Frozen Chosin

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Prolific Press

Editor’s note, 9/11: Since we published this excerpt from Dennis Maulsby’s Free Fire Zone, the book has received two national recognitions. It was a finalist for best science fiction work in the American Book Fest’s eighth annual International Book Awards. More recently, the book was awarded a silver medal in the science fiction category in the Military Writers Society of America’s annual contest.

Dennis Maulsby, a native Iowan and current resident of Ames, has had his book of linked short stories released by Prolific Press. Welcome to the Free Fire Zone, also known as a free kill zone. In Vietnam, it was enemy territory, all the friendlies and neutrals moved out. Anyone found in such an area was considered hostile, a legitimate target that could be killed on sight, no questions asked. Each of the linked short stories in the book originate from this zone, any subject, any genre fair game. Arranged in chronological order, sixteen stories, each introduced by a poem, follow the life of Lieutenant Rod Teigler, from combat in Vietnam through a civilian life plagued with a re-wired brain. Teigler’s war experiences, helped along by government experimentation, leave him with a severe personality disorder. His mind now shared with an alternate berserker reptilian personality struggling to become dominant.

At 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 11, at the Ames Public Library, Maulsby will read from Free Fire Zone.

Bill Teigler felt someone tug at his arm. He’d stopped again, his body and mind winding down from lack of sleep and intense cold. It made him stupid and slow to react. The tug came again.

“Lieutenant, gotta keep movin’,” the sergeant said. “The Chinese’ll catch us. We’ve los’ contac’ with the rear guard.”

He shivered — the two of them — alone. “Let’s hustle, Sergeant Davis. They won’t hold a ship just for us.”

The Marines were retreating toward the Korean coastal city of Hungnam where Navy transports waited. It seemed like months rather than nine days since the withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir. Bill remembered his shock that first morning to learn a Chinese force, rumored to be a million men strong, surrounded them. Members of the Corps didn’t give up. They picked up their wounded and dead, and fought through the People’s Volunteer Army, lashed by a bitter mountain winter that tried to destroy both friend and enemy with equal ferocity. Yesterday his men discovered a failed enemy ambush, a hundred frozen Chinese dug in along a ridgeline — blue-veined marble hands gripping rifles and machine guns.

Bill took a clumsy step. Sergeant Davis noticed. “Let me take a look at them feet, may lose ’em to fros’bite.”

“No time, no time,” the lieutenant mumbled through the snow-crusted wool scarf bound around his mouth and nose.

The sergeant glanced back. “Jesus, Sir, we got a Chinese squad on our ass!”

Davis unslung his carbine and pushed Teigler into the ditch at the roadside. The officer pulled at the flap on his holster, it resisted, leather stiff in the thirty below zero weather. The Chinese trotted over the rise.

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Davis cursed as his cold-locked carbine refused to fire.

Teigler pulled his GI .45, his movements slowed by layers of clothing. The enemy fired. The pistol was sheathed in ice. He blew on the spur hammer. His thumb forced it back to full cock.

The Colt boomed. Pieces of ice flew off to sting his forehead. Burnt powder singed his nostrils. The first enemy soldier dropped. Bill felt a heavy blow against his chest. Rocking back, the gun leveled and fired at each of the enemy in turn. It was magic. He pointed his wand and the puppets’ strings were cut.

Bill groaned. A bullet had ricocheted off the frozen ground and lodged in his left pectoral muscle. It didn’t require a bandage. His own frozen blood sealed the wound. Where was Davis? He rolled over. The sergeant sat on his heels, hands twitching, staring, his face a shattered wooden mask.

Teigler’s cracked lips quivered as he realized the man’s lower jaw had been completely shot off. The sergeant should be dead, but the cold … the goddamned cold had stopped the bleeding.

The .45 became weightless. It lifted his hand and arm stopping in line with Davis’s heart. Bill struggled to keep from crying — tears would freeze his eyelashes shut and he would be blind.

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Dennis Maulsby is a retired bank president living in Ames with his wife, Ruth, a retired legal secretary, and his dog, Charlie, a retired CIA operative. His poetry and short stories have appeared in Lyrical Iowa, the Des Moines Register, North American Review, Spillway, Haiku Journal, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Briarcliff Review (Pushcart Nomination), and other journals. Maulsby is a native of Iowa and a graduate of Marshalltown High School and Grinnell College. A US Army Vietnam veteran, he served with the 25th infantry Division while in country. He is a past president of the Iowa Poetry Association. His previous book of poetry, Near Death/Near Life, also published by Prolific Press received a finalist award in the 2016 Best Book contest sponsored by USA Book News.