On Eagle’s Wings – By Jennifer Harrelson

This is the first in a two-part story. . .

The mess-tent swells with early morning chatter.  An open space on the picnic-style table a few rows to my left beckons me.  I set my breakfast down.  The other marines glance up and go back to their conversations.

The man across from me, his name patch reads Sgt. Meyers, says to the hispanic officer I sat next to, “The old guy is doing better.”

The marine next to me shakes his head.  “After a cheap bottle of penicillin?  How long was he sick?”

“His grandson said for months.”  Sgt. Meyers’ blue eyes flashed.  “Did you see the kid’s face light up with the new school supplies?  School supplies, man.  My kids back home would be whining about having to go to school at all.  The fact he gets to be the hero of his village for bringing back enough for all of the kids.”  Sgt Meyers returns his gaze to me.  “How’s the food, Private Donnelly?”

I nod, my mouth full of hash browns and scrambled eggs.  I swallow, mom’s conditioning coming through.  She’d slap me if I talked with my mouth full.  “Real good, Sergeant.”

“You meet Staff Sergeant Ortiz?”

I turned my head to properly look my superior in the eye.  “Briefly, Sergeant.  When I first got here.”

Ortiz rested his elbow on the table, pushing his tray a few inches.  “You ready for your first outing tomorrow?”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

***

Colorado, where I’m from, is an arid climate, but it is nothing compared to Afghanistan.  The wind is almost constant and the hearty vegetation only grows at certain elevations.  I’m stationed at Camp Blessing.  The tents and tan buildings blend into the color of the sand.  The desert floor heats like a hot plate during the day, frying through the soles of my boots if I stand still long enough.  Night cools to a frigid thirty-five degrees.  I still get the chills as I turn in.

We prep for our first venture into the Hindu Kush, mainly to overlap our presence with the battalion who’s going home next week.  Meet the locals, hand out much-needed supplies to villagers cut off by the Taliban, perhaps get some new intel.

The truck rumbles up the narrow mountain pass, more of a cart trail than a road, but it’s the best road we’ve got.  I keep my eyes trained on the mountainside to my right, watching for traps and snipers.  Nothing green to hide behind, but plenty of holes and rock outcroppings.  The truck’s engine should deafen me to anything, but the thought of ambush is pushing my heart into my ears.

The road degrades until our driver, Nowicki, is forced to stop.

Ortiz jumps down from the passenger seat.  “End of the line.”

We all jump out into the dust.  The scent of scarce desert plants and a trace of water swirl on the breeze.  I hitch up my pack.

“All right, ladies,” Ortiz says.  “Another five miles and we’ll be at Macy’s.”

A few chuckles echo across the canyon as we line up.

The first two miles or so seem almost like hiking at home, minus the scrub oak, pines, or pretty much anything living.  It isn’t until we approach the first settlement, and dwarfed trees, that the guys grow quiet.

Ortiz signals for us to stop and squat.  The guy in front of me, Kline, points to a precipice overlooking the river far below.  Ortiz checks the spot through his binoculars.

“Are you sure you saw something, Peters?”  Ortiz adjusts the focus.

“If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’, Sergeant.”

A sniper’s shot kicks up dust just between Ortiz and Peters.

My heart, already pounding away between my ears, doubles its pace.  I grip my SAW.

Ortiz signals to Kline, who has set up his scope and is currently searching for the sniper.

Kline reports the coordinates to our own sniper.  The rifleman, Martin, squeezes the trigger.  He waits for confirmation through his own scope.  After several minutes we move.

Another bullet whizzes by, between Kline and me.  Kline, without a reaction to almost getting shot, smiles and reads the coordinates to Martin.

The shot is clean.  What appears as red dust sprays up and back from the boulder the gunman was hiding behind.

Martin lowers his weapon.  “Where there’s one there’s always more.  Keep an eye on the whole ridge as we march on.”

Kline nods.  “I’m sure that whole side is swarming with ’em.”

***

Village children come out to greet us from what seems every door.  Only Peters knows some of the language, enough to give medicines and supplies to the locals.

In turn, the burka-clad women offer tea, bread, and dried apricots.

Peters talks with the other Afghani interpreter and the village leaders.  Making friends, I hope.

“What do you think they’re cooking?” I ask Kline.  He casually points at a goat as it passes by us in the street.  But the smell of bread is what catches me, a homey smell that embraces us.  The apricots are unlike the store-bought I’m used to, solid honey exploding sunshine in my mouth.  At once the smells and tastes relax me.

I unload a dozen deflated soccer balls and a hand-pump.  The boys take turns inflating them all.  A little girl, to small for a burka, toddles over to me.  I open the flap on my leg and hand her a sucker.  The little girl shows me her rag-doll.  I give it a small hug and hand her back.  The smile of thanks spreads first from her black eyes to the rest of her face, erasing her innocence to reveal the beauty she will grow to be.  If the Taliban allow her to live that long.

A soccer ball bounces off my knee.  I rise and kick it back to the boys.  They chase it, laughing, and kick it back to me.  I never trained to play soccer in full gear.  I give it my best.

