It was like a divine blaze of fire and gold falling from the heavens above when I first caught sight of it. A mixture of beauty and terror that took me by surprise, but truly confused my 'fight or flee' response with its untold brilliance that night. I found myself frozen in place, even as all of my village brethren immediately ran and ducked down underground for cover. Perhaps I was foolish for not following them this time around, even after knowing, full well, the harsh and agonizing brutality that may follow the most frequent 'pass over' of one of these military jets...but there was something that told me to hold still this time. I can't explain it...
Foolishness? Fate? It was hard to tell anymore.
Still, something told me to head forward into the darkness of night and investigate what had happened. Lost in a world of confusion and despair, my heart yearned for answers. And I wasn't getting any, just waiting for the soldiers in either territory to cut us down with their weapons from either side. My friends and I attempting to use the night sky as cover to mask our movements further South to the Gulf Of Thailand. A long, long, way to travel from my town of Hai Phong on foot, just South East of Hanoi. But one that we felt was necessary for our survival if we were going to have any chance of making it to see another night sky.
I can't be sure why...but there was something about that bright, fiery, explosion above me that captivated me...and caused me to move forward to see what I could find.
The year is 1969...and it often feels as if the division and hatred in the world is boiling out of control. But I have always managed to maintain some level of hope when it came to mankind as a whole. Not that I haven't doubted it in the past. It was my loss of faith that caused me to crossover into darkness nearly five years ago. At the time, I didn't see any hope. No future. The only way to feel any safety at all in this new world was to make myself invincible to most of its heartless attacks against me and my family. I, honestly, thought that crossing over would not only save my life...but would somehow keep me sane.
The opposite was true.
I have spent every waking moment, every sunless night...regretting my decision. Prolonging the pain that I feel in my heart. For my friends, my family, my people. Maybe even for the world in general. A species of murderous creatures that rival the most primal animals on Earth...incapable of any form of salvation, because they're too blind to see themselves as the enemy. Ever.
You may think that I'm talking about my kind and our existence in darkness...but I'm not. Are those that dwell in daylight any more righteous than we are? I hear their airplanes...the spinning blades of their helicopters...and I see the explosions light up the sky at night. I hear the 'pop pop pop pop' of gunfire. I smell the smoke, and walk through the nauseating fields of severed body parts when I travel at night.
My heart bleeds for every last one of them. They're all so young. So very young. I may only be eighteen years old...but they still look like babies to me. And there's no more deafening silence than there is when your eyes gaze upon the wasted potential of a dead baby's corpse...floating by you in a dismal swamp...with no way to revive them. No way to warn them. A tragic mistake that they can never take back. To say that it's heartbreaking would be a severe understatement.
So much death.
So much destruction.
Whatever it was that was drawing me to the crashing blaze of glory that was dropping down out of the starlit night...it seemed to give me a feeling of promise. Of possible redemption. Maybe it was a childish pursuit...but I was drawn to it, nonetheless.
I waded through the waters and the high weeds for what seemed like an hour...but as the bitter smell of smoke got more potent and pungent, eventually highlighted by the burning flames ahead of me, I knew that I was much closer to my target than I had expected to be. It was a few coughs and sputters that let me know that I needed to speed up my pace. It sounded as though it was only coming from one person...but he was obviously gasping for air and crying out in pain from the wounds he suffered from having his helicopter crash in a place like this. So I waded further towards the glow of burning embers and billowing clouds of black smoke.
It was only minutes later that I came upon the wreckage...
More young boys...gone. Their bodies half submerged in swamp water, eyes rolled back...their lips parted as if crying out for their God to save them in their last desperate moments to hold on to their lives for as long as they possibly could. The very idea of it brought tears to my eyes. Was I too late? Could I have saved them if I had been closer to where they landed? Kids...just out of high school. Sent to be human chess pawns in this immoral bullshit. I was forced to turn away. Close my eyes...and simply keep the vision of their mangled bodies from infecting me to the point of madness.
But...when I heard that 'cough' again, coming from about fifty feet to the right of me...I felt it my duty to get myself together and go to see if maybe one of these babies could be saved.
The water was cold, now reaching up to my waist. The thick branches and vines seemed to wrap around me in an unconscious attempt to hold me back. But, still...I continued my journey towards answers and justification that may never come.
Finally...I saw him.
He barely looked old enough to be fighting in a bloody war such as this one. Babyfaced to the point of doubt. Even soaking wet, his hair maintained it's bright blond brilliance...even in the dark. And a set of sky blue eyes that looked upon me with terror when he first caught sight of me. I was...the 'enemy' in his mind, after all. Perhaps he thought that I was there to finish him off. Or to drag him away somewhere to torture him for as long as I could before executing him without prejudice. But...at the same time...those blue eyes seemed to be pleading for mercy. Begging me to reconnect with my own humanity long enough to at least let him die here...alone...in agony. In the mud and swamp weeds.
Seeing something like that...it sticks with you. It never leaves you. Enemy or not...no one wants to spend their last moments on Earth begging and crying for someone else to allow them to get a second chance...and possibly go home again. Nobody.
