C.M. HalsteadC.M. Halstead

By C.M. Halstead

It is time to Know or Die.

The contents below are an excerpt from ‘Earned Innocence’, a cathartic military fiction novel I plan to release this winter, in the year of 2016.

‘Earned Innocence’ is written in first person. My intention is to put the reader in the boots of the person transitioning from youth into a warrior, and then afterwards, having to muster the strength to face the demons that dwell in their brain.

It is my belief that we all have demons we have to face. Here is an excerpt from a character that is facing one that has developed into a living entity:

 

“I awaken from the light sleep … I smell him coming. The wind wafts his scent in my direction, just a taste on the wind. He is good, he is always good, this time, the wind betrays him just enough to alert me to his presence.
The rotten smells of vegetation stewing in stagnation mixed with the sweat of ages of betrayed warriors, blood, urine, shit, stale cigarettes, failure and defeat intertwined with death alert my nostrils to his presence. Just a slight scent wafted in by the breeze. The demon had stopped the wind with his powers yet the times are changing, so the earth sneaks off a breeze to help this human sleeping in its playground.
I go back to sleep on the surface; my insides are humming. Focusing the energy, I calm it a bit. He stopped his approach. Perhaps he feels something is not right?

The demon approaches the man it has been torturing; he is ready to be finished off. His will broken and bent he will be served as a snack for all that are present when the demon returns to its asylum.
A hard wind is blowing as it approaches; pausing, the demon waves its hand, the air goes completely still. He can’t have it giving him away so close to his victory.
Slithering its way along the cliff-face, it drags itself along the crease between the greenery and the sandstone, a tight squeeze, the demon morphs its body to the contours, absorbing and discharging objects as it moves restoring them to their previous shapes, now tainted with the demon’s essence.
The demon stops, something isn’t right. Is the man awake? Is he not there? The demon’s hackles are up, it pauses there and waits for an eternity. The man feels different, is he really asleep? Is it too late, have I played with him for too long?
Taking two quick sniffs at the air the demon smells the delicious scent of fear it was missing a moment ago, perhaps it was the stagnation of the wind that prevented the scent for obtaining his nose hairs attention.

I lay there willing myself to feel asleep to the demon, yet he stands there and waits. I can feel him. Waiting around the corner he does, his hackles are up. I can smell his fear.
That’s it!
Closing my eyes tight I focus on things that scare me. That damn Jaws movie…nope, not working. Halloween movies, Blair Witch, nope. I think next of boot camp, and then to the pool at Recon school, any and all of my military scary moments, damn, still not working. Nothing I can think of is bringing up the fear that the demon is used to smelling from me.
I am doomed. If I don’t get this fucker, I’m screwed. Then I get real, suddenly the possibility that I may play-out the rest of my life out here, alone enters my mind. No love, no one to care about, no one to care about me. Even me.

The demon resumes its progress, the fear scent primary in the air, his confidence returns. This will be the final night with this broken warrior. The demon and its compadres will taste him tonight. The death and destruction that the man carries will be honey on their tongues, the souls of the dead that he carries will fill our bellies with nutrition. His defeated soul swells with the goodness that demon bodies desire. He will be a feast of feasts, fit for the kings of the demon’s world.

I lay there shivering with fear, the realization that my sanctuary has become my coffin. I will not live the night; the demon will defeat and eat me tonight. I can feel it.
The darkness looms. The slight breeze bringing awareness dies an evil death. The demon smites its lackluster energy, stagnant the air exudes decay, death and the farts of eaten fear. The demon swells in anticipation of the energy it is about to consume.

My eyes still closed I feel nothing but the demon swelling above me.
The time is now.
I awaken and scream in primal fear, the sounds of attacking mountain lions, pterodactyls, and frightened little boys intermingle in my throat. I let them gather for a moment before unleashing them again. Looking away from the demon I scream into the alcoves center, the sounds gather in the vortex of the cavern and expels itself out into the canyon to echo to infinity the sounds of desperation and surrender.
I feel the demon inhale the power of the scream, hear its lips part, drool hits the ground with a plop, and his skin creaks at the effort of the rare smile.

