Project Daybreak

According to his Monday through Friday morning routine Stan Benkman would walk to work. He would leave his apartment, rain or shine, crossing Central Park and eventually end up on the corner of Lexington avenue and 78th street to grab a coffee and the Times at Empire Newsstand. On this dreary Fall, Tuesday morning, Stan arrived at the newsstand. He picked up a copy of the Times and got in line at the register. At the front of the crowded shop an elderly gentleman had accidentally dropped his change onto the floor and gathering it up the best he could. Right at that moment another gentleman entered the store and instead of passing by, he knelt down and helped the old man by picking up a few bits. For a brief moment, Stan thought the man helping gather the coins looked familiar but quickly dismissed the thought and began scanning the morning headlines of his paper. Then, realizing there was some connection with the face of the stranger, Stan looked up from his folded newspaper only to find the helpful man had vanished. The old man cheerfully walked out the front entrance with a small tote tucked under his arm.

‘Parks. Pools. Ponds,’ The words kept involuntarily percolating upward into the frontal lobe of Stans mind as the profile of the stranger shimmered in an alternate plane, a thin ethereal vapor on the horizon, between his eyes and the other side of the store. ‘Tongs. Tools. Tools? Schools? Sparks. Spool. Spoon? Spoons?….. SPOOKS!’ and suddenly the barrage of ramble found a home in the face of the stranger who had disappeared. ‘Spooks! That’s not the guys name but we called him that all the damned time,’ Stan surmised as he turned around, scanning the periphery. He twisted right then left but was unable to see where the stranger had gone. Someone behind him cleared their throat abruptly. He noticed that he was supposed to be next in line, nodded an apology toward the terse woman behind him, and approached the register.

“Times and a coffee regular,” stated the unshaven attendant, pushing a tall hot beverage cup across the countertop, a wisp of steam roiling up from the lid.

“Thanks, Larry. Have a good one,” Stan said as he dropped four bills on the counter.

Stan hurriedly walked toward the entrance, pushed the glass door open with a firm shoulder, and made his way out to the sidewalk. Immediately, he saw the gentleman thirty feet to his right, standing on the corner, waiting to cross the street. Still gripping the folded newspaper, Stan raised his left hand lightly over his head and waved it back and forth a couple of times which briefly caught the stranger’s attention and beckoned, “Hey, Spooks! It’s me! It’s Stan! Stanley Benk____”

The stranger looked away quickly, tucked down his head, and bolted in the opposite direction, rounding the corner on the other side of the building. Stan’s feet became anvils cemented into the sidewalk for a moment as the stranger disappeared. Then, he snapped to and began to follow, dodging his way through the crowd, rounding the corner after him.

Stan moved forward swiftly down the sidewalk raising up slightly on the tips of his toes every few paces to keep an eye on the back of the head of the dark haired man and his long, grey, town coat, the tails flapping behind him. With so many pedestrians on their way to work, matching pace with him was almost impossible. Stan realized that he might make himself late for work if he continued much further but he suddenly remembered that he was the boss, after all, and continued to see if he could catch up with the man he once knew as Spooks.

As he followed in pursuit, weaving quickly between the endless sea of pedestrians, his memories were piecing together like a puzzle. It was 1973 at the US Army installation at Fort Bragg and Stan Benkman was ordered to meet in a secluded and heavily wooded area of the base. He recalled a large brick, three story, administrative type structure. The name Rutherford Building was posted on a small wooden sign just before the guardhouse where two MP’s stood their post. Once cleared and instructed where to report inside the building, Stan found himself in a small conference type room with three rows of metal folding chairs with all seats taken except for one to his immediate right. He quietly took a seat and nodded a hello to the officer sitting to his left. This was the first time that he would meet private Edward Candler as they both shook hands.

Just then a heavily medaled and decorated man entered the room and the officers scrambled up out of their seats to salute and stand at attention.

“At ease, gentlemen,” he said to them all, motioning calmly with his hands to take their seats. He stood before them like an enormous brick wall nearing seven feet tall and built like a tank. The old bear looked over them from left to right without expression. His grand moustache entirely covering his upper lip, its wingspan out across its cheeks.

“I am Major Tanner and I welcome all of you here this evening. I am going to make this short and sweet, gentlemen. At the conclusion of this briefing you will all rise and follow Corporal Smythe through those large doors to your right. You will not be returning to your regular barracks as all of your things have already been relocated to a new facility just behind the Rutherford Building. Beginning tomorrow morning at Oh-six-hundred you will report back to this same room. From this day forward you are now involved in a highly classified and confidential special operations team that will be referred to from this moment forward as: Project Daybreak. Dismissed…”

During the first few days of the project there was little changed in the troops daily routines. This was mainly to allow cohesion between the twenty-five enlisted men, even if it was just a few exercises and meals that Stanley Benkman and Edward Candler experienced together within their new squad. Little by little, the officers were exposed to the fact that the reason they were invited to this special operations unit was that they all had exhibited, under  extensive observation in the field, a very high threshold of mental acuity during times of extreme stress. They were later told that this level of mental acuity and stamina was perfect for this unit as Project Daybreak would begin training them in ‘Remote Viewing’; The power to harness paranormal or psychic abilities in order to view and report back on sensitive remote targets, most of them military in nature, sometimes half way around the world.

