Fantasy Fiction posted February 3, 2022

This work has reached the exceptional level
Army officer in 1965 Vietnam finds a supernatural love

The Flash

by Patrick Astre

The author has placed a warning on this post for violence.
The author has placed a warning on this post for language.
The author has placed a warning on this post for sexual content.

There are layers to the world we know, like peeling back a translucent skin, and finding tarnished silver beneath, layers running beneath our senses. I unwittingly pulled back some of those layers, one summer in 1965 in the Republic of South Vietnam.

I was a young captain stationed in Saigon, thinking mainly about getting laid, very little about love, certainly not a thundering paralyzing love, peeling back layers above the boundaries of time, and what we perceive as our normal world.

Saigon in 1965 continuously assaulted your senses with alien and exotic sounds, sights and smells. I was born in France and raised in Brooklyn, New York, accustomed to hustle-and-bustle, noise, traffic, and multi-ethnic crowds, but Saigon was something else altogether.

I worked at MACV, Military Assistance Command Vietnam as an intelligence specialist, fluent in French, passable in Vietnamese. For us REMF's (Rear Echelon Mother....) as the grunts out in the field called us, the war seemed to be progressing well, in spite of many contrary signs that we failed to see. The First Air Cavalry had proved the airmobile concept at Ia Drang Valley, and Johnson's "light at the end of the tunnel" seemed a real possibility. Except for The Flash. I don't know who first dubbed him Flash, but it was appropriate. A mysterious and effective hard-core Viet Cong commander, he appeared and disappeared in the areas around Saigon, with the speed of the comic book character they named him after. Each time he created havoc, and never suffered a casualty. The Flash had a calling card, an American Joker card superimposed in its center with a two-inch jade-green circle intersected by a jagged yellow lightening bolt. He was our biggest headache for the moment, and the focus of our intelligence searches.

Most evenings, I would take long walks along Tu Do Boulevard, into the neighborhoods of Saigon. You could do that at that stage of the war, if you were careful. I wore nondescript civilian clothes with my .45 packed beneath.

They say that when you meet your soul mate, you always remember the exact moment, the exact place, the exact time. Perhaps, but it didn't work that way for me. I don't recall the time or place, except that shadows from the buildings had jumped the streets, announcing the coming night. She walked by with her Ao-Dai Vietnamese dress flowing about her like wind-blown clouds around a sunrise. Her face turned, and our eyes met in a moment that will remain etched in the synapses of my brain until my body turns to smoldering dust. In that telepathic moment between us, it seemed as if the world slowed down, as if God's hand held back the unfurling of life itself. Her face had the beauty of the Eurasian, a combination of a European father and Vietnamese mother. Her features were flawless with high cheekbones, eyes curved with a hint of Asian fold, holding deep emerald pupils. I thought I could drown in those eyes. Low on her left cheek, a birthmark contrasted in pale pink and white to the golden smoothness of her skin. It seemed as if the heavens had decided that such perfection could not be, and marred it just a bit.
She paused, turned to the two women who accompanied her, said something, and they quickly walked away giggling. I stepped forward until we stood just a few feet apart, and it seemed as if something else controlled my actions, as I heard myself speak.

"Mademoiselle, je crois que je vous reconnai." I believe I may know you, I said.

I am six feet, and she stood nearly as tall, unusual for a Vietnamese. Her soft laugh and voice reminded me of tinkling wind chimes in Buddhist temples high atop holy mountains. I offered her tea at a nearby café and she accepted.

Her name was Collete, given to her by her French father. We spent the evening together, and that night had dinner on the roof terrace of the Cercle Sportif, the old French Club from the colonial days. We held hands, speaking softly as the lights of Saigon winked below us, and on the dark horizon, tracer rounds, and flares erupted from firefights in the jungles surrounding the capital. My mind reeled with her beauty, her presence, and the smoldering messages of her eyes. I wanted to be with this woman, to have her exotic beauty, and her charming companionship at my side always. We parted as the night sky lightened. We kissed, and I held her, her body soft and pliant where it should be, yet surprisingly strong.

I dozed for an hour or so at the BOQ, Bachelor Officer Quarters, and reported to work by eight AM.

Everything appeared the same, but the world had changed. All I thought about was Collete. She had gotten under my skin, I felt linked to her, bound irreparably in love.

She had been a little vague about herself, deflecting my probing questions about her life with questions of her own about me. It seemed that I told her everything, but all I knew of her was that she held some job related to the school on Tu-Do Boulevard, and she traveled a lot. I wanted to see her again, to be with her right now, even though my military duties made it impossible.

