Authors: Robert Child
They Died to Fight Another Day
— by —
Copyright © Robert Child, 2016
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
is a work of fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, public figures, events, locales, and organizations that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or organizations or locales, or to living persons, is entirely coincidental.
Works published and produced by Robert Child can be obtained either through the author’s official website
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Deranged Doctor Design
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This story is dedicated to my father, Robert Warren Child, who passed away when I was four years old. Our bond remains unbroken.
Table of Contents
DAYTON, OHIO – MODERN DAY
Frank Rusk had looked forward to this day with feelings of both accomplishment and dread. He was glad he had reached such an impressive milestone, but to him it meant he had one foot in the grave and perhaps an arm and maybe a leg too. As he drove back home from the barbershop images bounced through his mind – life moments, kids’ birthdays, his wedding to Katie, the night he lost his virginity. It all stretched back into a hazy world to a time and place where he could never return.
I guess life prepares you for each transition
He had been ready when it was time to go to college, to get married, to go to Vietnam, but turning seventy…that was altogether different. It was old, damn old, he thought. And he hadn’t been sleeping well lately. He secretly feared senility. Becoming a drooling old man who couldn’t remember his own name and who had to be helped to the toilet.
He shook off the depressing images thinking
Jeez, Frank, this is a party not a damn wake. Snap out of it.
His wife, Katie, had asked him if he wanted a surprise party with all the family, which he thought was typical of Katie. He reminded her that if he said “yes,” it wouldn’t be a surprise. He told her he didn’t want a surprise party, but then asked her what date she thought was good. He assured her he would act as shocked as he could when he walked in the house and would say all the usual, “you shouldn’t have” and “no, I never suspected” and “really, don’t know how Katie pulled it off” comments everyone would expect.
Pasting a smile on his face he prepared himself for his command performance at the surprise party though his self-nagging and his utter lack of sleep was catching up with him. He hoped this birthday celebration would be short.
Frank’s son Ben, still a practical joker at forty-five, had something special planned. As Katie and the women cleared the table, Ben jumped up and offered to get the cake. Frank thought,
Ben soon returned with what looked like a chocolate layer cake on fire. “Seventy candles! The boys and I counted them twice,” Ben announced to his father.
Ben’s freckle-faced twins, Bobby and Danny, sitting on either side of Frank, sported big grins on their thirteen-year-old faces, forks at the ready position.
“Well, I think someone better call the fire department,” Frank said as his family and friends laughed.
His cousin Stan called out, “So how’s it feel to be the big 7 – 0, Frank?”
“I was waiting for that, Stan. You’re so original.”
Family around the table snickered.
“Really, it’s not bad, Stan. I feel pretty damn glad to have made it this far, still going strong. I’m feeling good.”
“Good enough to blow out seventy candles, Dad?” Ben goaded.
“Sure, but grab me the fire extinguisher under the sink in the kitchen.”
With the cake now set down in front of him, candles burning, filling the dining room with smoke, Frank drew in as much air as his seventy-year old lungs could hold.
His neighbor called out, “Make a wish quick, Frank, before the smoke detectors go off.”
Frank rolled his eyes then paused and thought a second, still holding in his breath. There was one thing he had yearned for his entire life — an impossible dream. But he thought,
hell this is my birthday, and a pretty big one at that. I’ll wish for whatever I damn well please.
He pictured the wish in his mind, tilted his head back a little and blew as hard as he could into the inferno. As he peered into what looked like a million tiny dancing lights and blew out every ounce of air in his lungs, Frank suddenly saw his father’s face appear in the candle flames. His deceased father, Joe, whom he had never met, was not staring back at him with a smile of fatherly approval. To Frank’s horror, Joe’s mouth opened, his eyes widened, and he screamed in abject terror.
Frank leapt from the table, cake still half aflame and rushed to the hall bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
His family and neighbors stared after him.
“Mom, what just happened?” Ben asked Katie.
“I don’t know, Ben. I don’t know,” she repeated, rising from her chair. As she headed down the hall she heard the twins ask Ben if they could have cake now.
Katie knocked gently on the bathroom door.
“Frank, is everything all right? What happened?”
Peering at his reflection in the mirror, Frank noticed the black circles of sleeplessness under his eyes. He splashed his face with water.
