The Long Walk Back Home, Chapter Nine

Chris left the Olsen house and drove straight to Mercy Hospital.  The doctor at the hospital’s Emergency Room mercifully numbed Chris’ head as soon as he saw the red and ragged tear stitched together with fishing line.  “You sat in a chair while a guy sewed you up with this?

“Yes sir.  It was the best of a couple of bad options.”

“Well, you’ve got huevos, my friend.  I’m a Korean War vet, but this is something that I’ve never seen before.”

He removed the fishing line and pulled the edges of the laceration together as neatly as he could after irrigating it thoroughly.  The thin silk sutures were a welcome substitute for the much thicker fishing line that now lay in bloody pieces on a stainless steel tray.

“This will leave a pretty vivid scar” the doctor told him, “but you can think of it as an interest feature.”

“I won’t think about it at all if I can help it” Chris replied.  “I’ll start trying to forget this as soon as I can.”

“Well, just remember to take that Doxycycline for the next five days.  That jury-rigged job was just about to explode on you as it is.  And here.”  He handed a second piece of paper over to Chris.  “You’ll probably want to take this too.  It’s for Darvon.  You may want to stud this thing out, but if you don’t like pain this is the stuff you want.  And keep out of the sun until you’re through with the antibiotics, or you could get a nasty burn.”

Chris thanked the doctor, took his two prescription slips and drove to the White Cross pharmacy on University.  He waited for about fifteen minutes while the pharmacist filled his order, looking at the cheap western and romance novels at the book counter, and then thumbing through a Popular Mechanics magazine until his prescriptions were ready.  Chris paid for the medicines and then drove home, had a beer with his brother who was happy to take a break from his studies, took two Darvon capsules and crawled into a warm and comfortable bed.

He fell instantly asleep, partly because of the Darvon but mostly because of exhaustion from the exertions of the last two days.  He had learned to fall asleep quickly in Vietnam, finding that the fifteen or twenty minutes of sleep that you got during a lull in the walking or a lull in the fighting were all that you could expect to get for – – nobody knew how long.  Chris did so tonight, and in the dark, still hours of the night he found himself once again in the jungles of Vietnam.

The scene was not familiar; he didn’t know which particular valley he sat in, resting under a tree.  And he didn’t know the names or numbers of the hills surrounded the valley, or if they even had names at all.  They all looked the same.  But he knew when the bullets began to rip into his platoon that it was going to be bad.

Men began to drop everywhere around him.  A soldier that he did not recognize standing about five feet away from him, was hit in the head.  His head exploded like a watermelon, spraying Chris and the jungle with brains and blood.  Chris dug in behind the sandbag bunker that hadn’t been there a moment ago and began to return fire, aiming at nothing in particular but instead spraying the whole jungle which seemed to have come alive and was trying to kill him.

 

Chris’ rage built as the volume of fire increased, and he was almost too enveloped with fury to hear the sound of a piano which began to cut through the cacophony of gunfire and explosions.  He did hear it, however, and when he turned in the direction from which it was coming he saw Tom in a clean, starched uniform, without weapon, helmet, or flak jacket, grinning and playing some kind of classical-sounding music.

“Get down!” he screamed.  “Get down, dammit!  What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Tom seemed to be unaware of the danger.  He finished the piece that he was playing, arose from the piano bench and raised the seat, seemingly looking through books and sheets of music for something else to play.  “Get down!” Chris screamed again.  He wanted to run to Tom and tackle him but his legs didn’t work; all they allowed him to do was to stand up, which made him a perfect target.

Chris’ battle fury now turned into terror.  Men were dying all around him with heads blown off, entrails strewn among the jungle bushes, crying and groaning for help, for their mother, their wife, or God to help them.  Chris knew that in an instant he would see Tom die and there was not one thing that he could do to prevent it.  That helplessness and terror caused Chris to do what he had never done before; he got up and ran from a fight.

