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The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories

• Oswaldo Jimenez
It was precisely zero-six-hundred hours. Lieutenant Wilson climbed the steep step-ladder that led him into the bowels of the C-5 Galaxy that will transport him stateside.

Deservedly so, many in high command had commented. Some had even hinted the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Wilson was the sole survivor of an advance SEAL team of five, who had been involved in a mission deep in the heart of hostile territory, somewhere, in some classified area of arid desert.

His face glowed, bathed by the light of the reddish sun rising in the horizon, filtering through the tiny circular window of the C-5 transport. The circular window had been meticulously engineered and strategically placed, to allow light to froth forth into the inner darkness of the Herculean vessel, and to serve as a strategic lookout to scan the horizon for any hostile movement.

He rested his forehead against the bulletproof glass of the window and stared with glassy eyes at the spacious skies above the desert, where shape-shifting sands whirled wild, wailing through purple mountains, morphing from yellowish dust-clouds to amber waves of grain. Unambiguously, an optical illusion, the Lieutenant thought.

He rested his shoulder against the fuselage and peered out the window. The landscape outside flowed swiftly and serene. The scene had the curious similarity of a film being projected backwards in a darkened movie theater. The sand-colored tents below him, visible in the distance, diminished in size gradually, seamlessly, until becoming blotchy specs on the desert landscape.

The tremendous stress and fearsome force of the aircraft’s massive engines, propelled the gargantuan beast with their brimming power in its Promethean struggle with the forces of nature to break free from the dusty, hostile ground, and begin its majestic lift above the plain. The thunderous rumble of the aircraft’s engines signaled the start of the Lieutenant’s journey home. He was moving forward, facing backwards, strapped to a loadmaster’s seat mounted to the fuselage on board the cathedral-like vessel. He felt like a minnow in the belly of a giant fish.

The C-5 Galaxy transport broke free and flew silhouetted by the distant sun, whose rising presence at the edge of the desert snuffed out the stars and their stripes of light from the azure sky. The vastness of the aircraft diminished Lt. Wilson to an infinitesimal particle within its cosmic realm.

Lt. Wilson felt the eerie sensation of having been there before. He felt as if he were re-living a not so distant past. His mind betrayed him. It saw only what it wanted to see and felt what it wanted to feel. Lieutenant Wilson was no longer its master or commander, he merely followed; marched, crawled, hid from swarthy shadows in his mind, without the clear notion of why, or for whom.

Images played inside his mind in vivid color. He felt the force and fury of his conscience playing god. The guilt felt real, so real, Lt. Wilson could not, would not, dared not, shed his blame or disgrace on others. The recent past haunted him. He was convinced he was living a reality that could not be anything but a nightmare.

He took a deep, consoling breath, but his lungs were filled with condensed, artificial air being pumped into the C-5’s cabin. Its frigid touch gave the lieutenant’s body a jolt of reality that awakened his senses. He felt lost, alone and helpless in the semi-darkness. He was lost without a friendly compass to point his mind in the right direction. He had no notion of north, nor south, nor east, or west of that elusive place called reason.

He was alone. He was perfectly alone; yet, he was surrounded by bodies. Bodies whose eyes had been shut for good. The bodies of his buddies. They were all there with him, though each was now in a world dictated by their own creator. There was no sharing of being, merely the sharing of physical space.

Lt. Wilson squeezed his temples between his thumb and finger, trying to muffle the noises within his head. Noises that were echoes of a whisper, from a most familiar rhyme: “And crown thy good with brotherhood..”; “And crown thy good with brotherhood..” He pushed his regulation-issued head gear back, away from his face, in order to get a better grip of his temples. He pressed his head tightly between the vise of his trembling hand and squeezed it hard. He kept a steady tension. The pressure of his grip made things feel real, he thought.

He shut his eyelids to alleviate the burning, throbbing pain he felt inside his skull. The instant his eyes closed, he was transported into the bright confines of his mind an its tumultuous visions. He felt no comfort in the darkness. Lt. Wilson felt it was more difficult to endure the flashing darkness, than it was to stare into the empty infinity of the real world. He sighed deeply and let his eyelids fight the gravitational pull that seem to want to keep them shut.

Lt. Wilson’s eyes were drawn to the light of the window. He saw the mighty mountains rising in the distance. He saw the vast expanses of shifting sand approaching like a storm. Sunlight penetrated the impact-proof glass of the porthole, and floated in the retina of his eyes. The sun’s rays hovered over mountains, moved swiftly across the desert, gliding over burned out hunks of rusting metal. The sand storm moved swiftly in a reckless, breakneck pace, as if the gods had lost control of it, and time and space were left to run amok. Lieutenant Wilson didn’t want to think.

He felt detached. He’d lost all sense of time. He had no vision of a future. His head fell back and hit the headrest with a thump. His eyeballs moving restlessly, relentlessly, from side to side within their sockets, as if looking for a hiding place within the confines of his mind, like a child wanting to crouch inside his secret nest. He did not want to be. He did not want to re-inhabit his own body. He whispered to himself: “...Confirm thy soul in self-control.” “...Confirm thy soul in self-control.” “...Confirm thy soul in self-control.”

He drew a deep, deep breath. The stale cold air bruised the back of his dry throat. Without a conscious effort on his part, Lt. Wilson felt warm tears flowing from the corner of each of his eyes. The warm wet water slithered down his face, filling his empty chest with some relief; comfort emanating from some deep and nearly empty well within his soul. The muscles on his face tightened. He clenched his teeth. He felt like a hollow man. Inside his skull, some inner voice recited: “...heroes proved In liberating strife..Till all success be nobleness, And every gain divine!”

Sudden memories flooded the Lieutenant’s mind as the muscles of his larynx tightened: he thought of his wife, his daughter, his mother, his father, his brother, his sister, his dog, his best friend. He remembered the summer evening when moonlight shone through a skylight and revealed the tender, uncovered skin of his sweetheart. He felt every tingle, tickle, touch, and scratch, as he carelessly surrendered and made love to the only girl he knew he would ever love, and would never see again.

Lt. Wilson’s hands curled into fists and squeezed the emptiness within them. Like a flash of lightning, his conscious mind became alert. He was not alone. His eyes opened wide and his head shook with fear. His eyeballs moved sideways within their orbs. He felt the fury of a wild cat trapped by hunters. He moved his head from side-to-side. He saw rows, upon rows, upon rows, of bright reds, and blues, and shiny whites. He saw gloved hands, blue uniforms, shiny black boots, shiny brass buttons. Lt. Wilson’s eyes fixed on the oblong boxes lined in rows, lining the aircraft like plowed furrows in a field. Each box draped neatly, solemnly, tightly, with stars in fields of blue, and stripes of carmine red and white.

Lt. Wilson knew then he was the only survivor. The sole heir to the rest of his life; a life he would have to endure from midnight to midnight, meandering alone through the vast landscape of his troubled mind, from sea to shining sea!

© Oswaldo JimenezFebruary 2014

Mr K vs Ms F
Oswaldo Jimenez

Thank you for sharing the journals with me. I’m sorry they have caused you so much grief...

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