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Living Shadows and Cold Sweat
Or Die Trying
I awoke in the comfort of my bed in an air-conditioned room. It was a hot summer night outside but the air in the room was comfortably cool. The overhead fan blew down above the bed. I was soaked with sweat that glistened in the moonlight sneaking between the louvers of the shutters over the bedroom window. The look of it reminded me of a quarter moon reflecting on the ocean at night. My wife slept peacefully beside me, unaware of my stirring. A chill rushed over me in a wave. Adrenalin surged and fear pushed every other thought from my mind. I had only been awake for a moment.
The Menace of Shadows
The partial moon gave some light, interrupted momentarily or, at times for several minutes. It was cloudy out. Shadows moved as the night sky yielded it's serenity to the prevailing trade winds. Reason was fleeting, logic was severed by the presence of motion in the shadows. Unnatural, like a memory from a distant and horrible past. It was all consuming, the urgency of impending disaster, a fatal car crash. Adrenaline rushed through time and time again taking with it all sense of stability or peace.
Reflex and Training Take Root
In the moments when the moonlight briefly and dimly illumined the shadows, armed figures were moving about in the back of the house. They should not be here. I could not tell who they were but they were frightening. I had known them once, seen them before, sensed their presence and even smelled them. Then as now, they wanted me dead. Yet inside me, what little remained of rationality told me this was not real. In vain, I closed my eyes attempting to drift back into sleep. But the shadows moved closer, became more active, now crouching beneath the bedroom window and ultimately surrounding the house. Sleep evaded me but so did full consciousness. Fear was the overwhelming presence here and it knew no bounds. I rolled over on my left side, momentarily facing away from the window. It was an uneasy moment when I knew we were vulnerable. The dark shadows could now approach without detection. Ever so quietly I slid open the top drawer of my nightstand. I had tested it repeatedly in the past to make sure it made no noise when it opened and closed. My hand rested upon cool steel encompassed in a canvas cover. I lifted my .357 magnum revolver from the drawer.
As I rolled over onto my back again, I quietly slid my feet off the bed and knelt upon the floor. Ever vigilant and with all the quiet I could muster, I lifted the velcro strap that secured my revolver in it's holster. I must cut that thing off! It is too noisy. Watching toward the door of our room for the shadowy figure to enter, I carefully noted my wife's position on the bed between myself and the door. I hoped she would not move. Lifting the gun out of the holster I pointed toward the door. I would not be taken by surprise.
What if she awoke with a start when he entered the room. Would she scream. Would she sit up in bed between me and my target. Fear came again, a sense of loss and 'what if'. Sweat stung my eyes. At the risk of disaster that the situation foretold, I had to get to the other side of the bed so that she would not be between me and my assailant. They wanted me, not her. I was willing if she would not be hurt but in battle, innocence affords no protection from death.
I made it to the foot of the bed. The presence of evil would not depart. The shadows moved again. At least now, I had a slightly better field of fire. They wanted me, only me. I must get out of the room. She continued to sleep, unaware of the threat enveloping us. With my profile as low to the floor as I could be, I crawled over beneath the window and scanned the yard for movement. My training was useful, not even the dogs stirred, stealth was working. Something of my activity had alerted the intruders that I was awake. There was no movement outside, at least not where I could detect it. Fully awake now, it was my turn. I had the ability to defend my wife and grandson. I had speed loaders in a nylon bag in my free hand.
Clearing the bedroom, there was more cover and darkness available to me in the house. I checked every entry point. All secure. At each window I paused to search for movement. Cold sweat continued to obscure clear vision. If I open the door my presence will be known and I will draw fire. I could just open it and watch from the window for muzzle flashes and return fire. No, this isn't real, no, this isn't rational. I am at home in America. This can't happen here. I back towards the bedroom, rechecking every entry point and watching and waiting for the dim moonlight to reveal a hiding enemy soldier in the yard. I see nothing. This is nuts I thought, I am at home.
Unrelenting, Never Ending
I have to relieve myself. I go into the bathroom, leave the door open and take care of it in the dark. This is just stupid. I'm sitting on the toilet to urinate, in the dark, with a .357 magnum in my hand in Palm Coast Florida, USA. I'm going nuts. The sweat begins to subside but the adrenaline keeps me buzzed. Sleep will not come easily.
But sleep did come if only for brief moments. Each time I awoke the rest of the night the heft of the revolver on my chest with my fist still wrapped around the grip was comforting and frightening at the same time. As though it were yesterday, I could smell expended gun powder, hear the screams of 'medic, medic', hear the dustoff Huey rotor slapping above the tree tops and the adrenalin just pumps and pumps. Tears come, pain is unresolved, loss is profound and numbing. God help me is the only prayer I can manage.
Finally, the dawn began to wipe away the shadows of death that had lingered at my bedside, threateningly all night. I had prevailed. We were still alive. I won this one. I wondered about the next. Would PTSD ever lose it's grip on me. It has been 40+ years since Vietnam and I doubted that it ever would. There will be other battles.