About Me

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Writer, soldier, thinker, and science fiction lover. I just can't seem to find a way to divide my adventurous self of constant outdoor activity and exercise from my nerdy self playing games and going to conventions. So why not just be both?

 I am a young professional living out of Tallahassee, Florida for the past five years. I have been on a deployment with the United States Army and continue to work outside of my other occupations to better myself mentally and physically. My passion for writing is driven by my passion for everything I find entertaining in life, and of course by my friends and family.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

Let us all start the year off right. My year is starting with fully developed characters for my next book and the beginning has already begun to take shape.


"to let the World be..." 

S.S. Fitzgerald

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Crime of a Lifetime?

I am happy to say I am already working on my next novel as my first is going through the editing process.

The facts about the newest one are as follows:

-It does not have anything to do with my first novel, it is a completely new idea.
-It is going to be a crime drama.
-I have decided to create events inside of the story based off of my real life experiences and stories directly related to my family members.

More will follow as I get more work done, and stand by for the coming sales of my first novel!

S. S. Fitzgerald

Sunday, December 6, 2015

December 7, 1941 and Today



James M. Fitzgerald was on the USS Henley 74 years ago. The Henley was credited with shooting down the first Zero in WWII that morning and it was one of only three ships that made it out of the harbor. The Chief volunteered for subs upon his return to Pearl. He then spent three years on war patrol in the Pacific. One of the “boats” he served on as Chief Engineer was the famous USS Bowfin, now on display at the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii. 

I never got to meet my grandfather, I heard about him all the time, and the great adventures he was on in the Pacific. He was one of those heroes you get to hear about, always want to meet, but somewhere in the deep immature mind of a child realize, you never really will get to. He's the guy who Americans want to idolize, a winner The American who when out numbered, on a crippled submarine, and ordered the submarine to head directly towards a Japanese battleship, and won. 

My grandfather, and thousands of troops like him, woke up on that infamous morning not expecting anything in particular. But as fate would have it, they were cast into the fray of a war that had consumed every corner of the globe. American boys would be sent to lands far away on two separate fronts, and it would take the American people a miserable and frightening 4 years before they would get to see their loved ones return, if they would get to see them return. The war would claim over 60 million lives by the time it would end in 1945.

Why do we remember Pearl Harbor? Pearl Harbor was a lonely military outpost on a chain of islands, the islands not a state for 21 more years. A military attack, a surprise, but no more than any other attack. An attack that seems so distant now, and overshadowed by our more recent history against new enemies striking at the heartland. 

We remember Pearl Harbor, because like the attack on the Twin Towers, life for America would be forever different. But there is something else we must always hold dear to the remembrance of  Pearl Harbor. America had been suffering, a great economic distress still plagued her, and despite the news of horrors from Europe, America could not motivate herself for a war on the behalf of a people on the other side of the world. But with a single event, America awoke. America rallied to her friends, and the economic giant took off. A military that was behind the technological curve boomed, industries were established with such sufficiency that massive bombers were turned out not in days, but in hours. A people who had no heart for anything beyond their door were now conserving and donating and pledging their lives to causes in two theaters of war. 

America made a decision, she could have recoiled, lifted the embargo she had placed on Japan, stopped supplying the Australians and British, and licked her wounds from a crippling naval defeat. But instead, America rose, there was no political correctness about calling the evils in Europe any more, and Americans set out to eradicate evil. 

Pearl Harbor is remembered for many reasons, but ultimately it is because no matter the generation, or how far separated the people may become of her government and political decisions, they are still Americans. There still beats the heart of the dragon that once arose, and could arise again, the heart of winners still beat. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

An Interview with the Writer

I was given the great opportunity to be interviewed by Eliza Gales regarding my writings and upcoming book!

See her blog in the link below.

elizagalesinterviews.com/2015/12/04/an-interview-with-writer-shaun-s-fitzgerald/

One step closer to being out there! And if you haven't yet, please follow me on Twitter as well @S_S_Fitzgerald


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

For a Moment of an Experience

Charlie stood just out of reach of tide. The waves came rolling and crashing against the land, a intruder in its path. His brown loafers barely protecting his wrinkled skin from the cold mist that came in with each crash. Thin khakis caught the mist and became lighter, however; the thick wool turtle neck encouraged Charlie's torso to radiate heat.

Sun spots littered Charlie's face. The breeze carried with it the mist of the sea and past. The images before his eyes as if they were happening today.

He was 15 again for a moment. The awkward years between 10 and 20 where incomplete minds struggle to identify themselves in a rapid world. School was one thing, education another, girls another, and romance another. The exciting yet overwhelming feeling that existence was something greater. Charlie couldn't help but wonder if, had he fallen through the sky, if all the time would have passed him and left him in those years.

He remembered shyly asking the pretty girl to be his friend. And he remembered she shyly accepted. The years flew by and they spent their time side by side. Baptized by her beauty. He was just dreaming, counting the ways he liked her. He was there for a moment, with so many wishes,  and asking her shyly to go out with him, and she politely declined.

He went on always being by her side, living the years of life. He was 18 again for a moment and had a rifle shoved into his hands. He experienced sweating like he never imagined and being sending off on a ship. Going to a far land in his prime to be ground into the mud. Cast against himself, boys from far away lands speaking tongues he had never heard. Too enthusiastically, too naive they had marched off, rank and file to do duties they had only played at years earlier.

He was 19 again, and for a moment, he had experienced pain he could never have imagined. Pain that did not require a wound. He experienced cold, freezing cold that went to the bone. He experienced misery, and longing. A longing to be in the awkward years again. Thoughts that belonged half a world away, and wondering thoughts if she was sleeping. And he realized that he had never before had the thought that he may not see tomorrow or home again. He experienced staying up long nights in fear, counting his luck and fearing cashing in on his bad luck. Experienced loathing, and longing for home, and questioning what he'd sold his soul for. Questioning what he had washed his hands in blood for. Questing what he had left his mom and dad for.

He was 21 again, he experienced the welcome home. He experienced the sudden and deafening silence. He went to classes and stayed in lecture halls full of silent adult boys. He learned the history which he had lived, he learned the history of boys past like him. He experienced the rejoice of meeting her again. And experienced the new pain of seeing her with someone she loved. He experienced the respect he had to give to that happiness which did not belong to him. He experienced seeing stars for what they are.

He was 25 again, and he started his own business and experienced the struggle of being on his own. He experienced the struggles of memories and missing people. He experienced seeing others starting families and going with their lives. He experienced seeing the ghosts from years past. But he also learned to experience music, and hearing the music to be the melody of a beautiful swan with each note struck.

He was 31 again, and he experienced success and more memories. He experienced coming to terms, and that what he had done was not for the folks at home, that no one wishes to die alone. He experienced looking into a child's eyes and seeing his own. That amazing things, beautiful things came from many terrible nights. He remembered the times striving on to live for something greater, for others, for others who could not join him with each moment.

He was 99 again, and the cool breeze brought in another blast of mist form the crashing waves. He felt a weakness in his heart, deep inside, as he sat upon a rock. All of his experiences, his long life, and his longed for loves. There wasn't a drop of regret for him in the entire ocean. He meekly smiled, the weakness in his heart came not from lack of will, for there was no such thing, but from a time of rest. He smiled, and he knew this was a good thing.

   

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Enigma in the Stars, finished.

I have done it, I have written over 50,000 words for my first novel titled Enigma in the Stars. I have tracked and made my progress official on NaNoWriMo who have verified my word count and put me in as one of the winners of the 2015 November writing month.

Thank you all for being supportive and staying with me during long lapses of few posts. I have gotten the ISBN for my novel and will be going through the revision and editing stages in the coming days. Stay posted here for more information on the release of my book!

Friday, November 13, 2015

1000 +

I am thrilled my blog has reached over 1,000 views! Thank you all so much for your continued interest in my work here.