He wasn’t going to be able to save Tom, but he wasn’t going to stay and watch him die.  Chris rose from behind the sandbags, threw down his rifle and began to run from the fight.  The fight, however, would have none of that.  The faster Chris ran, the louder and closer the battle sounded, until at last it sounded like the footsteps of a gigantic robot firing a thousand machine guns at the same time.

Chris looked back and saw that the footsteps belonged to the three punks that had jumped him and Calvin at Sadie’s Cafe.  He knew that it was them, but they were much larger now.  Their eyes glowed red and were set in dark circles.  Their lips were black, and framed bloody red teeth that were set in grimaces of rage.

The three figures’ arms were large, long and hairy, and ended with hands that were abnormally, cartoonishly large.  Those hands would open, showing triangular, pointed fingernails that seemed to be made of steel, and then close into fists that resembled the mallets that were used in carnivals to slam down on a platform and hopefully project a metal striker upwards to hit a bell.  Chris knew that those ghoulish pursuers intended to use their nails to rip the flesh from his bones and then pound the bones into dust with their sledge-like fists, and he ran for his life.

Ahead of him he saw a gate that stretched across a road.  Fences ran from either side of the gate into infinity, and he knew that safety could be found on the other side.  He hit the gate and saw that it could be opened from the other side, and that Calvin was standing there.  “Open the gate!” he cried, but Calvin did not seem to hear him.  “Open the gate!” he repeated, with hysteria overtaking him.  The three monstrous figures had to be nearly upon him by now but Calvin still did not seem to hear.  Chris continued to scream at Calvin while swinging his right arm behind him, hoping that somehow this action would ward off the attackers that he was too terrified to turn his head and look at.

“Calvin!  Calvin!”

“Chris.  Chris”  Come on, wake up.”

Chris heard the voice and felt the feathery touch of a hand on his ankle.  At last he turned to fight his pursuers to the death.  He spun and struck out, striking only air.  The bright sunshine of the jungle scene switched instantly to dim light.  Chris took another wild swing and then bolted upright  into a sitting position in his bed.

“Chris, you OK buddy?  Wake up.  It’s Chuck.”

Chris sat silently on the bed, his heart racing madly and every nerve alive and tingling.  He looked at the figure, softly outlined by the dim light, that was standing a short distance from his feet.  “Chris” the figure said again.  “It’s all right.  It was a dream.”

The reality that he had just awoken from a nightmare flooded into Chris’ consciousness and, with a moan that escaped involuntarily from his lips, he collapsed back onto his pillow.

“Chris” his brother said once again.  “It’s OK buddy.  It was just a bad dream.  You’re here at home.  It’s all right.”

Chris had by this time returned to his senses and sought to reassure his brother.  “Yeah Chuck.  I’m all right.  That was just one hell of a bad dream.  Thanks for waking me up.  I didn’t hit you, did I?”

“No, I was ready for that.  My friend Vic Durousier’s dad was in the war.  He had to wake him up a few times, and got clipped the first time.  I remembered him telling me that.”

“Good” Chris replied, and then he heard footsteps in the hall.  The door opened and Chris’ father, with Mrs. Pierson behind him, asked if everything was all right.

“It’s OK” Chuck told them.  “Chris had a bad dream.  We’ve got it covered in here.”  Mr. Pierson asked if there was anything he could do and Chris assured them that nothing was needed, so they shuffled back to their bedroom.  Chuck then stepped forward and placed a hand on Chris’ shoulder.  “I can stay up for awhile with you if you need it” he said.

“Thanks man” Chris replied.  “I’m cool.  I think maybe that Darvon did a number on me.”

“Maybe” Chuck replied.

“Naw.  It’s cool.  Thanks for waking me up.”

“No problem.  You looked like you needed it.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

It took Chris a little more than twenty minutes to go back to sleep.  He could feel a low, constant throb in the side of his head, so he got up and took two more Darvon capsules.  “I’ll take my chances on another nightmare” he thought.  Soon, he was fast asleep again and his dreams, if he had any more that night, were of an unspectacular nature.

