This week We have Stories By:
Norval Joe <--------- This week's winner
Arriving At the Airport
Flight 93 is arriving at the airport.
Todd Beamer walks down the jetway, following the signs to the baggage claim with the rest of the passengers.
He checks a monitor to figure out which carousel his bags will be on.
The monitor does not show Flight 93 at all.
"What the hell?" he mutters, and he looks for the Information Desk.
A crowd is building there. The woman at the desk puts down a phone, slowly.
"Holy mother of God," she whispers, looking down at the television monitor embedded in her desk.
The news crews are only just arriving at the scene of the crash, police harely ahead of them to keep them back from the wreckage.
Todd waves a hand in front of her. "Where are our bags?" he asks.
She cannot speak. Her eyes, wide open, just stare.
Todd looks over the edge of the desk, sees FLIGHT 93 and thinks it has something to do with the bags.
"Where does that say our bags are?" he asks. "What's going on?"
She blinks her eyes.
The crowd is gone.
She looks at the monitor, then the empty space in front of the Information Desk.
"What just happened?" she asks, but nobody is there to answer her. The police have cleared everyone out of this area since the last flight landed and the passengers took their bags away.
She hears sirens. A dog barking, one of the K9 patrols, sniffing for bombs.
She goes back to staring at the monitor.
By: Norval Joe
A young man, dressed in blue jeans and a long sleeve shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, slumped down in his seat at the airport terminal waiting area. The summer vacation season was in full swing, but he wasn’t on his way to some exotic and exciting destination. He’d had more than his share of exotic and exciting in the last year.
He watched the ebb and flow of humanity as it passed through the airport and felt uncomfortable and edgy in the crowd. All the seats in the waiting are were taken. Families with excited children grouped together in seats or on the floor leaning against the wall. Business people paced around or spoke on cell phones while other seasoned commuters dozed or read magazines.
An automated message played over the speaker system, “All military personnel and their families are invited to relax between flights in the USO, located on the second floor of terminal C”
A girls voice rang out in a clear soprano above persistent murmur, “Look, Mom, there’s Whitney Steers. I wanna be just like her.” She jumped to her feet and pointed at a tall slender woman who was flanked by two large men in dark suits.
“Don’t be stupid, Julie.” A boy, who by his looks and attitude, could only be the girls older brother. “That’s not Whitney Steers. She probably has a private jet. Besides, who would want to be like her, she’s such a loser.”
“Jeremy, don’t be mean.” Julies mother told the older boy.”And don’t call your sister stupid.”
Julie watched the woman disappear into the crowd and started to sing one of the pop stars hits. Dressed in white shorts and pink tank top, she shifted her hips seductively and sang the suggestive lyrics with an accuracy and inflection that could come only through the obsessive familiarity of a true devotee.
Her mother seemed uncomfortable with the amount of attention her daughter was getting, and tried to hush the girl. “Julie, sit down, you’re making too much noise. You’re bothering people. This isn’t the place for that.”
“Yeah, you’re embarrassing me.” Jeremy said and hid his face for emphasis. “Besides, you look more like Rhoda Dakota.”
Julie sat, stuck her tongue at her brother and got out her hand held game.
A large group of men in military uniform ambled past the solemn young man. He noticed that their uniforms lacked decorations other than their names and rifle marksmanship badges. A few had the rank of private. The rest showed no rank at all. He recognized them as recent graduate from basic training. No doubt on they were on their way to their advanced training. He slouched further down into his chair, covered his eyes with his hand and feigned sleep. He was careful to cross his right leg behind his left.
The voice of one of the men in the group broke above the general chatter of the crowd, “It’s an hour before our flight. Lets go get a drink.”
“Chill Wittacker,” another said. “When we get to Fort Sam we can hit the “O” club every night, and the drinks cheaper on post, than you’ll pay in an airport.”
“Chill? You chill, Banks. I can show you chill.” Wittacker was getting agitated and leaned his chest into Banks who only came up to the first mans chin. “You wanna make me chill?”
“Come on,” A third man said, “let’s go wait at our gate. Maybe there will be a bar on the way, and Witt can blow his spending money, if he wants.”
There were murmurs of agreement from within the group and they moved off.
