Here's a sample of Stephen's Fiction Writing from This Book:
Rick Medlock sat inside a ten by twenty makeshift building on a plywood toilet constructed over a deep, black hole—the odor wafting up masked only slightly by a recent liberal application of Pine-Sol. He felt stuffed from his solar plexus down. No, “bloated” was a better way to describe it—like his body had been plugged with a cork.
No wonder. When you were at twelve thousand feet, strapped into a pilot’s seat, tethered by an oxygen line, you simply had to hold it. Now that he was back on terra firma in the semi privacy of the officer’s latrine, his body’s bombardier was taking a nap.
He rotated his wrist. The radium dial read three o’clock. Nothing to do, anyway, which was par for the course. He’d heard someone say that was the very nature of war—long days of pure boredom; seconds filled with unadulterated terror.
Sure was gloomy in here. The only light seeped in through cracks. Where was the obligatory Sears Catalog?
His muscles tensed instantly as an air raid siren let out a mighty wail, and anti-aircraft batteries started up. Poaw, poaw, poaw, poaw, poaw . . .
Oh-no. A sickening feeling spread throughout his gut. That pulsating drone. It had to be Stuka dive-bombers.
The next sound began almost imperceptibly, then quickly built to a piercing whistle. Several more whistles joined in until the noise was like a Fourth of July fireworks pinwheel only two feet away.
A dozen screaming whines grew louder with each millisecond as bombs plunged to earth, their piercing whistles screaming louder than the poaw, poaw, poaw of anti aircraft batteries that he could envision belching flak. The cacophony was now joined by the rattatatat of fifty caliber machine guns . . .
The sound of one of those whistle bombs grew loud, really loud, as thought it were headed straight for this broken down shack. Medlock grabbed his trousers with one hand, jumped to his feet, and pushed out the door. He squinted in the bright Corsican sun. Scores of men scurried across the baked field of pebbles, sand and dead grass like ants in a hundred yard dash, except every one raced toward a different finish line. The only sane place to be under the circumstances was the bomb shelter. Perhaps that’s why no one seemed headed there.
He jacked up his pants with both hands, and took off—weaving between hurling bodies of American service men like a broken field runner for the fighting Irish, dashing desperately toward the goal. His mind was a whirling blur amid the din of men shouting, the screech of whistle bombs, the poaw-poaw-poaw of anti-aircraft cannons, the rattatat of machine gun fire, the wail of diving Stukas, and the ever-increasing pounding of his heart.
He heard his name shouted, but resisted pausing to look. He must get to the bomb shelter, and as if he were in a nightmare, it seemed farther away now than when he’d started.
“Lieutenant Medlock! Lieutenant Medlock!”
He glanced to his left just has a hand grabbed his shirt.
“Lieutenant Medlock, stop!”
He skidded to a halt, and turned. In a reflex action, he snapped his heels together and saluted. His trousers dropped to his ankles.
“Yes, Sir, Major Morchower, Sir.”
“Pull your pants up, Medlock, and follow me.”
“Follow, Sir? But, uh, you see, I was just on my way to the bomb shelter.”
The major squinted. “What th’ heck’s wrong with you, Medlock? We’re under attack and there’s a whole damn squadron of P-47s on the tarmac. We need to get ’em in the air before the Krouts blow ’em to hell.” He shoved Medlock in the direction of the airfield.
Medlock took a reluctant step. “But Major Morchower, Sir. I’m a bomber pilot. I’ve never flown a P-47.”
“Then it’s time you learned, Medlock. Get moving.” Again, he shoved. “We gotta get those P-47s outa there, Medlock. Move! Now! Ya want the friggin’ Krouts to win the friggin’ War?”
“Uh, well, no. I guess not, Sir.” Medlock started in the direction he was being pushed, still holding onto his pants. As he began to trot, he said over his shoulder, “Is it very different, Sir?”
“The P-47? I mean, flying it, as opposed to the B-17. For example, do you start the engines the same way?”
Furrows appeared in the major’s brow, but before he could speak his attention seemed drawn to the airfield where bombs exploded in rapid succession. The earth rolled underfoot. Medlock did his best to maintain balance as he dutifully ran ahead. Between bombs exploding and cannons firing, the roar of a Stuka made him look skyward. The plane seemed incredibly near, and it grew larger, filling his field of vision as it completed a bank, leveled out, and headed straight toward him. Fire spewed from cannons that jutted from its wings. Twenty yards ahead, spouts of orange-beige Corsican dirt formed sprouts that danced toward him.
Medlock’s legs suddenly gave out—the ground rose up to meet him. He no longer needed to worry about being constipated. His bowels had moved.
He inhaled a snout full of dirt just as his vantage point shifted. He was suddenly in the air above the air base, higher than the Stukas, looking down at the chaotic scene: Stukas diving, releasing bombs. Anti-aircraft cannons firing up. Flak shells bursting. Machine guns blazing.
This cannot be.
