The Day of the Ox
A Poem - Timeless Time
Cerberus-Hound of Hell
Hole in the Roof
The Blizzards Gift
A Violent Cleansing
From Hell to Breakfast
Barclay Squre Hotel
Tomorrow May Never Come
The Grade Book
Gunshot in Montana
Chicken Noodle Soup
A Nose Full of Coke
Megan O’Sullivan was outgoing, friendly and gregarious but………. That was until…………
She opened the door to peer once more into the fading daylight up and down the street intent upon being prepared for the onslaught of Halloween’s trick or treaters. She was ready, she thought, for whatever the night might bring. She glanced at two large bowls heaped with candy. Yes, she was ready. She thought!
The first dribble of traffic swelled to proportions threatening to empty the bowls. A couple of hours later she breathed a sigh of relief. A huge spate of late-comers filled her doorway to overflowing. Then she recognized the girl from next door, an adorable little blonde.
“Oh Alexis you little dear. Come in. You must give me a hug or you get no candy.” The little girl came through the door as the rest of the group spilled in after her. Except for the tall one who seemed to have disappeared.
Megan had been aware of him or her subliminally. It had seemed an oddity for one so large to be trick or treating. With a shrug she dismissed the anomaly to pursue the distribution of candy and exchange of inanities with the children. As the group dispersed a small one lagged behind despite her urging him or her to depart with the group lest they become lost. To no avail. Another anomaly. The others were gone and the laggard remained. She moved to escort the child from her premises. As she did so the mask came off and the figure rose from a kneeling position to become once more the tall figure at the fringe of the group.
The unmasking revealed either another mask or a a work of the devil serving as a man’s face. A word came unbidden to her mind. Hobgoblin! The face, if indeed that’s what it was, was frightful, an abomination appearing to have been created by a close encounter with a green cloud of chlorine or the reverberating impact of the backside of a square shovel. In shock she stared at the thing risen before her. It or …he stared back.
Thus they stood for an eternal moment in time. Then slowly he gathered the ragged, dirty bed sheet about him, walked through the door and disappeared into the gloom of the night. The laggard hobgoblin was gone.
The sun blazed down upon a bloody arena floor. Countless eyes riveted upon the moving gladiators as they circled each other warily. A veritable giant of a man, superbly muscled, glided in unison with his smaller adversary, his broadsword, held like a match stick preceding him. His name was Scorpio and his sword wove a small but definite pattern, the symbol that now represents infinity, an 8 lying upon its side. Perhaps it was a sign of those times, when men were consigned to the oblivion of eternity, for the wanton entertainment of an idle thrill seeking public. But has it not been ever so?
A cunning spawned by years of slavery and heightened by at least fifty previous such encounters in this same arena, warned him to take nothing for granted and no opponent lightly. And so it was that now he probed with care, looking for some small sign of weakness that he might use to his advantage. Scorpio, the giant, patiently waited for his adversary to make a mistake. Slowly they circled, each seeking an advantage that would prolong their own life and doom the other.
The smaller of the two antagonists was a woman, Martja from the mountainous hinterlands north of Macedonia. Many such an encounter had been her lot before. That she had survived them attested mutely that she was a redoubtable duelist. But longevity was a rare thing for a gladiator and today's encounter would be the end of all for one of them. Or for that matter both of them if it were so fated. For that was the way it almost always happened. And however strong she might be certain she was that he who circled her was stronger. Never before had she fought such an one as this. The first sight of him had sent a shiver of fear through her being and what happened afterward had in no way allayed that fear. This opponent had lived long because he was not only strong but canny. She could detect no chinks in his armor.
As the broadsword wove its impenetrable pattern of steel before him, she backpedaled and sidled, the while lightly parrying his onslaught with the scimitar she held in her left hand. Their weapons flickered and glittered in the afternoon sunlight of ancient Rome.
Probing, weaving, he sought to drive her to the wall, there to let his sword taste her blood. Retreating, sidling, sidestepping, narrowly she avoided that fate. For those moments at least. And as she fled the persistence of his onslaught her ankle brushed the point of a trident, long buried in the clay. Virtually indiscernible it had probably been a deciding factor in the outcome of more than one such contest. She had no time to think of her good fortune to barely miss the waiting, unforgiving point of a rusty tine.
But a thought came. She might survive this day if she could somehow use the concealed remnant of the broken trident to her advantage. If she survived this day she would thank not only her pagan deity but the Roman Gods as well. Twice she circled the area where lurked the broken instrument of a dead predecessor. Twice the stratagem came to naught except to tire her more in her endeavor to maintain a position in that area.
The third circuit bore fruit. It happened in a trice. The deadly, waiting trident penetrated his heel. The broadsword wavered, lowering for a single, fatal moment.
In that fleeting instant, a short eternity of time, her scimitar sliced inward, upward and laterally through Scorpio's midsection, cleaving flesh, bone, and viscera. Bewilderment and agony flashed across his face as he fell. And the clay, wherein reposed the instrument of his undoing, drank slowly of his blood.
The crowd, stunned by this sudden and unexpected turn of events, was slow to respond. Then it ravened. Martja, from somewhere in the mountainous hinterlands north of Macedonia, looked up to the heavens, uttering a prayer of thanks. Thanks, she gave to her pagan deity. Thanks to the Roman Gods .... and finally ..... thanks to the broken trident.
