Contributor: Bruce Costello

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Once upon a time during the Nixon reign, two men stood side by side at a country bus stop. One was young with an ugly scarlet scar and a dreamy look on his face. The other was old and bald, wearing a scruffy ex-army coat and an intriguing hook where most people have a right hand.
The young man with the scar, a history student, while continuing to face straight ahead, was twisting his eyes sideways and downwards, examining the hook as discreetly as he could. It was grey and fierce-looking, reminding him of an illustration from a favourite boyhood book: Captain Hook in a vivid red and blue pirate’s coat, wearing a black cocked hat with white skull and crossbones, holding an evil sword in his left hand while thrusting at Peter Pan with his horrible hook.
The hook’s owner seemed about 70, unkempt, unshaven, and probably unloved, too, thought the student. But, who knows, he could have been a dashing soldier once, wounded in battle. Perhaps a booby-trapped cigarette case left by the retreating Germans in Italy. A sniper’s bullet in Normandy? Shrapnel on Guadalcanal?
Pretending to look down the road for the bus, the student now stares directly at the old chap, and sees a young soldier in war-torn battledress running crouched across a jungle clearing through bursting shells towards a crashed and burning aircraft. The pilot is still alive. The soldier hears his screams through the smashed perspex and sees him, panic-stricken, struggling to free himself from the leaping flames. The soldier reaches the scene, leaps heroically onto the burning wreck and pulls the pilot free, as the shells burst close, closer, ahhh! too close! The soldier falls. Blood spurts onto the jungle floor.
The bus pulled up with a squeal. The student stood back to let the other board first. The old man stopped in the doorway and began to fumble for money in his coat pocket, but the driver waved him on with a grin. He shuffled to the back of the bus as the student bought his ticket.
“Do you know that old guy?” said the student to the bus driver, who seemed a friendly sort.
The driver laughed. “Simple Sam? Everyone round here knows Simple Sam.”
“Simple? But what happened to his hand? Did he lose it in the war?”
The bus driver laughed again. “That’ll be the day. He lost it in the river, mate, when he was a lad. Him and his brother, fishing with dynamite.”
The student thanked the driver, found a seat near the front and settled back with his eyes closed, but the scene from the jungle had faded. He smiled to himself, then opened his eyes and, looking up, saw the man with the hook standing there, staring down at him.
“Pardon me for staring,” said the old man politely. “I seen your scar back at the bus stop and I been wondering. Was you in Vietnam?”

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Bruce Costello recently retired and took up writing to keep his brain ticking over. So far it's working, although there are signs of surface rust appearing behind his left ear.
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