Both times before, I wished I'd a place in my port for my entries...this time I do!
|Corporal Daniel Payne stared at the backseat window as the vehicle cut through the German countryside between the airport and Landstuhl. He didn't see the rolling hills lush with rain soaked emerald splendor beyond the glass. His eyes were fixed instead on his reflection, devoid of color. Shadows were the eyes staring back at him, accusing him, condemning him. And in his mind he heard screams. It was the screams of the women caught in the crossfire as they huddled against the side of a building, wrapping their bodies as best they could around the small forms of their crying children. Payne had been ordered to fire, fire, fire on the insurgents. He tried to close his eyes, but it didn't matter. The memory played out in high definition whether his eyes were open or closed, whether he was awake or asleep. He rocked silently in his seat, begging for relief.
The car swung into a circular drive in front of the largest US Military Hospital in Europe. Payne knew he was here to receive treatment before being sent home. Discharged. He'd become useless the way he was.
An officer opened his door and escorted him into the building. It smelled like any hospital, filthy with the stench of cleanliness. They crossed several hallways and ascended many floors, and Payne was dully aware at one point that he couldn't find his way out if he had to. They arrived at double doors marked "Amnesia Ward."
Payne looked up at the officer. "Sir? I don't have amnesia, sir."
The officer replied with a nod and pushed open the door.
Payne was ordered into a small room, equipped only with a swivel chair next to a narrow bed. A doctor entered behind him and asked him to stand at the wall.
"Corporal, when the lights go out, please place your hands on the panel here." He indicated a square screen mounted into the wall, the only decoration of any kind in the room. "Do you understand, son?"
Payne nodded, and the doctor left, closing the door behind him.
Payne stared at the wall, and a moment later the lights went out. At the same time, the panel began to glow a faint green color. Payne's heartbeat picked up; his eyes darted around as uncertainty's cold fingers walked up his spine. He reached out a heavy hand that trembled slightly.
The instant his hand touched the screen, a force he couldn't describe or understand seized his body. He went rigid, eyes bulging. Before him, hundreds of tiny green numbers rained down his hand. As they fell faster and faster, a prickling sensation crept up his fingers to his hand, then up his arm and eventually to his head. He was sure his hair was standing on end. That was the last coherent thought he had.
When he awoke, he lay in the bed and the doctor was peering down at him. "How do you feel, Corporal?" he asked.
Payne squinted in the light. "Where am I?"
"You're in hospital in Germany. You had a head injury in Iraq. Do you remember anything about it?"
Payne thought hard. "No, sir. No, sir, I don't."
"Well, we'll take good care of you, son. As soon as you feel stronger, we'll get you back to the front lines where you belong."
"Yes, sir!" Payne replied with a salute.