Updated: Oct 14
I’m not sure how to do this.
My first active duty station was Camp Casey, Republic of Korea. The camp sat at the northeast end of Dongducheon, sandwiched between Soyosan Mount and the city itself, with the refuse filled Shincheon River to the west and dozens of acres of rice fields to the south. My first impressions had been far different than the ten or so soldiers I had arrived with by a single flight from San Francisco to Seoul.
As the plane had taxied to an arrivals gate, the plane’s loudspeakers had crackled.
“Attention, soldiers, this is your Captain speaking. I’d like to welcome you to Seoul, Korea, and wanted to remind you to stay seated, and belted until we come to a complete stop. Also, take in the clean air as much as you can, and you might want to hold your breath when hatch opens. Enjoy your time here and remember to always thank your atassi.”
Atassi, I had silently asked myself, what’s that mean?
The rest of the soldiers had talked about the horrible smell that was always in Korea, and all the garbage that had littered the streets, as though everyone here had lived in their own filth. Rumors, nothing but rumors. The plane had finally come to a stop, and the gangway ramp had found its place. The instant the door had opened, a rush of warm, wet air had filled the cabin within a couple seconds.
That’s when everyone had started coughing and a couple had sounded as though they had gagged on the air. Absolutely, I had coughed in trying to breath the heavy that had been saturated with the unmistakable odor of manure.
It had been a few years since I had spent any time around dairy farms or horses. It had been only moments later when I had become accustomed to the air. The sun had shined down directly overhead, and just a minute or two, dressed in BDUs, I had felt my body begin to sweat. Unlike life in the arid climates, the sweat that had accumulate would never really evaporate. It had clung to my skin, like a leech and drain me of energy faster than anything I had ever felt.
But the moment I had left with the driver of my detachment that had been sent to pick me up, the base faded into the background as small mountains in front of us had given way to dozens of massive skyscrapers that had dwarfed us miles away. A ginormous red cross atop a mountain peak had stood so tall I could have hardly believed such a thing could have existed. The sheer volume of people and noise would have made rush hour back home quick and quiet.
Then, after the city had been left behind us to the south, the emerald green of the hills and mountains had surrounded us. Those hill and mountains had given way to soft foothills, which in turn had given way to near endless fields of rice, knee deep in water and manure. And aside from the constant roar of the Humvee on asphalt, there had been a stillness in the air. I had closed my eyes as relaxed smile had crept upon my face. I, for the briefest moment, had been still, and at peace, and every morning after that, I had awoken to that most perfect sensation.
That had been when I had fallen in love with the Land of the Morning Calm.
What had happened next was the beginning of the nightmare I didn’t realize I had awoken to see. The fractured that had already occurred in the Spring of 1994, had grown greater by that year’s December.
What comes next here is that story, with names changed, but the event itself is as it was.
Consider this a warning.
INT. CAMP CASEY HOSPITAL - WINTER
PFC BRAUN sits alone in a small alcove. He looks sharp in his well pressed and folded BDUs. His uniform identifies him as a US Army soldier, as does his high and tight blond hair and his lean, but strong frame.
His uniform belies his appearance of strength.
His appearance of strength belies his subtle nervousness.
His right booted foot TAPS a random beat.
His blue eyes ever watchful.
He folds his entire bottom lip in and bites down, as he rubs his thumbs against his forefingers.
INT. SAME HOSIPTAL - CAPTAIN OWENS OFFICE - SAME
CAPTAIN OWENS keeps his office clean and organized with little decoration or images of family. Owens is of average height and build, in his early thirties with a sharp widow’s peak formed by his jet black hair.
A picture of his mother and him on a roller-coaster sits facing him at his desk.
He picks up the receiver.
Captain Owens, speaking.
MALE VOICE (V.O.)
Hey, Mark. You busy?
Dave? No. What’s up?
For just a moment Owens sits there, stunned, hurt, and confused. Reflexively, he places the receiver back on the cradle.
