Screaming From The Sky
"Only the dead see the end of war"
On this bleak day the sky gave way to a powerful onslaught of rain. First one drop, like a bullet smacking against the window pane, then a barrage, then a hell storm came plummeting, screaming from the sky.
Raymond Tully stared past, through, the merciless sheets of rain from his third story room at Central Highlands Nursing Home to the soft, darkening garden below.
It looked like a jungle.
A ringing. Close to his chest. Ray lifted his arm, the telephone he was clutching bleating in his cold hand. With fingers that felt distant and clumsy Ray pressed the TALK key, lifted the receiver to his wrinkled ear and grunted. It may have been "hello."
"Is this a secure line?" A man's voice. Deep. Authoritative. A voice from his past.
Ray lowered the receiver and eyed the bedroom door as if at any moment a swarm of doctors and nurses, sons and grandsons might come barging in to disturb his ritual. Not that he had ever had many visitors ever since he was admitted to this goddamn hell hole years back after his heart had thrust like a bayonet through his ribs and his thoughts became a train wreck.
"It's secure." Ray said, his voice light. Just in case.
"Authorization pass sequence?" The voice on the other end demanded.
Ray could not even remember the name of his eldest son – what was that bastards name? Mike, Matt, Mitch, Mick – but the obscure pass code burned in his mind and out his lips.
"Delta, Foxtrot, Juliet, Tango, Whiskey, Xray."
Silence from the other end, then, "Carpet bombings of the Citadel are set to commence at 24:00 hours, it's highly imperative that all non essential personnel and service men evacuate the surrounding area, it's gonna get toasty down there Colonel."
"Roger that command our 1st and 5th Marine regiments are still experiencing heavy resistance in the city streets, this outta level the playing field."
"Oh it'll level some things alright Colonel."
"I just have one request to ask of you Command."
"It's been ages since I heard some good music, real music, and I'm feeling a little, what's the word? Sentimental. You'd really make my day if you can patch me into the AFVN."
"Haha you always were a needy SOB, just a moment." said the voice.
There was the switch of the radio dial and thousands of miles away across over forty years a smooth bass line crept through the phone.
"Ah..." Ray groaned, a palpable warmth spreading through his body. This is it. A classic.
Next came the military cadenced drum beat, that twangy guitar chord and when Colonel Raymond Tully closed his eyes the sounds of Saigon on a hot summer afternoon drifted from the phone. He listened to the blaring of many traffic horns, the squealing of brakes, the calls of street merchants selling fresh Nem cuon and Ngo rice paddies in their stalls. Colonel Tully tapped his feet, slapped his knee and took in an immense sniff that almost allowed him to smell the stench of meat hung on iron hooks basking under the sun and the exotic, intoxicating female scents of the Mama-sans with their batty eyes and tight, hairless cunts.
There was a rap at the door and Colonel Tully was once again forced from his relaxing world of pleasure.
The nurse entered. "Chao ong Colonel." he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "I'm going to check your vitals, you'll be a good boy now won't you?"
The nurse was one of them Asians as well, no older that the boys he used to stack as sandbags in the jungles of 'Nam all those years ago. Ray grumbled, his mind still far away, the sweet taste of the inside of some yellow Goddesses thighs still heavy on his tongue and the overwhelming stench of napalm charred bodies wafting through the air.
The nurse stepped into the room and stopped, his face contorting into a grimace. "Oh damnit you pissed yourself again? Guess somebody needs his diaper changed."
He seized Ray by the wrist and slipped the cuff around his bony arm.
"Blood pressure steady rising, just what's got you so agitated hmmm?"
The nurses eyes shifted to the phone jutting between the seat of his wheelchair. He snatched up the phone and held it before Ray's face.
"Why do you do this to yourself? For the thousandth time the phone has no batteries! This is how you keep exciting yourself!" He slid the sleeve from Ray's arm. "I'm afraid your son is going to have to find out about this."
The nurse tossed the phone to the floor. "Now let's get you cleaned up."
