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War Story
by
Matthew Barron
Originally published in The Dolphin Volume 13, 1994-1995
Indiana State University Student Literary Magazine

1968:

A group of American soldiers is making its way through the Jungle. Not far away, but separated by thick foliage and fog, the North Vietnamese are also on the move. Both groups are unaware of the other. Boom. A shot rings out. Who fires? Does it matter? Both sides become aware of each other as their guns go off. Both sides suffer heavy losses. Both sides fall back, trying to get away from the bullets.

At the site of the battle there are many dead. There are also many who are still in the process of dying. Friend and foe hear each other's dying thoughts. Their thoughts are all the same: My family. My life. My future. All gone. All for nothing. They see and feel every life passing before their eyes. Every life regardless of sides. They know they are dead. Then there is a light. The light fills their consciousnesses. We cannot die for nothing. We can't leave. There is so much to do.

1991:

Frank, a man in his fifties and wearing a business suit without a jacket or tie limps angrily into a large, carpeted office where a younger man in a business suit sits at his desk talking on the phone. "Don't worry, we've got your guns. It's just a matter of getting them to you," the man at the desk says.

"You're really doing it! That's them on the phone right now!"

The man at the desk ignores the older one until he is done on the phone. "That is the sum we agreed on. . . Yes, I'll contact you when the shipment is to be made." Hanging up the phone the man looks up "How dare you barge in here like that! You could have disturbed a very delicate business deal."

"It's true. Isn't it? How do you expect this war to end if you're dealing with their side, too?"

"Why would I want this war to end? Their money is just a drop in the bucket compared to what I'm getting from the United States government. Just today I received an order for more missiles. I want this war to go on a very long time."

"Damn it, Johnny. You've never seen war. You don't know how bad it is. I was in 'Nam. I've seen things that would make even a big business type like you pee your pants."

"That was a long time ago. This war can't touch me. It's a long way away, and I'm here. I hired you because my father recommended you for the job. I would hate to have to let you go. No one else would hire you. How would you feed your family?"

Frank stands there stunned. Finally, he limps out of the room, slamming the door.

Later that night, Johnathan K. Cunningham grabs his briefcase, locks his office, and walks down the hallway to the elevator. The elevator gets stuck and the lights go out. "Damn!" John waits for awhile but, being an impatient man, finally begins to struggle with the door. He manages to pry it open enough for him to climb onto the next floor. "Next time we buy Japanese," he says, brushing himself off.

He hears a clang. looking for the direction of the sound, he sees thick mist rising through the dark hall. Saboteurs are using gas grenades, he thinks. But there is no smell. And this does not look like smoke. It's fog. He stares intently into the fog. within it he swears he sees a palm tree. He knows that he hears distant gunshots and explosions. He runs the other way, but he trips over a log. and lands in the mud. The offices around him are covered by fog as if they aren't real, but the jungle around him is all too real. He smells something that reminds him of the turkey left over in his refrigerator for two months mixed with the smell of gunpowder. He swats at a mosquito that tries to land on his sweaty neck. "God it's hot. What in Hell is going on.?"

Just then he hears movement. He ducks behind some surreal bushes and sees soldiers in the distance. Thinking that they are after him he sneaks away. He doesn't get far when he hears an Oriental language that he is unfamiliar with. He hides in the bushes again and sees more soldiers making their way through the jungle. Oh my God. I'm in Vietnam. I've got to get back to the Americans. But then he realizes that the Americans really aren't that far off. He can hear them just a few yards away, but separated by thick foliage and fog. He closes his eyes and buries his head in his hands waiting for what he knows will come. He hears a shot. He doesn't know who shoots first and he doesn't' care. He does care about the shots that follow. He sits watching the battle from his hiding place. He sees body parts explode. Limbs fly and blood sprays. Both sides suffer heavy losses. Both sides fall back.

John remains at his hiding place looking at the many, mangled bodies around him. There are many dead. There are also many who are still in the process of dying. He looks at each quivering body, from both sides, one by one. As he does he seem's to hear their thoughts. Their thoughts are all the same: My family. My life. My future. All gone. All for nothing.

He sees their lives pass before his eyes. He knows that they feel it too. They know that they are dead.

Then there is a light. The light fills their consciousness. We cannot die for nothing. We cannot leave. There is so much to do.

John sees the light, invisible to all but one other, grow from the broken bodies. The light reflects of the fog and gunsmoke swirling on the bloodstained mud in the center of the battleground. From the middle of this swirling light comes a muddy hand and then another. With much effort the hands lift their body from the bloody muck. The body is large and muscular with a tight khaki T-shirt and baggy camouflage pants. He dips a piece of cloth in the bloody mixture and ties it around his forehead in order to keep his black hair out of his slightly angled eyes. The look on his face is grim and determined. He reaches once more into the muck and pulls out a sub machine gun. He stares right at john.

John runs in the opposite direction tripping over a body. He looks down to see a familiar face. A much younger, and barely conscious Frank lying on the ground with his leg blown apart. Oh my god, Frank. John gets up and runs right out of the dissipating fog and down the hallway. As he rounds the corner on the way to the stairs he sees the ghostly soldier in front of him. Johns feet slide out from under him as he tries to stop. The soldier raises his gun and fires into John's chest. John feels his chest explode and cries out in pain.

John wakes up. His very young and beautiful wife is sitting next to his bed. "Oh, John! You're awake! We were so worried about you."

"Buffy, what happened to me?"

"You had a nasty heart attack. Luckily, The night watchman heard you cry out and called an ambulance. Otherwise, you wouldn't be here now." Tears form on the dark circles under her reddened eyes. "It's all over now, though. Just relax and get some rest."

"Okay, Buffy. I promise to take it easy, but I just have to cancel one order first. Oh, and could you get Frank's number for me? I really owe him an apology."

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War Story by
Created by Matthew Barron
Updated 05/17/01
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