Episode 38 - Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell

Ben was on the run. Facing serious charges as a deserter, he’s been gone for a week now. As I found out from the Military Police, a person holding a top secret security clearance is a deserter rather than AWOL, because of the National Security implications of the material to which they have access. Ben knew too much about the Cobalt Bomb in the Mulberry Pond. In fact, Ben knew a lot more about the pond than the Government itself. The Military Police left the Mulberry Ridge a few days ago, after an unsuccessful 5 day search for our missing Marine. It was obvious he wasn’t coming back. There were speculations that Ben could’ve reached the town of Arcadia by now, but I had my doubts. The only reason he left was to conceal his strange disease, the scabs on his back and now neck. Roy thinks Ben would’ve been looking for private medical assistance somewhere near, since he refused to be treated at a Military facility. - I think he’s still around the Ridge, Roy. This is where he wanted to be, remember? - I told Roy earlier this week. Roy and I felt somewhat responsible for Ben’s disappearance. We were the only two members of the Fire Team who knew about Ben’s condition. We could’ve stopped him. We could’ve given him better options. As my guilt grew stronger through out the week, I volunteered myself to give the bad news to Ben’s family. Aunt Ann Elizabeth Klausner had raised Ben since he was 3 years old in Oregon. Ben’s parents died in an airplane crash in 1987, 3 days after Christmas. Aunt Ann is such a sweet woman. After a short briefing with Sergeant Palmer, Private Harvey drove me to the watchtower landing site, where our helicopter waited for me. Jill, our pilot, was very kind. We talked through out the whole flight, mainly about Ben’s escapade. We arrived at Camp Lejeune not long after. I took a much needed shower and changed into my civilian clothes. I was expecting to see Major Munsch at some point, but he never showed up. He was probably too busy yelling at our platoon’s lieutenant. During my flight to Portland I couldn’t stop thinking about Ben’s future. The Mulberry Ridge is a dangerous place. Vicious giant turtles roam around freely. Ben is alone and his health is at stake. - What have I done? - I asked myself. I didn’t want to betray Ben. If I told the others about his illness, maybe things would’ve turned out differently. Better… who knows? I need to find him. I fell asleep. When I woke up we were already at the Portland International Airport. It took hours to get my car rental. After much arguing, I ended up with a lousy blue minivan. On my way to Aunt Ann’s house, driving by St. John’s Bridge, I started to get nervous. - What am I going to tell her? She’s going to kill me - I thought to myself. My stomach turned into knots. I needed to eat something. Passed the bridge there was a little diner. While eating my sandwich, I must’ve looked really concerned. A nice waitress even stopped to ask me if I was ok. I arrived at the Cathedral Park neighborhood in the early evening. Aunt Ann’s house sits on Willamette Blvd, close to the River. I got out of the minivan. My hands where sweating. “What am I going to tell her?” The question kept invading my mind. I rehearsed a few words while I paced around Aunt Ann’s driveway. - Alright, you can do this, John - I told myself. I waked passed the beautiful manicured grass and made my way to the front entrance. I knocked at the door. I heard footsteps coming from inside. My heart started to pound. Then the door opened. Standing at the front door Aunt Ann looked at me confused. - Where’s Ben? - She asked me smiling. I didn’t say a word. I just stared the sidewalk. Right then she knew something was wrong. She brought her hands to her face and her eyes started to water. She offered me her arms and we held each other for a long time, not saying a word. We finally made it inside. - Is my boy ok? What happened? - Aunt Ann kept asking distressed. I told her to sit down and I proceeded to explain the series of events that led to Ben’s desertion charges, including a description of Ben’s illness. She wailed, she punched me; she did everything I expected her to do. I sat down with her and I tried my best not to cry. After she calmed down, we went around the house looking at old pictures of Ben. It was then that she remembered something from when Ben was at Twentynine Palms, hospitalized for his harsh encounter with the giant turtle. - I remembered seeing some strange marks on Ben’s back at the hospital, but the nurse said they were normal. - she told me. Then Aunt Ann looked me straight in the eyes and asked me a question that made me tremble: - Do you think your commanding officer knew about this all along?

by Corporal John Harris, June 07, 2006