The Things We
Randal Snyder, Copyright 1998
point. Gamma, left flank. I'll take the right." The voice cracked and
chirped as the local radio network distorted. Here we were back in Hell.
At least that's what I call it. I'm surrounded by trigger happy jokers on
both sides. Fortunately we have the bigger guns.
I've been here since
December sixteenth. That would make it five months, three days, and
sixteen hours, but who's counting. I can't wait to get out of here.
My wife, God I miss
her, and Joey, my two year old are all I need right now. I can't help but
wonder what they are up to. I'm sure I've missed a lot with Joey growing
"Zeta, snap to
it!" the crackle of static in the robotic voice broke the silence.
Damn I could have been
dead if that was a gunner. My heart raced.
just thinking you know," as soldiers are supposed to I moved when
told. When I wasn't day dreaming anyway.
"Yea, I know. We
all have beautiful wives and babies to think about. So the sooner we
finish our rounds we'll be safe."
Safe in our kennels.
walked to the corner of the alley we were in; looked to see what I could
in the dark. As usual, nothing. Just garbage, refuse, and remnants of
food. After curfew no one dared to venture out side. That's why we were
here, to make sure no one did. Our orders were to apprehend or subdue anyone
found outside past nine and before five. It's been only five months and I
already have five kills. Other guys have a lot more. For some reason I
can't stop thinking about Meredith and Joey. Every time I level my M-16 I
I almost bought it not
long ago. I've never been so scared in my life. This rubber suit still
We had walked half of
our new route when we came up on what looked like a torn down old privacy
wall. The Sarge sent Baxter to check it out, so he started climbing the
debris. He stumbled over the rocks that were all over and worked his way
to a perch half way up the wall. As soon as his fingers gripped the ledge
all hell broke loose. The spreaders were coming out of the wood works,
yelling "on to freedom". Before he could even react Baxter saw
the cinder block coming at his face. It was a hysteria of screaming,
falling rocks, and the Sarge's gun bursting out death. Next thing I know
some guy is beating me over the head with a table leg. I don't know how,
but he ended up under me with my bullets in his head.
I'll never forget that
empty stare through the blood on my visor. Then it was over, my vomit
filling the respirator and dripping further in to my suit. By the time I
cleared my mask and could think straight six spreaders were dead. But they
got Baxter. Jonathan Baxter, private First-class, US Marine Corps. dead at
21. It made me realize just how vulnerable we really were.
Yeah, we had the armor
and the guns, but those damn spreaders had the will and desperation to try
things like this. It would happen again, I could feel it. Like the rubber
clothes I practically live in, constricting and suffocating the life from
So here we were
waiting for orders, sitting in the open at the end of a "T"
shaped alley. There were at least three likely routes of attack, should we
"What are we
waiting for Sarge?" Gamma piped up. His voice tense and hoarse. Gamma
was his code name, he was new to our trio patrol. We used code names in
case someone was listening. At least then they couldn't antagonize us by
The Sarge is Sergeant
William Stacey, a hard assed man from southern Texas. A good old American
man who loves Hispanic women, but hates the men. Too much competition I
...and Gamma? I don't
even remember his name. This is his first day with us.
Johnson, that's Gamma's real name. Big black guy from Up State New York.
Nice guy, but huge! Just don't let him bear hug you. It's a wonder they
had a HE-suit to fit him.
The HE-suit is a
standard issue Hostile Environment suit, rubberized for your protection.
They keep the bad air out and the good air in. Lord knows there isn't much
good air in these body bags. After about ten minutes it stinks so bad you
could die. But then we all end up doing that. Dying that is.
Damn I hate this
"Shut up and sit
tight," the Sarge shifted and pointed to his bug-eyed mask,
"look" then his ears, "listen" then to the filters
where his mouth would be, "and shut the hell up!" He was
normally more colorful, but this was Johnson's first day. Why spoil the
All was still except
for the hollow rasping of air being pushed through the air filters. The
little electric fan whirred relentlessly circulating air through the
there're no misquotes," I though out loud.
It was the Sarge barking.
After what seemed like
hours we sat in the shadows, finally to hear the sound of male voices.
up," thump, thump, thump, the rhythm in my head increased its tempo.
Cold chills ran up my neck as adrenaline surged. Once again I could feel
the sickness as I felt the urge to hurl.
No, not this time. I
swallowed over and over to the bass drum beating in my skull.
"Zeta, what do
some reason I didn't hear.
"Get your head
out of your ass. Take a look and report."
Inching by the wall I
looked across from me and to the alley in front. All seemed clear.
"Safe to the
right and ahead," back to the wall I pulled out a pocket mirror.
Cheap plastic thing with a magnet on the back. Slowly I moved it closer to
the corner, about knee level, watching each changing shadow. Four figures
were huddled around an aluminum trash can passing a cigarette between
them. The can was inverted to be used as a table.
smoking... junk on a table." Shifting the mirror in my hand I scanned
the rest of the alley. "All on the left."
"All right, you
know what the deal is. See any weapons?"
"Keep sharp and
stay alive." All three of us freed the safeties from the rifles, the
springs ringing eerily in the night. "If they run, track and kill. We
don't want a bunch of their friends jumping into this party."
We lined up just out
of sight hunched and ready to launch into the death making. "Shut off
the radios, we don't need support. On three."
The count came way too
fast as the shadows blurred. M-16s trained on a target we lunged in near
blindness. A curse rose from the lips of one of the damned. Fire sparked
from the commander's muzzle. Thunder cracked the quiet mask of peace.
White powder floated from the man's clenched fist, blood sprayed as lead
broke flesh, meat, and bone. A burst of pain from Johnson. Another man
fell. Adrenaline taking command my muscles twitched and my soul broke
Overwhelmed by the
facts of war the last man stood, mouth agape, eyes tearful, and face full
of panic. The Sarge's bust threw him onto the table of cocaine to rest
half draped on the crumpled aluminum. Looking through the haze of steam on
the visors and the smoke of midnight we moved in. The Sarge leaned over
each felled man and in turn stepped on their throats. No survivors, that
was standard. He motioned for Johnson back the way we had come and me
forward. We knew the drill. Ensure no other threats existed.
When I turned the
corner I heard the crack of an M-16. Darting back I didn't see the Sarge.
Scanning the alley passing the bodies, the can, and the steps they lay in
front of. My rifle was trained mid-level. As I reached the corner we had
begun at I saw the Sarge waiving me forward. At his feet was Johnson's
body, crumpled like a rag-doll. I could faintly hear the Sarge's curses
through the muffled mask.
Next thing I know I
have something against the back of my head. The familiar sound of the
safety unlocking rang deeply. Thunder again crashed my dreams and pain
like none I ever imagined brought me down. I saw the rock crushing the
plastic visor, the dust rushing into the mask; the blood fill the filter.
I felt his grip, heard the crackle of the radio coming to life again. All
my senses were alive like never before, the fire in my head racing
throughout my extremities. I heard him lie. He said we were ambushed. I
heard his breathing. I tasted the cocaine on his tongue and smelled it as
he inhaled the stuff. Deep inside I knew what he had done. Sold six lives
for a desire.
The midnight air took
me as his feet ran past me, back to base to report.
That's how you found
me. I'm one of you now. Locked in this little hell somewhere in New
Jersey. Surrounded by live wires, machine-guns, land mines and unscaleable
walls, but worst surrounded by the people that will do the things we must