Nobody ever imagines themselves as a victim. I certainly didn’t. I admit I was kind of a cocky little shit so maybe I deserved to be here: half-naked in a swamp with a bullet in my chest. I think there was also a bullet in my head, either that or I cracked my skull on something while in the process of crawling out of my makeshift grave. “I am Army Master Sergeant Adam Severgine,” I said out loud to no one. “Whatever the fuck that means.” I needed to remain conscious, I needed to survive.
This was no different from a deployment. Except instead of fighting for my country, for the chance to prove myself, I was fighting to dig myself out of a shithole of my own creation. “I am Adam Severgine, husband, father…addict.” Tears filled my eyes. My wife and daughter were miles away in Biloxi, Mississippi.
I had no fear of death and dying but eventually, they would find out how badly I fucked up. I lost thousands of dollars in gambling, booze, heroin, meth. I should have just gotten out when I had the chance.
Instead, I turned tricks, ran drugs; I became a bitch to avoid becoming a bitch. The idea made me laugh. “Ow…” Fuck, I’m going to die.
“No, you’re not.” The male voice sounded calm, serene. “Do you even know where you are?”
‘I know I’m imagining you, whatever the fuck you are.’
“Because the mighty Master Sergeant Adam could never be communicating with an angel,” the voice said with a laugh. The grass in front of me started to blow in the wind. *swish* *crunch* *swish* *crunch* The blades of grass seemed to grow taller, their shadows forming the shape of a man with long wavy hair.
“Is that what you are?” I asked with a chuckle. A sharp pain struck my side; I definitely had broken ribs.
As the angel came closer, he seemed to materialize into a mortal form; olive skin, green eyes, and hair that seemed to be streaked with red, blue, purple and gold. “What do you think I am?”
“You kind of look like the Lord, Jesus Christ,” I said, my voice starting to slur into a southern accent as I felt my mind drifting away.
The angel laughed as he ran his fingers through his rainbow hair. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” He then reached over his shoulder and pulled on a golden cloak out of thin air. “Are you ready to go?”
The angel shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“I guess not.” Any place had to be better than dying alone in the swamp.
The angel reached out his hand. “You can call me Leo.”
I took his hand, as I did, a series of letters flashed before my eyes; ‘E-N-V-Y.’ The letters were in thick black font as if someone was throwing them at my face. But why ‘envy’?
I jolt awake, in full uniform, outside of a commander’s office. I had been here before but where was I?
“Come in,” said a female voice.
I knew who it was; Lt General Alyssa Blake. I was back at my station in Alaska. Still afraid of how the hell I managed to travel back in time I took a breath and entered the office giving the appropriate salute.
The much younger woman had blonde hair, light blue eyes, and lips that made me dream of what she looked like out of uniform. “At ease,” she said with her soft breathy voice. She returned the salute and motioned for me to take a seat.
Alyssa never sounded like an officer. She gave off ASMR, that tingly feeling down your spine. She was pageant-queen beautiful, brilliant, but more than anything she was kind. Her wonderful heart was the only thing keeping me from bending her over the desk and fucking her brains out.
Sat down, focusing my eyes on the floor. I at least knew what this meeting was about. “Thank you for meeting with me Ma’am.”
“Of course, Sergeant. Do you still want the transfer?”
Was this a memory or a test? “The transfer to Mississippi?”
“Yes, unless there was another position you were interested in pursuing,” she replied in a most professional manner.
“Sorry, I’m just a little one edge as of late. I apologize for the nature of my request I-” My daughter was sick, my wife… I knew for a fact my wife, Marni-Lynn was cheating on me because she was ‘lonely.’ I couldn’t blame her; I needed to be home, to reclaim my family.
“Hey,” she stood up and took my hand. “I love you, Adam. You’re a good guy. You’re going to go home and you’re going to fix this. I already have a replacement lined up.”
“You do?” This part was new. I never stuck around to learn who she put in my position.
“Lawrence will take over.”
“Lawrence Heath?” Lawrence Heath was an Air Force liaison officer. He had more training and education then I did so from a technical standpoint he was a good choice. But he was also Alyssa’s ex who transferred to Japan after she miscarried their son.
“He wants to marry me,” her voice was so angelic, calm.
Time stood still. I can feel a sharp pain in my chest. “Leo? Please tell me this is a dream.”
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. “What do you remember about Lawrence?”
“H-He never actually hurt her.”
“Alyssa miscarried in the middle of the office. You drove her to the hospital. You held her hand while she cried. Where was he?”
“He was at work. He came to her as soon as he could. I loved her like a sister, and I know it broke her when he left. But she loved him.” I reached my hand to touch Alyssa’s frozen cheek. “I hope they found happiness.”
“Impressive,” Leo said, starting a slow clap. I turned to see my guardian angel sitting on an office chair, his rainbow hair flowing about his face. “I wonder how someone so noble ended up in a place like this.”