RAPTOR by tråvi§
The huge dark bird of prey circled and wheeled in a small pattern over water that moments before had teemed with ducks. Blindly, pell-mell they had availed themselves of the only sanctuary within reach. To the bottom of the river, where they clung tenaciously to underwater vegetation and for the moment eluded the dreadful presence in the sky above. The respite would be brief however, for not even a duck can remain submerged indefinitely. The circling raptor knew this as he knew many things about his quarry. Secure in that knowledge, he continued to soar and wait.
Minutes passed, perhaps five, perhaps ten, before the moment of truth came. An older bird with a sometime injury to its bill was first to relinquish its hold below. The impairment to its breathing had been slight, but in this moment that slight disability would be its undoing. Unable to wait longer for precious air, the essence of all life on earth, her hold was loosed. She popped through the surface of the placid water, like a cork on a suddenly broken fish line.
The plummeting predator seized his victim with talons imbued with terrible crushing strength. A miniscule time passed as he transfixed the luckless creature in a vice like grip. He rose into the blue vault, riding on a vast expanse of feathers greater in area than those of his cousin the eagle. The hawk headed for home where his hungry brood waited.
Fifteen miles away, high atop a southern pine tree was a nest of sticks. Within it were two fledglings, voraciously hungry. Shortly their hunger would be assuaged.
But tomorrow would come and they would be hungry again. And so it was that when the morrow came, so too came the predator.
A ponderous machine designed to carry an immense missile to its launch site, clanked, creaked and groaned toward its destination at the phenomenal speed of five miles per hour. That morning it had departed its point of origin, the vertical assembly building, and now in the early afternoon continued its snail's pace through the salty ocean air at Cape Kennedy.
The missile and its carrier was covered and surrounded by an eddying mass of people not at all unlike a hill of ants attending a dead maggot. A modern tower of Babel rising three hundred feet into the Florida air sought to take man to a greater destiny upward and outward toward the stars.
Close to the top of the intricate web of metal and plastic a man gazed toward the Atlantic Ocean and the coastline. Trammeled yet still beautiful.
Slowly but certainly, his attention was diverted from that scene to another as something moved into the periphery of his vision. Swiveling his head he now centered his attention on a bird moving on an almost collision course with the huge transporter. The size of the creature was something at which to marvel. Firstly he believed it to be an eagle. Then he recalled what he had heard about duck hawks and realized that must be what he now beheld.
Flying at about an altitude of two hundred and fifty feet, it passed within a thousand feet of the transporter headed out to sea.
South of its line of flight was a small lake separated by a narrow strip of land from the ocean, its water no doubt as brackish as that of its huge neighbor. The lake was dotted with indistinct palpable specks that were ducks.
For several minutes the hawk, had been gone to apparent nowhere while serenity reigned upon the small lake. The man was nonplussed. It didn't make good sense. Scarcely reconcilable with logic. But the ducks did not mind at all. Probably they liked it. The man shrugged irritably and kept his eyes on the small lake, there being little else to do.
Suddenly that little body of water erupted as though it were a volcano, ducks scattering to evaporate to the four winds.
He could not view the microcosm of the birds on that lake and could not know which duck had been taken. But as surely as he was riding that transporter, he knew that the hawk had fooled the ducks and that his fledglings would dine shortly.
Soon it became apparent what had happened. The big bird had flown several miles out to sea and had made a loop approaching land hugging the breaking waves like a low flying aircraft trying to avoid radar detection. He had burst upon them from their blind side to pluck a squawking bird from midair then to return to his young atop a pine tree.
This time the victim had but one defect. That of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for not always is it true that the strong survive. Sometimes fate is unkind.
RETRIBUTION by tråvi§
Frenchy came into town by the same mode of many another itinerant in those days of the "Great Depression". He showed up in Fernwood, Nebraska right after a freight train made a brief stop to take on coal and water. It was about the middle of the debacle some screw loose historian had dubbed the "Great Depression". It is possible that certain of the moneyed gentry thought of it as great, like those who sold short just before the resounding crash of 1929. A vastly greater majority believed it to be nothing but abject misery. The time of Frenchy's arrival was the middle of July 1935.
He had an easy manner about him, exuding confidence and speaking well. In spite of his mode of travel he appeared almost clean. Almost groomed for those times.
He managed, with some little difficulty, to talk the owner of the local tavern into letting him sweep floors and run errands in return for dinner, supper and twenty five cents a day. The tavern owner's wife liked him somewhat better than did he. Her cajolery, however won the day for Frenchy. Since the tavern was a focal point for the small community's socializing, it served Frenchy's purposes well; said purposes in being the means of sustenance and pursuit of the opposite sex.
There he met Jim Baker. Everyone called him Old Man Baker. Not to his face of course. They called him the Old Man not through any animosity, but rather because he looked a lot older than he was. His chronological age was forty three, but he'd been up a few rivers, and over a few hills. He could easily have passed for sixty three. His hair was almost white and his mustache was even whiter. Lines were etched in his leathery face. His blue eyes seemed to have faded to match his faded nondescript clothing. This, then was his appearance, an appearance belied by reality.
He was a forthright man who believed that charity begins at home. He was also smart enough to know it can not end there. He had helped down and outers before and probably would again. Thus it was that Frenchy graduated from the tavern to a better place of employment.
