Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Long Walk Home

This is an excerpt of one of the books I am writing. I have a couple of novels I am working on, and I add a chapter or two whenever the muse hits me. I posted an excerpt a couple of years ago on my old profile. This excerpt contains the original posting plus an additional snippet.

No, this is not the whole tale. The ending is far from in sight. This is more of a sort of outline of the work and abridged versions of two of the earlier chapters.

Please tell me what you think. If you are not a fan of military/war/adventure novels, this may not appeal to you at first. But it is also a love story and a story of loyalty and faithfulness. It is a tale of the tenacity of the heart. I hope you enjoy it.



The Long Walk Home (part one)
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Colin kissed his crucifix. The other members of the team each had their rituals. Many wondered why Colin had his. They thought it silly. Colin was not Christian, yet he always kissed his crucifix before a mission like a Cuban baseball player before stepping to bat with the bases loaded. But they had long since accepted it to be his way. Chris tied knots in a piece of parachute cord. John listened to dark-wave, electronic, or classical music on his MP3 player. Colin the non-Christian kissed his crucifix. Then he turned and spoke to the team leader.

“Mike, I have a bad feeling about this one.”

Mike smirked and replied, “That’s just your fear of heights acting up again. You had a bad feeling about the last one, too.”

“Yeah, and Johnny caught one in the chest.”

John looked up and clicked his MP3 player off. He tapped the new protective plate in his vest, and smiled. “And you sent the bastard to his maker while I kicked the snot out of his RPG carrying buddy, if I remember right. These things work wonders, buddy. Trust in your equipment and trust in your brothers, just like we always say, right?”

Colin tucked the crucifix back into his uniform. What everybody failed to realize was that his wife gave him that crucifix on the day of their wedding. She was raised Catholic, but had turned agnostic since joining the Army. She still held to some of her catechism. The cross was a symbol of her love and faith in him, not a symbol of some god. When Colin kissed the crucifix, he kissed Jenna.

The crew chief stood up and raised 2 fingers. That meant two minutes until insertion. Johnny handed his MP3 player off to the crew chief. Mike and Paul handed letters, already addressed. Colin looked back at the other helicopter that carried the rest of the team. He checked the anchor of the ropes and the fit of his gloves. He tapped the coil of his rope with his foot. Paul did the same on the other side. They looked across at each other. “Thirty seconds!” announced the crew chief. Colin and Paul kicked the ropes off. “GO!” and they were down the ropes and on the ground in seconds.

It was a mile to the final rally point. It was a quiet movement. Colin thought it was too quiet. If this were a leader’s safe house, it would have seemed appropriate if some sort of security were set up. Intelligence indicated that the building across the street held a lookout position. “5 up, code 4,” chirped the radio. That was Don. That meant he took the position, subdued the lookout there, and was in a good sniper’s over-watch position. “7 up, code 4”, chirped the radio. That meant Ron had done the same. “Black 6, code 4”, chirped the radio one last time. That meant the supporting unit was in place. Mikes voice came over the radio “This is 6, line 1 code 4. We are a go. I say again, we are a go”.
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Colin signaled to Paul and Johnny. They set security while Mike and he moved to the objective building. “In”, Mike said and the other three moved in. Chris bent down and made a rung out of his hands. Colin stepped into Chris’s hands and looked over at Mike. Mike nodded in affirmation. Chris boosted Colin up to the window ledge, and placed a small ball of explosives against the window frame. He carefully pushed a blasting cap into it and shimmied back down. He remained with one foot in Chris’s hands ready to jump back up. Paul made a rung and prepared to push John up right behind him. Mike set a charge on the basement window beneath it.

Colin and Mike counted to three, silently, and simultaneously detonated both charges. Like a finely choreographed ballet, Colin and Mike were in their respective windows. John was in the upper window right behind Colin; Paul and Chris followed Mike.

Then the fireworks commenced. Something exploded in the basement. The entire house lit up, for a fraction of a second, like a summer’s day. The first floor caved-in on top of Mike, Chris, and Paul’s bodies. The pressure of the blast’s concussion felt like a sledgehammer to Colin’s head and legs. He felt the floor crumble beneath his feet as he and John fell. He saw the iron bar thrust through the side of John’s ribs, where no protective plate could stop it. Everything was ringing in his ears, but he swore he heard John’s death rattle.

