Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Seventy-Two Virgins [Chapter 35]

I'm posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 35:

A line of soldiers moved briskly down the dusty sidewalk, mercilessly crunching gravel under their worn combat boots. Their equipment belts rattled gently in cadence with their windy stride, chimes on a lazy summer afternoon. The houses around the bright, sun-swept street were shaped like boxes and made of gray, dust covered cinder blocks and cement. Cryptic, beautifully spray painted Arabic graffiti marked many of the walls in the common areas between the homes. A rusted old car drove by on the road beside them, black as a hearse, headed in the opposite direction, its muffler bubbling lazily, the sun’s sharp glare casting its windows in impenetrable shadows.

Hueghlomm panted to keep pace. He and the soldiers of Platoon 110 were patrolling the shaded side of Mahmood Street. Half the platoon patrolled in front of him, the other half behind. Hueghomm wore the same uniform and boots as the soldiers, but his were crisp, new, poorly fitted. He breathed hard, sweat making slow, rolling trails down his forehead behind the heavy combat helmet. His discordant gait was out of place, sloppy, a dearth of fluidity when compared to the soldiers around him.

“Watch the retard!” Lee yelled, moving forward at the leading edge of the patrol. “You never know who’s doing what with these guys.”

A shirtless young man with a crooked face and a hunched back bounced by them. He looked to be in his early twenties. One side of his mouth drooped savagely, baring crooked yellow teeth. He had a heavy nose with a huge crook growing underneath thick, black, torturously curled eyebrows that stretched in one continuous arch across his enormous forehead. His misshapen shoulders held one arm lower than the other as he moved over the dusty ground in a jagged two-step hop that made his limp wrists and hands dangle like dead chickens.

A pack of children began shouting and yelling at him from one of the adjacent street shops. It was an almost daily ritual whenever school was out. He stopped and bounced up and down like a kangaroo in one spot outside the shop door, waving at the loud children in a grotesque flail. The mob of little boys and girls suddenly stormed out of the shop in a whirl of high-pitched shouting, surrounding him in a menacing ring, swinging small hands and fists all around his contorted form. The frightened man flailed furiously and spun around on one foot a few times, then broke away from the swarm of tiny, shouting bodies. He hopped down Mahmood Street, eyes bulging, the children following behind him with pumping little fists and a fading crescendo of gnashing taunts.

The shopkeeper strolled out of the emptied doorway, smiling. He had slits for eyes. A skinny black line of mustache had drawn itself tightly along the top edge of his thin lips. “That man is Crazy Man,” he told Lamech and Hueghlomm in broken English. “He say he believe of a Loving God.” The shopkeeper laughed hard, his head tilted back, mouth pulled open to one side. He turned to go back inside his shop, reviling in the hilarity of the Crazy Man’s belief. “Loving God,” he chortled sarcastically, amused, and vanished into his shop.

Platoon 110 moved past the shops, past the women and men carrying bags of food and home supplies, away from the block of commerce and into a block of homes. They patrolled by an open doorway where a young girl, perhaps ten or eleven, stood, her face tilted down in virginal timidity. She was covered in a clean, newly ironed black burqa, only her face and hands showing. She was exceptionally attractive, almost beautiful, and her hands were soft, white. She stood expressionless as the unending line of soldiers slowly crossed her home’s entrance, arms stretched across the doorway in a protective, blocking stance, palms gently pressed against each side of the doorframe.

“I’d fuck that shit,” said Lee a few feet after passing her.

“You sick fuck,” said Webster, patrolling behind him.

“What’s the problem, Webster? Boyfriend trouble?” Lee provoked, staring forward.

“Can’t you just shut the fuck up?” Webster begged angrily from behind.

Lamech patrolled about twenty yards to the rear of Webster and Lee, immediately behind Hueghlomm. A twenty-yard separation in a combat patrol felt like a different world. The short distance could be the difference between combat and combat support. It could be the difference between living and dying.

