My novelette Halcyon, which was the cover story for Cirsova Magazine’s 2019 Summer Special, has a somewhat strange beginning. I didn’t start writing with the premise of an interplanetary war, or even have dragons in mind when I began planning it. Rather, the tale was the result of a simple question, one inspired by history.
That question is this: What would happen to a man tortured so badly that he forgot his own name?
I am a student of history, by which I mean that it exists, and so I search it out. Stories about everything from great battles to everyday living catch my eye. Unfortunately, dates tend to blend together or be forgotten when I flip through a book on the past. Oh, this author can go back and find the dates such and such an event occurred, or so-and-so did X, Y, or Z. But some dates are ingrained in my memory from the time I read them; for the rest, it is necessary for me to double-check them.
One of the events in history that has always had my attention has been the Vietnam War, though not for the popular reasons some might think. My attention has always been gripped by the tales of the men who went to fight in what is, possibly, the most altruistic war in history – only to be spat upon and treated as time bombs when they came back stateside. A compatriot of mine has told the story of a Vietnam Veteran he knew and worked with. The man had a blue-collar job, and one evening after a hard day’s work, he drifted off to sleep after his meal in a diner.
Now, this man had been captured by the Viet Cong. He had scars – very visible ones – of the torture that they had put him through. He barely escaped his captors when they took him to the jungle to execute him. And do recall that my friend met and worked with this man during the time when the media was actively vilifying and doing their best to paint every veteran of the Vietnam War as a ticking time bomb waiting to be set off by unsuspecting civilians.
This man my compatriot knew did not do drugs. He was as sober and calm as he had been before he went to war, maybe even more so. Yet that night, he awoke because the waitress was holding the brush end of the broom and poking him with the handle. This was because she was afraid that if she touched him, he might “go off,” and attack her. When he asked why she thought that, she said it was because he “went to Vietnam.”
I am too young to have seen these things in person. I have never looked at a veteran of any American war as a potential “time bomb,” either. But research about the conflict, those who fought in it, and the knowledge of the fate of the South Vietnamese America left behind to the “mercies” of the Viet Cong has taught me a great many things, most of which make my blood boil.
Too little too late, as the saying goes, but it got me thinking. I wanted to do something, however small, for the veterans of Vietnam who suffered after they came home. This desire increased when this author read an article which discussed the fate of those South Vietnamese soldiers who were taken captive and brutally murdered by the new Communist government after the United States pulled out of the country permanently. Learning about Father Vincent Capodanno, a Catholic priest who was killed in action serving with his unit of Marines before the war ended, added to my desire to commemorate these oft-maligned soldiers.
That was where I came up with the question: “What would happen if a man were tortured to the point that he forgot his own name?”
If you haven’t read about or heard of some of the tortures that those who were in ‘Nam experienced, you will not be able to understand what I mean by this. There were Cubans aiding the Viet Cong as torturers, and they would pull teeth – literally – from American POWs. The abuse which John McCain endured was bad, but he escaped with less physical damage than some because his father was an admiral in the U.S. Navy.
When the U.S. left Vietnam one of the South Vietnamese commanders was captured by the Viet Cong. They force fed gallons of water to him, then stretched him out on the ground so that they could put boards across him and stomp on him. This forced the water out of not only his mouth and nose, but his eyes as well. This torture killed him. If you have the stomach for more, you can do your own research about the abuse and methods of murder which the Viet Cong employed.
This is what our men went through in Vietnam. This is what they saw their friends survive – or die – from in the jungles. This is what they saw the Vietnamese who aided them or who were simply trying to live their lives in the midst of war suffer through.
And for this, when they came home, they were spat upon. They were called monsters, murderers, and baby killers. They were treated as less than men.
For the record, I am not saying that all of the Americans who fought in the Vietnam War were saints or martyrs. I would not say that about any Americans in any war, from World War II onward or World War I backward. That is not the point. The point is that, as a nation, we are supposed to treat returning veterans with respect – at least until such time as they prove in an individual capacity that they are unworthy of it.
In this brief moment of our history, we were convinced not to do that to the majority of the men who returned home. And that is to our everlasting shame.
Halcyon features captive men and women in a future so far from our present that the Vietnam War is hardly more than a footnote in the history books. But it deals with the same ideas, and the same possible mistreatment of veterans who were viciously abused for the sport of their captors, who mask their atrocities in the name of science. Escaping the bad guys here is not the difficult part, really. It is fighting back and stopping them that proves to be the tougher battle for the hero and heroine in the tale.
That’s where the dragons come in.
If you are interested in reading Halcyon, then click the Affiliate link here to pick up Cirsova’s 2019 Summer Special. You can also learn more about Fr. Vincent Capodanno here, and I recommend perusing this website for articles on the Vietnam War. They are eye-opening in more ways than one, readers.
Finally, remember to visit my website – www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com – for more articles by me. More stories are coming in the future and I may do more pieces here on Substack about the ideas that led to other published tales presently available. If that interests you, then feel free to subscribe to my Substack newsletter and my website to stay informed about what is coming next. ;)