For the next six months Daybreak was in full swing. Once the daily calisthenics were performed and proper nourishment had been taken, every minute in between, until bunk down, was spent perfecting the dark arts of remote viewing and everything in between to boost their abilities. Stan was starting to come into his own among the group as a leader in developing these skills, often times reading sensitive documents that were kept in highly guarded vaults at the other end of the military base. Edward was also impressive to the squad and during some of his ‘Sessions’ random metal objects in the room would twist and disfigure themselves right before their eyes. But, over time, as the abilities of Edward Candler began to bloom, when coming out of a mnemonically induced trance state, he would begin to spasm from head to toe and shriek as if his fingers had been chopped away with a meat cleaver. Fort Bragg physicians pronounced officer Candler fit as a fiddle and mentally as tough as a bowling ball full of iron. But, due to these  frequent and abrupt outbursts he quickly earned the nickname “Spooks”.

Project Daybreak had become a success for a handful of the enlisted men and their confidence had gone through the roof. But, things began to get tense in the barracks when strange, and unexplained things began to happen.

One evening on night patrol, Benkman was making his rounds and noticed faint sparkling blue flashes of light coming from under the door of the latrine, like someone was using a cigarette lighter in the dark. He slowly pushed the door open with the tip of his billy club and entered the long restroom, moving ghost quiet across the freshly mopped tile, until he saw more muted azure sparks coming from a shower stall at the end of the row. He stood absolutely still in the dark, only breathing slowly through his nose, and he was able to detect subtle crackling sounds that were definitely coming from the same enclosure.

After a brief moment the flashes subsided and hardly a sound except the low rumble of a few exhausted troops snoring in the barracks which was carrying down the hallway. Stan moved slowly forward several paces with his billy club raised above his right shoulder. He could barely make out the sounds of deep rasping breathing and then the rattling of someone undoing the latch-lock of the shower stall door. Stan froze instantly, club raised high, ready to strike, and waited until the silhouette of a head, then a body, protruded outward into the  darkness.

“Who goes there!? Identify yourself at once!” Stan shouted at the dark, shadowy, figure.

“Shhhhh….. for Chrissake! I was just taking a crap,” grumbled the figure.

Stan recognized the voice instantly as that of Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler and lowered his weapon, “What the hell, man?” Stan whispered at him, pointing his finger at his nose, “You scared the hell out of me… And what’s up with all the crazy lights and sparks? What the hell was that?”

“Take it easy… Take it easy, ok?” Edward hissed back, “There’s a whole lot going on around here that you don’t know about. I’ve met some people….on the other side, and we need to be extremely careful from now on. Me and you, specifically. It’s cool and all to be one of the strongest in the group but sometimes that can come at a deadly price, Stan. And, I don’t know about you, but I plan on making it out of here alive.”

Stan shook his head and whispered back, “You aren’t making a damned bit of sense! I think that all this training, all the maneuvers, all the remote targets, the whole damned thing in general is starting to mess with your head. Now, what the hell were you doing in here? What is up with all those flashing lights and shit? Were you trying to light a cigar or something?”

Candler leaned in closer, beside Stan’s cheek, and whispered close to his ear, “I’ve got a lot to tell you, man. But you need to listen to what I have to say and take it for what it’s worth. There’s still a whole hell of alot that I can’t explain.”

Right up until dawn, Stan and Spooks sat straddled on a wooden dressing bench in the latrine area, facing one another. Edward went on to explain the strange lights to Stan as ‘re-entry flare’ that would fire off and crackle once he was moving from one astral plane to another. He was sure the phenomenon was happening during remote target training but due to the lights used in the session rooms, unless they were dimmed super low, were just enough to keep the human eye from noticing their bizarre and delicate appearance. He also recounted the past three months worth of sessions; that his prowess for remote viewing has increased faster than he had ever imagined, how he was able to view and accurately notate the desired intelligence within seconds of entry, and use the next two to three hours on his own; mastering the mechanics of astral projection and advancing beyond that into parallel universe travel.

“What? We lay there, in a room, with cameras and the whole bit, with a timer. There is physical evidence that we don’t ever leave the session room. And, I don’t care what you say,” argued Stan, “We are there, doing our thing, and we don’t move for hours at a clip! What about all your screaming and carrying on when you come out of your…..your…. trance state?”

“I do that for show, Stan. Its all a load of crap,” Edward chuckled,“I have to come back in with a bang. And when I do, with pinpoint accurate intelligence, they don’t give a shit how long it takes me to get it! And what they don’t know, ain’t going to hurt ‘em. Our superior officers don’t have a clue about what’s really out there, man. And as long as they think their good little bitch, Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler, goes out and comes back with exactly what they want to hear, and keeps them in their polished brass and Cuban cigars for the next three years…., I’m going wherever the hell I want on my time…” he stated firmly and made a wide, sweeping motion out the window towards the myriad of stars above them; spread out like a celestial quilt over the sky at Fort Bragg.

***

On the top floor of an apartment complex, high above Murphy’s Jewelers, on the corner of east 79th street and 3rd avenue, the dark figure of a man has pulled back drawn curtains a few inches more in order to get a wider view up 79th toward Lexington. He makes a small adjustment to a tripod and then to the sights of an assault rifle mounted on top of a pea green Formica dining room table. From the folding wooden chair he is sitting he leans forward slowly and peers into the rifle’s scope which is trained on the crowded sidewalk below.