The man in the chair lowered his hand and watched the cluster of servicemen migrate through the airport. His hair was trimmed short at the ears and back of the neck, and tapered to the short cropped hair at the top of his head. If he had fallen in with the crowd that had just left, he could easily have appeared to be one of them.
"What's the problem soldier?’ A deep, gruff, voice said from the seat next to him. The young man looked to see who addressed him. He was a large man, not fat, but he had obviously been very muscular in his earlier life. He was African American and old enough that the white stubble of what was left of his hair was a sharp contrast to his dark skin.
The highest, or top, ranking non commissioned officer in an army unit, usually a first sergeant or sergeant major was often referred to as Top. The appellation conveys a familiarity, yet the deepest respect. The young man sized the older up, and replied, "I don't know, Top. I'm retired. It's not what I expected."
The older man nodded, and spoke to air in front of himself. "You're right, there. I spent my last ten years as Sergeant Major in a training battalion. I've seen thousands of young men come and go. I can recognize a soldier, and I can also tell when something is getting him down." He paused and looked at the younger man.
"I'm retired now, too, so I know what you mean," he said, leaning on his knees. "What's you name, son?"
"Parker. Matthew Parker. My friends just called me Doc." He sat up straighter, but kept his knees crossed.
"Medic? Hmmm." He glanced at Parker. "You said they called you Doc. Your friends don't call you that anymore?"
"I don't have that many friends anymore," Parker said looking away. He coughed and took a deep breath to cover the sudden flare of emotion that threatened to close off his throat. He composed himself and looked back to the Sargent Major. "Did you plan to stay in for so long, you know, and retire, when you first joined?"
"I didn't join, Parker, I was drafted. Straight from the back woods of Alabama. Eighteen years old, and had never been more than 50 miles from home. I was ready to spend my entire life on that little farm where I was raised. I didn't know anything else.
"You could imagine how I felt, six months later, finding myself on patrol in the back woods of Viet Nam. Fighting for my life. I had my share of friends that I called Doc, too. I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for one of them."
Parkers felt his face go hot, and his chest tight, "Well, it sounds like he did his job like he was supposed to." He felt sudden guilt at the vehemence he heard in his own words. "I mean, with all due respect, Top, he must have had to keep a cool head to help someone while under fire."
The older man laughed a rueful laugh and shook his head, "We walked into a booby trap rigged up with Claymore mines, probably stolen from our own supply bunker. There were no cool heads then. We were all scrambling, and screaming and crying like a bunch of school girls. Everyone, but me, that was. I was in a daze, my head ringing from the blast. I didn't have any idea that shrapnel had torn through my arm. I was bleeding to death and didn't know it. Doc held me down and kept pressure over the wound until we could get evacuated.
"I was back in action in just a few weeks, and not a month later, I was holding Doc in my arms, as his life bled away. That first unit showed me what it meant to be a soldier. Those men were my brothers. I would have gladly given my life to save any one of them. I was one of the few, from that group, that actually came home." He looked at Parker, until he returned the Sargent Major’s gaze. "I guess that's why I stayed in. To help train other young men, so that they would be prepared for what they would find over there, and be able to come back home, too."
Though Parker stared blankly at the old man, he did not see him. He saw himself, back in Iraq, riding in a Humvee, joking with the members of his patrol.
"Nice and boring," Cooper said, "Just the way I like a patrol."
"Yeah," Watson said, "but right now I would like to be patrolling the mess hall. What's the hold up out there?"
"It's a check point." Levine snapped. "You know, those places where we stand and hold up other vehicles, and make them wait, when they’re in a hurry? It's karma. It's just our turn to wait."
Our turn, Parker thought.
There was a flash of light and Parker was laying on the dirt road. Everything was silent and his right leg was numb. It wasn't silent, he realized, his ears were ringing. He began to feel pain in his leg that increased as he thrashed around. As his hearing slowly returned, he began to hear the moans and cries of people thrown down in the blast. He rolled onto his side to find the Humvee. He could only see pieces of twisted metal, scattered bodies and fire. Among the wails and screams of the locals he could hear the members of his patrol, his friends. They were calling for him. "Doc, help me." "Doc, I can't see." "Doc, I don't wanna die."
He tried to get up but the nerve endings where his right leg was torn away erupted into new levels of agony. He tried to crawl in the direction of the burning Humvee. "I'm coming," he shouted, "Hold on, I'm coming." The overwhelming pain and the loss of blood conspired against him and he passed out.
