The Soldier, Sgt Franks

Standing ankle deep in black, slimy swamp muck, Sgt. William “Billy” Franks paused to catch his breath and to look over his shoulder, for the umpteenth time.

Nothing moving, not even a leaf. Good.

The humid jungle was also silent. Even better.

They were still a ways behind him, he hoped. But they were coming. He knew so because every hair on the back of his neck was standing at attention, and the neck-hair test had never been wrong before. Not ever.

Unfortunately, he was confident it wouldn’t be wrong this time, either.

Sgt. Franks was parched. His lips and throat as dry as desert sand, a reminder of the last time he’d been in a serious battle, fighting to survive. Hard to believe that conflict beneath a blazing Iraqi sun had been only a week ago.

He just couldn’t seem to steer clear of trouble, no matter how hard he tried.

No time to think about it, though.

Not now.

The setting sun had already begun to paint the surrounding landscape in various shades of gray and black. Giant shadows crept slowly across the forest floor, feeding on splotches of light along the way.

Night was coming as fast as they were.

Finding clean water to drink would have to wait.

It was time to move on.

He’d fought the enemy—the entire outfit—all afternoon, before finally escaping into the jungle where he’d been running for hours.

The sergeant’s hair was caked with mud and his camouflaged BDU’s were wet and filthy. His rifle, thankfully, was dry. He was exhausted and unsure how much longer he could continue.

They were relentless in their pursuit, and he was sure they were closing in.

He had to find the strength to keep moving.

Suddenly he heard a voice from beyond the vines and thick, lush plants to his left. He dove for cover behind a moss-covered log. Something large and long slithered away through the undergrowth covering the forest floor.

He heard it again. This time the voice seemed closer.

The sergeant, knowing his options were now few, took a quick peek over the rotting tree. He saw someone standing in a clearing just beyond the treeline.

They called out again.

“Billy, it’s time to wash up for dinner!”

Sgt. Billy Franks, knowing it would not be in his best interest to dilly-dally, stood and used his hands to brush the dirt from his knees. Then he stepped from the small patch of woods into his backyard where his mother stood waiting. He whispered to himself, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be a cowboy.”

Glancing back over his shoulder he saw a tall Native American man standing in the shadows—his face painted for battle.

The warrior locked eyes with Billy for a second and then faded into the forest. A drumbeat began to thump from a place deep in the woods.

“Tomorrow, Chief, right after I’ve had my Fruit Loops and orange juice, it’s you and me. Because those woods aren’t big enough for both of us.”

Shouldering the stick he used as a pretend rifle, Billy marched toward his mother, wishing he were five again because being six was really hard work.

I want to go home

Sometimes we catch calls that grab us by the gut and then pull and tug until our emotions are ripped out by the root. This was one of those calls.

 

I Want To Go Home

“I want to go home. I want to go home. I. Want. To. Go. Home.”

“Those are the only words she’s spoken in years, Officer.”

“The last time we saw her she was wearing a blue nightgown. She was ready for bed.”

“Yes, all the doors were locked. Well, with the exception of the front door. That’s the one visitors use. But it’s monitored.”

“Please hurry. It’s really cold out. And she’s terrified of the dark.”

“No, she hasn’t had a visitor in over a year. Even her daughter stopped coming by.”

“I suppose we’d searched for an hour or so before we called you.”

Radio crackles.

“No, sir. Nothing yet.”

“Yes, sir. The dogs are on the way.”

Another crackle.

“It’s starting to snow.”

Twenty officers.

As many civilian volunteers.

More on the way.

Two dogs—Bloodhounds.

The best in the business.

Snowing hard, sideways.

Missing for several hours.

Temperatures dip to zero, and then a bit below.

Command post. Hot coffee.

Warmth for frigid hands and numb toes.

Radio crackles.

“I’ve found her…”

Fence. Chain link.

Litter, scattered about.

The old woman, nearly ninety,

Appeared to be sleeping.

In the snow.

No shoes.

Blue nightgown.

Glasses half on, half off.

Blue lights bouncing, dancing among falling pieces of frozen lace.

Snowflakes on a wrinkled face.

A smile?

“I guess she finally made it home.”

A solid foundation

Together we build

New Picture (4)

Lives, laughter, and love.

New Picture (1)

But time,

Sickness,

New Picture (2)

Despair,

And sometimes violence,

New Picture (3)

Returns what man has made

Back to the earth

New Picture (6)

From where it came.

New Picture (5)

Leaving others to once again build

New Picture

On a foundation someone left behind.

And so it goes…life.