“Foxtrot bravo one. Foxtrot bravo one,” he whispers warmly and smooth into his bluetooth headset, “This is winter ivy. Bear cub is in the labyrinth. I repeat. Bear cub is in the labyrinth.”

“Winter ivy. This is foxtrot bravo one,” comes a crackled response a few seconds later into his headset, “Is ID positive?…. Is bear cub ID positive?”

“Affirmative, foxtrot bravo one. Affirmative,” he replies into his headset. He glances down at the tattered and open dossier full of scanned documents and long range black and white photographs laying on the kitchen table beside his mounted weapon. “Please advise. I repeat. Please advise.”

He quickly returns his eye to the scope, waiting on a directive from the other end of the line. He holds his breath for several moments of deep silence with crosshairs trained on the forehead of Stanley Benkman as he continues toward the building on the sidewalk below, Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler  moving briskly ahead of him.

Spooks methodically weaves his way through the oncoming pedestrians, just past the halfway point up the block, with Stan Benkman starting to slowly close the gap from behind. The marksman tightens his finger ever so slightly on the trigger as he begins to inhale slowly, preparing for the final release.

“Winter ivy. This is foxtrot bravo one,” stated the faraway voice at the other end, “Bear cub goes down the hole. I repeat. Bear cub goes down the hole.”

The marksman high above the crowded avenue exhales, slowly removing his finger from the trigger, and eases back away from the assault rifle and back into his chair.

On the street below a white unmarked van swiftly rounds the corner of Lexington avenue, accelerates quickly up 79th, and screeches up to the curb just behind Stanley Benkman with five armed men jettisoning from the sliding door and onto the sidewalk toward him.

He had just bumped into an oncoming stranger, spilling some of  his fresh coffee, and decided that maybe the stranger wasn’t Edward Candler after all. He shrugged, and decided to give up the chase. As crushing hands fell hard upon his shoulders and arms grappling around his waist, lifting him off of the ground, Stan began to shout loudly, flailing with his arms, hoping a free elbow would make contact with someone’s skull or nose. Then, in mid-air, bellowing all sorts of expletives and obscenities, he realized that those who held him off the ground had instantaneously become motionless. His screams were somehow echoing down the gridlocked street that had miraculously gone silent around him.

Stan had a look around and was shocked to discover that the entire world had stopped dead around him; taxis and buses motionless, pedestrians frozen in their tracks with smiles and smirks affixed to their faces. Everything had come to a halt. He observed that he was suspended off of the ground by several secret service type men, whose frozen arms and meathooks held him up like a derby swinging on a hat rack. Just as he had realized his predicament he noticed that Spooks was jogging up to him, just a few yards away.

“Stay still while I get you out of this mess,” he said hurriedly, and began to pry at their arms until Stan became free with his feet back on the ground.

“Spooks? Ed Candler? It is you, right?

“Yeah it’s me, Stan. And we need to get out of here as quickly as possible. I’ll tell you everything once you and I can move to a safe place. Now give me a hand!”

Edward stepped away across the sidewalk and approached an ice cream vendor, paralyzed in the impasse of time, and pulled his cart full of frozen treats away from his side. He quickly wheeled it up to the group of men who attempted to abduct Stan. He began to manipulate them around the cart, weaving their arms together, some of them going through the cart’s push handle, and called out to Stan, “Handcuffs! Handcuffs!”

Stan moved around the circle of bodies, reaching into their dark coat pockets, one after another. After frisking around them all, counterclockwise, he had six sets of handcuffs which he handed over to Spooks. Edward began cuffing the men’s interlocked arms together at the wrist until he had them all daisy chained into a circle around the ice cream cart.

“They’re going to love waking up to this,” stated Edward with a wink, “Let’s get out of here. Follow me.”

Edward took off across the street in full sprint and Stan took off after him, tossing his coffee cup to the side. They jogged up the middle of Lexington Avenue, dodging the occasional open door or pedestrian who became frozen while crossing  the street, until they were at the corner of East 84th Street. Edward ducked into the front entrance of Mr. Perks coffee house and found a sofa in the back corner where it was dim lit and no one was seated. He motioned for Stan to sit down while he went behind the service counter for a moment and returned with two bottles of cold water. He tossed one to Stan who caught it in mid air, twisted off the cap, and took three huge gulps, draining half the bottle. Edward sat across from him in a lazy chair and caught his breath.

“Are you ready?” Ed asked

“Ready? Ready for what?” Stan gasped, still trying to catch his breath, “Did you do that out there? How’d you do that?”

Edward looked down at his watch and then back up at Stan. He smiled, leaned forward and clapped his hands right in front of Stan’s nose with a loud ‘Pop’ that made him recoil and blink.

Instantaneously, the world moved around them as if nothing had happened. Patrons hustled in and out of the coffee house while others read their books and tablets. The sound of the busy street beyond the walls spilled in each time a new customer entered the busy little shop from the sidewalk.

“We can only sit here for a minute or two, Stan. We’re about half a mile away from the target zone which is a larger perimeter than their amateur remote talents will allow them to access. Like I told you back at base, they have no idea how to get around out here. If they did, they would know that most places these days are completely under camera surveillance. If they knew they existed, in this particular time frame, they would realize that they could remotely view the entire grid of camera systems from wherever in time they happen to be. But, they are slowly starting to catch up. And that means we split as fast as we can and don’t leave them any clues.”

