Okay kids. One more post of my recent writings and then I'll get over myself for a while. But not for too long.
I wrote this one day when I was thinking about the 3 Navy Seals who are being court-martialed for hitting someone they captured. It just doesn't sit right with me. I don't know the details, and maybe I don't want to know, but most of my family served or is serving in the military. I'm proud of them all and also of the friends and their families who have served us.
I wrote with Leavenworth in mind, I lived there for a year when I was 7. Not IN the prison, ON the base.
Enjoy. And THANK YOU!
Everything Fell Into Black (1075 words)
The door closed in slow motion and the metal clanged together in a sound so final, even light stopped coming in.
For days, maybe weeks, he lay on the small cot, staring at the ceiling and trying to keep out thoughts of home: lightning bugs in the front yard, rain on the gravel drive, bacon frying in the cast iron skillet on Sunday morning. Random memories of the place he would never see again didn’t give him comfort, and he wished they would recede into faded images like the ones in an old photo album he could close and put away.
He felt better if he was able to move around, to concentrate on the outside world and not his inner, desolate one. In the yard, a gravel path hugged the perimeter fence and one of the guards said, “You should walk – the path’s a quarter mile.”
He began to walk, always in the same direction, counting laps for the day and scratching them into his cell wall with a fingernail every evening. It wasn’t where he expected to spend his days; a cell reserved for those who broke the laws of God and man. The laws of God were easy to abide, the laws of men were more difficult.
He did what he was told to do. He found the man who kidnapped and killed three of his brothers in arms. Both sets of laws guided him, but somewhere in the office buildings where detail is Lord, it was decided he broke a rule of engagement. It was a conflict, not a war, but the price for all parties was the same.
The enemy spoke enough English to taunt, “I’m glad I killed them, they cried like little children for mercy.”
His punch was instinctive, a posthumous defense of brothers he never met, but a broken jaw crossed the line of acceptable treatment of an enemy combatant. The guilty verdict for a war crime charge brought with it a life sentence. Life meant something different before he came here. It was one thing to willingly serve your country, but he wasn’t sure where he’d gone wrong to have to pay such a heavy debt to society.
The scene was always the same when he came out into the sunshine for the hour of daily exercise, but it shocked him that it wasn’t his own back yard. The guard who gave him the hint about walking made small talk like they were just standing on a street corner.
“Yeah, for a little bit, I guess.”
“Watch out for where the rain made some little gullies. Twist your ankle something fierce if you don’t see it.”
No one smiled in prison, but they exchanged nods and went on with their days. The crunch of the gravel beneath his shoes gave him the satisfaction of the sound of progress, even if he only went around in circles. Some folks did that their whole lives and never knew it; the soldier recognized it painfully with each step that took him nowhere. Nice Guard let him finish twelve laps that day, delayed calling everyone in until he got back around. The soldier never asked his name and he never said, but Nice Guard seemed like a good enough name in a place where nobody had one.
On the other side of the tall, razor-wire-topped fence was an old country road that he’d only seen tractors and a red Ford pickup on, no matter the weather or season. He didn’t really know much about where he was, so the road meant nothing aside from another thing that went away from him. The Missouri River was nearby, and when the breeze blew just right, he could hear it gurgle like an old man clearing his throat.
Nice Guard handed him a piece of chalk one day and the soldier dipped his chin as he took it. The school-board chalk made it easier to keep track of the laps he’d done. The neat sets of marks already went down to the floor, so he started the chalk marks up higher on the cinder-block wall.
About half of his cell wall was covered with marks when Nice Guard came up to his cell and unlocked the heavy door. “Come with me.”
The sun dropped behind the distant oak trees on the other side of the outside road as they neared the path the soldier walked every day. He loved the smell of dusk and the hum of insects in the warm summer air. Shadows disappeared into the ground and everything fell into black except the muted colors in the sky.
They walked out to the path and stopped, the soldier didn’t know what they were doing, but he stood at attention, expecting judgment once again. Flickering lights and the faint sound of folks singing came into his ken and he realized a large group of people marched slowly down the rough country road. He peered into the darkening land, still not able to make out exactly what was there. He saw candle flames as they moved with the oncoming mass of people, and heard their soft voices singing “There is A Balm in Gilead.” He felt the power of a gathering of people united in one direction, marching toward something, or for something, or perhaps even away from something.
Nice Guard said softly, “They’re marching for you.”
The soldier had words to say, but his throat was too tight to let any of them out.
“They came all the way from your home town to protest your imprisonment. I wish I was on the other side of the fence right now.”
In the twilight, as the voices grew louder and other guards moved to the fence to determine friend or foe, the soldier turned to Nice Guard. “I’m glad you’re on this side.”
They walked in silence back to his cell, the heavy clang of the closing door echoing against the high, sweet spiritual. He lay on his cot and let the sounds of peaceful assembly surround him. The thought wasn’t going to change anything, but he realized that he served his country, and paid a debt if he had to, so that all those people could do what they were doing right now outside military prison walls.
He got up from his cot once more and wrote neatly beneath the marks of his journey: “Peace.”