A breath slowly escaped his lungs, Ash released his grip on what he originally thought was his Glock 9mm, but he now realized was a holstered steel tape measure. He wasn't licensed to carry anymore, so he typically didn't. He let his arm slowly lower to his side as he closed his eyes. Deliberately inhaling slowly, silently counting to ten, . The scents of blonde roast and espresso filled his mind and centered him.
Eight years away from any war zone and apparitions still haunt him. Eyes open again, the world returned to normal. No threats. No combat zone. Just passers-by; shoppers on a crowded small-town tourist street in Orion, Oregon. A town known for its big-game hunting cabins, as well as its boutiques and quaint scenery.
The reflection of the café window caught the silver lining the side of his head. Ash thought it made him look wiser, almost regal. The creases near his eyes and lips betrayed a man older than he actually was. You're too damn young to feel this old buddy, Ash thought. Despite multiple tours in hot arid deserts, he still couldn't hold a tan. He turned red, pealed, and turned white again. He enjoyed these mountains as it rarely got above 85 degrees in the heat of summer.
Movement from above, just outside the window caught his attention. The shade of a Basswood tree was crawling down the sidewalk for the days' last stretch. A yellow and orange leaf twirled down, landing on a coffee table on the empty patio.
A young college girl walked by outside, face glued to her screen like so many others. She bumped into an elderly homeless gentlemen but didn't look up, or give any indication to acknowledge the incident. The old man walked off mumbling to himself. A gray dust cloud hung around the girl's shoulders like a shawl, and riding the cloud was a small green frog with red eyes. Its legs disappeared into the mist, becoming one with it.
As she passed, the frog held Ash's gaze; head turning unnaturally backward. He shuddered, no matter how many times he saw them, they were still creepy. They weren't always frogs, and they weren't often cute. Even after eight years of seeing the various creatures crawling on people, they were sometimes terrifying.
He was coping with combination of Prazosin, Dr. Pepper, and Jack Daniels; and a guarded distance from his fellow man. It was dangerous to spend too much time talking anyone, he'd learned to shield his reactions to the dust clouds and companions that appeared and disappeared at will, but the reactions sudden appearances sometimes caused him to jump at the wrong point in the conversation.
To the best of his knowledge, nobody else could see the colorful dust clouds that wrapped people like a shawl or overcoat, nor the variety of creatures that accompanied some of them. Each person's cloud seemed to be colored by their mood or attitude. Not everyone had a creature companion, but many did. This insight was his unique gift, a prize brought home from overseas.
Not one to ignore possible danger, he reluctantly got back up and headed outside. After he exited the front door, he turned to the crowd. The man with the glasses followed from inside the coffee shop, turtleneck in tow. Turtleneck bumped into him. "Excuse me," the man said flatly but he kept walking.
A voice from the direction of the crowd was yelling something he couldn't quite hear. He could see the white hair of a man's head bobbing back and forth, "I know-- I know--- Shut up you!" the man kept repeating.
Ash wasn't going to get a good view from here, so he walked around the outside of the crowd, keeping his distance from actually touching anyone. The whisps of colorful dust rose and fell off each person. When people were close together like this the dust combined, grow even. He avoided getting near it if he could help it.
A small boy in blue and white overalls let go of his mother's hand and started walking across the street. Ash's fingers fidgeted with the edge of his shirt, eyes darting between the boy, the oblivious mother, and up and down the street. "Ma'am?" he tried to call, but his voice cracked and she didn't hear him.
Not wanting to be accused of trying to hurt or take the child, Ash waited to see if the mother would notice but a car turned the corner. Sprinting to the middle of the road he grabbed the toddler and moved him out of the way of the oncoming traffic. The car barely stopped, looking at the commotion rather than the road. The kid laughed loudly, as though it were a game. The mother turned and saw Ash with him, eyes wide. Then she turned and saw the car that had just passed. Her eyes darted to the ground and back to the child. He skin turned a shade whiter.
Ash walked back across the street, child in his arms. "Ma'am, you really ought to be more careful. He ran out into the road." He handed the child back to her.
"Oh my baby! Thank you so much," she replied and turned to the child. She wagged her finger in his face, "How dare you scare Mommy like that! No! You hold my hand!"
He shook his head and sighed. Sure - it's the kids fault. Crazy people. The child, now glued on his mother's hip, smiled at him over her shoulder. The rock façade Ash kept in place for adults melted a little in the presence of happy kids. Ash smiled back, stuck his tongue out, and made a silly face. The little boy laughed. Kids were easier to handle than adults. No expectations of proper behavior. They either didn't notice you were being odd, or better, they appreciated you for it.