“Who are you talking about?” Stan insisted with a furrowed brow, he was completely confused and feeling displaced, “I have no idea what’s going on here. You have to tell me! Are they trying to kill you? How did everything just stop like that? Did you do that?”

“You need to keep your voice down,” said Edward with a chastising hard gaze. After taking a quick glance around the periphery he explained in further detail, “This is going to be a lot to swallow but I need you to listen and trust me. If you can’t you’ll end up dead. Period.”

Stan rubbed his temples, shaking his head in disbelief,  and then finally looked up into Edward’s eyes and said, “Ok.”

“To put it simply; the US Army wants us dead. We are, right now, experiencing your present life here in New York City. And, in about fifteen minutes, in 1973, back in the session room at the Rutherford building at Fort Bragg, you are about to be handed a manila envelope labeled ‘Manhattan Target’. If the US Army is successful, you will remotely view this moment in time from the Fort. They will be waiting, they will kill you in both timescapes, simultaneously, and I will escape back to where I reside safely in the future. Lucky for you, I’ve viewed, reviewed, and rehearsed this fragment of time. I’m here to save both of your lives.”

“A couple of minutes ago you said that the Army lacks the smarts to track us down?” asked Stan worriedly. His mind was reeling from all that he had just heard.

“That’s just it, Stan. The Army of the past can’t do a damned thing. But, the Army that will likely appear twenty to thirty years from now could be the most violent ever seen on Earth. If the present course of time continues without much alteration they are likely to bring the entire planet under their control. If their future troops of cybrid humans are trained beyond the level that we have discovered on our own, they could easily send the world into its darkest days. But, I can tell you this; if we can prevent the Army from eliminating us both, and at the same time allow them to erase Project Daybreak from the memory of time, no one will ever have to bear witness to the absolute hell that is waiting just around the corner. I need you to trust me, Stan. I can’t stop them alone. I need you to come with me…”

Both men sat looking straight into each others eyes without uttering a word. From the negative body language of Stan Benkman this appeared to be a stalemate until he suddenly came to his senses and connected the dots in the dark recesses of his mind.

“Alright then….Let’s go,” Stan announced as he stood up from the sofa tucked away in the back of Mr. Perks coffee house. Edward stood to face him. He placed his right hand firmly on Stan’s shoulder and both men vanished without anyone noticing.

***

“At ease, Officer Benkman. Please have a seat,” said Major Tanner from behind his large mahogany desk, motioning toward a cozy leather chair with the nod of his head, “Officer Benkman, what I am about to tell you will probably come as a great surprise. But, I need to alert you that whatever is said right here, right now, is confidential, highly classified and a matter of national security with global implications. Am I making myself clear, officer?”

“Sir. Yes, Sir.”

“Good,” replied the Major with a quick wink and continued on, “Officer Benkman, from the moment you arrived at Fort Bragg you have served the US Army with great courage and pride. Your contributions to this special operation and, most importantly, US intelligence as a whole are monumental, to say the least. But, it has been determined recently that Project Daybreak has suffered a massive breach of security and must be dissolved at once. However, there is one final mission that must be carried out by you and your fellow Officer Edward Candler. Completion of this final mission, which will assist us in closing this security breach, will mean serious rewards for you both. You will both be flown to an undisclosed location for debriefing, given a hefty pension for retirement, honorably discharged and set free to do as you please. Is that understood, Officer Benkman?”

“Sir. Yes, Major Tanner, sir.”

“Good,” said the Major and handed a sealed manila envelope across the desk to Stan.

Stan accepted the large yellow packet and opened its confidential seal. He pulled out the paperwork from inside which in bold typeface in the center of the cover sheet read ‘Manhattan Target’.

“Officer, Benkman. It has been a pleasure serving in the United States Army with you and for that I am very proud. Report to your normal remote session room immediately and let’s save this God blessed country of ours one more time, shall we?”

“Sir. Yes, sir,” said Stan as he raised out of his chair to salute Major Tanner, “I won’t let you down, Major.”

Benkman spun on his boot heel and left the Major’s office forthright, closing the large oak door behind him. He paced up the short hallway with burgundy carpet until he came to a large stairwell at the end and headed downstairs with the manila packet gripped tightly in his hand. Six floors underground, at the bottom of the staircase, he was met by two heavily armed MP’s guarding the entrance to the sub-level assigned to Project Daybreak. They checked his ID badge as he filled out and autographed the daily entrance log. With that completed the larger MP, with the mashed up nose like a boxer and thick Brooklyn accent, signaled for the day’s match phrase by posing the statement, “Little Miss Susie walked into the  woods.”

“Three bees in her bonnet,” replied Stan and the guards stepped aside to let him through the large steel doors.

As he stepped into the long, white, overly sterile hallway, he noticed Edward Candler entering his session room at the far end of the hall accompanied by his assigned field medic. He smiled down the hall at Stan and signalled with a strong thumbs up before disappearing behind the door. Stans heart rate picked up slightly and small beads of sweat began to form all over his scalp.

Another field medic was waiting halfway down the hall for Stan who saluted once he was face to face. At the same moment, Major Tanner appeared at the end of the hall. He stopped in the doorway of Edward Candlers remote session room to bid him farewell and good luck.

