the eventual,
So still at night I wonder, how foolish could I have been to think
Those very thoughts would tie you to me, as my soulmate?
Yet still at night I wonder, what would it have taken to hear yes
From what once was maybe.
And shoot they didn't.
They lowered their weapons and we walked the golden road to paradise.
Well, not quite. But it was almost as good. All (except the young man) lowered their weapons. Close enough.
"Please," I say again, not entirely sure what I'm asking for. That I'm not shot, probably.
"Look, the back door is opened. It's how I left. Please, go on in." I gesture toward the house and let my rifle catch itself on its sling around my shoulder. We all stand there frozen, again. The stillness is eerie. It is foreign to the moving world, the active birds and speeding clouds. The falling leaves and slight breeze.
The older man lightly sets his hand on the small of the back of the older woman, urging her to the house. She goes in with the other older man. "Abby," The man who I have been speaking to, my identified leader, starts: "You know him?"
I look at her, pleading once again. I am deathly aware of the rifle pointed at me from her similarly aged counterpart. I fear it is her brother because I know a brother would do a lot more than kill for a sister. I know. But I also fear it is her lover because a lover could do more. And hoping it's some random dude seems rather far fetched. Still not liking my chances.
"Yes," she finally says. I let out a shaky breath I wasn't aware I was holding. Though the fear still clenches my chest and my throat still throbs. And, very frankly, my finger still thirsts for blood. "I used to go to school with him," she says slowly. Her voice also practiced and strong! Unlike my sorry excuse meant for human articulation.
The older man stares at me cold and hard, gears turning incomprehensibly fast as hundreds of scenarios flash across his mind, ideas falling like rain.
"And how do we know you're still at least a half-decent human being?" He asks; I notice his right hand reaching for his weapon. I push down my instinct to reach for mine and cross my arms.
"I followed you through the forest," I say with confidence I don't have through a voice that isn't there and an unsaid threat that can't be supported. "If I was going to do killing I'd've done it when your back was turned" The man glares at me before gesturing toward the back door.
"Not a lot of respect, shooting a man in the back," I say slowly, my veins icing. A sharp thud exploding at the base of my skull, a warning from my instincts not to turn my back on them. I can't go in first. Death sentence. The man looks at the younger, then gestures for him to lower his weapon.
"No, no respect in that. Go inside." And so, with my arms still crossed, I walk inside my unlit house to an uncertain future I brought upon myself. For company.
We sit around the living room, warm (probably (definitely) old) corn beef hash on our plates. All of them eat slowly, trying not to appear as famished as they are. I watch them, hardly eating my own from excitement and dread. It's quiet except for the scrapes of metal forks on glass plates, clicks clinks bangs and swallows. Shuffle of feet and gulping of water. Smacking and licking mouths.
Along the Southern wall, three of them sit on couches, the other three on the Western wall. I sit in a singular chair, on the Eastern wall. And for all of us to look upon (when not scarfing down food) is a wall of books stacked neatly according to genre. A collection of around fifteen hundred books, many of which I have read. Lots of time in three years where there is a lack of school, work, and societal expectations. And I'm not much of a traveler, haven't moved in all that time. So now I have books and books and more books. No electricity? No problem. I have twenty Romeo and Juliets, seven Art of Wars, James Patterson for months (quite literally), and Mark Twain by the dozens. Then there are my cookbooks, my magazines, the newspapers. The historical books next to nature books. Sci-fi and fantasy with erotica and historical fiction. Star Trek, Halo, Divergent, Hunger Games, and Twilight. Language books and dictionaries. Even travel guides and instruction manuals. Children books by the troves, though those are upstairs. Piled into a corner of a room I don't visit much. Only to pile more children's books into. I don't bother counting those.
It feels like Fahrenheit 451 (of which I have several). Stashing books in the hundreds. Whenever I come across books in a house I begin the slow process of packing them in my scavenge bag and transporting them home, making several trips if necessary. I try to leave repeats but I also don't read every title (or remember every title for that matter). The only places I don't take books from are stores and libraries, the latter I visit seldom due to a plethora of reading material in my living space. Oh and the manga, those are stacked up in the dining room. I am still learning to appreciate those, though with the lack of entertainment I am considerably less picky. It's only for so long that one can play chess against oneself.
That's not to say there is nothing to do, my guitar (or the guitars I've honorably liberated from neighboring houses) have seldom seen more use. And while I could not bring it with me, I do consistently play the piano I found in the house down the street. I also liberated several violins before finding one that fit me, I have a good drum set seven houses down to the left. Two (well cleaned) clarinets, a ukelele, and one of every band instrument. Name an instrument and chances are I can find my way around. Find an instrument that I can't and I can further guarantee I have a book that explains it anyway.
I could rival the loneliest person in solitaire. Even took up drawing, not any good, but at least a thousand pictures lay around the house; drawings of my books, my forest, my house, neighboring houses, even the sky. Just whatever caught my eye that day. None of people though, no subjects to mimic (other than the countless art booklets of course). And living next to what used to be a military community, I've found countless small arms tactics, bomb-making manuals, and equipment-care manuels. So if anyone needs me to call in an airstrike from an AC-130, Angel of Death, I got you. But chances are, thanks to my medical studying, I could just shoot you dead. Given I'm a good shot (which I am).
But to sum it all up, I'm bored out of my mind.
And I'm lonely.
In the end, it's the stars that keep my company; lying in the grass or on the roof, watching them slowly rotate. The pure black of the sky paired with the twinkling stars. Just lying out there, cool air, perhaps a slight sprinkle. The hard ground beneath me, itchy grass brushing my skin and clothes. An occasional bug crawls over my hand or leg, but all I do is watch those never-ending, never-aging stars. Each star impossibly old and getting older, or maybe already gone. Each white speck in the wonderfully clear nights could already be long gone, never to be seen again. Yet, with the thousands or millions of light-years of space between me and the stars for all I know they could all have already winked out of existence and I only see their shadows. Their shadows that light up the night sky.
And with that thought, even the stars may have left me. All that remains are the lights that tell a story of what used to be, but no longer is. Much like the books, the houses. The instruments, the technology. The paintings, and the memories. The memories.
And so each night I stare up at the stars. I wonder what unique story each has and will have and can never have. And I hope.
And then I was up, swiftly.
I followed where the last of the convoy had just disappeared, through my forest.
I forced myself to go slowly; careful, measured steps. The leaves crunched softly beneath each booted step. I could suddenly hear the creaking of their leather, the soft swish of my shirt, my pant legs brushing together. My breathing is ragged and my pounding heartbeat is so fast I couldn’t discern singular beats.
I weave between greyed tree trunks, trampling over yellow fall leaves that had fallen away from their high flying brethren; separated in the dehydrated death of Winter and the only hope for reunification being the tactical suicide awaiting every expendable appendage of their larger structure.