Hueghlomm didn’t notice the girl when he reached the open doorway. He was single-mindedly scanning the adjacent road surface for signs of recent digging or other indications of buried devices. Lamech smiled at the girl as he passed. She saw his smile, didn’t return it and instead looked down until she was sure that he’d passed. Lamech frowned, put off. A few moments later Lamech spoke at Hueghlomm from behind, his voice high and curious. “Doc, one of the guys said that your mom’s one of them?” Even though the sentence wasn’t structured as a question, its tone and delivery carried a question mark.

Hueghlomm responded groggily, awakened from his singular focus on the road surface. “What’s that?”

“Your mom,” said Lamech.

“What about her?” Hueghlomm was disturbed by the distraction but curious about its focus.

“Was she…you know,” Lamech rotated his non-trigger palm towards the sky and shrugged his shoulders just a nudge as he finished his hesitating question, “…American?”

“Yes,” said Hueghlomm, but he knew that he hadn’t answered Lamech’s question. He waited to see if Lamech would pursue the query. He didn’t. Hueghlomm waited longer. Still no follow up. A few more steps down the street, Hueghlomm decided to answer. “She was an American, originally from Pakistan, from a place called Karachi. She grew up in Africa, was raised, lived and died a Muslim. She raised me a Muslim…and a Jew.”

“Oh,” Lamech responded.

The patrol had stopped at a sunny intersection ahead. First Sergeant Blake ordered his soldiers to halt. The soldiers towards the front of the patrol lifted their right hands in the air and made fists, a gesture that the soldiers behind them repeated until the message of a temporary stop made its way down and to the rear. They had stopped for a herd of goats. An old shepherd and two young boys were guiding the goats across the road. The herd was multicolored. White, black, brown and checkered goats moved about in the mix, bumping into each other, holding their sloped foreheads in the air, bah, bah, bah all the way across the dusty desert road. The old shepherd herded his flock into a snaking, lazy column with a thin tree branch, augmenting his gentle nudges with an occasional sharp whistle. The two boys seemed less efficient, yelling, “Ha, ha!” whenever they’d see a goat go astray.
The soldiers of Platoon 110 waited patiently for the shepherd and his flock to move along. They watched that sea of innocent goats, some soldiers smiling at them, others scowling. Standing there in place, watching the seemingly infinite herd, Lamech asked Hueghlomm, “Is it true that you guys get seventy-two virgins when you die?”

“I’ve heard about the virgins, but not the ‘seventy-two’ part,” replied Hueghlomm, gaze fixed on the herd.

Lamech, himself watching the goats, ruminated. “That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?”

More goats passed by as Hueghlomm collected his thoughts. “I don’t know,” he answered, thinking out loud, eyes squinted. “I really don’t understand this fascination with virgins. I mean, why seventy-two blushing virgins? You’d think that’d be a frustrating waste of time, especially after a lifetime of being good. Now if the Lord gave us seventy-two wild whores when we die, that’d be something. That’d be a party.”

And then they quietly watched the goats.

The herd continued to pass by, unabated.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Silent Night, Holy Night [Chapter 34]

I'm posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I've been on travel, so this posting is a bit late. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 34:

Iraqi domestic policy had justified his father’s killing. American foreign policy had justified his mother’s killing. Little orphan Haroon Hadad, six years old, lay giggling in a bed of straw. He and the soldiers of Platoon 110 were packed into the middle of the shining hard floor of the aluminum airplane hangar used by American forces for recreation and regrouping. Haroon was proud and happy, luxuriating in the new clothes that the soldiers had gotten for him, crisp blue jeans and a bright red T-shirt. He held his pet goat, Akbar, adjacent to the straw bed with a loose, black dog-leash. Lamech sat cross-legged behind Haroon and Akbar, gazing at both of them with well-acted maternal affection. Haroon smiled broadly with his happy brown eyes, clumsily holding large chocolate bars, another gift from the soldiers, in each small hand. He was a good-looking boy, used to being treated special. Strangers often smiled at him when passing, especially women.

The soldiers of Platoon 110 stood behind Haroon, Akbar and Lamech in a loose semicircle. They were at rest, poised and gay on the expansive, clean hard floor, fans abuzz in each far corner of the airplane hangar, pushing dry air over and through the staggered cluster of bodies in soft pulses.

