Two Dead in Fallujah

Eric Georgeson

Two Dead in Fallujah

“I’m telling you Sarge, there’s nothing like it. You get one of those gals going sixty five, seventy, pop that stick back, pull the ‘o shit’ lever and make those tires squeal like a pig on Christmas morning. Ain’t nothing like it. The fellas back home and I used to do it all the time. Shit, I bet I could do it with this pile right now. Whatchya think Stravinsky? Should I give her a go? The sound probably ain’t gonna be the same though”
I kept my head pointed away, facing out. I was staring out the window of our Humvee at the sliding landscape of beige and brown, all with the same arid emptiness and disparity.
“I swear to god Balton, if you try that crap. So help me god, you’ll be on shit duty until the War’s over.”
It was all the same really, one way or another.
“But Sarge, I swear I got this. I been spinning tires since I was a little runt back on the farm. Ain’t nothing to it. Here Stravinsky ‘ll tell you, he’s seen it.”
All the rubble and dust that cascaded past my eyes looked so tragic and starved. The complete lack of vegetation and clay houses made the entire place look like one giant bleach spot in the middle of earth. The heat waves dancing off the scorching sand created the only contrast in the scenery that kept my interest. This was hell, plain and simple, and it was my home.
“Stravinsky don’t tell nobody nothing son. Now keep those beady little eyes of yours on the dirt in front of you. Who knows if some mini Muhammad is going to pop out somewhere and stab this truck with a mine. I got one mission and one mission only; that’s to make sure that your scrawny little behind and his stupid mug are still kicking, while those Allah mother fuckers aren’t.”
I sat back against the cold hard seat feeling every bump under my cracked cushion. Watching the landscape whir past my eyes, I tried not to let my mind wander. I just wanted to stay put in this setting for a bit, even if it was only a few minutes, but I knew that would be impossible.
“Yes Sir Sarge. Understood. But don’t you worry ‘bout that perdy little head of yours one bit. I got eyes like a hawk. Hell, I’ll probably see those towel heads before they even realize they could take a shot at us.”
I watched as the clay bungalows transformed into large white houses with black shutters, as the dirt that surrounded the shacks melted into a bright green healthy lawn. The houses were familiar, nearly the same as those I grew up around back in Wisconsin. Almost that is, except for the Iraqis who occupied the space inside.
“Well that’s all fine and dandy Balton, and I hope its true for all our sakes, but why don’t you just quit the yapping for a minute and focus on the mission. Take a page from Stravinsky’s book, he knows about the art of silence.”
I had no idea what home was anymore. On my first, second, and even third tour over here I thought that maybe one of those trips back to Wisconsin would be like it was, that if I could just block it all out, I could get back to the way things were and be happy again. But now, I knew that this hell was my life and there was no way to escape it.
“Shit that’s all he knows. I don’t think he’s said one goddamn thing to anyone since he joined our unit. Hey Stravinsky Ain’t that true? Tell the Sarge ‘bout how you don’t talk much.”
When I was back in Wisconsin, I would get flashbacks. I would hear a car backfire and immediately see the children around me transform into Arabian children with tattered clothes. They had AK-47’s in their arms and a look on their face like death was their best friend. Sometimes the flashbacks would come completely out of the blue.
There was the time when I was trying to watch television on the couch with my now ex-girlfriend. I sat there watching Katie Couric speak in a bubbly voice about the CBS control room as a man in checkered turban snuck up behind her and slit her throat. I realized then that I would never be normal again.
“See I told you Sarge. I don’t think he’s mute or nothing ‘cause I saw him talk to the MP officer when we first got here, but he hasn’t said a word since.”
Those were the good times though. At least those flashbacks couldn’t harm me. I could cover up those delusions and pretend like I had my shit together. Nobody asked questions of me or expected much when I was home. Everyone acted proud of me. They all had yellow ribbon magnets on their cars. When I walked into my local watering hole, the bartender always greeted me with a starched salute to portray his patriotism.
“Leave ‘im alone Balton, a man’s got a right to be silent if he chooses. Now grab that GPS and tell me where the hell we are. Not that it matters, all this crap’s the same anyways. If its not one shit hole full of hodgies it’s another.”
Nobody asked me what it was like though. Nobody wanted to hear about the actual events that occurred. Ignorance is bliss. The truth of that statement seemed to follow me everywhere.
“Looks like we’re about forty clicks outside of Fallujah Sarge. Whooa, Wait a minute. That can’t be right, Fallujah is a fucking death trap. Hey Sarge, what are we doing inside the Sunni triangle? We’re not going into that hell storm are we?”
