Friday, March 27, 2015

Rack and Ruin

My short story, "Rack and Ruin", was just published by Holding Antlers.  They're a nifty online lit mag that sends you a antler-themed pic gleaned from the 'net, and you respond with a story.

Check it out: Rack and Ruin

Monday, March 23, 2015

PKD vs the Movies, Pt 1

A little piece by me was published on Bitter Empire, about PKD's "Paycheck" and John Woo's adaptation of the same.  Check it here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Lure" in Oblong

Oblong published my short story, "Lure" on October 7; here's the curated link, for convenience sake! 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

List Story Tres

My most recent list story; no real genre, just some low-key weirdness and pictures of abandoned buildings from the Chernobyl exclusion zone:

7 Secrets To Hosting The Best BBQ

Food, Drinks, Friends…getting these things together requires some serious planning and logistics! Here are 7 tips to help you host the summer’s best BBQ

1. Location, Location, Location!

The new antimalarials give me sweat-soaked, screaming night terrors, so I’m often awake. Between caffeine and fear, I’ve developed a pretty good case of chronic insomnia, my brain getting fuzzier and fuzzier as I try to get by on shallow, dozing naps snatched in the early morning, or at work, or on the bus. I have a month to go on these current pills, then I can get the doctors to switch me over to another brand, preferably one of the psychologically gentler synthetic quinines that keep my neuroanatomy from turning itself inside-out each night.

But, because that’s a month away, it is nearly three in the morning and I’m awake and listening to my neighbor through the thin wall that separates our apartments. She’s creeping around, the thin wispy shuffle of socks against carpet and the creaking of floorboards in the kitchen betraying her every step. I hear her opening closets, a tinny click of the lock and the scuff of the particleboard door against the backstop.

It’s not as rude as you think; I’m not being creepy. The first time I heard her moving around was last week, while I paced my own room. Each night since, I have heard her. I try to ignore her until I hear the balcony door open, sliding aside with a hiss into the hot Florida night, followed by a cold chalky rattle that travels through the floor and wall and up my feet. There is a scrapping, a steady beat, and I go out onto my own balcony to see what it was.

2. The Fine Art of Menu Crafting

I stand in the humidity and see an emergency rope ladder has been lowered from my neighbor’s balcony. It is fixed solidly against the jamb of her balcony door, a complex series of knots bracing the webbing to the wood and securing the nylon in place. It creaks with the weight of her body as she climbs down the four stories to the earth below. I see her reach the ground, and then lose her in the shadows as she sprints off through a cloud of mosquitoes in the rain garden. The moon is half-full and the sky is cloudy, but I’m afraid that she will see me watching her, so I go back inside and close my balcony door and listen.

Half an hour later, I hear the scrape of rope and stucco, and know she is ascending. I hear her straining up and over the ledge of her balcony, hear her breathing hard as she hauls the rope ladder back up, hear the door of her balcony slide shut, hear her run the water in her sink, hear her shuffle back to bed, hear the creak of the bed, and then hear nothing as she, presumably, sleeps.

Odd, but not unduly so, not for the four towers on the edge of Gainesville, built as offices before one of the inevitable crashes turned them into efficiencies trapped on the border between the suburbs and the swamps. I dozed after a while, and dreamt of something moving around my apartment, something long and white and empty that crawled up the walls and stared at me from the corners of the room, always behind me or just out of sight.

3. Beer, Wine, and Spirits: A Little Something For Everyone

The next day was Tuesday, which meant it was mail day. It’s supposed to be delivered every day except Sunday, of course, but there’s no way the mailman is going to drive all the way into the swamp to drop it off every single day. Living in the towers means you get your mail of Tuesday, and that’s it.
I look forward to Mail Tuesday, because it usually gives me something to read as I fight off sleep in the early evening. I sleep a little on the hour-and-a-half bus ride out of the city, so between my nap and my mail, I might have a fighting chance tonight.

The sheaf of mail in my little box is larger, much larger and much heavier than it has been in the past. It is held together with a thick rubber band, blue and heavy like the ones they use for broccoli bunches. I wrestle the wad out of the band and find that the fecundity of mail is a result of misfiling. My neighbor’s mail has been incorrectly stuffed into my mail box.

Her name is Margaret Summers, and she receives many magazines.