The next morning he was up early in spite of his interrupted sleep, and having coffee with his father.  Vernon Pierson did not work on Sunday but it was his habit to be up early and he saw no reason to change that on a weekend.  They sat at the table and Chris told his father in more detail what had happened out in the county.  His father grew angry about the attack, and felt like Chris should be  going to law enforcement and filing a complaint instead of running from it.

“But Dad.  Calvin says that it would do no good.  He says that the deck is stacked against Indians out there, and that it would be assumed by the police and by any jury that he and I had started the whole thing.”

“That’s nonsense.  People can’t just jump on you for no reason.  We have laws in this country.”

“Yeah, but there was a restaurant full of people who didn’t look like they appreciated us being there.  We waited a lot longer than anyone else in that place to get served, and Calvin was careful to inspect his food for spit before he ate it.  Calvin says that those laws don’t seem to apply the same to Indians as they do to other people.  Calvin’s lived that stuff long enough to know that it’s real, and I saw it too.”

“Well, I think that your friend might be over-sensitive.  Those are good people out there; people like from where I came from.  They can be rough, but they’re fair.  I can’t believe that they would support people who attacked you simply because your friend is an Indian.  We have laws in this country and they apply to everyone.”

Chris thought about his father’s words for a few moments and then decided that the conversation did not need to continue in that direction any longer.  They finished their coffee and talked about other things.  At length, Mr. Pierson said that he had projects outside to get busy with and left the table.

He stayed at the table and tried to decide what to do with himself.  It was now seven o’clock  and he could expect his mother and brother to be getting up at any moment.  He would have his breakfast with them, which would take him to nearly eight thirty.  And then what?

Chris was tired of explaining his damaged face, and the doctor had warned him to stay out of the sun for a few days because the antibiotics made him susceptible to sunburn.  Well, that didn’t mean he had to stay indoors; it only meant don’t linger in the sun.  So, he could go outdoors if he chose as long as he was careful.

And do what?  Chris felt restless and agitated, and while part of it was due to the need to lay low and heal, the majority of his unease arose from the different views that his father held on what Chris had experienced at that roadside cafe.  Calvin had told him about the world as he saw it and Chris had paid little attention to him; in the same way as his father had just discounted Chris’ story.

He had seen the waitress dragging her feet before serving them, had heard the comments by the three men and seen the sideways glances of some of the other customers.  He had also felt the impact of a fist against his head and still saw and felt the results of later blows.  His father’s arguments couldn’t explain those away.

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of shuffling feet coming down the hallway, and Mrs. Pierson quickly appeared through the doorway into the kitchen.  She came up to her son and peered into his face and said that he looked better already, then asked what he would like for breakfast.  He thanked her for the lie about his face and replied that he would love to have her biscuits and gravy.  She hurried to begin work on what would soon resemble a king’s breakfast.

After the meal Chris volunteered to help with the clean-up.  Mr. Pierson returned to a project of some sort in the garage and Chuck left to join friends at the Windansea Beach for some surfing.  “Windansea my ass” Chris had said.  “You’re going to Black’s Beach for sure.”

“Yeah, Black’s has better scenery, but it’s too long of a walk while carrying a board.”  Black’s Beach was the nude beach that was accessed only with difficulty down a long road that was usually closed to motor vehicle traffic, or down winding paths that criss-crossed the crumbling cliffs that towered over the beach.  Mrs. Pierson pretended to not know anything about what her kids were discussing.

When it was just the two of them though, with Chris washing and his mother drying dishes, he took up the conversation that he had held with his father earlier.  “What do you think Mom?  Do you believe that my friend would get a fair shake if he went to the law about what happened?  Or me for that matter?”

His mother didn’t hesitate to answer.  “No, I don’t suppose that he would.  He probably has a lot of experience behind his opinion.  I think that I would respect that experience.”