A battle rages inside the demon, this happiness it feels whenever it is on the verge of victory causes a paradox of confusion every time. Happiness is its enemy, joy the death of it. Even the demon feels it for a moment before consuming the joy with its evil.
The demon scours its forehead into a mass of hatred. The eyes close until they are slits. Its drool and snot hang intermingled, the two cannot quite let go of their tenacious grip on their host.

I lay there quivering, my back to the demon, I smell the scents of CS gas and gunpowder. Briefly, very briefly, I thought I felt joy coming from him. It felt like the alcove brightened and the air lifted, just for a moment.
He thinks he’s won!

Swelling to all its size and might the demon prepares to attack for the final time. The demon’s presence fills the alcove until it is lifting the roof, pressing the stone back and away from him. The entire rock butte creaks from the pressure of his might.
Delighted at this victory, it reaches for the sleeping man. The man’s whole essence quivers in defeat. Pausing for one second more, the demon marvels at its work. Breaking this man was entirely too easy, all he had to do was show him one act of evil and wait, time and the man’s own brain did the rest.
Moving its head back and forth the demon cracks its neck, the sounds of pine trees breaking soars enthusiastically throughout the canyon. Ready to eat now, the demon inhales deeply, dirt, soot and filth enter his lungs, they savor the breath.
Standing tall the demon puffs out its chest and rears its hand back, talons at the ready, the remains of other victims under his nails, cloth from their clothes and gray matter from their brains, cake the underside of its nails. Delightfully fungus and disease grow there. Willing its claws sharp, the demon moves in for the kill. Swiftly.
Squeezing itself into the alcove, it rages towards the sleeping man, the human’s back is the target of teeth, his balls the right hand’s goal and the delightful brains the lefts hand’s target.
The man turns!

Turning, I raise a sharpened wooden spear towards the impending demon and brace the hilt against the back wall of the alcove. I hold the six-foot spear with my entire body, tilting it towards the demon in a hurry for a kill.
Unable to stop, the demon impales itself onto the first five feet of the spear before it can cease its forward motion. Angry the demon arches its back and rages its lungs empty of pain. WHAT happened? This man smelled done!” The demon rages sending spittle far off the cliff with its outrage.
Looking down, the demon smacks the end of the spear with its hand, sending it flying out its back and off the cliff.
It sniffs and readies itself once more. The demon charges again.

I kneel with my back to the demon, waiting. When the demon reaches maximum speed, I spin around. Pulling another spear from its buried position in the sand, I brace it against the back wall. The pocket I slowly carved into the stone, holds the giant spear’s hilt at a perfect angle. Hopefully, the stone will be robust enough to hold under impact. I put my arm over the shaft of the spear, grabbing on with both hands I brace with all my might. I aim the spear at a primary angle, aiming the tip at where a heart would be if a demon has one.
The demon hits the spear oblivious to its existence. For a moment I fear the demon will just drive its way thru the spear and crush me with its elephant-sized body. Every time I see this fucker it gets bigger and bigger, the time to defeat him is now!
Finally, just as it seems the spear will prove ineffective, I see the demons eyes go wide. The pain extravagant enough that even a demon cannot deny its existence. The demon slows its forward motion, perhaps too late. I am pushed against the back wall, the spear moves slightly, pinning me behind it. Unable to breathe I fight panic as my chest cavity is forced into the shapes around me. I wait for the all familiar sounds of breaking bones. Damn, I was so close, I almost won!
Closing my eyes I feel myself lifted forward, the spear deeply embedded in the demon’s chest, my upper body entwined with the spear, holding on with all my might, we both are brought out of the tight corner. I leave skin and hair behind. Earth, rock, and dirt come with me.
The demon roars in fear. I hear a multitude of animals fleeing the area; they run full speed through the forest in the darkness of the night. Sleeping birds awaken and squawk their displeasure as the sound of their wings frantically beat the stagnant air, trying to get a purchase on something that will remove them from the scene. Large four-legged animals scurry, leap and beat feet or hooves from the area, bushes and limbs are pushed, broken and forcibly removed from their path. Terror creates a super strength; all flee the evil escaping the demon lips.
Shaking its arms and body in a multitude of directions, the demon tries to dislodge its victim’s impediment from its chest. Forgetting to use its hands due to rage, the demon swings about recklessly.

