Past Yet Present - A Short Story
I could see the enemies approaching me, about eight or so, dressed in civilian gear and armed with rifles. Suddenly my position was compromised as one of the insurgents opened fire. A couple of shots whistled into the dirt particularly close to me. I ducked behind an overturned car, hearing the men shouting orders in their foreign tongue. They had seen me, I knew they had. Although they were momentarily confused as to my location, they soon got it right as I heard bullets thudding against the other side of the car.
Feeling sweat dripping down my forehead, I checked the ammo I had left for my C7. I had one more thirty-round magazine in my tac-vest plus what was remaining in the current mag; I lost my pistol somewhere along the way, and I had one frag grenade. My brain whizzed as I contemplated the possibilities of getting out of the situation.
I decided I would use everything I had. I counted to three in my head, and ducked out from behind the car, bringing my weapon up to my shoulder and squeezing the trigger, emitting a three-to-five round burst. Ba-ba-ba-blam. Two of the men fell into the dirt. The others, shouting in anger as they saw their comrades’ fall, almost immediately returned fire.
Ducking back behind my cover, I ejected my now-empty magazine. It clattered into the dirt. Fumbling, I reached in my tac-vest for the full magazine and slapped it into my rifle. Cocked it; didn’t bother to place it on safe. 30 rounds – 30 chances to get me out of here alive.
I looked up, just in time to see a grenade bounce and roll into the dirt not ten feet away. I paled, and my adrenaline soared. Jumping to my feet, I took to running, heard the shots from the enemies, then not two seconds later, a deafening explosion. Pain struck me almost instantly, shrapnel tearing into various spots on my body…
Sierra awoke to the alarming sound of Kent screaming. She shot up from her pillow, alarmed – for they were screams of pain. In the dim morning light she saw Kent thrashing around beside her. Instantly she grabbed him by the shoulders – or tried to.
"Kent!" she shouted, "Kent! It's a dream!"
His eyes shot open, and he gasped deeply, his expression truly one of fright. There was a brief second where he didn't do anything, but just stare into her eyes. Then he took to panting – his face covered in sweat.
"Are you alright?" Sierra demanded, feeling alarmed, but Kent shot up from the bed – breathing heavily. In a blur he had gone into the adjoining bathroom and slammed the door before she could even object.
Behind the door, Kent didn't move. He just stood there for several seconds, trembling and panting, before opting to slid to the cold tile floor, covering his sweat-streaked face with his hands.
. He knew it had been a dream. Just a dream – but it had been so real, and he had taken a part of it into reality. He had woken Sierra by screaming himself into consciousness. The dream had the same realism of all the others before it, but never did he experience that scenario, of an exploding grenade. He had actually felt pain.
Above him, the doorknob turned and he felt the door move as Sierra tried to push it open. Kent shot to his feet as a reflex, the sudden movement scaring him.
It wasn't until the door had opened fully and he saw Sierra standing in the doorway in her little nightgown did he realize he had backed himself into the farthest corner of the bathroom.
The sight of her partner, who she had known only to be brave, strong, and collected, reduced to cowering fearfully in the bathroom from a nightmare, was jarring. She realized then, without needing to ask, what he had dreamed of.
"Kent," Sierra said, her voice overflowing with concern, "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Kent answered, but was truly surprised at the weakness in his voice, "It was just a dream… a nightmare…" He corrected himself, "I… I'll be fine. I'm sorry if I scared you."
"I don't care about myself, Kent," she crossed the bathroom to be close to him. She reached up to run her hand across his forehead, "You're soaked. This is your third nightmare this week – they only seem to be getting worse.”
Kent didn't have anything to say to this. He knew it was true. He reached up and grabbed her hand, taking it away from his face. For a moment, he found it difficult to keep eye contact with her. He kissed her hand – hoping that it would do something to change the way Sierra was looking at him. She looked worried, almost scared. The kiss didn't alter her expression at all.
"Talk to me," she whispered.
