Every morning the stocky soldier would carefully trim his mustache, despite the havoc going on around him, no matter how grim. It was, well, just a way to maintain some sense of sanity in a world that was now seemingly devoid of any such thing.
In his wildest fantasies, inspired by such books as written by Lafcadio Hearne, he dreamed often about traveling east, or traveling anywhere for that matter- and it wasn’t a coward’s desire to not serve one’s patriotic duty in the face if a great war, but rather dreams, no stronger than straw, that he would grasp at when the horror was over. When not squatting in bloody, muck-filled trenches, and whenever a rare R&R came calling his name, Petka would explore local legends- everything from the jewels of hidden kings in secret burial vaults, to strange, hitherto unknown beasts of folklore hiding in the darkest parts of the jungle that he could, if he tried hard enough, see behind his eyes– though could never quite describe the shape of them when he wrote his notes. He had also heard of some spell to bring peace, some little scrap of local, hopeful legend, which was absurd even by his standards.
Evil, once identified, tends to leave everybody crying for some sense of easy quiet. And though he doubted that he’d find any such thing as precious as quiet or victory over evil in some ancient book, it was idea that he fell in love with, likely do to the lack of detail- his imagination, almost to big to fit in his frame, was free to fill in the details. The rest was just noise- whether he found some priceless antique, magical artifact, or simply a dubiously shaped rock mattered not. And though he didn’t particularly know what lay at the end of such a path, he had a certain feeling- excitement mixed with the delicious taste of unknown danger.
Though he would have no way of knowing it, as he neatly trimmed his mustache in the chaos around him, this very adventure, the one he knew the least about, the one that would be his best (though hardly his last)- would lead him to strange places, to parts wholly unknown– to love, joy, tragedy, and a desperate bid to save the people of a land that, even when standing upon its terra firma, still left him with the nagging doubt as to whether or not it actually existed.
The soldier’s name was Samuel Creighton, and it would have a quite anti-climactic had something removed our hero from his head- a constant worry in the face of the Great War, which seemed to threaten to tear the very world asunder. And as patriotic as our Creighton was, he knew that war was hardly an adventure- a necessity, a civic duty, a just cause- all true- but an adventure? Hardly. It was too somber. Their was too much at stake. And there was a palpable misery in every nook and cranny of the trenched earth and painted over the sky above, even at the best of times.
Now, our Creighton was fortunate as to not have had a bayonet thrust into his vitals, nor did he have his head roughly removed by the sharpened edge of a trench shovel, though the constant cries of the wounded, blasts of gunfire, tank-shells, and other horrors haunted him quite thoroughly, almost to the point madness. So when a bullet to the chest left him with a sucking wound and a low chance for survival, he found himself momentarily in a world of pure quiet, almost as if he were in a deep sleep, dreams so fleeting that they would be impossible to remember. He then awoke to find himself recovering on a thin mattress in a green military tent, the coughs, hacking, and moans of those around him forming a cacophonous din, which did little to ease his anxiety– the unrelenting symphony of suffering seemed to cause the olive-drab ceiling to begin to drop closer, threatening to suffocate him as it drew nearer; he felt pressure in his chest- a pain which radiated throughout his limbs, as he struggled in vain to escape the featureless malignant cloth that seemed intent on his suffocation.
Out of sheer panic, he began to hyperventilate, and he could feel an unbearable weight bearing upon his wounded torso. He closed his eyes, expecting to be crushed (though exactly how he was unsure), when all of the sudden that pressure was immediately eased by the placement of a delicate hand upon his chest, soft and gentle to the touch- the hand boasted short trimmed nails, a pale complexion, and long, fingers. His breathing calmed, the soldier looked up, his vision cleared, to see not a particularly menacing tarp, but rather a face, which immediately broke the monotony of the otherwise bland ceiling.
“You-must-stay-still!” chided the woman in a low alto, a voice honey-sweetened by the thick French accent with which the message was conveyed.
“You may not be aware, Mr. Creighton, but you are not well. The doctor pulls a bullet out of you, and now? You thrash around like a trout. Die if you want, but make sure to tell Saint Peter that Johannah tried.”
