I murdered a man. I knelt over him, my hands around his neck, and watched him struggle as my stranglehold slowly wrenched his miserable life out of his decrepit body. I watched his eyes as acceptance replaced horror from knowing that he was most likely going to die, and then a small glimmer of gratitude as he slipped away, escaping the never-ending nightmare that his life had become.
I looked into his eyes as they dimmed, and I felt his pulse fade and then nothing. He was gone. I killed a man with my bare hands, and never before had I ever felt as powerful, and as sick to my stomach. I leaned over and began to retch, but near starvation meant an empty belly. All I could do was dry heave, and the pain left me wishing I could die as well.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve killed before. Tens, hundreds, perhaps more, unique precious souls, mothers and fathers, someone’s child, all dead by my hand, or rather that of an impersonal bullet. Sometimes it came from my hand, but most of the time I only gave the order, and then death followed. I became the reaper, and although I’ve made peace with it, it haunts my nights, inflicting terrible guilt on my psyche. I’m a murderer, by sworn duty as an officer in the army.
But he was different. He was personal. I didn’t kill him from several yards away, I felt his life leave him as I robbed him of breath and of blood to his brain. I don’t know where he came from, but he found us, and I couldn’t let him give us away. Our very mission depended on it. He had to be dealt with. I wanted to take him prisoner. He resisted, and the noise became a liability. Guns would have given the enemy our position. So I killed him myself.
I look to my men, sweat and blood covering my face. Exhausted, I give a couple of privates an order to dispose of him quickly and quietly. We have a mission. We need to take the small community, hopefully with minimal casualties. Unfortunately for him, he became the first. In the wrong place at the wrong time.
I stand up, wanting to move back, to hide until nightfall, and then everything goes dark….
I wake up, and I don’t know where I am. I should be in the jungles of Vietnam, but I’m not. It takes several minutes for my eyes to adjust to the glaring whiteness of the room I’m in. Curiously, all my aches are gone. I reach up, and I do not feel any cuts or wounds on my face. I’m completely healed. How long was I out? Where am I?
I ponder my predicament, hoping against hope that I wasn’t captured – but if I were wouldn’t I be in a cell? – when I hear the door open. A portly, avuncular gentleman walks in, wearing a white jacket. He sits down, and I gaze into his bespectacled eyes, and he looks at me, a look of weary concern mixed with cautious curiosity in his dark gaze. He produces a file and begins to review it quickly, before smiling at me. I think it’s meant to set me at ease, but instead it terrifies me, the inquisitor and I feel as though I’m about to be put on the rack.
He clears his throat, and in a voice, quiet, effeminate, but still authoritative, he begins his assault. “Who are you today?”
I open my mouth, but immediately shut it. It occurs to me that I do not know who the hell he is. He isn’t Japanese. That much is obvious. He appears to be American, his accent betrays his New England upbringing. I decide that my name wouldn’t give too much away. “My name is Major David K. Holland.”
I notice that he nods is head in ill-disguised excitement and begins to scribble furiously on his note pad. “Okay, Major Holland, what branch of the military are you with, and to what unit are you assigned?”
Again I shut my mouth as soon as I open it. I reach up to my neck, and I discover my dog-tags are gone. Did they take them? I’m on the verge of refusing when I feel compelled to open up, as if the shrink is familiar some how. I choose to trust him and respond, “Marines, first battalion.”
He jots a few more notes on his notepad before he looks up at me, sizing me up before leaning back and resuming his interview. “I’m curious, Major Holland, what year is it?”
“1957,” I answer, annoyed at the idiotic question he asked. “Where am I and who the hell are you?” I demand. “I’m not answering any more questions.”
“I’m Dr. Townsend, your psychologist. You are in Shady Acres Hospital, and right now you are my patient.”
“And if I refuse to go along with this?”
“We can do this any way you want, but it would be to our mutual benefit if you would be oblige to this treatment.”
“Treatment? What are you talking about? Did something happen?”
“In a manner of speaking,” the doctor answers me enigmatically. “Why don’t you tell me what you last remember.”
I hesitate, not wanting to break my cover, but in spite of myself, I begin to tell him what I remember, haltingly at first, but gradually it starts to come. He asks me to be as precise as I can, and I tell him everything. I tell him about the young Korean guy I killed, the smell of fear, sweat, and the stench as his bladder and bowels empty themselves.
I begin to cry hysterically, not wanting to continue, but he becomes relentless, sadistic in his role as inquisitor. His humorless eyes rarely look at me as he jots down what amounts to a confession. Suddenly, without warning he stands. “I think that’ll do for now. Why don’t you rest and we’ll continue this at a later time.”
“No!” I jump up, suddenly furious. It suddenly occurs to me that I may be a prisoner after all, and I may have committed a horrible betrayal, a treasonous act. “Let me out or so help me,” I puff up, ready to fight my way out or die trying.
“Tell me Major, what conflict are you fighting at the moment.” He stumps me. I don’t remember. Seeing that I’m flustered he doesn’t wait for an answer before asking me another stupid question. “Are women allowed on the battlefield?”
“Hell no!” I answer him indignant that he could ask such a ludicrous question. “Women have no place on the battlefield.”
“Then, if you are Major David K. Holland, how do you explain yourself?”
He looks down at my body, and confused I look down and see that I have breasts. Large breasts. How did I not see them? How did I get them? “What the fuck old man?” I scream in a panic. “What did you do to me?”
“I? Nothing. Sit and try to calm down. When you are ready I want you to take a moment and discover what you are, physically. I will be back later to explain, that is if you are calm. I will return.”
Dr. Townsend walks out, leaving me confused. Why do I have breasts? I walk into the small bathroom, and sure enough I see a young girl looking back at me. I must have had blonde hair at some point, but great chunks seem to have been pulled out. The rest of my hair seems to have been sheared off at some point.
I look at my body, and in addition to my breasts, I’m missing my penis. What the hell happened? What unholy experiment did those sons of bitches do to me? I’m staring into the mirror, staring into the face of a stranger when a nurse walks in, with a couple of orderlies and she hands me a couple of pills. “What’s this?” I ask.
“Only a couple of pills to relax you,” she replies.
I throw the pills across the room and try to make a break to the door before I’m subdued by the larger men. My female body is no match against them, but I struggle in vain, trying to elude my captors when I feel a prick on my ass, and a warm pain spreading. Seconds later, or maybe longer, I feel as though I’m floating away. It’s not unpleasant. If this is death, it’s not so bad after all….
I open my eyes, and I see a man looking down on me, a look of concern evident in every line on his face. “How are you?” He asks me curiously.
Suspicious, I blink my eyes, trying to get my eyes to adjust. “My name is Dame Margaret Horn. Where am I?”
The odd gentleman closes his eyes, frustration boiling over as he curses. “Goddammit, not again!”
“I do not know who you are, but I will not be insulted by your vulgarities. My word!”
“My apologies,” the man says, trying to compose himself once more. “My name is Dr. Townsend. Can you tell me a little about who you are today?”