(Author’s note: After a month of preparing, moving, and finally getting ensconced in my location, I’ve now moved out of the big city and I’m now out in a small town. It already feels good, even if it’s unusual for how I’ve been living. Anyhow, here’s some new Fictioneers with a song that I first heard in a coffee shop in Seoul back in 2016.)
by Miles H. Rost
Pierre thumped forward as the brakes took hold.
He did not see the stop sign until just about late. Had he ran the sign, he would have run into Renault that turned from the side street.
It had been the case all week where he would see the bloom and become transfixed. He nearly wiped out an Uber driver, two semis, and a Polizei cruiser with his inattentiveness.
He pulled over and got out, sitting on the hood of the car and gazing lost at the blooms. He sighed, alternating between the blooms and a picture of his deceased child.
(Author’s Note: My job is a tough one. It doesn’t leave me with much time to actually spend writing more things. I come home from work, and I am really tired. We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, here’s today’s fictioneers.)
(Author’s notes: Sorry for not being as productive lately. It’s been a really tough time here in the land down under, and because of all that’s going on, my attention has been on getting myself stable, then getting myself out of here. I want to thank each and every one of you for reading my stories the last two weeks and giving me great feedback. You all make me so proud. Here is today’s fictioneers story.)
“We’ve been coming to Dad’s grave for 14 years. I’m about to graduate. You never told me what happened to him.”
“I guess it is that time,” her mother sighed, sitting down next to the flat gravestone, “Your dad came back from the Gulf, and he wasn’t right. But he always told me he was, so I didn’t say much about it.”
Heidi slowly knelt down by her Mom.
“He never told anyone. He never told me!”
She started to sob. Heidi hugged her, tears flowing down her face.
“He was too stubborn to ask for help, and he took his life. He never truly made it home.”
(Author’s note: Well, exams are coming to an end. I will be able to do some new fiction in the very near future, and am preparing a few stories for publication on this blog. In the meantime, I am attempting to fundraise to start my full Master’s program here at the University of Melbourne. If anyone is interested, go ahead and visit my GoFundMe page, so you can contribute. Here’s today’s offering for Friday Fictioneers.)
Pete Meyer shut down the fan boat, as he traveled through the Everglades.
“Hey, Berkeley! Look over here.”
Berkeley Bryant turned his head to the swampland and stared.
“That’s a pipe. And it’s not an irrigation one.”
They slowly moved the boat over to the pipe, and attempted to pull it up. Taking 20 minutes to do so, they finally wrenched it out of the slop.
“What type of pipe?”
Berkeley looked down, blinked, and looked out amongst the swamp.
“Fuel intake for a DC-9.”
“DC-9? Wasn’t that…”
Berkeley took off his hat, and put it on his heart.
(Author’s note: This is a fictional account based on stories relayed to the author by a third party.)
PFC Rocky Andersen was not a happy camper.
He was laying on the ground, grumbling in pain as he waited for help to arrive. The stocky marine had problems with his legs in recent days, and having to climb telephone poles at his base was not a good thing for him to do. Camp Pendleton was the Marines’ West Coast base, and it was also known for being remote in some parts. This meant that help may not arrive for a half an hour or so.
At the medical truck approached his position, his gunny, Gunnery Sergeant Charles “Brick” Brigman, leaped out.
“Andersen! What in the blue hell happened to you?”
“I was climbing the telephone poles, Gunny Brick, and I got blindsided by a bird,” he said, crisp yet with a strip of pain.
“Well, what are you laying there for?! Get up and walk!”
“Gunny, I can’t move.”
Hospital Corpsman Roger Baltrick had run over from the main truck and took a look at the PFC’s splayed legs. After a cursory exam, he looked up at Gunny Brick
“I can tell already that his right leg is broken in two places. We’ll have to look at his left leg back at the infirmary, but I have a feeling we may have a double break.”
Gunny Brick furrowed his brow.
“Well, this is just fan-freaking-tastic, isn’t it?! Andersen, you may have just lucked out. Your platoon is being called to Vietnam! They’re outta here in 2 weeks, and I hope to see you on that flight out.”
Rocky just grimaced, as the threat from the imposing Gunny reverberated through his head.
Two weeks after he arrived back at the base hospital, Rocky looked out the window of the room, his leg still elevated and bound in casts and slings. He looked down at the field, where he saw his fellow platoon mates lining up to head to the airfield at El Toro to fly out.
Over the previous two weeks, various platoon mates with the nicknames of “Grunt”, “Pickle”, “Big Zeb”, and “Sticky” all came by to say their goodbyes and swap stories of what’s been going on. Even on that last day, Gunny Brick even came in to say goodbye, though no one would call it a “goodbye”, formally.
“Andersen! You better get out of those casts and get on the next flight once you do!” he said, looking down with a slight smile on his face.
“Gunny, where are you guys heading for?”
“Our next orders are apparently going to be Khe Sanh. Seems like more of our boys are there right now.”