The woman’s features, by Creighton’s standards, were wholly, and singularly beautiful. Her eyes, though now presently narrowed in mild annoyance, were a deep, chocolate brown, and were large enough to lose oneself in, even in the expression of exasperated annoyance. The nurse boasted a round, short nose with the slightest bend, and thin lips of a beautiful, natural pink. She was as battle weary as anybody. Her dirty-blond hair, pulled into messy a bun atop her head and hidden away behind a little paper hat with a red cross, had become unruly, and dropped about her shoulders, and little strands hung down, only to be pushed behind her small ears in annoyance whenever they got out of line. To Creighton, she was an almost otherworldly beauty and in his morphine-induced haze, he half imagined Johanna to be born of faye heritage, and nothing it seemed, could convince him otherwise, even long after the drug had relinquished its grip on Creighton’s mind.
“Can I sit up?” asked Creighton drowsily, “I just see green, and of course you. I want to see less green. Also, my chest hurts.”
Johannah sighed in frustration, and raised the upper par of Creighton’s bed to allow him to see less green. Unfortunately, the sick bed across from his was quite empty, and so his new position did little to alleviate the overall level of green his eyes were confronted with. Fortunately, it seemed Johannah’s frown had softened a little, and just the barest ghost of a smile seemed to be pulling (though not without resistance on her part) on the corners of her mouth.
“Is the level of green now acceptable to you?” she asked, arms akimbo.
“Well, not perfect, but acceptable. Perhaps we could liven up the view with a painting, or perhaps… you couldn’t get a kiwi bird, or three kiwi birds stacked upon one another to remain absolutely still could you?”
“Shall I use my kiwi bird training whistle?” Johannah patted her pocket, convincingly.
“They make those?” asked Creighton in amazement.
Here, she playfully tapped him on the chest, which sent red hot pain radiating through his whole person, followed by a lingering ache, and watery eyes.
“So sorry!” shouted Johannah in sincerity, but then resumed her normal sardonic level of detachment, paired with annoyance a hair’s width away from genuine frustration, “A bullet rips into your chest, and all you can think about are flightless birds.”
“To be fair, and in the interest in full disclosure,” started Creighton diplomatically, “I was also imagining you- Johannah, was it? Johannah, yes- standing in place of Michelangelo’s Venus, flanked by kiwi-cherubs- in a clam. There would also be a carrot cake in the painting, and you could reach in and take as much as you want. It regenerates.”
“So now, I have a patient who, despite a nearly fatal chest wound, but a supposedly intact head, babbling about kiwi-birds and infinite cake?”
“Yes,” replied Creighton, matter of factually, “But also you, standing proud within a clam- but classy- just dripping with naked, naked class.”
“Nobody would miss you,” she replied- a thinly veiled threat, betrayed by that same ghost of a smile that played upon the corners of her mouth.
“Come now,” said Creighton, his eyes already fluttering despite his best efforts, “With that ‘come hither’ beak of yours… those beady little eyes…”
Unfortunately, his attempt to be cute had wrought havoc on his subconscious, so when he did succumb to a morphine induced slumber, he dreamed that he was being chased by a strange and terrifying amalgamation of a kiwi-headed Johannah, speaking in unrecognizable French, while a carrot cake was eating him. Also, the cherubs, as depicted by Michelangelo were perpetually playing at fisticuffs, where the loser was immediately eaten by an enormous clam, who would shout out a nonsensical one liner, before spitting out an intact cherub skeleton.
“Life can be a peace of cake- unless it’s a pie! (Spit)”
“I went to see a picture-show, but it just laid there on the stage! (Spit)”
“How can you spot a talking dummy? There’s a hand in his rear! (Spit)”
“I was once asked if I was a father- I replied, ‘Neigh, Sir, I am but a horse! (Spit)”
And this little gem,
“The doctor asked me if I’ve lost touch with reality; I replied that we had never been formally introduced! (Rim shot)”
And this madness continued for, what Creighton considered, an unreasonable amount of time- especially when the depression-addled voice of an unknown Frenchman began to mix and mingle with the tragically unfunny clam, the two of whom, it seemed, were battling for attention. And it was this strange chaos that caused Creighton to awake, pale, shaken, and in a cold sweat. It was clearly night outside and several oil lanterns were hung at even intervals through the tent, providing a light that was both sterile and disquieting.
Aside from the far-off sounds of battle, all was momentarily quiet, save for the wheeze of an iron lung- a breathing machine for the unfortunate man imprisoned within. Creighton hoped that the man was in a deep sleep, and that the wounded man’s theater of the mind was somewhat kinder than his own. Creighton would never get the chance to ask, as a small sign hung on the side, which read, in scratchy handwriting:
“He has health problems.”
