The Monsters of my Youth

When I was a boy, I lived in an old house in Saco, Maine. As with most old homes, nights were filled with cracking noises, and soft thuds that sounded like footsteps. My imagination kept me awake for hours at night. I slept with my bedroom and closet doors open wide. In my mind it was better to see the monsters coming for me, than have a door fling open when I least expected. My bed was my safe place. I believed, as long as I was on my bed, my monsters would leave me alone. The exception to my rule lived in the space between my bed and the wall of my room. My bed was set up with a small gap, about 12 inches, between the side of the bed and the wall. The space was left to allow room to make up the bed without crawling all about the top, mussing the covers.

The small space is what haunted my childhood dreams. I was convinced, when the lights were off, my monsters hid in that space, just inches away, waiting for me to close my eyes. Time and again, into the early hours of the morning I would peer over the edge of the bed, heart pounding, ready to scream for my father at the first sign of a monster. 

Now, as an adult, I still don’t feel comfortable with my bedroom door closed at night. My eyes pop open, as I listen from across the house to the ice fall from the machine, and into the freezer container. I lift my head when I hear scratching sounds made by bugs or other unknown forces that hit and rub against the window screen. I look through the doorway of my bedroom, into the dark hallway, still listening to the cracks, and unexplained footsteps of my childhood fears. My monsters follow me still, even now, with my bed placed firmly in the middle of my room.

The Baby Eagle 

The bright sun kissed the blue summer sky, as it had done time, and again. The sunlight glistened upon the surface of the roaring river like fire jumping randomly about the canyon floor. High above, upon a mountain ledge, a baby Golden Eagle sat inside his comfortable nest. The baby watched as his mother soared above the canyon, so graceful, powerful, and beautiful, circling effortlessly against the backdrop of the pale sky. After a while the mother eagle landed upon the edge of the nest.

“Mother,” said the baby, “how do you fly? I’m afraid. I don’t think I will ever be able to do that.”

“My son,” said the mother eagle, smiling into her son’s majestic, young eyes, “even the mother eagle, at one point in her life, had to search herself for the courage to try her wings for the very first time.”

Part 2: The Horrible Bear Of Colorado

Things were quiet at the makeshift camping area, with just a few minor periodic snorts and snores breaking the silence. The nine remaining recruits of Upsilon had managed to drift off to sleep, shivering in their sleeping bags as the temperature continued to drop. Suddenly, the peaceful Colorado night was interrupted by aggressive whispers of a frightened young Laurence Dubois.

“Psssssst! Psssssst! Jackson!” whispered Dubois, shaking Jackson awake, urgent.

“Dubois?” mumbled Jackson, half asleep, eyes wide with confusion. “What is it? Is it midnight already? Ian, dude, I’ll pay you to take guard duty for me.”

“Jackson, there, there, there’s a Kodiak Bear in the woods!” exclaimed Dubois, terrified, and no longer whispering.

The recruits were awakened by the excited young Dubois, then most just gripped their sleeping bags tighter, and rolled over, away from the racket.

“Dubois, there aren’t any Kodiak Bears here!” exclaimed Jackson, now wide awake, peeking at the boy over the top of his sleeping bag. “That’s Alaska, man. And, it’s just 11. Go back to your post!”

“But, well, maybe the bear swam to Colorado,” stammered Dubois, shivering from the freezing cold, and afraid to go back to his post.

“Yo, Jackson,” interjected Ian, pulling his sleeping bag snug, yawning, rolling over to get more comfortable. “You might as well go look. Dubois is pretty upset. Besides, it’s technically possible for a bear to swim to Colorado from Alaska if it wanted to bad enough.”

“Aw, dang, man,” Jackson huffed, unzipping his bag, then wrapping it around his shoulders, “alright, come on, Dubois. Let’s go find your bear.”

The two boys walked across the open field to the fat pine tree at the edge of the forest. As Jackson and Dubois stood silently, it wasn’t long before the growls began again. The grumbling roars filled the night. Dubois hid behind Jackson, pulling his sleeping bag tighter around his shoulders as he peered into the treeline. Jackson slowly made his way toward the noise, shining his flashlight into the night. Dubois pressed against Jackson’s back, inching forward toward the horrible sound. The growls became louder as the boys moved closer. Suddenly, Dubois shrieked as Jackson located the angry animal’s eyes with his flashlight. The animal jumped and moaned, snorting loudly. It didn’t take long for the boys to realize the growls were actually loud snores, coming from the sleeping Sergeant Perkins, who was now awake with the blinding flashlight still shining in his eyes.