“Well, Dad doesn’t see it that way.”

“I guess your father has had different experiences than has your friend.  Or me, as far as that goes.  His parents came to Kansas from Illinois and they settled far from any reservations.  My family moved to Kansas from South Dakota, where there was plenty of exposure to reservations and the Indians who lived on or around them.  Most white people had the same view of Indians that you ran into the other night.  Others were aware of how wrong that view was, but they were in a pretty small minority.  My parents were in that minority.

They came to Kansas hoping that it would be a little warmer and a little wetter than South Dakota, but it was neither.  I met your father and we got married there, and then when the Dust Bowl hit us we packed up whatever we could carry and came out here to escape it, and we did pretty good for ourselves.  I still remember the way that the Indians were treated in South Dakota though, and I can see why your friend would believe that the law would not be his friend in this case.”

“That stinks, Mom.  There’s no way a person should be treated like that”  Chris said with some heat.

“No, they shouldn’t, but it happens.  That’s just how it is.  If you want to go to the law I would support you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it backfires on you.

They finished the dishes and Chris was left to decide what he would do that day.  He sat in a chair in the living room and stared at the blank television, and then out a window.  After a while he decided to call Calvin.  He went to the telephone at the end of the hall and dialed Calvin’s mother’s number and after eight rings hung up.

He sat in the chair facing the mirror that hung over the half-table upon which the black rotary telephone rested.  Chris examined his face in that mirror and decided that his mother may have been right.  The swelling around his eye had noticeably receded and the much more professional job of stitchwork in the gash was a definate improvement over Calvin’s improvisation.  “I think that Pam would – – -.”

“Pam!  Oh, crap!” Chris thought.  “I promised to call Pam and report on my visit to the emergency room!”  He dug through the papers in the waste can under the table, looking for the scrap of paper with Pam’s number.  The can was small and he found it right away.  After writing her number into the address book on the table he dialed it.  Eight rings and no answer.  He was putting the receiver down when he heard a voice on the other end.

“Hello.”  It was a male voice.

“Hello.  Is this Mr. Olsen?”  Chris asked.

“Yes it is.  And who is calling?”

“My name’s Chris Pierson.  I was at your house yesterday afternoon to see Pam and Jackie.”

“Oh, yes.  Of course.  I’m guessing that you would like to speak with Jackie?”

“Uh, actually I promised to call Pam.  I was supposed to call her last night but I – – -.”  Chris hesitated to say that he had forgotten to call, so her improvised.  “I got home late and just went straight to bed.  I was hoping to catch up with her today.”

“Ah, yes.  The girls were discussing your injuries after you left.  I have to tell you, young man, that I’ve never in my life heard of a wound sewn with fishing line.  I think that I would have forgotten to call too if I had been in your shoes.  How are you this morning, son?”

“Much better, sir.  Thank you”  Chris said, and he chuckled when he caught Mr. Olsen’s sly suggestion that he had guessed about Chris’ forgetting to call.  “Is Pam available to talk then?”

“I’m sorry, but no.  The family is at church.  I’ve got a bit of a cold and don’t feel like sharing it.  I expect them to be home after twelve though.  We usually get home about then.  Would you like to leave a message?”

“Yes, please.  Just tell her that I feel fine today, and that I think things are beginning to heal up a little.  And also that I’ll call sometime after twelve thirty, if that’s OK.”

“We usually have lunch when we get home, so maybe you should make it closer to one.  I know that she wants to hear from you, so I’m sure that you shouldn’t have to wait much later than that.”

“OK sir.  That would be great.  Thank you.”

Chris hung up the phone and then realized that Calvin was probably in church too.  He wanted to speak to his friend about a possible meeting with the girls before he spoke to Pam, but he found the thought of waiting until after making contact with him to call Pam to unpalatable to accept.  So with three hours to go until one o’clock and nothing to do, Chris decided to go into the garage and see if he could help his father with whatever he was doing.

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