Every crinkle is like lightning striking at my feet, I grimace and glare at the sun. Shadows and multicolored bodies are ahead, marching along toward my house. Through my forest.
Drop them. The thought comes so naturally, my body wants to obey as it brings my rifle to bear. But I stop myself and continue following them. Just far enough that they cannot see and my hammering heart does not alert them of my presence.
Yet even as I follow them I cannot help but fantasize at all the possibilities of something that vaguely resembles what I used to consider normal. Someone to talk to! I continue to watch them, was them as they traverse through the very yellowing and reddening trees I do. Underneath the very blue sky I do, the one with large, fast-moving, fluffy white clouds and swooping blackbirds. Through the temperatures that make your hair stand on end, accompanied by the slight breeze that makes the leaves rustle and birds tweet and goosebumps appear.
I feel a sweat appear, my internal body temperature rising as my skin is continually cooled. I can feel the feverish burn between my shoulders, my forehead, along my arms and in my cheeks. My brain runs a million miles an hour, wondering what could be and what is and what has to be and what can’t be. What used to be is never a thought, but rather a shadow in the dark corners of the mind that is only pulled on on the gloomiest days. But today, today might just not be one of those days. People to talk to!
Up ahead I spot a clearing, a clearing into the very neighborhood I live in. Dead empty and long looted. They pause at the edge and stand shoulder to shoulder, all except the younger male. He instead turns and looks behind him, scanning the forest. I duck and slide behind a tree, heart racing faster than before and trigger finger all the itchier.
Ages, ages pass. He stands there, a strong young man looking back and forth like a lighthouse scanning those dense, dying, colorful woods with a spotlight meant to discover a lost ship. But after several long, long, seconds of scanning, he is satisfied and looks out over the clearing.
Together, the group talks and points. About thirty seconds in, they all nod and begin walking toward the closest house, a faded yellow two-story with its Southern roof collapsed in by a fallen tree.
I get up and slowly, very slowly, move up to the edge of the forest myself and stop just as they reach the back door to the house. My house. Now or never.
I bring my rifle up and train it on the chest of the youngest male, my heart thumping in my throat. But suddenly I am in my element, I am hunting a creature unlikely to survive much longer and has a singular purpose of ensuring my own continued life. My heart is still in my throat, my body still cold, and my thirst for blood still strengthening. Yet, my mind comes to a peaceful calm and my hands stabilize. Now or never.
My voice is coarse, the ‘y’ only a deep guttural sound hardly recognizable as human. Calling it a word would be spitting upon all the years of human development leading to such beauty as language. It was spittle and grunts deteriorating me to little more than an animal, incapable of intelligent thought. Nonetheless, they all turn around with their scrabbled together weapons raised, the girl struggling for a moment to draw her sidearm before it is pointed in my general direction. They haven’t seen me yet. I can still turn away, go back. Pull the trigger.
“Hey,” I call again, stronger being too strong a word. But it’s almost comprehensible. Almost.
“Show yourself!” One of the older men yell. Jealousy burns through my body as my trigger finder tightens. His voice is so strong, so strong. Yet mine has been deteriorated to near nothing. Mine is like an oversized boulder tumbling down a mountainside, sharp and crumbling. And failing. All thanks to a lack of another human being, another thing at all, to accompany me. And so, my throat wishes for humanity, my arms for a jacket, my brain for a future, my heart for peace, and my finger for war.
“I-” I try, such a simple word causing much pain but is better than both last attempts at speech, “I mean you no harm!” It’s ragged, torn, beaten and bruised. But it is speech. And this is human contact.
Now all of their guns are pointed in my general direction, more in my direction than in general.
“I shot the last person who said that,” Comes his gruff reply, still not shooting.
“So did I,” I respond. Not exactly true.
“Don’t mind me if I shoot then,” He pauses. I look him in the eye as I lean hard against a tree. My left shoulder itching as tough bark scratches it up, riding my short sleeve up and rubbing my skin raw. My hands are steady and the gun is aimed squarely over the younger man’s chest, my hair unkempt and jeans ragged. Hands and face dirty.
Not unlike him. Same hair, if only grayer. Same aging pants. Same look of determination and familiarity with death.
There are two large differences between him and me. Other than age of course. First, he should be the one leaning for stability, not me. Second, while he is used to pulling the trigger, age and muscle are not on his side. I doubt he’d hit me.
There are also six of them.
Chance is not in my favor.
“I’ll mind,” I respond, cleverly. Throat clogged and raspy.
“What do you want?” His language is so articulate and beautiful. His tongue works so perfectly, throat exhaling the precise amount of air requested at the exact moment it’s requested.
“That’s my house there,” I say pointing with my chin. “I- I just want to talk.” The man doesn’t look at the house. His eyes don’t flicker. His party is getting nervous, twitching and shaking. All except the young man, one who is probably my better. Better in all except a gunfight. My finger still itches.
“About what?” He finally asks in his perfect speech.
“Abby,” I say, a moment before my heart stops. It is the moment of truth, everything on the line. With a tactical disadvantage, impaired speech, desperation, and hunger for blood, I speak the name of the young woman I can only hope will recognize me. My life probably counts on it. This time the man does make indication, but not in the way I would have preferred. Instead of looking at her in confirmation (or for confirmation) he instead stands straighter, taller, and his gun hands stop shaking. I’m afraid.
“What?” At his question I clear my throat, the fragility of the issue feeling like it’s in an imperfect balance leaning in their favor. If I don’t fix it quickly it is going to fall, in their favor. But also in my finger’s favor. It can already taste the blood.
“Abby,” I say again, my eyes shifting to the girl, “Please, please tell them” Suddenly I’m moving. Slow, deliberate (rather, seemingly deliberate, I do them without thought and even try to stop myself) steps out into the open. My gun still trained on the young man, but I’m fully exposed. One breath and my balancing act is over. “Abby,” I whisper,
A long, slow moment as time freezes.
The birds tweet their sweet songs. The leaves crinkle as they hit the forest floor. The clouds speed across the blue skies to nowhere. The sun sinks lower and lower down closer to the horizon. Yet, us seven humans stand rigid, unmoving and breathing even less.
“Better not shoot me” I finally say, wishing I were joking, and lower my weapon.
The cool air pulls at his dry skin. He breathes slowly, his hot breath leaving his parted lips; in and out. The forest is quiet to the untrained ear, yet, he continues to lie, completely still. The untraceable itch on his right gut appearing underneath his almost-itchy cotton T-shirt. The slight crinkle of orange leaves at the toe of his right foot can be heard as he ever so slightly moves for comfort. The trees rise above him in hope for just a little more sunlight before their leaves fall away for Winter. The unsteady ticking of leaflets making their final descent to the forest floor and landing among their dead brethren. The sky a pale blue partly covered by greying clouds and a cool sun.