I can’t correct the error by putting the mail into her box, since I don’t have the key to open any box except my own. I will have to take it to her. Upstairs, I knock on her door, but no one answers.

I lay her mail out on the bar that separates the tiny kitchen from the rest of my room, reading her magazines as I drink my beer and take my antimalarials.

“Gaia News” is a combination of Green gardening, composting tips, and survivalist conspiracies; it suggests that the New World Order will soon seize control of the major urban centers of this country, and as such I should be stockpiling heirloom tomato seeds.

“Bookmonger Monthly” is a trade publication, offering articles and analyses of current pricing and sales figures for the competitive world of bookselling. The voice of the editorial is cutthroat, the words steely, and that tone is carried throughout the publication. Bookselling is serious business.

“Hatchet World” sells hatchets, ranging from “classic” wood-handled and red-bladed fireman’s helpers to
terrifying black titanium ampersands with razor edges and tactile grips. They exhibit a dramatic range in price.

“SaucerSpot” is an amateurishly printed and assembled 24-page magazine that assembles, in list form, the major UFO sightings of the last lunar month, organized by country and date. Interspersed between the lists and brief descriptions are foully scatological jokes, typed in larger comic sans font.

“Pacon!” is a newsletter for the Esperanto-speaking community of Central Florida, as announced by the only non-Esperanto bit of text in the magazine. It has high production values and a thick section of classified ads that take up nearly half of the publication.

“The Ouroboros” is the alumni magazine for a university in California, and disguises thinly veiled requests for donations as news about the successes of its students, current and former.

4. Music and Lighting!

It is a strange collection, and I end up reading them well into the night, eating supper over Gaia News, skimming The Ouroboros on the couch, taking SaucerSpot into the bathroom with me several times. I’m drinking tea and reading about the new particle accelerator being installed at Shaver University (thanks to the generous support of the Pickman Foundation) when I hear her stirring next door. It is nearly midnight. I will wait until the morning to return the magazines.

I fall asleep on the couch, dreaming that a small thing is moving around the room, muttering to itself. It is shapeless behind a riot of black fur. It darts from the corner to the futon and then to the bookshelves, the whole time jabbering away in a language I cannot understand. I want to get up and smash it, but I can’t move. I know that when it has finished searching the floor, it will climb up onto the futon and search my body, and I desperately do not want it to touch me.

The sounds from next door wake me up out of the dream, careful steps and opening doors and rattling and scraping. I lay on the couch, listening. It is nearly 3:30 before they stop.

In the morning, a little before 8, I put the rubber band around the magazines and go and knock on her door. She answers, bleary but awake. Her eyes are two different colors, one green and the other very bright blue. She has put many thousands of dollars into snaking, winding tattoos that run up her arms. She thanks me for getting her mail to her. As she takes the packet of magazines, I note that the tips of her fingers are stained black.

To catch the bus to work, I walk through the empty courtyard that anchors the four apartment towers. That morning, it reminds me of an Aztec plaza, abandoned and waiting for the forest to reclaim it. That night, I spend my money and my time out drinking, and do not return home until nearly dawn.

5. Univited Guests: Bugs!

Thursday evening I stop at a camping supply store on the way home, a cavernous structure full of potted trees and fake rocks and dead-eyed trophy heads mounted on the walls. I purchase, for $79.99, mid-range binoculars. Outside of the store, I sit on a concrete bench fronting the highway for 35 minutes waiting for the next bus.

Arriving home, I walk around the back of my building before going in. I pass empty planters, deep concrete bowls algae-slick and buzzing with insects, and come around behind the tower. I walk out into the rain garden, swatting at mosquitoes. I look up, and I can see my corner apartment, the plastic folding chair leaning against the railing of my own balcony. Next door is her apartment. The blinds are drawn on the sliding glass door that leads to her balcony. The sun is going down, and the bugs are getting thick, so I go inside.

Like clockwork, the sounds begin again at three in the morning. I wait until I am sure she has climbed down her rope ladder to step outside with my new binoculars. The moon is brighter, nearly three-quarters full, and there are no clouds. The rope ladder hangs heavily off of her balcony, and I see her stepping carefully off the bottom rung below.

