International Writers Magazine: An excerpt from A
Symphony of Fear
off the TV and went into the bedroom. He peeled off his clothes
and jumped into bed, though it was not yet seven P.M. What he needed
was a good twelve hours sleep. Then he would be able to get
to the factory early and re-check all the work that he knew he had
fouled up that day. In less than a minute, he was out cold.
world of dreams is an eternal infinite universe inside each person.
Though it may to some extent be driven by the unformed expression of
neurotic impulses and sexual repressions of the dreamer, it is also
informed by conversations with the dead: voices of the Unanswered, the
Unresolved, the Unredeemed, who struggle to make their desires known
to the material world by using living voices of those fortunate enough
to still possess them. By what method of selection is one chosen to
be a vessel for the revelation of these programmes? That is a question
which has long intrigued such illustrious deities and savants as the
world has produced.
The eternity of dreams can act as a soothing Doctor Without Frontiers,
or it can be a manifestation of a satanic dimension of hell; a fount
of philosophical profundity, or a bottomless oubliette of gibberish;
a rocket to the celestial paradise of desire, or a subway ride to the
terminus of consummate suffering if one should endure the misfortune
of boarding a train conducted by the infernal motorman of Orphean malediction.
This was the train Havelock found himself on, the solitary passenger
of a fluorescent-lit express barreling through diabolical stations with
names like Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Ypres,
and World Trade Center. As his train flew by on the express
track, Havelock was able to catch a glimpse of the crowds of dead souls
jammed together on the platforms; rotting, monstrously deformed victims
missing limbs and faces; fountains of blood spouting from open arteries,
people retching and vomiting from gas intoxication, wailing from the
suffering of unendurable agony as herds of rats gorged themselves on
maggot-ridden body parts that had been kicked onto the tracks by the
ever more crowded mobs of victims compressed onto the narrow quais,
waiting for a local which would never arrive.
This train ride went on for hours, passing through an infinite number
of horror-ridden stations. Tiled walls announced the names of stops:
Nanking, Krakatoa, Srbranica. Havelock, who had at first been revolted
and horrified by the monstrous scenes of suffering he was passing through,
eventually became habituated and even impatient. At length, he was only
stirred to interest by the most grotesque manifestations of atrocity,
chemically mutated birth defects or people who had become fused together
from the heat of nuclear explosions. Finally, he lost interest completely
as his train progressed mile after mile, station after station, hour
after hour, the monotonous clacketing of its steel wheels against the
rails pounding out a metronome rhythm of tedium.
To amuse himself, Havelock composed a little song:
The death train through hell,
It sure is swell,
Mutilated corpses smell,
Its got its own beat,
Of rotten meat,
Landmine victims got no feet
The train slowed and switched tracks. It pulled into an empty, garbage-strewn
station. The mosaic-tiled sign on the wall said Avenue X. Gravesend.
Havelock thought to himself, it figures that the train to hell would
end in Brooklyn.
The doors opened. A voice announced. Last stop. Everybody off
Havelock picked up his duffle bag and walked out. He looked for an issue
and saw the exit sign at the end of the platform. Hoisting his duffel
bag over his shoulder, he made his way to the sign and ascended a flight
He found himself on the deck of a troop ship mobbed with soldiers that
was being nudged into a docking berth under the scorching Mediterranean
sun. Havelock found that he was wearing a soldiers uniform as
well, in camouflage green with a peaked garrison cap.
A sign on the side of a corrugated storage shed announced to him that
he was in a port named Philippe. A French flag hung limply from a pole
in front of a colonial-style administration building at lands
Havelock and his fellow soldiers smoked cigarettes and watched over
the side as arab longshoremen dressed in long robes secured the ships
ropes to the dock. Gangplanks were set up and the soldiers, each bearing
his duffle bag and carbine, filed down to the wharf where they mustered
in platoon groups to await their transport assignments. The stood at
parade rest, their kit bags in front of them.
