|Autumnal Equinox 2001|
Edward R. Rosick is a writer and physician living in central Pennsylvania. He has had numerous short stories published in both magazines and e-zines, including Mystic Fiction, The Orphic Chronicle, and Bloodtype: A Hardcore Horror Anthology. His first novel, a science fiction/medical thriller entitled Crimson Tears of Autumn Leaves, will be published as an e-book this fall by Hard Shell Word Factory publications. His web site is www.sfwa.org/members/rosick.
Damn, shure was hot twoday, don't care what anyone saz I think the damn ohzone really has had it. Heat waves was every-where, jumping like children on a hot assfault road. Wasn't for the damn heat I could have focused better on oldman Wertman, and if I could have focussed better I would have got a cleen shot stead of a messy gut shot. Damn old man is probabely going to be screaming all damn nite, maybe even the next day he is a pretty strong old man. Shure does not help my headaches, hearing him screaming, if bullets were not so hard to cum bye I would finish the job for shure I would. Maybe I would even shut up his damn wife, old lady Wertman, sometimes she screams so loud at me, she screams "Dick yu are a Crazie Sum-Bitch!"
I really wish she would learn knot to swear so damn much.
I think I shot Robert. Has it now come to ethereal nightmares with me to guess which are real and which aren't? But I guess it really doesn't matter now, when my friend is laying with two make-shift I.V. lines of expired dextrose and plasma dripping into his cachectic arm, for all the damn good it will do him. If only I had a tenth of my old office equipment, a portable CAT scanner, just a few of my toys that were so easy to take for granted. . .but that's as good as wishing for gasoline or television. Or my Sharon. I would give my soul to have her back at my side. Trouble is, I lost what was left of my soul a long time ago.
Robert died yesterday. A man I loved as a friend, hell, at times as a father, turned into a purulent shell as I stood over him and watched helplessly.
I've tried to stay drunk since then, downing two pints of my Jack Daniels stock which I wanted to save for any emergency surgeries I might have to perform. Guess my patients (what few there are anymore) will have to just be a little more stoic. I mean, hell, how painful can it be to have someone cut through your gastrocnemius, fibula and tibia with a rusted hack saw under no type of anesthetic?
I wish with all my heart I could make someone, anyone tell me the truth about what I fear most since Sharon left my life. The way Robert's wife Mary looked at me, those cold blue eyes of hers never wavering, never watering while I told her there was nothing more I could do for Robert (as if there really was anything I could do). But she never says what I know she really feels. None of them ever say. Maybe they're too scared, maybe they say nothing because I'm the only doctor within a hundred (hell who knows anymore, maybe a thousand) mile radius they tolerate such unholy madness now and then.
I need another drink.
Boy ohboy people are shure gettin strange around hear. Ferst I keep hearing from oldlady Wertman what a prick her husband is so I shot him and waste a good bullit, and now she is realley mad at me, but I do not really care because I still remember it was them who kilt and ate my dog. Then I go too see Jenny tooday and she says we can not fuck anymore cause it isn't rite. Sometimes I think she thinks maybe she is uglee cause all her teeth have fallen out, but that is ok with me I still think she is prettie and I told her but she still said it isn't rite.
I plane just donnut understand too meny things anymore. I asked her, I says "well then what is rite?" She did not answer me so I guess I got even more up-set. I asked her if she thout it was rite that no one had enuf food anymore and were eattin things like kats and dogs, and I even heard that Mary-Anns baby was stole and eaten by some rovers. I asked her if if she thout it was rite that if you stayed in the rain sometimes your skin wood turn yellow and get blisters and smell reel bad. I asked her if she thout it was rite that armee troups cum thru town and say they was lookin for terists and rovers, but really they just wanted to steal food or kill people, but then she started criein and I remembered that her yunger sister had been fuked by a whole bunch of armee troups and I figured maybe that is why she didn't want too be with me anymore. I asked her this and she started to cry even harder and then ran out of her house even thou it was rainin outside.
Maybe I will cum by tomorow and see if she wants to fuk, but maybe she will smell too bad from the rain so maybe I will not.
It's a little disconcerting to wake up with the world's worst hangover and find out more than two weeks have passed by. Unless of course my watch has fucked up like everything else in this rotten world. But I think I can be reasonably sure it's the middle of September, since the leaves have fallen off the trees, what trees are left, and the temperature is down into the chilly eighties.
God, what has happened to us? What has happened to me? In the span of half a lifetime the universe has pulled itself inside out and convoluted into a Mobius strip with no order, no peace, and certainly no love.
And the best, the very best part is that we did it to ourselves. Oh sure, we tried to create monsters, enemies to blame, but in the end, it was only us. What came first they will ask in the future, if there is one, the droughts or the wars? I'd lay my money on the droughts. Five years, or ten, or maybe even twenty, although the details don't seem to matter anymore, just many long years and the great American breadbasket of the world turned into a big pile of sand. Guess we shouldn't have sucked those aquifers dry, eh boys? Suddenly the world was a very hungry place, a very angry place to be.