He lies still, ever still. The cool handguard around his barrel seeping heat from his left hand. The plastic standard-issue handgrip a comfortable rough in his right. His finger curled around the cold metal trigger. His eyes watching a calico cat as it cleans itself, its tail in a complex twirl behind it as it tries to reach its back. He remembers his own cat before the bombing. Poor thing.
He slowly squeezes his finger letting the cold metal push against more of his skin, waiting for recoil.
A crinkle and a snap. Clay stops squeezing and the cat looks up. The cat freezes, having stood up, tail held perfectly still. Its mix of colors a fair camouflage in the Autumn forest. Its green eyes not looking to him but instead to his right. Its right paw still off the ground as it, without looking away, lifts its head and sniffs the air. Its small brown nose moving imperceptibly as it searches through the aromas of its home wood. Without the slightest indication, it turns and disappears into the dead branches and fallen leaves.
Clay slowly rolls from his stomach onto his left side, pointing his weapon in the direction the cat was looking. He feels a knot from a dead tree branch push into his lower shoulder, right above the tricep. He ignores it and scans the woods, listening intently. Branches snap as something hits them, crisp leaves crack as they’re tread upon. He stops scanning the woods and lets his eyes take in the whole. Individual trees become a blur and everything is a mix of yellows, whites, and oranges. The blue sky pokes through from above, not to be forgotten.
He spots the parade. Six people. Two women, four men. All armed. The knot continues to push into his shoulder, he feels his left hand succumb to pins and needles. He imagines all of his nerves as exploding stars as their electricity touches his skin. He focuses again, going from person to person. The two older men are both in their mid-fifties. They have greying hair and untrimmed beards. The third man is also older, perhaps late forties. All of their weapons are held relaxed but ready, their bags a clear burden. Next, are the two women. The first is old enough to match the men; though she has aged substantially better than them, especially under the circumstances. After her is a much younger woman, only 19 years of age. Unlike the older woman, she does not hold a proper rifle but instead has a pistol on her hip. She carries more bags than her elders, likely on account of her age. Pulling up the rear is a younger man who is no more than twenty-six. He too carries a larger amount of gear on his back and his weapon held ready, head on a swivel.
Clay sees little of this as he focuses on the younger female. It’s more than that she’s close to his age, more than the fact that she’s pretty. He recognizes her.
His body goes cold, the pins and needles extending up to his shoulder into his neck and crawls down his left torso. He feels his gun beginning to waver and his heart beginning to race. His throat begins to hurt, ache, with every heartbeat. He suddenly can’t breathe or swallow, his tongue and lips as dry as the leaves beneath him. He lets the gun lower and sits up into a more comfortable position. Blood rushes everywhere and he gets light-headed. Three years, he thinks. Three years. “It’s been three years,” he whispers, trying the words out on his tongue. It comes out rough, his voice cracked and damaged. The words carry his soul with them, shattered and all. He hasn’t spoken in months and not to another human being in considerably longer. A year and a half perhaps.
He can’t help but watch, watch as they trek through the woods. His woods. Oblivious to his hungry eyes. An ache he hasn’t felt since he last spoke appears. In his chest, a weight grows. His body becomes like lead and his brain pounds in his skull. He needs somebody to talk to. He suddenly knows he can’t survive another day without a human there beside him. Someone to keep him sane. To talk to. About anything. His heart beats so fast it’s slow, a hammering in his chest against his ribs. His body shakes. His mind screams. His eyes cloud as memories assault him.
But he only breathes. The cold air on his skin. The cold air slightly stinging his inner nose. The slight breeze through his loose-fitting clothing giving a sense of openness that contrasts against his crowded mind. All while the group trudges on through his woods. Out of sight.
I wake up. I hear the birds singing outside. My head is foggy, my lips dry, my throat aches. I sit up in my bed and look to my left out my window. The sun happily shines past the white fluffy clouds and blue sky into my large window. My room is illuminated. I feel like drowning in nostalgia.
I get to my feet, not believing what I am seeing. I catch a whiff of something. Sausage. I take four steps, bringing my out of my room into the upstairs hallway. My parents' door is opened as well, light filtering through their three windows and giving the room a golden glow. Something like in the movies that you don't think is actually possible. I hear the creaking of my sister moving around in her room. I turn around to face her room, waiting for her to appear.
"Breakfast!" I hear from downstairs. My head pounds. Perhaps a dream? I'm sick? I have a cold. That's it, I feel my brain grasping for reason. I look down the stairs, sunlight filtering through the small half circle window over the door. My mom stands there, alit beautfully as she gives a motherly smile and waves me down. "Get down here, now!" She calls with slight annoyance, not at all matching her facial experssion. My heart aches in confusion. I feel my sister hug me from behind. My head spins. That's it, I'm just sick. I had nightmares last night. Everything I felt was because I was fevering, delirious...
"Good morning brother, love you," My sister says standing on her toes and kissing me on the cheek before punching me in the gut and sprinting down the stairs. My abdomen braces for the impact but only feels a memory of a hit against my gut. It's not real. I shake my head, everything hurts. I look to my leg where I was bleeding. No, I was bleeding in my dream. I see a bruise. No, not a bruise. An old cut? No, it is a bruise. It is real, she just didn't hit me hard today. Dread builds in my chest as hope builds in my brain. "I love you too," She's too far to hear but it makes me feel better.
I clomp down the stairs, my aching leg slowing me down. I finally touch the cool tile at the bottom.
"You're taking forever bob," My mom calls, "Hurry up." I sit down in my favorite chair, a chair that was once my dad's but I eventually stole. Breakfast sitting in my lap, the news playing on the living room TV. We all sit around watching it, discussing our day. That's not right, I think, We normally do this for dinner... Change in schedule?
"...was your day?" I look at my dad, he's holding an empty plate of steak. I imagine emailing Daniel about the plane.
"Good, a plane flew overhead today," I tell him looking at my own plate of steak, potatoes, and asparagus. My headache still there, I want water. I suddenly stand, my leg on fire.
"That's cool, you should go play soccer with Daniel," My dad tells me. I swat at my leg in panic, I begin sweating. My throat closes on me. I can't breath. Soccer. I feel an ache grow up my shin, past my thigh and into my hip.
"He has a fever," My mom says with a frown. I fall to the ground, a sharp pain shooting through the back of my head. I can feel the sweat drip down my spine and my hands are sweaty. The pain right behind my eyes...
"Yes but he needs to play soccer with Daniel so he can close the door." My father responds.
"We need medicine," My mother says, smiling even though her voice is panicked. "His leg is infected."
"But what about Will?" My father asks without moving his mouth, watching the news.
