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Fiction Drama Historical Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Darkening Sky’s

By: Michael Cunningham


The sounds of light classical music fill the air as the smell of freshly cooked fish, and steak, emulate from the five-star kitchen at a small high-class restaurant on the upper west side of Manhattan. Beautifully hand painted Italian artwork; strategically hangs upon the old brick walls; displaying themselves in dramatic fashion. Eliminating all feelings of clutter, or claustrophobia. It's almost home.

1800 gothic candelabras stand lit, red candle flickering, in the center of each, of the fifteen round tables placed in rows, of five, around the restaurant. 

The miniature, yet elegant black marble bar top rises from the floor along the rear of the room. Five hand carved Oak stools stand empty in front of the stunning, stained-glass panels below the marble. Jeffery, the bar tender stands dressed in a light grey button up shirt and jet-black pants. His red curly hair, thick black frame glasses and pale white skin give off a European vibe. Drying a sparkling crystal wine glass, he softly hangs the glassware on the rack above his head along-front several others. A slight,

"Ting."

Sounds as the thin crystals lightly touch one another. 

            “Coming out hot!”

Yells the head chef as he walks through the wooden salon doors from the kitchen into the dining room. Holding a steaming hot steak accompanied by a plate of fresh shrimp Cesar salad. He tells Jeffery to grab a 2010 Chateau Lafite Rothschid Pauillac and follow him. Jeffs eyes light up as he drops his washcloth before opening the wine rack below his station and pulling the very exquisite bottle of red. Taking a deep breath, he begins to follow Chef Hunter Bell to the center of the restaurant. Chef Bell and Jeffery arrive tableside as the two gentlemen discus high profit real estate investments over-seas in Europe. 

“Good evening, Mr. Maiolini, Mr. Savnik.” Chef Bell says as he places the magnificent steak and salad in front of the two gentlemen. He quickly explains both dishes in glamorous fashion and detail. Followed by the sound of a cork popping, Jeffery removes the bark from bottle of red wine. He slowly gives an overview of the French spirit, before pouring just a taste in each of the men’s glasses. They both swirl the wine around before giving it a quick sniff and taste. 

“That’s living my brotha.” Says Mr. Savnik as he cheers with his company.

            “You’re welcome gentlemen. Enjoy your meal.” Jeffery replies, before making his way back behind the bar. 

            The evening begins to wind down as the clock strikes eleven P.M. Most all the customers have made their way to their penthouse apartments or beautiful Westchester estates. Mr. Maiolini and Savnik are still sitting at their table laughing and joking about the life they live and how their families have old money and neither of them know where it comes from. They simultaneity stand up and toss the napkins from their laps onto the plate-less table. Slowly making their way to the bar. They each pull a stool out and sit directly in front of Jeffery.

            “Jeffery! My favorite bartender!” Mr. Maiolini says as he slaps a hundred-dollar bill down on the bar top. 

“Hello again Mr. Maiolini” 

            “You can call me Paul. And this is James.” He replies 

“Very well. Paul and James. How may I be of service to you this evening?”

            “Two Blue Labels straight up.” James says.

“Coming right up.”

            As Jeffery begins to fashion the two drinks; he can’t help overhearing the conversation between Paul and James.

“James, how’s that veteran doing at work that you hired?”

            “Veteran.” James laughs. “I fired him last week.”

“Fired him? Wasn’t he qualified for the job? It was a mail room position.”

            “Over-qualified if you ask me.” James chuckles.

“So, why on Earth would you fire him?” Asks Paul.

            “He was suffering from all kinds of PTSD from the war, always going to the shrink, doctor this, doctor that. I don’t have time for an employee with those problems. I’m running a multi-million-dollar company.”

            “That’s pretty screwed up man. My cousin went to war in Iraq and came back with similar issues.”

            “I’m sorry to hear that. How’s he doing now?”

“He committed suicide last April after losing his job and custody of his son.”

            “Two Blue Labels straight up.” Jeffery says before placing the rocks glasses in front of Paul and James.