"I lost them all. Every one of them." Tears were streaming down Parkers face. "They called me Doc, and I let them down. I let them all die."
"All I ever wanted to do was serve my country. And when I got to train as a field medic, I thought, shoot, here's my chance. I could help my buddies at the same time. Top, I failed. I failed my country and my friends." He wiped his face with his sleeve.
The Sergeant Major looked at the young man for a few minutes, pondering something. Then he said, "Parker, I know it won't help much right now. But down the road, in a few months, or maybe a few years, remember what this old soldier said. You're a hero. You were there to do your job, and you wanted to do it. I saw plenty of men in my days, just turn tail and run when their buddies were on the ground crying for help. Just left them there to die. You would have helped them, if you could have. We don't always get our chance when and how we expect to. You'll get your chance to help, someday, if you keep looking for it."
"Final call for boarding of flight 1442 to Birmingham at gate 19. Please have your boarding pass ready and board at this time." A pleasant voice said over the speaker system.
“That’s me. I’ve got to go.” The Sergeant Major said and stood. Parker got to his feet as well, the right leg of his pants camouflaging the prosthetic leg completely. The older man handed Parker a business card that read, 'Wilson Garfield, SGM (Ret)'. "If you ever need to talk to someone, give me a call. And I mean anytime. If your ever near Tuscaloosa, look me up. My wife makes veal parmesan, just like they do in the mess hall." He started to turn, but stopped and looked Parker in the eyes. "You're a hero son. A hero. Never forget that."
He watched the Sergeant Major leave through the gate, and said as the door closed behind him, "Thanks Top. If anyone would know a hero, I think you would.”
Standing taller than he had in months, Parker walked to his own gate, with a limp, perceptible only to himself.
Dandelions of Memory
Erica placed the newspaper down on the empty seat beside her. She had already read the same story three times over and, if pressed, could not have provided any details about it. It was a lost cause in these surroundings; she simply could not concentrate. The mix of hundreds of voices all talking at once, of coffee machines hissing and spluttering, of mobile phones ringing and trolleys squeaking, amplified and reverberating around this cavernous white arena, all demanded a little segment of her attention,
The sounds of "Waterloo Sunset" from someone's mobile ring-tone sent her mind back to her student days and mousey Melina with her exhaustive collection of singles from the 60's, the room-mate who never wanted to go out, but turned out to be the most outrageous party animal once she eventually ventured through the doors of the union bar.
A smell of bacon triggered another memory, this time of Alex walking out on her, in the middle of breakfast, just last week, the third doomed relationship in as many months. She had been in the middle of cooking bacon rolls and an argument flared up within minutes, over fat content or free-range farms or who knew what. From waking up in a supposedly happy relationship that morning, by lunchtime she was, once again, single and miserable. On the positive side, it had provided her with another reason to say "yes" when she was asked to travel up to Orkney, one more chain of attachment to shed for a month or two,
Since arriving at the airport, Erica had been skipping through her memories like a child in a field of dandelions, plucking them out at random and blowing them gently to release the details before they drifted away in the hazy summer sun. It wasn't exactly productive, but she was happy to give her brain some time to wind down and sort itself out. Her skills and knowledge would be in great demand over the coming weeks, so a short rest now was probably just what she needed.
The call came for her flight and she joined the queue, which was much shorter than the serpentine lines of holidaymakers bound for the continent or across the Atlantic. As she waited to have her boarding pass checked, her mind threw up an image of this place in five thousand years time, leaving her to wonder what people in the far future would make of whatever was left of the massive building. With the aircraft and their passengers long since reclaimed by nature, what clues would remain to its purpose? Would they have progressed so far beyond mass air transit that they just couldn't comprehend the idea of people squeezing into tin tubes to travel any distance?
Most likely, she thought, they'll be left with jewellery that will be tagged with some religious or ritual purpose, CDs and DVDs they'll have no way of playing and dozens of plastic toys that will gain significance merely by virtue of their inability to decompose. The idea amused her that our civilisation could, in the distant future, be defined in terms of four brightly-coloured deities with different shapes protruding from their heads: the Teletubbian Dynasty.
She smiled at the thought of this as she handed over her boarding card and murmured to herself, "Eh-oh."
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World Builders Unlimited
Friday, July 10, 2009
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