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The Last Grain of Sand

The Last Grain of Sand

A Story by C-Trainer

The Last Grain of Sand

by Craig Trainer



            I never thought that this would be the way that it would end for me.  Two tours in Iraq, a car accident, and this is the way I go out?  Today was supposed to be a welcome home, relaxing, fresh start to a new life, not the end of it.  I don't know if it's because I have been close to death for a big chunk of my life, but I'm not even afraid.  Even through the crushing pain, and darkness closing in, all I can think about is how this will be affecting my family and my friends that came to enjoy this day.  My mom and dad were afraid that they were going to lose me on a battlefield in some s**t hole third world country.  Instead, they get to watch as it happens in front of them, here at home on Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina.  It's ironic that this is happening on the Cape Fear Coast, because fear is all that anyone on that beach will remember.




            "So where exactly are we goin’ bro?"  I asked.

            "We're goin’ to get some weed, then to the party at Annalise's house," Marc replied.

            "Is that the girl with the big tittes you've been talkin' to dude?"  Chris asked from the back seat.

            "Yeah, but you better cut that s**t out Chris, can't be talkin' like that around her," Marc said, turning around to smack Chris in the head.


            I started laughing as my two friends slapped each other like little girls. I felt my right eye start squinting like a bright light was shining in it, so I turned to see what it was.


            "Oh s**t!"  I screamed.


            Marc whipped his head around and saw what had caught my attention.  A truck was flying through the intersection that we were about to cross.  The brakes screeched louder than the bass was bumping, as Marc locked them up and turned the wheel to avoid an accident.  The rear of the car began to slide out to the side and we were drifting through the intersection like a car from The Fast and the Furious.  We missed the truck, but we were still headed toward a telephone pole.  Marc turned the wheel, lost control and hit the cable support on the pole.  The car somersaulted through the cornfield like a gymnast doing a floor routine and crushing like a soda can on every flip.  Inside, the three of us were screaming like adolescent teenage girls watching a horror movie, and then, there was silence.


            The car had finally come to a stop upside down in the cornfield, and the only noise was made by the smoking engine, and the tiny shards of glass falling around us, which sounded like gum balls bouncing off a tile floor.  I couldn't see either one of my friends, and began feeling for my seatbelt buckle.  I tried calling their name, but nothing came out of my mouth, I could barely even open it.  My fingers stumbled across the buckle release, and I fell painfully to the roof of the car, and began crawling to the opening where the windshield should have been.  I don't know how I was even moving, I could feel that my head was cut open and bleeding badly, and some bones had to be broken.  It must have been the adrenaline that helped me get out of the car, or the fear of not being able to find my friends.  I pulled myself from the wreckage, and with the last remaining ounce of energy left in me, I stood up to the best of my ability.  There they were, I could see my friends, and after seeing them, I wish I hadn't.


            Marc was a bloody mess, sitting up next to the car, throwing up.  His right arm was hanging, clearly broken, and was profusely bleeding out of his face.  In the close distance, I saw Chris.  Even through the blood in my eye and the dizzy aftermath of the crash, I knew I was looking at his lifeless body.  I took a half step in his direction to see if there was anything that I could do.  The next thing I remember is blackness.  A mixture of sounds were the only thing I could hear, nothing was clear, it was like having six radios on different stations all playing at the same time.  Voices, traffic, sirens, different speeds of footfall, and a loud chopping noise all made up the unrecognizable soundtrack in my ears, which was the only sense out of the five that was working. Every time my eyes opened, it looked like someone had thrown a flash grenade; everything was blurry and distorted, which made me nauseous.


            The next time I opened my eyes, I was staring at my feet, and was hooked up to a bunch of wires. 


            "Where am I?"  I asked myself.

            "New Hanover Hospital," a male voice said from across the room.

            "Marc?, Is that you," I asked.

            "No sir, Mr. Hunter, I'm one of the nurses taking care of you," he said.

            "Where are my friends?"

            "I am sorry to inform you that one didn't survive the accident, and the other is a few rooms away.  He has been placed into a medically induced coma to save his life," he said.


