Delayed Action

Delayed Action

by Gregory Shipman.
 ,
He has the seat right behind me. He sits a little to my left which means I’m able to turn my head without turning my body. His uniform is out of place in this bottom-feeding joint on Madison Avenue. But then no one else can see him so I doubt if he’ll get critiqued on his apparel.
I don’t know his name even though I’d put a bullet through his heart fifteen years ago. There was a lot going on at the time. Introductions didn’t seem necessary or prudent.
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His death would have been murder but we were in Vietnam and his uniform didn’t look like mine. A sure sign that rules of engagement superseded all else.
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I first noticed him two years after my discharge. Life had been rough for me but I didn’t feel special. A lot of veterans were suffering. Once the war was over the protestors got on with their lives. We tried. Some could. Some couldn’t. I’m a ‘couldn’t’.
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It was a rainy evening in late January when I first noticed him. I had enrolled in classes at a junior college hoping to get on with my life. The problem was I went to the ‘Nam at eighteen and added twenty more years in two. It’s pretty much been a downhill trip since then.
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He sat two rows over, four seats back. His uniform was the same then as now. The bullet hole still where his heart once sat, the bloodstain unchanged. I guess both fashion and neatness aren’t high up on a ghost’s agenda.
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When I saw him in that classroom I figured him as just another weird guy in this weird city. He reminded me of my days in Vietnam but only because he looked Vietnamese. Somewhere in the middle of the class, English 101— Mr. Jansen— an asshole in a sweater vest, I realized no one else could see him. Then I took a closer look and recognized the face of the man I blew away back in the Mekong Delta. He sat in on all my classes after that. By week four I had dropped out. I didn’t miss Mr. Jansen. Likely he didn’t miss me either.
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My ghost went with me and it wasn’t a leap to figure I was being haunted.
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I tried excessive drinking to make him go away. That didn’t work. I’d just see two of him and neither one in focus.
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I tried prayer. He was very quiet and respectful while I was on my knees but he was still there when I rose. I thought of sprinkling him with holy water but remembered that was for vampires.
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 I finally tried moving. Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco. But he always had the same travel itinerary as mine. On the ‘Frisco move he had a window seat while I had to settle for a middle. You’d think being a Vet would have rated me an aisle seat but I guess not. Seems we were the unpopular war.
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He never spoke, never got in my face, never interrupted. I appreciated his politeness. I would have appreciated it more if he practiced it somewhere else.
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I even moved to Fargo figuring he’d be the only Vietnamese there and feel out of place. After a week I felt out of place. When he showed up we left town together. He was in first class. I wasn’t. The baby in my row screamed the whole flight. The mother slept. The father managed a seat ten rows back. I spent a lot of time in the toilet.
I began to wonder why he was haunting me. We had both been soldiers. Adversaries in the greatest war of the sixties and seventies. He had a weapon, I had a weapon. He had a cause. I had a draft notice. My bullet just happened to find him before his could find me. All’s fair in love and undeclared war. I couldn’t imagine his ghost holding that against me. But there he was following me like I’m an Engine and he’s a Caboose.
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So here I am sitting in another dead-end joint with a half empty bottle, a half empty glass and a totally empty future. I had just quit another job, another woman and another religion.
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Earlier I thought of another visit to the VA but rehab clinics can become as addictive as the drugs that send you there— especially the flag-waving clinics that call you hero.
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I turn my head to glance at my ghost. He’s still there. I turn back and empty the bottle into the glass, then empty the glass into my mouth. Having completed my long practiced ritual I stand and head for the door.
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 It wasn’t hard to kill my ghost that day he wasn’t a ghost. But shooting him now only makes sense if I had stock in the bullet industry. I don’t.
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As far as that day goes he likely had the same orders as me. I mean the instructions were simple… aim, shoot. Aim again, shoot again. Repeat as necessary.
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When you come right down to it, it seems it will take another death to end this haunting. The ghost is here because I’m alive. Maybe his bullet was supposed to find me first.
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Maybe if he lived he would have made more of his life than I’ve made of mine.
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Maybe old man Reaper had a hangover that rain soaked morning. I’ve had plenty of mornings like that. Then again maybe the paperwork got screwed up. The Reaper’s got a lot of customers. It must be a logistical nightmare for his administrative crew.
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It’s time to end this. Killing yourself isn’t hard. Figuring out the best way is.
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By the time I get to my closet of an apartment I’ll have it figured out.
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I look behind me but he’s gone. I’m sure he’ll be waiting at my roach motel for the closing act of our play.
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AUTHOR BIO

GREGORY K. SHIPMAN, a native East Baltimorean but now a Fairbanks, Alaska resident, has a day job that often extends into the evening. His passion is fiction-writing about the steamy, noir side of life… past, present and future. He has yet to earn a living from his writing but has the satisfaction of knowing its all non-taxable and doesn’t accumulate airline miles. He lives a life of hardly quiet desperation with his pet laptop and on-again, off-again Jeep. He enjoys Jazz, Blues, Theater and the occasional diabetic coma…

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