Chapter 1:

Meaning

The Descent


April 30th, 1982Bookmark here

Saigon, Vietnam


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It’s the same dream every other night.Bookmark here

I could feel the darkness envelop my soul.Bookmark here

The horrifying screams echoed into nothingness.Bookmark here

Out of sight, but always engraved in my mind are those I’ve killed. Even if the blood is washed off me, my soul remains drenched. Even before I signed up for this post, the dream only grew more vivid, blurring what was real and what wasn’t. And whenever I woke up, that same sorrow lingered.Bookmark here

Something was missing, like an indescribable void within.Bookmark here

No matter what I did, it always remained.Bookmark here

For as long as I served, I came to realize that war was intimate. It’s hard to explain, it’s—Still a form of human interaction.Bookmark here

Replace love and acceptance with hate and vitriol… See how far it takes you.Bookmark here

We’ve occupied their lands for decades, we’ve raped their women to pass the time, we’ve poisoned their soil with all these chemical weapons… All to add to the suffering of a nation damned to history. Several tours…Yet the conflict grows more tedious even after we’ve pushed back those Viet Cong into Laos and Cambodia.Bookmark here

They’re still a hassle, though.Bookmark here

How many more of my boys do I have to lose in this shithole?Bookmark here

I wondered as I laid with some nameless, beautiful prostitute. By the way, she was looking, she wasn’t enthused by her job. I wonder which village it was we bombed to force her into this trade. She seemed to be barely 18, but what do ethics and virtue mean when the world is crumbling? By the time she wakes, I won’t care to know her name. On second thought, I wondered whether she was trying to support her family or was feeding information to the Viet Cong.Bookmark here

No—I don’t care anymore.Bookmark here

Her presence could only ever satisfy my craving for intimacy. It didn’t matter who the person was; After all, I was a stranger in a foreign land. There was no sense in getting close to anyone here. I just needed that one moment where I didn’t feel so empty.Bookmark here

I was quite particular with the prostitutes I slept with. In one way or another, they reminded me of my fiancé back home. It was painful without her. Part of me always had a sense of longing, and I always tried to fulfill that through my carnal desires. These women of the night were there just to fill that insatiable void in her absence. But their touch was familiar and their mind so foreign.Bookmark here

Like a child, I sought pieces that reminded me of her.Bookmark here

Like a child, my mind would always want something more.Bookmark here

But often, what I would find were nothing more than hollow imitations.Bookmark here

Saigon had always been the same, even after the city burned to the ground in 1975. Seven years later, there was no end in sight.Bookmark here

This wasn’t the war of my father.Bookmark here

No…It was a thankless conflict of agendas.Bookmark here

There was no right or wrong.Bookmark here

There was cruelty in the place of honor.Bookmark here

I was always told growing that America would overcome its struggles. Then why am I here in some rat-infested hotel with a woman I met last night? Why is it that this is the only for me to cope with the war within?Bookmark here

Being away from her for so long…That void expanded, deepened.Bookmark here

For all the nameless women I slept with and the lived experiences, why did it feel so empty? I was losing touch with what it was to feel.Bookmark here

Death… Destruction… Rape… Despair…Bookmark here

Yeah, one can become so detached from all of it.Bookmark here

All that hate becomes some fucked up motivation because there ain’t an ounce of goddamn respite in this godless country. American or Commie…There ain’t any good guys out here.Bookmark here

I could remember the lingering scent of burned flesh waft into the air. The weather was muggy, unforgiving in an already unbearable environment. That chemical smell of napalm filled the air while the surroundings were scorched. You could still hear the engines of the F4s in the distance.Bookmark here

But instead of dead Viet Cong—Hell.Bookmark here

There were just people just trying to survive in their condemned country. The charred bodies of children lined along the edge of the burning village. I couldn’t get over the cries of the mothers as our jeeps plowed through. No, there was no counterinsurgency here. For some of those villagers, their lives had changed forever. But to us, it was business as usual. All in the name of collateral damage, nothing else mattered if the higher-ups felt like they were winning.Bookmark here

Another classic case of bad intel.Bookmark here

It was always the most impoverished part of Nam that suffered the most. And the scene always replayed itself, over and over.Bookmark here

They held their dead, trying to resuscitate them, even when flesh was hanging from their bones. These were just peasants condemned to a never-ending cycle of misery and violence. So many lost everything they worked for in minutes.Bookmark here