            I couldn't handle what I was hearing, and instantly began crying.  The nurse stepped out of the room after saying something I couldn't hear over my sobbing.  It's crazy how fast your whole life can change in an instance.  As I laid in the bed, all I could think about was how one of my good friends was dead, and the other was in a coma.  I also wondered what effect this would have on my future, I had just signed a contract with the Army, and I didn't want to be discharged before I even entered.  The doctor came in and he explained the extent of my injuries. 


            "Damien," he said, "I don't need to tell you how lucky you are do I," he asked me.  I shook my head no as I whipped the remnants of the tears off of my cheek.  "Your injuries are minor for the type of accident you were in.  You have two severely sprained ankles, three cracked ribs on your left side, and twenty-seven stitches on your forehead.  We still have to do another CAT scan, as we monitor you for a concussion," he continued.  He kept talking, but my mind tuned him out thinking about how lucky I was.  As his mouth stopped moving, my family came into the room.


            "Damien!"  My little sister screamed in excitement to see that I was awake.  "Can I touch you?  I want to give you a hug."

            "Yeah, come on up here Cam."


            Camryn came up and gave me a light hug, laid down and took the remote and turned on Hannah Montana, or something like that.  My parents came over and kissed me on the head.  I was happy to see them, but all I wanted to do was to see my friend, talk to him, and tell him to wake up.  Marc is practically my brother, he is my best friend, and I would trade anything in the world to switch places with him.  We did everything together, if one of us got in trouble, you could bet that so was the other.  We have taken blame for each other, got into fights for each other, and have always been there when the other needed it.  And now, he was laying comatose in a bed down the hall, and there wasn't a damn thing that I could do.


            "Can someone get my man nurse," I asked.

            "Why! What's wrong," my mom answered worried.

            "Nothing, I need to ask him a question."

            "Sure thing pal," my dad said, and went to go find him.


            Camryn and my mom looked at me, waiting for me to say why I wanted the nurse.  My dad came back in and told me that he would be in the room in just a bit.  There was so much tension in the room, I felt like I could pull the IV needle out of my arm and use it to cut the tension.  Man nurse entered the room and finally spoke the first words and ended the deafening silence.


            "What can I get for you, Damien," he asked.

            "I wanted to know if I could go see my friend, I know you said my ankles were pretty torn up, so if I could get a ride on a wheelchair or something, I really want to see how he is doing."

            "Let me check with your doctor, but I don't see why that would be a problem," he said and walked out of the room.


            "Has anyone gotten his name?"


            Everyone looked around the room at each other, then we all started to laugh because not one of us knew his name.  Laughing made me remember that my ribs were broken, as the pain shot through my entire body.




            I had forgotten how much broken ribs hurt.  It sucks the life out of you that's for sure.  I have been a fighter my whole life, but I quickly came to the realization that fighting will do nothing but kill me faster.  And with the condition my ribs are in at the moment, I can barely even move.  All I can do is stare through the eye and into the soul of the blackness, as it pulls me deeper into the darkness. 


            Being in pain is one thing, but being helpless and in pain is so much worse.  I feel like Marc's car, being crushed, and the more I move, the faster the life is draining.




            Pieces of hot metal, and an orange ball of fire came hurling toward the station that Marc, Reaper, and I were in.  A thunderous bang rumbled and shook the surrounding area.  We all dove to find some sort of cover until the fireball was gone.  We grabbed our weapons and ran out to see what the commotion was.


            "What the f**k just happened," Reaper yelled across the alley to the rest of our squad.

            "Road side bomb, keep eyes out," someone yelled back.


            I looked back to see where Marc was.  He was holding on to his chest, and breathing heavily.


            "You good?"

            "Man, every time one of those goddamn things go off this close to us, all my scars from the accident start hurting," he said.

            "Damn dude, don't scare me like that, I thought you got hit," I said, "Man-up b***h, we got a job to do," I said to him jokingly.


