Chapter One: Look! A Soldier of Light
Aaron stepped out from the army PX. He pulled the small specialist class four insignia pins from the paper bag. There were eight sets on the card. Pulling two from it, he reached up and removed the corporal insignia from his collar and replaced them with the specialist insignia.
Placing the corporal pins on the card where the specialist pins had been, Aaron put it back in the sack and began walking down the sidewalk toward his barracks.
Fort Hood was busy, and he waited as several large trucks moved past before he chanced crossing the street.
The summer of 1969 was beginning as a hot one. The slight breeze barely gave Aaron any relief.
After a short walk, the young soldier stepped inside his barracks. The building was much cooler, and he quickly pulled his hat off. He then passed by the CQ desk and jogged up the stairs to his quarters.
Opening the door, he found a young private standing in the middle of the room, seeming a bit lost. He had his gear and duffle bags all around him and looked surprised when Aaron entered the room.
“Hello, corporal,” the private said and then, noticing the specialist insignia, said, “Oh, uhm, I thought this was Corporal Prescott’s room.”
“I’m Corporal Prescott or was Corporal Prescott.” Aaron then extended his hand to the young private.
“Oh, well, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Wilson, or Mark Wilson. I mean Private Wilson.”
Aaron smiled and briefly recalled his first few months after boot camp.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Private Wilson. I suppose we’re roommates for the time being?”
“Yes, sir, I mean corp... specialist.”
“Well, that’s good. And the reason my rank changed is that I changed my MOS from cavalryman to combat medic. I recently finished my training, but most of the guys around here have only known me as a corporal.”
Private Wilson nodded, but still appeared lost.
“So, you’ve been over there, right?” the private asked.
Aaron moved over to his locker and opened it. He glanced back at the private and then sat his paper sack on a shelf.
The private nodded.
“Yeah, two years as a cavalryman, and now I’ve re-upped as a medic.”
The young man appeared shocked.
“You re-upped? Really? Why?”
Aaron moved around the private, sat on his bunk, and looked up at Mark.
“I re-enlisted for two more years because I like the army. Is that so surprising?”
“You mean… you weren’t drafted to begin with?”
“No, I volunteered.”
The private appeared even more astounded. His eyes were wide, and he stared at Aaron.
“If I wasn’t drafted, I wouldn’t go. I mean, I heard it’s really bad.”
Aaron smiled. “Oh, it’s not bad all the time.”
The young private gave him an odd look but quickly recovered.
“So, is that my locker then?” he asked, pointing to the one beside Aaron’s.
Aaron nodded and began to help him get settled.
The following day, Aaron and Mark were sitting in the recreation room watching television. Not far from them, several young soldiers played a game of pool.
A husky soldier walked into the room. Upon seeing Aaron, he shouted out.
Aaron looked back, and as a smile broke across his face, he jumped up and moved toward the burly soldier.
“Anderson! You…old skunk, what are you doing here?” Aaron then shook the soldier’s hand and grasped his arm.
“Oh, I thought I might give the Vietcong another chance to do me in. I don’t think they can. But you know me, I’m a betting man!”
Aaron looked at him closely. His face tightened a bit.
“So, it has nothing to do with Hue?”
Anderson’s eyebrows raised.
“What? Naa, no more than you re-upping has anything to do with Ping.”
Aaron smiled. “Actually, Ping has a lot to do with me re-upping, but I’ll be sure to tell Hue that she had little to do with you re-enlisting.”
Anderson’s face turned grim. “You better not, Spider, if you know what’s good for you.”
Both laughed. Then, Aaron introduced him to Private Wilson. The young private smiled meekly.
“Well, Private Wilson. You should know that Spider here is one hell-uva corporal. I’ve been through it with this one, and he’s the best.”
After Anderson said this, Private Wilson replied, “Specialist, you mean?”
Anderson glanced at Aaron’s collar.
“What the hell? What’s going on?”
Aaron appeared a bit embarrassed. Anderson continued.
“Wait, you did it, didn’t you? You went and did it. You changed your MOS, didn’t you?”
“Yeah, I told you I was going to,” Aaron replied.
“Man, why would you ruin a perfectly good soldier career by becoming a medic? Now, I’ll have to call you ‘Doc,’ or ‘Bones,’ or something like that. Honestly, I liked you as Spider.”
Aaron smiled again.
“I wanted to do something else. Actually, I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now.” He then patted Anderson on the arm. “I’ll see you later. I’m sure glad one from our troop came back. I was beginning to think I would be the only one.”
Anderson nodded. “Yeah. Well, there’s not many wanting to go where we’re headed, and even fewer that are crazy enough to go back once they’ve been there.”
With that, Aaron left the recreation room.
Once he had gone, Private Wilson asked, “Why do you call him Spider?”
Anderson chuckled. “That man was the most successful tunnel rat in our unit, private. He would take two Colt 45s into a Vietcong tunnel and clear it out. Then, we would laugh and say he looked like a “spider” when he came crawling back out. So, we started calling him Spider. Make no mistake, private. That’s one of the bravest or craziest men you’ll ever meet. You did well to end up in a unit with him.”
Private Wilson nodded with an impressed expression.
Over the next week, the squad replacement group filled out. Most were new soldiers that had been drafted, though a few volunteered.
There were also a few that had re-enlisted as he and Anderson had done, but in this group, only the two veterans remained. From Aaron’s squad, some had been killed, several were wounded and not able to fight any longer, and around half had made it to the end of their enlistment in one piece.
