My latest work in progress is an anthology of stories dedicated to the bravery of men and woman worldwide. ALL those that silently and without fanfare hold down the Front Lines. ALL the front lines. On the streets of any town, anywhere, you’ll find them, The Policeman, Paramedics, Firefighters, Nurses and Doctors and all their support personnel. Those on the battle-fronts in foreign lands, and those on the battle-fronts of streets peopled with others that have slipped through the cracks and crevices of the world we now live in. The many brave souls that endure the lasting, life changing flashbacks, and battle each and every day with the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
These are their stories.
Hidden by Shadows.
Davey Minchin rubbed his gritty eyes hard, but nothing erased the things he had seen in his sleep.
He couldn’t stop the images flashing on fast-forward through a brain now too weary to block them.
He reached across for his glass and found it was empty, “Oh, for fucks sake.”
He clambered up from the litter-strewn floor and headed into the kitchen, avoiding the mess on the counter as he reached for the bottle of Jack Daniels, now almost empty. He held it up to the light that shone valiantly through the smudged and dirty window, wanting to confirm the fact that he’d need to head for the bottle shop soon.
He had no idea what time of day it was. He walked to the bedroom, glancing at the alarm clock next to a bed he couldn’t remember having slept in for quite a while.
“God damn it!” he uttered the words, disgusted with himself for having been away from reality for yet another lost day. “It doesn’t matter.” He spoke aloud seeking the reassurance of the sound of his own voice. Knowing that the other voices clamoring in his head to be heard would lay mercifully dormant once he’d had a few drinks.
He hurried now, filled with the urgency to top up his supply of memory blocking booze.
He glanced down briefly at what he was wearing, content that he wasn’t too dirty to be seen on the street. He pulled on his cleanest pair of gloves.
He ran a brush through his thick, still curly hair; still shocked at the sight of all the white that now grew there.
He turned away, opened the door, and headed outside.
He glanced briefly around at his environment, seeking assurance that no one he knew was in view.
He took the longer walk, studiously avoiding the Gas Station on the block that would have had him reach his destination much faster. The smell of fuel was something he refused to deal with yet.
The guy behind the counter looked up as he entered, “Mornin’ Davey! What’ll it be today, buddy?”
“I need to stock up, Bill. I … I’ve got some buddies comin’ over. So, I guess I’ll maybe need a couple of bottles of the JD, and the Bacardi, and a case of beer.”
Bill Eckhart looked at him, trying without success to mask the concern on his face. “Sure thing, buddy.”
Davey turned and gave Bill access to his backpack; the man behind the counter removed it gently and placed it next to the register. “I’ll drop the case of beer around for you a little later, Davey. You want a mixer for the J.D and the Rum?”
Davey hesitated a little too long before responding, “Mixer?” he laughed. “Yeah, I guess, mixer … sure.”
Bill just nodded, and headed out back to fill the order.
Tara Farrell looked up from the invoice she was checking, “What’s up?”
“Davey Minchin is back in for an order.” He said.
“So soon?” her voice expressed her concern.
“Sometimes I hate workin’ here, Tara. I hate the shit that we sell, and what it does to good people that didn’t earn it, you know?”
She shook her head sadly, “Yeah, I know. Davey’s one of the good ones, ain’t he.” It was a simple statement of fact, not a question that required any answer.
“Yup. He is that. Best fill his order now I guess, and let him get back on home before the snow hits.”
“Uh-huh. Yeah. I guess.” She looked back at her invoice with a shake of her head, trying to dislodge the sadness.
Bill bagged the order and returned to the front counter. “You and your buddies havin’ a poker night, Davey?”
“What? Oh, yeah … yeah we are.”
“I expect your luck is due to change soon, Buddy. You just keep hangin’ in there, okay?”
His customer just nodded and handed over the money. Bill placed the bottles of alcohol carefully in the backpack; then as always helped his customer struggle into it, stealing himself every time he did it, worried that he’d somehow hurt this man.
Davey gave him a smile, “Thanks, Bill … See ya.”
“You take care now, Davey.”
“Yup … planning on doing just that, buddy.”
Davy headed back home, the long way.
