[ if i die before i wake ]

by lt. mac

The last thing he could remember was standing in front of the mirror applying camouflage paint to his face. they were preparing for a recon mission? Why wasn't any of it coming back to him? He blinked open his eyes, not able to process what he was seeing. His head was pounding and he became more aware of that the more alert he became.
He slowly swiveled his head and the world around him tilted a little closer to reality and he realized that he was hanging upside down and about six feet off the ground. His ammo belt had somehow become tangled around the muzzle of the Huey's mounted M-60 when it was going down. The chopper went down?!
He untangled himself from the barrel and dropped to the jungle floor with a grunt.
He wiped what he thought was sweat from his forehead and came away with blood. He tore away the bottom of his t-shirt and wrapped it around his head.
Calmly, he looked around for the first time, taking in the carnage.

'That bird ain't flying any time soon.' he thought to himself.

What was going on? Was he the only survivor?

He began the gristly task of looking for survivors, not feeling the impact of it at all.
From where he stood, he could see that the co-pilot was dead - impaled on a gore covered branch that had driven up through his body when the chopper came down in the trees.
He stood listening. There it was again. Someone else was alive. The disoriented moaning drew him away from the wreckage. His wobbly legs carried him to a bamboo thicket. He sank to his knees as Lieutenant Myron Goldman sat up giving his head a shake.

"Roo?" he blinked at the little Puerto Rican kneeling beside him.

"You okay, Lt?"

"Yeah, is everyone okay?" He asked glancing around.

"Co-pilot bought it." Ruis said flatly.

"The guys?" asked the Lt. getting to his feet.

"Dead . . . ?" speculated Ruis staring down at the blood smeared on his hand, "All dead?"

Myron peered into the growing shadows for any signs of the men from Bravo Company.

"Ruis. Snap out of it." grumbled Goldman grabbing him by the arm and began hauling him to his feet.

"Shit!" he hissed pulling his hand away to look down and find a jagged gash across his palm. He pulled off his bandana and wrapped it gingerly around the wound.

"Help me find Sargent Anderson and the rest of the men." Myron said down at Ruis. Ruis only shook his head and stretched out in the damp grass beneath him.

"I'm too tired, Lt., need to rest. . ."

"Ruis. . . Ruis! . . .Roo . . ."

Goldman's voice faded as Ruis peacefully drifted away.

Goldman had to yell to be heard over the roar of the helicopter's engine.

"How's he doing, Doc?"

"We better be home soon. He's loosing blood as fast as I'm pumping it into him." answered Hockenberry holding the plastic plasma bag in the air.

"McKay! . . . Johnny! Can't you get this bird to go any faster?"

"Myron, I'm pushing it as it is. Your man's going to be fine! Relax."yelled McKay.

"Hot dog, my ass." mumbled Goldman finding room to sit as the chopper raced through the night sky.

"Percell. You gonna be all right. Don't look so scared. You done good, son. Ruis owes you his life, y'unnerstan." hollered Anderson putting a fatherly arm around the pale, trembling G.I.'s shoulder.

"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !" faint voices.

He felt the cold creeping up his legs before he realized he was making his way across an icy river. He stood thigh deep in the middle. Half way from where? Half way to where? It's grown too dark to see anything.
Turning back he could barely make out figures standing at the water's edge.

"What?" he asked, not hearing their cries or understanding their gestures.

'What are you saying? I can't hear you." he called back to them.

He could not hear them, the rushing water was drowning them out. He turned to explore the shoreline ahead of him. He could not make out a thing. The shadows could be filled with VC and he was out in the middle of a fast flowing river. Alone, out in the open. He wanted to go back the way he came but his feet were mired in the mucky river bed and it was taking all his strength to move.

The soldiers of Bravo Company spilled from the chopper to clear a path for the medics to scoop Ruis onto a gurney and rush him into an operating room where they would try and patch him up.

"All right, now. We gotta give the docs time to put him back together." said Anderson holding up a hand to keep his field-filthy unit from clomping through the dispensary.

"But, Sarg . . ." started Percell.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm worried too. Now, y'all go get cleaned up and get some grub."

"I'm not hungry." commented Johnson, turning and walking away.

"I'll come with news as soon as there's any." reassured the Sarg. as the guys shuffled away.