            “Wow. I had no idea. My condolences Paul.”

“It’s okay. We didn’t know each other very well.” 

 Around twelve o’clock, Paul and James finish their whisky drinks and pay their tab with Jeffery. 

            “Have a good night, Jeffery.” Says James as he drops the tip on the bar top.

“Goodnight, James. I’ll see you soon.” Replies Jeff. 

James gets eerie feelings and goosebumps from Jeffery’s fair well. Paul pats James on the back.

            “Come on James lets hail a couple cabs and get out of here.”

Before walking out, James turns and takes one more look at Jeffery. He’s now wearing a 1944 Great Britain military issued uniform with half his face missing. Dripping thick red blood all over the bar top, yet still polishing the rocks glass in his hand. James closes his eyes and shakes his head. Looking up again, Jeffery waves to the two men. 

            “Good night, James.” Jeff says before Paul pulls him by the back of his coat out of the restaurant.

            “James, hurry a taxi is right out in front.”

Paul opens the door and tells James to get in.

            “I’ll get the next one J. Don’t worry.”

James sits in the taxi. 

            “Have a good night, James. See you soon.”

James Looks up at Paul and suddenly his eye sockets are completely black, empty with streams of blood running down his face from either one. Paul slams the door just as the taxi takes off down tenth avenue. Keying into his seventy-fifth-floor penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park, he can’t get the gruesome images out of his mind. James gets himself ready for bed and lays down, all alone in his California King size bed. Grabbing the remote on the end table, James clicks on the surround sound which begins to play soft sleep music as he quitly drifts off to sleep.


            The spray of salty ocean water over his face startles James awake. He’s in shock to see thirty United States Military soldiers standing crammed on a small Higgins Boat in front of him. Fighting waves to get to shore. The sound of rapid machine guns echo in the distance. MK-42’s fire from atop the high dunes at the beaches of Normandy. Only one-hundred yards away. The day is June 6th, 1944. German occupied French shores, World War Two.

            “What’s going on here!?” Screams James. The sky begins to darken as rain clouds roll in with the ocean breeze. A slight drizzle ensues.

“We’re invading Normandy private Savnik! Operation Overlord. Get ready to move in thirty-seconds!”

            James looks down at his hands as they begin to shake. A bead of sweat drips from under his steel military helmet. The boat runs aground and the large iron wheel on the bow begins to spin. The front lift descends into the dark red sea while tinted waves crash against the iron hedgehogs lining the beach. Fifteen similar vessels following behind. 

“Move! Move! MOVE!” The captain yells. 

            “Ding! Bing! Woosh! Bing! Ding!” 

Machine gun rounds begin bouncing off the iron plating of the boat, shards of metal splinter, and whistle past their heads. Several men drop in place, bleeding out from life threating wounds. 

            “AHH!!!” James drops to his knees, screams as tears begin torpedoing down both cheeks before colliding under his chin, dripping onto the corpses below him. Putting his head down, he crawls over dead bodies and young men screaming in pain and agony.  The feeling of the ice-cold English Channel stings every inch of his body. A Nazi mortar explodes nearby sending the bloody ocean high into the sky. Only to rain down upon, like a monsoon. James is frozen. Stuck in place. Clutching his rifle. Sure to die. Suddenly, a British solider grabs James by the jacket and drags him into the freezing Normandy surf by force. 

“Go! Go! Go!”

A quick, yet hurtful inhale of salt-water snaps James into panic mood. He stumbles over the fallen and wounded under his feet, standing up in waste deep water he takes in a huge breath of air, and gets to his feet. 

“Go! Go! Go!” 

Looking up, James can’t believe his eyes. His brain doesn’t make sense of the situation. The horror. Explosions, echoes of bullets ripping through steel. Fires burn the beach sand to a pearl and black ashy mix. Human limbs spewed throughout the beach. Stumbling forward, James ducks behind an iron hedgehog. The ringing in his ears deafens the sounds of screams and explosions.