“Yeah, yeah, I think I’m okay. I don’t know.”
“Are you coming out? The whole family’s waiting.”
With that Frank groaned and shook his head, feeling embarrassed about his abrupt behavior leaving the room
“Honey, could you just send everyone home?”
“What? Home? It’s your birthday.”
“I mean it, just do this for me, please. Please, honey.”
“All right, if that’s what you really want.”
“Yes, yes, it’s what I want.”
“Okay, but when I come back, Frank, we’re gonna have a talk. I want you to see a doctor.”
Frank closed his eyes. He knew she was right. He couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Katie entered the dining room quietly. Few were having cake except for the kids.
“How is he, Kate? What happened?” her sister called out.
“He’s been having trouble sleeping lately. Just about every night in fact.”
Ben offered, “Dad did look pretty tired. I didn’t want to say anything.”
“Yeah, he’s been waking up in cold sweats.”
“Bad dreams?” her sister asked.
“He won’t tell me. Believe me, I’ve asked. I can’t get anything out of him. He says it’s male menopause.”
Recognizing Frank’s humor, everyone smiled, which lifted the atmosphere a bit.
“I’m sorry we’re gonna have to cut the party short. I’m going to get him off to bed.”
“Is he taking any sleeping pills?” Ben asked.
“He’s tried every brand they make and nothing. They don’t do a thing.”
Ben shook his head.
“I’m gonna get him to a doctor. This has been going on a few weeks now.”
Katie’s sister gave her a comforting hug.
“Let us know if you need anything, anything at all, Kate.”
“Thanks. I just want my husband back to normal.”
Frank took a long hot shower. He hoped it would be just the thing to relax him and help get him off to sleep. He lingered under the water longer than usual trying to come up with a way to tell Katie what had been happening…and what he had seen in the candle flames. He was afraid he was losing his mind. He was afraid they would confine him to a home. He envisioned himself as the patient in restraints, screaming all day from his bed. The one all the nursing home workers ignored. The one everyone wished would just die so they could have some peace and quiet.
Frank finally turned the squeaky shower knob to off and the stream became a drip. He knew Katie was waiting, but he hadn’t come up with a good lie yet. Maybe, he wondered, he should just tell her the truth, tell her that he couldn’t sleep because of the visions, the terror, the flames, the rushing water, the muffled screams, the explosions…
Katie was sitting in the living room watching her favorite show,
Long Island Medium,
when Frank walked in. She cradled a cup of hot chocolate in one hand and pulled her red faux velvet robe together tighter with the other hand.
“Yeah. What are you watching?”
Katie picked up the remote and clicked it, “Nothing now.”
Frank, resigned, settled into a rocking chair across from her, “Got it.”
“Frank, this has got to stop. I love you, but I can’t live like this. We have to make an appointment for you to see someone who can help you.”
Frank remained motionless, appearing not to hear her.
“If you’re not going to tell me what’s going on maybe you can tell him or her or whoever.” She raised her hand and scrubbed away a spilled tear. She was trembling and her face was pale. When he didn’t answer, she rose slowly, ready to walk away.
Frank continued to stare past her, but then haltingly words started to come.
“Every night it’s the same. It’s horrible, just horrible.”
Katie sank back down into her chair without speaking a word.
He turned to look at her and whispered, “It’s like something you never want to see, Katie. Not in your worst nightmares. But I’m seeing it. I know I’m not dreaming, but I can’t open my eyes.”
Katie looked at him strangely.
“I’m awake and seeing the worst visions you ever could imagine. They play over and over again in my head. I’m on a ship. Maybe one from World War II. It looks like ships I’ve seen on the History Channel. I’m running and there are other men with me. We’re trapped. Men are yelling. We’re below decks. I don’t know how far. Guys are scrambling up this steel ladder that’s glowing it’s so hot. Their hands are smoking, but they’re still trying to escape. They cry out as they grip the rails. I hear someone yell that we were hit by a torpedo and the ship’s going down.
I start running in a different direction. The air is filled with pitch-black, oily smoke. Men are choking, heaving. They’re just kids, eighteen, nineteen. I hear more guys ahead of me crying out, ‘We’re gonna die! We’re all gonna die!’ Everyone is scared.”