War and History Fiction posted November 19, 2018

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It was a long journey to close a chapter

Going Home to Katie-Bug

by Y. M. Roger

The Blood that was spilled Contest Winner 

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.

It was the last time they had been laughing together. The last meal they ate together. The last time for a lot of things, and none of them had known it.
“You’re such a pussy.” Franks would say, “Stop worrying about what might be, man! Just go with today!”
“Why you gotta do that, Franks?” That was Buckley. “Why you gotta give everybody shit? If Hadir wants to voice some worries, let ‘im. Don’t be such a self-righteous prick!”
Hadir – his huge, brown eyes that had always betrayed any harshness he'd try to portray – would wave them both off as Franks stood in challenge to Buckley. “It’s okay, you two, just let i-”
“Who you callin’ prick, dickhead?”
“Oh, real intelligent there, Frankfurter!” Nose to nose, across the table, as per their usual. “You seem pretty enamored with dick for straight guy, eh?”
Then, of course, Jordan – Stephanie when it was just she and him – would have to intervene with her maybe not-so-feminine ways. “Sit down! Neither of you should use that term since no one here seems to think either of you have one anyway!”
Hadir would smirk and he [Matteo] would glance up from his latest paperback and just shake his head; both of them would then just quietly continue eating. Franks and Buckley would both turn to say something to Jordan, but they never got to because the Colonel would walk in.
“Bravo Group! Got a call down in Sector Four – that little clubhouse we’ve been keeping an eye on. Seems company’s come to visit – move it, Marines!”
Just like that, the five of them would forget anything – conflict or whatever you wanted call it – had even happened. Stephanie – no, Jordan, remember? He was supposed to call her Jordan when they weren’t alone – would lean down, nudge him to pay attention, and whisper, “Close the chapter, Matty. Time to go.”
Finally, the five of them would raise their metal cups in mock toast, and say, “Here’s to coming home!”
Shoving one last bite in, they would all dump their trays and head for the armory.
His latest paperback having fallen into his lap, Matteo sat staring out the window at the sun setting again. That final dinner scene played over and over again in his mind just like it always did in the quiet times. He could still picture each of their faces as if he had just taken that last bite of that god-awful meat patty. Could still see Stephanie’s gorgeous green eyes the last time they had stolen behind the dumpster for a quick kiss and a hand job.
And shortly, when the nurse would bring the drug concoction the specialists had developed to ‘help him sleep’, he would relive the nightmare. Only, with the drugs, he would be unable to escape the nightmare – he would be trapped in that place to watch it happen over and over and over again until the drugs wore off enough that he could wake up in his cold sweats and tangled in the sheets, trying to catch his breath.
The therapists all told him he was getting better, that he was getting more rest at night. He vehemently begged to differ with them: the specialists and the night nurses were getting more sleep because he was unable to wake up. In fact, the nightmare had actually added an addendum as of late, but he wouldn’t tell them that. Because he was finally being released tomorrow – Matteo Scaramucci was going home in the morning.
A rare smile tried to breech his solemn face that had become so much a part of his being, but it disappeared quickly with the quiet knock on his door.
“Got your evening meds, Matt.” The night nurse was sweet enough, but Matteo hadn’t even bothered to learn her name. His only focus since his arrival had been to do the right things and say the right words and react the right way so that he could go home – get as far away from the military and its institutions as possible.
