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The sergeant's scavenger hunt

A Submission to The Aquarium Challenge.

By Dr. Constance QuigleyPublished 2 years ago 13 min read

"It was when he was around 25 years old that it happened. James had recently been promoted to the rank of Sergeant in Georgia and was ecstatic about his new role. He was to be returning to Afghanistan for another six-month deployment. James was in the middle of wrapping up his affairs in America that afternoon. He was on top of the world, and in the blink of an eye, everything was taken from him by an older driver who was not paying attention to the road." As she moved around the bed, absently retelling the story that had been told a million times before, she couldn't help but smile. "Because Marion, SC is the closest place I could afford to Atlanta, I moved us here for a new start," she added, "That was ten years ago."

Marcie's blond, silver hair was pushed away from her face with clips, and the bold lashes waved every time she blinked. Her outfit consisted of a pair of army green knee-high leather boots and a grey knee-length skirt. In the deep wrinkles and cavernous creases of her lips, the red lipstick on her lips took on a deeper shade of red. The loose drab tee shirt that she had on was in sharp contrast to everything else she wore. There were several moth holes and stains that told the story of accumulated wear and tear over the past few decades.

In an absent-minded manner, Marcie lifted James' legs up, one at a time, and pulled on a tall pair of compression socks, utilizing the traction in her boots against the frame of the bed to help her lift them as high as possible. "Ensure that you make sure he is wearing a pair of compression socks every day if you don't want him to get a blood clot and die in your care." She chided, continuing to go about her duties as she spoke. "His toenails have been surgically removed so that there will be no chance of you snagging them and there will be no problem changing his clothes or shoes."

When Ashley noticed James barely lifted his head from the screen of his tablet as his sister Marcie gave her the grand tour of her brother's condition, Ashley was quite certain that James was extremely unhappy. It was Ashley's awareness of the subtle body language and the nuances of their relationship that gave her an insight into the dynamics of their relationship. She could feel in her mind that there was an urgent need to give James a vacation from Marcie, perhaps even more urgent than the vacation for which she had originally been hired. She silently reminded her inner voice not to start off her relationship as James' caregiver on the wrong foot, or to think poorly of James' support family at the outset. However, at this point, she was entering her second hour on the clock his sister failed to acknowledge him as an individual. Secretly, Ashley was excited for the other woman to dismiss herself so she could get to know James.

In an attempt to get Ashley's attention, Marcie began tapping her boot. "Where did I lose you, girl?" As she demanded, adding, "he could die if you are not attentive to what he needs. Argh!" With her hand on her hip, she waved her free hand over the body of James.

As Ashley tucked a stick of hair behind her ear, she smiled, "Ma'am, my apologies. The last I heard, his toenails had been removed. I think next we are going to begin the transfer process and get Sgt. James into his chair." Ashley noticed James had finally set his tablet on the bed and was looking at her. Trying to make a good first impression, she smiled her brightest and hoped this would be a good start.

"My sweet brother has a super-pubic catheter, a pacemaker, a colostomy bag, and a baclofen pump. His whole life is dependent on the care he receives. Your job over the next two weeks requires you are here for 24 hours a day." She looked sharply at Ashley making sure she had her attention, behind his sister, James looked bored. " His meds are taken at 6 am, noon, 6 pm, and midnight every day. It is essential that he is rotated four times during the night so that he does not get blood clots and sores. As a rule of thumb, James does not leave the house, because I think the stress is too much for him and his caregivers. I think it would be best not to bother him when he plays his games. I would suggest that you leave him alone. In the event that he wants you, he will come to get you or he will use the intercom system. Any questions so far?"

Ashley disagreed silently about the ‘James leaving the house’ bit and then considered the matter of hygiene and asked about showers. It was quite clear to Ashley an hour later that if she had any other questions, she would just ask James. The time when Marcie finally left was around 4 pm, after changing her shirt to a modern green blouse that tied together her outfit perfectly. When leaving Marcie added that crime television was always on for those moments when Ashley was bored, and then she finally closed the door. In the course of the day, James had been transferred to a powered wheelchair around noon, and he had been given a microwave meal for lunch. As the rest of the day wore on, he spent most of his time in front of his computer.

After Marcie had finally left the house, Ashley decided it was time to look for the remote control in the living room. The entire afternoon was unusually entertaining as a droning voice narrated historical murders and mysteries from the living room at a deafening volume. Ashley cynically whispered, "Her body was discovered in four distinct pieces scattered across five separate counties." Smiling inwardly and pleased with the new sense of peace, Ashley petted the cat on the head as she passed through a sitting room to get to James' computer room so Ashley could finally introduce herself.

