Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Najaf Vignette

Here’s a little untitled vignette I wrote about the battle for Najaf that took place in August of last year.  None of this really happened and it probably didn’t happen this way, but I find the whole concept fascinating.

     “You see him?” Jurgen asks, jabbing a finger in his eye.
     “No,” Petrosky says.  “Do you?”
     “Fuck no.  I got something in my eye.”
     Petrosky taps me on the helmet.  “Yo, Dietz.  You see those fuckers?”
     I squint, thinking that will help me see better.  But all I can see is stone tombs shrouded in smoke.
     “Then who the fuck is launching rockets at us?”
     But then I see movement, a flash of clothing darting between two stone tombs.  I fire in his direction and knock a few chunks of stone off the tomb but miss my target.
     “Fuck!” Jurgen shouts.  “I can’t see shit.”
     I look at him and see the blood running down his cheek.  He keeps rubbing his eye but doesn’t seem to notice that he’s bleeding.  I slap his wrist to knock his hand away and grab him, looking into the wound where his eye should be.
     “You’re hit,” I say.
     “Bullshit.  That rocket didn’t even come close.”  He moved to rub at his eye, and I slapped his hand away again.
     “Don’t touch it,” I tell him.  “You got shrapnel in your eye.”
     “Holy shit,” Petrosky says when he sees Jurgen’s face.
     Jurgen’s face goes slack and his good eye looks at us, first at Petrosky, then at me.  “Fuck you,” he says.  “Don’t fuck with me.”
     “Medic!” Petrosky yells.
     “No way, man,” Jurgen says, drops of spittle flying off his lips as he hurls out the words.  “No fucking way.”  He’s pissed because his combat effectiveness is compromised, not because he’s now blind in one eye.  There will be time to be mad about that later, when he has to find work with only one eye.  Right now he just wants to kill.  That’s his job.  
     A medic comes over and takes a look at Jurgen’s eye.  The whole time Jurgen keeps shaking his head and denying it.  “No fucking way.”  The medic jabs him with morphine just to shut him up.
     “That’s fucked up,” Petrosky says after they evacuate.  I don’t know if he’s talking about the medic’s questionable ethics or the petty brutalities of war but I nod in agreement.
     We’ve both seen worse, but this one was stupid.  The rocket hit a tomb, far from anyone.  The explosion obliterated the roof, scattering bones and rubble in a ten foot radius, showering us with pebbles and dust.  A small piece of rock, a splinter really, ricocheted at just the right angle to hit Jurgen’s eyeball.  It was so fast, he didn’t even have time to blink.  
     And now, Jurgen’s going to medical with one eye and the hajjis were launching another rocket at us.  We hear the whoosh a split second before it hits.  This one is a little better aimed than the one that got Jurgen, and it blows the legs right out from under Timmons and hits Culley  right in the chest, shredding him in a thousand blood-soaked pieces.  Timmons screams and tries to crawl away on what remains of his knees.
     Petrosky stares at the scene for a moment, his jaw hanging down, his face streaked with blood spatter.  He takes cover behind me, breathing hard.
     “I’m gonna get these fuckers,” he says.  He wipes Culley’s blood out of his eyes.
     “Come on,” I say.
     We scramble over a mound of dirt and creep low beside a sandstone tomb.  The walls are only about waist high, but it’s a lower position and not so easy for the hajjis to shoot rockets at us without leaving themselves completely exposed to return fire.
     “They’re reloading right now,” I whisper.  “Let’s wait till they fire one more.”
     “Fuck that,” Petrosky says.  “Let’s go now.”
     I put a hand on his chest and look over the edge of the tomb.  Scrambling around in the dust about twenty yards away, I see a group of hajjis, one, two, three, four.  They’re wearing t-shirts and slacks, more Old Navy than Osama Bin Laden.  There’s a pair of mean looking guys with beards on the RPG, one loading, the other shooting.  Two younger guys hover behind tombstones, spraying useless death blossoms with their AK-47s.  There could be more, but those are the only ones I see.
     “Here it comes,” I say to Petrosky and we duck behind the stone tomb, watching for it over our heads.  Before it explodes, I gesture to Petrosky and he nods.
     “Take those AKs out first,” he yells as the rocket explodes behind us.
     In another second, we’re running, zig-zagging through tombs and bomb craters.  We draw some fire from the AKs but they’re kids, no more than eighteen, and their aim is terrible.  The bullets kick up the dust and chip divots out of the walls of the stone mausoleums, but none even come close to us.
     We converge on their position, Petrosky and me, followed by Graves and Padilla and Miller.  I take out one guy, then aim at his partner but Graves has already blasted him.  He falls, his hand going up to feel the hole in his jaw.  Padilla and Miller take out the rest of them in one sustained burst of fire from their M4s.  
     I stand there, gulping air and look at the man I just killed.  His head falls to one side and his unfocused eyes stare up at the sky.  I take in a deep breath but smell all the shit and blood and it makes me choke.  I cover my nose with my free hand and turn around.  
     Graves is kneeling beside the man he killed, but instead of being repulsed by the dead like I was, Graves is talking to his kill, his voice a quiet whisper.  “The jihad’s over for you, my friend,” he says, closing the dead man’s eyes with two loving fingers.  “Yasser Arafat is going to kiss your Mommy’s cheek and shake your Daddy’s hand, but you won’t see another day.”  Graves catches me staring and looks up at me, stroking the dead haji’s cheek.
     “What’re you doing?” I say.  “He’s fucking dead.”
     “He can hear me in hell,” Graves says calmly, his eyes flaring.  I let it go.
     We stack the bodies together, then start poking through their stuff.  We find a box of RPGs, enough ammunition for the AKs to clear a forest,  some bottled water, a ruffled Koran with a few pages missing, half a cigarette, still burning, rolled from the missing Koran pages, and some French porno mags.  The women are all pale with hairy pussies and sagging boobs, but Petrosky and Miller argue over them and eventually take a handful a piece, leaving the tattered spoils on the ground.  The scraps blow in the dust, a breast here, a bit of thigh there.
     “Drop your dicks, shitheads," yells Graves.  "We’re moving out.”

