Marine at War Smashwords Edition.

Copyright 2010 Merrell Michael
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For First Platoon And Turqious


I am in New York in Autumn, and I am eighteen. I

have always lived here, and I still love it. I have always loved it. Jess has broke up with me, and I still love it. She told me that she couldn’t take the distance any more. She told me that and then she told me a noncommittal generalization toward friendship. I wanted to fuck after she was done with college, so I agreed. After that I saw Dad. He spoke in vague tones too, about being a prison guard someday, like him. A pointed remark about how I was talking about the Marines instead of college. An overtone of blame. There is much of that here, but this is now and this is New York and I bury my head in the sky. I am trying to think of Spiderman, swinging from building to building. That is the advantage to the city. It promotes daydreams of Spiderman. Behind him the green goblin is chasing, throwing bombs, weaving back and forth, I think of his rocket glider, humming, then roaring. The rocket glider is loud, as loud as a plane. There is a wave of pressure. There is a feeling, a feeling of magnitude. I look around, and others are starting to join me. To search for spiderman. There is something on fire from one of the towers. “Did you see that?” The man next to me asks. “No.” I answer, truthfully. “A damn plane. Must have had something wrong with it. Just-bam.” The plane flies close, and low, and the green goblin roars, to conquer spider-man in the middle of the building. This time I see the pressure, the enormity of it. Of the fire that should be in a movie, a massive ball.

There are no words. I wonder, what will the television say? A cab driver gets out, and holds up a cheap disposable camera. “Will you take it?” He asks. I take it from him and look through the viewfinder. He is smiling broadly, and his teeth are flat white squares. Behind him I see spiderman, falling toward earth, and I wait for the hope of a web line. There is now blackness in the smoke. And sirens. “No.” I tell him. “I cant.” “You should take it.” He says. “This is history.” I notice for the first time that he is Arabic, and I wonder what country he was born in. “I cant.” I say. “Im sorry.” I hand the camera back to him. He gives it to an elderly wall street type, and the shutter beeps. And the sight of the flash, I hear sirens. “There’s another one.” Someone offers. “Another one jumped. Where’s the fucking police? Isn’t that what we fucking pay them for? I think of dad again. I wonder if he is off shift, and sleeping. I hope he took his pills, the kind of pills that knock him out cold. I hope he even took a drink before crashing like he sometimes does. The green goblin has thrown a dust bomb. It moves up the streets, horribly, inexorably. He laughs his terrible laugh in my head, the laugh of the cab driver, and people run and scream, from the destruction of New York.


There are things we know, and things we don’t know. Then there are the things we don’t know we don’t know. -Donald Rumsfield

The yellow was the crispest canary yellow of any footprint in the entire world. The black was not really black, it was pebbled intense charred grey of black top freshly minted. And the Drill Instructor was everything in the world that orbited. When he screamed, his body became the scream, and his whole being reverberated. And we screamed back. We were forbidden to look at him. Yet, everywhere he actually resided was a point of singular truth, of khaki and green that stood up by itself. I wished then that I had gone to church. Maybe there I would have seen clothing that was this immaculate, this pressed. We were taken to receive our phone call home. I had expected this. I reached for the phone. “GET BACK!” The drill instructor screamed. “You fail!! No one gets a phone call!!”

I had done something, and now everything that came afterward went off the rails. The head shaving came next, almost instantly. The razor blade dug into my head with harsh jabs. I could feel blood welling up of my forehead. The barber grunted and laughed, in his best Sweeney Todd imitation. Then I was shoved forward, to stand against a wall. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see piles of hair on the floor. Don’t eyeball anything. The Drill Instructor said. There were six of us there, in that room. It was a classroom. We were given papers to sign, then told to put our heads down as a group. We all did so. There was a clock on the wall that ticked. I did not fall asleep until nearly an hour had passed. The fluorescent bulbs burned through my eyelids to the retina, and I dreamed of a vast red wave. There was another Drill Instructor. The last one had been black, and this one was white, with gold framed glasses If you have anything to confess Now is the time There will not be another chance A guy with red hair raised his hand. “I smoked weed, last night.” He was escorted out, never to return. I was about to spend my first night at Parris island. RECEIVING

My first lesson in marching was clumsy and slow. I was put it a platoon, in what I would later think of as a platoon, what I then had no words for other than a group. Four long columns. A collage of jeans, t-shirts, polo shirts. The Drill Instructor corrected us solely. LEHEFT, RIGHIGHT LEHEFT, RIGHIGHT NASTY NASTY RECRUITS It was a parade of slow ants, of people trying unsuccessfully to mimic a sort of military movement. A smooth professional was guiding us. It was humiliating and terrible. I was issued, tossed rather, my uniforms. What size? Said the Marine. My first non-Drill Instructor look at a real Marine. I said medium, so medium is what I received. The camouflage green. My camies. So new and crisp when I received them. The dark greens and browns. The khaki tan. My class A’s. And more accessories. Running shoes. We were ordered to change, to strip, put on the blouse, trousers, and cover, with the go-fasters. What were those items? All I had with me were my uniforms. Then I saw the others putting on the camouflage pants and shirt. And the camouflage hat. With the white running shoes. This was a lesson here. I would need to remember it. In this world, everything had a different name than the one I had lived in. From there I was taken to a store, a sort of mini store, and given a list of things I was required to purchase. I was handed a debit card. The majority of the items were cleaning supplies. I felt a sense of unease, why was I

buying so much ajax? But then I saw the chevrons I had purchases. They made me feel proud somehow. For now, that would do. We packed everything into a green duffel bag. This was called a sea bag. Why? We were on land. But we half marched to the building. The building was a long corridor which stank with strong lemon disinfectant. The walls shone of white cement. The floor was polished smooth and shiny. There was a long gleaming path, between two rows of bunks. The Drill Instructor was large and black this time. LET ME EXPLAIN THINGS VERY CLEARLY YOU CAN SLEEP AS SOON AS YOU UNDRESS AT THE COUNT OF TEN This proved impossible. It was three thirty in the morning when we eventually managed to do this. We had an hour and a half to sleep. I lay on the thin wool blanket, scratching the back of my scalp with fibers. Thinking that I would not sleep. Yet I did. And then the harsh fluorescent lights were on, someone screamed LIGHTS LIGHTS LIGHTS And it was time to wake. On my first full day I went to eat breakfast at a cafeteria called a chow hall. This was also a nearly impossible task. I was not allowed to look anyone in the eye. I could not manage to talk the way I was supposed to . “Eggs.” ‘Eggs what?” “Please?”

The space monkey in front of me took pity on me and dolloped on my tray a scoop of yellow. “Your supposed to say ‘eggs, recruit’ “ He told me. I sat in a row and choked down a spoonful of cold oatmeal. Then it was time to go. I was issued my rifle. My weapon. And M-16. Mine. It was a sphincter check. MINE. This was a thing of hardened black steel. It smelled strange, of oil, greases, and gases. It was larger and heavier than I expected. It was realer than I expected. It was more intense than I expected. We were shown how to put the weapons over our shoulder. PORT ARMS, NASTIES The drill instructor shook his head at our failure PORT ARMS THAT’S WHAT ITS CALLED I CANT WAIT FOR YOU NASTIES TO START TRAINING Again, shame and failure. As we marched, bobbing up and down, to the building I was trying to think of as a squad bay. Inside we ran a steel cable through the rifle chamber, and secured it with a combination lock. MEMORIZE THE COMBINATION AND THE SERIAL NUMBER ON THE RIFLE THEN STRIP TO YOUR SKIVVIES It was a march from there, to the track and pull-up bars, where we would have the initial strength test.

My leg throbbed as I went in the back of the truck to Sickbay. I had heard them using the word on Star Trek. They used it here. Sickbay. Everything was over, and I was done for. I had spent so much time worrying about the pullups, that I had never worried about the run. Still, I had failed the pull-ups. Looking into the blue sky, straining to hoist myself over the white medical tape that wrapped the bar. ONE The minimum was three, As we started the run, my arms burned with the failure. Then I tripped over mothing, and heard the snap. And screamed. In the truck, my eyes were filled with tears. “A stress fracture.” The navy doctor said. “ A bad one. Just need a cast.” He patted me on the shoulder. “What training day are you?” HE DOESN’T HAVE ONE HE BROKE IT ON THE IST “Wow.” The doctor shook his head. “Day zero. That’s tough.” After I gave up my rifle, I was allowed a phone call. I sniffled into the receiver and told my parents what was writted on the paper I had been handed. “I am Being sent to Medical Rehabilitation Platoon.” At the end of the sentence, I was crying hard. The Drill Instructor took the phone from me.

YOUR BOY WILL BE FINE MRP, the yellow letters seemed to ring out, on the red sign. FAILURE, it said to me. I this squad bay, there were recruits with all sorts of bandages and stitches. This was the bottom of the cliff, where the Spartan babies that had been deficient laid to rest. Babies like me. I was told to sit on a foot locker, and read. I did so for two weeks. After two weeks, Dent came to MRP. TRAINING DAY ZERO “Ever trace a pen around your veins to find out where they are?” Dent was busy doing so. “Cant say I have.” “The trick is, if you get caught, don’t say its for finding the best place to slit your wrist.” He offered a hand. “Im Dent.” He said. “Thanks. Um..isnt that against?” “Obama’s about to repeal don’t ask don’t tell. Have you heard about Juliet Company?” “No.” “Juliet Company’s going to be the first mixedgender Marine Corps Training company. Its going to be in fourth battalion. Mix of male and female drill instructors. They dropped me here, until it starts.”

‘Why’d they do that?” I got caught.” Dent said. “Kissing a guy.” “That sucks.” ‘I don’t know. It was a good kiss.” We talked for days. It was the first real conversation I remembered having since getting to boot camp. I told him all about my parents in Virginia, about growing up home schooled, about my books. Especially about my books. I mentioned to him that I felt like the prisoner in the Count of Monte Christo, and he told me he knew what I was talking about. “What do you know about boot camp?” he asked. ‘Just that Im in MRP.” “Did you research it at all?” “I read a couple of books.” “On boot camp?” “Yeah.” “How about the internet? Do you know the different weeks?” “No.” “First there’s hell week. Then series drill. Then field week. Swim Qual. Rifle Range. A week working chow hall.” He went on, and broke down to me the minutiae of Marine Corps basic training. What post orders were. When I would be allowed to wear boots. When I would be allowed to blouse those boots. What everything meant. That night I was on fire watch. A way of staying

awake and wearing a uniform, carrying with me my first symbol of authority, a flashlight with a red lens. I could not walk that much with the heavy cast on my leg. Mostly I sat on a chair on the far end of the squadbay, and listened to the noise of everyone snoring. Someone taps me on the shoulder. I am asleep. “Hey.” Dent says. “Cmere.” A window is open in the squadbay. A flashlight flickers at the far end, in the next building. Dent flickers his own light back. He jumps out the window and I follow him. Dramatically, he puts a finger across his lips, and we both hobbled across. I tried to avoid my leg as much as I could. At the far end two female recruits helped us up. The blonde one hugs Dent. We sneak across the room, next to the supply closet. Inside, the girls unscrew a bottle of Listerine and swig it. “God.” The blonde says. “Recruit Jones is such a bitch.” “I think shes a dyke. “ Says the redhead. “Shes always up the Drill Instructors ass, everyday. I was like, I need a head call, recruit? And she was like, say aye, guide.” The redhead sits in my lap. I can feel my erection growing. She hands me the bottle and I take a deep swig. She is not pretty, with pale skin and deep acne scars. But she is female, and she is human. Dent is already making out with the blonde. “Hey.” The redhead says. “Im over here.” I kiss her, awkwardly. The kissing leads to groping. We fuck the two recruits in female MRP

side by side. Their tits are floppy and loose, swaying in time with our thrusts.At one point, they hold hands while we do so. When it is done my head is swimming with the Listerine and I cannot think of anything to say. “I thought you were gay.” I tell Dent. “I never said I was gay.” Dent says. ‘You said you kissed a guy, or something.” “That doesn’t make you gay. It just means you want to get out.” ‘Whatever, dude.” “I like nasty stank recruit pussy as much as the next recruit.” “Fuck you!” Says the blonde. “Lets go.” Says Dent. As soon as we get back into the MRP squadbay, I hear a female drill instructor screaming ARE YOU FUCKING DRUNK, SANCHEZ? The female recruits respond back in a crescendo “Aye ma’aam!” The next day starts my first real attempts at a pullup. The motion should be simple. Pulling up with my arms, until my chin clears the pole. Then, dropping down, and doing it again. And again. Until I can finally manage to perform the task three times in repetition. Which seems impossible.

My arms are little bands of weak jell-o. Still, I had nothing but time. So we talked. And I did pull-ups. And push-ups. Until I could do one. Then three. Than five. Then ten. I was taken out to the naval hospital on Parris Island for a MRI on my leg. I remember the earplugs, sitting in the booth and hearing the THUMP THUMP THUMP of the MRI firing. When it was over, the cast was taken off my leg. All was not yet well. The IST track seemed to me to be a demon in ond of itself in that late spring in south Carolina. But slowly, I learned how to run. And run. When I passed the IST, I told Dent. He nodded and looked down at the floor. “Their processing me out.” He said. “What about Juliet Company?” I asked. “That was all bullshit.” He said. “You’re an easy target.” “Why? Why are they processing you out?” “Seizures.” “You didn’t tell me about seizures.” “I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t know. I just, bam, up and had one a week before graduation. Before I would have made it off the fucking island.” “That sucks.” The punch was fast and flew at my face. I felt the taste of copper in my mouth, the wet blood dribbling down. He stood over me and rained down blows, as I held up my hands and waited for him to stop. Then he

cried and told me that he never would be a Marine, the only thing he had ever desired. I held him and said that I would be the Marine for both of us, the Marine he had trained me to be. I would do this, for he was my friend and I loved him. In the morning, we both scrambled to get up together in another day at boot camp. Everyone knew, and said nothing. We were both leaving. HELL WEEK I did twenty pull ups on the IST. I was the second fastest runner. Senior Drill Instructor Staff Sargeant Martinez Ruiz was wearing a shiny belt and sitting up front with us on the quarter deck. He was telling all the recruits very carefully about what would be expected of them. As soon as he was finished two Drill Instructors marched up side by side in perfect robotic step. We sat Indian style and watched them recite their oath THESE RECRUITS ARE ENTRUSTED TO MY CARE I WILL TRAIN THEM TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY I WILL DEVELOP THEM INTO SMARTLY DISCIPLINED PHYSICALLY FIT BASICALLY TRAINED MARINES

THUROUGHLY INDOCTRINATED IN LOVE OF CORPS AND COUNTRY I WILL DEMAND OF THEM AND DEMONSTRATE BY MY OWN EXAMPLE THE HIGHEST STANDARDS OF PERSONAL CONDUCT MORALITY AND PROFESSIONAL SKILL It ended with GET ON THE LINE GET ON THE LINE NOW Hell week had begun, on my very first training day. There was nothing but pride in me. Throughout it all, through the entire week, through the screaming, the yelling, through the telling to get on line, the Marine Corps push ups (four count) the flutter kicks, the sand pit, the sand fleas, inside I was grinning from ear to ear. Outside I was all business, barking “LETS GO, RECRUITS!” First in line for PT, to train, always correct. I knew the correct way to ask to go to the bathroom “Sir, recruit Michael requests permission to make a head call sir, SNAP good morning gentlemen!” I knew how to march. I knew somewhat of drill. I made friends. By the end of the week, I was a squad leader. Marching in the front to chow. Eating in ten seconds, one utensil, right hand only, five four three two one done sir done.

At the end of the week I went to the recruit chapel for the first time. Inside I saw stained glass windows depicting angels reaching out and plucking up dead Marines in Vietnam. I thanked God for giving me the opportunity to join them. When I came back, I wrote a letter to my parents for the first time, telling them that things were going well and that I was in training. The next week, I beat the shit out of a guy with the pugil sticks. SERIES DRILL And finally, I am allowed to blouse my boots. The drill field is a large parking lot area next to the third battalion chow hall. We stood out there in formation, at parade rest. Rifles out, arms extended. The call was given. PLATOON ATEN HUT We snapped to attention. One motion. One fluid motion. How to explain it? Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves. Drilling gives you that option. Your body becomes part of a larger body, your clothing part of a larger clothing, your mind part of a larger mind. It all syncs up on given commands. Turn, go straight, bring your rifle out in front of you.

RIGHT OBLIGUE FORWARD MARCH PORT ARMS LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT LOWRIGHTY tells your feet where to position themselves. Executed flawlessly. Marine Corps Boot Camp is a competition. They don’t tell you that, but it is. Each of the platoons competes against each other for series drill. The winner gets to keep the series guidon, that says INDIA COMPANY, next to the platoon guidon that merely bares the numbers 3070. After we won the guidon, an enraged group of recruits from platoon 3069 came up two flights of stairs to steal it. We battles with them hard, flinging boots and fists. As I smashed in the nose of a bird like looking kid with birth control inducing glasses I could see Drill Instructor Martinez looking through the blinds of his office, smirking. SWIM WEEK This was the first event I partook in that separated the Infantry from the non-Infantry. I was Infantry, and thusly had the hardest swim qual. The swim week started with treading water. Some failed even to do this. They went under, and Swim Instructors flopped out a red float for them. Another object of failure. But I was buoyant. I made it to the surface. I did not gasp for breath, and splash uselessly.

Then we swam the length of the pool, in full gear. Flak jacket, rifle, and Kevlar helmet. Dragging another recruit across the pool. This I did as well I felt exhilarated. In love with my own success. Sweat cooling in the chlorine. Why hadn’t I been on the swim team at school? If I could have done this, I could have done that. Finally, a drill instructor grabbed me and wrestled me underwater. I grappled with him, trying to remember to stay calm, and threw him off, exploding up for air. The ones that failed tried again. But at the end of the week, ten recruits were gone, unable to hold their heads above the hard waters of Parris Island. RIFLE RANGE The first hump we did took us out to the Rifle Range. A hump is a three mile forced march, with heavy packs, wearing flak jackets and Kevlar helmets, and carrying our rifles. Throughout it all the Drill Instructors voice was ever present. TIGHTEN IT UP REACH OUT AND TOUCH THE PACK IN THE FRONT I was sweating and my legs were cramping. There was a headache from the helmet. The entire thing was wonderful. My trial by fire. The source of my pain. Training. Along the way, we drank water. Drinking water was everything in boot camp. It was called hydration. Along the way recruits pissed and puked on themselves. But we made it.

The rifle range seemed to be one giant salt flat. It was flat and long. The squad bays were larger than the ones in third battalion. Third battalion squad bays were built in the thirties. The receiving squad bays were built in the forties. These were newer, dating back to only Vietnam. Inside we were tormented for about twenty minutes or so. Then we were allowed to drop packs, and rest. And meet the range instructor. The rifle range instructor spoke with a grin, although he wore a Smokey the bear campaign cover, and he allowed us to look at him. In an excited voice, he told us about the fundamentals of marksmanship. It was all a matter of aligning the sights, and disciplining your breath. There was a matter of slowly squeezing the trigger. There was the matter of not looking at your target, but only at the tip of the front sight. On the day when I would shoot a firearm for the first time in my life the sun was smooth and clear and the air was not muggy. I felt a slight stirring in my loins, something which had been inactive since Jerel. We were given a dry fire at first. I could feel the hammered click of the bolt coming home. Then I was to load the rifle, and I clipped in the grey banana with the five bullets. It was more than I had expected. The shot took me entirely by surprise. I heard three noises, and would manage to hear all three every time thereafter that I would fire the M-16. First, the explosion of gunfire from the muzzle. Next, the musical chime of the spent cartridge ejecting. Finally, the boom of the

bullet breaking the sound barrier. Everything was alive with color. The green of the grass. The darker green and brown of my Marine Combat Uniform. And finally, most glorious of all, the grey of the gunpowder from the end of the blue blavk barrel. We fired off four more to sight the weapons, but that one made me feel like a man. It made me a man. It made me born. Everyday that week, we repeated the same routine. Wake up, PT, fire weapons all day. The drill Instructors backed off all week. Until the night, when the torture could resume. PAIN IS WEAKNESS LEAVING THE BODY NIETZSCHE WROTE THAT ON A RECRUITING PAMPHLET HAVE ANY OF YOU READ NIETZSCHE There are three recruit squad leaders in a Marine Corps basic training platoon. There is also one recruit picked to carry the guidon, the bright red flag with gold numbers that represents the platoon, three zero seven zero. Ten recruits failed to qualify on the rifle range, and thus were dropped from training. One of those was our guide, a tall, thin lipped idiot who took pleasure in telling us that his father was a major. I was first squad leader. And so I became the guide, of platoon 3070. I had qualified expert. I had become a man. I was twenty six and I had discovered a great new meaning to life. FINAL INSPECTION

We were two months into training. I had been at boot camp an extra month on top of that, and things were finally winding down. The end was finally near. As guide my life was suddenly harder than it had ever been before. I was punished on the quarter deck whenever a recruit was found to be deficient in some way. My eating time in the chow hall was timed to the count of tenm when I had to tell the platoon to stop eating and leave. But I was more full of pride than I had ever felt before in my life. I was actually accomplishing something. I had arrived here a fat, depressed, antisocial twentysomething loser. I was about to leave a warrior, and, more importantly, a leader of warriors. And I had found my manhood in the process. Before final drill we were allowed to finally possess hair, to have high and tight haircuts instead of bald heads. Our uniforms, class A green and khakis, were neatly pressed on a day spent in preparation. We shaved even more carefully than before. I polished my one badge, the crossed rifles and laurel wreath of rifle expert I had earned. During the inspection the mojor that led Mike Company moved down the row neatly, each recruit presenting his weapon for inspection deftly. All was going well. Then I heard a grimace of disgust. I looked down the red floor of the squad bay. A recruit had pissed himself. Drill Instructor Martinez dragged us both back into the supply closet. No one spoke, the tension heightened by countless bottles of Ajax bleach lined up neathly on the shelves. The beating was quick and surgical. The

little recruit crumpled up fast, finally moaning in a fetal position on the floor. I held parade rest as long as I could. Eventually, I joined him. There on the ground, I felt rage at this recruit, who had shamed us both. I would probably be fired as guide. But when we marched to chow that day, when I attempted to fall in the back, he looked at me and said GET UP FRONT, GUIDE THAT’S YOUR PLACE And so I marched proudly, the pain in my face and gut supsiding with every step.. CRUCIBLE The wall that had proven impossible to Private Pyle was easy. The rope beyond that as well. I was on the way to victory. We had a physical fitness test. A three mile run with pull ups, and I had a perfect score. For the crucible we packed MRE’s, and name tape camies. The name tapes were placed above our breast pockets, that said MICHAEL and US MARINES. After the crucible ceremony, they would be ours to wear. Finally, we would be Marines. It was a five mile hump to the start of the crucible. From there, we would begin the events that would last three days. This was the finishing touch. And it was easy. It was beyond east. With no sleep and little food, it was easy. There was nothing that could stop us at this point. And nothing did.

Drill Instructor Martinez sang cadence the whole way back to the Iwo Jima memorial. It was a beautiful day, even more beautiful than the rifle range, that moment in time of early morning. I was beginning to love that moment, to cherish it in my heart as my own. The moment of new me. There were blisters in the soles of my jungle boots and sweat coating the front of my camies, but I did not care. The cover on my head bore an eagle, globe, and anchor, that was emblazoned in my heart. We stood at attention in front of the memorial. A country song played a refrain, over and over I’m proud to be an American Cause at least I know I’m free And I wont forget the men who died And gave their life for me I received a small, metal, eagle globe, and anchor in my hand ABOUT TIME, MICHAEL SHAKE HANDS LIKE A MAN And cried like a baby. I had done it. Afterwards, we went to the chow hall, and ate like kings, using both hands, and as long as we wanted. GRADUATION Before Graduation, the drill instructor calls me into his office. “I would like you to meet,” he gestures to his

side. “Corporal Dent.” Corporal Dent. Dent is a corporal. He of MRP. Corporal. “Sir?” “Yes, Michael.” ‘This recruit..” “You don’t have to talk like that, Michael. Your about to graduate.” “Im not sure whats going on.” “Your part of a very special program.” Dent interrupts. “Let me show you something.” He hands me a file. MILITARY SERVICE RECORD MICHAEL, MERRELL A. Recruit Training- Pvt. Michael shows marked weakness and unfitness in all key attributes of recruit training. Involvement in the Intensive Buddy Program has been recommended. Cpl. Dent has been assigned as Michael’s IBP. IBP After action-

Pvt. Michael showed increased motivation and discipline in all areas. He excels at teamwork and leadership abilities. He looks to complete basic training of Plt. 3070 in a leadership role. IBP involvement ruled a success. I stare at the words, unsure of their meaning at first. When the realization hits me it comes all at once, as if in a wave. “It’s a complete success.” Dent says. ‘Let me tell you something, Michael.” Martinez says. “Do you remember me?” ‘No sir.” “I was in MRP, Michael, I remember you. When you first got to MRP, you were in bad shape. You remember that, don’t you?” “yes, sir.” ‘Real bad shape. I wouldn’t have put much stock in you graduating. Being where you are today.” “It’s a bigger problem.” Corporal Dent says. “Were getting a lot of recruits like you these days. The video game generation. How are we supposed to fight a war with this?” “But we fixed you up. Your better now, Michael. You’re a Marine.” Im better now. Better.

I was the honor graduate for Mike Company, and I received a full set of dress blues. I had also received the rank of Lance Corporal. I never would be Private Michael. Never would be the weak thing they described in the memo. But was it real? Had I earned any of it? Had any of it come from me, from my effort? What was real, anyway? Suddenly all that I worked for seemed false. Funny hats and shirts. Rediculous ideas and idealogy. A program for masochists. What was behind that program? What extant did it reach? How far up did it go? I kept thinking about fucking the girl in MRP. Was that arranged? Did she know about Dent? Was she some whore, paid off by the government? What of the country song? Is that the official music of the Marine Corps? What is tradition, anyway? Is it just things you’ve done in the past? Things that have been done before you? Who makes things this way? Who tells us all where to go? We marched across the parade ground and waited for that final call. When it came DISMISSED I ran over to my mother and father, and my brother Tony, and embraced them, and told them I was ready to leave. The bleachers they sat in were bright aluminum, that reflected a big, yellow, September sun, shining overhead in the South Carolina sky.

PART two The mediterreanean ocean aboard the uss bataan
We do not do these things because we wish to. We do them because we are compelled. -Alan Moore ONE I am the age of old dead rock stars. I am TwentySeven, and looking to join their club. I am staring at the wallet photo of the beautiful black woman I have married. I am staring into her tan skin, into her long straight hair, and I am waiting for the world to end. I have been on another world, the grey aircraft carrier world of the USS Bataan. There is a vast hanger bay here, we all are standing in. I am on my pack, the tan ranger pack rucksack I will carry to war. Next to me is the true love of my life. Sweetness, My M16 rifle. Atop a red dot sight blinks. I am a true American baddass here, done up in flak jacket Kevlar and with night vision goggles strapped to my helmet. “We wont go anywhere, dude.” Bill tells me. “You’ll get back to Turq soon enough. What the hell kind of name is that for a chick?” “Its short for Turqious.” I tell him.

“That’s a California sort of name.” I say. “Arent you from Virginia?” He says. “Oh yeah, that’s right. The internet.” A reporter lady comes up to us in a blue pants suit, a stark contrast to our desert battle dress uniforms. She smiles around gold hoop earrings shaped in convex curves vaguely reminiscent of sea shells. “Do you have any good luck charms?” She asks us. A cameraman appears behind us. I hold out the wallet photo of my wife. “How did you two meet?” She asks. “The internet.” Bill tells her. The camera flashes. She scribbles on her pad. I go back and sit down on my pack. Sargeant Rielly comes over. ‘What did you tell the reporter, Mikey?” ‘That were going to rape Bin Laden up his ass, Sargeant.” “With a rusty spoon.” Bill adds. “That’s good shit.” Rielly says. And goes back on his pack. “How old do you think Rielly is?” Bills asks me. “Thirty-something, I guess.” I respond. “Nope. Hes twenty-nine. Two years older than you. Isnt that fucking crazy?” “Lots of things are fucking crazy.” I tell him. I am looking around the vast hanger bay of the USS Bataan, trying to cement the moment in my mind. The Harrier jet in the corner, being taken apart by crew chiefs. The cool sea breeze outside, December in the Mediterranean. The look of grey piping on every wall, the feel of black tarmac

anti skid under my feet. Things that I will, never, ever, experience again, when I finally leave this and I am once again human. The look of all the marines around me, most of them the same age as my little brother, at least half of them not old enough to drink. The premature age on the faces of the Non-commisioned officers like sergeant Rielly. The weight of it. After today, will I feel the weight? Crates are suddenly being pried open. Reilly speaks. “Listen up, first.” He says. “Line up for ammo.” The brass rifle bullets, Nato standard 5.56 millimeter are passed out. Six magazines of thirty, a combat load. My thumb works quickly from repetition, stripping each one from the feeder clip, reveling in the ra-chink of the bullet meeting its kindred. A soft noise of the spring depressing. As I work, a sudden paralysis grips me. Will this be the one that fails me? Will this be the bullet that fails to fire, that double-feeds inside the chamber of my rifle, the bullet that gets me killed? Will this be the bullet that I fire by accident, the bullet that wounds another Marine? The bullet that haunts me for the rest of my life? The bullet that slowly kills me? Each round has a green painted tip. Every fifth round is painted red, for a tracer. I try to imagine dualing lightsabers, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. Battling for my very soul. Someone sets a long green tube next to me and says. “Strap it on your pack.” I look at my present. I have received an AT-4 rocket launcher. Next on this ammunition Christmas, and it is indeed December, I am given two live hand grenades. I place them in their pouches, next to my heart. I have had nightmares of this moment for years. Since Saving Private Ryan. I knew

then that it would be my destiny to go through this. To live this nightmare. To follow in not my fathers footsteps, of the air force. Nor my grandfathers footsteps, of the Navy reserve. But instead to walk in my own shoes, down the bloody path of an Infantry Marine. I had signed up right after being laid off from my last shit retail job. This was it. Here I was. “Do you got a dip, dude?” Bill asks me. I bring out a borrowed can of Copenhagen. Bill grimaces. “Formaldehagen again. This is some nasty shit. Did you get this from Schueher?” I nod. Hearing his name, Ryan comes into view. Corporal Ryan Schueher. He of the non-infantry. He of the pretty boy Marines in the barracks in Washington DC. He of the four sets of dress blues and perfect drill, he who carried dead bodies and marched in perfect rhythm to the sound of taps. He who shaves his head and speaks in constant jock-macho-preppie bullshit. He who is my superior, and is in constant control of my life. “Mikey.” He says. “your not going to fuck this up, are you?” “No Corporal.” I respond. “That’s good. If you make me look bad when we get to war, things are fucked for you. Im going to go to your house and sleep with your wife. No, not really, but just so you know, the ideas there.” ‘Yes Corporal.” “So don’t fuck up. Nerd. Did you set your watch?” “No Corporal.”

“Set it to zulu time. One-oh six A.M.” My dressing down finished, I grab the can of snuff from Bill and replace it in my pocket. “Why the fuck do you let him talk to you like that?” Bill asks. “I don’t know. Hes in charge.” “He doesn’t talk to Me like that. He doesn’t talk to Cory of Jimmy like that. He only pushes you around, cause you let him.” ‘I guess so. I kind of see it all as a joke, really.” “Your three years older than him, dude. He needs to stop.” “Im just trying to remember the significance of zulu time, again.” “Mission time, dude. Mission time. The time zone all missions are held in.” “But all its basically doing, is making my watch worthless.” “Pretty much. But still, its mission time. So you should do it.” “Because Im such a good Marine?” “Because you less-than-three Scheuher.” “ALERT SPARROW HAWK ONE EIGHTY. ALERT SPARROW HAWK ONE EIGHTY.” “On your feet, India Company!’ The first sergeant says. I imagine him in Vietnam, his tall and wrinkled near- corpse leading patrols to snuff out gooks in the wire. We stand up as a unit, all of us. It’s a fearsome sight. A hundred Marines, fully equiped for war. “Up the

ramp!” Up the ramp. Up the far side of the hanger bay is a long ramp, and we march up. The sea air mixes in my nostrils with the ozone smell of jet fuel. The ramp is large enough to pull a helicopter down, yet somehow small enough to induce claustrophobia. My ranger pack strains on my back. Sweat drips down the sides of my face, under my Oakley sunglasses. Will I fall out here? Here, not even close to the war? Not even a fraction of the way toward my destiny? Again, I dismiss the idea. I am at the top of the ramp. Ahead of me is Rielly, then Scheuher. I am at the tip of the spear. From here I can see the flight deck of the Aircraft Carrier. The V-22 Osprey is a strange beast. A mix in between a helicopter and an airplane. Pure sex from an episode Of G.I. Yo Joe. Knowing is half the battle. Only it will have the long range capacity to take us far enough in country to drop in a hot LZ, in Afghanistan. Afghanistan. What do I know of the place? What do I even know of the word, a foreign word, a meaningless term for just another shit-hole. The power of television has gotten me to this moment. The power of television, with its sight of two buildings falling, in a state I have never visited, in a city I only know from its significance in Marvel Comics. The power of television had blessed me now with this, in this moment in time. Would Turquoise understand? I think of that last phone call. “Let me know when you get there,” She said to me. How would I do that? The Osprey’s rotors are tilted up, and the blades are whirring up. The noise is the beat of an enraged hummingbird. Schueher turns back to me, his face a huge grin. “This is it, Mikey.” He says. “Are you ready to become a man?”

The crew chief taps me on the shoulder and I start to move forward. On this walk, I will look back someday, and think to myself, on this walk I am forever preserved, on this walk I do have a story to tell. The pack strains my back, the flak strains my chest, the helmet strains my head. The rifle is surprisingly light in my hands. In the corners of my eye I see the entirety of the flight deck, with its many grey osprey’s and its black tarmac and its yellow lines, and beyond it, the entirety of the sea, a thing too large to truly be named. It stretches in every direction, forever and eternal. I march in my ant-line to the back of the mutant helicopter. On its side I see a little cartoon bald eagle painted, sitting on a stool and sharpening his talons. Inside the whine fills my head. A wheeeee more than a whiiiiiiiiiir, inside the bird forsakes its sleek grayness for more ugly metal, with visible lines running around the top and sides for fuel and hydraulics and electrics and brakes. I scoot in as far as I can, placing my pack on the floor, the barrel of my M16 facing down. Next to me is Bill, across from me sergeant Reilly. I sit and for moments, think of nothing. I feel as though I am locked into this position due to my proximity. At the side the crew chief performs his checks. Most of First Squad makes it into the bird. Brief dizziness encroaches on me. A wave of nausea. The whine grows louder. The back ramp closes. It is a funny thing, to take off in a helicopter. There is no sudden push of acceleration, as in a jet. Instead, there is simply a lifting away of the earth from beneath you. As if a hand had picked you up and plucked you from the ground, into the sky. I think how Turqious would

understand this feeling if she could, and compare it to a ride at Disneyland. I look out the back of the ramp, and watch it fade away. The boat shrinks to the size of a bathtub toy. Is this what it feels like? To assault the beaches of Normandy? To charge across the no mans land? To fight the Persians at the hot gates? Is this what it feels like? To be a man? To leave your wife, and child behind? To leave your country, and go to war? The ospreys circle around in the sky. Around and around, and then they head out. Two I wake up and I am freezing cold. I do not know how I have managed to fall asleep. Next to me Bill is awake, his hands in his armpits, a gout of steam coming out of his breath. Cory is snoring. I wonder how I can hear it over the propeller whine. I sniffle, and a small stream of mucus runs down my nose. Outside it is still daylight. It was morning when we left, so this must be afternoon. I think about the reasons behind the cold. The osprey flies high, higher than the regular helicopter, and the cabin isn’t pressurized. I wonder how far out we are, and then I see Rielly pass the signal. Five. Five minutes out. The bird starts to dip. We are lower now. We are low enough to the point where I can see the sand. I think of Frank Herberts book. Dune. Dunes. I only have five minutes. From behind the loading ramp, green tracers fly. Something hits the side of the osprey with a rat tat tat.