6. Organizing Side Dishes!

She walks into and then out of the declivity of the rain garden, heading off across a patch of centipede grass towards a small hummock of high ground just beyond a scrubby ditch. She has a flashlight, and I watch the oval of light projected on the ground bob and weave as she navigates the dark. Through the binoculars, I can just barely make her out as a dark shape obscuring the flashlight’s beam.

She makes it to the hummock, and crouches down in front of a broad-armed pecan tree. She sets the flashlight down, and its beam illuminates her and the tree’s trunk. Hunkered down, she begins to dig, her body moving rhythmically, metal glinting in her hands. She heaps a pile of dirt up next to the hole she is excavating, reaching deeper in the soil with each scooping stab. Eventually she stops, and reaches into her pocket and leans over the hole, her arm up to the elbow in the earth. She backfills the hole quickly, patting the soil down carefully and then examining her work with the flashlight. She turns and starts walking back to the tower.

I crouch down behind the wall of my balcony. I hear her climb, hear her bring the ladder back up. I wait, holding very still, until I am sure that (if she has followed her previous pattern) she has gone to bed. I stand up and train my binoculars on the spot under the pecan tree, but see nothing.

I watch until dawn, sitting in my chair and drinking coffee and pissing in a bottle so I can keep the pecan tree in sight at all times. Nothing happens. Birds begin to call as the sun starts to warm the sky. It is a little before six in the morning when I decide to go down to the tree.

7. Frisbees for Everyone!

I hurry down the stairs, around the building, through the rain garden, over the ditch, up the hummock, and under the pecan tree. The disturbed soil is easy to spot, churned and cleared of grass. I do not have a spade, but I have a pocket knife and the dirt is loose. I dig down, four inches, six inches, eight inches, until I find hard packed soil at the bottom on the hole. I expand outwards, left and right and towards me, moving all the loose dirt I find until I run into packed, undisturbed soil on all sides. Moisture begins to ooze into the bottom of the hole.

I sift the loose dirt through my fingers, but find nothing there. I stand up and kick the dirt back into the hole, tamping it down with my foot. There is nothing buried under the tree, she left nothing behind in the soil.

I stop in the rain garden and look up at our apartments. Hers is still and quiet. Looking closer through the binoculars I can see where using the rope ladder has abraded the stucco on her ledge. I scan over to my balcony, still looking through the binoculars. The blinds behind my sliding door have been drawn shut, and they ripple with movement. As I watch, the kitchen light goes off.

The dew has soaked through my sneakers, and I can feel my socks getting wet. I have my wallet in my pocket. How far away can I get on what I have with me, I wonder?

Monday, July 28, 2014

List Story No. 2

Here's another short piece of fiction I put up on Buzzfeed, a noirish thing with no resolution, but some pretty good public domain images of the Dust Bowl.  Enjoy!

6 Ways To Tell If A Girl Is Into You

Romance, Dating, Love…these are confusing waters for a guy! Here are six hints that let you know if she’s digging on you, or if she thinks you are a nerd!! 

1. Serious eye-contact!!

He left the swamps and the humidity and the mosquitoes behind him as he drove out of Houston. The Packard rattled, its chassis groaning over the asphalt, turning the phone call over and over in his mind as he went north. He knew, always knew, that the call would come, just never when, could never plan for it. In some ways it was a relief to finally have received it, to have had the world finally come crashing down around his head. Now there was no waiting, only action, only consequences.

“Parker,” the voice had said when he’d answered the phone, deeper and sadder than he’d remembered, but with the same bitter rasp, the same harsh vowels. “Now, Parker, come up. It’s time.”

“It’ll take me two days to get there,” he’d answered, the phone cold against his suddenly damp palms.

“Hurry,” she had said, voice flat, dead.

He passed the turn-offs for San Marcos and Austin, saw the exit for Dallas. He stopped south of Denton to eat supper, a tiny truckers’ diner that had 10 cent sandwiches and sold bootleg whiskey by the pint. He bought two of each, wrapped the sandwiches in a napkin, and returned to the car. He pulled off into a disused side road, access to a dead or dying ranch, and had his supper in the car.
As he drifted off, he reached under his jacket and felt the butt of the gun in its holster. Coyotes yelped in the distance.

