Dyllan waited silently until he heard his mother’s footsteps leave the room. Then, slowly, cautiously, he got out of bed. He glanced toward his closet as he stood up, briefly considering getting dressed before opening the sketchbook on his bedside table.
Curiosity got the better of him.
The first page was a letter. It read: “Dyllan, if you’re reading this, there’s a good chance of two things. One, I’m dead. Two, my worst fear and greatest hope has become a reality – you’ve inherited my half-curse-half-blessing, my ‘perspective.’ We’re not supposed to explain this, just let the kids sort it out on their own, but I’ve never agreed with that. Sure, there’s room for miscommunication and rebellion, but you’re my son. If I didn’t talk this out with you face to face, what kind of dad would I be? A dead one or a shit one, that’s what kind. Of course, if you’re reading this, I’m probably the former, so I can’t explain everything… but you’re a smart kid, I believe in you. Love, Dad.”
Mixed feelings swelled in Dyllan’s chest again. He wasn’t sure how to process this.
The second page contained a photo of four people in military uniforms, with handwritten notes underneath. The first was a young woman. “Ash, our translator. Sworn blood sister.” Next, was a smug and scrawny man standing next to Dyllan’s dad – and trying desperately to look taller than him. “Axel. Sworn blood brother. Won’t stop playing five Rise Against songs on loop: Tragedy + Time, Satellite, The Violence, Help Is On The Way, and Far From Perfect.” On the other side of Dyllan’s dad was a mischievous looking man. “Ricky. Sworn blood brother. Prankster. Doesn’t have the same ‘perspective’ as the rest of us four, but we still love him.”
Dyllan recognized Ricky, though he knew him by another name – Uncle Patch. They called him that, because he staunchly refused to use an eye patch or a glass eye. So he just walked round with the eyelid that used to cover his missing left eye sewn shut.
A handful of particularly strong memories of Uncle Patch stood out, all of them from before Dyllan and his mom moved to Pinewall city. The first was when Patch had shown up at their door, hat in hand, to tell his mom that Dad “wasn’t coming home.” Second was how Dyllan would go visit Patch every Veteran’s day. It would always start out pleasant, with Rise Against songs playing on the stereo and pictures drawn by Dyllan’s dad on the walls… but when “Help Is On The Way” started to play, Patch would always get real quiet and make an excuse to leave the room. He never said why, but Dyllan knew it was so he could cry – he could hear it. Third was how every 4th of July, Patch would come over to their place with his PTSD meds and hole up in the guest room until the fireworks stopped. Sometimes he’d wake up screaming in the middle of the night. The fourth was the one time Patch accepted an invitation to a Veteran’s Day event. He was the only military man there that had ever seen actual combat, and the sponsors had made a big deal about how he was going to give a speech on “the importance of the army, and what kind of sacrifices they make.” Unfortunately for them, he spent the entire speech swearing and ranting about how terrible the government was, ending it with one sentence that had really stuck with Dyllan: “There are no winners in war, some people just lose less.”
Finally, there was Dyllan’s fifth and most potent memory of Uncle Patch. Patch’s mindscape was the second Dyllan had ever entered, and the first with a Nightmare. He could still remember exactly what it looked like, a mass of burning skulls and rotting faces. Dyllan’s father’s face was at the center, it’s expression distorted with pain.
It took months for Dyllan to work up the courage to enter another mindscape, and he never did return to Patch’s.
A note from the
Uncle Patch is not okay. War has taken its toll on him, broken him.
And for what?