The Desert Moon

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Well, hello again.

This week’s bit of drivel is taken from a novella that I’m working on.  I was surprised that this section of the piece  stands on its own (at least in my opinion) and that it was under a thousand words.  I think I’m on the home stretch as far as finishing the first draft.  With any luck and an intricate web of blackmail and bribes, I may get the whole thing published one day.

This week’s #FridayFlash, “The Desert Moon”

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Powered By: J.M. STROTHER!

Powered by J.M. Stother!

THE DESERT MOON

Sergeant Burton made some hand signals in the darkness that were unintelligible to the untrained eye.  His soldiers saw and nodded.  He gave the signal to go and two soldiers went past him around the corner.  He came next, followed by the rest of his squad.  They shuffled silently down the street, keeping close to the building on their right.  They reached a wooden door and the two in front of Burton posted up on either side of it.  A soldier behind Burton squared himself up with the door and kicked it in where the knob met the jamb.  Burton shuffled into the darkness.

Burton went through and felt his feet give way to sand.  His rifle came in contact with some kind of sheet and he pushed through it.  On the other side, he met a massive expanse of desert.  It didn’t immediately register in his mind that there was no massive expanse of desert in a Baghdad slum, but he pushed forward anyway.  He looked frantically to his left and right for his target.  Seeing nothing but desert, he turned back to where he came from and saw nothing but sand and the night sky.  He was alone in the middle of a desert with nothing but dunes for company.

“What the—”

Burton pointed his weapon around him, kicking up small clouds of fine powdery sand as he went.  He slowly lowered his weapon but continued twirling.

“What the fuck, over?”

He pulled the chinstrap of his Kevlar off and let the helmet hit the desert floor.  He spun a few more times, slowing eventually before looking up at the moon, which gave everything a light blue glow.  Meaningless time passed in which all that seemed to matter was the moon.  He stood transfixed, basking in its light, distantly aware of the M-16 that he still held by its pistol grip.

“Hell of a moon,” a voice said from behind him.

Williams turned, bringing his weapon up to the place where muscle memory told him it should be.  He fired four shots at the voice in rapid succession.  Four small spouts of sand kicked up behind the man sitting on the dune.  The man seemed unmoved by the shots as he sat placidly gazing up at the moon.  He was wearing flip-flops, khaki cargo shorts and a white button-up shirt that was three buttons short of being buttoned.  He sat with his forearms holding his knees and what little hair he had was spiked.  He looked like a college kid on his way to a beach party.

“Identify yourself,” Burton said and slowly approached.

The man on the dune broke his gaze and looked at Burton, laughing a little.  “You know, I always imagined you saying something like that to me, Sergeant, but I never thought I’d hear it.”

“Identify yourself!”

“No need, sarge.  You know who I am.”

After a moment, Burton lowered his weapon slowly and stared.  “Brown?”

“Well, that’s half right, but I’ll give you points for trying.”

“It’s…Sam, isn’t it?  Sam Brown?”

“DING DING DING!” Sam said, ringing an imaginary bell.  “You have answered this question correctly, Staff Sergeant Burton.  Now, do you want to keep the money or risk it all for our grand prize?”  Sam began laughing a careless laugh that only the young and obscenely rich can pull off.

“What do you…what are you doing here?  What do you want?” Burton said getting closer and having serious problems comprehending things.

“Wait!” Sam said, holding up his hand.  “Wait right there.  Don’t move.”  Sam reached behind him and brought forth a professional looking camera.  Sam held it up to his face for a moment and Burton heard the shutter of a lens.  “Ahh, that’ll be a good one.  Got you and the moon in the same shot.  Thanks for that, big saw!”

Sam put the camera down on the sand and stood up.  He walked to Burton and said, “What I want, Sergeant Burton, is very simple.”  Sam put both hands on Burton’s shoulders.

“I just want you to make it count.”

Sam pushed Burton backwards, catching him off guard.  He fell and did not hit the sand.  The blue aura of the moon was extinguished and he tumbled into pitch blackness.

“Sam!  Your name’s Sam!” Burton said, sitting up on his cot.

His tent was lightless, save a few LED’s indicating that an electronic gizmo of some kind was charging in the night.

“Sergeant,” said the voice of Specialist Garcia.  “It’s alright.  We’ve all been having dreams about Sam.”

“You have?” Burton said in the general direction of Garcia’s voice.

“Yeah.  I was in the humvee with him when it happened,” the voice of Garcia said again.  “It’s best not to think about, I guess.”

This advice helped Burton sleep no better.

The Grocery Run

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Hi guys.