Baker ran the steam plant, primary source of power for generating electricity for Fernwood. His title was engineering supervisor. The title to him was meaningless. He ran the steam plant. Six people , divided into three shifts, worked under his nominal supervision. Nominal because they knew their jobs and enjoyed a mutual respect. Nominal because men and machines work more efficiently that way. Frenchy became the seventh man.
He made himself useful, cleaning and lubricating and seeing that the impedimenta of maintenance was stacked and ordered. He quickly became a functional cog in the man machine system that was the steam plant.
The operation of steam boilers, a dull and monotonous task, occasionally becomes perilous. It is no place for the unwary. Or for those who are in a hurry. Vigilance is the price exacted for survival when this violent and deadly force is harnessed. Superheated steam escaping through a pinhole leak will sever a finger more neatly than a meat cleaver. On another plane, the boiler can be blown to bits along with anything within considerable distance of the explosion. Little glamor goes with tending a steam boiler, but because of its omnipresent menace, the pay is above average.
The transition from novice to crew member did not occur overnight. Nonetheless, it happened in fairly short order. Neither did he become enriched overnight, but his wherewithal was sufficient to indulge himself with the local ladies. And indulge himself he did. Discreet and surreptitious; that was his way. His past had taught him his survival could well depend upon it. But he took his pleasure when and where he could. And his lust for women was insatiable.
Awareness of her feminine pulchritude preceded a disappointment engendered by slack chin and lackluster eyes. She was the Old Man's daughter, Molly, by name. One of the reasons his hair was prematurely white. She was a moron, one of those unfortunates deprived of blood to the brain for a second too long during the trauma of birth.
Now she delivered her father's lunch in a paper sack and at his bidding retraced her steps homeward. She did not feel his stare as another woman might have. She only contemplated the gently curving, dusty path that would take her home. Home, where there was food, drink and coolness. Home to the security of a loving mother.
He resolved not to want her as he might another one. A little warning bell rang in the back of his mind. But that resolve disappeared like a wisp of smoke in a vagrant breeze. Unbidden, knowledge of her comings and goings; her whereabouts intruded upon his subconscious to be thrust upward into the conscious mind.
Molly's mother shopped for groceries each Thursday afternoon. Then it was that she was alone, unprotected. It was a day he did not work.
Then it was that she was alone. How had he known that when he had willed himself not to be attracted to this one? By the simplest of all expedients; that of lying to himself as he did to everyone else. It was a habit, albeit he lied carefully to others, with himself he was careless. As though he did not want to probe too deeply into the recesses of his inner being for fear of what he might find lurking there.
And the day came as surely it had to, that he persuaded himself. "What the hell, I'll be going down the road one of these days anyway, so I may as well have her too."
He found her to be a totally uninhibited bed partner, a quality that only heightened his lust. Because of this he tarried too long. Month stretched on into month after month.
Jim Baker was irritated. "What in hell is wrong with that girl, Sarah?" This in between mouthfuls of bacon and eggs. "She's been acting puny for quite a while now. Why isn't she down here eating with us? I think you'd better take her to see Doc Hubbard. I'm sick and tired of this nonsense."
He didn't wait for an answer. He picked up his sack of lunch. The door closed sharply behind him.
Those were the days when it was possible to see a doctor without proving first he would be paid. And it was a time when the populace had not yet become obsessed with the notion that a healer must be seen upon the slightest provocation. Doctors could set broken arms, deliver babies at home and occasionally even cure the common cold.
They also could lay it on the line when they could not help out. But that was then, a different time than now. So there was no problem getting to see Doctor Hubbard. But there was a problem. He prolonged the examination, but not because he was unable to diagnose the malady. He had. Quickly. He just didn't know how to tell Sarah Baker.
Exhaling deeply, he dismissed Molly, asking Sarah to step into his office. Carefully, bluntly he said. "Mrs. Hubbard, Molly is pregnant"
The bombshell was followed by shocked silence. Then, "Oh dear God. No. No, it can not be."
Anticipating correctly the questions that might follow, he spared her the need of asking. It's too late for an abortion, Mrs. Baker. Even if you insisted. Even if I would or could legally and morally do it. It's simply too late. She's in her seventh or eighth month. I'm truly sorry to have to tell you this Mrs. Baker."
By the time Jim arrived home, shock had given way to apprehension. Haltingly, tearfully, she said words she did not know she could say. He listened, unwilling to believe, hoping she would say it was all a cruel joke, knowing all the while it was not.
"Who? How?" There was no answer, but suddenly, unerringly he knew the answers to both questions. For it could have been no other way.
It could have been no one but Frenchy, of that he was sure. And knowing that he said no more. Morning saw the despair of the night before replaced with an implacable, deadly resolve.
The boiler had cooled to the point where it could safely be opened. He loosened the bolts to swing open a door now free of restraint. Residual heat escaped. The others were gone, leaving Baker and Frenchy to run the plant by themselves.
"Hey, Frenchy," he called. "Grab a flashlight and come over here."
Standing near the boiler, Baker continued. "Take a look in there and see what you need to clean it out. There's probably debris on the bottom. See what you need to clean it."
He watched as the Frenchman made his way along the curved bottom of the boiler. When Frenchy neared the rear of the boiler, the sound of a closing door caused him to turn around. The skin at the base of his skull tightened. He ran for the door, but the bolts were already being tightened in place.