Two weeks later, the cavalry soldiers boarded the first of several long flights and layovers. A few days later, Aaron and his fellow soldiers stepped off the back ramp of a large transport plane and set foot on the southeast Asian soil of Vietnam.
Anderson took in a deep breath and exhaled.
“Mmmm, sweet tropical flowers with just a hint of napalm. Smells like home.”
Aaron chuckled as he struggled with the bulky gear and walked past his friend.
“What are you laughing about, Bones? You’re glad to be back too. You don’t fool me.” Anderson said.
Aaron stopped and looked back. “Would you stop calling me Bones?”
“Nope, I’ve decided you don’t look like a ‘Doc,’ so Bones will have to do.”
“I kinda liked Spider,” Aaron replied and then began walking again.
Anderson hoisted his duffle bag onto his back and, grabbing his other gear, fell in behind Aaron.
“Yeah, well, I told you not to do that medic thing. You see, that’s what happens. You changed your job, and now you get to be Bones instead of Spider. It’s not like I didn’t warn you.”
Aaron glanced back at his friend. He gave him an odd expression but continued his departure from the runway.
The rest of the day was spent getting settled in. The officers were glad to see a few seasoned soldiers among the otherwise green troops.
That afternoon, Aaron and Anderson requested a pass for Saturday, and to their surprise, each received one.
Several days later, the two rode in a taxi to Saigon. Anderson teased his friend along the way.
“I’ll bet Ping has forgotten all about you. She’s probably already got her another GI. I’m guessing a jarhead or a sailor.”
Aaron studied Anderson as the car darted through traffic. The taxi driver laid on the horn and shouted something in Vietnamese to another driver.
“So, you don’t think Hue has her another steady?” Aaron asked, once the vehicle seemed to be out of harm’s way.
“Oh, I’m sure she does. You see, I’ve already come to that conclusion. A sweet gal like Hue attracts ‘em like honey. But, once she knows I’m back, she’ll drop them deadbeats like rotten tomatoes.”
“Well, maybe I’ve come to the same conclusion about Ping,” Aaron replied.
“Yeah, right! You can’t fool me, Bones. You’re ga-ga over Ping!”
“Bones again? Why can’t you just call me Spider?”
The taxi swerved again, and both men held the door.
“Nope, you’re Bones now. I already told you not to do the medic thing. But no, you had to go and ruin a perfectly good cavalryman to be a medic. So, you’re Bones now. Learn to like it.”
Aaron grimaced slightly as the small car pulled up to a nightclub. Anderson’s attention turned to the music and laughter emanating from within the building as Aaron paid the driver.
When the two soldiers walked into the club, they were met with a thick haze of cigarette smoke and blaring dance music.
Pushing through a mass of American GIs, they came to a large open room. A stage area ran along the walls, and on the stage were beautiful Vietnamese women. They all wore skimpy outfits or bikinis and danced to the music being played.
The men shouted or whistled at the women, and very often, one of the dancers would need to step back as a soldier or marine would try to touch a woman’s leg.
Aaron looked through the smoky haze, searching for Ping. Finally, he spotted her on the stage area to his far left. He nudged Anderson.
“Oh yeah! There’s Ping. Do ya see Hue?”
“No, but I’ll ask Ping about her…if I can get her down from the stage.”
As the two came closer to the attractive and petite Vietnamese woman on stage, Ping let out a scream. She began to wave and, moving carefully in her high heels, maneuvered past the other women and then down some steps.
“SPIDER!” She yelled and then pushed a soldier away who was trying to get his hands on her.
Ping weaved through the crowded club and landed in Aaron’s arms. She immediately gave him a kiss on the lips and then, pulling away from him, slapped his face.
“Hey,” Aaron rubbed his cheek as several soldiers around them, including Anderson, laughed.
“You make me worry, Spider. Where you been? You know I can’t wait forever.”
“I told you it would be three months, Ping.”
As Aaron said this, a Vietnamese man came over and started chattering and pointing up to the stage.
Ping chattered in Vietnamese back to the man, who appeared to be the manager.
“I got to go back work.”
“Hey, where’s Hue?” Anderson asked as she turned and began to make her way back to the stage.
“She backstage. I tell her you here. She be so happy. We done work in hour. You watch dance. Then, we go to Rosco’s.”
The Vietnamese manager again chattered something to Ping and pointed at the stage. The pretty Asian dancer chattered back and then made her way back up to the stage.
Aaron and Anderson bought a couple beers and were soon seated below the area where Ping was dancing. Aaron leaned back and smiled as she swayed to the music.
Soon after Ping took her break, Hue came running out in a very skimpy “police-woman” outfit and was hugging Anderson, much to the aggravation of the manager, who again began to chatter in Vietnamese and point to the stage.
Ping came back out in a different skimpy outfit a few minutes later. The two then danced on stage in front of Aaron and Anderson until their shift ended.
The four left the club and were soon packed in the back seat of a taxi headed to Rosco’s Place.
Ping sat on Aaron’s lap in the small car and snuggled up to him.
“Why you take so long? I may go to other GI if you not come back soon.”
Aaron smiled and kissed her neck, causing her to smile.
“I told you, I had some training.”
At this point, Anderson broke in, “Yeah, he’s a medic now, Ping. I told him not to do it.”
“You what now?” she asked, looking at him with concern.
