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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Through The Forest - A Story of Viet Nam {#BlogBattle}

Time for this week's #BlogBattle, a weekly keyword-driven flash fiction contest hosted by the wonderful Rachael Ritchey.

The word this week is FOREST.

Through The Forest

The engines were rumbling, and blue smoke wafted up into a lightening sky, though 'light' was a matter of conjecture. The clouds were low, it was bound to rain, and it was almost time to see if Charlie had been busy planting mines along the MSR through the night.

Yeah, well, of course he had. It was our job to spot them, and the engineers in the APC following would dig them up.

Just another road sweep in paradise.

There was a sudden whop-whop-whop, reflected between clouds and ground. The Dude looked up. "Brave boys to be out today."

"It's the Cav's AO," said Biff, as if that explained everything, which it really did. The Cav were nuts.

"There he is," said The Dude. A Huey was almost in the trees, and its rotors looked like they were cutting spiral-swirls out of the clouds. He suddenly, banked, and turned toward us.

"Aw, you should've ignored him," said Biff. "Now we got his attention." And if he flew over the tanks we were going to get nicely dusted off...and if it rained the dust would turn into a particularly pervasive mud.

"Sorry," said The Dude. "My mistake."

But the Huey didn't overfly us. It dropped down into the Rome-low area fifty yards away, and skidded to an untidy stop.

"Whoa," said The Dude. He leaned into the turret. "Sonny, grab the aid kit, we got visitors!"

The Huey was shot-up, with smoke coming from the hump on top where the engine sits...and the chin bubble on each side was red with blood, under broken windscreens.

A skinny black kid gingerly climber down onto the skid, and then tripped. He looked toward us and waved. A spray of blood splashed off his arm.

"Sonny, move it!" The Dude leapt off the deck, and I followed him, telling Biff to stay with the tank. I heard Sonny hit the ground with a grunt just behind me.

And we ran.

The Rome-plow furrows were uneven, and I saw The Dude trip once, then Sonny cursed as he caught a boot behind me, and then I went down.

The hurt Huey was sitting tilted, engines shut down and rotors coasting to a stop, and the black trooper wasn't waving now. He'd bled out.

The Dude reached the right-hand pilot's door, and as he pulled it open it came off in his hand. He looked around the side armour, then recoiled, gagged, and spun around to throw up in the dirt. I stumbled up behind him, and was about to look in when I heard his voice.

"TC, don't...just, don't."

"Yeah." The blood in the chin bubble contained other things, and I could tell it wasn't worth a look.

Sonny, ran around to the left side, and as he reached the door the AC opened it, and dangled out a bloody arm. "TC, Dude, I'm gonna need y'alls help heah!"

The Dude got shakily to his feet, his face white. I lent him a hand, and he spit vomit from his mouth. "Just glad Biff didn;' see that."

When we got to the AC's open door The Dude crawled onto the pedestal between the seats, and was putting his jacket over what was in the right-hand pilot's seat. Then he threw up again.

The AC had his helmet off, and was sitting sideways in his seat. Sonny had pulled back the side armour, and the man was writhing in pain from multiple holes in his legs. That he could have flown the thing at all was a miracle.

Sonny was tending to his wounds with a gentleness that belied his bulk.

The AC looked me in the eyes. "We need help."

"We're here, man. " I didn't know if he was a warrant or a real officer, and I didn't care. "We got you."

"You don't understand, tanker...the Blues are getting overrun, the other lift bird's down...we need you to bust a trail and get 'em out."

The Dude put a hand on the man's shoulder, and then quickly removed it as the pilot winced. "Where?" he asked.

"I'll lead you...help me get this thing cranked again and I'll lead you. You bust a trail...through the forest..."

Sonny looked at me, and shook his head.

"Yeah, we'll do that. Let's get you fixed up first, OK?"

"The AC was weakening. "Through the forest, tanker...we gotta go now..." He reached for what I took to be the controls to start the thing, but his hands fell away.

"Help me," he said. "I can fly...just help me get it started."

Sonny said to me, "TC, here, hold pressure," moving my hand to a dressing on the pilot' leg. "OK, there."

Then, to the pilot, "OK, talk me through it."

The pilot's words were slurring now. "Batt on...ok, fuel onnn..." He pressed a trigger on the collective, next to his seat, and there was a ticking sound. "Igniters..." he said.

