The following story was made out of the utmost respect for Dalton Trumbo's classic novel, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN, and though the events chronicled here mirror that of the aforementioned work, this piece is an original story that follows up on the book's main protagonist through the lens of the science fiction television series, QUANTUM LEAP, as a way of reconciling this author's feelings about the horrors of war/Trumbo's iconic book and to perhaps leave behind a chance for hope for Joe Bonham and ourselves.
Prick of the stump, the old cold metal, and on lavender waves goes the corpse into the burning boat.
"Why does Tom have to go to Vietnam?" This was a kind of question the sixteen-year-old Sam Beckett rarely asked. Not that he had outgrown the raw curiosity, not at all. He'd never had it, not like the other children. From a very early age it was quite clear to John and Mrs. Beckett that their baby boy's inquisitiveness, even from the moment he first laid his newborn eyes upon them, was already mired by a genius' apathy, whose gaze darted through all of life's commonplace mysteries that plagued lesser minds for their whole lives in a second. Why is the sky blue? What makes that car work? Make no mistake; the boy was interested in things, just big things. Things that, without a shred of understanding, only seemed to frighten the wholesome and the tidy, the so-called centrist masses and their strong coffee and sobering, hard chinned pace. Big things got in the way of what you knew to be true. Big things lead to bigger questions. Is there a God? Why do young men have to go to war? Why doesn't the man with suit and the button send his son instead of making a speech about sending mine? Luckily, old John Beckett and Mrs. Beckett had done it before, raised a child that is. They knew how to handle it. Sam had an older brother. Tom. Athletic, kind, a little high strung. He liked all the regular things. Like basketball, girls, cars, all that jazz. His country. Tom loved his country very much. The Beckett's loved their country too. Sam liked basketball. He was damn good at it. He was good at a lot of things. Piano, calculus, chess. He was good at thinking. Maybe too much for his own good, for when Sam asked his father, why Tom, the kid who liked jazz and girls and cars, had to go and maybe not like jazz and girls and cars anymore because he'd be you know, dead, and well you don't like anything but worms and dirt when your dead, John Beckett broke out in a sweat across his brow, despite the morning chill sweeping across the fields, signaling the coming of a extra cold winter.
At first, he wanted to call to his wife. All the way back at the house. Drag her out there and make her tell him. What a question?! What on earth could have possessed him to ask that? Didn't he already know why? Didn't everybody. Boy, for a genius prodigy, you sure don't know too much, the aging dairy farmer wanted to say, and maybe Sam heard him. Or heard his own voice. It sounded so...juvenile. Naïve. Like when the three-year-old child asks why when he lets go of his rattle it falls to the floor. It was a child's question! But did not old Sir Isaac ask the same? Smart, inquisitive, Sir Isaac. Damn eggheads don't know much.
John Beckett kept still a moment, though it hurt his back, stooped with the axe over his fresh kill. Wood for fire, for the long winter ahead. He stared out toward the main road where, if you went long enough, you hit the town.
"Because," John finally said sternly, "he's fighting for democracy."
"But, he can already vote."
John shot him a look. No. The boy's normal foray into deep meaning questions and odd musings were missing and this, simpleness was genuine. And seeking an answer. "I know you'll miss him. I'll miss him. But, he's gotta help those people. Keep the commies out."
"Can't they fight to vote?'
"Then why are they making Tom go?"
"He's a soldier."
"What if he dies?"
"For democracy, any man would give his son."
He was coming back. Awake again? Or still dreaming. The first thing he remembered noticing, as solid reality reformed around his body again, was that the silence was deafening. That's what made it real. Even before his memory found firm footing again, a now somewhat welcomed tradition of his travels, the thickness and definiteness of the quiet overpowered his usually feverish quest to fill in the Swiss cheesed gaps of his past and his present, the ever-changing likes of which had made the difficulty to recall it a part of his life. Sam Beckett. The fact plopped into his head faster than usual. Quantum physicist. Trapped in time. The voice in his head sounded rote and lazy. It struck him. Never before had he sounded so tired, uninterested…like he'd said it a million times. His brain remembered. The leaps. Not in any vivid detail, but it had registered the length of time. That was new. He had grown accustomed to the clean slate feeling.
