Written by Lucas Pralle
Narrated by Larry Anderson
“So do you want me to suck your dick or what?” asked Lily as she drove her white Corolla down Monroe Street with Sergei contentedly sitting in the passenger seat. They were heading to Sergei’s on the west side of Madison, so Lily could help Sergei with this “problem” of his. Lily quickly looked over at Sergei to see if her last remark had rattled him.
It hadn’t. Sergei blinked a pacific smile and told her to turn on Odana. Lily sighed and, for the first time, gave consideration to the question of whether she was safe in her current situation or not. Lily wasn’t a flowering Versace teacup; she could probably kick the shit out of most guys or girls that she ran into—top in her self-defense class. Well, until she had punched a flowering teacup in the ear and was asked to leave. But what if Sergei was a psycho? He wasn’t that big physically, but what if he had a collection of 15th century Japanese torture devices that he could chop her tits off with, or who knows, a fucking gun and just shoot her in the head and throw her in the sewer.
They arrived at an old house on the outskirts of Madison, and Sergei told Lily to pull into the driveway. She didn’t like the situation that she was in, at all. Lily pulled in and parked.
“You know, Sergei, I think I’m going to call it quits today,” said Lily as Sergei opened his door to get out of the car. She hadn’t unbuckled her seatbelt.
Sergei looked at her, noticing her tense grip on the steering wheel and frowned. “You can trust me.”
“Well, I don’t fucking know that,” said Lily plainly. “You haven’t told me a single thing about what the hell you want from me coming out here. Every time I ask about it, you smile at me like some perverted retard. Now you bring me out here to this.” Lily looked out her windshield at the old brick house, there was a garage with a cracked door—she thought she could make out a set of shackles and a mutant slave. “You’re not getting my tits!” yelled Lily.
Sergei looked at her, stunned. “Okay, wait here and let me bring you something.”
“Fine, you’ve got two minutes.” Lily started the car and crossed her arms as she warily watched Sergei run into the house. She was ready to punch the gas and get the hell out of there and go back to her neurotic mother watching QVC.
Not even a minute later Sergei emerged from the house with a box the size of a telephone book wrapped in red gift paper. There was a purple bow on top. Lily rolled her window down.
“Here, you don’t have to open it now. I just wanted you to have this,” said Sergei, handing the box to Lily.
She scrutinized the package and threw it on the passenger seat. “Thanks,” said Lily before she rolled up her window and backed her car out of Sergei’s driveway. This was all too weird, even for Lily, whose weirdness bar was set quite high, at least that’s what she liked to think. Of course she hadn’t opened the package yet.
Halfway back to her place, Lily decided she couldn’t wait any longer to see what was in the box. There were advantages to opening it early too. If it was something disgusting like a box full of pubes, she wouldn’t have to explain that to Diane and hide it in the trash. If it was a box full of anthrax, she alone would be affected. And if it was something really cool, she could have it all to herself.
Lily pulled into a gas station parking lot, tore the wrapping paper from the box, and opened it.
“You have got to be kidding me,” said Lily, perplexed. She took the cute purple flare jeans that she had paid fifty-seven dollars for out of the box. A slip of paper dropped from the pants onto Lily’s lap.
The note read, “I’m sorry for the delay.”
Lily started her car and headed for Sergei’s.
They had been on the bus for about ten minutes before Nikolas heard the dull whimpering of a boy a few seats ahead of him. They had been instructed to put their heads between their legs. Nikolas’s long hair swathed his face, nuzzled and suffocated him; it was one last motherly embrace.
The bus slowed, rocked lethargically as it passed over some speed bumps, and the kid up front screamed in panicked terror. Nikolas peeked across the aisle.
A Mexican kid was looking back at Nikolas. Their eyes met, and silently they conceded to one another, “Well, this is it,” and a faint smile formed on each of their faces before the bus jerked to a stop. Nikolas could hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs and somebody yelled, “Get the fuck off my bus!”
The young men had officially arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. They all ran out and stood on the yellow footprints painted on the sidewalk while drill instructors straightened their backs and yelled commands into their ears. This was where you got your bones and your brains smashed up into a gelatinous paste and they molded you into a United States Marine like all the cool guys on the posters and the guys on TV holding the flags at opening ceremonies.
It was all a great big ball of vomit, honor, pain, shitting, sweat, fear, glory, anger, piss, determination, frustration, and love. Nikolas had never seen anybody puke on someone else before boot camp, much less several puking on one another while chugging water and exercising and pissing and wanting to kill one another. Marine Corps recruit training was one great big sadomasochistic game where you wagered every basic bodily function and feeling that you had in order to win some prize which you couldn’t even comprehend. Some lost their fucking minds—well, they all lost their fucking minds, but some did more than others.
