The day the boy left for basic training, his father fielded a strange phone call. It was the army base looking for the boy. The puke missed his induction and a pissed to hell sergeant wanted to know the problem.
Sometime between the draft notice, gun training, and how to lob a grenade, the boy decided he wasn’t going to Vietnam and that was that.
“He didn’t say anything to us. It’s the first I’m learning about his absence,” Tom told the sergeant.
“Any communication with your son, you need to notify the military or it’s treason. You understand that, don’t you sir?” As an ex-Marine, Tom would be on the hook if he aided and abetted this back door trick. Tom told the sarge he’d follow protocol.
A flustered Tom hung up and left the den to ask his wife. She didn’t know either, but awful glad their son was nowhere near that launch pad to the darkest of stars.
A few weeks after the sergeant’s phone call, the MPs captured the boy. Stuck him under the hot lamps in a hidden room known for doling out the business.
A defiant boy confessed about his refusal to hunt and kill commie bastards.
“Your father has a Navy Cross from the Pacific Theater. Now, I’m confused,” the major said.
“Yep, he’s the one who swims through lava, not me,” the boy answered, telling the major they drafted the wrong guy.
The shrinks advised the brass not to send this ranger out to the dog patches searching for Charlie. The army was backlogged anyway and the base needed the bed. All they wanted with the fruitcakes and ‘fraidy cats, cutting the boy loose from any fire watch and foot patrols.
The life savings were down to bus fare into town and a cab ride from there to the house. What house? The boy knew his father would never forgive him, refusing to let him stay.
Besides the Navy Cross, Pops owned a medals and ribbons collection from the famed warpath. The big show where dad and his gang of werewolves melted down the Pacific alley.
He dialed anyway, hoping his mother picked up. If not, he’d disconnect until she did. Done with odd phone calls, Tom let it ring.
“Where’s dad?” The boy asked his mother.
“In the den waiting for his son,” she said.
“I can’t face him.”
“You need to get this over with, sooner or later.”
“I’m not ready.”
“Where will you go?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t decided.”
Stirring in his den, Tom recalled the open Pacific, hopping from one battle to the next. Running out of bullets, then his humanity. Something bestial about eye-to-eye, blade-to-blade combat.
Viking rumbles over a no-man’s land of lava fields and volcanic rock. Stranded at the edge of the world, watching his slain brothers loaded into transport gliders and airlifted off to heaven. The same brothers who yearned to leave these cursed islands forever and start families of their own.
For years Tom fought the hex from Hades that followed him home. The black spirit combat soldiers never talk about and wish on no other man.
The poison coiled in his bones, creeping his soul. No booze to chase it away, no pills to shock the assault. Tom’s penance for escaping and leaving the dead behind.
From the backseat of a taxi, the boy resumed his quest to face the old man. What the heck? His mom was right. Get it over with and let his father kick him out. A homeless shelter will always trump a foxhole.
As a cab idled outside the house, Tom remained barricaded in his den like a pillbox soldier while the cannibals rushed. Never satisfied, always hungry.
Let the dark angels remain. Allow the demons to inhabit and possess me and my brothers. Never our boys, never our sons. Never.
Tom stepped forward to release the black doves of his soul and face the boy.
“I’ll get the rest of my things and be on my way,” the boy called out to his father.
“Never mind. You’re free to stay as long as you’d like,” a pacified Tom answered.
“I thought you’d be mad as hell,” said the boy, expecting a raptor on acid.
“I don’t care what anyone says or thinks. All that matters is how we feel about it.”
“We? I’m the one who disgraced your name and broke the law, not you.”
“I didn’t survive the war to raise soldiers. Last thing I want, is for you to come home in a body bag, or bat-shit disturbed. What good would that be?”
“I didn’t know you felt that way about it,” the boy said.
“I don’t like to dwell on these things, but sometimes I have no choice. Let’s leave it at that.”