Swirls of rainbow ice cream spun to the dial of seventies rock. Body went hum with vibration. Pools of water that lead into different realms of reality plopped into a fantastical forest where the trees swayed to Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb.”
Danny spoke without mental resistance or hesitation. An invisible force had once again slipped behind the wheel. Gray swirls of bloated clouds covered the memories of a present in the making.
“Tried to pop a set of four—lost balance—crash—didn’t ‘til I got home.”
Stop. Shift the gears into park.
Worlds rotated out of
Danny scooted across the sand covered stones of what was once Malachi’s house. Pieces of poor Malachi bled and twitched feet apart from one another.
Each pull forward tore at the fresh wound near Danny’s hip on the right side of his body. He shoved his forefinger in the burning hole and squeezed.
An inchworm crossing the desert.
A flying buzzing across the ocean.
Danny spit—relieved to sit it absent of blood, and closed his eyes.
A live audience laughed in the background.
Danny patted the Libyan’s (or was it Afghani—Iraqi?) severed hand.
“Shh, it’s gonna be okay. Kramer showed up.”
Danny’s eyes drooped while he barely clung to consciousness. A thin fog of white smoke slid into the crumbling home. Danny’s muscles relaxed as he inhaled the intoxicating aroma.
Green fields set ablaze by men with misguided religious ideals. Bullets popped. Brick and bone cracked in a shattering explosion. Men screamed and cursed in both Arabic and English. God and Allah invoked and damned.
The severed hand gripped Danny’s own and squeezed with the intensity of a frightened and hurting friend.
“Don’t worry, good buddy. We’ll get you out of this. Just—just give me a second to think.”
Danny’s eyes closed again. Smoke thickened. His body sunk into an ethereal cloud.
His eyes shot open. The home was nearly filled with smoke now.
“Can’t beat em, join em.”
Danny laughed and then lit a cigarette.
“Someone used to tell me that.” Danny handed the severed hand the cigarette and then lit a new one for himself. “Can’t remember who though.”
The severed hand flicked an ash dangling from the embers.
“I never mentioned it, but you’re right, this brand is better than anything state side.”
The hand flashed a thumbs up. It followed with a forefinger pointing up to the hole in the ceiling and then back to Danny.
Danny shrugged and inhaled another drag.
Smoke wafted into abstract shapes. Colors swirled in spinning dots along the spectral canvas. Mirrored windows reflected other worlds, and Danny sat within them all.
In one moment, Danny stared out the open windows of a billion other Dannys. One iota of difference cascaded left and right like cascading dominoes.
All of this
Prescient or mad? Deluded or too imaginative?
Little bit of column A…little bit of column B.
Solitude breeds the creative child.
A ghost of smoke—shaped and resembling Danny—flicked Danny on the forehead.
“Snap out of it.”
Danny opened his eyes, greeted by a ceiling fan attached to a wooden sconce. The light in living room was dim. Carpet had replaced broken stone. Cool crisp air instead of the dry Middle Eastern heat.
A log crackled and broke apart. Glowing embers sizzled in the fireplace. Danny reached outward and his hand landed on a soft pack of Pall Malls. He lit one and exhaled slowly.
“Is that it?”
Tito’s feet tapped so fast, Danny was instantly reminded of the drummers from late nineties hardcore with their double pedals.
“That’s all I remember.”
Pretzels and popcorn sailed from opposite sides of the room, landing on Danny.
“I swear.” Danny hopped up and opened the floor for someone else to take a turn. “One moment I am talking to a severed hand, next I am lumbering into base on the back of a water truck. Swear to God.”
The other four who made up the Jackson Five—a special unit within Delta Force—laughed along from their places on the couches and chairs.
Danny, who held the moniker “Jackie” flopped on a cushioned chair and opened a can of beer.
“Who’s up next? Jermaine—Tito—Michael?”
Five years ago, The Jackson Five had made an agreement to visit Marlon’s cabin before and after each assignment. A night where each member would relax, regale one another with old war stories (no repeats), and transition from that brief vacation as a civilian into the long-term career of professional soldier.
They abided by strict rules. No talk of family. No discussing the mission until debriefing. No civilian names. For five years the Jackson five followed these unwritten rules with religious fervor. Besides, after this long and hundreds of successful missions, why jinx it?
Danny enjoyed the bitter thick hoppy taste of Marlin’s homebrew. Thick—dark—difficult to swallow for those with an untrained palette. Smooth and refreshing to those experienced in well-crafted beer. Not so different from them—The Jackson Five. From the very first day of team assignments, this Delta Force entourage knew there was a specific purpose in mind for them and them alone.
All from different graduating classes. Each former Army Rangers. They share a common pigmentation that proved effective for clandestine operations deep in the Middle East. Afghanistan, Kuwait, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and now Libya.
Well-versed in different languages and dialects. Practiced in culture and religion as if it had been their own from birth. The attacks in New York that infamous September morning inspired a different kind of response. Big bombs. Big cannons. Big ships. Big planes. Didn’t matter a damn bit when the enemy hid in cracks too small for your best weapons to reach.