Nikolas watched a kid piss out the window beside two drill instructors with bulging muscles and the power of god, screaming in the kid’s face while he sang “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” as he pissed. The kid was carried out screaming and Nikolas never saw him again. Nikolas even wondered about his own sanity on occasion. More than a few times he had awakened, standing in the shadowy squad bay, in front of his rack with his M16 chained up behind it, at attention, hours before it was time to get up. He just woke up to find himself standing there in his white briefs, nothing else, at attention with his fists clenched at his sides and his bed even made. Nikolas had no idea how long he had been standing there. One time he awakened, standing there with back straight, to a drill instructor smiling with big white teeth; he didn’t say a word to Nikolas, he just stood there for a minute with Nikolas standing at attention in his underwear in the dark, until the man gingerly touched the brim of his hat in contented affirmation and walked off.
That was boot camp for Nikolas. At the end of it, he was a Marine, and not long after that he learned how to shoot rocket launchers and machine guns and endure a whole lot of pain in the School of Infantry. Fast forward three years past all the broken relationships back home, good times in Tijuana, and all sorts of lessons on killing things in general and you have Corporal Nikolas Veshinski the fire team leader, riding in the passenger seat of a HUMVEE while it drove near the front of a convoy in Haditha, Iraq.
The guy driving the HUMVEE was actually the Mexican guy that looked over at Nikolas on the bus when this all started for them three years prior, Berias. Against all odds, they had managed to stick together through the training and deployments, becoming good friends. Nikolas was the godfather of Berias’s newborn boy, Evan. Up top in the machine gun turret was Haney, and down beneath him in the back was Leslewski and Parner. They were packed in tight, it was hot as hell outside, and they were ready to go home. And then it happened.
A thousand outcomes and more than a thousand different ways of getting there. A mother kissing the velvety head of her child, devoted, the sun warmly embracing them both; rocking horses and untroubled baths; the teapot begins to speak softly.
Time to get the tea.
Oh please God, please don’t let her leave the room; let the water run; the teapot screams loudly now; mother watches child from above, both basked in light.
Please God, please, not now, let it last forever; the teapot screams and sputters senselessly atop the stove; it’s all burning blue steel and violence pushing its contents uncaringly into the air, screaming, while mother and child touch and embrace in the room next door.
Please, not now.
Mother leaves child to tend to the teapot screaming in the kitchen, and the whole world comes undone. There is an explosion.
At least Nikolas imagines that it must have been an explosion later on. It was more like a sudden, unspeakable rearrangement. He had been there sitting in the passenger seat one moment and it was like a flash, a rift; things crossed over and changed in a way that they shouldn’t have.
For one, Haney’s legs went from normal legs that you could play basketball with, ones that bent only a certain way at the knees, to twisted, purple and yellow things that writhed and thrashed like fish thrown in a blender. Haney was standing in the turret one moment and the next his bluish face with his red lips were whispering, “I’m all outta change, bud, hey bud can I borrow some change” into Nikolas’s ear.
The inexplicable transformations didn’t end there. No, the other two in the back, the two that had told jokes through their mouths and had kissed girlfriends and sang drunken songs in the streets of San Diego, they no longer had mouths; they were singing a different kind of song through lacerated lungs and broken windpipes. It was if they now had a hundred mouths that all screamed, gushing blood, packets of meat singing in the choir.
Perhaps Berias had the most interesting rearrangement. Because not only were his legs now twisted and thrashing up and down like a pair of pistons, but Berias was on fire. He had taken up slapping his face with the broken tendons and bone that were his hands while his skin blackened beneath him and his blood boiled, all the while joining the high-pitched maniac song of Haney, Leslewski, and Parner.
That was how Nikolas came to know the great rearrangement and was what he carried in his mind every moment of every day after. Somehow, Nikolas’s body wasn’t changed by any of this, just his brain. Two weeks later Nikolas entered a dusty house with his new team in Haditha, and the great rearrangement was completed.
It had all started innocently enough, as honest as things can go in a warzone, a place where you want nothing more than to kill or not be the one that is killed. It was there, in a dark room with a man and a woman, their hands on top of their heads and facing the wall, the middle of the whole wide universe where Nikolas was standing when he was suddenly gripped by the great rearrangement.
He could hear the wet screams, smell the iron of the burning blood; Lewslewski flopping around in an orgasmic quandary of flesh while Haney played a song on the fiddle, and they all howled at the divinity of it.
Nikolas pulled his pistol from his holster and put the tip of it at the base of the man’s skull. The couple began to cry softly and there was the thick push of shit into the man’s pants. Nikolas pulled the trigger and the top of the man’s skull came off like the top of a pumpkin, and before the husband had time to hit the ground, Nikolas pressed the barrel of his pistol against the woman’s heart with all of the care in the world, and fired.
The other marines came running just in time to watch Corporal Nikolas Veshinski face them, with his 9mm in his own mouth, and fire a bullet that passed through his own brain and his own skull, where it stopped on the underside of his kevlar, a leaden heap.
And there Nikolas was in spectral dream neverending: standing at the end of his rack at attention in the dark, with his fists clenched at his sides and him in his underwear, not knowing how long he had been standing there; and the drill instructor standing before him smiled, touched the brim of his hat, and walked off into the deathless night.