He stares off into space for only another moment before he gets up, and leaves his office, still a bit confused.
INT. SAME HOSIPTAL - HALLWAY - CONTINUOUS
Captain Owens steps out into the unusually QUIET hallway that leads down towards the ER, and patient alcoves. He heads towards the Nurses Station that separates the offices and the patient alcoves.
No one is there. No phones ring. His footfalls ECHO without disruption.
He looks over to the bulletin board near the station and finds one patient:
PFC BRAUN - ALCOVE 1-ALPHA - COMPLAINTS: POTENTIAL INNER EAR INFECTION BUT NO SIGNS OF SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED - FIFTH VISIT IN SIX MONTHS.
Captain Owens finds the Duty Nurse’s signature to the patient notes.
Immediately, the captain’s attention finds a different mystery, and he HALF GRINS at himself.
INT. SAME HOSPITAL - ALCOVE 1-ALPHA - A MOMENT LATER
PFC Braun continues to FIDGET with his fingers and thumbs, and THUMPS his right foot repetitively. HIS BLUE EYES dart left and right.
He SIGHS. The RINGING in his hears GROWS LOUDER, and without warning its PITCH reaches a HIGH, PAINFUL NOTE.
Captain Owens enters the alcove just in time to witness the PFC’s JERKY HEAD FLINCH TO THE RIGHT, and the young man’s face tightens, clearly in pain.
He OBSERVES the patient momentarily as the PFC holds the uncomfortable position, grimacing with his eyes closed. His patient appears to be frozen in position.
There is strength and compassion in his VOICE. After a moment, the PFC OPENS ONE EYE cautiously, and in a reflexive motion, he moves to come to attention.
No, as you were, PFC.
Braun forces his body to relax as he sits back down.
You appear to be in a lot of pain? What’s wrong?
The PFC TAKES IN A DEEP BREATH.
Since I can’t feel when I have an inner ear infection, I have to listen for sounds.
What kind of sounds?
Captain Owens begins taking a history.
Sloshing, a sticky kind of dripping, or my heartbeat in my ear. If it don’t sound right, I need to see someone about it. I don’t even get fevers.
Fascinating. I’ve never heard that before.
Captain Owens pulls out an otoscope from his jacket pocket.
Mind if I look?
It SOUNDS more like a desperate plea than permission. The Captain turns on the otoscope’s light and peers into Braun’s right ear.
What he sees makes him jump back slightly.
The PFC CHUCKLES.
You can’t feel THAT?!
No, sir. I gotta wait ‘til my equilibrium goes haywire, or hear those gross sounds, or both.
After he finishes inspecting the left ear to only find the same results, he stands up, excited at this odd quirk of biology.
Even the PFC LOOKS a bit less ill, and clearly relieved that someone is listening to him.
So, how did you lose that much sensation in your ears, PFC?
I was born with massive tonsils, and they blocked my eustachian tubes. When I was seven, that’s when people noticed I wasn’t hearing properly. I was over 60% deaf. After the tonsillectomy, I had tubes inserted into my eardrums four times in three years. I’ve got better than 95% hearing now, but my eardrums are so damaged, I can’t feel them.
The entire time that the PFC TALKS, Owens watches with amazement that someone who’s only nineteen understands his own biology so well, and so very comfortable about talking about it.
Owens smiles, though it might be a bit over-the-top. The PFC FLUSHES in embarrassment, and looks away.
My apologies, Captain. I can get a bit carried away.
Owens dials back the intensity of his smile.
Nonsense. Let’s get you to my office where I can write you up a script, and get a full exam on you. It seems like the nurses around here today are out on the eternal smoke break.
The PFC LAUGHS a bit.
Owens continues to smile.
INT. SAME HOSPITAL - OWEN’S OFFICE - MOMENTS LATER
The Captain OPENS the door, glides in and heads to his desk, with PFC Braun right behind.
Shut the door behind you, Private.
The PFC CLOSES the office door.
Excellent, now take your boots off and hop on that scale. We’re gonna do this right and make sure nothing is forgotten. Got it?
