I follow the men over the trench wall, shells explode around us as the Germans return fire. I see their men—boys really—charging at me. Bullets take out the soldiers around me as I return fire.
A German is repeatedly kicking one of my men, but everyone rushes past the two, absorbed in their own fight to survive. I get to him as his boot strikes the man on the ground again. I fire my rifle at close range, knowing my shot will end his life. My foot slips in the blood-soaked ground and my shot isn’t true. The bullet explodes in his knee, shattering it. He falls to the ground and over the cacophony of battle I hear him scream. Regaining my balance I take the last few strides and swing the butt of my rifle up, catching him in the jaw. He topples over backwards and I stand over him.
I raise my rifle and his gurgled moans fill my ears. He opens his mouth once more. No sound comes out, but instead a smoky black cloud. The world stands still as the cloud takes shape, a dark mass begins to form as I watch, a featureless being that reaches for me. I’m unable to move, waiting for the end to take me, my final day in the trenches. Its hand touches my chest and I feel a jolt surge through me. I look down expecting to see blood, instead I watch as his hand disappears and I feel him begin to fill me.
The world roars back to life and the German looks up at me, his eyes wide. I slam the butt of my rifle into his ribs, hearing them crack. He wails in pain as formless black tendrils of smoke escape his body and enter into mine. A rush unlike anything I have ever felt courses through me. I rear back and hit him again. He cries out louder, more smoke fills me, feeds me.
This time I smash it down into his face. The two of us are engulfed in a black cloud. His last moments are my first.
The smoke clears as I stand in front of a Japanese soldier tied to a chair. Sweat is pouring off him from the oppressive heat of Guadalcanal.
“Sir, the Nip won’t speak,” my sergeant says.
“Leave us. He’ll talk.”
The young Marine leaves and I walk behind the soldier tied to the chair. “You will tell me everything I want to know,” I say in perfect Japanese. Before he can move, I slam my fist down into his shoulder, dislocating it.
He grits his teeth, stifling his anguish. His body betrays him as the wisps of smoke snake from his dislocated shoulder and into me. Closing my eyes, I savor the taste of his pain.
“Your kind are so much more fun than the Germans,” I say as I pull his injured arm straight, then snap it at the elbow. “Now start talking.”
Words tumble from him as black smoke envelopes me.
Opening my eyes, I see my wife splayed on the floor in a broken heap. I slowly lift my head. My son stands in front of me.
“I knew this day would come,” I say. “I’m no longer strong enough to control the being inside me.” I close my eyes, waiting for the end.
My eyes open, my world shifted. Now I’m looking at my father tied to the chair. “I’m no longer strong enough to control the being inside me,” he says and closes his eyes.
Slipping the brass knuckles on my hand, I know it is time to take my rightful place. My fist arcs forward connecting with his jaw and I watch teeth fly from his mouth. His head jerks sideways and his body goes slack.
A dark cloudy hand emerges from his mouth as it pushes free of its vessel of over twenty years. I stand rooted in my spot. I feel it watch me even though it has no eyes. Its hand extends to my chest. I feel a spike of electricity fill me.
My father’s eyes open, whiter than I have ever seen them. I begin to pummel him, smoke erupts and covering us.
I’m in front of a V.C. soldier, just like my dad stood before his enemies over two decades ago. This is my life, one I learned from him.
He is strapped into what we have dubbed the Electric Chair for its resemblance to its namesake. Turning from him I walk over to the table and pick up a large needle. His eyes are on mine as I step close to him. His body is broken in too many places to count, but I had left his face untouched.
“Now start talking,” I say in perfect Vietnamese.
I slowly push the needle into his eye. He wails, spittle hitting my face. I keep pushing. My heart is pounding. I’ve never tasted anything this visceral before. Thick black smoke covers my body and enters me. In the back of my mind I hear a jumble of words. I step back, the needle still in his eye.
I open the door to my dad’s bedroom. The medals from his time in the Marines are displayed proudly on the wall. His stories about our family play in my mind. The framed picture of his men standing around the Electric Chair, the one thing he never spoke of. But now I know the story. A pain so perfect. I look down at him sleeping and raise my baseball bat.
My eyes pop open and I sit up in bed, covered in a cold sweat. I look at my calendar tacked to the wall. Today’s date circled in red—leave for Boot Camp.
I get out of bed and grab my bat. Ready for my legacy to begin.
∼ Mark Steinwachs
© Copyright Mark Steinwachs. All Rights Reserved.