Colin struggled against the blackness to move, but his legs were pinned under something. His ears were still ringing, but he thought he heard Arabic voices. Then he felt a slam against his head just as darkness overtook consciousness.
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Colin awoke, still in darkness. He felt his arms restrained behind his back and he struggled to loose them. His legs were also bound, and in pain. His head was throbbing, and his ears were filled with the din of an engine. He felt the movement of the vehicle around him. A sharp pain invaded the side of his head as he felt a strike against it. Then he felt the pinch of a needle being stuck into his arm. All the pain and other sensations numbed and blended into a floating sensation as consciousness escaped him.

The scents of sea salt, decaying blood, urine, and sweat met Colin as he regained consciousness. He knew by the smell of the ocean that he was no longer in ....Kenya..... He tried to move his arms, again, but found them still bound. However, they were now tied to the arms of a chair instead of behind his back. His legs still hurt. They, too, were bound to the chair. The chair was made of thick wood. It was sturdy and did not give to his physical protests.

The sudden flood of sunlight gave Colin an instant migraine as the bag was removed from his head. Somebody was screaming at him in Arabic. Colin recognized the language but spoke little of it. The yelling continued and soon was accompanied by slaps and blows. Then a voice spoke calmly.

“Tell me your name soldier. That they are asking right now is your name and unit. If you tell them, they will stop.”

Colin looked at the figure that spoke in English. He recognized the face. The voice and face belonged to a leader of a Middle-Eastern terrorist group. The group had been supporting the insurgency in ....Kenya..... They supplied fighters, weapons, ammunition, and experts to numerous small insurgent armies. Their purpose was not to set up any faction to win, but destabilize all of ....Kenya..... That was why US forces remained there after they deposed ....Kenya....’s tyrannical leader.

“No? Well, then perhaps we shall demonstrate what happens when you are no longer of any use to us? We make a final use of you.”

Two hooded figures dragged in another soldier. The soldier struggled but was evidently drugged and wounded. Another two men brought in an unconscious, shaved lamb. Two more entered carrying in a video camera and a spotlight.

They turned on the camera. The terrorist leader spoke, in Arabic to the camera, reading from the Quran. He spoke again into the camera. They pushed the other soldier to the ground. The Camera followed the movement. The terrorist leader unsheathed a saber and held it above his head. He then cried “Allah Akbar” and brought it down with all his might into the bared neck of the other soldier.

He pointed at Colin. He made another short statement. Colin felt himself thrown to the ground beside the other soldier. He glanced over at the headless body. He recognized the man’s unit patch. They picked up the other soldier’s head and chanted. The leader raised the sword again and brought it down. Colin’s face was splattered with the blood and bile of the shaved lamb as the saber severed its body. The terrorists continued to chant. Colin closed his eyes and fought back the bile that was creeping up in his throat.

“Now, nameless soldier, nobody will come looking to find you. You are alone. Your country abandons you as does your Christian god.”

Jenna woke up. It was Saturday morning and she should have been sleeping late. However, her tour in ....Kenya.... had made it difficult to sleep some nights. Last night was one of those nights. Horrific visions invaded her dreams, even those that started out nice. Last night started with a dream about her and Colin walking in the park near their new house.

He hadn’t even seen the new place. They picked the lot together, but the contractors finished building it after he deployed. She handled moving in on her own. Well, the task wasn’t completely done on her own. Many of her soldiers helped. The dream was a vision of the future. It was a harbinger of happiness. Colin was anticipating retiring within a year after returning from this tour. She had decided not to re-enlist and separate from service in two years. This was where they decided they would make their new lives together.

Yesterday was her birthday. Jenna expected Colin to call, but he didn’t. She imagined that Colin was busy. She knew he wouldn’t forget. Colin never forgot these things. Colin celebrated the anniversary of their first date, their first kiss, and they day they moved in together into the apartment in ....Arizona..... That was before he was chosen for this unit. Jenna accepted an assignment in ....Florida...., knowing that Colin and she intended to retire there.

Jenna looked through the stack of junk mail from the previous week. Among the various envelopes containing credit card applications and high-speed internet ads, she found it. She discovered a card from Colin. She opened it to find a humorous card with two letters on folded paper within. She unfolded the first one to find a poem Colin wrote for her. Tears streamed down her face in joy. “I love you too, hon. God I miss you so much”.

