People who’ve been in combat say you come back changed. Different way of seeing the world, of thinking about life and death, right and wrong. New priorities, skewed brands of patriotism and cynicism. Many ways, you’re not the same person.
I never doubted war would change me. Just never thought it would give me the power to change the world.
Week after rotating back I swear I’m still picking sand out of every possible location, some more unpleasant than others. Two weeks in Seattle before I return to Bragg. Seeing family and friends, but it wears on you when everyone asks about your time in the shit and all you want to do is forget. Questions, comments, stories, judgments.
“It’s a sixth sense,” Belani says. “I know who’s seen combat, who hasn’t.”
Post Street, corner table, rounds of beers flowing. Friends from high school who enlisted around the same time. Different tasks, same war.
“Exactly,” Fisker says. “You know the posers from the real deal right off.”
“I know who’s going to die, who’s going to kill,” I say. Not good party conversation, but it comes out.
“Fuck does that mean?” Belani says.
He’s right, of course. Look around the crowded bar and see who has been in a firefight. Doesn’t take special talent, just recognition. Eye movements, body language. It’s more than that. I can tell who is going to be in a life or death situation. Before it happens. I know the outcome.
“It means he saw too much shit go down,” Fisker says.
“Maybe so,” I say.
Then breaking glass, pissed off man, screaming girl. Know I could intervene, but don’t.
“Don’t want to see this,” I say. I drop a fifty, stand and leave quickly before blood starts flowing.
Two days later, shaking and crying from guilt, I find my calling. On television, announcing a move from the private sector to politics. I don’t know him, his ideals, his goals, his promises.
I know he will kill a lot of people. Hundreds, then thousands, then millions. I know he has to die and I have to do it. Only other possible outcome.
Next day, summer sky, prone on a balcony, his temple in my sights. What makes a man want to kill? Does he see the same things I do? Does he see color-coded right and wrong? Does he see a mandate from God?
Maybe only those who’ve seen enough, lived through enough horror, can become truly powerful. Senses build and fine tune. Dictators rarely start off as mass murderers. Saviors are not born saints.
What will they say about me? Hero or monster? I can’t read that one. Time will vindicate me or it won’t.
I take a breath, let it out slowly, squeeze the trigger.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Rucker:
As you may be aware, Santa Clara County is conducting a series of above-ground atomic bomb tests in our effort to defend ourselves against the invasion of forces from San Francisco. These tests began two years ago when Oakland destroyed the Bay Bridge and San Francisco’s navy proved unequal to mounting an assault across San Francisco Bay. San Francisco then turned their attention south toward San Jose, provoking our military to explore the nuclear defense option. After considering many factors including environmental, strategic, economic, and impact on residents, the site selection committee has chosen the 5200 block of Merit Avenue as the best candidate site.
This letter is to inform you that your house (identified as Tax Parcel No. 5480035017) was chosen as the site of the test. The County of Santa Clara, California hereby claims your property under the right of eminent domain so that this test may be conducted.
The County of Santa Clara will reimburse your family the current tax assessed value of your home and reasonable moving expenses if you choose to remain in the county. We anticipate that you will have questions about this purchase, and will be pleased to discuss the particulars with you. Ms. Beverley Allele will be your point of contact with Santa Clara County, and can be reached at the number below.
By the way, should you choose to remain within the city of San Jose, we recommend you avoid North Loganberry Way.
County Assessor’s Office
This story is the second in the Disco Zombie series.
The girl in the glittery black halter top shouted something.
“WHAT?” shouted Barry over the music. If you could even call it “music”: it was nothing but thumping and shouted rhymes. When did that become music? Barry would have killed to hear a good falsetto harmony–maybe some Bee Gees. Then again, he had already killed three times that night.
“I SAID, GREAT COSTUME!” she said, nodding and pointing at him. “DISCO ZOMBIE! I LOVE IT!” Then she shouted something else he couldn’t quite catch.
