DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.
Scars You Cannot See
He Retired Yesterday
The target was shielded by a child. The target was an Afghani Warlord visiting one of the villages he ruled on behalf of the Taliban. The child belonged to one of the villagers. U.S. troops had patrolled the village the day before and learned of the Warlord's impending visit.
Mark kept his sight on the target's head. All he needed was one clear second. The Warlord stopped to talk to a woman. He set the child on its feet on the ground and stood up. The woman was crying. Mark let out half a breath and held it. His sight was aimed squarely at the Warlord's temple. Mark squeezed the trigger. The woman screamed. The child exploded. The woman's scream abruptly stopped.
Three years and ten thousand miles away, Mark sat bolt upright in bed, sweat pouring off his body. Once he became aware of his surroundings, he lay back down and stared at the time projected on the ceiling by his alarm clock. 04:01
My first day of retirement, and now the nightmare returns and wakes me up at 0400.
Mark's retirement ceremony had been brief. A Sergeant First Class, even with a Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, a handful of Bronze Stars, and enough other medals to make the left side of his dress blue jacket heavy, only rated a moderate sendoff. There had been the obligatory party his comrades in arms threw for him, and then the long drive from Fort Bragg to Buzby Beach.
Mark was too young for Desert Storm but had taken part in nearly every action the U.S. Army had been involved in since 9/11. He was two years into a four-year enlistment when the towers fell. Had the War on Terror not begun, Mark would have left the Army after his hitch, returned home, and gone off to college.
The extraordinary talent Mark had for placing a bullet precisely on target at long range was much in demand during the War on Terror. The young soldier, a graduate of the Infantry School, the Airborne and Air Assault Schools, Ranger School, and Sniper School, spent most of his next fifteen years deployed to one theater of war or another. The mission haunting his dreams was his last. Eventually, he became an instructor and taught a new generation of dedicated warriors how to do what he'd done so well so often.
Mark's shot wasn't what caused the child to explode. The Warlord's men strapped the child into a small bomb vest to surprise the next American unit to visit the village later that day during their daily patrol. The round Mark fired from his improved M24 Sniper Rifle found its target, and the Warlord died an instant before a malfunction in the bomb vest detonated the explosives packed within. Still, the concurrence of the two events, watching the child atomized by the blast, a blast that killed his mother and two other children, affected Mark deeply and adversely. His commanders recognized this and arranged for his transfer home, where he became an instructor.
On his ceiling, the time changed from 04:01 to 04:02. Mark got out of bed, visited his bathroom, showered, wrapped in a bath towel, and made his way to the kitchen. It was a spartan kitchen. The walls bore the standard off-white paint the rental company recommended while the townhouse was an income property. The electric stove, the matching above-the-stove microwave, the side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, and the dishwasher were all finished in burnished stainless steel, as was the double sink. No magnets or children's drawings adorned the fridge. A solid oak kitchen table capable of seating six filled the bay window of the breakfast nook in the brochures. The word nook suggested a cozy space in front of the bay window overlooking the townhouse's communal back yard could not claim.
Plain white curtains hung on the windows, and faux-wood blinds offered shade from the sun by day and privacy from prying eyes by night.
Only two small appliances dotted the composite counters designed to simulate granite. One was an antique drip coffee maker Mark refused to part with. The other was the large toaster oven he rarely used. In truth, the only two appliances Mark used much since moving into the townhouse were the fridge/freezer and the coffee maker. Not being a fan of his own cooking, Mark rarely prepared a meal at home.
Mark bought his townhouse based on his father's advice when the units were first under construction. Mr. Durgess was a contractor who'd grown the business his father started into one of the largest and most highly regarded construction firms in the southeast. Mark believe, justly so, that taking his father's advice was as safe as money in the bank.
Mitchell, Mark's older brother, had run the family company since their father passed away in 2009 from prostate cancer left too long undiagnosed. Mark had never shared his father's and brother's interest in construction. Though Mitchell insisted there was a place for Mark in the company, should he ever want to join, the invitation was offered out of politeness and family obligation more than in any belief Mark would ever take his elder brother up on the offer.
Mark invested in the townhouse and set it up as a rental property. Over the years, the rents covered the mortgage along with most of the repairs and upkeep. By the time he retired, Mark owned the townhouse free and clear, along with the house he'd live in just off base near Fort Bragg - the one he sold just before retirement.
The clock on the microwave showed 04:23 when Mark entered the kitchen and turned on the coffee maker. The basket was already full of ground coffee, Folgers, because that's what Mark liked to drink. The water reservoir was full. Had Mark not already been awake, the clock on the coffee maker would have turned it on and started the coffee brewing at six o'clock, the time he'd planned to get up.
After turning on the coffee maker, Mark looked in the fridge. An empty fridge looked back at him. The only thing keeping cool inside was an open box of baking soda put there by the rental company's cleaning crew after the last tenant moved out.
I should probably stock up on a few things. Milk, juice, eggs, maybe.
The freezer was just as bare. Only the bin for the automatic ice maker was full.
The oak wood cabinets with their white ceramic door handles were, other than pots and pans and plates and cups, as empty as the refrigerator.
If I want any breakfast this morning, it looks like I'll be eating out. I wonder what time E.J.'s opens.
Mark asked Google if it knew what time E.J.'s Donuts and Deli opened for breakfast. Google informed him that the shop opened at six in the morning. He glanced at the microwave again. It showed 04:31.
The coffee maker finished brewing the coffee. Mark took from the sink the stainless steel travel mug he received the day before at his retirement party. The mug displayed a set of Sergeant First Class stripes on one side, and U.S. Army Retired on the other, along with the Army Star logo. He'd washed it out upon arriving at home the evening before.
Mark poured himself a mugful and took a tentative sip. He nodded and sighed wearily. Then, he put the lid on the mug and went back to his bedroom to decide what to wear.
Mark's story continues in Chapter 02
- This We Share Chapter 02
Mark begins his new routine with a run on the beach, breakfast, and then wonders what to do with the rest of his day.
© 2020 DW Davis