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Shadow of a Life

By: M K Brown

Chapter 23,

Looking up, Craig sees James walk in, doing his best to be invisible. Unsure of what was happening, the others in the room nodded greetings to him. Having tidied up his gear and personal effects Craig gives the man an icy cold look that speaks volumes. Sighing, James turns away and heads dejectedly towards his bunk; furious with himself and grateful to Craig for saving his job. I'll repay him somehow, he resolves as a new wave of determination washes through his body.

Taking out his laptop - unaware of his bunkmate's promise to him - Craig switches it on and after it boots up he logs into the camp's wifi and opens up a search engine. He searches for something to read, the anger and guilt still lingering like a cloud over his head. He searches for short stories, hoping that he can find something to relax him. He finds a site full of amateur writers and their work and begins randomly clicking on tags to find a suitable story to read in his dark mood.

After a while of scanning a few first lines of more than a dozen stories - and just as he is about to give up - he comes across one that catches his eye. One of the tags being PTSD, he begins to read, feeling himself pulled in by the title:

A Slave to Oneself

He reads on:

The bangs and crashes were the worse. At those times he wished that he had just died instead of living through it. If that's what he could call it, living.

The lightning was painful, flashes in his face exploded behind his eyelids as he remembered back to when they would scream his name. When they would scream for help or for anything that he was able and willing to give them.

Then the bangs came.

When this happened he would often cower in his bathtub with the shower curtain hiding him from view as the bangs crashed over his head. Mostly, this caused him to scream at the top of his lungs and clutch at his ears.

In the present he would be trapped in a white washed room, the light shining brightly whilst his head would be trapped in the past, sitting in hot humid weather whilst screaming orders demanded that he collect his fallen comrade.

But he couldn't. He wouldn't move. His legs, his limbs, his whole body, disobeyed him.

He sat with his helmet on his head feeling like it was crushing his skull as he watched his brother bleed to death in the middle of a warzone.

All the while his body was trapped and suffocating in a pristine bathtub that was practically too small for his large body, as the bangs continued on because Mother Nature stopped for nobody in distress.

He would sit in that bathtub for hours. Sometimes he would say and do nothing, locked in his own head he would sit and stare at the wall, but he wasn't there. He was no longer present. Sometimes he would scream, he would stand to his feet and scream at the top of his lungs, "I'm coming, I'm coming Bobby," but then immediately sit back down and start to rock back and forth with those words echoing around the room.

There were other times when he would just sob. Huge racking sobs taking over his frame as he curled into a ball wrapped arms around his legs and clutched tightly with all his might whilst those sobs engulfed his entire being.

At Christmas time he would sit with his family, someone to his left and another to his right but he couldn't tell you who it had been when he left later that day.

His family, his brothers where back in a country doing something that he was no longer able to do.

He didn't know these people that laughed loudly and joked rudely whilst throwing affectionate smiles his way. He didn't know these people that touched the back of his hand with gentle fingers instead of a frantic hand clutching to his wrist and pulling him from harm's way.

He no longer knew the arms that drew him into a soft and delicate hug when he was on his way out instead of some strong arms wrapping around his torso and throwing him over a shoulder to move him out of the way.

To fucking move his body that had shut down on him.

These people that sat around him and thanked a God that he had been returned home safely had no idea that he was no longer with them, that the God they prayed their thanks to had not returned him safe and whole.

They had pulled a party popper once. They never did it again. Not after he stood up from his chair and screamed at the top of his lungs, "move Bobby, fucking move!"

It had taken hours for them to convince him that he was home and that he was surrounded by family. In the end he had walked out and didn't return to the house for a full month.

Nobody understood what he was going through, he was surrounded by nightmares and strangers. He was filled with an emptiness that he couldn't fix, a desperation that he couldn't fulfil. Even whilst walking the streets occupied by many, he stood alone whilst lost in his memories, although he would give up everything to never relive it.

He would give up his own life to just be able to sleep peacefully.

Craig reaches the end and - looking around at his his sleeping bunkmates - began to cry silently. Memories of the fights; memories of the advice; memories of the losses and memories of the triumphs he and Colin had shared came flooding into his mind. He remembered that tree and he remembered that peaceful expression his brother's face wore... and now he understood why. He understood why Colin had felt the need to leave them, to look for his own peace, his own happiness.

Craig realises that Colin has given him the perfect example to live by; he stiffles a loud sob as he realises his brother's last phonecall had been a goodbye. His mind replays the words as he continues to grasp the meaning behind them.

"Hey ballbag, you have a fiance, good friends and are as strong willed as I'd expect from a Wallace, I am proud to have had a brother like you and I will always be with you. I hope you know that."

Craig had laughed at his brother's morbidity. "You been on the whisky again ya drunk?"

His pain surges at his dismissal of his brother's words, wishing he had told him he had always looked up to him, always had his back no matter what and that he loves him.

Tears continue to stream down his cheeks as his barriers come crashing down and he finally grieves properly for his lost brother; hoping fervently that he has found the peace he sought.

Stop being a little girly-boy and man the fuck up! Colin's voice booms in his head and Craig can't help but laugh, you certainly are always with me ya big nipple, berating and hounding me to be better; I refuse to have it any other way.

He scrolls the page down a little more and sees no comments - much to his surprise. He registers for within minutes and has a look at the writer's profile, he loses himself in the profile photo for a few moments as he feels her piercing, shining green eyes gazing into his soul. Shaking himself free he goes back to the story and begins to write his comment...

I need to thank you for posting this, but first there are a few errors and I'd like to get them out the way...

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