Four hours later I sat near the open door of a Huey helicopter on my way to the Special Forces camp at Dong Ta. I was one of several intelligence specialists acting as liaisons. We traveled to outposts around Saigon, met with local commanders to get first hand impressions of the intelligence sent to MACV. These visits were relatively calm most of the time, with a few hairy exceptions. This trip was quiet, and I set a record in preparing my report and heading out of the MACV compound toward Tu Do Boulevard. I was anxious as a 14 year old on his first date.

My mood sank when I didn't see her right away, then she turned a corner and my heart jumped. She smiled, every inch of her as beautiful as I remembered.

We saw each other almost daily over the next three weeks, making love whenever we could, content with each other's company. I started talking about bringing her to the US. She didn't say no, just seemed to avoid the subject. I asked often about her absences, and all she would say was that it was just her job.

Meanwhile the Flash had now reached number one on the MACV hit list. Eluding a Vietnamese Ranger battalion, and several American units, he had killed a province chief and a Vietnamese commander in one night, at different locations. Rumors were flying, and MACV wanted him dead before he became a public relations nightmare.

One lazy Sunday afternoon, after a spectacular bout of lovemaking followed by lunch in bed, we lay there, sated and drowsy from the French wine, and she said to me:

"Peter, I want to see you Monday night. I want you to spend the night at my house."

"At your house? You're finally going to tell me where you live? I'm always afraid you'll disappear, and I won't know where to find you."

She ran her fingers along my side. Her touch was smooth and gentle, her nails not manicured and the muscles of her arms strong and taut.

"Don't be silly Cherie. I will always be with you. A part of me will stay with you forever."

"Collete, I want to take you back to the US. You know I want to marry you. Does that mean you agree?"

"Perhaps Cherie, but you must be with me tomorrow night."

"I can't tomorrow night. I have a special trip Monday nights, that's why we never meet on Mondays."

She turned away, then returned her gaze, emerald eyes bright, boring into mine, touching my soul.

"If you love me, you'll find a way. It's the most important thing to me."

I said yes. Hell I'd desert if I had to. I was that hopelessly in love.

It wasn't as difficult as I had told her to free up Monday night. Monday was my "tit run," safe and easy. A weekly debriefing at Lon Sai hamlet, protected by a ferocious militia, and a U.S. led Vietnamese airborne battalion, Lon Sai was the quietest spot around Saigon. I managed to switch assignments with a lieutenant J. "JJ" Bonner, one year under me in my ROTC class.

"Goddam Peter," he said, "First you go around happy as a pig in shit, now you're giving away your tit run. You sure you ain't up to no-good, selling PX liquor to the black market or pot to the grunts?"

"Not a chance, JJ. Besides, what can they do to me, send me to Vietnam?"

Monday night I gave the directions to a cycle cab, and sat in the seat as he pedaled the contraption through Saigon traffic. The cab wove its way out of the main boulevards into an elegant neighborhood of large old houses dating back to the French colonial days. He stopped in front of two stone pillars flanking a crushed stone driveway. The name "Chevalier" and the number 27 contrasted white on blue ceramic tile, the kind of address markers you see in French cities. At the end of the driveway stood a two-story brick house flanked by columns and surrounded by a flowering garden. I jumped out of the cycle cab and turned to the driver.

"This numba ten," he said, using the GI slang for awful things, "this bad shit," he continued, "You sure you go here GI?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," I replied and handed him fifty Piastres. "Why is this number ten?"

He looked at the house, looked at me, shook his head and pedaled off.

The warm air smelled good, and felt clean on my skin. The stones crunched under my shoes as I walked up the driveway. The sun had set and shadows stretched from the willow trees in the manicured gardens on the side of the house. I bounded up the slate steps between two marble columns, and the door opened before I had a chance to knock.

She was breathtaking. I stepped inside and we embraced. The house was furnished in the old colonial French style, everything clean and meticulously arranged, but completely silent as if the gods of love would be offended by any noise. A Trout Amandine dinner on fine china was set in the dining room with a chilled bottle of Bordeaux white, in a crystal ice bucket. We ate slowly, lightly, holding each other's eyes in the way of lovers, as time slipped away.

I remember walking from the dining room to the veranda, and light seemed to follow us to the garden outside. Water gurgled up from the hands of a stone Buddha, and spilled into a rock fountain, its soothing melody absorbing all other sounds.

We made love several times that night, there in the garden, and as the eastern sky lightened, I asked her again.

"Collete, please come to America with me, please marry me."

"I will love you as none other," she said. "A part of me will stay with you always."

"You must go now, it is time Peter," she said, as morning drew even closer.

"Will I see you tomorrow Collete?"

"Not tomorrow, but soon. You will see me in sunshine."

I did as she asked and left before sunrise. I walked most of the way back, my mind filled with confusion, and my heart brimming with love.

