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By David Miller
The bullets stop flying as he hears in the distance, “Look for survivors!” from his fellow comrades. He hears them step closer and then feels them touch his neck and arm. “Bring a stretcher. This one is still alive!” yells the soldier. A thought floods his mind.
“Took them long enough, I’ve been out here for hours. I can already feel the maggots eating away at my flesh,” thinks Howard. As they carry him back to the tent, he hears explosions off in the distance. Then they ran with him on the stretcher, flashes of light from the canopy above hit him in the face with wind as humid as an ocean breeze. The heat smothers him making it hard to breath. He knows that the blasts are far enough away but he still fears the massive explosions that are merely miles away. When they reach the medical tent, they set him down and cut and ripped his clothing off to get to the wounds. His usual bright blond hair is caked with blood and pieces of rotting human flesh. He feels a cold sting jab into both his shoulder and leg followed by a thick substance pushed into his veins. He feels a sharp pain as they scrape out the maggots and dead flesh. Right away they put a jelly substance in the wounds to repel bacteria. The bullet went straight into his shoulder but the one in his leg is embedded in the bone, which will be difficult to remove.
There was a distant ‘thump, thump, thump’ as the helicopter drew near. As the doctors prepare him for the flight, they run him to the helicopter and strap him in. The drugs start to kick in and the sound dampens. Everything fades into darkness. It is hard to believe this twenty year old man could go from a wonderful future of football in a few short months and lose it all in a war.
He was running down the field with sweat dripping off his forehead. All he could think about was “just run, run.” He was on the ten-yard line. He got hit from the side. His lanky body rolled and tumbled in the air and landed in the end zone. They won, finally; the CSU Rams won. The whole crowd around them cheered. As he stood up, holding the football in hand, almost feeling like a dream, his whole team came crowding around him cheering his name; “Howard, Howard.”
He wakes up to the sound of a helicopter as he bounces from side to side. His bright blue eyes shoot open and stare at the roof with the desire of understanding. The pain starts to throb in his shoulder and leg. He realizes that he is in a helicopter in a foreign land. There are moans and exhortations from mutilated soldiers. One of the medics yells, “Don’t let that one wake up and realize his leg is critically injured and most likely will be removed.” “He’ll go into shock!” “Give him another dose of morphine.” He realizes they are talking about him when a medic stands over him and gives him the shot. The drug-induced coma is creeping up on him. He fights the inevitable blackness back but eventually loses consciousness. He returns to his football game.
They carried him to the bench where the coach congratulated him and told the whole team, “You know, this means we’re going to state!” The whole team cheered and went to the locker-room to clean up.
After cleaning up and getting dressed, he headed home and unlocked the door to find a pile of mail waiting for him inside the door. His mom hadn’t arrived yet, so he started looking through the mail. He found a letter addressed to him. The letter was a normal white envelope, but in the corner, there was the symbol of the U.S. Army. His heart sank and he felt sick. He knew exactly what the letter was. He slowly opened it up, pulled out the letter, and read to himself, “You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Services of the United States and are to report to Assembly Room – 17th Floor Federal Building, 1000 Liberty Avenue, San Diego, CA.”
An hour later he was still sitting on the kitchen floor rereading the letter. He began to envision gunfire and explosions all around him and the pamphlets about the war that were posted about town flashed in his mind. The newspaper and the stories about the war flooded his mind. He was scared to become one of the countless victims of the war. He was frightened that he would leave and never see his friends or family again. He could not bare to think about what it would do to his mom if he never came home. He heard the door squeak open and his mom walked in.
She walked past him without a question. He stood up and said, “Mom I have some bad news.” She stopped and turned, looking straight at him. He then said with all the strength he could muster, “I have been drafted for the war.” She had a panicked look in her eyes and collapsed to the ground.
He wakes up to find himself surrounded by bright lights and machines. There is a nurse with her back to him writing something down. With a croaky voice he hasn’t used in what feels like weeks, he tries to utter a question, but all that comes out is a gurgle. He realizes there is a tube going in his throat where they made an incision. The nurse spins around noticing his awake. She says, “Sorry, we must put you under one more time. We will answer any questions you have when you awaken.” He plunges into darkness.