His screams were lost within the confines of his cylindrical prison. “Open the door. What are you doing? In the name of God please open the door" Methodically, calmly, the white haired man with a lined face fired up the boiler. Screams, flesh and bone, clothing and flashlight disintegrated into molecules and atoms. These to drift to the bottom of a terrible, deadly, superheated tomb.
The face of Fernwood changed but little in the years ensuing. Outwardly, he changed but little too. Inwardly, he aged. Years are at best a heavy burden to bear. And added to that was the burden of a man's death.
Molly and his wife had gone to their rewards. His grandson, the fruit of that illicit union, had left Fernwood, vowing never to return. Nothing had been wrong with the boy. Nothing but the environment of Fernwood, and being born out of wedlock to a mentally retarded mother. He left it behind vowing never to come back.
Nor did Jim Baker blame him. He had no love for him. The nature of his origin had precluded that. But there was no animosity. They simply parted and that was that.
When he appeared at the police station and asked to see the Chief, the sergeant wondered briefly about it, but dismissed it as an old man's whim. Not so the Chief. He listened politely to an incredible story.
The man sitting across the desk from him was one he had known since he was a kid. As the grisly tale unfolded, he thought to himself, "That's one disappearance I won't have to wonder about anymore."
He knew with that insight into human behavior that becomes second nature to a good cop, that he was listening to the truth. That was what he thought. His words were at variance with his thinking.
"Mr. Baker, even if I believed you, which I do not, there's nothing I can do. There is no evidence. Just your word. Not that I'm calling you a liar, but this is too grave a matter to be treated lightly. Even if it happened as you say, I believe it was justifiable homicide. Then there is the matter of the statute of limitations."
In the old days Jim Baker would have questioned that last statement. The chief hoped he would not now, because there is no such thing in the case of murder.
"Jim, why don't you go home and forget about it. It's better that way. Believe me."
And so closed a case that never was opened.
MISFIRE by trevi'
There are no atheists in foxholes. Somebody said that because they probably thought it was so. I suppose he'd been in a foxhole and had a feeling akin to the men aboard the Titanic during her last hours afloat. Right now I wasn't about to argue with him. I felt like I was on the Titanic with those unfortunate souls. A sinking ship, no lifeboats and no succor in sight.
Here was I on the other side of the Siegfreid Line just a couple of long days after breaking through under cover of artillery and air bombardment coupled with some help from Sherman tanks. The two days behind me had been long and I had no reason to believe but those ahead would be as long or longer. It was not a thought that gave me pleasure.
The hole I was in was one that had been used by the enemy. The German soldier who had previously occupied these cramped quarters no longer needed or wanted it. He cared little who now was there. He was dead along with many of his comrades following the hell the American guns and planes and tanks had hurled his way. I had pulled him out of his hole and appropriated it because I had needed it in a hurry and the ground was rocky, hard and totally unyielding to the small folding shovel the United States Army had been so kind as to issue me. I dragged him far enough that I hoped he would not start smelling bad before I moved away. It was the best I could do. There was no time to bury and pay your respects to the dead. On either side. There was only time to try to survive and I was wondering if I would make it through this time of travail. The hole I was in was small and uncomfortable, forcing me to crouch in it and defying my efforts to greatly enlarge it with the small tools at my disposal. But it would have to do.
They retaliated of course. The sky overhead was crisscrossed with streaks left by tracer bullets and dotted with small novas of exploding bombs and shells raining shrapnel and death indiscriminately on those below, tearing at the land itself to get at the humanity trying to hide within its confines. A sporadic cacophony of noise and light that would permit no sleep except by those who were dead or near to death.
And within my miserable confines I felt the chill and the dampness of that foreign land, I who was brought to this pass by a mad dictator. However he was but a part of the cause, this insane being who was wont to scream "Deutschland uber alles".
It would have been easy to have fallen into the trap that the war had only one cause. Hitler. But it boggled the minds of many so they preferred to think that was so. Thinking about it where I was, was an exercise in futility but then so were most things. Right now all I could do was stay put and wait.
Sleep came to me sometime during a lull in the fireworks display. And a troubled sleep it was. I really do not know if I was dreaming or was simply recalling how I came to be here. It was as though my mind detached itself from the rest of me and watched from a remoteness.
"Who the hell do you think you are?" It was a rough voice and demanding. "Do you think you are the only one that's in step and the rest of the platoon is out?"
I answered in kind, for I was not here of my own choosing but rather that of people who claimed they were my friends and neighbors. I had asked myself, "If they were really my friends would they ask this of me? If they were truly my neighbors was this a thing a good neighbor would do?" And I believed I knew the answer. In any event I had an answer for the man wearing five stripes and acting like a popinjay.
"I believe that I am Carl Waephne and I also believe that I am in step. It has been a long and weary day sergeant and I find that you are adding to my weariness."
He had not liked my answer nor had I expected him to. But he did not press the matter for he knew that if my survival depended upon him and the other members of this platoon in like manner his survival depended. He and I would have enemies enough and some to spare when we reached another side of this globe. So the matter stopped there for the better of us both.
I twisted and squirmed in my uncomfortable lair.
The recoilless BAR spit bullets in rapid succession one after the other at no target in particular. I had been told to fire across the crater in front of the primitive structure at the end of an equally primitive road so no one might enter and no one might leave. I was doing that and practicing getting off one round at a squeeze of the trigger. This I had not been told to do as a matter of training. But automatic fire has a way of attracting unwanted attention so I practiced in order that I might one day not reveal the location of such a weapon.
