On an FTX

The boy is a trained killer in woodland-camo, rip-sole jungle boots, a kevlar helmet and a scowl. He digs shovelfuls of wet sucking mud from a hole.

Drenched and miserable, he is sick as fuck of the army and all its machinations.

The hole is for a sixty-caliber machine gun that will be aimed at an empty field. Once dug a soldier will be in this hole ready to provide suppressive fire at an enemy force that may attempt to breach the perimeter.

Fake war bullshit.

The LT arrives to study the boy’s efforts and Leavenworth stops being a deterrent.

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St. Vith

Maybe in the beginning, a mere seven months ago, they were a bunch of kids playing at war with loaded guns. Now though they are experienced in murder and seeing their friends die. Of hating with all their hearts. Of feeling fear and hunger and cold beyond imagination.

They stand in a dangerous place. A place obliterated by 240mm artillery rounds and bomb dropped from the sky. It was once a town this place that now lays in rubble under their feet.

A place called St. Vith. A place with a railroad. A place deemed important.

It had a bakery and a playground and a little health clinic, paved roads and tulips grew here in the Spring. The last mayor was a man named Fritz. He was shot in the head in the village center. His death was a show of force. The German commander who shot him was crushed by a falling brick wall. His body is there still buried and rotting. He is a horrible smell that no soldier cares to investigate.

He is just one bad smell among many.

No doubt more will still die before peace is declared.

But the worst of the war is over.

And it only took the deaths of seventy-seven million people to get there.

But these four soldiers will live on. They survived the worst of it. They survived this, the worst thing humanity could throw against them in the twentieth century.

Now the only battle left is the docile fight against time.

Vernon Tried

Maybe that’s all that matters.

He took a train to St. Louis with a thousand silver-dollar notes in his pocket. He worked a slaughter house in Chicago three years for that money. His hands are still stained red from the effort of slicing fat from skin and meat from bone.

He wears a new pair of thick brown-leather boots, blue-jeans and a red-flannel shirt.

On his head is a ten-gallon hat. It’s supposed to be good out West to keep the sun off one’s face.

Vernon’s fair, mainly from working at night, but also from a family history.

His biggest worry is the sun.

Once in St. Louis he immediately buys two oxen and a wagon. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for in terms of quality, pretends he does and buys quick for fear he’s going to, ‘miss out on the deal,’ the guy’s offering.

He loads his goods, a rifle, a pound of flour, beans, coffee, a shovel, some seeds and sets off.

Twenty-five miles later his axle breaks and he is home.

The Gyve

The irony of the Gyve is it doesn’t. It is painfully wrapped tight around his ankle and solid enough to give him little purchase to move. The other end is secured to the stone wall behind him. He imagines the bolts go deep, not that he can turn around enough on the short chain to tug and experiment.

His future is as secure as his imprisonment.

The executioner has promised a quick death, “No tongs for you Smitty, just the march to the stump and a single swing of my great blade.”

For this the old thief is grateful, but still he is willing to attempt escape if an opportunity presents itself, but the gyve doesn’t and he is forced to wait and see what happens next. Either he will enter the kingdom of heaven or live to steal another day.

One requires prayer and the other patience.

So he stops trying to pull the chain from the wall and instead clasps his hands together and hopes in the end God feels merciful today.

Tunnel Rats

They were the fodder of the infantry, the little boots, the walking dead. Eleven bang bangs, through and through, but guys with almost no hope of going back home.

Maybe the infantry was filled with the illiterate, criminals, the roughened variety. And maybe these men were all of that and more, but they were also cursed with being small.

The infantry is supposed to fight anything, drink every drop of booze, stick their dicks in wall sockets not contemplate the cosmos.

The future was a concept best left to better minds. The now is all that mattered. The now and the then.

To the grunt the smaller man made sense. They could fit and fight in tight corners.

It was the now, they were tools to use with no reason to preserve.

The tunnel rats were the little guys, the ones responsible for scrambling into tight spots, the dark areas on the map, the hot cramped going to die places. The smart ones knew that they only had to go so far. Out of sight out of mind, but even then it was better to keep going. It was better to find something. It was better to be needed and valued and not digging holes and burning shit and piss.

Be a hero and go home quicker. Do your job and avoid being punished. Find something and maybe your buddy doesn’t die tomorrow.