It was Easter Week and the young soldiers felt compelled to celebrate. First Sergeant Blake had cajoled a dozen eggs from the cook in the mess hall that morning. The soldiers hard-boiled the eggs and painted them with combat face paint, covering them in lovely swirls of black and green. They placed the eggs into Lamech’s overturned combat helmet, which sat at a relaxed angle on the floor in front of their makeshift manger.

They had no hymnals, so First Sergeant Blake settled on singing what he thought they might all know by heart — “Silent Night.” The soldiers talked through the lyrics that morning in excited anticipatory exchanges, agreeing with each other on the exact words and the relative order of the innocent, peaceful imagery of the stanzas. They practiced twice while showering and shaving. Stirred to action, they then went about creating a proper scene for the celebration, complete with manger, animal, mother and child. Although they had successfully constructed a manger and had found an internal volunteer for Mother Mary, they were missing a child and an animal. They found both by renting a nephew of the small, unobtrusive Iraqi man who cleaned their Recreation Room.

“Ready, soldiers,” said First Sergeant Blake, standing before his beloved platoon, holding his arms and hands high, like an orchestra conductor. It was not often that he allowed himself to smile around his troops, but when he did, his face glowed with a loving sense of paternal responsibility, tiny wrinkles forming and radiating in little lines from the outer corners of each of his bright, blue eyes. “Let’s sing!” shouted First Sergeant, gaily, dropping both arms in unison.

“Silent night! Holy night!” the teenagers sang. “All is calm, all is bright.” Their voices filled the hollow hangar, unexpectedly harmonious.

“Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

“Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing, Alleluia.
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!”

Their voices rang melodious, male, cradled in an overturned, hard aluminum bucket.

“Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Haroon Hadad laughed, sharp and high, and began an unmusical, discordant accompaniment to the soldiers’ singing. The young men of Platoon 110 all smiled behind Haroon, happy to have him there.

“Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.”

Giggling, happy chirps waltzed out from Haroon Hadad’s small throat as Platoon 110 now softly hummed behind him, his eyes laughing merriment, wearing the only brand new clothes that he would ever have, for he would be killed in an American air bombing later this week. Behind the innocent one, Lee smiled down in friendship at Lamech. Lamech sat cross-legged on the floor, continuing to regard Haroon with maternal affection. Sanders was serene, contented, his hands folded over each other below his waist. Webster’s eyes were closed, his mouth formed in a smile, singing for his Beloved Savior in his own personal church. And First Sergeant Blake watched his soldiers with caring affection, brimming with pride, faithfully sure that each of them embodied the raw ingredients needed to one day become good fathers, good husbands, good men.

Standing in an echoing aluminum hangar that sat in stubborn discord to the unyielding sand and dunes around it, nestled in the cradle of civilization in an ancient and death-ravaged land, the soldiers of Platoon 110 celebrated a birth from millennia past, a birth that, at this moment, helped them bask in the comforting warmth of friendship, fellowship, peace, and the promise of a new and better tomorrow.

“Sleep in heavenly peace,” they sang softly now.

Haroon Hadad’s eyes smiled a happy succession of bright twinkles.

“Sleee-eep in heaaa-ven-ly peace….”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Happy? [Chapter 33]

I'm posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 33:

“Very well,” began Torquemada. “Let us proceed with the inquisition.” Torquemada gave Martin a quiet nod, anointing him to lead the proceedings for Count One. The Inquisitor General cleared his throat and instructed the prosecutor. “Dr. Hueghlomm, proceed with Count One.”

Hueghlomm stood, his crisp, pressed suit fitted perfectly. He held the indictment before him. “Your Honor, Count One is Mass Infanticide. The prosecution calls the defendant to the stand.”

The Lord rolled his eyes, remaining in place at the defendant’s table. The bailiff placed a large hand onto the Lord’s shoulder. The Lord refused to budge.

“Sir, it is essential that you take the stand and defend yourself,” said Martin. “The Fathers of the Inquisition have gone to great lengths to create a process that insures ample opportunities for a defendant to state his or her case.” Martin’s demeanor was gentle, effeminate, encouraging. “Please follow procedure,” he continued. “That is the only way for us to establish fairness, legitimacy, morality, and respect for the law.”

“Don’t mistake ritual for morality,” said the Lord.