The sargeant of Havelocks section came up and addressed the group.
were waiting for the trucks, Ill just say a few words. Welcome
to Algeria. Remember that you are still in France. Our job is to maintain
order and security until the government in Paris arrives at a disposition
concerning the future governance of this territory. Remember that all
the inhabitants, European or Arab, are French citizens and entitled
to all the guarantees of the constitution.
Having said that, I will remind you of a fact that you already
know that we are in a war zone, although with the exception of
certain sectors adjacent to the Moroccan and Tunisian frontiers where
the adversary maintains standing divisions, it is an unconventional
war, a shadow war. Certain of you who have served in Indochina know
what I am talking about. For the rest of you, that means that the enemy
will not fit any normal combatant profile. It could come in the form
of a woman with a knife or explosives concealed beneath her clothes,
or a child with a hand grenade. Do not be deceived by a smile or a friendly
greeting. Always be on your guard.
Right now you are attached to the Eighth Parachute Regiment. You
were trained to jump out of planes and kill people. But that does not
mean that that is what you will do here. Its possible that some
of you will be transferred to infantry or intelligence battalions, depending
on the needs of the service and our evaluations of your capacity and
motivation. Follow orders, maintain discipline and work as a team with
your comrades, and hopefully youll avoid any undue misfortune.
An officer wearing a round kepi approached with a clipboard and summoned
the platoon leaders. In a minute, the sergeant, whose name was Lhotel,
returned. All right, the trucks are here. Platoon, attention!
He marched the soldiers to a staging area filled with idling trucks
and they clambered into the backs of them. The canvas tops had been
rolled down, and as the convoy rumbled out of the port and onto the
streets of Philippe, the troops were able to get their first glimpse
The port and center of town were heavily fortified with tanks and half-tracks.
Soldiers manned sandbagged control posts at intersections, and at regular
intervals along the tree-lined boulevards. The centre-ville resembled
any French town, apartment blocks with ornate facades, outdoor cafés,
department stores and boutiques, banks and manicured gardens. Well-dressed
Europeans on the streets went about their affairs in seeming normality.
Schoolchildren in shorts carrying leather satchels and piles of books
entered walled lycées. Blue-uniformed gendarmes armed with submachine
guns stood sentry in front of a commissariat displaying a tri-color
flag on a flagpole over its entrance.
The town was not large, and in a few minutes the convoy passed through
the arab quarter at its periphery. The contrast was dramatic. Children
in rags played in the dust next to fly-ridden piles of trash under a
baking sun. Veiled women peered out at the passing trucks from the dark
interiors of jerry-built huts. Mangy dogs and barnyard animals scrounged
for food in the barren yards or looked for bits of shade in the meager
shadows of dead trees. Waves of heat rose from piles of manure. As the
soldiers surveyed this dismal landscape, which seemed to eerily resemble
the stage set of a surrealist left bank theater production, the kid
sitting adjacent to Havelock said in a discreet voice, This doesnt
look like any part of France that I ever saw.
said, It looks like a fucking shit house de merde. No wonder they
piped up, You sound like a bunch of commies. You think this tells
the whole story? Were not off the ship fifteen minutes and youre
sounding like a bunch of damned defeatists. Why dont you just
They rode for a
long time in silence, sweating in the dust and heat. The convoy passed
through monstrously dreary arab villages identified by signs in Arabic
and French signifying names like Sartir and Bouktir, flea-bitten bidonvilles
with food stalls displaying stringy bits of meat crawling with flies,
hanging from posts exposed to the African sun. It was a desolate wasteland
of a place. Veiled women carrying bundles cringed in the shadows of
walls. Children waving sticks harassed pathetic dogs who fled trailing
drooping tails and shanks sticking through their threadbare coats. Such
men as were visible from the passing trucks were seen working in the
fields pushing crude plows through rocky, crotted soil, or lethargically
breaking stones with pick axes in open-pit quarries. The trucks were
forced to slow down to a snails pace over stretches of highway
which were so rutted and potholed as to be practically impassable. At
one point they passed a road crew of arab workers guarded by a lacsidasical
detail of native harkis soldiers. One soldier on the truck remarked,
Did you see how they work? No wonder the roads in such bad
Another said, Thats
not the worst of it. During the day theyre workers, but at night
they come back as fellaghas and tear up all the work they did.