Holes appeared across a wing and fuselage of a nearby Stuka. Black smoke poured from cooling louvers. Slowly, the plane turned through 360 degrees, the nose rotated downward, and it plummeted like a kite that had lost its tail. Medlock saw the pilot exit the plane before it slammed into the ground next to the mess tent. Instantly, the craft burst into flames.
Strange that the pilot had no parachute, yet he hovered in the air below, watching the action, the same as Medlock.
Medlock would have to think about that later. Too much was going on, now. Just beyond, he could see that Major Morchower had almost reached the squadron of P-47s. A bomb hit the one closest, flipping it into the air. The major skidded, turned on his heel, and ran. The P-47 landed backside up, not fifteen feet from him, and burst into flame. The major dove to earth, his hands covering his head. The plane exploded.
Medlock wondered, If that’s Major Morchower. Where am I?
He shifted his glance to where he’d been when the Stuka dove at him.
There I am, lying on my stomach.
An angel stood over him, defused light haloing her head and shoulders. Odd. It had been eons since an angel had greeted him. As far back as he could remember, his teacher and guide, Otto, had been the first. He certainly hadn’t expected an angel. Not one he didn’t know. Immediately following the last two or three incarnations, he’d passed through the tunnel and into the light before seeing anyone. Yet this angel, beautiful though she may be, stood between him and the light.
“Did I do something wrong?” he said.
She raised an eyebrow. “Awake, are you? Just try to relax. I’m trying to find out.” She bent toward him, reaching out a hand.
“I appreciate your being here,” he said. “But it really isn’t necessary. I know the way.”
She gave him a quizzical look. Then wide, alert hazel-green eyes continued searching about his head and shoulders. “It’s true, I haven’t be able to find anything major. Some nicks and cuts. Maybe you were one of the lucky ones.” Auburn hair fell to her shoulders. A wisp of freckles danced across her nose. She had broad shoulders, strong arms and hands.
He looked past her. “You’re between me and the light.”
She glanced over her shoulder. “You mean those holes that the guns and bombs ripped in the tent?” She stood, and put her hands on her hips. “You know, I think you are okay. At least, no big holes in you anywhere that I can find. A lotta dirt, a few scratches, an accident in your pants, but that’s par for the course. No serious bleeding. Even so, I don’t think you should try to get up just yet.”
“Why shouldn’t I pass into the light?”
“Simple. You need to take it easy for a while.” She leaned closer to him, put her hand on his forehead, and kept his eyelid from closing with her thumb. “Well, I take that back. Maybe you can get up. Your pupils don’t seem dilated. Say, do you have one green eye and one blue one?”
“Can’t say that I’ve ever seen that before,” she said. “Tell you what, why don’t you see if you can sit up. It wouldn’t hurt the atmosphere around here if you took a quick trip to the latrine.”
He felt his brow furrow. “Sit up? Latrine?”
She pursed her lips. “They brought you here from the parade ground, which as you will see when you do pass into the light outside on the way to latrine is pockmarked with bomb craters. You were out cold, and at the very least may have suffered a concussion. Your eyes don’t look like it to me, even if one is green and the other blue, but we can’t be absolutely sure. So don’t go to sleep, okay? You need to make an effort to stay awake. Sometimes people who get knocked in the head go to sleep, and then slip into a coma.”
“So, what you’re saying is—I’m not dead?”
Head cocked, she stared.
“I thought I was dead,” Medlock said.
She nodded. “Okay. Now I get it. You thought you were dead, and that I was an angel, right? I’ve heard that one before, Corporal.”
“No, no, it’s true. I was wondering where Otto was.”
“An angel. Uh, teacher. I’m not sure now. I can’t remember.”
“And you think I look like Otto. Is he cute?” She feigned a smile.
“No. At least I don’t think so. I must have been dreaming.”
“Let me be sure I have this right. What you said wasn’t a line because in fact you mistook me for a guy who’s a friend of yours. Is that it, Corporal?’
“I guess I was confused.”
“It has been pandemonium around here. Bombs falling like raindrops. It can definitely get confusing, I’ll grant you that.”
Medlock searched his memory. “I opened my eyes and saw you looking down at me—you were so beautiful. I thought an angel had come in Otto’s place. But that doesn’t make sense, does it?”
“You’re good, Corporal. It’s impressive how you worked your way right back to that line again.”
He looked into her face until what she said had registered. Then he chuckled. “It’s clear to me, now. I’d just come to, and things were fuzzy. In my dream—I’m sure it was a dream—I thought I was out of my body. So naturally, I had to be dead. Then the dream ended. Seeing you is the first thing I remember.”
“Lucky you, being out of your body while the rest of us were out of our minds.” Her nose wrinkled, and this time it was as though she caste a spell. It hit home full force that he was talking to a real, live, flesh and blood woman—a spirited one—tall, slim and strong, with breasts that pushed against white linen so that two middle buttons strained to hold her blouse together. Her mouth twisted up at one end, which gave her an impish look. Maybe that’s what made him feel drawn to her like. He was like a compass needle pulled by a magnet—except that she radiated a force field strong enough to lift a car, and he was little more than a paper thin cutout of stainless steel.
