So here’s the deal. I’m posting the first few pages of my new book over here. It’s just the opening. But I’d really like some feedback. You can post comments here or on Facebook or just email me your thoughts and impressions but I’d really like feedback on this.

Here goes nothing:

Escaping through the lily fields
I came across an empty space
It trembled and exploded
{and left me} in it’s place
– Grateful Dead

He never asked to be a hero. He’d simply run away and joined the army the day after he’d graduated from high school, much to his father’s disapproval and mother’s quiet horror. One day, he was laughing with his buddies and trying to score beer and get Cass McLaurin to let him cope a feel. The next he was surrounded by drill sergeants in a shark attack, being screamed at by Fort Benning’s finest, unable to do anything but obey.
The first time he dreamed of blood, he woke up with a mouth full of it, having bit his tongue after he fell asleep in the prone, his cheek resting on the stock of his M4. His drill sergeant had kicked him in the back of the head to wake him up. He never slept well again after that.
The strange lure of blood stayed with him after that. The resonating answer to the drill sergeants’ cry what makes the grass grow. Blood! Blood! It pulsed in his ears and throbbed in his veins along with the quiet certainty that he would spill it when it was time.
The second time he dreamed of blood was the first night the mortars hit his combat outpost. He’d been dreaming of blood when the pounding in his brain threw him from his bed. The cadence in his head would hide in his dreams, stalking his sleep.
Then it started during the day. Out on patrols, he tasted blood but his gloved fingers would come away clean. In the chow hall, his spaghetti looked like the mangled remnants of his basic training battle buddy, who’d been hit by an RPG.
It seemed Iraq was determined to claim his soul even as he struggled to function on a few hours of sleep a night. Then he saw her. He didn’t know if the first time he saw her was real or a dream. But she was there. Always there.
The dirty child with no shoes and ratty hair. Standing and looking. Just looking even as he tried to see around the tiny body to the men hiding behind her. He saw her on street corners. Behind dumpsters.
And he felt his sanity start to slide away, like a dog beaten by its master.
Now, clean shaven and wearing his uniform for the last time, he cleared out of the Copeland Center on Fort Hood. He’d clung to the ideal of this day. The day he was handed his final out papers and his DD214. He was free. No longer a soldier. A civilian. His own man, who would be able to come and go as he pleased.
And he pleased to not see the shabby child anymore.
She left him alone for a while. He made the drive from Texas to Maine with relative ease and thought nothing of drinking a pint and a half of coffee brandy each night before dropping into a sleep that was anything but restful. He just needed a little help falling asleep, that was all. He was wired from too little sleep and too much coffee.
The old green bridge (XX name?) leading from New Hampshire into Maine welcomed him home. Ten years, he’d been gone. Ten years since he’d walked through the halls of his high school with his buddies and his brother.
He felt like that person hadn’t been him at all. Just a foreshadow of what life would be like as the boy had gone off to war and come home a man.
Hours passed like the ever green trees that lined I-95 and he pulled off in Newport for gas, coffee and a case of Coors Light. He knew better than to look for his favorite German beers or even any of the brands that were popular in Texas. He refused to think wistfully of Fort Hood. He was home now. Back in Maine. Hood had never been home. It had just been a stopping point on the journey into madness.
He started the engine of his Chevy Trailblazer and the headlights flooded the well lit parking lot.
He jerked and dumped hot coffee on his leg. As the liquid spread over his legs and cooled, he wiped his palms on his thighs. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t real. She wasn’t real.
She clutched the dirty rag that he guessed had once held a baby doll and stared at him. Her brown eyes wide and innocent in that dirty face.
He saw himself reach for the coffee like he was sitting behind the driver’s seat instead of in it. The lid popped off with a crunch of styrofoam. And the burn crawled slowly up the tips of his fingers until fire licked at his flesh and he snapped back to his body, his hand screaming in pain.
When he looked back, she was gone. His heartbeat slowed and the heat receded from the skin of his neck. This time, he knew when he reached for the coffee and swore when it burned his lips. But the burn reminded him that he was alive, so that was a good thing. Right?
He pulled into the Maine night, amazed as the stars filled the sky as brilliant points instead of being muted by city lights and desert sand. The moon filled the road until it was almost as brilliant as daylight. Buffalo Springfield came on the radio and that haunting peal that became the anthem for his father’s war pulled him to the present.
He was home. The tires crunched on the gravel driveway of what had once been his parent’s home. It was now his. The log cabin was nestled against a hill in a ten acre field that had once been a pasture. Wide dark windows stoically looked into the night sky and the wrap around porch made him smile as he remembered chasing his brother in summer nights forgotten until this moment.
His mouth went dry and he reached for a beer. The snap hiss was the only sound as he popped it open and slammed half the can. He downed the rest before he pulled the keys from the ignition and walked through the moonlight to house. The urge to rush to the porch and get out of the open nearly propelled him to run. Instead, he sucked in deep breaths and took the stairs. Two at a time but at least he was still walking.
The front door creaked and groaned as he pushed it open, the screen door slapping behind him with a crack that made him jump. The house smelled like apples and cinnamon and home. (XX Mom or Aunt?) had been here and cleaned the place up. The feelings inside him weren’t right. They weren’t his.
He ignored the feeling and looked around the wide open space that made his home. What had once been massive trees formed logs that framed the house and stood as beams through out the great room. The deer he’d shot when he was twelve was still mounted on the wall over the fireplace, right next to his brother’s moose.
A shiver ran across his skin. Christ it was cold in Maine. It was the first week of July, it wasn’t supposed to be in the forties. His t-shirt no longer seemed adequate and he turned toward the door.
He wanted his bag and his bed. A sweatshirt and another beer. The front door suddenly loomed larger in his vision, consuming every particle of visible light. His heart pounded in his chest and he felt the weight of his kevlar on his head. His rifle. Where was his rifle?
He stood and breathed, hard and deep, willing the panic to retreat. And he was glad he was alone as he rushed to the ancient truck and dragged his army issued duffle bag and assault pack from the back seat. He was still breathing hard when he slammed the front door behind him, locking the demons of the night and the wide open spaces out.
He dropped the duffle bag just inside the door and carried his backpack and the remains of the beer up the two landing stairs to the bedroom he’d once shared with his brother. He stopped, then turned, heading to the master bedroom. It was his now.
It didn’t feel right, sleeping in his parent’s bed but Aunt Mary had insisted. He wasn’t a boy anymore, she’d written in her last email.
He sat on the edge of his bed and pulled the forty five out of the holster he’d worn at the small of his back. He dropped the clip and cleared the weapon, checking the chamber automatically and catching the ejecting round before it fell. It was cold and smooth against his palm. Familiar. Comforting.
One by one, he slid the rounds from the clip. One by one he seated them back in the clip, then fed the clip into the weapon.
He reached into the wide front pocket of the assault pack, palming the cool orange plastic bottle. The Ambien felt like a hundred smooth tic tacs on his palm but their appeal was greater and held the lure of untainted sleep. One by one he counted them, dropping them back into the bottle. One hundred and sixteen.
One less than the night before.
He checked the safety on his forty five and set it on the bed next to him. He didn’t want to think about what happened when the pills ran out. But that was one hundred and sixteen days away. He’d worry about it then.
For now, though, he sank into the oblivion offered by Ambien’s waiting arms, he saw her.
And the dirty girl with ratty hair simply stared back at him with those sad brown eyes.