One or two of his neighbors called out a greeting, he raised his left arm as best he could and gave them a wave.
He picked up his pace and only felt safe when he strode into his own driveway.
He didn’t look at the overgrown lawn, or the dead plants that sat accusingly in the untended garden.
He let himself in to the empty house he hadn’t bothered to lock.
He walked past the bedrooms that had once been overflowing with laughter and toys.
He didn’t look at the framed photographs that lined the walls of the hallway.
He opened a refrigerator now empty, except for a few mangled slices of old cold pizza, and a foul-smelling container of what had once been Chinese takeout.
Before he poured his first drink of the morning, he charged his cellphone. He’d call out for a take-out Italian order later. If, he remembered.
His frustration grew as he struggled to open yet another bottle with fingers that couldn’t respond to his brains orders to do so.
He pulled off the gloves; he didn’t need to cover the ugly burn scars from himself.
He washed out a glass, refilled it, and sat on the sofa seeing nothing as he began to pour the booze down his throat.
He heard the siren in the distance and shuddered, unable to block out the sound. Davey reached across and flicked on the radio, turning the volume way up to drown out the peripheral noise.
His cellphone rang and cut through the haze he was encased in, he answered it on reflex, “Yeah?”
“Davey, it’s Doctor Peters. How are you?”
“Hey, Doc. I’m doin’ well. What can I do for you?”
“Well, son … you’ve missed the last two appointments. I was a little concerned.”
“Sorry, Doc. I guess I should have called you. I … I’ve had the flu virus that’s doin’ the rounds. Haven’t felt much like headin’ out in the cold.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, son. I would like to see you though. Can you make it tomorrow? I’ll make it later in the day, when it’s warmed up a little. Would that suit you?”
“Oh, hell, doc. Sorry … I’m headin’ out of town for a few days. Tell you what, I’ll call you as soon as I get back, how would that be?”
“Out of town? Where are you headed?”
“Davey, you aren’t really going away are you? Son, you’re isolating yourself again. Are you taking your anti-depressant medication?” The doctor’s voice was clearly worried.
Davey looked at the full glass in his hand. “Yeah, doc, I’m taking my meds. Look, I have to go now. Somebodies at the door. I’ll catch up, soon. Okay?”
“But, Son …
Davey disconnected the call.
“Why the fuck can’t you all just leave me the fuck alone!” The words echoed back from the dark empty rooms.
He drank the full glass of straight rum and took a couple of deep breaths. He knew in another glass or two he start feeling almost nothing.
Then came the time he gave up on any pretense at dignity, and drank bottle two straight from the bottle. Until he was feeling nothing. Nothing at all.
He welcomed oblivion as one does a dear friend that they trust.
The car ahead was speeding. Davey Minchin looked at his own speed; he was doing the speed limit and the Corvette screamed past him as if he were stationary.
“Moron!” Davey hissed, automatically reaching for his cellphone. He punched in the number.
“Division 21, Sargent O’Keefe.”
“Hey, Jay. It’s Davey Minchin.”
“Hiya, Cappie how’re you doin?”
“Never better, buddy. We have an idiot out on 75 thinks he’s drivin’ in the Daytona. He’s headed east. It’s a Corvette, so God only knows what it tops out at. The speed he’s doin’ he’ll reach the overpass off ramp really soon.
“Thanks for the heads up, Cappie. I’m on it. We good for poker Friday night?”
“Planning on some winnings, buddy?”
“You know it. Catch ya then, Cappie.”
“Yup.” Davey ended the call.
He peered through the thick fog, dropping his speed on instinct when he recognized the approach to the stop lights he knew were a little way ahead.
He heard the crash before he saw it and picked up speed in that direction. The wreck ahead of him kicked his adrenaline into hyper-drive.
He hit the speed dial on his phone, “Station 23. What is your emergency?”
“Pete, it’s Davey. We need full crew out on 75 … The lights on the overpass exit. Three-car pile-up, get the Paramedics. The police are on their way, but that’s for the speeder, call O’Keefe, and have him send out more cars.”
“Gotcha, Captain. Are you the only assist on the scene?”