Choosing my moment I wait for the demon to turn in the direction of my desired flight. I hold on with all my might as my ears whimper from the sound escaping from the demon’s lips, the force of the sound nearly pushing me off the spear with its rush of violence. Instead, I cling to it while the rage pushes, and the demon’s body thrashes back and forth. I swing between the open air and the cliff face. Alternately feeling the air beneath me and the brutality of the sandstone each time I bash against it.
With the next swing, I let go of the spear. Choosing the open air off the cliff, over being bashed against the rock face one more time. I fly through the air. Willing my body to come around and assume a chest forward, arms back position, I do my best-flying squirrel imitation; a cross between a controlled fall and all out desperation. I am flung off the cliff.
Knowing it is coming, I wait for it. The impact with the trees that is. The demon has flung me in the perfect direction. I feel the trees coming quickly and brace my body for the impact. Arms and legs outstretched, ready to grab anything upon contact.
There is no time like the present. In fact now is the only time.
BAMM
I fold on impact.
Grasping for anything I leave fingernails, blood, and skin all the way down, my goal is not to stop myself.
Attempting to slow my decent I race the demon for the gravity of the ground. Knowing he will be behind me, I urge the gravity to hurry up. Not knowing what speed of impact is livable, I give it all I got anyway.
Thank the gods for training; the balls of my feet hit the ground and I instantly tuck my chin and roll off to the side. Avoidance of the knees is paramount to my survival.
The force, speed, and the dark almost got me as I roll to the right. Hitting a scrub oak, I bust out the other side, running like a motherfucker on fire, I haul ass out from under my alcove area. Heading deeper into the canyon, I run with all my might, using night vision and knowledge of my backyard, arched slightly forward, head down between the shoulders and eyes up, I move as if it is daylight. The booby traps are left and right, bullets try to go through my brain as I dodge the agave, prickly pear, and the great meat slicer known as Manzanita. The pine and juniper attempt to impale my head with sticks and take out my eyes as a bonus.
I smile and run faster.
I move through the terrain; it goes from high desert to high jungle to the lowlands of a couple of coastlines. The earth turns beneath me as I make my way to my last stand. I look forward to this battle. It is time to know or die.”

By C.M. Halstead

Honor them through fun

There was a time I would get mad about people having fun on Memorial weekend. I resented the fact that they were out having fun! I mean it is the holiday to remember those that have died so that others may live. Why are they out having fun instead of standing in cemeteries crying? Don’t they know?

I think they don’t know, yet they do at the same time.

Let me explain my perspective. The worst thing I can do is stop living because others have died. Especially if others have died with the belief that they did it to protect my way of life. How dishonorable would it be if I “passed away” along with them?

Choosing to die along with those that have, does not serve either of us.

When I was a little boy of single digits in age, I saw the worse thing imaginable.

Travel: At the time I was not aware of how significant two road trips were to my life. The two road trips I am referring to are a move from Plattsburg NY to Anchorage Ak. A great distance. And a return trip four and half years later, Anchorage, AK to Palmyra, NY.

My entire family was contained in a giant dark blue station wagon. The kind that now looks like a land yacht or alien space vehicle. The only part of that entire journey I remember was waking up one day in the middle of a snow field; my mom had lost control of the giant station wagon due to the snowy road conditions and we ended up about 30 yards into a field full of several feet of snow. The vehicles being what they were back then (solid tank like entities), the only damage was to the exhaust system of the station wagon.

