Komenar Publishing

"Over The Edge"Excerpt:  Over The Edge

Chapter Seven

The night was stone black.  Chaos erupted on all sides.  Matthew rolled on the jungle floor grasping for his rifle, ready to fire.  But his M16 was gone.  That made no sense.  He and his weapon were inseparable, gun cradled or strapped to his body when moving, eating, sleeping, shitting.

Automatic weapons, mortars and grenades rocked the clearing.  The roar of battle intensified.  He thrashed in the wet dirt and slippery brush for his rifle.  Bullets and smoke filled the air.  Moist earth and liquids drenched his body.  Rain?  Sweat?  Blood?

Where was his patrol?  Where was Bull?  How could he be alone?  Moments ago they had been together in the protection of their wheel, the six of them back to back.  And Bull would never leave his side.  He followed Matthew like a faithful mastiff. 

Matthew panicked, accelerating his spastic search for his weapon.  Still no rifle.  He grabbed for his .45.  Shit, he had lost that too.  Impossible.  Despair flamed as bright as the brilliant bursts of the fire fight surrounding him. 

Grenades were his last hope.  He ripped one from his web belt, jerked the pin and lofted it blindly into the dense, putrid foliage.  Nothing.  A dud.  He grabbed another, same result.  Then another, until there were no more.  Worthless, fucking worthless.  He clamped his hands over his face.  Tears of frustration carved crevices through his filth-encrusted cheeks. 

The crashing of bodies in the underbrush closed within feet of Matthew’s position.  Rage.  Defeat.  Nothing to fight with.  Alone.  His patrol must be dead.  All of them gone.  The battle reached a deafening crescendo.  A huge explosion of light tossed him into the thick air.  He landed on his back, swallowed by pain.  Matthew opened his eyes to greet death.

*  *  *

The light of the ceiling fixture blazed in his face.  Matthew lay on his back on the floor’s thin carpet by the single bed.  Sweat soaked his too-light clothing.  His body throbbed.  His heart raced.  Still a chill crept through him.  And a large figure stood framed in the doorway. 

“Matthew, you all right?” the man asked.  A soft, tentative voice incongruous with the size of the body.

Matthew lay still, stunned.  Nightmares weren’t new.  Still, he was unprepared for their violent effect on his system.  He would never be prepared.

“I was getting wood by the garage.  You were screaming, swearing.”  The voice was firmer, but not yet committed.  “I’m Jim Nordman.” 

Matthew couldn’t respond, but his inaction seemed to give the larger man more confidence. 

“Can I help you up?” Jim asked.

“I’m okay,” Matthew answered, his voice hoarse.

Matthew felt vulnerable on the floor, like a turtle on its back.  He rolled onto his knees and struggled to his feet.  He stood for several minutes in the middle of the room, putting himself back into the present.  His clothes hung too loose and large on his gaunt, six-foot body.  Jim remained awkwardly by the door.

“That baseboard heater,” Jim said, “only gets you part warm in this weather.  You need a fire.  The wood’s right outside the door.  Take all you want.”

Emotion and pain swirled in complex patterns, eyes unable to focus.  Matthew still couldn’t formulate a rational or civil response.  The vivid scars on his face throbbed with his embarrassment.  Matthew felt wounded, angry, dangerous, sad, vulnerable.  He needed rest and peace.

“You hungry?” Jim asked.

“Yeah.”  The answer came before the realization that Jim might accompany him. 

“How about you put some more clothes on and we go get some pizza?”  Jim was now confident enough to step into the room and close the door behind him.

“What time is it?”

“7:35,” Jim said, checking his watch.  “You don’t have a clock or a watch?”


Matthew took a good look at his landlord.  A big man.  Taller than his wife.  Built solid but not bulky, despite the layers of clothing.  Nordic face with high cheekbones.  Tan, wind-blown face without blemishes.  Straight, light-brown hair.  He could have been Julia’s brother except for the gray eyes that, unlike Julia’s, were full of life.

“You’ll like the crowd at the Calico.  Pizza’s good.  It’s the only decent pizza in Jackson Hole.  A lot of ski patrollers and lift operators hang out there.  I’m sure you’ll want to meet them.”

“Thanks for the invitation,” Matthew said.  “But I’ve got to work out first.” 

“You kidding?”

No, he wasn’t.  The last thing Matthew wanted was pizza with a bunch of strangers.  He picked up a silver metal bar with large rubber suction cups on the ends.  Maybe this would put off the man.

“What the hell’s that?” Jim asked.

“It’s my portable pull-up bar.”  Matthew walked to the bathroom alcove and twisted and extended the length of the chrome bar in the door frame.

“You don’t need that thing.”  A smile appeared on Jim’s face.  “Come into the garage.  Your clothes look wet.  You want to change first?”

“These’ll do.”  Matthew felt the lure of a possible work-out room overcome his desire for solitude.

“When you go outside,” Jim said, “hold your breath.  It’s only a few feet.  The cold won’t register.”

Matthew filled his lungs as instructed and followed Jim out of the cabin.  He crossed the fifteen feet to the garage door holding his breath.  The strategy, to his amazement, worked.  He exhaled and looked around.

A large, rough-hewn bench sat against one wall, an array of professional-looking tools hung above.  In the front section of the heated two-car garage Jim had set up a small gym with pull-up bar, rack for several sets of dumbbells, carpeted incline bench for sit-ups and a large Everlast body bag hanging from a reinforced hook in the ceiling.  Matthew checked out the dumbbells, well-worn pairs of forty, thirty and twenty pounds as well as brand-new fifteens, tens, and fives.

Matthew began a sequence of pullups.  First, a set of three, then four, five, swearing with disappointment at a failed attempt at six.  Matthew reversed the sets, a minute in between each—five, four, three.  He continued sets of pushups, situps and then chinups for the next half hour.  Jim busied himself, first sharpening the edges, then waxing an old pair of scratched black metal skis, probably Head Standards.

“Hey, man, you got to take it easy,” Jim said from the work bench.

“Two days ago I maxed out at seven pullups.  Now I can’t do six.”

“Matthew, a couple of things you got to remember.  One, you’re at 6,000 feet today.  Two days ago you were at sea level.  Two, you need to get your lungs in shape and adjust to the cold.  Three, you can’t work out the same way every day.  You’ve got to let your body rest, even if you’re not banged up.”  Jim became more animated as he warmed up to the subject.  “If you’re interested in the weights, I can help you with a program.  Plus I got a great rope-ladder setup outside when it warms up.  It’s great for mountain climbing.  Why don’t you get cleaned up and we’ll go over to the Calico?”

Jim headed inside the lodge without waiting for an answer.  When the door closed, Matthew let out a long, jagged sigh.  His normal routine produced a steady stream of moans, groans and appropriate phrases as he battled pain and the too-slow response of his body.  The foul language could be excused, but the moans and groans evidenced weakness.  Jim wouldn’t witness that.

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