“And good luck to you as well, officer Benkman,” said the Major as he approached, “Now let’s get in there and take care of business.”

“Absolutely, Major,” replied Stan with a firm salute.

Stan and the field medic entered what was his personal remote session room for the better part of this year. He dimmed the lights to where you could barely see, rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his tie. The medic prepared the ECG machine and other diagnostic consoles that surrounded the specialised recliner in the center of the small room. The medic also toggled the record button on the camera system, one mounted in each corner of the room at the ceiling. Stan began by doing a series of standing yoga stretches while adjusting his breathing and repeating a series of mantras over and over again. After several minutes of quiet meditation, Stan removed the paperwork from his manila envelope and read the simple coordinates and instructions for the Manhattan Target. Once he absorbed the material into his memory he approached the document shredder and feed in the entire envelope and its contents. The machine made quick work of processing its meal into miniscule paper flakes that fell into a wire catch basket below.

Stan sat down and then reclined into the ultra cozy chair that ‘wooshed’ when he lay back. The medic prepared the ECG tabs and then affixed them to Stan’s temples and chest. Once ready, he and Stan exchanged nods signifying that he was ready to close his eyes and enter trance state.

For approximately twenty minutes the medic quietly observed as Stan’s alpha wave readings increasingly sunk lower and lower on the graph. Once the pre-REM motions of Stan’s eyes began flicking noticeably behind his eyelids, the medic nervously reached across the controls and stopped the camera system from recording. Then, he quietly raised from his chair and stood motionless by the door. For several seconds the medic stood trembling trying to regain his composure with his eyes closed, taking long, deep breaths. Finally, he reached into his coat pocket and produced a small hypodermic needle with a clear liquid neatly loaded inside the syringe. He slowly removed the cap from the needle and silently approached the recliner, reaching down slowly for Stan’s arm, ready to injection the payload.

Stan was just about to make his entry point at the exact coordinates of the Manhattan Target when suddenly gunfire rang out in the hallway, just beyond the session room. The medic, reacting quickly, tossed the syringe behind him into the far corner of the room and stepped away from the recliner. Stan came awake, startled from his trance state, gasping for air, sweat beading up on his forehead, his eyes wide and dilated.

Just then, the door was kicked open with a loud slam as it made contact with the concrete wall and Edward ‘Spooks’ Candler entered the room wielding a large Browning semi-automatic pistol drawn and aimed directly between Stan’s eyes.

“I’m sorry it has to come to end like this, Stan,” announced Edward as he approached the recliner.

“Spooks? What the fuck, man…? No… N-n-no…. P-p-please…” Stan sputtered, pleading with his eyes as he curled up into his recliner, shielding his face with his shaking hands.

Then, with his eyes and pistol locked on the frightened face of Stan Benkman, Candler quickly swung the pistol ninety degrees to his right and emptied three rounds into the head of the medic who crumpled to the floor with a plume of blood erupting from the back of his head, painting the concrete wall behind him with hot red splatter.

“We did it, Stan. Now let’s get out of here,” said Edward as he reached down, placing his hand on Stan’s quivering shoulder. Three seconds later, both men vanished within a sudden flash of faint blue sparks in the center of the room.

The End

Note: This is a piece that I originally turned in to my fiction writers group at nearly one third its size, close to 1200 words. Later we were challenged to turn in something that we had already submitted for critique that needed expansion and at that time I turned it in at around 3000. Then, a good friend of mine who is a skilled editor, took a read and she suggested some more changes to be implemented and here we have it at about 5200 words and evolving.  This subject is so cavernous, and the story can have so many threads, that I’m keeping it as a candidate for a full-on novel in the future – You know, when I don’t need to worry about feeding myself and family and can concentrate on it. Ha!  – SMR

Posted in Science Fiction, Thriller & Suspense | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pull the Strings

The man laid out on the hospital gurney, dried up grey and partially twisted like driftwood, is my Father. Or, at least that’s what the nurses told me when I arrived late this afternoon. In the dark room, flecks of green, white and orange light dance over the outline of his body under the tousled white sheets. The machines projecting their erratic kaleidoscope down onto his face callously whir and hum on either side. This person, who I don’t clearly recognize anymore, is now a lifeless marionette on stage with wires and tubes sagging down around him from every angle.

After sitting here for most of the night alone it seems  that I will be the only person who see’s this man’s last breath. When I first arrived at the hospital I learned about his condition from the doctor and nurses who were stationed on the bottom floor. I’m not sure what they thought when I nodded briefly and proceeded to walk back outside without saying so much as one word in response. About an hour and five Marlboro reds later, standing out in the frigid February night air, I eventually worked up the nerve to call my Grandmother, his Mother, and let her know what had become of her only Son. After explaining his liver failure, and that he subsequently didn’t have much time on the clock, she coldly responded with nothing more than, “I see”, before gently hanging up the phone. And now, at 2:23 AM, I look around the room up here on the 15th floor and understand that I am the only one in the audience. The puppeteer is preparing for his final act.

I look down at his face with tubes inserted into his nostrils and his wrinkled eyelids that are loosely shut. It feels strange to me that this is my own flesh and blood, dying right before my eyes, and yet I can find no pity for the man.