But such news is old world history. It can be placed right beside the news of the Sino-Russian Federation war, which threw millions of tons of radioactive waste in the atmosphere for the world to share. It can be placed right beside the second American civil war, seeded in the hopeless inner-cities of all major urban areas and spreading to the states with water, the states still able to produce food, against the states now part of the new "great" American desert. Or like us, the states just in the middle of it all. It can be placed in the still ongoing war between Mexico and what's left of the U.S. Army, scattered battles being fought for a cause lost to all those fighting it.
So much has changed. I remember Robert and I on his front porch, sipping iced tea and watching the sunset, which due to the dust kicked up from the nuking of Mexico City was a myriad of rich, vibrant colors. I don't remember what we were talking about, but suddenly his face grew ashen and old. I remember how that scared me, not just because of his infamous temper, but how I knew he could, well, almost feel things more clearly then any other person I've ever known except Sharon. Anyway, I asked him what was wrong. He stood up and looked down at me, those cold, green eyes of his glazed with tears, and spoke in a cracking whisper.
"We're looking at death out there, Richard, we're looking at death and all we see are the pretty colors. We've had all the signs shown to us, shouted at us by God, by nature, by whomever you want to believe has a hand in this whole thing, and all we've ever seen is the pretty colors."
I remember I was afraid for him, of him, feeling perhaps he was having a seizure or stroke. He finally walked into the house, and I could hear his quiet sobs as he opened up the lock on the liquor cabinet. At the time, I didn't gave much thought to his words, didn't ask him and never tried to decipher what he was trying to convey. But in these last years, time has been a commodity I've had a lot of, and during that time I've heard those words over and over again in my mind like a bad recording that I can't shut off.
Will this nightmare ever end? Was it just a dream those long years ago, the long, grueling hours spent in medical school and internship, trying to be somebody that could do some good in this terrible world? But I spend too much time thinking, questioning the past, since the past is dead. As is all it carries in it.
Yet at times I feel I am destined to live in that past, or at least re-live its worst manifestations. It seems every night now I dream of the red whirlwind, a tornado from hell itself sucking up my wife and son into its hungry maw, then pulling up more and more of the world until there's only complete darkness, and then the darkness itself is swallowed up, leaving only a blanket of void, an eternal emptiness which constitutes my world. Always after awakening from this nightmare I wonder if it's all just another part of my mind going insane, or if in fact a true whirlwind of insanity has sweep everything good away.
But reality or insanity, I still realized I had to face up to the fact that sooner or later I would have to make my quarterly trip into town. And I almost had myself convinced that I could do it this time without the use of alcohol when I heard Todd Kumen's horse voice crying through my door.
"Dr. Rallins?" he screeched over and over again, his one good hand pounding on thin sheet metal. I walked slowly over to the door and unlocked it, letting the small, unkempt boy scurry in like a rabbit hiding from the hounds.
I had delivered Todd Kumen seven years ago. His mother, Monica Kumen, still blamed me for his malformations. He was born with no right hand, just a small, dark, oval-shaped stump from his shoulder with four misshapen fingers protruding from the mass. Todd was a thin, quiet boy who was also mentally-retarded, not that it really mattered anymore. After his birth, Monica ceased associating with me, although her husband, Joseph, still would come around now and then, and I would do my best to provide him with free medicine for his only son.
"My, my dad sez you should come to our house right away," Todd said. "My mom is havin problems havin her baby."
I had heard during my last visit to town that Monica was pregnant. I didn't pay all that much attention to the news, since the few pregnancies that happened usually ended up in spontaneous abortions. But now she had carried it to term, and was having problems. . . I squatted down next to Todd and asked if he knew what problems his mom was having. He shook his head vigorously from side to side, then with what I can only guess was a great act of courage on his part, stepped forward and grabbed my arm with his one good hand. "My dad sez we need to get there real quick." While part of me wanted to turn my back to him, keep up my well-built defenses around a past I so desperately wanted to forget, I finally acquiesced to his pleas.
Todd and his family lived two miles east, on the edge of the encroaching desert. I grabbed my medical satchel, hoped I still knew how to deliver a baby, and stepped outside. Almost as an afterthought I realized I had not left the house since Robert died.
We half-walked, half-ran the distance to their house. I found myself staring at the small eddies of sand kicked up by Todd's feet while he ran ahead of me, watched the dark, oily crystals float momentarily in the air, some floating so high up I could almost taste them. I tried hard not to think of what that sand used to be.
We entered the front door of their house, Todd's father Joseph pacing back and forth on the hard wooden floor. My first thought upon seeing him was how old he looked, his eyes shrunken and face gaunt. As he gazed back at me, I realized I probably presented the same stark picture.
With almost forgotten civility he extended his hand. "I didn't know if you'd come," Joseph said, his voice low and shaking. "But my Mona, she's in bad shape, Doc, and I was so scared for her, so scared."
I patted him on the shoulder as I felt my heart began to quicken and my palms began to sweat. How long had it been since I had done this? In my own tired memory it felt like an eternity.
