Rewrite: Guadalcanal, for the 2nd edition of “Through the Glass Darkly”

19 Jan

This short story first appeared in Through the Glass Darkly. It will be retold in Through the Glass Darkly II, which I hope to publish this spring. It is somewhat rewritten and edited. I will continue to edit and fine tune over the next days and weeks.

Tell me what you think?

Illustrated by Ray Ferrer

Illustrated by Ray Ferrer

Guadalcanal

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

 

The entrance to Guadalcanal was along the creek that wound through Mrs. Foy’s immense yard. Along either bank of the creek grew large-leafed ivy, so thick you couldn’t see the ground. Magnolia and rhododendron, dogwood and thick-trunked oak covered the property as well. To add to the effect, wisteria vines curled snakelike from tree limbs, descending from on high.

Stevie Dunn slowly pulled the tension knob back on his Mattel Tommy gun. With the squeeze of his finger, the drab green gun would erupt with “bap-bap-bap-bap-bap” while a red tube at the end of the muzzle rapidly shot in and out, like gunfire. He held the weapon tight to his side, the small buttocks tucked under his right arm, his finger on the trigger. He stood very still and peered up the creek pathway for any movement.

A lone Cardinal chirped pur-dy, pur-dy, pur-dy out of sight among the high branches of a large magnolia. Stevie bent down to pick up a couple of “grenades” dropped by the tree and stuffed them into his flack jacket. He adjusted his plastic army helmet and tightened the chin strap, then slowly walked along the creek.

Like his friends, Stevie pushed for realism. In spite of the summer heat, he was dressed in his Boy Scout winter uniform – long pants and long sleeve shirt – thick cotton olive drabs. A plastic canteen full of pink lemonade hung from his belt on one hip, and a holstered pearl-handled Mattel Fanner 50 pistol on the other (he saw a picture of George Patton who had pistols).

He borrowed his father’s sleeveless hunting vest, which was packed heavy with Mars bars and chewing gum, peanuts and Saltines stuffed in the pockets, along with the grenades, which were the brownish magnolia seed pods. The seed pods looked great, but they didn’t explode – and actually hurt if you got hit by one. Some of the kids filled small balloons with water for grenades, and if you got wet, you were hit. Others poured flour or baby powder into Dixie cups, and folded the top over, fastened with tape.

Stevie had blackened his face with the burnt part of a wine cork for camouflage. The dark soot was smeared around his eyes, across his brow, and swathed on each cheek and down along his neck. Before going home, he would spend the necessary time scrubbing it off with his handkerchief soaked in creek water along with the Ajax cleanser he had in a sandwich bag.

The local neighborhoods were divided into various “fronts.” Part of Mrs. Foy’s yard served as both the Pacific and Europe. Her Tudor-style home, the largest on the block, had a brick walled back yard, neatly manicured, that contained a rectangular pond that was filled with lily pads, peeper frogs, and large Koi. This was the German compound, where sneak attacks and valiant military charges occurred until either Mrs. Foy or her house maid came out of the back door to see what was going on. They were protecting Hitler, but they didn’t know it.

Her expansive yard dropped vertically about 70 feet from the house level to the street. Green, wet, it was a perfect replica of a Pacific island. Other homes and yards in the neighborhood served as France or Poland, depending on the architecture and landscaping.

Guadalcanal was actually the end island of a chain of medians that ran the length of Ferndale Boulevard, a long street separated by the curbed median of bush-covered land that ran east to the schools. The schools were lined up on the south side of Ferndale, beginning with the elementary school, the high school, and finally, the junior high school – a distance just shy of a mile.

Unlike the other islands, Guadalcanal was unevenly shaped, and dipped several feet below street level. The creek had its beginnings at the east end of the median, through a concrete drain pipe, and wound downhill to the west, and finally underneath the street into Mrs. Foy’s yard through a rather large corrugated metal pipe. Whenever it rained hard, the runoff poured into various street drains, and flowed through the creek. It was great fun to roll up pant legs, kick shoes off, and wade back upstream against the current.

