Silver and Golden Christmas Falls (Part 2)

On the morning after Thanksgiving, Wayne stepped out of the Shasta drinking a cup of Folgers and Chief followed him. The dog knew the routine to open up the lot. He had designated duties to perform, such as nudging open the door to the tool shed and pawing on the power strip that powered the lights, train set and cassette player.

Light fog drifted through the maze and through Wayne’s mind. Last night, he’d downed a few too many mugs of Carlo Rossi red while he read a giant novel of the Vietnam War called Matterhorn. Karl Marlantes, a native Oregonian from Seaside, had written it. Wayne had read it before and would probably read it again. He didn’t know why. The plot was totally unlike his experience in the Vietnam War. For one thing, he didn’t die. Another thing: he never fired his weapon. One last thing: he came home a hero in a war without heroes. Actually, Wayne didn’t come home a hero; he came home a loser and the ultimate American symbol of losing, but he did get winged by a flying metal object during his final seconds in Vietnam and the government mustered him out of the Marines and cut him a disability check once a month for the rest of his life.

Wayne was assessing the tree stock when he noticed the lights, music and train set hadn’t come on. He looked over to the shed and saw Chief sitting in front of it. That was odd. It was always left slightly ajar. Wayne walked over to investigate and vowed to lay off the Carlo Rossi for at least one night. Or maybe not. It didn’t really matter, and what the hell, Christmas was right around the corner.

A gust of wind scattered the fog. Wayne walked over to the shed. He opened the door. A clean-shaven, short-haired man slept on the floor inside a sleeping bag on top of a yoga mat. A backpack served as his pillow. The man’s face was weathered in the distinct way of living outdoors by choice or circumstance in 21st century America does to a man or woman’s face.

At the foot of the bag, resting in meticulous order were: socks, combat boots, toiletries, three 24-ounce empty cans of Steel Reserve malt liquor, two 24-ounce unopened cans of Steel Reserve malt liquor, two power bars, wallet, change, pill bottle, stocking cap, gloves, Leathermen tool, and a smart phone charged into a socket. On the wall hung another backpack, rain poncho and a wool coat.

Wayne recognized instantly this type of order came from a former Marine. It was exactly the way it looked inside the Shasta and his cabin on the farm. It wasn’t merely cleanliness; it was discipline and habit. Perhaps everything else had gone to seed, but some order remained. It was that shred of order that perhaps kept someone alive.

Chief wandered inside the shed and sniffed the man. The man roused. He opened his eyes. Wayne watched them open. He saw something there. They weren’t dead yet.

“I’m sorry sir,” said the man. He hustled out of bag and stood up straight to face Wayne. He was fully clothed in jeans and a sweatshirt. He looked Wayne in the eyes.

He said, “I was just looking to get out of the weather last night and you had a toilet unlocked.”

“It’s fine,” said Wayne. “It’s not a problem.”

“I’m Jared, sir.”

“I’m Wayne, call me Wayne. This is Chief.”

Chief wagged his tail and looked up at Jared. Jared petted his head.

“Give me a few minutes sir, I mean Wayne, and I’ll be shoving off. I didn’t mean to trespass. I figure you’ll have customers coming in.”

“There’s no hurry. It will be a couple hours. You want some coffee?”

“I’d love some.”

“I’ll go get it. By the way, you vaccinated?”


“Me too. Good. Now we don’t have to talk about the dumb shits who won’t get the shots.”

Wayne and Chief left the shed. Jared started rigging his gear together for the road. Where was he going? He didn’t know. He never really knew. That was one of the few things he liked about his life.

Five minutes later, Wayne handed Jared a cup of Folgers in a blue enamel mug.

“It’s not fancy coffee,” said Wayne.

“It will do fine. Coffee is coffee.”

“You’re a Marine?”

“I was. One tour in Iraq during the war.”

Jared sipped the coffee. “You a Marine?” he said.

“Yes. Right out of high school. Anything to get out of Coos Bay.”

“You drafted?”

“No, the draft was over.”

“Where did you serve?”



“Where you from?”

“Tillamook. See any combat in Vietnam?”

“No, just chaos.”

“What about you?”


“Was it bad?”


“So what are you doing these days?”

“I roam 101.”

“That’s it.”

“Well I drink, too, and take some pills.”

“You got a family?”

“My mom’s still alive in Tillamook. She pays for my phone so I can check in.”

“That’s it.”

“I got a son somewhere.”


“It’s a long story.”

Jared took another sip of the coffee. He hadn’t spoken this much in months.

“What about you?” said Jared.

“Just me and Chief.”

“This your lot?”


“It’s nice. The train set is incredible.”

“You should see it run. Chief! Power!”

Chief bounded away into the shed. He pawed on the power strip. The locomotive started chugging. The Jackson 5 Christmas Album started playing. The lights started blinking. Jared walked up to the train set. He watched it and didn’t say anything.

Wayne got an idea and said, “Hey, why don’t you get the fire going and I’ll whip you up some breakfast for the road. Some eggs and hash browns. How does that sound?”

“Sounds great.”

Twenty minutes later they sat around a fire on Doug fir rounds eating breakfast and drinking coffee. Jared’s gear was packed up tight and ready to go. They didn’t talk. They were listening to the fire. It spoke better than most people anyway.

A semi great notion hit Wayne.

“Jared, Black Friday is a damn zoo around here. Why not stick around and help, sleep in the shed tonight, and I’ll pay you fifty bucks.”

“What would I do?”

“Keep the fire going. Split wood. Change out the cassettes. Carry trees, clean the toilet every other hour if it’s used. Go to the store if we need anything.”

“Can I drink?”

“Keep it hidden.”

“Okay. Thanks for the offer. I’ll do it.”

And with that, they went to work.

It was Jared’s first day of work since his last functioning day as a Marine when he burst into the home of a suspected insurgent, something exploded, his eardrums ruptured, smoke enveloped the room, he heard screams, and squeezed the trigger on his rifle and didn’t stop until the magazine ran out. Then he passed out.

When Jared regained consciousness, he was resting against a concrete wall and being treated by a medic. He couldn’t hear anything. He saw the house he’d entered and shot up. He rose to his feet. Hands tried to hold him down. He shook free and ran toward the house. He bolted inside. Everything was shattered and burned. There were bodies on the floor. He rolled one over. It was a kid, a girl. Half her face was gone. Jared felt hands on him. He was being pulled away. He was screaming but it was all silence.

Now, 17 years later, he was going to start working on a Christmas tree lot and his ears were still ringing.

Wayne broke his spell by suggesting he start by splitting wood. Jared walked over to a fence where about a hundred Doug fir rounds were stacked. He took out a pill from his pocket and swallowed it. He found a splitting maul leaning against the fence. He gripped the maul. He’d split a lot of wood growing up in Tillamook.

Jared rolled a round into place. He inspected it. You have to locate the sweet spot, the groove, before you strike. Every round has one. You hit that spot and you’ll split the round clean through with one swing.

He brought the maul down. He missed the sweet spot. The maul stuck in the round. Jared put his boot on the round and wrested the maul free. He swung again. Another miss. It would take practice, a lot of practice.