8.02 / February 2013


listen to this story

He shave in long slow pulls; tighten his face so the blade can’t snare up against the skin of his neck, seventeen inches thick like a bull. He watch himself in a mirror fragment jam up against a knot in a twisted tree, hold fast at the bottom by a vine. Almost nineteen, he ain’t a boy no more, but full-growed.

The fog that morning hang like steam on the back of his hounds when he track deer after first light back home. He think about the grey, crooked finger in his pocket. Not suppose to keep things like that. He know, but he found it. Ain’t taken it. Spot it near the body of that dead VC, reach for it, dust it off and keep it for a souvenir. Finger you point with, near perfect shape.

When he was a kid, his father hit him, most every day, to punish him when he done something wrong; make him tough if he ain’t done nothing. By the time he shot up to fifteen, he punch out a hundred push-ups several times a day, easy as you please, and his stomach ripple hard, like a washboard. His pap could haul off, hit him in the gut much as he want; didn’t hurt no more. Daren’t hit him in the face cause then them folks up at the school get all work up; come round picking and probing. They catch on right off, they see marks and bruises.

He draw another long stroke with his straight razor and imagine he slit his dad’s throat, release a stutter of bright red blood. He smile with his perfect white teeth. The other jarheads laugh at him cause he use a straight razor. “Oatie, you one backward white boy.” Never mind, he carry that sling blade with him all the time, anyways. Only had cause to flip it open once. The sharp edge wink and the other guy back right up. “Jesus Christ, Oatie, we ain’t suppose to kill each other.”

He from hill country Kentucky. He know who he suppose to kill and who he ain’t.  They done tell him all that in Basic. When the sergeant yell at them bout the Spirit of the Bayonet, they all shout back, like it a lot of fun, “To kill, Drill Sergeant, to kill.” Against the chance they is any confusion, the sergeant warn them bout gook children. Them kids smile sweet. Then blow you up, explosives wrapped around their little bodies. “Best thing, little bastards get too close, you waste em right off.”

He stand just shy of five foot nine inches but his square bulk make other men in the unit walk quiet when they round him. He hear them sometime talk low to each other; say he smell wild like a boar. Never dare speak such a thing to his face.

Sometime, he dream he be a wolf with two rows of fangs. Shred a lamb’s throat easy like a cutter slicing through pecan cake. Oatie weren’t ready to die, didn’t think about it; but he was ready to kill.

“Incoming fire,” someone yells.

Oatie, he don’t drop fast enough. He feel fire burn in his belly and look down, see his innards glisten in a hole tore through that stomach he so proud of. Muscles or not, shrapnel did what his dad ain’t never could. Oatie look startle like the time in training when the other grunts coat his underwear with that burning-type cream.

He about to fall; he know it. For a moment, a big idea grab hold of him. He feel numb all over; his arm ain’t doing what he tell it. Gradual, he work his right hand into the pocket of them fatigue pants. He find it and wrap his hand tight around that lump of meat. Slower than snot, he draw it out.

He take that gook finger and heave it into a bush stand in front of him. As he topple toward that crawly, jungly ground, he yell out. “Here that damn finger. Ain’t want it no way.”  Only silence; nobody answer up nothing bout that finger.

Oatie, when he hit the ground, be dead as can be.

The other men in his platoon straggle up and stare with sickish looks. They, too, are ready to kill but not to die. Like Oatie was, a minute ago. Nobody takes their eye off that ugly stomach. Oatie sprawls there like a butchered calf. They watch his insides slither off his body until they become all mixed up in that foreign dirt.

Nobody notices how Oatie looks like a little boy sleeping, too innocent even for nightmares.

Michael Royce is a graduate of Portland’s 2011 Attic Atheneum. His work has appeared in Fringe Magazine, Prime Number Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, The Linnet’s Wing and the Midwest Literary Review. His “Mississippi Freedom Summer in Eight Vignettes” was published in the “Best of the Net 2011.”
8.02 / February 2013