She turned to leave. He heard himself say, “Could I buy you a drink, sometime, Miss—?”
She looked back at him. Her hazel eyes rolled. “You G.I.s are all alike, Corporal.”
“Corporal?” He checked his shoulder. The silver bar had been torn loose. “Look, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’m a lieutenant. A bomber pilot.”
Her brows lifted. “Lieutenant?” She looked him over as if for the first time. “You might even be cute, too—sorta like Jimmy Stewart, except with one blue eye, one green. Yeah. You’d be okay if you weren’t all scuffed up and covered with dirt.”
“There’s more,” he said. “I went to Yale, and plan to become a doctor. I can even do a pretty darn good Jimmy Stewart imitation—‘Aw shucks, Miss, now why’d ya have to go an do a thing like that?’”
She covered her mouth to stifle a laugh. “No more, please spare me.” She forced a serious look. “Let me be sure I get this straight. You put off med school because it became clear you were going to be drafted.”
She tapped a finger on her chin. “You’re Ivy League, from a wealthy, privileged background. Daddy probably owns a munitions factory . . . ”
“You’re quick,” he said.
“Hold on, more’s coming.” She stepped closer. “Your Daddy could have gotten you out of the present conflict since he does lots of business with the War Department. He easily could have given you some sort of job considered by the government to be essential to the war effort. So you had the option of riding out the hostilities in the lap of luxury behind a desk. A cute little blond secretary sitting on your lap, taking dictation—doing other stuff at the drop of a hanky. But dang it all, it was your country at war. You didn’t have to ponder what was right. You didn’t even hesitate. You joined the Army Air Corps.”
“Amazing. How did you know all that?” he said.
She shrugged. “Makes perfect sense for an Ivy League guy like you. Fly planes. Drop bombs. What could be more important?”
His brow furrowed. “Actually, I wanted to fly fighters. It seemed more dashing. But, you know, the best laid plans—”
“Say no more. Bombs can be so brutal. They sort of take the dash out of dashing, don’t they? And they aren’t very selective about who they fall on.”
“Whom,” he said.
“So, now, you do your best to confine the ones you drop to Italian and German soldiers, munitions factories—German and Italian ones, of course—that sort of thing.”
“Right,” he said. “And an occasional petroleum dump. Bridges—now and then. But I make a conscientious effort to sidestep the sidewalk cafes.”
“Mustn’t forget air fields like this one—the other side’s, of course.”
“Good point,” he said. “In fact, in all three missions I’ve flown so far, I’ve yet to drop bombs on Americans, or any other allies, not even the Brits under Montgomery, and no one can be absolutely sure whose side they’re on. So, having a clean and clear conscience, there’s really no reason not to have a drink with me. Besides, what’s the point in staying sober? Looks like the Germans seem to have finished bombing us for today, anyway.”
“Perhaps. But before I say yes, let’s recap the situation to see if I’ve got it straight. You’re an Ivy League, sex starved bomber pilot far from home. You’re looking for companionship, especially of the female kind. Worst of all, your next mission could be your last.” She looked for confirmation.
“What can I say? Mea Culpas.”
“Now he’s a budding lawyer.” She shook her head. “Sorry, Lieutenant. No deal. I’ve been there, done that.”
“Come on. It’s just a drink at the officer’s club. We’re both officers. How can that hurt?”
“Can’t hurt? Let me tell you what would happen. You’ll get me a whisky sour. I like whisky sours when I’m not into martinis. But you’ll have the bartender put in twice the whisky knowing the lemon flavor covers up how strong they are. We’d drink a couple of toasts. You’ll buy me another. And another. Then you’ll jump to the part about how your high school sweetheart went to public school, and your family didn’t approve of her. She was from the wrong side of town, across the tracks, but you loved her—were mad about her. Your father said no. Your mother said no. But you stood up to them. They weakened. They said at least to wait until after the War. This was not what you wanted to hear, but you love and respect your mother and father, and you agreed to compromise. You pledged your undying love to the young woman from the wrong side of town. She promised hers to you. You made out passionately the night before you shipped out. You got to first base, second, third—but stopped short of home plate. She heard you knocking but wouldn’t let you in. Then, you hadn’t been in boot camp more than four weeks, and you got a Dear John letter. She broke the news that after a two-day whirlwind romance, she’d married your best friend the very day he shipped out—”
“Well, I’d say you’re almost on the money. Except, he wasn’t my best friend. Certainly not now, anyway.”
“Hold on, I’m not finished. Where was I? You’ve got me loaded, feeling sorry. Tomorrow you’re flying a mission. Oh, yes, I remember. You might not come back. No one’s waiting Stateside with a yellow ribbon around an old oak tree. And you’ve never even been laid. Not even by the high school huzzy, because you were a boarder at an all male prep school. Oh, you went to a whorehouse once with a bunch of guys, but chickened out at the last minute. You never let on to your friends, of course.”