Futile hope.Bookmark here

Through the eyes of those who watched us pass, you could see sorrow, helplessness, and that burning hatred slowly corrupting every fiber of their soul. Seeing that one kid when he glared at us—Remembering that never failed to send a chill down my spine.Bookmark here

Yeah…Monsters were made.Bookmark here

How was peace supposed to be achieved again?Bookmark here

Oh, death from above…Bookmark here

We were like grim reapers, watching life slip away.Bookmark here

All in the name of freedom, I suppose.Bookmark here

War…is hell.Bookmark here

War is the closest thing we have to contact these people. But, war in all its turbulence, a dead body was a dead body. Death was universal means to an end.Bookmark here

And time always passes, whether or not someone picks up the pieces.Bookmark here

A sudden knock on my door broke my recollections. The nature of the knocking was oddly familiar. As loud as that knock was, the prostitute was still in a deep sleep. Carefully, I slowly got up, even as the person behind the door kept knocking. I knocked over a few scattered beer bottles along the way. I know he heard the ruckus, but the son of a bitch was impatient.Bookmark here

The scent of alcohol and cigarettes wafted throughout the small unit as I quickly put on my fatigues. I saw that my gun was still holstered; At least I knew the prostitute wasn’t with the Viet Cong.Bookmark here

This bastard was still knocking.Bookmark here

It was bothersome, but the closer I got to the door, the more ominous everything felt. The dream was still very much ingrained in my mind at this point. Lighting up a cigarette to relax my nerves, I reached for the door handle.Bookmark here

What an uneasy feeling…Like it was an extension of that dream.Bookmark here

I know I’m losing it, but…Bookmark here

“What the hell is it? I swung the door with agitation.Bookmark here

In front of me was a decorated general of sorts, who came bearing a smug ass smile. His medals weren’t ones I’d ever seen before.Bookmark here

Shit, I thought.Bookmark here

Without much concern for my displeasure, he walked into the heart of my trashy room. He was just a few inches taller than me. His hair was slicked back, peppered with black and gray. His stern eyes betrayed his youthful physique, as they were cold and lifeless. But his smile was warm and inviting. The polished look and uniform certainly matched the look of someone from Arlington, but… I honestly didn’t have a clue on who I was dealing with.Bookmark here

God, I was jittery as hell.Bookmark here

“You with the Pentagon or something?” I asked after closing the door.Bookmark here

“Now, is that any way to treat a superior?” The official smirked, speaking in a monotonous southern accent. “Wow, we must really send anyone out here these days?”Bookmark here

“I’ve served 5 tours so far,” I grimaced, but he seemed amused by my reaction. “Who are you?”Bookmark here

Ignoring me and looking around for a little longer, the woman slowly began to awaken.Bookmark here

“Let’s just say,” the man spoke, choosing his words carefully. “I’m a powerful man with even more powerful desires.”Bookmark here

How he said it was unnerving, even with that damned smile. He looked over at the now-awaken prostitute, who looked at each of us in a frightened. He continued:Bookmark here

“I think you and I could relate to that to some degree.”Bookmark here

“Am I going to get a name or not?” I reluctantly asked.Bookmark here

“My, so persistent! If this breaks the ice, then my name is Abraham, and that’s all you need to know. And I’m not here for small talk. I need something more from you.”Bookmark here

“Hey, I’m on leave. Doctor’s—"Bookmark here

This asshole came prepared.Bookmark here

Abraham pulled out a small white envelope from his suit jacket. He went out of his way to do this, but why? I don’t care if he was from the higher brass. All of this felt so nefarious. To confirm my suspicion, he brandished the letter signed by the doctor. Setting it by the nearby table, he continued:Bookmark here

“Tell me, Private Miller…Do you love your country?”Bookmark here

“Is this a joke?” I winced.Bookmark here

Abraham waited for an answer.Bookmark here

“Fine, it depends on the time of day.”Bookmark here

“There we go! Honesty! That feeling is rare these days. But your average person would take things for face value! Conflict…is never static, though, since it’s dynamic by its very nature. Most think would believe this Cold War is purely ideological, and to an extent, it is. These proxies we’ve fought aren’t just about security or supremacy.”Bookmark here

“Enlighten me.”Bookmark here

My thoughts stumbled for a moment, intrigued by his eccentric remarks. This was a fight against communism and spreading democracy to those that didn’t have it. That’s what we were told growing up, anyway.Bookmark here

