Raw Man - A Serialized Novel by Fred Rivera

Fred Rivera has a powerful story of the Vietnam War, racism, and PTSD that needs to be shared with the world. As I am an ardent fan, I got his permission to submit the book in chapter form. Direct purchase available.

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4. Jimi in the Jungle

Tags: Vietnam, PTSD, Racism, Latino, Black, Charlie, Acid trip, Orange Sunshine, Claymore, Trip flare, Lost, Rain, Music, Jimi Hendrix

This chapter (4 of 22) alters the unreality of Fred and Herman’s situation. After dropping acid in the Vietnam Jungle, the two friends trip on the past, present, and getting back.

-Tiffany V.

IV

Jimi in the Jungle

 

Monday July, 28, 1969

 

The sun started dipping low behind the hills. Most of the track crews already had their guys out and back from setting up the night traps. Herman glanced at me with mischief on his face. “Ever heard of orange sunshine?”

“Yea, what about it?” I had dropped acid every Sunday at Fort Ord. Everyone had. It was the summer of 1969 and we were young men far away from home. My buddies back in the World would write to me about their fantastic acid trips. Back in sunny California my friends were enjoying life. They were taking pleasure in their youth with all that it encompassed. Fast cars, hippie chicks, free love and music. I was envious. “What you got?” I asked.

“Cal, we going tripping tonight.” Herman brought two tabs of acid out of the cellophane wrapper of his Kools. He put one under his tongue and handed the other one to me.

Without a thought I took it and said, “It’s Howdy Doody time.” We walked out into the night together.

I looked into Herman’s eyes and they were fearless. Bright, shiny, and bold as love. We walked in the warm night air and talked.

We talked about his father, how he was murdered when Herman was a kid. He told me about how he grew up on the streets of Detroit. Poor, lonely, and sometimes bitter, he managed to survive on his own. He told me that he learned to drive by stealing cars, learned to read by reading the Detroit Free Press in juvenile hall. I was amazed at the story of his youth. I had had a wonderful childhood. My mom was the den mother of my Cub Scout troop. My father coached Little League. I was loved by my family. He had none.

“Cal,” he slowed down. “You a brother to me. I mean, you know, we all brothers out here, but you my main man.”

“Main man?” I mean, I had been man, even my man, but never main man. I thought about this for a moment.

“Main man it is.”

We continued to walk. Dusk was falling as fast as we were coming on to the acid. I could feel the blood running through my veins and the ungodly weight of my jungle boots. I looked down to the end of my legs and saw two of the ugliest monsters I had ever seen. The green and black boots against the red clay were so vivid. They were alive. I stopped in my tracks.

“What?” Herman pulled up alongside of me. He looked like a shadow. His black face stared at me with the sparkle missing from his eyes. He bent over and leaned on his right knee and in a quiet voice asked, “What’s wrong Cal?”

“Herman, I can’t walk.” The boots seemed like lead weights. I was getting scared. I had heard of people having bad trips and flipping out. Had people become paralyzed because of bad acid? What was going on? A small monkey ran across our path. I became a monkey. I stared down at my feet again. I had monkey feet! “I can’t move, man.” I felt petrified.

“OK, OK, sit down. What’s wrong? You sprain an ankle? Let’s rest.” Herman sat down.

I sat next to him and looked at my boots again. They were crying now. Howling, as a matter of fact. They were screaming at me. Herman lit a Kool and gave it to me. He lit one for himself. I reached over and unlaced my boots. First my left and then my right, and then I tugged and pulled those monsters off my feet. I smiled at Herman much like the young Vietnamese boy had smiled at me. While I had rejected that young man’s gaze, Herman returned my smile. I felt a warmth spread all over me. I lay on my back and wiggled my feet in the air. I could move my feet again.

“Man, what the fuck wrong with you? You tripping, Fred?” Herman started laughing and lay beside me. We had no idea of how far we had wandered away from the troop. At that moment we didn’t care. Summer nights in Vietnam are beautiful, and the hot humid air sent our minds spinning until we were lost in another world. We let our heads be comforted on the soft mounds of dirt. We wrapped leaves over our bodies and entered into a world of peace and splendor. The lush dark green growth of the jungle’s flora seemed to offer safety from the night.

The next thing we knew, we’re covered by the crawling jungle. Scorpions, bugs of all shapes and sizes, and varied species of worms crept over us in silence. First I heard a faint gasp, then an utter of profanity, and then the full blown screams of the two man-children, Herman and Fred. The soft mounds of dirt that we used for our pillows were actually ant hills. Red ants, to be exact. We called them fire ants because their bite burned with such an awful intensity.

“Son of a bitch!” Herman jumped up and started flinging his arms in the air. He ripped his shirt off over his head and started slapping his face and chest. “Son of a bitch!” The ants crawled all over his face and neck. Huge welts started popping up on his forehead. I jumped on him as I would a man on fire. He was burning to death in front of me.

