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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Distortion - Street Noise - Scene One Rewrite - In Progress...

A man in black rushed behind a gray Chevy Suburban across the street. Theron "Ash" Ashland spotted him through the window of The Grounded Café while waiting for his morning Java Chip Frappe'. Wait, was he wearing combat gear?
Ice-shards tore down his spine, his heart skipped a beat. The muscles in his right arm tensed as he reached for the Glock 9mm holstered on his side. Huh? He shook his head, on second glance the man was gone, a cloud of charcoal dust whisping into the air from under the SUV.

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.
"Don't worry so much," Ash could still hear his doctor's advice from their last session a few weeks earlier. "We’re just beginning to understand PTSD and many veterans come back with hallucinations. The mind is a marvelous adapter to stress. As long as these phantoms do not interrupt your daily work, or cause you to want to harm yourself or others, you should be fine. Consider yourself lucky. Just think of them as a construct of your over-active imagination, an amusing distraction from the mundane realities of life."
"Ash," the Barista called him back to the present. "One Java Chip. Are you ever going to let me talk you into trying something else?"
Ash turned from the glass reflection, walked to the counter, and replied, "I doubt it, Jake, maybe next time," He grabbed a sleeve and slipped it on the plastic cup. Even in winter he wanted cold drinks, a thirst from hot desert war zones that could never be quenched.
"That's what you said last week. You working on anything new lately?" Jake asked.
Ash forced a smile and glanced up to look Jake in the eye, no creature today. Ash took stuttered breath and replied, "Yeah, I've got a few new pieces. Just dropped them off this morning over at Woodmen Furnishings. You should go by later, a few of the other craftsmen were there... lots of new inventory."
"Will do," Jake said as he turned back to start another order. "Good to see you, as always."
Ash nodded and said, "You too," as he headed to a far corner and found his favorite leather chair.
He glanced around the café before taking a seat. Two women were talking about their kids. Three teenagers typing away on laptops as though their life depended on it. Two men had just arrived while he was waiting, they were having a meeting. One with glasses, the other in a black turtleneck. Always keep your back to the wall, stay as inconspicuous as possible. The need to be hyper-vigilant was like breathing, it never stopped. With the possible exception of the guy in the turtleneck who looked like he could handle himself, the room seemed fairly free of danger for the moment. He'd still keep an eye on Mr. Turtleneck. He bit his lip and sighed, You're doing it again... He took his seat, the leather hugged him like a cool blanket.
The morning paper had been abandoned on a nearby table, as was the café custom. He reached to grab it when he noticed several people outside turning and staring in the same direction. Others ran from across the street to join a crowd that was developing just outside the window. Whatever had their attention was just out of view.

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 woman in a red hoodie rushed passed him to join the crowd and knocked the coffee out of his hand. The lid popped off, contents spilling down the front of his jeans as it tumbled to its final resting place on the asphalt.
"Dang lady, watch it!" He said. She paid no attention, engrossed in whatever was happening just beyond his field of vision. "Whatever," he said, more to himself than her, and worked his way around the crowd.

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.
It was Frank, now that he could get close enough to see him up close. Frank was one of the several train-hopping hobos that made camp on the outskirts of town. He came to pick up his Social Security check every month about this time. Ash had tried to reach out to him a few times, sat next to him on the bench and talked about the war. In his more lucid moments, Frank would tell Ash about Vietnam and tease Ash about having all the high-tech gear. Apparently, this was not one of his more lucis moments. In fact, he'd never seen him this bad. Frank was pulling strands of hair out of his own head arguing with what other people probably thought was an invisible force. The dents on the roof of the truck revealed the source of some of the noises he couldn't make out earlier. Then Franks eyes narrowed and he went into a fit and started banging his fists on the hood.

"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.
The hair on his neck rose as he watched it. Could this be me if I stop taking my medication?He shuddered at the thought.