I remember my sister and I waiting in a running motorhome while the adults got the station wagon back on the road. In those days, especially in the great white north (snow, not the color of people you snots) many people would stop and help each other out! For some reason, my older brother was in another vehicle for warmth. I hope he was more successful that we were because I remember how frozen my feet felt!

The thing my sister most remembers about that incident is how I got car sick later from the exhaust fumes coming into the vehicle and puked on a sleeping bag. I bet you to this day, if the identical sleeping bags we traveled with were laid out in front of us, she would know which one I had thrown up on. Uncanny ability to identify she has.

Four and a half years later, we made the return journey from Alaska back across Canada to the lower 48, this time in a different station wagon, driven by a different dad.

You see while stationed in Alaska our family experienced what many families experience, tragedy. Lucky me, I got to watch it.

I know you may be thinking that something happened to my biological father, but that is not true. While my older brother and I were out riding near identical bicycles one day, my brother was hit by a contractor looking for a house number. The image of the bicycle and my brother rolling around the rear truck tire is an image I will never forget. It is also one of the oldest memories I have. The trauma having blocked just about ever memory before that.

The death of my seven and a half-year-old brother, my elder by a year and a half, affected me deeply. My parents too, in fact, it is what ended their marriage. I can only image what the loss of a son will do to someone, and I hope I never have to find out.

The death of my older brother, my protector, playmate, and co-conspirator is something  I did experience. I will also never forget how just minutes before I had negotiated with him to switch bikes with me. You see, our bikes, although near identical, were not. His had a cool BMX type seat, and mine was a cheesier banana seat. That was the only difference between the two.

I coveted his so much that I talked him out of it that day, and was smiling with joy and victory when I watched him ride in front of me, per usual, but riding my bike.

The next few memories are contained in a few images. I already told you the first traumatic image. The second is a still picture in my mind of me bursting into the bathroom after running home, and seeing mom and my sister playing with hair curlers, one of her running down the street in a bathrobe and curlers, and finally an image of the driver of the truck sitting on the curb bent over so far his hands were on his back…and that is it.

For a long time,  I died.

Some time ago, some 30 years after the incident, I finally came back to life.

Now, at 44, I am living the life I always wanted. I am doing my brother’s memory justice by living the life that feels congruent to me. The life of a creative, the entrepreneur, the life of someone who has freed themselves from the deaths of the past and is honoring the memories of those that have died by living my life to its fullest. Survivor’s guilt is a mother fucker.

Survivor’s guilt is a mother fucker; I’ve worked through it a few times now. Besides my brother’s death, I’ve moved on from the deaths of friends, fellow Marines, and strangers whose deaths I had the misfortune of witnessing. I have accepted the worst thing I can do is die along with all those people by living in guilt and shame. Not living is a disservice and is dishonoring to those that have passed. Think about it. If you have died and are checking in on an old friend, family member, military buddy, etc. Would you like to see them miserable, lost in a drug habit or deep in depression, or would you rather see them eating a second round of BBQ, playing catch with their son, and smiling?

Don’t wait to live. Live. Now.

I am surprised that this blog ended up being about my brother, not the military personnel I knew that died, or about veteran friends of mine that also deal with survivors guilt. (Or something along those lines.)

Regardless, here’s to an awesome Memorial Weekend full of BBQ’s, fun, and living.

It is worth repeating:

Don’t wait to live. Live. Now.

By C.M. Halstead

Why question abundance?

A while back, on a wintery weekend afternoon, a  desire for a jeep ride managed to bring me out of my nest and into Dirty Girl (aka the #jeep) for a country drive, in the blowing and still falling snow.