“Herman! Herman!”

My right hand ignited into a ball of fire. His face melted and my chest exploded. The earth opened up and shook with a mighty force that dropped us to our knees. I grabbed his face and rubbed it in the dirt. He stuck my burning hand into the ground and we looked up to see every particle of air, every molecule floating in a sea of red. We were tripping.

We fell back to the ground laughing.

“You OK?” I asked.

“Fine as dirt.” Herman stood up and put his shirt back on after we somehow had managed to knock off all the ants and bugs. He looked at me with utter amazement. Then he looked down at my feet. “You know,” he said, “your feet are invisible.”

“What?”

“Your feet. I can’t see them. You invisible.” Herman slipped his shirt back off. We were so high that we thought if we could take our uniforms off, we would become invisible and be able to find the troop and sneak back in without getting caught by either side. We stripped naked and stood there under the quarter moon.

“Hey, Freddie Boy, where are you?” Herman was giggling. He extended his arms out and stumbled about like a blind man looking for me. I brushed alongside of him and fell to the jungle floor, laughing hysterically. We were having a great time. It was just the two of us playing blind man’s bluff in the middle of the night. We had been making quite a ruckus with all the screaming and yelling. Now our laughter seemed to carry out into the night like a rocket launched deep into enemy territory. I stopped laughing and moving about.

The enemy!

“Herman!” I said in a lucid moment. “Where the fuck you think we’re at? We’ve been out here for more than three hours. Where’s the troop? They must be looking for us.”

We got dressed in a hurry. Herman looked up into the night sky for any sign of C Troop. Maybe we would see a green flare, maybe a smoke grenade. There was nothing but millions of tiny stars dotting the blackness. It turned cold at once. I was losing my high fast and butterflies were fluttering in my stomach. Fear was growing steadily in my body.

We still had our Claymores and trip-flares. We each had our M-16s draped around our shoulders. We were not carrying any extra ammunition or water canteens. We were only supposed to go a few hundred meters beyond the perimeter and get our asses back as soon as possible. The drugs had distorted our perception of time and space. We simultaneously realized that we were lost. Horror and dread set in immediately.

“Shhh!” I said.

Herman sat upright and started laughing and yelling, “Hello, hello! Is anybody out there?”    

Fuck! “Shut the fuck up, man!” Half whisper, half shout.

He looked at me with the face of a child and scrunched down holding his private parts, his face withering in pain. He looked like he was about to cry.

“I need to go, I need to go! I can’t hold it anymore! I got to go now!” he yelled.

I jumped on him again, not to save him from a burning ant death, but to kill him. I slapped my left hand over his mouth and used my right hand to hold his face down.

“God damn it, Herman, shut the fuck up!” I looked down to see that he had wet his pants. He was glaring at me with anger in his face. “You don’t have to be so pissed off,” I said.

We started laughing uncontrollably again. It’s the funny thing about acid. One moment can be so serious and the next moment completely insane. There still was the matter of us being lost in enemy territory and the fact that no one in C Troop appeared to be looking for us. This brought us both back to the dismal reality that we could be stuck here all night.

Herman finally stopped laughing long enough to put together one thought. “OK, let’s think about this.”

“Let’s head back the way we came in,” I said.

“We don’t know where we come in, Cal.”

“The sun was over our left shoulder. It set over that hill right there.”

“We are in a fucking valley. There are hills everywhere.

How can you be sure which hill the sun set over?”

“Our left shoulder, man, it was our left shoulder. Didn’t you notice?” I was getting exasperated.

“Your left shoulder is dependent on the direction you are walking. My left shoulder is facing that hill. Yours is facing another.” We stood facing each other. He pointed in both directions, crossing his arms, like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

“But the sun was over our left shoulders, so that means we were walking north. Let’s head back south.” This was making sense to me now. I was getting my bearings.

“You a fucking compass? How do you know which way is south? You a Boy Scout?” Herman wasn’t laughing anymore. He had a serious frown going. “Let’s head back toward that hill. I think that’s the way we came in. We can get our point of reference at the crest. Let’s go.”

I slipped my boots back on and we went. It was a fast crash. A high-killer. Reality was bringing us down fast and my boots became just footwear again. Necessary objects needed to carry me out of this nightmare. Herman had a look of seriousness about him that I had never seen before. The look on his face unnerved me as he moved with newfound purpose. Every tree and bush looked the same to me. Every animal trail, every tree stump and every inch of that red clay floor looked as virgin and untouched as the surface of the moon above us. Man had landed on the moon just the month before, and here we were walking on alien territory trying to find our way home.