One of the pools along the creek was a favorite spot that hid crayfish under submerged rocks. The crayfish became sacrificial passengers on the plastic model naval battleships and aircraft carriers we boys built. Each was carefully decaled and painted to replicate the real thing, with M80’s and cherry bombs strategically glued into the hulls. Dousing the miniature armadas with lighter fluid, we would attack the defenseless models floating in the pool with a rain of lit matchsticks until they caught fire and ultimately exploded. Tommy Bell once got sliced under the eye from a plastic splinter of the hull of a destroyer. He wore the wound with pride for several weeks.

Creeping up the creek in Mrs. Foy’s yard, Stevie approached the south end of the huge corrugated pipe that lead to Guadalcanal. It was big enough to walk through, but you couldn’t stand straight up – you had to crouch. It was always dark, and sometimes filled with cobwebs. After a heavy rain you had to straddle the stream of water that flowed down its center, and move along carefully. The pipe could be slick with slime – especially in damp weather. At the island end you had to be careful emerging. Sometimes guys would be waiting on top of the pipe in order to ambush you. And you couldn’t talk or cough while in the pipe as it would echo out the other end, announcing your arrival. That was tough for Johnny Severs to do because he had bad allergies, and would hacking loudly halfway through. Stevie never chose Johnny to be on his side because of that flaw.

Stevie hesitated at the entrance to the pipe. He looked through to the end several times. For some reason, he couldn’t see the other end. It was growing dark as black storm clouds roiled in the skies above the trees. A strong wind gusted, and the pipe reverberated with an eerie whistle. A couple of cars passed by on the street above Stevie’s head. They double-klunked a manhole cover on the street, and the sound reverberated in the pipe.

Stevie ducked and straddled a small stream of water going down the center of the drain. Bent, he began the awkward waddle to the island. As he progressed, the tunnel seemed to narrow ever so slightly, and he found himself bending more than usual, and tucked his arms closer to his body. He turned once, thinking to go back and just cross the street. That was frowned upon by the other guys, though, and he knew he would have to put up with a lot of you-know-what as a result. To his surprise, the entrance to the pipe looked very small too, as though it was quite a distance away. He had only gone a few feet.

Outside he heard a clap of thunder hit close by, and the burst of sound shook the pipe and deadened his hearing for a moment. Stevie shook his head to clear it, and was overwhelmed with the physical sense of dead, damp, compact air. He turned back toward the island and saw a very narrow shaft of light at the end of the tunnel. He moved more quickly, beginning to feel anxious and wanting to break into open air again. As he moved, the tunnel definitely narrowed.

Another blast of lightening hit, seeming to shake the tunnel, and bits of dirt dropped from the upper part of the pipe onto his helmet.

“What the – ?’

Turning again to look back he could see nothing. Pitch black. Then he noticed that the corrugated pipe was caked with dirt everywhere. In fact, thin curling stringlets of what? Roots! Roots were hanging down everywhere, as though he was underground and not in a corrugated pipe! Nowhere to go but forward, and the space narrowed drastically, forcing Stevie to his knees. Instead of metal, he felt moist spongy soil beneath him. The air was hot and dank and unfamiliar smelling.

Another bolt of lightning, and outside the tunnel a spray of dirt and shredded foliage fell across the opening. Stevie could no longer crawl on his knees, and was forced to lie flat on his belly and shove himself forward with his feet.

He finally reached the opening to Guadalcanal and peered out carefully. He recognized nothing! The creek was gone. The dogwoods and oaks and other saplings that grew in the boulevard island were nowhere. In fact, the the street island space was a huge expanse of tropical forest! Thin, unrecognizable tree trunks shot into the air a hundred feet or more. Branches interlaced at the top and formed a dense green canopy. Along the ground was thick vegetation comprised of fanning fronds and large-leafed growth Stevie had never seen before.

“Gawd-al-mighty!” he thought.

Another strike of lightning.

Whoomp! Ka-boom!

A spray of dirt and vegetation.