A few rounds with the kids and we’re called together.

Ortiz squats in the middle of us.  “Listen up.  We get these folks what they need, and between Peters and Nowicki, they’ll get a list of what else they may need next time we’re up here.  Anything else, gentlemen?”

Both Nowicki and Peters shake their heads.  Nothing we can discuss at our present position.

***

Ortiz stands at attention in the front left corner of the quonset hut, his dark eyes flashing around the room as he waits for his C.O. to begin.  We all follow his example.

Master Sargent Taggert strides into the room with a wave of the papers in his hand.  His neck is deeply sunburned.  What appears to be a tan is actually millions of freckles covering his arms and face.  “At ease, men.  Thanks to our little patrol yesterday, we have good intel that we have hostiles in the caves overlooking our favorite villages.  Even better is that some of those hostiles are the kind our government want alive in Gitmo.”

Over the course of the next hour, we are assigned quadrants and dates for patrols.  I knew it would be big, but I had no idea.  We’ll be at this particular assignment for at least six months.  It might take us all the way to when my deployment is over.

To be continued . . . 

Jennifer Harrelson writes a variety of genres, from children’s books to horror.  She resides in her native Lakewood, Colorado with her husband and fellow native,  and two daughters.

The Betrothal, 43,000 B.C. — By Nat Tilander

For three days Ug-ba brought the fair-haired Le-le-la special foods from the forest.

The first day he brought rainbow-colored fish he’d caught in the big lake below the falls. He swaggered up to the evening fire, where Le-le-la sat with her kinsfolk, and pounded his powerful chest. Then he placed the string of fish in front of the girl and backed away. Le-le-la looked at him with enormous, blue eyes, alight with excitement–and tossed the fish nonchalantly into the fire.

The second day, Ug-ba brought Le-le-la a basket of berries. Again, it was the evening meal, and Le-le-la sat in the cave by her family’s fire with her sister, Na-ni, and her sharp-tongued step-mother, Jepa. This time, Ug-ba approached cautiously. Instead of pounding his chest, he cleared his throat and politely scratched his privates. Le-le-la did not meet his gaze, but her younger sister gazed open-mouthed at Ug-ba, and Le-le-la’s stepmother paused in the picking of her two decayed front teeth.

Ug-ba reached down and placed the basket of berries gently in Le-le-la’s lap. The young woman’s eyes widened. With a warm smile, she lifted up the basket, tasted one of the berries–then spit it out and threw the woven container contemptuously in the direction of the tribal latrine.  The berries spilled and scattered over the foul ground.

Ug-ba’s face reddened and his fists clenched.  Hearing the laughter and jeers of the tribe, he turned and stormed back to the comfort of his own clan fire.

On the third night, Ug-ba approached the cave yet again, a great silver-furred boar slung over his shoulder.  He walked as if the boar’s weight mattered naught at all, though no other man of the tribe could have carried such a mighty beast. Again Ug-ba found Le-le-la sitting by her family’s fire. She was a beautiful, strong-boned girl, one who would be sure to produce many healthy children, whose supple but nicely rounded frame would keep him warm at night. Though she was young–only thirteen winters–and some men complained that she was willful and spoiled, Ug-ba found himself increasingly taken with her and was determined to make her his mate.

As Ug-ba approached the fire, he saw the tribe again watching him–all except Le-le-la, whose eyes were on the boy across the fire.  The clever-tongued youth named Ba-nan, son of the medicine man, was tall and wiry, but his puny strength was no match for Ug-ba’s. Ba-nan’s smug grin and Le-le-la’s steadfast refusal to acknowledge Ug-ba made the huge caveman angry. Right then he decided to seize Ba-nan and squeeze the life out of him. Ug-ba’s keen eyes, however, noted the subtle tensing of Le-le-la’s jaw which told him the girl was aware of his presence and was waiting to see how he would comport himself.

Very well, then.  He would control his temper.

Ug-ba set down his spear, dragged the boar off his shoulder and held it out in his great, hairy arms–a remarkable feat, considering the weight of the boar. Then he bellowed a challenge and flung the carcass into the fire, causing a storm of red sparks to fly up into the face of Le-le-la and those beside her. Na-ni, Jepa, and Ba-nan scrambled quickly back, swatting at the embers that landed on their skin and lodged in their hair, cursing foully as they skulked into the shadows. Le-le-la, however, ignored the coals, even though they ate into her flesh. Her out-thrust chin was set with stubbornness. Her chest heaved with violent emotion.

Suddenly the girl pursed her lips, kicked the boar’s snout with the heel of her foot, and laughed.

Ug-ba charged around the fire as if he had been waiting for that very sign of womanish contempt. Reaching down, he grabbed his would-be bride around her narrow waist. Then he grunted and heaved her over his shoulder.

Before anyone could move, Ug-ba strode toward the mouth of the cave. As he picked his way down the boulder-strewn slope, he felt Le-le-la’s full breasts slapping and jostling against the straining muscles of his back. Behind him gathered the tribe–laughing, gesticulating, and cheering noisily for his successful courtship. A smile touched Ug-ba’s lips.