2. Watch her smile: It’s all about those pearly whites!!

The car barely made it; the fuel gauge hovered lightly over the “E” as he rolled into Levy, OK. It was a small town, shuttered as much against wind and dust as it was against the Depression. Abandoned storefronts littered the main drag as he made his way through the center of town, most with broken windows and signs that read “CLOSED” in dusty letters yellowed with age. He hadn’t been home in a long time, but he saw past the decay and into his memories, and found Cartwright Street without any trouble.

The house was the biggest shock. It looked nothing like he had remembered it, the little picket fence gone, the yard dead and heaped with miniature dunes baffled by the dead arms of flower bushes. Frayed paint hung off the side of the house, and loose shingles rattled in the wind. He knocked on the front door, knocked on the back door, no one answered. He peered in the windows, and saw the dark interior of the house, sagging furniture in the front room, bare wooden table in the kitchen. It was empty, had been empty, for a long time. He stepped back from the window, and called her name. His voice was a lonely, croaking sound, and it shocked him to here it.

“Ain’t no one home, young feller,” answered a voice, dry and harsh as his own. It came from the neighbor’s house, itself dead or dying. Parker turned, and saw the speaker was an old man, ridiculously old and dry and wrinkled, parched and burned chestnut by the sun. The few wisps of white hair on his head trailed after the breeze, longing to follow the pale smoke of a ratty cigarette that burned in his left hand. “All gone, young feller, all gone,” he said, nodding. Parker hopped the fence and mounted the porch. As he got nearer, he saw the old man had one good eye, bright and black, and one bad eye, a milky orb that seemed to roam of its accord over the scene.

“I’m looking for someone,” Parker finally said, “a woman.” He paused, having to remember what name she went by in this town. “Mrs. Marcus.” The old man nodded again. “She lives there,” Parker pointed at the house.

“Ain’t no one lives there, son,” said the old man, knocking ash from his cigarette.

“She’s my sister,” he lied, “she asked me to come up for a visit. “Is there anywhere else she might be staying in town?”

“Ain’t no on lives here at all, son” said the old man, turning his good eye on Parker. “All left, all gone west, getting away from banks and the Wrath of God.” The old bastard’s crazy, thought Parker.

“Look buddy,” he said, leaning in over the old man in his chair. “She called me a couple days ago, told me to come on by the house.” The old man shrugged, and swiveled his head towards the house.

“Ain’t no on lives here,” he said, simply. “Levy ain’t got no one at all, no more.”

3. Is she gettin’ touchy-feely? Watch her hands, bro!!

He left the old man on his porch. For propriety’s sake, he went around the far side of the house, out of the geezer’s line of sight, and found a window facing out over what used to be a garden. He shattered the window with his gun, the brittle crash of the glass against the den’s wooden floor shockingly loud in the silence of the neighborhood. He carefully reached his arm in, undid the lock, and climbed inside.

It was mostly empty, a few pieces of ragged furniture left behind, but little else. Dust and grit crunched under foot, the probing sandstorms always finding a way inside even in the most securely locked building. The pantry was empty, the shelves bare. There was a rusty bed frame in one of the bedrooms, but nothing else. The house was abandoned, and had been for some time.

He went out the backdoor and into the dead yard. Osage orange trees, their tight branches tall and naked, bordered the far edge of the lawn. A picnic table baked in the sun, its wood chalky and dry to the touch. His foot crushed a rotted, dusty osage orange under foot. Leaning against one of the trees was a sun-bleached doll, a child’s toy, sitting up with its eyes peeled wide. It seemed to watch him as he walked over, lifting it to examine it. He tilted it backward, prone, and the eyes closed, then tilted it forward to make the eyes open again. The doll’s head was a smooth dome dotted with tiny pin-pricks where the doll’s hair had once been.

He tossed it over the trees and out of sight before making his way back to the car.

4. Does she talk about other guys when she’s with you? There’s your big hint, bro!!

The sky was a merciless blue as he eased his car back towards Main Street, coasting on neutral in places to save gas. The houses all looked abandoned and ready to fall apart at the next big storm. Things had gotten bad in Levy, he thought, much worse than he could have imagined. He was sweating through his shirt, and the gun in its holster rubbed against his side.

She must have called him from one of the stores in town, he figured, although he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t mentioned they’d moved from the house on Cartwright. He wasn’t sure how to find her, but he knew he had to, knew he had to fulfill the promise he’d made so many years ago. Had she left word for him at one of the stores, or in the post-office?

