This story is by Tom P. Alberti and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
How long have I been here? Two, three days? Could it be months, maybe years?
“Private Jensen, Sargent Franklin are you here? Are you behind these dingy, gray walls?”
Oh for God sakes no one answers me. My throat is so dry. I feel like someone lit a match to it. I need water, lots of it.
“Water, will somebody give me some fucking water? I’m dying of thirst. Please.”
Nobody gives a shit.
This room is so dark and smells like rotten eggs. There are no windows, just a dim light bulb over my head, barely enough to light up a chicken coop. The concrete floor is filled with bugs, and droplets of water are coming through cracks in the cement.
“Sargent, Jensen. Can you hear me? We’re going to get out of this. They going to find us, you’ll see. Don’t give up.”
Lord knows I’m not quitting. I have too much waiting for me back home. Geez, I can’t wait to wrap my arms around my wife, Robin, press her soft, creamy lips against mine. I would give anything to stroke her silky auburn hair that falls beneath her narrow shoulders, have the opportunity to look into her gleaming green eyes, and tell her that she is so beautiful. No. I’m never giving up.
“You hear me, Sarge. I’m not quitting. You shouldn’t either, and Jensen you owe me two tickets to the Yankees, Red Sox game. I wrote to my son and told him about the box seats behind home-plate that my buddy, Jensen is getting for me after winning a shooting match. Am I right, Jensen?”
Gosh, I miss my son. Jason has to be ten, such a scrawny kid. When I get back, I’ll take the boy to the Carousel and devour enough strawberry milkshakes until the strawberries are coming out of our ears. Then, I’ll take Jason to the batting cage. He loves baseball, and I can’t wait to teach him to hold the bat correctly and pitch those fastballs. After all, I did pitch a no-hitter that made my high school win the state championship, but that’s a long time ago, now it’s my son turn to get all those accolades. I’m itching to get home. I’m also itching for something to eat. I wish that I was at the Carousel at this very moment.
“Hey you mothers, I’m hungry in here. Prisoner or not, I have a right to eat. Don’t you assholes follow the Geneva Convention? I could hear my stomach growling. Please, anybody, give me some food.”
What’s crawling by my shoe? A cockroach? It looks like one. It’s a big mother. Let me pick it up and make sure. Yep, it’s a cockroach. I’ll just give it a squish with my fingers before putting it into my mouth. God makes everything for something. The bug didn’t taste too bad, and it was very crunchy.
“Hey Jensen, Franklin, did you eat? Talk to me, fellas, please. I’m lonely.”
I never sure have signed for a second tour. I remember Robin raising her eyebrows when I told her, but then again she wasn’t quite please when I sign up the first time.
“You do enough service fighting fires,” she cried. “Why Ken do you want to go?”
“9/11 was too much for me. I saw my hometown being destroyed. Buildings were toppling down on screaming, frantic people. I carried away dozens of burnt bodies and watched an avalanche of tears on people’s faces. Robin, I have to be more than just a fireman for my city and my country. I have to offer my service in tribute to those persons that never made it home that day.”
Her tears almost made me stay, but she gave me her blessings and said to me that the flame in her heart for me would never go out.
I remember not seeing any action at first. I was a station at Fort Bragg and did mostly paperwork. Finally, my unit went sent overseas. I saw plenty of action then, watched missiles light up the dark sky, and engaged in combat through the strong winds of sandstorms and scorching heat. It was a time of my life that I felt a sense of accomplishment, doing something for my country and hoping that a 9/11 would never happen again anywhere in the world.
“Hey Sarge, I hear gunshots. Are you guys, okay? Jensen, say something, anything.”
Jensen, the guy that is never a loss for words, now I can’t get a squeak out of him.
“Jensen, tell me a joke. I need to laugh right about now.”
He is always the jokester, a young athletic man who had graduated high school, a few months before enlisting. We met in boot camp. If laughter was anywhere in camp, Jensen was in the center of it.
I remember the time he asked me why a badminton racquet studied meditation? I shook my head, and Jensen replied that the racquet was high-strung. I laughed mostly because of its stupidity, then again most of his jokes were. I needed one now, maybe it would help me forget the night we were captured.
It was cold that night. We were blinded by the sand and separated from our unit. Our radios had lost the signal for contacting headquarters. Franklin, a no-nonsense soldier of ten years who would give his life for his men, thought it best to stay in our location until daybreak. Unfortunately, our enemies had other plans.
While sleeping, I felt a stung across my face. I opened my eyes, and a man hovered over me. He held a thick, leather whip in his hand. He mumbled words in a foreign language that I couldn’t understand, but his whip said it all as he thrashed it across my face, making it feel like he slashed a straight razor across my cheek. I got the message that he wanted me to stand. Franklin and Jensen were already standing. Their hands were tied behind their backs. Soldiers stood behind them with sharp knives nudging into their backs. The soldiers yelled, then blindfolded us, and whipped us a few times before we were thrown in this God-forsaken place.
Suddenly, I hear the door open? This tall, dark-skinned dude is coming towards me.
“Hey, fella, who are you? When do I see my pals? How about something to eat. How about a plane ticket back to the States? Say something. Did you have your tongue for breakfast?”
The soldier takes the gun from his holster. He presses the muzzle against my forehead, but suddenly I see only Robin and Jason. We are drinking strawberry malts at the Carousel.
I hear a loud pop as my body falls forward, slamming against the cold concrete floor. All my insides feel like they are on fire. My arms and legs become weak, then darkness comes.