Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Perceptions

by Mark Anderson

1918: The Argonne Forest

I ran. I ran. And ran some more. The sound kept coming. The trees about me exploded into shards. Bullets walked across the ground coming for me. One found my leg. I collapsed. Blood geysered from my leg. Blackness closed over me.

I dreamed. I was home. It was the Fourth of July. I could smell Mom's apple pie baking. Then a snapping sound ruined the dream. Standing over me were four German soldiers. One of them had a particularly nasty looking gun pointed at my head.

I was going to die. I thought, "I love you, Mom."

A red, white and blue tornado seemed to sweep over my head. The Germans were knocked about. The blue coat with tails billowed out behind him as he mopped the Germans up. Bleary-eyed, I watched a man in red-striped pants, stars-and-stripes top hat and a star spangled cummerbund beat the Germans into unconsciousness.

My head began to slip forward toward my chest. The star-spangled whirlwind had finished the last of the Germans off. He came toward me. He looked like my granddad. I felt his hand on my shoulder and fought my head back up to look at him.

"Don't worry, son. You'll make it home to Mom's apple pie."

1918: Paris

I woke up in a hospital ward in Paris. I asked and no one could tell me how I had gotten there. Three weeks had passed and I was being shipped home. The trip was uneventful. I stood on the deck as the ship slipped into dock in New York Harbor. After a long train ride, I was home in Iowa.

1941: Iowa

I saw him again. He was right there on the front page of my hometown newspaper. He was fronting a group of mystery men called the Freedom Fighters. He was Uncle Sam. The spirit of my country came to me in my hour of need and saved me. I never tried to explain it to anybody.

1968: University of Metropolis campus

The police cruiser that had been blocking the road rolled over. The crowd surged forward. I stood my ground, but it was hard. I knew they were just students upset about the war. I was upset too. But I joined the police to make a difference just like Dad taught me.

I remembered my Dad's stories about World War I and II. He faced the Kaiser's men in the trenches and Nazi storm troopers all across Europe. I stood facing a horde of crazed barbarian teenagers.

The "Stop the War", "Make Love", and "Hey, Hey LBJ" signs were used as weapons to hit the men in riot gear. Then the living wave struck our line and we gave. A human stampede slammed into us and bore us backward.

I went down. I was struck in the head. I shook my head and tried to stand. Standing over me was a wild man in red striped pants, a blue vest with stars and a bare chest. His long shaggy white hair and heavy long white beard were flying about him, but the gentle blue eyes shocked me. He reached down and took me by the hand. His grip was firm and strong. I was lifted back to my feet. The crowd surged around us, but we were an island in a sea of pushing hippies and police.

He led me to the side and seated me on the curb. He said, "Now you jus' stay here sonny. You'll be safe. I've got to go save some more good Americans today." He turned and disappeared back into the crowd. My last sight of him was of his funky red and white pants with peace signs on the back pockets.

We were lucky. No one died. Some of us got the hell beat out of us, but nobody died.

Later, I described the man who had saved me to my Dad. That was the night he told me the story about the Argonne.

2002: Baghdad, Iraq

The man in the bed tossed in his sleep. The bombs are raining from the sky. His anti-aircraft guns can't catch them. They are ranging over his city at will... over his entire country at will.

In his dream, the bombs were dropping everywhere. Smoke blotted out the sky. Fire roared all around. As he watched from his balcony in terror, more and more bombers swung in over the city and dropped their cargos.

Unexpectedly, the bombers were gone. A crashing boom continued, though. It came with regularity. Plaster rained from the ceiling as the whole room shook. Through the smoke, an impossibility came. A giant satanic figure clothed in red, white and blue. A monstrous devil with white hair and beard glared at the city about him. Blue beams leapt from his eyes, burning into the ground. Laughter roared from between his fanged teeth. Bright red horns rose from his head. A blue jacket was worn over a red bow tie. Red and white striped pants reached to the ground.

The monster's eyes settled on the Presidential Palace. He approached. His every step shook the ground.

Tanks rolled from concealed bunkers near the palace. They fired at the monster. The shells had no effect whatsoever. The Great American Satan still came for him. The beast fired his hellfire blue eyes at the tanks. The loyal young soldiers roasted.

The monster reached into the window of the palace and lifted the President of Iraq out into the night sky. Raised high above the monstrosity's head, he dangled over its mouth. Razor sharp fangs opened below him. From his vantage, Saddam could see the hell that his country had become. Starving people looked on and seemed to smile as they saw him about to be consumed by this monster. A huge red tongue slithered out of the beast's mouth. A scream tore from his throat as he dropped into the mouth of the hellspawn.

Awakening in his bed, Saddam spun and looked out the window. A clear sky greeted him. Breathing heavily, he rose from his sweat soaked sheets and went to get a drink of water. A deep sense of foreboding kept him awake for the remainder of the night.

2002: Diego Garcia, The Indian Ocean

A small shack stood at the end of a row of small shacks. All nondescript, most of them housed obsolete equipment.

An armed soldier approached the shack on the end and went in. "Hey, Sam! I'm here to relieve you. Anything going on?"

The man named Sam removed the headphones from his white haired head. "Naw, perty quiet tonight. Saddam had another bad dream's all."

The soldier took Sam's place at the console. "Couldn't happen to a nicer guy if you ask me."

Sam moved to the door of the shed. "I agree, sonny. I absolutely agree. Hey, how are your Dad and Granddad doing?"

"Ah, they're both still kicking and ornery as ever. I've got leave coming in a week and we're all three going fishing back home."

"That sounds great."

"You should come home with me sometime, Sam. You would be more than welcome. And they would love to meet you."

"I'd love to son, but I rarely take leave. You have fun and tell them what good work you do."

As Sam left the shack, he stopped and leaned back against the wall. He looked up at the stars overhead. The Southern Cross wheeled across the sky. "I cain't be everywhere. And I cain't protect them all. But by God, I'll protect every one of them that I can. And those I cain't protect, I'll avenge. As long as they believe in the American Dream, I'll be there. They may not always see me in the same way, but it will always be me."

As Sam walked away, his fatigues were replaced by a familiar blue coat, top hat, and striped pants. He slowly faded away. And if anyone had been out and about on that night, they would have heard the opening strains of "America the Beautiful" being whistled.

 
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