A soul-piercing scream from Monica brought me out of my daze and I turned to go into the room. Before I could walk in, Joseph stepped in front of me and grabbed my shoulder. "I'm sorry, Doc," he said, his voice low and scared, "but, but I didn't know if you was comin, and someone had to be with her, so I'm really sorry but Sarah Miller is in there."
Sarah Miller. That was a name I hadn't heard in a long, long, time. I looked at Joseph and I could tell he was going to start on again about how sorry he was, so I waved him off, took a long, deep breath, and opened the door.
Standing over Monica, who was laying on the bed with her legs open impossibly wide, was Sarah. She had just appeared one day, come into town after things had pretty much gone to hell, and had gotten the people together and built the New Revelation Assembly, sort of an amalgam of church, feeding hall, and squatters camp. In its heyday there were probably over a hundred people living there, and for a while, after Sharon and Andy, I had gone there a couple times, telling myself it was to see if I could lend a hand with any medical problems. Mostly I think I went because she looked so much like Sharon, same fine, blond hair, same full red lips, but her eyes. . . while Sharon's held laughter and life, Sarah's were cold and empty, a chimerical vacuum which could be anything you wanted them to be, needed them to be. And I guess during those times I had a lot of need.
Sarah glanced up at me, her eyes registering nothing, then bent back down over Monica, who was emitting high-pitched moans. One small, gray hand stuck grotesquely out of her vagina, and each contraction would cause it to swing wildly in the air. Monica already had a large tear in her perianal area, blood pooling like a tiny dark-red lake on the dirty sheets.
Sarah finally looked over at me and smiled, and she looked so damn much like Sharon that it brought back a dark flood of memories that I didn't need to remember.
"We don't need you," Sarah said smugly, her hands tight against Monica's pubis, "it's gonna be a fine child from God and we don't need your stain of sin upon it."
Monica pushed herself up on her elbows and looked up at me with huge, frightened eyes set deep in her bloodless face. "Richard," she muttered, her voice shallow and rapid, "I can't seem to get it out, I can't seem to push and it's hurtin so much an--" She suddenly pushed her head back hard into her pillow, like she was having a great orgasm. Aloud, primeval scream escaped from her lips as that tiny arm frantically thrashed in the air and there was anything but pleasure in the scene.
Sarah seemed oblivious to all the pain, or perhaps she was just reveling in it as she cooed into Monica's ear and grotesquely continued with her small, circular motions on Monica's pubis. Maybe it was my exhaustion, or maybe I was just losing more of what was left of my mind, but I felt a great swell of hate, pure, uncensored hate in my gut. I walked over to Sarah, leaned over her and pushed a greasy lock of hair back, and bent so close that I could see thick green clumps of cerumen lining the inside of her ear while I whispered into it.
"You move away, Sarah, move over to the corner of the room and kept your damn mouth shut, because if you don't, I'm going to pull a scalpel out of my bag, slit your neck from ear to ear, and watch while you drown in your own sour blood."
Her face turned quite white as she practically fell over herself moving away from the bed.
"Monica, we're going to get this baby out, you and me, okay?" I told her, grabbing a half-empty bottle of isopropyl alcohol out of my bag to clean up with, not that sterility meant much these days. I tried to control my shaking hands while I knelt beside the bed, the odor of the alcohol stinging my nostrils. Slowly, carefully, I tried to get one hand inside Monica, trying to unwrap the umbilical cord which I knew was choking the life from her unborn child. I pushed inside her vagina further and felt flesh and mucosa tear, but then felt the child's head as I managed to get one finger between the cord and its neck just as another one of Monica's contractions gripped my wrist.
Over my shoulder I could feel Sarah's cold stare, could hear Joseph's quick, sharp breathing as I hoped, maybe even prayed that I hadn't lost all of my skills. I tried to reach back, to grab onto memories of when I still believed in the goodness of life, tried to remember the words from my internship.
(While applying continuous outward pressure with the left hand apply firm but gentle pressure with two fingers of the right hand on the fetal maxilla which will assist in maintaining appropriate flexion of the fetal vertex to gain unobstructed airway access. . . )
I somehow worked half the body out, the baby's tiny mouth trying to open and gasp some precious air. Bending down, my neck at an impossible angle and my right hand still halfway inside Monica, I placed my mouth over the baby's mouth and began sucking out its mother's mucous and blood which clogged its airway. I was only dimly aware of Sarah's screams of protest as I tried to prevent myself from vomiting from the bitter, salty taste of the viscous fluid in my mouth. Just as the child began to cry in ragged, short gasps I felt Monica contract against my hand again. A large volume of bloody amniotic fluid gushed out into both the baby's and my mouth, and as I began gagging I knew that I had to deliver it soon.
(After you have secured the umbilical cord gently deliver the left arm and rotate the body counterclockwise then deliver the right shoulder and arm maintaining elevation of the trunk for unobstructed delivery of the lower extremities)
Summoning the remainder of her strength, Monica gave one last exhausted push and in the span of a heartbeat, her newborn son was in my hands. For a moment, for just a brief, fleeting moment, I believed in miracles again as I gazed at a fat, healthy-appearing baby boy, squirming and crying and full of joyful life.