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.
A larger creature rose from the mist behind Frank. This one had a different quality about it, more tangible. The bottom was still rooted in the dust rising and falling from Frank. The top of the creature was like that of a man, but it had the head of a bull with long horns shooting out to each side and curving upward. The Bull-thing was over nine feet tall, black skin made of charcoal, three white streaks across and down its chest in white chalk.
The bull creature cocked its head to one side and stared Ash in the eye. Its eyes were pools of black-smoke, billowing from their sockets. They pierced through him as none of the previous creatures he'd seen before. Other creatures seemed more interested in their hosts than Ash, but this one was staring him down. A fog entered his mind, his vision clouded over slightly. The muscles in Ash's jaw tightened, and he took a step back. A tingle ran down his thighs, he felt like he was suffocating.
The Bull-thing's mouth curved upward, eyes narrowed. It slapped the smaller creature into stillness and it disappeared into the mist. Frank looked confused at the sudden silence. The larger creature leaned down and spoke something into Franks' ear. The creature stood upright and evaporated back into the dust cloud. Frank turned to look at Ash, whose hand was still out to help him down. He looked at Ash's hand as though it were a weapon or snake. Frank's eyes narrowed,  face contorted. He screamed, "Ahhhhh!" and the truck bed gave a rusty creak as Frank leapt to the ground, spry for an otherwise elderly man. Head tilted awkwardly to one side, he ran at Ash with a wild deranged look in his eye.
Ash tried to step out of the way, or run, but his legs were now glued to the pavement. He raised his hands to prepare for a fight, but Frank jumped at him before he could properly react, they both went tumbling to the sidewalk.
Ash's head slammed into the concrete sending his vision swirling with white dots, and a throbbing throughout his skull. He could feel Franks' hands on his neck, tearing into the flesh. Making a fist, he aimed a punch at Frank through the white dots, where he figured his head would be. Frank released his grip with one hand and loosened the other.

Ash caught his breath. "Jesus," he cried as he recoiled at the throbbing in his throat and gagging on the scent of unwashed clothing.
Frank backed up and looked confused momentarily, as though he didn't know where he was.

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.
Sirens pierced the air as a patrol car sped to stop a few feet away. Two officers got out and ran over, stopping just in front of Ash and Frank.
"Dang old man," George the police officer said. "You still got it!"
"I'll say. Remind me not to get on your bad side," the younger deputy said, cuffing the unconscious old man.
"Hey Ash, those cuts look pretty bad. You OK? " George asked.
Ash rose to his knees, took a few deep breaths. The throbbing in his skull was subsiding, but his muscles were fast becoming sore from the altercation. "Let me get you something for your neck," George said as Ash sat on a the curb. The deputy was kneeling next to Frank, checking pulse, talking codes into his shoulder-talkie.

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.
George looked down at Ash's jeans, "You get yourself cleaned up, we need to take Frank in anyway."

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.
"Are you OK sir?" a male voice spoke from in front of  him. A pair of highly polished leather shoes now occupied the ground in front of Ash's vision. Ash looked up slightly, the voice came from the man in glasses. He was wearing a yellow polo, with two overlapping Es, and gray slacks.

"I'll be alright," Ash replied reaching for the bump growing on the back of his head.
"That was quite brave," Glasses said. "To step up when others stepped back."

"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?"
With heart still stampeding through his chest, Ash replied, "Thanks for the offer, Mr.--?"