The engine caught with a low whoosh, and in his last movement the pilot meshed the blades, and they began to turn.

He died then, and Sonny gently closed his eyes under the strobing of the rotors in the grey dawn.

If you can, please do leave a comment. I am trying to answer all, and I am failing, but please know this - I read and treasure each one.

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  1. As always, very well written and extremely vivid. Nice.

  2. You give us a peek into the vileness that is war, Andrew. It is painful to envision, though I'm certain must be more than painful for you. But at the same time I also wonder how this must help you process your experience, bringing healing to your PTSD. Is that true? Do you find it healing to remember and write about your experiences? I'm not sure what psychologists would prescribe a man with PTSD to do, but it seems like this may be one thing that really helps to drain the pain from the wounds of your past. Hugs to you, my friend! Such vivid, visceral writing!

    1. Beth, yes...exactly. Writing about it makes it evergreen, and while that may seem contradictory to healing, it's really not.

      With PTSD, at least the kind and severity I deal with, you're 'stuck', and the dichotomy of a violent past and a 'peaceful' present is simply too much to bear. One can't choose; one has to move through the world of the past, kept alive in one's heart and outlook, through the present...but not really part of it.

      Many combat veterans are thereby unquiet ghosts, but it's not a bad thing, and I would not trade the experiences. Thy didn't make me; they ARE me, and I simply can't imagine - nor would I ask - anything else.

      Does this make sense to you? I tried to describe it from the 'inside', but I'd love to know how it comes across...sensible, or quite mad.

    2. Very sane, Andrew. Very sane! Keep on doing the hard work of unpacking the pain, since it is helpful to you and all of us as well!

    3. Beth, I really appreciate this...writing through all of this is very hard sometimes, and the 'temperature check' on sanity's a must! :)

  3. I don't know which is harder to read, Andrew, your reality or your fiction. Wait, the fiction is your reality too, isn't it? I'm so sorry. I can't understand what you've been through, or what you're going through, but I can understand embracing all of life {the good, the bad and the ugly} as part of who we are - as part of someone who stands redeemed.Bless you, Andrew.

    1. June, thank you so much for this...and yes, embracing it all...and embracing, as it were, the guys...is part of redemption.

      I am so appreciative for your being here, and for your comment!

  4. What a powerful story. Again I'm reminded to say thank you for serving our country and the sacrifice you made. Blessings to you!

    1. Jackie, thank you so much...you've made my day.

  5. I already have Faith in the Night, and now I've added your PTSD and the Holidays book. I'm so glad you included them in your blog today.

    1. And a PS...I hope you'll enjoy Angela's story...the first Christmas story I ever tried writing...and if you know people for whom the PTSD book can serve as a resource, please pass it along. It's meant to be used.

  6. This is a beautiful tale, Andrew, full of real sorrow and courage. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Thank you so much, Cathleen...for awhile there I did not think I would be well enough to get it posted...but it was another 'need to write this' piece.

      I sure appreciate your being here!

  7. Outstanding! I always hold my breath reading your stories, which are so visit I taste and smell them. Stunning writing. :-D

  8. Andrew, as others have stated: Thank you deeply for your past service and sacrifices. I did try to join, way back when, but I had surgery before, and made me a medical risk.
    This story is right up there with any others I've seen dealing with combat. I must say, if the scenes were grisly enough to make your team members "unswallow," I'm really glad they weren't described.
    Keep up the good writing, especially if it helps you. Because if it does you good, it will do someone else some good, too!
    -- John

    1. John, thank you so much! Your comment means a lot to me.

      Combat is by its nature profane and grisly...but its essence is not in the description. It's all about the guys, and it's an honour to be able to tell their stories, at long last.

      Thank you so much for being here!

  9. Andrew! You are the winner of the battle for this week. :) A well-deserved win, for sure. Thank you!

    1. Oh, my gosh! Rachael, thank you so much! The opportunity to share these stories, through your running #BlogBattle, means the world to me!

  10. Just now getting around to reading this, Congrats on the win!! I feel like I have gotten to know each and one of these characters personally, your scene descriptions are so detailed, I can’t help but picture them clearly in my mind. I have to say this one, though, made me a little anxious as I pictured it in my mind, well done!! Glad you’ve been back writing for the battles when you can, though I know it is a struggle for you now.