He hated everyone. Or maybe, everyone hated him? Probably both. This is the one clear memory of him that I have held onto since I was old enough to be aware. And, from that moment up until the week of my tenth birthday, when he stood up from the dinner table and stumbled out the front door, I could never understand the invisible forces he claimed to hold him down. Impervious to love. Incapable of tenderness. During the short time that I knew him, the demons of this world led him by a chain around his neck. And as I sit here in the dark and watch over him, motionless and worn thin, it is apparent that they have done their duty and left him here to rot.

I hear a slight rumbling coming from his chest, echoing up his windpipe, and escaping his purplish and white pursed lips. And then, like an orchestra slowly reaching a crescendo in the pit, the heart rate monitor to my left begins to join his shallow rasps in near perfect rhythm. To my surprise, his eyelids slide open just a sliver to reveal the bloodshot stones behind them and I know that the curtain is about to fall at any moment.

Without looking directly at me, or anywhere for that matter, his lips part ever so slightly and slowly close again. Then, his chest raises like a trembling bellows, just before he speaks into the darkness of the room.

“I’m… sorry…,” is all he can manage. He closes his eyes and the final nuance of life inside him escapes through his nose without a fight.

I hear him. And for the first and only time in my life, I believe the words he says.

Turning around slowly to my left I gaze out of the window. Down on the dim lit streets I see a lonesome yellow taxi inching slowly away from the sheltering glow of downtown and then disappear over the dark horizon. The machines that tower above the shell of what used to be my Father begin to beep, chirp and alarm, announcing his departure from this world. As I stand in the darkness over his death bed I finally accept that nothing, and no one, ever fought against him in order to keep him down. It was only he, himself, who pulled the strings. As the crimson fire of pulsating tiny lights illuminates and consumes the body laying still on the bed in front of me, I reach back for my coat and leave the room.

(c) Shane M. Remington

Notes: This is another piece where I asked friends on Facebook to challenge me with a story idea to turn into my fiction writers group. My good friend Catherine provided the following: kid’s parent is distant and shitty > kid grows up bitter and resentful, parent ages > kid ends up stuck caring for the parent, they make deathbed amends

Posted in Slice of Life | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

U-559

During World War II the German’s employed hundreds of  submarines [U-Boats] around the globe to carry out covert missions and attacks. At dawn on October 30, 1942, approximately seventy miles north of the Nile Delta, Egypt, U-559 was spotted by British air patrol and reported to HMS Destroyer ‘Hero’ which steamed in to intercept the craft and four more destroyers were dispatched to assist. After detecting the approach of the Hero, U-559 submerged and began its run to safety. For the next sixteen hours the destroyer fleet chased, constantly depth charging the waters, until finally the hull was cracked and U-559 began to sink into the dark, murky waters of the Mediterranean….

*****

Sweat rolled down the forehead of Commander Hans Heidtmann as he stumbled down the corridor from his command post and into the thick, steamy, air of the engine room. The last depth charge that rocked the craft had been too much for the hull and now the salty water began to slowly seep through and drip down the harline fissure in the upper decking of the vessel overhead. The able seamen in the engine room delivered the grim news that there was literally nothing they could do now except to power the craft as far away, in the opposite direction, and hope that when she surfaced that they would be able to abandon ship and somehow be saved. Hans asked the men to please keep this painful news quiet for now and to stand by for further instructions. He saluted the men, turned around, and headed back to the command station.

Hans pulled his way upward into the corridor using the handles affixed to the steel walls every few feet ahead of him due to the craft getting slightly heavy in the rear. He tried to concentrate on his breathing and gain composure but his mind kept showcasing over his vision images of his children that he would never see again: Katy and Ida playing in the sandbox on a Summer’s day at the lake. Curt, his handsome twelve year old son, riding a bicycle for the first time. It was too much for him to bare and he exhaled deeply with clenched teeth and a suppressed roar tearing through the muscle of his chest as he lumbered ahead toward his command post.

“Aufmann! Chandler! Dietrich!,” Hans bellowed his command to attention as he approached the main scope,”Come here at once and do exactly as I say. Is that clear?”

The three officers, worn thin with worry and their pant cuffs beginning to soak with the encroaching water, sprung to his sides and snapped to attention. All of them breathing a bit heavy and trembling. “Aye sir!” they called, not quite in unison.

“We may survive to see the sun rise tomorrow morning if we act together and move quickly. But, our first line of duty is to the Fuhrer and our country. Once we quickly take care of these matters then we will concentrate on getting every crewmember off of this boat that we can. Is that understood!?”

“Aye sir,” all three officers called loudly, their eyes transfixed on their commander’s face that had turned to stone.

“We need to gather all sensitive materials and head immediately to the torpedo shafts for their immediate ejection. Aufmann and Dietrich – all codebooks and logs, stuff them into the chamber and DO NOT wait for my command. Fire them away at once. Chandler, you and I will grab the two Enigma machines and follow along after them. Now let’s move it!! Now!!”

Officer Chandler, short and stocky, moved quickly behind commander Heidtmann as they maneuvered further back into the command station. Two female officers sat at each Enigma unit wearing a set of headphones and manually feeding encrypted code into its keys, slowly cranking out messages from the other end on thin ribbons of paper. Heidtmann carefully removed the headphones from each of their heads and stood before them with Chandler at his side. He saluted them.

“Ladies, you are now relieved of your duties. Once officer Chandler and I have removed these units I need you both to return to the command center and sound the evacuation alarms. Then, prepare yourselves and assist the others. Go!! Now!! We will be abandoning this ship soon!”