“It was nothing new." The silence was deafening, so he continued, struggling to explain himself, "I just… it was just a scary scenario. These dreams are so real, Sierra. It's like I'm actually back there. It was like I felt real pain,” he heaved a shaky sigh, “If anything will be the death of me it'll be these damned dreams."
His grip on her hand tightened, but he realized it – and released her hand abruptly, only to clench his fist into a tighter ball until the knuckles cracked. Sierra hugged him; for a moment, Kent was stiff, but he let out a sigh and he calmed down. His arms encircled her tightly, in a vice like grip.
"You see, this is why I need you. If I didn't have you here to comfort me…”
"It's over now, Kent – it was just a dream, like you said. You're okay.”
"Until the next one,” he sighed deeply. One single thought went through his mind: Why does war have to do this to me?
"This exit is heading downtown," Kent read the overhead sign aloud as they drove beneath it, "Exit 21. Is it where you want to go?"
"Surprise me," Sierra said with a smile, sitting in the passenger’s seat. She had the window rolled down, her blond hair blowing about. A large pair of sunglasses was perched on the top of her head, “You’re driving, and you know I’m not picky.”
Kent glanced in her direction, smiling at her. He could look at her forever. She hadn’t mentioned anything about the nightmare the night before, and for that he was thankful. Today seemed like it would be a better day, he had been able to go back to sleep and didn’t dream a thing.
He looked back to the road. Suddenly, he got a memory of the dusty roads in Afghanistan, his patrol of g-wagons slowly creeping along, in fear of IEDs. He had been in the gunner’s seat, manning the C6 GPMG, constantly scanning the area for enemies. That image, solely occupied his mind – and highway route to suddenly seemed to morph into the dusty road heading into the city. When that explosion had gone off, engulfing the vehicle just ahead of him. His buddies screaming…
Instantly, Kent felt the vehicle swerve as he lost concentration. He snapped back into reality, and his palms were sweaty against the steering wheel, his heart was pounding, adrenaline was rushing through his veins. Sierra looked to him, and he knew she could tell something was wrong. Her hand went over his on the stick shift.
He didn't answer, and the road ahead of him seemed to flicker between the two images. Halifax, Afghanistan. Halifax. Afghanistan.
Panicking, he jerked the wheel to the side, sending the car veering onto the side of the road. A couple of cars that had been behind him honked their horns and continued on.
“What’s wrong?” Sierra demanded, “You’re shaking!”
He fumbled for the keys, and shut the engine off.
Kent let out a frustrated noise and let his head fall onto the steering wheel. Sierra was silent, knowing whatever he was battling was internal. This, so soon after the nightmare? It couldn’t be a coincidence.
Just as she was about to reach out and touch his shoulder for support, his seatbelt was off. He flung the car door open so hard it the hinges made an unhealthy cracking noise, and he stormed out, and walked around to the other side of the car. Sierra’s heart began to pound. What had he seen? She got out after him, just in time to watch him deliver a vicious kick to the guard rail. His foot collided with the metal with a loud noise. In pain, he whirled away, hissing through clenched teeth. He dropped to the ground, leaning back against the guard rail, making a pitiful groaning noise. This outburst of violence, even to an inanimate object, made her stomach flip. Kent had never been violent towards anything. His tours overseas had never carried over to his life at home with her.
Hesitantly, she reached his side, kneeling down behind him. Her voice was almost drowned out by the cars as they sped on past them, but she knew Kent would be able to hear her.
“Talk to me.”
Placing her hand on his shoulder, she could feel his muscles beneath the fabric of his shirt, tense and rock hard. His fists were clenched so tightly his knuckles were white, and his face was flushed with anger and embarrassment. His mouth was pressed into a tight line and she could hear the unpleasant sound of him gritting his teeth together. He was breathing like someone would breathe if they had just run a marathon – and upon every exhale the breath was shaky. Kent's dark eyes focused dead ahead of him.
"I'm going insane." It was a dangerous tone that growled its way from Kent's throat.
"What?" This answer, she hadn’t been expecting, "What do you mean?”
Kent gritted his teeth together again, and then was up onto his feet in a second – getting into the passenger's side of the car and slamming the door. Sierra took a moment to calm herself down – exhaling a deep sigh before going around to the driver's side and climbing in behind the wheel. She turned to Kent as he robotically put on his seat belt and stared directly ahead.