Iraq, Iroll

It was a bad day in Iraq.  Not one, not two, but a dozen attacks, killing hundreds of people, wounding hundreds more.  And guess who’s claiming responsibility?  “Al Qaida in Iraq,” headed by a fucker named Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Heard of him?  He’s the new Osama.  He’s a Jordanian terrorist whose insurgent organization, “Al Qaida in Iraq” is the latest in franchises, terrorist franchises.  Scary stuff.

There’s a lot of ignorance floating around.  I mentioned Najaf at work and nobody had ever heard of it.  I don’t know how many Marines died or left their body parts there last year, but it’s absolutely amazing that no one has ever heard of Najaf, not even to know it was in Iraq.  I figured I would get at least one, “Najaf?  Oh yeah, that’s in Iraq, right?”  But everyone thought I said decaf or something.

Then I tried to explain some of the things that happened there, the battle, the shrine, the crypts, the bones.  For some reason, the Najaf battle resonates with me, and it obviously has something to do with the fact that it was fought on one of the world’s largest graveyards, a necropolis, under the shadow of the Al-Haidariya Shrine.

I’m no expert, but Peter Galbraith is.  I’m familiar with his work as ambassador to Croatia during the wars it the former Yugoslavia.  He’s a nerd and I wonder if he possesses a sense of humor, but he’s a diplomatic whiz.  He was involved in the historic Dayton peace accords, which put an end to the Bosnian nightmare, and now he’s writing papers for who knows what.  Good stuff, if you have the time.

There’s more in this piece, by Mark Danner of the NYT.  

Brit Hume

In some ways, newsources are like stock portfolios. If you want to be served well by them, it's best to diversify. Which is why I take the daily perusal over at They have a reputation as being right-wing propaganda machines (Sorry, fox's been empirically proven you are NOT fair and balanced.) as well as the place were tabloidy stories go to die. (Greta Van Sustern and her Natalee fascination.)

Plus there's always the chance that John Gibson will say something stupid, Bill O'Reilly will pretend to be objective, or Brit Hume will say something completely sleazy and one-sided. So it was no surprise when I saw this headline, characteristic of Hume's style, both gossipy and incredulous.

It was no surprise that the target of Hume's ire is a Democrat, and one personally affected by the tragedy. Note the sneering tone, "pulling up to the front door so the congressman wouldn't get his feet wet." Makes you just want to slap him.