            The truth was, I was scared shitless, and having my best friend there definitely helped me mentally.  Plus, we have both been so close to death before, could it really happen again?  I knew I needed to stay focused, but my mind was wandering off until Reaper's voice cut in.


            “...back,…down, get the,... move," he was screaming, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.  I looked up over my cover, there were three rapidly moving vehicles approaching our location.  Reaper was sprinting and waving his hands for us to fall back and get to cover.  I was like a moth to a flame, my eyes were glued to what they were seeing.  The dirt in front of me started having small explosions, as everything slowed down in my brain.  A hand grabbed the back of my flak jacket pulling me to the ground.


            "Mother f****r are you stupid?"  Marc was yelling, "get to f*****g cover, the s**t is on."


            It finally hit me what was going on.  We grabbed our guns and headed for the buildings.  Their bullets danced around our feet as we dove into the building.  Explosions were rapid, and getting closer to where we were.  Our sides M-16's and M-4's began spitting back at the attackers.


            "Hunter, Collins, get over here!"  Captain Shields yelled.  "Rally up with Stevens and flank these a******s.  We'll be covering you from the rooftops, drawing their fire.  Get it down, now!"


            We ran to meet Stevens in the back alley.  My heart was thumping heavily.  Marc and I bumped heads like we always did before going into a fire fight situation.


            "You ready for this s**t," he asked me.

            "You bet your a*s, buddy," I said.


            We ran down the alley like kids on Christmas morning with nervous anticipation of what we were about to find.  My right index finger was itching, and the trigger was its scratching post.  We heard our boys on the roof beginning to lay down cover fire as we rounded the back of the building.  Stevens rounded the corner first, and fell back immediately after the sound of two pops.  They were anticipating us flanking them.


            "Stevens' down," Marc yelled.

            "I'll flash-n-grab, you hit 'em."


            He nodded.  I ran up to where Stevens was lying, tossed a flash grenade around the corner and heard our targets yelling to each other.  I pulled Stevens out of harms way and began to check him out.  He grabbed my hand and started talking with blood bubbling up and splashing out of his mouth.  Marc was screaming like a wild man as he picked off the retreating Taliban soldiers.


            "Hunter…" Stevens said through a bloody cough, " … make sure… make sure they know… my parents, I died … brave."

            "You ain't gonna die Stevens, you're gonna be fine damn it!  Stevens.  Stevens!"  He died holding my hand.  "God damn it, I'm gonna kill you mother fuckers!"

            "I already did.”  Marc said, coming over to give a quick respect to Stevens, “now let's go we got a job to finish."


            We closed Stevens’ eyes, and then continued on our mission.  Gunfire and explosions filled the sound waves as we began to get into position.  The Taliban soldiers began getting back into their vehicles to retreat, we began picking them off.  Screams of confusion began coming from their way.  Shouts of "Die" were coming from ours.  Machine gun fire from the rooftops left a trail down the dirt road hitting one of their jeeps, setting the engine on fire.  Their return fire began to die down as we kept picking them off until it was quiet.  An eternity that lasted only a few minutes went by before we were given the signal to return back to the squad. 


            Marc and I started back when I saw a trail of smoke headed our way.  Everything slowed down, and the grenade seemed to be stalking me, like a shark does its prey, as it was propelling uphill toward me.  I could see it rotating, trying its hardest to stay in a straight line. 


            I turned to scream to Marc, "RPG!  Get dow…."


            The rocket missed us by about fifteen yards, but the explosion was massive.  My body was thrown up into the air and back a few yards, hitting the ground hard and in an awkward fashion.  Pain, was all I could feel down the right side of my body.  Shrapnel tattooed my arm as I covered my face while yelling to Marc.  Laying on the hot desert sand injured and screaming, at least I think I was, the explosion made me lose my hearing temporarily.  I began to bargain with God.  The thing was, I was a non-believer at the start of the war, now there I was, begging him to spare me.  Marc came running up to me, I could see his mouth moving, but all I could hear was an extremely high-pitched ring, it was the worst sound that had ever entered my ears.  I didn’t stay conscious for much longer.


