Tidbits from Gary

Hello and welcome to Stories by Baker!

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Anyways, and as always, enjoy if you will or don't if you won't!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So Close

"So Close"
an excerpt
Gary Baker, September 2012
(part 9 of a much longer project)


As consciousness slowly ebbed in like the mystic tides of an ocean cove, the soft shelter of sound reached the ears of the hospital's newest patient.

It was beautiful.

He had been brought in at nearly midnight that morning, air-lifted in by none other than a U.S. Grade-A Apache aircraft. Corporal Roi Anxo opened his eyes again and found himself looking up into the off-white hues of plaster and vermiculite tiles that held their breath over the patient's beds.

He had known this was a hospital, something about security concerns back on site which also explained why he had been informed about the location's close proximity to the mountain drill site. He knew the doctors here were well-studied, knew they were heavily-taught and influenced by military medical surgeons with top ranking chevrons next to their name patches. Most of all he knew that this particular hospital was a place readily made to accept any orders given by military command of any kind, meaning that if one particular soldier were hereby forbidden to leave the grounds under the
direct influence of national security, then the officials here would go well out of their way to keep him from so much as leaving his bed, let alone his room.

What he didn't know, however, was who or how the music was allowed. He recognized the tune, somewhat--something from Reba McEntire, a classic country musician from ages long gone--but it wasn't a lack of want nor like for the sweet guitar melody that had him curious. What had him curious was the music, itself.

No matter where he had been admitted, what he had done to himself, nor how he had done himself enough harm to be hospitalized in his life, not once had he awoken in a room with music playing. It was uncanny, unreal, and odd in an intriguing sort of way.

Like waking up in a cloud paradise. He wondered in awe while lifting off his back to find the music source. When he sat up, he realized that there were no heart monitors attached to his chest, no I.V.s stabbed into his elbows--or worse, into the veins on his hands--and no handcuffs holding him to the bed by either of his ankles or wrists.

"...I'm a survivor..." echoed the harmonious tone of Mrs McEntire as she played away. Suddenly he knew which song it was, the sound bringing him back, way back, to the days before he had decided to join the armed forces.

He had been living in Tennessee then, somewhere in the heart of the western half of the state beyond the north-flowing river. He had moved there after the final fallout with his junked-up mother, looking for the man that had brought him into being. Once there, he had found himself a sober vision of reality in a lone dive bar with a jukebox older than anyone attending. He remembered walking in out of a small flash of rain to come face-to-face with a gruff man on his way out. The man wasn't too pleased to be run into by a "soppin' gyp!" and proceeded to shove Roi out of the way before exiting.

The rain hadn't bothered the man, and Roi had been too feeble to face him again, not when smells of fresh bread and ale on tap were just paces away. So he found himself a seat and set his bag down at the foot of his stool, asked for some Rias Baixas, a wine from the land of his grandparents, but instead received and thus bought a bottle of Yazoo Sly. The song had come on just moments before an uncannily beautiful young woman sat on the stool beside him and grinned with perfect white teeth and long, flowing red-orange curls from beneath a straw colored cowboy hat.

"Where ya from, mister?" She had asked as the bartender warily kept an eye on Roi from across the bar space.

"What makes you think I'm from anywhere, hum?" He had tried to play it cool, tried to show a nonchalance of some strong guy from mystical tales of lore. "Might be, that I'm the one who should be asking that of you."

She laughed, a laugh that still echoed in his thoughts when he ever thought of leaving the forces. "Well, f'r one I think it's cuz you talk all proper-like--not like us 'round here."

Roi remembered looking her in the eye over the last gulp of his beer, catching something there that made his skin crawl with need, and proceeded to sweep her off her feet with tales of where he'd been and what he had done in the many fictional battles overseas. She had been all ears, even taking him home to listen to her own stories of things more glamorous and heart-racing than he could have hoped. It had been at that point, as they both regained the ability to breathe, that she had lifted the covers so gracefully and simply asked "so what unit were ya in? See, Pa was once in't too, but he got out seein' as how I came aroun', but he told me lots o'stuff about the Army."

Roi had been at a loss for words. He was no soldier, and had never even been overseas except on the one occasion as a kid when his dad had taken them all over to see his grandmother get special acknowledgement for her vintage red wine. He remembered clamoring up with the girl, not even able to answer so basic of a question... and she saw through his ruse.

Roi looked up at the shelf of books in front of his bed where a painting of a glass vase with red and purple flowers hung just above with enough space for charts and prescriptions to be tacked to the wall beneath. He remembered the feel of the girl's skin on his own, remembered the scent of her hair as it tousled itself on his face, he even remembered running for his life as the girl had fired at him with a shotgun from her doorstep with nothing but a see-through bedsheet hastily tied around herself. But for the life of him, Roi couldn't remember her name.

He had joined shortly after that, after having left all his money on the side table at her place, and was shipped off immediately. Since then, he hadn't really heard any music other than the occasional trumpet sounding off the wake-up call on bases around the country. It was only fitting to find the tune that had brought him into the military playing in what seemed to be his home for the next few weeks, and more fitting was the fact that it sung about being a 'survivor' when he had just lived through something too unreal to ever be used as a pickup line.