I was an hour late reporting to the MACV compound. As soon as I walked into the intelligence room, I sensed something bad had happened. The duty sergeant came up to me with folders of teletype reports.

"Man you lucked out captain, some bad shit went down last night. JJ bought the farm."

"What? He was doing my debriefing at Son Lai. It's a country club."

"Not anymore, they got hit by a full regiment of NVA. Seems they were building up under our noses, putting us to sleep for the kill. They attacked late evening at full strength. JJ's chopper took a mortar round right through the door on take off, killed everybody inside. The camp was almost overrun, lots of casualties. Westmoreland ordered the First Cav in."

"Shit. What about the Flash, was he involved in this?"

"Doubt it. No incident last two days. He probably scoped it out and let the big units handle it."

For a moment impossible thoughts flew through my mind like wormy shadows of doubt. A layer had crinkled up, just a little turn of a corner revealing honeycombed shadows beneath. Collete had insisted we meet at her house that night, and it had saved my life and doomed poor JJ.

Why? She had given no reason. Could fate really be that fickle? I loved Collete as much as a man could ever possibly love a woman, but still I knew precious little about her. I felt the strength and the hunger of her love, what I knew to be the power of her devotion, contrasted with the vague acceptance of my proposal to her.

A part of me will be with you always.


It was late afternoon when a lieutenant walked into the intelligence room with the classified field reports detailing the ambush killing of the Flash.

"Happened a little over 24 hours ago, five AM Monday morning. Son of a bitch was operating right out of Saigon. Got some intel from a defector and sent a SEAL team on ambush. Wait till you see who the Flash is," the Lieutenant said, handing me the folder.

"At least we got some good news," I replied.

I sat, opened the folder and read the first few pages. The Flash had walked
into the ambush at first light. The firefight lasted less than a couple of minutes and killed all twelve VC's. The Flash had been positively identified.

Operational plans and other documents found on the body, along with a deck of his specially made calling cards, left no doubt. I turned the page to the photos in the report.

For a moment time stopped, and I don't know how long I sat, staring at the photo. Sometimes you encounter things so shocking, that there are no reactions. The fight-or-flight syndrome overwhelms the system with the monstrosity of the event, you just freeze, like a small animal captured by headlights on a dark road.

I felt a tilt in my world, an overturning of any realities I had ever known in my twenty-two years on earth. I felt a psychic layer fold itself back, revealing the darkness beneath.

The M-16 rounds had stitched across the chest leaving a shredded mess, but sparing the face. The classic Eurasian features were intact, and her beauty vanquished the mask of death in the photo. I ran my fingers lightly over the picture, tracing the outline of her face, lingering at the birthmark and the jet-black hair that would fall around her shoulders, covering my face as she rode me when we made love. Time seemed to stop for me, and the pounding of my heart the only sound remaining in the intelligence room. The lieutenant stood in front of my desk, mouth moving, eyes questioning, but I heard nothing.

I left the report on my desk and walked out of the room into the late afternoon heat. I ran the fifty yards to the motor pool, signed out a jeep and left the compound. It was amazing that I didn't kill anyone as I blazed through the Saigon traffic, a totally out of control lunatic, riding on the sidewalk or on the wrong lane to get around the traffic. Insane ideas chased themselves around my head.

How could it be Collete? How could she had been the Flash, killed at first light Monday morning, sixteen hours before we made love at eleven that night? Could she have an identical twin? In spite of our love, the details of her life were mysteries to me.

As I entered the neighborhood where she lived, I remembered a poem about the human heart springs hope eternal, and I felt some of that now. I fantasized about her answering my pounding fists on her door, then coming into my arms, and explaining the terrible mistake. I turned into her street and stopped in front of the two stone pillars and driveway of her house, and another layer peeled back.

I felt a tight knot, deep within, none of my senses seemed to work right as I stepped out of the Jeep and stared at the house. I felt like a man teetering on the edge of an abyss, hearing the slithering of leather wings in the darkness below.

The stone pillars stood in the exact spot as I had seen them less than 48 hours ago, but they were not the same. Now they were unkempt, overrun with lichens, fungus and layers of moss. I approached the left pillar. The stone was old, and I brushed away the mold, revealing a cracked and blistered ceramic plate. Some of the original blue still remained visible in spots, and I kept rubbing until the faded letters appeared:

Number 27

I looked down the remains of the driveway, choked with weeds growing like bushes. The flowers were gone, replaced by a burgeoning jungle of festering weeds, brambles and choking vines. Where the driveway would have ended, I saw the tips of mounded ruins, protruding above the vegetation like the blackened stubs of teeth in a rotten mouth.