“A medic, it’s kind of like a doctor.”
“You doctor now? Good, you doctor me tonight, sweetheart.” She then snuggled him again as the taxi pulled into the lot at Rosco’s Place.
Stepping out of the car and into the tropical heat, rock and roll came from inside the club.
After paying the cab driver, Anderson walked over and opened the large Asian-style door. A cloud of cigarette smoke billowed out.
Venturing inside, Aaron spotted a band on stage, one he was familiar with. The band was made up of American “grunts” or foot soldiers and had named the group “Infantry.”
This club had a mix of men and women, as opposed to the club where Ping and Hue worked.
As the four made their way closer to the band, which was playing a popular Rolling Stones song, Aaron spotted a table occupied by the group’s girlfriends.
They maneuvered to the band’s table as the song ended.
“Well, look at this. The cavalry finally showed up!”
Aaron glanced up on stage as the lead singer had obviously spotted the four. He waved at the singer, as they were still trying to reach the table.
“Hey Spider, how’s America? We haven’t been there for a while now,” the singer asked in a monotone voice. Laughter rang out from the crowd as the four finally made it to the table.
“It’s still there!” Aaron shouted as he pulled a chair out for Ping. More laughter came from the crowd.
Several attractive Vietnamese women in miniskirts similar to the ones Ping and Hue wore examined them as they sat down at the table.
“Well, that’s good to know, Spider,” the singer said. He then took a drink of his beer as Aaron sat down.
“Well, now that you’ve sat down, how would you like to give Joe here a break?”
The singer then turned to the bass player, “You want a break, Joe?”
The bass player smiled. “As long as I can sit with Spider’s girl.”
More laughter erupted.
“You hear that, Spider? Come on up here so Joe can get some flirting in on Ping.”
Aaron glanced at Ping, and she motioned for him to go up.
“Order me a beer, would you?” Aaron asked her as he stood back up.
“Yeah, sure. If Joe no steal me from you!”
Aaron gave her a suspicious glare as he left the table. She smiled seductively.
Joe stepped off the stage and immediately sat down by Ping.
Once Aaron had reached the stage, he squinted from the bright lights, and looking out to where Ping sat, he shouted, “Hey, just talking, Joe. Nothing else!”
There was more laughter as Joe yelled back, “Sure, Spider. Whatever you say, man!” He then put his arm over the back of Ping’s chair and leaned over to talk with her.
As soon as Aaron had the strap to the bass guitar over his shoulder, the band started a lively rock and roll tune. The crowd shouted out in approval, and Aaron joined in.
Five songs later, Aaron stepped off the stage and, after some coaxing, managed to pry Joe away from Ping. Joe then stepped back on the stage, and the band began to play again.
Around midnight, the club closed. Aaron, Ping, Hue and Anderson found themselves staggering down the dark street, with a beer in each hand.
Seeing a light on in a shop ahead of them, they walked toward it.
A few seconds later, they found themselves in front of a tattoo parlor. Inside, the Vietnamese tattoo artist was finishing up on a soldier.
“Come on, Bones. Let’s get one.”
Aaron glanced at his friend. “I’m not getting an army tattoo, Anderson.”
“You don’t have to. I’ll get one. You can get whatever you want, but you said six months ago that you’d get one if I did, remember?”
Aaron grimaced a bit, then tipped up his beer and finished it. Ping immediately handed him an unopened one and, taking the empty, sat it on the ground beside the wall.
“What do you think?” Aaron asked Ping.
“I no care what you do. I not get tattoo. It not good for my work. Not many tips for a tattoo girl.”
“Come on, Bones. Let’s go,” Anderson started toward the door.
“Hey, my boyfriend is no Bones. He Spider. You stop call him Bones. I don like it.” Ping then followed Hue, who had followed Anderson into the parlor.
Aaron shook his head but followed the other three in.
Ten minutes later, Aaron was sipping his warm beer and watching Anderson get a “1st cavalry” tattoo on his right upper arm.
Since the tattoo Anderson got was common, it didn’t take long. Soon, his friend was looking the new artwork over. He then pulled his shirt back on and tapped Aaron’s arm.
“Your turn, Bones.”
“Hey, it Spider. I tell you already, Andreson!” Ping again protested and then took hold of Aaron’s arm.
“Ping, you need to lighten up.”
The Vietnamese woman stood up and slapped Anderson’s chest, causing him to step back and laugh.
“You lighten up, Andreson!”
After both calmed down, Anderson shrugged his shoulders to Aaron, “Well?”
“Yeah, all right. But I’m not getting a first cav tattoo.”
Ping turned to him. “You should get ‘Spider’ tattoo. I like Spider name.”
“No, Bones. You know, with a medic cross!” Anderson said with enthusiasm.
Ping immediately stood up again and slapped him on the arm where he had just received the tattoo, causing him to flinch and put his hand over it.
“I toll you, Spider, not Bones!”
Hue laughed at the excitement.
“Ping, it needs to be Bones. He’s a medic now.”
“No! Spider!” Ping replied with a loud voice.
“Bones! Ping, come on!”
“Spider!” she said again.
Aaron sat listening. Then, he held up his hand, and both turned to him.
“How about, Spider Bones, no, Spider, but spelled with a Y instead of an I. Spyder Bones. With a medic cross and a spider web, somewhere on it.”
Ping and Anderson looked at each other. Then, they looked at Aaron.
