Max ↘ One of 5 characters in “Targeted”

Max felt disoriented, his thoughts shifting quickly from feeling sick to being dead, images swam together like a rolling angry sea in his brain making him nauseous. As the headache started in his left temple he willed the war memories not to come again that would pound his brain like bullets. In the next instant his sick fog was broken by a jolt of adrenaline and panic. He kept his body perfectly still, stopped breathing and listened. He knew this feeling well, this warning in the darkness alerting him he was in danger. He knew without opening his eyes he was again captured, confined in a small space.  Feeling faint he took in a weak breath and slowly let it out while listening for the breathing of his comrade. Not hearing anything near him, Max  slowly moved his hand down to touch Rudy. The second his hand touched the brick his mind exploded and he flung both his arms out into the darkness sweeping them back and forth hoping to contact something he was familiar with.  He struggled to gain sight and clarity in the darkness. Losing his balance he fell backwards into the cold brick wall behind him sending a zinging shooting pain through his shoulders and head. Where did the cage go he wondered wildly? Before passing out, Max screamed for Rudy to save him.

Max and Rudy had served together in the Gulf War, pilots with the US Army. Their AH-1 Cobra helicopter had been shot down in January 1991 in Saudi Arabia. They survived the crash and did the best they could to manage their injuries. They wandered through thick brush with insects covering their burn wounds like moss. For six long days they wandered aimlessly, sweating profusely from the heat and fever while fighting to keep themselves upright and awake. When their enemy eventually found them Max and Rudy foolishly thought about food and water. However, instead they were blindfolded, gagged and dragged behind jeeps for what seemed like miles to a remote secluded camp. For 146 days they sat side by side in a square steel dog kennel barely big enough for the two of them. The metal cage was rusty with jagged points that caught their hair and cut their skin with any movement. The two of them struggled to find their own space in the small cage. Rudy was Max’s superior officer but in the cage they were just prisoners. Rudy apologized over and over to Max taking the blame for their situation. He promised Max he would make it right if they ever got home. Rudy spent many nights trying to understand why the US Army had not come back for them yet. He tried to convince Max they were close to being rescued and keep his spirits up. Rudy didn’t have much hope for his own life but he wanted Max to see his family again. The two soldiers spent day after day talking about the reunion with their families and discussed plans for their escape. But when the disappointment of another day overtook them they dozed off with their bodies intertwined like a couple in love who can’t get close enough. They found this approach relieved the cramping in their arms and legs, if only for a while.

Every morning when they woke up, they could watch the enemy go about their day, making a fire, eating their meals, sometimes all of them leaving the camp for hours. At least twice a day the enemy would come to the cage to point and laugh at Max and Rudy. It took some Houdini maneuvering and most of the day to get themselves facing with their backs towards the door. This helped to not have to look at the other cages which stood nearby with other prisoners who did not survive. Their bodies laid one on top of the other rotting in the swelling heat. Max and Rudy presumed the bodies were of other soldiers though their clothing had been removed. Staring at the pile of white rotting skin proved too much for Max and that is why Rudy suggested they turn towards the back of their cage. Between the decaying body smell, hundreds of biting flies, and their own odor and excrement, they often talked about how they might kill themselves before help arrived; sometimes joking about who could kill who first and how. Their captors gave them dirty drinking water sparingly and leftover food the enemy might have cooked over an open fire days before, which was usually charred black, cold and moldy. After many days of fasting, refusing to believe they would not be rescued in a few hours, their hunger took over their thoughts of rescue and they started to pick at the moldy food choosing to eat the bits they thought might not kill them. Many other hungry insects and vermin were more than happy to eat what they did not, even biting at the soldier’s hands and feet if they were within reach. There came a point where Max was unable to tolerate the daily attacks from the rats and became increasingly paranoid that the rats were going to kill him. Every time a rat would appear Max would scream and push his body closer to Rudy, sometimes so hard the cage would lift off the floor on one end. The screaming would go on for hours until Max fell quiet from exhaustion. As Max slept he sometimes heard Rudy’s voice telling him it was going to be okay, it would be okay.  Max never recovered from his memories in the cage. Even after help arrived and he was being pulled from the cage by his US Marines, his mind never left the cage or his comrade Rudy, who did not survive. 

(to be continued)