            When I opened my eyes, I was staring up at the ceiling, hooked up to a bunch of wires.  “Again, really?  I gotta stop making a habit out of this,” was all I could say as once again I awoke in a hospital.  Except this time, my little sister wasn’t going to be running through my door and turning on her favorite Disney Channel character’s show.  My parents weren’t going to be there to reassure me that I was going to be fine.  I was left in the scariest place in the world, alone in my own head.  Thinking about how close I have came to death and how I was still alive.  Why am I still here?  I guess I am just lucky.


            I was discharged from active service not too much after that.  My 4 years were almost up at the time of the accident.  They sent me to a base in Germany where I did my rehabilitation from the RPG injuries.  I had surgery to remove the shrapnel from the right side of my body, mostly from my arm and leg.  I also had broken my leg when I hit the ground, and the put screws in it, which was the reason for needing the rehab.  I stayed in Germany until my time was finished, and Marc and I traveled home together.  A lot about us had changed, witnessing some good friends die, and seeing a lot of other things that will leave a haunting image in our brains, forever.  Through it all though, we were still best friends, and we were finally going home.


            “Yo buddy, my parents want to have a welcome party for us at our house in Wrightsville, you down?”

            “Yeah man, sounds good to me,” he said, then did his ‘I’m going to a party’ dance.  “When are they planning to have it, you know were gonna need a few days to adjust to being back home an all.”

            “Um, Sunday the 24th I think she said.”

            “I’m there man.  It’ll be a start to a new life.”

            “A start to a new life, I like the sound of that,” I said and went into la-la land thinking about what my new life would consist of.


            We got home and were greeted by our family and friends.  Got to tell all of the stories we were allowed to talk about, and relive some terrible events in the process.  Talking about how my parent’s biggest fear almost became a reality was hard for me to talk about, especially with them all sitting in the same room, eyes on me.


            A week had gone by, and I didn’t think adjusting to be home would be as difficult as it was panning out to be.  Marc was telling me how he was having the same problems, but how we were looking forward to our party.


            “You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to tomorrow man,” he said, “I’m tired of answering questions about what it was like, and how many people I killed and s**t.”

            “Same here man, I don’t wanna talk about that s**t anymore, it doesn’t have a chance to go away when I’m always talking about it,” I said.

            “Oh dude, guess who called me the other night, and who I’m bringing to the party?”

            “No clue?”

            “Remember Annalise?”

            “Yeah, she’s the one with the big t*****s, right?”

            “Ha, dude, that’s not funny either, but yeah, she wants to start hanging out an s**t, I guess I’m finally getting a chance since that stupid accident messed it up the first time,” he said with an excited tone in his voice.

            “That’s cool man, I’m happy for you, but yo, I gotta do some s**t before tomorrow, so I’ll see you then.”

            “Definitely D, see you tomorrow.”


            I spent the rest of the night thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I didn’t really have anyone I could see getting into a relationship with, or what kind of career I wanted to get into.  Maybe I’ll go back to school, or learn a trade.  Maybe I’ll see about playing baseball again.  Oh screw it; it can wait ‘till after tomorrow.


            Finally, our ‘New Life’ party, was finally here.  Our parents didn’t want us to get there until they had everything set up and ready to go.  We spent the morning playing X-box 360 and bullshitting like we usually did.  Marc talked about how he thinks he could have something with Annalise, and how excited he was about that.  My parents called and let us know to be there at 3:30.  We got our stuff together and headed up to the beach.  No one had really seen the scars I had gotten from getting blown up.  I know Cam is going to get upset, she hates when I get hurt, and even though I am fine now, she will still cry.  My mom will get upset about it too when she actually sees all of it.  But none of that will keep me from enjoying the day.  It’s an 87-degree day, the sun is bright, and my friends and family are all going to be there, how bad could it be?


