Scott Wahrenberger

Ugly July

This short story is based on real events, albeit fictionalized to protect the privacy of those still living.


In memory of late avuncular, Finley and the nameless Samurai *.




Now that the wind whipped past his ears in a thousand little screams, it didn’t look bad. Not that having the number two starboard engine on fire and smoking was good in any sense just that as Tech.Sgt. Paul Green didn’t think it looked that bad. Of course falling away from the plane that rapidly shrank from an all-encompassing behemoth to another flyspeck against a cloudy blue sky did not seem strange somehow. Paul tumbled over and saw the ocean beneath him that did not seem to move, just a turgid object, which stared back at him blankly. It is a different blue than the sky, the flat unyielding point where the two met is seamless almost, just a shade away from each other. He watched the ballet of aircraft about him, they ignored him, and he was not part of that world anymore. He is just a falling object, a forgotten cog lost under a workman’s bench in a greasy shop perhaps, but not part of the fighting. He passed through the dance between the Japanese fighters that attempted to shoot down the Allied Bombers who were trying to sink the Japanese ships.

   Small spots appeared in the ocean that changed from a flat blue featureless expanse into a crinkly surface of nothing. Small white specks, irregular unremarkable in any respect other than the fact they demonstrated the vast difference between a solid and a liquid. In that bird’s eye assessment of the real estate value of rocks surrounded by salt water that appeared valueless, a thought that crept up from the depths of a stunned mind spoke softly in the fear-induced silence as his hand gripped the ripcord to his parachute. Is it better to have a shark eat you or have the Japanese bayonet you? Paul never pondered such a question in his youth. The very thought of having a choice between two distasteful ends never in the merest speculation of chance occurred to him.                                                                                                                                                                                 He closed his eyes as he plunged into the ocean. Thousands of little screams of air that tickled his ears moments earlier became a gargled rush of an angry hungry ocean. He released his parachute and inflated his yellow life vest. Popping to the surface with no fanfare, and swimming about he pushed air under the wet gossamer canopy of the chute and belly flopped onto the material. He closed his eyes and thought about his girlfriend back home.

   “Of all the things to think about,” Paul said to himself, his voice echoed with a vacuum of spirit.

   It wasn’t the stupidity of the statement that made Paul feel distant alone with himself. The truth is he wasn’t thinking about sex at all or the reference to that particular anatomical feature which differentiates the male from the female. It was the way her body felt when he hugged her, how easy it was to feel the outline of every bone in her back, the soft skin of her face. The way he could feel her against his belly and the way the fuzzy brown sweater she wore tickled him. Another thought, equal in the stark contrast to where he is and where he wanted to be, changed the visual scene that glowingly inhabited the flipside of his eyelids. The backside of the next up church pew neatly polished to a deep brown luster. The padded seat cushions are immaculately neat, and a friendly emerald green in color. From his vantage point, all he could see is his mother’s elbow as she handed a wooden dish to dad. The dish itself is filled neatly with little squares of bread, on the back of the pew in front of him between the book holders are fancy cup holders, each had three holes in the center and three small glasses filled with sacramental wine. Reverend Crough was saying something, his droning monotone voice echoed in the church.

   Something bumped his back. His eyes opened and fear of almost immeasurable proportions gripped his stomach into an icy knot. The only thought going through his soul like a knife is that a shark is feeling him up. His limbs became icy cold when the bump came again and this time bigger and harder, he rolled to the left and saw the beech the surf is pushing him onto. Getting up to his feet he exhaled with relief, then dragged the parachute ashore and took off his yellow life vest discarding it on the coarse sand. He reached into the side pocket on his survival vest and pulled out his radio.

   After several minutes of fruitless effort, he managed to make contact with an allied plane that relayed the message to Air Sea Rescue. He had to wait at least a day.  Relieved that his plight seemed to becoming to and end he pulled his equipment up to and then beneath a palm tree where he sat down and thought about the previous transpiration of event.

