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Military service had been a family tradition in Brett’s family since the War of 1812. His grandfather, father, and paternal uncles had all served. Through three years of high school they pressured him, the only son in his generation, to continue the family tradition. Brett had other ideas of how to spend his life. And considering the changes in the military since his father and uncles had served, he wondered why his father and uncles had never suggested military service, rather than college, to his older sisters and cousins. But against his better judgment, he gave in and signed up a few months before graduation. The recruiter practically drooled over Brett’s ASVAB scores when he went to enlist. The recruiter was less enthusiastic once Brett insisted that he wanted to be a medic. Brett Talent went into the Army three weeks after graduating from high school.
It wasn’t long before Brett had serious regrets once he completed his schooling and was assigned to a veteran unit whose medic had left the service. He was soon counting days to the end of his commitment. He got along well enough with the soldiers in his unit but never really felt he fit in. Brett hated the swagger and cockiness indoctrinated in combat units and refused to get caught up in it. He believed it irresponsible to inculcate a sense of invincibility. The other guys in his unit understood that, as a medic, he would look at things from a different perspective. Most didn’t expect him to behave as they did.
Brett had his MOS extended for a year but still managed to survive three combat deployments without getting seriously injured. He never reported the round that barely grazed his left arm and got away with it because he treated it himself and kept it hidden. Brett tore away the part of the sleeve that would have betrayed the nature of the wound and explained the uniform damage as caused by a broken door hinge.
Brett paid a price for his three tours of combat duty. He suffered a festering guilt about soldiers and civilians he couldn’t help. He buried the two Bronze Stars awarded for what sensible people would call foolhardiness in a drawer in his old room at his parents’ home. They meant more to his father than they did to him. Brett felt he only did his job and didn’t want honors or recognition.
Brett didn’t have nightmares often. But when he did, the images weren’t of fellow soldiers, though their wounds were often grisly and nightmarish. The dreams featured what the military euphemistically called collateral damage. Those injuries were often caused by the enemy. But despite precautions taken to protect civilians, too often not. The injured women and children Brett treated, when his commanding officer allowed, haunted him. Worse yet, were the nightmares about those he was ordered to ignore and move out.
Brett got his ass reamed regularly during his first two deployments because he sometimes didn’t obey orders fast enough when treating noncombatants. His lieutenant never wrote him up for insubordination, though he could have on at least two occasions when Brett pointedly told him to go to hell. The lieutenant could have filed charges but dealt with it himself. Brett knew the lieutenant wasn’t a heartless bastard; Brett saw him cry over civilian casualties more than once, though the lieutenant didn’t know that. But sometimes orders required that he act like one. Brett had trouble reconciling the lieutenant’s willingness, and ability, to suppress his humanity to advance his military career.
Brett didn’t go home when discharged. Instead, he went straight to Newark, New Jersey and found a part-time job to keep him occupied until the fall semester began. His mother was crushed when Brett told her he wasn’t coming home for a visit yet. But Brett was only a few months removed from his last deployment. He didn’t feel emotionally equipped to see friends and family. Brett especially didn’t want to hear his father’s and uncles’ praise for his alleged heroics. He stayed in touch with his parents and sisters with frequent phone calls and occasional video-chat sessions. But every conversation with his father held an underlying tension because Brett was troubled about having been a soldier.
Brett did go home for the holidays. Christmas with his family went better than expected. But it wasn’t without some drama, including a heated argument with his father. Brett’s older sisters didn’t understand the strain between their father and brother over the military. Neither did their husbands, both prideful of their service, spent safely distant from hostilities and the gruesome realities of devastating injuries and dead bodies.
Brett’s sisters, Janet and Cassandra, tried to make peace but only made matters worse. At one point, his mother told his sisters ‘to mind your own fucking business’. Brett laughed when he heard about it from Cassie. His mother never, ever used foul language. Brett had never heard her utter so much as a ‘damn’, no matter how angry she was. Brett and his father agreed to end their little war by never again discussing military service. But Brett knew it didn’t sit well with his father canlı bahis şirketleri and doubted the agreement would hold.