The good news is, for those of you who have not seen the progress from NaNoWriMo, I am 49,134 words into my novel! NaNoWriMo only requires 50,000 for a complete project, but I am sure my novel will reach beyond that in the coming days to put the last touches on.

So that begs the question, when will you be able to read it? Well I would hope by this time next year my book will be placed for publishing. Hopefully sooner, but the hard truth is editing costs money, and so does publishing for a little no name like myself. But it's coming and I feel good about how the story has come together.


Take care, and look out for my future updates!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

To be a Gentleman in the 21st Century

We have heard that chivalry is dead. Well, good, chivalry has nothing to do with being a gentleman and everything to do with being a knight. Last I checked, we weren't still lancing each other off of horses to prove points, we have tanks now for that. But what we can take from chivalry, is the expectation and ideal mannerisms of a knight. Of course, for our century this needs to be add to. 

So what makes a gentleman? Generally speaking, we can all identify men who are gentlemen, but not necessarily what all attributes to being a gentleman. Being polite is only the tip of the iceberg. We all know someone who is polite, but we wouldn't necessarily call them a gentleman.  

  1. Treat everyone you meet with decency and respect. Sounds simple, and granted, we expect this. However, let's address that we are all humans and judge one another. You can try and claim you do not, but you would be lying to yourself. It is a healthy and natural way for us to prepare for situations, and sometimes we may be wrong, and that's why this is first. Decency is simply treating someone with dignity. And this is the source of our "golden rule" which I will not insult you by explaining, but instead remind you this is because no matter who you or they are, we all are facing the struggle of life. From this, we naturally show respect, in fact respect is within the definition of decency. Now do not confuse this with people earning your respect. In that regards each person is different, and few in life will earn your respect. Treating individuals with respect, regardless of situation, will always put you ahead in the situation. Life experiences will show you that the person who remains respectful in all situations, is often viewed in a better light, regardless of if the person is wrong or not.
  2. Be knowledgeable, and be informed. Simply put, you cannot treat everyone with decency and respect if you are not somewhat knowledgeable and informed. We will encounter people of different beliefs and cultures. You do not need to conform to their culture or belief, but you should know how to interact with people. This is not to say you must know all the time of all people and cultures, but instead if you know you'll be in that situation you should make an effort to inform yourself and grow as a person in knowledge. The most common complaint, world wide, about tourists is the tourists' failure to learn even basic methods of communication. If you have ever been to a theme park, you will know how this can be extremely frustrating for both parties. But being knowledgeable is far greater than that. Growing in knowledge is self improvement. If you are ever stagnant in learning, you are wrong. This is not to say you must attend high levels of education. Not at all. Today's society is in an information dump, vast amount of information is available at your fingertips. Global events, science, culture, art, history, is all one click away.  
  3. Associate yourself with those you wish to be associated with. Sounds simple and easy to skip over, right? You'd be surprised you are already violating this. Before I go any further in explaining this, I am not saying to leave a friend behind, a gentleman doesn't do that. But what a gentleman does do is always improve his surroundings, people included. We all have that one friend, he's not a bad guy, but he makes mistakes or has a reputation. This friend is known, and people see it immediately. When you are with him, you are associated with everything he does regardless of how you act or look. This is normal, this is society and it is a learned reaction which historically, has proven to be correct therefore, there is no reason for society to change this (remember the Subway guy?). So you can be the guy who influences your friends. Peer pressure is an amazing force. Not everyone will change, and it is those who refuse your help, or worse, influence you who must be turned away. 
  4. Understand your woman represents you in many ways. This is almost exactly like associating yourself with those you wish to be associated with. The exception is this which is key, people know how you treat her in private no matter how private you think you are. Women talk, and they often will use a  hyperbole, but people will know. It is unfortunate that most of the men reading this know at least one woman who was abused physically by a man in their life. It is unfortunate that everyone reading this will know of a woman who had experience infidelity. A simple analogy to understand how we as gentlemen must act with our women is this, and it is regardless of the religious context: Eve came from Adam's rib, not from his feet to be subservient and walked upon, and not from his skull to be above and superior. She came from his rib to be equal, and to always be under his arm and protected.
  5. Be honest, and at times, be blunt. Honesty is an amazing quality, and one I believe is better refined by age and experience. It is hard to admit you are wrong or made a mistake. That's fine, but make that effort, and people will appreciate this much more. Being blunt must be used sparingly. There are times when sugar coating a harsh reality does more damage than good. We don't like to hurt people, emotionally and that includes guys, your friends even if you don't want to admit it. Sometimes, you have to just say the truth as it is. As a gentleman they will appreciate it, and hopefully understand you are merely a messenger.  
  6. Hold your word as sacred and your action as a legacy. This is extremely hard to do in today's society where we are multitasking and constantly on the go. But there is no reason to be. If you tell someone you will do something, ensure it is done, and ensure it is done at the time you state it will be done at. This ties in with honesty as well, if you must tell someone the occurrence of events or relay a message, ensure it is correct. What you say is the initial presentation of your character, first impressions are hard to break. Your actions, however; will define you and determine the height of your character.
  7. Sculpt your mind, and your body. Again this is not to say you must attend high levels of education or spend hours in the gym. A gentleman however does take care of himself. Mind, body, and soul. Take care of what you put in your body, again the first presentation of yourself will be physical and you can help that by maintaining a natural, clean appearance. You should always strive to go into the public looking your best. The old saying, dress as if you are going to meet your future wife. Your mind is you and aside from always seeking new information as we discussed, you can change what will alter your mind. Remaining in a clear state of mind is preferred, not necessary, but the effects of alcohol and drugs on the brain are well known. I am not telling you to never partake (depending on the laws), but moderation is key. You should seek to expand your experiences as well, and a key part to sculpting your mind. I would say, do at least one really amazing thing you will always remember. Some skydive, some drag race, some serve in the military, some climb mountains, the options are endless. It makes you a better person, gives you life experiences, and makes you more interesting on a personal and intellectual level to converse with.
  8. Your possessions do not define you, but they show your value. And no, I do not mean your monetary value. You do not need to own a nice car, house, or anything. But, what you do own, should be taken care of. We all know that guy who has a beat up car, and the car is always falling to pieces, and we start to wonder why he does not maintain it a little better. But, we also all know that guy who owns an old car, and never has an issue with it. If you own it, it is your responsibility to take care of it, and even more so, if you are responsible for it, you must do the same. Once again, this sounds like common sense, but can you think of someone who has an apartment that is a mess, maybe with damage that does not get repaired?  Of course you do, and that is because of the mentality that "it's not mine, so why bother?" Because it is your responsibility. We also know that guy who rents, and basically has a better bachelors pad than those of us who own. We idealize our elders who were able to maintain their equipment and property for decades for a reason. This all ties in with sculpt your mind and body and with an old Cavalry saying, "maintain your rifle, your horse, your stable, and yourself."
  9.  Stand your ground, but admit your short falls. This goes hand in hand with honesty again. It is hard. We all have our opinions and our emotions and beliefs. The majority of the time, stand fast, hold your ground, stand for what you believe in with a passion. But, if the facts exist, admit you are wrong, consolidate, and come back better.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The First Book Announcement

Hello everyone,

I am happy to say I am officially announcing my first book: Enigma in the Stars

I have entered it in the National Novel Writing Month for November which can be tracked here:
http://nanowrimo.org/participants/ssfitzgerald

As for my writing here, I have several projects I am working on, and please excuse the lack of posting, but I have not be in position to write here often.

I look forward to sharing my future work with all of you.

Stay frosty.

-S.S. Fitzgerald

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

City of Ashes (Part 3)

Bryan's heart raced. Jerry's young and traumatized face poked out of the abused church. He saw Jerry dart back in, hiding from the people that pretended to be normal outside. Bryan jerked his head to Dan, and Dan's eyes narrowed, focused, sharp and attentive on the new objective.

"We need to get to him."

"I know. We need to get around to the other side of the church."

"I'll go around the left side, in the trees."

"We need to stay together, you lead."

