Archer ‘Archie’ Gunnison woke that morning to the strident buzzing of his watch. The cicada-like screech jolted him from sleep and his hands flailed about, seeking the offending noisemaker. His right hand finally caught up with his left and pressed the delay button, giving him a ten minute window to wake up and turn the alarm off for the day. Archie sat up in bed, letting the beige comforter droop into a pile on his lap. The dark blue curtains over the small bedroom window were closed, but the sharp, crisp air of autumn swirled through the open window, ruffling the cloth, and letting peeks of gray morning flit across the bed. He yawned, then stretched his arms and good leg for a moment, enjoying the sensation of muscles waking up. He turned in place, dropping the right leg over the edge, then leaned down and picked up his prosthetic left leg.
The leg was a marvel of engineering, fitted with self adjusting spring tensioners that adjusted to the weight he put on it. The covering for the prosthesis was something else again. Bright, fire-engine red painted scales covered it, like some monstrous creature from the Red Lagoon. There was no way to ignore it, which was the reason Archie had it decorated. No one would mistake it, or him, for anyone else. Archie gazed at the leg as he rubbed the stump of his left thigh. He’d been a marine. Hoooah, boy, all the way. He was proud of his service, proud of his buddies, and proud, maybe a little envious of the ones who made it home in one piece. He left part of himself in a Hummer after an IED had blown it ten feet up, and eighteen feet to the right through three and a half revolutions before crunching back to earth. He didn’t remember any of it. The medications he took kept him from screaming in his sleep and stopped the sudden flashbacks that occurred when he got stressed.
Others kept the red-hot phantom pains at bay. There was no telling when they’d strike. The pain seemed to happen most when he tried to do something like dodging an obstacle without thinking. His leg would seize up and drop him screaming to the ground. He’d learned to think about the prosthesis before trying to do anything sudden. But the pain still caught him unawares. Finishing pulling the leg on, he strapped it in place, then bent over again to pull the blue jeans from the floor. He slid them over his prosthesis first, then his real leg.