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The Carriage Driver³ – Reunion With Death

Updated on August 22, 2017

Jim sat in the waiting room just outside the surgery. His adult sons were there to support their father. “This is how he always told the story,” Jim began.

“This was Vietnam October 1972.” His sons had heard the story before.

“He was sitting beneath some broad leaf plant trying to keep the rain off his face. It was a black night and he was on watch. A sound alerted him. He watched the long tail of a flare do a slow arc. He says when that flare burst the fields around him lit up. I’ll never forget him telling me the flash of the muzzles looked like devil’s eyes. The men were up into firing position quickly. Then all at once four lightening strikes hit him, throwing him to the ground. He said he laid there bullets tearing pieces of leaves as they went by. The sounds were terrifying. Silhouettes of men rushed in every direction. One man stepped on him, but did not stop. He then adds, a beast grabbed him by the boot and started dragging him deep into the jungle. The beast was strong. He was on his back being dragged through the bush, through the mud, over root and rocks. The sound of the battle got dimmer. Then his head hit a rock and he was out. That is the night he said he got old. The next thing he remembers, he was in heaven.

He was naked. All the people around him were wearing white. That heaven notion did not last long. They were sticking tubes everywhere. After that, every few hours a woman in white came in, rolled him to his side and stuck him in the butt with a hypodermic. That seemed to play out over and over in some kind of sadistic loop.”

His sons leaned forward.

Jim said, “To me this is the most interesting part of the story. He said he arrived at this thick ornate door and knocked. A standing salamander with diamond eyes opened the door. It inquired as to what he wanted. Johnny answered, I have an engraved invitation. Johnny looked over the salamander’s shoulder. There was a long sweeping bar that went around a corner out of sight. The people lined up shoulder to shoulder along the bar. They were talking, ordering drinks; it was a never ending party. Many of the women wore red. There were blonds, redheads, and brunettes, all long and sleek. A chandelier with shimmering crystals hung above the tables. Every sort of liquor is available behind the bar. There were bottles of every description. Drugs were plentiful. Groups were taking drugs through their noses along the bar. The music blared, the heart pounding rhythm made the lady's hip shake. Polished stairs lead to rooms at the top. The tails of both men and women bounced as they made their way to the rooms above. There were stacks of thick silver coins here and there. Smoke from cigars drifted among the glittering crystals.

Johnny tried to step past the salamander, but was blocked. The salamander said, ‘this isn’t signed.’

A tall brunette came toward him. Johnny said the colors of her eyes changed until they perfectly matched his ideal. His eyes drifted over her. Her body shape changed from Twiggy to Dolly until his eyes registered his desires. He took her all in; as he measured her legs the illusion was cracked. The cloven feet made his heart spike. Johnny tells that it took a couple of minutes to realize, but there was no laughter. The eyes of those he could see were blank. This was a play put on so many times that the joy was wrung out. Or never allowed inside.

For the first time, he noticed the men. There were men, with long spindly horns, short stubby double horns. Some of their horns were twisted and yellowed. Their legs also ended with cloven hoofs. Their eyes coveted all newcomers.

The machine monitoring him sounded alarms. Staff arrived and he was stabilized. Six months later he was released from the hospital with a pat on the back and a ‘you are well – best wishes.’ It was true his body functioned near how it had when first issued. The shadows of the dark night lingered. He carried with him that jungle night that changed everything. The night left an unseen scar. Only those that shared such an experience could come close to understanding.

I met up with Johnny again about a year later at Ft. Bliss. I ran into him coming from a psychotherapy visit. We stayed close after that.”

Jim and his sons looked up when a doctor entered. His hands were stuffed into the pockets of his coat. “He was a fighter. I never saw anyone fight like him. I am sorry to tell you your friend did not make it.”

The four men stood there in silence.

Captain Griffin Chaffey readied the carriage. It always saddened him and made him proud at the same time to pick up military personnel. He took the short brush and stroked Nuelle’s coat. When everything was ready they made their way to the hospital per their instruction.

Johnny was not a general, no brass on his shoulders. Though he still carried a small piece of lead the doctors could not reach.

Griffin climbed down and he and Nuelle shared an apple. It was their custom. Nuelle stood shoulders squared as Johnny approached. His shoulders were also squared. He looked this way and that, trying to locate the door that he had stepped through all those years ago.

As he approached, he called out to Griffin. Can you point me in the direction of the door that I passed through once before. Johnny looked around for his engraved invitation, but could not find it.