“I don’t understand.” Martin held both hands in front of himself, fingers spread, palms facing each other. “I’m giving you a chance to state your case, but you answer in riddles and sarcasm.”

“Why are you surprised? You believe that I made requests for emancipation by hurling frogs and locusts at slave-masters. Now you’re surprised that I’m using riddles and sarcasm in your contrived court of law?”

“Sir, please take the stand,” said Martin, gentle, a high voice.

The Lord smirked, rolled his eyes again and walked to the witness stand. He plumped down angrily, like a child being sat in the corner for bad behavior.

“Happy?” he asked.

No one replied.

Hueghlomm hesitated a moment, confused, lost in a sense of deja vu. Something seemed wrong in the East Room, but he didn’t know what. He quickly composed himself and walked toward the Lord, brisk, determined, his immaculately shined, black dress shoes moving across the marble tiles in sharp, sure clicks. “Sir, what were you doing in 1250 B.C.?”

“B.C.? What’s that?” the Lord seemed genuinely confused.

“Before Christ.”

The Lord clucked with laughter, his torso tilting this way and that in the witness stand.

“Sir, please answer the question,” said Hueghlomm, his propriety solid.

“What do you mean, ‘Before Christ?’” the Lord chuckled.

Hueghlomm looked to Martin, asking for guidance with his eyes. Martin replied with his eyes — he had none. Torquemada noticed their quandary and interjected his authority. “The witness shall answer the question with an answer, not a question.”

“Sometimes the answer is a question.” The Lord darted a glance at Torquemada.

Hueghlomm wanted to put the proceedings on track. “Sir, we have to establish a timeline of events to determine culpability,” he told the Lord.

“Timeline!” blurted the Lord. “Another one of your grand fallacies.”

“Sir, please don’t be difficult,” said Hueghlomm. “We have to get to the core of the issues.”

“Core of the issues? You’re going to deduce the core of Truth by using a series of fallacious artificialities?”

“Sir, where were you in 1250 B.C.?”

“I don’t know,” the Lord insisted.

“Why not?” said Hueghlomm.

“Where were you?” said the Lord.

“I wasn’t born yet.”

“How do you know? Do you even remember being born this time?”

Hueghlomm fell quiet, thinking.

“You revere the ridiculous,” the Lord said. “You’re so busy me, you’ve lost the calm ability to seek and find Truth.”

Hueghlomm wanted to focus on his indictment. He began to read from it. “Written records indicate, in relevant part…”

“Records!” the Lord interrupted him, shouting. “Go back and apply your reverence for linear time and logic to your written records. You say I created the sun on the fourth day. How do you propose I measured the beginnings and ends of the first, second and third days?”

“What’s your point?” asked Hueghlomm.

“Logic and linear time have no basis in your ponderings of me.”

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Oh, Lord,” muttered the Lord. “He’s willing to die for free will, but he also wants to be told what to do.” The Lord laughed, clucking, eyes squinted. He moved his hands to his stomach, resting them gently over each other, enjoying his own humor.

Martin wanted the proceedings to progress. “Sir, please.” He lingered on “please” a little longer than before. “Answer the prosecution’s question.”

“Fine.” The Lord stopped laughing and straightened himself up in the witness stand, quickly adjusting the front tuck of his shirt. “You asked what I want you to do. This is it: don’t eat meat on Friday; use only your left hand when cleaning up after the bathroom; chop the front tip off of every baby boy’s genitals; and face in a specific direction when you pray, otherwise it doesn’t count.”

Torquemada, Martin, Morilla and Hueghlomm stared at the Lord in bowed silence.

“Happy?” the Lord asked them.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Don't Do It, Men. It's Not Worth It [Chapter 32]

I'm posting the chapters of Resolution 786. I'll post each successive chapter roughly every 3 or 4 days. Here's Chapter 32:

Dawn’s crimson lips parted on the eastern horizon, lighting the feathered belly of a wispy sheet of high, thin clouds. Her tawny eyes fluttered open as she arched her back in a sensuous, golden stretch, long, thin arms ending in bright, white fists. She receded into momentary repose, a pallid gray smile moving across her peaceful face, then fell forward and sprawled her lithe legs across the distant sand dunes, her yellow anklets sprinkling tiny spears of gold here and there, spears that touched and extracted a brilliant potpourri of colors out of the world that they touched. She held no grudges, she had no favorites, and she always started and finished her dance on time. She kept every confidence to the very end, having freely given her tender graces to Babylon, to Ur, and to every fresh king, conqueror, caliph and president who might or might not be passing across this, her antique horizon.