"Rippy," My mom begins. But I'm too caught up with my dad's questions. Will. What about Will? The boy I left. The boy I didn't save. The one whos pulse was never checked. My shin explodes as if hit. I jerk it toward me and I roll, falling off the floor for millenia before suddenly being in a dark, stale, freezing room.
I open my eyes, Mrs. Bain leans over me. Mr. Bain and Victoria hold down my body. Mrs. Bain looks at me softly, concern creased in her brow, "You'll be okay honey..." I feel myself drifting away again. Past the sweat, past the freezing, past the fever, aches, and pains. Back to the morning with sausages and birds. And little sisters kissing you goodmorning.
Ever Get That Feeling?
You know that feeling when you know that that guy with bonoculars; the one wearing a green camo hat and a loose blue t-shirt that has a glasses-wearing, taquila-drinking dinosour on it; that's standing underneath the third pine tree to the right from the hill 42 feet and 2 inches away from where you're standing is watching you through the window even though the blinds are closed?
It is the most used word in English.
No one realizes they're using it.
Till now, anyway.
I'm conscious of it
You're conscious of it
And I haven't even used it since the intro.
Well, there goes that streak. Defying the use of the most common word the.
Dang. I had to use it twice just for explanation.
Imaging trying to use word the throughout any of sentences you decide you want to write.
Don't worry, this word is so common your awareness will dim of its use by the end of the hour. But maybe the end of the hour will stay on your mind...
Writing that I was so busy coming up with a time limit I forgot I was talking about the topic the.
This is, perhaps, the most underappreciated word in the English language.
Then again, there's methinks, which is in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Like gullible. I assure you, that's no trick.
But I must admit, I was going to put the the word count at the bottom for any readers, but I figure someone out there already kept track. Please, do let me know. I haven't counted as I am relying on your response. It'll be the response of the ages, methinks.
Running Part 5
Perhaps this is a statement to my recovery;
My lack of poetry.
For those that have seen my first four parts will see this.
They may not have been good (I do not pride myself as a poet) but at the time they seemed capable of showing the pains and aches I felt.
I've gone back and read them, for the first time in months.
There's a certain guilt I feel, forgetting the feelings I lived with for months that others certainly still struggle to grapple with, yet I move on and forget where I have come from.
But reading through them I hurt again, they cut through my heart like a dagger. As I remember the hopelessness I felt, the days I spent crying in the kitchen...
I've since come to realize, it was not about the running, but just about the general crap of life and my running was my stress reliever, my escape.
It kept me sane, sanity I needed when everything else in life seemed to fall apart all at once.
I will always appreciate those that were there for me, my parents especially, because all through that hopelessness and pain never once did I ever feel alone. I know I am blessed to have never felt the hand of lonliness in my life, just hurt, hurt and loss.
But now, I've made recovery, I've run again, I'm working out again, reinserting myself into society.
It feels like the inverse of Neil Armstrong: One small step for mankind, one great leap for a man. Though that feels both like an up-play and down-play of that accomplishment. Up because in the grand scheme of things (mankind kind of scheme) what role did that play?
Down because an accomplishment is an accomplishment, a leap is a leap, no matter how small and who it effects.
And though I still feel the jump I felt when my heart skipped a beat, rereading my pain from the year past, I know I am new and refreshed, stronger and tougher than before.
I suppose this is a final testimony to my personal struggles, that series of pain I wrote. My final de adiu, letting anyone who'll listen know that I'm okay. Hence my opening, I can apparently make lines when I'm hurting, making it at least look like a poem. But now I'm fine, and back comes my bumbling, over-explained, over-complicated, explanation of my feelings. This stupid thing is barely about running.
I stand with my mother and sister. I hold my little sister, the poor girl shaking with fear and sadness. Her shoulders wracking as she cries against my shoulder. I can feel my mom's left hand resting on my left shoulder, her body to my right. I know she's silently crying as well. Her white dress with black flowers give her a tall elegance. My sister also wears a black and white striped dress. I'm the only one not dressed up; a suit didn't feel right for the occasion and khakis felt awkward. I ended up in jeans and a T-shirt, my Braves ball-cap tucked in my back pocket. I'm also the only one not crying. Frankly I wish I would, I wish I could let my fear and sadness be seen. If not for myself then for my father, so that all know that I love him as much as they do. Yet, regardless of my desire and attempts to cry, nothing comes. I just watch with stony silence as my dad stands tall and walks with his team to the plane. His duffels in either hand and another bag lazily strewn over his shoulder. Two of which are army green, a faded cheap mossy-color. The other a deep blue Patagonia I got for him three years ago. He wears his green beret awkwardly, it can barely fit over his non-regulation hair. It is probably the only time he'll wear a beret for the next nine months. No reason to wear a beret in combat.
As he drops his bags with the others' he turns toward us. I will myself to shed a tear; to no avail. He raises his hand and gives us a large smile, a reassuring smile that only a father can give. Sure, a mother can give a motherly smile that makes you think of nothing else except that life will keep moving and all will be okay, but he gives a smile that says "Now is not a time to mourn, but be happy". He smiles like an innocent man. Something that I wonder at sometimes.
He's been deployed six times as a green beret. He's been on the teams as SF for longer than anyone else in the force. And yet, still, he comes home more stable than most men do just seeing pictures of Afghanistan. He still smiles and laughs like his life has only ever been jolly. Sometimes when we're playing video-games I watch him and wonder if they bring anything back, if he ever remembers anything. Where his PTSD is. How could he have ever only shown one moment of any form of PTSD since his first deployment? Once, in Disneyland, we were walking and along comes this Muslim man. Full dress. My dad stops dead in his tracks and tenses, tenses hard. My mom is almost thrown to the ground with his sudden stop and defensive stature. A second passes and he's relaxed again. He keeps walking as if nothing happened. Just the smallest thing, something only a family member would notice.
I remember all this and more as I wave back, giving him full smile; like I'm having the time of my life. That's what I want him to remember. My strength and security. I want him to know that we'll be okay. My sister and mother wave. He turns and boards the plane. For the next ten minutes it is quiet. Few people talk. All inside a large military warehouse and everyone just watches as their husbands, sons, and fathers board for what may be their last deployment.
Ten more minutes go by, the plane hasn't moved. I still wish for the tears even as I grow restless. The guilt crawls up my gut to my chest as I wish I could cry, wish I could have the patience to respect the fact that this is my father leaving to a warzone. Yet still, I feel the need to move. Leave. No reason for me to still be here, he's already on the plane. Good as gone till he gets back in nine months. I shake with guilt and clench my left fist into a ball, digging my nails in. I rub my sister's back. Poor thing has finally stopped crying but I can feel her fragility at the moment.