“What are you people doing!” groaned Perkins, confused, squinting at the bright light.

“Sorry, Sergeant Perkins,” answered Jackson, embarrassed, but still accidentally shining the flashlight in Perkins’ face.

“Shepherd, is that you!” grumbled Perkins, still mostly asleep.

“Sir, yes sir,” responded Jackson, “just looking for a spot to go to the bathroom. Have a good sleep sir.”

“So, find a spot, do your business, and get back to bed,” Perkins mumbled, actually falling back to sleep as he spoke.

Jackson and Dubois jogged away from the treeline, giggling uncontrollably as they hurried along. Jackson spent the rest of the hour with Dubois, sitting beneath the pine tree, wrapped in their sleeping bags. The boys chuckled quietly amongst themselves, and joked about the crazy-eyed look upon Perkins face. They couldn’t wait to tell the other recruits about their adventure with the horrible, Kodiak Bear Perkins.

The Recruits Finally Get a Break

Sergeant Perkins observed as the new recruits of Upsilon Squad settled into their new accommodations. After a full day, the ten recruits had finally stowed their gear inside their footlockers and Perkins took his leave, promising to return early the next morning at 5 a.m. Finally, the recruits could relax without a Sergeant barking out orders.

“Holy, cats! What a day,” said Jackson Shepherd, falling into his bed, doubling the pillow over behind his head. “I’ve never had so many people teach me how to do every little thing. I had a kid actually show me how to properly button a button.”

“I know, right?” added Ian Thomas, sitting upon the edge of his bunk. “The way they treated us like babies, I expected Perkins to give me a sack of diapers.”

The other recruits laughed out loud. The entire squad began to loosen up and enjoy themselves.

“Yes, and I had a Sergeant show me how to properly hold a bottle of water, so as to not spill it down my chin when I drank,” teased Weber, the young German recruit.

“I was upset when Sergeant Perkins left us alone for two minutes to eat our sandwiches,” joked Espinoza, the boy from a small Spanish mountain village of Trevélez. “I needed him to cut the crust off my bread.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” warned Chu, from Lijiang, China. “Tomorrow is another day and Perkins may help you eat your sandwich.”

“Hey, Espinoza,” cracked Irwin, the young Australian girl from Perisher Village. “If Perkins won’t help you eat your sandwich, I will!”

“I’ll take half of that sandwich if Perkins doesn’t want it,” laughed Gregory, the Canadian from Alberta.

“And, did you see Perkins’ messed up finger?” Jackson cracked, wiggling his pinky in the air. “A kid in the supply room told me he blew off his little finger during weapons training a couple years back. That’s why they call him, Pinky. Oh, man! Ouch!”

The recruits cackled hysterically at Perkins’ misfortune. Weber and Sanchez almost completely lost consciousness from laughing so hard.

The children continued to enjoy their first evening together and especially enjoyed making jokes about Drill Sergeants. Before long, taps began to play through the wall speakers. Drill Sergeant Perkins had instructed the recruits, on more than one occasion, that taps meant lights out and time for bed. No exceptions! All recruits were expected to be well rested for a full day of hard work. Training would begin promptly at 5 a.m. with a blast of the much-talked-about Air-Horn.

The Turbo Hydro-Hawk 3000

“Please, close your eyes for a moment,” said Major Pia Holt, addressing the class. “Now, I want you to imagine that you have found a way to strap yourself to a bolt of lightning.  Imagine, you are in control of the lightning bolt, and at will you jet through the clouds then rocket downward through the surface of the ocean, exploring the depths. Now you know what it’s like to pilot the new Turbo Hydro-Hawk 3000.”

The Hydro-Hawk has the ability to fit through the smallest cracks in the ocean floor, and while traveling at a high rate of speed, gives the gunner enough fire power to destroy anything in the way. The on board weapons system contains dozens of Raptor Class missiles, as well as hundreds of rounds of automatic hydro ammo. 

The design of the new Hydro-Hawk is based upon the world’s old, pre-quake fighters; the F-22 Raptor, F-16, F-14, Ru35, Stealth Fighter, among others. The Hydro-Hawk has no equal on the planet, above or below the surface of the Grand Ocean. This machine has the ability to fly at speeds of up to 3,700 kilometers per hour (2,300 miles per hour) while maintaining squad formation a mere ten meters above the surface of the ocean. The revolutionary Hydro-Drive engine manufactures power by converting ocean water into fuel. The engine requires a steady supply of moisture to operate most effectively. So, the closer the fighter is to the surface of the ocean the faster it will move. The revolutionary engine design also gives the ship the ability to reach speeds up to 1,600 kilometers per hour (995 miles per hour) below the surface of the ocean. And, yes – that’s beneath the surface of the ocean.