He died ten minutes later, with no apologies and no explanations, just looked at me, closed his eyes, and quit breathing. I tried CPR for over an hour. As it seems with everything else in this stinking, corrupt world, it did absolutely no good at all.
I walked out into the living room, the thick smell of blood and the harsh sound of Monica's dry sobs permeating the dusty air. Joseph sat woodenly by his ham radio, as he did every Thursday for a long as I had known him, and like every other Thursday when the clock struck eight, he turned it on. I assumed he usually heard only static, and that's mainly what was being transmitted that night. Except in the background, like a choir of dark angels in a heaven far, far away, the word "army" kept floating over the static.
"Do you think you're ready for that army?" Sarah questioned, standing in the bedroom doorway, and she was smiling, a huge, hungry smile. "Because it's just not an army of men, it's the army that God has sent to punish us all, an army just like the one he told Ezekiel about." She suddenly spread her arms open wide, and I wanted to just leave, wanted to return to my own quiet abode, but she was still good, and I stood transfixed as she began her mad sermon.
"And suddenly there was a rattling noise from all across the valley, and the bones of each body came together as they used to be, and the tendons and muscles and flesh formed over the bones and skin covered them." She stopped for a moment and walked over toward Joseph, then bent down to Todd who was holding tight onto his father's thigh. "And do you know what happened then?" she asked the terrified boy. Todd just stared at her, slack-jawed and wide eyed, petrified in fear, the same way a mouse must feel just as the cat is bringing down its claw. Finally, after what seemed like hours, she continued on in a very low, controlled voice, still speaking directly at Todd. "God told Ezekiel to call the wind, and say, 'Come from the four winds, O Spirit, and breathe upon these bodies that they may live again,'" and she pursed her lips, those full sensuous lips and blew into Todd's face, and I could see a small stain of urine appear on the front of his pants. Only when she was done exhaling did she finally stand up.
"And Ezekiel did exactly what the Lord told him, and the bodies breathed again," she said, then turned from Todd and his father and pointed a long, thin finger at me. "But this man in your house is a sinner, and the Lord doesn't deal with sinners anymore. This man thought he could do the Lord's work and bring a life into this world, but you all have seen the death he brought to this household. Only through the Lord can you breath life into the dead, and we all saw this man try to breath life back into the newborn son--and he failed."
I don't know how long I walked that night, only remember that it began raining at one time, a hot, sulfur-smelling downpour that raised blisters on my skin and burned my throat when I breathed. All in all, I did not care.
boyohboy I shure hope these headakes go away reel soon cause I have knot felt this bad in a long time. Jennie used to say my headakes were frum me workin to hard, but I think maybe she just wanted to be with me more and I shure wish I could be with her more now, but she has ben so tierd lately but maybee soon we can spend a lot moore time together.
Anyway I went for a wok yesterday or maybe it was two days ego but anyway it was not real fun. First the few people I saw kept callin' me by a funnie name I yoosed two be called I think but I canknot remember. Then I started to go to town to look for a store to buy Jennie somethin because she was not feelin good and I seen all the armee troups and I knew it would not be good. I shure hope Jennie and I can move from hear one day, maybee find sum place that smells good with green grass and woughter that iz knot brown.
Then I thout maybee I should tell Jennie about the armee, but then I remembured that she still did not feel good and still smelt bad from the rain so she would not be cumin to town anyway. Then I remembered that the stores was probebly all closed down because of the armee. I shure hope they can open up soon so I can get Jennie somethin nice so then maybee we can be together again.
I've been conscious for a few hours now, wondering what day it is, wondering what year it is. If I had any strength I would get up and clean my sheets, since they seemed to be stained with bloody clumps of my hair along with vomit, urine and feces. Guess that'll teach me not to go and get radiation poisoning. Sharon, I can almost forgive myself. Almost.
Will miracles never cease. I've actually been able to get out of bed for the last couple days without bursting open the large sores which covered most of my body. This miraculous act spurred me on into thinking that I could actually go to town without any incidents. Not of course that anything probably made a difference anymore, since the dose of radiation I received from the rain was certainly fatal, yet I had made the plans out of habit, since habits were all that I really had left.
The walk to town used to be enjoyable, just over a mile traversing gently-rolling hills, which some years were planted with wheat, other years with corn. Sharon would walk it almost every day, bringing Andy to see me at the office. Even when the bad times started she still came, Andy smiling as he always did. I wonder how long it's been since I've smiled.
Just before I came upon the remnants of the church, I stumbled over a rotting wooden plaque reading Sornville, IN, Home of the 2001 Class C Basketball champions. Sornville--I looked at it in total mystery for a moment, for I could not place the name to my town. It scared me. Then I realized perhaps the plaque had blown in from somewhere else, just another cruel joke on my sanity. Or my insanity. The saddest part is I doubt if it matters.
But insane or not, traditions die hard, and although the few charred remains of the church weren't much, they still represented the last time in my life I really gave a damn about anything, my life at the top of the list. It was almost touching how the vandals left alone the few remaining steel rafters which arched out of the ground in crazy angles. I guess old stories about death and madmen can deter thieves even in these days.