"Do you want to leave?" My mom asks twenty minutes later. The plane still hasn't moved. I want to scream yes but the guilt stops me. It feels like a disrespect to leave. Knowing my father he would have told us to go so we wouldn't be standing out in the heat of the day, yet I don't want to leave.
"Yeah, kinda." I say looking longingly at the plane. After six deployments it almost feels normal. His absence almost feels like an average occurrence. And that scares me. It's why I want to cry so bad. To show that I still care that he's leaving again. That it isn't just another annual event. That it matters.
"Alright, let's go."
To my amazement, dismay, confusion, and just about every other emotion you can think of, on the way back my mom and I started telling jokes about things. Laughing about stuff. Again the guilt bites at me as I wonder if this is all some kind of disrespect to my father who might not come home. But in the moments that it grows quiet we all know the rest are thinking about him. I think about him in the uniform. He's in his ACUs, faded camo. Looking out of place with his overgrown hair and large bushy beard that comes down to his chest -things that are out of regulation for the average soldier-. A slightly red tinted beard. At least, that's what my mom says. I think it's brown like his hair, but, mom knows best.
My mom tries to keep those silent moments short, tries to keep someone talking. The whole drive home I hold my sisters' hand as she occasionally breaks out in fits of tears. I reach to the backseat and hold her little soft hand and wish our father could be sitting in the seat I am now. I just sit there and rub her hand, thinking, talking, and reassuring.
That night I sleep with the knife my dad got me for my tenth birthday.
6 Months Later
"Has dad called?" I ask popping my head into my parent's room. My mom shakes her head. "Alright, call me if he does," I say and go back downstairs to keep playing Call of Duty. I need to be better than him when he gets back. That'll mean he'll have to play more with me so he can get better.
That night I fell asleep without a call. My fist wrapped around the sheath of the knife, held tight and familiarly. This is not the first time it's happened, yet each time I can't help but feel a slight ache when I go to sleep and sick when I wake up.
2 Weeks Later
"So, I have good news," my dad says giving us a weak smile. Something in his voice doesn't let me get excited. I want to be happy because his words are going to mean something, he clearly isn't in the mood for wasting time. Yet, it's that mood that scares me. A scare that makes me shake, a scare that flips my dinner over in my stomach.
"What is it?" My sister asks sitting next to me, bouncing on the bed the way happy children do.
His beard has been trimmed and he wears a blue T-shirt with his camo ACU pants. An OU, college football, cap on. All this I see through FaceTime. He gives another weak smile, strained.
"I'm coming home." My heart skips a beat. I'm too full of doubt to get excited. I don't let myself get excited anymore. The disappointment of something not happening after getting excited isn't worth the pain if I was just skeptical the whole time.
"What?" My mom asks sharply.
"You are?" My sister asks simultaneously.
"Three days, fastest flight home. I'm packing now, I'll leave tonight, I'll be there in three days." We sit silently in shock. His sad smile holds. I want to ask why he seems so strained. I suppose it's possible something happened to his team. Or him. That would explain why he's coming home. Perhaps his PTSD finally kicked in? Or his team is gone...
"Yes! Dad! You're coming home!" My sister gets up screaming. "He's coming home!" She jumps up and down on the bed with excitement. I can't help but smile, I look at the camera to make sure he sees. And my mom? To explain the joy she portrayed at the idea of her husband, the love of her life, coming home safely two and a half months sooner than expected cannot be put into words. This is only something that can be experienced.
After the call I head back to my room to clean it (I'd be lying if I said it were my idea, mom knows best). Instead I grab my phone and text my girlfriend.
My dad's coming home in 3 dasy!!!!?
I had to rewrite that stupid text four times I was so excited (and I still had mistakes), the full effect finally crashing in on me. To finally put it into concrete words with someone other than family seems to finalize it. Seems to ensure my father's safe travels. Seems to ensure that the rest of the day will guide him safely to the airport and home. To the great United States of America!
I thought he wasnt coming back for another 2 months She responds several minutes later.
Early return. Not sur ewhy, didn't say. I don't even bother with mistakes.
That's great, I'm sure you can't wait I know she understands, her dad is military as well. I feel my phone vibrate in my hands as she continues texting me but I just toss my phone on my bed and lay down and pray, pray that he comes home safely, I pray and try to ignore the little sliver of fear crushing my gut.
3 Days Later
My mom picked my sister and I up early from school and we went to the airport.
When he walked up to us the hugs and kisses and conversations were plentiful and always cut short before they were finished. My sister always cutting into what my mother and I were saying to share her own stories with our dad. We talk all the way home and over dinner as we go to different fast food restaurants all over town because we're American and we can (something my dad decided to do on his last deployment, claiming one Sunday afternoon after church: "Know what? Let's all eat somewhere different, because we're American and we can do that."). My dad and I get stacked Five Guys burgers ("You eat like you were in Afghanistan for six months" my dad commented when I finished my burger before him), my sister Taco Bell, and my mom Panera Bread.
When we get home it’s late from all the driving. My sister and I are sent to bed as our parents head to their room. Imagine that?
And all throughout the day no one asked why he came home early. And he never mentioned it. We all just ignored the elephant in the room.
2 Days Later
"Well, I have news. Good or bad depending on perspective," my dad says when we're all sitting around the dinner table. He has the sad tired look in his eyes again. I set down my steak as a sliver of fear runs up my gut into my chest and to the back of my throat.
"We're moving." I feel like I've been slapped. My thoughts go to my friends at school, my girlfriend, the close proximity of our grandparents, and my standing in school. Perhaps not in that order. I stay silent and pick my fork up to start eating my corn. Weighing my words carefully.
"What?" My sister asks.
"We have to move." My dad says slowly as if he's not sure if he's annoyed or sorry.
"Have to?" He grimaces.
"We're moving." This is softer, definitely apologetic.
"Why?" My sister asks in a small voice. She's undoubtedly thinking the same thoughts I am. She's younger and more attached to her friends than I am. I'm well acquainted to the idea of 'friends' turning their backs and leaving in an instant, friends moving, and having no one to call a friend at all. Luckily in my life we've only moved twice; so lived in three places. Thanks to Fort Bragg being SF command. My sister, however, has lived in this house since she could walk. Everyone (more or less) she knows lives here.
"You know what I do, right?" He asks after a moment. Top secret stuff we can't know about, so... No.
"Yes," My sister responds. Perhaps she thinks she does, or she knows she won't get a proper answer. No one ever does.
"So, as a soldier, it's my job to move where the army takes me. It's the price to coming back early." My mom sits quietly to the side, they've clearly discussed this and I have a feeling she knows more than he's telling us. But as much as I want to know all the backgrounds the keywords are "Top secret". We're not getting anymore than he wants us to know. That's his job, afterall.
"Where?" I ask, sticking with safe questions.
"Virginia," He says.
