1

Let me tell you

Please believe me

When I say

Delicate Insecticide

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For Turquoise

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He was Earth, and we were the fruit of that Earth. Though he had eaten us, he would never, ever, digest us. -Harlan Ellison 4

The attacks on New York changed everything. -George W. Bush

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ONE

Christian Inferno sat quietly on the bed next to his rifle and stared at the wallpaper leading to the bathroom. The wallpaper was gold fleur-de-lis patterned. The shapes where somehow connected to a childhood memory. His fifth birthday and a he-man cake. But the connections had long since been lost or severed. He thought of his own self than. Tried to become nothing more than what he was. First he thought himself as a boy out of habit. Than an Eagle, Cannon, and Armor, burst into his head. The brand on his chest. The top of the letters US ARMY RANGER peeking out of his brown skivvy shirt up on his collarbone. The taste of a postcotial cigarette on his lips. His Army Combat Uniform Trousers unbuttoned, and the vague salty smell of Ena still on him. Another title, Pussy Eater. Sex addict. Finally, the vest he was wearing. The 12 magazines for his M4 A3. The goggles on his head. Ranger Scout. Biker. Whopper Junior. All of these titles deserved and earned. He decided to avert his eyes to the wall. The was a art print that he liked. It was called Hylas and the Nymphs. A youth was looking into a pond filled with Beautiful women, topless women. With dark red lips, and auburn hair. Nipples so light and pink that the seemed to disappear. He could still taste Paula on his lips. One of 7

them was Ena and one of them was Paula. He could not choose which any more than he could choose between them. The new Motivation and Morale program had chosen him as a winner. He would be assigned to military personnel for morale boost. Two fuck-buddies. Two whores in uniform, college girls, and which could he say was the best? He was living the dream. Killing people in a lesbian bisexual polyamourous fuck buddy relationship. He had qualified for it as a reenlistment bonus. Of course, his score hadn’t hurt. The camera on his helmet had recorded 1300 insurgent confirmed kills in the month of July ’14. That had been a divisional high score. The highest ever for a mere rifleman. It had earned him an interview with Fox News. Not to mention McFarlane Toys making his own action figure. President Hussein had recommended him for the Homeland Security Medal of Retribution. It would be another year before he would find out if he would get it. The highest honor, in military or Private Contractor could earn. Even senators had to salute you if you got it. The last one had gone to a dead guy. Jumped on a hand grenade. Private Gibbs. The rumor was that he was a real fuck up, and had been thrown. But who could really be sure? Dead was dead. Ripeness was all.

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Underneath the art print there was a small theater poster for Devil’s Angels. A group of rough looking men, in brown and white ink. With a beautiful, rough looking woman. Starring Vivian Sheraton and S. Wall Jackson. His second picture. A biker leader. Christian stared at it, wishing for kinship. At the feet of Jackson was a dog, a full sized pit. The dog was either blind or the camera had done him a disservice. Its pupils were blank slits out of which whiteness poured. The face was a contortion of rage. It looked to be amidst a deep throated howl. Unusual for the animal. He leaned closer. As if to decipher a hidden message. Whose blood did the dog require? What sort of appeasement? Of sacrifice? At that moment in time Ena Duhon walked in. She was nude and Nubian. He surveyed her up and down. The deep tan. The oblong brown nipples, like Hershey’s kisses. Her pubic hair. Always her pubic hair. He was drawn to that thorny kinked up patch of pussy. She was shaped like a coke bottle, deep curves. Her hair was worn in its natural curls. “Are you leaving?” She said, softly. “Another patrol.” He said. “I heard mortars last night.” 9

“There are mortars every night.” The red dog growled behind his eyes. “Stop doing that.” She said. “Stop doing what?” Your making that face again. That angry face.” “Sorry.” He tried to muzzle his feeling. To placate the animal. “Its scary.” “Okay.” A twinge of annoyance. If he had the blond, would she treat him like this? He didn’t know. Ena and Paula were his first and only. The black girl and the Mexican girl. Ethnic. Changing standards of beauty. Secret standards, the traditions of American presidents late and night in the slave quarters. Hemmings family reunion. She smiled and all was well. He checked the equipment. Helmet, weapon, body armor. His daypack. MRE Rations. A water bladder. The Meditations. More Ammo. Secure. The dental floss was still holding the hole on the bottom together. An ancient piece of Army folklore. Dental floss makes the strongest thread. Sewing a necessary skill. If there were no holes it would be new. Then he would be in the army.

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He checked his surroundings once fully geared. The bedroom looked to belong to a young adult of sorts. One with ambiguous and eccentric taste in music and art. Miles Davis shared shelf space with the Fugs. Lots of Offendalism. Crosses in urine and such. Otherwise, spick and span, lower middle class tediousness. Here he was. Punk metal militainment adventurism. A bull in a Tupperware shop. At the stairs he stopped for a moment. Another mortar was coming. The thunder echoed off. He was in long beach and probably safe. Most of the fire usually hit downtown. Nothing had more craters than Wall Street, or what was left of Upper Manhattan. As he paused he admired his weapon. The M4 rifle had a fine scope atop it, a very expensive hunting scope. It had some Italian name. He had found it in a random care package one day, amidst bottles of PowerAde and crumbled bits of chocolate chip cookies. There was no note, and the address on the box was a post office box. It had undoubtedly helped him with his score. The camera on his helmet beeped expectantly. It was time to move. In the old days, they had headsets in the helmets. The army still did. That was how they told you they wanted you to move. But the new helmets with the cameras simply beeped. They were always watching whatever you were watching. In the green zone, in Santa 11

Monica, there were teams editing footage. For whatever value they could find. Most of it would end up on the web, training videos and such. The pornography would be sold to appropriate vendors. Cheaper now that van Nuys was occupied. He resumed his walk down the stairs. On the couch in the Living room Paula Rodriguez was watching TV news. It was Fox, interspersed with pirated insurgent broadcasts. She was nude, and Christian took a moment to admire her. She was so tiny, so still. Only five foot and ninety eight pounds. Long black hair. Piercing brown eyes. Nipples slightly pink against her tan. Ena was Lady sings the Blues and Paula was Breakfast at tiffany’s. Billie holiday and Mexican Aubrey Hepburn. The Motivation and Morale agency had done good work. “Did you know the Army is confiscating books in Nevada?” She said. ‘What kind of books?” Christian asked. “The ones on this watch list. They can check the records if you bought them. They have a Homeland Agent show up and take them. No warrant or anything.” “Its under the patriot act.” Christian explained.

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“They tore up this one woman’s house that wouldn’t give them up. Tore apart the walls and knocked out all the windows. She had to stay with her children in Utah. What do you think of that?” “I think she’s a fucking idiot.” Christian answered. “for living in a shitty place like Arizona.” He then realized the futility of it all. The dumb bitches would never get it. They lacked the capacity to understand. He was done with this shitty house in Brooklyn. Out the front door now. To the bike. A helicopter would pick them up later.

Parked outside was his pride and joy. A Harley Davidson 1200N. Combat model. Able to navigate the craggy potholed streets of the DMZ. He took in the site. The smoking, newly bombed out skyscrapers. The thrice boarded windows. Sandbag and razor wire. A street vendor table with fake Rolex watched and blood smears. He cranked the throttle. The V-twin engine roared to life, screaming its rhythm, potato-potato-potato. He holstered the M4 in its special scabbard. And pulled away. An RPG sailed past the rear fender as he did so. There was a hand shoving the bike on its side. He could hear nothing. He stood up and fell back over. Paula was in the street, naked and covered with blood. Screaming. 13

She held something in her right arm. It took him a while to determine it was her left arm. He righted the motorcycle and pulled away. Behind him a second RPG whistled, cutting short the two story walk-up in the Brooklyn green zone. The handlebars were crooked and he had to compensate. How had they found him so fast? Was mullanix giving him up? There were wires and sandbags ahead. A pick-up truck lumbered behind him. He cut hard left into a half constructed building marked FREEDOM PINES. The bike cut deep into the building, across cement and past red girders. He leapt off for a staircase. AK47 fire rattled behind him on cement and girder. He caught a glimpse on the second set of stairs. Three. No, two. Three. On the landing he turned and waited. The first man ran up heedlessly and he shot him in the neck. There was a spurt of arterial red, then a “blurp” as the insurgent expressed his dissatisfaction at the idea of drowning in his own blood. The second man screamed “Bill Fuck!” And grabbed the first man’s jacket. He shot the second one twice, once in the chest, and once in the eye, a magnificent shot, that pierced Bill Fuck’s cornea and ruined the perfect blue orb of a terrified deer, and a

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chime sounded in his earpiece that his camera had confirmed a kill. There was no second chime. The first man had not died. Christian took in the scene. The smell of the gunpowder. The chime of the metal shell casings on the cement, by his boots. The sweat forming, under his body armor and helmet. He came close. There were footsteps below him. A mocking clap, then another. Followed by the chime. Christian came down the staircase, weapon at the ready. An Insurgent was there. Long Hair and long beard. Long black trench coat. MP-5 slung across his side. Red john Lennon frames. “Hello, Christian.” Christian said. Christian reached into his pocket and Christian flicked off his safety. The noise was loud and very audible in the silence of the half built structure. Slowly, Mathew Mullanix drew out a deck of cards. “I thought we might have some spades.” He said.

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TWO

They decided to risk a fire as it grew dark. It was scarcely bearable for either of them. “Last year, a nor16

Easter blew in.” Mullanix said. “Both us and you guys lost a lot more men to that than anything else.” The first hands were played in near complete silence. It was house rules, joker-joker-deuce-ace. Big joker pulls. Some of the cards had names on them, or crude obscenities. When the word FUCK came played on a five of spades atop the name BILL written on a jack of clubs, Christian asked Mullanix for a cigarette. “All I’ve got is weed, Chris.” Mullanix told him. “That’s fine.” Christian said. Mullanix raised an eyebrow. He reached into the trench coat and brought out a plastic baggie contained three joints. “Don’t they piss you guys, anymore?” He asked. “On the first of the month.” Christian told him. “It’s the second today.” Mullanix nodded reluctantly and handed the Marijuana over. Christian lit it from a commemorative Zippo. On the polished metal two towers stood over Manhattan, gleaming. He passed the lighter to Mullanix who looked it over. “I had one of these, once.” He said. ‘Why did you guys do it?” Christian said. Mullanix looked at him oddly. His head was cocked to one side, and his reddish grey hair brushed off his shoulder. “Do what?” He inquired. 17

“Those attacks.” Christian told him. “The ones that started the war. In new York and the pentagon.” “Let me see that.” He handed the joint over to Mullanix. It was good weed and his head was floating slightly. Mullanix took a deep pull, and let out a little cough. “Is that what they’re telling you now?

0

“They taught us that terrorist did it.”

“And all terrorist are alike.” Aren’t they?” Absolutely not. It’s a blanket description. Like soldier. The term can encompass many things. It is, of course, a bit loaded.” “So it wasn’t you guys?” “No. It wasn’t us guys. It was someone else the government conveniently saddled with that label.” The talk mixed with the marijugloria cigarette was bringing Christian right to the edge. It was where he wanted to be, where he felt the most comfortable. Mullanix was apparently quite comfortable himself, as well. He promptly leaned back on his sofa chair of sandbags, causing a few loose grains to spill into cracks in the cement. The cracks led to a fissure where a 18

hapless construction employee, Carlos Ruiz-Fernandez of Nueva Laredo, lay entombed for eternity. The right hand of Carlos lay outstretched before himself in a pastiche of a certain chapel for the Sistine. The grain finally rested itself on a whorl of his index finger, vibrating slightly in time with the sound waves of Mullanix’s tenor, thusly: The history of the world, my love. Is those below serve those up above. Christian took the pause as an opportunity to present his manifesto. The meditations had not been damaged in the explosion. He quoted a passage: All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred, and scarcely one thing is foreign to another, for they have been arranged together in their places and together make the same ordered Universe. For there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law, one common Reason of all intelligent creatures and one Truth. Frequently consider the connection of all things in the universe. We should not say ‘I am an Terrorist’ or ‘I am a Soldier’ but ‘I am a citizen of the Universe.

“Nicely done.” Mullanix said. “I can see your enjoying that book.” 19

“Very much so.” Said Christian. “I think it’s better than the Bible.” “In what way?” “Well- it fits me better.” “I’m not arguing with your statement. Overall, there are many books better than the Bible. Leviticus and Numbers are nothing more than lists of who birthed whom, and how big, exactly, the tent for the Ark of the Covenant was to be. It required a very certain number of dolphin skins to pull off.” “So what you’re saying, then, is that the Bible needing an animal rights representative.” “An editor, more like.” “An editor.” “Of course. It would be a much briefer tome. Psalms, Proverbs. The gospels. Song of songs, your favorite.” “My favorite?” “Of course. Woman to her lover: I am black, but comely.” Mullanix laughed. A slight blush inched its way up Christians neck. He spoke softly. “You didn’t have to kill them.” 20

Mullanix froze mid chuckle, smile still embedded. “And I didn’t. The rockets where already fired when I arrived. I merely hopped on the back of a pick-up.” “Why were you helping those two?” “They were on my side.” “You didn’t stop them from getting killed.” “I damn well tried to. I told those two idiots not to follow once I saw you go in this building. Those two were on meth, I’m fairly positive.” “Eighty percent of manhattans gross domestic, huh.” “Probably a higher number than that.”

0

“How high.”

“The secret economy? Unknown. Unknowable. It greases our wheels. It greases yours as well. Keep talking, but look past the train tracks.” Christian’s hands moved slowly toward the M4 in his lap. There was movement, barely perceptible movement, beyond the overhead railroad. He lowered down his night vision goggles and stared at green static. 21

THREE 22

She sat on the very edge of the softball field, observing the light. It had to be friendly; no one else would be bold enough. Behind her on the bleachers lay the found art of the Lionesses, the other women sent with her to search female detainees, mangled and twisted within the shell of a humvee. By her foot was a lucky charm. It was the Kevlar shell of her helmet, clove neatly in two. It had chopped at the scrunchie holding her hair in place. She knew its presence now by feel alone. Night had come in the DMZ. She welcomed its being. When the sun was setting the light had danced upon the aluminum bleachers, held out like terrible long clawed silver fingers, belonging to some terrible eldritch spider around the wreckage of the humvee and the bodies of her battle sisters. The event wiped her completely. It was not supposed to happen. She had joined the Air Force specifically for a kind of shelter. The sense of which her mother could not provide. She acquired an administration position to work as far from combat as she could, far as a pretty light skinned black girl with blond hair in a long weave, a good weave, and hazel eyes could get. Miss March ’13, officially the US Military’s playmate. Instead they sent her to this location. It turned 23

out that Administration meant Disbursing and Disbursing meant giving grunts their money. All of whom were on the Island. In the DMZ. There was no rear echelon in New York. Everywhere was Ground Zero. She heard voices from behind her. She held her breath and wished herself very still. The scavengers had already come and gone. They had picked the hulk clean, and one of them had even stripped the vest from Lisa. That was the name of the driver, she was halfway sure. Underneath her shirt had been ripped and her pink tits sagged out for all too see, with the light and the sun and the blood and the aluminum claws her mouth open the greasy touch of the scavengers filth on her hand and mouth which must have been cold. She had vomited in the dugout where she hid. As she slid asleep she wondered what the scavenger would do. When she woke up there was piss on the front of her ACU’s and it was cold and dark. The darkness was cool and total save for the prick of firelight. It was time to leave now. She tried to hold in her head whatever thoughts of bravery or survival lay in there. “Heroism consists of hanging on one minute longer.” She said. Her voice was shockingly loud. What was the name of the book for that passage? The young readers junior classics? The junior readers young

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classics? Lost to time. A red cover, a boy and a girl. Scavenged. Alone. She still had her pistol and she chose to place it in her hand. It was surprisingly heavy. When she glanced back at the bleachers her nerve almost went, at the sight of blackest carnage. But her legs moved forward. One and then the other. Halfway to the building she could make them both out. A soldier and a hippie. They were standing in a neutral fashion. Expectantly.

