That investigation ties into the story but not at first and not until you get to know Cecil a little better.
Enough of that shit, read on, and remember this is only about 80% polished because of the time limit. If the story plays out well enough I'll be going back to spackle and scrape this thing into a real novel.
[Pages from a ruined journal]
The year is 2012 and the war is going badly. Resolved to keep a journal but still failed to get an entry for the day of, that being the first day of 2012. Resolution to quit smoking lasted 3 whole hours after I woke up. It almost lasted about 3 minutes because I am used to just walking outside the tent and lighting up.
It's quiet now and the next engagement starts four hours from now. So maybe I will just start with who I am and what I am doing in this god forsaken fuck hole of a country. My name is [redacted] and I am something of a legend around these parts. Never mind that 'these parts' are a no name mountain in the iced over ass crack of [redacted].
I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to fill the rest of this in so I just want to start by writing down a secret plan of mine.
When my tour of duty ends, just a few months from now I plan to marry the sweetest, funniest and most wholesome girl I have ever met. I just sent Elise a letter home today. Not an email, mind you, an honest to god flake of dead tree and ink on a plane back home.
There was a key inside that letter and it just so happens to open a small lock box under my bed back home. Inside the box is the ring I plan to give her when the time comes. For now she'll just have to live with the mystery. I didn't tell her what the key was for, only that it was important.
I can't wait to see her again. The way she smells is about fifty thousand times better than these unwashed cretins sweating energy drink and orange cheese flavoring. Anyway, I am on deck for another 16 hour stint as a townie down in [redacted] and need to get some sleep.
Even Cecil doesn't know. Hard to keep secrets from your best friend but the look on his face will be worth it.
[Letter addressed to Elise Marie Connor, postmarked January 6th, 2012]
I'm sure by now news has reached you. Whatever comfort I have to offer is lost amid my own wailing and the empty cavern in my chest where a heart used to beat. [redacted] is gone. I was two feet away and didn't even have time to say goodbye. It was over before I even knew what happened.
We have known each other far too long for me not to tell you the truth of how he died, and perhaps you are as numb as me and this will come as no shock to you. Perhaps the scars will fade more quickly this way.
The official report no doubt says that [redacted] was killed by a roadside IED on January 3rd, 2012. I doubt that it will mention how much you and I loved him, how senseless this whole war and everything in it has become, and just how badly he will be missed.
I am torn between wanting to spare you further agony, if such a thing is possible, but you deserve to know. I lied in the report about his last words being "Tell Elise that I love her." I hope you can forgive me for wanting to spare my best friend the indignity of becoming a joke, or worse a meme for countless pimpled brats to snicker over.
You and I know too well that he loved you, I don't think he mentioned your name once without mentioning how much he missed you or how badly he wanted to get home to see you again.
Yet the last words out of his mouth were "Say Cecil? You think if I grow my beard out you still think your mom will let me eat her out?"
Believe me I have tried to laugh about it. I tell myself every hour, every minute that it's the funniest thing I have ever heard in my life. In a way it is. In a million ways it just makes me wish that I was riding shotgun that day. I blame myself. I don't know how I could have known but every second I have drawn breath is a needle reminding me that I lived only because my friend was there to shield me.
He was always protecting me. Ever since I was a kid he was my armor and my parachute. I always thought someday I would return the favor, repay all the years of kindness and somehow make things even between us. What can I do now? Who can I be without a friend in the world to call my own?
I am so sorry for everything that's happened, Elise. I wish I could change it, fix it or just...something.
There's nothing else for me to say except that no matter how deep and dark your loss, I am suffering as well. [Redacted] was the closest thing I ever had to a soul mate. And I would trade every girl I ever met just to have a few seconds, a moment, to say goodbye to my best friend.
Whatever I can do for you, I will. Whatever I can say and wherever you need me I will be there for you for as long as you need me. And when the time comes for you to move on with your life I will be there to say good bye.
[pages from a ruined journal]
January 18, 2012
[redacted] is dead. And I have taken up this journal in his name.
The camp shrink has told me that I have moved from bargaining to depression in the five stages of grief. The only upshot is that the fucking chaplain has given up on me for now. I've had enough platitudes and pats on the back to last me a fucking lifetime.
But this entry is not for me it is for [redacted], he was my best friend and I have known him all my life. I suppose it is only fitting that I take up the pen. So much of our life, through coincidence or company, has evolved in eerie synchrony.
We were born 3 days apart, in the same hospital, under very different circumstances. Though he was born healthy enough I was ripped from my mother in a gory rush that probably lead to a busy day at the hospital laundry. As such I was kept under observation and strictly monitored. My heart stopped twice and my lungs are shitty to this day as a result.
Something about being crammed through a birth canal squeezes out the goo in ways that modern medicine struggles to emulate.
Anyway. If not for my prolonged stay it is unlikely that my parents would have met [redacted]'s parents at all. It was their friendship, brief and tenuous though it was, that ensured our destinies would intertwine once more. On the day he died we were as close as brothers, and tightly wound as DNA itself.
Until age 6 we were inseparable, and so were our parents. Then he moved, and life turned somewhat shitty for a long time. It was hard for me, having invested so much time into the friendship and finding none of my peers as worthy a companion as he.