Monday, September 12, 2005

New Beslan

I had an idea for a “brilliant” story, sparked in part by the one year anniversary of the Beslan school massacre and reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, by magic realism master Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  

My idea came to me in full detail, contrary to how they come to Stephen King, who insists that an archaeological dig is the best metaphor for “uncovering” stories.  Mine hit me in a flash, almost like remembering a movie I’ve seen or a story I’ve already read.  The tone, the arc, the characters, they were all there.  All I had to do was sit down and commit it to paper.

In some ways, I’d prefer an archaeological dig.  Since the story is fully formed, it’s just a matter of telling it, which seems more like work than fun.  There’s no process of discovery or experimentation.  It’s almost like paint by numbers.  And it’s also one of the reasons I haven’t finished a short story in ages.  This one, though, I intend to finish because it’s not as bleak as I make it sound.

The story is about a town, for want of a better name called New Beslan.  I’ve Americanized it, because it’s what I know, but it could be any small town in America.  A salt of the earth kind of place, formerly prosperous but now gripped in a stifling depression, not just economic but in totality.  Every man, woman, and child in the town is depressed.  I admit that I’m stealing a bit of Solitude here, but only in tone.  I don’t mean to say that New Beslan is literally plagued by sadness, as Macondo was by insomnia.  It’s just that everyone’s sad, and as we learn, there’s a good reason.

Told from the point of view of a young girl named Diana, we soon learn that everyone in town experienced some distant tragedy in the past, a tragedy that also affected Diana’s family.  I’m not going to ruin the story for anyone who wants to read it, but I will post the first few paragraphs.  Just as a taste.

     The skies over the barren hills of New Beslan are always gray.  Houses painted melancholy shades look out on overgrown lawns and untended gardens.  The heartbroken townspeople carry with them the ache of loss and even the trees, with their bare sagging branches, are overcome with sorrow.
      Diana, the youngest child in the Stern family, had no memory of a time when New Beslan wasn’t depressed.  For all of her five short years, the only faces she had seen had been dour ones, the only voices, choked with grief.  Her mother started each day behind closed doors, quietly weeping over some profound tragedy.  Hours later she emerged, fresh tears still streaming down her cheeks.  Her father was no better, though he never let his tears show.  He sat on the porch with his knife, whittling sticks into spears.  When he had enough spears, he tied them into a bundle and stacked them behind the shed.
     Diana had never asked her parents why they did these things, but the question did occur to her.  She thought about it a lot, and prayed every night before bed for an answer.  None came.  Finally, she asked her brother David why mommy cried all the time and daddy sat on the porch carving his spears.  
     “They’re sad,” David said.
     “But why?”
     “Something bad happened a long time ago,” David said.  “You’re too young to understand.”  That’s what he always told her when he didn’t feel like talking about something.  It meant stop asking questions.       But Diana couldn’t stop asking questions.  There was a lot about the world that Diana did not understand.
     Once a lady came up to them in the grocery store and started talking to Mommy.  After a few words, both of them were crying, and then they hugged as if they were long lost relatives.  Later, Diana asked David if Mommy knew the woman.  
     “No.  Something bad happened to her too,” he said.  “You’re too young to understand.”
     David gave Diana just enough to stoke her curiosity, which annoyed her, and then refused to speak about it more, which infuriated her.  She soon learned that she couldn’t ask her brother anything.  She was too young to understand.

Well, it's not much, but it's something.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Random Thoughts on a Sunday Night

I missed the Bronco game because I was working, and thank GOD!  The Dolphins spanked them, 34-10.  I don’t think I wanted to see that.  Champ Bailey and Mike Anderson both got hurt, too.  I know it’s only the first game, but that’s embarrassing.  Jake gave up a huge fumble, and another damn interception.  At this pace, all we have to do to lose is put Jake in.

Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity, a resident of New Orleans, and his family survived the hurricane.  So did Poppy Z. Brite.  But still no word from Philip Anselmo, at least not about Katrina.  (RIP Dime)

A kid was killed in a hit and run accident at an apartment complex near my neighborhood.  Those apartments are a scary place.  I was almost killed there once myself.

Good thing the POTUS doesn’t care what polls say.

Al Qaeda speaks.  But what’s this about their spokesman being a California metalhead?  That’s fucking scary.

I downloaded (legally) Nickelback’s new song “Photograph.”  It’s your standard rock ballad, but one thing that struck me was how the stories that Chad Kroeger tells in his songs are very much like those of country music.