Bryan stepped back and headed along the back of a solid stone building. He made sure to crawl under the window sill to avoid being spied by any occupants. Blood began to rush in Bryan's ears, or was it movement in the building he was hearing?

Bryan came to the edge of the corner. A pile of old fireplace wood sat chopped and covered in a fine coat of ash. Bryan leaned forward. Slowly. He tried to peer around the corner. His eye strained as it tried to see through the stone of the building with each creeping inch. Bryan strained, his eyes near popping out to peer around the corners themselves. The other side a bloody ax stood perched deep into a mangled heap of a former person. A single man stood above with his back turned. Large dark gloves and apron with splatters and specks of some long dried brown substance. The smell of copper heavy and thick able to be tasted with even the slightest inhales.

Bryan stayed low, and crept across the path to the next building's corner. The fear a wild beast pounding to escape his chest. But a push, a drive of a heaven only to be with his son once more, kept him moving.

The far left side was concealed by a building that ran its left, an old wooden structure. The wood sagged from moisture in locations. Knots revealed peep holes viewing grisly discovery in small ports by each passing.

Bryan looked back. Dan was crouched down behind him. Dan's face showed no more stress or anxiety than when they had met. The heavy drooping half-dollar rings around his eyes sagging and dragging the wrinkles out further. Dan's eyes were glass marbles, peering out onto the scenes of violence, but the reflections on those glassy balls caused no reaction to the adjoining body.

Bryan, however; felt as if his entire body was going to rattle itself apart. Grey streaks began to run along his face from the collection of ash on his brow. Tears of agony.

As Bryan rounded the next corner her froze. Another one of them stood before him, in a profile view. Covered in filth, the man stood, a light casting his shadow to Bryan's feet. Bryan remained tensed, unable to move to signal to Dan. The man stood, motionless. The solid slumping figure unwavering, and eyes unblinking. Finally, the man moved. He stepped forward, and out of view from Bryan.

"Keep moving." Dan whispered from around the corner, unaware of the terror that pumped in Bryan's veins. Bryan swallowed hard, something slumped down his throat, and he stepped off again moving around the buildings towards the back of the church.

The back of the church was fenced by a low stone wall. The duo hopped the stone wall with little effort. A single large wooded door provided the back entrance to the church where every Sunday had become more bleak. The back door's hinges sagged, weakened from a poor frame and heavy door. The burden of the door allowed the door to be pushed open easily.

The interior of the church was empty, the church had cleared out all belongings unlike the house from earlier. Empty candle holders protruded from the walls. Bryan stepped through first, steadily, but Dan pushed by. He walked without doubt down the hall. Bryan hurried along, attempting to be both quick and quiet on his feet, neither working.

Dan had stopped in the arch way into the next room. Bryan was only slightly separated, but the gap was an eternity to finish.

He didn't see the little body move towards him, but he noticed the bob of the hair. He didn't hear the grasp, but he felt the little restriction of a tight embrace. He didn't notice his own hands moving, but he felt the soft velvet like strands of hairs push between his fingers.

Bryan held Jerry tight against his chest. The empty pews from the church as silent audience in an empty room with ash that had filtered in to be their confetti. For a moment, to Bryan, all was right. There could be hundreds of the people outside, but they did not exist in this moment. Dan, did not exist within this moment. It was just Bryan and Jerry in a loving embrace with snowing ash.

"Are you ok?" Bryan asked still squeezing Jerry. He could feel him nodding rapidly and a small muffled yes escape.

Bryan looked over to Dan, a rustling catching his attention. Dan hadn't been moving. Bryan looked over Dan's shoulder. Dan gave a quizzical look. Dan turned to face the rustling.

From another section of the church a man arose from a doorway. Dirty sagging pants shuffled with his bear feet. A rusted ax in one hand. He turned, and saw them. He froze in a semi-crouch. His mouth hanging open, slack jawed. None moved, for an eternal second.

The man came full sprint towards them in silence. Bryan's eyes widened. A bright flash came with a roaring like a howitzer going off in the church. Another, and another! The charging brute lay face down. No blood poured out. Bryan shifted his gaze to Dan, who still held his pistol out.

From outside, somewhere near the walls of the church came a scream. The scream, blood curdling, and primal, a rage not heard since the great hunters vanished. The patter of sudden movement somewhere outside, and the rough entrance into the church rumbled in the air.

Dan rammed the pistol into Bryan's hands.

"Run, damn it." Dan spat out. He crouched down picking up the ax from the ground.

The first ones came bursting in from outside and along the path the other had come. Bryan jolted Jerry. Racing down the hall to the door he and Dan had entered. Looking back, only Dan's swinging shadow could be seen from where he last stood. His arms wide out, and his legs' shadows a single stilt, his body little more than single thick board in the dim shadow.

The two ran, haphazardly between trees and over low fences, tripping on rocks and roots. Behind them, the voices of pursuers, hunters. Bryan for once could focus, his son now with him, his soul purpose to ensure his escape. But over his own breaths, and heavy steps, the voices called for Jerry. The boy, they cried. Bring us the boy.

Bryan looked back. He couldn't see them yet. He could hear them. The forest they found themselves shook ash upon them, and moved the voices in circles around them.

Bryan looked at Jerry. Jerry's large doe eyes looked back in terror. Bryan looked up into the forest, and he saw his answer.

"Jerry, I need you to run, try and get to the truck."

"But Dad..."

"Goddamn it Jerry, fucking go!"

Jerry stared wide eye and him as he stumbled back. And Jerry turned, tears rubbing ash off him, and went off into the forest. Bryan shook, his first time swearing at his son.

Bryan waited. He saw the first one come, a locomotive of pain and chaos, making a line straight for him. Bryan raised the pistol. He had never shot at a person before. He shook. The pistol shook. The runner grew closer to him. He fired. He fired again. The runner dropped.

Another came speeding in. He fired, quickly, rapidly. To his left. Three shots. Another one came in. He fired twice more. Several more came up. He stared at his pistol, the slide locked back, the ejection port exposed. He stood, solid. His legs two vast trunks from the soft ash, boundless and bare, having made his final and only sacrifice.





 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Update: Priority to projects

Hello everyone once again,

I am excited to see my views are about to reach four digits! I am currently in a position where I cannot log in and write very often, so I apologize for the massive delays in posts. I am also focusing my priorities on my projects.

For those of you who enjoyed the short story One Level Below Hell, there is a major project that will be a spin off of that storyline.

For my most recent line, City of Ashes, there is a story which I am resurrecting and using this short to create a base for that line as well.

My sci-fi project, which is currently resting at 42,000 words, is completely panned out. I plan to add at least 60,000 more words before I reread each character in fine detail and fill any plot holes. I am very excited for this story to eventually become a book, but as of right now I am very hesitant as the sci-fi market is always very saturated.

My final story is a crime story, I don't wish to say any more than that as I have several sources of influence. I will say it branches completely away from my previous writings and even from my shorts here which include One Level Below Hell. 

Thank you all for your patience. I hope to have more postings in the coming months, but I will be in a technologically impaired location for sometime.

-SSF

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

City of Ashes (Part 2)

Bryan had never imagined he would be the type of person to run towards gunshots, yet here he was. It was the only thing he could think to do, to find someone who wasn't after him. He didn't even know why the people were after him, or why he had been attacked in the first place! He just wanted his son, to hold him again, and to leave this filthy abandoned town.

In the middle of the road laid, slumped on one side, a mass that was slowly being coated in a fine layer of ash. The gunshots had slowed. Bryan tried to peel his eyes off the dead man. He had never seen an actual dead person before. Not even at a wake. Something about it just felt, odd, it was like the man was still alive. Bryan expected the man to move, but he laid flat, not moving under the ash.

Bryan was near by an open market, or at least what use to be an open market. He heard another single gun shot and some voices from over a chain-link fence. Bushes obstructed a clear view. He moved closer pushing apart dead branches to peer in.