*Photos by Sunday Kaminski. Sunday’s work has been featured in numerous shows and galleries, and in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Factory
Massive, abandoned
Machinery, steel dinosaurs
Tangled debris

Rust

New Picture (1)

Rats
Shadows, graffiti
Glass, jagged shards
Footsteps echo

Cold

New Picture (2)

Hallway
Leather, squeaking
Keys rattle, jingle
Nervous, anxious

Fear

New Picture (4)

There
Hanging, swinging
Rope, rafter, neck
Boy, dead.

Twelve

New Picture (7)

Shoes
One on
Other on floor
Choking game

Funeral.

*Photos by Sunday K. Kaminski

June bugs mailbox

Jerome “June Bug” Johnson was the best doggone auto mechanic in Doodle, North Carolina, and the grease- and oil-stained ridges and whorls of his fingers and palms were proof of the professional wrench-turner’s many years of experience. Why, there wasn’t a single hood in town that he hadn’t poked his head under at least once. Not one.

In the evenings, when the other men of Doodle were at the pool hall or playing gin rummy in the back room at Dilly’s Feed Store, June Bug Johnson could be found doing his second favorite thing, leaning against the blue steel U.S. mailbox at the corner of Rebel and Yell, watching and listening.

You see, June Bug liked to eavesdrop, if you will, on passing cars as their drivers traveled to and fro, running errands, shopping, or heading to the barbershop or hairdresser. With his head cocked at just the right angle, and with the echo bouncing back from the brick facade of Wilson’s Drug Store, June Bug could pretty much diagnose the ailings of every single vehicle that went by, no matter how insignificant the trouble.

Like the snobby folks at the country club who savor their fine wines, June Bug took great delight in absorbing the sounds, sights, and smells of the passing automobiles. The air-to-gas ratio in the one that just passed wasn’t quite right. Too much gas in the next. Clogged air filter on Jimmy Jensen’s Ford truck.

There was Pete Peterson’s blue caddy with the air-sucking carburetor—Pete normally liked for his “Blue Bell” to run a little lean. The mayor’s yellow-as-a-lemon VW bug that dropped a quarter-size spot of engine oil every time it stopped at the town’s one and only stop light.

And, of course, there was that new problem that had somehow escaped him. The town’s one and only ambulance had developed a slight miss when idling. He’d have to change those spark plugs pretty soon. After all, it just wouldn’t do to have Doodle’s only emergency vehicle break down at the precise moment when Charlene Chernover’s baby decided it was time to see some daylight.

Yes, that miss was getting worse by the second. Definitely needed new plugs.

Purr, purr, purr, tick, tick, clang, purr, purr.

Somebody needed to step on the gas pedal before the engine shut off. Purr, tick, clang. Why were they just sitting there? Couldn’t they hear it?

Purr, purr, purr, tick, tick, clang, sputter, purr, purr.

It was odd, June Bug thought, to look down and see himself being loaded into the ambulance. Wait. Was he sick? Why weren’t they hurrying? Was he…dead?

He heard the ambulance driver talking to the Paul Polano, the policeman. “Ruth Robinson said she didn’t mean to hit June Bug, but her car wouldn’t stop no matter how hard she pushed the pedal. She’d noticed the brakes were a little soft a week or so ago, and she planned to have June Bug install new shoes all around, and check the fluid, but first came one thing then another. Then she had to go see her sister up in Dingle County, you know the one, that bug-eyed lady who walks around all the time looking scared out of her gourd. Between you and me and the fencepost, you look up Scary As Hell in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of old Bug-Eyed Robinson right there on the page. Know what I’m saying?”

Purr, purr, purr, tick, tick, clang, purr, spit, purr.

“Anyway,” said the ambulance driver. “When Miss Ruth got back from visiting her sister, she tried calling June Bug’s shop but no one answered. So she figured she’d catch him hanging out at the corner and have him take a look at her car right there. Next thing she knew her Fairlane was sitting all catawampus with the mailbox jammed beneath the right front tire, and June Bug—may his soul rest in peace—was sprawled out in the gutter with his noggin cracked open like Humpty Dumpty after his fall.”

Looking down from his place in the white light, watching and listening as he faded further and further into nothingness, June Bug remembered telling Miss Ruth she probably had another month left on the brakes. That was six months ago. She’d forgotten and so had he.

To his right, four blocks over and two down, he saw Charlene Chernover double over in pain and then reach for her cell phone. It was time. Little Charlotta Charlene—soon to be CC, for short—was on her way.

Purr, purr, purr, spit, sputter tick, tick, sputter, cla……….

But the ambulance wasn’t.

 

Walk the walk

Sunday patrol.