As soon as the officers had cleared the area, Heidtmann reached down and ripped one Enigma unit from its desk, snapping the power cable off at the back. A few moments later, the evacuation alarms began blaring inside the tight chambers of the boat making it difficult to hear anything else. Chandler handled the next machine and hefted it up to his chest, wincing from the noise of the alarms. One after the other, they moved quickly as they were able, the pitch in the hull was become a tad more inclined every second, making movement to the front of the boat a tedious process. After a few minutes of fighting against the grade they finally came upon Auffman and Dietrich who were about to fire off a chamber of Enigma codebooks and logs into the deep of the ocean.

“Go ahead, Aufmann!! What are you waiting for?!” yelled Heidtmann over the wail of the alarms.

Right at his command the officer engaged the torpedo firing mechanism on the wall panel with a muffled ‘BOOM’ and a prolonged ‘WHOOSH’ shortly after the discharge which rocked the vessel every so slightly.

“Come on, Chandler! There’s no time to be a spectator! Get over here now!” Heidtmann commanded brusquely, as he had already loaded one Enigma into torpedo chamber two on the other side of the room. Chandler snapped to, crossed the room quickly and loaded up the cryptograph unit into the chamber and slammed the door shut. Heidtmann nodded and engaged the firing mechanism on the panel which thrusted the two machines into the waters with another muffled boom of its own.

Heidtmann put his hand on officer Chandler’s shoulder and looked at the other two men standing across from them and yelled again over the alarms.

“Good work. Good quick work, indeed! We have saved our country a whole load of trouble with those removed from the ship. And now, we must turn our attention to the others, and get this ship to the surface! Follow me!”

Instead of responding they nodded their heads repeatedly up and down. Heidtmann noticed the tears on the cheeks of officer Aufmann and the fright in the eyes of the other two seamen. He was just about to say a word of encouragement, lead them back to the command center, and prepare the ship to resurface when the world began to turn around them. The ship began to pitch in the rear sharply and simultaneously turn clockwise into a slow spin to the right. The sudden change of motion slammed all four men sideways and backward into the walls of torpedo chamber two when all the lights went inside the vessel. The blaring of the alarms were replaced with the wails of the crew of the German submarine and the haunting sounds of twisting steel of the ship that began to swing into a sharper and sharper spin downward into the sea.

Heidtmann, flailed wildly, grabbing for dear life in the darkness until he stopped his sliding backward by grappling on what he figured was a service ladder. He wrapped his arms and legs tightly around the steel bars and tried to maintain consciousness as the forces and inertia of the rattling and spinning craft pulled at his insides and compressed the air from his chest. And over the deafening screams, banging and steel twisting screeches in the pitch black, he barely heard Aufmann rail like a banshee; “WE’RE GOING DOWN IN AN EDDY!!!!”

As Heidtmann’s ears processed officer Aufmann’s cries in the dark he could hold onto the ladder no longer. He released his grip and slid away into nothingness. This was his last memory before the vortex swallowed them whole.

******

Heidtmann woke startled when his eyes peeled open and he scrambled in a frenzy to grab hold of something as the sleep wore from his head. He squinted several times and realized that the emergency lighting was on overhead which dimly lit the chambers of the U-boat in a hazy shade of amber. This allowed one to barely see their hand in front of their face until their eyes properly adjusted. Hans was also alarmed that after being violently thrashed about in the eddy that the vessel was somehow, miraculously, right side up. He laid on his back for several minutes gathering his wits and several lungfuls of air. He listened carefully, with his eyes open, but didn’t hear anything except what sounded like light waves chopping against the walls of the sub. At that realization he rolled over slowly and saw the bodies of Aufmann and Dietrich sprawled out on the wet deck ahead of him, both of them stirring in an attempt to come around to their senses.

Heidtmann stood up with creaks in his knees and stretched his back with his hands reaching out wide to the side. Squinting in the pale orange light, he moved slowly in the direction of the command station and had to walk with his right hand outward against the cold steel walls as the ship was pitched ever so slightly to the right. As he went forward he also realized that the ship was not moving. At all. Just the faint sounds of light waves kissing the sides of the hull.

He entered the command station and there, to his amazement, stood officer chandler with his face pressed into the main periscope, turning slowly counterclockwise on shuffling feet, his mouth gaped open slightly. He stood still for a moment and then held out his hand slowly toward Commander Heidtmann in a subtle motion to stop moving.

“What is it…..?,” whispered Heidtmann lowly under his breath.

Chandler backed away from the periscope and Heidtmann noticed that he was shaking from head to toe. His eyes glazed over.

“We’re stuck….. commander,” he managed to respond, fighting against choking up,”On a… coral reef, it appears…. but…..”

“But…? But….? But…. what, officer Chandler? Come on… spit it out now… Go ahead.”

Chandler looked down at the floor for a moment and then up again, his trembling hand pointed at the periscope.

“I don’t know where we are, commander… but.. it looks like another planet out there, sir. Some strange planet I’ve never seen before…..”

[To be continued in the future, maybe, sometime?]