“Wait a minute here. Are you some sort of psychic? Or is every guy you ever met my double in disguise? How could you have heard all this?”
“I went to one or two movies before I shipped out. I keep my ears open. And most of all, the nurses around here never heard the adage about not kissing and telling.”
“Uh-huh. So you never ever heard, or experienced any of this firsthand from any other guy?”
“Heck no. Not from any corporals, anyway.”
“But I’m a lieutenant.”
“Right, and one expects lieutenants to be more worldly, which is why, if you’ll let me finish, I buy every word hook line and sinker during this hypothetical drink we’re having. And whatta ya suppose happens? We leave the Officer’s Club. I’ve got my head on your shoulder, breathing in your ear. It’s a starry night in Corsica. Romance is in the air. Arm in arm, you walk me home. We stop at my cabin door, and like a fool, I invite you in for a nightcap.” She looked into his eyes.
“Please, don’t stop now. This is getting good.”
“You sit next to me on the sofa, and I say, ‘I don’t know you very well, Lieutenant. What’s your name?’”
“Medlock. Call me Rick. What’s yours?”
“Carol Tinker. Captain Carol Tinker. But now we’re off the subject. We were on the sofa, remember? You can imagine what happens next. You stick your tongue in my ear, passion erupts—”
“My, my. Sounds like good old fashion fun. Seriously. Are you free tonight, uh, Carol?”
“I’m not sure we’ve known each other long enough to get familiar. Perhaps you ought to call me Captain.”
“Are you free tonight, Captain?”
Her brow furrowed. “Is it true you’ve never been laid, Lieutenant?”
He looked at her sheepishly. “Never.”
Her lips pursed. “An Ivy League lieutenant, future rich doctor from a rich family, who’s never been laid. Not bad, even if they did make their money in munitions.”
“Oh, sorry. The family business is hats.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so? An Ivy League lieutenant, future rich doctor from a rich family that makes hats—who’s never been laid. I’ll have to admit, that is hard to beat.”
“So that means you’ll do it?”
“Go for a drink.”
“Oh, that.” Her brow wrinkled. “But what if you don’t come back from your mission, Lieutenant? Suppose I get pregnant? What happens if I actually find I like you?”
“Uh, may I make an observation, Captain?”
“Be my guest, Lieutenant.”
“You think too much, Captain.”
“You sound like my analyst, Lieutenant.” Her eyes held his.
“And, may I make a suggestion, now, Captain?”
“We’ve come a long way in the last thirty seconds. We know each other well enough, Captain. May I call you, Carol?”
“Okay, Rick. So you fly off on that mission. What happens then?”
“Simple. I come back, Carol.” He held her gaze. “Trust me. If I have you to come back to, I’ll be back.”
She broke away. “Uh-huh. I’ve heard that one, too.”
“Look straight into my one blue and one green eyes, again, please.” He waited until she complied. “Now, look carefully. See if there’s even a smidgen of deceit, or doubt. . . . I promise I’ll be back.”
“Okay, we’re on, but you’ve gotta do one thing,” she said.
“Get over to the latrine and get that load out of your pants.”
Rick got himself cleaned up, including a hot shower, went to his room in the barracks, quietly shut the door, and lay down on his bunk. He needed to recover physically from that ordeal, and he also needed to spend some time in thought. He’d been terrified by the bombing, could not remember being more afraid, but now it didn’t seem to matter what happened. If the attack were to resume at this very moment, he’d just lie here, and keep doing what he was doing.
His grandfather had always told him that when his number was up, it was up. Not before, not after. The moment was decided by higher forces. Fear and anxiety on his part wasn’t going to change it. Rick knew his grandfather was very wise, and believed whatever he was adamant about was true, even if it didn’t seem logical. But now, on this particular point, he felt that his grandfather was right. His grandfather had always told him to trust that feeling of knowing.
Perhaps even more monumental about today was his meeting of Carol. He’d met dozens, if not hundreds of pretty girls in his life. But something much more than physical beauty had affected him. What had taken place might be compared to Jesus walking along and seeing one of his future apostles, such as Matthew or Peter, and saying, “You, fisherman. Follow me.” The disciples had been right in the middle of their lives, with families and jobs. The logical thing would have been to say, “Thanks a lot. Give me a rain check on that, okay?” But they hadn’t. They’d dropped what they were doing, and they’d followed.
Of course, she was no messiah. That wasn’t the point. The point was the magnetic pull. He’d come to a crossroads, had received a call, and had made a conscious decision to take a new direction in life. From now on it was “us” rather than “I.”
Peter and Matthew must have experienced the same.
Now that he thought about it more, she hadn’t asked him to follow. He’d been the one. Never before had he asked for a date without some assurance the answer would be in the affirmative. Yet this time, he’d been bold. “Pushy” might be more accurate. He’d persevered after she’d turned him down. And he’d done it with a load in him pants.
It was true. He’d never been laid. The few times he’d had a chance, it had just not seemed the right thing to do. Besides, to be truthful, he was sly. And, face it, apprehensive. How could he be sure he would, or could, perform?
