Monday, May 14, 2012


I wish I could go back and change what I said that day. I just know things would be so different now. Haven’t we all said that at least once? Well, our challenge this week was to grant that wish, and give our protagonist the opportunity to make a different choice and show its result. The word max was 1,991 (perfect) and the genre open.

Would changing one decision really have that big of an impact on your future? Let’s see the result of one man’s choice.


"You're not serious, are you? I mean, you can literally send me back to a specific event in my past where I would be able to make a different choice?"

The old man simply nodded. He said all I had to do was explain where I wanted to go and why, and I could alter the future. I had to be prepared though, he warned, to accept the consequences of said decision. At Ronny's Tavern on the Lake, celebrating my promotion, my co-workers had presented me with a coupon for a free consultation, as it was apparently called. I'd passed this odd shop countless times on the way to my country place, but never stopped in before. I'm a grown man and now, a full partner in the county's most prestigious law firm, but frankly, the thought of going in there made me shudder. It had an air about it. Ominous. Creepy, even. But here I was, in the back with a man who appeared to be hovering at around 120 years of age, telling me how I can achieve peace in my heart. Go back and fix a mistake, he had said. As melodramatic as this sounded, there was one event in my past that weighed heavy on me. It didn't hold me back; I've done well. But, it's always been there--like a shadow. Maybe if I talk about it, which I never have before, I can finally leave it behind. Maybe the consultation angle isn't a joke after all. An hour of free therapy just might do the trick.

When I told him that if I could go back, it would be to a moment in the Vietnam War, he didn't flinch. I wondered if his lack of emotion was just for show, and he had a recorder under the table so he could attempt a bit of blackmail down the road. No matter. I could afford it now. So, I said to send me back to Kham Duc, in the Quang Tin Province, to May 11, 1968, around noon. I, and my best friend Ray, were Army engineers deployed to upgrade the local airstrip. Intel had been scarce and fucking wrong, and the Cong surrounded us. Some of us had been evac'd by the 834th Air Division, but Ray... Damn. We were under fire and running, but when we were almost clear, Ray took one in the leg. He fell, told me to go on, and started crawling toward some brush. I never hesitated--not for one second. I hauled ass and made the transport. Years later, here I am, successful, and in one piece.

It's true that he told me to go on, but I was wrong to listen. I could have carried him, dragged him, whatever it took, and we both would have made it. Found out later from one of the rescued POWs from my unit that the Cong took him prisoner, tortured him, and put his head on a stake. One of the later units was able to recover his…, it, and his tags to bury. I'd like to go back and make a different choice. I’d like to go back and do the right thing. When he says to go on, I want to tell him 'like Hell', grab him, and shove him into that plane so we can both go home. What kind of consequences could there be from that choice? I know one thing that would come out of this. For the first time since that day, I'd be able to get a good night’s sleep.

It's wild how that's stayed with me all these years. It's not like I'm remembering him every waking moment. It's only at night, when I'm alone, and I look around at all I have. That's when I remember my best friend, and how I left him behind to die. If only this mumbo jumbo was real...

* * * * * * * * * *

Damn, I hope I don't end up with a black eye. I'm due in court this morning. What an insane dream I had last night. Stupid alarm scared the crap out of me and I fell out of bed and clipped the nightstand with my face. Great. That's what I get for sitting in a candlelit room with a nutty old man mumbling chants and burning incense. That tea was probably drugged because I have no recollection of driving home or getting into bed. There had to be something in it because I was back on that airstrip, running with Ray. He took one hard to his right thigh, fell and told me to go. I picked him up and dragged him to the transport and pushed him in. I jumped in after and we took off.

Ray was pissed. He told me he'd probably lose the leg and end up a bum and it would be all my fault. I told him to shut the fuck up and let me know what corner his box was on so I could come and toss a couple of bucks in his tin can. He laughed a bit, then passed out. I slept. Soundly.

He did end up losing that leg just above the knee, but the VA fixed it with some company to give him a prosthesis for no cost at all. I visited him a couple of times in Rehab, but he made it clear he didn't want me there. I never went back. I was sure he was going to be okay. We take care of our own. We do. Right?

It’s wild how the old man got me to have a dream that seemed so real. I hope whatever he slipped me isn't addictive. So far, I feel okay, except of course for the header I took into the nightstand. I believe I'll keep my experience last night to myself though. Those clowns down at the office don't need to know any of this. Funny thing, though. I feel like a big weight's been lifted off me. Saying it all out loud, even to that weirdo, maybe was all it took. I may thank them for that dumb coupon after all.

That’s it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. I'm going to report that lazy good-for-nothing maintenance man when I get home tonight. Half the lights are out in this garage. Considering I pay almost $4,000 a month for my apartment and parking privileges, you'd think the jerk could get up off his ass and change a couple of light bulbs. What the fuck did I just step in? There's supposed to be a cover over this hole. Terrific. First a black eye, now a sprained ankle…

"Get up, and hurry up about it. Give me your watch and your wallet."

Maintenance and Security's asses are going to both be nailed to the wall. A masked man pointing a gun at me in this garage?

"I don't have all fucking day, bud." The man assumed shooting stance and aimed the gun at my face. He looked ex-military. Oh my God. The eyes. So filled with hatred. I know those eyes. I know that hatred. But it can't be... How could it...

"Ray? Is that you? It's me. Donnie. Ray, you remember me, don't you?"

"How do you know my… Ah, yes. Donnie. My best friend, right?”

He pulled the mask off and there, standing right in front of me, was Ray. The man I had seen get shot and crawl away while I ran for my life. The man whose head had been found displayed on a bloody stick with his tags stuffed in his mouth. The man who never made it out of…

“I always figured this world was too fucking small and now I know for sure it is. I thought I'd seen the last of you in that Rehab Hospital. You live here, huh, my friend? This joint takes lots of bucks. You got lots of bucks, Donnie, my friend?"

"I'm a lawyer now, Ray. After we got home, I went to law... No. What am I saying. After WE got home? You never made it home, Ray. The Cong took you out."

"You're crazier than me, my friend. The Cong took my leg, but you dragged my sorry ass to that transport and made sure I got home all safe and in pieces. They gave me a fake leg, as you can see, and tossed me out into the street. Not enough housing to go around. Not enough jobs either. Plenty of spit to deliver my way, though. Oh yeah, Donnie. We sure came home heroes, didn’t we? I‘m willing to bet nobody spit on you though, huh, my friend? You didn‘t end up sleeping in doorways, begging for quarters, digging in garbage cans for leftovers and even clothes. What did that suit set you back, my friend? Five, six grand, maybe?"

I'm still drugged. I have to be. I couldn't really have gone back to... It isn't possible to alter the past so the future... But, Ray's here... Now...

"Ray, let me help you. I can always use someone at my firm. The pay's good and there's benefits too. You can even stay at my place until you find something. Look, I want to help you. What do you say?"

"What do I say? I say, I've had about enough help from you already, my friend. I told you to go on, but you helped me right into a life of pain pill addiction and life on the streets. What was that you said to me way back when? Let you know what corner my box is on so you can slip a few dollars in my tin can?"

My God. This is really happening.

"Ray, you know that I never meant that the way it sounded. All I was trying to do was..."

I saw the smoke come out of the barrel when Ray pulled the trigger. Getting shot is not anything like they make it seem in the movies. You can hear the gun go off, and you can feel the bullet rip through your insides right before it all goes black.

Word to the wise: Let sleeping dogs lie. Because some? They've got a helluva bite...

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