"Briar. Dr. Briar actually," the man replied.
"Well thanks for the offer Dr. Briar, but I've had enough excitement for one day. I just need to get home, and cleaned up." And a shower... and something way stronger than coffee....
"Another time then," Dr. Briar smiled, his pudgy flat face pinched a little too tight around the cheeks. Too interested, too helpful. But maybe Ash was over-reacting, considering the incident he just endured. Then again, turtleneck's total lack of personality kept him on the edgy side. Nah, he thought. You're doing it again....
He stood from the curb and waved them off. Ash walked down the street, wanting to get home, his refuge from humanity, as fast as possible. He needed to escape, re-center, and espresso wasn't going to do it this time. He needed a medically induced coma, 6 hours if he was lucky. He turned back one more time to glance at the location of the incident. Glasses was still watching him, turtle neck still behind. A nauseousness crept into his belly, and he turned back toward his truck. Ash kept an eye on window panes and the mirrors on cars he passed, to ensure he wasn't being followed.
In the town parking lot, just behind the main buildings, was his escape. The 1977 Ford F-150 wore a faded blue paint job, with the rust spot accents. He adjusted the mirror again, ensuring no one was watching him. The engine turned over like a beast waking from slumber. The Marvel-Beast bobble head shook with the roar of the engine. The cool-smooth-glass floor shifter knob was a familiar tactile sensation in his palm, and his stomach calmed a bit.
He made his way down main street. A few miles down the highway, he turned onto a private road. Taking the driveway two more miles into the woods, he parked in front a two story cabin-style home.

