The Flask


1. _

He was pulled, disoriented and without focus, from the dark depths of blissful unconsciousness by a series of explosions that rocked the Earth itself.  The succession of monstrous blasts left his ears with a shrill ringing and a dull ache, and the tremors that followed after the initial booms forced his body flat against the sodden ground, eliciting whimpers of distress from an aching throat.  Only the distant wails of bullets from sputtering rifles and the harsh, choppy sounds of the Vietnamese language pierced the heavy silence that followed.  There were no friendly voices, no intonations in English that gave him hope that his platoon was still around-- or alive.  The American soldier, body pressed in fear against enemy soil, was completely and utterly alone with no weapon and a rapidly dwindling hope of returning to his family.  For the first time in his life-- a life spent living in youthful delusions of indestructibility-- he was… terrified.  


            The first thing he noticed as the fog of confusion lifted was the excruciating agony that rippled up and down his body and came in waves, each more painful than the last.  Fire bloomed in his chest at each breath, possible evidence that his ribs were laced with intricate cracks from the earlier blast; it was possible that some were broken altogether.  His leg was completely shredded at worst and horribly broken at best, given that he could feel the pearly bone poking through his torn skin and the sticky sensation of Army issue pants clinging to his flesh from the drying blood.  Dull aches behind each of his eyes worried him that even if he were to open them, he wouldn’t be able to see anything other than endless black.  He didn’t dare to try and kept them firmly shut; he’d been too close to the explosion and he’d seen too many corneal burns for any sort of hope to spark in his chest.  When he’d been caught up in the explosion, he’d taken extensive damage that left him helpless-- and he’d been the farthest from the blast so he had little hope that his companions were even still breathing.


            Burned and broken fingers reached out to touch the ground underneath him, searching for something to anchor himself to.  The situation didn’t seem real, couldn’t be real because things like that didn’t happen to him, his friends.  Fingers grazed something far too soft to be the rot-rife ground with dead plants and animals and water that was Vietnam’s calling card.  The individual pads of the fingers curled into the camo patterned Army issue jacket and a sob wrenched itself from his constricted throat.  He’d been laying on the bodies of his fallen brothers.  It isn’t real, his mind screamed vehemently, ‘There’s no way this can be real!’  But it was real and the thought was overwhelming, all consuming, terrifying.


         The soldier needed something familiar, something to ground him when it seemed that all hope was lost, something that reminded him exactly what he was fighting for.  He felt for an item in his breast pocket and cried out in distress when his shredded fingertips didn’t meet with cool metal.  The groping movements at the ground increased in fervor.  Charred flesh of friends and brothers gave away to moist dirt and decaying underbrush as he scuffled around, desperately searching for his treasure.  Fingers closed around something cool, laced with intricate swirls and designs that the soldier could picture perfectly clearly in his mind’s eye, though he could not open his physical ones.


            The flask was one that’d been passed down from his World War One veteran Grandfather, to his veteran son, then to the soldier himself and seemed to radiate the strong will of the past generations of his family and the patriotic spirit of every man that had ever touched it.  The pain of his body receded as he gripped the silver alcohol flask tightly in his sweaty, dirty palms, receding to the point of almost nonexistence because of the beautiful piece of metal.  His fingers reacquainted themselves with the decorative surface as it was pulled close to his body, against his shattered ribs.  Something caught his fingers: there was a large piece of metal sticking out of one of the sides, slightly hot to the touch and brutally sharp.  The flask had taken shrapnel for him!  The flask had been in his breast pocket when a bomb detonated near his platoon, showering them with serrated, hot metal.  Had it not been for his father’s flask, he would’ve been hit in the heart and met his end.  There’s hope, his mind screamed at him.  The soldier curled around his good luck charm and began sobbing, overwhelmed by the situation, cries a mangled mix of relief and utter disbelief and horror.  Even as his cries died down and he felt his energy slipping away from him, he thought he heard the sound of men calling out in English.

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