Homecoming

Where to begin?

I'm sitting here for half an hour in front of a blank computer screen; thinking about how to tell my story. A story that is so bizarre that I half expect Stephen King to show up with pen and paper in hand, ready to jot down notes for his next novel.

"Tell me the whole story," he would say. "And don't leave out any juicy parts."

So, here goes nothing.

I guess, you could say it started on that fateful day when I was fourteen, and had to stay home because of the flu. I was sitting in front of the television set, watching Jerry Springer, when suddenly the news came on showing the Twin Towers being hit by two 747 airplanes.

"What's wrong?" I asked my mom who was shellshock and sitting beside me on the couch.

"Your dad," she said in a quivering voice. "He called me this morning on his smartphone: saying he was going to the Twin Towers to fix the plumbing in the bathroom."

We watched the news for the next several days, hoping, praying, that he was all right. Then on the eighth day, we got the news from a police officer that he had died. A crew that was digging around the World Trade Center had found his body under the piles of cement and steel. For the next four years after that, I was angry. I often fantasized about bringing the terrorists to justice. And on my eighteenth birthday, I did exactly what I fantasized about and enlisted into the army.

I went from village to village in Kandahar, looking for terrorists. And on one sunny morning, my unit found them. I could still see a buddy of mine, who was marching several steps ahead of me, had unknowingly stepped on a roadside bomb. And when he lifted up his foot, there was a roar as loud as thunder, and I flew backwards twenty feet, and landed on my back on the side of the road. Bullets came down on all sides like torrential rain.

I yelled, "The Mujaheddin are everywhere!"

I sat up and shot several terrorists that were running down the hill toward me. Then, I looked up in the sky, and saw a grenade flying through the air. It landed next to me and when I woke, I found myself lying on a hospital bed, all bandaged up.

"The war is over for you." said a doctor, standing beside my bed.

"What are you talking about?"

Then I felt my leg.

It wasn't there!

Jesus!

I started to cry, "No! No! No!"

A month later, I was sent back home with a purple heart and a prosthetic leg. Everyday, I would go to this little, neighborhood bar, where ID is never required, trying to forget what had happened to me during the war.

"What's your poison?" asked a newly, hired bartender.

"Budweiser," I said.

The bartender placed a beer in front of me, and I sat, drinking and feeling sorry for myself. The bartender browsing through newspaper, looked up, and asked, "Is this you?" pointing to the paper.

"Yeah."

"They say you're a war hero."

"I'm no hero. I'm a stupid kid from Brooklyn who thought he was Rambo and got his leg blown off."

I sat there for the next hour, having one beer after the other, and then at closing time, I left and hobbled down Fulton Street toward home.

Who's out here at this hour, I thought as I heard footfalls, echoing from behind me.

I turned and saw below the yellow glow of the sodium streetlamp, a tall, forty-something year old man in a black suit with a blazing, red, silk tie.

"I didn't mean to frighten you," he said, apologetically as he stood a few feet away from me.

"You didn't," I answered. "What do you want?"

His mouth opened.

God! He's not even human! His canines are way too large!

"You!" he said.

He grabbed my shirt and pulled me, forward. I could feel his breath on my neck.

I'm going to die! After losing my leg, I'm going to die right here in New York!

He sank his fangs into my neck, and after what seems like an eternity, he finally pulled his head back, and wiped his mouth with his left sleeve, and whispered, "Drink."

He slit his left wrist open with his right thumb's nail, and thick rivulets of blood ran out.

I have to drink, I panicked.

I've seen enough vampire movies on the local channel to know that if I didn't drink, I was going to die!

Placing my mouth around his wrist, I sucked at the blood.

"Good," he said. "Let my blood give you new life."

I blinked, and a second later, he was gone.

Did I imagine the whole thing?

I went home, and lay down on my bed, thinking: It had to be a hallucination. Maybe I shouldn't have drunk so much alcohol so soon after taking NyQuil.

"Henry, it's time for breakfast," screamed my mom from the kitchen, below.

I sat up, and the sunlight from the window hit my eyes. I squinted, and stared at the alarm clock: 10:00 am. I hurried out of my bed, and into the bathroom to look at the mirror to see if there were two puncture wounds on my neck.

Nothing. No puncture wounds, or blood on my shirt or pants.

I hobbled down the stairs, holding onto the rail. When I got to the kitchen, there was a stack of pancakes on the kitchen table, waiting for me.

"Did you notice anything different about me when I got home last night?" I asked.

"Beats me," she said. "I was asleep by the time, you got back."

Later on that day, I went back out to the bar again, hoping to find out what had actually happened.

Did a vampire attack me, or was it some kind of weird hallucination that I had by mixing my cold medication with alcohol.

"Back again," said the bartender as I sat down on the same stool.

"Did you notice anything strange, last night?"

"Like what?"

"When you closed up last night, did you see anything strange outside of the bar?"

"No. It was like any other night. What were you expecting me to see outside the bar?"

"I don't know," I said. "Like a man being devoured by a vampire."

"Like what?" he asked, incredulously.

"Never mind," I answered.

I sat drinking, and left at the same time as the previous night, but this time I didn't hear any footfalls, or see a scary man in a black suit with a blazing, red, silk tie.

I imagined the whole thing, I laughed.

The next day, I drove to the VA hospital to see my psychiatrist.

"You're having a hard time sleeping?" asked my psychiatrist as she took out a pen and a small notepad from her desk drawer.

"Yeah, I had a dream about a vampire."

"A vampire?"

"Yeah, a vampire with fangs and all."

"How long have you been dreaming about vampires?" she asked.

"Just one vampire," I said. "And it was recently, I think I had something to do with me mixing my cold medication with alcohol."

"I see."

"Don't tell me this is something about me being sexually attracted to my mother."

"I don't subscribe to the Oedipus complex," she answered.

She walked over to her desk and scribbled on a prescription pad.

"This is a prescription for Valium. It ought to help you sleep a little better. It's not surprising that you might be having nightmares after what you went through in Afghanistan. "

"Thanks," I said.

I left, and drove to the pharmacy to get my Valium. An hour later, I was sitting on my couch in the living room, watching a Yankee game.

"Is everything okay?" asked my mom as she tapped me on the shoulder. "You've been acting strange lately. I know the war wasn't what you had hoped for but …"

"Everything's fine," I answered.

I picked up my windbreaker from the coach, and headed out the door.

I didn't want to talk about my war experience, especially with her. I walked several blocks, trying to clear my head, when suddenly, I felt something eerie.

"I know you're here!" I yelled.

The man in the black suit stepped out of the shadow of a cinder block building.