The clearance of his sight was taking longer than usual as well. Normally, it was like a blurry photograph coming into focus. He always imagined a gloved hand around an old movie camera for some reason, turning a crank round and round until everything became lucid. This time, the only hints were forms of light that burned into his nothingness in…and out…in…and out. Each time, his equilibrium swayed like on that of a boat atop rocky waters. His stomach was churning, and then ice melted in his veins and put it to rest. The colors flared and swirled through his mind's eye. At first, very faintly. He recalled as a child when he'd stay up way past his bedtime and peering over the covers into the dark, he would see specks of light waft and soar all around him, products of his tiring imagination. Suddenly, the shapes and colors exploded. A jolt went through his body. His muscles tensed and strained, but they couldn't hold on.
Prick of the stump, the old cold metal, and on lavender waves goes the corpse into the burning boat.
They melted down, went numb. He was numb. Soggy. Drowsy. The colors. Blue. Red. Yellow. Their bursts scattered like fire. Bombs lighting up a night sky.
And then, sound burst with them. Pow. Pow. Like drum beats and blaring horns. Pow. Pow pow. Not sound. Vibrations. Shuddering through him. Music. Big. Loud. It came over the call of the train's whistle. Singing. Over there…over there…send the word…
He stepped into the room to get away from the wash of sounds. It was just off the station somewhere. The fleck of cards tickled his ears. Might be a tavern or not. He smelled no alcohol on the air. He smelled nothing. There were four or five of them at a table, waiting for the train. The one with red hair looked at him. "You play blackjack?"
"Sure," Sam heard himself say. He sat down.
A boy came up to the table. Couldn't have been a day over sixteen. Sam knew him. He squinted his eyes and tried to capitalize on the twinge of recognition. He'd come down from Elkridge. They'd let him out of jail if he joined the army. Only sixteen. Had big hips for a boy. The thought made Sam smile, and then feel shame. "Make sure your bet's out before the first card," the man with red hair said. Sam laid down a quarter. The cards were dealt. There was another. He looked like a Swede. "Christ, I wish we had a drink." The boy form Elkridge said, "Then why don't you drink it." There was a glass of whisky on the table. Everyone had a whisky.
"Hit me," Sam declared, "but not too hard."
"What are you doing here?" The man with red hair looked at him funny. "You ain't gonna die."
"What?" Sam asked.
"I get killed on the twenty-seventh." The man looked at his watch. "I have to say goodbye to my wife and kid. I'm the sergeant, you see." He was quite proud. "I go over first. I die first. What are you doing here?"
Before Sam could answer, the live music in the background suddenly changed. People began to sing louder.
Oh say can you see…
Interrupted. Everyone stood. Hat in hand.
…by the dawn's early light.
It felt like morning. He was awake. He opened his eyes. No, he didn't. But he was awake. He couldn't see. The same blackness from before. No colors anymore. He could feel his eyelids. They were closed. Why couldn't he just open them? The dreams had been the same over and over. Trapped in the void, Sam had been fading in and out of consciousness for days, weeks, months, trying to steady his thoughts long enough to separate himself from the mind merge with the leapee. He had leaped into an injured man. That was certain. One who had to be drugged. A lot. When he first 'arrived,' he struggled and jerked, but in vein. His arms felt like weights were on them, his whole body, every time he tried to move. And this only for seconds at a time before dazing into the dreams that were hybrids of his own experiences mixed with that of his charge. Now, after awaking again, finally able to pull his fragments together, it seemed Sam had found a respite.
He took it slowly. Any excursion could jeopardize this injured leapee.
He felt other things. Something was covering his face. It felt like bandages. His senses cleared. The ones he had. He felt the bed underneath him and bandages on his face. He exhaled hard. No. He didn't. He couldn't. He was breathing, but he couldn't stop it. He tried to sit up. He couldn't. He raised his hand and touched the bandage on his face. He imagined it, but the real feeling never came. Lift your arm. He didn't have one. His breath quickened, but he didn't feel it pumping, hot and panicked, through his mouth. Nor through his nose. He couldn't feel them. He ran his tongue along his palette. He had neither. He kicked his legs. They weren't there. He rocked himself wildly. He could feel the bedsprings creak and strain. He didn't hear the creak. He felt it. He was deaf. He was nothing.
He was nothing. But, he was thinking. His mind was somewhere, but he, he was nowhere.
A leap into limbo? No. His mind was not among the stars. He could feel himself. His body. Mind and body were one. He was maimed. He froze, shaking up and down to a sputtering halt, his mind a fire with no way to express it except a singular thought that swarmed every inch of what was left of his body and soul. Oh boy.