Chapter 22

80 6 1

"I didn't feel anything."

Ben choked back the tears. It was a nightmare that has haunted him since that day. And, now he was living it again in while watching his former self pull the rest of Nelson's body behind a cover staring at his lifeless eyes.

"Do you know why this is extremely important?"

Ben was rooted to the spot. He was trying to think but his eyes were staring at Nelson's body in the distance.

"Gray, why is this important?"

"You died."

"No that isn't the answer I'm looking for."

"What else could it possibly be? You died. I never felt such devastation at this moment. You were like a brother to me."

"You are getting warmer."

Ben watched his former self look at his blood soaked hands and the pieces of flesh in the street.

"Gray, this is the beginning of your demise."

Ben glanced at Nelson next to him. He was staring at him. Empathy behind his bright blue eyes.

"Aren't you a bit disturbed your body is not far from us?"

"Nope. It's just a body."

Ben was shocked with his words and felt anger start to pulse through him unexpectedly.

"Just a body? That was you! My friend! My comrade and brother!"

"My time was up, Gray," said Nelson solemnly.

"There must have been something....."

"There was nothing you could do or anyone else could do. It was my time. I fully accepted that. But your loyalty and the horror you saw could not see that."

Ben stayed quiet as he watched the scene continue. His former self was the only one picking up pieces of Nelson. Ben felt himself start to fall apart again as he watched him pick up every single piece of flesh he could find on the street.

"Gray, I could never be able to say I understand what you went through completely. I never had PTSD. Never given the chance to see if I would or not. But this was the first event you experienced that developed your PTSD."

Ben felt himself shaking trying to keep it together. His hands were balled up in fists.

"Ben, it's okay to fall apart. You need that."

Ben shook his head. "I carry this burden alone. I don't need you to see it."

"But I already have."

Ben turned to him in confusion.

"What do you mean?"

"I did see what happened after this."

Suddenly, everything started to fast forward. The body bag he carried with Nelson's remains. The shift of the body bag made Ben feel sick to his stomach just as he remembered on that day. The soldier's cross Ben was bent in front of for a long time. Being asked to escort Nelson's body home by his family which was granted. Standing by his casket during the entire trip and refusing hotel rooms to continue to stand guard. Breaking down in a fury of tears and anger when he was alone next to his casket. Keeping his jaw tight during the military funeral to keep from falling apart. Handing the folded flag to his grieving mother who thanked him continuously for watching over him. Ben fighting back tears from filling his eyes as Nelson's mother took the flag from his hands. But, Ben felt that he didn't watch over him enough. He was killed under his watch.

"Gray, I can't thank you enough for everything you did for me. You never left my side. I couldn't ask for a better escort for my body."

"It was so hard. I have mourned for years. I felt like I let you down."

"But, you didn't. You brought my mother closure. Instead of a stranger, it was you who was by my side even after death. I just wish my death wouldn't cause you such turmoil. I am truly sorry."

"It wasn't your fault."

"True. But, there is something positive out of all this I need to mention."

Ben looked at Nelson who now had a smile playing on his lips. "I couldn't ask for a better brother from another mother. I wouldn't trade all our times together for anything. I hope you feel the same. You changed my life so many ways. That's why I'm here with you now."

Ben thought back on all the jokes, pranks, serious discussions, support, and everything else in between that created the bond they shared. Nelson put his arm around Ben's shoulder for a hug. What Ben didn't expect to happen with this gesture was to fall apart. Nelson not being an apparition but an actual physical form crushed every ability to hold back his emotions. Ben returned the hug harder as the tears started to spill.

Sadness overwhelmed him. It was no longer anger. But, utter heartache and despair. Mourning the memories and death before were always laced with anger. Anger to the military. Anger to the country. Anger to the war. Now, it was just gut wrenching grief.

"I missed you so much. The world wasn't the same without you," confessed Ben in between heaving back the sobs.

"I know Gray. I love you too Bro. And, not in a romantic way either Fucker."

Ben laughed as he let go of Nelson wiping his face with his fist.

"Don't worry. The feeling is mutual," said Ben as he calmed his breathing.

"Congratulations Brother, you are on the road to recovery."

Ben twisted his face bewilderment.

"You just accepted my death. This was your hardest life event. But we have more to see."

Ben widened his eyes as fear struck him.

"Don't worry. I'll be with you. I'm here to help."

Ben nodded as it grew dark again. He felt his stomach drop as it did. He knew it was going to get worse and doubted it would ever get better from this point forward.

The Veteran Left Behind - ON HOLDRead this story for FREE!