This morning, Colonel Klick’s order to fall in for an impromptu muster was given at reveille, immediately before breakfast. The soldiers of Platoon 110 were back in a block of shade in the middle of the desert, sitting in the sand under the tired, sagging, sun-beaten tarp.

“Gentlemen, thank you for taking time out of your mission to be here this morning. Let’s make this short.” Klick rubbed his hard, dry palms together and paced back and forth a few feet, mulling over what he had to say. “Gentlemen, war funds have been slow coming out of Washington. I’m sure that you’ve noticed that some of our resupply is short. That’s bad.” He stopped speaking, rubbing his palms together again, choosing his words deliberately, slowly. “But what’s also bad is when we take matters into our own little hands…and go outside proper channels…with perfectly good intent, mind you.” He bobbed his head up and down in small, jagged jerks to emphasize his contention that it was, in fact, good intent that had created the current situation. The top edge of his short, stiff haircut sliced a sharp silhouette in the desert glare behind him as he now thrust a finger at the young men, speaking loudly. “Some of us have let good intent lead us into doing that which we ought not.”

Klick stopped and cleared his throat, twisting his mouth in a series of quick, circular contortions. He exhaled, bringing his shoulders slightly lower and forward. “Now, I sat through a long meeting with JAG staff last night, a meeting I attended on your behalf, soldiers. The lawyers tell me that there seems to be an issue.” The expressionless teenagers listened dutifully. Colonel Klick cleared his throat again and put his hands on his hips, angling his head up and to the right, staring absently at the bottom of the sagging, beaten, listless tarp. The brilliant sun behind him framed his silhouette in crisp, bold lines, turning him into a marble statue. The still statue suddenly spoke as the hot glare from behind and around it cast blanketing shadows around its face and mouth, hiding any movements that may have accompanied its words. “Gentlemen, when you are executing a federal mission, the Congress appropriates monies to support that mission. And regulations state that private monies may not be used to augment and or support a federal mission. I know that resupply is currently a bit short. But that’s no excuse for going out and using your own…spelled ‘private’…money to buy toilet paper. Effective immediately, the good soldiers of Platoon 110 will not violate federal regulations by using private funds for the purchase or procurement of contraband toilet paper to be used in support of this war effort. Don’t do it, men. It’s not worth it.”

The soldiers and the Colonel stared at each other, mute. The sun’s hot rays fell like needles outside the tarp, piercing through the still desert air in a noiseless rush.

“But there ain’t no toilet paper.” Sanders’ whimpering southern drawl sounded trumpet-loud in the hot, surrounding silence.

“It’s coming, boys.” Klick stood strong and confident. “We’re dealing with only a few dead-enders here. We’ve broken the back of their little insurgency. We can all go home soon. And our toilet paper’s on the way.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.” Lamech’s high voice rang softly through the shade. “Isn’t that regulation meant to keep large, well-funded non-government entities from funding non-government activities under the guise of a government program?”

“Say again, Private?” Klick walked towards Lamech.

“I mean that’s the spirit of the law, sir,” Lamech replied, a flinching tone of apology. Lamech was thin, non-aggressive. He had a gentle, consoling way and a pretty face with soft lips, a small nose and clear, round hazel eyes. The short, cropped remnants of his golden, brown hair looked like summer cornstalks.

Klick had moved to where Lamech sat in the sand, glaring down at him. “What’s your name, son?”

“Lamech, sir,” eyes up at the colonel, a cowering puppy.

“Look, Lamech. You’re not here to discuss any kind of spirit.” He said “spirit” so scornfully. “You’re here to follow the letter of the law.” Klick stood, staring down at Lamech for a few extra seconds, emphasizing the point that he had just made. He snapped his face forward and addressed the entire platoon one last time, “Don’t do it, men. It is not worth it.”