Just like an attacking sea bird, just a fraction of a second before water entry, the wings and tail of the Hydro-Hawk retract, making the fighter more aerodynamic. Once the ship is below the surface of the ocean, the wings and tail shift into the optimal position for the Hydro-Hawk to operate most effectively.

The tiny fighter is built in proportion to children’s smaller bodies. An Ager couldn’t fit inside the cockpit, even if he or she wanted to. The Hydro-Hawk is designed to hold one pilot, and one gunner. The gunner seat electronically rotates into battle position, placing the gunner upside down, in the Plexiglas nose of the ship, for a better view. 

Ian & Jackson Arrive at Basic Training

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11-year-old Ian Thomas, Jackson Shepherd, and the other young recruits aboard the Colorado Springs transport began to feel a bit more anxious as they sat in silence, awaiting their first official instructions from a representative of the New World Military. And, it didn’t take long to receive that first set of official instructions. Suddenly, a very serious little person in a flat brimmed hat flashed by the bus windows. He bounded up the stairs of the transport, turned and addressed the recruits. Quite loudly.  

“Off my transport!” he screamed, banging a metal baton upon the steel wall of the transport. “Stand up, grab your gear and line up with your feet on the black line! Go! Go! Go! Go! What are you babies waiting for?!”

The gruff, angry little voice belonged to none other than twelve-year-old Drill Sergeant, Dwayne “Pinky” Perkins. It was rumored that Sergeant Perkins had earned the nickname Pinky, when he lost the smallest finger on his left hand, due to an unfortunate weapon malfunction during a training exercise.

The recruits urgently grabbed their luggage and exited the transport as quickly as humanly possible, each simply wanting to stay off the loud little man’s attention grid.

“Holy cats, I hope that’s the last we see of that little guy,” Jackson whispered to Ian as they waited in line to exit the transport.  

“Man. Un-Freaking-Believable,” said Ian, exhaling deeply, puffing out his cheeks.

In seconds, the recruits had scrambled from the bus and firmly planted their feet upon the wide black line, as instructed.

Sergeant “Pinky” Perkins, along with a group of other Drill Sergeants stood in a group, speaking and observing the new class of recruits. Jackson Shepherd immediately recognized little Perkins from the brief, yet explosive encounter aboard the transport. Jackson elbowed Ian in his side a couple times, attempting to get him tickled at the sight of the serious little Sergeant.

“Dude, stop,” whispered Ian, trying not to smile.

It was all the two boys could do to keep from laughing out loud at Perkins, who was now pacing about the parking lot with his pants pulled up beneath his armpits like a mean old man.

“Now listen up and repeat after me,” Drill Sergeant Perkins instructed. “I am a recruit. I know absolutely nothing about anything.”

    “I am a recruit. I know absolutely nothing about anything,” the 200 recruit voices answered in unison.

“The way I will learn something, is by shutting my mouth and listening to my instructors,” continued Perkins.

“The way I will learn something, is by shutting my mouth and listening to my instructors,” answered the recruits.

“Out-Frigging-Standing, children!” blared Drill Sergeant Perkins. Now listen. I will only say this once. You will be divided into squads of ten and taken to different areas of this incredible military installation for housing and to collect your military gear. There are 200 of you, therefore, there will be twenty teams of ten recruits each. If you studied basic math at your blessed elementary schools this year, what I just said should make perfect sense to you.”

Ironically enough, there were some recruits who seemed puzzled by the Sergeant’s math, but none were brave enough to ask questions, nor doubt the math.  

“Standing behind me are nineteen of the finest Drill Sergeants the New World Military has ever created. These talented young men and women are here to transform you children into friggin’-killing machines,” roared Perkins, boasting, tapping the metal baton upon his leg as he spoke.

More than a few of the recruits’ eyes widened with anxiety. Until now they’d never imagined themselves as friggin’-killing machines and weren’t quite sure what to think about the idea.

“I will now read your squad assignments,” explained Sergeant Perkins, studying the clipboard. “These will be the people you bunk with, eat with, train with, cry with, and bleed with. Do you understand?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” the 200 voices exploded.