What should I have told them? That I was a monster? What kind of dinner conversation could I make? Hey Grandma, did I ever tell you about the time I put a bullet between the eyes of women in a black burka because she looked like she was about to pull out a gun, only to find out that she had a white flag in her hand. Ha O Man Good Stuff Right? Somehow, I had a feeling that wasn’t quite the picture they wanted to paint of me.
“Damned if I know, all I know is that I got orders from the top to meet at coordinates 33,23’ north by 43,39’ east at 0 900 hours and deliver this truck along with whatever the hell is in the back of it.”
But like I said, those were the good times. Here, the delusions were worse. Here, the delusions were of home.
“Wait, you don’t know what we’re delivering Sarge? Shit. Well I don’t know, and Stravinksy sure as hell doesn’t know, so what in the shit are we doing?”
“Shut your trap Balton. Doesn’t matter if you, or I, or fucking Charlie Chaplin back there knows what’s in the back. Far as I’m concerned, the less we know, the better off we are.”
“Yes sir…”
I turned back to the only two people who held my life in their hands. They were different from me. They enjoyed this shit. In fact, they loved it. Every battle for them was another chance to prove how large their junk was. They kept a constant tally on the number of rag heads they killed and anyone who couldn’t keep up always got the shit end of the stick. Lucky for me, I never hesitated to pull the trigger.
“Do you mind if I get some tunes going Sarge?”
“Radio’s busted.”
“Shit, of course it is. Why would you expect the government to spare any expense for anything. Fuck, this flak jacket is from god damn Vietnam.”
“Cool it Balton.”
“Guess we just gotta make it ourselves then, huh Sarge?”
I shuddered at the thought of Balton singing.
“Come on, you know the words;
Bomb the village,
kill the people,
throw some napalm in the square. ”
Balton began belting out the cadences we had learned in basic training. It was one of the songs we would sing while we were jogging, or in between the repeated “Kill ” cries as we stabbed our bayonets into brown tweed dummies wearing Osama Bin Laden masks. The Sarge couldn’t resist the hard-wired call he knew so well. The two of them sang together.
“Do it on a Sunday morning,
kill them on their way to prayer.
Ring the bell inside the school house,
watch those kiddies gather round.
LOCK AND LOAD WITH YOUR 240
MOW THEM LITTLE MOTHERFUCKERS DOWN ”
Even I couldn’t help singing along in my head with them. After you’ve been through basic training, you’re never yourself again. You are property of the United States government, made in the U.S., by the U.S., for the U.S..
“Ha ha hah ha ha hah. O, that’s some good stuff Balton. You know, maybe you’re not so bad after all.”
Before Balton could get a chance to soak in, probably the only compliment the Sarge would ever give him, a massive explosion cut the Sarge’s sentence short. Our Humvee went into a double somersault that came down with the power of Thor and bounced us back up one more time until we finally rocked to a stop with the roof flat on the ground.
I looked around to survey the carnage. The Sarge was looking back at me with his seatbelt still strapped across his chest and his hair sticking up(really down) like he was Don King. He looked fine. I turned to see how Balton was doing. He had a decent gash over his right eye and his nose was bleeding pretty bad, but that was it. As soon as it registered that we were all ok, I scrambled as fast as I could out of the truck before the gas could ignite, the Sarge and Balton followed right after me.
“Hooo shit Where did that come from?”
“Nice going shit for brains. Eyes like a hawk huh? Bal…”
Suddenly a fast zing blitzkrieged my ear drum like a bee on steroids and ended with a loud crack just over my shoulder.
“Get down ”
Fuck This was the last thing I needed, not here, not right now.
“Balton North east corner now ”
In the blink of an eye, Balton was turning on heels to his left with his M16 tattering off rounds like Rambo.
I heard that same bee again a little farther away this time, only this time it ended with a soft squish
“Yeoow fuck My ass ”
The Sarge was wrong. The shots were coming from the north alright, but not where he said. I turned with my eye up to the dovetail of my rifle. Out the corner of my eye, I saw a Taliban duck beneath a glassless window. I held my rifle waiting for him to pop back up like a game of whack a mole.
“You alright son?”
“Yea, I’m fine Sarge, just a flesh wound.”
Suddenly, the terrorist popped back up. He had his AK slung beneath his arm ready to unload. His head rose between the V of my dovetail, only his face wasn’t his. It was my father’s. No time to think. I squeezed the trigger. He fell like a sack of rocks.
“Nice shooting there Stravinsky. See I told you, you could learn a thing or two from him Balton.”
I pulled out my switchblade and etched a diagonal line across the four other tallies on the butt of my rifle. That was the fifth time I had killed my father.
“Ehh lucky sho…” Balton was cut-off by another buzz just over the top of his helmet.
“Oh shit, there’s more ”