By early evening, a knot in his stomach had grown to the size of grapefruit. It was time to get dressed, and meet her. He forced himself to shave. Put on cologne. He gave his best black shoes a touch up buffing. Put on his best-starched summer uniform. Why was he so filled with anxiety? He no longer feared death. Surely, he could face a woman.
He stepped out of the barracks into the darkness of the blackout.
Not that it was all that dark once his eyes got used to it. He’d been told the weather in Corsica was almost always clear this time of year. Tonight was no exception. The great arch of sky formed a pitch black backdrop for a billion sparkling stars and a half moon that gave off sufficient glow to cast dark shadows of the buildings that he passed, and of the other men who strolled by.
He arrived at the quonset hut that housed the officer’s club, and entered, first through the door, and then the blackout curtain. The furnishings were sparse to say the least. It was half full with men and woman in uniform standing at the bar, or sitting at tables—drinking, laughing, and talking. Ceiling fans turned overhead, but did little to disperse the smoke that ascended from numerous cigarettes.
To his surprise, she was seated at a table by herself near the juke box. He walked to her, hoping the knot wouldn’t block the air he’d need in order to speak.
She started to get up.
“No, please,” he said. “Keep your seat.”
“Rick, is it?”
“Right, uh, Carol.”
He sat in the seat adjacent to hers, turning his at an angle to face her.
She propped her head on her hands. “I’m glad you’re prompt. I already had to give four guys the brush off.”
“I’m glad, too. When I saw you here already, I thought must be late.”
That impish smile appeared that instantly had won him. “Unfortunately, arriving early is one of my faults.”
“I’d hardly call it that. But I’ll remember next time.”
A short private with a tray and a towel stopped at their table. He clicked his heels. “What’ll it be, officers?”
She said, “I’ll have a double martini, light on the vermouth. And ask the bartender, please, to throw in a couple of extra olives. I haven’t had anything green, today.”
Rick eyes stayed on her an extra second. He turned to the private. “Oh, I guess I’ll have a beer. Whattaya have?”
“Carling, Old Milwaukee, Schlitz.”
“A Black Label, then, thanks.” He turned back to her. “Y’know, I was thinking of starting with iced tea. What ever happened to whiskey sours? This could end up being a short evening.”
“The citrus in whiskey sours can reek havoc on ones digestive system. Besides, martinis work faster. Don’t complain, Lieutenant. I’m trying to help you out.”
“I see. You really do think all I want is to get you drunk, and, and . . . ”
“Not necessarily. If you hold true to form, it’s the ‘and’ part that tops your list.”
Brows elevated, he nodded. “So, you say you’ve been out with one or two military men?”
“Been in the Army since I graduated nursing school in 1939.”
“Man, oh, man. I’ll bet you’ve seen a lot.”
“More than I bargained for. Today was no exception.”
“A lot of casualties?”
The smile was gone. “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s talk about you.”
“No, no. You already know all there is to know about me. Let’s see. What did you get that you did bargain for?”
The private put down their drinks.
She sighed. “To see the world, I guess.”
“Join the Army—see the world. And I thought it was the Navy. What parts?”
She picked up her drink. He took up his bottle of beer and tapped the rim of her glass. “To us.”
He returned the bottle to the table. “What parts?”
“Of us?” she sipped.
“Oh, the pacific mostly. Philippines, Guam, Singapore, Malaysian. I was stationed at Pearl during the attack. Then, when the front opened in North Africa, they needed experienced battlefield nurses. That’s how I got to this part of the world.”
She downed half the martini with her next pull.
“Slow down on that stuff, okay? I’d really like to find out more about you.”
“And you don’t think that’s possible if I’m loaded?”
“Of course not. Who knows what demon’ll enter your body?”
Her brow furrowed. “Are you a religious fundamentalist? I never met an Ivy League educated Bible-thumping holy-roller.”
Rick chuckled. “I guarantee I’m about as far from a religious fundamentalist as you’ll ever see. But don’t get me wrong. I think there’s a lot of good stuff in the Bible. Especially the New Testament. And especially the Gospel according to John. What those fundamentalists forget is that Jesus liked to take a drink. His first miracle was to turn water into wine. And what do you suppose they drank at the last supper? Wasn’t milk. The thing is, I was taken by you this afternoon, taken in a big way, and I want to know more about you. That’s not going to happen if you soak your brain in gin.”
Brows slightly raised, she said, “You’re good.”
“Pardon my French, but would you quit with that, too. I’m not trying to maneuver you into bed. I told you earlier, I’ve never even been laid.”
“And you thought I believed you?”
“Why wouldn’t you believe me?”
She still held her martini. She looked at it, placed it on the table. “Well, because you’re over twenty-one, male, and handsome.”
Rick felt the knot. It had left for a moment, but was solidly back. “And that’s all it takes? To be male and twenty-one. Oh, thanks about the handsome part.”
