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September 26, 2001


Column
By Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
September 26, 2001

Short story is six weeks long
Note from Virgil:
It was September 6, 1943. It was a dark and stormy night in North Africa, and a 19-year-old high school dropout from Lemoresville, Tenn. (population 311 if you count dogs, cats and chickens), lay in his tent. He was cold, wet, sick and scared.
What happened that night led to the first and only short story the young sailor ever wrote.
The story is part fact, part fiction. He will leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out which is which. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the language has been cleaned up to better fit The Herald's family values.
Read the story and you will understand why the author abandoned this literary form and took up column writing. But remember, he was a high school dropout, only 19 years old, away from his mama, and cold, wet, sick and frightened in a foreign land. This is the best he could do under those circumstances, back in 1943.
The story has been simmering and fermenting in the drawer with bright ideas, deep thoughts, clever sayings, witty phrases, gems of wisdom and stuff for more than five decades. It is time it saw the light of day.
The "masterpiece" will be presented in six installments. "Days of Our Lives" has been running on NBC for six decades. So I guess "Retribution" can run in The Jackson Herald for six weeks.
Don't dare miss an installment. Why don't you clip and save all six of 'em? They won't ever be worth anything, but you will have the first, last and only short story that yours truly ever wrote.
* * *
"Retribution"
(The First Week)
It was an agonizing pain, sharp and hot, just below my ribs on the left side. My heart, maybe? Being a pharmacist's mate, I instinctively fingered my pulse. A little fast, but not fast enough to worry about. Anyway, the pain was too low. They told us, didn't they, at hospital corps school in Portsmouth, that the heart was higher?
Yet, I wondered. I was like a lot of Army and Navy medics, nurses, pharmacists, drug-store cowboys and the like. You've seen 'em - persons who know just enough about disease symptoms to imagine themselves victims of everything from athlete's foot to cancer. To them a cough is tuberculosis, indigestion from overeating a sure sign of appendicitis, a headache means acute sinusitis, and so on.
My own imagination was running away right now. Or was it my imagination?
I looked at my luminous-dialed watch. 1:15.
"It's nothing," I tried to convince myself. "I'll go back to sleep, and when daylight comes the pain will be gone."
I lay flat on my back and tried to listen to the rain falling on the canvas tent top just a few feet above my cot. It made a restful, sleepy sound. I closed my eyes.
Then something cold and wet fell on my forehead. I lifted my arms and tried to plug the leak with a North African luxury: chewing gum. The pain quickly drew my arms back to my side.
Sleep didn't come. The pain, with each tick of my watch, was growing worse, sharper and hotter. I could hardly breathe. I began to take in air with short little gasps, like the fast panting of a hound just returned from chasing an elusive fox.
The rain was falling harder now, coming down in torrents. The wind was blowing a storm. The soothing pitter-pat of the rain on the tent top had changed to a deafening roar. I had the feeling that locomotives were bearing down upon me from all directions.
Through the leak over my head the cold rain didn't trickle anymore. It poured. I tried but could not move. My face and neck, and the Navy blanket I was using for a pillow, became soaked.
Without moving my head, I turned my eyes toward the other side of the tent. Darkness, miles and miles of black, depressing darkness.
I was scared.
I could call to Kramer. Although I couldn't see him, I knew he was only a few feet away, just across the damp, soggy floor of the tent. But what could he, only a hospital apprentice, do for a first class pharmacist's mate? I could ask him to run across the street to the sick bay and wake Dr. Jacobs, but Doc would raise holy hell if he were called out in this storm. He probably wouldn't come anyway, only send a couple of aspirin back by Kramer.
Doc was like that. He did a lot of good for a lot of sailors; that is, if his doing good didn't conflict with his six hours sleep (1 a.m. to 7 a.m.) or his eight-hour spree (4 p.m. to midnight) with that Army nurse stationed at the big hospital at Ferryville, just across the lake from Bizerte. He managed to hang around the sick bay during daylight hours, but in war there are also emergencies in the dark of night.
We pharmacist's mates at the little Navy sick bay had suggested to each other (Doc was a big guy, 225, handsome, an All-American running back at Southern Cal) that he exchange his Navy blue for Army khaki, since he spent the majority of his time over at the marching-boys' hospital. He was even beginning to talk like a soldier. We had heard him say mess when he meant chow, latrine for head, floor for deck, mop for swab, rope for line, infirmary for sick bay, etc.
But Doc was going to get what was coming to him eventually. We were counting on it. Payback would surely come. It'd come some night when a boatswain crawled in with a blockage in his intestines, or when a gunner's mate, trying to bring down a German bomber, got a shrapnel slug through his belly. The poor guy would slowly die while a bunch of helpless pill pushers looked down into his suffering, pleading eyes. We were just lowly hospital corpsmen, for crying out loud, not internists or surgeons.
Doc, meanwhile, would be down at one of the nearby Mediterranean beaches treating his nurse. Then the brass would throw the book at him, and seven lowly hospital corpsmen who had to put up with him wouldn't be sorry. We would be delighted. In fact, we'd be eager to testify against him when they court martialed his butt.
When Lt. Jacobs arrived in Bizerte in February, he talked a lot about his wife and kids, how he missed them, how he resented having to give up his lucrative practice in Los Angeles to serve his country in this God-forsaken place.
The last time we heard him mention his family was sometime in June. Now he seemed perfectly happy serving in this God-forsaken place, and servicing his personal nurse. If we had his wife's address, we'd be tempted to squeal on the. . . (edited to fit The Herald's family values).
But giving Doc a verbal stern kicking wasn't making me feel any better, and I wasn't getting any dryer.
"Kramer, wake up! Hey, Kramer!"
(To be continued.)
Virgil Adams is a former owner and editor of The Jackson Herald.