Brett never had a long-term relationship while pursuing his education. His VA shrink regularly asked about his dating status. Even went so far as to ask whether Brett was unsure of his sexual orientation. Brett assured her that his sexual orientation wasn’t the reason he’d not had a long-term girlfriend since separating from the military. Brett had solid friendships with numerous women he’d met at university, including several he was attracted to, dated and occasionally slept with. Every time Brett started to feel like a relationship might get serious, he’d have weeks of nightmares about the injured women he had treated. Or hadn’t been allowed to. Or was too late to help. In grad school, the pattern continued. He talked to his shrink about the nightmares, but she hadn’t been able to help him sort it out.
Terry Moran and Brett were both students at Princeton when they met one weekend. Both were prospecting in Pennsylvania for additions to their mineral collections when they met. Terry was a sophomore and Brett had just started his doctoral program when they met. During the three years they were at the university, they went prospecting together whenever possible. At times Brett was a bit jealous of Terry. Terry was amazingly successful at prospecting. Brett did well enough. But Terry did so well that it became a part-time business that paid handsomely. Well enough that he had no debt when he graduated.
Despite the difference in their ages and life experiences, they became close friends. Terry completed his undergraduate degree and Brett received his doctorate the same semester. Terry took a job teaching physics and chemistry at a prestigious private school in Connecticut while he considered grad school. Brett was fortunate enough to be offered a position in the Geosciences department at an Arizona university.
Terry and Brett planned a summer adventure together after graduation, before they joined the real world. They spent nearly a year planning their hike on the Appalachian Trail. They had no illusions they would complete the trail that summer. But they were determined to hike as much of it as possible between late May and early August.
After visiting family, Brett flew to Atlanta where Terry and his fiancé picked him up at the airport. She drove them to the trailhead at Springer Mountain and they got started in late May. The first days on the trail went well. The days in Georgia, and along the Tennessee-North Carolina border were warm and humid during the day, cooler but still humid in the evening. They saw quite a few people on the trail. Most were day or weekend hikers. It was easy to spot hikers that had been on the trail for long stretches. They looked bedraggled. Sometimes their smell almost seemed to precede them.
By the end of each day Brett and Terry were physically exhausted but still had a surprising mental energy. Because their bodies were tired, sleep came easily and quickly each night. Even the meager comforts offered by a hot meal, a sleeping bag and pad were enough to reinvigorate aching muscles and have them ready for another day on the trail.
Near the end of the second week, things took an ugly turn for Terry. They’d only gone about a mile when he stepped on a loose rock, rolled his right ankle and pitched sideways. Terry’s heavy pack prevented him from regaining his balance. He went over a small drop, tumbled over once and landed badly, jamming his left foot between two trees. One look at Terry’s face told Brett everything he needed to know. Their summer adventure was over.
Brett used his training as a medic for the first time since leaving the service. Brett propped him up and elevated the injured foot on Terry’s backpack. His examination of Terry found only some minor scrapes and bruises until he got to the foot.
Just untying the boot caused obvious discomfort. When Brett tried to remove it, Terry begged him to stop. Brett carefully cut it off. Terry didn’t complain when Brett removed the boot, but the grimace Brett saw in his peripheral vision told him everything he did hurt like hell. Brett cut the sock off to expose the foot. It was already discoloring and beginning to swell. There was no external bleeding and no bones protruded. Brett probed as gently as he could. Two metatarsal bones were broken and displaced. Brett used the remnants of Terry’s boot to immobilize the foot and ankle then put a chemical ice pack on it.
Their cell phones had no service. Brett wasn’t a little guy, but Terry was six-seven and two-hundred-forty pounds of hard muscle. His first instinct, trying to carry him out, would have been the only viable option in combat. But the safest course in this situation was to leave Terry where he was and summon help. Brett told Terry he was going to the next parking area, a couple miles away, and would return as soon as humanly possible. Terry winced and nodded his agreement. It wasn’t like there were better options.
Brett got lucky when he arrived at the parking canlı kaçak iddaa area. A shuttle had dropped two women a few minutes earlier but was already gone. Brett approached and asked for help, explaining Terry’s situation. Fortunately, their cell phones had 911 access. One dialed 911 and handed her phone to Brett after she spoke to the operator briefly. After Brett gave the operator all the information he wanted, he told Brett to wait for the paramedics. But Brett didn’t want to leave Terry unattended and unprotected.