She seemed bewildered. “Maybe I’ve become cynical, but isn’t it what’s on the mind of every young man? Doesn’t doing it top the list?”
He shrugged. “It’s up there for most of us, I guess. But not with just anyone. I mean, to tell the truth, I’m glad I backed out with that prostitute.”
She stared at him. Nodded. “Let’s blow this joint,” she said.
“Let’s get out of here. No reason to be here if we’re not going to drink. Before long, the smoke’ll have me coughing and wheezing.”
He pulled some bills from his pocket, put them on the table.
Outside, she took his arm, and guided him. “At the back of the camp, where the land rises up to meet the mountain, are some outcroppings of rock. You can see the bay from there.”
They strolled along a moonlit, shadowy path.
“I can tell you one thing,” he said after a bit, “you feel good about that mountain, and bad about it—when you see it at the end of a mission. Good because you’re home. Bad because it makes the runway short.”
“So I’ve been told.”
After strolling a few paces, he said, “Sounds as if one or two of those affairs must have ended badly.”
“One ‘Dear Jane.’ Two MIAs.”
The air was balmy. The sweet scent of rosemary and thyme drifted to them from the low brush on the mountain side that the locals called la maquis. The stars and the moon glowed bright. The crunching sound of their shoes against dry, Corsican earth grew more prominent as the activity of the camp receded behind them.
At last he said, “I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what else to say.”
“There’s nothing you can say. Not you. Not anyone. That’s just the problem. No one can say anything that will help. After a while, you get numb. And when you aren’t numb, you want to drown yourself in gin to become that way.”
They continued in silence, except for the sounds of their feet against the earth, as they climbed the path. She clutched his arm.
“Here’s the cutoff.”
In a moment, they were seated next to each other on a rock, legs dangling, backs resting against an upright stone. The bay stretched out before them for twenty or thirty miles, the horizon was lost in darkness. The moon and bright canopy of stars sparkled above. Reflections of light danced on water below.
“Breathtaking,” he said.
“Usually, it helps take my mind off the world. But it also makes me wonder. How can the God who made all that, allow so much pain and misery? Doesn’t he care? Or doesn’t he exist?”
“He cares. But he doesn’t interfere. It’s men that create problems. Not God.”
“Please don’t start on me with that. War? Okay. I understand that men make war, not God. But what about earthquakes, floods and famine?”
“You really want to know?”
“Of course. Do you have the answers? And if you do, how come no one else does?”
“My grandfather is very wise—comes from a long line of New England transcendentalists. He’s been my closest confidant for years. He has it all figured out. If you seriously want to know, I’ll tell you.”
“What’s a transcendentalist?”
“That’s off the subject.”
She turned and looked into his eyes, her angelic face framed by shoulder-length auburn hair. Moonlight on high cheekbones made her soft skin glow. “Okay, then. Tell me what’s on the subject.”
Softly, he said, “As succinctly as I can, at the core we’re each a portion of God. We believe we’re separate from God, and other people, but that’s purely an illusion created by our conscious minds. All the knowledge and power of God resides within us.”
“So, let me be sure I understood. We’re a part of God, and don’t know it?”
“Exactly,” he said.
“So we have the power to stop all this craziness?”
“Of course. But first we have to wake up. We have to get back into a relationship with God in order to use the power available to us. That’s what life is about. That’s the purpose of it. To get back to the relationship we’ve lost.”
“Wait a minute. We can’t be two things at once. If we’re already a portion of God, why would the purpose of life to be to get back to him?”
“Simple, really. Because we think we’re separate we are separate in a de facto sense. As we return to him, we gradually become his co-creators and helpers. We gradually gain more power—more spiritual power.” Rick paused. “It might be more accurate to consider ourselves his offspring, whose ultimate goal is to grow and develop to the point that we work in harmony with him—as extensions of him. Some people, probably more people than you can imagine, have already reached this point. They’re alive today, doing his work right here on earth. Someday, we’ll all be his helpers in building other worlds as well, maybe other universes.”
Her brow furrowed. “I heard what you said, but it doesn’t add up. How can suffering though life in this world lead to that?”
“Life on earth is only one stage in our evolution. Earth’s a school. Here, we become fully rounded by experiencing life at every level, and from every angle. We see what works in practice, and what doesn’t. We learn compassion. We gain wisdom. We become whole . . . complete.”
“Your philosophy leans way too far toward Miss Pollyanna’s for me. How can that happen in one life?” she said.
“You’re right. Usually, one life is not enough. It’d be an unusual human who could learn everything needed in a single trip. You don’t get a degree from the university in one year, and we don’t come to earth for one term. We come many times—as many times it takes. Grandfather says he’s probably be here several hundred—maybe more.”
She stared at him. “What about what the Church teaches?”
“That’s doctrine decided upon by a slim majority of elders hundreds of years after Jesus died. I can show you several verses in the Bible where Jesus says things that show he understood reincarnation to be a fact of life. Want me to quote a few?”
“Spare me,” she said.