“Yeah, that sounds groovy.” Anderson finally said.
Aaron looked at Ping.
“Yeah, that fine. But Spyder first, right?”
Aaron smiled and nodded.
After ten minutes of talking with the tattoo artist, a design was drawn up. It was a medic cross, and in a circular fashion, over the top and bottom were Spyder and Bones. In the corners of the cross, there were spider webs and one small spider.
After another hour in the tattoo chair, the four walked out of the parlor as Aaron pulled his shirt back on.
By now, it was close to 2:30AM. Aaron and Ping parted ways with Anderson and Hue.
On the way to Ping’s grandmother’s house, she kissed him almost nonstop. On several occasions, Aaron pulled her hand from his crotch as the taxi driver glanced in the mirror.
A few blocks from her grandmother’s house, Aaron paid the cab driver as Ping rubbed his buttocks. Turning and walking in the darkness, they made their way along a path through foliage and humid heat to the small house.
Aaron had never asked Ping about her parents or why she lived with her blind grandmother. He wasn’t sure if her parents were still alive or if she was just taking care of her elderly grandmother. Ping also never volunteered the information.
As they crept closer to the house, both became hushed, to avoid disturbing her grandmother.
Slowly, they moved toward the small structure, which had only a dim light shining in the front.
When they were about twenty feet from the house, a voice came from the darkness.
“Nghe này, một người lính của ánh sáng đến gần. Cái ác sẽ sợ và qua đời sẽ rơi vào quỷ bóng tối ai dám trespass. Là các quân nhân dũng cảm của ánh sáng, phải dũng cảm.”
Both stopped in their tracks. It was Ping’s grandmother. Suddenly, Aaron recalled that she said this every time he came to the house. He had asked Ping about it before, but she would never tell him what her grandmother was saying.
Now, Ping took Aaron by the hand and walked to the house. She greeted her grandmother, who was sitting outside in the dark, and then led Aaron through the house and to her small room in the back.
“What did she say?” Aaron asked as Ping closed the door behind them.
“It nothing. No worry. She a little crazy is all.”
Ping then grabbed Aaron’s crotch and began to kiss him again. With some effort, Aaron pulled Ping from him.
“No. Wait, Ping. I’ve been away for over three months. You said your grandmother is blind, which I believe because we just walked up in almost total darkness. But your grandmother says the same thing every time I come to this house. Now, I need to know what she’s saying.”
Ping huffed. She then moved over and clicked on a small, dim lamp that sat on a table beside her bed.
She stared at Aaron for a few seconds, then replied.
“Spyder… I tell you already. She a little crazy. Just forget it.” She then moved over and again reached for his crotch.
Aaron caught her hand before she took hold of him.
“Ping, I really want to know. You always put me off when I ask you. I want to know.”
The Vietnamese woman grimaced, then ran her fingers through her jet-black hair.
A few seconds later, she pulled the straps of her short outfit over her shoulders. Then, she pulled it down to reveal her breasts.
“Don you want to know about these? You been gone for long time. Don’t you miss these?”
Aaron glanced at her exposed breasts. He smiled slightly.
“Ping, you’re stalling.”
“Aaahhhhggg,” she pulled her dress back up over her breasts. “You American, why you must know everything?”
As she sat on her bed, Aaron raised his arms, “I don’t want to know everything, sweetheart. It’s just that every time I come here, your grandmother says the same thing. Now, how does she know it’s me, and why does she say the same thing? If it happened to you, wouldn’t you be curious?”
Ping glanced up to him. She frowned but then said, “Look, Spyder, my grandmother was some kind of... I don know how to say.”
Aaron thought about it. “What?”
Her face twisted in thought. “I don know. She...when she was young, she, see future things. The people, they pay her to see these future things.”
“You mean, like a fortune-teller?”
Ping’s face again twisted. “I don know what you say. She just sees things, like future things, things in spirit world. This is how she make money. She tells people what things they can do to stop from being hurt and things like that.”
Aaron considered this.
“So, what’s that got to do with what she’s saying?” Aaron asked.
“It just crazy talk. I think she just talking like she is telling someone things from when she tells future things.”
Aaron studied Ping. She looked at him and grunted with frustration.
“Nghe này, một người lính của ánh sáng đến gần. Cái ác sẽ sợ và qua đời sẽ rơi vào quỷ bóng tối ai dám trespass. Là các quân nhân dũng cảm của ánh sáng, phải dũng cảm.
“It mean, like, uhmm... Look! A soldier of light come near. Evil surely fear and death fall on dark…uhm… demons that... uhm, who dare trespass. Be brave, soldier of light. Be brave.”
Aaron examined Ping. She looked at him.
“It crazy talk. I tol you. Right?”
For several seconds Aaron considered what she said. Ping watched him closely. Then, he turned to her.
“What were you showing me a few minutes ago?”
Ping gave him a sultry smile and pulled her dress down again. Soon, they were making love.
Chapter Two: Valley of the Dead
The following week, Aaron found himself in the jungle, getting shot at by the Vietcong. Initially, he had the urge to shoot back, but he soon adjusted to his new role as a combat medic.
While not in the field, Aaron tended a variety of wounds and ailments.
He always looked forward to time off and seeing Ping again. He would spend hours watching the exotic Asian beauty dance. Then, they would go to Rosco’s Place, where he would often stand in for the bass player of the regular band. Afterward, they would try to sneak into her grandmother’s house. Regardless of it being day or night, the blind elderly Asian woman would greet him with the familiar, though cryptic, greeting.
