Sacrifice Without Respect: Part 2

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I pant and choke as I run over the root covered ground, each reaching to grab my foot and bring me down to them. I stumble every few meters but somehow I stay upright. I continue running and running, hearing screams of pain as the branches snap at my face, cutting me. The trees around me seem to be alive and angry, so I run all the harder. I see the end of the forest ahead and I sprint. I spring out into the light, only to realize it’s a rice patty. More screams from another direction, but this time they, whoever they may be, are yelling for a corpsman. I’m not a doctor, but if they’re hurt, I’ll get them out of here if it’s the last thing I do. I enter the wooden dungeon again, but now I’m not scared, I’m full of rage and I’m getting that man. Then I freeze. I can’t hear the cries of help anymore. My legs are sore and I need a break. I brace myself with my hands and I can’t really feel the tree, like it isn’t solid. I slouch against a tree, catching my breath, when I hear a noise behind me. It’s faint, but still there. It’s the crackling of dry twigs. I grab my pistol out of my pocket and fire twice behind me. There were no more noises for four seconds, but then there was more crackling, now more distinct, and it’s faster, and with purpose. The guy’s sprinting for me, and I can’t see him. Then I’m on the ground, and some...thing...is on top of me. It’s the silhouette of a man, and he’s made of shadows. He doesn’t have a face. Now he does. Now he doesn’t. It keeps changing between an angry Vietnamese face, a shifting blotch of dark shadows, and nothing, almost translucent. It reaches for it’s belt and pulls out something long and dark, but I know it’s a knife. I punch at the face of death, but my hand collides with nothing, but then I realize my hand’s gone, missing. There’s just the usual stump, but now it’s bleeding. By this point in time, this monster has the knife near my ribs, trying to end it quick. I holler and scream and grab at his throat, but he doesn’t have a throat, just an emotionless face, and I throttle the air trying to save myself. I feel the sharp pain of the knife’s blade in my ribs.
I make a spastic twitching and writhing motion in my bed as the cinematic nightmare ends. Sweat pours down my face and I pant in the dark. I pray that I didn’t scream like last time. I can’t take the embarrassment a second time. I roll over and try to sleep for about 20 minutes, counting on the small clock, watching the time tick by...2:34...2:35...2:36...I give up and sit my self upright, my body and mind telling me not to read now, to wait. I sit here thinking about whether I should or shouldn’t read for another ten minutes, but come to realize, with a faint chuckle, that I’m not getting any younger. I knock over a box of chocolates as I reach for my glasses, but I don’t care, I can’t eat them anyway while I’m on the blood pressure medications. I hope the cockroaches choke on them. I finally manage to pick up the bent frames that are in control of my vision, and I poke myself in the eye putting them on. Cursing, I fumble around for the notebook and manage to spot it. At this point, I’m on my right side, reaching with a stump and a hand, trying to grab an object inches out of reach. I roll off the bed with a muffled thud, and right then I decide that this is a test of will, emotional, and physical strength. I sit for what feels like an eternity, catching my breath. Then, with tremendous effort I pull my knee up under my chest, as if they aren’t bad enough already, then grab at the sheets and blankets on the bed so I can pull myself up, but I only manage to pull the dirty fabric off the mattress, meaning I lost my warm spot. Now that I’m quite grumpy, I force myself onto the bed again hurting, my knees even more, and make myself comfortable in my blankets, now, through luck, in reach of the stupid book. I grab it hostilely at first, but then I realize I overcame a challenge just now, and I loosen my choke hold on the book’s worn bindings.. I just proved I can do this, that I have the will-power to eventually put the past behind me.
“Eventually”, I mutter, then scoff at the cheesiness of that last thought. I flip open the yellowed paper where my emotions hide, and I begin to absorb them again:
May 15, 1963
-Hello from Vietnam, where the guns, sun, monkeys and Vietnamese are all as deadly as a landmine. We went on patrol today and I made a fool of myself. I heard a rustling in the trees and thought it was a sniper. I raised my gun, yelled something and emptied a clip into the trees. Seconds later a small body came crashing down to Earth. It was a monkey. I got scared of a monkey and blew the poor thing to bits. Everyone started laughing until it hurt. They continued laughing until Aces stepped on a mine. Aces is a tall, Black man that comes from Chicago. He got his nickname from the illegal poker games he sets up. We got to know each other a night ago, and it turns out he has a kid and soon-to-be wife. He was walking and laughing at me when he heard the click and told us to stop. He stood there like a sculpture, not daring to shift his weight by a fraction of an inch. He started tearing up and giving us letters for his wife as our Sargent walked over and started figuring out a plan. He grabbed Forbes, another new guy like me, and asked him if he could sprint well. Forbes has a very light build and comes from some state that starts with an “M” that I can’t remember. Sarge put him about eight steps from Aces, whose still bawling his eyes out, and tells him what to do. He tells the seemingly doomed father what he’s to do, then does a countdown from three. On three Forbes started running like a mad-man, and Aces got ready to jump. They collided and landed about five feet from the mine. There was another click and the mine blew a crater in the forest floor and got us all dirtied up. I helped pick the two men off each other and we got them back to base safely. That’s the closest I’ve been to death yet. But life goes on, so I need some sleep if I don’t want to miss it.