It was a heavy gun, was the BAR, weighing something like 14 pounds and not one that I had wanted. Nor evidently did anyone else. All others in the squad of twelve were armed with the M1 Garand, a semi-automatic weapon weighing six or seven pounds. A few men in the company, snipers, carried the old '03' so named because of the year of its invention. It was a deadly accurate gun with a helluva kick when fired. That too, was not a weapon of my choosing if I'd had a choice. Snipers were not noted for their longevity either.
I had a couple of grenades tied around my middle. They made me nervous but I felt that I might need them if I got unlucky and found myself in combat. And that of course is exactly what would eventually happen. I carried a trench knife which could not be used as a bayonet on a BAR, but it was useful as a utility knife and if push came to shove was in itself a lethal weapon.
The obstacle course, was a mass of barbed wire entanglements with explosive charges being set off at irregular intervals, interspersed with the sporadic hail of overhead machine gun fire. Heavy machine guns using 50 caliber ammunition. It was well calculated to make rookie soldiers nervous. Additionally we were schooled in the use of rifle grenades. If you were lucky they might work to disable and ultimately destroy a tank. Much more probable it was that he who used a rifle grenade would himself be destroyed.
On the left periphery of my vision a soldier came from nowhere to leap into the crater and from there on into the make believe building. I barely stayed my finger on the trigger. It is probable that man would have died that day had I not been practicing in the manner I was. Sometimes I wonder what he became caught up in after his brush with death at my hand. A brush of which he was totally unaware, for I would never discover his identity. Not that I expected any thanks for it. But he had done a damn fool thing. If he did many such he would not come out of the war. Anyway I hoped he had survived his training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. And then...
The Army Specialized Training Program was the answer to my prayers. Or so it seemed anyway. An opportunity to learn a profession and not to be shot at while doing so.
It was incredible. Almost like being a civilian again but entitled, if indeed entitlement is a good word, to wear the uniform of the US army, to use the mess hall, and get the military pay with no requirement but to meet the morning and evening formations where the first sergeant counted heads to make sure no one was missing.
The campus of the University of Maine was a sight, lovely to behold. The sun of July and August bathed the manicured lawns of clover and grass. The fraternity houses with their stately pillars stood white against the sky.
Older buildings where students gathered for lectures and laboratory experimentation were solid and stolid, made of seemingly indestructible red brick from an earlier time.
Now the majority of students were military, brought there by courtesy of Uncle Sam, to study such things as engineering, and language under the ASTP. But there were young ladies on campus and others in the nearby towns of Orono and Bangor. It was more to my liking than the environment of Columbia would be. There the girls were few and the soldiers many. A hundred years had not gone by since the war between the states and there was still bitterness. To top it off the soldiers of the 26th Division called themselves the Yankee Division and wore a shoulder patch with a big YD on it. This had not improved relations between the civilian population and the military to any degree. The time in Maine was a time of learning, and a time of playing. A time of keeping company with the girls and a time of playing basketball and whatever with your comrades. It was in fact the time of my life.
But there was a catch. Not unlike catch 22. More cannon fodder was needed in Europe and Asia. The politics of the time edicted that Hitler was a greater enemy than the inscrutable Tojo and the bulk of US effort would be expended to defeat Germany. So the good times ended. ASTP ended. Those who had been in the Army Air Corps were transferred to the airborne infantry. Were you in any other branch of the army you went into the infantry, sort of like being asked if you knew how to play a piano. If you answered yes you were put on a piano moving detail. If not you policed up cigaret butts and other such important matters.
The word had come down headquarters in good enough season that there were several weeks for saying goodbyes and drinking it up and raising whoopee in general. Martha, the woman I had been spending time with - sometimes I called her Marty and sometimes 'Iron pants' because I couldn't get her corset off and she wouldn't remove it to oblige me - Martha and myself hit the night spots, although there were not many and had a good time in general. In those last weeks spent in Maine I would have my surfeit of snow and cold. I am from Michigan and have seen foul weather before, but none that could beat that of this northernmost New England state. I got the feeling I was only two miles south of the Arctic Circle. Even so, I would gladly trade this misbegotten foxhole for Bangor, Maine or anyplace north of there.
I squirmed in my hole and hoped it would not become my grave. as I remembered or dreamed of Fort Jackson. Not that it was a nice dream. Somewhere between nice and a nightmare. Where I was now, on the other side of the Siegfreid Line, that was both nightmare and grim reality.
"Jesus," I said half aloud to myself, "it's nice to be getting out of this place.
Even if the broads don't like us yankees. At least I can have a drink and forget this crummy tarpaper shack and the damn stupid never ending training".
With that I looked up a couple of buddies who felt likewise. We caught a bus in Fort Jackson and headed for Columbia and the bright lights.
Some kind of bright lights we found! We ended up in a sleazy bar with only hard case bartenders serving us at the same time they resented us, we who wore the hated YD patch on our shoulder. The patch that proclaimed us to be part of the 26th Division, the despicable Yankee Division.
Cockroaches vied with each other for the few crumbs that were scattered here and there. That was the night I really hung one on. I was blind, staggering, fallin-down drunk. I had such a load on I couldn't find my way out of the stinking restroom. I tried to open the door the wrong way and almost succeeded. It must have made a helluva racket because my buddies got me to hell out of there as fast as they could. I learned next day the bartender had called the law. I owed them two buddies of mine a debt of gratitude for hustling me out of there. As luck would have it, it was a debt I'd never be able to repay, for now both had died here in Germany before I had arrived. And here I was wondering when and if I would catch one.