But I lived. Time went on, and so did we.
Middle school was hell. The usual cliques and bullshit made things more than a little miserable but life was bearable. It wasn't until about 3 months into 6th grade that things changed for me. This was the stretch of time it took four boys in my grade to become comfortable enough as friends to start beating the crap out of me on a regular basis.
Things were bad enough before hand, my asthma made me something of an outcast because I could barely control it. Several times I had to hear "Eeew, I don't wanna sit near Cecil he's nasty." Even this humiliation I could bear. Fuck what they say about words not hurting, I'd set them on balance with sticks and stones any day of the week.
So these four twats, Shane, Marcus, Sam and Eddie, were all bigger dumber and meaner than me. The thing that put me in their crosshairs: not helping Eddie cheat on a test. It wasn't a multiple choice or a true/false ordeal it was a fucking essay question on the important role of malleability in modern living.
How the fuck do you whisper something like a coherent paragraph without getting caught? Apparently these guys were dumb enough not to even see the futility in the asking. A pity, but not one that went unpunished.
Weeks passed. Injuries accumulated. None of the teachers seemed to notice or care. Trying to show them my bruises or that I was being ganged up on usually ended with scoldings like "you boys need to stop fighting" and "please Cecil, this is recess go and have fun and stop bothering us."
So twats were beating me, while other twats were too busy gossiping to step in and help. My parents offered similarly worthless advice: "Try being really nice to them," Mom would say. Fucking brilliant in whatever shiny world she grew up in. I actually tried it and got a cracked rib for my trouble. Thanks mom.
At a time when I felt that the whole world had sunk into this unending syncline of misery and every authority figure around me seemed to be in complete denial I wrote my friend a letter. He called me the day he got it and we talked for an hour about what to do.
Being four hours away I could not count on him to actually help. He might as well have lived on the moon. Still, he managed to help in the weirdest way possible. [Redacted] mailed me his father's pistol and a handful of bullets.
Luckily my dad intercepted the package before I ever saw it. Luckily because I would be writing my memoirs from inside a padded cell if I had been given time to use it. I told dad it was a CD player that [redacted] was going to let me borrow. Dad thought it had been stolen or something and opened it up. Needless to say, things changed drastically after that.
School officials got involved, finally, and the gang of four ceased their daily beatings. Well, at least they moved to weekly beatings and daily verbal abuse. Still, progress.
Things improved further the next year when two of the guys moved away. Four on one is a dirty slaughter, but two on one makes evasion almost easy. And by this time I had hit a little growth spurt so I was more or less on equal fitting with Eddie. Sam could still thrash me any day of the week but he was slow and chubbier than me so I could usually stay beyond pummeling range.
If I am harping on this incident too much, allow me to explain the significance.
[Redacted] gave me enough slack to escape from my usual torment. And he did it at the expense of being grounded for the rest of the school year. Can you even imagine that? What 11 year old kid could devise a plan, and he swore it was his intention all along to provoke intervention from the parents, execute it and bear the punishment faithfully for a friend he barely ever saw and lived hours away from?
My best friend did that for me. God damn it I miss him.
The time for tears will come again. If I must laud him further consider the aftermath. The hole, opened by my friend, widened by circumstance and at last I could fight the battle for myself. Any day when Sam and Eddie were both in school I was a ghost. If one of them was sick, or didn't make it because their stupid redneck dads were too hung over to give them a ride I made life hell for the other.
Eddie was the nastier of the two. You could write up a nice little case study about this creep and his eagerness to pass on the abuse he suffered at home to anyone and anything around him. One day he told me that his cat had kittens and he ran them over with a lawnmower because it was funny.
Serious sociopathic shit, right?
The day I snapped was shortly after that anecdotal atrocity came to light in the lunchroom. He was sick or something and didn't have the spirit to really lay into me. So he just half-heartedly hit me with his canvas lunch bag. There was a metal fork inside and the tines really did a number on my little skull. I didn't even think twice I just calmly unslung my backpack, took out the heaviest book I could find and slammed it into Eddie's face.
He couldn't even move out of the way he was so surprised. I didn't stop there. You can't bottle up a year and a half's worth of rage and fear into one event but I did my utmost. After a few more solid whacks broke Eddie's nose and jaw I wrapped my little fingers around his neck and tried to murder this boy.
Luckily for me and my tender young anus a teacher intervened and spared the life of this little bastard. I was almost expelled from school. Almost if not for the scrupulous notes I had kept of every single little slap and insult made by Eddie and the remnants of his gang since day 1 of the beatings.
Three teachers were fired, Eddie was expelled and Sam and I were both given ten day suspensions.
My journal made for a compelling enough narrative to spare my expulsion and landed me in counseling for much of my adolescence. I tried, time and time again, to explain that I wasn't crazy and that there was nothing fucking wrong with me. I was just pushed one too many times. That's it. Sometimes it's the fucking world with the problem.
January 18, 2012
I don't know how I can go on. Only a shift ago I managed to write pages about the minutia of my history with [redacted] and now I have been staring at this damn book for an hour with nothing to show for it.
Except for this. And twenty-three enemy kills. A new squad record. My parents probably heard about it on the radio and fretted.
January 19, 2012
Another fucking day I wish I could unlive. July cannot come fast enough.