Clouds, p.7
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       Clouds, p.7

           Nate Allen
 
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  Chapter 7

  Now thirty days into training camp, Grant found himself in usual routine. Every day he woke up in a sand hole two feet deep and two feet wide. And every day brought more questions of impending doom. What sat in his future exactly sixty two days away? Grant contemplated with a pen and paper:

  I am Grant Smith,

  Day 30: June 15th, 2013; monotony ensues.

  Every day I wake up lying in my sand hole. I use my bag as a pillow; a blanket is not needed usually. When it is, I curl myself up, and shiver until warm. Every night I find myself reflecting on the past day. It is no different tonight. All I have is a flashlight, a pen, and my notepad. The day was tiring as usual.

  Weapons have become a livelihood for me. They have become routine. We shoot at men made of fabric. They are filled with stuffing, but dressed like a man. Sometimes Osama Bin Laden's face is even stapled to the front. He is the only one I recognize. There are many others though, crudely cut from pictures.

  As I lay in my hole tonight, it dawns on me how futile this war has become. Maybe in the beginning there had been a goal: oil, and safety (in that order). But now, what are we fighting for?

  I can't help but think we are being fed to these people. While on the topic of feeding, I now know of my monster. I dreamt last night that I was in the town of Miles digesting small children. Is my monster a cannibal? Am I? The war hasn't answered my questions, in fact it has only made more pop up. I am being led into a land where monster's rule. In Sixty two days... the inevitable is coming. But, what is the inevitable?

  Grant shut his notepad, tucked it away in his pocket, and laid his head down against his pack. The moon and its beautiful, demonic self, sat in a dark, cloudless sky. Sitting high, crossing her legs, and summoning the dead once again. All while leering at Grant through the thin tent above him. He already felt like a fresh corpse about to be buried.

  Though vaguely present, hope sat beneath Grant's self-reflection. Much of him feared death and almost expected it to happen overseas. But, a small glimmer of light, a calm voice, told him everything would be alright. Grant was like any human: indecisive. One moment he was optimistic, standing atop mountains, flirting with the sun. And the next moment he was staring into that black abyss, cursing life and cursing hope. It is human nature to be born with faith only to lose it as a result of life experience.

  Even though Grant was surrounded by his "brothers", he felt completely alone. Silence sat like a presence, bringing only a mind numbing ring into his head. Grant shook his head clean of ringing, sighed, and closed his eyes. He closed them, only to have them yanked back open by wariness. The danger he feared didn't surround him, but instead lingered inside. It was starting to crawl into his dreams, infecting them with a contagious truth that Grant knew, but was too scared to face.

  The night was passing quickly. Dawn was beginning to strip the sky of darkness, replacing it with a Technicolor oil leak. Certain days came bringing a dream to their feel. This starting day was one of those days. Grant knew something was going to happen, but he didn't know what. All he knew was his perception would change drastically, but maybe not in the way he had hoped.

  After another fifteen minutes of staring at the seductive sliver in the sky, Grant fell asleep, only to be woken twenty minutes later by the Patrol Sergeants. With pasty eyes, and a few consecutive yawns, he crawled out of his hole, slipped on rank smelling boots, and stood at attention. Only moments later the other twenty in the tent he was in stood, and stretched away a dream.

  "Grab your packs, and line up outside." Ricks said.

  Grant grabbed the pack from being used as a pillow, threw it onto his back, and left the tent held up by one pole in the center. He stood in a line, soon met by Bobby on one side and tall Timothy Fane on the other. Patrol Sergeant Ricks stood out in front the other three Patrol Sergeants. They stood with their hands behind their backs, statues once again.

  "On the first day you arrived, we had evaluation, which has continued until this day. Today your groups are final. Each Patrol Sergeant will read off twenty one names. I will begin with my twenty one." Ricks said.

  And so he began. Grant's name was called three or four in. And then Hetel read off his twenty one. Bobby's name was called first. Liese read off his, and then Scott. There were four groups of twenty one men each, and two friends now separated.

  Ricks began speaking after Scott finished his list. "The buses we came in on will now take three of the four groups to different training locations a number of miles away. My group will stay here."

  Bobby looked at Grant, shook his head, and smiled awkwardly. Words were not said. Their connection was strong, and their eyes conveyed things their mouths couldn't. Without saying it, Grant and Bobby were saying goodbye. They knew that things were about to change. Bobby began to walk toward the bus behind Hetel and his group.

  As Patrol Sergeant Ricks started to speak, Grant glanced over at Bobby. He was already walking toward the bus with his group.

  "I understand this is hard, but these are hard times. The people I have now are many good men, and good soldiers. I'm proud to have you in my group." Ricks said.

  Grant still found himself overwhelmed by the sudden change. It was official: everything had changed, not only his friendships, but his life. Chelsea was growing his baby in her womb at home, his mother was in love with Todd, and his sister was blooming into womanhood. It had been his fear for years. And now it had all crumbled into the loneliness he knew awaited him in the near future.