The Crew Chief springs into action, seizing the fifty caliber machine gun and responding back. The fifty goes buudda buuda bow. I see a camel, and then the camel disappears, into red and purple puddles of dust. I am squeezing the pistol grip on Heather. Everyone is awake now. Magazines are slapped into chamber. Charging handles are racked. Rielly gives the signal. Two minutes. The osprey dips lower. I can hear a challenge to us, and out the window I can see what looks like an ancient fortress. A prehistoric castle. Castle Greyskull. The challenge is the harsh, foreign talk of an AK-47. I think of Schuehers words. I am ready to become more than man, to become pre-man, to follow older rules, the oldest rules…… We land hot. The four Marines ahead of me break into a run from aboard the helicopter. I hear bullets whizzing in the air, and then I hear them cracking. There is the sound of meat being slapped and someone falls in front of me. He simply jerks to the ground, as if his strings were cut. Everything is more real than it ever could have been. The blue sky is the most intense blue. The tan below is a torment of dust. The stones of the castle are carved from myth itself, birthed from the forehead of Zeus. More likely Allah, that dark god of terrible judgment. Allah, who’s name we sneer at every September. I run ahead, to where Schueher is pointing. The objective. The objective is a two foot high berm in the sand. Next to me Bill is aimed in with his 203 and firing. I feel hot brass slipping down my shoulderas I focus in. Beside the objective is a large rubble field. I aim in behind the

red dot. There are many women, bowing down, wearing blue burqas and praying. There is a rifle between them. Someone is hiding, behind the burqa woman. Scheuher leans in my shoulder. “Mikey.” He says. “I want you to fire.” I aim in behind my red dot. I slowly squeeze the trigger. And I fire. I fire my first shot, out of anger. In the beginning, nothing happens. I fire again. A woman slumps down. I fire again and again. Bill is firing next to me. Someone opens up with a M249 SAW. The woman are all falling down. I do not see anyone with a gun. Rielly grabs the back of my flak jacket. “Mikey.” He says. “I want you to put that AT-4 right through that doorway. You think you can do it?” ‘Yes sergeant!” I tell him. I throw down my M16 and take the tube off my pack. Bill looks behind me and yells. “Backblast area all secure!” “Backblast area all secure!” I repeat. It is odd how the rocket launcher is fired. There is no handle. One hand grips the sling, and one hand simply flips a little safety and presses a little red button. “ROCKET!” I yell. My voice is drowned out by the boom. Behind me spurts a cone of fire.The rocket races out, with a white streak, in a tight little mini spiral, and explodes in the way real explosions go, with smoke and dust, and not any fireballs at all. “GO Go Go!” Rielly yells. We are sprinting for the front door, weapons at the ready. The yards here are the longest yards, longer than any high school football field. One eye is free, one eye is looking down the red dot

sight. Inside the doorway I see the effect of my missile. A man lays on the ground, in traditional rag head clothing.. His right arm is missing and there is a neat hole cut out of him I look at his black beard. For the first time in my life, I smell the death-stink, the stench of bowels empty of their shit. We sweep and clear every room. I hear sporadic fire. We hold positions, but the fight is over. I am taking a knee in the middle of what I think of as the castle courtyard. An engine is running on a large truck, painted blue and pink and covered with golden bells, beside it is a large bale, and a pile of RPG’s and AK’s. Rielly is one the radio. “falcon actual this is falcon one.” He is saying. “Alternate sight secured. Ready to proceed to mission point.” I feel my head spinning. “Sargeant.” I ask. “What does that mean? This isn’t the objective?” Rielly takes a swig of water from the tube of his water bladder and spits. “We had to land hot, Mikey.” He says. “The birds were taking to much fire. Get a couple of hours sleep. In a little bit, we’ve got a five mile hump.” I stand up and stagger for a little bit. I am dizzier than I realized. Without warning, bile fills my throat and I vomit. I hear a buzzing noise by my feet, and start to think of flies. Three We carry Pfc. Almodovar and place him aboard the helicopter for evac, the green camouflage poncho covering the ugly hole in his head. The ugly hole seems

to place itself in my mind with the question, why wasn’t that me? What prevent me before running before him? Almodovar was no faster than I was, and he was possibly as alert as I was. The only thing I can think of is the seating arrangements. The seating arrangements saved my life, and sentenced him to death. The enemy dead we cover with some found wool blankets, but otherwise leave where they lie I spread out my pack and start to clean my rifle. That is what needs to be done, after the weapon is fired weapons maintenance must be maintained. As I scrub out the carbon residue I tell myself lies to maintain the rest of the Marine weaon: There was nothing you could have done. Anyone else would have done the same thing. After a while, you’ll forget about it. When I remember to drink water I find that the afternoon sun has turned it warm in the bladder of my pack. Bill is inspecting his bare feet, gingerly poking a blister. “Are you alright, dude?” I ask. “Trying to see if Ive got any hot spots yet. I don’t want my feet all fucked up after tonights hump.’ “That was some pretty intense shit.” I say. ‘Tell me about it.” “Do you think we ever will?” I ask. “Will what?” ‘Tell anyone about it.”

He shakes his head. “No. Not today. Today was too fucked up. Im taking that shit to my grave. I’ll tell different kinds of stories, down at the VFW, when I’m old.” “What kind of stories?” “Boot camp stories. That’s the entire point, of being a Marine. To tell boot camp stories.” “You don’t tell boot camp stories now.” “Because its not cool now. Because everyone here has a boot camp story. But after I get out? Oh, hellz yeah. Boot camp stories. Boot camp stories and USMC tshirts. Fuck, dude.” Bill yawns. “I’m tired.” I stand the first hour of watch, and then take off my helmet and body armor. I unroll my sleeping bag from my pack, but lie on top of it. There is a smell to this country that fills my nostrils. It is the smell of body odor and fecal matter. I try to think about all that has come here before, the Russians. The Greeks. Everyone who has invaded this country and been broken by it. My poncho liner is warm and soft. Without wishing for it, blackness envelopes me. The first time I met my wife, she was naked. The club was called Harlem Nights, in Houston. My wife was dancing on stage. She was long and slender. Her skin was a dark chocolate mocha. Her lips and nipples were the same shade of tender brown. Later I learned that she used the same lipstick for both. Her hair was long and straight, and she had C- cup breasts and a large ass. The first time she gave me a lap dance, I had an orgasm. After that, we learned to talk. And talk. The

talking led to her breaking the rules, and dating me. The dating led to groping, and fucking. The fucking led to my daughter, Selah. I had always preferred black woman. When I joined the Corps, somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought of myself as fighting for that right. Here now, in the desert, near the backs of murdered men. Here now, all my thoughts turn to you. You will keep me safe and whole, and when I return to you I will be the better for it. I will fight Bush’s war, I will fight Obama’s war. I will keep my rifle clean and ready. Here. Now. At the end of all things. Let me see our house in North Carolina, Let me feel the red brick and green grass. It needs mowing, I hope you are able to do it. Let me see our daughter learning to walk, her bright green eyes and dark tan skin, her endless ringlets of curls. I can feel it slipping from me. Let me breath softly into your cheek and feel the warmth of your skin. Quickly, before all this fades. Before all is taken from me. Schueher wakes me up by nudging me with his boot. I spring awake. In the next two minutes all my gear is packed and I am ready to move. The sky overhead is the dark blue not black of predawn, before anything truly starts to rise. We move into staggered formation. I test the sand beneath my feet. A hump is a forced march, or a hike. A walk with packs and weapons. Humping in the Marine Corps has completely ruined my desire to ever go backpacking, one day. It is a test of endurance, of legs and back. The march is done leaning forward slightly, to keep pace. We step out. I keep in sight the man ahead of me, and to my

left. No one speaks. Into the hump, my breath grows ragged and I can feel my heart beating. I sip water from the water bladder. I see fonseca ahead, staggering on short legs, trying to keep up. The air is surprisingly cold. I remember that its December. Time passes. The terrain remains the same. After an hour we pass an abandoned shell of a car, gutted and nearly unrecognizable. We pass and keep moving. All I think about is the pain in my feet. Left foot, then right foot. Always leading with the left. This is the true meaning of infantry, to walk to battle using your feet.The drill instructor called them two black cadillacs. But my desert boots are made from brown suede. An anachronism. We move. I cradle my M16 in my arms. The Marines chose the M16A4 over the army’s M4. Said it was better. Spent money on it. Everything is money. Left foot, right foot. Endlessly. I try to remain alert, and fail. All I can do is move. It is three hours until I can see the airport. The airport is recognizably an airport, with a distinct air traffic control center and runway. It appears to be set in the midst of nowhere, for the use of no one. Reilly calls a halt and collapses the platoon into a threesixty, rifles pointed out and ready to kill. I wait and wait. I wait for the order. Eventually, Scheuher comes beside me. “ You awake, Mikey?” He asks. I nod. “Good to do.” His voice is an unnessacary rasping whisper. “Drop you pack here. Were going to be the assault element, as usual. The objective is the airport. Weve got support from weapons company with mortars, and they’re going to take out some entrenched guns. When I say double time, you run like your ass is on fire. Got it?”

“Yes, Corporal.” I respond. “After all this is over, theyre going to bring in the rest of the battalion. For now, its only us.” “How big is the objective, Corporal?” I ask. “Shit, Mikey. It’s a fucking airport. Use your goddamn head.” Schueher leaves. We break off with first squad. My rifle is up and alert. I hear the whistling sound of mortars, and see the THUD THUD of the impacts. Shattering glass and screams. The sound of an AK. Schueher pumps his fist in the air, signaling double-time. We are facing the Airport, and we run like hell. Four The building we are heading to is colored a sickly yellow. There is Arabic graphitti on the wall that I am focusing on. The air port is made of joined arches, architecture that someone must have been proud of, once upon a time. Under my feet is the crunch of broken glass. We stack on the wall, and then break to clear it. Everything in the Marines is an acronym, and the acronym we are using is called MOUT. Military operations in urban Terrain. Tactics developed in Hue City. Used to clear buildings everywhere It looks like what you see Swat doing in the movies. Clearing rooms. Checking corners. In the first room I turn to, there is a sound of life. My finger is on the trigger. A rat runs out, with large, sleek black fur. Outside I hear the familiar braaap of a three round 16 burst. I run out. Someone is running away, and Bill is firing. The whole squad is suddenly

firing. They continue to run, then jerk up and down. They stop. The man had a brownish red cap, and a sort of brown robe. Just then, at that moment in time, I wish to myself that I knew the words for the clothes these people wear. After that we continue to clear the rooms. After a while we give up on the mout tactics and start to walk. Everything looks dead, long abandoned. There is plenty of rubble. I look at the Air Traffic Control tower. Painted on the side, in blue, it says TEXAS 17. “We got some bad intel, along the line.” Rielly points to the tower. “That’s special forces. They must have already cleared this. All we got left are the stragglers.” “Sargeant.” Jonesy the radio operator comes up. “Lieutenant’s trying to reach you on the radio.” Sargeant Rielly talks in low tones into the transmitter. When he gets up, he shakes his head. “Okay, first. Get outside. Weve got to police call.” “We have to clean?” Bill asks. “We have to walk the runway and police call. So they can land the planes in. Lets go. Hunter, Colon, hold position in here, in case they show up.” The runway is nearly two hundred yards long. We walk across it on line, picking up tiny pieces of rock. First Platoon is cheerfully bitching the entire time. A smattering of fuck this shit, a little cant wait till I get out. Like all good and great Marines, most of us hate the Corps and the military. This is the secret tradition. At Iwo Jima, the Marines raised the flag because some colonel

wanted a larger one. The fighting was not over. There is so much senseless activity here. So we pick up rocks. We kick rocks off the runway. “hey, sir.” Hunter asks the lieutenant. ‘Whats with this shit?” The lieutenant looks baffled at the question. At the idea of the question. “The small pieces of rock can tear up the aircraft engines.” He says. “The pilots call it foreign object damage.” Then, as if he should lead by example, he bends down and picks up a small piece of rock, and throws it aside. Lieutenant Easter is twentytwo. He has a smooth face and a tiny chip in his front tooth that makes him look perpetually frightened by the idea of all that he is doing. At the barracks, we found a small journal he was keeping in it, he wrote over and over I should have been a pilot/ I should have flown/I should have been a pilot I should have flown….. After every other rock, I look up and see the big picture of what we are doing. Where we are. The scenery has changed. There are trees, here. Pine trees. The ground is rocky and hard, not the smooth silt of sand. Beyond the large blue letters across the arch that read KHANDAHAR INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT I can see mountains. They are veiled in mist, tips stained white, and remind me of parts of Colorado. All of this reminds me of the American southwest, Flagstaff, Arizona maybe. I wonder of the latitude. Arizona by way of Mars. Back inside what must have been the terminal building I dig voraciously into an MRE. I eat it cold and fast. I have to drink from my canteen, as my water bladder is empty. I sit on my helmet. I am feeling the

drain from the day, from the rush leaving my system. All of us eat as fast as we can. When we are done, someone starts to smoke and the idea catches hold. The water hits my kidneys. My bladder strains with the need to urinate. “Hey, Sergeant.” I ask. “Where can I go take a piss?” Rielly waves his hand. “go out near those bushes. “ He says. “Take a buddy. And put your helmet back on.” There are many bushes near the surprisingly green airport. I pick one near a small shack. I feel exposed and naked, walking across the airport grounds without holding my rifle out. Bill stands behind me and smokes. The piss is golden yellow. There are small joys in life that mean everything when you focus on them. The joy of pissing, when you’ve been holding your urine unintentionally all day, is one of them. As Im buttoning up my fly, I hear a groan from inside the shack. The stream suddenly dries up, and my pecker seems to zip itself closed. A few drops hit the leg of my pant. One darkens the toe of my boot, large and pregnant with its secret origin. “Did you hear that?” I ask. Bill nods. His hand is on his rifle. The shack appears to be made of thin plywood and several sheets of corrugated tin. The door juts part open and Bill slowly pushes it. The sliver of light is thin, and we walk through. It shows the boy, propped up in the corner. He says something at us in his language. His skin is light amber, and grey dirt stains the bottom of his feet. His right hand is pressed to his belly, from behind it is

dark red. He is breathing heavily. He looks no older than twelve. “Mesha.” He says. “Ahhlah allluha.” In the corner of the shack is a rifle, proppled up near the broken glass of the window. Bill and I see it at the same time and nod. The boy speaks to us in his language. “What are we going to do?” I ask. “Nothing to do.” Bill says. “He’s going to bleed out. Leave him here.” I point at the rifle. “What about that?” I say. “That’s what he’ll get a hold of if he gets up.” Bill scratches his head. “I don’t want to make a lot of noise.” He says. “If we make a lot of noise, were going to have to clear everything all over again. Were probably not going to get to chill, and I want to chill, before what ever the fuck happens next happens.” I look at the face of the boy. There is an animal under there. Underneath the rapid breathing. I can smell it, smell the unwashed smell of flesh. With terrible deliberation, I reach for my knife. I unbuckle it from the front of my flak jacket. The blade of the Ka-bar is black and shark. Slowly, I bring it out. The boy sees what I am doing, and lifts a hand out to force me to stop. It is small to me, and delicately featured. He starts to crawl away against the tin shack, shuffling back and forth. He stops and lies there, his chest rising and falling underneath a thin robe. I turn the knife so the blade faces down in my hand. I thrust quickly, slamming into his back. He rocks from the impact. When I pull it out there is a wet popping

noise, and the blood is much brighter than I had imagined I aim for his neck, and slam again. He is writhing and my blade half misses. The red is everywhere, all over my hands and sopping at the bottom of my boots. Bill has attached his bayonet, and is sticking the boy in the side. I think of Christ on the cross as he thrusts. Could this one be the harbinger of some unknown origin? Unlikely. Any God of hope died in the last century. His is the new god, the god of blood and martyrdom seventy-two virgins or endless darkness. There is very little light in the room. I look up, out the doorway, and a cloud has passed across the face of the sun. Five “What took you so long?” Schueher asks. “Did you hold it for each other?” I grunt uncommittedly. Rielly stares at us for a moment. His eyes are green and piercing. “You’ve got blood on your boots, Mikey.” He says. “There was a dead animal out there.” I tell him. “A goat or something.” “Is that what was in the shack?” “Yes, sergeant.” “Wipe yourself off with a wetnap. You’ve got some of that shit on your flak jacket.” “Yes sergeant.” “While you were busy, the platoon was briefed on our new mission. Were setting up a perimeter and

digging in. Second Platoon will be here tomorrow. The whole company will be here in less than a week. Get your shit on, and lets go.” We ruck up and start to move out of the terminal. In front of the building the landscaping is surprisingly nice. Flowers bloom amid bushes. Evidence of a vacant civilization, the red blossoms. Beyond it all the ground is dusty rock, facing the mountains. Rielly places us all two at a time, out on a perimeter. There is a road in front of us, almost two hundred yards that I can make out. It curves to the right and runs into the airport. This would be a likely angle of attack. The Entrenching tool, like so much else in the Marines, was perfected in Vietnam. It is a black metal shovel that folds in on itself in three places. Unlike a regular shovel, it comes to a sharp point, with serrated edges. These can be used for cutting, or as weapon. Its use as a weapon in Nam is well documented. I bring it down sharply, and it meets the earth with a chink chink. The ground is hard and packed. I hack into it over and over. Striking again and again. Bill stands point, sighted in with his weapon, watching down the road. This will be our hole. This will be our home. The hole gradually widens to a shallow trench, after several hours. I take a break, and let Bill take over. He works as hard as I do. I wonder if all this could count as some sort of penance. All down the line the sound of Marines at work, digging a hole to live in, sounds off. Each of us taking small breaks, to spit tobacco or wipe of sweat. By nightfall, the hard earth is deep enough for us to squat in. During twilight we wait for an eventual attack, weapons at the ready. Here in the hole, everything smells like dirt and dirt is my

friend. I think back to my childhood. Reading Batman comics, and wishing that I was underground, that I had a cave. But the dirt here is not the brown loam of home. It is rock and dust. The colors change overhead, and the cooling in the air is instant and harsh. From deep red to blue. “How are we sleeping tonight?” I ask Bill. He spits. “Rielly said fifty percent. One of us up and one of us down.” “What kind of shifts should we do?” “I say three hours. Two isn’t enough to sleep on, and four is too long to stay awake. Three on, three off.” There are times afterward, when I wished that I had thought more carefully about decisions that I made in the blink of an eye. Sleep is important. You cannot function without it. The rest of my life, on a three hour sleep pattern. But there was no rest of my life then. There is only the now, and so I agree and Bill curls up in his sleeping bag. I take another dip of Schueher’s snuff, and think. And stare, from behind my M16. The green LCD of my atomic solar watch counts down until I crash, I wake and crash, And there is no time to dream. The next day is a repeat of the first day. We wake up and eat MRE’s, then start to dig. The deeper we get in the soil, the more often my E-tool hits large rocks and sparks fly. I am starting to enjoy the work, the rhythm of the thing. Strike, and draw back. Strike, and draw back. When the hole is filled with loose dirt, start to shovel. This is an act of creation. I am creating a space with absence.

“Mikey.” Schueher appears. “Get your shit and head over to the mortars. Your on a working party to dig them a hole. Bill too.” I wipe my face with my uniform top and grab my weapon and e-tool. Bill saunters next to me, hands in his pockets. “I will be glad.” He says “When that piece of shit leaves next year.” “I think he’s going to re-enlist.” I say. “So what? He’ll get another job. Some kind of good job, that we wont even think about. The command loves him. The point is, he’ll be gone, and we’ll probably both be Corporals, and we’ll probably have some other dumb boot to do these working parties.” “One more year closer.” I tell him. “One more year closer to getting out.” Bill grunts. “Were never getting out.” He says. “Both of us, were going to be stop lossed forever. Were going to be stuck in first platoon, India company, until peak oil hits and the revolution begins. Oh fuck. What is this shit?” The mortars appear to have chosen the spot for their pit in the densest pile of little trees possible. Half of them appear dead, or near dead, yet still upright. The branches have arranged themselves in ugly twists. There are four other Marines here, in their green skivvy shirts, hacking away at the mess with their E-tools. I prop my rifle up next to the others, and join them. There is a satisfying chop with every impact. In the air is sweat and the noise of exertion, and as always, Bill wants to talk. “You know what this is like, dude?” He says.

“Im pretty sure your going to tell me.” “This is like, with those guys. In warcraft three. The peons are whatever.” “Yes, me lord. More work?” A goofy looking private chimes in. I search my mental database for his name, and come up with Meier. “Right! Exactly. Thanks dude. That’s what it is though. This is building a base, and were the bottom of the food chain, the guys that actually do it. It’s a great experience. Once in a lifetime.” As usual, I cannot tell if Bill is being sincere or not. There is usually an undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice. Maybe I am simply too tired to judge things correctly. “I don’t really play strategy.” I tell him. “I’m more of a first person shooter guy.” “And that’s it.” He says. “That is why the Marines will always disappoint you.” “So far, its been pretty good.” “Because your scaling your expectations back.” “Hey, Chuck and Larry.” A lance corporal calls out. “Why don’t ya’ll shut the fuck up and work?” “Hey!” Says private Meier. “There’s some metal shit here!” A bell slaps me in the face. It feels like a wave of air and wood, and after I fall it sits in my ear and rings. I cannot breath. My breath is gone. There are spots of blood and dust on my hands. Bill is helping me stand back up. Under me is Heather, the rifle. Somehow I have managed to land on

my rifle. I grab it and stand up. I wobble back and forth for a minute. Something has torn a jagged path through the middle of the branches. Laying in the hole of dirt is Meier. A piece of green steel is sticking out of his calf. I can see pink meat and tendons inside. The lance corporal who wanted us to shut up is kneeling next to him and calling for a corpsman. He is bellowing it, and all I can hear is a whisper. I start to pat myself down. As I do it I am suddenly aware of my own place in the universe as meat. Not as pixels in a game, but as meat, breathing meat, here on earth. This is the lesson of the working party. People are running from farther down the line. Someone grabs me and asks if Im all right. I look back and see them surrounding Meier. Helping. Beware your actions, they become your character. My action is to walk away. What is my character? My character is not the hero. The hero is Rielly or Major Fight or Colonel Lynes. My character is not the villain. The villain is osama, the men in the castle, Schueher. My character is the peon. My character is the foot soldier. My character is the one who was simply there. “Hey, Mikey.” Rielly stops by my hole. “Be careful where your digging. One of the weapons guys just hit a land mine, his foots pretty bad off.” “Yes Sargeant.” “But keep digging. I want this at least waist deep, tonight.” “Roger that.” I grab my e-tool. I start to dig, trying

not to think as I do so. Bill comes over and starts to stomp around the rim of the fighting hole. He brings over a foot, up and down, stamp stamp. “What the fuck are you doing?” I ask. “Checking for land mines.” “Didn’t you see what the fuck just happened.” “Oh yeah. Perfection. That’s what happened. Did you see where it hit?” “His leg.” ‘Right. His leg. But below the knee. An injury like that, and the first thing they do, is, they put you on a plane and send you to Germany. Pump you full of some good shit. Demerol, which is pretty much morphine. Then they chop it off below the knee, which is like, the best amputation ever.” “How is that the best amputation ever?” I say. “How is any amputation the best amputation ever?” “Easy. One: Your non-deployable. Two: your physically disabled, so you can get a medical discharge. Three: although you physically disabled, they’re going to give you a prosthetic, that is good enough so you can do all the same shit that you were doing before.” “That’s three reasons.” I tell him. “For the best amputation ever, I would need four.” “Okay, heres four. How well do you know Meier?” “Okay, I guess. Not that great.” “Meier smokes weed. He popped on the piss test. After deployment, he was getting kicked the fuck out.

After this, hes damn near going to come out a hero.” “Unless they fuck him on the discharge.” “I don’t think they would do that shit.” “I don’t know. Maybe. Depends on which way they want to spin it.” I cease the talk and return to the dig. By nightfall it is indeed waist deep. Bill and I crawl inside, in our flaks and kevlars and pointing our rifles out, stare at nothing. Both of us are living on Schuehers formaldehagen now, spitting. in the hole and covering it up with more dirt. SIX That night, it begins to rain. I awake to the flood in my sleeping bag covered in water. The rain is fierce, hard thick drops. I was having a nightmare when they woke me. I was having a dream about the boy. Inside the hole the water is up to Bill’s knees. “Hey dude.” He greets me. “Its fucking raining.” “So it is.” “I was shivering my balls of in this cold shit. Just listening to you snore. You fucking snore loud, dude.” “So I do.” As I try to miserably drape my poncho halfway across my body Bill provides an unexpected comedy for me, trying to find a place to sleep. The dusty rock ground has transformed itself into muddy pools of water. Our packs are soaked through, next to the foxhole. Bill takes

out his bag, and looks around like Elmer Fudd looking for a wabbit. He gives an exaggerated shrug, and tosses the bag into the corner of the hole, where it lands with a plop. He crawls in fully clothed. The bag lays cockeyed, halfway in the hole, halfway out. As if a giant phallus had given up its quest to fuck the earth, and now hung limply spent. The boil of its semen Bill’s own helmeted head. And still the rain came down. A man can change his life by changing his attitude. And so there, sitting in the rain, my attitude changes, from watchfulness, to anger, to misery. What else is there to do? Stay awake. Stare at rain. Become rained upon. The misery of the field. The joke of it being, every time a Marine goes out into the field, it will rain. And here we are, in a desert. The definition of desert implying a lack of water. And it is raining. I check my watch, before realizing that its set to zulu time. Three-seventeen P.M. Three-seventeen P.M. in the night or in the morning. Water has seeped across every inch of my socks. I am trying to remember what I know about Meier. I did not know Almodovar but I knew Meier. Meier built a bong one day in the barracks out of an old rocket tube, a canteen cup, and a gas mask. It was a beautiful thing, worthy of the cover of High Times itself. You had to wear the gas mask to use it. I was there in the Barracks with his, coughing into the mask, giggling like a baby. He had a shaved head and red, swollen lips. After a fight he had a gap between his teeth where some missing chompers left him. After going AWOL one weekend, he had a large red iron cross tattooed on his

chest. “Not because Im a Nazi.” He told me. “Just because Im German.” No one believed him in the barracks. He got into more fights. The Mexican kid that punched out his teeth broke his nose. He was branded a fuck-up. Someone to avoid. His first name was Paul. He told me this, a week we were both working on the chow hall on the aircraft carrier. We were tossing kitchen waste overboard on international waters and smoking cigarettes out on the catwalk. The sea breeze was cool in the night and the sound of the ocean waves was relaxing and hypnotic. As he smoked I studied the glowing red ember of the flame between his lips. “I was named after this guy.” He said. “Paul Atriedes. From Dune. You ever read Dune? It’s a great book. Its about this desert planet. And this guy, this guy Paul, hes like a prince. So, his dad dies. Is murdered. And Paul, him and his mom, they flee into the desert. And they meet these sand people, who take them in. Because his mom is a witch and shit. And so, he takes over the galaxy and rides a giant sand-worm. And that’s what I want to do. That’s what I aspire towards.” He was gone now. Gone from the desert, from any potential sand worm riding destiny. I had never told him that I had read Dune. “Wake the fuck up, Mikey.” Schueher slaps my helmet. “Your standing the rest of this watch. Let Bill sleep.” I nod numbly. The rain splashes down sporadically, and slowly begins to change itself into mist. I wake up Bill. Dawn is coming, the colors of the sky are changing again. As the

light brightens to grey, I can see my hands. They are white and wrinkled and cracking. I cannot feel anything in my fingers. I remember what trench foot looks like. I did not know that it was possible to get trench hand. Bill yawns widely. “Shit, dude.” He says. “Why’d you let me sleep that long?” “Schueher caught me passed out.” ‘And he made you stay up.” ‘Sort of. Its not like I could sleep anyway. In this shit.” I stand up out of the hole, and feel the water slosh off of me. I am shivering from the cold. I strip off my clothes and replace them with another set from my pack. I feel reborn, alive again. Reborn underneath the water. Baptized. I heat up a meal in an MRE pouch and smoke a cigarette. When the water drains again I know it will be time to dig. That day I hear the rest of the Ospreys landing. India Company has arrived, and I look up from the foxhole to see the rest of the guys moving across the airport. Second and third platoon. They are spreading across the perimeter, to make a three-sixty around the airport. Buckey comes up to my hole. “Fuck, dude.” He says. “you guys look like shit.” “It rained last night.” I tell him. “How long have you guys been here?” “Three days. The first day we got shot at. Its been fucking crazy the whole time.” “I’ll bet.” Buckey whistles. He is a small person,

small and slight, with a fresh, young face. In the barracks, all I would ever talk about was World of Warcraft. “Wouldn’t it be crazy to play WoW out here?” He says. “I don’t know. Theres really no internet connection.” “I know, but still. To be able to have your IP address to say: Afghanistan. That’d be some real shit. I’m thinking about my next toon.” He continues. ‘I’m really leaning torward a Pally. And pretty much like we were talking about, Im going to roleplay like, a fantasy version of this whole experience. Just like, A pally invading the lands of darkness.” I envision the beating Buckets must have received growing up. I envision his friends, overweight virgins with a distinct lack of personal hygiene. “That’s cool, Buckets.” I tell him. “I think your on to something there.” A sergeant barks for Buckey in the distance. He waves goodbye and I continue to dig. Life passes in this order for the following week. All day long the sound of helicopters, Ospreys, and C-130’s can be heard landing and taking off from the airport My foxhole grows deeper and deeper, until at last it’s a deep trench that can be stood up in. There is a berm up front and around the sides built with sandbags. Over the top is a piece of tin, and scattered branches. There are seats built into the earth so I wont have to stand all night on watch. There are numerous other, secret patches: There is a grey discolored spot where I sometimes masturbate, that soaks with unused semen. There is a tear in the

sandbag where I put my cigarette butts during the day, and where I spit my dip at night. There is a rock one meter in front of me in no-mans-land that I stare at, that I give pause to when I can think of nothing else to fill my mind with. There is a spot in the sand that I sometimes smooth over with the batteries from my night vision goggles, a small spot, five inches wide, rolling them back and forth. When I wear the goggles at night there is a spot between the trees past the road that I am sure is moving. On the front of my M16 is a device called a Paq4, a laser that can only be seen while wearing Night Vision. This is not as cool as it sounds, the laser is wildly inaccurate. But when I wear it, I always focus on that spot. Between the trees that might be pine, if only they did not grow on Mars. Or Dune. Or planet Telex, or whatever this terrible not-earth is truly named. One morning after watch, I finally break down and ask. “Sargeant Reilly. How long are we going to be here?” He laughs. “Till its done.” He says. “Take your ass to the runway, they need a working party. Bill can dig today.” I walk back to the terminal building. Everywhere, there are Marines running around. There are con-ex trailer boxes near the flowers. There are humvees parked in the circle around the terminal arches. A bustle of activity. Grown from the will of America. Mercs walking around, in jeans and t shirts, with long haired mullets and AK-47s. Cory Hunter is with me. He has grown a handlebar mustache since coming here. His face and hands are stained with dirt and filth from days of nonstop

digging, as I imagine mine are. Around his neck and shoulder is slung his M249 SAW, a light machine gun. A warpig. He regards me with a nod. “Schueher loves to put you on this shit, huh?” “You’re here too.” I say. “After that DUI, McMillian holds me in similiar regard. You got to love our squad leaders. That’s okay though.” Cory shuffles into his cargo pocket and pulls out a small bottle of golden Listerine. They don’t get any mouthwash.” I take the bottle from his giant hand and unscrew the cap. The whiskey smell is strong. Jack Daniel’s, probably. I lift it in a slight toast and take a deep swig. I savor the burn on its way down, the warm glow enveloping me. “Did they tell you what were doing here?” Cory asks. “Just to go to the runway, for a working party.” ‘Probably getting boxes of MRE’s again. Im going to be the first to rat-fuck them, this time. Im tired of getting chicken tetrazinni. I want some motherfucking beef stew already.” Back at the runway is a group of fellow lance corporals and privates standing around. A merc. Is chomping on his cigar, eying us in careless disgust. From this side I can see the fruits of our rock-cleaning efforts. There are airplanes everywhere. In front of us is a C-130, its engine off. “Is this everyone?” The merc asks. No one responds. “Fucking jarheads. Alright, listen up. Get these guys off of the bird, park their asses on the runway, and

leave them there. Watch them until the spooks get back. Don’t talk to them, and don’t give them shit. Not a fucking thing. They-got-nothin-coming. Just remember, these are the same guys, who did that shit in New York. These are their friends. Everyone copacetic?” Nods and murmurs of ‘yes sir’. “Okay. Cmon.” The merc steps up to the ramp. “Get UP! UP!” Inside the back of the C-130, I get my first look at a detainee. They are sitting on their knees in the back of the plane, sixty to a hundred of them. Their hands are tied behind their back in flex-cuffs. A rope is tied around their waist, and run through the cuffs. Over their head is a sandbag, greenish black. Most of them are wearing the traditional haaji robe, brown or white. One or two of them is wearing jeans. From their bodies is the smell of unwashed flesh, and also urine. They sway back and forth slightly. When the man in front gets up, he pulls on the rope and the man behind him must also rise. “Forward!” The Merc grabs the ones in front, pulling him forward. “Move!” A few of the Marines are joining in, grabbing the detainees and shoving them forward, off the plane. They sway and speak in their own language, and then start to move as a mass. It is impossible to be moved by their wretchedness. The blind horde, moving in the direction that they are poked, and guided by foreign words. They jut off in a shuffle, moving in a square herd. Like a centipede hiding in a cardboard box, moving with a group of feet. “DOWN!” Yells the merc, grabbing a haaji and pushing him to his knees. All around me, Marines are

doing the same, stepping between the ropes. The merc finishes his work, and takes a swig from a water bottle. After finishing he wipes a bead of sweat off his forehead. “That’s it.” He says. “Hold ‘em here until I get back.” We stand around to every side of the detainees. They mutter to themselves and bob the sandbags up and down. Cory shifts forward to take some of the strain off his back, then sighs. “Do you think we can smoke back here?” I ask. “Probably not. But that guy was doing it, so I say go for it. And give me one too.” I fish my last pack of camel’s out of my pocket. After taking one I hand the pack to Cory. Cory points to the script. “You see this?” “see what?” “Right here, on the package. Its says smooth American blend.” “Yeah, so? Its made in America. RJ Reynolds.” ‘In America, it says smooth Turkish blend.” “No shit?” “No shit. Its all just fucking advertising, man. Whatever’s exotic in wherever you are.” We smoke and gaze at the prisoners. They murmur to us, smelling the smoke. Cory steps in close and blows a cloud into a sandbag. The detainee whips his head back and forth, then cowers. “What do you think these guys have done?” I ask. ‘Does it matter?” Cory says. “That’s not how it works, anyway.”