   “Why me Lord?” he cursed to no one but himself. “I fell out of the bomb bay! That’s why! All I was trying to do is transfer fuel from one tank to another and I fall out of the damned airplane! Get a grip on yourself boy, it’s not that bad. Not for you anyhow…” Guilt set in. He felt like a failure for letting his mates down. Not that it mattered. Most were dead already and the plane no more than airborne scrap metal. His brain shut down for a moment.

   A cool breeze laced with salt caressed his nose. The dryness reminded him with the subtleness of a slap across the jaws that he needed to find water. Wearily he rose and began to walk along the beach. The basic plan is to circle the island and see if anything fresh ran off into the ocean. If this failed, or his parched thirst demanded more than attention he could assault one of the ever-watchful coconut palms. After several minutes of turbulent contemplation of the gravity of the situation, he concluded that nobody would be impressed if he did this the hard way. He drew his forty-five caliber Remington Rand sidearm and took aim. Reflecting that he could be too far away to shoot a coconut off a tree, he walked closer. Most of what could be described as inland, though that would lead one to believe it was a big island, but nonetheless inland, is chest high elephant grass. High for Paul, and chest high for most Caucasians. High enough to conceal the downed (and very young, he didn’t look old enough to shave) Japanese flier that stumbled out of the palisades.

   Paul’s heart stopped for a brief instant, the Japanese pilot froze. The other pilot tried to draw his Nambu pistol but it hung up on the wet leather holster. Paul beat him to the drawn and after empting his pistol’s magazine, cautiously walked over to the corpse and stared down at his former adversary. He fired seven rounds, but managed to hit the dead boy once in the throat. He quickly reloaded the pistol, but later wouldn’t remember doing it, and looked about for others. Waiting for what seemed like hours but in reality were seconds he expected more. None came. He noticed that this particularly dead pilot had a sword attached to his waist. In the finest traditions of the Army Air Corps, he took souvenirs, namely the samurai sword. He then puked and hated himself.

   He hated the Japanese. They disgusted him for putting what looked like a fifteen year old in combat. He hated them, because at this moment he realized, he was a murderer, and had been doing it for years now. He realized the hideous monster that lived in him and the parts of it that made men animals. He after a long time got back to his senses and wandered about aimlessly. Somewhere in his trek he found a small stream, not big, but enough for one man.  Splashing the water on his face, he concluded he is ready to be a king for he truly knew what it is to hate.

   Several days later five sailors found Paul standing on the beach clutching his trophy.

   “Guess you weren’t alone,” the first sailor said as he helped Paul onto the wooden dingy from the destroyer U.S.S. Nevada City Limits.

   “Only for a moment,” Paul replied his voice a hollow echo of a man that once lived. “I buried him over there.” He lamely pointed to a mound under a palm. As the dingy left the beach, he wondered what the boy’s name was.

   A year later Paul walked down a risky ladder off an air taxi at Allegheny County Airport. A hot breeze blew across the tarmac as he walked from the small airplane toward the wrought iron fence where his now fiancé waited. Bunny Lane threw herself on Paul who reflexively hugged Bunny hard enough to dislocate a disc and bruise several ribs. Tears began to drip from his left eye and rolled lazily down his check dripping on to Bunny.

   “It’s okay its okay,” Bunny rapidly chattered with the soft compassion that defined her character. “You’re home and safe…”       

   The tears that he shed in an age when stiff lips were the fashion wasn’t one of relief or joy. However, one of shame that comes from joy, over a dark secret that happened on an ugly day, on an ugly island, in a far off ugly July.


* This soldier is known only to the god of his understanding. He’s one of the many that never returned to his homeland after WW2 ended.



He Came From Earth, my first novella is available from among other places.

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All rights belong to its author. It was published on by demand of Scott Wahrenberger.
Published on on 02/05/2009.


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