A single police officer stood with his back to a building. Old rotting kiosks surrounded him, a silent ghost audience. Several people approached the officer, carrying a random assortment of jagged rusting blades. A single man sprinted forward, the officer fired a shot. The man kept coming. Two more shots and the man stumbled forward. The others in the crowd rushed forward. The officer turned and ran. His pursuers close behind. The officer went into the nearest building, shutting the door behind him. The crowd pounded at the door with their hands and weapons. They began to spread out, moving around the building, around their trapped prey, cats getting a cornered mouse.

Bryan looked on the man the officer had shot. Slumped, silent like the other he had seen. And then a twitch. Bryan expected a call of pain. But the man lifted his arm up and planted his palm on the ground. Lifting up onto his knees, the man stood, stumbled, a drunkard having only taken a hard tumble. Then moved forward joining the crowd as if nothing had happened.  

Bryan had never seen a man shot before, just as he had never seen a body before. He had expected the bullets to shred the man, drop him with one shot, like a movie. At least not get up right after having been shot!

A deep whine blurted out. The heavy exhaust from a small motor. Bryan looked over. A fat man had started a chainsaw.

Bryan scrambled back away from the fence. He had to help the police officer. He stayed low enough to keep the bushes between him and the crowd's line of sight, it wasn't difficult, the bushes were thick and tall despite being dead in some patches.  In the back of the market and building the officer had gone in, there was a general store across a short alley. Bryan went around to the front of general store. The windows were smashed in.

Climbing in the store was mostly empty, racks that were left were empty, or turned over. A few loose items remained. There was a set of metal stairs that ran up one wall and led to a single floating office on the back wall. Bryan took the stairs up. There was the single office that was void of furniture and left with only pieces of board and piping as its d├ęcor. Its only inhabitants appeared to be ants that came from the single window sill.

Bryan lifted the window, cracking the aged glass with the force of lifting it up. Across the way Bryan could see the officer come into view. They stared at each other, the older officer soaked in sweat.

Bryan picked up one of the boards and began sliding it across the window sill. He hoped it would work. The officer saw what he was doing and opened his own window. Just as the board made it across to the other side resting near the officer, something pulled his attention away. Bryan couldn't see what it was.

They were in. The officer raised his firearm. The deafening pops were silenced with the bright flash of the muzzle. Bryan couldn't see them, only the office, and the officer's desperate look. The officer turned, up and out the window. The cop's worn shoes slipped under him on the worn creaking board. Bryan held on tight. The movement ramming splinters into his skin. The cop stepped into the office and Bryan pulled the board back in. A glass bottle smashed against the side of the building.

Bryan looked down, below a woman in a tattered worn yellow apron screamed in anger at him.

Bryan and the cop didn't need communication. Scared animals don't need to tell each other of their fear. The two bolted down the stairs and out of the general store.

The two took off straight down the street dead ahead. To Bryan's surprise, the older cop ran faster, and seemed to have a general idea of where he was going. Fine by him. Bryan would get them lost, and into another pack of those people anyways.

Bryan followed the cop down a side street, looking back to see their followers. There were none.

It was another block down the street, another neighborhood, before the cop looked back and realized they were alone, for awhile. He stopped running, as did Bryan.

"Right there." The cop motioned towards a nearby house, the door was open, and overall the house seemed somewhat in one piece.

Bryan let the cop go first. He entered with his pistol up. Bryan waited a moment, and followed. The cop continued searching the small house, with his back turned he spoke.

"Shut the door."

Bryan nodded, more to himself, than to the command's of the cop. He closed the door. The house still had some of its furnishing in it. He used a small nightstand to prop against the door. The lock seemed flimsy but he locked it regardless.

Bryan jumped. A man was there as he turned.

It was the cop.

"Thanks for that out there."

"Oh, y-yeah, of course."

"No one else is here. How did you get here?"

"I came, looking for my son."

"On foot?"

"No, I have, had a dirt bike." The cop grinned and shook his head.

"Come on, let's sit in the other room for a moment."

The living room still had its couch, it was covered in dust a small amount of ash which had blown in. There was also still a coffee table, loveseat, and random decorations on the fireplace mantle.

The cop plopped himself on the couch. A thick hoarse sigh came from his sweaty face. Bryan seated himself in the loveseat. He hadn't realized how much his muscles hated him until now.

"What's your name?"

"Bryan."

"Dan, Dan Harvey."

"How did you end up here Dan?"

"My partner and I do patrols around here periodically, we knew some kids got in with their dirt bikes some we came to get them out. Looks like it was just you."

"Actually, I came looking for my son, you didn't see him?"

"Son? Well, no we just heard the motor. Ran into them and haven't seen a sane person since."

"You think they're insane?"

"Well they sure as hell ain't your average town folks."

"I mean, I-I pushed one onto a spike, in defense, and he got off like it was nothing. And then I saw you shoot one, three times, and he got back up!"

"It's not that unusual."

"What?" Dan sat up, his age showing how exhausted he truly was.

"I've seen drug addicts break arms and wrists and not even flinch at it as they twist it to the point the skin breaks. Moving after being shot or pulling off a spike isn't all that amazing for someone doped up enough."

Bryan swallowed hard, Jerry was somewhere out there, with a bunch of drug crazed lunatics wandering around. Bryan sank deeper into the chair and despair.

There was a long silence that filled the void between them. Silent enough the hairs of a dog could be heard moving in a breeze.

"A large group is odd."

"What?" Bryan asked looking up at Dan.

"So many people doped up. If that's what it is. It does add a possible explanation." Dan pulled in a raspy gulp of air with the sound of aged exhaustion. "It was July when the dogs started going missing. Everyone began to suspect animals, then people started going missing."

Dan stood up, there was a creaking and Bryan wasn't sure if it was the couch or Dan's knees. Bryan tracked Dan as he walked to a boarded up window and looked out between one of the slots.

"And then one day there were no more disappearances." He turned back and went to the other window to peer out. "For a long while there was nothing else. I don't know if I just responded to more calls, but I suddenly found myself working on more suicides then ever before." Dan returned to the couch. "Responding to suicides is a taxing experience. My wife and I went out not long ago. We went off into the hills to take in the sights of the mountains. We came along a bridge, pulled over. We were parked next to a gorge and there are walking trails that lead up to it with no barriers. We were going to take a picture of the sight from the bridge. As we stood there, a woman walked up from one of the trails and by us. She offered to take a picture of us. We politely declined. She kept walking, to the end of the bridge, where she smoothly stepped off the edge into the gorge. It was so smooth, with no hesitation, it was like she was expecting the trail to keep going. And that sound, that sound, it sticks with you."

Bryan sat still, or frozen. The events of the day and the sudden calm demeanor along with Dan's story left him with nothing else to feel but a cold sweat.

"You, you think they are connected?"

"Hmm? The disappearances? Possibly. Town is only a few miles out. The woman, I, I really don't know."

"Well," Bryan tried to think what to say, "I'm sure your wife's fine."

"Oh she doesn't feel anything anymore, a collision took her from me."

"I-I'm sorry..."

"Don't be. We need to get moving though."

They both stood once more. Bryan's knees throbbed with a weak ache and knew it would get worse.

"How many rounds do you have left?"

"A single magazine, do you have a weapon?"

"No, hey don't you have a radio?"

Dan sighed. "This little one," he said nudging towards his shoulder radio "will only get line of sight. It's not made to get out of this area. I've tried before. I could in my patrol car."

"How far is that?"

"A bit away, we got cut off by another group that was trashing it when we tried to get away."

"Think it's worth a shot?"

"Yeah, as long as the bastards didn't destroy it."

The two proceeded out. This time, taking their exit out of the back. Dan didn't want to be seen on the streets in the open. Bryan agreed it was a sound decision. As the two crunched through dead grass and over another privacy fence, Bryan was lost in his skepticism.

He believed Dan had plenty of experience, an old beat-cop like him would. But Bryan couldn't buy into the people being drugged up enough to explain the things he had seen. Something seemed off, and his instinct, no something even more primal screamed every time he saw one of them.