She was everything Christian could think of. An angel. A paragon. Something he had saved some part of himself for, secretly. Away from the Department of defense whores. He ran down a list in his head of all of her attributes. One. She was black Playmate materiel. There were girls and there were women, and there were the paragons, the unbelievably desirable women with light brown eyes and dark brown nipples and straight, shoulder length, natural blond hair. A black woman with blond hair. His angel. Two. She was Air Force. The Air Force got all the best women. The ones who weren’t mere dykes or whores. The ones that could read and write well. 25

0 There was a question of becoming. What would he have to become for her? The romantic comedy version of himself? Something pastiche and likable? Inoffensive? Often he thought there was no real self. Only a pool of water, filling whatever container he was placed into. “Hi.” She said. “USA...friendly?” “Same here.” Christian tried to give a nonchalant wave with his shooting hand. The rifle jerked up and down and she jumped slightly. Air Force. What were they used to? It was only a tool. Like a jackhammer. Loud and hole drilling. “At this moment in time.” Mullanix gave a curt nod to his head. “Can I sit down, you guys?” She asked. “Yeah, sure.” Christian answered. She went over to Mullanix’s sandbag cushions and sank into them. She was much lighter than the insurgent, and no grains spilled from the loose bag. “You don’t know how happy I am, too see you guys.” She said. “Todays been a total fucking nightmare.” “Were you on that convoy by GravesEnd park?” Mullanix asked. She nodded. “Is there anyone else left?” 26

“No.” Her lip quavered briefly. She took a moment to bury her head in her hands, then quickly brought them back, in a gesture which suggested she merely wished to fix the loose strawberry blonde strands that had detached their way from her ponytail. Christian saw the wet streaks of tears, however. The DMZ got to her, he thought. This must be her first time in. Her first real event. You have to stay with it. Let it wash through you. You cant let it overwhelm your senses. Mullanix patted Christian on the shoulder. “This is Sargeant Inferno.” He said. “A real high scoring soldier. He has- well, had, a nice house on Dyker Heights. Your not that far from it now, only on 65th and 18th. In Mapleton. The bright side to all this, is if you head southwest, I understand there’s a Fob on Staten Island.” Christian suddenly remembered the motorcycle. It was still tipped, near the staircase. Why had he left it tipped? He put his back into it, and the bike lifted off its side. The kickstand came down and he looked it over. There was a series of scratches on the timer cover, and the gas tank. Nothing terrible, but it would need to be repaired. He sat on it experimentally. His heart sank into his stomach. The handlebars were bent. How much would that cost him to fix? Would he have to scrounge the zone for parts? Hopefully, Curry in the motor pool

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could get it back into shape. Curry was smart with cars. Beyond that, he was a fixer. In more ways than one. He looked over his left shoulder and Mullanix was gone. The woman had nodded off in the chair. He went over to her and shook her shoulder, regretting the action. Spoiling a moment of peace and beauty. When she opened her eyes, he could feel it again. Hitting him in waves. A trick of her eyes. “Hey, its time to go.” He said. “Did I fall asleep?” She asked. “A little.” He answered. “No, you can’t fall asleep a little. I fucking blacked out. I don’t believe it.” “It happens.” “No it doesn’t.” She shook her head. “None of this happens. They don’t put any of it on the brochure when you’re in the Air Force. When you’re in Disbursing in the Air Force. And, I mean, that isn’t even it. It’s just, when I got here-“ She moved her hands animatedly, gestures meant to emphasize her words. “- when I got here, it was in the back of my head, that this might be, you know, possible. But it wouldn’t happen like this. I’m sorry, God. I must seem like such a fucking-“ She took a deep breath “Such a fucking girl.” 28

“Not really. I know plenty of grown men who take it the same way. Including myself.” “Oh yeah, okay.” I little laugh. Meant to be jaded, but failing that, pretty. “I know who you are. I’ve seen all the Fox News updates.” “No, it’s true.” “Seriously.” “Yeah. The thing-“ He leaned close. Intimately, conspiring, “The thing you have to remember, is that’s what it’s all about. This place. Places like this. War. Its about there being no plan. No way to make a plan. Too much that’s unknowable. You just have an idea. And you hang on to that by your fingertips. And you don’t look down.” The speech had gotten some of the desired effect. He eyes had brighten. She seemed to be gaining energy. That was good. It was a long ride to Staten Island. If they even could make it across the V-N bridge. Where the markers still there? He hoped so. He went back to the Christiane black and metal bike. He gunned the engine, and the pipes roared. She choose this moment to stick out a hand. “Staff Sargeant Gloria Viva.” 29

The name stuck at him. Viva. Like Paula? Another Latina? She was Black. Cuban or Rican? The ugly image swelled back to life. Mullanix lied when it suited his needs. Was he lying to him now, about not shooting the rockets? Was that what he meant with the song of songs? Wasn’t it I am dark, yet comely? She stared awkwardly at her own hand, and then Christian reached out with his and shook it. I am being an idiot, he told himself. She doesn’t think that I like her. She thinks that I am being mean. “Sargeant Christian Inferno.” Even with the glove on his hand, he felt an electric tingle from her. A gorgeous hand. Flawless. Long and slender, like the rest of her. “There’s only one seat.” He glanced at the back and mouthed an obscenity. Fuck. Of course there was only one seat. He had never let anyone on the back, never let Paula or Ena or any of the other Dod whores ride. Thinking quickly, he slung off his day pack and rifle. “Here” He handed them to Gloria. “Put these on, and hold on to me as tight as you can. I’ll try to ride as far forward as possible, so you wont slip.” So I wont get another one on me conscience, he thought. Another woman I knew dead because of me. Another woman I 30

The L-bomb went off silently and suddenly in his head. It kept resonating as he felt her pull tight against his back, gripping him as hard as she could. He tried to rob it off its power, but there was no use. Ove, it screamed. Ove, Ove, Ove, Ove.

Harley Davidson was one of the few government contractors who had not been placed by virtue of being the lowest bidder. They were, in fact, a response to an incident. That was the way of the federal goverment from before the war: Incident, response. In May 28th of 2013 all communication was lost with the town of Allen, Pennsylvania. Satellite, internet, television, radio. Everykind of communication possible. It had fallen off the grid. State Trooper Nate Jennings was a twenty year man on the Highway Patrol and among the first responders to the area. He was also the one to name what had happened. “I called em the New Hampshire Angels.” He told a news team from Philadelphia, on account of their using that flag, and those bikers.” Like many important events in history, much of which is written by the winners, many pieces remain unexplained. There are several conflicting accounts. What can be nailed down is as follows: 31

Officer Jennings and five fellow patrolmen came to the center of town when the noticed an unusual gathering. It was a crowd of mostly men, ranging in age fron seventeen to early fifties. The men were dressed in a variety of uniforms, and some of which appeared to be wearing civilian attire. Many of them were wearing body armor, and most of them were armed. There was, in fact, a man with a heavy beard, who stepped forward waving a flag that bore a coiled snake and the expression LIVE FREE OR DIE. He made a statement to the effect of “This is what it is all about.” Or “This is what you get, you bastards.” Again, conflicting reports. There was adieu, but it was garbled. Yet the video made it around the world. 0 The video report next saw the man with the flag shot dead. The Police on the scene claimed he was armed. Later, a significant minority would claim he was not. As he fell, the back of his leather vest proclaimed FREE STATE. Afterward, there was a firefight. Officer Jennings was the sole survivor. “I hid among the dead.” He told the camera team. Later, an unedited version of his commentary would be leaked on the internet.“We couldn’t stop em, and the SWAT couldn’t stop em, and I hear they’re fuckin up the National Guard real good. Just what the hell are we going to do about these guys?”

32

There was enough left to this end of Brooklyn to suggest that once, it had been a neighborhood. Until you took in the details. The houses with missing roofs. The kids running around barefoot. The ones that had feet, Or hands. Christian took all this in as he roared down the streets. The familiar details of the DMZ. He was seeing too many of them out now. It was around one A.M., and there was little around to attract them. There wasn’t even a hint of electricity in this sector. That meant nothing was around but him. He was enjoying the speed. The sensation of being on his bike. What if they took it away from him? Put him back on foot patrols? He pushed the thought aside. In two blocks, the V-N bridge was coming up. There was a sudden large explosion. Gloria spasmed and let out a little scream. Even with the body armor vest, she mgloriaged to dig her nails into his skin. There was smoke ahead, covering the bridge exit. The bridge was on fire. He saw the mob. People screaming angrily. English, Spanish, Arabic. Generally pissed off. Demonstrating. Someone dragged something that looked like a hunk of meat forward. Eventually he registered it as a body. Torn to pieces. Possibly two bodies. Now the 33

pieces were being hung from the bridge trestle, and the people were screaming and pointing to the other side. He nearly had the engine on idle. Someone was noticing him. There was no time, only a decision. He gunned the engine. “Shoot the rifle!” He yelled back at Gloria. Shoot it up, in the air!” He worried that his words would have no effect. Then he heard the Pop Pop of his weapon. Someone ran up to them with a chain and then fell down. She was shooting it into them. She was shooting them. Good girl. Good soldier. They might make it. The mob fell back. The tires lurched up to the bridge. They were almost in the free. Through the flames. He made the mistake of looking up to the trestle. It was them. The whores. Ena and Paula. They had found the pieces, and they had done this to them. What was the point of it? He was throttling down now, nearly still underneath the swinging meat. In his anger and confusion he released the clutch. The engine cut off suddenly. The scene was very unreal to him. The blackened colors of the corpses swinging in the flickering fire, looking to be swallowed up from the grey green trestle into the impossible black. Someone was calling out “Sergeant Inferno.” He looked behind him, and it was a pretty blond. She tried to point, and ended up gesturing with the rifle. There were flashed of light in the 34

distances. A blue streak of light lined past, cracking like an especially loud pair of fingers. They were shooting. AK tracers were blue. He forgot the bike had stalled and tried to gun the engine. He cranked it again and it howled to life. Another crack, this one closer. Something clanked off the girder overhead. He accelerated quickly. Into the fire. It grew hotter the further he got across the bridge. Through the toll. Faster now. Smoke was up ahead. Gloria was drawing in her breathe. The bridge was out. There was a chasm up ahead at least fifty feet wide. How could he make it? It had to be too far. He gunned it anyway. Better to go out this way. The cool drink of the Hudson below. Their necks would snap on the fall. Their brains would rattle around their skulls and they would black out. Better. When he approached it he saw that the chasm was not even. The explosion had etched out an enormous V in the bridge. Wires were exposed. But on the right, a thin strip remain. Hulks of cars long abandoned, gave him a maze with which to work with. He could smell the toxic fumes. The acrid smell of concrete and tar. All the way to the right now. Half a lane. He looked down halfway. It seemed to go forever. There appeared to be a movie at the bottom about 35

water. The motorcycle proclaimed its fury. Wind whipping on every side. Gloria said, “Oh god.” There was a five foot gap ahead. It was hopeless. He had come this far, and it was hopeless. How would this work? Could he mgloriage it? He throttled up as hard as he could. When the front tire looked to run out of asphalt bridge, he jerked up. It did not happen in slow motion. It was quickness, and he kept his eyes fixed ahead. It was a fast stretch, across nothing. Then he saw that the front tire was too low. The bike hit the other side and lunged its rear tire forward, and they both spilled over. He was rolling rolling rolling, and suddenly he hit something and stopped. His head spun. He looked around. Gloria was there. She was laying very still. The bike was dangling on the side of the bridge, tottering back and forth. It finally choose to leave with a scraping noise. The head light dangled up and down, up and down and gone. An endless time later there was the splash of contact below. He got up and felt like shit. Gloria was rolling on to her pack. She was breathing now, deeply. He could see the shock of the adrenaline going through her body. She looked over at him. “Are we dead?” She asked. 36

“Not yet.” He answered. ‘We still have to make it to the Fob, and see if they’ll shoot us.”

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FOUR

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Drill Sergeant S. Wall Jackson tucked over the brim of his “Smokey the Bear” hat and looked around for his pouch of chewing tobacco. It sat on the edge of the command center conference table. He inserted a large wad into the his cheek and he waited for the two dykes to show up. The two dykes were men, he believed, of indeterminate age and possibly gender. One of them represented Yoyodyne, a significant weapons contractor. The other represented Substance D, a large healthcare conglomerate. Both of them had a large stake in this conflict. Thus Washington had determined that their presence was necessary whenever christianers of “critical importance.” would occur. Which was to say, whenever they wished to be there. He stood up and pulled down the front of his dress shirt. Appearance was everything. The dykes were snappy dressers. He had arranged his ribbons and medals just so. He still had to prove to these clowns that he could do this. That he was not, in fact, a clown himself. After Completing eighteen years of military service, Staff Sergeant Jackson was drummed out of the Army for what his commanding officer called “questions of moral turpitude.” Which really boiled down to two things: He had not made Sergeant First Class in time, 39

and one of the recruits he had buggered had snitched on him. Having no mgloriageable skills, he eventually ending up driving a taxi in Fayetteville, North Carolina. This prospect worked well until he was recognized by one of his victims, who shyly propositioned him for another round of glorial amusement. He was both infuriated and deeply disturbed by this offer. After obeying his first impulse to strangle the private he noticed a certain sexual satisfaction being derived from the punishment. The only thing for it was flight. The only mode of transportation he had available was his employment, thus he abs combed with the Carolinee Yellow! Taxi. After driving for a week he found himself both without funds and in Los Angeles. He spent a day living in the stolen cab, like a zombie, unshaven and unclean for the first time in his career. He was urinating on the yellow door the next morning, when a fat, bespectacled man quietly got into the backseat. S. Wall offered this advice: “You trying to look at my pecker, maggot? What’s your malfunction?” He continued with a diatribe in which the individuals maternal parentage and orientation was severely questioned, followed by an offer that he should perform an impossible act of self immolation.

40

The passenger, one Larry Duplo, a savant director, was enormously pleased. After such films as “Childhood’s End” and “the Long Walk” he was ready to pursue a more serious, factual work, and offered Jackson a leading role in “Half Tin Overcoat”. The shooting of the picture was a simple thing, no acting was required. They flew him back to Boot Camp in Texas, and he was put to work. The director wanted everything for the film, and in a climatic moment in the first act, he was able to perform his signature climax, surrounded by recruits clubbing the victim with bars of soap. The recruit in question was, in fact, Duplo, who had agreed to be penetrated to assure historical accuracy. After the final scene, S. Wall had enough funds secreted away to purchase a garage for his cab, as well as a jar of yellow paint, to obscure its east coast origins. Providing transportation in this region was a far more amusing pursuit that driving in North Carolina had been. There were many attractive people for him to curse and ridicule, some of whom where “in the know” to quote the local parlance, who asked him “Aren’t you in the new Larry Duplo?” The film itself was a rousing success. Earning several Academy awards and twice as many nominations. It became a part of popular culture in militainment, and S. Wall became an iconic film figure. 41

He received a promotion to Sergeant First Class, the rank he had worn in the picture. In boot camps across the world, Drill Instructors showed his film to recruits, and talked about the Good Old Days when things were hard and the world spun in the right direction and everything made sense because Old men were fucking Young men that looked up to them in the ass.

