Another loud bang and then a brilliant flash ran across the evening sky as Sgt. Peter ducked his massive frame from side to side, all 6ft of him moved in unison as if responding to salsa rhythm. Metal pellets falling from the sky like hailstone. Other men had broken formation too, running in irregular lines towards the battle front.
Don’t let it touch you, he said to himself.
He did not need the reminder though as screams seared through the evening heat. Crimson puddles already formed in the sandy plains ahead as he stepped into them with his steel-toe boots.
This is bad, real nasty, no one saw this coming? Underestimating the enemy was not part of the plan. The captain assured us this was as routine as a recon operation could get. Pathetic! If I get hit I am done for!
Frantically scanning the rapidly disintegrating campaign, no familiar faces. Maybe that’s fortunate, perhaps not, the sight of a fallen friend may bring about the fade of all hope as sure as the day fades into darkness. This platoon is almost as good as gone. His brain performed at an accelerated speed, kicked into overdrive mode. He was leaping over obstacles before his eyes registered them, dodging the raining metals of death, yelling out orders to junior officers.
So it is true, when one is close to death, life slows down to a pace so mundane one becomes superhuman?
Peter mused still leaping and running, occassionally aiming his rifle at no one in particular. How else do you explain this?
How about the other unfortunate souls screaming for help? Were they too not gifted with this superhuman power you claim to possess now? A condescending and scolding voice countered. Perhaps it is Karma?
Just then another bright flash and a bang went off, this time a meter ahead of him, knocking him backward as though by an invisible yet powerful hand, powerful enough to have done the same to four other men beside him. They looked bewildered, perhaps it was ok to have that demeanour at a time like this, they too did not sign up for such a mission, yet they were soldiers, trained to be ready for battle. Not in a surprise ambush.
This isn’t a movie, those sound effects are nothing to compare to this.
Peter jerked his head trying to shake off the ringing sound that rendered him temporarily deaf after the blast.
Fear or desire, either of those emotions is the driving force behind every man’s crave to stay alive.
Which is it? What do I feel? Fear of being killed? I still want to live! Desire? Is it the desire for revenge on my enemies? I want to kill them all!
Slowly Peter got to his feet, his epiphany was certain, surely it was desire rather than fear fueling his so-called superhuman rampage. This though less than providence had kept him going and he was not about to quit just yet. Looking around he saw the 1st lieutenant giving orders through hand gestures. Onward. Almost there.
Peter snapped out of his vision, no not vision, memory. He was doing it again. This time he was in the bathroom, at the sink, toothbrush in hand staring at the steamed mirror before him. Transfixed in a previous moment. His wife Stacy was standing behind him, her left hand on his back, her forehead crowned with worry lines.
“How long?” Peter asked.
“I’ve been here 3 minutes since I came upstairs, no idea how long before then.” said Stacy.
Peter felt sorry but it wasn’t his fault was it? After that mission in Gwoza the survivors of the platoon were never the same. It was worse than the mission to N’Djadema, but at least he was alive. Alive to see his wonderful family; Stacy and the kids.
Should I be grateful?
Shell-shock, combat stress reaction, post traumatic stress disorder… so many names yet the problem remains. They spend more time researching the title than the condition. Do I blame them? They have never experienced it, no idea what it felt like, what it feels like.
Peter had undergone the mandatory psych eval after the mission and was given a clear to go. It wasn’t until he was found punching windows of unknown vehicles in the parking lot of the mall that he knew he was far from fine. Afterwards Silver the family dog was the next victim;
“Dad! Please stop, you’re hurting Silver!” wailed Tola.
Snapping back from his living nightmare, Peter realised he was holding the dog by the neck, slowly crushing its windpipe, oblivious to the yelping, kicking and bucking of the frightened animal. The tears and fear in the Tola’s eyes moved him to tears himself as he dropped the wounded dog and fell to his knees away from the kids, head bowed as his broad shoulders shuddered slowly.
The next day he had checked into the psych ward for treatment.
“Windows and dogs may be replaced but not the kids or you. Gosh Stacy, I’ve put you all through a lot,” he had said as he grabbed his packed bag, “imagine if I hurt any of you? my nightmares will be a complete torture cycle – the nine levels of hell.”
“It is you who has been through a lot,” Stacy said, smiling weakly, “You are a brave man and a devoted father. You wouldn’t hurt any of us, I know this.”
Stacy felt a pang of sadness watching Peter get into the taxi, praying his return would be a joyous occasion.
That was 6 months ago, the cognitive therapy and seretonin inhibitors had made him more passive, no more breaking stuff, no more hurting. However, it didn’t stop those skeletal demon hands from pulling him into that near-vegetative trance where dead men’s faces sought his company, where the endless music was a symphony of groans, screams and weapons. There was no escape, no retreat and there was no surrender till the message was passed, but each time he was close to receiving the message those skeletal hands let go of him to be back some other time.