"Look, there."

Bryan looked up to where Dan was pointing. Through the haze of the smoke and lit by the looming red sun, black smoke rose.

"Do you think it's a part of the coal fire?"

"No, smell that? It's chemicals, smells like tires." Bryan was afraid to admit he couldn't smell it. In fact everything smelled like smoke to him here. But he took Dan's word for it.

"You want to investigate it? What about your patrol car?"

"It's near that general direction, we would either have to pass by it, or go out of our way to go around. I want to know what it is."

Bryan followed in silence. He wondered if Jerry could see the smoke too, maybe he would head to it in hopes of help. Maybe it was Jerry, trying to signal someone. Bryan bit his tongue. That was a stupid thought. Jerry was a witty kid, he would figure out a way to get back to safety. Hell, he may even be at the truck now, wondering where his father was.

Bryan swallowed something fowl tasting. But it very well could be a worse story for Jerry, he could be a lot of danger, trapped without his father, or worse.

The duo continued down a dirt path, passing between a stone wall and rod iron fence. The gate was left open between both. The shrubs were dead, but the trees still grasped at life. Above a crow cried out. Just as Bryan saw the beady eyes of the bird it was off into the air. It's emaciated body disappearing off into the ash filled air beyond the tree tops. 

A single stone building came into view on ahead. As they approached, Dan slowed and his feet became lighter. There were more buildings they could make out among the trees, and the crackling of a large fire could be heard.

There was a wooden fence that collected ash, and once was used to keep animals within the property. Dan moved closer, moving into a crouch. Bryan copied, he also noted a two dead animals contained by the fence. Fresh animals, too eviscerated to identify.

There was a clearing in the center of several small buildings, perhaps used for houses, but nothing like the rest of the town. There were live, albeit thin chickens which clucked and moved about. Several people moved about, wandering, and different, them. In the center a post  stood, a large hook hung a figure through the left lung. The post still ablaze, tires burning putting out thick black smoke into the air. A car, a police patrol car, pushed in near by also ablaze.  A sickly smell drifted over the duo.

Bryan looked away. His throat restricting. His stomach rose. A liquid pushed in his throat. Bryan forced his muscles shut and looked up straining. The body's burning stench overpowered the smell of the tires, or mixed with it, and it burned at Bryan's eyes.

Beyond the burning alter, a church, with a caved in corner and two eyes looking right at them.     





  

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

City of Ashes (Part 1)

Bryan leaned against the front of hid dark truck. A haze caused a red casting in the sun above, the haze coming from an old fire that continued to burn miles away.

Bryan looked down at his watch and noted the time late in the evening. Jerry was expected back. Bryan and his 13 year old son Jerry used the surrounding hillside for dirt biking. Despite the large trees of the Washington hillside, it has enough trails to satisfy Bryan's adventure, and enough dips and turns to get Jerry's thrills out.

Bryan swiped ash off his truck as he made his way around to his parked dirt bike. Bryan only got to see Jerry one a month after the divorce. Jerry loved dirt biking, and Bryan wasn't a huge fan but enjoyed being outside and liked seeing his son happy. Usually they took the same trail while dirt biking, both because it was familiar and because Bryan wasn't nearly as good on the roads as Jerry was. Of course, things changed.

Today was different, earlier in the afternoon Jerry wanted to take a separate trail, Bryan didn't like the jumps and twists, but allowed Jerry to have fun exploring, being a kid, being a boy. But it was getting too late, and Bryan hated feeling like the over worried father, but he had his limits.

Cellphone reception was spotty to say the least on the hillside. Bryan and Jerry used short range Motorola radios which worked better, but were also very limited. Bryan attempted one more call over the radio before he started the bike.

"Jerry you there? Jerry if you hear me you gotta' start heading back." There was no response. There was a possibility that Jerry could hear him but wasn't able to get a signal out. More likely, Jerry was still riding and couldn't hear the radio over the sound of the engine and his helmet.

More ash fell from the sky. The hillside Bryan and Jerry used was located a few miles away from an abandoned town called Shepard's Heights. The town suffered from an accident where a coal mine caught fire in the late sixties. After a decade, the smoke got worse and parts of the town began to collapsed causing a few deaths. The governor stepped in with assistance from the Federal Government and forced the citizens to relocated. The properties were all condemned and taken by the government with eminent domain. There were a few elderly couples that fought the move and were allowed to stay under the provision that upon their deaths, the property would become government land, but the numbers were in the single digits now. The lack of meaningful oversight and enforcement allowed hikers, historians, and dirt bikers to use the lands around the town as long as they stayed out of the town itself. The town was fenced, and government vehicles periodically went there, but Bryan never paid any attention to them as they seldom crossed paths.

Bryan's stomach twisted, the idea that Jerry may have had an accident, but he pushed the knot aside. He hated to assume situations and find that he was simply causing himself more stress. But to think that maybe Jerry went to the town and had been caught was another all too realistic concern, especially knowing Jerry had a few problems in school following the divorce. Bryan wouldn't blame Jerry, but he hated that he saw his son act out at times. A shame that would burn in his cheeks. He wanted to teach Jerry to be humble, but at 13 it was like moving mountains.

Bryan kick started the Suzuki 125. It roared, and felt powerful in Bryan's hands. He had purchased twin bikes for himself and Jerry. He had thought the 125 may have been too big for Jerry, but Jerry proved to be more than capable.

Bryan pulled on his helmet and started off down the trail.

The fork in the road was about 3 miles Bryan guessed. It was rough which Bryan thought messed with is perception of how far he had gone. To the left was the route he had taken earlier, and the route he and Jerry usually took. It lead around and came out near the truck. A glimmer of relief came to Bryan, Jerry may have come back and then taken that route to the truck. It would add time to his ride and he may be at the truck waiting for him now. But parental instinct said otherwise, and he turned to the right route, the route Jerry had taken.

Bryan slowed, he couldn't handle the bumps and jumps like Jerry could. He even pulled up closer to the trees at times. 

Every twist and turn and every large root or small log he thought he'd be sent flying over his handlebars. He was looking for his son, not a broken wrist.

The trees began to clear out as the ground leveled. There was a clearing, with overgrown grass. Bryan came to a stop in the center. The grass came up to his knees as the sun beat down on his helmet. He saw the tree line across the field and the red warning signs indicating the condemned town ahead. The area was prone to random collapses from the underground fire.

Bryan knew that's where Jerry had to have gone, it's where he would have gone. He could see a perfect trail that Jerry would have taken on his dirt bike. The adventure of going to the town was too much for a 13 year old to resist.

Goddamn it, stupid kid, trying to get himself arrested or worse.

Bryan started off again down the trail, pulling back harder on the throttle moving faster with less care for his own safety and a growing concern for his son's. Bryan flew down the trail. Unlike the previous this trail was level and smooth with only weeds and minor branches on the ground. A single dip into the ground led him to the first obstruction in his path.

Ahead he could see a sign, as he approached he realized the sign was mounted on a chain-link fence. He would never had seen the fence in time to stop had it not been for the blaring white and red sign. Bryan slowed to the point he was walking his bike with an idle as he came within reading distance of the sign.
"WARNING: KEEP OUT, OPEN SHAFTS"
Not far off to the right of the sign where a post of the fence stood, was an area where the fence had been cut and lifted up. The opening was large and had probably been there for sometime. At least that meant that Jerry wasn't a vandal too. It was large enough for a man to walk under. 
Bryan had to get off his bike and walk it under the hole in the fence, but he could see tire tracks in the soft dirt where Jerry had gone. 
He was now within the city limits of Shepard's Heights. The dirt trail cleared out more and started heading uphill. Bryan followed his only option and started forward riding his bike once again.
The smoke grew thicker and ash fell like a heavy snow storm. The ground was soft and smashed easily under his tires. The trees began to look skinny and sickly, reaching up desperately for light like a man drying of thirst in a desert. 