Dyke Number One made its way through the black double doors of the conference room. He or she was wearing a string tie with a deadwood clasp and a black suit coat. Its hair was styled in the fashion of the “mop top” Beatles period. Black square frame glasses completed the ensemble. Dyke Number One coughed and looked around nervously. It always looked nervous, in its fat chubby face, with pockmarked acne scars, and big black eyes. Like a scared frog. “Where’s the other one?” S. Wall asked. “Feeling a little under the weather” Number One answered, in its froggy, neutral, voice. S. Wall felt the prick of annoyance. Again, a reference to He or She was avoided. Dyke Number Two choose the moment to stride in. It was the more “butch” one, with close cropped spiked hair, freshly gelled. Two was wearing a light blue polo 42

shirt and athletic shorts, and a pair of running shoes. Several yellow bands hung from its left arm. There was an embroidered name above its left breast but there had been a sort of accident to render the writing indecipherable. Number Two threw a thick folder on the conference table which landed with a smack. In bold black letters YOYODYNE LOSS REPORTS was etched across. “The condom trucks can’t get through.” It said. “Why’s that?” S. Wall queried. “Because your fucking bridge blew up.” Number Two threw out the profanity casually. Number One seemed to shrink at the sound of it. Scared back into its hair shell. In the early Days S. Wall would go toe to toe with number two, which grew angry, to the point where number one started to cry and scream. Both S. Wall and Number Two had found out the sound was unbearable, alike to a sack of drowning kittens. So the Drill Sergeant remembered his bearing and came up with a proper answer. “It was a terrorist attack.” He said. “The numbers are down on the highest score show.” Number One answered. “How are they down? Best thing on cable television! After, of course, Liberty Call.” Liberty Call was 43

S. Wall’s old program on the Winner’s Channel, in which he displayed advances in military technology. His celebrity from the program had been a key factor in his receiving his current position. “There’s a protest going on.” Number One pointed to one of the screens in the command center. Christian was on the bed, naked. A woman was naked above him. A Motivation and Morale Whore. The next scene on the video was the same woman in a chair, naked and screaming. A clear liquid was being poured over her head. She shivered under it, as It splashed over her skin, over the duct tape used to bind her. There was a roar of fire. She screamed and screamed and then stopped as her skin was ate away by ever hungry fire. As her features sank in and pieces of flesh fell to the ground. The final scene was the corpse, dangling from the V-N bridge. Exit credits: HIGHEST SCORE. “They mgloriaged to Pirate the feed.” Number One pointed out. “You’ve got to lose the whores.” Number Two said. “I like the whores.” S. Wall replied. “Do you like to fuck?” Number One asked. “I love to fuck.” S. Wall answered, his voice dripping with secret lust. Number Two leaned in close. 44

“We need the trucks.” She said. “To get the condoms, so you can fuck. If we don’t have the trucks, you can’t screw these nasty whores-“ ”Adult Entertainment Professionals.” Whined Number One. “Nasty Whores.” Continued number two “That we send you to pleasure your troops. Do you have any idea what kind of professional will follow an army around?” “Not Really.” He spit a stream of dark red juice onto the conference floor. It crept between the tiles. “The cheap kind.” She said “Willing to trade a sense of personal safety for a six figure payoff. Most of them have Syphilis. Many of them have HIV. These whores will spread that to you men. Then who is on the hook to provide that healthcare? Us. Substance D. As many as six thousand of your men, dying slowly in a hospital. One medical loss after another.” “I thought you people were good at avoiding that sort of thing.” S. Wall commented. Number One flashed an ugly grin of mostly straight, yellowing teeth. The kind found on antisocial young people. “We are pretty good.” He said. “And we would be able to whittle down that number some. Most of them would give up and expire, and we wouldn’t have to expend so much funds. We could minimize the losses 45

that way. But there would probably be a documentary. It would blow up on the net, at least.” “And then” S. Wall capped off, “The terrorists win.” The trio stood around silently, and nodded. A moment of silence was given.

The screen behind his “Smokey the Bear” hat ruined everything by flashing to the front gate by the V-N bridge. Two GI’s a male and a female, were standing there with their hands behind their heads. Both of them were young and attractive. “USA friendly coming through!!” They said. “Get the fuck down on the ground!” Was the reply. The two got on their knees. “Get the fuck down on the ground!!” Was repeated to them. “I have a weapon.” The female said. “DO YOU HAVE ANY WEAPONS?!!?” A voice in a loud speaker said. “Yes, it’s in my holster, a nine millimeter automatic.” “USA friendly, guys,” added the male again, helpfully. “GET ON THE GROUND?!!?” A young private screamed. He enthusiastically tackled Gloria and began roughly patting her down. “SARGEANT! SHE HAS A WEAPON!!” He exclaimed. “I just told you that.” She said. S. Wall decided to add to the scene behind him with such helpful candor as what in tarnation, Sam hill, 46

etc. etc. He subtly struck a dramatic pose by flaring both his elbows out and bringing his hands down to his hipbones in fists. He couldn’t look behind him to see, but he was certain it had the desired effect on the two dykes. A commanding presence. One firmly in charge of all Oscar winning situations. 0 “These two are good.” Said dyke number one. “We can use this.” Or was it number Two? He couldn’t tell, the entire thing was long since out of his hands, out of his control. Spiraling ever under, downward across. A half life of its own.

It seemed like an eternity until Gloria was allowed to go back to her own trailer. They stripped her and checked her, interviewed her and cross examined the story. She nodded off once or twice in that room, with its white walls and its cheap brown picnic table. Finally, she was allowed to walk across the Fob and find her own trailer to sleep in, with the threat/warning that another interview was likely tomorrow. Once she was there, she found it impossible to sleep. It was adrenaline or something else. She tried to consume her mind with thoughts of Caleb. It would be painful, but it would be better than this. The picture in its broken frame was under the sofa chair where she had 47

left it. She stared, and tried to unravel her thoughts on her son. It was difficult to do. It might be borderline impossible. It was obvious that he was her flesh, or at least her heritage. He had the kinky hair and dark tan that labeled him African American, or it least not white. The deep brown eyes, darker even than hers, like black pools. And the gap between his front teeth like her mother. But the picture was torn on its right side, and that was where Caleb’s father stood. So much of him was there. Irish. Her kid was a mutt, Irish and Black. What would he think about that? Beyond that question lay a harder one. One that kept the picture under the sofa. One that kept the frame broken. Why had she done what she had? There were several logical factors. Her employment being one of them. She was deployable, the father was not. It made sense. But she didn’t visit. She never attempted to call. Why? What was she feeling? How did it work? There was something dark in her that tried to speak for her. It told her the truth. Or what she hoped was only A truth. You never wanted a son, it told her. You never wanted a child at all, and you never wanted a son. Beyond that, you never wanted a mate, or even a lover. The truth to your being is this: I HATE ALL WHO ARE NOT ME. 48

Sometimes she could not dispute the voice. The feeling came to her, like when she was with that moron on the bike. He was cocky and arrogant, two traits she hated in a man. She would hate them in anyone, but especially in a man. He had a big forehead and a sharp nose. He had dark black hair and she hated that. He had gel in the dark black hair and she hated that more. Obviously he was not used to doing any work to make a woman happy. Why should he? The motivation and morale crew would provide him with all the whores he could eat. A fresh hole to stick his dick in. That was all they needed, That was all David had required. That, and a wad of padding for his ego. David was beautiful, to be sure. She loved how it offended him when she called him that; beautiful. She put the frame back, under the sofa. Something sliced her finger. She shook off the smart and sucked at it. A paper cut. It was an unconscious tic she had, ever since the car accident. Somehow she had passed it on to Caleb. She waved the list in the air and unconsciously flexed her left hand open and closed. It was something done often before sleep. Suddenly there was a knock at the trailer door and light pouring through the boarded up window

Someone slid a package under her door. They went down the haphazard wooden stairs, creaking all the way. She 49

delicately walked across the room to fetch it. There was broken glass in the carpet. For some reason she was in stocking feet, but could not remember having removed her boots. She tore upon the brown paper to reveal a black notebook There was a plate inside the cover which read

The history of an ominous notebook

Mole’s Skin is the ominous harbinger of destruction used by European despots and warmongers for the past two centuries, from Napoleon to Hitler, from Jack the Ripper to Herman Goering. This trusty, pocket sized travel companion held sketches of torture victims, notes on casualty numbers, stories to be readied for propaganda, and ideas sent to them in dreams, from satanic voices or family pets.

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Originally produced during the Black Sabbath in the basement of an English Meat Pie shops, who received assistance in their trade from certain vengeful barbers, by the end of the twentieth century the Mole’s Skin notebook was no longer available. In nineteen eighty-six, the last manufacturer of Mole’s Skin, a blood diamond smuggling ring in south africa, closed forever. “Molehaut ist ein Gräuel” Were supposedly the fuhruers last words on the christianer. Or, rather, the thought waves received from his preserved brain. The German writer had ordered a hundred of them before leaving this life, he had bought up all the Mole’s Skin he could find, but they were not enough to preserve his life. In 1998, a Saudi Arabian Oil Prince brought Mole’s Skin back to life. As the self-effacing keeper of an extraordinary tradition, Mole’s Skin began once again to travel the globe, and hell followed after. To assault reality, to fudge details, to impress upon paper aspects to horrible to experience, Mole’s Skin is a dark reservoir of ideas and feeling, a battery that whispers of plagues and Atomic ruin, and whose energy only builds over time. The ominous black notebook is once again being passed around from one pocket to the next, with its various page styles it accompanies terrible professions and the imaginations of the disturbed. It continues on, until all its still blank pages drip red with ichors.

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(Mole’s Skin contains fifty percent animal products. Like the lampshades) After that terrible description, she felt disinclined to turn the page. She did so anyway, and found smooth, mostly blank pages. They were unlined, and the corners were distinctly rounded. In the middle stood this passage:

.. EQUIPMENT LIST- FCS-INVASION -MICH Helmet – Tan -Crye Precision Combat Shirt – ACU-Crye Precision Combat Pants – ACU-Crye Precision Blast Belt w/Suspenders- ACU - M4 Mag Pouch - ACU x 4-Double Pistol Mag Pouch ACU-Crye Precision Armour Chassis - ACU -Hydration Carrier w/Tube –ACU -Large General Purpose Pouch Horizontal – ACU -General Purpose Pouch - ACU -MBITR Radio Pouch – ACU -Water Bottle/General Purpose Pouch – ACU -SERPA Drop Holster w/Mag Pouches -Riggers Belt -1911 .45 Pistol w/Rail -1911 .45 Magazine x 4 52

-Pistol Lanyard -P-Mag 20 Round w/Ranger Plate x 4 -M4 Magazine 30 Round x 4 -416 Rifle w/10.5 Inch Barrel -Single Point Bungee Sling Coyote -MBITR Radio w/Peltor Headset and PTT switch -Patches -Desert Boots -NOMEX Gloves – Tan -1911 .45 Pistol w/Rail -1911 .45 Magazine x 4 -Pistol Lanyard -P-Mag 20 Round w/Ranger Plate x 4 -M4 Magazine 30 Round x 4 -416 Rifle w/10.5 Inch Barrel -Single Point Bungee Sling Coyote -MBITR Radio w/Peltor Headset and PTT switch -Patches -Desert Boots -NOMEX Gloves

She shook her head in confusion. How had this gotten there? What did it mean? She recognized none of it. The words were foreign. ACU was Army Combat Uniform. What was a 416 Rifle? Pictures would have been immensely helpful. She had never heard of a 416 Rifle. All of this was immensely confusing. She flipped through 53

it some more. There was only one more item, near the end:

The Burqa Ghost

High Fidelity Stereo

First Platoon

A series of novels

By M.T.S.

She slammed the book shut. There were other things to worry about. How would she keep up her weave? There had been a hairdresser on the Air Force base who had been able to accommodate her. She was African, true African . With the clicks and everything. They had done a great job on the weave. Hair was inexpensive to buy these days. With the war and all. Lots of blond girls willing to help a sister out. Many of them 54

from within the DMZ. The hair venders set up shop everyday with the Blu-ray discs and the I heart NY shirts. 0 She concerned her grey christianer with ideas of dead strands of tissue until there was another knock on her door. Immediatedly she crawled on all fours and stared under the gap, at the feet of the stranger, clad in Nike athletic cross trainers, hoping to glimpse the hands of her new postmaster. The door opened seemingly of its own accord, and a stocky woman of indeterminable age or gender peered out at her between thick pink cheeks and a close cropped “buzz” haircut. She wiped soot from an explosion off her baby blue polo shirt. “Hi.” Was offered in awkward greeting. Finding herself suddenly tired from the events of the previous day, Gloria chose not to raise herself to full height. Instead, she crawled to a spot near enough to the couch, and then sat with legs folded under her “indian style” beside it. “Can I come in?” The thing at her door was asking. She nodded assent, and it strode in a powerful, controlled movement. Choosing not to sit, but to rather stand, hands alternately swinging freely at its side and placed on hips. This position meant that Gloria had to strain her neck upward to make eye contact. Instead she chose to peer belt level, at its strange and mystical groin. “I hear youve had a hell of a night.” The thing said. “Whats your name?” Gloria replied. 55

“Marks.” The thing said. “Are you a contractor?” She asked. “I represent a firm that acts as a government supplier.” It said. ‘Supplier of what?” “Our primary aspect is pharmecuticals. We actually exist as a conglomerate of firms.” “Substance D.” “Thats right.” “I hear you shut down the whore tents.” She said. “We cant get a fresh supply of condoms through.” Marks replied. “What if the men turn on us?” Gloria asked. “We have an overabundance of rape kits in supply.” Marks answered. “What about getting pregnant?” “Enough birth control for several months, as well. Would you like to try a sample?” Gloria agreed, and Marks opened up a small white fishing tackle box it had brought. Inside were many different tablets and pills, Picking at last a small purple oval with D imprinted. Marks dropped it in Gloria’s palm 56

and she tilted her head back, dry swallowing the instrument, which tasted distinctly of semen. Marks calmy sat on the couch and folded its hands. “Is it working yet?” Was asked. “Im not pregnant.” Gloria dizzily replied. ‘Thats irrelevant.” Her head was swimming. Colors appeared at random intervals from behind the boarded up window. How was this position reached? What would change it? In the beginning of all effective christianer, who was the reciever? Thing were revealing their true natures. A flower blossoming. Clock without a craftsman. She used to ask her mom to tell her a story, when she felt like this. “I know a story.” Marks volunteered. “There’s this book in the command center library that someone dropped off. Its missing its cover and title page. No idea what its called, or who wrote it. Its fantasy. Its about this guy called a Nord. Arturus. He is a Nord, not called a Nord. The Nords live in the frozen spine. Arturus is a prince. The Nords believe their god is dead. They have a written language, and print books. They exist mostly as a group of communities. Arturus is a real good looking guy. Tall, muscular. Long blond hair and blue eyes. He fucks his cousin, and she gets pregnant. When she tells him, he gets real 57

scared and punched her in the stomach. Then he runs away. Down the hall his father is having a feast. Arturus decides to get shitfaced. His Dad makes a joke about hearing him and the cousin fuck, and he gets real mad. Loses his shit, stabs his father in the gut with a sword. Kills him. After that, he’s exiled. Goes into the cold. Into a mine shaft. A witch is living there. She tells him of a country to the south, in a land called Ghan, accross the sea. A city called Uruk. Tells him about the Uruk men that live there, Real barbarians. Run around naked, yellow teeth and grey skin. So, he gets an army of these outcasts. Sails accross the sea. South. Arrives in the desert. Some of his men are dead. When he gets there, he finds these tall city walls. And the Uruk men. Like the witch described. He kills them. Burns the carcasses. Im not very good at describing some of this stuff. Some of the language is really great. I wish I knew what the authors name was. I mean, the way he talks about the snow and ice with the Nords, or the faces of the dead sea Wyrms staring up at the ships, mouths wide open, and the way the sailors drown themselves and go mad, dissapeared down the throat of the giant wyrms, its really great stuff. The reason why I bring all this up, is, the way he described Uruk. 58

Uruk is this huge city with huge black walls. And the city is built in circles. Each circle has a higher wall than the last one, with the fortress in the center being the tallest. It’s a presence, really. Like nothing anyone has ever seen before. That huge black city in the middle of an endless beach without an ocean. So, Arturus takes the city. Kills its ruler, takes his bride Salome. Fucks her. In the night she takes a knife and hacks away. Cuts his throat, and cuts off his left hand. Tells everyone that she killed him. The people riot. Arturus’s men kill and die, but they are stuck in the city. Their leader is gone. They don’t know the way home. And Arturus lives in the basement of the palace, wrapped in an old blanket, pissing on himself.” Marks cleared its throat, having reached the end. Gloria was coming out of it now. She still felt funny, and knew things to be different than normal. “What does any of that mean?” She asked. “I don’t think it means anything.” Marks answered. “I think its just a story. Something light to read, during the more boring moments in life. There are plenty of those, in the Fob.” “I think its an glorialogy.” Gloria said. “But Im not sure how, or to what.” “Anything can be an glorialogy. If you stare at a Rorshach test, eventually you’ll see a pattern. It doesn’t mean that one’s there.” 59

“What do you have for me?” “An employment offer. With Motivation and Morale. Standard contract.” “Im not a prostitute.” “No ones a prostitute. Everyones a prostitute. Everyone has something for sale, a good or service for sale, or trade, in advance of favors given-“ Marks brought out the picture of Caleb from underneath the couch “For selves or loved ones.”

