In honor of Memorial Day (in the US), generally celebrated with picnics, hot dogs, and parades, I thought I’d share a few passages from The Thirteenth Hour that get at the more somber meaning of the holiday – a time to remember those who have served their nation that aren’t with us anymore.
One of the nice things about fiction, I think, is that it allows us to explore themes and ideas that are often difficult to discuss in the cold, frank terms of reality. With that in mind, here are three passages that get at topics that can be easier to think about in story form but are, nonetheless, ones that need to be discussed.
This first passage concerns a recurring nightmare the protagonist, Logan, has after witnessing his crew having been annihilated by a sea serpent. Sometimes, the worst and most lasting trauma is the one that occurs in the mind – long after the actual trauma has occurred.
I looked around. There were seven men besides me. I seemed to remember them from somewhere, but I couldn’t be sure. Their faces were blurry. We must have been on a ship because I could feel my body rocking back and forth rhythmically. The surroundings were impossible to make out – sky, sea, waves – everything was covered in a thick layer of misty grey fog.
The men talked to me, and I guess I talked to them but couldn’t remember the words spoken. It was as if I were speaking a language I didn’t understand. Suddenly, I heard a loud cry from one of the men, and all their blurry faces turned scarlet red. They called my name, as if they wanted to tell me something, but I couldn’t hear. I ran towards them, but the harder I tried, the less my legs moved. The wooden deck below me seemed to be made of quicksand now.
And when I finally reached them, I looked to the side and saw that I had not moved at all. In a panic, I jumped, trying to reach the side of the boat. I didn’t make it, but passed right through the wooden hull of the ship instead.
Down and down I fell. There was no water, only a black void. Tumbling head over heels, I tried to scream but no sound came from my throat. I saw a swirling mass somewhere below, and it seemed to pull me toward it. It pulsated with a sickening green light. I couldn’t avoid it; the force was too strong. For some reason, the thought of entering the swirling mass filled me with intense terror. Just as I was about to be engulfed by the hot green light, I succeeded in screaming …
I awoke with a start. My arms and legs were stiff with cold, but my head and chest felt hot. I lay still for a few minutes; the force of my heart beating against my ribcage seemed to dominate my groggy senses. When I managed to open my eyes, it was still dark, the moon high in the sky. I gasped a sigh and then another. I wasn’t sure if I had really screamed … but it seemed as if I had. My mouth was very dry …
I awoke the next morning with pain in my lower back, not really remembering where I was. I felt stiff trying to lift my head to rub my eyes … Slowly, I recalled last night’s flurry of events, as well as the nightmare. I wasn’t sure why it had been so frightening. It didn’t seem so scary now. I couldn’t explain it, but it felt real. A fitting end to a crazy night. Unfortunately, it was a dream that would recur and haunt me for months.
The next passage concerns the impact that post traumatic symptoms sometimes have on those around the sufferer. Things like nightmares, anxiety, and shifting, unpredictable moods are often difficult for the sufferer to understand, let alone explain to someone else, especially since there is often stigma attached to admitting those things. Here, Logan’s nightmares are observed by his childhood friend, Aurora, when they are traveling together. As is her way, she deals with them in a sensitive, caring manner, though not all are so lucky in real life.
There were times when Logan would startle out of sleep, sometimes crying out, sometimes sitting up violently in a cold sweat, mumbling something incoherent in his half–slumber. Given his description of the events leading up to our reunion, I could only guess that he was reliving some traumatic event that he could not yet articulate or did not want to speak about. So I did what I had done when he was younger and had had a bad dream. I put my arm around him and cradled his head, rocking back and forth, letting him know all was well, until he fell back into slumber. I had a feeling he might have been embarrassed to let me do this during the light of day, so I never mentioned it to him, and he never brought it up.
The last passage is about the all too common, sometimes inexplicable guilt those that are alive can have. Why am I here? Why not my teammates? Here, Logan finally finds some sense of peace and is able to understand more about the nightmares that have been plaguing his sleep.
For awhile, all was dark, and I could hear nothing. Then the familiar elements of my recurring nightmare aboard the ship came into focus. But this time, I wasn’t afraid.
And there before me, were all seven members of my crew, smiling, looking down as I lay in my bed. It was like I was in the hospital, recovering from an injury, and they’d stopped by, flowers and get–well cards in hand, to wish me well.
“Guys?” I ventured. “You’re … okay?”
“We are now,” Jake said softly, laying a hand on my arm. The other men nodded. I looked for traces of resentment or anger in their faces, but I saw none.
“I’m sorry, guys, I don’t know what to say … I …”
“It’s okay,” they said.
“You’re not mad?”
“Why would we be mad?” Ben asked.
“I … I dunno. I’m here, you’re not … it just seemed like it should have been the other way around.”
“But it wasn’t,” said Phil, shrugging. “We’ve been watching, the whole time, and in some ways, we’re glad it’s you, and not us,” he said, laughing. The others nodded.
“We’re … we’re really proud of you,” Jake said. “The cards were stacked against us from the beginning. That asshole, Darian.” Other nodded vigorously. “We’ve been amazed you’ve made it this far. I certainly don’t think I could have, not alone.” More head nods.
I wasn’t sure what to say. “Thanks,” I said finally. “I’m glad we could meet again.”
“Well, we’ve been trying to get in contact with you as soon as we could, but … it never quite worked until now.”
The nightmares. “I’ve been having the same nightmare over and over since the ship went down. It always ends the same way.”
“Well, now you know how it ended. Here. Today. Now.”
It felt as if a weight had begun to be lifted from my chest.
I searched for Aron and Ben. “Aron … Ben … you guys tried to save my life. I never got a chance to thank you.”
But they smiled and shrugged. “You would’ve done the same.”
I picked these passages and wrote this post not because I thought it would necessarily bring peace or greater understanding to those in need today. Those are bigger and loftier goals than I can hope to fulfill. If it contributes in some small way, I am happy, but frankly, I am not that important, and neither is this blog, which is mostly about escapist entertainment. But I started out the post writing about a day to be spent “in memorium” – memories, which are really just remnants of stories that happened in the past. And sometimes, stories are all we have.
We as humans are wired to think and listen for stories, which have the capability of drawing us in, taking us outside of ourselves, letting us see an element of common humanity, despite the blinders of our personal experiences, morals, prejudices, and politics. And I believe that is something worth remembering.
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Book trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpcIUpwTiFY
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