TITLE: "Sleep My Body, Sleep My Ghost"
ARCHIVE: Sure, but tell us first.
SUMMARY: Flashback. Warm nights. Almost left behind.
NOTES: Aaron Sorkin and Warner Brothers got to regulate. We own all incidental characters, however. Rated R for language and some implicit violence. The title is a quote from "Autumn Journal" by Louis MacNeice. Props to Cyndi Lauper.
Sleep My Body, Sleep My Ghost
The young man tossed his notebook into his satchel and plodded out through the thick grass until he found a quiet spot, a spot away from the others. The air was heavy and damp from the humidity; it left him tired and always sweating. He found a spot where the grass wasn't as high and sat down. He placed his knapsack on the ground to his left, his gun on his right, and, wiping his brow with his shirt, began thinking about the letter.
*How am I going to tell them why I'm doing this?*
His mother's messages came like clockwork, always full of the same worried questions: What was he thinking, volunteering to join an Army that was drafting thousands? Why would he choose to go half a world away, to participate in a war that people were rioting against at home? Why, in God's name, wasn't he going to college like his brother?
David's letters were chilly, disapproving, and the lack of understanding between them deepened. "If my number was up, I'd go," his brother had written. "If I wasn't in school, and they called me, I wouldn't run away, but this is ludicrous. There are so many more productive things you could do with your life."
Perhaps it was true. But he'd had that debate with himself, before graduating and enlisting. He'd made the choice anyway; something in his mind told him there was nothing more important he could do right now. He couldn't put it in words that satisfied him, that didn't sound childish, but in his mind, it was his duty. It was his country.
*That even sounds stupid to me,* he thought, watching the clouds shifting in the sky. He heard raucous voices at the edge of the clearing, and did not turn his head.
"She had a set on her, made me forget my own name. So we're in the back of my cousin's car--"
"Hodge, you've told me that story ten times since we've been out here! Ten times in a month and it's different every damn time."
"There he is. Hey, Ziggy!"
The young man groaned inwardly, hating the nickname, and looked over as the two soldiers approached.
"What the hell're you doing out here by yourself?" Rafferty asked.
"Getting back to nature," he replied, dryly.
"How close to nature can you get? I've got nature all over my--"
"Lieutenant says get back to camp," Hodge told him. "Says we can shoot you as a deserter, if you keep being a pain in the ass."
"Lieutenant says a lot of things that don't mean shit," Rafferty joked. Ziggy ignored this. He stood up, hoisted his pack, and started to walk away.
"Hey, Ziggy, what's up your ass?" Hodge called, rhetorically.
He kept walking, quickening his pace.
Rafferty and Hodge followed the young man back to camp, where they found three of the other men engaged in a spirited game of poker.
"Straight flush," Estrello placed his cards on the table.
Hergenrader tossed his hand down, disgusted. "Son of a bitch."
"Fuck, Herg, you won two hands ago."
"I wasn't cheating like this motherfucker."
Estrello finished shuffling the deck. "You in or out, Herg?"
"Yeah, fuck it." Hergenrader drained his beer.
Bennett craned his neck as he heard Rafferty, Hodge and Ziggy approaching. "You playing?"
Two of the men nodded, but Ziggy shook his head and pulled his shirt off as he walked into his tent. *Between these bastards and this goddamned heat....*
When he emerged from his tent, Hodge tossed him a beer. "Thanks," Ziggy mumbled.
"Give me two."
Ziggy found a spot a few yards away from the other men, and as he sat by the bushes, he tried to ignore their chatter and sipped his warm beer. It was better than nothing, which is what they had last week after the supply chopper was shot down. He looked at the clouds without really noticing them and thought about the letter again. What on Earth could he say? 'Dear Mom, Thanks for the socks. I know you think I'm crazy, but I know I'm doing the right thing'? Not that anything he wrote would make a difference to her. She wasn't proud of her oldest son, and he was sorry she found it so difficult. He was sorry everyone found it so difficult.
"I see your two, and raise you five."
"I see your five, and raise you five."
"Hey, Zig, man," Hodge held his breath. "You want a toke?"
The young man cast a withering glance at the joint. "I'm going to pass."
"Ziggy never smokes with us," Bennett tossed a few dollars onto the pile in the center of the table.
"Ziggy was born a fucking old man. His definition of fun is watching fucking paint dry." Estrello displayed his hand for the group. "Four of a kind."
"Jesus Christ, man!"
"I'm finished playing with you motherfuckers." Hergenrader passed the joint to Rafferty and glared at Estrello. "You don't play by the goddamn rules."
Estrello stood up. "And you keep changing the goddamn rules!"
"Fuck, knock it off." Ziggy stepped between the two men.
Hergenrader sneered at him. "What's your problem?"
"My problem," Ziggy said calmly. "Is that you're being idiots."
"You know, Zig--"
Bennett interrupted him. "Herg, man, come on."
Hergenrader's eyes darted from the young man to Estrello and back again. "Fuck both of you. And fuck you, too, Bennett."
"Boys! Grab your gear. We're moving."
Ziggy, like the others, cursed softly when Lieutenant Winters approached.
"Fucking gooks," Hodge mumbled. He struggled to grab his gun and Ziggy quickly put on a dry shirt, and then both fell in line with the rest of the men, the other disputes forgotten as they marched into the jungle.
It got dark quickly. For the first few hours, there was sporadic fire in the middle distance. Then there was quiet, which was far more frightening. The silence was broken by the shrill and buzz of insects, which were allowed to bite because slapping them would make too much noise. An occasional rustle in the bushes made Ziggy tense up completely. He would wait for several long, motionless minutes; then, his heart would gradually start beating again. To his right, he could make out Rafferty and Hergenrader through a screen of branches, but he was afraid to look anywhere but straight ahead for very long.