(c) Shane M Remington 2/5/2013

Notes: I was having difficulty coming up with a good story line for a piece I needed to turn into our fiction writers group that week. I decided to pose the question to all my friends on Facebook that I needed a great story line and whoever had the most interesting idea I would write about it. My friend Colin’s idea, if my memory is correct, was a story about a submarine that sinks. After accepting Colin’s challenge I zipped over to Wikipedia to research some ideas  and was immediately grabbed by the true story of U-559 which, unlike my fictitious spin, eventually resurfaced – The German’s bailed ship, forgetting the Enigma machines and codebooks and were retrieved by British divers. This act helped break the Enigma code for the allies and eventually won the War because of it……

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U-boat

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_submarine_U-559

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Smoke

Stephan stepped off of the subway at 59th street station and swaggered his way toward the escalators hauling it’s cargo of  bustling passengers upward to street level. In day-to-day conversation if someone mentioned New York City he would more than likely oblige you with his opinion that every burrough, every street and alley alike, smells like someone’s filthy ass. But for some reason, this time getting off of the train, the air was more crisp and clean.

“Maybe somebody wised up and sprayed this place down with some Lysol or sumthin’?”, he muttered to himself with a sly grin, “Or… maybe I’m so stoned that I don’t care? Heh heh hehhhh..”

Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out a cigarette and fired it up with the flick of the Zippo lighter that was once his dad’s. He took a long draw and exhaled a white billow up into the air as he kept walking toward the escalators. Up ahead at a newsstand there was a small group of Asian girls smiling and looking his way. He winked, cocked back his jaw, and fired one perfect smoke ring into the middle of the pack as he passed by. On any other day, other than a ‘business’ day, he would have stopped, just for sport.

He loved the Asian girls. He didn’t have any idea what country of origin they were from and couldn’t tell Korean from Japanese or Chinese from Thai. All he knew is that he loved them. All of them. Loved seeing them walk down the street toward him, away from him, beside him, it didn’t matter. He had even recently considered moving to Manhattan for the seemingly endless selection of Asian delights alone. But, when he added up all the other bullshit that came along with living here it didn’t seem to total up to a wise decision. Smarter to train over once a week instead of diving in with both feet. Much smarter. In control.

“When you’re a leader..,” he told himself, bolstering his swagger as he walked on, “You don’t jump two feet into the mud like some fat ass pig, rolling around in your own shit.”

Just as he was three feet from the escalators, out of the corner of his right eye, he realized there was an old lady walking extremely close to his side, like she had just caught up to him.

“Hey buddy? Hey? HEY!?,” she yelled at him and elbowed him in the shoulder.

“Hey hey hey, to you! What the hell is wrong with you, Grandma?”

“You put out that cigarette, you dumb punk! Can’t you read the signs?” she spat back at him, pointing with her hand holding up a tattered shopping bag toward the ‘No Smoking’ sign bolted into the cement column ahead of them. She stepped around in front of him, making a blockade with her wrinkled hands propped on her hips. She leaned forward and up into Stephan’s face but was too short to get nose-to-nose.

“Jesus, lady… Do you mind moving outta my way here?” He said, waving his arms back and forth over her small tuft of tightly permed grey hair, “I’m about to be late for my business meeting.”

“Business? Meeting? You…. are going to a business meeting?”, she chuckled at him, shaking her head, “I’m sure it’s a bunch of monkey business, if you ask me!”

“Yes I am, you old bag! And its none of YOUR business, where I’m headin’ off to. So, kindly ma’am, please move outta my way?!”

The little old lady didn’t make a move except her eyes that blinked a couple of times behind the thick lenses of her black horn rimmed glasses. After a few seconds, which seemed like an hour to Stephan, she raised up her arthritic finger and pointed it straight at his nose.

“Now you listen here, Philly boy….”

Stephan became wide eyed and stunned for a second.

“That’s right. I know where you’re from. Your messed up South Philly slanguage can’t pass by me, you stupid hoodlum! I grew up in Winchester Park and my husband worked for PECO for fifteen years after we got married. Now put the damned cigarette out! We all have to breathe this air down here, and it better be clean!”

He had heard enough lip for a whole week and decided to step around her and keep heading up the escalator which was only a few feet away. He thought he was getting away easy as he slipped by her without any resistance. But, as he stepped around her small hunched frame, she sat her grocery bag down on the concrete and stood back up with a large can of tuna raised high above her head. Surprisingly, to the small group of curious onlookers, the old lady magically transformed into Mariano Rivera, as she wound up for her pitch and delivered a fastball right into the back of Stephan’s head with a loud ‘Plunk’.

Stephan knelt over for a second with his hand placed over the back of his head and his lit cigarette poking out from his clenched teeth. He slowly stood back up, turned around, and faced the old lady with a snarl. He plucked the smoldering butt from his clamped down molars in between his thumb and forefinger and looked her dead in the eyes.

“You want me to put it out, Grandma? Really…? Well here you go,” he said and quickly flicked the smoldering end of the cigarette at her which bounced off of her forehead with a ‘thump’ and a spray of sparks and cinder around her face.

Stephan will always remember the very next second after that as being grabbed up in the air by the back of his neck, levitating quickly forward, and his face being smashed into the ‘No Smoking’ sign on the cement pillar nearby. And after that, everything turned to black for a very long time.

The End

(c) Shane Remington 12/14/2012

Note: This was a piece I turned in for my weekly fiction writers group. I believe the challenge was to write a piece about some sort of conflict with a physical altercation.

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