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.
* * *
(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.
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
·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
·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
·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
·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.