"Good afternoon, Sgt. James Williams," Ashley said, standing in the doorway to his computer room or office. In James' office, he had a remarkable system of screens and gadgets that he used to make it possible for him to be able to use the computer with no difficulty. When Ashley realized he likely hadn't heard her, she waited a moment before announcing her greetings louder the second time. “Good afternoon, Sgt. James Williams!”

As James' wheelchair started to reverse, he removed his headphones from his ears, placed them on his desk, and then turned the chair around so he would be facing her. He was an attractive thirty-five-year-old who had bright eyes and appeared very healthy. The information she had gathered from his files indicated that he was a disabled veteran with a c-5, c-6 spinal injury. In the aftermath of the injury James' hands developed deformities, whereby the fingers reshaped to bend inwards, which restricted the feeling, strength, and movement of both hands. He was an expert at navigating technology, thus making his computers quite impressive because he adapted his computer systems to work with his disability.

"Hello, I apologize for the amount of talking my sister does. "I won't bother you too much because I am usually in here," he gestured to show the direction of the computer room as he waved his arm. I would still like water. I guess that's where my caregivers start getting a little annoyed. I drink a lot of water and I can't get it or open it for myself.” He held up his hands to show their unique structure and response to the spinal injury.

There was a smile on Ashley's face when she said, “Of course!” Ashley grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and together they decided to order dinner to be delivered since the day had gotten late. The dinner turned out to be surprisingly good and Ashley was able to persuade James to exchange the white glow of one screen for the cinematic glow of his high-definition flat screen in the living room. James got to pick a scary movie Marcie hadn't wanted to watch with him.

In the course of their conversation, James and Ashley developed a great sense of friendship based on two very different lives and a great scary movie plot. After exchanging similar movie reviews, James told Ashley how much he loved being a soldier and showed her pictures of the man he was yesterday. His eyes were bright, and his voice held a sense of pride in it as he reminisced about the life, he led prior to the losses he had suffered. James was very interested to hear about Ashley's work at the University and how much has changed in her life over the past year since she graduated. It was a great conversation between them as they went through James' evening medical routine and then tucked him into bed.

Ashley had made sure that the intercom was activated, and the monitor alerts were active before she left James' room. She gave him his smart remote and rotated the arm of his tv to face him. With his C-pap on and an all-clear head nod, Ashley headed into the caregiver’s room saying, “I will see you in two hours to rotate”.

Even though the caregiver's room was minimally furnished, it was nicely decorated, and full of things. There was a four-drawer dresser, which was filled with Marcie's clothes, a closet that was in a much worse situation, and a bathroom that had a counter that had been cleared out. The drawers and cabinets of the bathroom were crammed full of oddities and packaging that had not been opened. Ashley left her bags packed and stored them beside her bed. She sighed silently and hopped into the shower before tucking herself into bed for the night.

Ashley rotated James at midnight, bringing him a fresh glass of water and his meds. Ashley rotated James at 2 am, at 4 am, and again at 6 am bringing him fresh water and his morning meds. She didn’t sleep well at all the whole night. There was a nagging feeling in her that she and James needed to do something for the two weeks he had her. They needed an adventure. At 8 am she began his morning routine, and they started the day with James rolling toward his office. Ashley jumped in front of him.

“James, I want to try something unique with you, are you up for a game?”

James looked at Ashley who stood in front of him wringing her hands. Her brown curls were shoulder-length and bounced when she talked. She was wearing jeans and a sweater, that read: all I need is bottomless tea and a fantasy. A fat black cat was draped over a wide-bound book on the sweater, looking at the passerby in the mischievous way cats do. “What kind of game?” He inquired.

"Humm, I have to think about the rules, but it would be a soldier’s adventure game. Like a scavenger hunt. It would take me a few hours to get it created but I could share it with you at lunch.”

“Yeah, that sounds different. I am down.” Ashley sidestepped, letting him pass. She turned after him. “What do you want for lunch?”

“Marcie usually makes a lot of food and I eat leftovers. She said the fridge was full. "So, whatever she made for us." He called out as he went back to the computer. “Ashley, can you turn my computer on for me?”

After helping James get his computer set up and bringing him water, Ashley headed back to the kitchen. She found it amazing that he had adapted his computer system to follow the silver sticker on his glasses instead of a mouse. He also adapted a specialized control for gaming, although no one was able to find a power button that he could operate. She made a mental note to address that while she stacked Tupperware on the counter to the side of the fridge.

In the end, she found she was just irritated. The fridge had exactly fifteen days of food, perfectly portioned and stored in the fridge. Basically, Marcie had perfectly portioned containers, each with two portions of either spaghetti or an alfredo pasta dish. The breakfast dishes were small clear containers that had scrambled eggs or an already shelled hard-boiled egg. Ashley wasn’t exactly sure how she wanted to feel about everything she was seeing.

