The War Veteran

Johnny had his face in his iPhone.
He didn’t see the crippled old war veteran
lying like litter on the sidewalk
in a beaten parka begging for change.

“Get out of my way, you filthy bum!”
Johnny was disgusted. The city should do a better job
of keeping this scum out of his sight.

As Johnny went to kick the man’s legs
to teach him a lesson
the old man’s hand reached out
and seized Johnny by the ankle
for while this particular veteran had lost everything
along the way he had obtained a very special gift
and today it would be Johnny who was the one
receiving the lesson
of a lifetime.

Everything went dark and quiet but for only a moment.
Johnny opened his eyes but didn’t remember closing them.

He wasn’t downtown anymore.
Instead Johnny was in a rice field and his ankles were all wet
the air was stifling hot with no breeze
large insects buzzed all around him and he could
smell his own sweat along with cow shit
but he didn’t have time to feel disgusted again.

A large boom displaced the air all around him as
further up the way
the entire tree line disappeared beneath
a wall of mushrooming fire
as jets roared past overhead.

Johnny’s eyes widened as the heat hit him and as
dozens of men came running out towards him screaming
all completely covered in crawling flames.

Johnny could smell their skin burning
when the barrage of endless bullets began
whipping right past his head and
cutting down the men Johnny realized
where all around him
scared just like him –men that
he went to basic training with
that he played cards with
men that were like his brothers.

The way that his best friend’s body
twitched as it was riddled with bullets
made him look like a dancing puppet
and it might have been funny as Hell
if it didn’t break Johnny’s heart.

Bombs exploded dirt high into the sky
that came raining back down all around him.
Then another hit…and another
closer and closer each time.

Johnny turned his head to look behind him.
A boy, must have been only seventeen
a new recruit that Johnny knew well
was seated on the ground trying to hold his guts in
screaming for his momma.

Men in straw hats came running out of the forest
fire spouted in rapid succession from the barrels of their guns.
They were all around him coming in fast.
Johnny was paralyzed with fear
his bladder let go inside of his pants when
the sergeant –a large shirtless man wearing a cowboy hat
calmly smoking a cigar
came up to Johnny and slapped him:

“Don’t you dare wet yourself on my field, soldier. You worthless piece of wet chicken shit I’ll hand you over to Charlie myself and you’ll get ass-banged all the way to Goddamn China if you don’t get a grip on your gun and DO WHAT YOU”RE TRAINED TO DO!! We’ve got to take this damned village or we’ll all be sucking bamboo dicks for the next ten years so get your Sally-ass shit together and make yourself GOD-DAMN USEFUL! GET TO KILL’N SOME COMMUNISTS! YOU WANT TO MAKE IT HOME SOME DAY THEN START MOVING! THE ONLY WAY OUT IS FORWARD AND THROUGH THESE SHITBAGS!”

The sergeant was the scariest person Johnny had ever seen
he was obviously completely insane
and made Johnny want to run into the fire just to escape his presence.
Instead the sergeant pushed Johnny forward and at that moment
Johnny somehow knew that he had spent over a year
in this Hell and there was no respite from it
not day or night
it would just continue on and on.

Johnny’s Mom wasn’t going to be able to
bail him out of this there was no one
there was nothing but him and his gun and
he was going to die or go mad in this man-made Hell
where everything was burning and filthy and all covered in
grease and blood and where everyone wanted you dead
and the only thing worse than the insects was the heat
and the constant endless stream of enemies.

This was a reality that he had never had to feel
or know was real and Johnny just couldn’t handle it.
Johnny just wanted to go home and hide under his bed.

Johnny leaned over and vomited
then vomited some more
as the sounds of passing cars and people
laughing returned and Johnny opened his eyes
realizing that he was in the middle of the sidewalk
crying, having wet his pants and now
retching his insides out in front of a
group of Japanese tourists.

Johnny ducked into a nearby alley
and leaned back against the cold brick wall
shivering and still crying.

The last thig he remembered before all this was
the man…the old man…
The war veteran.

The old man climbed up into his wheelchair and
quietly rolled himself down towards the harbor.

He had found some bread to feed the gulls with.

It was getting late and the view of the water
at sunset always made him feel at peace.

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