“Shit!” Herman slowed and turned to me. I think it was mostly the acid but I experienced all of Herman’s complexity that night. I saw his strength and leadership capability. I laughed at his twisted sense of humor. I saw the street smart problem solver in him. Now I witnessed a dejected young man. I sat next to him.

“Let’s try to get some sleep.” I was getting tired and my feet were sore. God knows how far we had walked. The temperature had dropped a good ten degrees and the moon hid behind some clouds. Not rain, please not rain.

Of course it started to rain. Misery begot misery. It was our own fault that we were in this predicament and we knew it. Shit. At that moment I was prepared for the worst. I knew that Charlie would find us before C Troop did. We had been so loud and careless and now we were ready to accept the consequences of our actions. I reached into my rucksack and pulled Bobby Haynes’ .45 out and waved it in the air.

“Whatcha doing with that, Cal?” Herman asked calmly.

“I lifted it off Bobby as he slept. You know I always had a thing for that gun.” Weapons in the field were easy enough to get but I wanted Bobby’s. I lowered it to my side and fumbled with it. I turned it over in my hand and ejected the clip. It held six bullets. I slid the clip back in and chambered a round.

Herman looked at me. “You got a crazy look in your eyes, nigger,” he muttered.

“You know, just in case,” I said. “Yeah, just in case.”

Herman looked sad, his eyes slowly turning red and his face, already black as coal, seemed to take on an even darker tone.

“Give me the fuckin’ gun. You don’t have it in you, Cal.”

I don’t know what I had in me right then. I was empty inside. Jim Gaines’ face appeared to me and I fought back a scream. What the fuck had we done? Of course I didn’t have it in me to kill ourselves. We had all heard stories of the NVA torturing their prisoners. We had been drilled never to be taken captive. I have never felt the deep emptiness and desperation as I did right then. I thought of my mother.

Do all dying men think of their mother? Clementi had struggled to keep Jim alive. Everyone that I knew had that survival instinct in him. Even the guy I killed had it. I saw it in his eyes. It wasn’t fear that I saw; I now realized this. It was the survival instinct. That’s why he ran so hard. That’s why he turned and raised his gun before I shot him. No, we were not going to give up hope just because we were tripping and lost. We would find our way out of this mess and have a good laugh over it back with the troop.

“…Purple Haze, all in my eyes…” That musical refrain hit my heart. It meant that we were no longer lost in the jungle with NVA and Vietcong surrounding us at every step. We walked from behind a hedge into a clearing to the scene of three Blackhorse troopers kicking it back in worn lawn chairs listening to Jimi Hendrix on a cassette tape player. They were wasted on good smoke and were passing around cans of Budweiser. We introduced ourselves; the self-appointed leader of that little band of merry men was Darwin Anderson.

“My friends call me Dizzy,” he boasted. His eyes were glassy and he had one lazy eye that jetted out to the left at a slight degree, giving him the appearance of being faintly cross eyed. As if reading my mind he said, “Don’t let the lazy eye fool you. I’m a hell of a shot. I qualified as expert on the shooting range in AIT. This here is Jenkins and the guy with his head in the bucket is Terrance Love. Everyone calls him Terry. Where did you guys come from? I thought we had this spot all to ourselves.”

“I’m Fred and this is Herman,” I spoke up. “We had some acid and we dropped it last night.”

“Wow! That’s pretty heavy. How was it, or should I say, how is it?”

“We’re crashing pretty hard. Lucky for us we ran into you dudes. What troop you in?”

“I know you, Fred. They call you Cal. We are from C Troop, Third Platoon.”

“Can you take us in?” I asked.

Dizzy looked us up and down and said, “Had enough on the outside? Sure, we can take you in.”

We followed our new friends through a maze of overgrown hedges and little animal trails. We came into the perimeter right in front of Olgovey’s track. No one was around and we just sort of slipped back behind our lines. Surprisingly, no one was looking for us and Herman and I made a beeline to Charlie Three-Four. Also a surprise, Bobby Haynes never made a big deal out of us disappearing for a night. It was our secret and we never had a hard time looking each other in the eye and talking about everything under the sun. Everything that is, except the night that Fred and Herman went missing.

 

***   ***   ***

This is Fred’s raw world, characters and setting unadorned but for the layer of racism, horror and war. It stinks of it, and yet you will not put it down. You will not want to. It is for this reason that Raw Man is a Pulitzer Prize nominee, and has already received the Isabel Allende Mariposa Award for Best New Fiction at the International Latino Book Award.

If you would rather not wait for the next installment, you may purchase a signed copy of Raw Man and for 19.95, go to http://rawmanthebook.com/buy-the-book/. For the e-book version (only 5.95), go to http://awordwithyoupress.com/store/raw-man/.

 

This chapter submission is brought to you by:

A Word With You Press

Publishers & Purveyors of Fine Stories in the Digital Age


 

 

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