He didn’t have to spend much time searching because there wasn’t much to search. There was only one place left open, a little general store with nearly bare shelves and a gas pump out front. A fat man, blond and pale as a grub, slouched in a chair behind the counter. He roused himself as the echoes of the bell over the door died down.

“What can I do for you, sir?” he asked, rubbing pudgy hands into his eyes as he yawned.

“You got a phone here?”

“Sure thing, mister, there in the back,” he pointed at a booth towards the far end of the store. Parker walked over and checked that it worked.

“This the only phone in town?” he asked.

“Well, there’s the party line for in-town, but that one there is the only one that goes out.”

“Not a lot of folks in town?” Parker asked.

“No sir,” said the fat man, settling back in his chair, “no sir, we’re pretty near all cleared out. Thinking about heading out myself, actually. Where are you heading to?”

“Out west, like everyone else, I imagine,” answered Parker, flipping through the note pad in the booth. “Say, listen,” he said, strolling back to the front of the store and leaning on the counter. “That phone must get a lot of use, huh? Only one in town with long-distance, I mean?”

“Well,” said the fat man, scratching his round head, his blonde stubble so short he seemed nearly bald, “I reckon not. I mean, there ain’t many folks in town anymore, anyway, and them that are left ain’t got much outside of town they want to talk at, if you take my meaning.”

“A woman use this phone, in the past day or two?” he asked. “Brown hair, kinda tall, blue eyes. Name of Marcus, Mrs. Marcus.”

“A woman?” the fat man repeated the word. It seemed unfamiliar in his mouth, and his soft face receded into folds and wrinkles as he sounded it out again. “A woman? Can’t say as a woman used the phone lately. No sir, can’t say as a woman did at all.”

“Who else works here? Anyone else I can talk to?”

“Just me, Mister,” said the fat man, smiling. “Ain’t no one else left, just me.” Jesus Christ, thought Parker. Everyone in this town must’ve gone crazy with the wind.

“Look, gimme a dollar of gas, alright?” he asked. The fat man shook his head sadly.

“Ain’t got no gas, Mister,” he said. “Trucks ain’t been by at all, not since folks started leaving.”

Parker walked back out into the sun and sat on the steps of the store. He pulled the second pint of whiskey from his pocket, felt it burn as it went down his throat. He looked west, saw the sun sinking below the horizon. He’d have to sleep in his car again tonight.

The bell over the door rang, and the fat man bustled out and stood next to Parker. He shielded his button eyes, looking first west, then turning to look east. Evening was settling in.

“Gonna be a storm,” he said simply. Parker followed his gaze and looked east. In the descending dark, a line of deeper black hung over the horizon. “Gonna be a bad one, too,” said the fat man, before returning inside.

5. How quick does she return your calls? Reply to texts? There’s gold in them thar hills, bro!!

He rummaged through the trunk of his car until he found the length of hose he was looking for. With that in one hand, and a gas can in the other, he walked through the town looking for cars. The first one he’d found was empty, bone-dry, but the second one had a half-gallon or so, most of which he was able to siphon off. It wasn’t enough to get him out of town in the morning, but it would be enough to get him back to the abandoned neighborhood. He had seen cars, parked against the road and up on the curbs. Might be better pickings there.

Night fell, and the town stayed dark. No street lights, of course, but there were no lights in any of the houses, not even a candle in a window. It was utterly black, and completely silent. He sat down on the rickety front porch of the house and finished his whiskey.

Dark shapes slinked through the yard, darted through the streets, short barks and whining yips muffled under a heavy, oppressive atmosphere that sank down and engulfed the town of Levy. The coyotes would watch him if he moved, their sharp noses jutting up and towards him for a moment before leading their owners along on other business.

6. Let her pick out the music while you hang out; her decision will tell you a lot, bro!!

When it came, it came like end of the world, like the seas rising up to swallow the earth back into chaos. The coyotes knew it before he did, felt the mingling of earth and air in the approaching dust storm and fled, shadows moving through the deeper dark of the night. Parker heard it first as a moan, steady and cruel, a constant plaintive cry.