“The only trained one, affirmative, Pete.”
“Good luck. The crew, are on their way.”
Davey hit the ground running, and could smell the fuel in the air.
Jesus! A ruptured tank? Shit!
The corvette was concertinaed from the imploded front windscreen to the trunk. Davey knew even as he felt for a pulse, that he would find none. The driver had a steering column skewering him in place like an awkward bleeding mannequin. It would have been fast, at least.
Davey moved on towards the next vehicle; his trained eyes already accessing the incredible level of damage the out of control Corvette, had left in its speeding wake.
What had once been a family wagon was now bent like a boomerang; the driver’s side door now met the passenger side with the body of what once had been a young woman crushed in between.
He was on autopilot now, and called out, “Everyone else okay out here?” as he became suddenly aware that the vehicles that had been close behind on the exit ramp had rear-ended, and the stunned, but otherwise undamaged passengers were now exiting their slightly bent cars.
“We need, blankets, canvas, anything we can lay these folks down on, back at least fifty-feet away from the wrecks.” He sniffed at the air again, “No smoking, we may have a ruptured tank here.” He yelled it to the onlookers.
He heard a cry and spun to locate where it was coming from. Sweet Lord, that’s a baby! The plaintive cry was coming from the wagon. Davey covered the few feet in an instant and cringed as he realized the sound was coming from the floor behind the dead passenger.
The door was crushed metal and would need the squad to arrive with the Jaws-of-life to have any hope of getting it open. He ran to the other side of the vehicle, there was a narrow gap between what had once been the bench seat in the rear and the crumpled mess that was once the front of the car
The infant was on the floor, inside the upended baby-capsule, and wrapped in a blanket, and the cry grew weaker with each second. Davey silently thanked God when the sound of the sirens heralded the arrival of the experienced crew.
The overpass was now jammed with people, many had left their cars and now stood at the edge of the railing gazing down with shock and dismay at the scene below them. Many were openly crying. One of the distressed onlookers took a pack of cigarettes from a side pocket and lit it; sucking in the nicotine to quieten his fast beating heart.
All eyes were now riveted on the surreal sight confronting them as the lone man struggled to remove an infant from the wreckage …
The nervous onlooker watched transfixed, unthinking and doing what long habit had trained him to do … he flicked the lit butt of the cigarette over the railing…
Davey’s troubled hands searched the darkness for the infant. The crying had stopped. It seemed to take an eternity before he freed the baby from the restraints of the capsule. His thankful shout of “Yes! Hold on, little one!” was heard with gratitude by those close by. He felt the baby underneath his fingertips … his hands wrapped around the blanketed infant, and he began extricating the child, very carefully avoiding the jagged metal all around them, that would cut to the bone.
The lit cigarette ignited the small river of fuel seeping from the ruptured tank as Davey had just secured the small helpless bundle in his muscled arms; and he’d turned to hurry away with his charge to relative safety.
The fire-flash caught him and spun his body backwards, with his last lucid memory of searing pain embedded in his consciousness.
The fire fighters from his own station were on the scene moments later, and one of the closer onlookers had covered him with a blanket and tried desperately to extinguish the flames.
The baby was safe, Davey had somehow thrown himself face down and the infant was shielded from the flames, bruised, but otherwise untouched by the explosion. Far too young to understand the loss of its mother.
Davey awakened himself with the sound of his own screams.
Sitting up … still wildly disorientated; he was frantically patting at his now useless right arm, attempting to extinguish the flames that infiltrated his nightmares night after sleepless night.
He looked around to get his bearings … It’s okay … I’m here. Home. Yeah, right, home.
He reached a gloved hand across to the bedside table. Deciding against the anti-depressant medications and narcotic pain-relief that sat there, gathering dust. He’d stopped taking those weeks ago, or was it months? Didn’t matter anyway, the booze worked better. He was pleased to find the glass still half-full of the straight Jack Daniels he’d come to prefer. He wondered idly and not really caring, just how long his liver would hold out under the onslaught of the things he used just to get him through one more day.
He missed his wife, and he ached for his children.