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62

FIVE

At that present moment in time, Christian was in the garage on- base, watching corporal Curry rummage across huge piles of scrap metal for needed parts. Curry was elbow deep in a carbonator for a broken humvee, that had taken a glancing blow from a land mine. “They don’t have any more twelve hundred N in stock.” He told Christian. “The Army discontinued that motorcycle program, while you were in Brooklyn with your whores.” “I heard they discontinued the whores, too.” Christian said. Curry pulled his arms out of the engine and wiped them off on his ACU pants. He unzipped his fly and whipped out his penis. The think was covered in blueblack growths, genital warts as big as the tip of a pinky finger on his fat cock. “A nasty bitch did this too me, right after the rubber trucks got blowed up.”

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“Well, I guess you don’t care about whores anymore.” “The hell I don’t. Im going to give it to every one of those cunts. That way, every one on base can have this shit.” “Not me, though, right?” “Not you, your whores are dead.” “Well, thanks, dude. Thats a load off my mind.” Curry tucked the yogurt slinger away. A vesticle popped as he did so, and the pus formed a dark stain on his crotch. “You have no idea what this pain is like.” “Get some stuff from Motivation and Morale.” “Fuck that. I don’t do drugs. Wont put that shit in my body.” “You smoke weed.” “Weed isnt a drug. Its natural. Comes from the earth.” “There are natural poisons.” “I’m tired of arguing shit with you, Christian.” Curry sighed. He was a big soldier, big around the belly and big and tall. He had a weak chin, hidden by a thick red goateebeard, and a slight line which was the remants of a harelip. He had a daughter who had the whole cleft palate, a monster baby that Christian involuntarily 64

shuddered at whenever he passed around photographs. The child was always so sunny and cheerful. Completely oblivious to the ichor raised by its presence. Curry asked Christian if he had any marijugloria on his person, and Christian presented the half-joint that remained from his palavar with Mullanix. They sat on the thick rim of a humvee wheel and smoked. Curry produced a playstation portable and began a racing game. They passed it back and forth, taking turns at the various tracks. Along the way their Lamborghini was upgraded, until the lithium battery ran out of juice. Curry cursed and pitched the game accross the garage, where it landed silently behind a long dead Mercedes. “I need my Harley, dude.” Christian said. “Look in the Hudson Bay.” Curry told him. “Then I need a new one.” “Like I said, they discontinued the program.” “Can you just, get me one? I know theyve got bike rangers in Jersey.” “They’ve got a lot of shit going on in Jersey. Right now, its worse than Brooklyn. It could be the next Manhattan. You want a bike? Get them to start the program again. You’re the big hero.” Christian looked down sheepishly. “They cancelled my show. The insurgents pirated in an execution feed.” 65

“I’m not talking about the show. Im talking about that Eivel Knievel stunt you pulled on the bridge.” “You saw that?” “Everyone saw that. They’ve been running it on a nonstop loop on Fox News. They wanted my to tell you that.” “Who did?” “Those two guys that work with Sargeant Jackson. Marks and Ingles. The gay one and the Lesbo. Theyve got big plans.” “Like what?” “They told me to tell you that your getting a commision.” “What?” “They heard youve got some college. Your getting a commision. Theyre going to make you an officer.” It was a sudden blow from the left, or behind. “A lieutenant.” Curry added helpfully. ‘Why would they do that?” “It happens sometimes. Enlisted going to college, turning into officers. They called them Mustangs. Look, you know what I think?” “Maybe.” Christian answered, in antagonism. 66

“I think theyre making this stuff up as they go along. The regular army hasnt been back that long. Not but two years ago, they kicked everyone out and decide its MPC’s only. Than the free states come along, and they all quit. They don’t know whatever the fuck theyre doing. They see you, they think, solution. And they need a solution. Theyve been losing bad.” “I don’t think.” Christian said. “You don’t think what?” “I don’t think I want to do it.” Curry handed over a brown manila government courier envelope. “They told me to give you this.” He said. “If you would say that.” Christian started to unrap the cord and Curry yelped. “Not here.” He said. “Go open that in your own damn trailer. I don’t want to have any idea of whats in that.” Christian took his leave and exited the garage. A tank was rumbling idly next to him, coughing up thick plumes of smoke, in dire need of repair. He found the trailer in similiar condition to what he had left it in. Whiskey bottles and Playboy mag askew. He picked up the one for Miss March, 2013. Miss May took that moment to walk through the door. Gloria had dressed herself in a black halter top and a short denim skirt. Slitted on the sides. Her hair was done nice, her lips were glossed, and she had glitter underneath her eyes. 67

“Ove, Ove.” Christian said. 0 “What does that mean?” Gloria asked. “Its french.” Christian answered. “Pig french. From polynesian.” “Your polynesian?” “Im Puerto Rican and Irish.” “Thats cool. Caucasian and African American, here.” “You look nice.” He said. She gave a little twirl. A small pirroette. “Im ready to go out.” She told him. “Go out where?” He asked. “Your taking me to the E-Club.” “Don’t we have to work or something today?” “We’ve got liberty until Monday. Come on, get your civvies.” Her taunt did its job and he lept forth with to a duffel bag, where, buried near the bottom, lay an abercrombie shirt and a new pair of designer blue jeans. Hurriedly he changed, within sight of her, noticing she did not turn away or flinch. The voyuerism gave him a small erection, a half chub he sought to conceal. When he was done she took his hand and led him off. 68

They arrived early at the enlisted club. It had once been an actual nightclub called the Tango. When the base had been built all the rest of the buildings had been razed to the ground, to be replaced with trailer houses with sandbag and cinderblock roofs. Only Club Tango remained undisturbed. Initially there was a question as to what it would be put to use as, until the clubs full supply of liquor and intoxicants was discovered. Then the question was removed. Motivation and Morale snapped it up quickly, stocking the bathroom condom dispensers and adding bowls of Substance D brand pharmaceutical party aids. The atmosphere was listless when they arrived. It was only eight-thirty, much too early for things to get started. Most of the men were out of patrol, and most of the women were hiding from the sex starved men. The disc jockey was one Pames “Hack” Jatterson, a middle aged warrant officer with a grey donut and a pot belly. Once in the sixties he had been the top entertainer in San Narsica, but he lost it all in a Vice case. After that, it was Nam, and since he had mgloriaged to secure a dull job which translated well to civilian employment, he elected to stay with the California National Guard. This had worked well until 03', when he found him self approaching fifty and in the desert of Iraq. Then he fell down a rabbit hole of stop-losses, extended deployments, involuntary activations, divorces, and depression meds. All of this had led to his current predicament, where he had mgloriaged to secure enough rank to avoid doing anything save his old pastime at Club 69

Tango. For his first record of the night he decided on the latest track by Gentlemen GooGoo, “Rummy Expression.” The music pulsed and pounded in syncopated rhythm. Christian drunk his beer and Gloria slurped at a long island ice tea. They leaned in close, to talk above the din. “Where are you from?” Christian asked. “Palmdale.” Gloria said. “Where’s that?” “Its in California. The Antelope Valley.” “That’s cool. I’ve never been that far west.” “How about you?” “I’m from a town in southeast Texas called Lumberton.” “Do they make lumber there?” “They do, a little. The biggest thing is a paper mill. That whole area, its nothing but chemical plants and oil refineries.” “Sounds terrible.” “I know.” “Are you going back?” 70

“I’m not sure. They offered me a commission.” She chose that moment to place her hand on his forearm, calculated tenderness. In order to reinforce which direction things would go. “Your going to be an officer?” she asked. The manila envelope was in his brain. “Maybe.” He replied. “Why not? That’s a great deal.” “Maybe it is. Look-“ He flailed his hands. It was an awkward gesture, a useless gesture. “All I joined the Army for was to ride motorcycles. They took that away, and, I think I want to get out.” “Aren’t you stop-lossed?” “Sure, like everybody else. But there’s ways around it.” “Like what?” He leaned forward, close enough for her to smell the stale beer on his tongue. “When I was twelve.” He said. “I spent some time inpatient at a psych ward. They don’t know about that.” “Oh.” A small twinge of panic ran down her back. They really didnt know about that. Marks had explained nothing to her about it. If she failed, the deal wouldnt go through. Her mind raced, hoping to poke holes in his scheme. There was nothing immediate, so she asked him if he wanted to dance. 71

They danced in the early twenty first century style of bump and grind. He lacked rhythm, and merely swayed back and forth. Other couples joined in. As the night wore on the alcohol swam and the room grew hot and crowded. A foam machine projected millions of soap bubbles and they continued to dance, sometimes with each other. At one point she kissed him and they started making out, standing there on the floor, pressed against the wall, and finally on the bar stools. At that moment in time, suspended between imperfections, he bent her head back and told her. The L-bomb dropped, and things moved quickly, hazily, in between drunken sheets of sweat and love juice, in rutting movements slow then fast. As if the fate of the world could be determined by their bodies. The truth of the glory for which they were born. When he reached her door, a familiar sight greeted him. Gloria stood there, her arms crossed, with that same steely look of contempt on her face that had greeted him the first time he came to her apartment. In fact, she had on the same silky pajama pants with the little hearts on it and a tank top that exposed a hint of midriff. It was like déjà vu and as such, Christian didn't see the harm in recreating the scene a little more. Gloria looked up into his smoky gray eyes and knew that she was in trouble. Before she could react, his lips were upon hers and his tongue was pleading its case for entrance. He backed her into the apartment, closing the door with his foot, before whirling them around, effectively trapping Gloria between himself and the door. The basket in his hand dropped to the floor as his hands made the familiar journey, under that flimsy tank top that drove him crazy, to cup her luscious breasts and tease her chocolate brown nipples. Gloria gasped as his digits began to roll her nipples, pulling and teasing, a moan escaping to be swallowed by 72

Christian's mouth. His tongue was in her mouth, exploring every nook and cranny before inviting her own tongue to do the same. Their lips met again and again and Gloria couldn't even find the willpower to break away and bitch at Christian for interrupting her studies. She would much rather be kissed senseless than study anyway and besides, she wouldn't let it go too far. She could hear the little voice inside her head laugh at that thought, but she ignored it. Christian's mouth moved lower, nipping her neck and her shoulder, before it latched onto a nipple. His hands worked her tank top off and threw it over his head. "Christian..." Gloria's breathless plea was answered with a soft bite on the side of her breast. Christian worked her entire tit over before moving on, his tongue playing in the valley between her breasts and then encircling her other nipple. Tonight, there would be no interruptions and Christian was glad for that. His hands almost met around her waist as he picked her up and settled her against the door. Gloria wrapped her legs around Christian's muscular body, locking her feet behind him. "Mmm, Gloria, the things you do to me. You make me lose my mind when I'm around you," Christian murmured into her hair. Gloria's reply was engulfed by the squeal that she let out as Christian's jean encased cock rocked against her clit. Her hands, shoved between their bodies, frantically undid the button on his pants and worked down the zipper, while his tried to pull her pajama pants down as far as he could mgloriage with her legs positioned as they were. Christian's frustration built quickly and he ripped Gloria's pants and her panties along the sides, exposing her to his eager ministrations. Her fingers 73

wrapped around his cock while his stroked the outside of her wetness. Gloria panted, hoping she wouldn't hyperventilate as he plunged two of his fingers inside of her. He twisted his fingers, playing her like a well-tuned instrument, wringing loud cries of ecstasy from her. Copious amounts of her juices coated his fingers and made him wish that he could taste her there, with his mouth or his cock. The longer her slim digits danced along his dick, the more desperate he became until he couldn't stand it. "Gloria, please." Gloria was pulled out of her frenzy by the sound of his pleading. Her eyes shot up to catch his gaze, watching as the blue that signaled his arousal started to overtake the gray of his eyes. Oh. Shit. "Please...God, please, baby. Shit. I need..." He didn't even need to say the words. She knew what he was asking. She continued to stare into his eyes, struggling with the decision momentarily. His fingers had stopped their probing and were now gripping her thighs, subtly adjusting her body for penetration. She could feel his desperation battling with his control and she knew it was a losing battle. Part of her wanted to hold out and make him wait longer, to not give it up to him so quickly in their relationship. The other 90% of her was screaming to let him in. Her body wanted him and her heart needed him. Christian groaned as he felt Gloria rubbing his hard-on through the wetness of her pussy, back and forth, teasing him. "Gloria, please." She gave him a cheeky smile before answering, "Please? What would you like me to do?" "Stop teasing me." "Oh, is that what you want?" Gloria giggled as she moved his cock away from her naughty bits and repositioned it 74

back between their bodies. Christian thrust up against her, his dick sliding against her clit and causing a delicious heat to rise up through her body. He spoke over Gloria's moans. "Why you little...I want my cock buried in that sweet snatch. I want to watch you dance on my cock while you scream for me." Gloria was panting again, his movements hadn't slowed and she was on fire. "Do it...I want it. I want that too." Christian hiked Gloria's body up and lined his dick up with her pussy. "You sure, Gloria?" "Fuck me, damn it!" Christian thrust up into her waiting hole, burying his cock deep within her depths. It felt so good, he thought he would lose it right there. He could feel her pussy contracting, squeezing his pole. He was inside of his Gloria and she was coming for him. "Baby, it's so good. God, it's so good. Fuck." Gloria couldn't answer, she was busy trying to muffle her screams against his shoulder. In the back of her mind she remembered that she was pressed against her front door and she had neighbors. She bucked against him and he started to move, his cock finding its rhythm as he pounded her cunt into submission. There was no doubt in Gloria's mind who her pussy belonged to now. It was Christian's as long as he wanted it. And she told him so. Christian reveled in the sounds of his dick bottoming out in his Gloria, the smack of his balls as they slapped against her ass, the intelligible babbling that followed her loud profession of his ownership of her naughty bits, his grunts and groans, and her screams. Now that he had her, he would never leave. She was his forever. "Gloria, tell me again. Who's sweet...oh, yeah...pussy is this?" 75