“Okay. How does it work?” “Spooks and mercs go out into villages. Say, we’ll give you money for Taliban. Give us Taliban. These guys, they sell whoever as a Taliban. Or, random guy’s found with a gun and a weapons, on a raid. He comes here, on a one way stop before Gitmo.” “That’s kind of fucked.” I say. “Fuck em. Its kind of whatever, to me.” Excuse me, old chap.” A sand bag says, in an English accent. Everyone suddenly stands still. The privates stop their laughing. Everyone puts out their smokes. The voice was unmistakable not-haaji. The voice was one of us. “Might I trouble you for a glass of water?” The detainee is wearing a grey suit without a tie. Instead of being barefoot he is wearing brown leather oxfords. Cory steps forward, between the trembling raghead. He loosens the knot on the sandbag, and pulls it off. Underneath the face is dark and brown, with a full black beard. Small square glasses, with cracked frames. “I’m rather thirsty.” The haaji says. No one can think of anything to say. Cory replaces the bag, and cinches it tight. As he walks away the detainee starts to yell. “Please! I..I would like a drink!” “Yeah, motherfucker?” A big black private replies.

“Well, I would like my towers back.” Fist bumps are exchanged laughter tittles the air, the ice having been properly broke. “I thought that was some white dude.” The private says. “Some English guy.” “He probably is English.” Cory says. “An English rag-head, getting ready to blow up big ben. Like in that movie? With the guy with the knives and that weird mask. With the prince valiant haircut and the mustache. You know, the guy from the Matrix.” “Hey!” The merc is back. “Is this fucker causing shit?” The merc strides up to a completely random detainee, and kicks him square in the chest. The haaji screams, and the merc kicks him again. “Don’t let these fuckers give you any shit.” The merc says. It’s the law. These guys have no rights.” The big private is the first one with a rock. He weighs it in the air, a large yellow stone. Tosses it once or twice, up and down. As if to take a measure of its heft. He cocks back, like a pitcher. I swear I can hear the wind whistle, when he follows through, and lets it fly. There is an audible pop, on impact. The sandbag ripples. The detainee under it screams, howling in his own language. “That was fuckin’ a, man.” The merc says. “Chuck another.” Cory bombs another rock into the mass. This time there is no sound, which invites more stones. I pick up a medium sized piece of rubble, and aim center mass,

chucking it. There is a stream of pebbles in the air. After nearly a minute, the merc waves us off. “That’s enough shit, guys.” He says. “We need most of these dudes to talk, later.” Cory is grinning from ear to ear. There are exchanges of fuck you’s, and that’s what Im talking about. We break off from the working party. On the way back we fill our water bladders from a large green tank. Back at the hole Bill is dozing slightly, his boonie cover pulled over his eyes. I wake him and tell him what happened. “That’s fucking real, dude.” He says. “I hate how all they use these days are these contractors. Those dudes are pulled down, like, six figures for one tour out here. And they can do what the fuck. No rules of engagement are whatever.” “He was right, though.” I say. “Wasn’t he?’ “About what?” “Those guys. Those guys really have no rights.” “Yeah. But fuck em. Is your liberal hippie heart breaking?” Bill points down the line of holes. “Go bleed out your vagina to our new Embedded reporter.” “An embedded reporter?” “Yeah. Guys name is John Sack. He says he knew Hunter S. Thompson.” “Hunter S. Thompson? Really?” The old man has a head full of white hair. Schueher is excitedly babbling away to him, spewing nonsense. I get up and head over. “I really had a desire to serve my country since

childhood. I think it was the way I was brought up. Of course I chose the marines. What other choice was there? I mean, really. The marines are america’s knights, America’s Spartans. They make all the movies about us. We have the best looking uniforms. When I first started my enlistment, I was sent to the Marine Barracks at Washington DC. We do all that drill you see. In the videos. You’ve never seen it? Were all in dress blues, marching around with rifles. Its tradition. I enlisted after nine-eleven. I was planning to enlist before. I really think you have to hold all this in perspective. America was attacked. We are Americans police force. We step up when no one else will. We answer the call. How long will we be staying here? I don’t know. I would stay as long as its needed. As long as its needed to get the job done. My politics? Im sworn to defend the United States, regardless of the leader. Personally, I can tell you that I am an independent. I will say that I thought President Bush did a damn fine job. Kept the country safe, for eight years. That’s the true test of a leader, in this day and age. The ability to keep his people safe. And to fight for freedom. Hobbies? I enjoy movies. I personally enjoy Full Metal Jacket, Heartbreak Ridge. My favorite performance of all time, is Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Now there was an excellent Marine. It broke my heart what they did to him in there. Im from Ohio, Cleveland. Ohio actually has the highest amount of individuals enlisting to serve our country than any other state. Do I have someone waiting

for me? Yes I do. Her names Meg. Heres a picture. Were very fond of each other. Go buckeyes. What’s Up, Mikey?” I stare down, into the foxhole. Scheuher has grown most his hair back on his head. You could say he looks handsome. John Sach looks to be an old, old man. He wears tan shorts, with black socks, and loafers. His pale thighs have impossibly blue veins criss crossing their way up to his groin. His nose appears to have grown for centuries, and to have grown furiously, bulbing outward with broken veins. He is a definition of absurdity, sitting in our fighting holes, with his little cassette recorder and scratch pad. “This is Mikey.” Scheuher says. “One of our problem children.” A laugh. “No. In all fairness, he’s a fine Marine. One of our top shooters. In fact, after deployment, he’s going to try out for the AScout/Sniper platoon. Isnt that right, Mikey? Mikey?” “Did you really know Hunter S. Thompson?’ I ask. “Hurramph.” The old man coughs. “Yes. I knew Hunter. He was a good- a good.” There is a pause for some more general hacking. “A good friend. His drug use, though, was tremendous.” “Who do you write for?” “Im writing an article for Esquire. I might turn it into a book, though. I haven’t decided. Its all a little unclear, at present. I have to see how much there is. How much story, story I can get.” “That’s enough, Mikey.” Scheuher’s voice grips a dangerous edge. “Go back to the hole. Keep digging. And

wake Bill’s ass up.” I walk the fifteen yards back to my hole and grab my E-tool. Instead of digging, I slump down next to Bill and stare at the floor of dirt. I am thinking about a super bowl advertisement. A bunch of People sitting around, watching football. Cheering. Cut to: A bunch of soldiers in the desert. Sitting around. Watching football. Cheering. Looking at the faces of the civilians, they look Hollywood fake. Too good looking. Too cheerful. Why did I not think the same of the soldiers? It was Schuehers fault, maybe. Schueher and the Schueher before him. Trying to sell a product. One Marine, fresh out of the box. Or jar. There is a crunching sound of footsteps coming near me. “Hello, there.” John Sack says. “Hello.” I reply. “Do you mind if I come in?” He asks. “Make yourself at home.” With a general grunting and groaning, many aaahaaaaghs, a creaking of his bones, Sack sits down in the foxhole. “Some place you’ve got here.” “Thanks. Were trying for that down-home touch.” “What do you think of your friend, Ryan Schueher?” “I think he was stringing you along a chain of shit. I think that’s what he does, mostly. The guy’s full of it.” Sack nods. “That is pretty much my impression, as well. I run into that problem, sometimes in these situations. Talk to the wrong man, the one that just

wants to give the company line. I ran into it a lot in Korea. Not so much in Vietnam, once things went to hell out there, the grunts were pretty up front with everything.” “You’ve been doing this a while?” Sack’s eyes grow misty. “Ive covered every war since the big one. I think that this, this will be the end of it, for me.” “Did you know Norman Mailer?” “I ran into him, once or twice, in New York. He had a problem with drink. Beat his wife.” “I read Naked and the Dead, when I was, you know, before. It’s a pretty good look at all this. All this mess.” “Are you aware that he was a cook? You’ve got a leg up on him, there. He wrote about war , and, in the army, he was just a cook.” “I guess your right. I thought about writing.” I take a deep breath. “I thought about writing something, about all this. But being here, I can see why most people just try to forget. Just try to bury it all down, and forget. “But its important, to remember.” John Sack is solemn. It’s important, to record, and to remember what has happened. To prevent others from making the same mistakes. “I don’t think there is any preventing. I think the same things just keep happening, over and over.” I take a deep breath, and then I tell him about the detainee and the rocks.

SEVEN Osama’s revenge is a powerful thing. It happens a week and a half in-country. The stomach pains. The diarrhea. Blowing out my ass countless MRE’s. It wouldn’t be so bad, if there were better conditions to shit in. There is a large bit, about a hundred yards from the foxhole line, behind the perimeter. At first it is filled with garbage and refuse. But then, A cushionless chair is disgarded near the edge. Someone tired of hiding their turds with an E-tool finds a natural use. Neccesity is the mother of invention. The pit is bombarded with feces. I hold out as long as I can. But one night, it finally hits me. And I find myself hanging out, over the pit, naked to the night sky. My turdlets splattering below Growing more and more intangible. Lacking in consistency. I think of falling into that hell-pit, and being forever swallowed by that void. The revenge continues, for nearly a week. Better shitters are built. Wooden shacks built in a line. Inside are tin drums filled with kerosene. A plywood cover atop, with a round hole cut out. My new throne. I humble myself atop its majesty, two or three times a day. In this fashion, I meet the natives. They have brown skin and wear what looks like pajamas to me. Their native dress. Some are barefoot, and some have well-worn rubber flip flops. All of them are fairly short. They reek of body odor. Their purpose is to burn my shit. They take the drums of shit and stir

them, with long branches. The shit sends up clouds of black smoke. One of them stirs, and one of them seems to watch the smoke. They smile at me, as I come out, from doing my business. All I can think of, is I want to go home. It is Christmas Eve. Today is the day we receive mail. There is a letter for Bill and A magazine for me. There is a package for both of us. “Look, dude.” I unwrap the Magazine. “I got my issue of X-Men. All the way out here. Isnt that cool?” “Who is that, Wolverine?” “Yeah, I think so.” ‘Read this, dude. Read what that fucking bitch says.” Billy, I think that this time has been coming for a while and that weve both been postponing it but I think that were good friends and we should stay friends but I think that there isn’t any point in continuing things the way they are the way we have been doing. The distance has really hurt the relationship and I thought I could deal with it but I guess im not strong enough I guess that’s my flaw and I will have to live with it. The way you acted back in September really hurt I don’t think Stan deserved to be treated that we he is just a friend I am allowed to have friends. If I have feelings I am allowed to they are my feelings I will not apologize for them. I think that its best if we get some time apart so please do not call for a while until things are sorted out. I care for you and wish the best for you.

Karen What should I write back?” He says. “I don’t know. Use the back of an MRE, for a postcard.” Bill starts to frantically scribble. “Okay. What about this:” Dear Bitch, You broke up with me on Christmas Eve, in a foxhole in Afghanistan. Go fuck youself, and burn in hell. Your Marine Boyfriend “I think that says it all, dude. I really think it does.” “You do? Thanks. I worked on it, for a while.” “Lets see whats in the Care package. Deer Soldjer: Thank u for serving or country. Her are sum stuf u wuld lik. Bobby “Is it from Texas?” “Why do you ask?” “Texas? Bobby? King of the Hill?” “I always hated that show. I’m glad it got canceled.” “Why? It was good.” “It was too boring, and just, too slice of life. Give

me family guy. Or aqua teen hunger force.” “Here’s the postmark. Its from New jersey.’ Inside the box is an assortment of deodorants, shaving cream, and socks. I immediatedly change my socks, for no reason. We divide up the razors and the shaving cream. I read the rest of the X-Men comic, and then give it to Bill, who passes it on to Schueher. In the issue Wolverine is fighting in desert storm, in desert camouflage. Every so once in a while Marvel Comics feels the need to update the characters, to make them relevant. Someday, references to Afghanistan will no longer be relevant, and will be relegated to past issues, along with references to Ronald Reagan, the cold war, Nixon, Vietnam. We want our heroes to exist alongside up. Here, today. And not in the past. That night the air is cold and Reilly and Schueher are sitting with me and Bill waiting for the sun to go down. Once again, its twilight. The deep blue black approaches. “Its Christmas.” Rielly says. “Anyone care?” “I don’t think they have Christmas here.” Bill says. “Its not a muslim holiday.” “The commandant’s supposed to walk the lines tonight. Along with the Sargeant Major of the Marine Corps.” “Isnt he the guy that doesn’t like Full Metal Jacket?’ “That was the old one. This one, he gave R. Lee Ermey an award.” An awkward silence. Night is here in its completion.

“I got broken up with, Sargeant.” Bill says. “On Christmas Eve.” “That’s pretty shitty.” Reilly says. “Mine left me back on the boot. We were together all throughout my days at force, and then, bam. I stayed with her ass throughout breast cancer. Ungrateful bitch.” “I stay single.” Schueher says. “Its better that way .” “What about that girl?” Bill says. “The short one, from Ohio?” ‘Turns out shes fifteen.” Schueher grins. “Only good for fucking.” “Your going to jail.” Rielly says. “Your going to hell.” Bill adds. “Regardless, it’s a pretty good time.” Rielly takes off his helmet and wipes his head. His hair is matted red and stuck to his brow. “Don’t get too down in the dumps, Mikey. Your probably not next on the chopping block.” “That’s right.” Schueher adds. “Black girls are very loyal. Just look at slavery.” “That’s fucked up, Ryan.” Bill says. “Mac. You cant call me Ryan in front of Wade.” “And you cant call me Wade in front of either of them. But, fuck it. Weve all been through some shit together. Lets be Wade and Ryan tonight.” “Fair enough. And Bill can be Bill and Mikey can be Mikey.”

“Mikey is Merrell. You know that.” “Mikey is Mikey. He stays that way.” “Hey, Sargeant?” Bill says. “I mean, Wade? Have you been through any shit like this, before?” “What do you mean, like this?” “What he’s trying to say.” Schueher says. “Did you ever kill anybody?” There air is soft and quiet. We are all speaking in faux-whispers. I envision a fantasy north pole, invading the air space north of us, getting shot down by a stinger missile. Quietly, Wade says. “There was this one time in Bosnia.” “Go ahead.” Schueher says. “I was with Force. Had been with them for three months. We were in this compound. A guy jumped out of a door. I put two rounds center mass. We left in a hurry. I have no idea what happened to him after that. But somehow…I kind of knew somehow. I kind of thought I knew. It didn’t feel like anything. I thought it would, but it didn’t.” “That’s something, man.” Scheuher says. “With us, I’m glad we got to see them. I mean, I’m glad we got to make sure.” “You might not feel that way.” Rielly says. “In a couple years.” “Its why I signed up.” Scheuher replies. “Its why were all here. The only reason anyone would ever join the infantry. To kill people. Nine- Eleven was the best thing that could possibly happen. Now we get to kill

people, and to go home heroes. Its incredible. It’s the new golden age.” There are moments in clarity gathered in life that do not come very often, if they come at all. Sometimes the closest we can come to these moments is while under the influence of some inebriant, pot or booze. At these times the world seems to aline itself on its axis and reveal its own dark heart. I seemed to experience it there, in the foxhole. There was my position, and there was Scheuhers, Bill’s and Rielly’s. We were not at odds in so much as we were all interrelated. The dust settled under my foot, beneath the tan suede of my desert boot. I had been kicking in a corner unconsciously, until I had managed to create a little shoe-hole. “I don’t think.” I said. “I don’t think, that’s why I joined.” “Money for college.” Bill reasoned. “I don’t think I really want to go to college.” I replied. “Everyone wants to go to college.” Schueher said. “Lots of whores and cheap booze. Lots of booze and cheap whores.” “I really think I did it.” I told him “Because I didn’t think I would be able to.” “But you did.” Rielly said. “And here you are.” “Its not what I thought it would be.” “Nothing ever is.” Rielly said. “You see this man?” Schueher says. “This man is god. This man has been a force reconnaissance Marine

and is god. You need to pattern yourself after him. Adapt your life to fit his.” ‘What do you want, Mikey?” Rielly asks. “What do you really want to do? Do you want to go home? Do you want to your old lady to push out some more kids, to get a house and a garage, and a nine-to-five? If you ever have that, do you think it could ever measure up to all this? Do you think you would ever forget about this?” “I don’t know, Sergeant.” I say. “I mean, Wade.” Rielly tells us all to stay awake, and leaves the hole. I take first watch, and Bill crawls into his sleeping bag and nods off. Schueher stays with me in the foxhole. He reaches into a grenade pouch and pulls out a package of cigarettes. “Look at this, Mikey.” He says. ‘What is it?” I ask. ‘I came up with a way to smoke without showing the light.” He brings out a plastic cigarette box, and puts the lit smoke through the bottom. The smell of the tobacco is in the air. Somehow it feels right and pure in the night. Somehow it feels American. “I’d let you have one.” He says. “But you’d fuck it up.” ‘Roger that, Corporal.” I respond. “Its okay, though.” He says. “I know why you joined.” “because I didn’t think I’d make it?” “No. That’s bullshit. It might be what you tell yourself, but its still bullshit.” “What is it, then.”

“You wanted power, same as me. You see this, Mikey?” Scheuher picks up his M16. There is an audible click. “The weapon is off safe.” He whispers. “My finger is on the trigger. Im pointing it at your head.” “Yes, Corporal. “ I respond. “I could do it, now. I could do it, and no one could stop me. I could say it was an accident.” “Yes, Corporal.” “This is power, Mikey. This is all power. This is what power is.” That night I am asleep in my bag, next to my rifle. Trying to dream of Turq. Something kicks me in the gut and I curse. “Didn’t see him there.” A voice says. It laughs and says. ‘When he wakes up, tell that Devildog who he just called a goddamn motherrfucker.” I sit up when they leave, trying to catch a glimpse of the commandant. He is wearing a hat and not a helmet. I think to myself that he must be allowed to do such things. Then I fall back to sleep. The next morning I am given time off and allowed to go to the Main terminal building. They have phones there, and I will be able to call Turqious. To hear Selah’s voice. As I walk back to the terminal, I see more growth than I had thought possible. There are tents everywhere, even right next to our now dirt filled shit hole. The Army is here, and the Air Force, I see several women walking around, laughing. Army women. Ugly as sin. My dick responds anyway. The terminal now has heat and electricity. A

generator roars in the backdrop. There is a line of Marines from the 26th MEU waiting to use the phones. I reach into my wallet and take out the phone card I bought on ship. I wonder what the quality of the call will be. On ship there was nearly a minute of delay. I want to talk to her. I try to get my thoughts in order as I wait. What to tell her. What not to talk about. What I will have time for. The Marine in front of me puts down his phone. It is my turn in line. I pick up the receiver and dial. It rings. And rings. And rings. Then it picks up, and I hear her. “Merrell?” “Hey Turq?” “Oh my god! Merrell! I thought you wouldn’t get to make a phone call! Are you okay?” “Im fine.” In my mind, my voice sounds overly dull. “Im okay. Im over here.” ‘I didn’t think you would be going over there. I thought you would be staying on the ship.” “They needed some more people on the ground. That’s why they sent us.” “Oh my god. Merry Christmas. I love you.” “I love you, too.” “How long can you talk.” ‘Ten minutes, maybe.”

“okay. Theres so much to tell you. Selah’s got teeth.” “She does?” “Yup. I found out when she bit me, and it hurt. I got a cat.” “You did?” “Hes your Christmas present. I call him Mr. Jenkins.” “That sounds great.” “You like it? I thought you wouldn’t like it. I thought you would be mad it wasn’t a dog or something.” “No, its fine. What kind of cat is it?” “I don’t know. A mutt. I guess cats can be mutts. Selah! Come say hi to daddy. Say, merry Christmas, daddy.” “Nooo…” “She doesn’t want to say it. The washer broke last week. It overflowed. The landlady didn’t want to fix it. I wished you where here.” “I wish I was, too. Bill’s girl dumped him.” “She did? The chick from florida?” “Yeah. She sent him a letter.” “And he got it out there? That’s so sad.” “Turq?” “Yes, baby.” “If you do it, don’t send a letter.” ‘Whats that?”

“You have two minutes left.” ‘Crap, the cards about to run out.” “Do you have another one?” “No. There’s a line. Ive got to go.” Oh no. My mer bear! I wubs ju! Don’t go!” “Ive got to, baby.” “Selah! Say hello, dammit! Say hello to Daddy! “Hewwo.” “Selah.” Daddy! Hewwo daddy! I luv gabba!” CLICK The phone cuts off, and I softly put the receiver down. I think about bearing. About being a Marine, and about being hard. I try not to think to much about her. About my daughter. I linger an extra moment in the terminal, with the warmth. I take out the picture again. Her curly brown ringlets. A lighter skinned version of my wife. Mixed. Mullato. What will her life be like? What will she think of this, someday? Will it register in her head at all? Will I give her what she needs, later on in life? Will I be a father to her? Or will I wander forever in this desert, in this land of dust and explosives? Its Christmas. Nowhere else in this country. But here, in this terminal, it is Christmas. Back at the hole John Sack is bundled up in a green parka, and chomping on what looks to be a cookie. “Did you get those out of a care package?” I ask him.

“Actually.” He says. “It’s a little package of coffee creamer, that’s been baked solid. The one that comes with the MRE’s. Your roommate showed me how to make it. Its actually pretty good.” “Did anyone show you how to make mac and cheese?” “No. Is that a new recipe?” “You take the butter noodles and the jalepeno cheese. As your warming up the butter noodles you put the cheese bag outside the warmer, but inside the box. That way, it get hot but you don’t have to get your hands wet to grab it. Mixed all together, its not bad. “That’s very clever.” “Thanks. Weve been eating these damn things all month.” “Did you get to call your family today?” “Yeah. My wife. I just got off the phone.” “You let her know its alright.” “Let me ask you something.” “Go ahead.” “Back in those other wars. In Vietnam and Korea and everything. Did a lot of guys get dumped? By like, their girls?” “Oh, sure. All the time. It even happened back in the big one, when I was in Normandy.” “Really? It happened in World War Two?’ “Sure it did. Not as much, because most of the men were fighting. But it would happen. Guys would get

dear john letters on the frontlines all the time. Especially in Vietnam. That was the worst, the men would get pretty messed up over it. It wasn’t popular to be a Marine in Vietnam.” “So, there isn’t nothing new.” “No. Your wife didn’t tell you anything, did she?” “No.” “Well. Thank god for that. Under the circumstances, that would be a very rough thing to do.” “Bill did, though. He got a letter yesterday.” “Oh. Jesus.” “He’s pretty messed up over it.” “I can imagine.” “They don’t really advertise that part, you know? In the recruiting. They show the dress blues, and the camouflage, but they don’t really show the part about your girl dumping you. In a war zone.” “No. I don’t think they would. Its not really something they want to get around.” “Put it in your book. If, you know, you write it.” “Its still an article now. But I think that might be interesting.” There is a history behind me, I think, on Christmas in that Foxhole. A history of men like me. Behind me. In front of me, brothers and sons wait to do what I do. To become one of us, one of the damned. No one can talk them out of it. They have minds full of glory, full of dreams. No one can tell them, that their minds are full of

falsehood. That they lust over lonely months of boredom and misery, and brief, spastic moments, of sheer terror. No one can tell them that. There is no way to put it. Everything is new and fresh. They await the world. Why didn’t I try to call my parents? My brother Jesse. Why didn’t I try to warn him, go to school, go to college, don’t become like me. How did Dylan put it? Join the Army if you fail. Join the Marines if you fail and you are desperate, desperate to somehow make something of your last name. There are days, here, on the line, when no one much speaks. Days spent simply doing, simply counting the time, and waiting, for watch to be over. Staring at nothing, and minding the darkness. EIGHT In January, the Army arrives. They are dressed neatly in brand new ACU’s and carrying gleaming black M4’s. They march in a neat line up to our holes An Army Sargeant points to us. “Specialist Neal! That way, troop!” A blob of dough answers “Hooah” and tramps through the dirt to our foxhole. It is a little past dawn, just light enough out for cigarettes, and Bill and I have lit one up. Specialist Neal pants, and drops his pack in a thud, sliding in between us. “So, guys.” He asks. “Whats it like being a jarhead?” “Sucks.” Bill says. “Whats it like being a soldier?”

“Also sucks.” There is a fine sheen of sweat on Specialist Neal’s brow that tells me he is unused to his gear. Unused to the weight of his pack and rifle. I look at it now, at the M4 so nice and smooth. “Why isn’t your weapon loaded?” I ask. “They didn’t ship any ammo with us. They didn’t even send the rifles with us, just put them on crates and offloaded them at the airport.” He rolls the rifle across in his lap. The barrel flags me down carelessly, and I push it away. “Its brand new.” He says. “Never been fired.” “That what the fuck” I ask “Are you guys going to do here?” Specialist Neal shrugs nervously. He rolls his lips and I hear a clicking sound from behind his teeth. I catch a glimpse of a silver ball. “Is that a tongue ring?” Bill asks. “Yeah. Sarge told me to get rid of it, but I told him, fuuuck that. Lots of guys have one in. Im just going to do my thing.” “Which unit are you with?” I ask. “Eighty-second airborne.” He answers. “Look at me.” His glimmering eyes meet mine and blink, moistly. “All of you. All of you are a bunch of complete fucking pussies.” “Okay.” “You are wasting my motherfucking time being here.”

‘Okay.” His lip is trembling visibly. For the piece de resistance, I rack my rifle, letting one brass round fly off into the air, grazing across the top of the foxhole, and raise the rifle deliberately, not quite at his head but not quite not. ‘Fuck off.” I whisper. Specialist Neal explodes int o motion I would not think him capable of. Grabbing his pack, he drops his rifle in a clatter and leaves it there. We hear him yelping off in the distance, “Sarge! Sarge!” Bill whistles a tune to himself and grabs the M4. Methodically, he breaks it down it tosses the pieces out into the no mans land in front of our foxhole. I start to laugh and he joins me. Soon tears are running down our faces. Rielly saunters by, grinning at us.” “Where’d that Army fatass go?” He asks. “I don’t know.” Bill shrugs. “I think he was spooked of something.” I offer. “You’ve got to play nice.” Rielly says. “These guys are going to get us off the line. “They don’t even have any fucking rounds.” I tell him. ‘Fuck them.” Reilly says. “Play nice.” “Hey, Sargeant?” I ask. “Where are we going?” After the line? “You’ll find out.” Hours later a new Army creature walks up to our foxhole. This one is thinner, and shorter looking.

“Hey, guys.” He says. “Specialist Gunter.” “Is Neal not coming back?” “Nope. You guys scared him off.” “That’s good.” Bill points in front of his sandbag “Maybe later he can get his weapon.” Gunter looks forward and spies the upper receiver of the M4. “Oh, shit!” He laughs, revealing teeth stained with tobacco dip. “Oh, man, that’s fucked up. Did you guys do that?” “Hey.” Bill shrugs. “He left his shit.” “Oh man. That’s crazy.” ‘Do you want to get it for him?” “No. Hell, no. Fuck that fucking fatass. Im sick of him. Always clicking that fucking tongue ring.” “Why don’t they take it from him?” “They do. He always gets it back.” “He doesn’t get his ass beat? He doesn’t get in any fucking trouble? “Not really. These days, I guess the Army doesn’t care.” “No shit.” “Hey, man.” I take out a smoke, and offer the pack. “No offense, but the Army sounds pretty weak.” “No, its cool. Hey, can I ask you guys for a favor?” “Yeah. Go ahead.” “Can I get a mag?” Bill looks wary. “What, like ammo?”

“Yeah. Just for tonight, or whatever. As long as I’m going to be in this hole.” I reach for an ammo pouch. Bill slowly shakes his head, back and forth. “Sorry dude.” Bill says. “A marine cant give away his gear.” “What, is that like, a jarhead rule?” “Maybe it is. Its not our fault, anyway.” Specialist Gunter looks hurt, and ducks his head. I see Corporal Angulo coming near my fighting hole. “Hey, Mikey.” “Corporal.” “Go find out whats wrong with your squad leader. Ask him why I’m doing his shift.” “Seriously.” “Seriously. Im not going to talk to his stupid ass. And I know you’re his little bitch.” There is a pup tent set twenty feet from the line. Inside I hear coughing. From behind the mesquito netting I see Schueher, looking slightly rougher than usual. “Mikey.” He says. “I had to put Angulo in charge. I wanted to put Bill in charge, and then you. But hes the Corporal. Rielly said I had to.” “Okay.” “Okay? Do you get it?” He melts his handsome features, his proud chin, into a look of concern. “I trust you, Mikey. That means something. I trust you, and I wanted to put you in charge. I wanted the other guys to

understand. I know their talking shit. I trust you. You’re a great Marine. Okay?” “Yes.” There is something in me that laps up the bullshit. All of it, as it comes forth from up his throat. There is something in me that craves his words. “Ive got the shits.” He says, closing the netting. “ Osama’s Revenge.” I deliver the news to Angulo, in my best professional monotone. “That’s what he told you?” He says. ‘Whatever, dude. I know hes your daddy and all, but that guys acting like a little bitch.” “Hes not my daddy.” I say. “I hate him.” I add, on an impulse. Angulo squats by my hole and scratches his head. His mustache is thin and scratchy, and his face is pockmarked by old acne scars. He looks so young, now. “I can see why.” He says. “He treats you like shit. I wouldn’t treat you like that, if you were in second squad.” There is a moment when….. There is a moment when….. There is a moment when she stopped becoming the novelty, to me, and she become my wife. Oh my soul, let me drink this down and be forever quenched.

Let me drown in the innocence, and the embrace, in the soft touch. Let me see past the labels. Before I was a Marine I was a man. Before I was American I was a man. Before I was born I was a thought and a voice that had to tell myself this is the world, to make sense to the confusion of it all. Before I was a name I was a man. Do you think that this makes up me? My skin tells you what sort of thing to expect? There is no set pattern, just a series of moves. Nothing makes us good or evil. Good actions exist. Evil actions exist. We perform evil, and it stains us. We become it. Let me perform good. Let me perform love, let me fill my wife with love in its fullness and thrust into her, let me hear her cries of love and let me spill the seed of life. Oh my soul, I was not made to be the sword, or the plowshare. I was made to be a man. There is a moment when……. There is a moment when……… There is a moment when the stain fills your heart. The realness of life is brought by the ending. It is made complete by the ending. To become the ending is to accept something that is to big for your own small self. To become that ending is to accept that you were the last page in a Story. The women knew not what the men did. The women knew not that prayer was wrong. The women knew not your anger, you knew not your anger, it was not truly yours, but a mask. A borrowed mask. You wished for this! It was not forced on you! You wished for this mask!

YOU! Wake The Uck “UP Mikey!” There are sounds of screeching and cracking around me. Above, I see the cheap fireworks display of mortar illumination rounds. Something smacks the sand bag in front of me. I see muzzle flashes, from across the no mans land, from across the woods. Again, I am at war. Bill fires one three round burst after another into the direction of the woods. A piece of driftwood splinters, from the crossfire. Scheuher is standing over our foxhole, upright and holding a beretta. In the open. He fires a round deliberately. Carefully. Over his head and all around the bullets scream. The crack in front of me. Sand kicks up in my face. Bill loads his 203 grenade launcher, and fires. There is thud in the no mans land and a puff of smoke, where it lands. Specialist Gunter is crouched behind the berm at the far end of our foxhole. Bill notices him and whips out his cell phone. There is a flash of a picture being taken. I notice Gunter’s eyes. The betrayal in them, directed at

us, at the Army, at his Sargeant, at everyone that put him here. Pouring out. Threatening to flood Oh my soul……….. Bill shakes my shoulder “Again, Mikey? Jesus.” The blackness is lifted from me. “How do you manage to sleep through this crap?” He laughs. The fire is dying down. The bullets are going in the air, in all directions. Sargeant Rielly is grabbing Schueher by his flak jacket. “What the FUCK was that!” “Nothing, Sargeant.” “Don’t you EVER pull some stupid shit like that again, motherfucker!” “Yes, Sargeant.” “FUCKING standing up! You can die Bitch! Your not this fucking action hero you pretend to be!” “Yes Sargeant.” “Ive been THERE motherfucker! Ive seen it happen!” The Army looks around, in confusion. Voices are yelling out, down the line, that they are not hurt, and how many bullets they have left. Another mortar pops overhead, and lights us all in the glow of a giant candle. NINE We are pulled off the line the next day. All of us are allowed to put up tents. The ground freezes, and in the mornings we burn trash for heat. This is a period of

relative comfort and luxury. During the day, Hunter passes around the Listerine bottles of whiskey he is getting in the mail, and I am getting drunk. Stories of home are exchanged. Stories of whats been done, whats left to be done. “Have you ever fucked a chick up the ass?” Hunter says. “Hell yes.” Bill answers. “I did that back when I was fourteen. Right after I lost my virginity.” Cory snorts. “I don’t believe you.” “Why not?” “Im sorry, but that’s not believable. Your story. If you were to say, yes, I was at some college party, and there was this coed, then I would have believed that. If you were to say, yes, there was this giant fat bitch at the country bar, I would have believed it.” “Whatever, dude.” “don’t get all butt hurt. Im just saying, you have to make the story believable if you want people to buy into it. Look, here, I’ll make an effort. What was her name?” “Karen.” “Karen what?” “Karen something.” “Well, that’s pretty much what I thought it would be.” “What the fuck’s that supposed to mean?” “Somehow, the girl you assfucked is mysteriously missing her last name. That’s not something you forget. I

assfucked Aubrey Debears, before my wife would let me do it. I wouldn’t forget the last name. Not ever. That’s not even the worst part.” “Oh? Well shit, motherfucker. What in your CSI Oklahoma judgement is the worst part?” “The worst part is, Karen is the name of your latest ex girlfriend.” Bill turns away, and flips off Cory. Stomping back to the trash fire. “Mikey!” Cory calls out. “You ever assfuck anyone?” “No.” I say. “You should. It’s a life experience.” I am cleaning my rifle absent mindedly, and thinking in the back of my mind about sending a letter back home to Turqious. I am thinking about how best to articulate my thoughts. Not in this moment in time, but in another, happier one. It is proving to be to much for me. Things are clearing in my mind. Things are opening themselves up. It is cold in January. Clear crisp cold, with frost on the ground. Rielly inspects the weapon, and nods. In the distance, I see Schueher talking to the Colonel. He raises his right hand. There is a tremendous explosion. Everyone gets up to look. The explosion has raised a giant mushroom cloud in the no-mans-land, a giant ball of dust that borders on the mini nuclear fire. The psychic shock, felt throughout the masses. Television and movies unite.