Just when the desolation
would reach a stage of such oppression as to consummately shatter any
remnant of human sensibility, a scenario of divine lovliness would arise
out of the heatwaves from the barren, black earth like a mirage. These
were the European-owned farms and vineyards; fertile, beautifully irrigated
and groomed plantations verdant beyond all comprehension, resplendent
with balconied mansions resting on impeccable lawns adorned with manicured
gardens and bougainvillas. The farm structures, barns and equipment
sheds were well maintained and freshly painted, peopled by purposeful
workers who drove modern farm machinery. Modern automobiles were seen
to be parked on the grounds, and the occasional chic, well dressed French
woman would wave at the passing convoy from the terrace.
who had earlier admonished had his carping comrades exalted triumphantly,
You see? Thats what were fighting for!
Late in the day
the convoy reached it destination, the camp at Guellal. They mustered
in the courtyard of the barracks building, where they were addressed
by the squadron captain, a young career officer named Poisson. Welcome
to Guellal. After you are dismissed you will be shown to your quarters.
Install yourselves, shower, and mess is served at 19:00 hours. Lights
out at 22:00. Because of the nature of the operations in this sector,
you may be awakened during the night for nocturnal sorties. You must
be fully dressed and equipped and in formation here no later than ten
minutes after you are called. That is all. Section chiefs, dismiss your
The sergeants called
out in unison, Dis-missed!
Algeria! The name
alone is enough to send one into an hypnotic euphoria of reverie, provoking
visions of jangling coins on a dancers bodice; swaying palms and
olive groves; winding alleys of the casbah; scimitars and daggers; camel
caravans traversing an infinite desert dotted with idyllic oases, Barbary
pirates. It has inflamed imaginations through the ages, inspiring the
sun-drenched tableaux of Dégas and the existential musings of
Since the birth
of human civilization it has played a pivotal role of the cultures of
Africa and Europe. A province of imperial Carthage, it provided cavalry
troops for Hannibals conquest of Iberia and Gaul and his twelve
year rampage across the Italian peninsula, later allying itself with
Rome during her brutal reduction of Carthage. It was overrun in the
fifth century by the Vandals and recaptured for Byzantium by the Emperor
Justinian. The Berber tribesmen of ancient Kabylie flooded across the
Straits of Gibralter to spread a golden age of Islamic culture throughout
Spain, receding like a tide to leave a detritus of Moorish temperment
that still informs the societies of Europe and Latin America. What is
Cartagena but the Spanish name for Carthage?
The French Foreign
Legion, newly formed, subdued and captured it for France in 1830. Rich
in agricultural resources, it was also discovered to contain vast petroleum
deposits. The French also found a use for its vast, sparsely inhabited
Sahara region, using it as a testing ground for their nuclear weapons
Havelock knew nothing
of this except that it came to him as a dream, not so different from
the inspiration that affects a writer from an unknown source, compelling
him by way of obscure forces to move his hand across a page, guided
by impulses of mystic provenance.
Maybe he had been
infected by a psychic contagion during his pilgrimage to Jim Morrisons
grave in Paris, the spirits flowing to and fro across the consecrated
terrain of Père LaChaise Cemetary judging his artists soul
to be a suitable vessel to inhabit with their memories and passions.
Maybe something had occurred when he had participated in the procession
up Sixth Avenue on All Hallows Eve, New Yorks psychic ground being
turned over to suddenly expose a buried underworld of worms, bugs and
parasites better left entombed under the soil.