Gloria tried to gather her thoughts. Christian was saying something, but she couldn't focus on his words with his dick hitting her spot as it was. Her answer was a keening cry, she was so close, she was going to come. Christian slowed his strokes, almost coming to a complete stop, pulling a moan of pure frustration from Gloria's lips. "Tell me again, angel. Who does this pussy belong to?" "It's yours, Christian. My fucking pussy belongs to you. Fuck me harder. Make me come," Gloria called out, her neighbors forgotten. "Don't you forget it, Gloria. You belong to me now." Christian's devilish smile was paired with his renewed thrusts up into Gloria's welcoming snatch. Her screams rose in a melodious crescendo before she came apart in Christian's arms, her orgasm overtaking her. Christian tried to hold on, but he couldn't fight off the churning in his balls caused by his Gloria's pussy milking him. He came, sighing her name against her hair, his head resting on the door. His pumping slowed and then stopped. He listened to his Gloria's huffing breaths as she tried to regain her composure. He let her slide down his body onto shaky legs before scooping her up into his arms. Christian carried her down the hallway to her bedroom and placed her gently upon her bed. Stripping off his jeans and pulling off his shirt before joining her, Christian climbed onto the bed and cuddled his Gloria against his chest. He laid with her like that for long minutes before speaking, taking time to soak in the feel of her pressed against him, her nipples grazing against the hard planes of his chest. "Mmm. You are positively irresistible, Gloria," Christian spoke into her neck. "Well, I could say the same thing about you. I wasn't 76

planning on letting you ravish me like that for at least another week. But, what can I say, you're very persuasive." "I'm sorry, Gloria. I didn't mean to come here and take you like that. I just wanted to feed you and help you relax." Gloria laughed. "Well, I think this is the most relaxed I've been all day. So I guess you've achieved your goal in that respect." Christian chuckled. "So, was I amazing or what?" Gloria smirked. Of course he was going back to being cocky, but he deserved his props because he had put it down right. "I'll admit that you were pretty amazing. Keep that up and you might get lucky every time I see you." Christian grinned and rolled over on top of his Gloria. "I'm feeling pretty lucky right now. How about it?" Gloria stared up at him incredulously. "Really? Now?" Christian ground his hard-on against her still exposed pussy. "Really. I told you before, angel, you make me crazy. Every time I think of you and your sexy little body, I get hard. I think the brothers thought I was some sort of sex fiend last weekend, as much as I jerked it." Gloria giggled. "You're bad." "Maybe I am, but you love it. So, how about it?" "I have to study, Christian. As much as I would love to feel you rock my world again, I've got to get back to work or I'll fail my test." "You won't fail, you're way too smart for that, but I understand. Can I still stay for awhile or are my five minutes up?" 77

Gloria cast a glance at the clock on her dresser. "Your five minutes were up like 40 minutes ago. I'm surprised your legs held up as long as they did." "You know, I'm a little surprised I lasted as long as I did. Your snatch is heaven and the way it was working over my cock was so fucking hot. But, now that you mention it, my legs are kinda stiff." "Seriously? You dumbass, why didn't you say something? And how can you want to go again if your legs are all cramped up?" Christian grinned lecherously down at his Gloria. "A man will go to many lengths to get inside of a beautiful woman, especially one as amazing as you. I'm feeling good enough to want to bury my cock in that sweet pussy of yours, that's for sure. And, if you're really concerned about my legs, you could always ride me, Gloria." Gloria rolled her eyes. "I could, but I'm not going to right now. I'm going to get back to studying as soon as you stop trying to persuade me to have sex and get off of me." Gloria started squirming, trying to get some leverage so she could slip from under Christian. Christian tried to ignore the way Gloria's movements made him want to flip her over and take her from behind. He really wanted to let her study before he gave in to his body's demands again, but it was so hard to restrain himself. "I can't wait to get in you again, Gloria, especially when you writhe beneath me. Wanna take another study break in an 78

hour?" Gloria felt her face heat as she stilled her movements and took notice of the throbbing member that was pressed so intimately against her. "Well, now I think you're a sex fiend. Get off me. You can stay, but don't distract me. That means you'll have to put some clothes on when you leave the room." "You find my body distracting?" "Hush. You know I do. Now, move it or lose it, buster. And you know what 'it' I'm talking about." Christian rolled off Gloria and watched as she slipped from the bed. Her pajama pants and underwear slid down her legs, causing Gloria to glare at Christian as she stepped out of them. She grabbed a new pair of pajama pants and slipped on a new top. "I know. I'm sorry. I'll replace that pair of pajama pants and the panties too," Christian stated sheepishly as he hid his satisfied grin behind his hair. He liked ripping Gloria's clothes from her body and would probably indulge in it again soon. Gloria shook her head and walked towards the bathroom in the hallway by her room. Christian willed his cock down. How had his desire for a simple kiss turned into him humping her brains out against the door? Christian rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands. He really was going to have to learn to control himself around his Gloria or they'd never make it anywhere. He'd keep her naked and in the house for years. 79

"Hey, angel, are you hungry or do you want to wait for your snack?" Christian called from the bedroom as he stretched out his legs. Gloria was once again perched in front of her textbooks and study guide and for some reason, she didn't care that he was interrupting her right then. "Later, babe. I want to get through some of this while I'm feeling mellow. You won't even want to be around after I get stressed in a few hours." Christian thought about this. "When you start feeling really stressed, let me know. I've got something to help with that." Gloria shook her head. Christian really was a sweet guy when she thought about it. She wasn't going to let him know she thought so because it would go to his head. Gloria worked diligently on her study guide for a few hours, pleased at the progress she was making because she was so relaxed. She took a break to eat after Christian spread a blanket out on the floor and laid out a picnic lunch. He made sure to make her laugh and kept her mind off of her studies. She even let him wring another orgasm or two from her body as he devoured her pussy after exploring her smooth skin with his lips. After a few more hours, when night had fallen and Gloria was starting to get wound up about her final, Christian pried the pencil from her hand and pulled her from the table. Before she could fuss at him, he kissed her into submission and laid her down on the same blanket he had used for their picnic. He pulled out the massage oils and rubbed Gloria down until she was nothing but a 80

puddle of flesh. And while she was spread out, luxuriating in the feel of his fingers stroking and kneading her tense muscles, he read to her from her study guide, occasionally asking comprehension questions that Gloria easily answered. After Gloria was content with the amount of studying she had done, Christian herded her into her room and into bed. He wanted to take her again, but he knew she needed rest before her test. So, he settled for burying his fingers in her hot snatch, bringing her to orgasm quickly, and watching as she drifted off to sleep after her climax. Christian sighed, happy to be able to fall asleep with his Gloria in his arms. He would have to get up early so he could drive to work, but it was worth it to be next to his angel, to hear her deep breathing and the occasional soft snore that slipped out as she slept. He was in love. There was no doubt in his mind now. He had only known her for five days and he was already head over heels? He let out a quiet snort. His old man had ended up being right again. Christian remembered that his dad had claimed that when a Rosenbloom male met his match in every way, his feelings and heart would get tangled up almost instantaneously and the desire to claim her and keep her would overwhelm him. Christian had laughed it off because he didn't believe in love at first sight. But, now he knew, it may not have been love at first sight, but there was that need to protect her, to claim her from the very beginning that he couldn't shake off. She was his match and he was going to keep her by his side no christianer what. "Gloria, you're so wonderful. My angel, my sweet, I..."Christian began in a voice barely above a whisper. 81

"Christian, stop mumbling to yourself and go to sleep. This isn't family share time. Save it 'til tomorrow," Gloria grumbled. Christian laughed. He had thought about professing his love to her sleeping form to practice for the real thing. Apparently, his Gloria was either a light sleeper or very good at playing possum. "You're right. I'm sorry. Goodnight, Gloria." "Night, babe. Sleep tight." **** Gloria could barely contain her excitement as her pen flowed almost effortlessly across the test in front of her. Because of Christian's help, she had been able to relax before the test and even that morning he had woken her up with a massage to keep her loose. She walked into the test feeling confident and where as before she would freeze up sometimes during her finals, this time, she finished without hesitation. Christian had worked wonders and she hoped that he would stick around so she could take advantage of his pampering more often. She looked over the test to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything and once she was satisfied, she gathered her materials together and stood. Gloria stretched upwards, working out the muscles of her back that had tightened while she was hunched over. With a smile, she handed in her test and walked out of the room, feeling free and excited because she was meeting up with Maia to get an update on her new relationship with Jesse and divulge some juicy tidbits of her own. 82

She walked across campus and settled on hanging out at an outside table by the student union until it was time to meet Maia. Because she had been so confident, Gloria had finished well before she thought she would and now had time to kill. She decided to work on her paper, so she could finish it quickly. Christian was coming back up later that night and she wanted to be able to focus on him. Now that they had gotten their first time out of the way, Gloria was looking forward to fucking Christian into submission. She shook her head at herself. One day she's claiming that she was waiting to have sex, the next she's being drilled against a door. Oh, how she was mistaken. Gloria's lips curled into a half-smile as she sat thinking about all the deliciously naughty things that she wanted to do with Christian and to Christian. She was lost in a seriously sexy fantasy where Christian was begging for release as she teased him, when a voice broke into her thoughts. "Hey there, Ms. Gloriagloriaa Jones. Long time and all that." Gloria looked up and into a pair of warm blue eyes that were partially hidden by a mop of red hair. "Jeremy Carter! What are you doing here? I thought you were done." "Just out roaming campus. My flight doesn't leave until tomorrow. But I'll be back in two weeks." Gloria nodded. She felt somewhat bad. Jeremy was the guy she was supposed to attend the Alpha party with before Kathy stepped in and convinced her to change her 83

plans. And, although it worked out for her in the long run, she couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Jeremy. They had been flirting and hanging out with a group of mutual friends for a while before Jeremy had decided to go for it and asked Gloria to meet him at the Alpha party. She knew he was probably planning on making his move that night, but fate stepped in. Christian had come through and swept her off her feet before Jeremy even had a chance to run his game. "You want to sit down? I'm meeting Maia in a few, but I have time to talk if you want to," Gloria offered. Maybe this would give her a chance to tell him that she was off limits. Jeremy took the seat across from her, sweeping his long red locks back so he could get a better look at Gloria. He had heard the rumor that Christian Rosenbloom was so far gone on Gloria that he was tripping over himself and that they were now an item, but he wanted to hear it straight from the source. If he gave up and the rumor proved to be wrong, he would be majorly pissed. But, then again, if the rumor was true and Gloria was taken by Christian on the very weekend that he wanted to lay his claim to her wonderfully curvy body, it would be a damn shame. His eyes took in the way her hair fell over one eye before traveling down past her shoulders and the way her breasts seemed to suck him in before he caught himself and raised his eyes back up to hers. He could feel his entire face flush as he realized that she had caught him staring as well. "Sorry, Gloria. I can't help it. You're so beautiful, you 84

know?" Jeremy wished he was smoother, or could ignore it, but he didn't want to come off as a complete pig to the girl who had captured his attention. Gloria fought the urge to giggle. Jeremy was adorable when he blushed, his fair skin turning almost as red as his hair. If Christian hadn't barged into her life, Gloria knew that there was a good chance that Jeremy would have been her boyfriend right then. She was a sucker for redheads, after all, and his muscular swimmer's build and pert little ass didn't hurt either. "Well, you sure know how to flatter a girl." Jeremy tried to think of something clever to say, but he felt tongue-tied. That was one of the reasons he wanted to meet up with Gloria at a party. What he wouldn't give for some booze right then. Gloria took pity on him and changed the subject. "So, how was the party this weekend? Did you have fun?" Jeremy cleared his throat. "I did. It was a lot of fun. A couple of the guys were doing keg stands and then trying to see who could spin around the longest without falling over. It was pretty entertaining. Although, I must say, I probably would have had a better time if a certain beauty were there on my arm. But, as I heard it she was off at another venue, kicking ass and taking names." Gloria laughed. "Hardly. More like getting mauled by drunks and having to be saved from their attacks. Apparently, some guys don't handle rejection well." "So who was doing the saving? Did Jesse swoop in to 85

save his favorite girl from sure destruction?" Gloria shook her head. "No, actually it was a guy named Christian. He's an alum who was in town for the weekend." "Christianhew Rosenbloom? That old hound dog was back in town? I bet he had a girl on each arm and another few chasing after him." Jeremy winced internally. 'Sure, go ahead and make the guy sound bad just because he might be with your curvy beauty. You sound like a jealous ass.' Jeremy continued to beat himself up mentally. Gloria quirked an eyebrow at Jeremy's familiarity with her new beau. "Yeah, that knucklehead is the one who saved me. He's a nice guy underneath that dirty frat boy exterior. And I have it on good authority that he was able to successfully repel most of the girls chasing after him. Do you know him?" Jeremy nodded. "Not really well or anything. He was a friend of my older brother. They were the same class year and in the same program. We've only met once...when we were both incredibly drunk, but my brother had some pretty crazy stories he liked to tell about his and Christian's escapades." The conversation lulled for a second, the question that was plaguing Jeremy's mind was hanging in the air. Jeremy didn't know how to ask about it tactfully and Gloria wasn't really itching to tell him, but it had to come out somehow. 86

Gloria knew that Jeremy brought Christian's name into the conversation because he probably heard that they were an item from someone who was at his lake party. They could beat around the bush all day or she could just tell him what he wanted to know. "So are you two dating or was that just some wild rumor?" Jeremy beat her to the punch. "Yeah, he convinced me to be his girlfriend after chasing me around like I was the last piece of tail on Earth. He was persistent, I have to give him that," Gloria answered. Jeremy's bottom lip protruded in a pout momentarily before he sucked it back in and smiled at Gloria. "So, how serious are you guys? Are you just dating or are you in it for the long haul?" Gloria was almost shocked at Jeremy's forwardness, but then she remembered that was why she had liked him in the first place. He was direct, honest, and he wasn't afraid to tell Felicia that she was full of shit, which earned him many brownie points in Gloria's book. "We're as serious as we can be for a couple who started dating two days ago. We both agreed to be exclusive and we're going to see how things turn out between us," Gloria smiled at the thought of just who was turned out the day before. Christian sure did know how to put it down. "Damn, he beat me to it. That sucks. I wanted to be yours, you know. But, I can see that he means a lot to 87

you already. That little secret smile of yours is very telling," Jeremy commented, leaning forward as if they were sharing secrets of their own. Gloria stared at him like he had grown another head. Was it that obvious? "It's pretty obvious, Gloria. But, you deserve that smile. You deserve to be happy and if Christian's the man that can make you feel that way, so be it." Jeremy stood up and stretched his lithe body out, hints of his auburn happy trail peeking out from under his shirt. "But if he trips up and makes a mistake, you let me know. I'll either knock some sense into him or pick up the pieces and show you how a man is supposed to treat a lady." Jeremy gave Gloria a quick wink before turning to walk away. He turned back around and walked to Gloria's side, scooping her up in a tight hug and dropping a kiss on her forehead. "I mean it. If he does anything, you let me know and I'll straighten him out." Gloria leaned in briefly to return his hug before breaking away. "Will do. I'm going to hold you to it. I can't do all the ass-kicking by myself." "You do that." Jeremy smiled again and with a deep sigh of regret, he turned and walked off. It really was a damn shame that Christian got to her first. Gloria smiled after him. He was a sweet guy. She hoped he would find someone special that would be worthy of his attention. As for her, unfortunately for Jeremy, she 88

was stuck on Christian. Gloria returned to working on her paper, relishing the quiet atmosphere. It didn't last long. "Who was that guy?" Gloria glanced up, already knowing who the voice belonged to. She looked into an incredibly handsome face that held a pair of gray eyes that, at the moment, reminded her of granite, hard and unyielding, and a scowl that conveyed just how unhappy Christian was about the situation he just witnessed. Gloria fluctuated between wanting to scowl back at him and laughing at him for being so possessive. Christian flopped into the recently vacated seat across from her, trying not to cause a scene or chase after the guy and beat his ass. How dare he put his lips on Gloria? Gloria continued to regard him with a wary eye. Then she smiled warmly at him, remembering that he was the reason she was feeling so good that day and she wasn't about to let him ruin it. "Hey baby, enjoying your day so far?" Christian crossed his arms and continued to glare. "You didn't answer my question." "You didn't answer mine either, but I'm feeling generous today. That was Jeremy. Now answer my question." Gloria tried to hide her smile. Christian was so cute when he was being all angry, jealous boyfriend. That pout was adorable. 89