I work at a grocery store doing fairly menial work.  This gives me plenty of time to do what writers do and ask “What if” questions.  What follows is one of those questions.

On a side note, I’ll be attending my first college class this coming Wednesday.  For some reason, I’ve decided to take Latin.  Pretty masochistic, huh?  Wish me luck!

Here it is, this week’s #FridayFlash, “The Grocery Run.”

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Powered By: J.M. STROTHER!

Powered by J.M. Stother!

THE GROCERY RUN

Jerry’s palms were sweating.  That was to be expected.  He was pushing a shopping cart that had maybe three hundred dollars worth of groceries inside and he had maybe thirty-two cents in his pockets.  The only other thing of any value on his person was his driver’s license but that was technically property of the state.  Jerry was nervous.

This was the Val-U-Mart’s peak hour of the day and he went more or less unnoticed by everyone there.  Of course, they were watching him.  Those black half-globes on the ceiling, surely they were watching him.  He tried not to look up because if he looked up then they’d know that he was looking at them and they’d look at him even harder.  He knew they were watching him.

They weren’t actually.

He passed by the stockboys and people with Val-U-Mart name tags.  He smiled at them—not too much, because then they’d know, just smile Jerry, just smile—but most of the employees passed him by with not much more than head nod and a perfunctory greeting.  He might actually get away with it.  Then again, this could be a sham.  This could be trick to lure him into a false sense of security.

“That’s crazy,” he thought.  And then thought, “That’s…basically crazy.  Sorta crazy.  Kinda…crazy?”

He got an urge to shake his head as if that would clear it and resisted.  Doing something like that would attract attention.  Instead, he walked slowly down the frozen food aisle, looking at chicken potpies, microwaveable dinners and, eventually, ice cream.

“It’s not too late to back out,” he told himself as he opened a cooler door and plucked out a box.  “It’s not too late to just…just…park this cart somewhere and walk away.”

But then, what happens when they find it?  Full of all of this stuff.  They’d be angry, wouldn’t they?  They’d want to make sure whoever did this wouldn’t do it again, right?  And how would they do that?  They play back the video tape.  And then they’d have him for sure.

“It’s too late, I’ve committed,” he told the anthropomorphic chicken that was printed on the box of chicken nuggets he held in his hand.  “I can do this.  I can do this.  Right?”  The chicken didn’t respond.  He just smiled back at him, one wing presenting the picture of chicken nuggets to him like a model on a game show.  Jerry nodded as if this were an answer.  He tossed the box into the cart, took a deep breath, let it out and started pushing his cart with confidence.  He was headed for the front door.

His eyes were hardened. His jaw was set.  His palms, though damp, gripped the shopping cart firmly.  He passed the occasional Val-U-Mart employee but paid them no mind.  He also ignored the ceiling cameras.

“You just have to be confident,” he told himself.  “If you look like you’re up to something then they’ll get you.  But if you look like this is all perfectly normal, you’ll get away with it.  If you look like you’re stealing, that’s what they’ll think.  Just be cool Jerry. Be cool.”

Of the many things that Jerry didn’t think of that day was the fact that, when people buy groceries, there is usually someone who bags them.  Groceries, in other words, leave the store in bags.  This, however, wouldn’t have been a problem, being that the store was so busy and no one noticed.

Twenty feet now.  “Be cool Jerry.”

Fifteen feet.  “You can do this.  Don’t lock up.  Be cool.”

At ten feet, the song “Eye of the Tiger” started playing in his head.  He hummed it lightly under his breath at what was probably twice its normal speed.

As he was at the door, everything went wrong .  There was a Val-U-Mart employee standing there, greeting people as they went in and out.  The man’s name was Stan.  Stan was in his seventies and had silver hair, rosy cheeks and all the brooding, intensely threatening qualities of a marshmallow.  Stan gave his standard, “Have a good day, sir,” and that was all it took for Jerry to start running, screaming and jabbering nonsense as he went.

The plan (what precious little Jerry had worked out) was to simply throw everything in the backseat of his car and leave.  He had to abandon this part and simply run like hell, pushing the cart in front of him.  Where would he go?  It didn’t matter, he’d figure that out later.  What mattered now the getaway.

He weaved in and out of people, between cars and looked up to see the yellow line that marked the parking lot’s exit.  Hard, sick determined will overcame him and he ran the cart toward it, body leaning forward, head down, his salvation somewhere just on the other side of the line.

As the front wheels cleared the yellow line, he had just enough time to feel a pang of triumph.  Then, the shopping cart’s wheels locked, his sweaty hands betrayed him and he ran head first into the now immobile cart.

Lying sprawled on the ground, everything spinning and going black, he said, “Fuckin chicken lied to me.”  He passed out.