“What was that?” I ask. “That.” Rielly tells me. “Is Schuehers reenlistment bonus.” “That’s what?” “His reenlistment bonus. That’s what he wanted. For reenlisting.” “An explosion.” “Yep.” Schueher smiles, a large, good natured grin, and a combat photographer snaps the picture. Bill lights another cigarette and rubs his hands by the fire. Rielly shakes Scheuhers hand, then gathers the platoon team leaders around his tent. After he is done talking, Scheuher comes by. “Mikey. Your shit ready to go?” “Yes Corporal.” “It’ll be yes Sargeant soon enough. You like the fireworks?” “Sure.” “The word has come down. Were leaving the embassy. Pack all your shit, were moving up north.” “What for?” “Missions. Were running missions, in the mountains.” Bill tosses a plastic bottle into the fire. “Missions.” He repeats to himself, slowly. “The army’s here. And I’m all missioned out.”

“It might be cool.” I say. “it might. But it wont be.” The USMC LAV-25 is a light armored vehicle that looks more or less like a tank with eight wheels. More than that, it reminds me of tiger force. Tiger force was a line of GI Joe vehicles like the LAV. Somehow, you can fit way more of us in the LAV that you can fit action figures in the tiger force. We climb aboard the LAV. When the hatch in back shuts, the inside fills up with diesel smoke. The ride is rough, and seemingly slow. I see Cory go to sleep. There is very little light inside. What little there is shines in through the thin cracks, and illuminates slivers of dust. The ride is slow. The ride is long. It is warm in a good way aboard. I think of things left behind. My hole is going to be bulldozed. The army is going to dig trenches. If they do anything at all. Ocasionally a rock will bounce across the sides of the LAV, the gun turret atop will jostle and squeak with the noise of rusted gears. Ocasionally Rielly will tap his headset, connected to the driver, and mouth words drowned out by the roar of the engine. I think how much we must stink, the lot of us, crammed into these tight quarters and unwashed for months. I fought sleep. It tried to swarm over me, in soft waves. It tried to engulf me in its folds. It turned the world hazy and made lights swim in front of my eyes. I fought it still. Hours passed. When the LAV convoy finally stopped, it was cold, colder than I remembered being in

Khandahar. We stood in front of a giant hill. The land rose up and down, in front of us. We were in the mountains. White Toyota pickup trucks pulled up to us. The ragheads got out of the trucks. They were mostly dressed in what looked like cast off remnants of ourselves, old green flak jackets, green Kevlar helmets, and AK-47’s. Most of them wore loose beards, or heavy mustaches. They stank of cheap cologne and body odor. They were a rag tag bunch, ten to a truck, three trucks, so thirty of them. They seemed to act in an effeminate manner. In a way completely unlike ourselves. They carried their weapons loosely, and the air soon filled with a stream of gibberish. “What is that?” I asked. “That’s the guys were going to be training, Mikey.” Scheuher said. “That’s the haaji Marines.” “Afghanistan has Marines?” “Marines. Soldiers. Militia. Guys with guns. Does it really matter what you call them?” “No. I guess not.” The bad joke continued that day. The raghead Marines were split into squads and ran through basic tactics. There were many barriers to this. The language barrier being the first one. After that, there was the fact that they were simply undisciplined. There was a distinct lack of pride in their actions. A distinct breakdown in the reason for being. They tried to shoot their weapons from the hip. They could not grasp the concept of cover. We ran a live fire exercise, and one

of them was nearly shot. A fistfight broke out, between the two of them. Others joined in. We watched it from a distance and saw the fat, bearded sergeant, jumping around, trying to stop it. “These guys are going to die.” Cory offered. “There either going to run away or their going to die.” Rielly shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Orders are we have to take them with us.” “For what?” I asked. “What are we going to do?” “There’s villages to the east. The taliban’s been using them to train. Were going in there, to flush them out.” “With these guys?” “With these guys.” The fight breaks up. I see the afghanis laughing, and smiling. Some of them are holding hands. Before breaking camp MRE’s are passed out, for us and the ragheads. The meals are a great novelty among them. There is much discussion flowing. A thin haaji makes his way over to the group of me, Cory, and Bill. “Hello.” He says, with a thick accent. “May I sit?” “Sure.” Bill says. “This is good food. Very good.” “You speak English?” “Yes. I speak four languages. Farsi, Pashtun, English. Arabic.” ‘Where did you learn, four languages?”

“At the university. My name is Said. Salaam alakum.” “Oh. Okay. Hi, Said.” “Hello. And now, you say, Alakum Salaam.” “Alaykum Salaam.” “it means, peace be with you, and when I say it back, it means, with you as well.” “That’s cool. I mean, good. That’s good.” “I have friends, who would like to meet you.” Three other haaji’s bumble around. “J’mal.” A handsome, tall raghead. “Omar.” A small man, with dark skin. “Hussien.” “Is he related?” The fat, round Afghani soldier belches and rolls his eyes. “No.” says Said. “He is not related. But he is drunk.” Hussien puts his head into his arms, and farts. There is a stream of muttered Arabic. “I am sorry.” Said continues. “I should not have said that.” The haaji soldiers bring out flatbread from the back of their trucks. We eat it with MRE’s. Cory brings out his Listerine bottle. Hussien sniffs it and smiles widely. We all drink with the haajis. Omar smiles widely at Bill. He murmers something into Said’s ear. “My friend, Omar.” Said says. “He likes you.” “He likes me?” Bill says. I leek you.” Omar says. “Do you have, in your Marines, man to man jiggy-

jig?” “What?” “How you say it= jiggy jig? Luhv?” Omar smiles broadly. His hand brushes Bill’s. Bill jerks away. “I don’t jiggy jig that way.” “Wet luv? Dry Luv?” “No. In my country-“ Bill makes hand gestures, “In my country, we, I mean, I, I only jiggy jig with women.” “You should try Corporal Swain.” Cory jumps in. “In second squad. He jiggy jigs like that.” “Women only?” Omar says. There is another stream of Arabic between them. He is holding J’mals hand now, and both of them are smiling. The night swirls down, into a stream of the little whiskey Cory has left. I have the first hour of watch. I sit and watch the valley ahead of us, the mountain we will soon cross. There is a grunting noise, and vague moaning. Behind the white Toyota pickup, I can see Hussein fucking Omar in the ass. The is a look of pleasure on his face, like my mother would have, at church on easter Sunday. TEN The nightmare consumes me. I am seeing the face of the boy in the hut. His lips are moving and a secret word is coming out. I know that word but I cannot remember it. I see the burqa women next. Their bodies are torn and riddled from my bullets They move silently, swaying. Rocking back and forth behind their blue

nothingness. At the last, I see Almodovar. He stands in front of the women and the boy. He looks the same as he always has, and he is wearing the uniform I realize he will always wear. I try to speak to him but he puts his hand to his lips, to stop me. We are standing in front of the ancient castle. The sky is turning a strange dark blue. The sun is very big and very red. In my heart I know, that this is the end of the world. In the morning the ground is freezing. We are not allowed to build a fire. Instead we huddle around the LAV’s, hoping the engines will warm us. The diesel fumes are friendly. “Did you have a bad dream last night, Mikey?” Bill asks. “Yeah.” I say. “I did. How did you know?” “You woke up funny. You were like, sound asleep, and then, Bam! You sat bolt upright, and looked around all crazy. Like you were trying to find something. At first I thought Scheuher was fucking with you again. Taking your rifle in your sleep or something.” “No.” I say. “I’ve got that right here.” “Its probably the malaria pill, then. You shouldn’t take that shit.” ‘I don’t want Malaria.” “You probably wont get it. And then you wont have those fucking nighmares.” “Yeah. I guess so.” The ground around the village is uneven and rocky. The mountain is everywhere, surrounding us and

swallowing us. My fingers are numb. I flex them, to get the blood flowing. There are trees here. These are not the trees of home. They jut out from the rocks and the sand, a forest growing from a mountain. I think of a bible picture book I once had. This is what the pictures were like. The land seems biblical, indeed. The village itself seems to be grown out of the rock. I am reminded of going home with Turqious, and seeing houses on sunset boulevard. Houses that jut from the side of hills. This is like that, but the hills are mountains, and the houses are made from mud and stone. From a distance they seem to simply be formed out of the existing mountain they were built on, a seamless blend of tan and tan. We are forced to leave the LAV’s due to the terrain, and hike up into the mountains on foot. We march in neat formation. Behind us, the Afghani soldiers straggle behind. On the balcony I see men in beards and pajamas staring at us. No one smiles, no one asks for food. No children come out to see. Everything is shut, and the militia is staring. There is a burst of AK-47 fire. One of the haaji soldiers is firing into the mountains. “Taliban!” He says. “Shoot! Taliban. Shoot!” I collapse into the rocks, into the prone. Next to me M-16’s and SAW’s are singing their song, the pop pop pop of battle. I look for shapes in the trees. There is a small burst of light, far off, way up in the mountain. I squeeze of a burst in the general direction. “CEASE FIRE!” Rielly yells. “cease fire.”

The rest of us stop firing. The haaji’s continue. Rielly throws a rock at the haaji sergeant. He looks startled, and then starts yelling and shoving them around. They stop firing, slowly, the sound of it dying off. “Did anyone see anything?” Reilly asks. “It was one of the haaji’s, Sergeant.” Cory says. “Were not doing that again. That’s a good way to waste ammo. Only fire if you hear a 16 or SAW, or if you see something. We cant have that bullshit.” We walk through the valley, down the center of the dirt road in the middle of the village. Everyone is tense, and looking carefully. There is no one out and around. A lone shepherd tends a flock of goats outside the strip of huts that makes up the village market. He turns back and looks at me. He is young, not older than twelve. An ugly scar dots his cheek. When he turns back, I notice that his arm end in a stump. The skin of it is yellower than his natural tan. A trick of the light, or of scar tissue. I walk around behind one stall. There is a pile of automatic rifles, underneath a thin blanket. In the next one, there is a stack of RPG’s. “Hey, Sargeant.” I say. “Look at this.” Schueher comes over, and whistles. “Hey, Wade. I think we found the Taliban.” Rielly’s face goes a shade pale. He signals for us to take position. After that, we search the stalls. There are weapons everywhere. Explosives everywhere. It is an open air market for merchants of death. From behind us, there is an explosion. Hussien the haaji soldier is lying in a pool of blood. His intestines are blazing a trail behind him, into the

cloud of dust. The other haajis are circling around him, yelling gibberish. Doc Buckley runs back, and starts to work. “Think he’ll make it?” I ask Bill. He shakes his head. ‘Theres no medevac for haajis. The guys gone.” There is a ritual here to the ending of a life. The corpsman does what he can. The IV and the turniqiut are his stations of the cross. After a certain point, he gives up. He surrenders to the enemy. And the haajis grieve loudly. We make our way back to where the haaji’s have parked their white Toyota pickup trucks. The trip is long, longer than I remember it taking to get there. On the way back someone fires a rifle sporadically. We take cover after every incident, and point our weapons outward. The haajis shout and scream and fire randomly into the sky. As if the land itself was the source of their frustration. As if the sand itself could swallow their pain, swallow their bodies, and spit out wads of hot anger made of lead at the ceiling. When we arrive They place the body of Hussien underneath wool blankets. One of them gets on the truck. The raghead sergeant yells at him, but he shakes his head. Then another joins him. There is an eviction taking place in front of us. The sergeant takes off his beret and throws it on the ground. Then he goes over to Sergeant Rielly and Lt. Easter. He appears to be offering a sort of apology. The trucks load up and the driver steps on the gas. I see Said, with a nervous sort of smile. He waves at me goodby.

We hike up into a cliff overlooking the village. Rielly gets on the radio and talks with command, back at Khandahar. We wait in the hasty three-sixty. We wait until we hear the noise of the helicopter. The Cobra attack helicopter is louder than the Osprey. It comes in with a loud WHOP WHOP WHOP, cutting low across the valley. It is a grey backed beast, strange enough in itself to be an action figure accessory. Nothing real like it could exist in the ordinary world, in the civilian world. There is a rattle of chain guns. There is a flare of rockets. The rockets shoot plumes of flame from the back end of the launcher on the Osprey before whizzing away with a trail of smoke. Across the mountainside, huts explode. Ancient dust flares. Schueher grabs the back of my flak jacket. “Were clearing out the Market.” He says. “Anyone with a weapons cache is Taliban. Tag em and bag em.” The Cobra makes another pass. The chain gun roars again, howling its fury. We scramble quickly, down the side of the mountain. Into the village. The rocks slip loose. Jimmy Drawdy takes a tumble, nosediving into a bush. There is fire coming from the village now. The crack of the AK, the hiss of the RPG. We fire back. The LAV manages to make its way up to the clearing, and points its main gun in the direction of the enemy. A building seemingly caves in. All around me I can hear the whizzing and cracking of the bullets. My mind is very much tuned in. Everything is more real now than is possible. In the village I see a goat, lying in the middle of the street. Dead or dying. For one solitary, horrible minute,

my sense of smell comes back, and I can smell how much the thing stinks. I can smell the deep reek of it. We stack up on a door. I mule kick it open, and we charge in, weapons out front. Inside a man with a long grey beard is holding a baby. The baby is naked, and wrapped in a red rag. It is moving slightly but it is not crying. The old man backs up before the muzzles of our weapons. He does not speak. A blue burqa woman sits motionless. In the next room. The floor is made of dirt. There is little light in the rooms, without our flashlights, and the odor of human beings is very strong. There is a solitary AK- 47 propped next to a window. Bill kicks it over. Back in the next room the old man is kneeling now. We come back out to the main street. There is a sandbagged Haaji escorted out. Behind him, a woman in a burqa is screaming. She reaches for him. Cory shoves her back, and she falls to the floor, crying. I walk into his hut. There is a huge pile of weapons there, AK’s and RPG’s, but also an M-16, and what I think is a stinger missile. The translator is talking to the woman, who is crying and raising her hands over her head. “She says he did not want to do it.” The translator tells Rielly. “She says the Taliban came at night, and made her do it. She says that if they did not do it, the Taliban would kill them.” “Tell her we don’t believe her.” Reilly says. “Or that we don’t care. We already had one guy die today, because of this shit. Tell her that he’s coming with us.” The translator speaks and the woman holds her head in her hands and wails. Two children come out of the hut, and sit on their knees beside her.

Most of the huts are empty. The helicopter’s arrive, gleaming Army Blackhawks, and take the prisoners. The newly minted detainees, fresh for Gitmo. They drop off Explosives Ordinance Disposal Marines, who dig a pit for all the weapons, and explode it. We head back to the LAV’s and break out MRE’s, and eat. I swallow mine cold. I am tired and hungrier than I thought I could be. Scheuher passes me a cigarette after I finish. The nicotine is a palate cleanser, good and pure in the wake of what we have been through. I think of the baby. I think of the goat, and the boy who was herding it. I think of Said, with his strange sad smile I try to move my thoughts over to Turqiouse. The effort appears useless. America is so far away. I try to think about Angela Garrison, on the ship. Even the USS Bataan is a hopeless distance. I am lost, really and truly lost. Rielly comes over to where I am eating. “That was good work today, Mikey.” He says. “You and Bill both. Neither of you guys hesitated.” “I guess, sergeant.” I say. “Its pretty shitty.” ‘What is?” “All of this. The kids, I guess. Especially the kids.” Rielly squints into the sun. “Its always shitty when the kids get fucked up.” He says. “You’ve just got to think, that’s war. If their daddies weren’t the bad guys, none of this would be happening.” “You know their going to put it on Al-Jazeera, though.” I say. “You know the first thing their going to say is, Marines attack village, kill babies. I mean, that’s a given.”

“Fuck Al-Jazeera.” Rielly says. “You cant think about that, anyway. You have to stay in the moment. I wanted to tell you something, Mikey.” “Whats that?” “I think you should try out for Recon.” “Recon?” ‘Theres an indoc when we get to Malta. After all this shit is over with. I talked with the Staff Sargeant NCOIC, I guy I used to run with in force. You should do it.” “I should.” “Yeah. Your tough, Mikey. You’ve got a lot of heart. That’s what it takes. You don’t want to stay here all your life. Here is battalion infantry. That shits for the birds.” “Okay.” “Okay. That’s a yes, right.” ‘Yes, sergeant. I mean, I’ll think about it.” “You do that, then.” Reilly grins. “Fucking nerd.” The night is calm on the mountain. We watch the valley in shifts this time, at fifty percent. This is a moment I am starting to equate with this country, with Afghanistan. The calm not dark before night comes, the moment when I sit behind my rifle and I star into nothing and I think of all that I have done. ELEVEN I wake up in the middle of the night and it is snowing on the side of the mountain. Next to me, Bill is

snoring peacefully. The snow falls down in large round droplets. Flakes big enough for you to see the pattern of their crystals inside, fully formed. I shake his bag back and forth. He murmers an obscenity, a quick “Fuck you”, and blinks in the face of all the snow. “Its snowing.” I say. Around me the world is painted a simple shade of white. The snow sticks to the trees in the valley, to the dust on the rocks. A lone Hummer trails along the road up into the Valley, its tan armor a stark contrast on the fields of white. John Sack jumps out, his large head bumbling inside a green Kevlar helmet. An old flak jacket is wrapped around his frame. He still is wearing those tan cargo shorts, and his thighs are pasty white. “Oh.” Rielly groans. “God.” Sack is fumbling his way up the cliff to us. He looks unsure of himself, and unsure of his uncertainty. As if he were undertaking a task that was once simplicity itself. The snow makes the rocks even more slippery. He staggers once every three or four steps. “Hello, Wade. Huuagh.” “Did you talk to the Colonel?” Wade asks. “I did. I reassured him that I could keep up. Ive been doing this a long time.” “I realize that.” Wade takes off his helmet, and scratches his head. “There’s not a lot of time for us to slow down out here.” “I. Oh. Huaagh.” John Sack spits a stream of mucus. It is a dark yellow near orange of unhealthy

urine. The snot is thick and long. It takes a minute for him to compose himself. “I’ll be fine.” Sergeant Rielly nods. We turn back to camp. I see me breath rising in a puff of steam. The cold is starting to possess me, starting to creep into my flesh. I am out of MRE’s. I am starting to feel sick, a sort of numbing sickness, that sees itself as a weakness flushing out my veins. “Saddle up.” Rielly gives the command. “Were going back to the village.” We move down the cliff into the village. It is even more empty than it was before. In small pits, people are burning wood and trash, and huddling around it for warmth. We walk around, observing everything. John Sack takes his pictures, and scribbles in his book. A man comes up to the translator and babbles excitedly. They chat on and off. I sway forward, taking the weight off my shoulders. “He says the Taliban came last night. He says they went into the mountains, into the caves. He says he will show you.” “Tell him thank you.” Rielly says. “And lets go.” I am changing movies now, changing from black hawk down to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The caves jut out from the rock in large black shadows. The snow caps everything off in perfect stillness. I switch on my surefire flashlight, and sweep right and left throughout the caves. There is a feeling in the back of my mind, that I am seeing something that no one has seen before. That I am part of a vast secret, an old secret

thing. I think about what planning must have happened back here. I think about all we have gone through, and all we have done. There are boxes and things lying around. Everywhere, there is evidence that something was in here. There air is cold, very cold, and I feel the rock must be even colder. The air smells like my grandparents basement, musty and old. I look around, and see I must be by myself. The path ahead of me is growing narrower. Inside there is a power line running up the ceiling. A bare extension cord, dangling loosely There is a large pile of wooden crates on the right wall. I pry one open with my Ka-bar knife. It is filled with mortars, gleaming metal mortars, brand new, with undented fins. Someone is calling my name. I suddenly realize how far down the caves I actually am, and start to retreat back to the opening. I follow the dim light, back to the platoon. “Mikey!” Schueher is yelling. “Why the fuck did you go so far!” “I found some mortars.” I say. “Theres a lot of shit back here. Wade’s calling in to the battalion. The Colonel’s probably going to send Force Recon over here, to deal with this shit.” ‘Force Recon? I thought this was ours.” “Politics, Mikey. Its all politics. Force is going to clear the caves, then the Army is going to come build a fire base near the village.” “So that’s it? We just leave?” “That’s what it’s all about. We’re the tip of the spear. That means we get to be first. It doesn’t mean we

get to be the only ones.” ‘Roger that.” “And don’t fucking run off again.” We wait by the opening of the cave. A Blackhawk gleams in over the mountains. An angry hummingbird over a field of snow. A fast rope lowers. The operators spiral down. There are ten of them, with thick beards and black caps. Rielly talks with one for a while. They give a thumbs up and head into the caves. We make our way back to the village. The people have come out now. A child waves at we. They are cautious towards us, unsure of what we are doing. I see the shepherd, and toss his some candy from my MRE. We march up the cliff to the far side of the village, back to our camp. “Im fucking hungry.” Cory says. “We didn’t eat this morning.” Bill adds. ‘Schueher says the battalion forgot to supply us with MRE’s.” “How do you forget that?” John Sack asks. “Isnt that one of the rules of war? An army marches on its stomach.” “I guess they figured since were not Army, we can march on fucking nothing.” A lone goat wanders up the side of the mountain. It stops to lick up snow its fur is an ugly grey. It reminds me of a diseased cat that used to eat out of the garbage, back home. I wonder about that garbage, If any fast food was thrown out in it. A double quarter pounder, from

Mcdonalds. That would be good. “Mikey. Let me see your rifle.” “What for, dude?” “I’m going to shoot that fucking goat.” I hand over the 16. Cory drops into the sitting position, and aims in. there is a familiar clap of thunder. The three familiar sounds on the M16. The goat lets out a shriek, then falls over. Cory makes his way carefully over across the snow. He drags the deer back by its horns. “Ever field strip a deer, Mikey?” Cory asks. “No. Cant say I have.” “Huh. Watch this shit.” Cory moves quickly and guts the goat, making determined cuts. Removing its skin and intestines. The blood is thick and red, and the goats eyes are large black pools. We start a fire, gathering sticks and trash. We cut long sticks, and roast the flesh slowly over the embers. When I taste it, I find that the goat meat is stringy and flavorless. “Do you think the Taliban were in those caves?” John Sack asks. “Probably.” Bill answers. “It doesn’t matter anyway.” “Why not?” “Were going to be stuck out here one way or another. It doesn’t matter if they were ever in those caves.” “Wouldn’t it be more exciting to meet them?”

“What?” “Huuagh.” “I don’t get it.” “What I mean to say. Is that if you met the Taliban, in the caves, it would be exciting. And I could write about it. In my article.” “In your article.” “Huuagh. Yes.” “Why cant you write about this? Isnt this exciting enough.” John Sack’s eyes betray him. The vulture in him betrays him. He looks around our goat fire, and find no pity in us, no love of sensationalism to be found. He clears his throat again, then shivers, a deep old man shiver. When I am old, I want to be at home, in my house, with a bed and warm food. If I ever get out of here, I will go home, to that house, after the Marines. I will get a job that I can make a career. I will love my wife and daughter. And I will pray that I never have a son, a son who might one day crave adventure, and travel, and glory. A son that might one day find himself here. John Sack leaves us, then. In the village the call to prayer sounds. The wailing commences. I look across the mountains. I realize they remind me of something other than Indiana Jones. They remind me of an Old Lovecraft story, In the Mountains of Madness, about the great old ones, evil beings who lives behind a vast mountains range. A nameless evil. A faceless evil. Something that was rarely seen. Something that was more often felt.

I hear the whistling in the air. I look at Cory to see if he is making the noise. His face is tucked deep into his scarf against the wind. He is shivering slightly. Next to us, I hear a deep thud. A puff of dust and snow rises. There is more whistling. In front of me, the ground explodes. “MORTARS!” Someone yells. “INCOMING!” Around us, the ground is lifting up. The air is thick with whistles. A SAW is howling its machine gun sound, blaring its noise Cory is shooting into the valley, at the village, while all around death is raining down on us. Rielly is yelling into the radio. I scramble down the mountain. My foot slips and I fall, head over feet. Above me another mortar explodes. The barrel of my rifle is dragging in the dirt. I suddenly realize I do not care, and where is my helmet, I need my helmet. I need something on my head. I need something else between me and the death. More whistling. The face of the boy. The faces of the women. The rocks and the prisoners. The Cobra is back, chaingun firing hard. Its rockets evaporate huts on the mountain. It turns again towards the caves, and the caves too are bathed in fire. There is cheering from our camp. I stagger back up the mountain. I feel the snow on my bare palms. It has a wet sting to it that leaves a bright red mark. When I reach the top, everything is a scene of confusion. Doc Buckley is working frantically on Rielly. Lieutenant Easter is yelling on the radio. I can see a piece of grey metal, sticking into Rielly’s scalp, just

below his high and tight. His light blue eyes are open, and staring into a different world. TWELVE Back at Khandahar a ceremony is held in the terminal. The Colonel makes a speech in which he calls us all “We happy few” and “We band of brothers” no less then three times. I would feel better if I thought he was quoting Shakespeare. Instead I know that he has been watching HBO in the terminal. Sitting on his fat ass and watching HBO, while we have been in the mountains. Colonel Lynes is a wide, pear shaped man, with a comb-over. He gets excited when he speaks, and waves his arms about in wide circles, as if to include all of us in his excitement. We stand at parade rest in front of him, arms tucked behind us. He calls Wade “Wades”. After it is finished, he turns and salutes the memorial. The memorial is simple, a M16 rifle placed barrel down between his boots. His helmet is atop the rifle, and his dog tags are draped around the helmet. I think of the man himself. Wrapped in a plastic body bag and sent to Germany. I think of all his things, being put into their own, smaller plastic bags, and being sent to his bitch of a wife. An ex wife, now. She will tell the other man that her husband died a hero. That they never got to work out their problems. She will cry in his arms, and then he will hold her, and give her a nice tender fuck. I think of all this. I think of Turqious. I wonder if I have time to make a phone call.

“Hey Mikey.” Bill slaps me on the shoulder. “Your team leader now.” “I am?” “I’m first squad leader. Scheuher’s platoon Sargeant. Everyone gets a battlefield promotion. ‘That’s fucking great.” “Isnt it.” ‘Their not going to let me make a phone call.” Bill shakes his head. “Probably not. Were headed up north to Kabul, to re open the US Embassy there. All we have time for before that is a picture.” “A picture?” “All the platoon’s are taking a picture in front of Khandahar Airport sign.” “So we have to.” “Its uniformity. All of us have to do the same thing.” “Of course we do.” “You want a cigarette?” We stand in front of the terminal and smoke. I inhale the camel deep into my lungs, hoping to taste the cancer. My nerves cool from their jangle. My stress goes down. All this will pass, I tell myself. All this will become history, new history that will be written with your name on it. With our name on it. All this will come to being. Rielly would have wanted to go like that, If he wanted to go any way at all. But are you jealous, then?

Of what? Rielly has joined the club. Dead in his twenties, a name on a future memorial wall. Are you jealous? Are you ready to see whats next? I know what you believe. That activity itself is meaningless. Are you jealous then? Are you ready for drill Instructors to talk about you at boot camp? LANCE CORPORAL MICHAEL WAS A BRAVE MARINE HE GOT SHOT TO SHIT BY A MORTAR WHILE CALLING ON A HELICOPTER TO KILL A BUNCH OF SAND NIGGER WOMEN AND KIDS WRAPPED IN A RED RAG ASKING A QUESTION Of what? “Jesus, Mikey, c’mon!” “Sorry, dude. Guess I was zoning.” “That’s okay, man. Always knew you were a crack baby.” I see the picture, now. At this moment in time. I see The picture in black and white. I see the three ranks standing, the thirty or so of us. I see me sitting in the front. Next to Bill, Then Scheuher. I see The land around us. I am there, I am always there, I am at the airport, I am looking into the blue sky, I am looking at the snow melting on the dust and rock, I am there, I am at the airport, and I am having my picture taken.

We fill up our water bladders and our canteens. We eat MRE’s and we strip rifle bullets into our magazines. We clean the carbon out of our rifle barrels. We fart and smoke and joke and laugh and talk. Maybe nothing can keep us down. Maybe the entire war is being run by us. Maybe Schueher is right. Maybe nothing matters but power, and we carry ultimate power in our hands. The five-ton trucks fill up with India company, all three platoons. I toss my pack into the back, and hop in. In seconds the trucks are filled with warmth from body heat. Bill leans his head back and goes to sleep. I look out the sides to the road. We pass the man gate leading past the perimeter. The Army waves as we leave. I see the fat Specialist with the tongue ring behind a 240 Golf machine gun, and I cannot for the life of me remember what his name is. The road wanders further into the mountains. The Airport shrinks smaller and smaller, until it is nothing but a child’s toy. We turn hard on the road and the cliffs of Afghanistan swallow it up. When I wake the road is desolate on either end. I look down and the road is paved, and nearly only wide enough for our truck. On either side of us is fields of tan nothing. Rocks and dust. Beyond that lie the mountains, white capped. We are driving along at a good clip. I look behind us at the truck in the rear, and then in front to the forward humvee. There is nothing to say we are anywhere. Marines are cramped inside the trucks. Some awake, some asleep. Uniforms stained with blood and dirt and dust. Snot and cum and drool and rock. Snow and rain and gunpowder. The sediment of life and death.

We pass a checkpoint in the road. A haaji with a AK rifle stares hate from a shack. Next to him another haaji squats and takes a shit beside the road. His stool falls in brown coils, the truck bumps past the checkpoint, I aim my weapon in, and in my mind, I take the shitting haaiji’s life away. The trucks accelerate and rush past. We continue on the highway heading north, ever north. PART THREE THE UNITED STATES EMBASSY KABUL AFGHANISTAN ONE The city happens a little bit, and then all at once. There is a house on the left, A stone hut. A woman with a donkey. A boy running past yelling “American! American! Biscuit! Biscuit!” A field of poppies. Green stems in red blossoms. The field opens up. More houses. And now a car. A jingle truck, painted bright pink and green. Covered in tiny silver bells. A man standing atop a van, holding his arms outstretched. The haaji king of the world. The Kabul Embassy is frozen in time. Outside the building is an ugly yellow brick. Our trucks park in the street. We scramble out with our weapons, ready for anything. There is litter all around the area. Several burnt out husk of cars sit in what used to be a parking lot. The courtyard has a round circle in front of it, with an empty flag pole. There is a little

broken glass, in the lobby. Broad holes line the front of the door where an AK ripped through it. In the middle of the building, a metal eagle stares down at us from a government seal. Inside there are desks with the documents still on them, dating 1989. Cigarette butts still in ashtrays. Sodas left in cans and glass bottles, reduced to powder through evaporation. Pictures of President Ronald Reagan on the wall. Pictures of the Ambassador of 1989, mourning his assassination. A time capsule, of when things just started going to shit here. Bill and I are going through the offices, looking for signs of- anything. “So weird.” He says. “They didn’t mess with this place. Like their scared of it.” “Did you know coke still had glass bottles in 1989?” ‘I didn’t. I think they had plastic, then. I don’t know. I was, like, four.” “Hey, dude?” “Yeah.” “What if they stayed?” “Huh.” “I mean, what if they stayed, in Afghanistan? Do you think we would be dealing with all this shit now?” “Probably not. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe.” . Going down the stairs to the basement, we find an old chair lying in the middle of a concrete floor. I hear moaning. There is someone in the room with us.

I raise my weapon to the ready. Bill does the same. I aim in down the red dot sight. There are empty tin cans, in the corner. The room is damp and stinks of filth. I turn on my surefire flashlight, and look past the chair. A man is laying on the floor. He is naked, and covered in dried blood. I can see only his back. He is shivering, slightly. He turns around to look at me, and I can see that most of his teeth are gone. “Mareen.” He says. “CORPSMAN!” Bill yells. ‘We need a Corpsman here!” There is the scramble of footsteps coming down the basement steps. Schueher is there, and Doc Buckley, and the translator. They surround the man, shoving past me. I back up, up the stairs. Next to me is John Sack. His camera is out, and he is wide eyed, looking for his pound of flesh. We meet in the cafeteria, Breaking out MRE’s over a red tablecloth. “When they open this place back up.” Cory observes. “I think they’ll take out all the ashtrays.” “Is that guy going to be okay?” I ask. “The translator says he used to work here.” Says Schueher. “The Taliban tortured him, right before we got here. He says he used to work here. In the eighties, I guess. I says he never left.” “look at this.” Bill points to the menu. ‘Twenty five cents for a pepsi. That’s eighties prices.” There is a flag raising ceremony later that day. All the state department staff gathers. I stand at attention with my rifle. Two Marines unfold the flag and mount it

on the pole. As it raises, we salute. Lieutenant Easter gives a short speech, about how the flag was raised over the world trade center rubble. On September Eleven. A bronze plaque is placed in front of the pole: THIS FLAG WAS RAISED OVER THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AFTER THE ATTACKS ON SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 AND IS BEING PLACED AT THE UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN KABUL, AFGHANISTAN BY THE MARINES OF INDIA COMPANY 3/6 The flag is a bright blur of primary colors. The air is cold and greedy. The flag cracks loudly as it flaps in the wind, and shivers run deep through my bones. I salute the colors, as a recording plays the star spangled banner on an Ipod speaker. We are allowed to rest inside the Marine quarters while second platoon takes watch around the embassy perimeter. There was little discussion of this, as we have been gone on missions all week, and second platoon has been back at Khandahar. There was only a contingent of fifteen or so Marines when the embassy was last open, and there is not nearly enough room for all of us. We are cramped inside too little space, laying nut to butt. “Fuck, dude. There going to need to expand this place.” Cory says. “We need some fucking breathing room.”

“What makes you think their ever going to put Marines here?” Bill asks. “What makes you think their not going to just staff it with mercs?” “Fuck no.” Cory says. “All Embassies are guarded by Marines. They have to have this one that way too.” “Yeah. And all those marines wear dress blues.” “So, this one will be flak and Kevlar. This one is different.” “Im telling you, man. It’s the way of the future. Soon, all wars will be fought by PMC’s.” “Isnt that a Playstation game?” “What do you mean?” “that’s a Playstation game. Where all the wars are fought by PMC’s. that’s a playstation game, and its called MAG.” “Your point is?” “My point is, motherfucker, that your taking a Playstation game, and trying to pass it off as your own, original, idea. And I caught your ass at it.” “The idea is still legit.” “It is? You know what else is legit?” “No.” “These nuts in your mouth. Cause I caught your ass.” “Huuuagh.” John Sack is at the door, smiling. “Well, Marines. I just wanted to say, good luck. I’m flying out tomorrow.