"I was enjoying my day immensely until I left work early to be with my girlfriend and surprise her, only to find her hugged up with some guy who thinks he can put his lips on her for some reason." "It was a brotherly peck on the forehead." "It was a KISS. He put his lips on you and he's lucky I didn't run over and rip them off. I know a guy on the prowl when I see one." Christian accented his words with a jab in the direction that Jeremy walked off in. Gloria sat back and shook her head. "Christianhew, you are over-reacting." "I wouldn't be over-reacting if you told me who that guy was and what he thought he was doing pawing you like that." Gloria sighed. She could see the rage building inside of Christian. She watched, amused, as his face reddened. His angry face was almost as cute as Jeremy's blush. Now she understood why he pushed her buttons. As much as she hated to, she was just going to have to give him what he was asking for before he exploded. "That was Jeremy Carter. We've known each other for a little while now. And he was a potential suitor until about five minutes ago when I let him know that he didn't have a chance because I was falling for a sweetheart in an asshole suit. I thought you were going to take that suit off today, but I see that instead you have paired it with your 'jealous douchebag' hat and your 'I'm-a-totaldumbass' tie. It's such a lovely ensemble." 90

Christian sighed and dropped his head into his hands. He was never the jealous type before and the depth of his desire to lay claim to Gloria's body and fight off any man that came sniffing around her was a little frightening. It must have been the Rosenbloom possessiveness kicking in. Plus, it was hard to mgloriage his emotions when she was around since he was using most of his self-control to fight the urge to throw her over his shoulder and take her somewhere to fuck her brains out. "Gloria, I'm really sorry that I acted like a total jerk when I came over here. It's hard, you know. I mean, I spent so much time trying to get you to be mine and the thought of some guy trying to take you from me makes me see red. It kills me to think about not being with you." Gloria heaved a sigh. Christian had his moments, but he really was a sweetheart. "I understand, Christian. I do. I know how I felt when I walked into your room and found that floozy crawling on your bed. I wanted to choke her out and we weren't even officially dating then. But, just as I gave you a chance to explain the situation, I expect the same courtesy. Don't jump down my throat and pout because things look a certain way. Find out the facts, trust me enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. If I'm not interested in being with you anymore and I want to move on, I'll let you know face to face, not sneak around behind your back." Christian nodded. "I'm a major ass. I really am sorry for being so gruff. So, how about I take you out to lunch offcampus to make it up to you?" "Negative." 91

"Negative? What?" Gloria giggled. "I'm meeting Maia for lunch today. We're going to compare notes about how good the sex has been, how many orgasms we've had, and see whose guy has the biggest equipment." Christian's mouth dropped open. "You're not serious are you?" Gloria's giggles evolved into full belly laughs at the combination of Christian's flabbergasted look, complete with a gaping mouth, and his response. She could feel tears start to run down her cheeks. Christian started to pout again. "It's not that funny," he grumbled. "No, I'm not serious. And, it's really funny to me. You look like a fish with your mouth opening and closing like that," Gloria responded in between laughs. Gloria eventually calmed down and regained her composure. They agreed to meet up with Maia and both go to lunch with her. Then they would head back to her apartment and hang out or make out, whichever struck their fancy. Maia, for her part, took it in stride, letting Gloria know that she was going to call her later so they could dish on their respective guys. Over lunch they chatted and had a good time. Gloria and Christian walked Maia to her next final and then drove over to Gloria's apartment in Christian's car. 92

Christian felt like the sight of his Gloria's jean encased ass was hypnotizing him as she walked up the stairs in front of him. He was going to bend her over the arm of her couch and enjoy the sight of her ass as he crammed his cock into that sweet pussy of hers as soon as they got in the door. No chance for her to deny him and no mercy. He was going to fuck her hard and long. Gloria turned to look back at Christian as they ascended the stairs. She could see the lust burning in his eyes, the fiery orbs seeming to almost be overtaken by the blue. She knew what he was thinking and she knew that as soon as she opened her door, all bets were off. Hopefully they'd make it past the door this time before her pants were off. "Christian..." "Keep going, Gloria. We're almost there." "You know, I do have a paper to write." "I know. I also remember you saying that it was due on Friday and you had all tomorrow to work on it. No more excuses." Gloria tried to protest one more time, for the sake of appearances. "Christian..." She didn't get any more out before she was hoisted over Christian's broad shoulder and carried the rest of the way up to her apartment. He took the keys from her back pocket and opened the door. He let her close it, since most of her was behind him, before he walked over to 93

her couch. "Gloria, I hope you realize your entire afternoon and evening are shot. You're going to be spending it naked and on multiple surfaces around your place. Starting now." Christian stripped her quickly, throwing her clothes over his shoulder, and then disrobed himself. Gloria drank in the sight of his body and felt her juices begin to flow. Before she could blink, she was looking at the floor of her apartment, the arm of the couch digging into her stomach and Christian's hands roughly massaging her ass. He moaned and started mumbling incoherently, caught up in his arousal and his need to take his Gloria and lay claim to her body again. His eyes traveled up her body, taking in her slim waist, smooth back, and graceful neck before he leaned forward, whispering into his Gloria's ear. "You seemed to have forgotten whose pussy this is. But don't worry, I'll remind you, over and over again. I doubt you'll have problems remembering after I'm through tonight." Gloria felt his cock rubbing against the cleft of her ass and luxuriated in the way his body covered hers before his words sunk in. Oh. Shit. And those were the last two words that made sense to Gloria for the rest of the day and most of the night, as Christian slid his penis deep inside of her and showed her just who he was and how efficient he was at staking his claim. Over and over again.

94

SIX

Times Square was cold and empty. Mullanix sat in the top floor, awaiting his mark. He stared at nothing 95

through the scope. War was a game of patience, and the one who could hold out the longest, would win. Long ago he had been in college. Virginia Tech. An asian man had come through the door and methodically mowed down the teacher, and then the students. He had fallen to the floor. There was a girl in a pink v neck sweater who was staring at him from a sideways position on the carpet. He could see her pulse fluttering. The blue vein in her neck. She became very still, yet continued to look at him. Afterwords he had been in the apartment. There was a coherent philosophy he was trying to piece together. Bits of Aurelius and Thoreau. It remained elusive still. The true face of things appeared chaotic and formless. As if he were staring into a fountain pool filled with chunks of meat. Bits of flesh caught in the current. He packed the nothing that he had and drove west. Leaving the radio off, and the window down. Through the open road he found a beating American heart. Things were different than expected. People were better. He stopped in bars, motels, roadhouses. Trying to pry open what was underneath. Now and then an unexpected confession. An abortion, perhaps, or a lack of faith. Accross the wheat fields of Kansas Eddie Vedder had sang Such is the weight of the world, that you never know 96

just where to put all your faith, and how it will grow Gonna rise up, find my direction magnetically

The first time he tried to camp it was by a water reservoir. He stripped off all his clothes and decided he would skinny dip. It was clear and cool and cold next to his bare skin. Occasionally he would feel the vibrations in the water in the wake of a passing trout. There were reeds in the middle. Beyond that, heart landers talked in clear voices about white boats, while their children laughed and played He went back to the tent and attempted to read, cooling his skin atop his sleeping mat. There was much yet to discover about this backpacking. He awoke before dawn that morning for the first time in his life, to press onward. In Wyoming all the hotels wear taken for Western Days and he had to camp again. He decided to test his gear. He found that he was unable to fire the rifle. He also found the weight to be entirely too cumbersome, and shed useless entrapments down the trail. He could not bare to part with the weapon. He had chosen it for the color alone, wood stock with a bluing barrel, single shot, breech loaded. Atop it 97

sat the most expensive scope he could find, with a german name. There was a depression in this, sitting alone in his tent, at the bottom of the red hills and rocks, trying to imagine an end to this state, and thusly, the American experience. He had grown up in Kansas. Kansas was flat, flatter than Tennesee or Oklahoma, at the time the only other points he had for reference. The accident had happened two weeks previous to the start of this memory. Everything happened for a reason, someone said at the service. The funeral service. But the coroner had told Dad about Moms head being partially imprinted in her stomach, and he had overheard. Imprinted was the word he had used. He waited for his father to do something, but he didn’t. He just stood there. He was fifteen and his parents, mister and missus Mullanix were both gone, him to a transfer job in New York City and her to a closed casket grave, courtesy of a drunk in a eighteen wheeler mack truck. He was living in his Aunts house and had started to have sleeping problems. Aunt Jean took him to her doctor, a head type doctor that prescribed pills. But the pills made everything loopy during the day, like someone had pulled a thin blue blanket over his eyes. So he rolled the dice and went without them. And then he woke up. He looked at the clock. It was three hours since he had lain down. Scratching his groin lazily. The hand slipped down to his dick and he thought about Sarah 98

Shahi. Sarah at school with her half shirts and no bra. With those great tits. The world came in cold through the window, and his dick went limp again. He sat up. There was an imprint of sweat on Aunt Jeans white sheets. He looked over the bedpost and out the window. The fields of corn and wheat, he couldn’t tell which, maybe neither, were lit up by a huge moon. A perfect slice of white, the night sky wasn’t black, more like a deep blue. The floor of Aunt Jeans farm house was made from hardwood, it was scuffed and scratched by countless blows from long grown cousins. He had met them both only once, during his Grandmothers birthday. Neither one of them had smiled. Troy, the older one, had a look in his eyes both nervous and angry, which he attributed to the drugs mom said that he did. Had said. She was past tense now. He thought about the sounds that had accompanied whatever had happened to the floor. He thought he could actually hear a low scratching. His feet rested on the floor as he sat up with hands cradling his head, elbows resting on his thighs. The floor was smooth, a lot smoother to the bare skin than it looked. When he stood up, it was freezing cold. He saw himself shiver, as if it were happening to someone else. That’s a pretty good way to describe how he felt about what happened next. His toes were tingling, like they were about to go to sleep. He looked down, and couldn’t see his feet 99

anymore. His legs ended in stumps. He was super awake and yet not. He heard a voice saying oh shit oh shit and recognized it as his own. Eventually, that is to say, afterward. At the moment he knew nothing. He tried to pull his feet out of the floorboard quagmire and sank up to his waist. His legs were kicking free. There was a dink dink sound and he registered it as the chandelier in the living room, bouncing off his knees. For some reason his hands were firm on the floor. He struggled a moment. As if the bottom half of him had found a crack in the ice sheet of the universal fabric, and had betrayed him. He pulled and tugged. On the bottom floor there was a sight of blue white pajama legs furiously windmilling beside the light fixture. Witnessed by nothing of account. I good tug and he dropped clean through. He was in free fall, and Aunt Jeans rug rushed up to greet him in all its paisley glory. He could feel it in the passing, feel the fibers scratching his face. The pain was alike to jumping off a diving board, into a pool of wool fiber. There was a loud slap. After that it was dirt. He was in dirt and dirt was in him, in his mouth and face. All he could see was dirt. He couldn’t breathe. There was a mental image of his mothers face behind him. Staring at the back of his skull. His hands were thrashing up, in a sort of dog paddle in the muck. Seeming to catch suddenly on a rock, a root, a handful of weeds. The fingertips of the left hand came up 100

to nothing, came free. Then he sank again, and could feel nothing but earth. The memory stirred in time. At the rock in Wyoming. In the derelict room in Times Square. He could place that clearly as the moment when he chose to go to sleep. Giving up, and going to sleep. When a house lacks a basement but possesses an elevated foundation the space between is termed a crawlspace. That was where he was pulled from, in the span of one week. He remained asleep throughout. There was something that remained and pushed through. Little more than an imprint, the core of all memory, imprints, on neurons, tinkered and changed throughout time. He was lying in dirt, and in his own shit, and a square of light. A hand, reaching. Behind him, the left hand cornor of Aunt Jeans pool. Blackness. The hospital.

101

SEVEN

102

The hospital was made of cheap yellow flowers from WalMart that told him GG NORA seyz GET YOURSELF BETTER!! The first thought in his head was annoyance at how his grandmother now called herself GG just because his sister had gotten herself knocked up in college. His second thought was that he was unbearably thirsty. He asked for water and his voice sounded pathetic in his ears nothing more than a thin scratch, an expiration breath. Someone in pink hospital scrubs said “Get the family, he’s talking.” There was the squeak of white loafers on scrubbed cement tiles. Faces that blurred in and out. The sister and her kid. Aunt Jean. The guy she was boning from church, Bill or Hill or something. His dad wasn’t there. For a minute he thought he saw the thick grey mustache, the too-tanned skin, looking over him. His father was tall, damn tall for a Mexican. But he wasn’t really there. The stream of questions was ignored while he sipped hospital tap water from a bendy straw. Aunt Jean was rubbing his forehead, talking about how much he prayed. “Hours and hours, Jimmy, and it is a miracle, I don’t know what your father told you it is, Jesus does provide, praise his name….” There was a mute button in his mind and he pressed it. Watching from a distance at the performance his Aunt was putting on. She was wearing what was undeniably a church dress, carrying a little Bible, alternating between clasping her hands in front of her and waving them in front of her face. 103

It’s the same color as her rug, He thought, and immediatedly didn’t want to. He coughed and let out a retch of phlegm. The water went back up for a return trip. The mute button went off and on, giving him snippets and flashes of conversation(s) being held on his behalf, “A DOCTOR LORD JESUS DOCTOR FOR MY BABY DOC-“ “Shouldn’t have given him that shit: “Ah-huugh ughuagh” “Said he was brain dead. Total vegetable.” 0 He came out of his violent reaction to the sippy cup just in time to place voice to the last burst of speech. It was Violette, half holding her two year old, her eternal damnation in the eyes of his father. Aaron was trying to imitate the spasms, which made him very difficult for her to hold. The childs dark brown curls bobbed back and forth on its head. He wondered if the boy resembled his father. It was impossible to see any of his sister in its makeup. Or, by approximation, any of himself. “They had to pump it out of his lungs and stomach. Tons of it. Said he’d never get better, right? I mean, how much of all this is he getting, anyway?” She was talking to Will/Hill and Aaron was on the floor pulling at the bed. On the other side, the nurse was punching buttons on a machine that stood next to him. They were all linked thusly, in a physical chain, Jean to Will/Hill, Will/Hill to Vi, Vi to Aaron, and Aaron to the side of his bed. The childs 104

little hand crept up to the invalids face and became aware of the nose tube.