Before he knew it, his leave or pass would be over, and he would be back in the thick of a firefight.
“You got a smoke, Bones?” Private Wilson glanced at Aaron and then refocused on the dense jungle in front of him.
“I don’t smoke.”
“Oh yeah,” the young private replied, and then lifted his M-16 up a little higher, as if ready for anything.
“Since when did you start smoking?” Aaron asked the young man as they pushed through a leafy bush.
“A few weeks ago.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s very good for you,” Aaron replied.
“Maybe not, but getting shot at ain’t either.”
Aaron smiled a bit, “I suppose that’s true.”
They walked for another five minutes. Suddenly, bullets began to fly all around them. Immediately, the soldiers dropped to the ground. The men in the forward positions began to return fire.
Aaron crawled over to a young private who had been hit in the leg. He was holding it and rocking back and forth in pain.
As Aaron began to help the wounded soldier, he could hear the lieutenant calling for air support on the radio.
Leaves and brush from the trees above fell all around as the bullets continued to pierce the air.
The lieutenant turned and yelled to a soldier with the grenade launcher, “In sixty seconds, plant a couple smoke grenades in their position. I don’t want them bastards to have time to get out! Air support will be here any time now!”
Aaron glanced over to the soldier, who nodded and began loading a smoke grenade in the launcher.
In the forward position, the chattering of the M-60 machine gun began to sound off.
Aaron patted the wounded man after giving him a shot of morphine and quickly putting a bandage on his leg. He then began to crawl over to another wounded soldier who was calling out for a medic.
As he pulled a bandage pack from his gear, he could hear the grenade launcher going off with a “phthunk.” Four times the soldier launched smoke grenades into the enemy’s lines.
The bullets stopped just about the time he could hear the Hueys flying toward them.
Staying low, Aaron crouched over the soldier, who was now almost screaming in pain. The choppers flew overhead and launched rockets into the enemy positions. Then machine gun fire came as the Huey gunners strafed the area.
It was a long day as he and the wounded were evacuated from the area by helicopter. Back at the base, he continued to administer aid. An hour later, more of his comrades arrived. They had continued the firefight after he left and, along with a medic who stayed, were finally airlifted out of the area.
Around 10:00PM, Aaron shuffled through the humid night air and finally reached his tent. Anderson was laying on his cot but leaned up on his elbow as Aaron pulled some clothes from his locker.
“Burning the midnight oil?” Anderson asked.
Aaron threw a towel over his arm and, along with his clothes and shaving kit, turned toward the door.
“Yeah, and then some,” he replied.
“Hey,” Anderson said just before Aaron left the tent.
“What? I need a shower and some sleep.”
“It was like the Vietcong was waiting for us today. It’s like someone is telling them where we’re going to be, and they just wait for us. You know what I mean?”
Aaron nodded his head a little. “Yeah, I agree. But don’t look at me. I didn’t tell them.”
He then walked outside into the dark and toward the dimly lit showers. Anderson lit a cigarette and laid back on his cot.
The following weekend, the two were sitting at a table in front of the stage where Ping and Hue danced.
Aaron finished the remainder of his beer. He then looked up and smiled at Ping as she swayed about and watched him. Soldiers yelled out and whistled at the barely dressed dancers on stage.
A few hours later, they were at Rosco’s Place. Later, Aaron rented a room for the night, as they didn’t want to go all the way back to Ping’s grandmother’s house.
This routine continued for seven months. It was a strange existence that revolved around danger, death and love. Aaron thought little about other things. He survived to spend another weekend with Ping. He seldom considered the possibility of everything changing. But it soon would.
“Damn, it’s hot here!” Private Wilson wiped the sweat from his forehead and then put his helmet back on.
Aaron nodded but kept his eyes on the trees that were about thirty-five yards on the other side of the field they were moving across. He didn’t like the situation. He could see the lieutenant ahead, and he seemed nervous.
“Don’t you think it’s hot, Bones?” Wilson persisted and then took a seemingly desperate drag from his cigarette.
“Yeah, it’s hot,” Aaron replied, still scanning the woodland area across the field.
“Shh. Keep it down back there.” The lieutenant then motioned with his hand behind him.
This was a bad place to be. Aaron felt his stomach turn as they continued across the field. He hated these situations. It was way too…out in the open.
Cautiously, they continued toward the woodlands on the other side.
Then, he heard a “phlunnk” sound. He knew what it was and dropped to the ground just as the bullets started to fly. The lieutenant yelled, “HIT THE DIRT!”
Private Wilson was hit in the leg and the arm before he could get down. The split second of Aaron knowing the sound of a mortar shell being dropped in the tube and Private Wilson not knowing, was the difference between getting shot and not.
As the bullets took down five or six men, the mortar rounds began to fall.
Explosions rocked the earth Aaron was attempting to claw into.
There were not many low spaces, but Aaron managed to slither to a lower area.
An M-60 machine gunner began returning fire. Men were screaming, and Aaron quickly counted seven wounded.
As the return fire slowed the enemy’s mortar attacks, Aaron moved over to Private Wilson and took hold of his uniform. He was screaming out in pain. Aaron pulled him over to the low area.
“Where’s my gawd damn M79? Can someone plant some grenades on them bastards?” The lieutenant yelled out just before another mortar shell landed close by.