"Lt., wait up," he trotted into step beside Goldman "How's the hand?"

"I'll be fine. Stitches maybe." he answered glancing down at his blood-smeared hand wrapped in his dirty bandana.

"Dinner, Lt?"

"Sure, give me half an hour" Goldman motioned to his hand and stomped up the dispensary stairs as Zeke veered off heading for his quarters.

Ruis stood staring up into the night sky, soft cold snow flakes catching in his lashes, melting as they kissed his face.
'It didn't snow in 'Nam.' he thought.
He stood in the middle of a deserted village, sticking his tongue out to catch the icy flakes.
'Where were the guys?' he thought. He looked down and saw that the snow had become as deep as his waist and he thought he had better get undercover before he was buried alive. He started for a hut across the village clearing but lost his footing and plunged headfirst into the snow. He began to thrash about but was unable to break through to the pillowy surface.
'Y'know, this snow isn't even cold at all. It cushioned him in great comfort. He thought he should maybe lay low here until the guys showed up. He felt safe, protected. He snuggled down to wait.

"Ruis. Keep an eye on the trees! They're waiting forus in the trees!"

Ruis burrowed deeper into the snow not wanting to listen to the Lt anymore. He was so tired.

"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !" the Lt.'s voice was fading and Ruis smiled a dreamer's smile.

"Okay, he's stable. BP's 120/75. He's under."

The surgeon opened his palm and the surgical nurse slapped the scalpel handle against it. They began the long job of repairing the damage done to the Specialist's abdomen. Hoping he'd not gone septic in the field.

Myron struggled awkwardly, trying to cut his gristly roast beef with his hand sutured and freshly bandaged.

"Let me." offered Anderson coming around to Goldman's side of the table.

"Thank you, Sargent. They said the freezing will be worn off soon." said Myron, sitting like a little boy waiting for his mom to finish cutting his dinner up for him.

"Just in time for the pain to keep you up all night, Lt." he scooped up a dollop of mashed potatoes, stabbed a morsel of beef and handed the fork to Myron.

"Okay, you're your own from here on out." he joked returning to his own dinner.

"Ruis was amazing today."commented the Lt., chasing peas around his plate.

"I hear that, sir. That boy made us all proud today."

"How's Percell?"

"Besides from needing a change of drawers, he's fine."

"We're very lucky, Zeke."

"Sir?" he asked, fork's journey to mouth momentarily interrupted.

"To have such a great team."

"I hear that." agreed Anderson.

"Ruis better pull through, or I'll kill him." said Goldman resorting to squashing the peas triumphantly under the tines of the fork.

"How long are they going to take?" snapped Taylor pacing the length of their barracks.

"Wearing a groove in the floorboards isn't gonna help Roo any." commented Doc handing a nut to his pet monkey.

"I don't care what the Sarg said. I'm going over there to wait for some news." declared Taylor and was out the door in two strides. The others exchanged 'shall we' glances and filed out after him.

I think I'll stop in at the dispensary, Lt., if'n that's all right, sir."

"Let me know how he's doing." answered Goldman pushing his plate away and rising to his feet.

"Yes, sir."

"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !"

"Lt.? Is that you?" asked Ruis hearing muffled voices through the snow.

"Lt.?" he was very cold now. He'd slept too long. Maybe the men had gone by while he'd slept. Left him behind. He stood in total darkness hearing the rustling. Someone or something was near.


The Lt., in tattered, blood soaked fatigues, marched up to him, saluted and handed him a grenade. The pin was gone.

"You're the one." said the Lt.

Ruis watched, a little queasy, as the Lt. pulled open his shirt and jabbed a finger into a bullet hole in his side.
Ruis fell to his knees screaming in agony feeling the searing pain in his own abdomen each time Goldman probed a bleeding hole.

"Lt. . . stop. Please." he gasped, the pain knocking the breath out of him.

Goldman squatted beside him giving him a stern eye-balling.

"For God and Country, soldier." said Goldman before snapping a salute, rising and walking away, leaving a bloody trail in his wake.

"Get another unit of O neg. He's got a bleeder we can't find." barked the army doctor and the nurse fled. He glanced down at the bloody footsteps she left behind.