He stood up and walked to the back yard and saw it coming, a wall of darkness that rolled in off the plain, blotting out stars and the crescent of the moon as it rushed towards him. The dust storm towered over the world, and Parker felt very small.

The car was no good since the rear windows wouldn’t close anymore. The house? He ran inside, felt the house strain and creak under the wind. He had broken a window, and the sand on the floor already told him that a big storm would find ways in. He ran into the kitchen, his feet tripping over a ratty rug that bunched around his feet. He kicked it off and saw the trap door, a square with two small finger holes in it. He swung it open. The house rocked as the wind strengthened. The first hissing blasts of sand lashed the roof, caressed the sides of the house as he climbed down the ladder.

His match wrapped him in a small circle of light. The floor was dirt, hard packed and cool. He edged along, arms out as he looked for a wall. He heard the house swaying overhead, the wounded sighs of wood mingling with the background hum of the dust storm. He found the wall, cold brick dull red in the glow of the match, and walked along to the right until he found a corner. He sat down, drew his knees in close, and listed to the sound of the dust storm as it reclaimed Levy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

List Story No. 1

A while back I encountered the soul-chilling void that is buzzfeed, a terrifyingly shallow chaos of inanity and animated GIFs that represents the death of thought and culture.  Anyway, I thought the format (roughly, STUPID LIST TITLE, PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE #1, STUPID ENTRY #1, PUBLIC DOMAIN IMAGE #2, STUPID ENTRY #2, ad infinitum) would be kind of a fun way to post stories, little bits of weirdness that I would write fast without editing and post with goofy images (mostly from wikipedia).  Anyway, here's the first of those stories, its buzzfeed title the inane:

5 Tricks To Having The Best Spring Break Ever!!!

Spring break is a chance to cut loose, have some fun, and make some memories! Here are 5 tips for making the most of your week off!  


1. Gotta get with your best buds first!!

There is the sound again, a sharp, pricking sound on the edge of hearing that bypasses my ears to echo behind my eyeballs. It whines at first, a tiny sound, but it builds to a shrieking scream that overtakes the dull roar of the trench and the battle and chaos until it fills all of us with the certainty of death. We dive for cover, dice in a craps game playing the odds since we cannot know where the shell will land. Any dive is as good as another, each a sacrament to the god of statistics, the only god that has not abandoned us. I clutch my helmet to my skull, the thin steel edge of it biting my hand as I wait for the howling to end and the fire and death to begin. Michael, the Canadian kid they’ve rotated into the squad, crouches near me, his hands digging into the mud walls of our ditch house as he shivers and prays.

It is 2014, and we have been fighting the Great War for 100 years.

2. Spring Break Means One Thing: Fun in the Sun!!

Outside of Rouen, we are given a 24-hour foraging pass and sent off. We head east, towards the edge of Alliance trenchworks, picking our way across the scabbed-over landscape of past battles. The truck hisses to a stop on the edge of an algae-encrusted mudhole. Peter and Charlie wrap the machine in netting and canvas while Michael and I cut dead branches from the shaggy riot of an abandoned hedge. Since the day in the trench, the kid has decided that I’m good luck, that our standing up and picking our way through the shattered guts of our squadmates after the assault was a sign of divine favor. He sticks close to me now.

We drape the branches over the truck, and the Lieutenant (I cannot remember his name, they tend not to last very long so it is rarely worth it) pulls his pistol and leads the way. We hop ditches and clamber through gardens thick with the powdery ash of Blight bombs. The little village is silent, dead. The squad fans out, checking each house in turn. They’ve all been picked clean, but in the back of one little cottage Thom finds a shelter shed, the sealing pin still in place. We blow it with a grenade, and the smell that rolls out of it, decay and corruption, tells us we have found our prize.

Below, huddled in the corner under blankets, are human remains. We don’t bother checking or counting them. They’d sealed themselves in, hoping to ride out the Blight, but their water filter failed before the air cleared. They’ve left behind a pile of rations though, boxes and boxes of hard-little squares of vacuum-packed mycoproteins. We spend the rest of the day loading our packs from their stores.

We spend the day in the village, and get back to the pond near dusk. A Central Powers air drone had found the truck and bombed it to a smoking ruin. We hike the thirty miles back to the supply dump.