Aaron left Private Wilson and crawled over to where the M79 gunner had been. He found half of him lying face up, dead eyes staring into space.
Fortunately, the mortar round had not destroyed the grenade launcher. Aaron quickly pulled it from the dead soldier, along with his ammo bag.
As fast as he could, Aaron loaded the weapon and soon had a grenade headed to the wooded area across the field. He loaded another round and another. As they hit, he adjusted his aim to where he thought the enemy mortars were.
“I need air support at whiskey 527, repeat whiskey 527. We have casualties. We need fire support and med-evacs!” The lieutenant was almost shouting on the radio as Aaron continued to fire the M79.
As more soldiers fired into the woods and more grenades landed in the enemy’s positions, the return fire slowed.
Soon, they heard the Hueys, and the enemy seemed to back away. As the air support fired into the woods, Aaron began tending to the wounded.
Sporadic small arms fire came into the area as several helicopters landed to extract the wounded.
Anderson was firing his M16 into the woodlands to keep the Vietcong from attacking again.
Smoke drifted around the men. Aaron came to Private Wilson. He had lost a lot of blood and was fading out.
More helicopters came in and landed.
“Everyone out! Get the hell out! We’ll let air support clean them bastards up!” the lieutenant yelled out as the others loaded into a Huey.
Aaron lifted Private Wilson and carried him over to a Huey. Enemy bullets hit several spots on the helicopter as Aaron hoisted the young man up. A crewman helped Wilson into the last available seat.
“Come on!” the crewman yelled.
Aaron jumped up on the skid and leaning half in and half out of the chopper. It lifted off. Vietcong bullets hit the skid of the helicopter, coming very close to Aaron’s foot. The Huey gunner sprayed M-60 machinegun fire around the woodlands.
The Huey climbed higher into the air. Aaron glanced back and saw another helicopter about twenty yards away. The machine gunner was also laying down a stream of M-60 rounds into the wooded area.
Private Wilson began to stir. He moaned from the pain and moved to his right, almost pushing Aaron out of the helicopter. He took hold of the seat and tried to shift over some. Bullets again hit the helicopter. Aaron could see in the cockpit, and as he was trying to get a better hold, he saw one of the pilots get hit. The pilot slumped to the side, and the helicopter suddenly leaned. Aaron lost the slight grip he had on the seat and fell backward from the Huey. His heart began to race as he and the helicopter separated.
Arms flailing about, he seemed to be falling slowly as his mind raced. In these brief seconds, he did something extraordinary. He somehow leaped from himself, just as his body impacted the ground.
How he did it, Aaron didn’t know, but as soon as he hit the ground, part of his body, the upper part, was somewhere else.
His heart beat fiercely as he seemed to be half on the ground in Vietnam, and half in a place he could barely comprehend.
Looking around, it was as if he were hanging from his midsection on a massive glimmering wall. He could see the other part of his body through this strange glistening barrier, but he was caught between the two places.
Aaron looked down and suddenly became even more frightened. Below was what could only be described as a nightmarish hell. There were black, evil-looking lizard creatures eating and fighting over what appeared to be bodies of people.
Then, to his side, something began to slip through the glistening wall. Aaron felt nauseous as what appeared to be a rotten and diseased person slithered through the barrier. The person looked to be alive, though only barely. Then, Aaron realized it was a soldier from his unit. The man was not a friend of his, but he could see it was him.
As the man’s dying eyes stared at Aaron, his black and infested body fell through the wall and then onto the bottom where the grotesque demon-looking creatures waited. As soon as the body landed, the creatures began to devour it.
Aaron tried to move through the wall and back to the world he knew, but he was stuck. As he struggled, farther away from him, a bright light burst through the wall. It shot like a bolt of light across the area and above the demon creatures.
As Aaron watched, he noticed strange beasts and beings flying about in what looked to be the sky, though there was no sun or clouds to be seen.
From what he could see, there were two types of creatures. One was radiating light and appeared to have shining armor. The other was a dreadful-looking black creature with the appearance of a gargoyle.
These beings flew about and often attacked one another in midair. The strangeness again caused a streak of fear to strike his heart. Aaron once again tried to move through the glimmering wall.
As he looked to where his lower body and legs would be, on the other side of the odd, shimmering barrier, he observed soldiers picking him up. Behind them were several more Huey helicopters.
As they carried his body to the chopper, a thin thread-like substance streamed away from the wall. It was as if a thread of his clothing was attached to the part of him that was on the other side of the wall, spooling out as the soldiers carried him.
Again, he struggled in his apparent trapped situation. Then, a large, hideous gargoyle creature landed about fifteen feet from him.
Aaron’s eyes widened as the creature stared at him, then began to walk, as if it were not sideways but walking on a floor or the ground.
The creature extended its arms and claws to take hold of Aaron. Suddenly, one of the light-radiating beings landed in front of Aaron. With one stroke of a shining sword, the being sliced the gargoyle in two, and it fell to the hellish depths below.
The being then turned and examined Aaron closely. It was the most beautiful woman Aaron had ever seen. He thought for certain this must be an angel. She had wings and wore a golden set of armor.
As she leaned closer and studied Aaron, he noticed her left eye was a baby-blue color, and her right eye was a beautiful cream color.