It was hot, humid and blacker out than the bowels of hell. We had been marching through the darkness of the South Carolina countryside for three hours before the company commander finally called a halt. All in all he wasn't a bad sort, but my thinking was that putting on pink pants and a green coat with a bit of glittering metal on the epaulets did not make a gentleman out of anybody. Not even if congress said otherwise. The congressmen didn't have to put up with them like I did.
My shoes had sand in them and the BAR dragged at me like a lead weight. There was grumbling in the ranks as we waited like we always waited. This time we waited for bread and coffee, a little improvement over bread and water but not much. I guess the captain was tired of the grumbling and I was tired period.
So when he hollered, "Quiet in the ranks," I lost my temper. I hadn't said anything up till then, but now I did.
"Blow it out your ass," I yelled at the top of my lungs.
He stormed up and down the line, bellowing "Who said that? Who said that?"
But nobody answered. Including me. I think later, somehow or other he figured out it was me, but like I said he was a decent sort of man and he figured I had problems enough without him adding to them. He also had the same feeling the platoon sergeant had, no doubt. It was a thing better left alone.
The bottom of my feet were wet, cold and hurting. The skin was gone from my heels. Gone when I told the captain what to do that night in the darkness. They hurt like hell, a legacy from the days of training, a legacy with which I would have to live for a while. I wondered if I were getting 'trench foot'. The captain was right. We all had problems. And the bombardment persisted into the night.
Exhaustion weighed heavily upon me and heavier yet the duffel bag I was trying to run with. It seemed we had been running forever and never getting anywhere. I stumbled and fell. The corporal, about to pass me, stopped and helped me up.
He said, "Give me your duffel bag".
His broad face with slanted eyes and skin with a slight tinge of what could be called yellow looked at me impassively. Gladly I surrendered my burden. Without the load I still had trouble keeping up with him. He outdistanced me, carrying two bags and me with none. Never will I forget him. I did not know him and I never again saw him, but this I must say. He was one helluva man! I picked up my duffel bag at the rendezvous with the troop trucks and saw him no more.
It was time for the YD to go overseas to whatever fate awaited them. And it was then that the unforeseeable happened. I was in the bathroom on a morning two days before our scheduled departure when I fell flat on my face. I was unconscious before I hit the concrete. I ended up in the base hospital quarantined for a week while they tried to figure out whether or not I had spinal meningitis. By the time I recovered from my ailment which turned out to be flu the Yankee Division was long gone and I would be transferred to another outfit.
The hell they had called training had engendered a camaraderie among us dogfaces. We had grown together and come to respect each other in spite of differences in speech and background. We had come to know each other, they and I, and now they were gone and I awaited whatever fate had in store for me, along with people new to me. But among them were men who thought somewhat as I did. Such an one was Harry Gold.
The extended weekend I spent in Philadelphia with Harry and his family would remain in my memory. We went to a dance, where I would meet some of the girls he knew. I partook of the food his mother prepared, God bless her. The food was strange to me, me being an old farm boy from the sand hills of Michigan, but it was good. It was also kosher. And I found the meat jelly - they called it something else - superb. Going back to camp after such a nice weekend was depressing enough, but I encountered something that depressed me even more. On the train was a soldier from the Yankee Division. I wondered what in the world he was doing back so soon. Then I saw why. His left sleeve was empty!
I asked him naught. There was no need to. It was a bad way to come out of the war.
A cold, damp, grey dawn came to the front. The little snow that had fallen during the night was not a gladsome sight. It but made things less bearable. Now word came to be ready to move forward. The enemy fire had abated but had not stopped. But the snipers were out there waiting for the unwary. There were hiding places that at first glance appeared harmless. Small depressions in the earth, the remnants of a stone wall, a skeletal burned out house. All could conceal a sniper lying in wait for the careless.
The call was made by the simple expedient of yelling from foxhole to foxhole. We came out in ragged unison and moved quickly to the shelter of a small knoll that had been at one time covered with trees. All that was left of the trees were a shattered stumps and scattered branches. The business of war makes no distinction in what is destroyed. Animate and inanimate objects alike suffer. A cannonball don't pay no mind. There we huddled together to receive our instructions which were simple indeed. Move ahead, cover each other and keep going until resistance is encountered.
Together we moved across the German landscape until we came to the outskirts of a village that was mostly rubble with a few buildings remaining partially intact. We worked in pairs moving carefully through the buildings, knowing we dare not bypass them for fear of being shot in the back when we moved on through.
And now I entered one with an interior wall still standing. I paused by the door that was slightly ajar. I fired a couple of rounds through the door to discourage anyone who might be hiding there. Using the toe of my boot I opened it ever so slowly. I could see nothing beyond. Slowly I moved through the doorway.
He rose from a crouched position behind the ruins of a settee. I was fairly caught in his gun sight. I found myself looking at eternity down the barrel of a Colt .45 probably left behind by a luckless member of the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I.
I heard a monstrous click as the hammer fell, but I was moving now out
of instinct and instinct alone. My carbine swung in a small arc to intersect his midsection. I squeezed the trigger, and squeezed and squeezed............