Ive got all I needed for my article, and you all have helped me greatly.” “Bye, John!” Bill yells. “Goodbye.” He bobs up and down, searching for footing. An old mans shuffle. “Goodbye.” ‘Ive got news as well!” Easter says. “Ive spoken with the Colonel. Tomorrow, were flying out. Second and third are going to stay out here. First platoon’s headed back to the boat!” There is an actual cheer at this news. Marines bang on their rifles, on their helmets. In my heart, I feel the weight of it hit me like a ton of bricks. Back to the boat. Back to the boat, that takes us home. In the afternoon we start a fire in a metal drum. I empty out my ranger pack of all the extra offal I have collected. I burn my care package. I burn my X-Men comic book. All the extra weight. Why are you doing this? To make my pack lighter. I don’t think that’s why. I think youre trying to forget. Forget? Forget what? You want the fire to take it away. Take Your memories. What The boy. The women. The goat. The prisoners. It was important to be here.

How do I explain it to you? The real reason You will lie to everyone. You are not a killer. You are only playing Marine. Let me forget. You were proud then. I am proud now. This place is inconsequential. A world of dust And rock That stinks like shit. The fire roars. Look back on it. It consumes your memories. The plane howls. Hop on board it, another sardine. Listen! Listen to the speakers. That’s Rage against the Machine. That’s bulls on parade NEVER DO WHAT THEY TELL YOU GOT YOU UNDER CONTROL You live in media. You are surrounded by it. Media made you. What you are. Defined by consumption. Marine is a brand. Colt is a brand. M16 is an icon. All of this is only information. TWO We land on the ship. My legs wobble as I get off. We walk down the ramp, through the hanger bay, and into the chow hall. Theyre serving lunch. Cheeseburgers.

It smells good, too good. Real food. I pass the vending machines. Turn another corner. And its back to the berthing area. On ship, we all live in a berthing area. The space is cramped, rows of small beds stacked three high. First Platoon has one row. Then second and third platoon. We have a lot more space then some others, in Kilo or Lima company they have much smaller ships to ride in. An aircraft carrier is quiet, an aircraft carrier is big, and an aircraft carrier does not rock with the waves or storms that much at all. I drink it all in, as I strip off my pack and flak and helmet. The floor is speckled blue. The walls are white, the blanket on my bed is grey. Tubing runs up the walls, over our heads, all around us. I strip it all off. I strip off all my clothes, and wrap a towel around my waist. I head for the showers. There is a line on front of me for the showers. A line of equally filthy Marines, bathed in dust and dirt. I catch a glimpse at my reflection. I am thin, thinner than I ever remember being. I can clearly see the outline of my ribcage. The shower stall is a cube of aluminum. I press the nozzle and warm water flows over me. Across my head, and my chest. Down my stomach, and crotch. Down my ankles, to my feet. Warmth envelopes me. I shiver with joy. Little lights sparkle behind my eyes. This is the best shower I have ever had. I strip off the cardboard on a brand new bar of soap, and start to scrub. Half an hour later, the filth is off my bones and I am in line for a computer. The line is long, at least ten Marines in front of me. I am in the ships library,

surrounded by books. Behind three or four rows of books is two banks of flat screen computers. The line moves slowly. I turn and look, and there stand Angela Garrison. “Merrell!” She smiles. “You’re back!” Angela has green eyes, and brown hair. With light pink, pale skin. A little trail of freckles across the bridge of her nose. A trail of sun damage. She wears a lipstick the color of flesh. The name of it, she told me once, is nude, her lips are nude, and when her body is nude Her nipples are the same pale, pink color. I drink her in now, drink in the Navy Working Uniform, the digital camouflage that hugs to the curves of her body. She hugs me, then, pressing herself close against my body. Her grip is fierce and inviting. “I’m so glad your back. I heard the news, and I got scared.” “I’m fine.” I say. “Wade isn’t, though. He’s dead.” “That’s your sergeant, right? The tall guy?” I nod. “Oh my god. I am so sorry.” “Its okay. Its all over now. I’m back on ship.” “Am I going to see you in Malta?” “When is that?” “Once we pick up the rest of you guys from over there. Were going to port in Valletta. Its going to be the first real liberty for any of us.” “Sounds like fun.” “Oh yeah. Its going to be a party. And Rachel knows a guy that knows a guy that can get us some stuff. If youre coming.” “I am. I mean, I’ll be there.”

“Okay. I’ll talk to you more at chow. Your up next.” I move to the computer terminal and sign in. She waves goodbye and mouths the words as she does it, bye-ee. I turn back to the console and sign into my email. 41 unread messages Turqiouse- are you back yet? Turqiouse- OMG Merrell, where are you I saw on the news Turqiouse- Selah pooped on the cat today Turqiouse- Guess what THIS is? Turqiouse- You love turq turq? Turqiouse- I miss my mer bear Dad-Hey boy! Just checking on ya. We saw in the news. Bank of America- Your account is overdue and needs to be paid Turqiouse- cant sleep I miss you Turqiouse-my farts stink Turqiouse-I cried after your phone call I go down each and every one. I respond to Turqious and Dad and even Bank of America. My heart is heavy and feels like it is grasping something, something way off in the future. Why did I have to do it? Why did I have to sign up for this, to be away from her? I type a message. I try to tell her everything

Baby Were back on ship. Im sorry I didn’t get to call. Im sorry you had to worry Im fine Bill is fine Sergeant Rielly died. Were all done and heading back. Its all over. I miss Selah and I saw your pictures. She is getting really big and I see that she has teeth now. I’m going to call tonight so keep your phone on. I took my first shower today in over three months. It was the best thing yet, But I know the best thing ever will be when I see you. I miss you I love you I’ll be back soon. Mer Mer There is emotion overwhelming me. My eyes are tearing up as I leave the computer. I wipe them and I stagger outside, out to the smoke deck. The sea air feels cool as I light a smoke, a Marlboro light fresh from the ships store. I lean across the edge of the rail. There are three colors to the ocean. There is a lighter grey color, on the surface, and then there is another, deeper blue color, that is only visible when the water is especially calm. Above that choppy foam glistens. I stare out at the grey, between the white, and into the deep blue. Bill hops out of the hatch next to me, that leads back to the berthing area. “I think we still stink, dude.” He says. “I mean, I think theres a residual smell left. Maybe after a couple more showers, or something.” “Angela wants me to go with her to a party in Malta.” I tell him. “Great. That works great. You survived war, and

your going to get laid.” “I don’t know. Im just ready to go back home.” “What is it, your conscience or some shit? Hey, just remember, what happens on float stays on float. It doesn’t go home with you.” “Yeah.” “And besides, shes fucking hot. You’ve got to hit it.” “Yeah.” “You know Schueher follows her around like a puppy dog, right?” “Ive seen it.” “Exactly. So if you fuck her, that is like, ultimate revenge. Like that klingon proverb.” “You watch Star Trek? I should call you nerd.” “No, its famous. It was in the beginning of Kill Bill.” “Yeah. Star Trek.” “Its not those Klingons. The ancient Klingons. I think they were japenese or something.” “The ancient klingons.” “Fuck you. Anyway, revenge is a something best cold. There. That’s what I was trying to say.” “That’s good, Bill.” “It will be. When I get back at her.” “At who?” “That bitch, dude. That fucking bitch.”

The boys face comes to me, unannounced. I push it away. I think about the statement. Nothing to scare anyone. Not from anyone normal. But we are not normal. And we know where the line is. And how thin it is.Bill has disposed of his smoke in the ocean while I was looking away. I search for it in the deeper blue, past the white, and the grey. THree I am on the flight deck of the Bataan, in my service charlie’s uniform. The khaki shirt with the green pants. I am standing on the deck next to many white uniformed sailors. We are pulling up to the island. As we draw closer I can make out Valletta. Malta is many old building built upon island hills and cliffs. It brings to mind dreams of Europe, I have once had. King Arthur and Camelot. The three musketeers and france. The count of monte cristo and spain. I compare in my mind the buildings here and the ruins in Kabul. Somehow it seems not yet as old as that. A thought crosses my mind. Turqiouse remembers nothing of the day of her car accident. Why that thought? Why now? The pictures of her. Laying in the bed, with the tubes criss crossing her caramel skin. We arrive in port. The liberty bell sounds. A quick change in the berthing area. I am wearing clothes for the first time in months. Real clothes, Abercrombie and Fitch clothes. Out to the hanger bay. Stand at attention, to the flag at the rear of the ship.

Garrison is on the dock, in tight jeans, open toed shoes, and a halter top. Fuck-me shoes. She leans in close, gives me a tight hug. The crush of her breasts against me. A kiss on the cheek, the smell of her perfume. “Where should we go?” She asks me. “Lets get some distance.” I say. “Lets get some space from the boat.” We wave down a taxi cab. It’s a small car, and a tight fit inside. The driver mutters to us in his own language. “Drink.” I say. ‘Drink.” The cab starts, and we fly down the narrow streets. Garrison takes out a disposable camera, looking out the window and snapping pictures. From the front of the cab the driver says. “We are landing, shortly.” “Look at that view.” Murmers Garrison. I look out the window. There is nothing there but sky. Sky is all that is up or down. There are faint clouds, whisps really, strings of clouds that dot below us. Panic grips me. I think about all that has happened. “Were about to crash.” I say. ‘Whats up, dude?” Bill says. “Wheres Garrison?” “Who?” “Angela Garrison. From ship.” “you mean, from float?” Bill stares at me, puzzled. “That’s right.” I say. “My guess is, she’s on some ship somewhere,

whoring it up. I heard Scheuher fucked her.” “He didn’t.” ‘Well, its some shit he always says.” There is a sinking feeling, deep in my chest. There is a question I have to ask, I question I am sure I already know the answer to. “Where are we?” I say. “We’re on a plane.” Bill tells me. And we are. The driver is now Cory. I see in front of me all the other Marines, All the rest of India Company. I see Staff Sargeant Scheuher. I look down, at my own marpat camies. Two stripes. I am a corporal now. “You shouldn’t have drank so much.” Bill tells me. Something is missing from me. I look at my left hand. There is a discolored place where my ring should be. There is a blank space in my head where memories should be. I feel it now, the vibration of the plane. “I was back on the boat.” I tell Bill. “We were in Malta.” “You’ve been having those dreams again.” Bill says. “I guess. I was right there.” “Last deployment, dude.” Bill says. “Last deployment, then we get out of this shit.” “Its been a bad year.” I say. “It has, but this should put a cap on it.” “You ever have one of those dreams? One of those dreams where you know something terrible has happened, or is about to happen, and you try to stop it,

but you cant?” “Yeah, and then you wake up.” “Yeah.” “Everyone does that. I forget what its called. A lucid dream, I think. I don’t know.” We are in a normal seven forty-seven, made abnormal by its passengers. Marines in desert marpat, everywhere. Laughing and talking and sleeping. Rifles and machine guns everywhere. I look between my own legs to see a familiar sight, an M16A4, with a red dot reflex sight. Next to me Bill has his own, with a 203 grenade launcher. “Help me out here, dude.” I say. “Im a little fuzzy. Recent events and the like.” “You called Turq. You yelled and screamed. We both got stupid drunk. We woke up in the morning, and put on our uniforms, and got on a white school bus. The school bus took us to the airplane. We got on the airplane. Here we are now. Oh, and the in-flight movie was Superbad.” “That’s a good movie.” ‘Isnt it? All Judd Apatows flicks are pretty good.” “I didn’t like funny people.” “Why not?” “It was too preachy and not enough funny.” “You have to admit, it was a well made movie.” “I don’t have to admit anything. I expect certain things from a Seth Rogen film, and certain things from a

Adam Sandler film. It was neither of those things. It sucked.” “Did turq leave me?” I ask. Bill groans. “C’mon, dude. Lets not go there.” “Why? I want to know.” “You do know.” “I know that Im not wearing my ring. That’s about all I know.” “Okay. And I know what you know. So lets leave it at that.” “She did, didn’t she?” “I guess so. You were there.” “But I don’t remember.” Bill brings out his Iphone, and scrolls through the selections. He leans over me and gently puts the earbuds in their place. The music starts slowly, a rustle of guitars. A smatter of piano. We are nowhere And its now We are nowhere And its now

“Its bright eyes isn’t it?” I open my eyes. I am back on the cab. Back in Malta. “What is?”

“The song you were singing.” Angela says. “Its bright eyes. I know that song. I had it on a soundtrack, to some movie. I think.” There is a dawning sense of fear emerging. “Was it a Judd Apatow movie?” I ask. “Whos that?” She says. “Did it have Seth Rogen in it?” ‘Is he the guy with the crinkly hair?” “Yes.” “Yeah. He was in it. It was called banged up, or something.” “Knocked Up.” “Right. That’s it.” Her voice trails off. Then she smiles wide, an all American girl kind of smile, and leans in close, and kisses me on the lips. A peck, really. “Your still freaked out from over there, huh?” “I don’t know.” I say. “I think I’m okay.” “Don’t worry about it.” She says. “Im going to fix you right up.” At the bar I order a Newcastle. The beer comes in tall and large in its pint glass, with the heavy foam head. Angela tries to order a long island iced tea, which causes confusion between her and the bartender. Eventually she settles for a red bull and vodka. “Its early.” She says. “But I cant really drink anything else.” The bar is open and a sea wind blows through it. It is pleasantly cool out of doors. Every now and again we see others from the ship mingling. Marines and Sailors,

distinguishable by their tight haircuts. I finish the beer and I start another. Garrison starts to smoke a menthol cigarette. She unconsciously rubs her foot against my leg as she does it. “Where are your friends?” I ask. “Theyre going to met us later. I think Suzie’s getting laid.” “Sailor guy?” “Yeah. He’s the one that’s going to hook us up, later.” She yawns. “Its early. I want to drink, but, I don’t want to drink. Its early.” I get off my barstool. The alchohol swims up to my head, the first real imbibement since Cory’s mouthwash bottle. “Lets go for a walk.” I say. We walk side by side through the streets of Valleta. The weather is either early spring or late winter. I put my arm around Angela, then I held her hand. “They have a cathedral here.” Angela says. “I want to see it. I want to see the cathedral.” “It was in a book.” I say. “What was?” “The cathedral. Malta. All of this. It was in a book.” “What was the book called?” “V.” “Vee? What the fuck? Was it like, a sequel to U?” “No. It was pretty good.” Angela pulls me close and gives me a real kiss. Her tongue laps into my mouth and makes a little semi circle

around mine. I feel a deep tingle, feel her warmth, feel the space she occupies. “Don’t get pissed.” She says. “Is that what that was for?” “It was. It was to stop you, from getting pissed.” “I didn’t think I was getting pissed.” “You were. I could tell. Marines get pissed so easily.” “There were Marines in the book. It was mostly about sailors.” She laughs again. Flashes the cheerleader smile. “Marines and Sailors in Malta. Did they fuck?” “They were all looking for some girl.” “named Vee?” “Yeah.” “I like the twilight books. I don’t know if I would read that.” “I don’t know. I just thought about it.” Inside the cathedral the air smells like dust. The ceiling reaches up and up, into a beautiful spire. The cross has a carving of Jesus on it. The pews are ornate, and line up for the pulpit. The church is mostly empty. She breaks our hold upon entering. I wonder if it is in fear of any possible mortal repercussions against adulterers. She crosses herself awkwardly in front of the cross. An old priest comes out of the back and nods toward us. Angela smiles at him and takes his picture. Than she takes another one, of the vast ceiling. I stand near the

back, and put folded up bills in a box designated for collections. When we leave, she holds my hand again. “Wasn’t that awesome?” She says. “It was pretty cool.” “Was that how you imagined it? In the book and everything?” “I think so. I think that was pretty close.” I lie to her. In the book the cathedral had been bombed out rubble. She grabs me and kisses me again. “I love it. And we’ve killed enough time. We can go see my friends.” We get into another taxi and Angela gives him an address. We drive across town, through narrow streets. The streets wind out and we see the pier. I light a cigarette, cracking the window for the smoke. It drifts out, little by little than all at once. The room is small and dark. Garrison lays on the bed next to her friend. She is very stoned, and her eyes show it. Her friend is chubby and blond, with thin rectangle framed glasses. She giggles incessantly at the situation. Her date leans over by the foot of the bed. On a small end table is several thin lines of cocaine and a credit card. He leans down and inhales sharply. The coke was a sharp mellowness to me, something which brought things into focus and made them blurry at the same time. I felt the burn up my nose and in the back of my throat. Garrison rubbed my cheek with her palm as I sat on the edge of the bed. “Its good.” Says the sailor by the table. “Its kind of expensive. Everythings kind of expensive here. It’s the

exchange rate.” “I don’t know.” I say. “I don’t do this kind of stuff, that often. They piss test us.” “Us too.” Says the sailor. “The trick is, to do coke. Coke gets out of your system in three days. Weed stays in there for about a month.” “I thought you could drink water.” “Drinking water can help. Flushes out your system.” The room blurs. Garrison pulls me into her. She runs a hand down the front of my pants, to my hard dick. I grab her halter top, and expose her tits. Her pants come off fast. Long white legs. She arcs them around me. The head of my dick feels its way into her wetness. We fuck like rabbits, in front of everyone. As I come inside her Garrisons blonde friend rubs my ass. After we finish she heads to the bathroom. I can see her wiping herself off. “I want to go, Merrell.” Garrison says. “I want to get out of here.” We leave the room and walk into the empty street. There is no clear direction ahead. Presently we come to the water. The surface seems endless and calm. A silver disc, stretching out to the blue. “Don’t judge me.” Garrison says. “don’t judge me cause I do this.” “Im not.” I say. “I did it too.” “You didn’t. I didn’t see you do it.” “I did.”

‘We should have stayed in the room. I wanted to screw.” “We did screw.’ “I don’t want to do it on ship. I wanted to do it here.” “Anywheres good.” “Your just a fucking jarhead. Your just a dumb grunt. Fuck you.” “What?” “Fuck you. All Marines are pussies. You didn’t do shit over there. I asked.” She giggles slightly. She hiccups after the giggle, and sits down on a rock, watching the water. “I think Im going to be sick. “ She says. “That’s fine.” I answer. “Be sick. Im leaving.” “Wait.” She says. “Wait.” The concern on her is overwhelming. I tear away, and start to walk back. We are far, far from anything. The streets are paved with cobblestones and the air smells like salt. When I turn back, I can see her sitting there. When I see a taxi I ask him to take me back to the ship. I walk up the gangplank and turn to face the flag. It is nighttime, now. The flag is gone. I head out to the smoke deck and I watch the embers of my cigarette blow, into the deep blue, the deep dark black blue. After its finished I lean back in my coffin locker and listen to Radiohead on my Ipod, over and over, on repeat. The next day Bill and I head out to a corner bistro

in the open air. We have coffee and eggs, and Bill has Tylenol. The coffee is good and sharp and smooth. “Did you get laid, last night?” Bill asks. “Yeah. She was a bitch, though.” “What happened?” “We did coke and fucked. After it was over, she had some kind of crazy meltdown. I left her next to the water somewhere.” “Well.” Bill grunts. “At least you got some fucking pussy.” “I guess so. I had an idea.” “An idea?” “I want to write.” Bill stirs his egg yolk around on his plate, painting a cheerful picture on the circle in brilliant yellow. “Like a letter or something?” He says. “No. Like a book. A book about us.” “That’s sound kind of cool. Which way will you spin it?” “What do you mean?” “Are you going to make it, all Jarhead and realistic and everything, or all Tom Clancy and crazy and heroic?” “I don’t know.” I say. I don’t think I was going to do either.” Scheuher stumbles by. His face is red. “I shouldn’t have drank so early.” He says. “Mikey’s writing a book.” Bill tells him.

“Is that true, Mikey?” Scheuher asks. I nod. “Make me look cool, motherfucker.” He says. “I want a definite Jack Ryan vibe going on.” “Like splinter cell or something?” Bill says. “That’s a fucking video game. I mean, like Jack Ryan. He’s president in the books. Maybe that could be a twist, I could have political aspirations.” “What about that fifteen year old you fucked in ohio?” Bill says. “I have no idea what your talking about. She told me she was twenty.” “Whatever, dude.” “That’s sergeant dude. Are you ready for tomorrow, Mikey?” “Yeah. Ive been running on the treadmill.” “Good luck. Remember, your representing the platoon on that indoc.” We talk and talk. I wander the streets with Bill. We stop at a newsstand There is a small black notebook that catches my eye. Inside is a paper insert: I buy the unusual notebook, and a porno for Bill. There are birds sitting in a plaza, undisturbed, cooing slightly. In the middle stands a fountain. I take out a maltese coin and flip it in. I wish in my head for nothing. The beer flows loose and freely. Bill talks excitedly. Cory is here too. What exactly is everything about? There is a random stranger behind me. All my ugliness seems to flow throughout my body, behind my eyes, into my

fists. He has greasy black hair, tight jeans, and a polo shirt. When I punch him he falls down, so I jump on him, and punch him again and again. Around me hands are yelling and grabbing for me. I ignore them, and concentrate my fury on this, my target. FOUR Often in her head she went back to that day. The streets of south central Los Angeles, sunshine lit and palm tree lined. She could not recollect it directly. That had been taken from her. She could only remember it sideways, from the perspective of remembering that she had done it before. The next was the hospital, asking for some water. Even then, much of the room was missing from her. She pieced it together from evidence taken in photographs. Desiree standing over her holding her hand, a horrible collection of tubes running over her face, down her throat. Her grandmother handing her a get well soon card. The physical therapist, who was so cruel. The nurse that would not answer the call button, and was enraged when she pissed the bed. The combination of events moved with a terrible purpose, taking her away from LA, sending her back to Palmdale. In Palmdale she lived with her mother for as long as she could stand it. It was terrible, as it always was. She got the job as a teachers assistant. It helped her into the apartment. She enrolled in the junior college. She wanted to teach, to do something with children. But more than anything, she simply wanted to be free.

She met Scott online. It started slow, just talking. Just chatting. It moved from that to talking. They talked for hours. She mentioned visiting. He jumped at the idea. She boarded the greyhound for North Carolina. It was fun, seeing the country. It was exciting, to get away. All her life, she had been in California. This was something different. This was something new. There was a blur of names at every stop. She ate light. Crackers and candy. Water from a drinking fountain. He was taller than she had imagined and he was uglier too. His nose was round and red. He looked excired to see her, in a shy way, which made him cute. The base was ugly as well, ugly red buildings. He took her to his room and said something like I’m sorry. It was over quickly and did not hurt as much as she thought it would. She spent a week looking for a job. The first place that said yes was the club. She was just a waitress, starting out. She made money, she knew how to be friendly. A few days went by. Gus was the boss and he wore a bright red Marine hat. “One of our black girls quit.” He said. “We need at least two. If you want, you can try dancing.” Dancing? “It pays a lot more than this.” Gus said. “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it. You work here.” It was true. She did work there. So she started dancing. There was really no dancing to it. It was simply a way of teasing men, of showing herself off to men. She

quickly lined up regulars. One man called himself Gunny, paid her a thousand dollars. A thousand dollars, in one night. She found an apartment, bought herself furniture. Lined up the bits and pieces that made up her new life. And everywhere, everywhere in the new town, there were men. The Marines were all young, and lonely. If she wanted to have sex she could at any time, in any bar she wanted to go into. The ratio in Jacksonville was nearly three times in her favor. One night she came hard in the act. Her first time. There were pills that could make her do this forever, and it was only three nights a week. Four, if she wanted something extra. When she saw him, he was reading a book. His friends were all around him, laughing and yelling, having a good time. Typical customers. He sat quietly, reading a book. He was immediatedly smitten by her, there, in the club. She was completely naked. He had never seen a black woman completely naked before. The brownness of her nipples. Her shaved pussy. Her long black wavy hair. He spent three hundred dollars that night, in the club. She gave him lap dances until he came in his pants, over and over. After shift they fucked in her truck, and it was hot and good. He had the friend, who was almost as beautiful as he was, but not quite as golden. With less a shine of innocence about him. Bill was more Id, more want. They would bring home to the bed on occasion, and she would fuck them both. Merrell had the longer penis ,the thicker penis, a more beautiful instrument. But Bill was more knowledgeable, and when Bill licked her she came harder

than she ever had with Merrell. Eventually Bill found his Angel, named Angel, a girl with floppy tits and fake blond hair. She was happy to be normal again. When she became pregnant she was sure it was his. They had the baby. She remembered none of it, the c-section had gone quick, except the baby was pink and white and suprising and absolutely perfect. There was no fight on the name. Their had been a long fight with a boys name, he had been sure it was a boy, and she had gone along with it. They had settled on Caleb. But it was a Girl, and her name would be Selah. The deployment started to loom on the horizon. There was talk of what Obama would do, of what he would not do. There was talk of what Bush had done. She began to doubt herself. She began to grow jealous of Merrell’s time. The video game sat, unplayed. Her apartment grew cluttered. He suggested they get a house. He proposed marriage with an onion ring. We could use the health insurance, he had said. I have no choice, she replied, but there was a wide smile on her face as she said it. They found the judge and made it legal. The house was bought with his VA loan, and it was built for them. It was a thrilling thing to watch and to do, to pick out the plan and see it come to life. To see it realized. She spent the last of the money she had saved dancing getting everything perfect. Then came the terrible moment, and the long hug goodbye, and the lingering kiss, and the white school bus took him away from her. The days apart seemed to trickle by. He called on

the ships phone. It was like speaking to a recording, with the delay. He sent e-mails. She started a blog. She began to think about going back to California. The child grew, and began to open her eyes. The sparkled alive with a brilliant shade of blue. She began to crawl around. There was a cat that roamed around the carpet on declawed feel, and the child chased the cat, across the carpeting. When she laughed it was like tiny bells ringing. Someone sent her an article found on the web, about Marines and their good luck charms. It was him, showing off a picture of the two of them, together. The article said that they had met on the internet. She grew upset at him, and then the upsetness melted into grief and longing. Finally she had masturbated to the thought of him, and lapsed into sleep. The television rolled a list of namesless dead. Two in Baghdad, three in Kabul. Two more in Iraq. Thirteen near Pakistan. On and on it went, with what she was recognizing was stock footage At first she thought she could recognize him, and a stab went through her heart. But soon she realized that was a lie, that was fake, that was never going to be in the real.. She was beginning to hate the footage. Why couldn’t it tell her the names? Didn’t they owe her that? On Christmas she got the call. He was Over There. He was alright. It was a short call. The call made everything better, then it made everything worse. She watched the news. She talked to her friends, on the message boards. One day, she even prayed, something she had never really done before. The months drug on and on.

When she finally got the call he was all right and safe and coming back the sun seemed to come out in her life. Things were going to be fine. They talked everyday, online. When he stepped off the ships ramp, she was there with her daughter, in a sun dress that was much to light for the weather. She saw a million Marines, all nothim. When she finally did see him, he looked skinny, gaunt even. As he brought his arm up to her, she flinched. There was a cast on his hand. FIVE I have a thought. A lucid sort of thought, a continuation of a dream. A dream cannot stay a dream if you stay up and think about it. Then it becomes more than a dream, it becomes a thought. It blends into the fabric of your life, into the way you do things. It is the 1950s. I am in my house, this house that is mine, and it is the 1950s. Turqiouse is sleeping, her head in my lap. Her sweet, light caramel skin. A product of her black father and her white mother. Mullato. Woman to her man: I am black but homely. Her hair is cut short, the way I remember my grandmothers hair being cut in the photographs. My own hair is hidden inside a hat. A real, honest to god fedora, not like that trendy crap worn by certain celebrities and entertainers today, but an actual vintage item. Everything in the room completes the ensemble. Her long skirt, and nylon stockings. The heels on her

shoes. The way her blouse straps fall over her shoulders. My own wide tie, the tan colors of my suit. The black and white photographs of the newspaper in my left hand. The utter absence of a television inside the living room. Her chest rises and falls, slowly. She does not snore. I take in the scene deeply. A sense of rightness pervades itself to me. I kiss her lips, lightly. “Darling.” I say. “I’m going to run off to the drug store. Get another one of those Superman funny books.” It’s a line full of cheese. But its real. Its what I would be doing. What I am doing. She murmers something softly. I rise as quietly as I can. Letting her head slowly slip from the sheerness of my pants fabric, to a place on the couch. The motorcycle is a classic Harley. Nearly unchanged in fifty years. Slightly louder than the one I have today. The streets are neat and empty. A few cars about. Gleaming, well kept. Beautiful object. Inside the store I find the book on a rack. It is a dime, larger than comics of today. Longer too. Cheaper and with more value. I buy it and a candy bar for a nickel, the bar being a monster whose size doesn’t even calculate in the twenty-first century. The cashier wears an apron and a bow tie. With a striped shirt. Nothing is supposed to be humourous about him. I smile anyway. “Morning Ed.” I say. “Mr. Michael.” He rings his register and takes the spare change. His eyes are full of mistrust. “These for that colored girl you’ve been seen

with?” I want to protest. I want to say something about not knowing her. Not being with her. Out of fear, fear for both of us. Out of a need for protection. The dream spirals away from me. The dream catches hold of an invisible wind and tumbles me into the now, into the present, where I wake without waking. In the morning I woke up next to the real Turqiouse. She was darker skinned than the woman in my dreams, dark chocolate. She was naked and the bed smelled of our sex. It is a wonderful thing, waking up like that in the morning, with the taste of a womans juices in your mouth and the smell of a womans sex in your nose. I turned next to me and saw her laying there, her long, wavy black hair swirling in the pillow. She turned and I saw her breast splayed out, Her nipples are long and large. I felt a rush of blood from my head. My penis began to throb with an erection. She grabbed it and turned over, smiling. She guided the head into her pussy. “I love the way your dick feels.” She said. “I love how you make me feel. When your fucking me.” I started to move forward. She grabbed my shoulders. “Stop.” She said. “I just want to enjoy this. Enjoy being filled up.” I could feel her kegel muscles squeezing my penis. I started, regardless of her. I thrust and thrust and thrust. And she cried out and screamed and moaned. When I came into her it tingled from my balls to my toes. We collapsed into each other. Then she said “move” and went to the bathroom, turning on the shower.

“Get Selah.” She said, from the shower. “She hasn’t seen you in like, forever.” I put on a pair of green sweatpants and a t shirt and went across the living room to see my little girl. I noticed the large television, the toy scattered across the way. In the back yard of my house I could see the green grass, and the bushes. It was 43 43 Hall Croft Chase Lane. It was also mine and ours. It was bonded between us in off-red brick, it was a home. Two and a half bedrooms and two bathrooms. A two car garage. I itched the cast on my right arm reluctantly and headed her room. My daughter was sleeping there. She was curled in her innocence in a blue Winnie the Pooh blanket. Tucked in free of harsh thoughts. Stuffed animals and Dr. Suess books adorned her walls. The Wonder Pets. Yo Gabba Gabba. Green Eggs and Ham, I felt something harsh peck at me. Softly, I stretched out my hand and shook her shoulder. “Selah.” I said. “Wakey wakey. Time to get up. She sat up and rubbed her eyes. When she opened them they were bright blue windows to her soul. She smiled when she saw me, grin revealing budding teeth. “Mer Mer.” She said. “Time to wake up.” “I luv breakfast.” She offered. “Get her a cereal bar. From the cabinet.” Turq called out from the bedroom. Hesitantly, she stepped out into the living room, wrapped in a towel. “Hey beautiful!

Mamma loves her baby!” “Mommy! Want breakfast!” “Ok baby.” “Want kiki.” “Ok.” “Want Juse.” “She does this all day.” Turqiouse said, fishing out the tiny cereal bar from the cabinet overtop the sink. My daughter goes over to the treat with open hands. “Tanks.” She says. “mmm. Lishus!” Turqiouse laughs. “Isnt she the cutest thing, Merrell? Isnt she the cutest thing ever?” In a few minutes we are all eating together on the dark brown table. I missed everything. I missed this dining room table, my feet dangling from it. The high chairs. Yo Gabba Gabba is blaring from the forty seven inch tv. We are eating cereal. Selah is doing a dance along with the cartoon characters. I look at them now. Their misshapen bodies. Their sharp teeth. The people inside. Dancing. Shouting gibberish. One of the cartoon rats is blue and round, the same color and shape of a burqa…… “Merrell!” “Huh?” “Whats going on?” “Nothing. I mean. I’m okay.” “You were zoning out.” “I was?