Another gargoyle creature landed close by. The angelic being turned and began to fight. As this was happening, Aaron saw more disgusting, diseased bodies slipping through the glimmering wall. They would fall to the ground where the black lizard creatures would descend upon them. As they ate the bodies, the mouths of these people would scream in terror. It seemed to Aaron, these people had died, yet they were somewhat aware of their hell-like situations, at least until the creatures had finished with them.
At the same time, there would be brilliant bolts of light from the wall. Some were close to Aaron, and others appeared to be miles away. These light bolts would streak across the sky, never dropping into the blackness of the ground.
While the angel and the gargoyle fought, another angel landed and then another. Soon, another gargoyle landed and began attacking the angelic beings.
Once the first angel had struck down the gargoyle she was fighting, she turned to Aaron. Again, he was captivated by her eyes. She paid no attention to this, and with her free hand, she reached inside his upper body, penetrating the very flesh itself. He was shocked and frightened as he looked down to see her hand inside his upper body. He could feel it as well, yet there was no pain.
After doing something inside his upper body, the angel extracted her hand, took hold of him, and pulled him away from the wall. He was horrified to see there was only half of him in her arms as she took flight.
As she flew from the wall, Aaron noticed a thin thread streaming from his body, very similar to what he saw when the medics carried his body away on the other side of the wall. He could also feel a strange sensation inside but could think of no words to describe the feeling.
As the angel flew swiftly, carrying him over the black, evil-looking creatures on the ground, he felt a horror and dark, empty sadness that was as he had never felt. Then, more gargoyles swooped in close and began attacking the angel as she carried him.
He looked back and saw other angels were fighting the gargoyles as they tried to get to him as well as the thin thread streaming from him.
Suddenly, Aaron began to cry. He sensed the evil that lay below him and the danger his very being was now in, and it became completely overwhelming. Tears streamed down his face as if he were a small child.
Again and again, the evil gargoyle creatures would attack, appearing very desperate to take Aaron from the angelic woman. Again and again, angels would repel the creatures.
Through tear-soaked eyes, Aaron could see more and more angels and gargoyles also fighting all around the thin thread streaming from his half body. The battle stretched back for what looked to be miles. It seemed to be a frenzied fight by the gargoyles to take Aaron or take hold of the thread streaming from his being.
All along this thread, the struggle was intensifying as more and more angels, as well as gargoyles, joined in. Aaron could not imagine what would happen to him if the gargoyles reached the thread.
Then, unexpectedly, he and the angel carrying him entered a bright area of light. When this happened, the thin thread instantly became light as well. When the thread became illuminated, the angels stopped fighting and let the gargoyles fly to it. Several of the evil beings tried to stop themselves but could not turn back fast enough. As the creatures flew into the thread, they were sliced in two, as if the thread had become a brilliant razor.
After viewing this, Aaron lost awareness.
When he woke, Aaron found himself sitting in a chair. Raising his head, he saw the recreation room at his barracks in Fort Hood, Texas.
Aaron looked around, and there was no one to be seen. The television in front of him was turned on, but it had a black and white, snowy screen and white noise.
For several seconds, Aaron examined his surroundings. Although he was familiar with this place, it was apparent there was something very different. The light was all around, yet there seemed to be no source. Looking up, he noticed there were no light fixtures in the ceiling.
As he looked back down, a man was sitting in the chair across from him and to the right of the TV. Aaron was astounded that he didn’t jump from the shock of someone suddenly being where there was no one before. But, oddly, he wasn’t afraid at all.
The man wore army fatigues, and Aaron noticed he had the rank of captain.
Standing quickly, Aaron came to attention and saluted the officer.
“At ease,” the captain said, with a low, authoritative voice that sounded almost as if it were coming from an amplifier.
Aaron changed his stance to “at ease.”
“Please, sit down, soldier,” the captain said.
Aaron sat back down.
For several seconds, the two simply looked at each other. Then Aaron spoke.
“Sir, I’m confused. I don’t understand how I got here. Have I lost my memory, or what?”
“Well, what do you remember?” the officer asked.
“I was in Vietnam. We were attacked by the Vietcong. Huey helicopters came, and we were bugging out. I was sort of in one, but not all the way. The pilot was hit, and the chopper tilted. I fell out. It must have been forty or fifty feet from the ground. Then, when I hit...”
Aaron stopped as the very strange memories came back to him. The captain studied him.
“Then what?” the captain asked.
Aaron looked around again. He sensed for certain now that he wasn’t at Fort Hood. But it looked so real.
“Then, some very strange memories. I don’t know. Maybe I was dreaming.”
“You weren’t dreaming.”
Aaron looked at the captain. Again, he felt that he should be shocked. But he still felt calm.
“When our guardians found you, the death wraiths were very close to taking you. Fortunately, they were able to get you here. Otherwise, you might have found yourself in the depths of the underworld, where the remainder of your soul would have been sucked dry by the dwellers of that unspeakable region.”
Once again, Aaron felt oddly calm upon hearing this horrific possibility.
“I don’t, uhm… Where am I, sir?”
“You’re in an area that is between the physical world and, well, another realm of existence that we call the second realm. It could be described as a very small, isolated area on the edge of the spiritual realm, perhaps like a small island.”
Aaron strained at the idea. “Do you mean purgatory?”
“Well, it is likely what some have described as purgatory. But it’s not the purgatory that many have written of. Though it certainly may have been identified as such.
“You’re in a place that is necessary for the balance of interactions between the physical and spiritual realms.”