It wasn't long before his wheels felt the firm hold of concrete under him, and the first neighborhood came into view. The houses were spaced out, and had thin coats of ash across the top. Bryan saw a person moving one of the yards of the third house down. He sped up thinking it may be Jerry, but quickly realized it was an adult. 

Bryan slowed his bike down knowing he had made a lot of noise. If it was a cop or some park ranger he was already in trouble, but maybe he could find his son faster. He realized the man ahead was wearing a plaid shirt, and jeans with suspenders. Certainly not any sort of official Bryan had ever seen before. 

Bryan recalled that some people were allowed to stay, generally elderly, but he thought by now there wouldn't be any left, and he certainly did not think they were within the town itself. He was under the impression that the people who stayed were on the outskirts, or the rural areas where the ash wasn't as bad and sudden collapses weren't as common. The idea that an older man would trespass seemed taboo too, but Bryan had encountered senile and borderline crazy older men so it too was possible. 

The man had gone inside just as Bryan reached the short fence that surrounded the front yard. The grass was brown and ash collected around in patches of dirt. The house was yellowed and in disrepair. The front door was missing and the windows were either smashed in or boarded up with graying two-by-fours. 

Bryan shut off his bike and removed his helmet. The man had gone inside without even paying the sound of the approaching motorcycle a second glance. Although he had glanced at Bryan coming. And that was the source of a chill in Bryan's back, not that Bryan had saw him, but that he had saw him looking. 

Setting his helmet aside on his bike Bryan moved forward, over the little fence towards the front door. The dark shadows casting out barely reluctant to creep out of their inner sanctum. Bryan slowed as he neared the doorway. His chest was tight, his stomach suddenly rotten. He couldn't explain the sudden desire to turn back, or why the man seemed so, surreal. His heart pounded and instinct screamed to leave. Had it not been for love, he had left long ago. 

But he knocked, meekly on the door frame.

"H-hello? Sir?"

There was a rustling somewhere in the darkness of the house. He waited, his throat growing tight. His eyes unable to pierce the darkness within the house.  

"Anyone?" He pleaded.

The rustling noise never stopped. Dry, like metal on rock.

Bryan swallowed hard, but a newly emerged lump would not go down.

Bryan took a step crossing the threshold into the unknown.

Squinting his eyes hard his eyes slowly began to focus, making only shapes out of the darkness. There was old furniture, a banister to a flight of stairs, and old wooden floor, and a glow from the next room. Not a white glow like from an electronic but a low yellow. The sound was louder, the metal on stone and wood.

Bryan crept closer to the next room. He could here a paddle of soft steps in-between the sound now. He swallowed hard once more, but to no avail. He turned the corner.

A dim flickering light made it difficult to see again. He could tell to the right of the room was a pile of refuge, large jagged objects protruded every which way. To the left he noticed a dark spot in the wall, another room where small slights of light were coming in from a boarded up window. Then the left wall of the room hand a small pile of what he assumed was coal. The man in his plaid shirt shoveled the coal into a fire place, but his actions only further suffocating the fire that was dying. The man had not turned to Bryan's presence, he continued shoveling small bits of coal into the dying fire.

"Um, excuse me sir, I am sorry to barge in on you, but I'm looking for my son."

The man stopped. Bryan swallowed hard, but the fear clogged his throat the again. The man turned and regarded Bryan for a moment over his shoulder and turned back to the fire place, uninterested in Bryan.

"He's a small boy, 13 years old..." he was lost as the man said nothing. "...sort of fragile shoulders." He said aloud more in memory of his son than in description.

"Sometimes fragile things are harder to break than they seem." A croak came from the man. Bryan had gotten lost staring down at the floor. He looked up in confusion to meet a blur.           

Bryan flung his arms up in a defense. A hard clang met his elbow and sent him stepping back from the pain. He stumbled, tripped, and landed on his butt.

The man swung the shovel again hitting the walls above Bryan. Bryan flinched down and kicked up. His heel striking the man's thighs. The man reared up with the shovel directly over his head, preparing to swing down. Bryan flailed in a panic, throwing his arms up to shield his face in a last attempt and kicking out once more.

His heels connected with the belly of the man and toppled him back. The added weight and position caused him too to trip and fall into the pile with a sickening splat and crack. There followed a silence.

Bryan hadn't even realized he was clenching his eyes shut. He opened them to a silence in the room, with his heart beating in his ears. He could see better than before now, and the room was filthy, something crusty and brown was on the floor , and dirt with rocks littered the corners.

He searched frantically for the man. He searched so hard he overlooked him twice. And there, before hi he stood slightly erect, slouching and not moving. Through the man's back, and out his stomach stood a broken pipe that had been protruding from the refuse.

Bryan swallowed hard again. A gummy feeling over took his mouth and throat. He waited. He waited longer for the man to move. He had never killed anyone before. It was then that Bryan became acutely aware of a noise from outside. A running motor.

He stood and went to the adjoining room where he peeped out of the slots created by the blocked window. Outside was an old truck still running, it had crashed into his dirt bike. There were three men outside as well. They were throwing parts of his bike around in the air scattering them, one stood off to the side with a torch.

"What the fuck." Bryan whispered. His heart raced again. He had to get out. He headed back into the room and stopped.

Bryan's blood ran cold. The room was as he had left it. But the man was missing.

There was no one in the room with Bryan, dead or alive.

He took several steps out and saw no one around the corner. He moved further, and no one in the hall. He edged around the corner, and saw the man in plaid. His back was to Bryan, he was walking away, outside towards the other men, as if the wound inflict caused him no pain.

Bryan's eyes widened, his lips trembled which he stop by biting them and holding them in place. He looked around for another viable exit. The next door was boarded up, he couldn't go outside, so he had to go upstairs.

At the top there were several doors that lined the narrow hallways. Bryan took the right and nearest door. Throwing the door open he saw a small double bed against the wall which he passed. Atop it was a small, curled up, wet mass. He didn't stop to look at it, to acknowledge what it really was or wasn't. There was a single window, it too had the glass smashed in. The glass lay in bit on the carpet which was hard and crunchy under Bryan's steps.

Bryan climbed out of the window onto the slick and loose shingles of the roof. He could hear the men inside the house now. An inarticulate scream of rage came from downstairs. Bryan hurried his short steps. He came to the edge. He squatted down and began to lower himself down. His hands gripping the gutter tightly. As his legs dangled, he dropped, with a thud.

Bryan pushed off the ground, tall weeds grew where grass had long died. Bryan ran to the fence, passing a small child's swing. The fence was low enough he could easily toss his body up and over the fence.

Bryan found himself in a single one way road with fences on both sides and left over metal trash cans lining the once occupied area.

Bryan ran. He ran as fast as he could, pumping his legs, pumping until his veins pumped glass.

Bryan stopped, his heart burned. He realized he did not know where he was, or where to go from here. He looked back behind him, and no one followed. 
 
In the thin air, the falling ash almost concealed a crackling pop. Bryan's ears perked up. In rapid succession, but controlled and spaced, the pops continued in the distance. In a daze Bryan squinted his eyes in the direction he believed the noise to be coming from. The loud snaps in the air familiar yet so foreign suddenly. Fireworks? Why where there fireworks?
 
And then, Bryan realized his own stupidity.
 
They were gunshots.       