“You were making this face, and you were staring at the tv. Like, really hard.” “I was? What kind of face.” “A scary face.” “I’m sorry.” I say. I punctuate my apology with a bite of soggy oatmeal. “How long do you have off?” Turq asks. “A week or so. We probably wont be going back into the field for another month.” “There is a blur, to all this.” “What do you mean.” “Nothing seems really clear. Its like you’re here but your not here. Like your still gone.” “I’m here.” “I know. We should see your parents.” SIX I am home from war, home in Chesterfield County, Virginia, staring at a photograph, trying to go back in time. The photograph shows me in he-man sandals. I am wearing camouflage pants, carrying a cheap toy gun, and wearing a green plastic helmet. My sister is in a cradle next to me. A grey plastic hand grenade is in her hand. This is my fifth birthday. I am very happy. Next to the pictures is a story I wrote, when I was fourteen. It’s a cheesy violence fantasy, with only the weakest plot, just a vague villain to torment my hero. I wrote a character based on the girl I sat next to in class. She seemed to

like it. I remember her smiling, light freckles behind her glasses But next year, she wouldn’t talk to me, and she sat on the other side of the class. The last picture shows me in a black t-shirt and jeans, right hand up, reciting the oath of allegiance to the united states in front of a sharp looking lieutenant. The expression on my face is that of a beat dog. In my closet at my parents house is my dads Gibson Les Paul. I take it out of the case. It glistens of mahegony and ivory, a thing of beauty. The two bottom strings are broken. I remember a day ten years ago, listening to my dad rock out when my mom was away, listen to this one. Merrell, this guy was god, better than that Kurt Cobain idiot. Buduh bud a bump a bohw, got me on my knees. Bud ug buddu bump a bohw beg ya darling please. I am in awe. I did not know my father could be like this. No trace of being a prison guard or a republican fundamentalist. And then he hears a POP from his Peavey amp, and he mutters, “Ah, Fuck.” I do not hear him play the guitar again. On the drive home from Camp Lejuene Turq asked me if I wanted to get Marine Plated for the car. I snapped at her, and she said nothing after that, just gave me a funny look. I saw fear in her eyes. There is a Nirvana In Utero tape in the draw that Chris gave to me. I was thirteen, out of pity. Here dude, I know your mom wont let you do shit. And he’s right, so I hide the tape, and listen to it on a little cassette player, with headphones. I have to be qiuet when I listen to it, and I cant turn it up too loud. I saw Chris today, and he looked stoned. He was cool, but

he wasn’t the same. He laughed at my stories, but all I got was “wow” when I talked about other countries. “Did you kill anybody?” he finally asked me, And I knew that that was it. My best friend and next door neighbor was a stranger to me. I was a stranger to me. Who lived this lifetime? Who was this boy? Staring into the mirror looking at my dress blues. An hour later I am at Gill Grove Baptist Church. I sit through Sanday school and I am a stranger. I shake the hand of an Army private who sees my ribbons and calls me “sir”. He hears my name and shakes his head, thinking of the weak little kid in the past, and the tall strong Marine in the now……………… A girl that never used to talk to me flirts. Jason Myers. The bully who made it his mission in life to fuck up mine looks skinny and flinches in my handshake. Mr. Watson, a Vietnam Marine, congratulates me. “On my wedding.” He says. “I wore my dress blues. You remind me of me, back then.” The pastor mentions me in his sermon. A group of little kids run up to me. “Are you a real Marine?” One asks. “Yes.” “Mommy! I met one! A real Marine!” He runs off into his life, into the safe and comfortable confines thereof. I want to send this back in time, to the yellow haired boy and his fifth birthday. This is for you! This is for you. You win. You win, at last. But he looks back. You are not me. Yes! I am,

You are a stranger. I am you! This place drove me away. It loves you, and you are a stranger. As the boy turns to leave, a voice whispers in my ear. This is what power is, and at night, as I close my eyes, to stare out the back of my eyelids to the dust and the mountains and the sand, I agree, over and over again. SEVEN “It was a good movie, Cory.” “It was a fucking downer.” Cory slurs his words badly. We have been drinking for nearly six hours. We have been drinking throughout the whole movie. The evening seems to be winding down to a break out of apocalyptic purportions. “Hurt Locker.” Bill asks. “What does that mean?” “I think it means World of Shit.” I say. “Like in full metal jacket. Basically the same thing.” Bill is with his wife, Amber. I am with Turqiouse. All of us our inside My living room. I think about what has just transpired. The near empy theater. The wives reluctance to come with us, to the movie. Inside me is a vast wall of red, of anger. I push it deep down, and recline on my durapella sofa. The fabric absorbs my feelings. There is a flush from the bathroom. “Sorry dude.” Cory mutters. I missed the toilet. He shuffles out of the water closet, the man-giant nearly

dwarfing the frame. As he turns toward me, I see a glint of steel. Cory has his snub nosed 45 in his mouth. The gun is pointed straight up, his finger is on the trigger. His eyes are moist with tears. “No, Cory.” Amber shakes her head. “No.” “Hey, dude.” Bill says. “Whats up with the gun?” “It’s the only way.” Cory mutters from around the barrel. “Im not going back.” “Were not going back anywhere.” Bill says. “Were going to crash right here on Mikey’s floor and go to sleep.” ‘Shut up.” Cory says. “Fucking lier. You saw it to. Im not going back there.” “It was a movie.” I say. “Nobody has to go there.” “Youre a fucking idiot.” Cory says. “It’s the truth. It’s the truth and I hate it, and this is the only way.” “CORY!” Amber screams. “FUCKING take the FUCKING gun out of your mouth!” In the other room, Selah starts to scream. Turqiouse runs past Cory, and slams the door to the nursery. Bill is walking toward Cory with his arms wide, talking calmly. I don’t know what is about to happen, or what I am supposed to do. I walk toward the nursery door. Beyond it, I imagine Turq disappearing to the ether, to the white non scale grayness of the outer universe. I open it slowly. Turqiouse is trembling and holding Selah. “That’s okay, mama.” She says. “That’s okay. I know. I know.” There is a clap of thunder in the kitchen. Turqiouse

jumps. For one second, I can clearly envision the end of them, a bullet ending this, this my family……….. I run into the other room. Cory is Crying on the couch and hugging Amber. The gun is on the counter. There is smoke coming from the barrel, and a small hole coming from the linoleum floor. The year passes. I grow worse. Finally, Turqiouse leaves. EIGHT I yaw n and head down to the vending machine by the duty hut at the start of another weekend stuck in the barracks. The barracks where I will live, because my wife has left me. There are two military police cop cars parked in the grass outside, blue and red lights flashing. Yellow police tape catches the reflection. I duck under it to go to the duty hut, and I see Bill wearing the duty NCO belt, and talking to several high ranking officers. Two guys in civvies are facing the corner at parade rest. “Get out of here, Mikey.” Bill says. “Roger that.” I reply, taking his advice and heading back to my room, to hide from the chaos and sleep. When I wake up, the cops are still there. I stumble down the stairwell to bum a beer from Buckey. Buckey is leaned over his new imac, surrounded by councentric rings of beer bottles. I hear the sounds of his fantasy MMO, the violence of imaginary swords. “Hey Buckey.” I ask. “You got a beer?”

“Hey Mickey. Guess what the fuck happened last night?” “Huh?” “Couto got raped.” “The fuck?” “Yeah.” Buckey gives a smirk. “I’ve been talking to the fucking MP’s and investigators all goddamn morning. In the fridge.” I peer inside the mini fridge in Buckey’s barracks room and retrieve a cold Budweiser, hoping the alchohol will restore some sanity to the morning. It offers the clarity of a buzz. After downing it, I notice that Buckey has logged off his game. Robery Buckey is an ugly individual, ugly in the way that the antisocial are ugly, with pasty skin and a unibrow. “That dumb fuck.” He says. “Listen:” See now the sleeping face of Private Couto. See the awkward limbs, the wrinkled uniform. See him drool on the pillow. His wretched yellow teeth. What was his recruiter thinking? Did the Marine Corps simply need one more body? One more body, to make the numbers complete? Outside the revelry continues. Task Force Guantanamo Bay is back in the barracks. Four months spent, Guarding a wall. Watching haajis in orange jumpers. Four months spent. And now this. There are no single women in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for them to meet this evening. The towns ratio is five to one. There is no welcoming parade for what they have done, what they have spent their time doing. And sooner or later,

they are going back. They are going back, they are going back, they are going back. Everything that had seemed to be going right seems to be going wrong. Alchohol fuels anger. Its been too long. Not enough time between deployments. The battalion is fucked up. The company is fucked up. And at some point, someone mentions Couto. Private Couto is fucked up. Where does he live? What room does he stay in? Doesn’t matter. There are names on the doors. He is awakened from his sleep with a pillow over his head. The sensation is warm, and somewhat familiar. He can still breath. He does not panic yet. He does not move. Flight or Fight has been triggered, and he will stay, he will become still. He will not ask what is happening. They would probably not even tell him. “Turn him around, man!” There is a smacking sound. Private Couto is being slapped in the face by a dick, by a Johnson, by a penis. Is he crying now? “Turn him over, man. Fucking credit card swipe!” And Couto is finally violated. With the finger in his ass, Couto is no longer a man, not even a boy. The guys leave Couto after roughing him up a little more, and laugh at their joke. Some time later, private Couto speaks with the duty NCO. “Cohpowal.” Couto lisps worse now, upset and ashamed.

“What, Couto.” “I was waped.” “Huh?” “I was waped.” The duty NCO is bored. Couto is slow, ugly, weak. Wahtever happened to him cannot possibly be as bad as he says. “get out of here, Couto.” Couto leaves, confused. Who do you tell? His cell phone. Nine Eleven. In case of emergency. The dispatcher hears rape and marine, and puts him in contact with the base MP’s. The chain of events spiral out, quickly. ‘And that’s whats going on.” “Jesus.” “Yeah. And hes been telling everybody.” “What?” “That he was ‘waped’” I laugh. “You now, technically, he right. I mean, by a textbook definition.” “Couto’s a piece of shit.” “I know.” At this moment the shared bathroom door opens and there the piece of shit stands, with skinny limbs, pale white skin, and big yellow buck teeth, hunching inside a wrinkled uniform. “Wance Cohpowal Mikawl!” He weezes with

friendly, stinking breath. “Hey Couto.” “I was waped.” Suddenly, there is nothing left to say. Buckey looks at his hands in resignation. I walk out of the room, in an attempt to leave it behind me. There is little left to say. NINE At formation, I see Schueher wearing staff Sargeant chevrons. “What the fuck was all that about?” He asks. No one replies. “Because of all this Couto nonsense, were getting a free trip to the Carribean.” No one replies, but the formation shuffles a little, intrigued. “There was a training op floating around for Curucao.” Scheuher says. “With the Dutch Marines. Since all this shit, were getting it. So, congratulations. I mean, I cant congratualate whoever did it, but yeah. Congratulations.” “Stwaff Sawjent!” “Yes Couto.” “I was waped.” “Yes, you were, Couto.” Schueher says. “Good job.”

Out the window of the Airplane, the water changes color in the ocean. Off the tip of Miami, the water becomes a lighter blue, a clearer blue. The sun shines brightly through the wnidow. I watch Swain sleep in the seat next to me. He is wearing impeccable slacks and a polo shirt. Bill turns around from in front of me. “Their not going to discharge Cory.” He says. “They aren’t?” “They sent him to AA and gave him some pills. They said he’s fine.” “He put a hole in my floor. He tried to kill himself.” “The Marines say that hes fine.” “How the fuck do they say that.” “I don’t know. But they do.” “That sucks.’ “Im sick of it, dude.” Bill says. “I don’t want to go back.” “Yeah.” “Scheuhers an idiot. Hes an idiot and now hes platoon Sargeant, and hes going to get someone killed.” “Yeah. I mean, fuck, it’s a possibility.” “Im going to stay.” “Where?” “Here. In Curacao.” “What are you going to do?” “half the island is owned by this private citizen. Im going to work for him. As security or something.”

“Whats his name?” “I don’t know. Fucking Keyzer Soze.” The plane lands in the tropical wonder. The air is fresh, the sun is hot and beating down on our shoulders. There is a bustle in the air that is not American, with the dark skinned natives and the dutch talking with one another. All of us are dressed like tourist. Several European buses arrive to take us to the base. The boats are rubber and small. First squad packs into one, weapons pointed outward. The dutch Marine guns the engine, and we head out to sea. The boat rockets up and down. I look over the edge, into the infinite blue. I check the stock of my bullpup rifle, filled with blanks for this training exercise. We hit the white sandy beach, and I charge up into the hotel building. We take the tropical hotel, and break windows and doors, just for kicks. After the training exercise, Lieutenant Easter comes out in front of formation in white khaki shorts and flip flops. His cheeks are red from drinking. “Okay.” He says. “Overnight liberty. Everyone cool with that?”We shout yes sir, and Ooo-rah. There is a small bus that takes us to the beachfront bar. At the bar I think about the next day in September. It will be my birthday, in September and September and September. The night blurs. I dance with a long straight blonde with long straight hair. “I’m English.” She says. “My names Carrie. Im here on Holiday.” “Is Holiday like vacation?” “Yes. She says. “Holiday is like a vacation.”

“Would you like a drink.” “I would. Bacardi and coke.” I order the drinks from the bar. Something ugly springs up inside me as I do. I think of all the imperfections of this new girl. Of Carrie. I think about the sunspots on her face, Her flawed teeth.” “Your American?” She asks. “Yes.” I say. “Im a Marine.” “My father was American.” “That’s cool.” :He was in the military as well. He was in the Air Force.” “Were you raised in America?” “I was raised in England. In London.” “Id want to go to London. It seems cool.” “It is. It really is.” We dance and drink under the stars, and things blur even worse. The night concludes with me fucking her in the sand in the darkness Her bar ass in my hands, the feel of grains in my knees. Her moans in my ear, her breath on my throat. I come and come and fall asleep.

We dress in a hurry and head back to the party. The marines are going crazy, drinking and dancing. I find Bill in a corner. “Where were you?” He says.

“On the beach.” He nods knowingly, and I feel a sudden stab of paranoia. “Im not going to run off.” He says. “Im not going to try and work for Keyzer Soze.” “That’s good.” “I want to go to School. I want to go home, to central florida, and go to USF. I want to go to school and study nothing, just drink and fuck, and not do any of this.” “That’s good. That’s a goal.” “You’re my friend, Mikey.” Bill tells me. “You’re my friend and I love you.” The pain and the pleasure settles in, with the ocean wind and the loudness beyond it all. The fury we create, to escape from the other fury. On the floor Jerel is dancing and celebrating his birthday, the bon fire tracing arcs of his skin. Here we are gods. The next day I walk along the sand by myself. The impossible white, the infinite blue. Is this even the same world, as Khandahar or Kabul? It doesn’t feel like it. The air is always light. I take the bus downtown. Curucao has pebblestoned streets, and the bay arches into the middle of the square. I buy a tropical drink and think of what would be appropriate. How much do I know about myself? This is what I want. TEN

In april another asshole with brass on his shoulder comes to Camp Lejuene to feed us his line of bullshit. They were all the same, anyway. Starting with “Marines!” to confirm that yes, this important individual was indeed talking to, or rather at, us. It would then include some form of “good job” with possibly stating vague references to our “job” being “hard work”. You stand at attention at these things, and stare at nothing, and think about when you go back to the world. But this asshole also happened to be president, so I was halfway interested in the experience of listening to what he had to say, if not the actual content. My head is still swimming as I make my bed neatly and empty my trash can. My mouth tastes like shit, like cheap beer mixed with sleeping aids. Dressed neatly now, faded digital camouflage uniform, camouflage cap pulled over too much hair. Tan boots, scuffed and weathered. A quick glance before I head out. Ive managed to shave this morning. Don’t remember doing that. Out in front of the barracks, next to our sign HOME OF THE FIGHTIN “I: 3RD BN 6th MARINES Red letters etched into wood. The sign has been there since World War One, maybe even longer. I light a smoke, and see Bill out front. “Bum a smoke, dude?” He asks. I toss him the pack, and give him a jump off the embers. Bill takes a deep drag. “Dude, what the fuck were you drinking last night? “Nyquil and Keystone light, I think.” Bill lets out a

grin. “So, what was the occasion. You call old girl whats her face?” “Yeah, Turq.” “Plenty more fish in the sea, dude.” I shrug and turn. A gesture that’s meant to say no there aren’t, not like her, and my stomach elevator works backwords. I walk quickly and with purpose, to the bathroom, to the toilet, and give my porcelain goddess her offering. As I finish, I hear the barked orders. “Form it up, First Platoon!” I wipe off my face and try to walk straight. Staff Sargeant Scheueher sees me coming and gives me a cold stare. He is going for a Drill Instructor thing these days. Theres always the ten percent, who don’t care, who aren’t motivated, that make everyone else look like shit. Let that be me, then. I will accept the burden. I am the shit-bag, the short-timer, too short even for our wannabe Drill Instructor. Yet I feel the hate in his stare, as he wraps his Brain, One, Marine Corps general issue around a fact that he can accept. I have been to war, with him, and I have seen his true face. I know that right now hes looking for me to stumble in front of him, to slur my words so he can smell my breath for alchohol. So I walk straight, march even, quick and with a purpose, and I make it to formation. And this is how much of my time has been spent for three years, standing in a straight line, hands behind my back, swaying slightly from the breeze and last nights booze. My squad leader, Corporal Sweetness

notices, and gives me a glare. I give him a cocky grin and a shrug. He shakes his head, with a little half smile. Yesterday I was in the India Company offices. He was standing in front of Easter and Scheuher. His uniform was impeccable, and if his boots were black and not tan, I could tell that they would be shining. “Corporal.” Scheuher began. “I am not recommending you for promotion at this time.” “Why is that, Staff Sargeant?” “I do not believe that your are ready for the responsibility at this time.” “ I see. And what would I need?” “Ah-“ Adds the Lieutenant. “Because Ive been a Corporal for over two years. I was meritoriously promoted, I have the highest PFT in the platoon, and an expert rifle score.” “At ease, Corporal.” “Om just wondering, Staff Sargeant, what else I would fucking need too….” “OUT OF LINE, CORPORAL!” Sweetness is breathing hard for a minute, and then hes composed himself. “Yes, Staff Sargeant.” “I based this decision off a number of factors. You will still remain first squad leader.” He pushes a sheet of paper across the desk. “Sign it.” And Swain does, and then executed a neat about face when hes dismissed. Scheuher leans back, and shakes his head. “I never thought Id see the day when Id have one

of those in my platoon.” “Don’t ask, don’t tell, right?” The lieutenant chuckles. “Isnt that what it is nowadays?” “Oh yeah, oh yeah. But I’ll tell you what-“ Scheueher leans forward in the chair, and drops his voice, “As long as I’m in the Marine Corps, Corporal Swain will never see Sargeant.” I hear the company office door shut, but not before I see Sweetness’s face behind it. I know he heard everything. What they said, and what they didn’t have to say. One of those. Don’t ask, don’t tell, right? Faggot. We stand and wait and wait and wait, and mutter very quietly, fuck this shit, our true refrain of dissent. The command is given INDIA COMPANY ATTEN-HUT! From that moment forward, I am a zombie. My movements are not my own, they have been programmed into me in boot camp, three years ago. My thoughts can do what they wish, my body will only respond to the commands. Left facemforward march, and off we go, to listen to this wonderful speech on this wonderful day by our wonderful fucking president. All that can be heard in the background static of being in the military: tersely barked orders, hurry it up, India Company! Or cadence, rolling with a nearly musical crescendo, leheft, Raht, Lehwuh Righighty leheft Raht……………….A sea of well pressed digital camouflage

uniforms and bright tan boots under a mildly sunny spring day. We march across Camp Lejuene, individual formations, battalions of Marines, hundreds of them, a traffic jam without internal combustion. I welcome the exercise and fresh air, it helps move the alchohol from the night before out of my blood. The grassy stadium beside the commissary has a bleachers with a podium in the middle of it that was not there the night before. Guidons, the red and gold flags of the Marine units flap in the breeze, lined up neatly at the top of the bleachers, behind where the president will speak. “Jesus, look at all the fucking POGS’s Cory mutters. And there are a lot of them, truck drivers and desk jockeys. Personnel Other than Grunt. Marines that are not Infantry, who fake war stories when they go home. Pretenders, unlike us. Our only job was to kill. “Dude, you think these guys feel guilty about not going over there?” “I don’t know.” Cory snorts. “I fuckin don’t. I got my ribbons and shit. I don’t need anything else. Don’t need to go back.” “But we are going back, dude.” “Yeah. I know.” We are given our orders. Listen up, Marines. No formations, everyone fall out into the bleachers, this is going to look like a speech for the news media, not a military event…. I head a phrase muttered under someones breath, it gets picked up and passed around , and assented Fuckin dog and pony show, Yeah, no shit, cant wait until I EAS, get the fuck out, who gives a shit

about this, just want to fucking sit down, drank a shitload last night……. The murmering is apparently loud enough to perk the ear of First Sergeant Post. Lock it up! The order is given, and we obey. That’s what we do. I take a seat in the back of the bleachers, near the guidon flags. I see no familiar faces, and I wish I did. The Marines seated around me look higher in rank, older in age, and probably not interested in a slightly drunken young short timers comments on this even. And my mind drifts back to last night, when after a dozen beers I decided to drink and dial. “Hello?” “Hey, Turq. Didn’t think you would pick up.” “Oh no. Its cool.” “Look, I owe you an apology. For everything. “Its okay. Do you want to talk to Selah?” Look, Turq-“ And I do it. I drop the L-bomb. The one I know will end the conversation, will send her running. “Don’t say that again.” Already she sounds scared. “I wont. I just wanted to say it once, before I go over there. You know?” “how can you say that?” She says. “How can you say that, and do what you did?” “I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I just do.” “You don’t get to.” She tells me. “You don’t get to say that.”

Bill is in the crowd, not having drunk as much the night before, he does not desire a seat as much as I do. I pull a ticket out of my pocket, to make this seems as much as an “Event” as possible, they issued tickets to every Marine on the base who was attending, which was everyone. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune Welcomes President Barack H. Obama Thursday, April 3 Location W.P.T. Hill Field Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, NC Gates arrive at 7:45 a.m. Please arrive no later than 9:45 a.m. I laugh. I have walked through this field, sometimes several times in one night, to get beer, and whiskey or cigarettes from the commissary, and this is the first time I have heart it called W.P.T. Hill Field. I wonder, did they invent that name for this occasion? “Look, I don’t know, it just seems like, to hear you say that, is just kind of seems like b……………s. I’m just saying.” And her words tear me apart, its all wrong, what shes doing to me, but hearing the sound of her voice is all right. “Hey, look Turqiose. I get it. You don’t have to feel guilty about anything. Your young. Your having fun.” “But….why cant you?”

Because Im not like you. Because Im not old enough to drink, but Im older than you, probably older than your parents. Because so far Ive had twenty-five through twenty-seven stolen from me, and I still owe them one more year. “Don’t worry about me. And don’t regret anything. Just have fun. Live your life.” And shes saying something about her and Sam not working out maybe, and we can hang out sometime, and I can see Selah whenever I want, but I know that Im gone already. Gone from her life. Gone from the states. Gone. The conversation dwindles like this, and I hang up when its over. Jesus God, I need to sleep now. I take the Nyquil from under the sink and chug half the bottle. It goes well with the beer already in my stomach. The world stops being mildly blurry, and starts melting. I am wandering down the barracks catwalk, wearing my t-shirt skirt and mumble-drooling gibberish. I have found a room. Is it mine? I open the door, and exclaim my surprise at the residents. Bill and Cory stare at me for a few seconds, and then laugh. “God, dude. You see? That’s what this fucking place does to you, man. Fuck this shit.” Bill gently takes my shoulder and leads me to my room. My ass is hanging out of my t-shirt underpants. Sleep is here. A sound like an angry hummingbird. Gleaming Helicopters filled the air, fresh black and white paint sparkling in the sun. Distant cousins to the dirty grey Ospreys I know so well. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on

the side, with an eagle in the middle. This is his seal, this must be him. “Why are there so many choppers?” I ask the POG looking sergeant next to me. “This is how they do it, to protect from terrorist.” He explains. “Yeah, I guess we do a lot of things to protect from terrorist now.” But who cares, let all this shit get blown away, my life is already gone, L-bombed to hell, eye dash vee eee you boom gone. A light skinned black man in a blue tie, surrounded by a mob of men in black suits gets out of a helicopter. Holding hands with a tall black woman in a cream colored pantsuit, he steps onto a podium built for him overnight. As he smiles and waves, the Marines in the stands follow their orders and stand up and clap excitedly. I think about Turqiose, and raise my hand in the peace sign, lost in the roar of the crowd.

ELEVEN I am riding my motorcycle, a Harley Davidson Nighster 1200. The Pipes are loud and the wind beats fast on my face. Tomorrow is deployment, tomorrow is leaving. I count in my head all the things that take part in today, all the different changes to plans, all the different ways things could go and have gone. A car cuts me off, I swerve, and then think nothing of it, thinking

only of the facts at hand. Iraq is getting worse. There are earthquakes and floods. True unemployment is near twenty percent. I am fading in and out of a very strange dream. I am on the plane again with Bill, looking at my left hand, and the discolored ring spot, listening to bright eyes. There is a deep sense of dread in my stomach. How many times can I do this? I made it the first time. Almodovar hits the sand like a bag of wet fruit. Meir lives without legs. Reilly dies in the mountains. The bullet passes by my head. Random chance ruling everything. Now I am sitting in a field, waiting on a bus, my rifle propped up on my pack. A mountain of green duffel bags in front of me. A few wives are here, with children. No one to see me, most of us have already said our goodbyes. Cory gets up, takes a drag from his smoke, and thoughtfully pauses. “Goodbye, Camp Lejuene. I hope- well I hope you burn in hell.” We laugh, a hollow sound. “Last year, dude, then we get the fuck out. Bill grins. “Stop loss.” I regret the words even as they come out of my mouth. “Stop Loss, directed be Congress. A mandate that this is all there is to be to your life.” “That was eloquent, dude.” Cory says. “A four year contract that last forever,” “That wasn’t as good. The congress mandate part, that sounded about right.” “Your both fucking drama queens.” Bill says. The bus takes us both to the air station, and we

wait there. All the non ncos go load the packs and duffel bags into the cargo hold. Then into the plane, the 747/ The smiling stewardesses and inflight movie obscenely out of place. Nect to red dot rifles, Night vision helmets, and machine guns. I close the window and put on my Ipod. The first song that comes on, is bright eyes. “We are destined for greatness, dude.” Bill tells me. “Why do you say that?” I ask. “Both of us are in our twenties, and have jobs.” He says. “The jobs pay for shit.” ‘Prestige, man. Prestige counts on a resume.” “You know the iwo jima memorial?” “Yeah.” “You know what those guys did? After the war?” “Im sure you’re about to fucking tell me.” “One of them was a janitor. The other was a undertaker. The other was a day laborer on an Indian reservation.” “Sucks to be them.” “Sucks to be us.” “This is true.” “What are you going to do?” Bill asks me. “What are your going to do, after all this?”

“Im going to get a job with my dad.” I say. “Im going to get a job with my dad, working in a federal prison.” “As a guard?” “Yeah.” “Isn’t that dangerous as shit?” ‘Its not that bad. TV makes it seem worse than in is.” “Fuck that. I’m going to school.” “What for?” “Finance. I want to make money.” “The evils of the burgiouze . Enslaving the workers.” “Fucking communist.” “Least I didn’t vote for Bush.” “wasn’t old enough to vote.” “Fucking kid.” The plane lands quietly after hours and hours. We disembark and the pretty stewardess smiles at me. “Good luck.” She says. Off the plane and down the ladder, we are leaving reality. And back in Afghanistan. The smell hits me and once. The smell of human odor, of slums and death and shit. The Embassy has changed dramatically. There is a ten foot high slick tan aluminum fence around the entire

enclosure. Atop the fence hangs strands of aluminum razor wire. As the five ton trucks pull through the heavy gate, I see the rooftop, decorated with sand bags. Sniper huts squat from every corner, the long barrels of their muzzles barely visible. The back of the truck opens. I am struck by a terrible feeling, when my boots touch the ground. Worse than déjà vu. I am struck by the feeling that I have never left. In my hands is the M16A4, with the red dot scope. On my head is the heavy Kevlar helmet, with night vision scope. Strapped to me is my body armor, with heavy Kevlar plates. There is a faint explosion from somewhere far off, beyond the mountains, the mountains that surround and engulf Kabul. Staff Sergeant Schueher forms us up into two lines. We march out as a platoon behind the Embassy. Where there were once trees stand tractor trailer con-ex boxes. The white trailers have been outfitted with windows and doors. The roofing is topped with aluminum and sandbags. I open the white door and walk inside. There are rows of military grade bunk beds lining up on either side. Inside there is also fake wood siding, and bare light bulbs from the ceilings Cory sits in a corner, playing a playstation 3 game. I recognize its from the sounds of the explosions as modern warfare. Cory looks up at us and sighs. “Huh.” He says. “You guys finally showed up.” I hang my rifle on the edge of a bed by its sling. I unstrap my flak and Kevlar, and stash them on top of the grey army blanket. Cory looks bleak and turns the video game off. “You got the top, dude. I got the bottom.” He

rubs his fingers on the new chevrons on his collar. “Hey. You picked up Corporal.” “Yeah. Last Month. Im first team leader.” “Whos in first team?” Cory asks. “You and Gilbeau.” “So I guess you want the bottom.” “No. Its cool. Ill sleep up top.” “That’s good, dude. I’m a big guy. It would be hard for me to make it all the way up there.” I toss my ranger pack under the bed, along with my seabag. Alongside the bunkbeds are grey wall lockers. I open one up and arrange a few personal things. Across the room I see Bill and Sweetness setting up their own lockers. After I finish I climb up on the bed. “Hey first.” Bill says. “Formation at sixteen hundred, behind the embassy. Go ahead and do whatever until then.” Cory snorts and mutters. “I don’t need Bill’s permission, to do whatever.” “He’s squad leader, dude.” I say. “Hes just trying to act the part.” “Yeah. Guess it doesn’t matter, anyway .” “How is it, here?” I ask. “What do you do?” “Go on post, get off post. Four hours on, eight hours off, with three platoons. After that, weve got video games, and the internet. Oh, and here.” Cory cracks open his locker and pulls out a small bottle of Jack Daniels. He brings out two paper cups and

fills each with a shot. I toss it back. The liquid giving a happy burn to my throat. “I get it from the contractors.” He says. “From the mercs. Its something to do.” “That’s cool.” “I can get other stuff.” He says. “If your interested.” “No thanks.” I said. “I mean, I don’t know. Maybe.” “its quiet here, mostly.” “That’s good. Quiet is good.” “Its good sometimes. It gets to you other times.” “What do you mean?” “I mean, for like, a week, nothing will happen. And then there’ll be an explosion. And you’ll never now where it came from. It’ll just sound far or distant. One time a mortar hit, right behind the embassy, by the basement. And it didn’t go off. It just bounced there, and rolled.” “Who saw it?” “I guy I know in Kilo company. Lyborg. He got me, and we just watched it. We didn’t do anything. After a little bit, we left to smoke, and when we came back, it was gone.” “That’s fucking weird.” I say. “Yeah. Did you bring your laptop?” I pull out my macbook from my seabag and hand it to him. Cory looks it over and nods. “This is good.” He says. “We can use this for e-mail. You can connect from the trailers.”

“That’s cool. I mostly brought it to write.” “Are you still writing?” Cory asks. “I remember on float, you said you were going to write a book.” “I am. Its hard to know, when to start.” “Start from the beginning, dude. Only place to do it.” “Whats the beginning, though? When do things really begin?” “The beginning is the beginning. The beginning is when all this shit really started.” Cory returns to his video game, and I take my boots off and stretch out on the bed. I am surprisingly comfortable. Part of me is smugly satisfied just to have a bed this time, and not to be sitting in a hole, or sleeping on the ground. I power up Microsoft word, and look at my document. Three hundred words written. Where to go from there? How much more will I need? I think about writing on Kabul. Instead, I search the side of the beds for a phone jack. I find it, and plug in to the net. Into the search bar, I type. John Sack Several porn sites immediately pop into view. I scan down until I find John Sack 1930-2004 Tragically, war correspondent John Sack, Who has covered every war since World War Two, died recently after finishing up what was to be his last work, The Army in Afghanistan: Interviews with the true warrior heroes!

John Sack spent nearly three months embedded with the 82nd Airborne in Khandahar, Afghanistan, as they fought the Taliban. This true life story is available now from barnes and noble and amazon and wherever else fine books are sold. Something ugly crawls up the back of my throat. I scan down the list. Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Somalia. Army in Afghanistan. “That mother fucker.” I say aloud. “Whats up?” Cory answers. “that fucking faggot John Sack.” “Who was he?” “Our embedded reporter. From Kandahar.” “Right, the old guy. Did you know he knew Hunter S. Thompson?” “He didn’t write about us.” “Huh?” “He didn’t write anything about us. He wrote about the army instead.” “The guys that didn’t have any bullets?” “Yeah. He wrote a fucking book about them. We didn’t even get an article.” “Huh. That sucks.” “I talked to that guy for hours, dude. I told him about stuff.” “Yeah. Me too. I think he talked to just about everyone in the platoon.”

“How the fuck, dude? How the fuck could he do that?” “I don’t know. Guess he thought the Army had better stories.” “That’s bullshit, dude. It really is.” “So write your own. Write your own story.” I sit back and I start to type. I put down what I think and felt about Khandahar, about boot camp. Soon enough it is time for post. We stand in two lines behind the embassy. Flack body armor and Kevlar helmet, M16 with red dot scope. Waiting for Scheuher. He finally walks out. In an impeccable uniform. He gives us a speech on duty and honor. His tone is near mocking, his mannerisms look copied and false. When he assigns us all our posts, I am put on roving duty with Cory. “That’s good, dude. It’s a good post. Its not that boring, and it gives us something to do.” “Okay.” “I’ll give you a tour, dude. I’ll show you where the fuck everything is.” We walk past the pavement to the gravel. To the front gate of the embassy It is a large tan colored wrought iron gate. “This is post two.” Cory says. “If a bomb goes off here, this is where you get vaporized.” The Kilo company Marines nod and stand around, bored. There are white lawn chairs near the gate, in a shack. Beside it is a large stack of water bottles. Cory reaches in and tosses me a bottle. “Nescafe.” He says.

“This is the good water. You don’t want to drink that shit, that’s bottled in Pakistan.” He turns to the Marines. “You guys good?” He asks. “You need a battery, or anything?” No one speaks up. He points to a bunker. “You see that? That’s a 240 golf. It’ll shoot out the engine block, if anyone tries to run the gate. Save everyone’s life. Except, you know, the guys at the gate. And the guy in the bunker. Theyre all dead. Lets check out the VIA. We turn right and walk to the gravel. There is a parking lot here filled with cars, Mostly old Toyotas, but also a few black SUV’s. “This is the Vehicle Inspection Area.” Cory says. A Marine stands next to a trench with tracks for car wheels, that I have seen in auto shops. He is carrying a small hand held mirror. “This is where almost everyone goes when they come in the embassy, to get their shit checked out for IED’s or whatever.” “Almost everyone?” I ask. “Who doesn’t?” “VIP Staff. The ambassador, the mercs. The ambassadors staff. When they come through, they go straight through. No stopping.” “Your going to love checking out the haaji cars.” Says the Marine with the hand held mirror. “Why?” I ask. “Those motherfuckers stink. Bad, dude. Like rotten egg-unwashed ass stink.” “I saw you guys got the good water on post two.” “Yeah. Some dumbass Army Sergeant that doesn’t lock his doors. He had two crates of it in his trunk. Boosted them both.”

“The VIA is a good place.” Cory tells me. “To acquire shit.” A car pulls through the front gate, and into the VIA. A haaji in a dress gets out, and the marine with the mirror pat searches him, running a hand held metal detector over his body. He then pops open the hood, and looks carefully. Cory starts to walk away, and I follow him. At the edge of the gravel is a smaller gate, made of wrought iron bars. “This is the original front gate.” Cory says. “Back before they decided the needed, y’know, something better.” He walks inside the small wooden shack set up next to it. “Hey Jones, you alright?” “Hell no.” Jones says. Im ready to go the fuck home.” I look inside the shack. There are various ID cards, clipped up in neat rows. Several Afghanistan, Arabic, American drivers liscence, and other. “This is Post Three.” Cory says. “You pass out the ID cards, and you open the small gate.” “Whatever you do.” Jones says. “Don’t leave the ambassador hanging at the gate. It’s an easy way to get your ass chewed out.” He spits a stream of tobacco onto the packed sand floor, leaning on a plastic chair propped up with sandbags. The gate buzzes open and slides back with a rattle, and we walk through. In front of the embassy are more conex box trailer houses, sitting on what was once the front lawn. There are tall trees around them, trees that look like oak, or maple, that I can imagine finding in Virginia. At the front

is the ten foot fence, topped with glistening razor wire. A wooden step ladder leads up to a post topped with sandbags. Bill is standing by the sandbags, resting his rifle, pointing outward. A cigarette dangles from his lips. “Hey, Bill.” I offer. “I forgot what haaji speak was.” Bill says. “For move your fucking car.” I look over the edge of the fence. I can see a busy main street, running with buses and jingle trucks, small Hyundai cars, and donkey carts. On the opposite side an Afghani soldier leans back on a chair. Bill points to him. “That is one lazy fuck.” Bill says. “That guy wont do any fucking thing, unless you point your weapon, and scream at him.” “Basically, “ Cory tells me. “What you do here is keep the traffic moving. Don’t let anyone stop, and don’t let anyone park next to the embassy, unless you want to die. Yell at the damn haaji if anyone does, and he’ll make them move.” On the opposite side of the street I see Another building with razor wire. A haaji guard stands out front of a small gate in a camouflage uniform. “The haaji army.” Bill says. “The northern alliance, or the afghan army, or whatever. They live next door. Hey dude, you see that cartoon on the wall?” On the stone wall by the building I see it, a strange mixture of cartoon animals, Arabic script, and AK-47’s. “That’s a haaji PSA.” Bill tells me. “It says to shoot rabid dogs, and bring the bodies in to be burned.” “The more you know.” Cory adds.