“I SAID, ARE YOU GOING TO EAT MY BRAINS?” She laughed, throwing her head back, letting her hair ripple down over her shoulders–but carelessly, like she didn’t even notice.
For answer, Barry shoved her behind the speakers and pressed her against the wall with his body. The thumping and shouting was still audible, but it was more distant, directed out and away from them.
“Wow, you’re strong,” she said. “You gonna kiss me? Take off the mask.”
Barry didn’t have a mask to take off, so instead he grabbed her head and squeezed with his fingers to crack her skull open the way he had cracked the other three skulls. Nothing. The others had been like eggs: this was like trying to crack a bowling ball.
“What are you doing?” she said. “God, why does it always have to be the weirdos?” Then she stretched her mouth wide to show two bone-white fangs and plunged them into his throat. She came back up, gagging, seconds later.
“Is that formadahyde?” she choked. “I haven’t tasted anything that bad in ages.” She made uncomfortable motions with her tongue. “So that makes you what, a real zombie?” She looked him over. “You preserved pretty well, all things considered.”
“Do you remember Disco?” Barry said.
“I remember Disco, the Mashed Potato, the Charleston … back in the 1720′s there was this hornpipe craze like you wouldn’t believe. But yeah, disco was something special.”
“We should dance.”
“I want to eat first. Hey! You know, if you and I go in together, it’s like a two-for-one special.”
“You don’t like the brains?”
She made a face.
They shared a personal injury lawyer in a back alley and went for a walk under the moon. Later, she invited Barry back to her coffin, and at dawn they fell asleep there, dreaming of the black, gaping pit of infinite time.
The Cabbage-Patch God
The Dolls’ Crusade
*A Natural Attraction
A Remarkable Reaction
The Cabbage-Patch God decided to extend Her dominion over humans in order to protect Her future. Gods only exist as long as they have worshipers, and She was afraid that Her plush and painted congregation on the toy shelves didn’t count. Her only human worshiper was Kayla, Her creator. Friday night two of Kayla’s friends were sleeping over. This was a perfect opportunity to win the adoration of Britney and Whitney.
When the doorbell rang, Kayla ran down the stairs, shrieking with delight. She did not carry the Cabbage-Patch God with her, as she had done constantly for the past two weeks. The God felt a pang of worry. It might already be too late.
The three girls burst into the room, clattering past the Cabbage-Patch God where she lay slumped against the wall at the foot of the bed. The girls huddled in front of the desk, and the God could not see what they were looking at.
“He’s SO cute!” Whitney exclaimed, almost dancing in place. There was a faint click.
Britney giggled. “Look at this one! I love his floppy little ears.” More clicks.
Kayla squealed and leaned forward, pointing at something. “This is the cutest puppy ever! I love it SO much!”
The God suddenly felt nauseated and a pulse of weakness passed through Her. She squeezed Her eyes shut and gestured. Giant snowflakes in pastel pink and blue materialized above the girls and began to fall silently. The girls continued to laugh and talk excitedly. They didn’t notice the colored snowflakes because the flakes, which formed just below the ceiling, popped out of existence a few inches above the girls’ heads. The flurry’s intensity diminished. The flakes faded to white, shrank, and finally ceased altogether.
The God rubbed Her eyes vigorously. She needed to do better than that. The Cabbage-Patch God clenched Her fists, gathering Her powers. Let the girls ignore a full-size pink elephant! The wall beside Kayla’s bed acquired a pinkish hue. An irregular bulge suggested tusks, a trunk, and a broad forehead. Kayla’s mother called from downstairs. The wall snapped back to vertical and returned to a color that Sherwin-Williams had called “Ivory.”
“Girls! Lunch time.”
“I’m starved!” Whitney shouted, and all three ran laughing from the room.
Kayla’s room was silent. On the desk a computer screen showed a photograph of a dog. It almost looked like the dog could jump right out of the screen. But nothing moved or made a sound.