***

The Val-U-Mart’s manager would later explain to the police that the shopping carts have a device akin to an electronic dog collar.  Once the cart passes a certain point (that point being the yellow line surrounding the parking lot), the wheels lock up.

The responding officers took quite a long time before they stopped laughing.  Once they did, they got back to business.

“So how much booze was he trying to make off with?” the older cop said.

“We don’t carry liquor,” the manager said.

“Beer then.”

“No beer.”

“Cough syrup?  Antihistamines?”

The manager shrugged.  “Five or six loaves of bread.  Rice, instant potatoes, toilet paper.  Pretty standard stuff.”

The cops exchanged a glance.

The manager shrugged again.  “Guess he’s got a family to feed.”

No one laughed at this.

Hearsay Vs. Drill Sergeants

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Another story of mine from basic training.

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374477802l4tpWhen you get to basic, well actually you don’t get to basic for at least a week.  First you go to what’s called “Replacement Battalion”  Replacement Battalion is a sort of limbo for recruits.  This is where you get your personal things rifled through, get the goofy haircut, get issued your uniform and have the mind-controlling microchip placed at the base of your skull.  No, I’m kidding of course.  The microchip is placed inside your skull, it’s much safer there.  This is where you’re supposed to learn ranks, protocol and various other miscellanea your oh-so-compassionate drill sergeants would have you know.  After the medical folks look under your hood and up your tailpipe and after a multitude of paperwork is processed, this is when you get to go to basic training.  When you get to basic, you know basically nothing.

I believe that this general ignorance of a military lifestyle is the semi-divine will of the Drill Sergeants.  I say semi-divine because for the next few months, their will is like God’s will, and I’m talking “Old Testament God” here.  They are mere mortals, yes, but don’t tell them that or they’ll see to it that you never find out in any definitive way.  Or as one Drill told me once, “Private, are you aware that I can fuckin’ kill you?”  Of course I was, he was God.  They were all God.  Old Testament God.  I’m mean, for the slightest deviation from their awesome and mighty will, swarms of locusts would descend and rivers of blood would flow (possibly consisting of your own blood).  Famine, gnashing of teeth and the most miserable existence you could possibly imagine.  Yeah, all of the worst parts of the Bible basically.

“And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” — Revelations 9:6, KJV

Yep, that’s what it is to be on a Drill Sergeant’s bad side.

But here’s the thing, basic isn’t so hard if you just do what they say when they say to do it.  Thing is, they don’t always tell you what it is they want you to do.  It’s sort of like when your girlfriend gets mad at you for something but won’t tell you what she’s mad about.  So, to compensate, privates come together and share what they’ve “heard” that you should do in any given circumstance.  Sometimes, good advice is shared.  Quite often, a BCT (Basic Combat Training) platoon will get someone that was in JROTC in High School.  Their advice is usually on point.  However, every now and then a bit of evil advice starts circulating and…

We had gone through, I don’t know, maybe a month of Basic when we got to the Pugil Stick course.  Pugil sticks looked like over-sized Q-tips, like the kind you see on American Gladiators, and they were used to show you how to fight with a bayonet attached to your rifle.  This was one of the more enjoyable parts of basic for me, mainly because I smashed everyone I went up against.  However, before we got into it, the drill sergeant in charge of the training gave a block of instruction showing how this training was meant to carry over into a real-life combat situation.  The Drill was speaking to us through a bullhorn and was maybe 50 yards away from me at the time.  He stopped talking and said something to a nearby private.  There was a blur of motion and the next thing I knew, five Drill Sergeant had piled on top of this guy and were screaming at him.  He was taken away and we didn’t see him for the rest of the day.

colbertThis is what happened.  Somewhere along the line someone had told him that, and I quote, “If a Drill Sergeant asks you for your weapon, throw it at him.”  If you’re unaware, this is NOT what you do when a Drill Sergeant asks you for your weapon.  In fact, this technically counts as assaulting a superior officer, which is punishable by a court martial in severe cases.  Being that the offender was just a dip-shit private, who wouldn’t know his asshole from his elbow on the clearest of days, he got off with an extreme session of push-up, low crawls and whatever other divine retribution they rained down on him that day.

The moral of this story is this: if you are on your way to basic training and a Drill Sergeant asks you for your rifle one day, throw it at him.  If you don’t have the stones to do it yourself, tell someone else to.  For all the hardships of basic and for all the pain and suffering that you go through just to be in the real Army, no one should have to do it without being able to tell this story.

What The Hell Am I Doing Here?