But, looking around, Roi began to wonder: was he a survivor? Perhaps he had simply died of a heart attack in his sleep after such a traumatic event. Maybe he had actually died from a shot by the girl in Tennessee, and had lived out a term of 'repentance' before being allowed the sight of this place, one so much more graceful and serene than the gritty maws of machinery on a Nimitz-class carrier that he loved so much.

Expectation often leads to the denial of anything less, and as Corporal Roi Anxo swung his legs to the side to stand there stood a petite brunette with a white coat and a clipboard waiting by the window as if for orders from the searingly bright light beyond the glass. She was facing the panes yet he knew that she was aware of his movement despite the music that now played another, less recognizable, tune of the same genre.

"Um," Roi's voice caught in his throat. He sat on the bed, in a backless smock of plasticky cloth, with an angel standing paces away, and he had not a word to release that might make things easier when the time came to have the lever of judgement pulled. And why is there plastic smocks in the afterlife? Is this some sort of test to see how fast I complain? "Hi," he breathed at last, ignoring his need to point out how wrong it was to deal with a plastic smock--a backless one, too--in the world between worlds.

Without turning, the woman looked to the clipboard, then her watch, and proceeded to write on the form that must have been there. "Good morning, corporal..." she glanced to the form, "Anxo-" She turned suddenly, looking at him through thin lenses with rims halfway between red and purple, "-did I say that right?"

"Er, what?" Keeping eye contact with her was suddenly his only reason to live, or, rather, have lived.

"Your name." She smiled, lighting him up into a cheerful chuckle, "what? Did I say it wrong?"

"Oh," Roi waved it off jokingly, finally breaking the steady stare to appear more 'normal' and less 'waveringly insane'. "Yeah, perfect. I didn't know there was a wrong way to pronounce it, actually. Not here at least."

One eyebrow rose higher than the other, making her freckled face seem to gain a ponderous element. "'Here'?"

"Well, yeah," he began, and stood to spin around with arms outstretched and stopped when he faced her again. "I mean, it's not very nice to be dead, but seeing you has made... it all..." Her smirk brought him back, down to an all-too-Earthly reality, where he had just showed his uncovered backside to an employee of the hospital. "This isn't the afterlife... is it?"

The girl barely withheld a fit of laughter, her cheeks turning red as she did, and gazed intently at the clipboard in her arms. "No, no I am afraid it isn't."

Roi fell back onto the bed with a loud sigh. "Well, I guess that should have been obvious."

She glanced up shyly. "Were you hoping for it to be otherwise?"

"I dunno, actually." He looked to the windows and scowled deep in thought. "I mean, I remember most of it. I think. But I guess it just seemed too... fantastical to be real."

The nurse lifted her arm in a reference to the chair and desk to his right, at the head of the bed. "May I?"

"Go right ahead!"

"Thank you." She pulled the chair out, and flipped to another page where he could see a series of boxes and lines with places for dates and times on the rightmost margin. "Now, speaking of which, can you tell me everything that you recall?"

In all honesty, he didn't know where to start. Was it a good idea to start way back in Tennessee? or better to start when he was being brought up the drill chasm back at base? "Well, what would you like to know? I can start there and lead my way here, if you'd like."

"My orders-" ah, Roi realized, she's strictly business, then. All recent military acts and whatnot. Nothing more. "-are to have you recall as much as you can since the... 'problems' arose at the site."

He frowned, remembering a long talk with the man he least expected to see before leaving the drill site. "You mean like what I already told the General?" He remembered telling the General, also the father of the girl back in Tennessee to his dismay, as well as a man who had heard of Roi from this girl and therefore hated his very existence. He had told the man everything from his first military exploit in Mexico just after signing on all the way to every gruesome detail about the walls of the chasm on the way down and the wall that wasn't a wall and how it chose not to be a wall anymore. "Are they just wanting to double-check me as a source?"

Her smile was purposefully donned. It was quick and slight, not the full beam that he had seen after calling her an angel by default. "In a way, yes."

He crossed his arms, knowing that there was only one real way to ever see the outside of this room again; knowing his only chance at seeing the drill again, at seeing the wall again, as scared shitless as it made him, was to act like there was something else he was hiding and eventually resume his duties as lead mechanic of the drill site after being interrogated. He needed something to make him appear that much more valuable. He chose his words carefully and precisely as though it might be able to hold up in court should worse come to worst. "Well, forgive me, but I cannot be sure if you have the security clearance for this."

Suddenly the woman was all devilish pride and glared at him over the rims of her glasses as she stood. "Well played, Corporal," she reached into her coat and pulled out a card and pressed it into his palm while whispering into his left ear, a glimmer of cleavage revealed almost blatantly from the angle. "When you decide to talk, here's my card."

She stepped to the door and paused to place the clipboard back down where it belonged. The woman then turned her head slightly and eyed him from the corners of her vision, "Somehow I knew acting as a nurse here would one day get me the biggest story since the Kennedy assassination." She spun and blew him a kiss with a final exclamation of "toodles!"

Gaping with wonder, Corporal Roi Anxo watched as what could have been the most beautiful disaster of his life escaped from the room.

She had him enthralled to the point of breaking, and he hadn’t even guessed it. If not for his sense of need to be back on site, he may very well have acted without orders in giving sensitive information to the public long before the military had given permission... yet somehow, as he dropped his gaze to the business card in his palm, he almost wished he
had given her reason to stay.

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