The scene played itself out as he was confident it would. He was told that he had dissapeared for a week, and Aunt Jean was pulling weeds in the flower bed when she heard an animal underneath the house. The animal was, of course, himself, and the proper authorities were called, and he spent another couple of days laying in the hospital bed not saying anything. He listened and tried to smile when he though it was appropriate, nodded at the right times. Eventually they all started to make their way for the door. Vi was the last one to go. She handed Aaron off to Aunt Jean and stuck around, waiting until even the nurse left. She spoke on the que of the hiss-click the hospital door made when shutting. “Dad called me.” She said. “Really?” He asked. “Yeah.” He had been present at the last conversation between Vi and Dad. It had been a brief, tense matter, in which the general conclusion was drawn that no daughter of his would fuck a nigger, much less carry the niggers baby. The conclusion of this was made by Dads fist, Moms screaming, and the sudden arrival of the police, at the neighbors behest, who presumable 105

were listening to the whole thing. That had been three years ago. “What did he say?” he asked. “Not a lot. That you were in trouble. That he was too busy to leave.” “Thats all.” “Yeah. It was pretty definiteve. I mean, Im leaving maybe out a snide jab here or there, a if you care, or one of those people, probably left out the upening What the fuck do you want, but thats basically it.” “So thats it, then.” “Pretty much.” Vi studied her nails. They were painted black, the same color as her hair. She ran her thumb accross every digit, twice. “That, and Mom was helping me out.” “Really? What about-“ He stopped in mid sentence, unable to place a name to the boyfriend. All he could came up with was a vague outline, and something with a G or D. It was impossible to know which. He looked at her helplessly, hoping she would pick up on his vibes and save him the struggle. “Devin left a long time ago. I tried to file on him, but the child support people, they just,” She let out a deep sight. “They just don’t give a shit. Your just another dumb mexican bitch, probably a fucking illegal, who got 106

knocked up by some black guy on his way in or out of jail. And fuck the kid.” “Oh, okay.” The look on his sisters face was heartwrenching. It was an old look, tired and old. Weary. “Im sorry.: He offered, immediatedld stuck by the irony in the comment. After all, he was the one in the hospital bed. On the way to vegetable land. Why did he need to apologize for her mistakes? “Look, I gotta ask, though.” A cigarette was suddenly in her hand, dancing between black fingernails. “Did you do it because of Mom?” “Do what?” “I don’t know. Whatever puts you enderneath a house in your boxers caked in dirt. Which, I gotta say, is a freaky way to do it. I’ve always thought about pills, you know? ‘I didnt do anything. I just-“ The feeling flushed over him again. The cold floor. The rug fibers. The dirt. “Why cant you smoke in hospitals? Vi was gone again, lost in another tangent, orbiting different moons. He was stuck beneath the huge white orb hovering over the wheat corn field. “Hey, its whatever.” “No, Im listening. You just don’t make any sense. Not doing anything doesnt get you here, right?” 107

The nurse in the pink scrubs came back into the room to inform Vi that visiting hours were over and that there was no smoking in the hospital. Vi put the smoke back in her purse, a big heavy tan leather purse, with a big gold clasp. A mom purse. She walked to the door and stopped, watching the nurse fuss and fret and mess with the dials and tubes that had become a part of him. Her look was calculated indifference, the look he remembered growing up, when she would run from him and he would cry. It was the same look he remembered her having with the final face off with Dad. The struggle between his will and hers. Between her will and all others. “Aunt Jeans helping me out.” she said. “Im going to be here a while.” The door shut with a final hiss click. He reached out for the water cup, and the nurse brought the straw to his lips. She had filled the Styrofoam with crushed ice, and it was good and cool.

A week and a hald later he was done with the allotted amount of physical therapy his HMO prescribed, and back at the farmhouse. He asked to move into a room downstairs and she said yes, without asking any questions. He walked through the kitchen, to avoid the living room and its paisley rug. Vi and Aaron took the room up top. They passed daily but did not talk, as if the 108

weight of all that had come before were blocking them. Aaron went to church with Aunt Jeant, and Vi sat in his old room on Sundays, drinking Vodka and crying out the names of the men who had been at the other end of her train station, passing by while she stood still.

109

EIGHT

Draw a line on one piece of paper.

_______________

At one end place a dot indicating past.

. _______________

At the other, a dot for the future.

.________________.

110

Let the line in between represent the now, the present, the life being lived. Let it also stand for the bottom of a square.

.☐.

Let the square be a building, a house of learning. A single place where time can be spent within. A single building between two flagpoles it will never touch. This is how his life was lived. In its earliest form, the building was known as Opha May Memorial High. What would happen later, in the dot to the right, had happened previously, in the dot to the left. A child walked through the front door with his father’s guns and redecorated the science lab with the intestines of a substitute teacher and two students, followed by his own brains. What followed was a Nightly News rotation on two subjects, the body count of the “horrible tragedy”, and the inane contents of the killers final youtube video, in which a cheerleader and a popular rapper were credited as inspiration. Aunt Jean was a devote woman of God, and did not Believe in such worldly things as Public Schools. She had personally Home Schooled both of his cousins. A fact that he would thing of later, in Wyoming. It was a factor that most likely had contributed to their constant sadness, 111

and possible drug abuse. Yet the subject of alternative education was never brought up for him. He carried inside the taint of his parents, of his hispanic bloodline, that which bound him to his Aunt and that which pushed him away. And so he was enrolled into the closest institution of public learning. And so he was consigned to his fate. At this moment in time. He is walking into something that resembles an idea of what the Federal Prison that holds his father is. There was a cop on either side of the entrance door. All students went through metal detectors, all students had their bags searched. Black t-shirts were banned. Ipods were checked for rap music. Yet it was familiar and comforting to him. Back into the same anonymity. He floated comfortably between the social groups and a member of none. There was one line that threatened to pull him from the Ether. Her name was Sarah Shazia. He had met Sarah during the first week at Opha may. He tried not to think excessively about her. Out of respect for himself. She was impossible, five foot three, freckled dark brown hair and dancing hazel eyes. She moved with bouncy energy, as far as he could tell she didnt wear any makeup. She didnt bother with a bra either, her usual attire was short skirts or tight pants, with cut-off tops. “Im walking blue balls.” she confided in him. “Mom wont let me date.” He could not tell the reason why he was chosen as said confidant. He suspected that she thought he was gay. She definently defined him as harmless. He helped 112

her through an english class and she started to talk. He enjoyed the talking. He could not figure out what else to do, yet he learned how to talk to a girl. 0 It was a shock of lightning itself when she pulled him to her locker and hugged him close and tight, enveloped him with her slight body and pressing herself close to him so her ample chest crushed against and he could feel the points of her tits hard against his t-shirt. He could smell her perfume and her shampoo in the hair that grazed his face. His dick grew hard and pushed against the front of his jeans and he tried to shift, uncomfortable. But she held him tight. She pulled back and lifted her hair up and he saw past the hazel and the freckles into her soul. At that moment he wanted to kiss her. To press his lips to hers and taste her lip gloss, and teeth and tongue. If I was a man, he thought, I would do it. And so, thinking of himself only as a boy, he did not. “I was so sad.” She said. “I thought you died.” “Im ok.” He told her. “I fell.” The look on her face froze, and grew darker. A hazel storm was brewing in her mind. Panic was growing on his behalf. He had fucked up, and knew it. “How did you fall under the house?” She asked. It was a simple question of physics, and science was her favorite subject, the one she could turn the tables and help him on. If only he could help her onto that table, and out of her precious yellow heart panties! 113

(Numbered? Lettered? Souviner Japanimation characters tucking all nether regions away, away, in rosy cheeked abandon. The “Purpiosetrew” So very popular in the late twentieth century rekindled again by non adults in their thirties as memories of stunted growth. Passed on, herein and now, to the middle link, the actual teenager, who now wears a symbol of childhood as a aspiration of nothing. Cool has always been the lack of action, of ambition, and now the lack moves to not wanting to leave grade school. Soon it may devolve further, back to diaper shitting, and from there, the womb, and cellelar growth, and finally a generation of Americans may lay on the floor and attempt to replicate fond genetic memories of ameobahood. “I don’t know.” He answered. Completely unacceptable. “I fell earlier.” He groped. “And then I went there.” “It was the first time he had been asked the how of what happened. The why of it had been debated with his sister. Neither question was on the mind of Aunt Jean, who accepted the whole thing under the banner headline of divine will of God. But this was pure mechanics. Thankfully, he had a perfect clincher from the brain dead tube nosed vegetable land. “I really don’t remember.” He said. During the conversation they had gone from intimate to platonic, her embrace leveled to a hand on his arm, his erection scared away by the frantic workings of his mind to explain an impossibility. 114

“I’m glad youre okay.” She said. I got two D’s in English since youve been gone, and Moms grounded me.” “She doesnt let you do too much anyway, right?” “I know, seriously.” She laughed and her eyes darted away. A bell rang somewhere. He could see two seniors eying her, and him from an extension, from a corner, in the way of the meat. She told him she would see him in class. She left and then he put his head down, and attempted to become less than he was, to fade into the red rows of lockers, where a drug dog would open up his chest and stare into his heart for traces of coke, weed, or meth.’ Yet he did not. Rather, he went to class. And of course, the event occured.

What is the event? The lines that can be drawn are very thin, indeed. The lines are almost existential, ideas more than physical things. Only the smell remains, the all consuming smell that haunts and frames the memory, and gives thought images a sense of being. What was the event? It started with a line, and two dots, and a square, that was a house, that was a school, and children in a schoolbus, always a schoolbus, being foolishly herded to a square. From there it becomes another square, and another school, followed by another 115

school, or a job, that is still in fact the SAME SQUARE, followed by a complete dropping off the planet. The desert of non-existence. And the stench is the only solid thing that can be grasped. Laying there, among the dead. Smelling the mixture of shit and bile Sarah has vacated. Smelling the gunpowder, of the bullet meant to kill you. Smelling the salt of the killers tears. All sense of structure breaks down. A clock rings. All numbers given to define length of time are now arbitrary. What is an hour, when there is no day? What is a day, when there is no week-end? Only the event serves to spur things forward, to give a reference point. He could tell the killer did not plan the event. He was the last one left, to bear that knowledge. It had occured to him in his sleep. He walked through walls. He stole money. He bought camping gear. He left for Alaska.

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NINE 117

The Alaskan highway restored another sort of confidence in him. Its beauty was substained and eternal. The many colored leaves. The sort of calm that could only be found from a complete radio silence, from stretches of highway with near a full tank of gas in between rest stops. At the Canadian border he had been advised that under the patriot act he would have to present a passport to get back in the country. He ignored the rule. In his mind there was no reason he would wish to come back to the land of perpetual death and sorrow. Of lost mothers and fathers. A frontier awaited him, elsewhere. It was mid summer and the land was lush with life. He found that he would not need many of the supplies he had brought due to the unexpected warmth. The coat, for example, proved to be too heavy. The boots were overly insulated. Yet he thought that erring on the side of caution would be wise. After all, he did not know yet how long he might remain. A park area in Fairbanks was his destination. He left the civic in a tangle of woods, and left to cross a stream. The sounds of the wild were all that occupied his time, that and the falling of his own footsteps. He had taken no compass or map with him. Presently he came to the bus. The bus read FAIRBANKS LINE 118 and looked to be built in the fifties. Inside was a cot, a small stove, assorted pots and pans, and outdoor equipment. He 118

stripped down to his flannel shirt and lay back on the bed. There was a perpetual warmth and calmness to things around him. He resisted the urge to make unnessasary movements, to unpack his things, to write in his journal. Gradually he drifted off into a afternoon slumber. A sleep fell over him, calmer and more full than any he had felt since the event. He awoke to a slap in the face. A paperback book had fallen off a makeshift shelf atop the window edge. It appeared to be an old pulp fantasy novel in ragged paperback. The cover showed a dwarf Viking in battle against an Arabic Goblin. URUK, the title proclaimed. It was written by one Max Trevor. He decided to save the novel for a later date. Now, while the sun was still mid way, it was time for exploration. The green appeared to be the truest green, the long straw colored grass swayed slightly and swished in time to his thoughts. He stared at this through the bus windows before venturing out. The first time he only got halfway down the clearing before feeling the need for the rifle. He slung it around a shoulder and set out again. There was no living thing around him, no bird or squirrel of any kind. A voice seemed to be speaking to him underneath the wind, telling him of a great lie. That magnificent desolation was simply nothing. It was cold at night, as he stoked the fire to boil his rice. It tasted harsh and flat.

119

After a month of living in this manner he was as dead as his half live body had let him get. He had simply run out of food. This was a swing moment, on which history would be later decided. A tree falling in the woods, heard by one man, and so across the world. The one man simply called himself Nomad, and he was hunting moose when he came upon The half sunk not corpse of Mathew Mullanix. Anyone else would have called the police. Probably the police and the FBI, given the corpse’s state in not wanting to stay solid on a molecular level. There would be an idea forming soon.

120

Working together, we can keep America safe.

-Barack Obama

Are you such a dreamer, to put the World to rights?

-Thom Yorke

121

ONE The room was an apartment, which was a statement to the effect that it was not a closet. It looked as though it wished to resemble a closet. Not a small, damp feature stuffed with womans shoes and mod stained suits, but a wardrobe portal to yet another world entirely. It was the only room available to him in the entire city, and, in some way now, it would serve his point. Maxamillian Trevor Smits, “Max” to his family, “Trev” to his friends, both long unseen and unknown, 122

carefully put down both suitcases in deep walnut leather onto the hardwood floor. Despite everything, there were details to this place that he found innovative. The floors were hardwood, not lacquer. The walls were painted a canary yellow except for one red wall, next to a collection of dust that must have been the sofa. There was elegant white trim around the doors and windows, with neoclassical swoops and curves near its edges. The ceiling was high. It was what the book had bought him, and he would live with it. He looked to the right and the left, hypervigilant now as ever, and closed the heavy brass door knob, turning the key, and only then undoing the collar of his suit. Loosening the tie in a fashion that meant to express individuality and creative freedom. He took both suitcases out and placed them in the middle of the floor, undoing the clasps. Sitting indian style, the heavy wool of his overcoat smothered him in folds. Grey asphalt curves, the name of the color, the lightened darkness. In the first case was a small card table between the piles of clothes. He stood up the telescoping legs. In the second case was a typewriter. He set both up in the center of the room and then backed away from them. There was another instance of the near perfect moment between moments, when you could see and hear and feel everything by virtue of little movement and near zero energy expenditure, the sunlight was shining at a perfect right angle onto the large white bathtub and illuminating quantities of dust. The dust appeared to be composed of small bits of golden string. He felt compelled to drag his 123

feet accross the floor on his way to the tub, the hard soles rasping, hush hush. In the tub there was still water drawn, and he took that moment to stare upon his youthful countenance. His face was smooth and he knew it to be pleasing. It was long and lean, with hazel brown eyes atop. Mid Length long straight brown hair, parted in the middle, swept behind his ears. All of it carefully cultured and cultivated. He drew his hand down into the water to release the silver stopper. It was freezing and seemed to bite him. Somehow he misjudged the length, and managed to get his sleeve sopping wet. He heard the whirlpool of fluid down the drain, the wasting of a resource. There was a slight tap tap outside the window, and a light spring drizzle came up to greet the departing bath. He wanted to look accross the city, and yet, decided to delay the peasure. In his minds eye was a million swirling visions of king kong and spiderman all coming together to cross a vast space for him. By propping up both suitcases on their side he was able to fashion a sort of seat for the card table. He unfolded a brass screen behind the computer. It was anachronism on purpose, a made artifact of the unknown. A writer should write on a heavy typewriter. Yet he felt the need for a computer. Why could he not have both? The thing was made in Illinois by an enthuisiast. There were enthuisiast for everything, apparently. Most importantly of all, for his book. He flicked the on switch and the machine hummed to life. As 124