I choked back a sob, and ran toward the ruins. I felt the vines and thorns pull at my limbs, tearing my uniform, and leaving long scratches oozing blood. The smell of fried dust filled my nostrils, and I tasted the rot of the place. As I reached the edge of the ruins, I recognized the two columns that had been on the front of the house, flanking the door. They lay on the earth covered in thick weeds, broken in large blocks forming a semicircle as if kicked out by a giant boot.

On the ground, peering out in spots from beneath tangles of vegetation, I recognized the remains of the slate steps leading to the entrance where only a fortnight ago, I had embraced Collete.

There's a space somewhere between the realization that layers have pulled back revealing the pit of hell reaching for you, and total insanity, a space just short of disintegration of any rational thoughts. I had reached that space.

I ran from the ruins, back through the dense vegetation, through the remains of the driveway, past the crumbling pillars to the neighboring house, and pounded on the door. It was amazing I didn't get shot. A screaming wild-eyed man in a uniform, tattered and bloodied, is not exactly what you want to have appear at your front steps at dusk.

The door opened, revealing a tall European in his sixties and sporting a white handlebar mustache. At his side a squat, serious-looking Vietnamese cradled a compact submachine gun. The tall man looked me over, turned to the Vietnamese and dismissed him with a few words, then turned back to me. His voice carried the clipped, distinctive accents of high-society London.

"Calm down young man. Come inside and tell me what happened. You'll be safe here, Mong will see to that."

I shook my head, and remained on his porch.

"That house, what happened to it? I was there two nights ago, and now...its..where is the woman who lived there?"

He looked toward the ruins and frowned. "That's impossible. I've lived here since 1947. I was here when that house was blown up in 1954. Killed Colonel Chevalier and his wife. It was supposed to have been done by the Viet-Minh, predecessor to the Viet-Cong that you chaps are fighting now. There were rumors that it was French intelligence that ordered him killed."

"No...It could'nt be...I was there, just two nights ago."

"Afraid that's impossible old chap. You see I was there when it happened eleven years ago, remember it clear as yesterday, wreckage hasn't been touched since. The only one who survived was the colonel's daughter, nine years old, riding a bicycle in the street when the bomb went off."

"Their daughter..."

"I remember her very well also. A pretty little thing, named Collete. She had no other known relatives and the Colonel was never married to his Vietnamese woman, so they sent the child to an orphanage in Hanoi."

I walked back to the ruins, through the thick undergrowth, and stood there, facing the impossible. I walked around, and I recognized the fountain where we had made love to the music of waterfalls, only now it stood crumbling, moss-covered, dried-up and decaying. I don't know how long I stayed there as the reality that I had lost her, solidified like a tumor eating my soul. But it was at that moment that I saw her, reflected in the amber beams of the setting sun, light passing through her body as she smiled and suddenly vanished.

I will see you in the sunshine

In place of the vision, looped around a stone protrusion in the fountain, a jade amulet reflected the last crimson rays of the sun. I felt her presence, and longing tore at my heart as I recalled her voice.

You will always carry a part of me with you.

I reached up, grasped the jade amulet, and held it in my hand. It was Collete's. How often I had felt it around her neck as I kissed the sweet spot at the base of her throat. I slid the cover from its tiny hinges, revealing the locket inside. Bright green intersected by a jagged gold streak resembling a lightening bolt, symbol of the Flash. It felt warm in my hand, as if her hand had just placed it there for me to find.

I barely remember the rest of my tour in Vietnam. I changed from a rational intelligence officer to a raving maniac demanding combat duty. Since I was jump qualified, they sent me to the 173rd Airborne Brigade where I earned the Silver Star for bravery. But I know better. I was trying to join Collete.

Now I'm more then halfway through the first ten years of the Millennium, and Vietnam lies four decades past, but Collete's memory never tarnished, and my love never faded. It lies there, at the base of my soul, beneath its own layer like a great sleeping force, just waiting for a reawakening that could never be.

I continued with my life somehow, got married, had children, but often it seemed like a dream as if I floated through a world that didn't really exist.

And so it comes down to this now. I'm sitting in my wheelchair on the porch of my Connecticut house, feeling the salty breeze wash over me from Long Island Sound. My granddaughter wheeled me here-I have a disease that I can neither spell nor pronounce, and it will kill me very soon. I feel the amulet, still warm on my skin after all those years.

A part of me will always be with you.

It's starting to come clear now, the layers that I will soon be parting.

Fantasy Writing Contest contest entry
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Save to Bookcase Promote This Share or Bookmark
Print It View Reviews

You need to login or register to write reviews. It's quick! We only ask four questions to new members.

© Copyright 2023. Patrick Astre All rights reserved.
Patrick Astre has granted, its affiliates and its syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.