He says this with a welcoming smile.
The PFC begins untying his boots to remove them.
1. PFC is weighed, and measured for height. The Captain notes.
2. PFC is measured for BMI. The Captain notes.
3. The Captain uses his otoscope to check his eyes, nose and throat. He notes it.
4. The Captain NOTES DOWN his family history of CANCER, PARKINSONS, HYPERTENSION and TONSILLECTOMY.
BACK TO SCENE:
PFC Braun reaches down to start to put his boots back on.
Oh, there’s just one more thing.
Braun stops and sits UPRIGHT, but relaxed.
Let’s make sure your prostate is as it should be.
Without hesitation, the PFC drops-trou.
Go ahead and bend over, and grab your ankles if you can. If you can’t --
The PFC effortlessly reaches for, and clamps onto his ankles with swift ease.
Owens hesitates, admiring his flexibility.
The Captain comes from around the desk, opens a pack of sanitized blue gloves, SNAPS them on, and gives his first two right fingers a bit of lube.
From this point forward, ‘til the end of the examination, we only see the PFC’s FACE.
CAPTAIN OWENS (O.S.)
Now, just remain calm, and relax. There’s no pain unless you tighten up, okay?
Though a bit red from being upside-down, Braun’s face is calm.
CAPTAIN OWENS (O.S.)
Here we go...
Seconds later, his eyes grow wide in worry and fear.
Instinctually his body jerks and tightens.
CAPTAIN OWENS (O.S.)
Woah, easy. It’s okay, just relax.
Braun clenches his jaw tight as his eyes dart nervously left to right.
His face grows redder.
CAPTAIN OWENS (O.S.)
It’s really okay, PFC, just --
His face grows a bit purple. His body shakes and shutters.
CAPTAIN OWENS (O.S.)
That’s quite the response you got there. It’s very normal to get erections from anal stimulation. You can relax and pull up your pants now.
Braun scrambles to dress himself, trying not to look at his still very present erection.
Captain Owens de-gloves, and washes his hands in the little sink in his office by a cabinet of medical books and supplies.
Everything looks great. Aside from you ears, you are tip top, soldier.
Thank you, sir.
His voice is weak. He no longer stands upright, but SLIGHTLY HUNCHED OVER, and his face is a stone.
No emotion, just RED EYES, where his natural BLUES pop even more.
Well, here’s that script for your ears. Amoxicillin works for you, right?
Yes, sir. Every time.
Captain Owens finally notices the SLUMPED STIFFNESS of the PFC and his emotionless face. Looking him over, he bites the inside of his cheek softly, and speaks.
Look, there’s a baseball game between the CRCs and Humphreys on Saturday afternoon. You like baseball, Braun?
Not really, sir. Sports were never my thing.
I was a sprinter, long distance runner, and high jumper. Never got into team sports, sir.
Well, there’s this game, and maybe we could go watch them play on Saturday. Whatcha’ say?
No, thank you, sir.
His answer shoots out before Owens can finish the question.
Well, if you change your mind, you know where I’m at. Other than that, get to your barracks and get some rest, PFC Braun.
Owens hands him a slip a paper.
PFC Braun, STANDS, COMES TO ATTENTION, SALUTES, and waits for the return salute before coming ABOUT-FACE and leaves.
EXT. SAME HOSIPTAL - MINUTES LATER
The massive, multi-story hospital sits upon a large, green grassy hill. Only the birds CHIRPING and the LOW HUM of traffic fills the air. The BLUE sky, clear of any clouds, holds the SUN high.
In the distance, PFC Braun runs down the hill from the hospital at full speed. Once down from the hill and closer, he continues his run just as fast. At one mile away from the hospital, with only 5 minutes passing, he runs still.
He moves like his boots are as LIGHT AS A FEATHER.
His LONG LEGS STRIDE wide and fast.
His BREATHS come and go as fast as his ARMS pump.
His face is RED. His BLUE EYES remain as RED as ever.