“You see the picture right next to it?” Bill says. “That’s Massoud. He’s like, the haaji Che Guevera.” “He’s even got almost the same story.” Cory says. “He was all badass fighting the Commies, but then the Taliban killed him. With a bomb or some shit.” “You got a battery, dude?” Bill says. “I could use a battery.” Cory reaches into his cargo pocket and swaps out Bills battery. We stand up there a moment longer. I look down either side of the main street, where it runs to the circle, and where it runs down into the city. The city, built on top of the mountains. The houses, without any roofs. Cory sighs. “C’mon.” he says. “Lets go up to the roof.” As we go back off the front lawn to the front of the embassy, I spent a quick ten seconds reading the plaque again, in front of the flag. “You can buy a flag from the embassy for like, thirty bucks.” Cory says. “And they’ll fly it for you. It makes a cool gift.” At the front of the building, next to the glass double doors, we stick the muzzles of our weapons in a clearing barrel and remove the bullet from the chamber. Next to it a Marine dances from foot to foot, doing the funky chicken. “Hey, Cory.” He says. “relieve me real quick. I gotta go piss.” Cory nods and we both take his place standing by the door. Two marines come and by the flag. Taps plays on the embassy loudspeaker and we all stand at attention. The sun is lowering itself in the late afternoon. When the music stops we stand back again by the tin

barrel full of sand. A very pretty girl walks up, in afghani clothes, her hair wrapped up in a blue sarif. Her eyes are Bright brown. I can see her hair, black and curly, near her eyebrows. Her eyebrows are thick yet femine. She reminds me of Deanna Troi, from Star Trek. Imzadi. “Hi Cory.” She says. “Whos your friend?” “This is Merrell.” Cory tells her. “Wow.” She smiles at me. “Merrell. That’s a great name.” “Thanks.” “It really is. You should be proud.” “I guess so. Im used to it.” “Im Shazia.” “That’s a pretty good name.” “I guess. My sister’s name is Paula. Iwas always jealous. Until I found out Paula was Hitlers sisters name.” Other women is dresses and head scarves arrive. I hear the low murmer of Arabic on their lips. Somehow it sounds musical, not harsh and abrupt like it usually does. They are all the same color of light olive. Only Shazia’s hair is showing from the top of the scarf. She smiles, and looks guilty. “Goodbye, “she offers. The group of women disappears around the corner of the lobby. Their shoes ring a Cop, chop into my brain, the foot paddings of timid deer. “This is post One.” Cory says. “This is primarily where you can meet mercs and embassy staff.”

“Are the rest of the staff like Shazia?” I ask. Cory snorts. “Hell no. Most of them are fat and old. Most of them either hate or dislike Marines. I talked to Shazia about it, a little. She says you’ve really got to draw the short straw in the state department to get stationed out in Afghanistan.” “So no ones here by choice.” “No one. Not even the Ambassador.” “Sucks to be them.” “Not really. They get to leave, dude. You and I, were stuck behind the wire.” “Where can they go?” “They’ve got shops and shit out in the market. They’ve got a ISAF base near here, and they’ve got safe houses out back. Theres ways you can get around, out here. It can happen.” The Marine returns from the bathroom, buttoning his fly. I look around the lobby. It has a high ceiling, with black marble floors. There are bullet holes on the far wall. When I look at the front door, I see the matching pair. Behind thick glass at the side of the lobby, I see Corporal Eynon sitting around a panel of monitors and switches. He swiftly spits a stream of tobacco juice into an awaiting soda can. The motion reminds me of a regurgitating mother bird, with his gawking adams apple, and beak of a nose. “That’s post One-Alpha.” Cory says. “Handles all the doors and gates. Also watches all the cameras set up, around the Embassy walls. I guess they thought

Eynon was to much of a weak bitch to do anything else.” “I guess so.” “Cmon, dude.” Cory slaps the back of my flak. “Lets get up to the roof.” We walk up a flight of stairs in the far left corner of the lobby. We walk up and up and up, what seems to be an endless loop of stairs. I look down and feel dizzy. At the top is a dirty green access door. Cory takes out his Motorola radio and calls. “Hunter to post Eight, at the door.” There is a creak of metal on metal, and the door opens to the roof. I step through it, and onto the rough sandy substance of the roofing. The air is colder up here, and the wind blows faster. There are three huts, set up built with plywood and sandbags. Cory heads to the far left one. I get close to the edge as I follow him, and stop and stare out. From here, I can see the heart of Kabul. I can see the traffic on the streets. I can see the rows of houses missing roofs. I can see The embassy walls, the guard posts on every corner. The ten foot high wall, topped with razor wire. From here, the embassy looks almost pleasant. There are green trees, near the side fence. Beyond that, I can see a vast construction side, with piles of concrete and rebar, and holes dug, for some future foundation. Cory pops his head out of the makeshift door on the sniper hut. “Cmon in, dude.” He says. “It gets cold out there, and Mason’s got a space heater.” I weave past the camouflage netting, and into the room with Cory. Inside, Mason is staring vaguely at nothing, from behind

the M-14. Kirkland is playing A Playstation Portable. A racing game, from the sound of it. “You ,Know dude.” He says. “When I quit minor league ball, this is not what I thought of.” “What did you think of?” Mason asks. “I don’t know. Running around with guns. Kicking ass. Killing ragheads. Definitely not sitting on the roof of some shithole, playing video games.” “That was last deployment.” Cory says. “This deployment is sitting on the roof of a shithole.” Kirkland groans and rubs his bald head. “I guess so. I guess I really didn’t know fucking anything. Listened to my recruiter, and my dumb ass believed him. That, and nine-eleven. Bought into that shit. Again, like a dumb ass. But its like, its like in the barracks? All we do is clean.” “All you do is clean.” I tell him. “Because you’re a boot.” “That’s the thing though, Corporal Michael. Its like, here, I am a boot to you, because I’ve been in less time or whatever. But out there, I’m stronger than you, and I make more money. No disrespect or anything.” “None taken. I was working at Lowes before this.” “It’s a what do you call it. A hierarchy.” “Well, Brian.” Mason drawls. “this is the United States Military. I mean, there is some structure to it.” “Yeah.” Kirkland draws out a pack of Newport’s. He taps one out, then offers it to the both of us. “Yeah. Fuck it. Im only bitching, anyway.”

“That’s all we do.” Mason says. “That’s all we can do on the roof. Fucking bitch or sleep.” Kirkland chuckles. “Or the other thing.” “Yeah.” Cory smiles. “We might do a little of that tonight.” “Did you get the stuff, dude?” “A little. Tooth came through.” “Shit makes me hungry. That’s the only thing.” “Speaking of which, its time for Mikey and me to chow.” “Good luck with all that.” Kirkland returns to his PSP, and resumes the race. We take the stairs all the way down, to the basement. Inside a room to the left sweaty mercs in cut off wife beaters lift weights and run on treadmills. “The weight rooms pretty good.” Cory says. “I spent a lot of time down here with Barnhill. We can come here, If you want. I need someone new to lift with.” “That’s cool.” “Remember what else was down here?” Cory says. The basement has been transformed into a miniature armory. Grey walls, low light by fluorescents. Rows of AT4 missile launchers and Ammunition boxes stack next to a cage filled with riot shields and batons. I walk to the middle of the concrete floor. “This is where we found that guy.” I tell him. “They call him Tooth.” Cory says. “He works here

now. They give him a job, cleaning offices and shit.” “Fuck, dude.” I point to the ground. “I can still see the blood spots. I think.” “Maybe. Nobody ever comes down here. You can cut through it, going to the gym. There’s a small door over here.” We walk int o the blinding sun, after the cool and dark of the basement. I squint and pull on my Oakley’s. Behind the embassy we arrive back at the trailers. As we pass the conex trailers on the way to the Chow Hall I look at each one. Some have flowers in the front yard, and a yard with grass. Windows and doors. I see a lady walking her cat on a leash on the front lawn. To the far end, near the fence, there are the boxes of wire and dirt that protect is all from explosion. In front of the chow hall we rub hand sanitizer on our hands in a station out front. We clear our rifles again, in a barrel out front. Inside is the bustle of Marines and Embassy staff, lining up to eat. We place our weapons on racks near the entrance, and pile our Flak and Kevlar on shelves next to it. Like everything else outside the main building, the chow hall is made from Conex trailers. A small haaji sits by a table at the head of the line, with an ancient cash register. The man in front of me in a polo shirt and slacks Reaches into his wallet, and pulls out five dollars. “Do we have to pay?” I ask Cory. “No, dude. This shits free for us.” I walk through the line. I get what looks like beef stew with rice, and green beans. I grab a cook and settle down at a table, covered with a red and white checkered tablecloth. When I grab the top of the soda can it opens

up funny. The entire tab comes out, leaving me with a sharp triangle in my hands. I gaze at the can, Red with White Arabic script, and am struck with an enormous amount of déjà vu. “You okay, Mikey?” Cory asks. “that did it for me.” I say. “The haaji coke?” “The haaji coke. Do you remember the first time first time we had this shit?” Cory scarfs down a faceful of food. “Probably in Bahrain. In Bahrain, or on float.” “It was on float. In the soda machines, on the Bataan. They changed them, when we went through the horn.” “Right. I remember now. They didn’t change them back until when. Malta?” “That, or Spain. When I broke my hand.” “So you’ve had some sort of revelation? Wait until you’ve had curry every day for a week.” “That’s what this shit is? I thought it was beef stew.” “You’ve never had Indian food before.” “Not really.” “Its where the vendors are from. India. Sometimes they make hot dogs, or steak. Mostly, it’s a lot of fucking curry.” “Its still better. Everything’s better than last time.”

“MRE’s and a foxhole? Yeah. I can see your point. But your not looking at the big picture.” “What’s that?” I ask. “Well, for one thing, we have no idea how long were going to sit here.” “The Colonel said six months.” “The Colonel doesn’t know shit. Look all over the news, Iraq is blowing up.” “How does that affect us?” “Stop loss, dude. Stop Loss and Stop Move. If they send everyone else out into the other sandbox, we don’t get relieved.” “So were here indefinitely.” “Pretty much.” I chew my food thoughtfully. “I don’t give a shit.” I say. “I’m getting out next year. They can keep me here till then.” “I don’t know. Dude.” Cory says. “This place here, this place might change your mind. Its pretty intense, from time to time.” “Have you guys seen any action?” I ask. Cory shakes his head. “Not really. But all around us, shit happens. The India embassy got hit. The Army base next door. All these compounds, and their all around us, and you know our time will be up, eventually. “ “I don’t know.” I say. “I don’t see any reason to think that way.”

Cory swallows the last of his haaji Pepsi. “I want to show you something.” He says. “Lets go out by the rear gate.” Out behind the large dirt boxes I can hear the roar of a generator. “It runs on diesel.” Cory says. “This whole embassy runs on diesel. That’s how you get power, out here in Kabul. You have a great big generator.” “How do they fill it up?” “They park a great big truck out here, behind the embassy, and hook it up to the diesel tanker.” “Isn’t that dangerous? I mean, with the fuckers blowing up? You would thinks so. The people that matter, they don’t think that way. Or maybe they don’t give a shit. Either way, that’s the way its done.” We climb up a wooden staircase that leads to a post over looking the rear gate. From here I can see a series of alleyways in a neighborhood behind the embassy. “All of these are safe houses.” Cory says. “Some of the embassy staff, that doesn’t live in the trailers, lives back here. That one right there, that’s the Mercs.” A stocky haaji in a green uniform with a wicked looking knife in his belt stands at the alleyway. “Who is that guy?” I ask. “That’s the Gurka’s.” Cory says. “There guards from Nepal. They’ve got the contract to guard the mercs’ safe house. Everything here, is about contracts. Look, this is what I wanted to show you. You see that little rag, over there to the right? In the fence.” I look across the alley to where Cory is pointing.

There is a thin trail of blue fabric, fluttering in the wind, hanging from the razor wire. The rag is nearly translucent, pale, thin fabric. If the sun were to hit it, it would seem to be made of nothing. “What is it?” “That was her dress. That’s whats left of her.” “Whos her?” “A girl tried to climb the embassy fence back here. The guy on post, had to take her out.” “No shit.” “Yeah. After she was dead she got all tangled up in the wire, and they had to cut her out. The lieutenant that gave the order was all fucked up after that. The ended up replacing him. I mean, she was just a kid, man. Like eleven or twelve years old.” “Did you know the guy? I mean, the guy that shot?” Cory shakes his head. “Not real well. Some guy from Kilo Company. He says hes cool with it, I mean, he says that he gets why it had to happen. I don’t know though. I saw it afterwards.” “That’s fucked up.” “Yeah. But that’s what it is, here. Fucked up. Hey, so you see those mountains?” I look over the neighborhood, to two large hills, that gently roll overhead. “Yeah.” “We call those mount Jenna Jameson. Cause, you know, its like two tits. The haajis climb up there and

shoot rockets off it into the city.” “What, like a mortar?” “Not really. Like an unguided rocket. Propped up on a stick or something. Just pointed in the general direction of Kabul. Just, fwooosh, go forth and do good.” “Jesus.” “This place. Its fucking crazy.” Eight hours off post seem to go by in a blink of an eye, and the next time we take post the embassy is lit by streetlamps. The night is not as cold as I thought it was. Again, Schueher puts me on the Roving Post with Cory.“The first thing we need.” Cory says. “Is coffee.” We stop off by the chow hall and raid the coffee pot, taking our cups with us on the walk up to Post Two. With the front gate closed, Sweetness and Gilbeau are sitting in the plastic lawn chairs, chatting about nothing. “Everyone good?” Cory asks. “Yeah.” Sweetness says. “Bored. That’s it, though.” “Im going to take Mikey to check out the Construction site.” “Good luck.” Sweetness says. “Don’t shoot at the ghost.” We walk through a small gate behind the parking lot and entire the construction site. All around us pipe, cement, and rebar, catch the near light and seem to flicker. “Theyre building another embassy.” Cory says. “That’s what all this war on terror money is going into. A new building, for the ambassador. When its done, the

mercs are going to staff it. Zero Marines. It might happen next year, or the one after that.” “Anything going on out here at night? I mean, besides us.” “Not really. You remember what Sweetness said?” “Yeah. Don’t shoot at anyone.” “No, dude. The ghost.” “What about it?” “Some guys in Kilo saw a woman out here. In a blue burqa. When they went out to get her, she disappeared.” “Like, disappeared disappeared.” “Like vanished. One of the guys said he could see right through her.” “Craziness.” “I know. Nutty shit.” I kick my feet in the dirt. Something white and small comes up, like a little white rock. “The fuck is that?” I say aloud. Cory grabs his rifle, brings it up to the ready. “No, no, dude. I meant this.” I pick it up. I can see the bone for what it is. “Dead goat out here, maybe? That, or one of those rabid dogs, from two alpha.” “Could be it.” I put the bone in my cargo pocket carefully. It bumps easily against the fabric. We make our way out of the construction site, and back to post two. Sweetness tosses me a bottle of water. Cory slumps into a white picnic chair.

“Your going to take that shit with you?” “Im going to keep it as a trophy.” I say. “When I get out Im going to tell my kids that its from the hands of a haaji I killed in the war.” “You should write that down.” Cory says. “You should put it in your book.” “Whos writing a book?” Sweetness asks. “Mikey is. Hes been writing it since float.” Back up.” Gilbeau says. “What are you keeping as a trophy?” I take the bone out of my pocket, and hand it to him. He holds it up to the bare light bulb and giggles. “You eat chicken for dinner, Mikey? I thought we had stew.” “It was Curry, not Stew, Dumbass.” Sweetness says. “Same shit. Different name.” “Here comes Schueher. Guys.” Schueher strides toward our post, his face an envision of wrath. “Corporal Michael. PFC Butlers got Osama’s Revenge. Your going out on the convoy tomorrow.” “Yes Staff Sargeant.” “Did you hear about the ghost, Staff Sargeant?” Cory says. “The Burqa Ghost?” “I didn’t hear it called that.” Sweetness adds.

“The fucking morons in Kilo Company said some bullshit about that. Also had two negligent discharges. I know you all are better than that. This is first Platoon.” “What time is the convoy?” I ask. “Zero Seven. Don’t be late or I’ll have your ass.” Scheuher smiles. “Ive got some fun stuff planned for the Platoon tomorrow.” The post passes. We head back to the trailers. I take a warm shower and brush my teeth. When I crawl under the grey army blanket with the US stenciled onto it I fall asleep thinking of the luxury and strangeness of it all, sleeping in a bed in a room in Afghanistan. This is about the time of the worst nightmares And they go like this: cant sleep cant sleep cant sleep mentally ill from malaria pills the dreams fucking nightmares cant sleep get up get up lights lights lights get dressed ten nine eight seven six five four three two one done sire done got to get out look up porn the internet is for porn no porn here haajis only jerk off to each other no email no one not at all no turq no Selah no parents no brother no shit its too late she im gone gone gone time to spent money. Look at this Im a hero Im a childs plaything Im on sale from walmart a real American hero the USMC Corporal Merrell Michael action figure comes with his M16A4 service rifle”Ol Jess” with mounted red dot sight and laser sights for night vison the night vision laser is inaccurate the red dot sight becomes loose its shitty make sure you have the multitool

accensory to fix it each sold separately the reason they are both on there is that everyones rifle has to look the same they don’t even have their batteries why should they inaccurate even if they do work this is called uniformity it is an important military tradition Mikey is wearing his Kevlar helmet with foam padding he stole from a POG with an unlocked truck. The helmet gives him a bald spot from wearing it every day he is also accessorized with a tan body armor jacket, twenty pound plates in the front and back collar digging into his neck, pouches that are useful for extra mags 5.56 parrabelum one grenade pouch for camel lights Turkish and American blend Mikey likes it favorite smokes. Carrying around stooped shoulders (permanent modification) cracked vertebrae secret unknown comes with peg in ass to sit on Osprey radio control helicopter sold separately sent into battle against evil forces of Al Queda Cobra same thing both falsehoods. Stick him into a 5 ton military truck vehicle sold separately roll him off in the samdbox on a convoy leave him there and stick the firecracker IEDs around him, tell him where the land mines might be but not sure. Off duty liberty time Malibu Mikey clothing playset beer bottle accessory and pills blue polo shirt and jeans let him show off tattoos and scars to any dolls around sold separately doll has man doll use punching actiom just twist his waist and let off the blow struck in anger we sleep soundly at night because angry men watch us this model of Mikey does not come with moving eyes his eyes are painted open and fixed in a constant stare this is preferable for long hours on and on post or foxhole helping protect Americas freedom to continue America has as many continues as it

wants when you tire of you Mikey action figure use the firecracker send him out with a bang simply set it there and watch the fun as the plastic flies will eat ear eat at the plastic body laying out there under a too real sun as it lays dying a plastic death in you sandbox it will think about home and life and the dollhouse. I awoke from the nightmares at about five in the morning. My body refused to go back to sleep again. I went into the corner and fired up the Playstation two, picking out a harmless supervillian game. I fried pixilated bystanders with my red lightning, and tried to think about what it could all mean. The dream had shook me, and my heart was beating in my chest. Usually the dreams had been simple, the Boy ot the women or the prisoners. I had learned to deal with those as they came. I did not now what to think about this. I shut off the playstation and booted up my macbook. I uploaded a few pictures I had taken of the embassy to facebook, Briefly I searched online for Shazia, but found nothing except another angry message from Turqoiuse I had forgotten to delete. I put on my flak and Kevlar, getting dressed for the convoy. The MRAP Cougar’s sat idling next to the embassy like an enourmous tan beast, nearly a tank in its own right. It was lifted off the ground like a monster truck, the hatch for the drivers side door so far up it needed steps. In front on it on the grill sat mean forks looking out in front. As if this enourmous beast could skewer its way through the rag heads to safety. Atop on the turret, I saw the fifty caliber machine gun behind so much metal it

reminded me of a gun port on a B-17 bomber. The windows were tinted black, and when I knocked on them they were on inch thick. “You like it?” Sweetness asked. “Think about how I feel. I get to drive this bitch. “Its fucking huge.” I say. “I mean, I love it. This fucker is bad ass. I had no idea they had these here.” “You and me both. Kilo company lost four in an IED explosion two months ago, and when they sent the replacement Humvee’s, they sent these instead. Get up inside, have a look around.” Inside the MRAP it is roomier than a Humvee, with fold down seats and room to stand. In the gunners turret, bullet proof glass protects me from every direction. Fantasies of star wars fill my head. I swivel around, testing it out. “Mikey.” Scheuher says. “Can you hear me up there?” “Yes, Staff Sergeant.” “Good. Listen up, this is the convoy brief. Were going to Bagram air base, to pick up supplies and mail. The order will be Corporal Swain and Corporal Michael in the MRAP, Myself and Sergeant Mcdonald in Humvee one, and Lance Corporal Dula and PFC Cox in Humvee two. Don’t let any vehicles come between us. If anyone gets in our way, turret gunners, that’s on you, take them out. Remember, complacency kills out here. Swain, remember to pull Michael down if the MRAP flips, so he doesn’t die.” “Can they flip an MRAP?”

“I don’t know. A Lance Coolie managed to flip that bitch in training, so its probably possible. Keep an eye out for anything on the road, especially any bodies. They pack the bitches full of explosives, and leave them there for us. Body IED’s. Good luck.” Im wired and fully awake as I grab both handles of the fifty caliber machine gun and lock and load the ammo belt. Swain fires it up, and the MRAP roars to life. Atop this beast I feel like god, invincible, immortal. Everything looks different below, smaller, less important. We turn the circle in front of the flagpole. I look at the rising sun from behind my oakleys, and wrap my desert scarf over my face. The air is cool and expectant in a wonderful way. The front gate opens for us, and we roar out into the street. For a second I get a glimpse at the post opposite post two. The afghani soldier, sitting in a hut, in front of the gate, to screen before we do. One more body to place in front of an explosion. Kabul in the morning is noisy and third world and vibrant and alive. We head the opposite way as the truck came to drop us off, what my watch compass says is north. No one approaches us. Swain roars through the streets, on and off the road ahead. People scatter in front of the MRAP. We force a bus off the road, it hits a vendor stall with a loud crunch and a squeal of tires. Even with all this, I can see a child wave. The bombed out roofs congregate and the streets narrow. Sudden fear grips me. Is this it? Are we turning down the final alley, the final narrow alley, the last one I will ever see? I take one hand of the fifty and flick the glass with my hand. The resulting thunk is deep and

reassuring. Soothing my mind, and calming my spirits. Snipers be damned. I am still invincible. Soon the view widens out. The city lessens, the houses and huts become less frequent. Two and three and then one and none, and finally we are out of Kabul, into the vastness of the Afghanistan countryside. This is the country I know so well. Vastness on either side, great rolling tan grey desert. Beyond that, the mountains rising, white capped with snow. Matching the clouds they come so near to. Little huts and stone castles far away. Made miniature by the distance. The MRAP throttles down, and we roar on. I think of one of Buckeys nerd games. Warhammer 40K. With the Space Marines. And the space Marines all pile into these tank things, called Rhinos. Little metal miniatures. Scary smelling nerds, virgins afraid of life. All of them wishing, in their heart of hearts, that they could do this, that they could be this. I lightly, carefully grasp the butterfly triggers on the fifty. A man on a bicycle veers of the road as we roar pass. With this I could destroy him. With this I could turn his insides to a fine pink mist, his head into a collection of unmatching features. I see him now, I see him completely, in a dark head wrap, in his white pajamas. I do not hate him. There is no point to it. All that he is is in my hands. The bicycle is whisked away, forever behind. We ride and ride. Eventually I succumb to the numbness of it. We are the only ones on the road, and nothing happens. The country is wide in front of us. When we come to a checkpoint the MRAP roars through and I point my fifty at the haaji sitting beside it. Rejoicing at the hate in his eyes. It falls behind like everything

does. As we come near Bagram the road grown greener on either side, and the landscape changes. We pull up to the gate and a soldier holds his hand out. I look at him there, in his bright ACU’s with his M4 rifle. “Did you stop?” He asks Swain. “No. We didn’t stop.” “Where are you guys from.” “The embassy. Getting supplies and mail.” “Go ahead and go right through.” He waves the gate open. We head through, into the familiarity of metal boxes full of dirt and razor wire. I lean back in the turret. Swain makes a series of turns. Finally, the MRAP stops. I get down from the turret, and over to the passengers side door, where I jump down into the dirt. I land hard, and lose my balance. Swain walks around the other side, laughing. “Jesus Christ, Michael. You can use the damn steps, on the other side.” “I don’t need to.” I cough, and pick up my sunglasses. “Im hard like that.” “Hard in your fucking head. Come on, lets pick up the mail.” The bagram post office is a building like every other building on the base, made of plywood on top of rocks and dirt, and filled with contents filed neatly into shelves. A bored looking soldier sighs as we come in, and gets up from his chair. “Help you?” He asks. “Mail for the embassy.” Swain tells him. “task force

Kabul.” The army dog goes back to the shelves flipping through envelopes and boxes. I walk around, looking at a large pile of boxes on the counter. “What are these?” I ask him. “Unclaimed care packages. General shit.” “Look at this.” I pull one out of the pile and hold it. “This ones fucking huge.” “Its probably socks.” “You think so?” “Most of them are socks. Take what you want.” There is much more free space at Bagram, and it is less cramped then the embassy, but there is still little to do. I wander around the PX for a while, and buy a new comic book and a pack of camel lights. Before long I make my way back to the MRAP. Swain points at my huge parcel. “Where are we going to fit that thing.” He says. “Right here in the turret.” I tell him. “Im going to keep it next to me.” “Whatever it is, you better share it.” “The army guy said it was socks.” “Hell no. Nobody needs that many socks.” “Maybe its porn. You can have the stuff with the dudes in it.” I see Scheuher coming back, munching on a powerbar. “Saddle up.” He says. “Lets go.”

Halfway out to Kabul, the car approaches us. It blows by the left side of the convoy, swerving to the right. It is an old model Toyota silica, a cheap box. The brake lights come on, flashing red. It swerves in front of us. “Motherfucker!” Swain yells, slamming on the brakes. He hits the horn. “MOVE! MOVE!” The car looms closer and closer. “Fuck it. Take it out, Mikey!” My mind rattles at a thousand miles an hour. I point the fifty and squeeze the butterfly trigger. Nothing happens. Panic grips me. In a flash, I think to myself: Safety. I flick it off. The fifty booms with its thunder. In front of me the car changes. Holes blossom in the hood, revealing the engine. The windshield shatters inward, and red sprays up and up. Swain swerves to the left. In front of us the pavement is shattering , chunks of it flying up and hitting the glass. Swain is trying to tell me something. ‘Let up off it, Michaels!” “What?” I realize what is going on, and release. “Let go of the trigger. You were holding down the trigger, and shooting the shit out of the road.” “Jesus.” “Yeah. Its okay, though.” He slaps me on the leg. “Your okay. Everythings copacetic.” “Shit.” The adrenaline is draining out of my system. I feel rattled, and take a swig out of my camelback. “First convoy, man.”

“Yeah. I know.” “Was it worth it? Did we really need powerbars and mail?” “fuck. I don’t know. Ask that haaji.” “I don’t think he’d answer.” After the convoy comes back I take my package out of the turret and walk to the smoking area. There is a random assortment of people hanging out, embassy staff talking quietly. Bill comes by and slaps me on the back. “Scheuhers giving you the night off post today. Says you guys got some, during the ride.” “Yeah. Just some idiot, driving too close.” “Whats in the box?” “A magic button, that will kill you and give me one million dollars.” ‘That was lame, dude.” “I thought it was good.” “No. That movie was fucking terrible. Thusly making that a terrible reference.” “Fine. Its socks.” “Good. Rip it open. I only brought three pair.” “What?” “Rip it up. I need socks.” “How did you not bring more socks than that?” “I don’t need too. Plenty of socks out here.” “Were going to be out here for at least six months.”

“Yeah, and?” “So, how could you not plan ahead.” “I did plan ahead. I brought lots of detergent.” “Here we go.” I take out my Ka-bar and make that first, decisive indentation in the cardboard. When I can wedge both fingers in, I tear it back. “Just a guitar.” Bill remarks. “Not socks at all.” I carefully grab the instrument by its headstock and lift it out slowly. “It’s a Martin.” I say. “I s that a good brand?” I turn it over, gazing at the mahegony headstock, and the deep maple finish. “Its one of the best.” I tell him. “This is a really nice guitar.” “How did you get it?” “It was in a pile of care packages.” “Smash it, dude.” Bill says. “Pull a pete townsend, and smash the shit out of it.” “Fuck that. I can play a little.” I trace my fingers out across the strings, fretting the chords from memory. Look at this photograph Every time I do it makes me laugh What is that on my head Why are my eyes so red? This is the house I grew up in This is also the house I grew up in My parents weren’t divorced or anything

We just moved when I was ten I remember my best friend It was brian legonowitz We grew up together I don’t know where he is now I remember where I went to school I lettered in some stuff there It was easy to letter there Because it was the poor school Whoa yeah whoa oooh Shazia appears out of nowhere. Her hair is out of the scarf, and flows down her shoulder. “That was a beautiful song.” She says. “Thanks.” I tell her. “You have a guitar?” “I got it today.” “Can you play any Clapton?” The past and future melds together into one blur. My father and his Gibson. Me here, now, at this picnic table under the afghan oak tree. Leaves blossoming over us. She leans in close and I can see the delicate way she smokes the cigarette, long and slender. I start it off with the question ‘What’ll you do if you get lonely?” And from that point on, I let the guitar speak for me. It calls out in between its notes the story of Derek

begging for his woman. The story my father taught me, long ago. At the end of the song, Shazia and I are alone together, beneath the large oak tree. She snuffs out her second cigarette. “You want to go back to my place,” She says. “And hang out?” “You have a place?” I ask. “I have a place.” She puts her hands in her pockets, and puffs them out, expressionistically. I have a trailer. I have a box. That I live in.” “Sure. “ I say “I guess that counts as a place.” Back at her trailer I neatly fold my flak jacket and stack my helmet on top of it, next to the door. I prop up my rifle beside it. Shazia is there with a bottle of red wine, and two plastic cups. She sets the bottle on a small plastic table and pours us both a generous sized drink. “Do you ever get tired of it?” She asks. “Wearing all that stuff?” “At first I did. Now Im just sort of used to it.” “I don’t think I ever could. Get used to that. Carrying around a gun all the time, like that.” “Its what I do.” “Do you like it?” “I don’t know. Sometimes. Im getting out of it, next year.” “Whys that ?” “Its not really something that you do forever. Your

always gone, and its too much, you know.” “Yeah. I believe that. Im gone all the time. Too.” “What do you do?” “Im kind of the liason. The womans liason. I talk to all these groups of women, and find out what they want. What they need.” “That sounds cool.” Shazia swallows deep in her cup, and nods her head hurriedly. A thin drop of red runs from between her lips, down her chin, and she wipes it off with one thin finger. “It is cool. Most of the time. Sometimes, its depressing as fuck.” “Why? “ “These women? Their lives are like….shit. I mean, all the ones I talk to, they were docters, or lawyers, or teachers. Then the Russians came. After that the Taliban. After that us. Now its all shit. Some of them burn themselves.” “Really?” “Yeah. They do. I don’t know. I don’t like talking about it. Do you like music?” “Sure.” “I have this record player. Its not that great, I got it from goodwill. But its kind of cool. This is my favorite record.”The music starts up, Claptons voice and duane allmans guitar She took my hand Tried to make me understand

That she would always be there “This is my favorite album. In like, the world.” “I know the story behind this.” I tell her. “My dad told me. Clapton and George Harrison and Harrisons wife.” “I know. Its awesome. And the thing about it is, they were all friends. And they stayed friends, after. This whole album, its all about her.” “Unrequited love.” “Huh?” “that’s what its all about. Unrequited love. Love that is not filled. It’s a Persian story, Majnun loved Layla, but she did not love him back. Patti Boyd didn’t give a shit about Clapton. That was the concept of the album.” “That’s really deep.” “Yeah. It’s a classic album.” “Your good to talk to, Merrell. I mean, I enjoy talking to you.” “You too, Shazia. I mean, I feel the same.” “No, its just, I mean, there was this other guy. This other Marine, In Kilo company, or whatever.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. And we hung out, and everything, but there was no real, like connection. I mean, it was just a thing that we did. A physical thing. And he didn’t like me playing Clapton. Said it was geezer rock or something.” “I guess that typical. Stereotypical, or what not. For a Marine.

“It really is? I just, I don’t know, Ive always liked this kind of music. The who and pink Floyd and led zeppelin and Clapton. As long as I can remember. Its just been what I listened too. And its hard to find anyone, especially a guy, that gets that. Its like, as long as I can remember, Ive had this nolstalgia for this time period before I was born.” “I get it though.” I tell her. “I really do.” “You do? Explain. I mean, talk to me, about it. I want to hear what you have to say.” “No one in my family was in the Marines. And since I was fourteen, Ive been checking out books from the library about like, the Korea war, and Vietnam. And world war two. And, like, I knew, that all that meant something for me. That that was the direction I was going. Sometimes I would watch the movies, or I would read the books, and it was, like, I was there. I was really there, doing that stuff. Fighting. Sometimes I felt it so deep inside, it really choked me up.” “Is that what got you in?” “No. Nine eleven. Probably. “ I was there, I think about adding but I don’t. “That was terrible. I was in texas. My family lives in texas, and that’s where I was, when it happened.” She leans forward, to change the record player. “I want to play you this song.” It’s a howling wold cover by Clapton Bud a bump a buh pow, Have you ever loved a woman? “Have you ever loved a woman.” Shazia says. “So much, you tremble in pain?”

The red wine is spinning circles in my head. I fall on her and pull her head into me, the long curly black hair. Her tongue is a small mouse, darting in and out of mine. Her breast are perfect round ovals, the center dark brown floating in olive. My own clothes come off. My erection juts out, We come together and I enter her. She turns around and grips the head of the bed. I thrust into her from behind. The fucking is good. She cries out loud and long Aaahunh! The meaty portion of my thigh hits her ass swalapp! Together then apart, back then forth, over and over again, There is a rhyme to this, there is a purpose for this. What else could it be? Finally, apex. I feel it in my toes at first, and the orgasm overwhelms me. She pulls a t-shirt off the floor and uses it like a blanket, curling up on the couch. She smiles at me and from where the tshirt ends I can see the perfect triangle of her shaven pussy, my god, I want to die, shes so cute. “Get a blanket. She says. “From the bedroom.” Naked, I navigate my way into the other portion of the trailer, partitioned off with fake walls. A small single bed. Next to it, a picture of a man in either his late thirties or his early forties, with receding hairline, hooked nose, and glasses. “I got kicked out of my house for this.” “For what?” “Sex. Sex with strange boys. Muslim household. Forbidden.” “Huh.” “Thanks for not bringing it up.”