“What do you think about truth?”Bookmark here

“I couldn't care less as long as I get by.”Bookmark here

“Such a shame, really. There is more to life than the pleasures set before us.”Bookmark here

He looked over at the prostitute, who was frozen in place as she covered herself up. With disgust, Abraham spoke to her in Vietnamese, somewhat fluent, it seemed. She understood right away she had to get the hell out. I pointed out the payment by the nightstand as she grabbed her belongings in a hurry. Abraham and I watched her exit with silent indifference. His eyes trailed away from the door, expressing equal disgust by what I had done.Bookmark here

“She hardly seems of age,” Abraham noted.Bookmark here

“Don’t give me some bullshit speech about morality,” I countered. “Look around you, there isn’t any place for it.”Bookmark here

“No war is ever without its atrocities, I suppose. We’ve been in conflict since the Kennedy Administration sent advisors. I don’t think anyone would have imagined the scope of this conflict.”Bookmark here

“Alright.”Bookmark here

“I’ve seen all we’ve done… It’s difficult to imagine. But we carry out our orders for truth.”Bookmark here

“The hell is that supposed to mean?”Bookmark here

“A prostitute is no different from any other nation,” Abraham spoke, keeping control of the conversation. “We will always sell ourselves short to survive. There is no pride in what we do, we just do it.”Bookmark here

“Are you here to lecture me, or are you going to fill me in?”Bookmark here

“This war, like many others, is nothing more than a farce. All these protests about civility… None have an inkling of the truth. Meanwhile, you’re sleeping with a prostitute, directly impacting her livelihood. The effects are more personal—Ah, I’m rambling… There is much to look at in the matter of human nature.”Bookmark here

Abraham collected himself; He had the uniform of a general, but the heart of a philosopher. He looked away onto the busy streets of Saigon.Bookmark here

“We need soldiers willing to understand our mission. Peace and security are mere constructs that hold us back from progress.”Bookmark here

“So? That’s it?” I began growing impatient with Abraham.Bookmark here

“We need you to do what you do best.”Bookmark here

I’m a soldier. I was taught to follow orders and kill shit. Ain’t much to it. Why is he asking me to do more of the same?Bookmark here

“That would be pretty much killing then,” I answered.Bookmark here

“That isn’t the case. Where one destroys, another creates.”Bookmark here

I wasn’t sure how to respond, wincing as he continued:Bookmark here

“There was a tunnel discovered near the village you were at before you went on leave. This suggests that there was, in fact, a Viet Cong presence in that area. However, that’s but a suspicion.”Bookmark here

“Suspicion?”Bookmark here

I was met with his introspective silence as he peeked through the blinds by the bedside. The trashiness of the scenery below must’ve been distracting for him. The smog grew thick in the basking sunlight from above. The scent of cigarette smoke and sex wafted through the city streets. Abraham turned toward me again, effortlessly moving past the prior conversation, he asked:Bookmark here

“You have a wife back home, don’t you?”Bookmark here

“We’re expecting our first child in a few months,”Bookmark here

“Well, congratulations.”Bookmark here

“Uh, thanks?”Bookmark here

“So, why is it that you sleep with a nameless prostitute in a foreign country, a country in shambles at that?”Bookmark here

“I beg your pardon.”Bookmark here

Talk about straight out of the left field.Bookmark here

“Don’t think I’m here to judge you on your transgressions. Considering that you’re soon to be a father, I find it unusual is all.”Bookmark here

“I just needed to satisfy a need.”Bookmark here

“A need? A craving? A void?”Bookmark here

His question bothered me.Bookmark here

“What are you getting at?”Bookmark here

“It’s a natural need for intimacy, whether it be spiritual or physical. Some people maintain that need.”Bookmark here

“You a psychologist or something?”Bookmark here

“Well, I have a minor in that.”Bookmark here

“That’s sort of impressive.”Bookmark here

“This is all the time I have for. Report by 12:00 tomorrow.”Bookmark here

“Tomorrow?”Bookmark here

Why so soon? I thought as he walked toward the exit. With a rather smug expression on my face, I concluded:Bookmark here

“Shouldn’t that be the day of rest?”Bookmark here

“As you see, God isn’t here anymore,” Abraham turned, giving his last say before stepping out. His voice remained its tone through and through. There was an unshakeable essence about him, perhaps far more important of a man he claimed to be.Bookmark here

But why me?Bookmark here

How the hell did I get his attention?

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N. D. Skordilis
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The Descent

The Descent


Erii
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