The confines of the vestigial room echoed with the fire belching from my weapon. I riddled him with over half a dozen bullets. He fell and was thrown backward, there to lie in a growing pool of his own gore. I nearly retched. It should have been me. I had no idea why it was not.
I retrieved the old Colt .45 automatic from his lifeless grasp. Later I found the cause of its failure to fire to be a bit of gummy dirt that had impeded the firing pin.
I cleaned it thoroughly when I could find the time and carried it with me for the rest of the war. I did not allow it to become dirty again.
Today it rests in a display case, a relic of a war long past. But even today I keep it clean as a good gun deserves. Had its previous owner felt the same it might have been on display now somewhere in Germany.
TOMORROW MAY NOT COME
2 chapters excerpted from the novel 'TOMORROW MAY NOT COME' by tråvi§
They came any way they could manage to get there. Some walking jauntily, others shuffling. Some driving up in outsized cadillacs and some in wheel chairs. They came because in their minds there was nowhere else to go. They came knowing this might be the last time. For a few it was the very last time, for they died on the dance floor. They came knowing that for them tomorrow might not come.
Truly and his regular dance partner were engrossed in pre-dance conversation with old friends. He looked up from their tete-?-tete to see a lady with whom he frequently danced. Beside her was another lady he'd never before seen. She was by no means remarkable in appearance. But she did have about her a freshness that in itself was a welcome change. Her dress was simple; a colorful peasant skirt and a blouse to match. She wore a few pieces of jewelry but not much. Her hair was done in a fashion to give her a minimum of trouble. She did wear more makeup than he thought necessary, but he was a man, so how in hell did he know what was necessary or otherwise in the matter of cosmetics?
His friend hurried through the introduction to Countess Myrna Karaszny. She followed by implying that it would be nice of him to dance with Myrna as soon as he took care of the obligatory dances with his regular partner. He readily acquiesced figuring he had everything to gain and nothing to lose. He was quite right.
Myrna was a delightful creature. She had been introduced as a European countess, not that he cared. He only cared whether or not she could trip the light fantastic.
Half a dozen steps across the floor told him he had met his match. Anything he could lead she could follow. He didn't have to probe to find out what she could do. She could do it all and artistically. She was poetry in motion and they moved as one. They were not two separate entities; they were a unit.
He didn't think things could get any better but they did. For some reason unknown to God or anyone else bands play an inordinate number of swing melodies and rarely if ever do they find time to do a tango. But the rarity happened while he was dancing with Myrna.
He liked the Tango above all dances. To him there was no music so beautiful; no dance so seductively provocative. With Myrna in his arms they were in their own world. For a few moments he was transported. He wanted to believe she was too. He remembered not if there were others on the dance floor.
Like dervishes they wheeled and whirled. Tiger and tigress stalked the floor as a cat might play with a mouse. Their bodies fanned like the toreador evading a charging bull. They ran. They sidled, writhed and gyrated, slithering like a serpent. Flicking, swaying and lunging, they criss-crossed the floor. She was radiant in her swirling skirt.
He drew her to him, cuddling her as they wheeled clock wise, to release her into a series of impossible underarm turns. The impetus was violent sending her into two, three, four turns. She responded flawlessly. They were one.
He wished it might ever be so, but it was not to be for there was Marlene to remember and had Marlene been willing to release him Myrna would not have accepted him. It could be but an unfulfilled yearning.
The music enfolded and wrapped them in a sensuous navel to navel sway eventuating into a backward leaning head roll. They then resumed their mad, impetuous gyrations to end when the tango ended. It had been a breathless performance.
It elicited scattered applause. For a timeless time he had been in love. He could not rid himself of the feeling nor did he want to.
She said simply, "That was wonderful."
He fervently hoped that God might grant him a wish. The wish that he could be again with Myrna on another day.
Two weeks they had together and then she returned to her pretentious dwelling on Florida's west coast. To an unnecessary job in a restaurant where she greeted and seated patrons.
She had money enough to buy the restaurant but she wanted to be busy with people. Perhaps she was running from ghosts of her past. She promised Truly she would give him a jingle on the phone.
But she never did.
She returned to dance with many and assorted partners. She abandoned her peasant garb in favor of miniskirts.
Truly saw her once more in St. Petersburg where he danced with her for thirty seconds in a mixer. He scarcely recognized her but Countess Myrna Karazsny knew him not at all.
Four red globes hung over the side exits, one which must have been there since the building was erected. It had been red originally but was now faded to a faint orange with striations where it was colorless. Its shape was spherical in contrast to the others which had boxy contours. That particular door faced a busy street and was rarely used. The floor was part of the original architecture, too. It was tongue and groove maple, one of the best extant in Florida. No expense had been spared by the federal government in its building. It had been erected in the forties to provide a place for service women and men to dance.
Truly had danced his obligatory dances with Marlene and was free to dance with the Countess Myrna Karazsny, the lovely lady from Czechoslovakia. He bowed slightly and held out his hand for her. She took the proffered hand and they whirled onto the floor. Her peasant skirt swirled as she pirouetted away from his release to the center of the floor, a floor virtually empty of people.