She sat at the counter and started her scavenger hunt project. She was building quite the plan to get James out of the house and in love with life again. The previous night she learned that in a decade he had only gone to the doctors and occasionally to the local grocery store. He lived an hour from the coast but hadn't been there. He was thirty-five, just two years younger than she was, there was no way she could be housebound for a decade this young.

Her plan had to work because James was still a person and if she couldn’t introduce change into his life over the next two weeks- the next opportunity may not come for another decade! Her scavenger hunt was perfect, it included seeing, touching, and tasting new things. It included mindfulness practices she could teach him to help with his anxiety. It included friends, adventure, therapy, and an aquarium… Although he won't know that until they arrived. Feeling quite accomplished she rose to make lunch. Her cynical inner voice chimed in, “Guess what, you get spaghetti!” she sighed inwardly, smiled, and started the first steps to the rest of James’ life.

At noon exactly, as Ashley was balancing her cup of meds, fresh water, and warmed spaghetti, James turned the corner. She stopped balancing and started setting everything back on the counter. Her eyes met James, "Looks like we will eat spaghetti, ranch pasta, and eggs for the next fifteen days." She looked at him desperately pleading for the punchline she wasn't seeing.

James laughed, "We can get groceries if you want to cook," he held up his hands indicating, "I can't." Ashley handed him fresh water and helped him with his meds. After securing his utility support she attached his fork and handed him his meal. Together they ate the worst pasta Ashley had ever forced herself to swallow. After this, she would cook or order.

"You know James, I am a mandatory reporter. I can call for an inquiry on Marcie for food torture," she quipped.

James laughed hard, then suddenly perked up and asked, "So you can cook?"

Ashley nodded, "And we are going to the store after we discuss this scavenger hunt." She handed James a paper copy.

"Oh wow, this looks great! " James was reading each box and really started engaging!

James took his first car ride with Ashley about ten minutes later. He never said anything about his anxiety or stress and she was not volunteering drama when it was not needed. Having eaten ice cream and udon at the local market, they both decided they needed a bigger store and would drive into town the next day to get groceries. When they pulled into the driveway, James asked Ashley to wait.

“You're a great driver. I normally don't feel very safe in a car. I am excited to adventure with you tomorrow.” He smiled and then made his way to the office.

With that said, Ashley decided, they were going to the aquarium in Myrtle Beach tomorrow, she and James were going to enjoy the beach and live life. The rest of the day flew by as she

secretly packed them both overnight bags and started loading the SUV. That night James took seconds of the udon broth before bed and Ashley got a promise to try her favorite restaurant for tomorrow’s dinner.

The next morning with a busy day ahead of them, James and Ashley loaded up and started driving. Ashley started a great fantasy series over the radio which inspired James to quip about already checking a box because it only required he listen to the book- not finish it.

Ten minutes later he was asleep.

Being a Thursday morning during the school year when she pulled into Broadway at the Beach the parking lot was empty and they were able to get front access handicap parking. James woke up and just stared. Being too polite to yell or panic, as he reversed out of the vehicle Ashley tapped the scavenger box to practice deep breathing and demonstrated.

The ticket line was empty and the greeters were happy to take a picture of the two of them. Ashley bought a framed copy and together they started walking through the aquarium. “I got us an adjoined room hotel right here and my favorite place to eat is on this boardwalk.” Ashley smiled taking James' hand in her own, They walked in silence looking at fish, penguins, manta rays, and even mermaids. Ashley never let go of his hand and just gave him time to process the many new changes.

When they turned into the hall of the jellyfish James stopped. He gently squeezed Ashley’s hand and through careful words, he said, “Thank you. I made a friend today. I am excited to experience life again. Without you Ashley, I would have never left Marion.”

Ashley held tighter to his hand. They stood there for a time, watching the Jellyfish do what Jellyfish do. Then James asked, “What’s next?”

“Everything.” Together they continued on.

And this is just the beginning.

Short StoryAdventure

About the Creator

Dr. Constance Quigley

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” -J.R.R. Tolkien

No Advice Given. Constance Quigley, DM-OL, owns all work contained here. The work is fictional and is not based on fact.

Reader insights


Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  2. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  4. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

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Comments (6)

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  • KJ Aartila2 years ago

    I enjoyed your story & really like how you included the card in the end. :)

  • Very nice story. Well written with a natural flow which made the story engaging to read.

  • Heather Hubler2 years ago

    I loved that this was different and unique on top of being well written and engaging. Loved the card at the end! Well done :)

  • Cathy holmes2 years ago

    Great story. Love the scavenger hunt.

  • Excellent story and loved thin inclusion of the hunt card

  • Kaliyah Myers2 years ago

    This was very well-written and sweet! Thank you for sharing! 💜

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