Rick nodded. “Grandfather also says we pass through half a dozen or so levels right here on earth. That’s why people are so different. Even in the same family.”
“How so,” she said.
“Two things contribute to the way a person is. The level they’re on, including all their past-life experiences—in other words, what they bring into the life. And the environment they grow up in after they get here.”
“What about genes?”
“Genes have to do with what a person’s body is like. Not who they are as an individual or a personality. Of course, the brain is part of the body, and having a good one can make a big difference. But quick wits aren’t the same as wisdom. At any rate, on earth, everyone is comprised of three parts—body, mind and spirit. Genes have to do with the body, which is a temporary vehicle for the mind and spirit.”
She turned and gazed at the bay and the stars and the moon, as if gathering her thoughts. “None of this explains why I lost those three wonderful guys.”
“Things happen the way they do for a reason,” Rick said. “Sometimes the reason is clear and sometimes it isn’t. Grandfather said to look for the lesson whenever you have a problem. Ask yourself, what’s the universe trying to teach you?”
“This goes for every problem?”
Rick nodded. “Once, when I caught a cold, he said, ‘What did you learn?’
“‘Gee, I don’t know, Grandpa,’ I said. ‘Don’t go walking around the house on cold floors in bear feet?’
“‘Bingo,’ he said.
“Another time, I twisted my ankle. Boy it hurt. If happened the day before football tryouts were to take place. I could barely walk.
“Grandpa asked, ‘Now, why do you suppose you did that?’
“‘Because I really don’t what to go out for football?’
“‘Bingo,’ he said.
“Now wait a minute,” she said. “Was your grandfather saying you caused yourself to sprain your angle?”
“Right. A subconscious part of me was responsible. Deep down, I didn’t want to go out for football, but peer pressure was pushing me to. So my subconscious me had me step on a stick and twist—”
She shook her head. “I don’t I buy that.”
“Most people wouldn’t. But because of Grandpa calling things like that to my attention, I notice people doing the same sort of thing all the time. Our subconscious minds push us in one direction or another constantly without our realizing it because the subconscious knows what lessons we need, and what direction we should go to achieve our life purpose—even though our conscious minds often work at cross purposes. As we wake up, we each begin to understand what’s behind the problems that confront us. Since we created them ourselves, we can decide not to create them in the future. Instead, we can start working in concert with our subconscious minds. Then life gets a lot easier.”
“It becomes one great big bed of roses, is that it?”
“No, not necessarily. All of this isn’t to say that the capricious act of another human can’t push our lives off course for a while. People have free will, and they can do some pretty mean and crazy things. But free will is an important part of how the earth school is constructed.”
“So you think that for me, it was just three unfortunate accidents?” she said.
Rick looked her in the eye. “Probably not.”
“Why would I pick three guys who were going to leave me?”
He leaned back against the rock, and sighed. “I can only speculate.”
“You’re going through a growth spurt in the development of your soul. You’re trying to find your Self—Self with a big S. That’s why you decided on being an Army nurse. It’s given you a chance to broaden your horizons, to see other cultures, and to use your unique talents to benefit others. What greater gift that to give comfort to the sick, and to heal the wounded? But you’ve got shortcomings to work out. That’s where the loss of those three men comes in.”
He admired her soft skin, and fine features in the moon glow.
“Don’t stop,” she said. “I’m listening.”
“You realize this is speculation?” he said.
“You already said that.”
“You’re a beautiful woman,” he said.
“I meant that as a statement of fact to set up what I’m going to say next. You’re a beautiful woman. You have a certain air—I’d call it charisma—that draws men like flies. In this life, and perhaps in others, my guess is you’ve broken a lot of hearts. As a result, you needed to experience the effects of your past actions. You needed to feel what it’s like to have your heart broken, to be abandoned by those you love. It’s the only way that you can move ahead, the only way to develop true compassion. It will keep happening until the lesson is fully learned.”
She stared at him. A tear slid down her cheek, and her lips began to tremble. She broke into full-fledged sops.
He put his arms around her, and she nestled her face to his chest, crying. “Go ahead,” he said. “Let it out.”
Between sops she said, “You’re right. You’re right. What can I do?”
“It’s past now. It’s done. Perhaps the lesson has been learned. I’m hoping for your sake and mine that it is.”
“What can I do?”
“Ask forgiveness for your transgressions, and really mean it. Then put them behind you. The future’s bright ahead.”
“In the middle of World War Two?”
“It’s the time that we’ve been given. The hand that we’ve been dealt.”
She gazed into his eyes, he into hers, and they kissed. Rick felt his body melt into hers, their souls merge. When they came up for air, he realized the knot had returned—only now it was the size of a grapefruit. From somewhere in the camp below, he could hear music from a phonograph—You . . . stepped out of a dream.
Her eyes searched his. “Do you suppose we’ve been together before, in other lives?” she said.
“I’d say that’s highly possible. Maybe even likely. I had this feeling earlier today when I saw you for the first time that’s difficult to explain. I think it had to do with destiny.”