He pulled his mother to her feet. She noticed the stack of mail on the table with the Military draft notice on top. She stumbled away to the pile of letters and pulled a letter with the NFL logo from the middle of the stack. Quickly she opened it up and handed it to her son. She asks, “Will this help?”
He shoved it back at her and said, “No matter what it says it won’t help. I’m going to war.” She pulled the letter out and read it. Hastily she shut it.
A month passes from when he received the letter. He’s on his way to San Diego for basic training when he opens his bag and notices the NFL letter sitting on top. He feels conflicted. Should he open it and read the letter like his heart wants or do what his brain wants and leave the letter alone knowing it will not help? The letter could contain his dream come true of playing professional football in the NFL. In the plane seat beside him a young man looks over his shoulder and asks, “Are you going to be in the NFL?”
He replies, “Sadly, I do not know. There are some conflicts I must first overcome.” He took one last look at the letter, shoves it back into his bag and glances out the window with a grim expression. As he looked through the window he remembers the first time he played football. His coaches claimed he was a natural after he scored three touchdowns with several kids pasted onto his back as he crossed into the end zone. Ever since that day he has strived to be in the NFL. As the memory fades, he feels a sharp searing pain in his shoulder.
With every passing jab into his shoulder he becomes more conscious. As he finally comes to he notices blood soaked latex gloves holding scalpels and various tools hovering over him. He feels the scalpel dig deep into his flesh. Trying to stop the pain he has no luck. His arms feel frozen like they’re carved of granite. And his legs feel stuck, like they are nailed to the bed. This sharp stinging in his shoulder stops and he hears the doctors moving their instruments of torture around. All of a sudden he notices a sharp piercing gouge in his leg. As they dig around and scrape his flesh one of the nurses says, “There it is!”
The doctor responds, “Hand me the extractors.” With a sudden blast of pain and the grinding of bone against metal his leg lifts up ad out comes the bullet. One of the nurses notices he has awakened and with a cry of terror she runs for the medicine. He feels the needle once again pierce his flesh. The darkness once again swallows him into the abyss.
Countless times through his basic training he had wished to open up the NFL letter but with great restraint he never did. Many months passed and he was finally sent to the front lines to meet his doom. As he reached the front line with his platoon he stuffed the letter deep into his backpack so it would never leave him and he would never leave it. He sat in the trenches for several months warding off the so-called enemies. For too many nights he dreamt of bloody corpses and cries of fellow soldiers lying on the ground. The whole time he held onto the letter like the one holy grail of his life.
One day his commanding officer told his platoon they were going to charge the enemies in order to over take their stronghold. And like soldiers obeying the command, they charged full-blown into the gunfire. Halfway in between the fortress and their trenches he was shot twice, falling hard onto the ground with a wet thud. He crawled, with one arm, his way behind several rotting corpses for protection.
He slowly wakes to bright lights all around him and an assortment of machines beeping and whizzing. His mother sleeps in the chair beside him. He tries to reach and touch her but finds his arm strapped to the bed. His mom stirs and cries, “At last you are awake!” She hugs him tightly. A few hours later the doctor walks in to tell him the bad news. His leg was infected and they had to amputate his leg from the knee down.
He asks, “Will this affect my football career?”
And slowly the doctor says, “Sadly, you will be playing no sports for the rest of your life.”
He asks the doctors for his backpack with the NFL letter inside. They bring it to him; it is torn and shredded from the scrap metal from the mortars that landed near his injured body. He looks inside and finds the letter mostly intact. Slowly with trembling hands he reads the letter that has been taunting him. He sets the letter down and asks the doctor and his mom to leave so he may get some sleep. As they leave he closes his eyes in search of the light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly he walks to the beckoning light glimmering in the distance. With all of his memories lining the tunnel he reaches for the light. As he touches the light, his heart stops and he passes into the afterlife.