Snakes and Pills

187 - down tide

The small landing craft heaved in the choppy early-morning waves. Surprisingly, Scott didn't feel seasick as many of the others in his company did. "One minute!" the steerer called out through a splash of ocean mist.

His stomach was slightly churning, regardless. He imagined that everyone onboard knew what they were up against. The odds of coming out of this alive were not good. Even if he survived, he knew that some of those standing around him would not. Hell, all of them might end up dead.

Their training had been blissfully ignorant on the topic of facing their own mortality. He understood why--they didn't want them to think about death. He tried not to. But as much as he wanted to direct his consciousness toward readying himself for what was coming, he kept going back to the sinking realization that he now might have less than a minute of life left.

In moments like these, some men would turn to their god. A belief that his grace would carry them through the coming trial unscathed. For others, their own egos might suffice. A supreme, if misguided, confidence that death was simply something that would not and could not befall them.

Scott dug deep inside himself, trying to find these feelings or something like them. All he found was his mother.

When he was nine years old, Scott returned home on a sunny afternoon in a discouraged state. He had just finished playing a disastrous game of baseball with the neighborhood boys. Dropped balls, strikeouts, and other errors which had caused his team to narrowly lose the game.

Children could be ruthlessly honest, and his teammates blamed him to his face. They forced him to walk home by himself, and along the way, he was accosted by two bullies from school. They roughed him up and depleted him of his pocket change.

Walking up the steps to his home, he tripped.

He found his mother seated at the dining room table. The redness around her nose and eyes, along with the crumpled up tissue in her hands, told him that she had been crying. He didn't know why.

His mother listened to him recount his arduous afternoon. She showed little empathy, her emotions already spent on whatever she had been crying about before he found her. She patted her son on the head lightly, the only physical response she could muster.

"It doesn't surprise me," she said, weakly.

"It doesn't?" young Scott asked.

"Our family has always had bad luck," she explained. "Your grandfather, his father before him, and now us. You. I'm sorry."

The curse was a heavy burden to place upon a nine year-old child, and unfortunately, it took hold quickly. As Scott aged, his mother's prophecy continuously fulfilled itself. Her words hung like a black cloud over him, seemingly influencing every event in his life.

"Thirty seconds!" the steerer called out, pulling his thoughts back to the present. The landing crafts ahead of them were already reaching the beachhead, and the sound of heavy machine gun fire and artillery filled the air.

Scott stared at the dark gray gate in front of him. The sheet of metal was all that stood between him and enemy fire. Soon, the gate would fall forward, forming a ramp for them to charge out upon.

Even his position at the front of the line was the result of the family curse. The soldiers had drawn lots, and as always, he got the short one.

"Ten seconds!" came the final warning from the steerer. He shouted at the top of his lungs, fighting to make himself heard over the cacophony of war. The men readied themselves.

One way or another, the black cloud would leave him today. Scott stared forward. Suddenly, the boat's forward motion stopped, and the ramp dropped down into the sea and sand.


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