“I think I know what you mean,” she said. “What do you think will happen—what do you predict for you and me in this life?”
“I have high hopes, high long range hopes, that is. We’ve both got so much ahead of us. So much to learn. I mean, I’ve been wondering whether I really should go to med school, and here I’ve me a nurse, and she’s swept me off my feet. Somehow, life seems to have fallen into place.”
Her eyes were playful now. “That’s all? Just swept off your feet?”
“Okay, if you must know, I’m crazy about you. You captivated me instantly.”
“Rick, I have a confession. I know it sounds corny, but you’ve swept me right off my feet, too. I told a fib about having a bad habit of being early. I was early because I was anxious to see you.”
The knot was now the size of a bowling ball. “What do you suppose we should do about this—this mutual attraction?”
“I don’t know, Rick. I’ve been telling myself I’d be crazy to get involved with another guy who goes into battle every day.”
“Something’s going on here that transcends the both of us, Carol. I hesitate to put so grand a label on it—but I think it’s part—that we’re part of the cosmic plan.”
She gave him a pretend punch in the ribs. “Maybe so. I’ve bared my soul and so have you.” She stood and stretched. “What the heck are we waiting for? How about stopping by my place for a nightcap?”
Butterflies took flight inside Rick as she slipped her arm though his.
They strolled along the path down from the mountain in the direction of the nurse’s housing.
“Carol. There’s something we haven’t discussed.”
“I’m not sure where to begin.”
“Just dive in.”
“I guess what I want to say is that I’m not very experienced, but I’ll do my best. Okay?”
She squeezed his hand. “I’ll go easy on you.”
They walked a little farther.
“There’s something else,” he said.
“Don’t be shy.”
“It wouldn’t be smart to take chances,” he said. “Do you know what I mean?”
The nurse’s compound came into view.
“Quickly,” she whispered. “You’re not supposed to be in here.”
They reached her cabin. She gave him a little punch as they entered the front door. “Just relax, Rick. You’ve nothing to worry about.”
“Would you say it’s normal, Nurse, for me to feel a little jittery?”
“Quite normal. I’d even say it’s encouraging.”
The lights were out, but Rick could see the room was simply furnished. A desk, chair, bed. His eyes lingered on the bed.
She went to the window and opened it. “Feel the breeze,” she said.
Most of the sounds of the camp had died down. The song, You stepped out of a dream, still floated on the air. He could smell the heavy, sweet scent of the maquis.
He said, “I suppose it could be more romantic—although for the life of me, I don’t know how.”
She turned and opened her arms. He came to her. His lips met hers, so soft and warm. A kind of magnetism melded them together. A tingling spread throughout. He gasped. She kissed his neck, drew back and put her nose to his, those hazel-green eyes an inch away. Then she swung into action. In an instant her dress was over her shoulders. It dropped to the floor. Then her slip. She turned her back, pointing. He unhooked the top of her brassiere, and she shook free.
“Okay, Romeo,” she said softly. “Your turn.”
He stepped back. In a second, his shirt was over his head, his boxer shorts were on the floor.
They surveyed each other’s bodies. Hers was young, firm, well developed. His gaze came to rest on her fine, round, uplifted breasts.
She moved to him. “No hurry, Rick, we’ll take it slow.” She kissed him, kissed him all over, caressed his skin. It was as though a gentle breeze, a heavenly breeze, a puffy white cloud had carried him away. Slowly, gently, he returned her caresses, and her kisses. He caressed her breasts. His lips found her lips—so soft, moist, so full of life.
She pulled her to him. He felt her energy, the firmness of her body, the strength of her embrace.
Their lips separated. “Oh, Carol, I’ve never felt like this before.”
He lowered her to the bed, and felt as though he were diving into a pool of warm welcoming water, deeper, deeper, until he was lost in that strange, wonderful pool. Her mouth, her lips were instruments of pleasure that produced beautiful music and made him tingle all over, tingle and spin, spin around and around in a whirlpool, deeper and deeper into bliss. He was lost in a fantasy, in unimaginable ecstasy. Soaring, dipping, turning, flying higher and higher, up up up, then swooping down, down, down. Then up again, down again, up up, higher and higher each time, each time more intense than the one before. Nothing could stop him, nothing would stop her. This was ecstasy, this was what really feeling was all about, this was what he’d been missing all his life, and it was better than anything he’d ever imagined. If only this could last forever, but it couldn’t, nothing this wonderful could last, but he would try to make it so, to draw it out, until—he couldn’t, but he must, it must, must, must—
An incredible eruption began. It started in his toes and moved up, all the way up, until it encompassed his entire body, rushing from the inside out in a thrilling, joyful upheaval of ejaculation that went on and on and on until at last, the convulsions began to fade slowly, slowly, until they became small, pulsating throbs, and what was inside him was now in her, filling her with a sweet nectar of the gods.
He collapsed onto her, out of breath, engulfing her, his nose and mouth snuggled into her neck. She held him close, and he could feel her heart thumping almost as loudly as his own, as if each of them had just run a four-minute mile.