"Virginia?" My sister squeals. I can hear the panic in her voice. Then comes the worst question of the night.
"When?" He looks at my sister with sorrow. I can see the pain and turmoil in his eyes.
"Three weeks." I feel like I've been hit, twice and hard. I stop eating corn and stare out the window behind his head.
"Three weeks." I state hollowly.
"Three weeks." He confirms. My sister gets to her feet and runs over and hugs him, burying her face in his chest. An act I've never quite understood. I don't like to draw attention to myself so I don't like having to go out of my way for a hug. Even if it's just my family around me.
"It'll be okay," My mom tells her rubbing her hair.
"Why?" My sister asks again. No one responds and instead we all silently head upstairs and sit in my parents' room and watch Netflix.
1 Day Later
We begin packing as soon as I get home. I still sleep with my knife. It takes 66 days for something to become a habit. I have 6 months worth of time behind the knife. I still haven't told my girlfriend we’re leaving.
I didn't sleep well last night and I doubt I will sleep well tonight. But, like all things I don't want to do, I'll do it first thing in the morning. Tell my girlfriend I mean. I suppose I'll sleep then too.
I wake to a loud slamming. It comes from downstairs.
I pop up in my bed, sweat dripping down my body from my nightmare. I try to calm myself down and tell myself it was only a dream. I'm not in school, there isn't any shooter. I take a breath and stand up next to my bed, my knife still in my hand. I turn on my desk-lamp and unsheath it, inspecting the engraving in its side. One side holds the Special Forces insignia, 'De Oppresso Liber' along a banner with crossing arrows behind a Yarborough combat knife. But just as I flip it over to inspect my dad's team insignia I hear some stomping and creaking on the stairs. Loud, fast stomping. Boot stomping. Fear strikes through me as I think back to the loud bursting that may have awaken me. I reach to my side and fiddle with the light switch, finally turning it off. I hold the blade out in front of me as I rush to my door frame just as I hear a stomp on the second to last step. Fear and adrenaline wakes me up completely as I lean against the door, flipping the knife over in my hands so the blade points down. I hold my right fist (with the knife) up to my chest, my left hand palm-flat against the wall. As seen in the movies when a man is waiting for another to pass through a doorway (because they're reliable sources). I wait three heartbeats before I see the barrel of a gun appear; quickly followed by a forearm and a magazine. I look no further as I lunge out and stab out above the weapon where the man's upper chest and throat should be. I feel an impact and a hear a yelp as the man takes several steps back. I have no choice but to follow him, pushing forward. He runs into the opposite wall against the stairs. I grab the rifle the way I grabbed Nerf guns from friends when we played, and I twist it out of his hands. He lets go as both hands shoot up to his neck. I realize three shots had been fired. Maybe more, doubtedly less.
"Dad! Shorty!" I scream as I turn to run away. The fear crawling from my chest and clogging my throat. I can barely breathe and my head pounds. I don’t even think about the man I may have just killed and instead focus on the thing that brings me peace. I think of my sister. My Sister. I tense to turn to get my sister but am interrupted by figures rushing up the stairs. I’m moving before I can comprehend the weight of the actions that will so impact my life. I flip the gun around in my arms so that the butt is against my right shoulder and my hand wraps around the handle. My finger searches for the trigger-
I feel myself hit the ground, my finger squeezing the trigger. The butt digs into my shoulder as I continue to hold onto the trigger, the rounds biting into the roof. I feel the panic and adrenaline pumping through my veins as my finger maintains a death clamp on the trigger. The gun runs dry in my arms. I throw it aside and sit up, shooting exploding around me. A foreign language fills my ears through a mixture of screams of my dad and my mom and sister. I reach over to the body to my right, a man lying facedown on the carpet. Panic swells in my chest, confusion and the cloud of incomprehension takes over my head. The darkness consumes my eyes and brain. Yet, yet past all that, I can hear my sister's screams. I focus on that. I focus on my need to protect her.
I reach down with my right hand and draw the pistol at his hip. Memories of the range kick in. My father’s voice rings through my head as he taught me how to hold a pistol. As I raise my left hand to hold it properly a pain shoots up the left side of my body and I scream. I look down and see blood pouring from a hole in my shoulder, and a puddle along my gut where I suddenly (and painfully) become aware of at least one more wound through my abdomen. I stare at it for a second, the cloud of incomprehension taking over again. But then it all registers with the aftershock of pain. Tears blur my vision as I try not to pass out at the sudden pain threatening to overcome me.
My sisters' scream knocks me out of it.
I raise my right hand with the gun and see a figure holding a rifle, pointing down the stairs shooting. I let out a blood curdling scream and fire six rounds into his back, then turn and empty the magazine into another man who took that moment to step out of my bedroom. He falls back against the doorframe and slides down.
I don't think about the killing or the pain but about my little sister. My poor innocent sister who catches little bugs. She is what is important.
A single man stands up over me and pulls the trigger. The gun clicks empty. My life flashes before my eyes in a jumble, thoughts and feelings and memories overtaking my every brain cell as I laugh at the stupidity of the whole situation.
I have stopped crying, my eyes have mostly cleared and have adjusted to the darkness. Before my brain catches up with the serious sickness of the situation and that it is not a laughing matter I catch something out of the corner of my eye. One of the lying figures, the one I shot in the back, sits up against the wall and lifts a pistol. It's over, I think, I'm sorry Constance. Tears coming out and pouring to the ground. I hear the discharge of the gun. Multiple discharges, then some clicks. The man standing over me falls, landing beside me. I sit in stunned silence, shock taking over all emotion.
I look to the shooter, the crumpled form of a man who has dropped his gun. I recognize the muscled shoulders and the tousled beard. I recognize the form and figure. I recognize the man who raised me. And I recognize his slackness as death.
I stare at the ceiling. No tears come. I'm too empty to feel guilt. To feel anger or sadness. My indifference to life consumes me. That feeling of anxiety building in the chest as life passes on without you. It passes without a care for you or the pain you feel. The pain in your gut that works its way to your chest, making it hard to breathe, making you shake, you want to scream, want to ask for help, to do something. You stand still in the middle of a field as people walk around you, laughing, crying, hating, loving. But you feel nothing. Nothing but an anxiety building up in your chest begging to laugh, wishing that you were able. Wishing for the pain in your throat to push the tears out.
Yet I just stare at the ceiling and wonder why it's purple. And why it looks like a school ceiling. No, an airplane ceiling. Am I skydiving? No, I'm hiking. I'm looking at trees. I just tripped and fell. That's why my side aches. I must've pulled a muscle, that's why I can't move my arm. Maybe it's broken. There's my dad, he's right there.
