This will be my last journal entry. Goodbye cruel world, I’m off to join the circus…
The writing felt foreign as former Government Issued Corporal Frank Brody, now just Mister, pressed the cold steel to his temple. There was a small crowd of shadows around him, pressing him on. The revolver held one bullet. Could he do it this time, even with a head full of pills from some VA Doc that was probably loaded up on more dope than he was?
“Do it!” screamed a familiar voice within close distance.
The mechanical draw of springs clicking a hammer into position gave way to let fly the firing pin. A one in six chance splashed DNA across the ex-soldier’s dingy apartment wall.
When the question of where he was formed at his cracked lips, a feeling of cliché dissolved into a new pain unlike any other. He looked around at black flame, violently searing every inch of his unburnable naked soul. Through eyes on fire he could make out a silhouette of a female form. Her twisted mouth produced a grin. “Dear boy, you’re in hell.”
The patient awoke with a start. His head was still spinning, but thankfully, in a room this time. Very bright light cascaded through an open window, which a nurse promptly closed until Frank’s eyes adjusted. There was ringing in his ears, a side effect of over medicating. The nurse must have picked up on his new fear, as every patient awaking from a coma seemed to have, rightly so. “Mr. Brody, you had a bit of an… uh, accident.”
“Oh shit,” Frank exhaled. There it was again. Every single teetering close call to an eternal dirt nap in this man’s existence since learning the meaning of the words always ended with them. Or began with them, depending on the circumstance. This time was no different, with the exception of the dream he was in hell. The searing felt so real, as if he could still smell the sulfur and burning immortal flesh. That hadn’t happened before. Whenever Brody had an accident, whether on the battlefield or in his reckless new normal, usually it was fade to black and a hope to stay that way after uttering those words: Oh shit.
Static followed by nothingness was where it felt like Frank went on every occasion of his previous close calls. Whatever good was going on in his life seemed to be drowned out with sorrow lately and the aftermath of his tour had caught up with him in great strides.
Frank reached up to a nagging headache with his right hand and something held it from going further. Both hands and feet were cuffed to the hospital bed. Frank struggled as the attendant calmly picked up a mirror and walked across the room to him, holding it up.
“We apologize about the provisions, and they will only remain on until she knows you are not a threat to yourself or any of us.”
Brody saw wild hair framing a haggard face, which looked much too old to be in its early thirties. Through puffy, bloodshot eyes he saw a freshly stitched scar on the side of his forehead, where a trembling hand once held a gun. “Who’s she?”
Before the nurse had a chance to answer, someone else did. “She is me.”
Brody turned his head to the open doorway a bit fast and winced a neck muscle.
“Don’t get up.”
The doctor sauntered across the polished linoleum and her patient twitched in his padded cuffs.
“Sorry, bad joke.” The woman placed herself within eyeshot. “My name is Dr. Lilith. I’m the Chief Physician here at PMA, where you will be staying while in our care.”
Although this woman was striking to look at, she also seemed to take charge of the room with her very presence. The nurse whisked herself out of the room without being asked. The doctor wheeled over a stool and sat.
“So, handsome, what brings you to our neck of the woods?” She reached to the foot of his bed and lifted the clipboard holding his chart and lowered her glasses to give it a quick scan.
Frank was at a loss for words. He began to quietly cry, something he did that had become an everyday occurrence since the first meltdown.
“Cheer up, fella. You’re going to like it here. I’m giving you a little something to help you sleep.”
With that, she produced a syringe from her pocket and removed the cap. The prickle stung at first, but its contents did the job quickly. As the doctor’s last words became foggy, the former Corporal caught a glimmer of the demon he saw in hell before losing consciousness once again. Dr. Lilith’s voice was now barely audible. “See you soon, dear boy.”
The stench of human decomposition never leaves a person’s nostrils. Of the senses, smell is tied closest to memory. A rotting animal carcass is a fleeting whiff. This is due to an animal kingdom made up of simpler creatures. Human beings are created differently, more complex, so the smell of a decaying corpse never leaves the recollection of the living once it is encountered. Frank Brody could attest to this little known truth. He found it odd that just by thinking about death, he smelled it. The veteran could be at the county fair, standing right in front of a cotton candy machine and if death wanted its unclean memory to linger, no other scent could take its place in his mind. He would usually ride the wave until it passed as nausea swept through him. Sometimes this unpleasantness would be triggered by an event, as it was with others who experienced heavy combat within his PTSD group. Urine had a way of starting this in a public latrine, so Brody always did a courtesy flush before making his deposit.