May 19, 1963

- I lost two friends in half a second. Is war always this disturbing? Why were they taken from us? Why? I’ll start from the beginning. Since the last time I spoke I got the nickname Spaz. Apparently when you flip out and kill a monkey out of fear it’s a spastic, or crazy act, and deserves a nickname as such. Anyway, we moved to a new hill, number 343. We just took over the base-camp that was already here and then got settled. Unluckily our Sarge wanted us to patrol the area for any ambitious Vietnamese. About half-way through the trip Aces decided he’d step on another land-mine. Forbes jumped him again, but this time they landed on another one of the stupid “potatoes” as we call them, and they were gone in a flash. There were pieces of the two of them all over our group and their bodiless appendages were all in different places surrounding the blemish in the ground. We backed out of the area after picking up their remains and bagging them, then had the engineers come in and take care of the other mines with no other losses. I guess I’m still in shock, because I don’t really care now, but soon it’ll sink in. I’ve nothing else to say.

May 21, 1963

-I found a lemur of some sort hiding in my boot today. A grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, started to get angry, but decided to feed it. Just as everyone was telling me how awesome it would look as our hill’s mascot (someone mentioned getting it a helmet), Sarge walked in. At first I thought that he’d tell us to kill it due to military policies saying that they’re vectors for disease. Luckily he liked it and ordered us to get it a helmet and some type of insignia as a US soldier. We all started laughing and Sarge gave the little primate a salute, and it saluted back. They really do mimic humans. He’s in an empty ammo crate next to me right now, wearing a mini flack-jacket made out of an extra, and a helmet made from a dead Viet Cong’s.

May 29, 1963

-I found proof that we’re actually inflicting damage on this army of shadows we try to fight. We went into a nearby town and started looking for any local guides for an upcoming expedition. While there we found a large bonfire in the town’s center. The smell of rotten, burning bacon came to mind as I realized the town was burning bodies. They were all Viet Cong who had been killed and were in a large pile while little kids played nearby with some of the dead’s possessions. A little ways from that I found the guns and ammo from the bodies in one pile, a stack of papers, cash and wallets in another and clothes in yet another. The guns were being packed onto a Huey helicopter to be taken to the States for testing, to find their weaknesses. When they had enough they started handing them out as gifts to the soldiers who wanted to send them home. I was first and got my pick of an AK-47 (as a back up to my Army issue M-16), a Nagant revolver, a Mauser like the gun Winston Churchill used in WWI, and a Skorpion Sub-machine gun. I guess there are a few perks for risking your life. I sent the pistols home in pieces with a piece of paper reminding me of the bullet calibers for my new “toys”, then got thinking. The only reason they’re winning this war isn’t because they’ve got new guns, but because they’re stealthy. I look over the old metal weapons in my hands and see that most of them were 10-15 years old. I now have renewed hope that I might make it home from this hell.

June 6, 1963

Today we got hit by some mortar rounds. Some Viet Cong were hiding in the edge of the forest the base of our hill. They all missed us, but one hit an ammo crate we keep above-ground due to it’s size, and the 105 mm shells inside created quite the pyrotechnics display. They must have thought that we either spotted them and started shooting back, or that we were all killed in the explosion, because they stopped shooting. Either way we’re safe now.

I realize it’s about four in the morning as I set the little text down. The other elderly patients will be getting up soon, but for now I can think without being told to go to bed by one of the nurses. I feel sad for Forbes and Aces, but not as sad as I’d normally be. It’s almost as if the book gives closing to jumbled memories, bringing detail to things forgotten. I compare it to watching an old movie you saw when you were young. If in the movie something scary happened and it gave you nightmares for a while, you wouldn’t want to watch it again. But when you get older you decide you do want to see it, and the things that scared you aren’t scary anymore. I guess I’ve just matured to the point of getting over it a little bit at a time. Luckily, I’m in no rush, so I may wait a while before I read again.





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