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Boys to Men: A Dedication

The following is dedicated to my father James Craig Fitzgerald (09/29/1948-06/12/2015) and to the men who served on the USS Loyalty (MSO-457) 
 
 
I remember sitting in my father’s office. In our house, the office was the garage, but he had converted it to be his office where he ran his home based mortgage business. Half of the office was carpet, a dark green carpet with gold dust stops at the parameter. The rest of the office was a smooth concrete. My father had taken the time to paint the concrete green as well; it was a smooth slick green that gave a slight shine when the lights were on. The walls were white, as was the ceiling.
There was a collection of desks my father used that created the office itself. His desk was really two plywood desks that sort of matched sitting side by side. He sat in the corner; on the other side of the desk was the garage door that he never opened. Along his left side was a glass ashtray, the burn marks of old cigarettes never really came off when he would rinse the ashtray.
My father would smoke his cigarettes throughout the day out of necessity, but it was at night that his smokes came out of leisure. It was on these nights that he would sit there, maybe one or two beers deep, playing his music through his computer. Jesus, the amount of times I heard Dire Straights or Paul Butterfield playing. It wasn’t uncommon for my father to have his guitar there with him on these nights either, sitting on its stand waiting for my father to pick up the guitar and pick out rifts of whatever song he happen to be listening to at the moment.
It was one of these nights I was sitting there. I recall it being summer, a warm night in the Nevada desert. I sat on the carpet, shirtless in shorts. My pale skin shivered. Even in Nevada where 100 degree temperatures weren’t uncommon, that office had a chill that was always there. Perhaps that’s only in my mind, but that’s how I remember it. The carpet rough underneath my bare skin, and my fingers pushing into the fibers out of boredom. In the air an acidic smoke lingered listless around my father.
The most recent song ended and my father turned to me in his office chair. Low sandpaper like roughness had formed along his face since his shave some 15 hours earlier. The smoke still lingered as the cigarette wasn’t even burnt half way. My father’s jaded green eyes looked at me. It was time, I knew what was coming, one of his many memories in a story. I relished this, a learning experience, a bonding moment between father and son. It was stories like this that created epics, formed books, filmed motion pictures, and created men out of boys! And he started his story.
“You know, I remember this time in Vietnam…” And he was no longer talking, and I was no longer listening because I was there, with him in the moment.
It was an early humid morning somewhere in the South China Sea. The humidity sickening, everything sticky, your mouth always full and slightly numb. The crisp flat ocean reflecting the unforgiving sun creating two demons to hide from.
“Junks! Two o’clock!” Off in the horizon to James’s right was the silhouette of a low floating vessel. Junks was a term given to a variety of boats that floated around the waters around Vietnam like the bodies of nats trapped in a stagnant body of water. Most of them were fishermen, many of them powered only by the paddles they carried, some by whatever motors could be rigged to the side, and many of them were smugglers. Smugglers bringing in weapons to the communists, and their guinea pig insurgents. The smugglers were the reason and bane to the existence of the USS Loyalty in the South China Sea.
James, a blonde haired, green eyed kid weighing about 135 pounds and only standing 5 foot 5 inches got into his position wearing only dungarees, a flat jack and his helmet.
Most junks stop when hailed, others would stop after a warning shot across the bow, few had to be destroyed. Searching the junks was the worst part. A vast majority of them were extremely filthy, human waste on the boat, fecal matter smeared on the edges, fish guts strung out across the deck, rusty nails protruding out of every surface. The locals wouldn’t be too pleased having their craft searched, and so shotguns and Thompson submachineguns were brought along to protect against the lone smuggler trying to save his merchandise. Of course, the sailors didn’t care about the fish, they were looking for weapons, rifles, machineguns, grenades, and especially the rocket propelled grenade launcher (RPG).
The junks in the distance slowed. James racked his 50 caliber machinegun but stood idle. The junks couldn’t out run the Americans. Slowing, was usually their only signal they had.
James looked down at the deck, and as he looked back up a green glowing dot was growing. In a flash the dot streaked by. The green and hot tracer round smashed into the ship with a whizz. The pops of gun fire came late following the rounds impacting around him.
James pressed in on the butterfly trigger and the rails shook. The roar of the 50 caliber machinegun deafening. The recoil so powerful the only method to aiming is to shoot into the water in front of the target and let the weapon lead itself on target. The whipping sound slamming in around James. His thumbs pressed in hard turning white from pressure.
A hatch nearby slid open. James was aware only from the corner of his eye. As James readjusted, and he could see. Another young sailor rose, a white shirt painting him bright in the sun. And out of the white a sudden blossoming of rose red stroked across the white shirt like a brush from a painter.
James let go of his gun. The young sailor dropped. James sank to his knees as he pressed his hands to the sailor’s chest. Amongst the heavy spurts of blood a sucking tugged at James hand from the wound, a sucking coming from inside of the sailor. James pressed in harder as his own hands became slick.
The speaker within his helmet screamed.
“Fitzgerald, get back on that fuckin’ gun!”
James looked back at his gun and back down at the sailor. His eyes wide, wide in fear. He gasped, and strained to breath, sucking air in short hard gasps.
James wasn’t even conscience of his actions. He just saw as the sailor grew farther away from him. Farther and farther, then disappearing as James turned and he repositioned himself behind the gun once more. His thumbs slipped, slick with the sailor, and pressed in on the butterfly trigger. His thumbs ached, but this time they did not turned white, he pressed harder, not relenting, the gun roaring, and no matter how hard he pressed his thumbs would not turn white. The gun fell silent, and like a machine he tore the empty ammunition bucket away and in a blink of his eye a new 100 box was in. Slamming the cover assembly down, pulling the charging handle and releasing, he pressed in again. Desperate to get the white to return but it wouldn’t, it would never return.
“Cease fire, I said cease fire goddam’ it!”
James released the trigger. He didn’t know how long he was being yelled at over in his helmet. He just knew the voice was there.
Out in the horizon the junks were shredded, barely afloat or sinking. James spun around to the sailor. The sailor was as James had left him, but the sucking had stopped, the gasping had stopped, the movement had stopped. The wide look of fear and sadness still stuck in his glassy eyes.
Back in the office my father took another drag of his cigarette finishing it off. He put it out in his ashtray. His eyes rose above and off of me, his eyes dark with burn marks that would never wash away. There on the wall his eyes rested in no particular area, not on the picture of former President Reagan, or of me his son, or of the quote from Ayn Rand, but especially not of the picture he had of himself during Vietnam. His eyes just lingered, on a single position. His stare going through the paint, through the drywall and the wood, through the room, and to the yard, and for miles and miles and miles.
Finally my father turned, blinking, his green jaded eyes back. He would grind his teeth, and clicked skip song on his computer causing the next song to play.
I sat dumbfounded, this story had not been like the others. It had not been adventurous or have some experience he wanted me to learn from; at least not directly. We had discussed most of his stories, but not this one. But this story was  also different in another way, as it would be the last story he ever told me about Vietnam.
About a year later I noticed he had not shared a story about Vietnam, and in the spirit of tradition I pried him one night about it. He just shrugged, waved it off, and said he didn’t want to talk about it. At the time, I just thought I caught him at a bad moment.
It was years later and I was in college. I had to write a story I remember someone telling me, and I wrote it very similar to the story as written here, because it stood out to me, from the numerous stories of life, love, and the war, this one was just different because of how he told it. I was proud of the story, I thought I had written it well, and did honor to my father by being able to pull up such a story of sacrifice and the reality of war. I packed the story into an email and sent it to him after I turned it in and received an ‘A’ on it, pumping my ego even more.
His only response “I wish you never sent this to me.”
I destroyed the story, I was heartbroken and I didn’t know why. I was foolish, I didn’t realize the depth of that story, I didn’t understand what was going through my father’s mind at the time. I didn’t understand my father was suffering, and had been suffering for a long time.
It’s been years since this incident, and I too went on to serve my nation. I often reflect on the stories my father told me, and about the men he served with, and the lessons he hoped I absorbed. There was a lot he shared in his stories, but this one in particular. I never realized it at the time, but as two men, this was the closest I ever was to my father and the man he really was.                

Saturday, May 16, 2015

One Level Below Hell (Finale)



Catherine laid in her bed, in the dark, naked. The single window in the room was blocked by both a curtain and a heavy blanket she had pinned up to keep the light out. She slept her early days away. It was after all, much easier to find what she wanted at night. 

She was awake, but trembling in bliss of the memory of how she had cleansed the disgusting reporter. Her nipples harden knowing that it would be impossible for the autopsy to show some of her more intimate work she had done. Her favorite by far though, was the finale. 