Wherever in blazes Brody was right now and from whatever effect the contents of the syringe had on him, his memories reeked of corpses. They were stacked around him like weathered tree logs, rolling in on him back in the dunes. The Corporal’s position had been overrun again. Sniper fire from various positions eventually picked off his entire platoon and he was left alone. With nothing to use as cover, he did the only thing he could to stay alive out in the open sand.
The foreign gunmen were just toying with him now. As they repositioned and reloaded, the soldier built a fortified position of his former buddies. This was all Brody could find to cushion the impact of the next volley of rounds coming his way. He erased a former friend from his mind as another impact burst the body’s lifeless head open, spraying Frank with deep crimson. Where the bullet pierced his ex-battle buddy’s dead flesh gave way to the shooters position.
The last living man of 3rd Platoon, Delta Company, let fly a barrage of bullets into a far off and otherwise hidden crow’s nest. One down. More sniper fire on Brody’s position, now in retaliation. The Corporal rolled to the left, across his dead squad leader’s torso (and someone else he no longer recognized) and opened fire with every belt-fed bullet he had. It didn’t matter anymore. These last two remaining insurgents would die for what they did to his comrades. He waited for any further gunfire. All was quiet and all was clear now.
Before radioing for the choppers to sweep the area and shake grid squares loose with his call for fire, the Corporal undug himself and slowly trotted to a moaning sound in the distance. It belonged to the only other man left alive on the battlefield. Brody pulled his K-Bar from its sheath. He would have to work quickly, as this enemy was gut shot and wouldn’t last long enough for what Frank had in mind.
Looking back at the pile of his dead buddies, Frank bit his own lip hard enough to draw blood, which was pumping with pure rage. His blade was held in such a tight fist that it was now an extension of this vigilante’s hand. One by one, fingers were plucked from the enemy rifleman. Brody was able to fit most of these digits in the dying man’s mouth, but pulled a few out to make room for severed toes. Every time he started to get remorseful, knowing full well that the first gulf war probably orphaned this poor douchebag, Brody would turn and look at his pile of buddies. The Infantryman decided to keep what decency remained, leaving the Iraqi to bleed out with genitals intact.
There was a sense of urgency now, as Brody spun on his heels while the enemy soldier took a last gurgle of breath. The demon was perched on a nearby rock. “What do you want, f#cker?” snapped the Corporal. With a pause, the reptilian creature stretched its membrane wings and laughed such a perverse way Brody second guessed his use of an f-bomb. But his entire platoon was dead, how much worse could things get?
The evil being squawked its answer at him between cackles: “Just your soul, dear boy.”
There was no way Brody wanted to go back to sleep tonight. He had a few conversations with Dr. Lilith, still buckled to his bed. He could feel the catheter doing its job as he emptied his bladder.
“Hey Doc, I’d like to ask again if you would take me out of these shackles. I have met most of your staff and been nothing but nice this whole time. My wrists and ankles have never been so sore. I feel like the broad from 50 Shades. What say there, Doc?”
The doctor scanned her notes. “Alright and very well. I suppose we will just have to take you at your word and see how it goes, Brody. But any more thrashing in your sleep, and they go right back on. You laid out one of our orderlies with one punch last night when he startled you awake. We’ve restrained patients for a lot longer, for much less.”
“Fair enough.” Brody was thrilled to be able to use his hands again. It reminded him of going out in the field for months of training, only to return to the barracks and television. The entire platoon would stare at the television as if it were a magical box of wonder.
The former Corporal paced his room. He once knew what it felt like to be respected. Brody experienced rank at one time or another and enjoyed the way lower enlisted men would have to stand when talking to him. He could smoke any lower enlisted (that is, make them do push-ups until their scrawny arms reached muscle failure). This is a power he seldom used.
There was one time, however, when Brody’s calm demeanor reached boiling. At an airport, two lower enlisted were in a race to catch a flight. Brody assumed it was to their first duty station. Why didn’t travel tell them not to wear their uniforms in an airport? These are perilous times. Just carry your Service IDs and look casual, dummies, he thought.
The Corporal was on his second beer, waiting for some girl he met at this very bar a few nights ago. Brody didn’t want to see and hear the two troops knock the elderly woman to the ground in their mad dash to get where they needed. Afterwards, no apology. Without wanting to get involved, this he just could not abide.