Dr. A. D. Sellars.
Feeling slightly better, Creighton again attempted to sit up, and was greeted with only a dull ache, rather than the red-hot electric pain he had on previous tries; a further sign of his improvement were the cloth bandages on his chest. Once the bandages and gauze stood out like a dripping scarlet “O”, which didn’t seem to correlate to a specific sin in the Hawthornian sense, and had now dimmed to a light red. All of this was quite welcome to Creighton, who had long suffered from the invasive bullet and the equally invasive (though quite lifesaving) removal of the bullet- but there was one thing that he could not ignore, and it bothered him quite a bit.
It appeared that his body was being used as a table.
Two French orderlies, both husky, unshaven, and absolutely nonplussed by Creighton’s awakening, ate warm bread and good cheese off of his person, and had a carafe of wine placed between his legs; it was the pot of coffee perched precariously on his groin that prompted Creighton to remain absolutely still. The victuals all lay upon an unsullied white tablecloth draped just over his healing wound.
“Excuse me,” ventured Creighton gently (as he was not presently sure if these two strange figures were some manner of dream-fiends who hated nothing more than the impolite), “But are you gentleman eating dinner off me?”
“Why yes!” said the first one jubilantly, “We’d offer you some, but there’s only enough for Gilbert and I, so… a little privacy si vou plas?”
“Privacy- I see. So shall I will myself back into a coma?” Creighton laughed quietly at his own joke, but both the nameless orderly, nor the malaise-ridden Gilbert remained stone serious, nodding, as if approving of his suggestion.
“Well, I’m glad you suggested it,” said the first one, “You see, Gilbert’s having problems with his girl-”
“I’s havin’ problems with my girl,” echoed Gilbert, who struck him as a living atavism- under bite, sloping jaw, and the preference to breathe through his mouth, which was perpetually drawn into a toothy frown; though his eyes (both wandering vagabonds, it seemed) shone with no malice.
“Well, good sirs- and you have my sympathy, Mr. Gilbert, as I have had my own share of dating woes, but I don’t believe a man can simply will himself back into a coma. Would it be possible, perhaps, to eat elsewhere? Or perhaps I could add to your conversation.” This was Creighton’s best attempt at reasoning with the singularly strange orderlies who had not even stopped eating while the brief, hushed conversation took place.
“Well,” started the first one in reproach, “We are already pretty set here. I mean, we certainly didn’t expect you to awake. But fear not! For we have a lullaby that will ease you into peaceful sleep, and you’ll wake up tomorrow fresh as a daisy, and crumb free- we do, of course, crumb each of our tables. Gilbert! Get the lullaby!”
The lazy-eyed man fumbled for something at his feet, then produced the “lullaby”, which was actually a war-boot whose heal was mucked with blood and hair.
“I got problems with my girl!” shouted Gilbert, raising the cudgel above his head, shaking in his grief.
“You are men of medicine! Surely, this violates the Hippocratic oath!” Creighton would have guarded his head, had they not been pinned down by the weight of the meal placed upon them.
“Oh, you!” said the first one with a cheeky laugh, “We just wandered in here- it was warm, and there was plenty of room to eat. Then we were going to, as a lark, shave your body- you know, as one does.” Then he added, in a much darker tone, “But you woke up. Now we can’t do that either.”
“P-Problems! W-With my g-girl!” Gilbert’s face, which once had the calm innocence of a Steinbeckian man-child, was now growing wet with beads of sweat running down his unfortunate looking features. His hands, still holding the “lullaby”, were shaking, as if two forces were battling within him on whether or not he should “sing” right into Creighton’s head.
Now, in a right panic, Creighton did what any man in similar danger would have done. He took a deep breath, balled his fists and shouted, at the top of his lungs,
Out of the darkened corridor appeared the fair nurse, with a frown roughly etched across her thin, pursed lips. Her eyebrows pointed menacingly down above her deep, brown eyes which now seemed to glow red with pure fury.
“Just how the hell do you street-rats keep getting in here?” she twirled a broom as if it were a mighty spear, “Perhaps you need to be acquainted with his majesty, the broom?”