            Hundreds of men are storming towards the hill. Trenches, dug into the landscape supply cover from the heavy gunfire. It was relentless. Landmines exploding randomly; blowing humans beings to pieces. Bits of sand litter the air as bullets penetrate the soft terrain. Thick billows of smoke rise from the beach blanketing the already dark sky.

            James has a split second feeling of courage and takes off from behind the hedgehog in search of a nearby trench. Holding his helmet on. Running.

AHHH! Bang! Bang! Bang!

He screams, randomly firing his rifle at the hill. Stomping past men as they’re shot down beside him. 

            Sprinting through heavy smoke with his head down; James trips over his own feet and lands face first in one of the trenches.

            “Bang!”

  Accidently discharging his weapon. James hears a man scream in front of him. But can’t see a thing. At that very moment an enormous explosion goes off on the top of the hill. The Allies have blown up a machine gun strong hold. Cheers comes from all around as most of the men take off out of the trench. Screaming with adrenalin and filled with patriotism. Firing their weapons. With every bullet, they’re one step closer to winning the war. 

            James, still in the trench, crawls forward and up the damp sandy incline. A soldier lying next to him swings his arm over grabbing James by the jacket as hard as he could. James looks at the man as the smoke begins to clear.

            “You shot me!”                      

James gasps for a breath, in shock. It was the British man that saved him from the Higgins Boat. The bullet had taken part of the man’s face and skull off. He spits blood from his mouth as it begins to pool up in it. 

“You shot me!” The man chokes out again.

            “Oh my God.” James begins to cry.

The man shakes James even harder this time as he pulls out his dog tags with his other hand from under his uniform. Shaking, unable to speak, he attempts to give them to James. James willingly clutches the tags and lightly yanks them from his neck. The soldier begins to convulse as his eyes roll around aimlessly inside his head. 

            “I’m so sorry.” James cries into the now expired man’s military jacket. Wiping his tears, he looks down at the dog tags and reads.

            “Jeffery O’Neal” 

Shock rips through James like a bolt of lightning. He looks back down at the name. A drop of blood drips from James’s steel helmet landing on the tag. He smears it half clean before stuffing them into his pants pocket. 

            In a fit of rage, drool dangling from his lips, James blows his nose onto his upper lip and spits at the same time; before jumping, climbing over the trench as bombs explode around him. Bullets whizzing past his head and feet. A man engulfed in flames, falls to his knees as a fellow soldier fires one shot to subdue his misery. Brain fragments spray, covering the side of James face as he continues to run forward to the next trench. Diving, to his knees beside his platoon, he proceeds to climb over the top.

            “AHHHH!! Bang! Bang! Bang!” James feels he’s in slow motion.

Eyes wide open. Screaming, he stands upright, above them all, defending his new-found brothers, offering to them, the ultimate sacrifice. His life.  

            “AHHHH!!! Bang! Bang! Bang!” He yells firing again. And again, into the neighboring trench of Axis enemies.

            “Move! Move! Move!” He screams.

 James sprints forward. Leading the men into battle as time begins to slow down, almost to a complete stand still. Fire in their eyes. Love in their hearts. They push through the fear, risking everything, for freedom.  Boots in the sand, sliding down a trench, James fires one last shot before the empty magazine, 

            “Pings!” 

Out the rifle.

            The round, striking a young boy wearing an Italian military uniform, right between the eyes. The child’s body does a complete backflip as his helmet launches off sideways. The soldier’s skull shatters, bombarding the fleeing army with pieces of flesh. Attached, the memories of an adolescent.

            “Bang! Bang! Bang!”

Shot, after shot, rings out, until not a single enemy can enjoy another breath. The men have cleared the trench.  Meanwhile, a huge explosion rocks the top of the hill once again. Sending vibrations through the men’s bodies from the ground up. Canadian forces have taken the machine gun bunker. Listening to hundreds of guns firing simultaneously, James knows the Allies are up there, slaughtering the retreating forces. Stepping over bodies and through barb wire; James makes his way up against the concrete bunker.

            “Allies! Allies!” James screams around the corner into the open front door with several other U.S Army members following beside him. 