His gaze connected to mine for an extended moment...and I think there was something in my hesitation, or perhaps in my own youthful appearance, that seemed to calm him down. Not but much...but by a little bit. At least for the time being. Obviously American, I wouldn't be able to speak his language to him verbally...but searching deeper, I was able to read his thoughts clearly. It just takes a few minutes for me to match his emotions and meanings with the words of his inner dialogue so that we could somehow communicate on a basic level.
I was scanning him as fast as I could, but when I took a few steps forward, wading in the almost knee deep waters below, the boy got nervous and I saw his hand reach down to grab a hold of a sidearm pistol at his side. It was probably too waterlogged to fire without jamming...but I didn't want to take that chance. So, I put my hands out, palms facing him, and mentally reached out to tell him, "No! Wait! No war! I don't want war!" It was all that I could say, based on what I had collected from his turbulent thoughts at that moment...and he looked at me so strangely...confused as to how I was able to speak to him without using my voice.
"Wha...what?" He said, his bottom lip quivering with fear. His body was getting colder and colder by the second, the shock of his crash landing here beginning to wear off as the pain and suffering of his injuries began to settle in. "I don't...understand what's happening..." He began to cough, small spatters of blood running over the ruby blush of his perfect lips. Even hurt and struggling to catch his breath, I couldn't help but to admire his almost unfathomable beauty. I remember a group of missionaries coming to my village when I was younger, with talk of angels in the clouds...gliding down on delicate wings with a Divine choir of their brethren announcing their arrival. And I could suddenly think of nothing else. This is what they were preaching about.
This is what angels look like...
"You...have been hurt." I told him, one brainwave at a time as I fought to absorb as much of his English as I could. "Whirly plane. You fell from the sky. Fire." I said. "Boom. You understand?"
"Fell from...from where...?" He asked, still groggy and out of sorts. Then he tried to sit up on his own, but instantly winced and cried out in pain as he held his side and slammed his eyes shut tightly as I looked down to see a rather large, jagged, piece of sharp metal poking out of his flat abdomen. Squirts of his essence stained his green uniform and clouded the waters below.
"No! You must be still!" I said. "Hurt! You are! Still! Or you will be worse!"
"My...platoon! Where are they? What did your people do with them???" He demanded, the pain surging through him to a point where it was almost unbearable for him to remain conscious.
I looked back over my shoulder...the floating debris of his fellow ground troops...still visible in the moonlight. Pieces of them. All that was left.
I thought it better to not disturb him with the realization that his entire team was gone. But he kept fighting to get up and look for them. Call out to them. I was forced to tell him something. And it was better to pad the truth than deceive him with lies.
I slowly shook my head. "Not alive..."
"What? No...what are you talking about??? We were just...were all just flying overhead until...something hit us...but we...we were JUST...Ahhhhh!!!" He cried out in pain again as he twisted himself in such a way as to cause the metallic shard in his gut to sink in even deeper than before. Instinctively, I rushed forward to offer him some comfort, but he fought me off of him. "Stay AWAY from me!!!"
"Sorry! Sorry! No war!" I said, hoping to not flood his mind too harshly with my unspoken words. I felt like I was shaking almost as badly as he was...his lips now almost turning blue from the cold. "You are hurt. I can help." I told him. English was a complex language to translate and reinterpret in order to say what I needed to say, but my abilities were absorbing things as quickly as they could.
It almost seemed like the boy was conflicted on whether he was willing to accept my help or not. Tears poured from his eyes, leaving clean streaks as they ran through the mud and muck on his cheeks. His body was quaking violently as his temperature continued to drop, and I begged him to let me assist him. He looked so helpless in that moment. And I had to slowly approach him with my hands still being visible to him. Like attempting to help a cornered animal out of a deadly trap...afraid to get bitten if I made the wrong move.
"What did you do to them?" He sobbed. "What did you do?"
"Let me help. Ok?" I said. He allowed me to get close, but the tension within him caused his muscles to contract, and I think that made the pain in his abdomen even worse. "It's ok. I am good. For you, I am not war. Yes?" It was barely enough for him to understand fully, but I think he was able to see that I wasn't going to hurt him on purpose.
I lightly...timidly...placed my hand on his chest. His soaking wet uniform felt so cold. I left my palm there for a quick moment and just let him get used to my touch. A gesture of good faith, to get him used to the idea of me not wanting to harm him. Then, he asked me, "How are you talking to me right now?"
"Shhhh...you don't need to speak. You think. I will hear." I said back to him.
"What? That doesn't make any sense." He was still trembling, and I didn't have much time to get him out of this place and perhaps back to my habitat where I might be able to keep him warm. Tend to his wounds. "Wh-Wh-What....are you?"
It was only then that I truly paid attention to the fact that he might be able to see the inner golden glow of my eyes...and that he might be frightened by what he was bearing witness to for the very first time in his life. He almost recoiled from my touch as he became more aware of what he was looking at, and I hadn't absorbed enough of his speech yet to really explain. "I am like you. But different. I am...'permanent'. Like now."
