Thursday, July 26, 2018

Clip: Slip of the Shoulder.

[The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Slip of the Shoulder" from my upcoming novel City Limits.  The main character in this story is a young man who enlists in the Alliance Armed Forces at 15 years old and is reflecting on his early days in the service.  Enjoy.]

Used to hear tell people talk about the “machinations of war.” I’d listen. Try to make sense of it. Try to hold onto the words, slippery as they were. I’d nod along while my father and his brothers opined away into the evening, pontificating over glasses of corn liquor. Booze made ‘em loud to beat the band, and all the while my mother going about her business and rolling her eyes behind their backs and making faces of mock amazement at their soapboxing, all for my benefit. Tried to participate once or twice when they waxed political but all I’s doing was parroting Mr. Sheffield down at the shop, seeing as he used to complain to me well into the night when no customers were around to listen to him. Daddy and his friends ferreted me out quick enough and teased me back into silence. End of the day I couldn’t make sense of it.

One summer night, age of 14, I snuck a sip of his corn when he was leaning on the front door saying goodbye to Uncle Steven. I fought my lungs to keep from coughing lest the old man discover me nipping at his supply and tan me. Presently, my lungs settled down and I got one more large, slow sip in. Went upstairs to bed, crept out the window onto the roof, stripped naked and laid on my back. With the warm evening air caressing me and the ebb and flow rhythm of the beast under my house I stared up at the clear, starry sky and God and His infinite universe, my brain relaxed and fuzzy, my heart aglow and singing with its every beat all the praises of peace and love and compassion, and “war” seemed a foreign and stupid concept somewhere beyond the horizon that would never come. Just to be safe, I’d listen in equal parts morbid teenage curiosity and childish fear for the “machinations of war,” for the war machine itself, with its sounds of metal squealing on metal and gears turning. But wasn’t nothin’ doing. Can’t hear when you’re using the wrong ears.

*     *     *

[Then, deployed to a skirmish in Chicago and uncomfortable recollecting it...]

We sat inside the building to escape the wind and the snow for days. Wrapped ourselves in blankets, sleeping bags, even plastic tarps. Before the Ascension – or maybe even after – someone was kind enough to open a large air duct ‘t led to the rooftop from one of the top floors and convert it into a sort of chimney we could build fire in. Firewood came courtesy of donations to the war effort by civilians – chair legs mostly, but some bed posts, shelves, chopped-up tables, so on so forth. And when we ran out of stories to tell, only place to look to was forward. Some nights, heard whispers of desertion – sneakin’ out when ev’body was sleeping. Staff Sergeant Reynolds put a stop to that. Swore any deserter would be found, hogtied and fed to the Sao-born. And things got real quiet after that. Time seemed slower. Tried to focus on the fire. Listen to it.  Listen to it crackle, watch it flicker and dance for us, see the sparks rise and fade away with every snap of wood like souls leaving bodies in the night. Remind us of death, sparks. Remind us of gunfire and war. Flames, remind us of The Devil and his untamed fires licking at us poor sinners from his Nine Rings, red all. Firewood, burn and turn to ash; perform your duty protecting us and then die and be covered in white, like so many of us will on this rooftop in this city soon enough. Too soon. But soon enough all the same. Can’t look away from the fire now. Can’t look away from any of it. Entranced by the orange glow. Above our heads, steel and ice and the inevitable. 1,200 some odd feet under us, quiet soil, ivy come up the buildings and streets, the legend of the surface-dweller children, billions of skeletons, the fog. Look away from the fire any direction and all that awaits us is one looming thought. An ending of some kind. And that mirror: a sky blanketed with clouds and snowflakes, a ground shrouded by poison mist. As above, so below. And…


[to be continued in City Limits: Fogworld vol. 2]

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