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.
Office to the left, den to the right, hallway, secure. He made his way down the hall to the kitchen, grabbed an orange bottle from the shelf and twisted the white top. They should call these adult-proof. Two blue peacekeepers dropped into his hand. He placed the pills on the counter, took a large plastic Braveheart collectors cup out of the dish drying rack. The pills washed down nicely with Dr. Pepper and Jack Daniels, half and half, over ice.
The stairs to the second floor were hard on his knee caps, but he managed with one hand, keeping a tight grip on the cup of sleep. The fight replayed in his mind. Ash walked over to the bookcase and pushed it aside, revealing a large steel Liberty Safe. A few spins of the dial, and the heavy door swung open. He may not be licensed to carry anymore, but that didn't stop him from keeping a stash of weapons, dating back several generations of Ashland's leading on up to his retirement from the United States Air Force, Special Tactics unit. Tonight felt safer with having something nearby, so he grabbed the Glock 9mm, two extra clips, and the holster and stashed them in the kitchen drawer so they'd be handy, just in case. House alarm set, he made his way out onto the patio which was tucked away out of sight. Police report, he remembered and grabbed a sticky note and stuck it to the face of the flip-phone.
The hammock swung slightly, creaking as it adjusted to his weight. It enveloped him like a cocoon, shielding him from the events of the day. The first signs of stars peeped through the evening sky. A chorus of crickets and critters chirped, his heart settling into the rhythm of the night as Ash finished off the last of Dr. Daniels' magic potion. The image of the man-bull lingered in his mind, so real, he laid his head down and the image faded to sweet nothingness.
The mess hall wasn't much to look at, a building in the middle of a desert Air Force base, thrown together with gray cinderblocks and a make-shift kitchen. It was over one hundred fifteen degrees outside, but the mess hall managed to keep a balmy ninety-five. The last of what passed for French fries sat on the tray in front of him. "Did you hear what General Akbar said?" two soldiers at the table in front of Ash were talking. "Yeah, another three months of this hell-hole." Ash stood, grabbed the brown plastic tray that doubled as a plate and walked to the trash to dump it.
There was a bright flash, a shockwave propelled him face first onto the wall, all went dark momentarily. When he came to, Ash found himself on the floor of what was left of the mess hall. For a moment Ash was deaf, accept a high pitched frequency ringing in both ears. Vision returning, bracing his hand on the wall, he raised to his feet, the air cleared some but smoke still obscured the scene as he tried to see what happened.
Heart racing, hearing normalizing. Nothing felt broken, everything moved. He took a step, nothing hurt. He tried to make out his immediate surroundings. The ceiling was caved in, mostly rubble. "Help me with this!" one soldier barked to another, they lifted several fallen cinder blocks from a fallen soldier's leg. From what Ash could tell from this distance it would need to be amputated. Another concussion came from outside, a cloud of dust and smoke rose to the sky, which was now visible from inside the mess hall.
Ash glanced once more at the scene in front of him, there were enough rescuers, he needed to stop the onslaught. He pushed through some fallen wall nearby and paused to listen. A third explosion hit a building on the far side of camp, there didn't seem to be a pattern.
An image of the armory, his rifle; he ran down the lane and hooked a left to the Armory. Rifle in hand, Ash took off and found a steel communications tower just higher than the rest of the buildings, and climbed to a small flat spot he could use as a nest. They were targeting large buildings, it was a risk, but an educated risk.
Ash steadied his breathing, after the long run and climb, and positioned himself low on the flat surface of the tower so his profile would be nearly invisible on the horizon. The high powered scope revealed ten men, faces covered by their keffiyehs and robes, hiding behind an outcropping of rocks and three old jeeps. Two of them were holding rocket launchers, two others were helping re-load. The rest were stationed around them with AK-74M Assault Rifles, ready to defend their position.
Taking aim at the bulky portion of the first rocket launcher itself, and not its handler, should incapacitate it, and Ash rarely missed. The unit exploded in its handlers face.
He looked away. This was his first kill, but his stomach turned a little each time. It's us or them, they'd started this, he would finish it. His blood boiled at the decision. Resolved, he peered back through his scope and found the small band of attackers had turned toward their fallen comrade, surprised by the explosion. The look on their face said that they thought it had malfunctioned.
That gave him the few seconds he needed to line up the second shot. A second explosion took the remaining rocket launcher and its handler out of commission. "Yes," he hissed to himself. The band no longer posed an immediate threat to his buildings from this distance, not with those rifles, but they were still a threat. A threat now reduced to eight with no long range weapons. Three of the men decided to leave the relative safety of the outcropping and run the mile and half of open desert firing at the outer walls of the base. Like ducks flying from a bush. Ash aimed and fired. Seven. Six. Five left. He re-centered his scope on the rocks, the remaining five popped up periodically, firing aimlessly.
Whack A Mole, he thought briefly, and a "hmph" escaped his throat. Ash fired each time he found a clean shot. Four. Three. Two. For less than 30 seconds, there was stillness from the desert. A shadow by the farthest Jeep. The last two crawled inside, the Jeep sped away from the scene. They were keeping low, out of sight. Ash aimed at the back of each front seat. Two. One. The vehicle drove erratically and crashed into the hill a little further out. The front gates of the base opened as an armored attack vehicle raced out. They'd clean up anything he missed, his job was done.
Back on solid ground, he surveyed the scene. Devastation. By the time he'd taken the rocket launchers out, there were four buildings decimated. The dead would be counted after the rescue was over. Despite the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that wouldn't leave, he chose to feel no remorse about the job he had to stop the attack. He brushed the feeling aside and ran to back to the mess hall to clean up.
As he ran down the street toward the mess hall, the scene turned white and morphed. Now he was jogging down a long hallway with white walls and porcelain tiles. He stopped before a door, tugged on his shirt, and glanced down at the letter he'd received that morning. "Due to valor in the line of fire, you are hereby invited to join an experimental program for soldiers with your unique skill set. Your invitation and participation is optional - classified as Top Secret. Please report for a briefing at 10:00 hours..." Ash glanced at his watch, 2 minutes to 10:00. The door plaque read: General Akbar.
He raised his hand and knocked. "Come," the voice replied. Ash opened the door, "Permission to enter, Sir?" General Akbar looked up, "Come in soldier." As he entered, General Akbar stood-
The image morphed again, General Akbar's uniform was now worn by a larger man shaped body, with the head of a bull. White striped streaked across its face.
The scene turned to black...
The sound of crickets slowly brought Ash back to his cabin patio. The hammock swinging slightly in the mountain breeze through the mountain pass. Another one, ugh. He rubbed his eyes and glanced at his wrist. 3:00 hours. His body ached, his heart was racing but his mind was foggy. Like it hadn't fully kicked on. Why would anyone live in a big city? Ugh... I need to go to town and file that report. Maybe George will come up here instead...
A single falling star shot across the night sky among the backdrop of a clear milky way. He decided to lay there until his mind rebooted or shut down.

END Scene 1

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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