Explosions sent thunderous shockwaves through the night sky. Infrequent intervals of deadly shrapnel fell from somewhere above. Just off the ground, a sulfuric haze lingered playfully.
What is this place? W-where am I?
A young man, not old enough to buy alcohol and barely old enough to shave, crouched in a damp, musty trench. A mixture of rifle oil, gunpowder, and fresh-strewn dirt filled his nostrils. In the distance, a dull ‘boom’ sounded, marking the beginning of the next wave of artillery fire. Instinctively, the now shivering man crouched lower and pulled his limbs in tight. Though clutching a rifle in his hands, he managed to cover his ears with his shoulders.
The concussive pressure from the explosion made his teeth chatter, and his eyes blur. During the commotion, light from the artillery illuminated a tattered name tag for a split second: “Davis.”
Davis. That’s me. I’m Dav–
Another mind-jarring eruption shook his train of thought. His temporary hearing loss rang out in a high-pitched decrescendo. Davis opened his mouth and rotated his jaw; he gently shook his head back and forth so as not to increase his already throbbing cranium.
As the dust settled from the last bombardment, the night sky grew dark, once again.
Where is everyone? Am I the last one alive?
Confusion littered the young soldier’s thoughts as he slowly walked through the trench. Davis saw nothing else: no bodies, no other weapons, and no sign of any other living being. Now that the ringing in his ears was gone, Davis found the silence unsettling.
Then, from somewhere behind him, a hushed whisper demanded an audience, “Davy! This way,” it was another soldier. He crouched down and waved him over.
“Who are you?”
“Wh-who am I? Sheesh, Davy. It’s getting to you, isn’t it? It’s me you clodpate. Harris. Now, keep your head down and stop being such a loony.”
Davis heard a slight Brooklyn accent, but something about him made him feel safe. They slowly crept through the trench toward a destination unknown to them both, it seemed. Then, without notice or warning, a large man wielding a rifle with a long bayonet at the end fell into their path. He looked just as surprised as they were.
A split second later he jumped to his feet, screamed something in a language they didn’t understand, and charged with an outstretched rifle and bayonet. As if time had slowed, Harris pulled Davis back, jumped in between he and their foe, and fired his rifle. Before the adrenaline had worn off, Davis realized Harris was accurate, but so was their enemy.
Slumping to the ground, he held his friend who was gurgling in agony with a large puncture wound through his chest. “I always knew it was going to be this way, Davey. I always–” he coughed and tried to suck in air. His chest was bouncing unevenly, “I always knew you’d need me. Don’t forget Davey. Don’t for–” then, with a few more sharp jerks, his friend was dead.
He stood and felt utterly alone. Silence, once again, met him on the battlefield.
Then a voice broke the quietude, “Mr. Davis? Mr. Davis?”
He turned and rose his rifle to his cheek. Peering down the sights, he saw something that was most indeed out of place: a young woman in perfect white scrubs. She smiled and held out her hand, “Mr. Davis. How are you feeling today?” Her voice echoed awkwardly.
Slowly and hesitantly, Davis lowered his rifle, “H-how am I doing?”
The nurse walked forward and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Here,” she said warmly while holding out a small plastic cup, “take these. They will help you feel better.”
Davis looked down and realized he was no longer standing in a cold trench. Clean white floors replaced puddles of muddy water, and the smell of gunpowder and oil was replaced with bleach and fresh air.
“Come, come, now. Take your pills. You know how Ms. Clara gets when you don’t take your pills.” He was no longer standing but now found himself sitting in a wheelchair. The nurse moved behind it and pushed him slowly toward a door that led outside.
“W-who is Ms. Clara?”
The young lady giggled, “Who is Ms. Clara? Me, of course. Don’t tell me you forgot my name again.”
“I’m sorry. I was just. Nevermind.” He rose his shriveled hand to his mouth and dropped two smalls pills onto his tongue. They dissolved quickly and without flavor.
The glass door opened up to a large courtyard surrounded by leafy green bushes and brightly colored vines hanging from pagodas and fences. Smooth gravel paths wound around a small pond. The scenery that sprawled out before Davis made him smile.
“Where were you this time?” The nurse did a terrible job of hiding the sad undertone of her inquiry.
“I-I think I was in a war. But,” Davis paused. He shook the fading memory of the death of his friend from his thoughts, “It was terrible.”