Anderson sauntered into the dispensary and stopped. The men from Bravo Company filled the little waiting room.

"What did I tell y'all?"

"Sorry, Sarg." rasped Percell.

"Well, at least you're all behaving, it seems."

Johnson and Percell scootched over to make room for him.

Goldman stood before his mirror, in t and skivies, toweling off the green and black paint from his face. He was too tired to shower and Anderson was right, the freezing was gone and in it's place, a deep burning throb. He took a generous gulp of whiskey, grimacing as it burned its way to his belly and went back to the task of getting some of the surface dirt off for the night. He'd think about having a shower in the morning.
He wiped across his eyes streaking the paint, his intense brown eyes standing out sharply against the smear.
He let out a startled shout and spun around. The room behind him was empty. He gripped the table as he gazed back at the mirror. He gawked wide-eyed into the mirror. Ruis stood just over his left shoulder. Goldman looked back over his shoulder and still the room was empty.

"Jesus Christ!" he fled from his hootch, forgetting he was barefoot and out of uniform.

"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !"

"I'm here. I'm right here." he was running now. The snow was all gone, the village ominous and empty.

"You're the one. You're gonna do it." The Lt. stood just at the edge of the tree line waving him on. Ruis ran, little legs pumping. Fear gripped his stomach as the Lt. turned from him and slipped quickly into the trees.

"Wait. Wait, don't leave me here. I'm here . . . I'm here." he cried out desperately afraid the guys would give up on him.

Their heads swiveled around in unison to see Lieutenant Goldman burst through the dispensary doors in just his regulation briefs. An assortment of expressions crossed the faces of Bravo Company, but they all sat there gawking in stunned silence.

"Lt?" ventured Anderson.

"Where is he?" asked Goldman not noticing the stares, steeling himself to see the body.

"They're still working on him . . ."

"Still working on him . . . ?" he processed the information out loud.

"Yes, sir. No disrespect, Lt., but are you okay?"

"Uh, yes. Of course. Yes Sargent, I'm fine." he looked around the room nervously, looked at the men who all suddenly has a nail to examine or a boot to lace. He looked down at himself realizing he'd not thought to put on clothing.

"Bring me news as soon as there's any, Sargent." ordered Myron, before leaving in stiff-legged embarrassment.

"What the . . ." began Taylor.

Myron stepped cautiously into his hootch, slowly easing the door shut behind him. He scanned the room before reaching for his pants and climbing into them. Still standing against the door, he buckled the belt and craned his neck to look into the mirror without getting any closer. It only reflected the empty room back at him. Still not convinced he wasn't going to see Ruis again, he slipped into his shirt feeling a little less vulnerable fully clothed.
Filling his tumbler with J&B, he climbed up on his bed and sat cross-legged against the wall, clutching the glass to his chest. He sat waiting for news or, another 'visit'.

The surgeon pressed his fists into the small of his back and stretched his aching muscles.

"All right, sew him up and come get me if there's any changes in his condition."

"Sir, this soldier's unit is sitting outside, waiting."

"Have they been out there all this time?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right, I'll speak with them."

He looked down at Spc4 Alberto Ruis. He wasn't sure if they'd saved this one. Time would tell along with the young man's call to survive. He'd seen too many give up the fight after he'd put them physically back together.

The troop rose in unison as the doctor pushed through the doors pulling his cap from his head.

"Well, he's alive."

A joint sigh escaped the men.

"But he's not out of trouble. He was out there in that condition longer than I'm happy with but time will tell, we've started him on antibiotics. We should know more in the morning. He turned to leave.

"Can we see him, Doc?" asked Percell.

"He's still out of it."

"Don't matter none."

"Well, I suppose . . ." he was swept along as they barged through the doors.

"Ruis?" Roo spun around to see the Lt. standing in the shadows.

"Lt?" Asked Ruis surprised.

"We've got to find some way out of this."

"Where are the guys?" asked Roo licking nervously at his dry lips.

"They're waiting. They're all okay."

"Good." he was relieved.

"And you're okay too." said the Lt., reaching out his blood smeared hand and pressed it up against Ruis's stomach.

"I'm not dead?"

"That's good to know, sir."

"That is very good but you need to rest before we head back. You'll need to be strong."

