It was supposed to have been a curtain call, a swan song, a final ride off into the sunset, every terrible cliché that had ever been employed to describe the moment after victory was achieved.
The plan, as originally mapped out, was simple enough. Fly into Schofield Army Base on Oahu, wait three days for processing, fly on back home to Maine. It was three days longer than he had any desire to remain an active part of the United States military, but after six hellish years, he figured they owed him a nice long weekend in Hawaii.
At the conclusion of that seventy-two hour window he would board a service plane to Andrews Air Force base and allow the Army to drive him to Reagan International Airport, the last ride he would ever accept from a government transport vehicle. After that he would catch a domestic flight to Boston before a commuter plane on home to Maine.
By sunset on Monday night, he would be sitting on the deck out back of the house he grew up in. Melted butter would be dripping off his chin as he shoveled fresh lobster into his mouth, his mother beating a steady path from the faded wooden picnic table to the kitchen, intent on carrying out food nobody asked for or needed. Every time she walked by she would run her hands over his hair shorn tight to his scalp, occasionally stopping to kiss the crown of his head.
Long after everybody had finished eating, she would sit and stare at him, her eyes wet at the corners, and marvel at how skinny he was. Across from her, his father would shake his head and tell her to leave the boy alone.
That night, after his parents went to bed, he would go into his bedroom and remove the pair of rifles from the rack on the wall above his bed. He would remove the firing pins from them and store them in the trunk in the bottom of his closet, intent to never touch another weapon as long as he lived.
Not to hunt deer with his father, not to scare birds out of the family garden out back.
Afterwards, he would lie flat on his back and stare at the plastic stars glowing on the ceiling above his bed, using them to plot a life path for himself free of violence and hatred. His eyes would blur as he processed the constellations placed there with great care a decade and a half before, his body eventually falling into the first peaceful, unencumbered sleep he’d realized since enlisting.
That’s not how it went though. Every last thing that could have gone wrong had, a confluence of bad luck and timing that proved the inescapable truth found in Murphy’s Law.
Crouched low in the red volcanic mud of Hawaii, rain beating down atop his head, pooling between his exposed toes, all of that was the last thing on his mind. He didn’t consider the t-shirt plastered to his skin or the rivulets of water that raced over his goose-pimpled arms. Not once did he even think of the blood flowing from the gash striped across his left shin.
Instead, all that entered his mind was the number of bullets that remained in the half-empty magazine now jammed into the handle of the Glock 9mm clutched in his hands…