Taking the pills like a diligent little soldier and allowing her to check that he took them, he made sure everything was in order for his departure in the morning. Then he lay down to face hell for the last time with the meds to keep him there.
Starting tomorrow night, he was going to face it alone.
“Oh, you’re going to love your apartment we have set up for you, Matty.” His mom seemed genuinely happy to have him coming to live at their place. Of course, that had been part of his discharge agreement from Walter Reid, that he not live alone.
“Mom, I hope you and Roland didn’t go through too much trou-“
“Stop right there, Matteo Nolan Scaramucci!” He felt like a teenager again with her use of his full name. “You know you are no trouble for us so, I’ll hear no more of that talk, do you hear me?”
How old was he now, twenty-eight or just eight? He grinned at that thought because it didn’t matter.
“Yes, ma’am.”
Matteo’s mom was five and a half feet tall and weighed about a hundred twenty pounds when she was soaking wet. His real dad had been killed in a work accident when he was eleven and all the way through school it had been just him and his mom. And even though he outsized her greatly at nearly six feet and over two hundred pounds – she had been the strictest disciplinarian he knew. Respect had never been a problem with them.
“Now, you have the whole basement with your own entrance,” she talked as she walked and unlocked the front door, pausing in the middle of unlocking because hands were important to his mom’s colorful speech, “and we left the basement stairs and door to the house for now, but if you would prefer, I can have Roland nail it shu-”
“Of course not, mom! I still want to be able to be wi-”
“Well, I just want you to know it’s an option, Matty.” She shooed him inside and locked the door behind them. It smelled like home. Not like it had when he was growing up; no, this was not that place. But it smelled like a place Matteo called home, and, for now, that was enough.
“Okay. I promise I’ll let you know if I change my mind.”
As he followed his mom to the basement door, Matteo thought more about being here. After his mom had married Roland, they’d moved into a much nicer neighborhood. A few years later, Katie had come along. He couldn’t forget Katie’s age since his mom had gone into labor the day he had graduated Marine Corps OCS. There had been complications, and his mom couldn’t have any more.
“How’s Katie-bug? I’m guessing she’s asleep by now, huh?”
“Sound, I’m sure – she sleeps like a rock since she’s so active, you know. And, Matty, she’s such a dear. I swear she’s like an old soul trapped in that little girl’s body.” His mom walked down the stairs and started turning on the lights as she went. “Do you know that she goes and sits on the Senior Bench at the front of the grocery store when I’m checking out and just chats with all the old men and women there?” She continued walking around the small basement studio apartment complete with kitchenette they had made for him, opening every curtain and window and turning on every light as she went.” It’s amazing to watch, really. And she’s so bright, you know? Reading way above her level in school.” She even turned on the patio light to reveal a little stone patio they’d built for him. “I mean, the librarian down the block knows us by sight ‘cuz we can’t afford to buy that girl all the books she wants to read!”
Matteo could see that. He’d only been home the one time in-between tours to visit and she had attached herself to him like a bee on a hydrangea bush in bloom. He hadn’t minded a bit – she was as cute as she could be. And his mom was right about one thing, he could tell even three years ago that their little Katie-bug with Roland’s stunning, Kelly eyes was one smart cookie.