“Door,” Griffin echoed. Then he realized Johnny was confused. “Nuelle and I have been sent to pick you up. We will take you anywhere you want to go.” Griffin held out his hand, “All you have to do is step inside and we can begin the journey.”

Johnny leaned against the side of the carriage. “I haven’t given this any thought. I was expecting something else. Something I saw in a vision many years ago. Do I have time?”

“There is a castle where you can be delivered. There you can take all the time you need to plan out what the next part of the journey will be like. A place where you can sort things out.”

Johnny stepped up into the carriage. Nuelle pulled from the curb and walked proudly with her cargo.

The doctor, having delivered his message, turned and walked away. His hands still clinched in the pockets of his smock. Jim’s two sons put their hands on their father’s back. The oldest spoke first. “I cannot imagine losing a friendship that lasted for fifty some odd years. It is a tribute to the two of you and who you really are as men.”

“We were not in constant contact. When we would contact each other after some pause, it seemed like we picked up our conversations where we left off. So, yes, this will be tough for me.”

The two boys thought about what a tough man their father had been in their youth. So tough that neither of them felt they could muster that same kind of strength if called upon.

Jim’s youngest put his arm on his father’s shoulder, “Come on Beast, let’s go get some breakfast.”

Paint it Black - Vietnam War

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    • mckbirdbks profile image
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      mckbirdbks 3 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Shy - Thank you for being such a loyal follower of the Carriage Driver stories. And as always, thank you for the blessings.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 3 weeks ago from Texas

      Mike, I thought I read them all, but guess I missed this one some how. All your stories are great .

      Blessings as always.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 3 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Gypsy - Thank you for such a kind comment. I appreciate you.

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 3 weeks ago from Riga, Latvia

      Your wonderful stories bring into unknown worlds and set my imagination dancing. Always looking forward to more.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
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      mckbirdbks 4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      from "Because I could not stop for Death"

      Because I could not stop for Death,

      He kindly stopped for me;

      The carriage held but just ourselves

      And Immortality. - Emily Dickinson

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Peg – Those that serve in the military make a difficult life decision. Their service, outside of their families, is not acknowledged and is under appreciated. Their many accomplishments, as you say, do go untold. The best the rest of us can do is pledge our allegiance to a country that stands for something in the world and sustain ourselves through the dark hours.

      Your copy will be arriving in a few weeks. I am waiting for the proof copy now. I am patting myself on the back. I think series three has the best titles. (ha, the rest is left unsaid.)

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Ann – Thank you. I have had so much help with concepts. Especially with the third series. My imagination is seriously strained. I truly grasped at straws near the end. It was so bad, that I had lunch with a friend I had not seen for years, and came home and ‘killed’ him off, just to write a story. I am not an expert, but I began to recognize that there was a transition point. If the reader went through the transition with me, then the story held more appeal. If I did not properly guide the reader, then the story got courtesy comments but nothing more.

      I appreciate you staying with these stories.

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 4 weeks ago from Dallas, Texas

      No group of afterlife stories would be complete without a tribute to those who served this country in battle. Those brave men and women who put their own lives in danger to preserve our freedom hold so many untold stories. This one shares insight into the mind of the soldier and their particular perspectives.

      Looking forward to getting your newest The Carriage Driver 3 series and reading the stories again.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 4 weeks ago from SW England

      I'm always amazed at how your imagination comes up with so many ideas along your Carriage Driver's lines, Mike. This one is another triumph. I like the way we have an anchor (such as the surgery), then you take us far away and back again. Very clever.

      Ann

    • mckbirdbks profile image
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      mckbirdbks 4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hi Martie - "Johnny's near-death experience behind the thick ornate door is probably every young man's idea of heaven." I did not really think of this, but I can see your point. Funny how our visions change over the years. (I never gave this subject much thought.)

      Our veterans who were actually in combat have a much different view of life than civilians. The psyche is changed, perhaps damaged. They are more tuned in, as they witnessed the death of their innocence. Many that encountered trauma are changed.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 weeks ago from South Africa

      I don't know any veteran that doesn't get emotional when they talk about their experiences on the battlefield.

      Johnny's near-death experience behind the thick ornate door is probably every young man's idea of heaven.

      Touching story, thank you Mck!