“War usually is.” The young lady stopped at a bench near the pond and sat down beside him, “Things are only going to get worse. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You have to fight.” She looked into his eyes and smiled sympathetically.
“I think I was in a war, but,” Davis replied.
“There, there. You rest.” Again the nurse smiled then turned and faced the pond. A small flock of geese glided effortlessly through the water. Something spooked them, though, which sent them rushing into the air. The sudden, violent flapping of their wings startled Davis, and his eyes gently rolled to the back of his head. Everything became muffled and distant.
# # # #
A young boy raced through rows of rides as bright lights shone all around him. A Merry-Go-Round whizzed by on his right, a small wooden roller coaster blurred by on his left, and then he found himself at his destination: a cotton candy stand. A young man, no older than sixteen years of age, spun a wooden stick round and round inside of a large metal bowl. As the warm strings of sugar began to take shape, the young man’s mouth started to water.
“One nickel,” the striped shirt wearing pimple-faced teen said with a smile.
The little boy reached into his pocket and pulled out its contents. He began digging through the handful of nonsense: a small ball of string, a half-chewed piece of bubblegum, a couple of buttons, and one nickel. Vibrating with excitement, the boy lifted his hand, and the two exchanged items and went about their business.
“Don’t you eat that too fast,” a lovely lady in a polka-dot dress poked the little boy playfully. “Charlie? Are you even listening to me? Charles Edward Davis…”
He was dead to the world. Beaming with excitement, the little boy began shoving handfuls of the spun sugar into his gaping maw. The sweet, pink candy melted in his mouth, which made his mouth water, which in turn made it melt faster. The vicious cycle continued until Charles found himself sucking on a pink stained stick.
He immediately regretted his eager haste for his stomach churned and gurgled painfully. Clutching his midsection and walking with lazy steps, Charlie whimpered at the young woman in the polka-dot dress.
“I told you to take it easy, didn’t I? Didn’t I tell you?” She rose one of her eyebrows and put her hands on her hips. She sighed then smiled, “Come here.”
Charlie slowly walked into his mother’s open arms. With a bit of effort, she hefted him off the ground and embraced him lovingly. “Come on, let’s go home.” With little Charlie beginning to doze off, the two turned and left the bright lights and excitement behind.
Multiple colored bulbs and excited voices in the distance slowly faded and Davis’s eyes fluttered. Darkness consumed his mind.
Once again, a clean smell filled the now old man’s nostrils replacing the aromas of carnival snacks. Confusion clouded his thoughts as he felt a soft bed underneath him. Davis pushed himself up into a sitting position, but the throbbing inside of his head convinced him to lay back down. He instantly wished he were back in his mother’s arms.
“Easy there,” came a soothing voice from somewhere to his side. “Easy. You took a little spill earlier. You fell right out of your chair. How is your head?”
Slowly, Davis rotated his neck and saw the lovely nurse from before, “It has been better.”
She stood and inspected the bandage on her patient’s forehead, “This is happening more often. That’s why we thought having you in a wheelchair would be better. It seems,” she stated, carefully observing Davis’s head, “you can hurt yourself no matter the circumstances.” Her warm smile made the throbbing dull slightly.
“I think I had another episode, or dream, or whatever.”
Taking a seat, the chair creaked quietly underneath the nurse’s slender body, “We figured you did. You always seem to go somewhere when you leave us. Want to talk about it?”
“It was a good one. I was a little boy, at a carnival, and with my mom.” A small smile began to creep onto his face. “But, I… I was…” he trailed off.
“Huh? Oh, I think I had another episode or dream, or–”
The nurse patted him on the shoulder gently, “There, there. You rest now. You will feel better in the morning.”
“Nurse?” A professional-looking man with fancy hair and thin-brimmed glasses waved her over from across the room. He was holding a clipboard.
“I’ll be right back,” she whispered.
Standing, she strolled over to him. Davis heard some of their conversation due to the fact they weren’t whispering as quietly as they thought they were. Something along the line of “not getting any better,” “more frequent,” and “anytime now” crawled into his ears. Sadness washed over him, but he did not know why. It was as if his heart knew what his head did not.
With a sad look on her face, the nurse turned and began walking back toward the bed. A new smell met his nostrils that hadn’t been there before. Davis assumed it was the fancy doctor’s cologne.