She finally stopped her whirlwind opening and brushing off and such and turned to him.
“Well, I hope you like it Matty.” She looked hesitant, as if she expected him to have something bad to say about all the trouble it was obvious they had gone through. “We’re all really excited to have you home.”
“Seriously, mom?” He dropped his bags and strode over to her and took here in his arms, lifting her off her feet in his embrace. “It’s perfect!”
The bed was nothing like the one at Walter Reid – Matteo sighed as he sank into his very own slice of heaven – this one was one hundred times better. He’d made sure there was nothing breakable in vicinity of the bed before snuggling in. Taking one last glance at the prescription bottles across the room on the counter top, Matteo closed his eyes and began his relaxation exercises.
Hadir stopped to pet a friendly dog that obviously smelled the power bars in his thigh pocket. Hadir also politely greeted a number of the locals that seemed to be eyeing them more than usual. Or maybe that was just his, as the others would say, finding things that weren’t there.
“Hadir, what is it with you and dogs, man?” Franks again, only this time he nudged his comrade amicably. “I thought you ate dogs as some sort of delicacy or something.”
Moving on, Buckley had point, even though they tried to make the formation look casual. Stephanie – no, Jordan – was up-right while Hadir and Franks were up-left.
“Dey not tasty like snakes,” Hadir laughed low, trying not to bring unnecessary attention to them, “But you know all ‘bout how dem snakes taste, yeah, Franky-Boy?”
He’d shaken his head in amusement, trying really hard to look for anything out of the ordinary in front as well as behind. Well, especially behind – he was rear.
Buckley silently signaled for halt, and he’d noticed the locals start to slowly move indoors as they passed.  That was new.
“Jordan? I’ve got retreat motion both sides behind us.”
Buckley silently acknowledged he’d heard and motioned for them to close ranks. Their target – the clubhouse, as Ops had dubbed it – was just ahead on the left.
At some point, local imbeds had determined that this small trading post, for lack of a better description, had become a meeting place for some of the higher value targets in the surrounding area. Once in a while, they would get lucky and have spotters and moles that gave them enough ‘heads up’ that they were able to capture the target. Seemed to be the thinking on this one, too. They were looking for a supposed trail guide wearing mostly gray but with a faded purple sadri bearing unfamiliar tribal markings.
They approached,  hugging the left building fronts, when Buckley motioned for him and Franks to go around the back to prevent backdoor egress. Seeing Franks turn toward him to comply, he turned off down the alley.
The word ‘askar’ split the air and, suddenly, a large German Shepherd came charging out of the side door of the clubhouse,  knocking him sideways. In full snarl, the dog leapt at Franks who had no time to react as he landed on his back. With so much equipment on him, Franks struggled to find his knife as the dog relentlessly snapped at his neck.
He couldn’t have taken two steps toward the man/dog death match when the air was filled with ‘!Tsheleezzem! !Tsheleezzem!’ and hostiles and gunfire appeared from everywhere. He shot the dog first, and tried to get a handle on the action, stepping forward, weapon ready.
Franks managed to free himself from the dog’s body and tried to ready his weapon. But then, Franks was waylaid by two bodies from the roof tops that fell on him and began stabbing relentlessly. He shot them too and got to Franks’ side. Pushing the two bodies off Franks yet still using them as a shield, he lay there in all the blood – from Franks, from the dog, from the two sons-of-bitches that had attacked him – and took aim.