Nat Tilander writes from Centennial, Colorado and enjoys Science Fiction.

Yankee Doodle Dandy – Part III – By Zoltan James

This is the final in Z.J.’s three-part story. Please share your comments.

He looked off into the distance. “I gotta admit that at first I thought it was all a bunch of hooey over nothing. I thought maybe I was being made fool of, you know, the sketchy town idiot. Hell, who can take a guy serious when he parades up Main Street wearing a tri-cornered hat with a feather in it? Then, one day, some of the fellows over at Legion Hall reminded me of how at least three of our native sons from Billerica died in Nam. That give me a cause to pause, I’ll tell you—-give me a whole different outlook. Not for nothing. Anyway, I fought off my ego and now I do it–and proudly–to honor my relatives, and all our sons and daughters who’ve fought for the good old U.S. of A.”

I drove back to Boston and caught the last flight of the day back to New York. I had decided that Thomas was no crank. He was just an honest American thrust into a role he hadn’t planned on–and accepted what was thrown at him, just like the millions of average Joes over the centuries who sacrificed at a terrible cost with their lives so you and I can have the freedom to be creative, make our own decisions, worship where and how we want, invest in our futures, build businesses, start over as immigrants, vote, complain, speak our minds, and breathe the sweet air of liberty–even while parading around in silly tri-cornered hats.

My macaroni lunch with Thomas Ditson and hearing of his acceptance to be the Grand Marshall Yankee Doodle, reminded me of the historic letter John Adams wrote to his wife after the Declaration of Independence was declared. He said, “I am apt to believe that this day will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.”

Now whenever I hear the song “Yankee Doodle” or “Yankee Doodle Dandy” I ponder the freedoms we enjoy. Freedoms purchased in blood. And I get goosebumps.

By the way, my story got published under the headline: “Keep it Up Yankee Doodle.”

# # #

 Author’s Note: The names used here are from real people.

 According to several historical sources, the song Yankee Doodle was originally sung by British military officers to mock the disheveled and seemingly disorganized colonial “Yankees” with whom they served in the French and Indian War. The tune is believed to be from the nursery rhyme Lucy Locket.

One version of the lyrics is attributed to Doctor Richard Shuckburgh, a British army surgeon. According to one story, Shuckburgh wrote the song after seeing the appearance of Colonial troops under Colonel Thomas Fitch, V, son of Connecticut Governor Thomas Fitch.

Ephraim Williams was a Colonel in the Massachusetts militia and died in the Battle of Lake George. He left his land and property to the founding of a school in Western Massachusetts, now known as Williams College.

Some reports claim the British often marched to a version of the song believed to be about a man named Thomas Ditson, of Billerica, Massachusetts. Ditson was tarred and feathered for attempting to buy a musket in Boston in March 1775, although he later fought at Concord. For this reason, the town of Billerica claims to be the “home” of Yankee Doodle, and claims that during and after the Revolutionary War Americans embraced the song and made it their own, turning it back on those who had used it to mock them.

The lyrics: “put a feather in his cap and called it macaroni,” was a reference to the Macaroni wig which was in extreme fashion in the 1770s in England. It became contemporary pejorative slang for foppishness. The “Macaronis,” young men who wore fashion to the extreme, were deemed effeminate, and pre-dated the term “dandies.” Thus, the British were insinuating that the colonists were not very masculine. Apparently when Shuckburgh saw colonists wearing feathers in their hats, used the lyrics to make fun of them as though a feather was an insufficient mark of macaroni.

The name, Uncle Sam, is linked to Samuel Wilson, a successful entrepreneur and meat packer from Troy, New York. He supplied beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. Wilson stamped the barrels with “U.S.” for United States, but soldiers referred to the provisions as “Uncle Sam’s.” A local newspaper ran the story and that’s how Uncle Sam became the official nickname for our federal government.

In September 1961, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Wilson died at 88 in 1854, and was buried in Troy’s Oakwood Cemetery.  The town calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”

“The Yankee Doodle Boy,” also known as “(I’m a) Yankee Doodle Dandy” is from the Broadway musical Little Johnny Jones written by George M. Cohan. The play opened at the Liberty Theater on November 7, 1904.

The play follows a fictional American jockey, Johnny Jones (based on the real life jockey Tod Sloan), who rides a horse named Yankee Doodle in the English Derby. Cohan incorporated snippets of several traditional American songs into these lyrics, as he often did with all his music.

Actor James Cagney performed the song in the 1942 film Yankee Doodle Dandy, in which he played Cohan. In 2004, the American Film Institute recognized this version of “Yankee Doodle Boy” on the AFI’s 100 Years…100 Songs list placing it ahead of “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain and behind “Summer Nights” from Grease.

The film won Academy Awards for Best Actor (Cagney) in a Leading Role, Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording. It was nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture and Best Writing, Original Story.

In 1993, Yankee Doodle Dandy was preserved in the U. S. National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

In 1986, Yankee Doodle Dandy was the first computer-colorized film released by media mogul Ted Turner.