“Trust in me and I will guide you. I will heal you.”
I feel the words spoken but no one is in the room. Sighing, I put my backpack on the table and walk into the kitchen. Opening the fridge, I groan, marveling at the lack of food. I grab one of the cheap beers, the only kind I can afford, and twist off the top, taking a swig.
“Give yourself to me and I will make it better. I will take the hurt from you.”
The words are a breath in my ear. I stopped looking for the being behind the voice long ago.
My movements are automatic. Grab the small pot from the stove, shake out two packets of ramen noodles, down the first beer as they cook, then crack open the second one while eating the sodium-laced soup straight from the pot.
I finish my dinner in the same place I started it then rinse the pot and fork, setting them back on the stove, ready for tomorrow night. The second beer comes with me to the bedroom. It’s a matter of ten steps between the two rooms.
“I am here. I will take the pain you feel.”
There is nothing to pull my attention away from the voice because I have nothing left. The things I used to own? All sold to try and get by. The cheap build-it-yourself dresser wobbles as I set the beer atop it next to the stack of unpaid bills.
Undressing, I toss my clothes on the pile in the corner. I need to do laundry but there isn’t enough money. I walk into the bathroom and turn the shower on, stepping in after steam curls out from behind the curtain. At least I still have hot water to shower with.
The water stings my skin as it cascades over me. Reaching back, I crank the heat up further. My skin reddens and it stands out more where is it stretched taut from the burns. As I close my eyes, the vision comes back, like it always does. The mortar shells raining down around us, trying to avoid something unavoidable until it happens, a sound like the earth itself opening, then nothing but ringing as chaos ensues.
They said it wasn’t my fault but they didn’t live it. They can’t understand it. They didn’t watch their friends burn, trapped inside an overturned Humvee.
“So many have come before you. I await. Accept my invitation and I will make it better.”
The voice has been there since shortly after I got out of the hospital and back home. It happened the day I returned to my church. There was a hero’s welcome, but I didn’t deserve it. I let my friends down. They got a different hero’s welcome when they got home, and I couldn’t be there for any of them. I’ve done my best to make peace though. Maybe one day I’ll find out if I’ve been forgiven.
That night the voice spoke to me, I freaked out and couldn’t sleep for three days afterward. It didn’t happen much in the beginning—once or twice a week—but it’s become more frequent. It happens at least ten times a day now, it feels like. But I don’t count.
Opening my eyes, I shut the water off and dry myself, then close the bathroom door. I leave the light on; I need a little bit to help me fall asleep—that, plus a few pills. I grab my beer and shuffle to bed, picking up the orange bottle from the floor. I open it and tip three into my hand, gulping them with a shot of beer. My fingers fumble the lid closed and I finish the last dregs of my drink.
I lie down and reach to the floor, picking up the paper I know is there, a poem given to me by our church’s pastor: ‘Footprints.’ He told me that it was written for millions of people before they knew they needed it and that, one day, I would truly accept and understand the words. Only then would my life would be better.
I read the poem as I’ve done every night since I got it, the paper worn and ragged in my hands. I finish and gently set it on the floor, then flip the switch on my lamp. Only a sliver of light streams from the bathroom.
Before I shut my eyes, the voice is there one last time. “Accept me and you will be free. I am your savior.”
I drift as the pills take hold. “Maybe you are,” I mumble. “Maybe you are.”
I dream of those moments, but for the first time it really is a dream, not a nightmare. Their eyes tell me everything. It’s time.
My heart is hammering in my chest when I wake. I know what I must do. I roll out of bed onto my knees. The voice is there immediately. “I am your savior. Accept me and I will guide you from this pain.”
“Yes, yes. Please, yes. You are my savior, I accept.” Answering out loud to the voice only I can hear.
My body shivers as I feel movement behind me. I start to turn but it’s too late. Slender hands grip my head.
“Welcome home,” the all-too-familiar voice whispers. A skeletal finger touches each temple and a searing heat rips through me.
I burn inside the Humvee, my skin sloughing off until there is nothing left… and then the moments repeat. For the rest of eternity, my men will watch me.
It is hell, but it is my hell.
And I am saved.
© Copyright 2017 Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.
11 thoughts on “Footprints”
I really enjoyed this, great story Mark. Love the ending.
Sorrowful and powerful, a superb story.
A sad and tormenting tale, Mark. Great job!
Reblogged this on Jon Olson and commented:
FOOTSTEPS by Pen of the Damned’s Mark Steinwachs
Great story, Mark!
Nicely done, Mark!
Powerful story Mark. Fantastic imagery of the looming despair from our character’s past. Great job on this one!
Great piece, Mark! The imagery is subtle yet packs a powerful punch. Isolation and living as a survivor is a special kind of horror only those who’ve experienced it can know. Your story offers a strong, emotive peek into that world.