Chapter One: Scandal
Silent streets hushed the scandal that lay in wait for a seasoned soldier who’d rushed home all too eagerly, all too soon, unwittingly about to uncover the whore in his wife.
The rucksack was heavy and he was sweating under the oppressive humidity and heat of your typical Florida summer. Beret and boots didn’t help. The taxi drove off and he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Jesus. I’m home.”
His wife, a petite thing with a seductive body, lay in bed with a brutish piece of meat whose name she was now moaning through animalistic gasps. He was sprawled out on top of her, thrusting between her legs.
“Baby, guess who…”
Careful with his heavy boots, he crept through the door, moving slowly through the quiet house. As he approached the bedroom, he could hear the moans. His heart dropped. He reached for the handle and flung the door wide open.
“Adam!” she shrieked.
“What the hell is this?” Her lover dropped onto the mattress next to her.
Adam’s face went pale. “Jess. What — what is this?”
“You know, Adam’s not my name,” said the guy.
He lay there, on their bed, playing with himself.
She leapt out of their bed.
“You were gone for so long,” she said. “Adam, I just didn’t know what to do. What am I supposed to—”
Adam’s jaw dropped, and he half-laughed, half-sighed, clenched his fists. Her face was violet. The naked stranger who lay in their bed was laughing, trying hard in the obnoxious department. He sat up. Then he watched in amusement.
“I didn’t even realize what I was doing, okay!? This isn’t my fault,” she continued.
Adam stared at her, a blank expression on his face. Then his eyes glanced over to her lover, on their bed, a cynical smile on his face. She was going off at a million miles per hour while the guy watched, hardly able to contain himself, like he was watching some reality TV show where it’s okay to enjoy someone else’s pain. The tears swelled in Adam’s eyes as he backed away from his wife. He lost his balance in a moment of stupor. He regained it, bending over and placing his hands on his knees, but his stomach was turning over.
“Adam, are you even listening to me!?”
The clock on the wall ticked loudly in his head.
“Adam. Please. Say something!”
A look of bewilderment settled on his face.
Is she serious?
Her lover rose from the bed, stretching casually.
Really? Is he serious?
The damn clock ticked more loudly in his head. His wife’s lover, slipped a leg into his briefs and grinned at Adam. Adam looked over at the clock. He shook his head. It had seemed, for a second, that the hands of the clock had sped up all of a sudden, and then froze back into their original position.
Oh God, I’m hallucinating.
Adam was sweating. His wife was now screaming at him. She was so close he could smell the other guy on her breath. He looked around at the clothing on the ground: Jess’s clothes, everywhere; some men’s clothes, none of which were his.
Adam leaned on the dresser and turned his back on them, gripping the dresser and staring into the mirror. His blood was boiling and his cheeks were flushed. A burning heat coursed through his body and the veins in his neck pulsated. In the mirror he could see the intruder in his home had managed to get his shorts on and seemed to be looking for something else. He could see Jess’s mouth still moving but he could no longer hear her. The tears in his eyes relented long enough for him to see the whole scene more clearly. He cringed.
“Adam, aren’t you listening to me!?”
What good would that do?
“Please, forgive me, dammit! Let’s just forget this, let’s just let this—”
There stood her lover, still rummaging through their bed, looking for some missing object. Instead, he found his condom, picked it up, and tossed it onto the floor without a second thought. He kept scouring for something, like nothing was going on.
“Shut up, Jess,” murmured Adam.
She kept running her mouth.
“Shut up, dammit!”
She shut up.
“I’ve been here for you, always, since high school—” He swung around, aiming his finger right at her face. “I’ve done everything for you! I’ve been everything for you! I sacrificed every opportunity I ever had for you! And now, I come back from risking my fucking life, serving my fucking country, to find you with someone else!? It’s over Jessebel! I’m done! I’m through!”
Her wail pierced through him. She threw herself on the floor and sobbed.
“Adam, I love you dammit! I love you!”
A ray of sunlight slipped between the dark curtains and landed on Adam’s face.
I need to go, he thought.
He shifted a bit, unsure of what to do. He turned away, looked at the door, and turned towards her once more. Jess was still on the floor, bawling her eyes out, head in her hands.
I should go, I should get out of here.
Adam averted his eyes from her. The guy stood there looking like something out of a cheesy action movie. The orange glow of his tanned skin and the conspicuous amounts of plastic surgery he’d undergone made Adam’s face contort in disgust, nostrils flaring. The guy grinned again, his abnormally white teeth glowing in the dim room.
“Man, she was good. I fucked her like a dog.”
Adam leapt over the bed. He started at the guy’s face, pummeling his head in.
“Adam, stop it!”
