Bad Luck Chuck

"Though I walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil, for I am evil."
--saying among Vietnam soldiers

'I was there', Chuck says hoarsely. 'I was in the middle of the insanity. But I myself, I wasn't insane.' He swallows. 'I went in sane and I came out sane. My arm may have been blown to bits, but my mind is still in one piece. It's been thirty-five years now, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. My whole platoon--' He stops. There are indistinct shouts from the audience. He raises his stump, smooth and pointy as if there has never been a hand attached to it.

The bandage, now almost a day old, is pinkish again. His arm is still bleeding. He wonders what it will look like when they take the bandage off. Will he be able to drive a car with it? Are they gonna give him some artificial hand, with fingers and stuff? He has no idea what they can do with it. He grins. All those piano lessons, gone to waste.

'My whole platoon, I can still see them, screaming, ripped apart by machine gun fire. So much blood--' A deadly silence has fallen over the crowd. 'They sent us there to kill, and they didn't care if we died in the process!' Roars of approval. 'Many times, all the time, I was, I was so scared!' His voice is hoarse with tears. 'You see a lot of people here who served together, but I, I don't have anyone to walk up on this here stage with. I'm alone. They're all dead. They all died in that hell.'

'Where's the rest of you?' the gunner shouts over the roar of the helicopter. For a second, Chuck thinks he's talking about his left hand, scattered all over the jungle, out there somewhere, but the gunner means his platoon. 'Dead. All dead', he says. The gunner looks at him. 'What's your name, kid?' 'Chuck.' 'You're one lucky motherfucker, Chuck. They should call you Good Luck Chuck.'

'They used to call me Bad Luck Chuck', Chuck shouts. The crowd is quiet. 'I've been on three missions, with three platoons. And every time, I was the only one who walked out in one piece.' He waves his stump. 'Well, sorta.' Uncomfortable laughter. 'So I was considered bad luck. But it wasn't me. It was this fucking war that did this to them!' Roars. 'And I'm here to tell you that all these guys were brave as hell. They looked death straight in the eye. I'm, I'm proud of each and every one of them.' Applause.

He keeps falling down, getting up and falling back down into the shallow river. He has his bloody arm, or what's left of it, raised up in the sky like a flag or an emblem. He scans the sky and pricks up his ears, listening for the familiar chug chug chug of the choppers. And for Charlie, of course. Always look out for Charlie. The loss of blood almost makes him pass out. He wonders how long he can stay conscious.

'I never believed in this war,' Chuck says. 'Never believed it was right that I was shipped to some faraway place and risk my, risk my fucking life. Never!' Silence. 'It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair.' He pauses. 'You know what this war was about, for ordinary Joes like me?' No one answers. 'It wasn't about democracy, or about fighting communism, or killing as many as you can.' He looks down at the stage. 'It was about survival, plain and simple. Survival.'

Chuck pants and sits down. This is the third platoon he's been in. It'll be the third mission from which he returns unscathed, while all his buddies died. They're already calling him Bad Luck. He realizes that this can't go on. He also realizes that it can't stop. He sits for a while, pondering. Then he gets to his knees and holds out his left arm in front of him. He moves the gun as far back as he can, the thumb of his right hand on the trigger. Third time lucky, he thinks.
He roars like an animal as he fires the gun and blows off his left hand. He stops, crying, and looks at it. It doesn't look like anything he would still recognize as being a part of him. Smoke is coming from it. The pain is tremendous and doesn't stop. He makes a makeshift rope out of the twigs and branches around him, moaning and crying as he does so. Using his teeth and his right arm, he manages to wind it around his arm and pulls it as tight as he can. The bleeding doesn't seem to get any better.
He turns around and staggers back the way he came. An hour's march away is the river and open terrain. Charlie's not there, and choppers scan for survivors all the time. If he's lucky, he can make it back and survive. Because that's what it's all about in the end. Survival.

'I've done things that, that I'm not proud of. I've-' You can hear a pin drop. 'I've killed people, innocent people. I wish I could say that they were evil and deserved to die. But they weren't, and they didn't. Nobody deserves to die. Me, I just did what had to be done. But somewhere, deep down, I knew that it was all wrong. That's what it was, all wrong.'

'What's that smell?' Alvin says.
'Be quiet!' Sarge hisses. But he sniffs, too. 'What is that smell?'
Leroy, the Twins and Sarge all look at each other, and then slowly turn around.
'You motherfucker!' Leroy says. 'You pissed your pants?'
Chuck grips his gun tightly.
'Bad Luck, tell us the truth', Sarge says. 'Did you?'
Chuck nods.
'Shit!' says Ben. 'Shit! You can smell it a mile away! You want to give Charlie a head start or somethin'?'
'I bet this is what happened the last two times', Alvin says. 'Or am I wrong, Bad Luck? I'm right, aren't I? This is how Charlie found your platoon. Isn't it?'
'You're wrong.'
'Like hell I am! Sarge. Sarge, I want him to go in front. I ain't gonna be no fucking sitting duck.'
Sarge sniffs again. 'Oh, God, boy, why'd you have to go and do a thing like that? Alvin's right, you go in the front.'
'No', says Chuck.
'Excuse me?'
'I won't go in the front.'
'I don't think I heard you right, boy. I'm a sergeant, you're a private. That means you do whatever the fuck I tell you to do.'
'I won't go in the front. In fact, I'm not moving forward from this spot.'
'You will do as I order you to!'
Chuck hasn't finished saying 'No I will not' when the impact of the first spread from his machine gun starts pounding him in the ribs. He sees the soldiers' look of utter shock and surprise as the line of bullets rips their bellies and chests open. Alvin and Ben raise their arms defensively in unison; Leroy screams as blood spurts out of his mouth. And Sarge just falls down silently. Chuck does not stop shooting until he is sure they're all dead.

With his right hand, Chuck flicks some cigarette ash onto the podium as he scans the crowd. They are all looking at him with sympathy and understanding. But as he sees their young faces, he realizes that nothing he says will make him understand what he went through, what he's still going through every day. Despite all this talking, applause and togetherness, none of them can grasp what it was really like. He stands alone, surrounded by people who are not like him. 'That's all I have to say', he says, and walks off the stage.

How am I gonna stay alive? Chuck thinks. How can they all stay so calm? Nervously, his eyes jump from one soldier to the next. Sarge, who's the oldest, seems the least nervous, even though he has seen the most action. It's as if he stupidly believes that luck will remain on his side. Leroy is just 19, but a giant of a guy, and sweating a lot -whether it's from fear or from this humid heat, Chuck can't tell. Alvin and Ben, or The Twins as they are called, are 18, share a birthday and always stick close to each other. Maybe, Chuck thinks, they hope to be able to use each other as human shields when the shit hits the fan.
'Charlie is still around somewhere', Sarge says quietly. 'We need to go deeper into VC territory.' He starts to march south. The rest of the platoon follows, with Leroy to the left, the Twins to the right, and Chuck at the back, making the diamond complete.
Sarge is insane, Chuck thinks. I won't risk my life for nobody. Why are we going here? Nobody ordered us to. Chuck wants to say something, but he's too scared to make a sound. He looks at his feet, unable to comprehend that they just keep marching, keep carrying him deeper into the jungle. Does nobody else find this a crazy plan? Isn't anybody scared? But when he looks at them, he sees them quietly scanning around, watching their step and keeping their fingers on the trigger. They look like pros, like they never did anything else in all their life. I'm so scared. I don't want to be here. I never wanted to be here. I won't be here. I won't.