From this vantage point, Ash got a better view of the man yelling. He was wearing a tattered suit, head and shoulders above the crowd.
(Left off here)
Ash made his way further around the crowd and found a clearing on the opposite side. He pushed past a few people at the edge of the building and stepped onto the sidewalk. The elderly man, the one the little girl bumped into earlier, was now standing on the bed of a pickup truck. A tattered brown dress coat, stained with years of unwashed use, hung over his thin skin like a cape. The coat may have been black in a former life. A scruffy white beard hid his gaunt features.
"Hey-- Stop it-- That's my truck you old idiot-- " a teenage boy yelled but stayed back.
Ash scanned the crowd for anyone to assist with the situation. The man with the glasses had managed to shove his way through on the other side of the crowd. Maybe that's Turtleneck's real job. Glasses had his eyes fixed on his tablet and not directly the scene, taking pictures no doubt, tourists. Several other's had their cameras on, taking live video. They always live behind their camera taking selfies and posting videos. Why can't people just be present, in the moment? Nobody seemed too interested in approaching the scene. Ash pulled out his flip-phone and pressed number one and held it a moment. I'm probably the last person on the planet without a smart phone, he thought. Orion PD displayed on the little screen, and he held it up to his ear.
"Yell-oh," his friend George answered.
"George. Ash. We need you down in front of the café. Frank, the old timer, he's gone totally off his rocker and he's causing property damage this time."
"I'll be right there," George replied. "See what you can do to keep him from hurting anyone."
"Heard," Ash said and closed the phone and put it in his pocket.
Frank stopped beating the truck top momentarily and lifted his eyes to the sky and screamed, "You always did love Mother best-- I know-- That's why-- You couldn't keep your mouth shut--". The rest of his words were unintelligible.
Ash turned his attention to the dust cloud rising up off Frank's shoulders. A creature emerged from the dust, only the top half visible. It bore some resemblance to a sloth but moved more quickly. It swayed from shoulder to shoulder, shouting in each ear, visibly agitated. Ash couldn't hear the creature, he never could, but it was obviously feeding the other side of the conversation Frank had been having.
Frank's conversation was going badly and he started beating his forehead into the roof of the truck several times before slowing to an unsteady stop. Blood poured down the old man's face from a gash in the left side of his temple. He grabbed his face and bowed his head and started sobbing.
At the site of blood, someone shouted "Careful! He might be diseased." The crowd responded in unison with several steps backward, widening the semi-circle now almost fully formed around the truck and building.
I guess it's up to me, Ash thought. "Frank," he said and took a step forward to see if he could coax the man off the bed of the truck. "It's alright Frank. It's me, the high-tech woosie you love talking to. Come on down buddy." Three feet from the bed of the truck, Ash raised and offered his hand.
Ash took the opening, kicked Frank in the chest and sent him sprawling backward. He struggled to his feet and half-fell forward as he punched Frank with a right-hook to the jaw. Frank spun back and fell to the sidewalk, unconscious. Ash fell beside him, one hand on his back and one hand on the ground. He took a deep breath, the skin on his throat burned. He reached to feel the man's neck for a pulse, still alive. Good.
A few quick swabs, and a band-aide or too was all he needed. "Want to file a report?" George asked as he finished with the bandages.
"Maybe later George, I'll let you know," Ash gave George the look they'd agreed on one day when they met for coffee after the Veteran's support group meeting. He was hoping George would leave it alone.
"Alright," George said and held his gaze a moment longer. He nodded as though he'd made up his mind and walked over to Frank. He turned over his shoulder, "But I want to see you tomorrow morning, you hear?"
Ash nodded, relieved to get away from the scene. So many people staring at him was making his skin crawl.
The two officers each grabbed one of Franks' arms and laid him in the back of the squad car. They didn't bother to belt him, body awkwardly sprawled across the back seat. The patrol car backed up and took off down the street.
"I'll be alright," Ash replied reaching for the bump growing on the back of his head.
"Brave or stupid," Ash chuckled. "Ow..." the laughter hurt his head.
"Your coffee spilled," Glasses observed. "Every do-gooder deserves a reward. Can I get you another?"
"Briar. Dr. Briar actually," the man replied.
Ash glanced back one last time, ensuring nobody followed him. He paused and listened for any sounds out of the ordinary, tires on the gravel, shuffling in the house, a branch breaking. Paranoia satisfied, he inserted the key, opened the door, and flipped the switch.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Schizophrenia and Medication for PTSD
By Darrell Wolfe
Storyteller | Creative | INFJ | Intellection | Ideation | Input | Learner | Achiever | Multipotentialite
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