They worked with rangers. They bumped shoulders with special forces. They rode in choppers and got dumped way out. Their only weapons were close quarter orientated. In a firefight in the jungle they were useless. They were better in a fight against shadows and in candle light. Flickering, dim light, they fought the dark. They fought by instinct and accident.

Their enemy had made homes underground. They killed with spears and snakes and poisoned gas.

It was a curse to be a smaller man. To be told now, go under the ground, be a hero.

Nobody wants to be a hero. Nobody is supposed to volunteer. Nobody is born smaller than the rest hoping to be forced into the dark to kill other humans while looking them in the eyes. Seeing the blood run out. See the look of pain and fear.

It changes the soul. It places a burden on the heart. It wasn’t the cold dispassionate firing over a berm, or around a corner. It was the inches from death, I got you before you could get me, type fight.

It lived in dreams. It survived long after peace was granted and the war ended. It was the nightmare that kept returning over and over again.

It was a fight that never got won. That never got rewarded. It took guts to go to sleep and face it again each night. Maybe it was worse the nights it wouldn’t happen. The hope that they might be cured. Maybe weeks would go by, but something always happened. Some trigger. Some reminder they were the little guy and wham they would be back in that tunnel ready to kill or be killed.

 

A Marine

 

He enlisted in the marines on the ninth of December 1941, two days after Pearl Harbor, while still drunk. His buddy Carl was so blasted the recruiter made him wait a day before joining up saying “This boy’s just too primed.”

Peter McGrew joined the Marines not because they were the best, because they were the best, but because they would have him the quickest.

That night he tried to get drunk again, but no matter how much he drank he seemed to get more sober. The men at the sawmill bought him round after round, Carl got too drunk again and still had to wait a day when he went down the next morning to join up. Every person in that bar bought Peter drinks but he just remained sober with a smile on his face that did not fade, under it was fear and a desire to run and hide. Every shot, every slap on the back, every atta boy just reinforced the fantasy of the future to come.

Death.

He was going to war. Roosevelt said the day after the attack “all measures” and he was all measures.

Years later, he doesn’t know how close he got to running.

He also does not remember her approaching him either or him approaching her, but that eventually, she was there. She smiled and her soft hand on his made him feel able and capable. Her blue eyes twinkled like she was already in love. Maybe those sparkling pools of azure just mirrored his look.

They talked all night. He would be hard pressed to remember what they talked about. Maybe God. Maybe the idea life was fleeting. Maybe that death was inevitable. Maybe that he did not want to be a hero, just good enough to do his part. She said stuff also. Maybe. Maybe it was that she just listened. Maybe she knew he had a burden that needed to come out. Maybe she saw the twenty year old kid who had never been more than twenty miles from home about to go on the biggest adventure of his life.

Eventually the sun rose and the time for his train to depart rapidly approached.

She drove him to the station. She gave him her address.

She kissed him slowly and tenderly on the lips.

He thought about that kiss the entire way South.

A day after joining, he was on a train heading to Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island and he had nothing else in his head accept a girl her friends called Charlie.

When the sign for Parris Island stopped outside his window, he felt hungover. More hung over than ever in his life and then he was in uniform learning to be a marine. Four weeks of brutal forced discipline and classes on history and  esprit de corps and he thought of her kiss and wrote her letters. Every night, he would scribble words in sentences and block them in paragraphs and he would wonder how his teachers back in grade school could have failed him so readily. He told her about training and how he wasn’t that bad at being a marine and how they made him squad leader and how the other boys looked up to him.

Discipline was being a marine and he discovered he was good at discipline.

For him being a marine was easy.

Then they gave him Baby, his M1, all glowing wood stock and shiny black metal. He aimed. He shot. He aimed again. He learned that he could shoot.

He was made to be a marine.

He earned high marks on the range. He earned respect from his instructors for always being squared away. He was a leader and the men followed his example. He earned a stripe after recruit training and quickly earned another one on top of that waiting to be deployed to the far reaches of the Pacific.

The men called him Corporal.

He was called corporal when just 16 weeks ago he was nothing but a laborer at an upstate New York sawmill.

And he thought of Charlie’s kiss. In his memory the kiss was silk on skin used to only rough burlap, was water to the parched.  

She sent him letters also. He read them over and over. Her words were written in expressive cursive.

He would hold them to his chest and think of kissing her and talking the words of their letters to each other in person.

He was in love and told her so in a letter he wrote on the night before getting on a navy ship.