The long months of repetitive surgery, and all the efforts of those at the rehab unit for almost a year, had left him with his right arm still withered and useless. Fit for only filling the fabric of the longed-sleeved-shirts that he now always wore. Not wanting or needing the horrified looks from passersby, or the children who stared at him as if Halloween had just arrived.
He only left the house now to top up his booze supply.
His other hand and wrist had been scarred; but some movement and flexibility remained. He couldn’t make a fist, but he managed to wipe his own ass. I’m grateful. Bonus! The bitterness filled his tone more often of late. He’d never regret what he’d done, it was all he’d ever wanted to do. But sometimes the bitterness in his throat threatened to choke him.
He looked at the cotton gloves he used, more now to stop others from witnessing his anguish at the disfigurement, but even more so for the abiding sense of utter uselessness that he now lived with twenty-four-hours of each long, lonely, deteriorating day, every time he looked at his once athletic body.
His wife Marcie, had tried. Lord knows she’d tried, she’d been with him every-step-of-the way. Until the day came when she had no heart left to give to a man that was already lost to her.
His kids became accustomed to him spending hour after hour locked away in the room he had for his physio sessions. His friends and colleagues had raised funds to kit it out with everything necessary to work out daily … everything that is, except his will to go on doing so.
He could no longer work in the field he had chosen since he was old enough to understand that his father and his Grandfather had been firefighters, loved ones he’d been proud to call his own.
It was all he had trained for, it was all he knew.
He had tried. Nobody that watched him push through the pain ever doubted his desire to return to what he loved to do.
His body would never completely recover. He was no longer a part of the high functioning team he had once been so proud to Captain.
His friends from the station-house and even some from his college football team had rallied around, the lawns were mowed and the gardens tended, the woodshed was always kept full.
His buddies had all come at first, with their wives there to give Marcie and the children all the support they could offer.
Davey tried hard, but he began to resent their presence, the conversations peppered with stories from the Station or the sports they played regularly had begun to make him feel the anger that frustration only heightens and enriches.
The medications he took vegged him out until the days and nights blended, in a never-ending procession of exhausted snatches of sleep.
The flashbacks came uninvited, his wife and children all caught up in the sounds of despair they could hear coming from the room he now frequented without their presence.
Marcie had stayed longer than most would have, and then she had taken the boys and moved up north to live with her parents. Recognizing before he did, that to stay would destroy the love she and his sons still cherished.
They had gone in the summer, and the year had spun ever onward in and out of the seasons. While Davey Minchin slowly started to drink himself into oblivion … the oblivion he now craved.
Davey stood unsteadily and made his way out to the kitchen, avoiding the walls in the hallway filled with photographs of a life he no longer recognized as part of the fabric of his existence.
He used his left hand to slowly drag out a box from the back of the walk in pantry. He could no longer carry its weight, so he rummaged one handed through it until his hand identified the shape he was after.
He took the paper bag and placed it on the coffee table.
He stood and returned to the hallway and gave a left-handed salute to the images. “Sorry dad.”
He returned to the kitchen and took the new bottle of Jack Daniels from the shelf.
He sat quietly in front of an electric heater, no longer able to tolerate the burning logs in a fireplace that took him into the flashbacks again.
It had taken him weeks of visits to different Doctors and Drugstores before he was satisfied; he had enough of the mix of medications that he knew would take him forever away from the pain and the memory.
He painstakingly opened the boxes and lined up his solution ready to be taken.
He took them all.
Hours passed by as he sat quietly waiting. Until at last, finally, he felt nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
The phone rang in a small house in the suburbs, and the man ceased playing with his son and made a grab for it.
His young face was pale when he turned his attention back to the three-year-old boy playing happily on the sitting room floor with his blocks.
He hugged his son to him and again felt the deep sadness at the loss of his wife.
But he had his boy. He had his boy. The gratitude he felt towards the man who had saved his child at the expense of his own safety was constantly present.
Now Davey Minchin was dead.
The man hugged his child to him and made a silent vow to make his little boy aware that heroes really existed.
There were many others who gathered after the funeral who took a private moment to look at their own families and hold them tighter. In silent thanksgiving that men like Davey Minchin would go on saving other lives at risk of their own.