The small headstone I had engraved was face down. I almost left it that way. Seeing their names, the memories would come, and with the memories would come the pain. When I finally turned it over, and saw the roughly-etched names of Sharon Jennifer Rallins and Andrew Christopher Rallins, I felt my tears fall in those memories and in that pain. Pain which time could never ease or erase.
I stayed for only a few moments, then moved onward. Soon I could see them in the distance, not actually the shapes but their shadows and reflections of the hazy morning sun off dirty steel. They encircled the town, a division of the great American army, secure in their shiny APC's and monstrous phallic tanks, every one of them wagging their guns around just hoping for someone to sneeze wrong. As I trudged past them, I thought maybe they would ask for some ID, some harassment to show their power. All they did was look at me with tired eyes and motioned me past.
It was once a thriving downtown, shops and stores fueled by money from government-subsidized farms, by upper-middle class whites who fled the cities to rural enclaves of Aryan togetherness. Even now it still held a few glimpses of those days, of happy families and isolationist dreams that we thought were immune from the decay of the outside. I guess some dreams just die a faster death then others.
I heard the first shot as I was reminiscing where the theater used to be. The sound was low and deep, more like a shotgun then an army rifle, and the scream that came after that was just as loud. A scream that was emanating from Henry Waldmier's store.
"Not again," I said without any voluntary thought, standing motionless in the broken street. For a moment I went blank, a mindless statue as a few other people scattered like headless chickens. Then, like a sudden summer rainstorm, the memories came back, of how I was once witness to the rape of Henry's daughter and her husband's murder. I really couldn't recall where or when, just that scene: three soldiers holding Frank on the ground and another cutting him open from pelvis to sternum with a large-bladed knife, then the members of the patrol taking turns methodically ravaging his wife. I watched it all in splendid fright and horror, and when it was finally over, I ran home and performed my now perfected ritual of getting stone drunk.
Maybe it was those memories, or maybe it was because I was just tired of living, but I broke from my trance and ran toward Henry's store, the store from which deep, aching screams were still emanating.
Henry was nailed up, crucified on the back wall. There was two soldiers, the one facing Henry tall and heavy, the one facing the door a small boy of maybe twelve who probably didn't even have a dozen hairs on his balls. What he did have was a K-50 automatic rifle, one which he brought to bear on me, its laser sight dancing crazily across my chest and abdomen.
"Git, git out of here," he ordered in a cracking yell. The older one turned around, cradling a large twelve-gauge streetsweeper in his arms. "Shoot the fuck," he shouted in a high pitched voice, then turned and continued his interrogation of Henry.
"One more time, old man, and this time you better get it right," I could hear him say to Henry, as young soldier number two kept staring at me, probably trying to work up the courage to put two ounces of pressure on the trigger of his rifle. Ugly soldier number one put the business end of the shotgun up to Henry's nose and yelled in Henry's face. "One more time old man: Where-is-the-gold?"
Poor Henry. Rumor had it that when the war started, he had put all his money into U.S. and Canadian gold coins. I had asked him about it one time over a beer. He said he believed it started when he bought a U.S. twenty-dollar gold eagle coin for his grandson's graduation. We both had a good chuckle over the way rumors get started. Neither of us were laughing now.
I started to see Henry's lips move, and so did soldier number one, who moved a little closer, close enough for Henry to spit a wad of saliva and blood on soldier number one's face. I expected an outburst, a beating, but the soldier just smiled. With his index finger he wiped the dark thick liquid from his face and licked it off with a long, serpentine tongue. He was still licking it off as he pulled the trigger of his gun, and from the mouth up Henry's face disappeared in a blast of skin and bone and blood.
Henry's body hung by the nails in his palms as the large soldier turned nonchalantly to soldier number two. "Why is that fuck still alive?" he asked, pointing the barrel of the shotgun toward me. "Didn't I tell you to kill him?" The boy looked down at his dirty boots and began waving his head back and forth.
"I, I know ya did, Charley but I jus wanted to make sure an--"
"An ya gotta learn to listen to me," soldier number one said in his high-pitched pissed off voice, then brought the barrel of his weapon up in a quick sweeping motion to connect with the boy's left temple. He gave a short grunt, then his eyes rolled neatly back in his head and he collapsed on the floor.
"See you around," soldier number one said to me, bringing the barrel of the street-sweeper to my face. I really didn't feel anything, no panic, no fear, no sadness. Even facing my own death the emptiness was still absolute.
Then his jaw dropped, his eyes widened and he lowered the barrel of the gun. I only screamed when I felt the hot, heavy hand land on my shoulder.
"Clean up your mess, boy," the loud, resonant voice boomed, and if I wasn't an atheist I would have believed God himself was standing behind me.
"Yes sir general sir," soldier number one stammered. "I'll have it all done real soon sir, real soon."
"Did the old man have any gold?" the deep voice asked. I realized the question was directed at me.