“What?” With a jolt, I was back in the swamp. My chest felt like it was being crushed and my head was throbbing. In my hands, I felt an unbearable burning sensation. But I knew perfectly well why that was. Shooting up heroin between your broken fingers tends to fuck shit up. I forced myself to scoot backward until I felt myself leaning against a massive tree. The rough bark cut into the skin of my back and neck, but I was still grateful for the opportunity to rest.
Lighting cracked the sky, forming a distinct series of patterns, ‘W-R-A-T-H’- Wrath? I couldn’t help but smirk. I mean, I had plenty to be angry about. So, I was actually curious as to where the angel was going to take me next. “I’m ready.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep, calming, breath.
I could hear the sound of a plane landing. My skin was no longer in pain, but my heart as beating a mile a minute as I stood in the cool airconditioned TSA waiting room. I knew where this was. When I opened my eyes I was meeting my daughter. My wife and I had tried for years to conceive but it was never meant to be. At the age of thirty, we started the process to adopt from China. After years of waiting, we stood hand in hand at the immigration office of Jackson, Mississippi. China had been our last hope. For whatever reason, we were unable to even get on a waiting list for a European or North American baby. That was another reason I was nervous. The little girl was already six months old. What if she took one look at me and decided, ‘Nope, I’m not going to be able to love these military-redneck white folks?’ I was scared. Fate had a reason for never blessing us with a biological child.
As the adoption rep put the baby in my arms, I felt only the light of God’s love. “Hello, Cece.”
My wife scoffed, “I thought we agreed on a name- Annabelle-Rylie?”
“Felicity June Severgine,” that’s her name, my daughter’s name.
The next few moments flew by in a blur, but a painful number of them were of me leaving my family. Years passed as I saw myself in uniform for deployment or just in sweatpants and a t-shirt as I kissed my family goodbye. Before my eyes, Cece transformed from a toddler to a teen. I suddenly felt a wave of nausea. The last time I saw Cece she was no longer the beautiful, vibrant girl I remembered.
I closed my eyes and fell to my knees. “Oh, God…” I knew what I was going to see; my angel my reason for living, in a medically induced coma.
“She never told you what really happened,” said Leo’s disembodied voice.
I stood up to see the angel standing over Cece’s bed. “My wife told me it was pneumonia.” I’d never made it to my daughter’s side to see for myself.
“Marni told you that, knowing it would take you at least a month to get home. The wounds healed by then. And what didn’t heal could be explained away. Ironically, after a seizure, she did develop a sepsis infection in her lung that mimicked pneumonia.” Leo made his way to Cece’s side and held her hand. “But you didn’t see what she looked like the day of the phone call.” Leo kissed Cece’s forehead. “I’m so sorry, darlin’, this will only last a moment.”
I had a feeling I was not supposed to hear that last part.
Cece had a breathing tube but as time regressed it vanished, replaced with the monstrous amount of wounds. She cried, then screamed. Her face covered in bruises, cuts, and clearly broken bones. Her clothing transformed into a torn blue dress, one I had never seen before.
Time stood still as my government issue phone rang. I hit my thigh only to feel no pockets. The phone was in the palm of my hand. “Hello?”
I remember this conversation. She said she came home from a dance; homecoming, Prom- I couldn’t recall.
“I went to a party,” Cece’s said, her voice cracking with sadness. “It was nice.”
Leo poked my arm. “Hey, it’s your line.”
With trembling hands, I moved the phone to my mouth to speak. “That’s great, baby.”
“Should go,” she said as her breathing became labored. It was clear she was trying not to cry. “I-I love you, Daddy.”
Marni came in the room just as Cece hung up. “Hi, sweetie, do you feel up to talking to the police officers? They need to get your statement and do a rape kit.”
“Yes, Mom,” Cece glanced at the phone, giving it a squeeze. “I’ll be ok. I just wish Dad was here.”
I got to see the rest of the scene. According to her statement, she had been raped, beaten and left for dead. That was how she escaped. When her date (and his three friends) thought she was dead, they locked her in the trunk.
She remembered what her father had told her about how to escape a trunk and managed to not only kick out the tail light but also get the trunk open while the piece-of-shit car was going forty down a backroad. Battered and bloody she ran for her life until she found her way to the main street.
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. “What would you have done if you knew the truth?
“I would have fucking killed the bastards.”
“Really?” Leo waved his hand, to focus back on the scene.
Marni took a seat, holding Cece’s hand. “What did you tell your Dad?”
“Nothing. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in me,” she said, burying her face in her pillow.
“I could ever be disappointed with you,” I said out loud. I knew she couldn’t hear me, that hurt more than anything. But not more than the feeling of my leg getting blown off.
A sharp pain shot through my leg. Suddenly I was back in terrorist occupied Iraq, riding in a supply convoy. A larger truck ran us off the road, into an IED. At least that’s what I was told.