Even in his dreams his mind rushed with the obsessive, clandestine phone calls across continents and whole jungle countries, through steep valleys and towering mountains, talking...just shooting the shit...to Hue...and...Hanoi...Cam Ranh...Mekong...
A noise shattered the chamber of Ray's sleep. A bleating from the foot of his bed. He lifted himself off of the cool sheets and slipped his brittle, ivory legs down. Gun metal gray clouds obscured any moonlight from seeping in so Ray fumbled in the dark for the ringing phone, his hand brushing across his homemade shiv shaped out of a broken shard of plexiglass before grasping the ringing phone. Ray sat at the foot of the bed, his heart exploding within him and answered the phone. An incessant whirring sound greeted him, the rotor of a helicopter, and then another voice from his past, that Southern drawl which drifted from the phone like music.
"Howdy Colonel, it's been a while."
"Big Tex! It's good to hear your voice man, how ya been?"
"Me an' some of the jarheads was gonna make a pass over the Mekong Delta, call it an 'extermination' run. Wish you can be here Colonel."
Ray shook his head. "Ah Tex I wish more than anything too but I haven't been out of this place in six years, it's a damn POW camp in here!"
Big Tex chuckled. "Never thought I'd see the day when you took orders from 'Charlie.' There ain't no barbed wire, no armed guards, so nut up and get your ass to 'Nam!"
Ray sat, eyes shut tight, the phone embedded against his ear. He wanted to tell him how the nursing home had already took everything from him; his heart, dignity, and soul and left him as delicate and useless as a shell. He wanted to tell him how they even threatened to take away his only link to the past, to cut the wire that connected across years.
But before he could say anything the clearest, most distinguishable sound came through the phone. The helicopters MAYDAY alert.
"Shit! RPG!" Big Tex screamed.
"Get your ass outta there Tex!"
An explosion of metal on metal ripped through the phone, the once steady WHUMP WHUMP of the rotors grinding, failing.
"It's too late for me Colonel, the bird is going down! You gotta find us, there's some brave souls in this jungle need avenging and I'm one of 'em! Get your ass to 'Nam! Get your ass-"
The crash was deafening, a final burst of static and then silence.
Ray sat, motionless.
Much time passed.
The next morning the overcast skies finally gave way to golden shafts of sunlight that seeped into Ray's room. The nurse entered, Ray's son Matthew and two nurses aids in tow. They found the Colonel at the foot of the bed, not moving.
"Dad!" Matt and the nurse rushed to Ray's side, praying for the best but expecting the worse. "Dad! Dad can you hear me!? Are you ok!?
"He most likely feel during the night, bring his chair." The nurse directed one of the aids. "Mr. Tully? We're going to get you into your chair."
The nurse and his aids hooked Ray under his armpits to gingerly lift him. They never saw him slip his hand beneath his robe.
The Colonel struck.
With a strength that belied his age Ray broke from their grasp, seized the nurse by the collar and plunged his shiv deep into his throat.
"Oh my God dad what are you doing!?"
Pandemonium erupted in the third floor bedroom. The aids screamed. Matthew screamed. Ray bellowed a primal battle cry and the nurse let out a queer gurgling sound, a fountain of blood spurting from the gash in his throat.
Ray took his hand and smeared the blood across his face like morbid war paint.
"Son! Get the chopper ready we're getting outta this prison! Think they can hold me can they, I'll show these Commie bastards and when I'm done here we're gonna fly straight to the White House, that's right! And I'm gonna cut out Johnson's heart and eat it! Yargh! That son of a bitch got us into the mess but by God I'm gonna get us out! Yargh!"
Ray made for the door in a stumbling run and stopped. A lightning strike seized his heart, his face of red became slack, and Colonel Raymond Tully just up and keeled over, dead from a heart attack.
As quickly as the assault had began it was now over. A noise cut through the sobs of the aids.
Matthew approached his dead father, almost on tip toe. He bent and removed the ringing phone from Ray's robe and pressed the TALK key. He lifted the receiver to his own ear. Listened. Above the static he heard a strange, final noise.
A high pitched whine, like the decrescendo of certain death screaming from the sky.