            We pulled up to the house, and it was decorated with balloons, streamers, and welcome home signs.  Inside was the same thing, but the kitchen was the best sight either one of us had seen in years.  A huge buffet of our favorite foods, and 5 coolers packed with beer.  We walked out back onto the beach where everyone was, and as soon as we exited the house, they all started cheering, clapping, whistling and causing a commotion that caught the attention of the entire beach.  It was like we were celebrities walking down the red carpet, minus the red carpet.  There were about twenty-five people there on the beach, all lined up to shake our hands and give us hugs, thanking us and welcoming us home.


            Marc and I over-stuffed ourselves with hot roast beef sandwiches, baked ziti, potato salad, pigs-in-a-blanket, and of course beer.  We played football, horseshoes, and did a little skim boarding.  Camryn was trying to teach me how it was done, because I fell on my a*s both times I tried it.


            “No Damien, you’re doing it all wrong,” she said, “you’re standing up too straight, bend your knees like this.”


            She tossed her board onto the little bit of water she needed, ran and jumped on to it and flew across the water like a snowboarder would do on the snow.  She even threw a 180 at the end to prove she was better than me.


            “Cam, you’re a show off!”  I yelled to her.  I can’t let my twelve-year-old little sister show me up.  “Watch this, I’m gonna get it this time.”

            “Yeah right D,” she yelled back laughingly.


            I waited for the wake to be at the right level, ran dropped the board, jumped on, and was booking down the beach.  I tried to mimic her 180 spin, and fell, breaking the fall with my face.  Lying there defeated and embarrassed, I began laughing.  This is how life is supposed to be, no more tension, wondering if I’m going to catch a bullet with my head tomorrow.  Camryn ran up and jumped on me, telling me how much I sucked at skim boarding.


            “Maybe you can teach me some more tomorrow?”

            “Sure thing D.  I’m glad you’re home, I missed you so much,” she said.

            “I missed you too Cam.  I’m home now though,” I told her and messed up her hair.  “Can you go get Marc, I want to go out in the water before the sun starts going down.”

            “Sure,” she said and went to get him.


            I walked out into the water up to my waist, turned around and fell back, letting the warm water embrace my body.  I forgot how good it felt to relax in the water, not a care in the world.  For the first time in a long time, my mind was clear, and I felt at peace.  Staring up at the sky, the blue was starting to change as the orange sun began to fall to take its place on the other side of the world for the night.


            A familiar feeling then took my mind out of its peaceful state.  Danger, close by.  What it was, I wasn’t sure, but the feeling I would get in Iraq before a firefight was shooting through my entire nervous system.  I felt as I did when the RPG was shot at us, something was stalking me from below.  I started back for the beach, and was hit on my left side.  It pulled me below the surface, a red cloud was all I could see.  Then, through it I saw what it was.  Beatty black eyes, squared off nose, serrated teeth, and a striped pattern, it was a Tiger Shark.  It bit down, and broke my ribs in the same place as the car accident did.  The shark pushed me back up to the surface, to get a better grip with its jaws.


            “Stay out!” I screamed, trying to warn the people coming into the water.  “Shark, stay out!” I managed to get out before it drug me under again, thrashing me around at its will.


            I never thought that this would be the way that it would end for me.  Two tours in Iraq, a car accident, and this is the way I go out?  Today was supposed to be a welcome home, relaxing, fresh start to a new life, not the end of it.  I tried to punch the shark in the nose, but had no strength. Fighting was only killing me faster, as my air was rapidly fleeing my lungs.  The thrashing stopped for a moment, as our eyes locked.  I stared deeply into the soul of the blackness, having a moment with the animal that was feeding on me.  It started swimming deeper, repeatedly biting me, and I scream in pain.  Water began to enter my lungs, replacing the oxygen.  Is this finally the end?


            The surface of the water began getting darker the more it pulled me down.  I saw things up at the surface that I couldn’t make out, as the last bit of life was leaving my body.  There was suddenly a lot of commotion around the shark.  It twisted around violently, like it was trying to escape.  It released its jaws from my flesh and swam off.  Something else grabbed hold of me and began pulling me through the water.  We broke the surface of the water, and I could see faintly, it was people.