Jenna poured a glass of cola and walked into the living room. She turned on the television intending to find some pointless movie that would serve as background noise while she surfed the internet for funny pictures. The news came on and there was a tape showing her husband and another man. She turned up the volume. The reporter stated “… apparently beheaded PFC Scott Johnson and another unidentified soldier as a statement to the ..US.. to get out of ....Kenya.....”

She let the glass fall from her fingers. She fell to her knees in anguish and screamed “NO!!!!” A knock came at the door. Two men in uniforms came running in.

“My god, they aired the tape.”

“Sergeant Everson, we came here to tell you. We are so sorry. If…”

“Get the FUCK! Out of my House! It isn’t true. They’re lying. You’re lying. Get the FUCK out of here!”
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Part 2
.. ..
A week later, Jenna stood by the side of a grave at the post cemetery. A military chaplain was finishing some catholic prayer. The only thought teeming in Jenna’s head was that Colin would hate his funeral being officiated by a Catholic Priest. But his records were not completely accurate in regards to his religion.

For a quiet ceremony, it felt like too many people were there. Colin’s father sat stoically as though this were just another event in Colin’s life. The man actually had sat up proud when men from Colin’s unit presented a eulogy about Colin’s service to something greater than himself. Colin’s funeral seemed like nothing more than a spelling-bee or high school football game to his father. Colin’s mother was not at the funeral. It may have been too much for the woman to bear.
.. ..
This week had been hell for Jenna. Luckily, the military assigned somebody to help her with all of the funeral arrangements. The hardest part was sitting at the funerals for other members of Colin’s unit. While their wives, sons, daughters, and mothers cried for each of them, all Jenna could feel was anger. She was angry because Colin was dead, too. She was angry because her husband had been made a public example yet remained anonymous. Colin’s death had been in vain. The worst part was that none of the next-of-kin had been given any answers on how it happened. Only Jenna knew exactly how her spouse was killed. This caused many of the other mourning to resent Jenna. None cared that she, too, was in pain. None of them cared that Jenna needed answers as well. None of this made sense.

As they folded the flag, the hand of an unknown military officer came resting on Jenna’s shoulder. The sergeant in charge of the burial detail handed Jenna the flag. She stiffened her face, hoping to show no expression. She wanted to hide her grief so she wouldn’t look weak like she had seen her fellow grieving widows as they fell to pieces. She was not going to be like them. Jenna Everson, ....Sergeant.., ..US.... Army was not going to cry in public.

The salute detail fired their three volleys. Jenna shuddered at the first. It brought painful memories from her tour “over there”. The second made her think of what Colin must have gone through the day of that fateful fight. The third marked a coffin nail to Jenna. It was the finale of her husband’s life. To her, that third volley was what killed him, not the beheading he suffered. She began to break down.

Her attention wandered to the empty coffin they were lowering into the ground. She thought it irresponsible for the government not to have recovered Colin’s body. She thought it more irresponsible that she wasn’t told about how this happened. But Jenna had one card to play that the other spouses and families didn’t. She had a way to find out. She still had her access to things where she worked. She no longer cared if it cost her career; Jenna made a determined decision to find out the truth.
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Colin woke with his arms and legs stiff and sore. They kept him bound when they let him sleep. They also kept a hood over his head. The bindings and hood were removed only when they allowed him to eat. They fed him scarce bits of the remnants his captors ate. He wasn’t sure if they fed him once a day or once every few days. He slept as much as he could between beatings and interrogations. They continued to ask him the same thing over and over again. It felt like he had been held for over a month.

But Colin learned to tell how many days passed by the change in the temperature and the dampness of the cell. He was kept in a small cell near the ocean. The cell was dug into the ground. The walls were of a hasty and poor concrete job that allowed the seawater to seep in during high tide.

Colin used the interrogation times to conduct mental and physical workouts of a sort. He knew he had to do what he could to maintain as much of his fitness as possible. While they interrogated him, he made motions of resistance that he was using to conduct isometric exercises. Once, he actually stretched the ropes that bound him enough he could have slipped out. But there were too many guards on him at that time, so he acted as though the bindings still tightly restrained him. They fed him not long after and retied the ropes, so the opportunity was missed.