Callie and Shannon didn’t hesitate to offer their help. Callie accompanied Brett back to Terry while Shannon stayed at the parking area with their gear. Once Callie knew where Terry was, she returned to the parking area and awaited the ambulance.
It was more than three hours before the rescue team arrived, accompanied by a Tennessee state trooper, Callie, and Shannon. Callie and Shannon wished them luck and went on their way after Brett thanked them. The paramedic removed Brett’s makeshift brace while Brett ran down what he already knew. The paramedic examined the foot and re-stabilized it. Getting Terry to the ambulance was tough work for the rescue team. It wasn’t much fun for Terry either. Brett felt a little better once Terry was on the ambulance. One of the rescuers offered a ride to the hospital.
Brett caught up with Terry in the emergency room. He was sent back to the ER waiting room when Terry went for x-rays. Brett retrieved Terry’s phone from his backpack and began making calls to the names on Terry’s favorites list, hoping to contact his family. His second call reached his Terry’s sister, Beth. Brett introduced himself, told her what happened, and where they were. Beth said she’d call their mother and then call back. She was already in the car on the way to pick up her mother when she returned the call.
Once hospital personnel learned Brett wasn’t family, they wouldn’t tell him anything except that Terry was being treated. Brett had never met Terry’s family, but Terry’s mother knew him as soon as she entered the ER waiting room. She stopped at the triage desk and asked to see her son but was told she’d have to wait a few minutes. She got even more worried as a result. Brett tried to assure her that Terry would be okay. A few minutes later, a doctor came to explain Terry’s injuries and told them he was already on his way to surgery. A volunteer escorted them to the surgical waiting room.
Once Terry was in the recovery room and they knew all went well, Beth drove Brett to a hotel. They exchanged cell numbers before she dropped him. Beth called later; Terry wanted to see him. Terry was looking over his dinner tray when Brett got to his room. He was a little loopy but surprisingly alert. He greeted Brett with a wide, goofy smile. They talked for just a few minutes before Terry asked what Brett planned to do.
Brett had decided to pack it in and visit with his parents until his apartment was available in August. Terry prodded Brett to continue the hike without him. They’d invested too much time planning the trip for Brett to just give up, he argued. And Brett was sure to meet someone to keep him company. Even if he continued alone, it would still be a worthwhile adventure. It didn’t take long to convince Brett. When Beth offered to drive him to the trail, Brett couldn’t bring himself to abandon the trip. Terry and Brett promised to stay in touch. After keeping Terry company through dinner, Beth took Brett back to the hotel.
Beth dropped Brett at a trailhead just after sunrise the next morning, thanked him for taking care of her brother, and said goodbye.
The first days back on the trail were cathartic. Brett missed Terry, but the time alone allowed Brett to indulge in some introspection. Brett felt like he’d shed some invisible burden. As Brett thought about it, he wondered if he benefited from tending to Terry’s injuries more than Terry had. It was the first time Brett treated injuries not caused by war.
Brett spent two days alone, passing more than a dozen south-bound groups or individuals. He made several wistful stops at overlooks. He arrived at a small rustic shelter at the top of a steep, rocky climb at the end of the second day. Anthony and Donna, a British couple in their mid-sixties, were already at the shelter. Donna was an MD, pondering retirement. Anthony a retired barrister and part-time law professor. The three of them spent a pleasant evening together and got an early start the next morning, opting to hike together.
Anthony and Donna were in good shape and easily kept pace with Brett. By the time they stopped for the night, Brett felt like he was in the company of old friends. After dinner, Anthony produced a bottle of a strong Spanish limoncello-like liquor he’d brought home from their winter holiday in Spain. The three of them got pleasantly toasted after dinner, consuming the entire bottle.
Donna saw Brett’s Rod of Asclepius tattoo, one of his little rebellions against military conformity, when he changed his shirt. She knew what it was and asked about it. Brett told her canlı kaçak bahis he had been a combat medic. She asked why Brett didn’t sport the Caduceus adopted by the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Once he responded, Donna asked additional, more probing, questions. And for some reason, the dam broke and Brett unloaded long-suppressed feelings about his experiences and frustrations as a medic. To a woman he barely knew. Brett felt his last demons sublimate into the humid night air as he and Donna talked. He wondered what it was about Donna that had allowed her to accomplish more in an evening than his VA shrink had accomplished in several years of therapy.