And Franks’ gurgling and death rattle were right there, next to his ear.

At the moment he was trying to get his bearings, he saw two large men holding a struggling Jordan – he had barely gotten his weapon to firing position when one of the attackers raised a large knife and slit her throat – the blood from the slash spurting outward and running down the front of her uniform. He watched the life drain from her eyes.
As her body slumped to the ground, he screamed and dropped both of the men. One. Two. He then took aim at anything not wearing Marine cammo.  Buckley was the last to fall – blood coating his head and face – motioning as he fell for Matteo to look behind him.
He turned, weapon at the ready, just in time to fire at another two that had come from above. Their bodies fell heavily on top of him, and that’s where the dream’s addendum had started changing…
No longer did he rush to the bloodied bodies of his four friends, looking for pulses that he knew would not be there. No longer did he fire into the blood-covered bodies of the attackers near Stephanie, even though he knew they were already dead, easy targets from his previous vantage point. No longer did he throw up beside Hasir’s body – the man’s face shredded, his once so-expressive eyes gouged out.
No, instead he found himself at one of the metal tables at the mess hall back in Kandahar. He was on one side and Buckley, Franks, Hasir, and Stephanie were on the other, facing him. And they all just sat there, staring at each, holding those metal cups in front of them. All four of them were still bruised and bloodied, just like the day the attack had happened, but he was fine. It was present day for him.
Then the four of them would raise their cups to toast, never saying a word. He would look down at his cup, back up at them, and shake his head.
That was when Matteo would wake up, hyperventilating every time.
He’d been at this for nearly three weeks now. Sometimes he would wake up when the dog jumped out; sometimes it was when Franks’ lungs were gurgling; a lot of the time it was when Stephanie went down. If he made it through Buckley falling, he’d usually make it through to the end.
Roland and his mom would ask him about the screaming, but he would assure them he was working on it. Katie-Bug never mentioned it, although she’d asked a lot of odd questions over the weeks like would he tell her about Stephanie. Or could he describe Franks’ attitude and loyalty or Buckley’s amazing tattoos. And then there was the one where she’d asked about Hasir’s eyes – how did the little seven-year-old even know anything about his eyes? Or Buckley’s sleeves, for that matter?
But he had answered all of her questions, describing each of them in detail to satisfy all of her questions. He had to admit, it was really hard sometimes – okay, most times – but just watching her little face light up as he spoke and filled in details about each of them, it made it worth the trouble. Every day Katie-Bug got home from school, the two of them would chat out on his little patio. Katie-Bug would sit with her little pink cup and he would have his beer, and they would talk until dinner time. Sometimes he would help her with her homework, but, more often than not, she just wanted to talk. His mom certainly had it right with her description of his little sister as an ‘old soul’.
He must have become fixated on her stupid pink cup because the thing had begun making a regular appearance in his nightmare….namely, at the end, at the table, when he managed to make it through that far.
So, here he was, holding her little pink cup instead of the metal cup as his dead, bloodied comrades held up their metal cups for a toast. He felt his breathing become labored, the sweat rolling off of him. Gasping, he sat up abruptly.
But instead of staring at the far wall this time, he came practically face-to-face with Katie-Bug. She sat cross-legged at the foot of his bed, and she barely moved as his eyes grew wide in surprise; he was still trying to get control of his breathing.
She simply angled her little head and grinned, drinking a big swallow of her raspberry juice out of her pink cup, a bit of the red liquid dribbling down her chin and onto her little sweatshirt. Smearing it all over her collar in a botched attempt to wipe it off, she grinned at him.
“You’re home, Matty.”
Still somewhat struggling with his breaths, he paused and looked at his little sister covered in … she was covered in raspberry juice. Breathe, Matteo.  “Of course, I’m home, Katie-Bug, I’ve been he-”
“You’re home, but you won’t let them go home.”
Matteo frowned at that and went to get out of the bed – he was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable, that unwelcome weight forming on his chest. Until he realized he was not dressed enough to get up with his little sister sitting there. A bit flustered, he tried to keep his tone even as he began gathering the covers around his waist and lap.
“What do you mean I won’t let them…Katie-Bug, you’re only seven, Sweetie, you don’t know what you’re sa-”
Then, Katie held out her cup to him. He looked at it, his face the picture of confusion, scrunched eyebrows and all. She slightly shook the cup, indicating he should take it.
Now, he felt himself getting a little annoyed with her games. She rolled those expressive little green eyes at him, leaned in, and whispered.
“Time to close the chapter, Matty,” she bit her bottom lip and then smiled with her whole little face, dribbling raspberry juice trails and all, “time for them to go.”
He felt all his breath leave him as Stephanie’s words from their last meal, their last toast as a group, rolled off little Katie-Bug’s tongue. He was so shocked that he mechanically reached up and made to take the proffered cup from her.
But Katie did not relinquish her hold and, instead, they both held onto the cup as Katie raised it just a bit higher, taking Matteo’s grip and, therefore, his arm with it.
“Here’s to going home, Matty.” After a slight pause, she let the cup go, rose up on her knees, and launched herself at her big brother. She hugged him tight with every muscle in her little body, “Love you so much.”
Catching his Katie-Bug’s tiny frame, Matteo dropped the cup on the bed, the action spilling her red juice all over the bed around them. Drawing in a long-withheld heaving sob, he held his little sister and cried for a very, very long time.


The Blood that was spilled
Contest Winner

Sadri - traditional waistcoats worn by Pashtun (Afghanistan) men are universally popular and may be made of any contrasting color to the basic long shirt and wide trousers. Some are highlighted with gold braid or embroidery (see Kandahar region)

Translations (Pashto, dialect of Kandahar)
askar - soldier
!Tsheleezzem - move!

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