Time passed. He was not sure how long, but exhaustion was setting in, along the tightened muscles of his neck and his back. He hadn't slept through the night since boot camp, and he was paying for it. *Are they advancing or retreating?* he wondered. He was starting to feel the weight of the gun on his shoulder. He fleetingly considered moving it for a few seconds, to shift in the grass, but didn't dare.
*How long will it be until it gets light out?*
He banished the thought from his mind; it only made him more tired. He found himself distracted by the sound of his own breathing, and forced himself back to concentration. He was alert; he was ready. He had been ready for hours, and he was not going to let his guard slip now.
The cicadas seemed to grow louder. Before he had time to decide if he was imagining it or not, he heard someone yelp: "Holy--" The shout was cut short by a blast of shooting, and then all hell broke loose.
They were coming fast and furious, knowing the terrain by heart. He realized they must have been moving closer, inch by inch, during the long period of waiting. Ahead of him, there was screaming -- some familiar voices distorted by terror; some alien voices in an alien language. He heard himself yelling too, but had no idea what, if anything, he was saying.
He pulled the trigger, absorbing the powerful kick of the assault rifle. The forest was lit by the broken flashes of automatic fire. Amidst the roaring noises and flickers in the darkness, it seemed as if he couldn't hear or see anything. There was nothing to do but shoot back in the general direction of the onslaught, and hold his ground, and with the sound of every shot his pulse seemed to stop.
From somewhere just ahead of him, he heard Lieutenant Winters' voice, screeching, "Back! Move! Move!" He moved backwards, as quickly and quietly as he could without lowering his weapon. He turned to the left slightly to circle a tree, and something caught his eye. In retrospect, he would never be able to remember what had given him pause in the middle of the madness. It couldn't have been anything more than a tiny motion. *Something wrong about the pattern of the shadows,* he thought, and froze in mid-step. There were a few seconds of strange semi-stillness, then something whizzed through the leaves near him, with a squeal. He fired, without thinking, almost as a reflex. He wasn't sure if he heard a thud in the bushes, and did not allow himself time to think about it. He swung around and aimed ahead of him, staying steady.
The night wore away, and the darkness in the sky gave way to a dull gray light. Keeping pace with the dawn, the intensity of the battle dropped off. By the time it was bright enough to see by, it was over.
The young man sat down on the ground and wiped the stinging sweat out of his eyes. He was grimy and worn out, and it seemed as if years had passed in the last few hours. He took a deep breath, held it for a few moments, and exhaled slowly. Hergenrader slung his gun to the ground, pushed through the tangled bushes, and dropped down at Ziggy's side. "Long goddamn night, huh?"
"You all right?"
"Got grazed, a little." Hergenrader turned slightly to show that his shoulder was bleeding. "Doesn't even hurt, just gotta clean it out. Rafferty caught the bullet."
The young man looked down. "Is he--"
"Got him in the arm, he's gonna be fine. Cried like a fuckin' little girl. You'd think he'd be relieved. They'll send him home."
"Probably hurt like hell, though."
"You know about anybody else?"
"Hodge might've gone down. Nobody knows where he is. Bennett either. Lieutenant's out lookin' for them. Everyone else, I don't know." Hergenrader shrugged. "You get any?"
"Gooks. You get any?"
"I must've hit a couple. Kept coming out of nowhere, like...." He frowned. "That game, where you hit the squirrels or whatever."
"Moles. Fuckin' A. Got a couple. Couldn't see to burn the one that got me, though." Hergenrader waved a hand unsteadily. "Somewhere over there."
All at once, he made the connection. "To the left?" Hergenrader nodded. Ziggy nodded back, thinking, *My God.*
Hergenrader got to his feet and made a path through the dense foliage. After a while, he returned, with a wry grin and a modified rifle that was not Army issue.
"Hot damn, Ziegler," he said, half jubilant and half bitter. "We're war heroes."
The young man said nothing. It seemed hard to breathe, suddenly, as if the moist air had suddenly sharpened. He glanced up at the sky, almost amused that it looked the same as it did in America, the same as it had the day before. He suppressed a laugh, lowered his head, and closed his eyes.
* * *
Toby opened his eyes slowly, and realized he was sweating and trembling. "Hmm?"
C.J. raised herself up on one elbow. "You sleeping there?"
She turned and reached to switch on the lamp. "I wasn't. I wasn't sleeping because you've kicked me about four times in the last...." As her eyes adjusted to the light, she looked at him and trailed off. "God, you look like hell."
He raised a hand to shield himself from the light. "Thanks."
She touched his arm gently. "No, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. It's just...." He sighed very softly. "A dream. An old dream. It's all right."
"You want to talk about it?"
He shook his head. "C.J., we have to be at work in what, two hours? Get some rest."
She studied him with concern. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes." He looked back at her. "Go back to sleep."
She hesitated, then turned the light off again. "Sometimes you make me crazy, you know," she murmured, settling herself under the covers.
Toby waited until her breathing was even again, then got up and sat on the edge of the bed, staring at nothing in the dark. He'd lived that day too many times in the last thirty years, always the same and always miserable. It wasn't something he chose to talk about; few people who hadn't known him as a teenager even knew.
The nightmare was fading, for the time being, but he knew he could always fall back into it. He glanced down at the woman beside him, slipping into dreams of her own.
*How can I tell her why I'm doing this?*
Though he was wide awake, he lay back and rested his head on the pillow. He gazed blankly at the ceiling, and waited for the morning.