After some thought, Aaron replied. “I didn’t know there was a place in the spiritual realm that looked like Fort Hood.”
The captain smiled. “Actually, it looks like a place that your mind can understand and relate to. For someone else, it would look completely different. Your mind devised this ‘spiritual Fort Hood’ for you to relate to and understand what the mind cannot really comprehend.”
Once again, Aaron considered the information. Finally, after a few seconds of thought, he asked, “How did I get here? I mean, why am I here? Am I alive or dead?”
“You’re what might be called both alive and dead. In the physical world, you’re in a comatose state. Here, you’re alive and well, but in an environment that is not hospitable to your physical being.
“As to why and how you got here, you are undoubtedly what would be called a ‘unique case,’ an anomaly, if you will. It’s not uncommon for people to find their way here. But they do so in a spiritual sense. It often takes years of training to enter this realm. When done so by the spiritual method, these people move across the sphere of death as if they were vapor. Their presence is not perceived by the gatekeepers of the dead.
“However, you entered the realm in a rare manner. Your spirit, or soul, left your body at the instant of what would have been death. So, what happened is you didn’t die, but you didn’t live either. Thus, you’re here.”
Aaron’s eyes squinted as he considered this.
“So, what happens now?”
“That’s a good question. Much of what happens now is up to you,” the captain replied.
“How is it up to me? I don’t understand.” Aaron shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t understand any of this.”
“The fact that you are here now means you do have the ability to understand. Not only can you understand, but you can utilize the information here as well as in the physical world. Due to your unique situation, you have potential far beyond the others who come here for training and wisdom.”
After saying this, the captain stood and walked over to the pool table. He picked up a pool stick and began shooting balls into the pockets.
Aaron stood and walked over to the table. He watched the captain for a few seconds, then asked him, “How do I understand this, and how do I change it?”
The captain looked at him and asked, “Until you understand it, how do you know if you want to change it?”
Aaron thought about this as the captain shot another ball into the corner pocket. Then, seeming to sense Aaron was struggling, he laid the pool cue on the table.
“You were fighting in a war when you crossed the plane of existence. You should now sense there is another war, a war that has been raging since the dawn of time, a war that mankind is involved with, though only on a small scale. For the most part, mankind is still the equivalent of a spiritual child, perhaps, like a teenager. They think they’ve got it all figured out and know so much, but this is, in fact, the very attitude that keeps them from seeing more, from growing beyond the barriers they face.”
Suddenly, Aaron’s days in Sunday school and church service began to come back.
“The war between God and Satan,” he said, almost to himself.
“Yes, you know about the war,” the captain said.
“I heard the stories in Sunday school. I remember sermons our pastor gave. But they all seemed like ancient history. I believed them, but it seemed to be long ago and far away.”
The captain walked over to the window. He glanced out and then turned to Aaron.
“It’s a war that has been going on long before the earth or mankind was around. Your world is affected less than other worlds. Yet, the enemy would bring total darkness and death to all if it were ever victorious.
“Now, you must make a decision. You must decide if you will fight for good or return to your world and allow natural laws to take their course.
“Or, there is one other option; death.”
Aaron walked over to the window next to the captain. Looking out, he saw a small squad of soldiers doing exercises.
“Who are they?” Aaron asked.
“They’re soldiers of light. Few can make it here. Fewer still can endure the training needed to be functional in the physical world. Those are the few that have made it past the initial trials. Their training will begin soon.”
There were eleven soldiers in a small parade area. Soon, they were called into formation, and what appeared to be a sergeant inspected them and dismissed the group.
“Are they like me?” Aaron asked.
“No, not entirely. They’ve reached this place through meditation. They’re here spiritually, but their bodies are in the physical realm. They’ve not crossed the valley of the dead in the same manner as you are.”
“So, if I choose to let nature run its course, what will happen?” Aaron asked.
“I don’t know. You’ll be returned, and depending on your ability to recover, you will live or die. The laws of nature follow their own path. It’s the way the creator intended, and regardless of what some may say, it’s a sufficient system.”
“And, if I choose to fight for good, what does that mean?” Aaron asked.
“It means you will choose the most difficult path. You will endure extensive training here. Then, the real trials will start when you return to the physical realm. The life of a soldier of light is not an easy one. You will encounter and combat evil that most men don’t understand or even believe exists. There will be few in the physical realm that can assist you in your battles. However, you will have an understanding that what you’re doing is of a higher good, much nobler than the war you were fighting in the physical sense.”
Aaron walked over and sat back down, expelling a long breath of air.
“I’m no hero—not like that.”
The captain also sat down across from him.
“Actually, you are who you are. Deep down, you know who you are. And if you were not that kind of hero, you would not be here. You chose something other than dying. You chose to find a place that you could be who you are. You’ve known for some time now that you were different. What you must do now is either accept who you are or lose faith in something you’ve felt for a long time.”
When the captain said this, Aaron suddenly saw the truth. It was there all along. He had always known it deep in his soul.
The sudden revelation caused a tear to erupt from Aaron’s eye. He asked, “What must I do?”
“You know that as well. Before you can do anything else, you must repent and be cleansed.”
Aaron immediately fell to his knees and repented. As he arose, he became a complete person. He knew who he was and what the creator had intended him to be.
“Get some rest,” the captain then said. Aaron went to his room. It was just as he recalled from Fort Hood. Everything was the same, except he had no roommate. He climbed into his bunk, and sleep quickly overcame him.