There is nothing like the contrast of red rocks and white snow, to entice me out of my warm nest and into the great outdoors. To be honest, I enjoy stormy weather days outside more than 80 and sunny days. There is nothing more boring weather-wise, than 80 and sunny. Whilst the ever changing views and elements of a blustery winter day, bring out the desire to hike or ride around in my Jeep, while smoking a cigar.

On this day the jeep (aka #dirtygirl) and the cigar win the competition.

As I did back then, I swung through a fast food restaurant to prepare sustenance for the drive. Pulling through the drive-thru, I notice they have a two for two dollar special on their name to fame, the big-mac. “Cool.” I think to myself, “I can get one at half price!”

“Pulling up to the depressing black drive-thru order box, I am greeted cheerfully, “Good afternoon, what can I make for you today?”

“I see you have a two for two dollar special on the big-mac.”

“Yes we do, would you like us to make you two big-macs today?”

“No, actually I only want one. Can I still get a deal?”

“No, if you order one, I will have to charge you full price, and that will be more than buying two for two.” the cheerful voice coming from the big plastic box says.

“For REALS? If I buy one, I have to pay full price! Can I pay for two and just take one?”

“No sir.” the not as cheery voice coming from the black box says, “You have to take both.”

 

Long pause by me, while I express the voices in my head, but keep them in my head.

 

“I guess, I’ll take two then.” I say out loud.

“Great. Thank you sir. Would you like anything else?”

“Yes,  a small diet coke and medium french fries please.”

Voice from the box, “Would you like a large drink, they are all the same price.”

“…sure why not.” conversation saving answer.

 

Pulling around, I think to myself, “There has got to be a reason; are they really that corporate, that they don’t allow their people to think? Or, perhaps it is an inventory thing. They need to sell product before it goes bad, and its cheaper to sell it at a loss, than to dispose of it or… “Here you go sir, enjoy. Thank you.” The voice now having a face, a twenty-something with dedication without knowledge as to why.

“Thank you; you too.” Pulling away, before turning out onto the road, again I ponder what I am going to do with the extra big-mac. I mean, I could probably eat two, but even I didn’t need to ingest that many calories while merely driving around sifting in the views.

Before I know it, the fries, one big-mac and most of the giant diet coke even, are gone. Easing my way through the forest and countryside, I admire the snow glazed wind, and the crisp February air, the crunch under my tires intermixing with the sounds of slush in the wettest spots. The sandstone takes on an illustrious orange hue when the shine shines bright, melting the snow recently attached to it. I come to another crunchy area as a motion is caught in my periphery to the right.

A coyote with legs minus one the usual amount, comes a trotting from my right, heading towards the road ahead of me. He scopes about the drifting snow, hoping for something, casting his trained eye across the horizon. Looking for food more than shelter, perhaps.

I think to myself, “How could I not..?”

Slipping Dirty Girl into neutral, I apply the brake and open her door. Grabbing the still warm, all beef patties, special sauce, extra cheese, lettuce, pickles, on a sesame seed bun while hopping out of the jeep, walking firmly, my head slightly down as to come across non-threatening, I walk out in front of dirty girl.

As I bend down, I open the box. Placing it on the glazed snow, I glance up at the coyote. The coyote has stopped moving and is staring at me, head still at scanning level.

I backpedal my way back and sideways into Dirty Girl, closing the door gently I sit and watch the three legged coyote watch me.

Nothing else exists, the snow blows through without notice, the earth turns, but who notices, clouds are moving and life is continuing for all else, in that moment he looks at me. Then moves forward with purpose, his nose a detecting whatever scents it can pick up in the perpendicular wind.  The coyote reaches the wax coated, pliable, two millimeter thick box. The container flaps its top lid, attracting the coyote to the free meal inside.

His eyes move from the contents to watch me inside my metal shell; snatching the prize, he gulps twice and it is gone.

 

Perhaps I could have saved him some fries.

It is time to Know or Die.
Honor them through fun
Why question abundance?