What god damned black hour of the morning was it anyway?
What day was it?
Listen Up The Moon.
The bald man in the drill sergeants hat had commanded their gaze
toward the distant orb. They stared at it, bright silver in the cold
night air. The bald man paced, the only sound that of gravel scurrying
from his shiny black boots. Down the line the fat boy wheezed. Thomas
tensed and shot a ghost of a glance in the fat boys direction,
as if he could quiet the fat boys lungs through force of will.
How many times had the fat boy been in the hospital...two? Three? The
last time was the worst. Thomas had seen his face, red and woozy and
pleading as he lay in the sand pit that was used for crawling practice.
He couldnt crawl anymore -- the heat stroke was coming over him
again like it had before. "Pussy!" screamed the bald man,
adding something about the fat boys mother. "Move, fat boy,
move!" The fat boy looked up once, glassy eyed, before he buried
his face in the sand and cried.
What god damned black hour of the morning was it anyway? What day was
it? It wasnt the day they went to the rifle range. Thank God.
if you failed at the rifle range it wasnt pretty. Another day
of running back and forth singing songs about killing Charlie Cong,
probably. "Youll thank me for this," the bald man would
say as he ran them back and forth. "Charlie Cong aint gonna
wipe your little noses and sing you to sleep like I do." Youll
thank me for this hed told the fat boy writhing in the sand, adding,
"I oughta put a boot in your ass."
The bald man stood there, conferring with a corporal who held a clipboard.
Why did they get us up in the middle of the night? The fear in the ranks
was palpable. Shipping us out before anyone had a chance to go AWOL?
Sending us to some commando unit where wed have to live off leaves
and snakes? Or perhaps some new form of punishment, some new form of
degradation that we hadnt even thought of. They waited and gazed
Thomas thought of his cousin and how, years ago, they would lie on their
backs on the welcoming lawn and stare up at the sky. Lie on their backs
like lordly souls at the beginning of time, look up at the sky and discuss
the events of the day. Like whether or not we would find Jesus if we
sent a space ship out far enough, or whether time travel was possible,
or whether or not we would beat the Russians to the moon. The cousin
thought not: the Russians already had sputnik. Thomas knew different.
We would beat the Russians. We would get there first. We had to.
The bald man handed the clipboard back to the corporal and turned toward
the ranks, a small, almost imperceptible lowering of eyes and necks.
"Now listen up!" he bellowed. "Weve just walked
on the moon."
He could hear the old woman talking in the next house while he ate a
bowl of soup and shared a bottle of beer with the corporal. He'd been
with the corporal for two weeks now.
Two days ago he had seen his first action. They were with some local
men...just sitting...when about ten of the enemy came walking down the
road. They opened up, then got out before the enemy could return any
effective fire. They got one. At least that's what everybody said. He
didn't see it, but the corporal and some of the local men said the first
few shots brought the enemy's point man down. He went down grabbing
his leg, they said, and crawled into the bushes. The fact that shots
had been exchanged -- a real fight -- made him feel like a legendary
warrior of old. Sort of.
The corporal was pretty casual about the whole thing, having survived
a lot of fights. That made him feel better, more confident, knowing
the corporal had never even been seriously wounded. A little better.
A lot of the men with the corporal hadn't made it.
He'd just borrowed a cigarette when the rumbling became audible.
"APCs," said the corporal. "They come by here two or
three times a week about this time. Don't worry, they never stop. The
bastards are afraid to stop."
He did some serious smoking in the darkening room as the sound of the
tracks grew louder. And then they stopped. That quiet was the loudest
sound he'd ever heard. For a moment. Until the whole sky broke loose.
The tracks' .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine guns opened up in concert.
He threw himself into one of the shelters...the holes...in the floor.
Plaster and dirt rained on his face and through closed eyes he seemed
to see the small house being ripped apart. The sound of breaking glass
and pottery...louder, almost -- and more frightening -- than the sound
of the guns. A whiff of smoke. Something was on fire. He prayed they'd
stop shooting and come and take him prisoner. Even if they'd just ease
up a bit he could get out of the hole and try to surrender.
And then it was over. They'd stopped. He laid in the hole, his eyes
shut tight, waiting for them to come and get him.
Nobody came. He could hear them, but nobody came. He opened his eyes,
raised himself, and looked around. The corporal looked like he'd been
dead for a week. The smoke was coming from the next house over. Across
the field, distant laughter.
His rifle was lying on the floor, the stock chewed up by a bullet, but
otherwise OK. He crawled out of the hole, grabbed his rifle, and made
his way across the floor towards the back door.
A thought struck him. He turned and crawled back to the corporal. Careful
not to touch the body, he went through the dead man's pockets.
He stopped again when he reached the back gate. It had been knocked
down by bullets. He lay there on the damp dirt of the back yard, staring
up at the space where the gate had been, the splintered gate post flickering
in the light from the burning house. Behind him, the still cheerful
voices, and an occasional random shot.
He got up and walked through the gate, across the small garden, and
into the forest. After a couple minutes he stopped. He could no longer
hear voices or see fires. Leaning his rifle against a tree he searched
through his pockets. He found the corporal's lighter and a nearly full
pack of cigarettes. He lit one, picked up the rifle, and walked on.
© Gregory Farnum 2001
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