A Long Time Passing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 25

Free Spirits

I finally sat down at my computer to write this story the day we buried Keith. Up until then I had no idea about what my next book would be about. By the time I arrived home that day it seemed obvious. The words were flooding my thoughts. As bizarre and strange as the story may seem, I thought it should be told.

It was also the night, after we buried Keith, I had the dream, nightmare, one last time before he let go of me, or maybe I let go of him. By this time, after hearing all the facts of his death, I understood but did not know why I was reliving the final moments of his life as he lived them. This enabled me to be more aware, and instead of fighting it, wishing for it to end, I went with the dream, looking for the things that were in the reports. This created a more detailed view than ever before. I could smell the jungle, the soil, and the smoke from the gunfire. This time, the pain in my chest and my right shoulder were more vivid.

" Holy smoke! Holy smoke! Holy smoke!" I kept saying as I heard the sound of the jets approaching above the sound of the automatic weapons fire. I heard the roar of the engines closing in on where I was lying, and there was the sound of bombs exploding close by. I tried to turn to look but I was unable to move. The explosions were followed by an acrid acid like smell even before the fire came into view to envelop everything a second later.

The heat seared my skin, as the fierce jets swooshed past me in the sky, having already released the deadly Napalm. Fire was consuming he entire world below. Towering palm trees swayed between me and the ground. It was an incredibly beautiful day.

I wasn't so high that I couldn't hear the advancing enemy screaming, once they realized their fate, as the fire reached them. I felt Keith, as he smiled broadly, and said, "You din't get me, you sons of bitches. I got you.'

It was then, I understood. In that final instant of his life, Keith let go his hold on me. I was no longer with him, as the Napalm rushed toward him, consuming the army that would have overrun their position.

As quick as he released me, I was able to view the events unfolding below me. I knew what was coming, and I couldn't turn away. It was loud as the fire boiled up, as it swallowed everything, and the jets thundered away.

It was then, I understood why I was there. AS the heat and the fire traveled toward him, Keith spoke his final words, as a mortal man.

" Tommy, I love you. Live well, my friend."

The heat of the gasoline bombs climbed up, almost to where I was in the sky, as it spread across the ground like boiling lava, igniting everything. My view of Keith, was obscured by fire.

Startled, awake, I sat up in my bed. I struggled not to scream. I knew where I was, and I knew where I'd been. It was no dream, but how could I have been there, and now, I was home, safe in my bed. I hadn't dreamed I was in the junglses of Vietnam. I was there.

It was a puzzle that I'd never solve. Keith had come back for a reason, and he'd left me know. I was no longer part of him, and he was no longer holding on to part of me, but how had he done it, and now, having done it, how did he let go of his hold on earthly considerations.

What I knew, my heart was beating so fast, I worried, I might have a heart attack. Keith had held onto me, until the instant he was about to die, that was clear. I had been with him. He held me fast, as if it was me about to die, and not him. He had a message for me, and until he delivered it, his spirit had lived among those who died with him in the fires of hell.

Keith had something to tell me. Once told, my life went on.

I eased myself out of bed, going down stairs, I brewed some tea, added honey and lemon, and sat at the kitchen table picturing Keith as he looked when we were boys. He'd always be a boy. I'd never viewed him as anything else. We'd been boys together, before he went off to Vietnam to die.

I loved Keith. People would say, "What do boys know of love?"

I loved Keith in a way I'd never allow myself to love another man. His loss was as real to me as if I'd lost my own heart. At the time it was distant, but no less real. In time I moved on.

Keith had returned to me in the oddest of ways. Because of how he appeared, it was easier for me. It was Keith, but it wasn't. I'd missed him in a way I'd never miss anyone else, but I managed to fall in love again, have a family, and become a successful writer.

I shut my mind off to the long ago love that ended ten thousand miles away. Not that love ever really ends, you simply put it away for those private times, when you can feel safe to bring it out. I'd been forced to take it out, look it over, and reexamine my feelings for Keith.

" I love you, too, Keith," I said.

" What did you say, Dear," Kathy said, as she came into the kitchen.

" Nothing. Just talking to myself."

" Bad dreams, hon?" Kathy asked, hugging me from behind.

" Just counting my lucky stars. I've got a wonderful life, Hon."

" You do. We do," she said. " What happened to the side of your face?" she asked, holding my chin to turn my head for inspection. "It looks like sunburn, but just on one side. Where'd you get sunburned."

" You wouldn't believe me if I told you," I answered.

I smiled and sipped my tea. It was a little cold for sunburn. It would probably be gone tomorrow.

Now, I had to figure out how to write this story, without sounding like I've gone around the bend. Who would believe it, if I wrote it?

That's a question that readers will have to answer.

This book is for the men whose names appear on the wall. It is for those who came home after answering their countries call. It's for those veterans on our streets who never could go home, and those in our hospitals that only partially came home. We owe each a great debt. Each of them is an American hero and they deserve to be cared for by a grateful nation that sent them off to war.

Honor the veterans from all of our wars.

Any similarity between this book and the characters in it to any one living or dead is purely coincidental.

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