he did everytime he wrote anything, he wrote accross the space I, M.T.S., will be a novelist There were many variations to this theme. I, _____ will be a bestselling novelist. I,_____will be a literary novelist. I,_____will be an influential novelist. Even I,___will be a memoirist/poet/scholar. Sometimes he spelled out his entire name. Other variations were “Max Smitty” and “M.Trevor Smithson” But, as it were, he thought it important not to rob the incantation of any power it possessed. MTS seemed to be the most important way of saying what had to be said. In the late Nineties the popular cartoonist Skott Dadams created a series of popular books based on his creation Dillernie. The book that catapulted Smits delusion, and launched his career, was called the Dillernie Future. The majority of the literature was simple observations on murphy’s law and pointless bureaucratic practices, much of the humor that had made Dadams so very popular around late twentieth century water storage devices. Just before publication, Dadams suffered a massive brain anerysim from an overdose of DMT, in a popularized pill format known on the street as “Dillies” featuring a plaigurized branding of his own creation as stolen trademark. Panicking, a quick thinking secretary ended his manuscript with some of her own ideas on self realization, realizing that the royalties from the book sale would be needed in order to pay for Dadams’ hospitalization and detoxicafication treatments, or, 125

failing that, more “Dimebags” of Dillies. The incongruety of the last chapter was a pivotal moment in Smits existence. And so he always began his writing with the mantra, continuing even now after it seemed to have succeeded. That was the funny thing about success: You went from wanting to having, and in between, if the search was somehow insufficient, you were stuck out. That is where Smits is now, stuck out, looking at the black liquid crystal display. Forever and a day he seemed to only harbor a solitary desire, to write a novel. And now, he is a novelist. And in between the two, he went from being a student and being an aspiring to being a have, to being a writer. And writers are expected to write. But how is that even possible? There was only ever one story. Jarel’s story, and jarel’s words, and the Burqa Ghost went to instant bestseller status. Not instant. There was a small self published run. Three hundred volumes, now all of them worth $120 each, going ebay rate. Smits knows, he checks there often. Often and always. What would be the point in not knowing? Everything seemed to be charmed with the book. The cover, with its pale green eyes, over a pale blue Burqa. The lone soldier, lonely and beautiful, strolling down a foreign street. Someone had called it a modern gatsby. That was Smits favorite compliment. Everyone else was talking about red badge of courage, or naked and the dead. He took those as justly as he could, then put them aside in cool storage. In his heart of hearts, he wanted 126

the great american novel, and the great american novel was never, ever, about war. At least, not directly. But with the room in the city the money was almost gone. There was one expensive thing and then the next expensive thing, or place, or idea. He had been to Europe, and then the dutch carribean. Swain had wanted him to go to Kabul but he had declined. Now there was a deal, and a book, somewhere. In truth, he was mostly surfing the internet vis a vis the typewriter searching for the next great realization. He had even purchased several earlier books in the Dillernie series (Tragically, there had been no later ones, Dadams had succombed to his imbibements) in hopes of more gems or nuggets. Failing that, he went to wikipedia, continually hitting random article in hopes of stumbling upon a brain churner. Maybe something, with regards to Eastern Europe? No, not that. Simple Failure. He rose from the legs of his luggage-chair and stretched mightely, arching his back and shaking his legs. He could feel the beginning of sweat stains underneath his arms, taste a sicklly sweetness in the back of his throat. Over to the window he went. Everything seemed wonderful from that angle. The room was maybe fifteen stories up, and gave a spectacular view out and accross the city. This richest of American cities, this metropolitan gotham! Fused by industry and entertainment and commerce! He tried the window and slid it open. The city was full of ideas and life, Next to his 127

a gothic square of building mass, blackish red, accross from it a revived tenement, behind that the train, layers over layers, this city. In the backdrop downtown with its few skyscrapers, its sparse skyline, and yet it was a skyline. He looked accross at the ants below. Then down. Sudden absolute Cary Grantlike Vertigo spun his head. The fall would take forever. Forever and forever, and then over. The terror of it, before god and the earth conjointly turn of the light switch. Back away. Slowly. The window slid closed. There was a faint rasp to it, the beginnings of the room betraying him to how much it wanted his presence. He went back to the computing typewriter and dazedly checked accross several social networking sites. Searching for new commentary, hoping to communicate thoughts and ideas But the room was closing on him, and he felt the need to get out, and away.

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TWO

He had scouted out the neighborhood around his apartment for the comic book store. This was an old ritual, one born of habit and need. He collected the books sporadically, not subscribing to any one title, but instead picked up whatever cover fancied him at that moment in time. There were two signs up front for the shop, a neon sign in the window that said TIME CAPSULE, and a painted sign above the door that read BOOK STAN. 129

Sometimes Smits imagined the two as warring concepts, a book stand placed in a time capsule for the future, or a row of time capsules sold at a book stand, behind the newspapers maybe, near the dirty magazines. Rick greeted him with a wave and an affable nod, then returned his gaze two his lap. Rick was a pleasant longhair follow named Rick Santini. Once he had been an investigative reporter with the Metropolitan-Gotham Times-Dispatch-Courier. He had started back in 78 with the Metropolitan Times. In the mid eighties profit margins had fallen, and a merger was declared with the Gotham Dispatch. This paper saw with itself a fair margin of success, and this had been the golden age for him, writing about the chemical plant and tobacco factories that abused their priveliges around the city, poisoning water and air, about the southern conservatives who were being replaced by the northern liberals moving in for therelatively inexspensive housing, of various natural disasters, a hurricane in ninety-one, a tornado downtown in ninety-five. During this time he secretly wrote and submitted several stories to both EC and Fawcett Comics, the two large publishers with a chokehold on the funny-book industry. Most of them were considering a Captain Marvel Junior/the Escapist team up, which would have been a revival for the Kavelier and Clay character, or a Black Freighter storyline for EC that was somehow set in a “modern” time, a sort of timeless modern time, somewhere in comic book land of the nineteen fifties. All 130

of these submission were promptly returned to him in the self addressed stamped envelopes they were sent in, and eventually, he withdrew completely from writing such fancies. At around this time his paper merged yet again with the Pennysaver Courier. It was the dawn of a new millenium, and print journalism in his city, like in so many cities accross the country, was in the process of being completely dismantled. The new M-G T-D-C decended on its editorial and literary staff like a plague set on Egyptians or Canaanites from a jealous and Wrathful Old Testament God. Cuts were made quickly and ruthlessly, and Rick was not shocked when he recieved the paisley slip, but he was deeply hurt. Somewhere, in the back of his thoughts, he had imagined himself as being the last to go. Instead, they had kept on Peggy Dursten who wrote those god awful “human interest” pieces, on who was the oldest resident in the city, or who had the most interesting pet. In salute to our veterans and the luxury cappacino market, it always seemed to be a Llama named “General Starbucks”. This had led to a very low moment in his life, where he found himself wrenched in constant battle with his own self loathing, and the loathing of his employer, Sam Wartstome. He found himself a cashier in WartMart, a horrible place of blue vest and yellow smiling faces. The job had offered no benefits of any kind, as Mr. Wartstome found the concept of such things to be unamerican. Rick had also written a piece years back on how there was no union available to Wart-Mart 131

employees, and no retirement given. He envisioned his employment to be a sort of punishment granted to him by Wartstome as fitting the crime. In truth, the entire hiring process had been automated years ago, to reduce any possibility of favoritism. The entire placed seemed as if it were a penance. He that thought so even in days before, even, when he had been in there simply to purchase a loaf of bread, or a jar of mayonnaise. The job left him with little money, and his previous employment had left him with a failed marriage and no social life. Somehow, he had managed to avoid drinking. By chance he had come upon the Book Stan-Time Capsule, the dual signs reminding him so much of the days of newsprint. He had talked to the owner, cashed out his 401K, burnt his blue vest, and settled down. Something had been robbed from him, however. Some essence of his character So here he sat, staring at his hands, resting in his lap.... “When are they bringing back the Escapist?” Smits asked. ‘Whats that?” “I read online that theyre bringing back the Escapist. I want to make sure I can reserve a copy.” “Do you have a subscription box?” “No. I mean, not yet.”

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‘I can reserve it if you open up a box.” Here Rick gestured behind himself, at a small row of narrow shelves where piles of comic books lay. “I might. Do you think It’ll be any good?” “Its Bendis. Did you pick up Ultimate Fawcett?” “No. Was it good?” “I’ve got an extra one. Basically, they reinvent Captain Marvel Junior. Theyre calling this new one CM3, and its pretty good. Theres also Mr.A in it. I think theyre trying to create a whole Fawcett Superhero universe in it, like the one they had in the sixties.” ‘They don’t have one now?” “Let me guess, you’re an EC Zombie, huh?” Rick regarded the young man in front of him, in opposition to himself. Young instead of old. Clean Shaven instead of his salt and pepper beard. Wearing a jacket and tie instead of his sweater and t-shirt. Shorter than he. Serious in a way. “I like the Pirate books.” Smits said. “And the crime.” “Well, back before all that, Superheroes used to be big. And no one was bigger than fawcett. They outsold everyone, bought atlas and national comics. But then in the fifties, it was all crime and pirates and horror. EC captured the lions share. It’s a big, story, the story of comics.” 133

“I saw that Mary Marvel thing.” Smits said. “I thought it was okay. With Jessica Alba, and all.” “That wasnt a fair shake at the Marvel Family.” Rick sniffled slightly. “In my opinion, at least. Theres a whole wealth of Comic movies that could be made. Weve just barely had a pirate one.” “Max Smits.” The youth stuck out his hand and it was engripped, in one just larger than his own. “I think I’ll be coming here regularly.” “You just move in?” “Right. I used to live over in Chester. My work kind of brought me to the city, and I figured, why not.” It was the closest he kind come to bragging on himself. Purposefully downplayed, with just the right pinch of ego. He had practiced the speech alone, in the room, for nearly an hour, occasionally looking at himself in the mirror to see if it was better that he smiled or kept his face plain. “Really.” Rick said. “You work at the plants? Or the port?” “No. Im a writer, actually.” He thought the dissapointment could show. The first thing being, and always was, legitemate occupations. Engineering of some kind. And then, the terrible way he had delivered his proffesion. As if it were a defeat rather than a victory.

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“You trying to write comics or anything?” The hidden question, the subtext, is this your day job? Isnt that just a silly hobby? “I’ve thought about that.” Smits had never thought about that. “Right now, Im working on novels. I just had one published.” The last word in that sentence caught in Smits throat and hung in the air, and somehow melted an imaginary glaciar that ran between his own island and the island of Rick Santini. There was a twinge in facial muscles, a relaxing under Rick’s eyes, an unconscious effort to become, if not actually friendly, than less hostile. “Congratulations.” He offered. He thought of recounting his own history but decided against it. “You should buy some comics. To celebrate.” “All right.” Smits said. ‘Whats good?” “Ultimate CM3. Like I said before.”

Smits attempted a little more banter and then walked around the store awhile, taking in the shelves of books and statues and action figures, and tried to force his mind to turn in a more creative direction. What would the new book be about? He thought instead of a comic version of the Burqa Ghost. He thought that absolutely EC would have to publish it, what with their standard take on more literary fare, and of course, war comics. Maybe he would have control of that. How would such a 135

thing go about? Something in him made him deny the possibility. No comic book, not ever. And no movie. His was going to be pure fiction, literary fiction. Alright, maybe a movie. Something nice, by the Coens and the Wienstiens. He was jolted out of the thought train when his first credit card was denied. He brought out cash and only purchased fifty dollars of the comics he had selected, made some sort of joke about the sign, and left. Why had that not gone as well as he expected? Inside Ricks stomach turned over with selfrevulsion. The kids ego was fragile, and he was in a position to shatter it, and he damn near had done that. A nice kid. With a nice face, and a nice life, and a measure of success that perhaps he had tasted once. What was it in him? What was it in him, that made him unable to share happiness, unable to enjoy pleasure, unable to drink deeply from anything but the bitter pool life had left him? In his lap were nothing but his hands. He studied them now, the folds and lines and wrinkles. When the door tingled with a new customer he did not look up.

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THREE Smits read Ultimate CM3 on the couch at Jarels house, where Smits own housewarming party would be held. Jarels house was as neat and clean as he imagined any gay mans being. He had met Jarel in Curucao on his twenty-seventh birthday, obsessing over being the same age as the dead rock stars. Here he was, the most beautiful man he had ever laid eyes on.

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EIGHT Gloria Viva sat naked in the cage and dazedly picked at the IV in her arm. The mirror in front of her brought up a reflection that she did not understand. “Your hair was the first thing we worked on.” The voice said. A bright spotlight shined down. She became aware of her nakedness, and made half hearted attempts to cover up her breast. Which were better than 138

they had been. More full. The nipples smaller and perfect. “It will stay like that. You wont need to many chemicals. Your skin was already perfect, you’ve got the right trace of Croele in your genes, to show off that really nice exotic look.” She put a hand to the face. Her face. Things had changed there. “Your nose and lips.” The voice continued, “Those we changed. We had to make them a tad more suitable. A tad less ethnic.”

NINE President Khalid Saddam Husseunni Sat calmly in the Oval Office, smoking opium and watching replays of his inauguration speech. After swearing allegiance to Allah on the Koran, he cleared his throat and swept back his head covering. “My fellow Americans.” He began. “I remember when I was a little boy, running past tanks and throwing rocks at the troops. On occasion I would notice a particular young soldier, his face bronzed and handsome, and I would think to myself, he truly comes from the greatest country in the world. Of course, after that, I would pick up a nice sized brick, and try to avenge 139

myself of the damned crusader. It seems so long ago, when I started. This truly is the greatest country in the world. To think that a poor immigrant, a terrorist detainee, can gain his citizenship, and then one day lead a nation, that truly tells us one thing: the system works.” The crowd went wild, clapping and cheering. The camera panned back to show scenes from across the world, the international response. So much love. “Because of my background.” He continued. “There is so much I understand, about what needs to be done, in order to keep America safe. Only one who has spent so much time taking something apart, can know what has to be done in order to put it together. And of course, let us not forget our energy crisis: only I can make the neccasary deals to put things back together.” The camera turns again, to the losing Republican candidate. Am aging hunchbacked stiff, in front of the losing convention center. The room all aging, and mostly white. A giant cross behind him.

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TEN It was cold and he wanted to be warm on the Helicopter. The newly minted gold bars on his shoulders showed his position as a Lieutenant. He had enjoyed the Officers School in Khandahar and now it was time to be blooded. The red dog preyed on his mind behind his eyelids. Next to him was a replacement Paula Rodriguez. Gloria Viva in all her glory. His first Sargeant, with her pretty little Air Force Stripes. There was the promise of War and then there was the fact. The helicopter would fulfill the promise. He shifted back and forth. In his new boots and new Uniforms. Everything was different and wonderfuel. The psych doctor had helped him put a wonderful handle on it. Imagine a dog, a red dog, a hell hound. Behind the back of your eyelids. In between the moments when you talk. Underneath him roared the engine of his new motorcycle. They had given it back to him. All this was part of the new way of doing things, the new push for public acclaim, for popularity. The rest of his platoon would be dropped similiarly, hell-bikers from the sky. Military tactics never existed as solid objects. Why not drop Harley rider from heaven? Why not televise the event? Why not hold everything together with duct 141

tape and twine? There was a red dog behind his eyes that was one part rick james, with sequined red intestines, with horrible narrow squinting countenance. Promptly, the training exercise ended. They would not board the helicopter today. Christian turned to his battle buddy, Jarel, and let out a lazy yawn. Jarel rolled his eyes then batted his lashes. It was to be that sort of night tonight. The signal was to be no. 73, and then the escape would be made. To the free states. The academy was proof enough. Enough of the madness of the military, of the feds. But after tonight. He had been in contact with Mullanix, and set the whole thing in motion. All he had to do was not take the pills. To break the fog, the inevitable haze.

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