"Home," he instructed.
Sierra quickly turned on the car, and merged back into traffic. She turned to look at Kent, his expression was horrible. Kent had always been open with her, and she realized that what was bothering him was serious. Dangerous, even.
"Please tell me, what happened?" She grabbed a hold of his hand.
He met her eyes in an almost painful expression, "I was fine, then all of a sudden, the … the…" he struggled with his words, gesturing at the road ahead of them, "The highway turned into a road in Afghanistan. Right before my eyes – it was like I was back there. The memories. But I knew it wasn't there, I knew it, but…This isn't normal. This isn't normal… I'm losing my mind, Sierra, and I'm sorry. I'm going crazy…"
Kent was distressed. His voice broke as he choked out his last words, covering his face in his hands. Tears welled in Sierra’s eyes – it pained her to see him like this. She knew he was hurting, yet she didn’t know how she could help him.
"You're not crazy Kent," she whispered, lost for any further words. It was all she knew.
Kent didn't say anything to this, but he turned his gaze to the window, but he never let go of her hand. He stayed like this all the way home. Silent, unmoving, but her hand was locked in his protective grip.
Kent only let go of Sierra's hand to get out of the car when it pulled into the driveway of their house. He seemed eager to get into the house out of anyone's sight – he quickly ushered Sierra in the door ahead of him – then hastily shut it. A hug was what he immediately demanded.
After a few moments, he let out a sigh, and let her go, not saying a word as he walked into the living room.
Sierra took a moment before following him – feeling troubled. She knew he was upset – and both of their moods had been squashed by the incident on the highway.
Why did it have to be he that would have to suffer this way? After all that he did for their country? The war was over but it seemed the memories didn't want to leave him alone. All he wanted was a normal life with her, which was the only thing that mattered to Kent. So far, it was off to a rocky start.
Kent was sitting on the couch.
“How is your foot?” she asked him as she sat down next to him, indicating his vandalism of the guard rail.
“I can’t feel anything right now.” He sounded irritated, sighing. There were a few moments where the two of them sat in the silence. However, Kent wasn’t done speaking.
"If everything else could go as smoothly as our love, we would be all set;" Kent suddenly confessed, "Life would be grand for me, and you." There was a moment's pause... "Do you ever wish we could rewind time?" He spoke even softer than before.
"Yes,” Sierra replied.
"Ten years ago, we were so young and carefree. I hadn't seen all of the horrors that had been waiting on the horizon for me then. I was new to love and I thought you were the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. Suddenly I had something other than just the army, for a while it was the only family I ever had, then to have you...”
Sierra smiled at the memories that came to mind at his reminiscing.
“Now look at me,” Kent continued, “I’m thirty what, five years old? I've had a lot of good people die on me. Good, good people die unjust deaths at the hands of a force I couldn't control. I thought I could control them, at one point. But in the last few months of the war, I realized that I wasn't that powerful. There were forces out there that were stronger than I.” He closed his eyes, leaning forward and holding his head in his hands, “I never thought these uncontrollable forces would follow me home. I can't control that I am having these memories, I can't control that I am feeling numb to mostly everything. I just wish I could feel alive again.”
Kent wrapped his arm around Sierra’s shoulders, drawing her close.
"I wouldn't know what to do without you," He breathed into her hair, resting his chin on the top of her head, “You're the only one who truly makes me feel myself."
"Well I’m here – and I’m not leaving. I promise you,” She looked into his eyes, “You only got home two months ago – I’ve seen you trying to adjust. Don’t rush anything.” She paused, choosing her words carefully, “And… don’t be afraid to get help… from someone other than me, Kent.”
Kent seemed to stiffen at this notion, and she half expected him to puff up with manly ignorance and say he didn’t need help. Instead, however he nodded slowly.
“Your struggles are my struggles. We will deal with this together,” Sierra laid her head on his shoulder, “Whatever the future brings. I’m with you.”
“Thank you,” he whispered.