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Becky - You know much more about it than I know. My experience in the Army was much different than your husband and Dusty and so many others. For a little while I was stationed at a hospital and went to the airport to pick up wounded to be brought to the hospital. Those are the guys that had to find out their future preferred medication. As for the WWII Vets, I think you are right about that also. Alcohol sustained everyone WWII vet that I knew.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 4 weeks ago from Hereford, AZ

      Mike, the WWll vets had the country behind them, supporting them, when they came home. They just medicated by getting dead drunk, and staying that way. I had one uncle that came back from WWll and stayed drunk, except for when he was working. His wife was afraid to sleep in the same bed as he did, for several years. She woke up with a knife to her throat a few times. Another uncle just shut down and quit talking. He suffered so much, and just went out to be with the animals on the ranch. They were his therapy.

      The Vietnam vets had so many of their peers condemning them when they came home. That is the difference. The Vietnam vets had to fight to get the VA to even admit that there was a problem. Then they had to continue fighting to get them to do something about it. About 1/4 had committed suicide before they could get help. Many had retreated into doing drugs and OD'd before the VA finally started to do something about it.

      Some of them had stumbled on the best medication for PTSD, before the VA ever found it. The VA has found out that the best treatment is small amounts of thc's, but they are not allowed to prescribe it. The medicine they are allowed to prescribe often makes it worse. These prescription synthetic drugs are terrible, with worse side effects. The Tucson VA was doing trials on using marijuana to treat it, and they have found that it works well, with few, to no side effects, but the government will not allow it. They cannot prescribe it, unless the government changes the laws, allows it to be medically prescribed. The mental health Dr just smile and nod their heads when they find out they are using it. They do not even try to convince the vets that it is bad. They know it works better than any of the Pharmaceutical drugs, without the bad side effects.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 4 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Genna – Yes, what good is an unsigned invitation. And as for that salamander, he was lucky to get the job at the door. Ha. There seems to be so much PDST in the Vietnam vets. Maybe I have seen more of it, being of the right age. The WWII vets seemed to have come home and vowed not to talk about the horrors they participated in. I recall Dusty, and Mickey D, and a few others, and they all were both scared and greatly impacted from their experience.

      The Stones have moved way up on my list of favorites.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 4 weeks ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I have to agree with Maria about signing the Salamander's invitation. Such visions go hand-in-hand with the living hell that was Vietnam...humanity at the edge of, and toppling into, the abyss. And the exceptional camaraderie of those who fought there and survived. Beautifully done, Mike. The Stones song is just perfect.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 5 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Bill - Ken Burns always does such a good job. His Vietnam series will be well done. His Civil War series is outstanding. Thank you.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      Waiting not-so-patiently for Ken Burns Vietnam series starting in September. It is a war that will not go away for those of us who lived through it...kind of like the Civil War in many ways...it still stains us as a society. You managed to capture all that in a short story...well done my friend.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 5 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello mar - The Rolling Stones grow on you. I liked them in my youth, now they seem to be able to talk to me. As for Dusty, I do hope these two can hang out. War and other tragedy can steal a person's peace of mind.

      This may just serve as the conclusion to TCD stories.

      I have always heard, you have to sign your deal with the devil. Johnny had not sighed.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 5 weeks ago from Jeffersonville PA

      While I love your RS song choice, I had never seen the Vietnam YouTube - what a powerful accompaniment to Johnny's story.

      I'm imagining that Johnny has been met by Dusty at the castle and they will similarly welcome Jim 'when' the time for a carriage ride of his own comes.

      So glad Johnny's invitation wasn't signed - no way in hell I'd want to hang out with that salamander either.

      Have a good weekend. Hugs, mar

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 5 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hi Becky – I knew a couple of Vietnam vets that knew for a certainty, that they paid their dues in full. They were angry and adrenaline driven. I am sure that they are enjoying the fruits of their labors. I am sure that applies to the veterans you know also.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 5 weeks ago from Hereford, AZ

      So many of them found hell back then. Some found their way out, some didn't, they never forgot the images burnt into their minds. They are now finding that they are not going there. The anger and ugliness warped them into something else entirely, than they would have been. Hoping they are finding their way to joy now.

    • mckbirdbks profile image
      Author

      mckbirdbks 5 weeks ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Shannon - There are so many possibilities that face us all. We are all clear what is good and evil, and what is right and wrong. This series explored the possible paths. Thank you for your comment.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 5 weeks ago

      Nice ending! Didn't quite see that one coming. Perhaps I should have.

      To me, it seems you explored some of what he'll may be like for some people as opposed to heaven.