"Dad!" I yell to him. My love and relief flooding through my body, but the underlying guilt and fear laces my chest with every breath. But he turns his back to me. He's fully dressed in ACUs, smile on his face, beard large and unkempt. A look I'm unaccustomed too since he's always clean shaven. But he stops and I hear shooting. Small red holes appear along his back and left shoulder. He turns back around to face me and keeps smiling. He falls back against the nearest tree and smiles at me with empty eyes. I look at my hands and see I'm holding the gun. "We're moving" he says. But he's dead. And I killed him.
I wake up and stare at the ceiling. I know I'm not but I have to ask anyway.
"Am I dead?" My head hurts. A sure sign that I'm not dead. Granted, if I went to hell (which killing three men, one of which was my father, certain would entail) then it would explain a hurting head. However, it looks more like a hospital than hell. Maybe hell has a hospital too? For the too torn up souls? The torn up, guilty, angry-
"Ryan!" I hear a familiar voice and see a familiar face over me. But there's a fog over it. Over everything. The events of last night seem all to clear and yet so chaotic and hectic they're impossible. Couldn’t’ve happened to me. No sir, no way.
"Ryan!" my right arm is shaken. It all comes over me. And finally I cry. I cry for the leaving of my dad, I cry for the joy of him being back. I cry for us leaving. I cry for my sister and her soon to be loss of friends. I cry for myself, my own pity and weaknesses. I cry for my mom and the strength she has to show for us, I cry at the cruelty of the world, I cry for the sacrifices my dad had to give up. I cry for my sins and I cry for my mistakes. I cry and cry like there's no tomorrow. I cry for yesterday and the time I've missed. I cy and my own stupidity and I cry for my self pity. I cry that I killed my dad. Then I fall back to sleep, my head pounding.
I wake again to find my mom and sister next to me, I later found out that they never left my side. Always there for me. My mom told me I was shot five times. Once through the left bicep, once through the left shoulder, two times through the gut, and once in the lower chest. All along my left side. The 'chest' wound skimmed and broke a rib but otherwise harmed little. The other two were the ones that almost killed me. The gut wounds. Loss of blood.
My mom told me that my father was killed in the fight. The three of us were the only survivors. And the way she tells me that the government didn't know who the shooters were tells me that she doesn't believe it. Maybe she doesn't know either, but either way, she doesn't tell me the truth. And I don't ask. They're all dead. The freaking Russians. Because that's the language I heard. That is the freaking language I heard.
3 months later
It's here, at the funeral, that my mother tells me what happened. When my sister goes off with our grandparents and my mom and I stay and stare at grave does she tell me.
"He was shot six times by a pistol. In the back.”
My mouth is dry but I manage to grunt out something. Something unintelligible. Something only a mother would understand.
"Yes," She says. I had asked her if it was me, because it could have only been me.
"You were the one holding the pistol, yes." I nod slowly.
"You knew that though, didn't you?" I nod hollowly.
"These past three months I've learned to live with it. There's been nothing else to do lying in that freaking bed.” There’s silence for a moment, I wish I could show some weakness and stutter or something, to show the pain I feel. Because that was a lie. It still hurts, like someone ripped a hole through my left breast. And my heart reminds me with every aching pump of blood. It reminds me with every memory. With every object and lesson I’ve ever learned. I can’t live with crap. “If he were here right now he'd punch me in the shoulder and give me a dead arm and tell me ‘don't team kill next time’".
My mom gets up and slaps me.
I stare at the ground as she walks away. Who knows what I'm talking about anyway? I wonder, looking to the sky. I don't know what I'm talking about, I'm only freaking 16. And, afterall, mom knows best. I stand and stretch my legs. I ignore the pound of my heart, I ignore the blood that feels to be spurting from my chest. I ignore the anxiety eating out my torso. And I ignore the lump in my throat.
I look over at the remaining car, a truck owned by a friend of the family. My sister's best friend. My mother and the car she drove here are nowhere in sight. I didn't even hear her leave. I pull out my phone and open my contacts to my girlfriend. I scroll through the eighty-three messages she left. Most of which are 'goodmornings' and 'goodnights'. I open up the keyboard and hover over the keys. Minutes go by as I stare blankly at the screen. Minutes of pounding and memories of the weight of the trigger. Every beat of the heart is a pull of the trigger. It gets heavier and heavier as my finger gets tireder and tireder. I scream at myself to stop, that it’s my dad I’m shooting, to let my finger rest. But it endlessly shoots and shoots and shoots.
I don't know on what level I mean. Heck, I doubt I'm talking to her.
I pull the knife from my pocket, it gleams in the sunlight. Someone cleaned it of the blood I spilled upon it.
I roll up the sleeve of my suit and mark an 'x' halfway down my forearm. Then I mark a line through the center of it. One for each life I took. And finally one diagonally through it, creating an asterisk. The final for the life that took them. I take a moment to watch the blood flow down my arm to my elbows, staining the white suit-shirt and jacket. I watch it with wonder. I watch as each new blood pump and each new trigger pulled sends blood spurting. Each time my finger lets another bullet fly another life is taken. Such a heavy trigger and yet…
My father once told me he had nightmares that he was in combat and his trigger was too heavy. But every night for the past three months I’ve had nightmares because the trigger was too light.
I wish for the regret and guilt to leave but to never forget. Then I walk to the grave and bury the knife with him. I bury the hatchet and wish for tears. It's over.
The Time To Change
There was once a man, a friendly man. A genius.
As he grew everyone knew he would do something great with his life, it was undoubted. An unsaid understanding by all who met him. He was tall and handsome, athletic. He got along with others, always full of compassion and sympathy. A natural born leader, always ready to lend a helping hand and seemed to know just the right words. A genius.
Straight out of highschool he joined the army, gaining experience and getting out five years later. Coming home after his last deployment everyone saw a differnce. Just little differences though, twitch of the finger here, quick head movement there. Sure, he was bigger and in better shape than ever before and he was even smoother with his words than he was when he left. But there was something off about him, something that made those around him uneasy. Most were able to wave it aside, and some knew on their own how he came across this feeling. The veterns in the town saw what he was and, understandably, in the short time he was home he spent most of his time around them rather than his friends.
"You seem, well, uneasy, son," His father said opening the fridge and grunting as he dug around before pulling out orange juice. The man, Josh, gave a perfectly relaxing grin and smoothly stood, his right thumb quickly touching all of the tips of his fingers. Back and forth, forefinger-middlefinger-ringfinger-pinky-ringfinger-middlefinger-forefinger-middlefinger...
"It's nothing, just strange being back," It felt believable and neither could put their finger on its strangeness. His dad poured himself a cup of juice.
"The war mess you up?" Josh continued to rub the tips of his fingers, holding his hands at his sides.
"Dad, I'm out of there, kay? No point in dwelling on the past," He walked over and slipped the jug from his father's hands and got himself a cup.