Anthony and Donna were on the last leg of their hike. They hiked as far as the first parking area the next day, where they left the trail to pick up their car and continue their North American holiday. Anthony suggested Donna and Brett stay in touch. They exchanged e-mail addresses before parting.
Brett pressed on to a campsite where he spent the night in the company of a dozen south-bound Boy Scouts and their chaperones, doing a week-long hike. Though the adults futilely tried to get the boys to settle down reasonably early, they remained rowdy until well after midnight. Brett got up early, ate breakfast with one of the mothers and was on his way before the birds stopped chirping.
Brett had been hiking a couple hours when he heard heavy footsteps rapidly approaching from behind. Brett turned around and watched a man hustling toward him. The hurried pace was odd. The man stopped running and greeted Brett as ‘buddy’. He breathlessly introduced himself as Buck and began walking with Brett. Buck quickly made Brett uneasy. The skin-head hairdo and tats, Confederate battle flag tee shirt, grease-stained denims, and old black engineer’s boots were out-of-place. Brett soon suspected Buck was untrustworthy, potentially a threat. Though Buck’s efforts at conversation were forced and awkward, he stayed with Brett.
Buck wasn’t in good physical condition. He carried an ancient, moth-eaten canvas pack that was wet on the bottom and dripped water continuously. It turned out the pack held a bag of ice and beer. The first time Buck tossed an empty can, Brett flattened it and handed it to him. Buck took it with a look that said, ‘Really?’ But he crushed the next two himself and dropped them into his bag. Brett kept Buck in front of him, never behind, especially after Buck repeatedly suggested Brett take the lead. Eventually, Buck turned off the trail to a parking area. Brett watched until Buck was out of sight before moving on.
Brett was only a hundred yards up the trail when he heard a woman scream. He ran back but approached cautiously, not knowing what he’d find. Through the trees, Brett saw a man on the ground next to a van, apparently unconscious. A stocky, middle-aged woman dressed in work clothes cowered against the van, holding her shoulder. Buck was kneeling, rifling through the contents of a purse he’d dumped out onto the ground, a wallet in his teeth.
Brett dropped his pack, picked up a convenient old branch, and quietly approached. The branch felt light. Brett worried it wouldn’t be an effective weapon, but it was all he could find. By the time Buck sensed his presence, it was too late to react defensively. Brett hit Buck on the side of his head with as much force as he could muster. The stick exploded into small pieces, leaving him with about ten inches of it split between his hands. But it was sturdy enough that Buck fell over, stunned. Brett kicked Buck twice in the back of the head before he could recover. Buck stopped moving.
An electrical contractor placard was on the side of the van. Brett looked inside the doors and saw built-in cabinets, toolboxes, wire, and various other electrical supplies and equipment. A fiberglass ladder was lashed to a rack on the roof.
‘Do you have wire ties in the truck?’ Brett asked the woman who was still shaking in fear. She nodded in the affirmative but didn’t speak. ‘Can you get them? And then call 911 to get the police and an ambulance coming.’
While Brett waited for the wire ties, Buck began to stir. Brett kicked him in the head once more, and again, Buck stopped moving. The woman gave Brett a bag of long, heavy wire ties. He rolled Buck onto his belly and secured his hands behind him, pulling the ties tight. Brett pulled off Buck’s boots and wire-tied his feet together. Then Brett hog-tied Buck’s hands and feet together. Buck wasn’t going anywhere and wasn’t going to hurt anyone else.
The man Buck had attacked moaned. His eyes blinked open briefly when the woman and Brett knelt over him but closed again without betraying any sign of awareness. The woman was on the phone, answering questions for the 911 operator. Brett carefully rolled the man onto his back. He had a nasty-looking lump in the middle of his forehead, topped with a gash that was going to need stitches. Brett checked his eyes with a penlight. The pupils were uneven and didn’t react to the light. Brett couldn’t get him to respond. The man had at least a concussion, maybe worse. Brett told the woman to tell the 911 operator that her friend had a potentially serious head injury. Brett retrieved his backpack and first aid kit. He cleaned the gash as best he could and applied gauze to the cut. The man groaned softly as Brett worked on him.
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