Up on the rooftop, just below a mosque, there were two more insurgents. One was my fourth grade English teacher, Mrs. Lipkin. The other was Samantha, my first crush. The Sarge got to them before I could get a chance. He hit Samantha in the shoulder spinning her down to the ground like a rag doll. Balton took care of Mrs. Lipkin, hit her smack in the neck. I watched her fall to her knees trying to control the blood gushing from her throat and couldn’t help thinking of that smell she always had that seemed like a mixture of downy, golden retriever, and pine sol.
I couldn’t hear anything around me except the relentless Tat Tat Tat Tat of machine guns in every direction.
‘They’re everywhere sarge ”
“Take cover There Behind that building ”
The Sarge led the way, diving behind a broken wall before the bullets could catch him. I flanked from the right, assuring that the Sarge would be safe while he was defenseless. Further down the street, I could see three Iraqi’s taking aim. One was standing in the middle of the street squatting on his knee with his other leg out to the side. He had a rocket launcher perched atop his shoulder. He looked like my Uncle Tommy.
“RPG ”
A stream of white smoke led the path from my Uncle Tommy’s shoulder to the missile that was careening straight towards Balton (..and Uncle Tommy was always such a nice guy). I was only a few steps away and saw it coming before he got a chance to turn his head. I grabbed him by his field pack and yanked him to the ground, just under our Humvee which was now engulfed with a thick cloud of black smoke. Our heads hit at nearly the same time as we belly crawled under the rear of the Humvee. Balton took only a minute before it registered to him where we were sitting. If you could jinx thoughts, he would have owed me a coke.
“What the fuck? Stravinsky? Are we where I think we are?”
I nodded my head. We were lying underneath the floor of the cargo bay on our Humvee, only there were no boxes or obstructions in our way. They were no weapons scattered across the ground, no rations littering the dirt as we scrambled to get our bearings. There was nothing. No cargo, no precious bounty.
“Are you fucking kidding me? We’re about to get our fucking asses blown off for this? For fucking sail boat fuel? God damnit, god damnit Those fucking pigs screwed us again ”
Balton flew out from the back of the Humvee, running out clear into the open, right in the middle of the street. He began firing off rounds like a mad man. He took my uncle down with his first shot, then, in the same squeeze of the trigger, he emitted a spray of bullets that took down the other two, my cousin Paul and his sister Stella. They both went limp and fell like a couple of marionettes whose strings had just been snipped.
“You ……..”
Balton turned to the Sarge.
“You did this……you did this ”
Balton stepped over to my father’s writhing corpse, grabbed him by the hair and held his head up to the Sarge’s face.
“You killed this man You got me shot and you killed these men For what? ”
“Woah, now take it easy there son, everything is going to be ok. Just hold on there a sec and let’s talk about this, Ok?”
“Shut up. You knew all along that this mission was bullshit? Didn’t you? ”
“Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Now let’s not get our panties in a twist here Balton. Bullshit? What are you talking about?”
“The truck, it’s empty”
“Empty?”
“Yea, empty, as in nada, nothing, bumpkiss, filled with AIR We are risking our lives in this fucking hell hole to deliver some fucking AIR Now explain yourself Sarge ”
Balton put the searing hot tip of his muzzle to the Sarge’s chest. The Sarge stood silent.
“Explain yourself ”
The Sarge kept his lips sealed. .
“Tell me motherfucker ”
“It’s classified.”
“Classified my ass Now I’m giving you to the count of three. One….”
Balton cocked his rifle
“Balton Just hold on a minute. Do you really want to be responsible for this?”
“Two……”
His finger trembled on the trigger.
“Wait WAIT Hold on, hold on, hold on. I can’t tell you everything, but I can tell you what I know.”
“Better start singing Sarge, or it’s your ass.”
“Ok, ok, but this dies with you two, understood?”
“Better be good.”
“So about three weeks ago I was contacted by a couple of the guys over at KBR.”
“What the fuck were you doing talking to those thieves?”
“If you’d let me talk. I’ll tell ya. So they came to me and brought to my attention a little deal they had worked out with the U.S. Government.”
“You mean that rat nest of a training facility they’re building?”
“Well yeaa, they do that, but they also do a lot of odds and ends around here.”
“Yea yea, the rec center and that kind of thing, but what does that have to do with us and how does that explain this hole in my ass?”
“Well…they are in charge of supplying food, fuel and supplies to all of us as you well know and for every dollar that they spend, they are guaranteed a net profit of three percent, meaning….”
“The more money they spend the more money they make.”
“There ya go. I always knew you were sharper than you let on Balton. Anyways, so they came to me with this contract and told me that if I could find some ways to liquidate a few more dollars out of the government’s pockets, that I could find myself to be a very wealthy man after the war was over.”
“So you drag our asses around with you to deliver fake supplies that are all chalked up and accounted for huh? Risk our lives so you can get rich? You filthy stinkin’ son of a bitch.”