The blood flowed from the guy’s face. Adam could hear Jess shrieking just behind him. Then he felt himself suddenly in the air. Jess dodged off to the side as her lover charged Adam right into the wall. Adam slid down against it then forced himself off it and right at his opponent again.
“Stop! Stop it!”
Jess kept shrieking as Adam pummeled him some more, shredding the jerk’s face until it was barely recognizable underneath a coat of red.
“Relax, Jess,” Adam said.
His breathing was heavy, chest heaving as he towered over her lover. There was a pause. Then he ripped the guy’s pants off and began dragging him by the feet.
“Adam, what are you doing!? Where are you going with him!?”
Her lover’s head banged against the doorframe, then against the walls as Adam pulled him onto the cold white tile of the kitchen. The guy moaned on the floor while Adam pulled a leash out of the kitchen closet. Jess stood just outside of the kitchen, hand over her mouth, wrapped up in some white sheets. Adam didn’t say a word. He simply wrapped the leash around the guy’s neck. Then he dragged the guy with it. He sped through the hall like a madman while the jerk squirmed around, helpless to Adam’s wrath. Throwing open the front door, Adam pulled him onto the lawn. The guy lay there coughing up blood as Adam lowered himself onto one knee.
“You’re a fucking dog,” he whispered matter-of-factly.
Thunder cracked in the distance. Adam stood in place, underneath the dark sky and its icy showers, letting them cool him off and wash the blood from his hands. Jessebel looked on quietly, her blanket drenched by the very same rain. Adam could see her nakedness.
“I’m sorry,” she mouthed, too choked up to fully speak.
“Where’s Rocky, Jess?”
She paused for a moment in thought.
“I sold him, Adam. I had to!”
“You sold my dog? You sold my best friend?”
Again, Adam turned his eyes away from her. They stood in awkward silence for a moment, then he turned with fury and ran. Jess took off after him, tripping over the sheets as she dragged them through the streets, griming them up.
“Adam! Stop, dammit!”
The neighbors looked on at the strange sight: a soldier running off into the distance, a naked woman chasing him in her bed sheets. Some hooted and hollered, others stared in amazement. A few noticed the exposed man on a leash lying on the front lawn. It wasn’t long before Adam could hear police sirens in the distance, the sound of Jess shrieking far behind him.
He didn’t see the cop car, sirens off, as it sped towards him, as he charged into the street, as it tossed him into the air like a doll. He only heard Jess’s anguished cries. Then he heard the gasps of neighbors who had come rushing from off in the distance, the sound of the police officer’s voice asking everyone to step away.
He blacked out.
Adam was floating in the void. He could hear the occasional murmurings and hushed whispers of jargon. Doctors, he assumed. Paramedics. Nurses.
I must be in the hospital.
He thought back to the sands of Afghanistan. He could hear Sergeant Till’s voice.
“I’ll get it out. Sit back. Let me get it!”
“No, sarge, I’ve got it! I can pull the bullet myself. I don’t need any help. Sarge! Let me do it.”
He could almost see Sergeant Till, laughing as he admired the show of ruggedness. Then it sunk in: Adam was helpless now, entirely dependent on total strangers.
I can’t move. You’ve gotta be kidding, I can’t move…
Adam couldn’t see them rushing to and fro, signing off on clipboards and playing with machines. He heard the noise diminish, almost on an audio gradient, until the room became utterly silent. He heard the sound of the door shutting, and then nothing save the droning of hospital machinery and the beeping sound of the heart monitor that told him that, at least for now, he was very much alive.
He tried to open his eyes. Impossible. The door creaked open and he could hear the sound of footsteps walking around his bed. Somebody walked in and stood just next to him.
“It’s so sad. He’s so cute,” the female voice said.
“Leave him alone, I need you to take these!”
Another female voice, from outside the room. He heard footsteps and the door shutting again. He pushed hard to get up, tried furiously to open his eyes, but to no avail. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t move a finger. Inside, he groaned.
I just want to move, he thought. Dammit, if I could just move.
His mind didn’t seem to be communicating with his body any longer and the feeling of absolute separation was a disturbing, unfamiliar one.
The door opened again.
“Okay, yeah… Thanks…”
It was Jess’s voice. His wife. His cheating, treacherous wife.
She proceeded quietly into the room, and Adam could hear her take a seat off to the far side of it. He couldn’t see her staring out the window, without so much as a glance at him. He couldn’t see her little black dress, red lipstick, the Gucci handbag on her arm. He couldn’t see her texting her lover.
“Baby, I’m here…”
That’s all she said. He tried to cry out. Tried to say something, anything.
I wish I could just hold her, dear God…
“Baby, are you there?”
He kept making every effort; she never so much as looked up from her phone. Then she got up, threw it in her purse, and made for the door. She grabbed the handle, but it refused to budge. She let go, then reached for it again, and as she did the door came swinging towards her, nearly hitting her in the face. An innocent-looking girl with distraught eyes stormed through the door and right past her.