I turned around then and got my first look at General Rollie Tiberius Davis. He was short, about my height, thin to the point of being gaunt. His skin was dark and oily, and his eyes had the cloudy gaze of cataracts. On first sight he was a thoroughly unimposing figure. Yet he commanded an army. An army composed of men who would crucify others looking for a lost pot of gold.
"The gold?" he spoke again, as if knowing that my mind had wandered away.
"He doesn't, didn't have any gold," I replied as he and I walked out the door into the hot sunlight. "It was just a joke."
"Not for him," General Davis adjusted his hat and placed on mirrored sunglasses. "But shit like that doesn't surprise me around these parts, hell, I'd be surprised if strange shit didn't happen."
"What are you talking about?"
He laughed then, a great hearty laugh which showed off his clean, straight white teeth. "No offense, Doctor Rallins, but this here town is just plain-A fuckin weird. For instance, we were here--" he took off his glasses and looked off in the distance, his eyes getting small and hard, "sometime ago. I don't rightly remember just how long, but things just weren't right. I mean, machines in perfect repair breaking down, men going off and doing crazy things. I don't know, sometimes I think maybe them egghead scientists were right about the spreading of the Chaos Loci."
A sweeping sense of deja-vu flooded my senses, actually making me nauseous and weak. I blinked hard to try and regain my equilibrium while the general continued on with his ramblings.
"Yes sir, right now I have almost half my armored cavalry unit down, which is makin my boys pretty damn itchy, let me tell ya. Ya see, doc, we're headin south to hook up with our brother units in Nashville, then turning to the South-west to finally kick the damn Mexicans out of Texas once and for all."
I stood quiet for a moment, trying to figure him out, trying to make some sense of all the madness I had just seen and heard. "Ah, General, if I may ask, what was that part about a Chaos?"
"Chaos Loci, Doc. I don't rightly know much about it, except it seemed to be scaring the hell out of the suit's back at the provincial capitol. Truth is, they were so damn frightened that our supposed primary mission was to try and actually map these things."
"Yeah! Hell, Doc, I'm a general of one of the last great fightin machines in the world, and they wanted me to go out and map! All they told me, me of course being only a one star-general and them idiots being genius bureaucrats and scientists, all they told me was that there had been an accident, no, they said there had been an incident, that's the word they used, incident, at some Idaho testing site, and that this incident was spreading, and that we was supposed to find the areas it was spreading to, map 'em out and then neutralize these areas with whatever means possible. They even sent along a dozen or so of their top brains to make sure us stupid soldiers could get the job done."
I didn't want to ask any further questions. What little he had already said struck too close to home. My home. And of course I asked anyway.
"So what happened?" he rhetorically said, putting back on his sunglasses. "Nothin' happened, Doc, just as I figured. Those damn scientists they sent with us got themselves killed in a minor skirmish we had with some rovers in Montana and that was that. Chaos Loci my ass. The world's jus changing, Doc, just like it did when Rome was besieged by the barbarians, and now it's my job to make sure this country doesn't suffer the same fate."
I stood next to him for a few seconds longer, trying to comprehend the immensity of what he had said, trying to piece it together with my own personal hell. As always, it was a waste of time. Turning to walk away, a deep stabbing pain exploded in my lower abdomen, dropping me to my knees and causing me to vomit my breakfast, along with a copious amount of blood.
"Don't want to worry ya, Doc, but you look only a couple steps away from joining that ol' shopkeeper an Jesus."
I slowly got off my hands and knees and looked up at General Davis. Looked hard into his sunglasses, at a reflection of a man who was too stubborn and stupid to realize he had died in the memories of smoldering cordite and dry tears a long time ago.
"Here, let me give ya a hand," he offered, lifting me onto my feet and offering a yellow-stained handkerchief. "So I guess you're probably wondering how I know your name," he remarked while I wiped sand and vomit out of my beard.
Actually that was not my first question, but I nodded anyway.
"I was asking around town where I could find a doctor, seein as how mine got eviscerated a while ago by some rovers. My men need a doctor and personally, I got this nasty-shit ulcer condition. Anyway, it's been acting up somethin' powerful, and I need to get me some medicine."
If I hadn't been feeling so sick I would have laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Me, dying of radiation poisoning, being requested to help a lunatic General, so he and his 'army' could continue their fun and games while the country, hell maybe the entire world was being twisted and warped by these government-sponsored Chaos Loci.
"I really don't think I can help you out, General," I said. He smiled, a thin, humorless smile and turned abruptly on his heals, snapping his fingers loudly at a small boy standing near one of the broken-down APC's. "Bring me a sack-bag," the General said in loud, neutral voice, and the boy scurried into the machine. A few seconds later he came out and ran over to us, carrying a large burlap bag.
Saying nothing, the General untied the bag, sending thick, redolent odors of rotting meat into the air. The small boy's eyes widened with a mixture of fear and anticipation as Davis reached in the bag.
"We get these from the rovers, Mexicans, and other malcontents which we have to deal with in our struggle for democracy," he remarked. I fought to keep down another rising column of vomit. "Now, to some it might seem a bit cruel," he continued, "but this is war, a war for America, an by God I feel that gives us the right, maybe even the duty to do whatever it takes."