Havelock was an
artist and the furthest thing from an intellectual, but he knew viscerally
that the artists inspiration is mostly stimulated by abnormal
shocks and setbacks that crush ordinary souls. The key to survival is
to ride the crest of the wave rather than try to resist, hoping that
the meaning of the thing will ultimately reveal itself in a fashion
that he can shape into a communicable form. This abstraction he would
never be able to verbalize in a million years, but it was nevertheless
the key to his survival, and the fluidity of his nature enabled him
to endure, after a fashion, the sledgehammer blows that his spirit was
having to absorb.
The barracks erupted
in light as Sergeant Lhotel strode down the aisle in full battle gear.
Wake up, soldiers! Lets go! Everybody downstairs and ready
to move out in ten minutes! Move your asses! The soldiers, barely
awake, threw on their uniforms, laced up their boots, grabbed their
helmets and carbines, and crowded down the stairs to the courtyard.
When they were in formation, the sergeant briefed them. Theres
been an attack on a farm fifteen kilometers from here on the road to
Sidi el Khier. Apparently its pretty bad. Well secure the
area for the DOP to investigate, and then well fan out and search
for the perpetrators. They cant have gotten far. Any questions?
Nobody had any questions.
Lets get to the trucks. Double time, hurry and move it!
The soldiers ran to the idylling trucks. From the side of the road,
Sergeant Lhotel yelled to his men, Be alert for ambushes. They
could be trying to lure us into a trap! Then he jumped into the
cab of the lead truck.
The convoy barreled
down the road in the pitch darkness, the trucks headlights showing
the only illumination in sight. The soldiers peered out anxiously from
their seats in the rear, rifles at the ready. Like Havelock, most of
them were green conscripts. Havelocks neighbor whispered, Were
sitting ducks out here.
himself say, Quit carping. We havent even got to the battle
yet. Just keep your eyes open. Nevertheless, he was shaking too.
The convoy reached
its destination without incident. A sign painted in fancy script announced
the name of the establishment: Vignobles LeClerc SA. Etabli 1909. Vins
Fins. Appelations Controlées. It was a vineyard. The convoy pulled
onto a tree-lined private road and halted in front of an ornate mansion.
A couple of luxury sedans were parked at the front stairs of the house.
Private roads led in either direction from the house to equipment and
wine processing sheds, all of which were in flames. Captain Poisson
and a detail of DOP intelligence officers were already on the scene,
having arrived at high speed in jeeps. They were examining the bodies
of well-dressed European settlers which were scattered about the lawn.
Some had had their throats cut and others had been shot at point blank
range. An elegantly dressed young woman in a peach-colored silk dress
lay on her back on the grass, staring vacantly into the darkness, her
abdomen sliced open from her breastbone to her pelvis like a gutted
The soldiers piled
out of the trucks, Sergeant Lhotel yelling Come on, lets
go! Corporal Bouchard, get a detail down that road and secure the area
where those buildings are burning. Charpentier, you do the same in the
other direction. Detain anybody you find and bring them back here. Schroder,
secure the entrance to the farm. He addressed the troops, The
rest of you, I want you to form a line and go into the fields at intervals
of ten meters. Dont group together. Watch out for ambushes. Anybody
you find, try to detain them without killing them, if possible. We need
to interrogate them.
warily through the vineyard, carbine at the ready. In the starlight
he could discern the silhouettes of his fellow soldiers to the left
and right. His apprehension at being exposed in unknown terrain, vulnerable
to an invisible enemy, was palpable. The minutes ticked past as the
column of soldiers marched farther and farther into the field, until
the burning farm structures, the only landmarks in their topography
of obscurity, had diminished in size to small glowing embers.
He was jolted by
a flash of light and a small explosion to his left. The flash, lasting
only a millisecond, was followed by a mans hideous screams of
terror and unendurable pain. The other soldiers quickly ran over and
grouped around the wounded victim, who was writhing in agony on the
Millet. He stepped on a landmine.
The mans reddened
face was contorted in a grotesque eyepopping mask of horror, his mouth
stretched to twice its size in a bizarre smile like a funhouse billboard.