            “Rimaniamo e combattiamo!” They hear from inside the bunker.

“They’re here to fight!” An American man yells.

            “Fire in the hole!”

Three grenades, almost instantly enter the doorway, one fly’s right back out! 

            “Move! Move! Move!”

James attempts to dive back around the corner, but the blast pressure lifts, and tosses him aside like a rag doll. Landing on his back. The concussion force commandeers every ounce of oxygen from his lungs. Sand and cinderblock dust blacken visibility. His ears begin to slightly bleed from the inside; James inhales a painful breath of sandy debris, immediately coughing it out. Slowly crawling to his knees, wiping his eyes, smoke dissipating. He notices an SS Nazi uniform, stumbling from the bunker. James gives chase behind enemy lines. Catching up to the war criminal, He leaps onto the man’s back, tackling him to the ground. Fires burning out of control all around them, the men begin struggling for an upper-hand, the Italian soldier pulls out a gold and silver P-38 pistol. 

            “Bang!”

Firing one shot over his shoulder, right beside James’s head as he’s being choked. The gunfire deafens both soldiers as they spilt apart, rolling away from one other. Disoriented, on one knee, James pulls an eight-inch knife from his boot holster. The Italian, from his back, raises the pistol. James releasees the knife from his hand.

            “Bang!”

The bullet tears through the flesh of James’s shoulder and out the other side, as his blade, implants itself into the chest of the Axis enemy. Horrific screams from both men will live forever in the minds of the survivors.

             Half blind, one arm, elbow crawling through spent shells, blood-stained sand and pouring rains; James grabs the soldier by the pant leg. Suddenly, feeling the cold steel of a barrel pressed against his forehead. The life of a man he once knew, flashes before his eyes.

            “Click!” The Italian pistol jams. 

“AHHHH!!!!!” James screams! Lunging at the man’s face with all his might. Bare hands, James presses deep into the man’s eyeballs with his two thumbs. Screaming! He pushes deeper and deeper, and deeper. 

            “CRACKLE! CRACK!”

The sound of shattering eye sockets is almost a relief to James’s as his fingers bury completely into the human brain. 

            “Bang!” The Nazi corpse spasms, squeezing the trigger one last time, allowing the once jammed bullet, to exit the chamber into the sand. Bits of debris sprinkle over James’s face as the blast slightly scares him. He pry’s the beautiful pistol from the hand of the dead soldier. Sitting up on the beach now, James holds the sparkling firearm up to the sky. A small glimmer of sunlight illuminates the handle. Engraved pearls, in cursive, the last name of the deceased enscribed on the grip.

            “Maiolini.” James reads in a soft voice.

American troops advance past James. Through the smokey darkness, the Allies continue to re-occupy French land.  Helped up by a passing British medic, James slides the pistol behind his belt buckle before safely returning to the shores of the English Channel. Boarding a helicopter, He can’t help but feel the burning pain of a dripping bullet wound. 

            “You’re a hero now Private Savnik. Let’s get you home.” One of the pilots say over the intercom headset. 

            James can only close his eyes as the pressure change from take-off, twist his stomach into a knot. He’ll never let go of that feeling.

             Blood curdling screams of the dead and dying, will live on, with James forever. 

The war is his to own now.

The End

            

            

  





June 24, 2022 00:09

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2 comments

L. E. Scott
04:53 Jun 30, 2022

I guess I'm a little confused at why he relived this war, is this a past life? If so why is the name the same? Why did he see the face of that British soldier in the bartender? Is the bartender also meant to be a reincarnation? The end also doesnt really feel like a resolution. What I liked: your descriptions are very detailed and immersive. The reader gets pulled into the story through them. I feel like, as an excerpt of a larger work this works, but because the ending doesnt feel like the end it doesnt work as well as a short story. If t...

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Mike Cunningham
12:02 Jul 01, 2022

Yes, he awakens in a past life. The bartender was a foreshadow to interest the reader. Thank you for reading and your feedback. I’ll take it all in consideration. Ty

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