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Column
By: Adam Fouche
The Jackson Herald
September 26, 2001


Finding fortune in a cookie
As a young snapdragon, I didn't get to visit a Chinese restaurant too often. I only really remember going once.
But let's face it. How many kids out there go crazy over mo shu chicken or moo goo gai pan? And besides, there are no Happy Meals with sweet and sour chicken and rice.
When I became old enough to work and had to find my own food, I started visiting Chinese restaurants. I love the food now and it has become one of my favorite genres.
I quickly learned, however, that the real fortune isn't the food-it's that small strip of paper with poorly worded English sayings wrapped up in a tasty little cookie. I love fortune cookies and I have garnered a small collection of their sayings.
Amazingly, those fortunes really do fit into my life. In fact, most of them make a heck of a lot of sense. Let's examine some them, shall we?
·You have much skill in expressing yourself to be effective. I'm not really sure what this means. Maybe it means I'm good at bragging. Maybe it means I'm confident. Maybe "to be effective" was just added to look more English-like. You tell me.
·God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another. Well, first of all, this sounds a lot a like a split personality. The fact that the fortune cookie speaks to me as if I am more than one person causes me to be a bit uneasy. Further, I'm not into plastic surgery or anything like that, so I don't see how this applies. I guess they are trying to say I'm two-faced or dishonest. However
·You have a reputation for being straight forward and honest. This one makes me happy. I feel like an honest person. But it sure doesn't go with the one before it.
·You have great patience. No I don't.
·You will be called upon to help a friend in trouble. I have no problem with this. I'm always willing to help out if I need to.
·Don't let friends impose on you, work calmly and silently. I guess I shouldn't help out my friends after all. Man, I wish these cookies would make up their minds.
·It is impossible to please everybody, please yourself first. So that settles it. The cookies don't want me helping anyone but myself. I'm glad I figured that one out.
·You are never bitter, deceptive or petty. OK, now I'm confused. How can I not be all those things if I only worry about myself and no one else? I'm beginning to doubt this while cookie fortune thing.
·You will bring sunshine into someone's life. I hope I'm already doing this (i.e., my girlfriend). I should ask her if this one's true.
·Someone thinks you are a wonderfully mysterious. Ahh. Another one about my girlfriend. You do think I'm wonderfully mysterious, don't you Lori? Please?
·You and your wife will be happy in your life together. I can say that I hope that is very true. However, I'm not married yet. And second, what if a girl had gotten that fortune? What then?
·You are going to have a very comfortable old age. I'm happy about that.
·You will have a party. Hum, this one seems to hint toward something, but I'm not quite sure what it is. Maybe the next fortune will help.
·A good time to start something new. I'd like to start something new. Well, there's my life in a fortune cookie. I guess it's true what they say-you can learn a lot from a cookie.
If any of you nobles in readerpeopleville have any good fortunes, I'd like to hear them, especially if they are unique or unusual. Just send them to me.
In the meantime, I'll be downing my rice, trying to finish my General Tsu's chicken so I can get another fortune cookie.
Adam Fouche is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.

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