His abdomen had been blown open like an over-inflated soccer ball, internal
organs bulging out through the shreds of his flesh. One leg was blown
clear off and the mans arteries were irrigating the ground under
him with torrents of black blood.
Two soldiers kneeled
over him, one cradling his head. There, there. The medics will
be here soon. Youll be fine.
man looked up into the eyes of his friend. What happened? Oh God,
it hurts. Make it stop hurting. Mais pourquoi, pourquoi? Where am I?
I have to go home. I have to walk my dog!
Shots rang out.
A man cried and fell as bullets thudded into his body. Flashes of light
appeared in the dark like fireflies from shadows rising up that appeared
in the dark to be a wooded area about a hundred meters in front of the
line. The corporal who was leading the detail ordered the men, Get
down! They all hit the dirt. Who got hit?
Boileau. Hes still breathing.
run back and get a medic. The firing from the trees continued,
with the bullets whizzing over the soldiers heads. The rest
of you, this is what I want you to do, the corporal continued.
Five of you, I want you to spread out at intervals of ten meters
and return fire. Let them think they have us pinned down. The rest,
divide into two groups. One group circle fifty meters to the left, the
other group fifty meters to the right. Well run to the trees and
then close in and catch them in a pincer. Dont shoot until youre
in position. The bullets continued to zing overhead. The
five men who are returning fire, when you hear us engage them, youll
stop shooting and run in from the front. Any questions? There
were no questions. All right, now. Speed is essential. It shouldnt
take more than two minutes to get in position. We should be able to
kill them all. These arabs are stupid. Now, go!
The group broke
up, keeping low. In a few seconds the line of riflemen was set up and
returning fire. Havelock ran with the detachment that broke off to the
right. After he felt that he had put enough distance between himself
and the skirmish line, he stood up straight and ran with all his strength
toward the copse of trees. He could hear the clump clump of his own
footsteps and those of the other men, his own breathing, the firefight
to his left and the chirping of the cicadas in the African night.
The men made it
safely to the trees without drawing fire and started to close in towards
the source of the shooting. In a minutes time they were close
enough to see the muzzle flashes from the insurgents guns. The
pressure of the excitement and fear had built up to critical mass in
Havelock, and he felt he couldnt wait any longer to start shooting.
He raised his rifle to his shoulder and started squeezing off rounds,
stopping after each shot to reset the bolt. The arab attackers stopped
firing into the field and turned to confront the soldiers. Bullets flew
blindly in both directions as the two sides strained to fix a bead on
their enemies. The bullets whizzed by Havelock as he struggled to reload
faster and return fire, aiming into the pitch dark.
He felt a hammerblow
to the head and was knocked down onto his back as a bullet slammed into
his helmet. His ears started ringing, but it wasnt a churchbell
kind of ringing it was a sinister, diabolical kind of electric
ring, like a condemned man strapped to an electric chair would experience
from the metal conducting helmet that had been strapped to his head.
The ringing seared through his brain as he felt the life force being
drained from his body. Havelock sat up in his bed. It was morning, and
the phone was ringing. He picked up. It was Paulette.
didnt you call me last night? she demanded.
© Dean Borok December 2007
Passion of Nino De Jesus
Dean Borok (extract from Symphony of
Niño de Jesus frequently had marveled at the fork lift truck
on his way to work and one day, when the proprietor had left the gate
unlocked, he snuck in for a closer look. Climbing up the ladder on the
side and peering into the control booth, he noticed that they had left
the key in the ignition. After all, one might reason, who would steal
such a monster? Only a crazy man!
Keynes In Punta del Este
Excerpt from novel in progress "A Symphony
by Dean Borok
No smoking gun was ever discovered with the mayors fingerprints
on it, and as the flood of nebulous accusations and innuendo cascaded
daily in the newspaper and media reports, he ceaselessly insisted that
he was the victim of a right-wing smear job
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.