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Captain Chaplain Albert T. Tappman was a meek man, never asking too much from anyone, always being exploited by everyone.
This included God.
He sat with his head bowed inside his tent, placed in the clearing, away from the men, enlisted and officers alike. His only companion was Corporal Whitcomb, who lived to make his life miserable, or so Whitcomb thought was his God-given mandate.
Being an atheist, however, he didn’t believe in God, or any god for that matter. This did not change the importance of the mandate given by this God, big g or little, regardless of existence. Whitcomb’s current task in this grand scheme of the God in which he did not believe was to suspect the chaplain of foul play, and team up with the C.I.D. man in the red bathrobe to bring forth the chaplain’s fall from grace.
He had proof of the chaplain sneaking documents around camp within plum tomatoes, and forging signatures on official documents.
He grinned slyly. Soon the chaplain would no longer be around, and he would be asked to be chaplain.
“Chaplain Whitcomb,” he mused to himself. He figured himself better equipped to be chaplain; at least then things would get done.
He left the chaplain to himself, laughing on the inside as he vanished from the aural range of the confused martyr.
The chaplain too was in deep thought as Whitcomb left his presence. He dwelt on the general unhappiness of the world. Bowing his head, he considered praying. Feeling like the ancient mariner shortly after his killing of the albatross, the chaplain found that he was unable to pray. He figured he’d make an effort to look as if he had been reverently praying, so he kept his head bowed for a few moments further, raising it with an Amen.
He looked around him, at the clearing in which he was stationed, away from the men, enlisted and officers alike. They tended to find it spooky, seeing the chaplain, who represented Jesus, who represented God, who represented yet something else, walking about among them. It scared them to think that this something else would dwell among them, so they cast him into the wilderness. The chaplain lived in the clearing, away from the men, enlisted and officers alike.
His only companion was no companion indeed. He thought about the word companion. He knew that it was a reference of the Roman soldiers. He corrected his thought, not intending today’s Roman soldiers, as they were more a less a joke which no one thought particularly funny. He meant the ones of the Roman empire, which wasn’t built in a day, but all roads did lead there, and they still seemed to do nowadays for the American soldiers on Pianosa.
To the ancient Roman soldiers, a companion was one who shared bread with them. Surely Whitcomb would not share bread with the chaplain, unless the bread were tainted, or otherwise unappetizing to Whitcomb.
Then the chaplain created his own etymological derivation. Instead of a root of companis, he smiled to himself as he imagined a root of compoena, meaning “with pain.”
Using this logic, he discovered that he did have more companions than he had originally figured. He was proud of this new discovery. It seemed as if friends he never knew he had were beginning to crawl from the woodwork.
“Tentwork,” he corrected himself again, looking at the canvas walls that surrounded him. “They’re crawling out of the tentwork, my friends are.”
His stomach responded by growling. He stood, and paced to the footlocker, opening it. He poked around for a Baby Ruth, or maybe a Milky Way. He found the Baby Ruth first, which he pulled from the footlocker, closing the footlocker behind the Baby Ruth’s departure.
He sat back down again, canteen and candy bar in hand, or hands, and began to eat his daily bread, his daily panis, his daily poena.
The chaplain sat, with his head bowed. He found himself unable to pray, but he insisted on making it appear as if he had done so. He uttered an “amen,” and was on his way. Glancing at the tent, he thought about all the friends he had, and how they seemed to be crawling out of the woodwork.
“Tentwork,” he corrected. “They’re crawling out of the tentwork, my friends are.”
His stomach growled. He opened the footlocker in his tent, and while his fished around for a candy bar, he felt he had done this before. He knew he was going to find a Baby Ruth, and he would eat it, wash it down with some water, and it would be good.
Sitting down again, he unwrapped the candy bar and began eating. Biting into it, he was surprised at the lack of peanuts in his Baby Ruth. Shrugging, he took a sip from his canteen. Rather, he would have taken a sip from his canteen, had the canteen contained a sip.
Confusedly, he turned the canteen upside-down. Merely a drop fell from its lip.
Depressed, he finished the candy bar, and threw the wrapper into a wastepaper basket. The wrapper of a Milky Way sat next to the wrapper of a Baby Ruth, both freshly opened.
He hanged the canteen on the tent pole, and glanced at his makeshift desk, with his makeshift photographs of his makeshift family who were members of his makeshift life.
He glanced at the wedding photograph of himself and his wife. How long had they been married? How long had this woman been Mrs. R. O. Shipman?
“Tappman,” again he corrected. “My name is Albert T. Tappman.”
Her face looked so beautiful in the picture. It also looked so foreign. Was this truly his wife in this picture that he saw before him, sitting beside the now-withering plum tomato? She was beautiful, he noted. Looking at her, he felt drawn to lust, and commit adultery in his heart. But would it be adultery, since she was his wife? She did not look like his wife, the woman in the picture. What did his wife look like, though? He could not remember. Had it been that long? Was this his wife? Did she still love him? Had she ever loved him? Was he even married?
He felt disoriented. He decided that some fresh air would do him a world of good. Standing again, he stepped outside his tent. The first thing he noticed was that the sun was shining in his eyes. It seemed that every time he left his tent, whose door faced west, the sun shined in his eyes. It was as if every time he left his tent, or went outside for that matter, it was precisely 1400 hours.
The second thing he noticed was that he was very thirsty. That peanut-less Baby Ruth had made him thirsty.
He considered his options. He could take his canteen to the enlisted men’s camp, fill his canteen, and spook them entirely by allowing this something else to wander among them, reminding several of the men of the last plague of Egypt. They would shun him, allowing the angel of death to wander their encampment. He would be miserable.
His other option would be to do nothing. He would remain thirsty from the peanut-less Baby Ruth, wander around the clearing, away from the men, enlisted and officers alike, and be miserable.
He felt as if he was overlooking something, though. He looked at the sea. It was salty, wasn’t it? It would just make him thirstier. He could not drink that.
It wasn’t the sea, then. What was it?
He looked at the sky. Would it rain soon? Maybe he could drink that. To his chagrin, not a single cloud roamed the sky. The sun blinded him slightly as he made sure of this.
He felt as if there was something else. It was looking at him, and probably would have bitten him, had it teeth, and a nasty disposition towards him, and if that were the case, he really wouldn’t wish to take water from such a creature. He visualized a creature with an open O of a mouth, and a vestigial horn on the back of its head, resembling a lever of some sort. It would sit by his tent and glare at him. He pictured it making a squeaking sound, and moving its horn back and forth as it spat water at him. Such an odd creature indeed!
Thinking of no other viable water sources, he accepted it as his predestined fate to be miserable. He decided to walk, but not towards the camps of the men, enlisted and officers alike. He walked away from them. He had his canteen strapped around his neck. He passed Whitcomb as he walked.
Whitcomb glanced at the chaplain suspiciously in between his taking greedy swigs from one of several glistening canteens surrounding him.
“To the least of these,” mumbled the now-smiling chaplain, walking past Whitcomb. He felt he could pray again. The albatross seemed to have vanished on its own accord.
“Amen,” replied Whitcomb mockingly, water spraying from his lips. He tilted the canteen towards the passing Chaplain in a sort of toast.
The chaplain knew that one day he would be overflowing with water, and where would Whitcomb be?
Beside the chaplain’s tent stood a water pump leading to a well. This well contained cool, clear, refreshing water. Were it a creature, it would daily stare at Captain Chaplain Albert T. Tappman’s tent, it’s mouth ready to spit water at those daring to approach the creature, and move the state of its vestigial lever-shaped horn. Meanwhile, it did nothing but slowly rust.