Years earlier she had been wondering yard sales; an idle hobby to waste time. At a smaller yard sell she discovered a large cast iron bull. The bull was hollow, and the back had a large hatch that opened into the center compartment. It was magnificent. The creator had unknowing created a medieval torture device that she wished to resurrect for her modern societal cleansing. Having the bull at home, she removed the shelves inside, and drilled out the nostrils to be caverns that led into the hollow compartment. The only piece she was missing was the lucky one to deserve such a cleansing. The reporter fulfilled that role. 

Having the reporter still well bound after toying with him allowed her to easily move him to the bull with no resistance. Not that his wounds would have permitted much resistance anyhow. Having the bull wheeled out on a large trolley she purchased specifically for the bull made movement into her yard easy. 

Despite the looks of her neighborhood, the yard was actually very large, but narrow. Walking along the little foot trail over a footbridge that allowed passage over a creek one could walk off into the tree line where the property lines ambiguously ended; a common source of frustration with some of the residences and location of some late night teen drinking and underage sex.  

Catherine remembered the night well. The smell of man was thick in the humid air. The rigid muffled breathing of the reporter amplified into a fine tune through the nostrils of the bull. The light was prefect for the full moon night. The fire she had lit was flickering and gaining full force from the fuel.
She released a heavy relaxing breath through her nostrils. Serenity as she waited. Soon the cast iron would begin to heat from the fire, and the flesh of the reporter would begin to expel his errors and feel repentance for not only his aesthetically unpleasing image but also for his slander. 

There came a tap. Then a thud. Catherine closed her eyes. She raised her chin up towards the night sky. The muffled voice rose making it so the glowing bull snorted in the night air. 
 
The bull snorted. The first of many.

Although, she doubted her bull was as elegant as those once crafted by ancient Greece, the concept was the same. Catherine dreamed of how they must have set the holes in the metal throat to mimic the sounds of a bull from a human’s scream. 

The bull rocked, and snorted once more. 

She had to keep him gagged inside, though in the woods, too loud of screams may draw attention.
The bull rocked steadily now and continued to grunt and snort from the converted sounds. The aroma of flesh was tainted slightly by the crisp smell of hair. 

A note, next time, shave or wax the them. No, wax, definitely wax. 

Catherine opened her eyes; she was unfortunately still in her bed, and not actually reliving the moment. Though her hands had begun to wonder towards her inner thighs, a sound came from the front door. 

She sat up. She never expected visitors, and she couldn’t recall ordering anything from online recently. Curious, she stood and pulled her robe off the nearby closet and headed out into the living room. 

Catherine’s eyes stung from the dim light in the living room. By God what was it going to be like when she answered the door? Her bare feet glided across the wood floor to the front door. She tossed the deadbolt to the side and rotated the latch lock. 

The door swung open. The light was as bright as she feared. A golden light fell from above. The background remained a bright white and only the small shade from the overhang outside allowed the image to form. The soft dark dome of a distantly familiar face came into view. Dark jaded eyes. She knew the face from headlines and articles. It was him. 

And he brought something she so badly wanted.

James tipped his head towards her and spoke some greeting. But her eyes had lingered down to his hands, one, though deformed, had created the most marvelous texture. She had to have it.
“Good morning Ma’am. My name is James…”

“I know who you are!” Catherine glowed cutting his words off. “Are you here on the case that has been in the headlines?”

“W-well, yes Ma’am I am.” James wrung his hands. “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

“Not at all, please, come in.”  Catherine moved from the door way guiding James in with her extended arm towards her living room, and the bull.

James entered the darkness of the house. The living room was well kept, and well maintained, but he noticed little efforts around the house to keep the light to a minimum. There was a couch with a floral design. An elegant coffee table, he suspected it to have been crafted early in the previous century. A nightstand with a large heavy lamp which only served to collect dust now. A set of double doors, glass and wood gave view to the outside, but drapes hindered a view at this moment.  

“If you don’t mind officer, I need to put some coffee on and change. I will be right back.”

“Oh of course.”

Catherine was already heading for the next room. She moved with hast, on the balls of her feet with excitement. 

James looked about the room while still standing; his hands clasped behind his back, his good hand wrapped around the scars of his other. His attention was drawn to the one piece that stood out, a large bull made of what he guessed was some type of cast iron. He tried to pull his eyes to the many books on shelves, or the pictures, or even the various knickknacks about the room, but the oddity of such a piece dominated his attention, and it demanded that attention. 

Catherine had rushed to her room, she flung open her drawers. She scrambled to put on the first pair of shorts she pulled out, forgetting to button the top after zipping them up. She ended up wearing a thin worn tank top as she fumbled with pulling out a glass hypodermic set. Such catches rarely come to you, and to your front door no less!

 She hurried into her kitchen, she had to slow herself. The next room over held her trophy!

James put his scarred hand out onto the bull. Cold. He had considered too long now to open the bull or not. It wasn’t right to, detective or not. But curiosity, but he wished to avoid an awkward encounter with the woman if she returned as he opened the bull. He was sure he could talk his way out of it. He lifted the lid.

Catherine removed two small vials from her fridge. In each, a potent anesthetic, a synthetic opiod etorphine to induce unconsciousness. Effective and fast, but she’d have to keep him in the house for at least a minute after injection which meant a physical alteration. A fight worth having. Plunging the first needle in she filled the first hypodermic needle with the drug.

James felt underwhelmed to discover the bull was basically empty and hallow. He noticed some charred and black substance protruding from the bottom of the bull. It reminded him of times when he had left meat to sit too long on his grill. The meat would stick and blacken to the grill and require a hard scrubbing if he allowed it to cool. He touched it lightly. It felt, so familiar. 

James looked over his shoulder towards the kitchen. Something had drawn his attention there. A sound? Or just tension. 

He remembered what was said in the autopsy room, cooked. He headed towards the kitchen.
He moved towards the kitchen, swift with knowledge, stealthy with caution. His heart fluttered. That fear you can’t shift, the type that sticks around like something in your teeth. His mind raced. Have you no idea that you’re in deep? He had dreamt about this nearly every night this week. How many secrets can you keep? 

He neared the corner, she could see Catherine’s back. He slowed, his mind going, to the one thought that he could not know why. A poem he once read. ‘I met a traveler from an antique land, who said, two vast and truckles legs of stone stand in the desert…’

Catherine turned. Her eyes down at a rag she held in his grasp. She looked up and, James. A shatter. One of the needles had fallen and broken. She still held one in her hand under the rag.

“What’s that?” James voice seemed, more a whisper.

“I-I’m diabetic. It’s my insulin shots.”

“Oh.” James came closer.

“Please detective, stay seated I’ll be right in.”

“Oh no, I got a call and must be going. I’ll be back later today.” Catherine did not sense him being disarmed. He neared her. He knew. Her eyes dashed to the counter, a knife, back to him. He was closer, like a creeping cat.  He stopped at her gaze, a gaze of realization but also of disbelief. There was silence. He began to shake his head in disappointment.

“Nothing besides remains. Round the decay of the colossal wreck, boundless and bare.”

Her eyes bounced back and forth on his face. 

A swing. James missed stopped it, a needle sank deep into his left should. He drew his pistol on the right. Her left met his right wrist. His left pushed her right away. Her right flew back, the needle left in his shoulder. Her hand went back snatching a knife which met up at his stomach. A grunt. He squeezed the trigger. She screamed. The round ripping through her inner thigh. She jabbed up into him. A twist of her knife, he clenched his teeth in mortal pain. He squeezed the trigger again. She screamed and slumped to her knees still grasping the knife and he felt with her to his knees. Her hip shattered. She pulled the knife up and he fired once more. Her stomach blowing soft tissue out of her back. 

Catherine’s mouth hung open. Shock, and misery. She brought her head in close, and laid her head on his shoulder. Slumping. Her reign of terror ending with little less than a whimper. James closed his eyes and let his shoulders slump. His chin lowering and resting on her head, and he was gone. Nothing besides remained.