Le Dragon

by Angela Kempe

Conrad felt a slow bead of sweat roll off his brow. Even through the fogginess of his mask, he could see the flames lapping violently in front of him. Le Dragon lift its giant wings into the sky, flames consuming its body like hell itself had taken form. Then, the great monster beat his wings down onto the ground and the trees shook and their roots came out of the earth. There was a thunderous roar as the tall pines toppled and the forest blazed and crackled. Conrad could hear the ghastly shriek of animals running for their lives and horror washed over him.

He stared into the eyes of the beast, lift his heavy hose and signaled to the man at his right. There was a moment when he remembered his daughter, her silky blonde curls, and the little pink bow that kept falling out of her baby thin hair. Then the water gushed up. Conrad flexed his muscles and gripped his hose with all his might and Le Dragon howled, and his cry rang up into the black sky.

“Hold your position,” Conrad yelled, catching the others out of the corner of his eye.

 

Thousands of acres burnt that night. What once was a lush forest of green pine had in hours become a wasteland. Trunks blackened ten feet up from the root. A forest thinned so much that one could see straight through for miles upon miles. But like all things, the wounds of the earth began healing. Grass sprouted from the ash and the animals soon returned. The runners and hikers came back to their paths and only the tall corpses of the forest lingered over them as a solemn reminder.

Deep in the forest where no one goes, too far for the runners or even the cyclists. There is the place where Conrad stood. A place that is lush and green.

*Dedicated to the firefighters who saved the forest rather than saving themselves.

The Soldier

by Angela Kempe

He stood in the motor pool hallway facing a large topographic map haphazardly tacked to the wall. He focused on the contour lines, then let his eyes pass between the greens and browns, blurring into a haze.

Why am I here?

Shear terror paralyzed him. He listened to the others walking along the hallway.

Where am I?

He was afraid to cast away his gaze. He might lose himself completely to his panic. He could feel his heart pounding inside his chest. He was lost in another man’s world.

Okay. Just breathe. You know that you are supposed to be here. What am I doing? Who am I?

He let his chest fill with cold air and then expelled it slowly through his mouth.

The map. The map had words on it.

He lifted his hand to the worn laminate surface of the map and pressed his fingertips against the black word WIESBADEN.

“Wiesbaden,” he said under his breath.

He searched the relief for other clues. The map was cracked and bent at the edges. But he couldn’t recognize the places. Then, he looked at the camouflaged green of his sleeve and something came to him.

I’m a soldier. I live in Germany.

His mind stretched for the memories.

Breathe.

His head hurt and he was nauseated by fear. Trying to calm himself, he inhaled again, slowly. Then slowly exhaled.

I’m a soldier. Oh yeah. I have a family.

The memories came flooding back to him. He looked around cautiously. Two soldiers were passing him and they were laughing, so he bent his head towards the ground, unsure if they had noticed him. Suddenly, the stress of his job came back. He remembered what his orders were, stood tall, and straightened up his uniform. After all, it was just another day at work when you’re a soldier with a TBI.

*Dedicated to my husband, who suffers daily from his TBI, but still has the courage to get up everyday and fight for our country.