Stevie glanced up and noticed blue sky filling the intermittent holes in the canopy. It definitely was not storming – he couldn’t see any clouds at all.

Whoomp! Ka-boom! Whoomp! Ka-boom! In rapid succession.

Sprays of dirt and foliage.

“Bombs? Mortars, maybe!”

Overhead Stevie heard a buzzing whoosh and grabbed onto his helmet and flattened out of instinct.

Whoomp! Ka-boom!

His helmet. It was metal, not plastic! Steel! Not pliable nor bendable. His chin strap was leather, not thin plastic.

“What the –?”

Whoomp! Ka-boom!

“Duck!”

Spray of dirt and foliage. His face – rough with stubble. A beard!

His Mattel machine gun. Not a machine gun, but a heavy rifle with straps and bayonet.

His Scout pants and shirt. Marine issued drabs, wet and filthy. A sling belt of ammunition across one shoulder. A metal, cloth-covered canteen on one hip and a holstered square-handled, square barreled pistol instead of the Fanner 50 revolver.

His black high-top Converses, black leather boots, well worn.

Around his neck, a metal bead neckless with an oblong piece of metal attached. Dog tags.

The tunnel he had entered a few minutes before from Mrs. Foy’s yard – actually, now the hole – was only slightly larger than himself.

“Hey!” he shouted into the clearing ahead of him, remaining on his belly. His voice was absorbed into the thick vegetation. It penetrated into nowhere.

“Hey!” he shouted again – trying to will himself back to his neighborhood, back to the make-believe island where he playied with his pals.

A large bee, or perhaps a hummingbird, zipped past his ear. A second bee zipped by, stinging him on the neck. He grabbed his neck reflexively with his left hand to where he had been stung. It felt moist and warm. He pulled his hand back to look at it. Blood. More blood than a bee sting could result in.

Another zip past his head.

Bullets! Someone was shooting at him! Knew where he was! He had shouted out and drawn their attention!

Zip! Zip!

He recoiled back into the hole for protection, ducking his chin. He waited several minutes as his mind raced. Whoever it was and wherever they were, they were shooting at him and knew where he was. They wanted him dead! They were coming! He knew they were coming. They knew where he was. They could see him. He was bleeding! This was real!

“Who were they?”

He slowly nudged the barrel of his rifle out of the hole and pulled the sight to his eye, inching the rifle in a slow sweep across what he could see. His finger was on the trigger, and he trembled, sweat dripping down from his helmet across the plains of his face.

“Why was this happening?’

He thought he heard movement some distance to the left, and swung his rifle barrel in that direction. Nothing. Then a broad, flat leaf seemed to move ever so slightly upward. Something – someone – was staring out from beneath the leaf. Stevie’s heart beat loudly in his ears. A bead of sweat balanced at the tip of his nose. He dared not move.

A thin breeze at the top of the canopy caused the trees to sway gently, and a large column of light cut through and flooded onto the broad, flat leaf that had moved.

Eyes.

Peering from beneath a helmet.

Staring down the barrel of a rifle.

Underneath the broad, flat leaf.

The small, black opening at the end of the rifle barrel pointed directly at Stevie, and eyes beneath the helmet looking into his eyes.

Stevie aimed slowly. Between the eyes and just above the black hole at the end of the rifle barrel. His finger trembled on the trigger. A standoff. A moment. A hesitation that was split-second.

Into the split second poured every question he wanted to ask.

Why am I here?

What happened?

Who are you?

Why do you want to kill me?

Why do you force me to kill you?

A pop and slight puff of smoke from each rifle. A sudden bee sting – between the eyes – and black.

Nothing.

Then, something.

“Sakki, nani ga okotta, no?” Keyoshi exclaimed. “What just happened?”

Lightening rolled above the trees, blown away by the wind. Keyoshi ducked back down the concrete culvert underneath the roadway. He slung his toy rifle over his shoulder, glad to be able to feel the sprinkles and the wind of the approaching storm, glad to be back in the present, glad to be a kid again.

He doubted he would ever come back to play Guadalcanal.

 

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 19 January, 2015
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