Country roads.

Brown car.

Shiny star.

Spring breezes.

FM radio.

I Fought The Law But The Law Won.

Radar Love.

Born To Be Wild.

Dark glasses, mirrored.

Short sleeves, rolled up.

Two tight turns.

Biceps struggle against fabric.

Tattoo.

Toothpick.

Tough guy.

Window down.

ZZ Top.

La Grange.

Love that song.

Crank it up!

Tapping fingers on steering wheel.

“Rumor spreadin’ a ’round…”

Sharp curve.

“That Texas town…”

Overpass.

Man, walking.

Long hair.

Sandals.

Backpack.

Hitchhiker.

Filthy doper.

Drugs, I bet.

Stoner, no doubt.

Stop.

Back up.

“I’ll be out of the car with a pedestrian on Hwy 1313.”

Crackle. “10-4.”

“Where you headed, buddy?”

“I’m on my way home.”

“Where you been, boy?”

“Excuse me?”

“I said, where you been…BOY.”

“Have I done anything wrong, sir?”

“I’ll ask the questions. Now, where’ve you been?”

“I’ve been on a camping trip with some friends. Now I’m headed home.”

Starts to walk away.

“Come back here. I’m not done with you.”

Exasperation. “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

Temper flares.

Face red.

Veins bulge.

“Sir, please.”

Hikes up gun belt and pants.

Pushes shades high on nose.

Flexes fingers.

“Sir, calm down. I just want to go home. I live nearby.”

Opening and closing fists.

“Send an ambulance to this location.”

Crackle. “10-4. Do you need assistance? Are you 10-4?”

“I’m fine, but this guy’s gonna need an ambulance in just about one minute.”

Eyes roll in dozens of patrol cars.

Blue lights wink and blink.

Backup’s on the way, again.

He’ll never learn.

Radio silence.

Then, as usual…

 

“Officer needs assistance!

Officer needs assistance!

10-33! 10-33!

 

Can’t walk the walk?

Then don’t talk the talk.

 

“Ah, have mercy…” ~ Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard – ZZ Top

 

The Soldier, Sgt Franks

 

Standing ankle deep in black, slimy swamp muck, Sgt. William “Billy” Franks paused to catch his breath and to look over his shoulder, for the umpteenth time.

Nothing moving, not even a leaf. Good.

The humid jungle was also silent. Even better.

They were still a ways behind him, he hoped. But they were coming. He knew so because every hair on the back of his neck was standing at attention. And the neck-hair test had never been wrong before. Not ever.

Unfortunately, he was confident it wouldn’t be wrong this time, either.

Sgt. Franks was parched. His lips and throat as dry as desert sand, a reminder of the last time he’d been in a serious battle, fighting to survive. Hard to believe that conflict beneath a blazing Iraqi sun had been only a week ago.

He just couldn’t seem to steer clear of trouble no matter how hard he tried.

No time to think about it, though.

Not now.

Night was coming as fast as they were. Giant, dark shadows had begun to paint the surrounding landscape in shades of gray and black.

Finding clean water to drink would have to wait.

It was time to move on.

He’d fought the enemy—the entire outfit—all afternoon, before finally escaping into the jungle where he’d been running for hours.

The sergeant’s hair was caked with mud and his camouflaged BDU’s were wet and filthy. His rifle, thankfully, was dry. He was exhausted and unsure how much longer he could continue.

They were relentless in their pursuit, and he was sure they were closing in.

He had to find the strength to keep moving.

Suddenly he heard a voice from beyond the vines and thick, lush plants to his left. He dove for cover behind a moss-covered log. Something large and long slithered away through the undergrowth covering the forest floor.

He heard it again. This time the voice seemed closer.

The sergeant, knowing his options were now few, took a quick peek over the rotting tree. He saw someone standing in a clearing just beyond the treeline.

They called out again.

“Billy, it’s time to wash up for dinner!”

Sgt. Billy Franks, knowing it would not be in his best interest to dilly-dally, stood and used his hands to brush the dirt from his knees. Then he stepped from the small patch of woods into his backyard where his mother stood waiting. He whispered to himself, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be a cowboy.”

Glancing back over his shoulder he saw a tall Native American standing in the shadows—his face painted for battle.

The warrior locked eyes with Billy for a second and then faded into the forest. A drumbeat began to thump from a place deep in the woods.

“Tomorrow, Chief, right after I’ve had my Fruit Loops and orange juice, it’s you and me. Because those woods aren’t big enough for both of us.”

Shouldering the stick he used as a pretend rifle, Billy marched toward his mother, wishing he were five again because being six was really hard work.