  Blankly, Grant stared at Patrol Sergeant Ricks, saw his mouth produce a speech, but he only heard an inner ringing. For the next five minutes, he only stared blankly. Before he knew it, Grant was running with his group of twenty one, shooting guns, doing push-ups, and coming back to the tent to sleep. It all had been experienced in a bubble of silence. Commands were not heard, gunshots were quiet, and workout pains were not felt. Grant truly was numb.

  Every day the twenty one of them did the same thing: ran, shot guns, worked out, and slept. But, it amounted to nothing. It didn't matter to him anymore. Grant was looking through eyes painted in hopelessness, and dirtied with pain. Suicide had never been a more clear thought. It came with morbid possibility pictures. Grant imagined his head painted in brains, his eyes wide and gone, and everyone around laughing at his death. Why would they care? Who was he? Questions of hopelessness filled his head...

  Soon the days turned into a month and a half. It was July 27th, 2013, a Saturday. Grant's routine had been endured as usual. Quietly, and alone, he entered the tent, walked over to his hole, and found a small white envelope. He furrowed his brow while rubbing his head, dropped his bag, and grabbed the letter. Something about the way it was written brought lost familiarity to him. As soon as he saw the loopy G, Grant knew it was Chelsea.

  Finding himself smiling, Grant tore open the top, and pulled out a letter holding a small picture. It was a sonogram. Blurs wrapped the image of his baby. Grant smiled, kissed the photo, and then read the note:

  Hey Grant,

  The sonogram you are looking at is a picture of our daughter. I wish this letter could be long and heartfelt, but it's too hard. It almost seems like a final goodbye. I can't write a final goodbye. I won't. Even though I am scared I'll never see you again, I know I will. There is a peace I haven't felt before, and I know that we will see each other again.

  There isn't much more I can say. I'll leave you with this. I love you more than anything. Come back to us.

  Love always,

  Chelsea

  It wasn't much, but it was something. Grant folded up the note, put it back in the envelope, and looked lovingly at the photo of his daughter.

  "I'll come back for you, Kali Marie." he said quietly, laying his head against his pack, and holding the photo against his chest. "I'll protect you. I promise." it was the promise that kept him fighting.

  His mind needed to talk. Grant dug in his pocket, pulled out his notepad, and wrote:

  I am Grant Sm
ith,

  Day 75: July 30th, 2013

  The routine continues daily. But, strangely something always reveals itself before I fall asleep. I never know what to expect. And lately I have found myself not giving a damn either way. It's only seventeen days away. I leave, and don't know when I will return? if ever. Even as I write now, I am having a hard time finding words. I have a lot waiting for me at home, but it's so far away.

  My mind has taken a morbid turn. Whenever I shoot a gun, I imagine turning it on myself, and blowing my brains all over the ground. Does the fact that I think this way now make me closer to the monster inside? And if it does, what does it mean?

  Chelsea wrote me today. She showed me a picture of a developing daughter. I can't yet see her as mine. What If I'm not there to raise her? It doesn't matter how hard I try. Every day I wake up wanting to die, but I am too scared of what comes after. I cower in every aspect of my pathetic little life.

  I am man enough to admit the possibility of hell, and I guess for that same reason heaven. But, what does it matter? What good does it do? Heaven is galaxies away, and hell is here. Life is hell. It isn't some middle ground. This can't just be a test! If it is, what kind of God is up in the clouds anyway?

  Bobby is gone. It's like he never was. He's somewhere near, but not here. Not anymore.

  I can't help but feel pathetic. I mean I have a journal. Real men bottle up their tears. They bottle up everything, until it comes out in more damaging ways. I can't wait to kill them. All of them.

  You may hear from me again journal, but for now I am done?

  Grant stopped writing, and laid his eyelids over his eyes. Dreams were not had, only a silence...

  Soon, monotony brought sixteen more bleeding sunsets. Grant woke up realizing that today was the day. August 14th was here. He awoke to something pleasant, and unexpected. Patrol Sergeant Ricks was in the tent, standing tall, looking ready to speak. Grant rubbed his eyes clean of sleep sand, yawned, and gave his attention to his superior.

  "Today is the day, men. You have done well, and I am proud to lead you into battle. I know you will not disappoint me, if anything you'll exceed my expectations. I know it's been hard, and today I reward you." he pulled out a cell phone. "Each of you gets to call one person from home. Keep it to five minutes."

  "Yes, Sir." they replied. Grant smiled sincerity.

  After a few men of the twenty one in his unit called home, Grant was given the phone. He looked at it with a temporary contemplation. It was either call Chelsea, or his mom. The answer was simple: Chelsea. She was his one true love. Of course he loved his mom and sister, but not in the same way he loved Chelsea. Her love kept him fighting.