Attendance was so poor, Truly wondered if Patti Fatti was able to meet her theft quota for the evening. Fewer than thirty people, singles and couples were in attendance. Pete Preyna was on the keyboard as usual. He was a former accordion player and a good one who had forsaken that instrument in favor of the keyboard. Maybe so he could sit down and play instead of wearing a heavy accordion around his shoulders. In any case he had made a successful transition and was now playing a tango. Unlike most of his contemporaries Pete Preyna performed a variety of music. Anything in the ballroom repertoire. His peers being lazy of body and mind kept on doing the so called big band sound. They didnt give a rap what a dancer might want. They played swing, put their hands behind their backs for the money when they were paid and went home without caring. Not Pete though. He believed in giving the dancers a fair shake. So now he played the first of two tangos. It was an old favorite Tango of the Roses.
They caressed the music and in turn it caressed them.
In staccato fashion they stalked in unison as a cat might. Closing, pivoting, whirling madly they crossed the empty expanse of the dance floor. They paused as a bull might while searching for a crimson cape being flaunted for its attention. And upon finding it charging madly, only to bring up short because the toreador had moved ever so slightly to further his scheme of evasion. He threw her to his side and drew her to him abruptly, pausing shortly only to repeat himself. She followed flawlessly, seemingly with no effort.
He pulled her to him, cuddling her as she placed an open hand upon his cheek while they promenaded. Following that was an oversway. He turned their bodies away from Marlene's watchful eyes and briefly brushed the countess lips with his. That was an ad lib deviating from the script. He was flirting with danger with Marlene watching but could not resist. The countess did not object. Why should she? It was rather a small thing in the life of a devout dancer. And her partner was a superlative dancer.
The first tango segued into the second without noticeable pause. Pete was playing superbly. It was a slightly faster tempo. They segued to the music, without flaw. They moved more rapidly and Truly omitted the transient brush of the lips, but otherwise it was a similarly exquisite performance.
There was little applause when they left the floor. There were too few people, but they applauded each other. That was sufficient unto itself.
Said Myrna, That was wonderful, Truly
He replied, It takes two to tango Myrna. We could not have done it without each other.
The rectangle that served as a doorway to the cluttered carport framed the stocky figure of a man. Five foot ten, one hundred and ninety pounds of Joe Sawchuk was trying to accomplish a physical impossibility. Trying to peer around the doorway to see his roses while remaining in the shade of the eave to escape the dehydrating rays of the Florida noon day sun. “I wish” thought he “that I had one of those energy crunch investigators staked out here over a fire ant hill. Along with one of those chamber of commerce promoters. It might give them a better insight into the blessings of living in Florida.”
He smiled at the picture he’d conjured up in his mind of two naked fat men squirming as they were inundated with ants. With that thought he retreated back into the shade offered by the house. A little girl voice intruded, shredding the mental picture. The words, indistinct, were apparently directed to the cat that lived next door. Words of cajolery to Fluffy
There was supposed to be no one home at the McDonald residence. Mrs. McDonald had asked Joe to keep an eye on the place while she and her kids were out of town for a few days. They intended to relocate elsewhere. Cats don’t belong to people. People belong to them. Cats tolerate people as long as they pet them and feed them. They’re loyal as long as it is in their interest. He’d agreed to feed the cat because he liked the McDonalds not the cat. He felt bad about the prospect of losing good neighbors.
The voice continued, still indistinct. He could see a small portion of the neighboring carport but no sign of Fluffy or the garrulous girl. Nonchalantly, he made his way to the carport, whence came the voice. Then he espied them; a little girl about age ten and a friend of the McDonalds, standing with Fluffy in her arms. She petted him as he paid absolutely no attention to her.
Along with Joe, she’d been feeding the cat too. He hoped double rations wouldn’t hurt him. On the other hand he didn’t really care that much. Anyway the animal might be smarter about eating than those who fed him. He might not be given over to gluttony.
Joe addressed her. “You’re Teresa, aren’t you”?
To which she replied sharply and promptly. “No. My name is Natalie.”
Her vehemence made him wonder if he should pursue the conversation.
He apologized for his error with a small shrug. Natalie then proceeded to tell him she lived with her mother and grandmother. In passing she mentioned that Fluffy was pregnant. This unsolicited information caused him to arch his eyebrows.
“Are you quite sure about that Natalie?”
“Oh, yes”, came the instant reply. “See how big her belly is getting.”
He looked at the alleged condition and had to agree. The belly was indeed large.But! The but was that Mrs. McDonald had told him that she had erred in naming the cat.
“It’s a tom”, said Mrs. McDonald.
Somewhat at a loss as to how to explain that the cat was male not female, Joe decided to try anyway.
Against his better judgment he said, ”Uh, Natalie, Fluffy is a tom cat. You know. A boy cat, not a girl cat. Boy cats can’t get pregnant. Okay?”
She shook her head as though he were crazy. Then she turned the cat belly up.
“See,” she said, pointing at the general area between the beast’s legs. “There’s nothing sticking out”.
He had to agree there was nothing to be seen, however he was not quite ready to be buffaloed by this very certain ten year old girl.
“Okay, let’s take a look at the back side of this cat.”
So saying he lifted the cat’s tail, revealing a pair of small, but perfectly discernible testicles.
“Did you ever see a girl cat with a pair of those?”
She stared at the exposed genitalia, speechless for a moment, rolling her eyes in
frustration and anger. She tossed her head in disdain as she stamped a small foot.
“I don’t care. It’s a girl cat and she’s pregnant.”
But she dropped the cat. Unceremoniously.
She turned on her heels and walked away. Contemptuously! With disdain written all over her small face.