“Wait just a minute Balton. Let’s not get hasty here. What’s good for me is good for you to.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Come on now son, use some sense. You could make out like a bandit here.”
“You know what Sarge, you were right.”
“Huh?”
“This will die here, but it’s not going to be with me and Stravinsky.”
POP POP
Balton put two slugs straight into the Sarge’s chest, he fell to his knees.
POP
A crowning third smack dab in the middle of his forehead, just to make sure. Balton turned to me.
“Any questions?”
I shook my head no. I had questions of course, but none that he could have answered.
“Alright then, I’d say it’s about time to head back to base camp then, wouldn’t you?”
I nodded. Balton reached into the smouldering Humvee and grabbed the CB radio. Luckily, a few gadgets were still working. He called for a Black Hawk to come pick us up
Back at base camp, I was greeted with a letter from my parents. It was one of those brown padded envelopes you typically use for real important documents. It looked like it had been torn open already. Inside was a VHS tape with “Love Mom and Dad” written in big red sharpie letters on the front. I headed to the rec room to use the tape player. I turned on the T.V. and let the static sizzle for a bit as I popped the tape in. On the screen was my Pops. His giant red bulbous nose was taking up the entire screen before he plopped his butt back into his faded blue Lay-Z-Boy. My mom was in the kitchen just over his shoulder working on something steamy. He began in his thick Wisconsin accent.
“Hey there kiddo Wouldn’tcha know it? It’s your Dad. Your Mother and I just want to let you know that we love you and we’re proud of what you’re doing out there ya know. We know it must be hard out there, what with the heat and all ya’ know so we got you some of those icy pops we know you love so darn much. I’m sending them with this tape. Hope the boys there at that headquarters there will let ya keep them now.”
I glanced down at the torn envelope the tape came in. Added security my ass.
“Well, just thought we’d let you know how things we’re going here at home. Your brother sends you his best wishes from college, says he sorry he couldn’t be in the tape, but he wanted to tell you how proud he was of you and how much he loved you too. That stinkin’ kid, drinks more than he studies, but what can ya do? Ya know? O, and so you know old Mrs. Lipkin, your fourth grade English teacher? She just moved in down the street and that mangy mutt of hers just never shuts the hell up. I swear I’m going to put a hole in her neck if she doesn’t do something about it here sometime soon. Well, I guess that’s about it. Hold on, your mother wants to talk to you.”
“Franciiine ”
My dad turned his head without the rest of his body to my mother who was still working relentlessly in the kitchen.
“What? ”
She picked her head up for the first time since the tape started.
“Your son ”
“Huh?”
“Your son, say something to him ”
“Go study and lay off that whacky tobacky would ya?”
“No, not that one. Ivan, our soldier, say something to him.”
Finally, that sixty-two year old wit of hers kicked in and she realized what my father was talking about. She hustled over to the T.V. screen, pulling off her yellow frilled apron along the way.
“Oh Ivan sweetheart. Mommy just wants to let you know how much she loves her special soldier and how she couldn’t be prouder. You’re really doing a great thing over there honey. Keep up the good work, o and don’t forget clean underwear. You never know when you might meet a pretty lady Ivan. Your only getting older you know, you might want to start thinking about finding someone. Anyways, love you bunches sweetie. Take care and do enjoy those Icy Pops, I know you will.”
The T.V. screen returned to static and I hit the eject button on the VCR. If only they knew. Actually no, I didn’t want them to know. They would never know. I would never let them. I dreaded the thought of going home again and letting them see who I had become. Maybe I’ll die out here, then they’ll never have to know. Then I would always remain that same person that they knew five years ago when I left for war. Then I could be innocent forever.
Just then as I was sitting there with the tape in my hand, Balton stepped into the rec room.
“Well if it isn’t just the man I’ve been looking for? How you doing Stravinsky?”
I just looked at him.
“So I spoke with the wigs. They didn’t ask any questions or nothing, pretty much just took my word for it. You doing ok?”
I just looked at him.
“Looks like they got another mission that needs to be taken care of, might be a hairy one though. I told them I’d do it, but not unless I had someone who knew how to kill hodgies and how to kill ‘em right. So how ‘bout it Stravinsky? Watchyathink?”
I didn’t need to think about it. There wasn’t anything else in the world I would have said.
“Sounds good Balton. Sounds really, really good.”

Two Dead in Fallujah

Trojnowski

Fort Collins, United States

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Artist's Description

What happens when a soldier at War starts having flashbacks of home?

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