The vehicle I was in exploded, and I was pinned under the rubble. Somehow my leg was extracted from the mess and sent along with the rest of my broken body to Landstuhl, Germany where I spent the next few weeks waking up.
At the time, my home station was back in Colorado. That was where my wife was living with a then eleven-year-old Cece. I asked that I be transferred back to my family; if I was going to die, I wanted to die at home- the army owed me that much.
My next memory was of Cece staying by my side. I’d suffered burns over twenty-five percent of my body, there were bone shards in my hips and my leg had been put back together with pins and rods.
It was determined that I would never walk again, so after a month I was allowed at-home hospice care. This meant that I was placed under the care of a nurse but during the majority of the week my wife was tasked with wound care.
Cece asked the nurse to teach her how to change the dressing on my leg. I have to assume the nurse thought she was curious and adorably sweet. Because otherwise, it was not the safest practice.
I closed my eyes. When I awoke, I was back in that wonderful moment. “Cece?”
“Hi, Daddy,” she said in a calm whisper as she donned oversized medical gloves. She wore the gloves to change out the gauze wash the open wounds. “Mom said that I needed to say goodbye,” Cece explained as she worked with a gentle touch. “She told me the reason you’re home is,” she paused her words to hold my hand, “Mom says you’re too sick to go back, and that you may never get out this bed. I don’t believe her.” She finished in silence before getting a clean blanket from the closet. “You’re going to walk again.” She cuddled by my side, resting her head on my shoulder. “Superheroes don’t die.”
My heart filled with a sense of faith that I didn’t know was possible.
She spent her summer by my side; changing my bandages, helping with physical therapy. I was also working with a therapy nurse who was impressed by my level of strength.
For Cece’s twelfth birthday she had a party at the on-base movie theatre. I paid the bills but Marni took on the responsibility of making the day special for our daughter. Cece invited her entire class, she looked so genuinely happy.
I arrived in my wheelchair. As the movie played, it was ‘Step Up’, some kind of dance movie from the golden age of hip-hop music. The movie was played on the projector as background noise, as the kids ate pizza and talked.
I waited in the back until she noticed me.
“Dad!” She broke off a conversation with several friends to run over to me. “Oh my god! Did you just get here? How was your therapy appointment?”
From my wheelchair, I reached to the cane at my side and I stood up.
Cece cupped her hands over her mouth as tears welled in her eyes.
I took my first (pain-stricken) steps since the accident that should have taken my life. I stood tall, strong, as Cece threw her arms around me.
“I love you, Daddy. You’re my hero.” she paused to wipe tears from her eyes. “But does this mean you’re leaving again?”
I was. I could have taken medical retirement, stayed with my family. But I needed the money. I needed to pay off a mortgage, send my daughter to a good college: I wanted to make my family proud.
So, I took a position in Alaska as a squadron lead. that’s when the addictions started. painkillers lead to heroin. loneliness lead to gambling and prostitution. all because I left behind the one person who truly cared.
The world went dark. I was sitting alone in an empty theatre as Leo appeared on the screen. “Hi, Adam. Wow, this is certainly an interesting view.”
“Yeah,” I replied in a weak voice.
“Well, I have to ask, what would you have done if you knew the truth about your daughter’s assault?”
All I could do was laugh. The situation was clear now: I was dead and this was Hell. “You really want to know?”
Leo shook his head. “Look, I’m not a sadist, I just have a job to do. I was human once, just like you. And no you’re not in hell.” He turned towards the theatre and with one swift motion, seemed to jump from the screen. he walked towards me, the screen was attached to his back like wings. “So, what would you have done? Her attackers were never prosecuted. If you had a moment with those boys in a soundproof room with just your revolver, what would you do?”
I thought for a moment. I had no one to blame but myself. “I would eat my gun.” Was Cece dead? I needed to know. If she was gone I truly wanted to die.
Leo approached me, placing a hand upon my shoulder. “Much better, on to the next test.”
I gripped his arm. “Why should I trust you?”
Leo rolled his eyes. “Maybe because I’m the one with the magic powers.”
“You’re my driver,” I said in a tone that came off ruder than intended. “But what would happen if I said I’d rather walk to my final destination.”
Leo chuckled and shrugged. “Hell if I know. Maybe someone will find your body. Maybe you’ll reunite with Cece in heaven. Or maybe she’ll survive and grow up believing that her hero abandoned her. What do you want from me?”
“You said you were human once- I want to know something about you.”
Leo cupped his hand to my face, tracing a finger along my jawline. He appeared to be studying my features, which gave me an opportunity to study his. “What do you see when you look at me?”
“You have green eyes,” I said in a whisper. His eyes were hypnotic, his breath; warm, comforting, human.
“I know what feel like to love someone until it hurts.” Leo leaned in and kissed my lips, breathing a long constant stream of air that seemed to crackle with electricity.