The coffee tasted worse than most mornings. The sky cloudier. The air colder. I suddenly realized I didn’t know where I was, but yet I feel like I’ve been here for hours.
I look around and all I see is an empty town square. The first thing I took notice to is the courthouse placed in the epicenter of the square.
The curiosity of where I was drifts from my mind as I get up from my seat and slowly walk toward the courthouse. Something inside was beckoning to me. The town square remained quiet and desolate.
The only thing keeping me company was the autumn leaves circling my feet. It wasn’t until I got to the door of the courthouse did I notice by my reflection that I was wearing a three piece suit.
I never wore a suit like this in my life. So why now? I stepped inside the courthouse. I was hit with the sweet scent of rotting flesh. Something I haven’t smelled since the mountains of Afghanistan.
I stepped through the threshold of the main courtroom and there was a figure standing behind the judge’s bench. It was more shadow than man. A voice echoed through the room.
“Are you happy with how things have gone?” I was confused. Confused by everything. Where I was…why I was there. The shadow seemed to grow impatient as he repeated the question. My mind raced.
If there was a correct answer I didn’t know it.
I stammered “I-I-I-I don’t know what you mean.”
“Your life. Are you satisfied?”
My mind took off. Flashing back to everything. My seventh birthday where my stepfather bought me an RC car and me flipping it off the washing machine.
My first kiss on the hood of my truck, junior year of high school
My first deployment to Afghanistan.
My first firefight. My first kill. It was a young child. During house to house fighting in Afghanistan I threw a grenade into a window to clear out the room.
At the time I had no idea who was in the room. What I thought was a fire team of insurgents was only a small child hiding under her bed.
My second deployment. Talking to my best friend, Lance Corporal Bryant, about the 49ers as I felt the shockwave of an exploding IED rock our Humvee…my God…I was dead. It finally happened.
My men and I always tackled death as a taboo subject. Never really addressing it and when we did we never approached it seriously. We always cracked jokes about death.
As if we were staring Death in the face and laughing. Us Marines prided ourselves in doing that. But here I was. Staring Death in the face and stuttering like a fool.
“Are you satisfied?”
His impatient words rang through the room momentarily breaking my train of thought. I quickly got back on track and went back to racking my brain. While brief it was a decent life.
I never really thought about the sense of satisfaction when it came to the way I lived out my story, but for the first time ever I was happy with what I had done.
I wanted to do more, sure…but for the first time I was satisfied. I looked back to the shadow and answered.
“Very well. I’ll see that you meet your proper end.”
“Wait! What does that mean!? Where am I going!?”
“You’ll see in due course.” The shadow’s last words echoed in my head as I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I fell to my knees as I looked back to the shadow and saw nothing.
I felt my consciousness slipping. I fell back and looked to the ceiling. The courthouse was starting to crumble around me as I passed out.
A light burned the outside of my eyelids. I sat up and looked around. I was seated on a white tile floor that was bordered by four white walls of the same length.
There was a large wooden door in the center of the wall opposite of me. With great reluctance I walked across the room. I reached for the handle and swung the door open.
Once my eyes adjusted I saw the interior of my squad bay from boot camp. I felt a searing pain in my forehead. I reached up to where the pain was and felt steel. I pulled at it.
The pain was extraordinary, but I couldn’t even muster up a whimper. I couldn’t show any emotion. All emotion was gone. Once I pulled out the steel I looked at what I held in my hand.
It was a piece of shrapnel just short of eight inches long and three inches wide at the base. It must’ve been what took my life in the Humvee.
Once I threw it aside I felt the same weight return to my forehead. I reached back up to my head. The steel had been replaced by a duplicate. I couldn’t get rid of it.
As I walked down the squad bay I stepped past other Marines with their disassembled rifles on their footlockers. I got to my bed…right next to Lance Corporal Bryant’s.
Without thinking I sat down behind my footlocker where there was already a disassembled M-16. I looked to Bryant who was on my right.
He was missing his lower jaw and had a larger piece of shrapnel where his nose was supposed to be. He was mindlessly scrubbing away at the bolt of his rifle.
Without thinking I picked up a wire brush, then the barrel of the M-16 and began cleaning it.