"I don't understand."
"I was once you. Now I am...more like me. Long time." I don't think he was getting it. "My people...they call my kind 'Ma Ca Rong'. We are like you, but not you. Only used to be you."
"What the fuck are you...talking about...unnngghhh..." He was trying to move again. Determined to get up on his own. Brave...but stupid. "I need to...find a radio. I need to tell my commanding officer what happened. I need to let them know where I am. My platoon...I need to find them. I need to..."
"Please...be still." I told him, attempting to hold him down. Time was running out. "You will not live if you don't let me help. You want 'life', yes?"
"Why can't I move? I don't know where I am. I don't know what's happening..." He began to cry. A genuine cry. It was heartbreaking.
"You have a piece of your air vehicle in your side. Very deep. If you let me, I can help."
I almost regretted saying anything to him about it, as I figured that he was already aware of the chunk of metal sticking out of him...but the moment he looked down at his wound, a huge wave of panic washed over him, and I realized that he had absolutely no idea just how bad it was.
Suddenly, his eyes became as wide as saucers, and his legs began to kick and squirm wildly as the sight of the liquid gore pouring out of him and the shiny metal protruding from his body filled him with a sense of uncontrolable horror. "OH SHIT!!! WHAT THE...??? SHIT!!! OH SHIT!!! OMIGOD!!!"
"Shhhhh! It is ok! I can help!"
"HOLY FUCK!!! Am I DEAD??? What is this? What the fuck is this??? Oh God! Oh....oh GOD!!!"
"No, no, no...not dead! NOT dead!" I said, but he couldn't seem to get over the fact that he had been injured so badly, and his body was twitching and wiggling in a way that was only certain to cause him more damage if he didn't stop. "Still! Please! Still!"
"Don't tell me to be STILL!!! I'm fucking bleeding, man! I'm fucking DYING!!!" He was going into hysterics, and I got closer so that I'd be able to do something to get him to stop.
"Ok! Ok!" I said. "I will take out the intrusion! Please...I need you still!"
"Hurry! Omigod! Take it out! TAKE IT OUT OF ME!!! I'm fucking gutted, man! I'm done! It's a done deal, man! I can feel it digging in me! Don't let me die like this, man! Don't...don't let me die here...!"
I tried to steady him again, but it wasn't easy. It wasn't even easy for him to steady himself at that point. "You must stop! I will take. Just be still!" He looked up at the night sky, and took a deep breath. I don't think it was going to help him much, but better to just do this one part and get the most painful part of the process over with. My goodness...his thoughts were such a jumbled mess that it was making me dizzy trying to keep up with them. But I did the best that I could. "Ok, I will count. Yes? Be ready."
"Count? What the fuck? Just...rip it out of me, man!"
I got his bright blue eyes to focus on me for a moment, and then calmly said, "We are ready. You can do." Then, I slid my hand down to take a hold of the large metal shard sticking out of him. He was doing his best to stay strong, but I could already see him tightening up both of his fists, curling up his toes, as he prepared to suffer through a level of agony that he had never known before. "Still. Ok? Here we begin. Three....two..." And just before the 'one count', I pulled the giant piece of shrapnel out of him in a single thrust, causing him to cry out in pain as he rolled over onto his side and instinctively held his side as he curled up into the fetal position. Even I didn't know how big the piece of metal was until I was actually holding it in my hand. How it didn't end his life immediately was a mystery to me. "Ok...ok...the metal is gone."
"It hurts..." He sobbed softly, holding the wound with both hands. "Who...who are you...?"
"Sang. My name...Sang."
He squirmed a bit more, still hurting immensely, but relieved from not being actively impaled repeatedly every time he did so much as take a deep breath.
"You have...name?" I asked him.
With a weak voice, he said, "Tommy...I....my name...is Tommy..." He said with a sigh, and suddenly, he fainted. Possibly from the pain, or maybe from sheer exhaustion. Either way, he was still at long last. And still breathing.
I was almost frozen in place...taking this moment to stare, awe inspired, by this angel before me. I had to force myself to quiet my own thoughts and remember the severity of the situation. I had to get him away from here. I had to get him out of this water before his body heat had completely depleted itself. I had to stop his bleeding and heal his wounds before they consumed me. It was an emergency...I knew that. But I can't help but to admit that his stunning beauty didn't give me pause. It was captivating. No words could describe it. Something about his breathtaking appeal simply made you appreciate life on a whole other level.
And as 'Ma Ca Rong'...I have taken my fair share of lives to preserve myself, my youth, and my existence as a whole.
What if I could actually use my abilities to save a life this time around? This 'Tommy'. A true angel that fell from the night sky in a divine blaze of fire and gold.
How can I ignore a chance at possible salvation for all I've done? Maybe this is the message that I needed. Perhaps...my heart is trying to tell me something that I wasn't willing to hear before now.
Let me get him up. I think I can get him home before he gets any worse...