Here, she swatted at the two interlopers about the face and neck, ushering the two ne’er-do-wells to the mouth of the tent, then into the muddy bank that ascended back into town. It seemed that, at one point, the first of the two pleaded for some sense of mercy but Johanna seemed unmoved and summarily denied the request.
“Your girl?” Johannah spat, “Tell your concerns to doctor foot!”
And with that, two thuds of shoe-on rear contact echoed into the night, and Johannah stomped back to Creighton’s bedside, face flushed with anger, and long strands of her strawberry-blond hair hanging around her beautiful features, which, even in such odd and dim torchlight which would have (at least to Creighton) reduced even the most comely of women to look little better than Max Schreck as the dreaded Nosferatu. She approached Creighton’s bedside, poured herself a glass of red wine, then drained it quickly.
“Hold on,” said Johannah mischievously, “I’ve always wanted to try this.”
With confidence bolstered by the fruit of the vine, she took one end of the bed-sheet, still covered with the strange men’s feast, and whipped it off the convalescing Creighton, leaving all the food and accouterments intact and completely undisturbed.
“That was amazing!” said Creighton, with a little started cough, “How long did it take you to learn that trick?”
“Oh, what? Oh, no-no-no. That was my first time,” said Johanna, tucking strands of her loose hair back under her nurse’s cowl. “It was a calculated risk, as the the coffee, as I am sure you noticed was extraordinarily hot.”
“A burned bird…but a lovely singing voice…” pondered Creighton, clearly losing touch with reality, whether due to lack of sleep, abundance of pain medications or both. He continued mumbling for a few seconds, then said, “What would you have done if the coffee spilled?”
“Well, I’m no doctor; you’re in the care of Dr. Sellars who will return for rounds in the morning. I’m sure you would have been fine until then.” Johannah then yawned nonchalantly, covering her mouth with her hand, “Though I imagine the pain would be sufficient to make you envy the dead.”
As he started to mumble drowsy, though panicky reply, Johannah laughed despite herself, as she started removing the abandoned supper from Creighton’s person.
“The coffee pot is empty Creighton. You’re…how do you say..Johnson? Bird? It’s in good hands.”
Then, realizing the accidental salaciousness of her comment, she added hastily, “That is, the elderly, liver-spotted hands of Dr. Sellars. Perhaps you would like to see him naked in a clam? Just imagine…paper thin, translucent skin, bountiful chins, breasts to rival my own; oh, and all tufted with little puffs of gossamer grey fuzz. Fancy that, do you?”
Without hesitation, Creighton yelled, “more morphine please!”, his eyes shut tight as if to block out a the mental image that Johannah had so visibly planted behind his eyes.
“No, no,” said Johannah with a huff, “None of that now. To sleep with you. I’ll check on you in the morning. I still have rounds to do with infinitely less strange patients.”
And, as if on cue, Creighton’s eyes fluttered then shut, plunging him in a deep, and blessedly sleep. Fortunately, he was not subjugated to the sight of a veiny, naked septuagenarian with more hair on his back and in his ears than on his head. And, Creighton thought to himself, If that wasn’t a sign of a loving God above, nothing could be.
* * * * *
Over the next few two weeks, as Creighton healed and grew stronger, he and Johannah became increasingly close, often sharing stories- happy ones- from a time before all the muck and blood and slaughter. Creighton talked about his being raised by beagles (at least until kindergarten), when he was adopted by a kindly scientist who not only educated him (and the 13 beagles), but was also working on a race of gigantic “super-spiders”– allegedly the size of a man and with a man’s face, being just as venomous as their purely arachnid cousins. When the young Creighton pointed out to his benefactor that creating a race of large, super-intelligent, anthropomorphic arachnids would be exceedingly dangerous, the gentle, but clearly “eccentric” professor would tussle the young man’s hair and say in his kind, grandfather’s voice,
“Oh, no my boy- everything will be splendid! I will make them so intelligent, that they will be beyond the need for war!”
Creighton would then suggest a super intelligent race of anthropomorphic beagle may be a better fit, as beagles had a very kind temperament.
“Oh, my boy! Such an imagination. Nobody would take a race of super-beagles seriously! As much as I love the little canids. Just think! Cries of, ‘All Hail Beagle Overlords!’ Mercy me, but you do bring much needed joy and laughter to my old heart.”
