The Jacket

eBay item 344217865, used Military BDU jacket, dessert camo, price $44.57. It was perfect, he had been searching for just such a jacket and had been shocked when he had gone to the Army/Navy surplus store and saw the asking price of $119.99.

He had tried negotiating the price but the clerk was having none of it, at least not on this item. The demand was just too high for them, so he click on the Buy It Now button and sat back pleased with his purchase which he was sure would arrive in just a few days.

Tom Johnson, late 30’s was wiry and thin with little muscle and even less hair, he wasn’t a military veteran but enjoyed collecting military memorabilia from conflicts all over the world and from different periods in history.

Some he would stash under protective glass, others he would hang for display and some like the jacket he had just ordered he would wear. Some people collected stamps, others coins, Tom collected war and he was an avid researcher of war. He had a detailed understanding of every war fought since 1452 to the present. He counted himself lucky that the U.S. was engaged in Afghanistan because it gave him the chance to study an active war.

Three days later his latest prize arrived via USPS, he tore the package open like a ten year old at Christmas. He carefully examined the jacket, everything was intact, except a slight tear on the sleeve, easily fixed and a slight odor that clung to the material that reminded Tom of stale sweat and fear. He wondered briefly if its previous owner had been in combat, many of his items had seen bloody battles.

He quickly tried the jacket on, and as it settled over his shoulders it seemed to snuggle into him as if it had been fitted to his gaunt frame. The name tag read Johns he was more than a little pleased with his newest prize and decided he would make this a daily wear during the cold weather months.

He walked down the two flights of stairs somewhat admiring the feel of his new jacket and stepped outside his apartment complex.

Bullets landed all around him, the smell of gunpowder and fear were everywhere, and someone hit him from behind and took him face first into the dirt. He could hear the sounds of combat all around him, men were screaming and the report from automatic weapons filled the air.

“What the fuck is wrong with you”? His assailant screamed. “Are you trying to get fucking killed”?

Tom looked at his attacker, it was an Army Corporal with an M16A4 rifle and a battle used dessert camo uniform, his name tag identified him as Edwards and his ensign marked him as an Army Ranger. His face had a strange blotchy look of a man who had been drinking all night, and his eyes were badly glazed.

“Johns, I need you and Phelps to flank these assholes that have us pinned down here”. He pointed to a barren hill to the left. “Once your there laydown some cover fire and put them on their fucking knees”.

He had no idea what was happening other than it was clear he was in combat and had no idea what he should do. The Corporal was dragging him behind a vehicle that had been hit numerous times with small arms fire and was smoking badly his left arm jacket caught on the wreckage tearing the material slightly.

“Phelps, Phelps get your ass over here now”. The man screamed at the top of his lungs into a radio handset.

Tom saw a soldier respond some 200 meters away, his movements were jerky and slow as he began to low crawl toward the pair, his mouth gapped open in horror as a mortar round landed nearly on top of the man, completely dismembering him, and throwing pieces of the body everywhere.

The Corporal hid his face for a moment and then leaned into him. “You have to flank these fuckers or we are all going to die”.

With that the soldier sprinted away from him toward a small outcropping of rocks and began to lay down fire.

“Go, go”. He yelled waving at him.

Johnson had no idea what was happening to him, maybe he had gone insane and was caught in some deep state of delusion, maybe he had been crazy for a long time and was now in a mental ward someplace and this was a drug induced hallucination that he would wake up from.

He simply could not move he sat with his back up against the wreckage, watching in horror as more of the soldiers around him died. One took a round to the head, another took several to the torso and neck, several were taken out by mortar attacks and finally the Corporal who had drug him behind the car was cut to ribbons by a mini gun of some kind.

What stuck in his mind was that the soldiers seemed almost oblivious to their own deaths; many were not even trying to fight back but sat on the ground staring blankly or were moving about like they were drunk.

He wanted to run but the fear gripped him so hard he could barely breathe, he heard voices approaching, strange they were speaking English. Suddenly a soldier came around the wreck his weapon pointed at him. He was wearing a chemical suit and protective mask, it was a US soldier.

“Wait please…………. wait a second I have no idea what going on. I am not a part of any of this”. He tried explaining in a rush, the words tumbling out, the man raised his weapon and fired once.

He came too with a start; he was standing on the sidewalk outside his apartment complex. He had no idea what he had just experienced but he did not ever experience it again. He stripped the jacket off and held it away from his body like it was some sort of cancer.

He went back upstairs and began researching the names he had seen in his delusion or waking nightmare or whatever you wanted to call it. It didn’t take long before he found who he was looking for, 2nd and 75th Rifle Ranger Regiment, 18 men were killed during an enemy incursion of a “friendly village”, chemical weapons had been found and indications were that these weapons were going to be used against US troops.

He found pictures of each man he had seen, Phelps was there just like in the picture, so was Edwards the last picture he pulled up was an individual photo of a soldier in death his name was PFC Hogan Johns, he had a single wound to his head and the dessert camo jacket he was wearing had a slight tear on the left arm.

The chill he felt was with him for a very long time.

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