Going against his calm demeanor, Brody decided to pull rank, clearing his usually quiet throat with a loud bark of explicates.
“Hey, Douchbags!” The authority in this Corporal’s voice astounded even him as it rang out. Everyone within a fifteen meter radius looked startled, more so the privates who recognized this same tone from on the job training.
“Get over here, NOW you two!” The pair did as they were told. “You are to help that woman up and report back here in double-time. Skip any plans you were rushing to, you both now have an appointment with me to get scuffed up.”
For the next ten minutes, airport patrons walked by these Government Issues with a quick glance of wonderment. After their superior gave them the command of “Recover!” these lightly decorated greensmen had just barely enough time to catch their flight.
A breeze of freedom swept through Brody like an ocean tide, his wrists were unbound. The doctor kept her word. Those restrictively cumbersome and painful straps, despite being lined with wool, were plain awful. He was now free to move about the cell. A chat from two orderlies referenced this place as a room, but the soldier knew he was being held by them as a prisoner. Of course, this was not the aesthetics of the designer for Purgatory Asylum, Brody thought. For the patients, this place was designed to feel like home even though it certainly was not.
He looked through the window to the outside, which was reinforced with wrought iron bars. The top of an old oak tree, which looked weathered with its share of lightning strikes, reached out with barren branches, clicking against the pane with the beating wind. He looked to the other side of the room. The only door that led into the rest of Purgatory State Hospital was hardened steel with a small cut-out window, double-paned, and between each sheet of glass was thin wire mesh. He was at the mercy of this fortress and whomever was running it.
Brody tried the civilian life after getting out. It was sometimes difficult to listen to corporations talk about helping veterans in a pathetic outreach of public approval in their commercials. We support our troops, as long as those of you involved in heavy combat don’t come work for us. We’ll take the pouges. We refuse to worry about any forgotten ghosts freaking out in our safe, comfortable, little offices. Go away you filthy, rebellious defenders of our freedom. We really don’t want you combat soldiers, regardless of what our propaganda says, was what Brody heard in his mind. Whether these statements were true or not he really didn’t know. This old thought made him snicker, remembering a bumper sticker on his gun truck. Rouges before Pouges. There were some jobs in the military that were just as important as the rest, yet with less mortal hazards. These were the Pouges that the quote mentioned. Combat Arms were the Rouges. Sure the Infantry had it rougher, but one of the perks was teasing sissies.
Oh, how tables can turn, Brody thought, as paper-pushing administrator types he would laugh at in the slop ran everything in the civilian world it seemed, including the Infantryman’s newest digs at the asylum.
Through drifting from jobs before his attempted self-destruction, Brody’s passion was inventing. In fact, there was a patent deal back home that he left in the works. It was actually developed in his mind after a firefight in Fallujah. As a hatch gunner, his belt-fed death machine, a Squad Automatic Weapon, was prone to jamb. Brody designed a linkage part that would prevent this from ever happening. Army procurement sent a letter stating they were interested, but only after he filed a Utility Patent for the part. Scraping up two grand was a challenge, especially with the way Brody’s wife would piss through his pension checks. That woman sure changed while Brody was on the other side of the world, knee deep in raw sewage, grenade pins and empty brass.
There were also other, less critical ideas floating through Brody’s head, but he needed that first procurement contract from the Army to fund them. A waitress at the Anodes Diner spent a bit of time in the industry of textiles at her previous job. They would spend her coffee breaks chatting about unisex hosiery and self-sharpening pencils. Perhaps if ever he was allowed to leave this nutty little place, Brody would give her a call.
The crackling door jamb interrupted the patient’s thoughts and announced the entry of an odd looking fellow of about fifty years of age. This man in a lab coat the two orderlies seemed to belong to also had a shiny head and small stature. Rounded frames held lenses that glinted under the cage-protected fluorescents. He eyed the new resident suspiciously. “You best get back against the wall, or I’ll have you chained to the bed again.”
Brody did as he was told, for fear of being grounded from the use of his hands again. The little man wasn’t alone. A shadowy figure standing outside the doorway had an unpleasant presence, so much so that Brody couldn’t even find the courage to make eye contact.
The little man held out two small cups. Brody took them and studied each. One contained a single reflective pill. The other cup had enough water to wash it down. The pill seemed to rattle itself awake.
“Swallow it. Do it now.”
This heavy medication brought on an array of sleep that carried Brody so far into unconsciousness, he doubted ever returning.