Monday, January 16, 2012

Look at That, Man! [Chapter 27]

I've started posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 27:

Platoon 110 had trudged through the ancient orchards, passing through the dark night, crunching fertile soil and fallen oranges under worn and able combat boots. The soldiers’ gloved palms moved before them, pushing aside thin branches of fruit trees. They grasped weapon handles with their other hands, index fingers held over solid, black triggers. Their equipment was the same as on day patrols except for the rigid night vision goggles clinging around their temples and in front of their eyes, bathing the darkness in a grainy, pond-green.

The night insects remained undisturbed by the trickling drops of faceless, anonymous male forms as they quietly dripped through to the outer edge of the orchard. The forms stopped in puddles of shadowed patches, staring out of the darkness like a pack of hiding wolves huddled along a snowy and black tree line at midnight. They gaped across a softly glowing white-dusted road, at the silent grouping of structures on the other side. A long, gray cinderblock warehouse stood before them in the hard, dark shadows of the starry desert night, two smaller huts adjacent. The soldiers quietly listened to a soft murmur of masculine voices under the black-tiled roof of the warehouse, unintelligible babble skipping along the surface of the resting, night air.

“Man, this would be easier if we all spoke the same language,” whispered First Sergeant Blake to no one in particular.

“I wouldn’t want to speak their shit, man,” hissed Lee. “Everything they say sounds so fucking dirty.”

“Shut up,” said Webster.

They became quiet, watching, stalking, silent underneath a canopy of moonlit night.
A thin man dressed in jeans and a short sleeve shirt walked out of the warehouse and casually sauntered to one of the huts. He vanished inside for a few minutes and then came back out, joined by another man, taller and stockier, also in jeans. One of them spoke in a youthful, clear voice. The other replied in deep-throated, single-syllable grunts. They spoke a while, the smaller man gesticulating with his hands, the larger one grunting short replies, his block-shaped head nudging back slightly each time he opened his mouth to talk. The smaller man lighted a cigarette and said something quickly. They both suddenly laughed wantonly, strolling together into the warehouse. The soldiers of Platoon 110 watched the lighted cigarette tip move across the inked shadows in jagged swirls that abruptly vanished into the warehouse’s waiting darkness.

“Weapon’s cache,” said the First Sergeant. “It’s in the warehouse.” He raised a small pair of black binoculars that were hanging at his sternum and brought them to his tight, intent face, rotating his gaze slightly to one side and then to the other. “Poorly defended,” he concluded, and continued to assess the tactical scenario. “Two men, lightly armed at best. Content of huts, unknown. Lamech and Webster, suppress both huts with small arms fire. Warehouse has one visible exit and entry point. Sanders, emplace your machine gun on that point. Kill any threats that come through it.” First Sergeant Blake turned and looked at Sanders to emphasize his next point. “I said threats, Sanders. Not a little girl or her mother.”

“Yes, First Sergeant,” said Sanders.

First Sergeant swallowed, gathering himself, then turned and peered back at the still warehouse, running tactical options and calculations through his disciplined mind. “Baker, Vonnegut, Mughal.” He pressed his top and bottom teeth hard against each other, the muscles in his temples bulging and resting in turns. “Put your grenade launchers on the warehouse. Baker – west end. Vonnegut – center. Mughal – east end. Take out the whole thing. Cache is in there somewhere.” He added in a slow, determined tone, almost to himself, “It will be neutralized.”

First Sergeant shifted to look at Lee. Lee looked back, asking what role he would play in the destruction, asking with eager, crazed eyes. “Lee, you stay with me,” said the First Sergeant. “And keep your fucking mouth shut until we’re done.”

The soldiers of Platoon 110 fanned out to their assigned positions and waited. And waited. A half hour passed, labored minutes during which nothing had moved between the warehouse and the two huts. The stage and all its players lay quietly immersed beneath a still sea of starry night.

First Sergeant finally motioned to Lamech and Webster, sweeping gray motions of hands and arms speaking across the darkened orchard. Lamech and Webster followed orders, both sending short, three-round bursts of small arms fire into each of the adjacent huts, whistling lead plunging through the cool, still air. The huts absorbed the bullets without a twitch. Seconds later the insides of the warehouse became alive with anxious, frenzied shouting. The two voices that they had listened to earlier were shouting over each other, each keeping its own characteristic identity, the one youthful and clear, the other grunting.

First Sergeant motioned to the rest of his soldiers, lying in wait. Sanders rattled a pulsing salvo of machine gun fire onto the warehouse doorway. Baker, Vonnegut and Mughal lobbed a burst of grenades onto the warehouse roof. Tiles leapt off the roof and vanished, swallowed down the throat of the shadowed night. Puffs of blue smoke formed above the warehouse, got caught in a snare of moonlight and floated away like a gang of retreating ghosts.

They stopped firing a moment. The shouting inside the warehouse had fallen to one desperate, high-pitched voice barking the same set of sounds over and over and over. The soldiers sent more bullets into the empty huts and put a second and a third volley of grenades onto the warehouse roof. The beaten, weary structure suddenly began to explode on its own in graduated increments. Its east end crackled with uncontrolled, unfocused small arms fire from inside. Singed moments later, the center of the warehouse erupted into a cascade of fireballs, the first and strongest sending the shattered remains of the roof tumbling up and into the night, raining down on the warehouse perimeter and into the adjoining orchards. The soldiers reflexively put their gloved hands on top of their combat helmets. Someone cheered like people do during the finale of a Fourth of July fireworks show. The warehouse belched two smaller fireballs from its bowels and then fell asleep under a blanket of soft, blue smoke.

The soldiers waited, watching for anything else that might need to be killed or destroyed. Nothing. Only the crisp night air, softly caressing and lifting the lilting blue smoke into the sky in gentle, swirling swaths of glowing gray cotton.

“We killed ‘em!” shouted Lee. “Let’s go get a beer.”

“You guys aren’t old enough for beer,” said First Sergeant Blake. “Grab your weapons and let’s go.”

They trudged back the way they came, through the orchards, fleeting through the swallowing desert shadows. Lee couldn’t help but look back. One small piece of vertical wall had survived the battering. It was taking a bath in long, undulating flames, throwing a lovely, peaceful campfire glow onto the adjacent huts. Lee followed the flames’ dancing fingers into the sky above. In between the stars and the earth, above the shattered corpse of the warehouse, the peaceful night winds had sculpted the glowing, blue-gray smoke into the shape of a large crucifix.

“Look at that, man!” Lee marveled. “Jesus would have loved this shit.”


  1. Great stuff, as usual!

    I will offer a little criticism, as I haven't done yet as of now.

    Remove and replace the tag "hissed." You can't physically hiss those words of dialog. If he hissed something like "shhhhhh" or "stop" (anything with a hiss sound) it would work.

    Also remove the dialog tag at the very end "marveled." It's unnecessary. Maybe use an action tag there.

    "Look at that, man!" Lee pointed with his machine gun. "Jesus would have..."

  2. Jay - thanks for the helpful feedback. You're absolutely right - your suggested changes ARE an improvement to this vignette.