He brought his hand out, and for a small man he had big hands with long, sinewy fingers. Fingers which held a man's testicular sack.
"Whenever we waste some of the Mexs Northern outposts, I always have my boys scatter a few bags of these around, just sorta let the brownies who come back know what's in store for them." As he spoke he rolled the sack around his palm while the boy watched, transfixed and salivating.
"Found this little monkey a couple towns back," he said, nodding toward the child. "He doesn't talk but with so few women around he knows how to make my boys happy. Ya know what makes him happy, Doc?"
I wanted to say no, scream no! Instead I stood mute and transfixed.
The General nonchalantly threw the putrefied testicle in the air, which the boy caught in his hand like a baseball player making an easy out. Standing with unblinking eyes, the boy only moved when the general gave a small nod of his head, sending the boy scurrying off carrying the prize, his face alive with insane pleasure.
"Ain't that the sickest shit you ever did see?" the General chuckled as the boy sat in the cool shade underneath the APC, his mandibles working furiously on their prize. "The little shit loves, just plain loves chewin on them things, hell one night I seen the boys feed him damn near a hole burlap bag full."
"Are you trying to make a point here, General?" It was a sharp question, one which was born of my revulsion and fed by my disgust. "No, Doc, no point at all," he answered, turning to face me, "except that it's a crazy world out there, and who knows, on your way back home you make just find your own balls added to that collection."
It was a point-blank threat for my dubious medical help. I didn't hesitate an instant. "Can you be over to my place in a couple days, General? I've just remembered of some ulcer medication I have stored away."
"That's damn good of' ya, Doc, damn good," he said, smiling a wide, easy smile, "and hell, I'll have a couple of my boys escort ya part way back to make sure no rovers get ya." He offered his hand, and I hesitated, only for an instant, then shook, his skin still slick and warm. On the long walk home I contemplated quite seriously cutting my hand off.
I had a bad dreem last nite that the angels took Jennie away. I was so scaired I went out to sea her but then I could knot remember where she is an I got even more scared. Maybee it it because of migh headakes they just have ben geting wurse an wurse. I remember when I used too get them Jennie would rub my neck until they would go all away but that was a long tyme ago when I could remember things. I shure hope she will maybee cum over to see me so that I know four shure that the angels did knot take her away because if they did then I want them too take me away two.
It took me longer then I thought it would to find the gun. Perhaps it should have come as no surprise, as I passed out at least three times on the walk home, and have been in and out of consciousness ever since.
Hopefully the General will still make his visit, hate to have gone to all the trouble finding and cleaning such a fine weapon. Not that I have a hell of a lot of other things to do with my time, fleeting as it may be.
It still holds so much anguish, so much doubt. Of all the things, of all the memories I have lost, I can recall with perfect precision that day. . . our argument about my drinking, about how I had forgotten to go get Andrew food because I had been drunk. Of all the inane things to fight about, I mean, Sharon had always born my alcoholism with stoic resignation. She should have known it was Friday, which meant the beginning of my weekend binge. But she insisted on going to town, of walking, damnit, Sharon you shouldn't be walking anymore with all that is going on, but she went anyway, with Andrew snapped securely in his backpack while I lay on the couch, promising I would go get the formula bright and early the next morning. Then that afternoon the rain, the first yellow, stinking burning rain straight from hell, of calling our local coward police and how they were afraid to go out, afraid of the rain, afraid of the rovers. She had tried to find sanctuary in the church, they had locked the doors, oblivious to her pounding, to the cries of my son. . . I found her on the steps, her fists bloody, broken stumps, her skin burned down to the dermis, Andrew a small smoldering sack of stinking flesh alive enough to scream. I used two bullets on them, two to shoot out the lock, and the rest to kill the priest, two nuns and their three dogs and cats.
My only regret at the time as I set fire to the church was that I had not saved a bullet for myself.
It's good to see useless pomp and circumstance still survive. The general arrived in a bright and shiny APC, followed by three jeeps packed with heavily-armed soldiers. One of them knocked on my door, and it took me a good three minutes to crawl off my couch and answer it. I had been laying there for most of the time since I had been to town, trying to piece together what the General had alluded to concerning his Chaos Loci and the insane state of my life for who-knows how long. In a perverse way, I found it almost funny that the same western technology and thought which had given me a medical education and medical technology for the ages to marvel at had perhaps developed a means, a weapon for containing and projecting chaos. Although from what the General said, the bottle which contained the chaos genie didn't prove to be very sturdy.
But there were other parts, other thoughts which I had in my half-delirium which I didn't find very funny. Thoughts of how perhaps this technology had taken from me, hell maybe from everyone on the planet our love, our hope for a stable future for ourselves, and more importantly, our children. How maybe it had replaced all the good which we hoped for, which at one time in my life I worked for and believed in, with darkness and mindless savagery. With people like the ones standing at my door.
"General Davis is here," the thin, ragged-looking soldier said in a low, pedantic voice, his comrades milling around the house, perhaps looking for non-existent rovers, perhaps just seeing what they could steal. I had my gun strapped underneath my robe, and hoped that they wouldn't search me. They didn't.