He was awake in his cell. From the ambient temperature and the damp floor he could tell it was late in the evening. They would be coming to feed him soon. He relished the opportunity to conduct some yoga stretches after they left him to pick through the scraps they tossed him. This always helped with circulation and kept his limbs from going too numb when they rebound him. For now, he conducted his isometric exercises and moved as much as he could to increase his blood flow.
The guards came and unlocked the door. This time there were only two. They must have thought that he was weakening. Usually, 3 men with rifles came in while a forth undid the ropes and removed the hood. Then, usually, a fifth brought in the food.

Colin could hear the footsteps of only two. He could smell the food. It smelled still warm and fresh. Colin tested the ropes. Again, his isometrics had stretched them. They were loose and he was able to wiggle one of his arms almost free. He left it partially bound so it seemed he was still tightly restrained. His legs could easily kick off the ropes that held him by the ankles.

The man came and took off the hood. Colin could see that this time there were only the two. The one who took off his hood spoke, in broken English.

”Now you shall eat like a pig. You are no longer a man to us. You are a pet, like a pig, unclean and kept only to hunt for fungus we use to make stew.”

The man placed the bowl of stew in front of Colin’s face but made no move to unbind him. He could tell they meant to dehumanize him by forcing him to shove his own face in the bowl and eat like a dog, without his hands. The one holding the gun turned to head out of the room. The other turned to follow.

Colin freed his hands and legs and made his move. He swept his leg around and tripped the one who carried in the food. The man came down hard and cracked his head on the concrete floor and was out cold. A small stream of blood began to trickle from the back of his head.

Colin didn’t hesitate. He was on his feet and wrestling the rifle from the armed guard in a split second. He raised his knee and kicked the guard in the groin. He followed up this attack with a twist of his body and an elbow to the guard’s temple. He stepped in with the leg closer to the man’s body and brought down his center of mass. Colin then came up under the rifle and threw the guard to the ground, thus freeing the rifle. He followed this up with a kick to the man’s neck that shattered the guard’s trachea. Colin came down with the butt of the rifle onto the man’s face. He put all of his body weight behind the final blow.

Colin walked back to the first guard. He wanted to be sure the man was dead so he couldn’t come to and sound the alarm. Colin grabbed the man’s head with both his hands and jerked it around quickly. With a quick “crack” the man’s cervical spine snapped. Colin wiped the blood off his hands and onto the man’s shirt. He ejected the magazine from the rifle and made an assessment of how many bullets were in it. It appeared full, plus or minus a round or two.

He peered out into the hall. There were three empty chairs where guards should have been. Colin counted on one of them being the man he took the rifle from. That meant at least two others were nearby. The chairs were near a doorway. Colin quickly moved to the edge of the door and peered outside. The sun was just beginning to set. He listened to the sounds waves crashing on the beach and heard them broken by the sound of the evening call to prayer. He surmised that the other guards must be outside preparing themselves to pray.

Colin lowered himself to the floor and crawled out the door. He made his way behind a rock and looked out towards the beach. About 100 feet away, three men were kneeling and wiping sand against their brows. Colin edged around the rock and aimed at the closest one. He watched as they genuflected and prayed. As the prayer ended he fired a shot through the man’s head. He fired 3 more shots into the other two men, killing them.

The men had their rifles on the ground next to them. Two were also wearing pistols. Colin recovered the full magazines from the three men and took the two pistols plus an extra clip for each. He stuffed the pistols into his sagging belt and shoved the rifle magazines into his pockets. Then Colin ran for the shore. He knew the rising tide would cover his tracks. He ran for a few feet in one direction on the water’s edge. He took a step into the tide and turned the other way, masking his evasion route.

Colin ran until near sunrise, taking only a few breaks to catch his breath. He saw the outskirts of a port city on the horizon as the sun was barely beginning to grant the new day its glamor. Colin saw a fishing dock and nestled himself underneath for a short nap. He knew that moving in the mid-day sun would be harsh, but trying to rest in it would be a waste of energy. He knew that upon waking, his first order of business would be to find some clothes that would help him better blend in with the locals. But for now, he needed to conserve some energy. This was more than likely going to prove to be a long day and a longer week.