“Sure.” “The other guy, the kilo guy, that’s all that he would talk about. I think he had a fetish.” “No problem.” I wrap the blanket over her and bring myself in to spoon her body. “Thanks for not bringing up the other guy.” She laughs again, then punches my arm. The air is still and quiet. My mind is racing. We lie there, and I make every move not to stir. “Cant sleep.” She mutters. “No. I guess not.” “The first week I got here, I kept trying to listen for these highway sounds at night, that weren’t there. You never think about them, back home. But theres always something at home in America.” “In America.” “That’s what it is. Home.” I set my watch and wake at Four- thirty, dressing hurridly. In the trailers I play Modern Warfare 2 on the Playstation until the others wake up and it is time for chow. TWELVE

The next day after morning post Schueher gathers us all together in boots and utes. Our tops are stripped to our green skivvy shirts. He flexs his forearms, and

stretches. “Okay.” He says. “Okay. Were going to do some Marine Corps Martial Arts. Im going to get everyone in this platoon, a green belt. Except, you know, Im not.” He looks across the platoon for someone to challenge his will, his statement. “Everyone here watches UFC, right? Everyones seen it? Yes, no, fuck you? Good. Okay. That’s what were going to be doing. Were going to fight. Mikey, Mcgovern. Get up here.” I walk in the middle of the circle. All around me, I can see the tall dirt boxes. We are in a far corner of the embassy. “One round.” Scheuher says. “Two minutes. Go.” I double over when Bill hits me in the gut, hard. There is pain behind my eyes, painful sparks flying. He tries it again and I tackle him. On the ground we flounder like fish. I concentrate on my jiu jitsu, and try to remember what it is I have to do. I roll until I can flip my leg overtop his head, and I grab his right arm. I struggle and try not to panic. When I get him in the arm bar, he taps. “That was good, Mikey.” Scheuher says. “Real good. You got him on the ground, and finished up. Remember: The ground is half of the fight. If you can fight there, you can fight anywhere.” Scheuher waves me off, and then grabs Bills arm. “Stay here, Mcgovern. I want to show the platoon something. These are the ten points of muscular gouging.” “Eyes: Take your thumb, push it into the socket, as far back as you can. If it doesn’t pop, you can drive it back into the brain.”

“Ears: It only takes three pounds of pressure to tear off the human ear. You grab from the top, and rip down. It tears off like a sheet of paper. “Trachea: Take your hand and close youre thumb and forefinger around the adams apple. It feels like a tube. Pull back, and the tube will snap. Or come out.” Coladosternomastiod muscle: These are the muscles on the side of your throat, the ones that control you neck movement. And this is what muscular gouging actually is: You can tear the muscle off the bone. Rip the tendons, let it float free. “TRAPS.” “LATS.” “BICEPS” “TRICEPS.” “PECTORALS.” Or breast for a woman, or a man with bitch tits. Lift from up under, and thear them off.” “Groin. This is probably the easiest one. Requires no explanation.” The demonstration leaves us shiftless and bored. Schueher shrugs his shoulders and waves his hands inward, in a come hither gesture. “So.” He says. “Who wants a shot at the title? Cory raises his hand and steps forward. Cory Wayne Hunter, all two hundred fifty pounds of him, six foot six, massive, giant, arms thick as legs. We form a circle around Cory and Scheuher. I step back to the wall of dirt, giving them room to do what they need to do. Scheuher squares up first, raising his hands up, like

a boxer. Cory raises his hands as well, but keeps his palms open, moving them quickly, just above waist level. They circle and feint. Cory thrusts out his hand, and we can all see the obvious advantage of his reach. Scheuher ducks and lunges for a body shot. At this moment Cory envelopes him, trying to grab Scheuher in a old fashioned choke. Schueher slaps him off. Cory thrusts Schueher back into the tree behind them. Scheuher breaks off and shoves his knee into Cory’s gut. Once, then twice. The big man makes a grimace of pain. An “awk” forms. Schueher has the arm, and is trying to work the joint The arm is working, forward, forward, but Cory is strong. Too strong, and they topple into the dirt. On the ground the fighters are a writhing mass of human flesh. Oddly intimate, faintly disturbing, the spectacle continues. The is a battle being waged on another front. Cory is atop, and then, hesitantly, he is moved, and panting hard. Schueher rams against him. Some of us are cheering, others are simply observing the scene unfold. Quickly, it comes to its head. Scheuher is twisting above Cory as he mounts him. His fists leap up and over, and the noise they make when they connect is brutal. A sharp crack, echoeing past the barriers. Somehow Cory manages to mumble “enuf” And Schueher swings a leg over and stands up. He is panting hard, and his eyes blink rapidly. With a free hand he wipes the sweat off his brow, smearing dirt across his eyes. The look is prehuman, subhuman. Bizarre fashioned triumph. On the ground Cory’s face is

red and welted.The world is dim before him, it is vague infront of me. I take his outstretched arm and lean back to help him to his feet. Back at the trailers, I am showered and changed, lying on my bunk with my apple computer. I am attempting to think of a title for a blog. I have found several of these, since searching. Names like MY WAR, KABOOM, or ENLISTED. Most of them appear to be Army, and most of those seem to be Pogs. I type in CAMEL FUCKER, then erase it, self conscious of the alterations. None of it seems to fit. Could I even tell anyone about this? About Scheuhers real life fight club? Would they believe me? Bill walks up to me, and slaps my boot. “Mikey.” He says. “Get Cory or someone to go on a working party. One of the boots.” “What is it?” I ask. “Escort Tooth upstairs in the embassy.” “I’ll do it.” “You don’t have to, man. Your Corporal.” “No, its cool. I’ll do it. Cory’s asleep, and the boots pretty worthless.” “Its up to you, man. Whatever dude.” In the embassy Said is waiting for me, grinning his empty grin and wagging a large finger in the air. “Number one.” He says. “Number one Marine.” “Its okay, Said. I get it.” “Mareen, Number one.” “That’s all you, man. Said number one.”

“No. I number zero. Mareen number one.” “If you say so.” “We go, yes? Clean sweep.” I nod and stretch out my hand in front of me. Said bounds happily up the faux-marble stairs. I put one hand carefully on my M16 and walk up behind him. On the second floor Said knocks quietly. I overweight blond woman in a pantsuit answers, parting the heavy black metal frame. Her face is pancaked in excessive makeup, and a thin pearl necklace trails around the thick flab of her throat. For a minute, she looks flustered, out of her bearings. I think about my camouflage and my assault weapon and try my best to appear nonthreatening. “Oh, right.” She says. “You’re here to clean?” “Yes ma’am.” I reply. “Just escorting Said.” “Is that his name?” She says. Then, louder, “Is that YOUR name?” “I go. He says. “Clean sweep.” He presents the broom to her triumphantly, waving it forward. Dust particles rain down onto my shoulders, and I brush them off. They curl in the air, bits of hair or feces or dirt or nitroglycerin, and disappear into oblivion. Said makes a sudden movement down the stairs, unsure of himself, and then he makes a sudden movement toward the door, trapped in a comical half loop. “Come on in.” The fat lady finally says. Together we shuffle through the door. She shuts it with a thud and a hiss. On the other side of the door the second floor is well kept, with many nice offices, furnished in a mixture of opulence and federal government. We walk in and out

of offices, in one, a heavy oak desk, pictures of a fishing trip somewhere down in south florida. Various memos tacked up on the wall, conferences, safety, secure areas in Kabul. One catches my eye, President Bush as Anakin Skywalker, GULF WARS: EPISODE TWO. Next to it is a picture of Obama in joker makeup, with the word SOCIALISM written underneath. Everything else seems to be indistinct and dull. Said works methodically. Sweeping the floor, emptying the trash can. I watch him clean, looking around as I do, until I see her. A hint of a black head scarf. I walk quietly behind her until she turns all at once and those eyes flash on me, those brilliant brown pools of luminous dark. She smiles, and I want to kiss her, right there. “Hi.” I offer. “What are you doing up here?” “Working party. Escorting Said.” I point behind me. “To clean up.” “That sounds like fun.” “I wanted to get out of the trailers. I haven’t seen this part of the embassy yet.” “Nothing much to see.” She gathers the papers in her hand. “Just another government building.” “Its different, though. I like it.” “Oh? Why do you like it?” “It reminds me of home. Civilization.” “It does. Does it?” She cocks her head and searches into me, with those eyes. “Have you ever really seen Kabul?”

“Ive driven through it. I went on a convoy, the other day.” “Where did you go?” “The base in Bagram. Picked up supplies and mail.” “I feel sorry for you boys, sometimes. I really do.” “Don’t. Its not bad here.” “Its not that its bad. Its just that your trapped here, behind these walls. You have no idea whats out in this city. You cant really know where you are. Besides here. Imprisoned.” “When you put it that way.” We are leaning quite close. I can smell the sweetness on her skin as she brushes her fingertips against me. In this moment in time. She breaks off, turning her head. “I have to work.” She tells me. “I’ll see you tonight.” I say, and she smiles. The sound of her walking off haunts me, a gentle tap tap tap on the hard floor. Beside me Said is urgently mopping, slinging faintly soapy water across the white floor. “You should ask her father.” He says. “You should get married, and you should ask him for her.” “I don’t know about that, Said.” I tell him. “Ive done that before.” “Done it before? Then she is no good.” “No, I didn’t mean that. I mean, Ive been married before.” “You should have many wives. It is the best way.”

“One wife was a lot. One wife was too much.” “Send her away. You should have another.” “You have a wife?” “Yes. She is old. No good. You should have a young wife.” “We both should. We should get two of them. “You want hashish?” “What?” “Hashish? You want.” Said pulls out a this woven cloth bag, and hands it to me. Inside I can see crumbled greenish tan, with a strong odor. I think about all the things I have never done, running the list through me head. I add a new one. I have never smoked hash. Slowly, I find myself reaching out for the bag, and depositing it in my cargo pocket. I follow Said from room to room. A conference room with large leather chairs. A smaller office, where a woman has framed pictures of her Labrador. A radio, softly blaring a country song, which is actually a CD. All of these things make up the second floor of fake America. Said stuffs each of the little plastic bags of garbage into one large trash bag. I shove open the door. We walk down the stairs, all the way to the front door of the embassy, and he waves goodbye, and heads out to the front gate. Back at the trailers I open my blog, and type in my first entry: Some haaji just gave me a nickelbag of hash. I go back to my facebook and look and various

rants from my ex wife and her friends. Finally, I hit upon the most recent photos of my daughter. She is growing taller. I wonder how many words she can say now. The pain hits my heart like a dead weight. Several minutes go by. When I check the blog again there are comments. U shud smokes it @wilddog51 Afghan hash is the best @herbfeeder Prolly no piss test in the desert@blankwitz77 Give me sum! @soonerlite In the corner Cory is playing modern warfare 2 on the playstation again. I finger the bag and deliberate carefully. Finally I pull it out and toss it into his lap. It bounces off the controller and lands at his crotch. His eyes flick down, and lose the glazed reflection of the flatscreen. “Where’d you get the shit?” He asks. “A haaji handed it to me today. While I was on that working party.” “Was it Tooth?” “Yeah.” Cory carefully palms the drugs and moves it up into his breast pocket, over his heart. He takes the game off pause and the sounds of the digital slaughter resume. “You want to try it?” He asks. “Don’t we need a thing? I mean, a pipe or whatever.” “Yeah. We can do that.” “Okay.”

“Chill out, though. For right now.” “Fine.” “I mean, I don’t think anyone in the trailers while, you know, but fucking Schueher walks around all the fucking time. And you know what that prick would think.” “I guess. Can I play?” “Not right now, dude. Im online.” “What rank did you get up to? “15. Senior Lance Corporal, or whatever.” “Wish this game had been out when I enlisted.” “Yeah. I know. I would have never fucking signed up. With shit this real.” “We could have just, like, played professionally. Never had to come out here. Just sat at home and played.” “Well, fuck, dude. It could be worse.” “Hows that?” “You could not be getting that haaji pussy.” He jabs me in the chest with a thick finger. “Way to not say anything about that shit, Mikey.” “I guess. Im trying to keep it low key.” “When you don’t come back to the trailer at night, people started to ask where the fuck you were. Then someone said they saw you with Shazia. After that, boom.” “Do you think Schueher knows?” “Maybe. Who cares? Cant fuck with you about

getting laid.” “He might. He just might do that shit.” “I want details, dude. Everything.” “Let me take a turn. I’ll fill you in after.” He passes the controller to me and I restart the game. As I play I answer his questions, describing sight, feel, tits, ass, passion, sound, and sweat. My mind is affixed in two locations as I send another pixilated raghead to meet allah. Love and death Sex and death, the metal chime of a rifle chamber working, the spasms of a women in the midst of an orgasm. Everything happens, and as I sit there, nothing does. An hour before post I am standing in a secluded spot behind the trailers with Cory and Bill. It is very dark, the light is very low. I focus on a dim front porch light on a far off trailer, and the darkness spreads after that. Cory and Bill are only two outlines, one tall and one short. “You got the lighter?” Bill asks. “We all have lighters, dude. We all fucking smoke out here.” “Well, shit. I don’t.” “What happened to yours?” “I threw it away. Im trying to quit.” “This is hardly the time or the place.” “I know. Im getting out soon. I don’t want to smoke, after I get out.” Bill brings out a small wooden object. “Whose got the stuff?” Cory jerks a thumb in my

direction. “No shit?” Bill says. “Yeah. No shit. Tooth gave it to him. For, like, a wedding present.” “A wedding present. You getting married, Mikey?” “I don’t think so. Not anytime soon.” “I would go. I wonder what I raghead wedding is like.” “Probably like any other wedding. Food. Dancing. Two people ready to make babies.” “I went to a jewish wedding once. They stomped on this glass, in like, a napkin. It was loud as hell.” “I don’t know. Lets hurry up and smoke this shit, before post.” Cory takes the pipe and holds the lighter near his face. The sudden flame brings light, and I see all the damage done by Scheuher earlier that day, all the crags and deep lines that have writ themselves large on his landscape. He blows out the smoke, and I taste the same sickly sweet odor on the air that I did on the roof, in the sniper hut. Cory takes two draws, then three, and passes the pipe to me. The tip is rough in my mouth. On my tongue I can feel the nicks made on it by a Ka-bar, into this piece of afghan oak. I hold the lighter to the bowl and flick it. When the flame touches the coil of hash it briefly glows, then immediatedly goes out. I suck quickly, but manage to get nothing. “No, Mikey. Dude, you’ve got to hold the flame to it.” Bill says. “Hash doesn’t stay lit by itself.” I do as Bill says and finally I draw into it, the rich smoke, deep and whole, into my lungs. My eyes blur. A

deep mellowness blooms up into me. I feel myself getting stoned, sneaking up little by little, then transforming the world, all at once. I pull and I smoke and I smoke and I smoke until I finally hear “Jesus, dude, don’t bogart the shit.” Bill gently pulls the pipe away from me. The world under me spins a little and I have to prop myself up on the side of the dirt boxes in order to remain upright. “Its good, isn’t it, Merrell?” Cory says. “This is the best shit. This is the kind of shit that comes from the source.” “That’s what this fucking place is all about.” Bill coughs. “Drugs. I got the fucking percs on post two today.” “What about the Vicoden?” Cory asks. “Just the percs.” Bill says. “I forgot about the other stuff.” “I was looking for some HGH later, too. For the gym.” “I’ll talk to my guy. I can probably get it.” “Ellman in second platoon got some D-bol. I know you can get some HGH out here.” “Probably, I guess. Why not.” “How long have you guys been smoking out here?” I ask. “Ive been doing it since I got here with Kilo.” Cory says. I used to do it with Kirkland, then I found out Bill was cool.”

“Did you really just say that?” “Say what?” “ You found out I was ‘cool’.” “Yeah.” “Cool implicitly meaning, that I smoke hash.” “Yes. I mean, that would be the general implication.” “Your such a fucking cliché.” “How so?” “Hey!” Bill squints and leans in close, extending a wavy limp. “You cccoowehl, maaan?” He laughs and takes another hit of the pipe. “Seriously, dude. You need to find another expression.” “Im using the fucking agreed upon terms, for the procurement of illegal drugs.” “Yeah. Well, your still a cliché. And, you need to work on that. For, you know, the future.” “Fuck you. Do you have the visine?” “Right here.” Cory takes the eyedrops and tilts his head back, blinking rapidly after application. He passes the bottle to me and I do the same, the wetness streaming down my cheeks in false tears. “Gotta reset your pupils.” He explains. Bill stubs out the pipe in the wire dirt box behind him, then covers it over with more dirt. THIRTEEN

That night Cory and I head over to post two. We pull chairs out next to the VIA and stare into the construction area. “You feel good?” Cory asks. I nod. “Feeling goods good enough.” “That’s from Platoon.” “Which one? First or Second?” “No, Platoon. The Oliver Stone movie.” “Yeah. That was a good flick.” “Willem Defoe says that to Charlie Sheen. After he, like, smokes weed through a rifle barrel.” “That’s cool. I don’t think you can do that with hash.” “Yeah. Probably not.” “I mean, we can get weed. But the hash out here is so fucking good, why would we want to?” I shift back in my flak jacket, trying to rearrange the body Armor plates inside to a comfortable position. Under my chin, the helmet strap dangles loosely. My rifle sits crossways in my lap. Atop it I balance a Styrofoam cup of coffee, brimming with milk and suger. I sip deeply into its sweetness, and stare at the darkness. “The weathers changing.” I say. “Its getting warmer. Pretty much spring now.” Cory nods. “It was cold as shit last year in Kandahar. Worse in Mazir Al Sharif. I thought we were going to freeze to fucking death on that mountain. Looking through those shitty caves.”

“Its different here.” I tell him. “You can drink coffee and sleep in a bed at night. Don’t have to dig a hole in the dirt.” “Yeah. You want to know something?” “What?” “If you stare at razor wire long enough, you start to see hearts.” “Yeah?” “Ive been looking at the fence right there past you this whole time weve been talking, and all I see know is loops of hearts. Repeating themselves over and over.” I look behind me. The razor wire atop the fence is dark and shadowed, and appears to me to be nothing but what it is, coils of metal, claws extended. Dissappearing into the night. Cory suddenly grabs my hand, and squeezes. “What the fuck is that shit?” We are both standing now, facing the construction area. Cory has his weapon at the ready I am looking around beside him, scanning back and forth. Everywhere I look there are deep shadows, valleys and crags torn up by bulldozers. Cory takes a step, and then another towards it. “What did you see?” I whisper. “Where is it?” Cory takes his left hand off his rifle and points out there, in front of him. “By the red conex box.” He says. “The big one, in the middle.” I sight in with my rifle scope and stare at it. I see nothing. There is only dirt, and rebar. But then

something flickers. I blink my eyes. “Yeah.” Cory Whispers. “Its coming back.” Before my eyes, through the scope, the ghost appears. There is no other word for what I am seeing. The figure is dressed in a blue burqa, but seems more to be a blue burqa, and, the longer I stare at it, the more it appears to be nothing. It walks, but it doesn’t really walk, back and forth, between the red conex and a pit full of rebar. As I stare at it, I unavoidably see it begin to wink into nothing with every third or forth step. To blink into non existence. When it comes back, for a half second, I see it as something else, other than a burqa. Something thin. Something skeletal. Cory keys the receiver on his Motorola radio. “Post Five to Watch Commander.” “Go.” “Staff Sargeant, theres someone in the construction area.” “Post Seven. You copy?” “Solid Copy.” The snipers say. “It’s a figure in a burqa.” We hold position at the entrance to the construction zone. Scheuher shows up, double timing to our position. His face is a mixture of intensity and concentration. “Where is it?” He says. I point out in front of me. He begins to repeat himself “Where”- then he is cut off. We all stand between the parked cars and witness it, moving back and forth, slowly. Flickering in

and out of reality. Being here, then gone, then something else. “How long has that been there?” He asks. “About five minutes.” Cory says. “Who saw it first?” “I did.” Cory answers. We wait and watch it for a minute. A long minute passes. Finally, Scheuher calls out on the radio “Watch Commander to Watch Actual and Post Seven. Three entering the construction zone. Post Seven, keep eyes on the bogie.” Scheuher opens the gate and steps through. We follow behind him. Slowly. Rifles pointed out, into the dark. My heart is racing in my chest. A cold sweat is beading its way down the back of my neck. The crunch of the dirt underneath my boots is incredibly loud in my ears. The air is clear and cold and harsh. If there were a wind it would stink, bite the ears and nose and lips, leaving fingers frozen. But it remains still and threatening. And the thing in front of us holds its shape. As we get closer, it gets clearer in detail. I can see it moving between now. I can see it becoming something fluid and terrible in the moments when it is not quite visible, like a light blue sack of guts. My hands are trembling on the rifle. I look through the scope and its shaking. I wonder for a horrible minute if it is the hash doing this. Then I wonder what Schueher is seeing. If he is processing the same. Closer we get. One step, two steps, then stop. I wonder: Should we be telling it to stop? To get on the ground? Should we fire? Can a ghost

be a suicide bomber? Is Al-Queada now working hand in hand with hell? Something grabs the back of my flak jacket, by the handle. The pull knocks me down, clear off my feet. For a minute in time, I am suspended in air. I see details very clearly. A stack of metal pipe by the red conex. The blue mesh on the burqa’s face. The face of the moon, large and pale yellow, suspended high, high, over the mountains. When I fall, I fall into a puddle of water. The splash is loud. I sink to my knees. I am between Fields of red flowers Poppies. The water is cool to my skin and pleasant. I am sitting in it up to my chest. It soaks through under my body armor into my skin and the feeling is wonderful. I forget myself and let my urine go. I feel the piss soaking through my pants, into the clear water. At eye level, I can see the details in the poppies. They are small and beautiful. White stems in the center. Long green stalks emerging from the pond. The wind blows, a sweet scent on the air, a smell of spring. As if everything young and emerging and new could be captured, and stored, and then released, all at once, and spread everywhere. I look around. Across me are gently rolling hills, covered in the red flowers. The feeling is good to me. There is a knot in my chest slowly releasing. Something cold and hard brushes against my hand and then I think: My rifle. I get

up quickly, raising the M16 out of the shallow pond. The clear liquid drips out of every part of the weapon. I imagine the barrel as a faucet, the pond as a sink. Thunder strikes from far away. I can see the mountains now. Beyond the hills the flowers end, and the mountains rise, tall and white capped. Strands of lighting flash, to strike the tip. But the mountains stand the same. I look at the sky. It is neither day nor night. The light over head is a mix of dusk and dawn, with blue that darkens in some areas to black. Stars are dimly visible. I look for the moon, but cannot find it. A wind blows off the mountains. It carries a deep chill with it, in the air. My feet suddenly are freezing, but my feet are dry. Underneath them I can feel hard packed dirt. The dirt of Khandahar. The dirt of the mountains. I feel the dust against my face. Something clatters on the ground. The wind blows something over my foot. Something hollow and white. Something very much like bone. In front of me is the ghost, horrible and white, pale blue. The burqa flaps over her remains. She leans in close and I feel her breath, and hear her begin to speak. I close my eyes, so I wont see it, so I wont hear the terrible things she will have to say. “Mikey?” Something hard and flat slaps my cheek, leaving a harsh sting. I open my eyes. Scheuher is standing in front of me, Cory is shaking my shoulder. I am back in the construction area, leaning on a red conex. “Mikey what the fuck happened to you?” “He hit his head.” Scheuher says. “ I knew he hit his head.”

“I don’t think so, Staff Sargeant.” Says Cory. “I mean, I saw him catch himself. He landed on his butt. “Post Seven.” Schueher calls on the Motorola. “Any sign of the bogie.” “Negative. Its gone.” “It cant be gone.” He snarls. “Check again.” “Solid copy.” “Use the Thermal site from post eight. Im going to check the corners.” Scheuher marches off, leaving us sitting by the conex. “Does your head hurt?” Cory asks me. “No, dude. I feel fine.” “I knew you didn’t hit your head. That guys a fucking idiot.” “It is what it is. What happened to the”- I pause, and search my mind for the right word. –“the burqa.” “You tripped and fell down, dude. We both turned, to help you up. When we looked back, it was gone.” “No fucking way.” Cory nods. “This is some bad shit, right here.” “Yeah.” “What did you trip on.” “I don’t know. Should we look for it?” “Why not? Idiot left us here. Might as well do something.” We bring out our surefire flashlights and search across the dirt. Cory point to a small crater. “This is

where you fell. I don’t see any rocks or anything.” “It didn’t feel like I tripped, dude. It felt like something grabbed me.” “Well, Jesus, dude.” “Yeah.” “Thanks for sharing. I mean, that’s fucking creepy.” “Yeah. Why is the ground cracked?” “What?” “Right here. The ground is cracked, like split. In the middle.” The cracks stretches across the crater, a small geological fault. A grand canyon for ants. “Your fat ass must have broke it when you fell.” I take out my Ka-bar and start to scrape. “The dirts loose here.” I tell him. “So?” “So, usually the dirt in this goddamn country is packed hard. Remember how it was digging those holes?” “Yeah. So you tripped on the dirt?” “C’mon, dude. Get your knife, help me dig.” We scrape out loose soil in the hole. The knoves break it easy, and then we scoop the dirt away with our hands. I start to dig like a dog, pawing the dirt back away from the center. Scheuher strides back, breathing hard. Eyes wide in disbelief. “What the fuck is this?”

“Mikey’s digging, Staff Sargeant.” “I can see that. Why the fuck is Mikey digging?” “He wants to find whatever tripped him.” Scheuher opens his mouth to add something, then stops. We all see the same thing. The hollow eyesocket stares out at us. The white of bone. Schueher pushes me to the side, and digs around with the Ka-bar. When he pulls it out I can see it has no lower jaw, and no teeth. “Alas poor Haaji.” He says. “I knew him well. A raghead of Infinite Jest.” “That’s a good book.” I add. “I know it is, Mikey. Im quoting fucking Shakespeare here. Jesus Christ, must you ruin everything?” “I meant, Infinite Jest. A good book.” “I don’t give a shit, you fucked up my moment. I don’t care about whatever ignorant backwoods West Virginia book you read while fucking your sister.” “Yes, Staff Sargeant.” “When you write this all down.” Scheuher makes a scribbling motion over the skull. “In your gay little notebook, make sure you include my speech, and get rid of the dumb shit you said after.” “Roger that.” “Theres some more.” Cory is wiping dirt away from what looks like a hand. The bones of a hand. The metacarpals. Finger bones. Frail things. “Leave it alone.” Scheuher says. Let the haaji’s

clean it up tomorrow, They have to dig it up anyway.” “Who was it, Staff Sargeant?” I ask. “Who the fuck knows?” Scheuher answers. He tosses the skull in the air like a baseball, then catches it and cradles it underneath his arm. Second Platoon arrives, to relieve us from our post. When I get back to the trailers I suddenly remember that I was supposed to see Shazia. I hop in the shower and change into a clean uniform. As I dry myself off I look into the mirror. My pupils are back to their right size. Whatever happened to me, was a cure for getting stoned. I knock on Shazia’s trailer door, and scrape my feet gently on the doormat out front. She answers it “Coming.” And opens with a smile. My heart flutters when I see her. She is wearing a purple nightgown, made of silk lace and nearly sheer. In my pants, I can feel my dick flutter in response. “Your missing the movie.” “What movie?” “Juno.” “That’s pretty good. How far along is it.” “Shes just about to meet the adoptive parent. Bennifer Garner and whats his face from that fox show.” “Arrested development?” “Yeah, that one.” She waves a hand inward. “Come in.” She says, shyly. I place my rifle barrel up next to the door, as if it were simply a cane or an umbrella. When I lean into the couch to watch the movie, she curls up next to me, on

my shoulder. Her cheek and hair pressed into my camies. I alternate watching the movie and watching her, and notice that she rubs her feet together an equal amount of times on occasion. Three rubs each, left over right, then right over left. “I want to do something special for you.” Shazia says. “Get bare naked, and get under the covers in the bedroom.” I do as she says. The light is off. There is a full length mirror at the edge of her bed. Watching us. She steps in in a sheer nightgown. As she slips it off I drink in her rich pink tits. Her wide hips. The visible gap in between her legs, that leads up to her pussy. I feel like a man now. I feel whole now. Between her legs, thrusting my penis into the wet and warm. Finally cumming, the surge beginning in my toes, tingling there, and erupting wild up my chest and my head and heart, spasming through this link between us. Days pass by. They turn to weeks, than a month is gone. I spend most of the day on post. After that, Scheuehers fight club. Nights spent with Shazia, when both of us can manage it. There is a rhythm to things developing. I go on a few more convoys. No one pulls out in front of us. The convoys are the only time I leave the Embassy grounds. My home. My cage. Scheueher is growing more intense. The boots are growing more nervous. Cory is pushing away from it all. All of us, all of us are waiting for something to happen. And of Course, something does.

I am standing on Post Two, watching outside the front gate. The Afghan Soldiers are laughing and smiling, tossing something to one another. Bill is spitting dip off the post, watching it land in the barb wire. “What are they doing?” I ask Bill. “Playing Ball, I guess.” He tells me. “Havent you ever played ball?” “No.” I tell him, without thinking. “Shazia plays with your balls.” He says. The haajis walk across the street, smiling and waving. Their faces are gaunt and dark. Dirty tan, mixed in with the dirt. The younger one comes very close to the fence. He pitches the object over hand. I do not see it sail over the razor wire. I do not even see it leave his hand. All I see is that it is there and then it is here, rolling clunk a lunk lunk across the floor of the hut overlooking the front gate. It spins around. I do not know when I recognize it as a grenade. I believe Bill does first, because he is talking on the radio. I am not sure of what he is saying. I am very sure that he is calm. The grenade is grey and round. When it stops spinning it comes to a rest next to my foot. “Fuck.” Bill moans. “Oh fuck.” The lieutenant is there, almost instantly. “What do you mean a grenade?” He says. I point down to my foot. He reaches down slowly, and picks it up. I wonder how much time has passed. The lieutenant looks left and right. I remember Mieir. How the dirt flew in the air. The way his leg looked. He takes the grenade and walks away. My heart is beating very rapidly in my chest. There

is a sweat on the back of my neck that is running cold. “Is this how things are supposed to be?” Bill asks. I do not answer him. I look across the street. “Where did they go?” I ask. There is nothing there. Not cars, or anything else. “I don’t see them.” Bill says. There air is suddenly blowing in cold underneath my helmet. “What should we do?” “I don’t know.” I say. “I don’t fucking know.” I add. “Nothing, I guess.” Bill takes out a smoke from a pouch on his body armor, and offers me the pack. I accept it. With an index finger he digs out the dip and lets it fall on the floor where the grenade had just been. “Why did you start smoking,” I ask “If you had a dip in.” “I had to prove it.” He says “That I’m not dead.” “What if your ghost smoking?” “There is no kind of fucking afterlife out there that lets you smoke Camel lights. Not heaven or hell. This proves it. We lived.” AT THE LAST I am the bastard son of three fathers, Nothing, Hate, and Anger. Its raining today in Houston. Outside the window the rain falls in a fast drizzle. The Vietnam guys hate the

rain, they say it reminds them of the war. I hate the Vietnam guys and love the rain, it reminds me of home. Home? Home/here. I am American. I have earned it, I am home. On floor 6A Of the Michael E. Debakey Veterans Hospital my bed is nearly empty. The meds make me sleep, like they always do, but sometimes I wake anyway. Sometimes the dreams are too real. The dreams are not what you think they would be. I always dream about the Marines. I always dream about the war. Sometimes I start out fucking my ex-wife, and then, poof, Im late for formation. Sometimes Im back at home, in New York or Virginia, but then Im over there. Too often Im back on Post Two Alpha, my ears ringing, the grenade on the ground, wondering where is it? Where did my leg go? My fathers know where it went. They tell me: It was taken from you. I sit upright on my bed in the hospital, trying to connect all the dots. In the rain, I can do this. I can sit here, and I can think. I need the white noise of the heavy droplets. I need the calm of the room. More Importantly, I need the calm of the meds. Risperidol, Percocet, Citalopram, Prazosin. I say the chant. The meds have made me put on weight. The meds have made me too sluggish to work. Too impotent too fuck. But the meds have made me calm. The meds have made me able to think. Sometimes, even, the meds make me able to talk. Or read. Father hate has tried to snatch away my reading. I

pick up a book, or magazine, and read of people with two legs, with good jobs, without medication induced diabetes. Without war in their hearts. I throw the books away. I read a people magazine in here once. Afterwards, I had to be sedated, and put into isolation. The only people I can stand are absent. All my Marine friends on facebook. They the living. I see none of them They all live lives, scattered across the country. Scheuher is a cop in DC. Cory is a security guard in Oklahoma. Bill is a financial advisor in Tennessee. Rielly is dead. Almodovar is dead. Shazia is dead. They the living. Father Anger is the foe Doctor Robinson tries to face. He is a fat man with a white ponytail. His office is full of stuffed bears. When I told him about the gun he checked me in here. When I told him that my anger was not from any one thing, it was from itself, from a swirling, looped vortex, he raised my meds. He has seen this before. He will see it again. He called it Psychotic episodes. I call it arguments with absent friends, friends I sit here with now, and debate, and talk with, and call out of time. Friend of father nothing. Father nothing is behind the other two. Out of all of it now, I summon Scheueher. I summon him for everything left unsaid. I summon him as he was, to stand, invisible, by the foot of my bed. Yeah, Mikey? “You always were a dickhead.” Someone had to be. “Bullshit?” You know its true.

“What was your problem?” What was yours? You were a little fat kid, wanted to be a Marine. You were made a Marine, found out it was all about killing people. Found out that killing people is hard. Whats your problem? Accept what you are. “What am I? The dark heart of man. The ancient thing responding to the old rules. The wolf, the dog, the great beast slouching to Bethlehem. “I don’t feel like that.” You are the failure of that. You remember that day? On post two? You killed all those people. I told you to do it and you killed them. The protest happened, the next day. You killed more then. I asked you if Cory was smoking hash, you said yes and turned him in. He got court-martialed. You are loyal to nothing, not even the angry dog. When do you feel alive? When are you calm? When the police arrive after you beat Turqiose, with your daughter watching you? When the ragheads fire bullets at you, for your murders? When you beat them with boots and rifle barrel, when you stab the boy with your knife? When you see the man jumping from the burning tower. When you see the darkness closing on you, and you don’t feel the fear, but joy. When you embrace it as yourself. All of this is a gift for you. The bomb that took your whore at the embassy, the bomb that took your leg. Do you

remember how you felt? When you took you hand, and reached out, and touched the end and felt the tan meat with red, felt the warmth of the blood, and brushed the broken bone, and felt the vibrations running up to you knee? You were calm. You knew the truth. It was the gift, the finest gift anyone could give you. Your failure was to live. The nurse arrives, and straps a blood pressure cuff to my arm. She places a thermometer under my tongue. I run in between my teeth, and, looking at her, bite down, as hard as I can. The crunch is very loud. Her eyes are wide open. Outside the window, the drops are falling hard, beating their rhythm, expending their ammunition. He was earth, and we were the fruit of that earth. Though he had eaten us, he would never, ever, digest us. -Harlan Ellison September 2006-May 2010 Fin

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