"Doc, you look like you need some medical help yourself," the General observed as I stepped out into the hot morning sun. "If your skin was anymore yellow you could pass for a fuckin gook."
"Just a little under the weather," I replied, handing him a cracked green pill bottle. "Cimetidine. Take one in the morning, one at night and you should be all set."
"Much appreciated, Doc," he nodded, unscrewing the cap. "Ya got anything to wash one of these down with?"
I handed him my last bottle of Jack Daniels I had in my pocket, and he looked at me quizzically for a second. "Don't worry," I lied, "this won't hurt you as long as your taking your meds."
He popped the pill in his mouth and drank deeply from the bottle. "'Preciate this, doc," he said. "Hell, with trying to get things together to head West I'll need a case of this to get me through."
"Worrying about the Mexicans?" I asked, using my own words to stay conscious and halfway focused.
"I'm tellin you, those crazy brownies are driving me crazy. Plus those damn politicians think it's so damn easy fightin em. I say bullshit, why, with just stones and sticks their Aztec ancestors damn near defeated the Spanish. Hell, with guns and tanks they're downright nasty."
"You sound worried."
"Hell no," he said, false bravado lacing his voice, "not worried. Just concerned that the damn New Provincial Government is holding back weapons on us. They only gave us a couple dozen nuke artillery shells and said we was supposed to use them just to take out those damn Chaos Loci sites. Hell, don't they realize you can't fight a real war without the proper armaments?"
"Yes, I suppose it's hard to do your job without the right equipment," I consoled him as my vision began to narrow and my head began to pound furiously.
He nodded and took another long draw of the bourbon and looked off in the distance, his mirrored sunglasses reflecting nothing. "Ya know, doc, deep down part of me is really looking forward to mixing it up with those brownies. I heard those crazy bastards lost over a quarter million men in a single battle back in the early days of the war. No brains but a lot a stones, hell even a couple nukes lobed in the middle of em just pissed em off, like hittin a hornets nest with a big stick."
He took off his sunglasses and smiled, and was still smiling as I placed my pistol against his temple and pulled the trigger. Even then the smile never left what remained of his face as blood and brain blew out the side of his skull onto the dry, dusty ground. As the gunshot continued to ring in my ears I felt no remorse, no sadness over taking of a human life.
Perhaps I had been wrong all this time in not accepting the dark facet of my broken psyche. Maybe in such crazie daze he's the real Dr. Rallins and I'm the out-of-place anomaly. The thought brought a tired smile to my face, a smile which I kept even as the general's troops surrounded me like a pack of wild dogs circling a wounded deer, a smile which I kept even as they began beating me into peaceful unconsciousness with their rifle butts.
I wunder if anyone is ever going to let me out of hear. It's hard to remember the last time I had any food too eat or water to drink but I no it has ben a long tyme. Maybee I should try again to ask one of the men who woks outside and above the hole I am in, but my whole mouth herts when I trigh to speek or when I just tuch it. Anyway thay have seemed preety scaired latelee I don't know why though. Jennie has not cum by either, I am so scared that she has went away fourever an forgotten about me butt I will never forget about her because I luv her very much, and maybee if I just prey a litle bit harder she will cum to get me. December 24 I think everywon iz gone except four a few pepole who have realee dark tans and talk funny which makes mee sad, because they look down at me in this hole witch is getting pretty smelly and sumtymes even throw me some food or water but still won't let mee out. Maybee they will let me out when they are not so bizee running around and yelling and shoting there guns. I hope soo cuz I feel bad an em afraid I am dieing, but then maybee that will not be so bad cuz then I can get to be with Jennie fourever.
It was shure damn kold twoday but I did not mind too much cause migh new friends let me sit by the fire with them, an even though I can not understand them theigh are still nice to be with. Theigh still keep calling me med-ah-coo, I do not no why but I do not mind cuz theigh give me food and water an stuff which helps the sores in my mouth.
The babee Jesus iz doin OK an brethin jus fine on his own now. Maybee he is not the babee Jesus, butt I think he iz since he was born on Chrismis day witch was the same day my knew friendz got me out of the hole an started callin me med-ah-coo an braut me the baby Jesus who was all blue and not really breathin. I was knot afraid cause I know alot of medical stuff frum sumwear, an so I just breathed some air into him an he started kaughfin and breathin an then everyone started shouting and laufing an being my friend.
Anyweigh I think I will stay with my new friends even though I think theigh are going too bee leaving soon. I do knot know wear they are going, but I think maybee it wood be good for me to go somewear new like me an Jennie used to talk about. I think maybee she iz with the angels now, so if I stay with my knew friendz I can ask the babie Jesus when he can talk if maybee he can help me talk two her sumtime. I still miss her every day an I think since I helped save him he could maybee help me, an then even though things are really crazie I will knot bee so sad.
I shure hope I remember when I finally get too talk too him not to swear so damn much.
© 2001 Edward R. Rosick, all rights reserved
Autumnal Equinox 2001 Issue, Updated May 21, 2002
BLOOD ROSE is Copyright © M. W. Worthen.