"Yes sir." and Ruis lay down and slept.

Not realizing he'd drifted off to sleep, Myron woke a little disoriented as Zeke knocked and entered .
Anderson wondered if he should choose to ignore the fact that the Lt., was perched on his bed fully clothed, sleeping sitting against the wall.

"He's out of surgery,Lt."

"Good. I want to see him." said the Lt., climbing off the rumpled bed.

"Lt. . ."

"What is it, Sargent?"

"Are you all right?"

"Just worried about Ruis. Good night, Sargent." he headed for the dispensary.

The place was all but deserted at this late hour. In hushed tones he asked a nurse where Spc4 Ruis was.
He pulled a straight back chair up to the side of the bed and straddled it backwards. Goldman looked down at the little soldier, lying so still with machines beeping and clicking around him.
Myron wondered briefly if Ruis was in there.
He'd heard of people having visions of loved ones back at home the instant a soldier died. If that were even possible why would Ruis pick him of all people to drop in on.
He could still see the look in his eyes when Percell tackled him just before the grenade blew.
Resting his forearms on the chair-back, he sat watching the feistiest of his men fight his way back to life. He reached out and gently squeezed Ruis' hand.

Suddenly all around them were blinding flashes, earth shaking explosions and they were diving for cover. Everything around them was being destroyed.
With heart pounding, Goldman grabbed for his rifle but came up empty handed.

"Give me a weapon, I need a weapon!!" screamed the Lt., watching in a fog as a VC soldier broke from cover and ran at Ruis brandishing a knife. Without thinking Goldman, propelled himself into the man's side tackling him to the ground. He threw up a hand in defense as the VC swiped at him with his deadly blade. The Lt. fell back writhing in pain as the blade chewed through the flesh of his palm.
Ruis turned and froze as the man raised the knife to finish off the officer sprawled at his feet.
A single shot rang out and the knife man was blown off his feet. A gaping hole in his thigh gushed dying blood. In his last moments of life, the VC pulled a grenade from its clip and tossed it.
It rolled and wobbled to a stop only feet from where Ruis stood.
Ruis stood there blinking at the little ball of death, unable to move.

Suddenly he was slammed into and dragged to the ground as the grenade exploded. He felt razor sharp bits of shrapnel burrow viciously into his belly as he hit the ground with a thud and the 200 lbs impact of Danny Percell landing on top of him.
Screaming, he felt like he'd been ripped in half.
'Please God don't let me live if I'm missing anything.' he prayed, oblivious to the controlled chaos swirling around him.

"MacKay, get your sorry ass in here now!!" roared Goldman into the radio scanning the darkening sky and threw down the blood smeared hand set. He pulled off his greasy bandana and gingerly wrapped it around his wounded hand as he knelt beside Ruis.

"Ruis . . . Ruis . . . Roo . . !"

"Chopper comin' in." called Zeke pointing at the approaching light in the sky.

"Hang on Ruis. Not much longer! You're gonna make it. . . . This Goddamned country! Doc . . can't you stop the bleeding! " barked the Lt. helping himself to a thick gauze bandage and pressing it to Ruis' torn belly.

"Lt. . . stop. Please." Ruis gasped.

Stabbing pain woke him. He blinked open his eyes, unable to process what he was seeing. His head and belly were on fire.
He moaned in agony as he was jostled into the bed of the Huey.
He swiveled his head and the world around him tilted a little closer to reality. He watched the jumble of arms and legs climb in around him and find room. He felt the bird soar up and away. He faded in and out and the last thing he felt was Lt. Goldman's hand take his and he mumbling something like 'hotdog, my ass.' ?

Goldman sat up with a jolt expecting to be kneeling in the back of a noisy, drafty chopper instead, blinked down at the hand clutching his.

"Ruis . . ," he leaned closer, "Ruis . . . Roo. It's Myron. You're okay. We got home on time. You're going to be fine." he felt the grip ease as he spoke.

Goldman wasn't exactly sure what he'd just experienced but knew no one would believe it. He wondered if Ruis was experiencing the same thing. He'd have to ask him, then again, maybe he wouldn't.
He eased his hand free and slipped from the room knowing inside that Spc4 Alberto Ruis would 'not die before he woke'.

[ lt mac ]           [ index ]