He told her how she made him feel, but he never mentioned how much he feared death.

The ship rolled over a rough sea for months. The taste of salt in the air flavored everything. Coffee was salty, waking was salty, taking a shit was salty.

Their cloths seems to grow salt.

And the funny thing as they neared their destination was, they couldn’t wait to be free of the ship and then they were.

Green, lush tropics waited and they were told when the transport ships dropped the rear door, death would come with Japanese bullets.

“Most of you men will die, but for country and for revenge. God bless the Marine Corp, God bless America,” said a four star general.

And then they battled for 3 years, 8 months, 3 weeks and 5 days.

Six million people died.

And Peter McGrew did his part. He was a warrior, and his job was to kill. He killed and lead his team. He took over the squad when the Sergeant Hawkner got five bullets and bled out. Then the men called him sarge. He took over the platoon when Platoon Sergeant Fawks threw himself on a grenade and with still-warm juicy parts clinging to his uniform, McGrew got a rocker under his three chevrons. He got a battlefield commission when officers were few and far between. The men called him LT and the higher-ups gave him a butter bar for  his collar and a forty-five to wear at his side but he did not need it. He directed others to fire their weapons and no longer needed to fire his.

Some time late in the war, he wrote Charlie a letter. He did not write about how the day to day fear made him want to jump into the ocean and swim home to her. How on his first transport to a beachhead on August sixth, he pissed himself in fear, or how once the sand was under his feet he was ready to be a marine from that day forth.

He never told her about the bodies. About his buddies and enemy that just seemed to stack up in his memory like perfectly fitting numbers of dead. About finding Carl among the dead. How he was rail thin and shitting bloody water from his ass.

No; he told her the kiss she gave him was a special paradise he could take refuge in, even in the roughest moments of his fight against the Japs.

He told her how every night when the stars would shine and the moon would wax and wane when the palm trees rustled in the breeze she would be there with him and they would share in a small moment of peace and hope for a world to come.

Then three years to the day after his first fight on the island of Guadalcanal, a huge bomb was dropped destroying a city in Japan he couldn’t pronounce. Than nine days later another one was dropped and Japan surrendered.

The war was over.

He was asked to hang around another six months but eventually got his discharge papers and transport home.

His war was over.

He boarded a ship and it took him to San Francisco.

There he mailed the last letter he would ever write and two days later boarded a train to New York City.

At Grand Central he grabbed his duffel, smoothed out his class A jacket, shook some offered hands and disembarked.   

The he saw her. She looked the same. Her lips pursed in an ecstatic smile. She had tears drifting from her eyes. Her makeup ran in dark lines. She shook. Her hands trembled as she reached out for him. He dropped his duffel and ran to her. She opened her arms and he could feel the warmth of her body and the fluttering of her heart and they kissed. They kissed and kissed and kissed and in a moment where breath was need to be caught she whispered in his ear “of course” and from that day until he died, she was his and he was hers.

 

Deadwood

It smells like melting tar and burning wood, unwashed men, rotting teeth and freshly turned dirt, old whiskey, sick, piss and shit.

Its pungent and raw. The road here was so empty and peaceful, but with the hush of hidden death hiding just below the green leafy canopy of forest and hills.

Now death is everywhere and loud and obvious.

They pass a flat board filled with black haired scalps. A sign says reward for dead injuns. The scalps are covered in the buzz of flies and a thick stink of ammonia.

His heart pounds hard. The fight is real. The story is no longer fiction. Life is a tragic struggle. No longer hidden. No longer a tale sold for a dime. Here death is not just an unknown ambush, but a glaring man in a ten gallon hat holding the butt of his pistol. He makes it obvious he wants what the boy has. Youth and a second chance.

Laughter and angry shouts fill the air. Mixed with the orgasm of a man long traveled and in long need of relief behind thin pine wood walls.

The laughter of a whore.

The tinkle of cheap ivory piano keys.

“Come get your gear here miner,” a man in dirty overalls shouts over the din of tin being hammered and boards being nailed and the occasional shot fired either into the air or still living meat.

Maybe the small town boy regrets his decision to come west. Maybe he thinks he can go home now.

But he is here, stained forever with what is around him, no longer able to go home and be the kid he was before. He is becoming the man he will be. One day he will either be, or not. That is the way of Deadwood. you either succeed or die whether an attempt is made or you do nothing.