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I usually always question what you, the reader are doing here.  I mean, I don’t want to say that you have poor taste or anything, it’s just, well…take a look at the title of this blog.  I’d figure that there’s enough pointlessness in popular culture today that everybody would get their fill.  But, according to my “Big-Brother-O-Meter” that shows me not only when my blog is visited but also the link that you came from (be it from one of my forum signatures or from my Facebook postings), I have at least one visitor every day.  Who are you, mystery reader?

Anyway, this bored soul (and on occasion, more than one) has made me self-conscious about my lack of postings.  It’s like I’m letting someone down, which I find weird because I usually think I suck.  Further more, it would be a different story if I had something–you know, like a book that I wrote–to talk about.  All I have is my one short story that’s been published, but not much else.  Oh sure, I have a book in the works, but nothing solid as of yet.  This brings me to my question: What the hell am I supposed to be doing here?

First of all, I suppose it’s fair to ask why I started a blog in the first place.  Well, in my heart of hearts (pfft, as if I have a heart), I’d like to be a professional writer.  That is to say, I’d like to be able to support myself solely on writing.  Why?  Because real work sucks and I’d rather daydream all day, write it down and get paid for it.  Why blog?  Maria Schneider told me to. I am not one to argue with Maria (mainly because I don’t know her that well and I doubt she’d listen to a schlub like me) so I am here a-bloggin’ but not sure what to write about.

I asked my good friend Google.com, “what should I write about in my blog”.  I had some exact hits but a result entitled “25 things you should NEVER write about in your blog” was more enticing.  Despite high hopes, it was a disappointing collection of obvious self-incriminations or semi-ironic revelations that were unhelpful and only slightly more entertaining than boredom.  I went somewhere else.

I found this one that seems fairly helpful, but not exactly what I was looking for.  This blogger gives 6 styles to a blog and here’s why these 6 aren’t right for me.

  1. AS A JOURNAL. I don’t think I’m interesting enough for people to really care what I do on a daily basis and I’m not narcissistic enough to believe it either.
  2. AS A CRITIC. Yeah, because we don’t have enough of those on the internet.
  3. A COMBINATION OF FORMS 1 & 2. See reasons 1 &2.
  4. AS A MINI-PUBLISHER FOR WRITERS. This I suppose is pretty close, but not quite.  It’s hard to become a professional writer if you give everything away.
  5. TO BUILD AN ONLINE COMMUNITY. This is the niche of pro bloggers.  I’ll pass.
  6. AS A CORPORATE MEDIUM OR FORM OF ADVERTISING. SPACEBALLS, THE T-SHIRT!  SPACEBALLS, THE COLORING BOOK!  SPACEBALLS, THE FLAME THROWER!  (the kids love that one)

“So, where to now?” I thought and wrote in my blog simultaneously.  I went back to my search results.  It appears that quite a few people had the same question that I did.  Some had helpful responses, but others…

Awfully strong words coming from an umlauted semi-circle if you ask me.  I will grant that Mr. Sëmï-Cïrclë has a point, but I’m trying to get someone to buy the cow without getting too much of the milk for free…which brings me back to the annoying fact that I don’t exactly have a cow as of yet.  By that I mean book.  And by that I don’t mean a book on cows.

I’ve read post after post on website after website and it seems to be doing my head in.  But is this my fault that I don’t know what to write about?  Is it possible that if I wrote something–ANYTHING–here on a daily or semi-daily basis that a focus would develop naturally?  Could it be that if I really wanted to become a professional writer that I should buckle down, get to it and start writing everyday like I’ve been told to by so many successful writers?  Maybe, just maybe is the problem in my inaction and lack of discipline?

…Or is it Maria Schneider’s fault for making me start a blog in the first place?  What am I saying, of course it’s her fault!

I sought out to find this purveyor of bloggery but she am-scrayed.  She had wisely avoided direct contact with me at all cost but had the hindsight to leave behind a few articles on blogging, knowing that I would not stop until I had my answers.  Her answers were…well, extremely helpful.

After reading over her posts, I think I have found a direction to take this pointless mess.  This will be a journal log of my writing endeavors in an effort to build a community create a following of people who like my writing by advertising promoting my published works when they come; as well as a mini-publisher digital release of some of my daily prattlings.  There,  I think that’s enough self-contradiction for one paragraph.

Later on in the week, will post some things I’m working on (premise for a book I’m working on, premise of a short story that’s in the works).  What’s that?  Don’t think I’ll have something here tomorrow?  You just come back and see, pal!  I’ll show you, boy-howdy!

Quotes are always a nice way to wrap things up, so here’s one from one of my favorite authors.

“It takes an awful long time to not write a book.”  —  Douglas Adams

I think it’s been long enough…