An old soldier's guilt is washed away after carrying it for 45 years.
|Prompt: Tom wanders into a neighborhood pub, the drunk next to him at the bar mistakes him for a old friend and starts confessing "the truth", what is the truth and what does Tom do with that information?
Not an absolute requirement, but if possible...work a sharp instrument into your story.
Death on Hill 882 - Vietnam
Nineteen year old Tom Canfield’s superiors sent him to Coffeyville, Kansas. His assignment: Locate and then escort subject on their journey.
Tom stepped through the Rusty Nail’s doorway and like a dandelion parachute carried on a summer breeze; he crossed the bar’s shabby floor. He found a stool next to his designated target and sat down.
“Don’t I know you?” the tipsy unwary subject asked the newcomer. Peering over his beer can, he squinted and pointed a shaky finger at Tom. “I … know … you.”
“We’ve never met, mister,” Tom was quick to answer.
“I never forget a face; you’re Corporal Smith,” the drunk muttered just before he fell from his stool. Tom pitied the man, but helping him would have broken his world’s rules.
The drunkard rose to his feet and stood unsteady beside Tom. “I’m sorry, Smitty,” he coughed as he waved his arm in a feeble attempt to buddy up to Tom. His arm found air and slapped to his side.
Tom gave the man a compassionate look. “I’m not Smitty.”
“I’m sorry, Smitty,” the drunk repeated, before he gulped more beer.
“Sorry for what?” Tom asked.
“You know what happened.” The man’s lips quivered; his brow furrows deepened, then he leaned forward, assailing Tom with his sour breath. “You were there at Dak To in ’67. We were ordered to take Hill 882. Don’t you remember, Smitty?” he murmured, his voice whisper-soft, and tight with pain.
“Why are you sorry, mister?” Tom asked again.
Tears tracked down the man's sallow cheeks, then he mumbled, “Someone had to lead and you understood the Viet Cong better than any man in the platoon.”
“You assigned Smith as point man,” Tom remarked.
“I didn’t have a choice." The vanquished man said and hung his head in shame, then wiped his chin stubble on his chambray shirt and whimpered. “I followed orders …”
“What happened?” Tom interrupted.
“You knew better, Smitty. Damn, you! You should’ve seen the booby trap; you knew there’d be punji sticks on that ridge. Damn, you! Damn, you for dying,” the old man said.
Tom placed a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder. Buried emotions that the old soldier hadn’t dealt with for forty-five years, swept through his tormented mind like a sudden Kansas dust storm sweeping across the plains. “Smitty’s dead,” fell from his lips.
“Yes, he’s dead. He died in Vietnam. His death wasn’t your fault, mister."
“You’re not Smitty are you?” the old man sputtered.
“No, I’m not Smitty. I’m Gunnery Sergeant Tom Canfield. I died at Khe Sanh in ’68.”
“How can you be here if you’re …”
“Dead?" Tom spoke up. “I’m from another world … sent here to help you move on to the afterlife. Soon, you can tell Smitty yourself that you’re sorry.
Lieutenant Curtis Samson clutched his ribcage and collapsed onto to the bar’s floor.
Tom remained close by and hovered over the old soldier as paramedics ripped his chambray shirt open, exposing his naked chest.