  Grant held the phone with slippery palms. He looked at the buttons, finding his skin quivering with glee. Yet, he was hesitant. Grant had imagined this phone call a million times. What would he say to her? Would he reassure her of his return or would he say goodbye? He couldn't decide tone, or disposition. All he could do was dial seven numbers, and be completely honest with her.

  Within one breath, Grant quickly dialed her number. It rang four times, and then she answered.

  "Hello?" she was quiet.

  "Chelsea?" asked Grant softly.

  "Yeah?"

  "It's me."

  "Gr-Grant?" her voice smiled.

  "Hey, baby." smiled Grant, along with his voice. "It's so good to talk to you."

  "I can't believe I'm talking to you. I've dreamt it, but didn't think it would happen."

  "I dreamt of coming home, seeing you, and our baby at my house. I woke up happy."

  "Name her, Grant."

  "Kali Marie."

  "That's cute. I love it." Chelsea said softly. "I love you."

  Grant heard it in her voice. Chelsea was preparing a final goodbye. He either had to reassure her of his return, or say goodbye as well. Within a moment of long contemplation, Grant asked himself if he wanted to live longer. Maybe Bobby had been right when he said "You die when you give up on living." It was now Grant's choice. Did he want to find his happiness again? Did he want to fight to live for brighter days?

  When it came down to it, the decision was easy: Grant still wanted life.

  "This isn't goodbye, Chelsea, it's just temporary separation." he said truthfully, with reassurance lacing his tone. "I will come home. We will raise our baby, get married, and live happily together. It is my choice, and I will not leave you."

  "Please, Grant, come home." she was near tears. "You are my happiness."

  "You're mine too, Chelsea. I love you with all I have." he said. "See you when I get home."

  "Okay." Chelsea whispered. Grant hung up, and handed the phone to the next soldier waiting. Grant had a promise to see through. He had a developing daughter who would need a father, and a fianc?e who would need a partner. Soon, the phone calls had been made. The tent was left standing for the next trainees, and Grant and his group of twenty one entered a C-23 Sherpa aircraft.

  As he walked up the stairs, and entered the plane, Grant shuddered. He felt his flustered skin, and breathed heavily. It was happening! M-16s hung from hooks sticking out of the wall. Patrol Sergeant Ricks entered the plane as the men strapped themselves into seats attached against both walls of the plane.

  "In about fifteen hours, this becomes much more than something to prepare for. It becomes real." Patrol Sergeant Ricks remained standing as the plane began to move. He grabbed a gun from the wall. "You know your guns piece by piece. They are yours. They can either be a friend or an enemy. It all depends on how they are treated. This is your safety." he held his close, as if it were nothing more than a teddy bear. "You will encounter monsters. You will encounter brutality that only your nightmares can imagine. We all have monsters. These men have let them free. And this war we fight is futile for that reason. War will always happen, because inside we have darkness, and some of us let it take control. But, they cover their darkness well. Children carry bombs in school back packs." he paused. "Good still lives there. I've seen it in its purest form. But, I've also seen evil at its darkest. I don't trust them anymore. And maybe that's why I am not dead yet."

  It was something he let the men ponder as the wheels retracted, and the plane lifted into the air. It was quiet, except the buzzing sound that filled the pit. A large shadow blanketed the soldiers, leaving them with only questions. Grant couldn't face the continuous questions. He laid his head against his pack, held his helmet in one hand, and rested the M-16 near his chest. Soon, his eyelids fell over his eyes, and pictures came:

  "We are gathered here on this day to mourn, and celebrate, the life of Grant Jonathan Smith." a deep voice said softly. A cloudy gray faded into clarity. A singed cemetery still ensconced in flame appeared. The day was cloudy and black, the sky rained blood, and wails rang throughout a desolate land. Lightning clashed, and thunder rumbled.

  No one was there. It was an empty cemetery, burning along with the chapel next to it. Grant swung his head from side to side, seeing a white casket propped up by a table lined with memories in little boxes. He walked with silent steps. The world was hectic and cold. They were gone. Every single person he had known was not there. He was alone. After several more steps, he came to the casket.

  Grant lifted the lid with reluctance, only to find it empty.

  "The time to choose is coming, my son." his father said, walking behind him. Grant turned.

  "Just let me live my life. If I die, and go to hell what does it matter to you?" he asked softly.

  "'Cause I'm your father." the lifeless head laughed. "I love you."

  "Shut up!"

  "When you do die, you will be all alone. No one will come and mourn you. Why would they? They never knew you."

  He awoke, realizing that for once his conscience pointed out his fakeness. It was a fakeness he knew, a fakeness he wore by choice. But, it was the first time that it dawned on him that it would drive everyone away eventually. Masks can only be worn for so long, before the truth peers through. Grant did not ye
t know his full truth.

  He laid his head against the wall of the plane, sighed, and reflected on life. If he were to die, would anyone care?

 
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