His heart leapt.
Eve, he thought.
Once more he made every effort to speak, to budge, to say anything. He needed to, now more than ever.
“Adam, please tell me you’re there,” she whispered. “P-please tell me you can hear me. Just give me any sign. Any sign you’re there. Tell me this isn’t happening. Tell me you’re going to be okay. Just stay alive, okay? Please. Please stay alive.”
He tried to scream. In his mind he was moving his arms, his mouth, his legs; in reality, he lay there, lifeless.
“What are you doing here!?”
Fuck. Jess, no… Not now. Don’t take it out on her, not on—
Eve turned her head, nice and easy. She looked at Jess for the entirety of a second, then turned back to Adam.
“Adam, I’m here for you…”
He couldn’t see the tears in her eyes, but the pain in her voice anguished him so that he kept making his concerted efforts at movement, at signaling her in any way he could, at comforting her, telling her that he would be okay, even if he doubted very much that he would be.
Jess, stop. Just stop.
For a second, he thought he felt Eve’s touch on his forehead, passing her hand over his head like she used to, but he must have imagined it. Eve was staring Jess down.
“I’m surprised you’re here. I thought you left. I thought you were tired of Adam. Shouldn’t you be with one of your boyfriends?”
Jess lifted an eyebrow and her lips parted. She pulled back her head, offended.
“Fuck you both. You deserve each other.”
Adam could hear the sound of her heels marching away. Eve reached for Adam’s hand and pressed it to her forehead, crying.
“Adam, I’m here. I don’t know if you can hear me, but I want you to know I’m here. Whatever that means. Whatever that’s worth.”
He felt it. Her hand. It was in his. For a split second he felt her hand, and he was sure it wasn’t in his head this time. He made one last push in that split second to budge, to move a finger, to hold her hand, to hold her. Eve jumped again, standing up and bringing her hand to her mouth in astonishment.
“Adam, can you hear me? Did you just move?”
He smiled, if only inside.
It was all fuzzy when Adam awoke. He sat up and looked around. He could feel his hands and feet. He brought them to his face but couldn’t see them clearly. It wasn’t too long before his eyes came into focus and he saw his hands—battered, thick, and rough. He looked around again and saw that he was out on the cold, damp streets. A look of consternation settled on his face. These weren’t any streets he knew. There was no hospital here. Just a train station in the distance and some lights.
Where am I? Am I dreaming?
Adam stood rapidly, lost his balance, regained it for just a second, and lost it completely, falling back on the floor with a thud. He groaned, then rose, defiant. He made his way to the train station, fighting for balance. He fell again and crawled forward a bit to sit on a curb just outside the station. Yet again, he looked around, raising an eyebrow. He turned, towards the station, leaning on one hand. There was nary a soul in sight.
Adam wrapped himself up in his own arms and hunched over, shivering. The rain pelted against his back. A few feet away, a bus stop bathed in white light. He managed to plod over and sit under its small but sufficient shelter, the rain drumming against the glass roof as he looked out on a lonesome, nightmarish world.
Where the hell am I?
The rain began to pick up. In the distance, the rattling of train tracks and the horn of a train. By the sound of it, it was as yet very far away.
Jesus. Where is everyone?
He looked left and right, bewildered. There were no street signs, no landmarks, nothing to suggest his location. He stood up and looked around, again. Underneath the bench he discovered a blanket, a children’s design on it. He picked it up, and wrapped himself in it. He took a cautious sniff of it, then recoiled at the stench.
Oh God, now I smell like crap.
The wind rushed against him, and he had no choice but to wrap himself more tightly. He was still in a hospital gown. Hardly enough in this weather. Shifting a little in his seat, he eyed the station. It looked warm. It reminded Adam of the many train sets he’d played with in childhood.
Adam proceeded in absolute silence, squinting at the lights atop the roof. Reaching his destination, he adjusted his sight, trying to get a feel for his environment. Inside, it was so dark, Adam could hardly see a thing. Head on a swivel, he peered in every direction, intent on the darkness that surrounded him. He could hear himself breathing, his own footsteps, the crackling of leaves underneath him.
The wind grew more bothersome, more furious, and a sudden gust nearly knocked Adam over. He watched as the blanket he’d found flew right off, past the tracks, and disappeared into the nether ahead. He was standing just at edge of the tracks and a fluttering sensation filled his stomach.
“Is anyone out there!?”
No reply. With great care, he lowered himself onto the tracks. Still dazed, trembling yet stiff in the harsh weather, he made his way across the tracks. Then he saw it: the blinding light of the train coming right at him. He heard the monstrous noise it made as it entered the station.
He shielded himself with his arms and braced for impact.