“Thank you, sir. Drop me a postcard once you arrive.”
Gunny Brick smiled at Andersen, shaking his head as he left.
“Don’t get thrown in the brig while I’m gone, Donut. I don’t want to have to come back to bail you out again.”
Andersen laughed, being reminded of the many times he was thrown in the brig for being UA or being stuck on “weird duty” at Treasure Island.
The middle of February was unusually cool for California. It wasn’t normal for the temperatures to be any lower than the 60s, but it got into the high 40s at night during this period.
Rocky was finally out of his casts, but he was on restricted duty until his legs healed permanently. That means five more weeks of therapy and processing papers, along with such fun jobs as helping in the mess tent or assisting in other tasks. His gunny sergeant for this end, GySgt. Mike Layton, was less abrasive but more of a rules-man. He appreciated Rocky’s work, though wouldn’t always say so.
Rocky was finishing the stamping of important base requisition forms, when Gunny Layton walked in. Rocky saluted.
“Andersen, as you were.”
“Andersen, I received some news this morning from Cam Ranh. It’s about your platoon.”
“Your platoon landed at Khe Sahn. As they were deplaning, they were hit by mortar fire and snipers. Gunny Brick and about half of your platoon didn’t make it to the terminal.”
Andersen’s blood ran cold.
“What’s left of your platoon is being merged with another in Khe Sanh. You and 5 others who are still here will be assigned to a new platoon.”
“Andersen, you can be real with this. You don’t have to hold it in. Ya lost some of your friends, and so have I.”
Andersen used his crutches to move himself a few feet back to his desk, and sighed.
“I was supposed to go, Gunny.”
“Yeah, I know. But, Andersen, you have to realize that things happen for a reason. Gunnery Sergeant Brigman and the others had to go over there. Apparently, someone else had plans for you.”
Rocky blinked, as he sat looking straight at his superior.
“When are they arriving?”
“Within a couple weeks. They will be brought to Oakland from Da Nang, then either families will pick them up there, or we’ll bring them back here for the families to identify and receive. I would like you, if you can, to accompany the ones who will be brought back to Pendleton.”
Rocky sat for just a moment before giving a salute and a “yes, sir.”
“You’re relieved of duty for today. Head on back to the barracks, and you can do what you usually do. Consider this time to grieve. Be back at this post tomorrow at 0800.”
After a salute, Gunny Layton turned his heels and departed.
Rocky lifted himself on his crutches, and hobbled out the door. The 15 minutes it took him to cover the length from the main base office to his barracks, he though about all of his buddies who were over there…and those who were gone.
He barely made it back to the barracks. Seeing no one around, he collapsed on his bunk. His tears, for part of that evening, were his only companions. And while he felt like he should have gone over with his boys, he yet realized that for him, he was given a gift that many in his platoon did not receive: The gift of being able to live to an older age.
This gift would be borne out in 3 children, who he was able to see grow up and become their own people. He would never forget the contributions of his platoon, as it was his children who were the result of that sacrifice.
(This is your birthday gift, Dad. Semper Fi, and I love you.)
I remember the day that Travis was called to duty. It was going to be a 6 month tour in Jordan.
He looked at me, a lowly young lady from the wrong side of the tracks, and gave me the most heartfelt kiss that a fiancee could give.
We stood by an old stump as we said our goodbyes. I told him, “I don’t care how you get back here, just get back here if you can.”
He was returning from Jordan as the frost on the fields was slowly retreating. I would never see him again, though.
His C-130 got caught in a downdraft, and crashed at the base. No survivors.
He did get back here, I just can’t hold him anymore.
– From the diary of Charlene MacGinnis
(Story behind the song: During the first Gulf War, the song “Get Here” by Oleta Adams, a remake of a similar song by Brenda Russell, was often played as a call to servicemen from their wives and kids.)
(For Kristi, in the tough time she’s going through)
Fool’s Gold by Miles Rost
Teresa Farmer’s hand let the phone slip from her fingers.
She was in shock, she didn’t know what she could do.
“Hello? Hello? Teresa? You still there?” the voice on the other end of the phone asked, shaken with fear and peppered with worry.
Teresa picked up the phone and breathed again.
“Yeah….yeah…I’m here. I just…I…I’m not sure if I can say anything…”
“I understand. I guess, all I can say is that I am so sorry for what’s happened, and I wish I could be there to help.”
“Yeah, I know,” Teresa told her friend, who was stationed in Germany at one of the Air Force bases.
“When I get leave, I’ll come back and we can have a gripe session about this.”
“Get here when you can.”
They talked for a couple more minutes, said their pleasantries, and Teresa hung up her phone.
She walked to the living room, the place in her house that became her conversation parlor. She leaned back in her rocking chair and just pondered her situation. She lived alone in her house, her husband moving out many years ago after a rocky fight. 6 years of marriage, suddenly gone. No kids in the house to yell at, or to pick up after.
