The following is an excerpt from On Assimilation: A Transition from War.
Published in 2022 by Dead Reckoning Collective
A lone drop of sweat rolls down the back of my neck and joins the pool beneath my body armor. My faded brown t-shirt clings to my skin, nearly soaked. The air, sticky and hot. We walk, single file, through the desert night. We walk beneath the moonlit shadows of palm leaves. We move like a rattlesnake, twisting silent through the brush. M4 fangs, elongated with suppressors. Vigilant. Hunting. A dog yaps in the distance. A scent of smoldering. A dinner fire, reduced now in the midnight to soft whimpering coals.
Two men sleep in the fig orchard on the far side of the village. They’d left the village each night this week and laid beneath the trees with their rifles. We knew this because we’d watched them, every night, on a grainy black and white flatscreen TV from our operation center. Silently, we advance to their position.
The platoon halts. The point man takes a pair of bolt cutters from his pack and cuts away at the fence blocking our path. One by one, we duck through the hole. The world is green and depthless.
The heel of my boot kisses the ground softly. The outer edge rolls through the soil, then presses through the toe with intention, the way my father taught me when hunting javelin in thick brush. Breathing is even, matching the steps. Heart rate is slightly elevated, yet calm and steady.
I can feel my friend Allen move ahead. He halts. He must have found them. A brief rustle of leaves, then zip-zip, zip-zip. I recognize the sound. That’s a suppressed M4 being discharged in the dead desert night. I rush to Allen’s position.
I accidentally run into his green back. Two men at his feet. AK47s laying on their chests, bandoliers filled with grenades hanging from the branch above each of their misshapen heads. The skulls look like stomped cantaloupe, the seeds pressed out in a gelatinous goop. One of the men’s eyes dangles from the socket, attached by the optic nerve. Brain matter covers Allen’s light brown desert combat boot. A flat, unconcerned expression on Allen’s green face. The platoon sergeant is there within another breath. “What the fuck?” He says, “I told you to wait. I wanted one of those fuckers!”
Allen shrugs. “He reached for his weapon.”
“I’m just kidding, man. Good fucking work.” The platoon sergeant speaks into a small radio. He tells the small radio what it already knew, what it had been watching on the graining black and white flat screen.
We make our way out of the orchard and into the town. These men were not our mission. Our mission is a High Value Target in the village. These dead men were our target’s warning device.
The faint taste of rubber. Hot water from my Camelbak. We push toward the HVT’s house at the center of the village. After two months of evenings like this, my aid bag has become a part of my body; I no longer notice its weight on my shoulders. Second Squad takes the lead, moving us to the target house. A green calm. A group of apex predators coalesced. A single organism, silent, shifting, positioning itself. Fangs and claws. Shadows all.
The image of the man’s eye dangling from the side of his collapsed skull cuts in again. I blink it away. The world is falling. It is always falling - a spinning chaos. Here is perfect. Silence. Perfect green silence.
A faint crack of wood. The front door is open. Shadows spill in. The tight snap of unsuppressed controlled pairs inside a block house. Pop-pop. Adrenaline. A violence vacuum, sucking everything to its center. Pop-pop. Through dust and haze, through the green house. A woman lay screaming in a red room, an opium light cast dancing shadows on the walls of the future. She lay atop her husband. His insides covering the bed and the dresser. A man I know pulling at her arm. An infant wailing in the room next door. The woman standing, covered in her husband. Her arms pulled behind her back. A pistol beside the man. Glass shatters down the hall. The cries of the infant grow louder and louder, the pitch morphs to a high pitch bzzz bzzz bzzzing.
I felt the sweat roll from my hairline into my eye. I found myself laying on the floor, ten feet away from the couch, a noticeable, unavoidable rip down it’s middle. The TV was on, casting a green-grey light, and buzz bzzz buzzing, This concludes the broadcast day.
This has been an excerpt from On Assimilation: A Return from War. Full version available now in hardcover and paperback at Dead Reckoning Collective.
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