Recovery (First Person) Scene

Author’s Note: “Recovery” was first published in IN SITU (Dagan Books, August 2012).  Note that this is only the first scene in “Recovery” posted here for the purpose of Exercise #5: Threading the Narrative.

“Recovery”

by Jason Andrew

Her voice smells of sweet oranges on a hot summer day. How long has it been since I’ve heard an American woman? “Doctor, one of the patients is showing early signs on consciousness.”

His voice tastes of cold tar so bitter and oily that I want to vomit. Something about him terrifies me. “Which one?”

“Patient six.”

Cold, bright light penetrates my eyes. I squint hard to avoid the sheering pain. Gentle fingers wrapped in plastic gloves force them back open. A soothing swab of green water scrubs away the crud. He speaks again and I nearly choke from the sensation. “Try to follow the light, Corporal. That’s an order.”

It takes effort, but I manage to obey. Eyes down and then up to follow the frigid glittering light. I never imagined looking into the world would take so much effort. Eyes right and then left. “Do you know your name?”

I wince at the taste of his voice and pucker my lips. She rests her hands on my shoulders. The wash of oranges almost cleanses the palate. “You are safe here, Corporal. I know it’s hard to concentrate, but we just need to know if you remember things like your name to treat you.”

It seems reasonable and I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty voice. “Ed. Corporal Edward Febish.”

“Good. Very good, Ed.” She squeezes me for a bit of encouragement and leans close. Brilliant fireworks light off from her every movement. “Do you know what day it is?”

The colors of the days jumble together. “Thursday. Maybe Friday. April. Forgot the day.”

“Good. Very good. Do you know where you are?”

I wish I could forget the dust and bullet ridden land that smelled of eternal ashes. “Afghanistan.”

“Do you remember your unit’s last mission?”

There’s a tiny prick of red pain in my back. Heart beats rapidly but I’m not entirely sure why. The horizon spins and I’m not really sure why until the light fades and I realize I’m face down on a stretcher.

“Don’t try to move. We had to operate on your back to get the bullets out. You’ll get full motion in a couple of hours and then we’ll adjust the bedding.”

Flashes of memory through a thin film of muck return to my brain. “Friendly fire in the caves.”

“Good. Very good. What were you doing in the caves, Corporal?”

I remember hours of green tinged darkness fumbling in the stale air that passed through the gas masks. My skin itched all over. “We were on patrol. Heard a tip about a secret cave entrance in the mountains near the Salang Pass. Insurgents found a hidden side tunnel. There was lots of excitement from the locals about some taboo being broken. Radioed headquarters and they asked us to investigate.”

Once again, she cleans my eyes with the soothing swab and my vision clears a little and so does my memory. “After a while, it felt weird being down there. Some of us got the shakes and it felt like I was licking a battery.”

The oily voice coughs. “Rapture syndrome. It happens to inexperienced cave spelunkers. An extreme reaction to darkness and depth that’s akin to an anxiety attack while on methamphetamines.”

I remember only that ancient primordial instinct of wanting the open sky above and air that smells of crisp dandelions. The lights in my hands shook. It was so hard to keep them still. “We found the base camp, but it was empty. Of the living that is.”

“The caves were too dark for images to be captured clearly, Corporal.” His voice brings the scent of disease and rot. “What did you see?”

I shiver unconsciously. I don’t want to remember the cold darkness, but his voice forces me back like a tidal wave. When I finally start to speak, memories explode with each syllable. “Bodies. About a dozen locals. Killed each other as far as we can tell. They used knifes, guns, even rocks. One bastard died with his teeth caught in another poor guy’s throat.”

“Was there anything strange about these men?”

My eyes jolt as though electricity squirted through them. “Pus and scabs. Looked like bark on a swamp tree. Horrible! We started collecting samples and evidence and then we were blinded by a cold white light. I don’t remember much after that, except the shooting.”

“Did you see anything else unusual?”

“There as a small pod. Looking like a turtle covered with green and purple fuzz. Two of them were fighting over it when they died. You should have found it in my pack, sir.”

Blissful silence. She speaks again and the summer breeze of calm wafts over me. “You can sleep now, Ed. I’ll be here watching over you.”

Her voice smells of sweet oranges on a hot summer day. How long has it been since I’ve heard an American woman? “Doctor, one of the patients is showing early signs on consciousness.”

His voice tastes of cold tar so bitter and oily that I want to vomit. Something about him terrifies me. “Which one?”

“Patient six.”

Cold, bright light penetrates my eyes. I squint hard to avoid the sheering pain. Gentle fingers wrapped in plastic gloves force them back open. A soothing swab of green water scrubs away the crud. He speaks again and I nearly choke from the sensation. “Try to follow the light, Corporal. That’s an order.”

It takes effort, but I manage to obey. Eyes down and then up to follow the frigid glittering light. I never imagined looking into the world would take so much effort. Eyes right and then left. “Do you know your name?”

I wince at the taste of his voice and pucker my lips. She rests her hands on my shoulders. The wash of oranges almost cleanses the palate. “You are safe here, Corporal. I know it’s hard to concentrate, but we just need to know if you remember things like your name to treat you.”

It seems reasonable and I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty voice. “Ed. Corporal Edward Febish.”

“Good. Very good, Ed.” She squeezes me for a bit of encouragement and leans close. Brilliant fireworks light off from her every movement. “Do you know what day it is?”

The colors of the days jumble together. “Thursday. Maybe Friday. April. Forgot the day.”

“Good. Very good. Do you know where you are?”

I wish I could forget the dust and bullet ridden land that smelled of eternal ashes. “Afghanistan.”

“Do you remember your unit’s last mission?”

There’s a tiny prick of red pain in my back. Heart beats rapidly but I’m not entirely sure why. The horizon spins and I’m not really sure why until the light fades and I realize I’m face down on a stretcher.

“Don’t try to move. We had to operate on your back to get the bullets out. You’ll get full motion in a couple of hours and then we’ll adjust the bedding.”

Flashes of memory through a thin film of muck return to my brain. “Friendly fire in the caves.”

“Good. Very good. What were you doing in the caves, Corporal?”

I remember hours of green tinged darkness fumbling in the stale air that passed through the gas masks. My skin itched all over. “We were on patrol. Heard a tip about a secret cave entrance in the mountains near the Salang Pass. Insurgents found a hidden side tunnel. There was lots of excitement from the locals about some taboo being broken. Radioed headquarters and they asked us to investigate.”

Once again, she cleans my eyes with the soothing swab and my vision clears a little and so does my memory. “After a while, it felt weird being down there. Some of us got the shakes and it felt like I was licking a battery.”

The oily voice coughs. “Rapture syndrome. It happens to inexperienced cave spelunkers. An extreme reaction to darkness and depth that’s akin to an anxiety attack while on methamphetamines.”

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