“Sorry. The doctor had some important information for me.” Her words were as if an echo in his ears and he could see her try the best she could to smile, but through blurry vision, Davis didn’t fall for it. “Davis? Not again!” In slow motion, the nurse stood and called for the doctor. The fancy man came running to their sides, and the smell of the cologne hit Davis’s nostrils like a tidal wave, then he blacked out.
# # # #
Davis heard a clanking sound, then another. It sounded like metal, no, tools. A voice broke the silence, “And this is the five-eighths. You will use these the most so have a few on hand or plan on never losing any.” A subtle, gruff laugh echoed in Davis’s thoughts. “Son? Son, are you with me?”
The darkness was pulled back like a curtain and before him crouched a middle-aged man with dark hair and leathery skin. He looked like he worked every day of his life, but his eyes were kind, and his smile was warm.
“Were you listening?”
The man looked at a teenage Davis incredulously, “What did I say then?”
“You said, uh,” Davis looked at the wrench in his father’s hand. “Five-eighths. Have a few or don’t lose it.”
The man smiled again, “Close enough.” He then proceeded to ruffle his son’s hair. He stood and walked past him toward an old car they were rebuilding. As he did, a waft of thick, earthy cologne filled the air around Davis. Just as the two started working on the car, the memory faded.
The darkness that plagued Davis’s head provided no haven for the anxiety that accompanied it. A quiet, repetitive beep bounced off the inside of his thoughts. It was not alone, though. Hushed whispers and reserved sniffles were present, as well.
As he opened his eyes a few shallow, short gasps met him. He was in a decent-sized room with long cords hanging from his arms and laying on his chest. The ever-present nurse was sitting at his side. “Good morning, Mr. Davis. Did you have a restful nap?” There was a buzzing noise, and he began to incline slightly.
“I may not be completely sure of what is going on around me, but I know well enough to be sure I was not napping.”
She smiled, “I never could get anything past you. Who did you see this time?”
Davis looked at the many faces around the room. They all were staring right back at him with red, puffy eyes. “I think I saw my father.”
A small tear fell down the nurse’s face, “Was it pleasant?”
“Yes.” He leaned toward the nurse and whispered, “Who are all these people?”
She leaned in and whispered back, “They are your family.”
Sadness washed over him once again, partly because he did not recognize them and partly because he knew what this must mean. Davis looked into the nurse’s eyes, but she could not hold his gaze. She turned away and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“I do apologize,” Davis began, “but I fear I do not fully recognize everyone.” They shook their heads and smiled warmly. “Please remind me.”
One by one each person in the room walked to his side and introduced themselves, seemingly not for the first time. His daughter, two sons, and four grandchildren had come to visit him, possibly for the last time.
“It both saddens me and encourages me to see such beautiful faces. I know my time is short but know that I love you all. Please do not weep for me when I pass, but rejoice in the fact that I have lived a good life filled with… filled with… filled…” His mind went fuzzy, and he lost his train of thought.
“Mr. Davis?” The nurse shot up from the chair at his side. “Mr. Davis?!” Everyone in the room began to sob, knowing the time had come. “Doctor!” She shouted.
The family members gathered together in a mournful embrace and watched helplessly as nurses and doctors filled the room.
Echoes of hospital jargon floated around inside of Davis’s head as the staff came rushing into the room. Even though he was mildly aware of everything that was going on, he felt no pain, no sadness, and a sense of peace washed over him. For the last time, his vision slowly began to blur, but a few faces stayed in focus.
Standing between two of the nurses, entirely out of place, was a soldier with a broad grin on his face. His name tag read, “Harris.” One person down from him, in a pretty polka-dotted dress, stood a beautiful young lady. Davis’s head flopped to the side and standing right next to him was a man with dark hair and leathery skin. His eyes were kind, and his smile was warm.
He blinked lazily and tried to focus on the nurse standing at his other side. Her words were dull. “Hang on, Mr. Davis!” They echoed inside his skull. It became harder and harder to keep his eyes open. Eventually, he gave into the inevitable and closed them, never to open them again.
Davis’s old friend had come to visit once more. Darkness surrounded him, and even though nothing was in focus, he felt like he was walking. Up ahead of him something began to pierce the blackness; something that was unfamiliar to him in times like this. It was light.