            “I think it’s gone, get him outta here,” voice one said.

            “I got him!  Come on let’s go, hurry up,” voice two yelled.


            It sounds like my dad and Marc, but I can’t tell.  I managed enough strength to throw my arm up and grab whoever had me.  “Don’t let Cam… don’t let her see me, please.” 


            I felt the last breath exit my body.  The pain was gone, for me anyway.  Somehow, I could see what was going on.  Marc was the one who pulled me out of the water, the last person I talked to.  My mom was taking Camryn inside.  Everyone was on their phones calling the paramedics.  Then I looked at my lifeless body, on the beach.  Flesh and muscle tissue hung from my ribs, bouncing up and down to the rhythm of my dads CPR attempt.  Blood was pouring out of the hole in my ribs.  The last grain of sand had fallen from my hourglass.  Forever, Cape Fear will have a new meaning for everyone who was there and witnessed the end of my life. I couldn’t handle watching the pain on the faces of the friends and family that came to enjoy this day, and let whatever force that had control over me, take me to where ever it was that I was going to spend eternity.

© 2010 C-Trainer

Author's Note

2nd draft, any critique or ideas on how to better the story is encouraged. Let me know what works and what doesn't. Thanks!

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This is crazy. I love how you ended with the same paragraph that you started with. Some of the imagery is really good, too. I totally felt the anxiety when the "unknown" danger was coming for him. That was an excellent part. The overall story itself is well done. There's just some grammatical things...nothing you couldn't pick up with another round of editing. Really good, Craig. You're just as dark as I am haha

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago

Hiya Craig,
Interesting story, sir. The young Army vet talks about his anticipation of the upcoming party and the possibility of buxom young beauties in attendance, and the unseen enemy of some moron who runs a red light throws a wrench into the social machine of the upcoming festivities. As Damien recovers from injured ribs and ruined ankles from the crash, his family arrives in support of him, and the priority remains the same, how his 'Brother in Arms' is faring. As he relaxes memories of his wartime experiences take shape, taking us all to combat with the hated Taliban and how after one particular battle is won, a rocket thrown grenade manages to send Damien to the hospital, thankfully ending his combat tour and sending him home with one of the few of his Army buddies that remains alive alongside. The story ends with the next party on the North Carolina beach with the possiblity of more buxom darlin’s, lots of food and beer, and instruction of the delicate art of ‘skim boarding’ by his little sister. But the final blow from the terrorist enemy on the other side of the world does not arrive in the shape of hiding behind women and children, but in the shape of a shark that attacks from below in its natural fashion, taking what is left of a man’s life after serving faithfully for his country once he’s finally made his way Home.
A great account, Craig! Very good setting and character description, and you describe the emotional and tactical aspects of the characters very effectively. Being a veteran (navy) myself, I can relate to how you lay down your text in first person (I did this and stuff happened to me in this way, etc.) because your relaying stuff just the way they happened and the way you see them. But (if I may) your writing would be more effective if you leaned a little more into second or third person (this happened to him and he saw the thing from this perspective, etc.), as it doesn’t limit you, the writer and teller of the story, to firsthand accounts. By looking at the story from outside the box so to speak, like you’re God looking down from heaven or a ghost who has All of the facts and knows about how it was like for all sides of the plot; much more can be relayed and the text can be much more interesting to me, the reader. While I’m on my soapbox I suppose I should gripe a little about your paragraph structure; that by seperating ideas, people and their actions, and even keeping some of the text into the same paragraph, your text would be more reader friendly, but that’s just my views on how storys should be written; it’s your palamino Cochise.
Do me a favor, shipmate. Have a look at my story, ‘Clusters of Grapes’ and you might see what I’m talking about with sentence structure and second person. Please keep writing , dude. You got the gift, brada. I will have a look at more of your stuff in time. BZ

This review was written for a previous version of this writing

Posted 8 Years Ago

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Added on February 20, 2010
Last Updated on February 25, 2010
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