To Creighton, it very much seemed that his adoptive father was actively trying to- or perhaps merely hoping- that he would be the progenitor of a race of eight-legged conquerors, but he decided not to press the issue.
The professor, Creighton explained to a stunned Johannah (mouth agape, as Creighton had not had morphine in a week’s time) was as mad as he was kind (or vice versa) and his fortune was gifted to him as an inheritance from his equally mad father, who himself was hell- bent on creating a new species- in his case it was a the chimerical horror made from a shark and a lion. This super-predator, an affront to both God and Nature, was his singular goal, as such a thing clearly did not nor could not exist in nature. No, his foray into blasphemy would take the form of an air-breathing land-shark with a lion’s mane with soulful brown eyes, and rows of endless, long, serrated teeth- it was to be a whirling dervish, all claws and teeth and tails and elbows. Frankly, the idea didn’t look good even on paper (where even the worst ideas typically look the best), and his experiments ended predictably in failure.
Creighton didn’t know anything more of the professor’s pants-on-head lunatic ancestry or their various attempts at meddling with with nature, but he imagined an endless procession of kindly, but quite insane “scien-titions”, each having access to a seemingly endless fortune inherited from an equally bizarre and hatter-mad father with similar mixed-message intentions and experiments, and thankfully never succeeding.
“Aside from that,” said Creighton with a shrug, “There’s not much to tell. I was drafted, shot, and then met an angel, who referred me to you. His name was Gary.”
“Stop.” said Johannah bluntly, “You are as mad as you’re adoptive father.” This was followed by the audible slap of her palm meeting her forehead.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Miss-Missy, I’m far more mad. You see, in my spare time here, I create wee little shoes (here Creighton held his thumb and forefinger so close together, they were just barely touching)- these shoes are for fleas, you see, who I plan to befriend and start a marvelous circus with.”
“A flea cobbler.” replied Johannah flatly.
Sensing her disbelief, Creighton held out his palm- and though it looked decidedly empty, it may have indeed contained some near-invisible flea shoes, but just to be safe, she slapped his hand away.
“My craft!” shouted Creighton in distress.
“Sucks to your craft, said Johannah with a laugh, “Besides, wouldn’t you care to hear about my childhood,?”
“Oh my, yes,” replied Creighton with a smile (as if completely forgetting his “craft”), “I would very much like to hear.”
Johannah was a bit vague regarding her past, hesitating in places, but Creighton’s smile and undivided attention soon had her telling great tales of her adventures as a youth, traipsing about the countryside with all the fruits of her imagination as her company. Trees were not merely trees, but watchtowers; the forest was not full of prosaic wildlife, but rather creatures and beasts (both fair and foul) that rivaled even the most fanciful folklore. Johannah had been especially fond of The Jungle Books , and more specifically with the Bandar-Log, who she imagined were prancing roughshod over her hear, making mischief.
Even the pristine, forested mountains in the distance held secrets, for just beyond them was a vast kingdom of cerulean and ivory, and it was to her infinite sadness that her legs could not take her over the stony sentinels to find that wonderful land, just beyond the ranges. Even as she grew, she recounted, when the ordinary crept ever further into her mind, the idea of the hidden kingdom seemed to remain strong in her thoughts, no matter how old she grew- it remained pristine in her imagination, even when the waking world seemed to fall into decay and madness.
Creighton of course, was quite taken with her imagination, as it seemed to rival even his own (though Johannah was never quite sure whether it was Creighton’s memories, or his imagination that was actually speaking for him).
“It was born of necessity,” Johannah elaborated with a wistful sigh, “When in the country, I was a lonely child. Short of that, I decided to become a nurse to help others.”
Creighton, of course was smitten, and the affection between the wounded soldier and the Rose of No Man’s Land continued to blossom, the two talking long into the evenings, playing cards, sharing meals…Then, the peaceful romance that had formed between the two became cemented late one night.
It was particularly cold when Creighton awoke with a start to the ramblings, or rather shouting of a mortally wounded French soldier who had lost both his legs at the knees, his crimson lifeblood fleeing his tattered body at a frightening pace. A frantic shout of noise (for Creighton knew almost no french) and pleas emanated from the mortally wounded hero’s mouth; a legion of doctors and nurses seemed to materialize out of the shadows to save the man, Dr. Sellars shouting orders over the din in an attempt to preserve the soldier’s life.
