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You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
So here I am to try, and to fail, so I can learn.
Paul Fail. For The Win!

24 June 2010

FlashFriday: Warrior Regret


#Friday Flash
Warrior Regret
©2010, D. Paul Angel


Once again he's running along the Warrior's top past Q Turret.  Just as he ducks below decks he sees a hole punched through the falling splashes just abeam her.  An instant later the rolling, all consuming thunder of the shell's hit passes through him on its way to the bow, knocking him down.  The energy's reverberation knocks the breath out of him as it passes through him on its return.  Gasping, he sucks in the fetid air's cloying stench of burning cordite, seared flesh, and lost bowels.  Fighting off nausea, he pushes himself aft.

As the foul, bilious smoke clears, grieved shouts call him to an open hatch over the compartments below.  Through the weak, crackling electrical light he watches the North Sea rush into the far chamber.  A group of men are fighting to close the watertight door in a desperate attempt to stop the implacable flood's rising.  Although they have it almost completely closed, the blast's force distorted the frame; rendering it, ultimately, useless.

Realizing their futility, they give up on the door and turn to him at the hatch.  Dozens of voices now shout at him.  Alternately pleading and cursing, they implore him for help.  Panic enters the men's voices as the North Sea simply pushes the watertight door aside to rush into the small space.  The light's flick off with a pop, but not before the Men's anguished faces are seared into his memory.

For the first time their siren song calls him
through the hatch, and he joins them in the salty embrace of their iron tomb.

"Hey! Get out of that box!  I told you both to never come up here!"

William and Bradley looked up from the box to the flushed face of their Grandpa.  "We're sorry," said Bradley, the oldest at ten, "We couldn't help ourselves."

"Well put it all back then and come back downstairs."

"But Grandpa..."

"Yes?  What?  Come, come.  Leave it.  There is nothing of good in that box."

"But Grandpa!  This is a, 'Distinguished Service Order'" said Bradley, proudly holding it aloft by it's ribbon, and reading its inscription.

Their grandpa sagged when he saw it.  "Grandpa?" asked William, through an eight year old's black and white perspective, "Doesn't this mean you were a Hero?  Isn't that good?"

"Not always Billy.  Not always."

The box might have been returned to its dusty place in the attic, but it could  no longer be forgotten.  Bradley and William asked him about as often as they dared, and though she wouldn't admit to it, he could see the look of curiosity on his daughter's face as well.  With things starting to turn bad in Korea, and his son-in-law possibly being recalled in the next few months, he wondered if it was, finally, time to share.  He had always told himself he would talk of that late, May afternoon, "when the time was right." but in the 33 years since, that time had never seemed to come.

Then, one Sunday evening after dinner, as the family sat around the fire, he started to talk.  He listened to his own voice, shocked that he had started to share, frightened by what they would think, and wholly unable to stop himself.  "I was an Ordinary Seaman on the Warrior.  We sailed out as part of the First Cruiser Squadron towards Jutland, our own four ship piece of the Grand Fleet.  The day started disastrously with the Battlecruisers, and the the mists played havoc with us early on.  We didn't even know it, but we were at almost  point blank range with a line of German Dreadnoughts.  They started firing at us, and soon had us bracketed, even though all we could see of them through the haze was the flashes from their big guns.

"We got hit over a dozen times by their 11 and 12 inch shells.  I thought her doomed until the Warspite did two complete circles, ending up practically next to the bloody Huns!  None of us had seen anything like it.  She was such a riper target they let us be and started hammering her.  Well, all except one that is.  I was being sent from midships to the stern and was just passing the seven and a half inch turrets when I heard another salvo of shells falling on us.

"I'll never forget that sound.  Never.  Like a whistling train ripping through sheets of canvas.  Well, I instinctively braced behind the turret's shielding and most of them, thank God, landed well short.  They threw up towering splashes of water all around our Port quarter, but one..." he paused and looked far past the family portrait above the fire.  He seemed completely alone in the room before he continued, "One more came through.  Right through the spray and into her shuddering bones, just at the waterline.

"I ducked below to avoid the cloud of smoke and yellow gas heading over the topdeck when I heard shouts from a hatch below me.  I could see the compartment starting to flood with a dozen or so men in it.  The watertight door had been knocked a kilter, and they were vainly trying to stop the flow.  When they realized the couldn't they turned to the hatch and to me, but I could see the wall of water coming through."

He stopped again, removed his spectacles, and wiped a single, salty tear from his wrinkled cheek, "I could see there wasn't much more than a few seconds before the compartment would be lost.  So I...  So I-"

His pause filled the air with an oppressive quietus which found them all, save William, looking away from him.

"So you helped them out Grandpa?" asked William.  His eyes were wide in both wonder and horror as he tried to fit his Grandfather's story into the reality created by the Medal. "You got them out before it flooded, right Grandpa?  Right?"

"No Billy, I didn't.  I closed the hatch and dogged it down."

7 comments:

  1. This is a great story that drops us into the action and doesn't really let up. To be honest I think it'd be perfect if it ended at "Not always Billy. Not always." Because that's where we realize what happened. The exposition later almost makes it less powerful.

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  2. The way Grandpa tells it is wonderfully detailed, but from a narrative standpoint, I'd agree with Jen B. Leaving off the ending sets it up for a more powerful punch. Perhaps ending after "You got them out before it flooded, right grandpa? Right?"

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  3. Jen and Tony-

    Thank you both so very much for the comments. I actually had even more exposition after that talking about what happened to the ship and explaining why he closed the hatch. Then, having read and commented to Tony before about trusting the reader, I cut it all out. Sounds like my instinct was right! Just didn't cut deep enough.

    Thanks!

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  4. Beautifully told and a compelling voice.

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  5. Now this is a real horror story, no need for vampires or goblins. He has enough goblins running around in his head. Really involks the horrors of war. Well done sir.

    I could tell where it was going, so think the others are right about letting the reader come to that realization on their own. Excellent work though.
    ~jon

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  6. Ambitious take on a dusty medal, a painful memory and a child's admiration of a grandparent. Nothing beats a salty story and this one is a winner.

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  7. Peg- Thanks, it is so hard to know how your voice is coming across when you write (at least for me!). Thanks for commenting.

    J. M.- I re-read again last night, and with the perspective of a few days and your comments, I can totally see ending it earlier now. I'm even more relieved I cut the extra paragraph of explanation! :-)

    Cathy- When I first wrote it, I basically had the kids there as a way of getting Grandpa to talk. It wasn't until later that I realized how powerful their view was going to be. Thank you for commenting, I really appreciate it.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment, I greatly appreciate it. Kind words are always nice, but please do not hesitate to give me criticism as well. I want to learn and write better, and your critiques are a huge help in that. Thanks!