“Each squad will be identified by a letter of the ancient Greek alphabet,” Perkins explained. “For example, the first ten names I call will be assigned to Alpha Squad. When I call your name, go stand behind one of the Drill Sergeants standing behind me. You will know the appropriate Drill Sergeant, because he or she will have his or her hand raised.”

Ian and Jackson waited impatiently for their squad assignments. The two boys watched as 190 names were called ahead of them. Then, finally…

“By my calculations,” said Perkins, carefully scanning the clipboard, “there should be ten of you left on the black line. You ten recruits will be under my tutelage for the next eight weeks of basic training. Congratulations!”

“Aw, fudgesicles!” Jackson hissed through his clenched teeth.

Ian stood silently, either completely shocked by the news, or possibly uncertain what the word tutelage meant.

“Baker, Chu, Dubois, Espinoza, Gregory, Sanchez, Shepherd, Irwin, Thomas, Weber,” barked Perkins. “You ten recruits are Upsilon Squad.”  

As the final ten recruits jogged into position, Perkins reviewed a few final details with the other Drill Sergeants.  

“Ian, what the heck is an Upsilon?” Jackson whispered, confused.

“Did you not read the pre-basic training packet last night?” Ian replied, very serious.

“Yes, said Jackson, “well, not all of it. Was Upsilon in there?”

“Dude, yes,” said Ian, with his eyes widening as he spoke, “right next to the section about rats and stinky food.”

The two boys erupted with laughter momentarily, then suddenly shut up as they remembered where they were. Jackson skillfully transitioned from laughter into a fake coughing fit, complete with snot spitting, trying to hide the chuckles from the sergeants. After taking a few breaths, Jackson signaled toward the sergeants, just to let them know he had lived through their horrible, fake choking ordeal. Perkins glared back at Recruit Jackson, wrinkled his face in disgust at the snot spitting episode, then shook his head, and continued the conference with the other sergeants. Ian stared straight ahead, and pressed his lips together tightly, managing to hold his chuckles to a couple mild snorting noises that sounded more like sneezes.

The Girls’ Not So Quiet Training Run

The two girls weren’t expecting to see any Hydrotians tonight, as they were on a simple training run in shallower water than the Trenchers normally frequented. The sky was clear, and the bright moon lit up the waves, like fire dancing in the night. Along the way, a five ship Squadron of enemy Hydrotian fighters engaged the Hydro-Hawk and prepared to pull into firing position. Captain Sofia Ann Thomas expertly maneuvered the much faster Hydro-Hawk out of harm’s way, while Lieutenant Kat Chapman managed to lock on radar, and destroy two of the enemy ships with rear-firing missiles.

Sofia Ann then piloted the ship upward, rocketing through the surface of the ocean, escaping into the clouds to regroup.

“We’re right above them,” said Kat, squeezing the weapons controls, and adjusting her battle position in the nose of the tiny fighter ship. “I’ve got the last three of them on radar.”

“Alright, be ready,” Replied Sofia Ann. “Let’s show ‘em why they need to stay on their side of the ocean.”

Sofia Ann shoved the Hydro-Hawk’s throttle forward with all her might, and shot directly downward toward the sea. The powerful hydro-turbo engine screamed, as the ship plunged back into the dark waves of the Grand Ocean. Sofia Ann checked her helmet’s radar display and jetted toward the unsuspecting enemy ships. Within a fraction of a second, the ship was in firing position.

“I’ve got a lock!” yelled Kat. “I’m firing! Missiles away!”

The dark water suddenly illuminated like it was a sunny day at the beach. Within seconds, Kat had fired two missiles, and filled the water with hundreds of rounds of automatic weapons fire. The Hydrotian fighters didn’t stand a chance. The broken enemy ships dropped to the bottom of the Grand Ocean in flaming pieces.

“Kat! Well done!” exclaimed, Sofia Ann, reaching forward and slapping her gunner on the foot.

“Do you think the deli is still open back at base?” asked Kat, inquisitive, switching from battle mode, rotating her body back into a normal upright sitting position.

“Let me guess,” said Sofia Ann, giggling, “you’re craving cheese, right?”

“Well, yeah. Duh,” responded Kat, smiling, rubbing her belly while looking over her shoulder at Sofia Ann. “You know me, I always crave cheese after blowing up stuff.”

“After a night like this,” said Sofia Ann, grinning, patting her gunner on the helmet, “I think I’ll have some cheese with you.”

Sofia Ann set course for base and hurried away from the scene. The girls could breathe a sigh of relief, as the surprise encounter with the Hydrotians was now completely under control.