After three or so chaotic minutes, the thrashing stopped, and the man seemed almost calm in resignation. Johannah, with a deep frown, placed her ear close to the dying man’s mouth. Her eyes moistened by the loss of life, were squinted and she nodded slightly, straining to hear the whispers emanating from sputtering lips. Before the soldier’s last gasp, he handed Johannah a small scrap of folded paper, messy with bloody fingerprints. A priest held the man’s hand, and delivered him his last rights; moments later the life went out of him. The priest gently closed the deceased eyes with his fingers and a sheet was respectfully pulled over his mortal frame. He was solemnly whisked away, the sound of the single squeaking wheel on the gurney lingered long after the lifeless man had disappeared into the shadows, like a solemn dirge, as if the building itself shuddered when death entered its makeshift halls.
Johannah collapsed into the chair besides Creighton’s bed, shaking as with the chills of a fever. She placed one, pale hand, sticky with the patients blood, on the railing of Creighton’s own cot as if to steady herself, and Creighton immediately placed his own steady, callused hand over hers; and for the first time since they had become acquainted, she did not immediately withdraw her hand with a scowl, but rather grasped Creighton’s tightly.
Now Johannah, was, by any definition, extremely strong, and Creighton had never seen her so shaken after losing a patient. Usually she would slip into a quiet, stoic sadness. During these times she joked very little, and was extremely guarded. This time, however, stray tears streamed over her thin cheeks, which seemed sallow in the dim light. Creighton wiped the tears away gently with his thumbs.
“You did all you could.”
Johannah nodded, and laid her head on Creighton’s now healed chest, whispering prayers under her breathe in French, eyes shut tight, as if to block out the waking world and all the pain it carried within it. And, but a few moments later, they both fell asleep- and whatever strange dreams they perhaps shared in their grief dissipated upon waking, leaving only the impression that there was something very important that lingered just out of memory’s reach, drifting away until disappearing completely.
When Creighton awoke, Johannah was sitting by his bedside, smiling.
“How are you, Johannah… are you alright- I mean OK? I mean as much as one-”
“No, no… Please excuse my behavior last night.”
“I’ll excuse nothing; there’s a shortage of compassion in this world. You’re a gift.”
Johannah’s cheeks reddened.
“It’s…it was different. I didn’t recognize the man, but he seemed to remember me from when we were children. We grew up in the same little village and… it hit close to home, so to speak- it’s hard to remain calm… tough. For me, the battles were always pounding on the back door, but last night the door was violently kicked in.”
Propping himself on one elbow, Creighton gently asked what he was saying.
“At first, he just kept saying, ‘Peace! Peace! Peace!’ over and over again. And then he started whispering– he said, ‘Do you remember a little freckled boy? Bagged and delivered groceries on his bicycle? You said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to me hundreds….thousands of times.’ I lost him in my reveries…didn’t see a friendly face through my daydreams, Johanna added in a shamed whisper).
“He then started saying, ‘Cries of peace, cries of peace…I was so close, but I’ve become undone- ah-ah… Will you see it through? It’s marked on the map. A grotto…it goes through the mountains to the places past them… but didn’t we all dream of what was just beyond them? Those thickly wooded hills? Don’t unravel, cross-crested rose, but seek the way for all of us who couldn’t climb the peaks when we were small.
“’Book of Ivory, Bound in leaves, Cries of peace…oh sweet rest’” Johannah then removed the little scrap of bloodstained paper from her front pocket and opened it; it was a hastily scrawled map, one noting thick forests and little hillocks; Johannah immediately recognized them as the places she used to daydream and wander when she played as a child, but also the grotto which had lain just beyond where she was permitted to go by her father when she would strike out on her adventures.
“Take me there?” asked Creighton, though his tone didn’t so much indicate a request, as a plea.
“With all haste,” replied Johannah.
The two exited the medical tent, Creighton shouldering his pack and rifle, helmet unclasped, perched to protect his head. Johannah changed into less conspicuous clothing (though she still wore her red-cross cowl), and stuffed her belongings and some medical supplies into a her bag. Arms around each others shoulders to help Creighton walk on legs unsteady from a long recovery, the two left the tent into a peaceful, bright morning, leaving the lingering horrors behind, as not in the copious amount of imagination that was shared between them could they imagine horrors worse than reality seemed so ready to serve– the soldier and the nurse walked away from not only a war, but also the world around them, and into thin air.