One more lonely piece of news filled the room, a room that was slowly becoming a room of memories. The news from her friend of her mother’s passing was intensely tough. While Helena Farmer was not a rough and tough rancher’s wife, she still held her own after many years of battle. Whether a battle against a railroad company to reclaim the mineral rights under her farm, or the battle against a major crop company that tried to force her to use seeds she didn’t want, Teresa’s mother was steadfast. She may not have been physically strong, but she made up for it plenty with sheer will, guts, spit, and vinegar.
Now, she was gone. It was less than a year after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she was now gone. Teresa did not know what she was going to do. As she rocked in her chair, a warm afghan wrapped around her, the tears started to fall. As the cracks in her “armor” started to grow bigger, she wept louder, until it was unstoppable.
For the rest of that day, she grieved. She remembered, she cried, she wailed, she sobbed. She would go through the five stages of grief a few times before she could finally release. For this day, however, she needed to grieve.
(Dedicated to the memory of all the students and passengers lost in the Sewol ferry disaster last week. Please make sure to play the music while you read.)
(NOTE: This is a work of fiction, designed to help people think about and work through their feelings regarding the Sewol ferry sinking.)
(Written on sheets of rice paper, and found on the desk of a fisherman on Jindo.)
Clouds. Happy as clouds.
That’s is how I see them now. All of them are in school up there, learning about love and life, learning their new assignments and how they will do new things. Learning, while in the cloudland.
I live in Sinyuk, just off the main coast of South Korea. My family has lived here for many years. That day will be burned into my mind.
I was on the shoreline, finishing the rigging up the nets that I would use for crab fishing during the night. I always do that after the day’s work is done. I was going to go to sleep soon, and wake up again in the afternoon to do the fishing checks all over again.
It was just after 8:30 in the morning when I went to my home and sat down for my supper. I ate, and felt good about the upcoming catch that would come in the night. I went to my room to pray and honor my wife. Long ago, we were a happy fishing couple. She died a few years back, and it was a sad time for me. But, still, I live on with her in my memory.
It was around 9:45 that I heard the phone ring. This was unusual, I didn’t normally get a call when I was just about to go to bed. I picked up the phone and answered like I normally do. It was Byeong-jun, the harbormaster here. He told me that there was an all-call for all fishing vessels, that a ferry was sinking just off Gwanmae.
It was like second nature to me. I was in the Navy during my days in the military, and whenever a call for assistance was made, it was my job to alert the captain and to help direct where we needed to go. I immediately ran out to my boat, and started it up. Or, at least I tried to start it.
I couldn’t start it. The boat that helped me check my pots did not start. And I needed to get out there and help out, as it was my duty. I got on the radio and called around to see if anyone was still in port and could use an extra man. My friend Sin-Gil, a very good man who sold fish for use in hoe called back and told me that all boats had gone. There were none left in the harbor.
At that moment, I stood in shock. And I started to cry. I cried because I felt like there was nothing I could do. As I dried my tears, I hurried over to the harbormaster’s office and volunteered to help coordinate the rescue boats. Since Sinyuk could not hold many people, we decided to send the rescued passengers over to Jindo, the closest big island that would get them to where they needed to go.
It was too late for some of us, and for a lot of those passengers.
As I write this, the count of the people that are dead is 84. There are over 200 more passengers still missing, and in my mind, likely no longer here. 250 of those passengers and dead are kids. Kids. Going on a vacation like they always do, every year. That sticks in my mind. A simple fisherman like me, who didn’t have much education, can see in my mind how a child’s eyes lights up when they are told they will be going to Jeju for a field trip.
Now, I see these kids as students up in the cloudland. Their fellow passengers who aren’t in school, they too are there. They’re assisting, helping out at the big school up in the cloudland. They’re laughing, with no pain or fear, nothing of what they felt down here. The young lady, the worker on the ferry who helped so many students that survived, I see her as a teacher up there. She’s showing them about what it means to be brave. Some of the other men and women who died, saving all those students, they’re up there as well. In the cloudland.
This tragedy is affecting everyone. I hear my friends, fellow fishermen, cry for those who are lost. I can imagine all of the parents, and the classmates in the different grades at that school in Ansan. I can even imagine the foreigners here, the ones who see this and whose hearts break for those who are gone. Every person in this country, whether a Korean or not, is affected by this. The dark cloud of sorrow will be over us for a while. The cloud already took a few people’s lives after this, and more will be taken before the cloud is lifted.
After today, I can no longer be here. I have family on the mainland, a sister and her nephew in a big city, with small kids of their own. I will take what I have earned, and go to them. I will help those small children as much as I can, to show them not to be afraid. To show them that there are people who are heroes, and that there will be a brighter day.
To whoever reads this: Whatever is here, sell and donate to the families of those who have lost everything. It won’t be much, but the house and the land are valuable. The boat can also be sold, all of the deeds are with the harbormaster.
Remember the kids and adults in the cloudland. They are the ones who we must mourn today.
(a stamp, an injang (인장) was embossed at the bottom)