3. Get Your Tan Done BEFORE Heading To The Beach! Hello!!

Desertion peaks at around 25% before they finally figure out how to fix it. In Roman times, apparently, the gravest of disciplinary actions available to the commander was decimation. 1-in-10 soldiers, drawn at random, are executed for the failures of another. The guys they pull from the line might not have done anything, might not have even known what had been done by someone else, but they count off and get pulled from the line and killed right there. They put a twist on it, though; instead of the Company getting decimated, they’d just go through the file of the missing man, find his home town, and send the Home Guard in to decimate the town. I understand there were some scaling issues, what with some guys coming from New York City and others from Podunk Iowa, but that’s what the Army Statistics Division was for. They worked out a scaling function pretty quick.

Of course there were some problems at first. Eventually, they got the Army to concede that they could only decimate towns back home when they’d convicted the deserters in military court, on account of that squad that got trapped behind enemy lines for twenty days, eventually fighting their way back to the lines after capturing a couple of hills and a battle standard. I understand that, even with their shiny medals, they were a little pissed off at finding out they’d been declared “deserters”.

4. You And Your Wingman Gotta Work Out The Strategy Before Hand, Bro!!

Michael, the Canadian, steps on a mine outside of W├╝rttemberg. We can’t find his tags, so we just mark him down as KIA in the books. They’ve mined the whole city, but they say it’s got to be cleared so the tanks can get through, so we clear it. The detectors we’ve got don’t really work; turns out there’s barely any metal in the mines anymore, it’s all ceramics and explosives, so we end up having to improvise tapping sticks, seven or eight foot long poles, as thin as you can get them. We pick our way through like blind men, creeping through rubble, tap tap tap. You find one usually by the bony, stony clinking the pole on the mine. It reminds me of an Aunt I had, who tapped her spoon sharply against the thin china cup at each teatime, as if she were going to make a speech. I never remember her saying anything important, though.

Our tappers take too long for Command. They end up herding POWs into the streets at gun point, forcing them to run down the lanes, their bodies flung high into the air with the rest of the rubble whenever they find a mine.

5. Remember: You’re Only Young Once! Carpe the Diem, Doggs!!

Our guns pound their trenches for days, announcing the inevitable charge through the wire and the mines. Their drones overhead drop Hebenon Gas on us day and night. It curdles the blood right in your veins, an ugly death, and of course one of the filters in my mask is on the fritz. I’m busy picking through the pockets of my most recently deceased Lieutenant looking for his spare, when the shuddering of the guns stops. The biofeedback band on my wrist buzzes the signal to me. We’re going over. We’ve got no Officer, but we have to go over the edge, or the MPs will come by and shoot us down in our own trenches for cowardice. I stand up and check my wrist band; air reads okay, so I strip my mask off and cinch up my helmet. I grab the Lieutenant’s pistol and jam it in my belt. My rifle seems heavy.

The rattling on the feedback band increases. Thirty seconds. The guns are silent, and the other side is counting down with us. They’ll have loaded the autocannons by now. Fifteen seconds, and rhythm of the alert from the band changes, slows to a steady once-per-second throb. Mortars, from a few trenches back, lob fog grenades high overhead. They land with a coughing thud a hundred yards ahead of us, their heavy smoke obscuring ground and, hypothetically, our bodies when we start the run. Of course, careful aim is not a necessary skill when firing an autocannon. Five seconds.

The siren wails, and we climb out. We’re all veterans in this end of the line, so we don’t pop up and come out running. Our ascent is careful, our heads low. Crouched, we make a run for the fog bank. If we’re lucky, we’ll fall into a shell crater or a ditch, and can wait out the battle.

Just inside the fog bank, I stumble into a line of razor wire, the blades slicing through my pants and boots and cutting deep into my legs and feet. I tumble to the ground just as the autocannons open up, a screaming hiss of electromagnetically propelled slivers of metal that tear through the men to my left and right. They keep running, their bodies unaware of their death for a half second more, before tumbling to the ground.

I crawl into a low spot, a little swale in the landscape where I can hunker down and get at my kit. The hypofoam works pretty good, staunching all but the deepest gashes in my legs, and a shot of morphine does me a world of good. I lay on my back and watch the tracers arc across the night sky, little comets offering gentle guidance to the gunners upcountry. It has been six weeks since I shipped out, and I am already an old man.