In the Valley

In the Valley by Jason Lambright

Book: In the Valley by Jason Lambright Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jason Lambright
pack,not a junior member—if one can apply wolf pack psychology to humans. But that’s how things seemed to Paul, and here came his bag down the chute.
    The cam-patterned bag rolled down the shiny carousel, and Paul heaved it up and onto his shoulder. It weighed close to his equipment allowance, thirty-five kilos, but Paul hefted it easily, casually.
    “You waitin’ on anything else, Son?” his father drawled. God, but the accent of home sounded good to Paul, after so many months cooped up with relative strangers.
    Paul shook his head, and they left the terminal, off to the awaiting ground-car.
    It was good to be home, and dreadful, too. Good, in that he was returning to his family and friend’s bosoms; dreadful, in that he knew that he had to leave oh so soon. The fateful day was still thirty days away, but the knowledge that the departure date was there sat on his chest like a stone. Even though he was home, there was no going back. His browns marked him as surely as a scarlet letter. Paul and his father stepped into the rented ground-car and left.
    The trip home was uneventful, and Paul’s eyes sucked in the sights he had known since childhood. An hour later, he saw the white clapboard house with the banner over the door. “ WELCOME HOME PAUL ,” it said, and a crowd poured out as Paul emerged from the ground-car. Aunts and uncles hugged, kissed, and congratulated him; it was all he could do to get his duffel and go into the house. Someone took it from him and said he would put it in his room.
    Paul felt uneasy to let the duffel get out of his eyesight; after all, in one month that would be all his worldly goods. That duffel and a small ten-kilo handbag with “personal possessions” would be it.
    The party progressed, and everyone was duly glad to see Paul. Tears were shed, and the aunts blubbered over their prodigal son, the soldier. The party ebbed and flowed, and Paul went with it.
    But over it all was the glassy feeling he was having and a set of words:
SM will be shipped outbound on the FSS
Merton R. Johnson
    The party was nice; Paul definitely appreciated the love; but after a couple of hours, he felt exhausted and had to beg off to go to his room. Up the well-worn stairs he climbed. He smelled the old smells. He went into his room and noticed there had been some changes.
    First, his room was immaculate in a way it had never been when he lived here. His duffel had been thoughtfully laid at the foot of his bed. Second, it seemed smaller than he remembered. Finally, he noticed the quilt was no longer on his bed. The quilt had been replaced by a blue, wool blanket of unknown provenance. Paul wondered why that was.
    Tired, he stripped off his browns and hung them in the closet. He had already pinged all of his friends to let them know he was around. Depressingly, a great deal of them had already left for elsewhere after graduation. It was the time-honored, wrenching tradition of Harrison Hills, in the Ohio Valley.
    He remembered to put his socks and underwear in the laundry hamper before he showered. The military had changed him, in so many ways he didn’t even know yet. But he would experience the changes, eventually. Paul slept the sleep of the still innocent.
    He spent the days of his leave walking the forests of Old Earth, in the Ohio Valley, his ancestral home. He took care of the goats for his mother and lay awake in his bed after dawn, listening to the sounds of home.
    His halo pinged one day about halfway through his leave. Amy Brown, late of his chemistry class, appeared on his visual. They chatted briefly, and she was interested in his being in town. So they made some arrangements, and out came Paul’s browns for a date in Wintersville that night. Amy was duly impressed, and, after a perfunctory courtship, Paul fulfilled some long-held desires. Maybe Amy did too—that certainly seemed to be the case from Paul’s perspective at the time.
    Who knew, however, what really lay in the breast

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