He left several days later and moved further West, went to college with his GI Bill and went into the field of science. He went deeper and deeper, years of study as he went into the impossible realm of quantum physics. The place where physics and Newton's Laws are jokes.
By forty two he'd become a self-made scientist, programming and inventing technological masterpieces. He was a millioniare, jumping from project to project with his own team, doing whatever he felt the whim of doing when he woke up that morning. He hired the best of the best, only those that were tried and tested by the elements of time through the field of science. Disproving numerous theories and lawsets in his time in the field. His only rule was he would not be hired by any government to do research, because governents gave research to armies and armies used research to wage war.
All trivial things to his ultimate design. He had gotten up that morning, preciesly 3:42 AM, something having clicked in a dream. In his excitement he woke himself up and ran downstairs into his lab, jotting down everything he could remember from his dream into the little green book he kept next to his bed. In his lab he picked up his phone and called all of his researchers to his house, all gathered there within an hour.
That day half of his team walked away from all the money, thinking he had finally gone mad. Some chcked his math and said it was sound, but the others would not believe him and left. Perhaps by the end it can be decided whether they made a wise decision or not.
The next year and three months the rest of the team and some more hirlings worked day in and day out on his dream. Added and subtracted, welded and smelted.
On December 7th, 2056, he finished and beheld his creation. A twelve foot by twenty foot box full of the most high-tech computers, research, and wiring mankind has ever seen. His team's reaction were much like the ones of Oppenheimer and his men when they saw the first nuclear bomb. Full of excitement and joy quickly followed and consumed by fear and a deep sickness. See, they made a machine that will make this recounting cheesy and lose merit in your mind because it is likely it has never been done before or will ever be done again. But this machine was one that was built to traverse the lengths of time as a spider does its own web.
Josh and his team did not eat or sleep for a week as they checked and rechecked the readings and math, making sure absolutely nothing was done wrong. They were sure that if they had not already they were about to break more than a few laws; but that was the least of their concerns. It was not until the 16th that Josh finally stepped forward, wearing his labcoat over his jeans and a soft cotton T-shirt that reads "Sleeping Do Not Disturb".
"It's time to test it," He said, shouldering a small bag. His team tried to talk to him, talk him away from it, threatening to destroy the machine or sabatoge it in some way if he tried but all knew they were empty threats. Within the hour he was sitting in the leather Mustang chair they installed inside and strapping himself in. Once again he's rubbing the tips of his fingers, counting with each tap. 1-2-3-4-3-2-1-1-2-3-4-3-2-
After activation and a very specific location, time, and date that he logged himself, there was a loud crack and a hiss followed by a pop and some yelling.
He found that the machine was scary quiet, but on a good note he realized he wasn't dead. He resisted the urge to begin taking notes in his little green book like a good scientist and hesitantly stepped out of his machine. He's inside a cement room, clothing folded to his right on metal shelves. He shoulders his bag and pulls out a pistol, then walks into the main room where a man and a woman stand together talking in hurried tones.
"Adolf, come with me," Josh says in perfect German, raising his pistol. "Give your pistol to the girl," Adolf stops and looks at him with alarm, he reaches for his pistol but his wife grabs his elbow. He looks ready to slap her but she yanks the pistol from him and hugs it to her chest, stepping back against the closest cement wall. Josh steps forward and swiftly spins Adolf around and zipties his wrists together before dragging him back to his machine.
"What do you want?" Adolf asks with a bark, he's clearly uneasy and upset. Josh crosses his fingers, his heart racing, as he activates the machine again and after another hiss and more popping he opens the door to a large city, skyscrapers towerig hundreds of stories into the sky. They themselves sit utop one of these. Upon a lot of the buildings are gardens and trees to allow for easy scenery. The sun is rising giving everything an orange glow. Josh pushes Adolf onto the roof and pushes him against a tree.
"What do you want?" He barks again, "I could have you killed!"
"Look," Josh says with appreciation toward the city below him. His eyes water at all the lives lost over the course of human history and how past that they can still achieve such marvels as what he's looking at now.
"Where have you brought me?" Adolf asks after a second. He's relaxed, but there's a new fear in his eyes. A fear of not understanding the events that have happened over the past couple of minutes.
"I brought you one hundred and eleven years into the future buddy," Josh replies looking Adolf in the eye. The anger is clear on Josh's face, the fist grasped tightly around his pistol as he itches to shoot him where he stands. To bring out all of his anger, anger and sadness. Anger and sadness because nothing has changed.
He brought him to the future, his future, and yet, looking out over his city, nothing has changed from when he left it. His machine works, he can go forward and backward in time and yet, he cannot change anything.
As he stands there and looks into Adolf's eyes, Adolf Hitler, the man who murdered millions in cold blood, he questions the point of life. He questions why he has worked so hard to push humanity this far when there will always be douchebags like him who will make humanity take three steps back after he pushed them two forward. He lifts the pistol to Adolf's nose and holds it still.
"A soldier, no?" Josh stands silent, tears brimming his eyes. So much for so little. A waste of his life, a waste of his time coming back to change things. Perhaps the adrenaline caused him a few mistaks, but he pushes that doubt aside because he was a soldier, he was trained to live off adrenaline, no way he made too terrible a mistake. It has to be the universe. It's not his mistakes, something, something out there screwed him over. It has to be it, it has to be. "American? You sound American," Adolf says, raising his chin slightly, looking Josh in the eyes. Together they stand there and look into each other, understand each other, and forget each other.
"War has formed you, as it formed me."
"No!" Josh yells suddenly, his anger on the verge of bursting. "I am a fucking genius, you're a pshychopathic murderer!" The finger is around his trigger. Or is it his finger around the trigger?
"We are doing what we see is best, and you believe killing me will change the past. But clearly this is not true," Adolf says nodding his head to the city. "I am at peace with death now, thanks to you, sir." He gives Josh a sick smile.
The gun explodes and Adolf lands on the roof dead.
Josh, emptily, drags Adolf back into the machine and goes back to the bunker. His stomach is sick, his body hurts and aches. He can't seem to get enough air. He counts. He keeps counting. He drags Adolf into the bunker and lies him next to his wife, two bodies with holes through their heads. He drops the pistol in Adolf's lap and gets back in the machine and punches the wall. He punches it again and again. Over and over and over until he hears a snap and feels himself smack into it, his right wrist is swollen and purple. He activates the machine and plots back into his lab, just a second after he left, and hears the familiar pop before he's back in his lab. He steps out into a tangle of wires and burning technology. Corpses scatter his lab and the smell of burning flesh assualts his nose. The power is out. He quickly realizes the originial power outburst required to power the machine blew the circuits and- He simply walks to the machine and plots in a random date. Random time, random location and hits send, not even closing the door.