by Nick Orton
He began to panic.
This was supposed to be a fun weekend, one of play and games. A weekend with his family, a weekend about them. Not the past and the pain that welled up every weekend such as this one, the type of pain he looked to drown in the bottom of a bottle. The type of pain that had almost robbed him of his family and his life.
He had taken his seven-year-old daughter away from the campsite, leaving his wife and their youngest back to nap under the shade of swaying pines. He wanted to go fishing, but his little girl wouldn’t leave his side. She always wanted to be with her daddy. He called her his “little shadow” for that.
They picked a secluded spot and he cast a line into a bank along the river. She was more interested in looking for worms and rocks, and he let her wander the banks if she promised to stay close. He didn’t think anything of it, they were the only ones he had seen out today on this weekend.
However, he soon noticed he didn’t hear her little giggles and sounds of play. He turned around.
She was gone.
He called out her name and waited for a response. Nothing. He yelled some more, looking left and right. He walked up into the brush along the bank. Nothing. He began to look and scream her name. He did this relentlessly, each second becoming more frantic than the last. But she was anywhere and nowhere to be seen. She was gone.
“That’s it. She’s gone. She’s fucking gone,” he began repeating in his head. He began to panic. Hyperventilating, he put his hands on his head. His knees began to weaken, and he felt he couldn’t stand.
He had no cell service. Should he run for help? He began to imagine the panicked look on his pregnant wife’s face, her eyes welling in fear as the infant in her arms began to wail. He couldn’t dare himself to confront her. To tell her what had just happened.
That he didn’t know what to do. That he had failed.
The damn was breaking, and the flood was nigh.
The silence of the forest was interrupted by a hauntingly sad sound of a sobbing man.
For an endless number of seconds, he cried. Grief, shame, and agony mixed together in a dark storm upon his soul. But over his sobs, he heard something.
He looked up and the storm was broken. His little girl was emerging from the bushes, running back into the safety of his arms. He grabbed her in an embrace and determined to never let go. But relief soon coincided with worry and held her out to take a look at her.
“Sweetheart, I was so worried! What happened!? Where did you go!? Are you ok!?” He looked her over, she seemed no worse for the wear. Just the look of a concerned and scared little girl. “Sweetheart, what happened?”
“Daddy I was looking for bugs and this mean man was behind a bush, and he grabbed my wrist and he smelled really bad, and he hurt my hand and he put his hand over my mouth and…” Tears began to well up in those beautifully innocent brown eyes.
Such a sight and revelation would churn a deep rage in any father’s mind. His face began to harden into a face of anger and malice. Long-buried demons began to claw out from their cages in his soul. Barking and howling. Ones that craved violence. Ones that had had their freedom long ago on a battlefield that he had left behind. Ones that almost ended his life in a story for another time.
His little girl took a dirty hand to her face, wiping away the snot and tears. “Daddy I’m sorry I made you mad can we still have our Memorial Day Barbeque?” She said between sobs.
The demon’s howling turned into a pitiful whine. He felt his heart break. “Sweetheart I’m not mad at you. Daddy just got scared,” he said with a cracking voice.
“Of course, we can have our barbeque,” he said through a half chuckle, half sob. “I’ll cook you as many hotdogs as you want, let’s go find Mommy.” And with this, a small smile returned to her face.
He scooped her up in his arms, holding her tight. His daughter clutched onto him. Turning, he scanned the forest. Eyes burning down the whole forest. Daring whoever was watching to try and separate him from his cub again. He turned again and began to head back to their campsite.
She began to wiggle in his arms, “But Daddy, aren’t you going to wait for your friend?”
He stopped and looked her in the eyes. “What are you talking about sweetheart?”
“Your friend Daddy! He said he was your best friend!”
“Daddy’s friends didn’t come out to camp with us sweetheart.”
She had a puzzled look on her face. “Oh. But he said he is always with you. You just don’t know it sometimes he said.”
He put her down and took a knee coming to eye level with her. He placed two concerned hands on her shoulders. “Sweetheart, please tell Daddy what happened. Who was this man?”
She looked shyly at the ground and then at something behind him. He turned around with a cautious eye, nothing was there.
“Ummm. When the mean man stopped, he pushed me to the ground. He was saying bad words at me. He tried to touch my no-no square.”
The demons began to growl again.
“But then this man hit the mean man in the head with his fist, and the mean man fell down! The mean man said more bad words and got up. But the other man hit the mean man again and again and the mean man didn’t move after that.”
He looked at her with a puzzled look before she continued.
“The man said he was your friend, and that he was going to take me back to you. And he held my hand. We walked back to you, and he told me about how you and he went on adventures!” She suddenly had a look of excitement on her face. “Can you tell me about your adventures Daddy?”
“Sweetheart, what did this man look like?” He didn’t know what to think of this.
“Ummmm, he had dark hair, and his skin was brown, he had a gap in his front teeth like me… Oh! He wore the same clothes like your old job in those pictures you showed me!”
His eyes grew wide as she continued.
“He pointed here,” as she pointed to the right side of her chest, “And said his name was Martinez. But I could call him Mr. Ricky. And that he was so happy to finally meet me!”
“And he said that you and he were friends when you were in the Army together. That was your old job, right Daddy?”
He kneeled in silence. Bears fought in his stomach. That was a name inscribed on a black bracelet he wore on his right wrist.
CPL RICARDO “RICKY” MARTINEZ
OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM
She began to feel his apprehension. “Sweetheart, are you sure?”
“Yes, Daddy. He was right behind us.”
He turned to meet eyes with someone unseen behind him. He held an invisible gaze before breaking into a sad smile and a nod.
He stood up picking her up in his arms. He began to walk slowly in silence as she held onto him tightly. Memories of friendship, brotherhood, war and tragedy replayed in his mind. He looked up into the sky and smiled.
“Sweetheart, I want to tell you about someone.”
“Nick” of Tales From The Grid Square is an active-duty member of the US Army and logistics officer. He has had a long-standing interest in the paranormal and is a self-proclaimed “paranormal military historian” (a term he made up). Several of his own experiences and experiences of his peers inspired him to start “Tales From The Grid Square,” where he collects and anonymously documents the paranormal stories of military service members. He hopes to elevate veteran/military voices and bridge the gap between the civilian and military. He has authored the book “Tales From The Grid Square Volume I,” a collection of 240 such stories from across the branches of the US Armed Forces as well as foreign militaries. You can share your own stories to the Instagram Account @Tales_From_The_Gridsquare or email: TalesFromTheGridsquare@gmail.com.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.
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