Bush, Cheney—the rest of the men in charge had vowed to not make the same mistakes as their predecessors in Vietnam and Nicaragua. They would be smarter. More immersive. Too bad it didn’t always work out that way.
Benghazi for instance. The Jackson Five had funneled intel to the Pentagon that some chatter indicated something would go down on the Anniversary of when America lost her assurance of safety. Cells were passing along word that the Embassy was limited to a skeleton crew. Allah had blessed them with opportunity. It was their duty to be his hand of judgment.
The Jackson Five had obtained dates, names, weapons, drop points, and supplier. However, the details on the supplier are what caused the delay and error in judgement, which of course cost lives and an embassy in the heart of Isis Territory.
Pentagon and CIA had difficulty accepting that the Jackson Five were accurate regarding the name of the supplier. Higher-ups told them to stand down and wait until the intel was further verified. Pentagon and CIA couldn’t risk the bad publicity if it turned out incorrect. No one could forget the Black Water affair. No matter how much the boys in suits wanted.
These images and film strips had eternally seared onto Danny’s DNA. Communicated between neurons faster than cognitive thought. Like breathing. Sometimes without choice as with organ function.
Danny eased deeper into the couch as Tito began a story about a near disastrous fire fight ten miles from the Panama Canal.
“Bullshit.” Michael said.
Bottle caps popped. Zippos sparked. Paper and tobacco crackled with the cool burn of flavor.
Instead of drawing closer, however, Danny allowed the couch to swallow his body and pacify his mind.
I’ve heard this story before.
Danny thought he said this aloud.
Map. Miscalculation. Lost troop. Naval pilot stole a plane to Rio but crashed it on the way back. Expensive pussy. Something about the Latinas calling the Army Barracks looking for an Ottoman Jones. The Private on the line ran his finger down a penciled list. Column A were aliases—column B the soldiers to whom it applied.
Private Johnny Walker covered the mouth piece of a yellow rotary phone, “Someone tell Samuel his whore is on the line.”
And the line would swing, unattended and unwanted, back and forth, upside down, until either Samuel or another would grab the line and flirt with the piece of tail on the other end.
Deeper Danny sank.
He continued to listen in on the narrative told from a different frequency. He had to find Kenneth and make sure he was properly tuned. Or else he might lose his religion. Shake it off. Danny felt an invisible eye perched behind his left shoulder. Why it was lulling him to sleep with REM—Danny couldn’t say. But if it wanted to succeed it need to find his Personal Jesus and Shout.
“Fill ‘er up?”
Jermaine handed Danny a fresh cold one and a newly lit cigarette.
“You’re a true gentleman.” Danny said as he accepted the instruments of transitionary enlightenment.
Danny convulsed. Limbs twisted and writhed. Instead of drool, Danny’s mouth resembled a rabid dog.
Feet scuffled as hands fumbled for the proper tools.
Anxiety driven sound of scream-core lost to the late 90’s drove an already manic skeleton crew into overdrive. Unintelligible words growled with focused rage. Heavy bass and high clanging cymbal. Beefy guitar riffs slammed with no regard for art in the tune of dropped D.
“Maybe I haven’t see this episode before.” Danny said after a long pull from Marlon’s finest.
The Jackson Five commented on Danny’s quick dive into the liquid stupor. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”
Danny suddenly remembered why it was bad luck to have your name pulled from the hat first. And with that he fully submerged into the cocoon of the couch.
Someone screamed. Desperate. Frightened. The type you hear when someone sees something that shouldn’t exist. Not even in the most disturbing of imagination.
“Someone get Jonas out of—
A young man named Jonas screamed once more before losing consciousness and cracking his head on the recently bleached tile floor.
“Someone scrape the intern off the floor.”
Hospital staff stood, dumbfounded—frozen by fear and disgust.
The redhaired doctor, just finished with her residency, shook her head. No way in hell was she dragging Jonas, who only weighed a buck fifty, because that was now beneath her status. No more bullshit residency hazing and menial prep work.
The male nurse, who looked like he could lift a Volkswagen bug if he focused, squeaked and rushed out of the room.
“God dammit, does anyone actually want to do—
A loud crack of a .45 leaving a Colt’s chamber sent the staff’s ears a ringing. Dr. Miles Penn continued to shout orders and obscenities that landed upon deaf ears. As the ringing subsided, a new sound immerged. Apache chopper blades spun. Machine gun fire spit into concrete walls. Tile morphed into sand and drank Jonas’ blood. One hundred and twelve Fahrenheit evaporated the artificial paradise of climate control. Walls crumbled and vanished. The four-person skeleton crew of Dr. Miles Penn, Dr. Janet Taylor, Nurse Blake Bufford, and the unconscious intern Jonas Jones no longer stood within the unmarked hospital hidden within a secluded location, but now in the middle of the barren wastelands of southern Libya.
“I need adrenaline!”
Janet gawked at Dr. Penn’s obliviousness.
Dr. Penn fumed at his poor excuse of a staff. Bunch of dawdlers and gawkers. The doctor was in over his head. Forty-five and had already become comfortable watching over nut jobs, conducting research, and testing experimental meds. The time for getting one’s hands dirty should have been done. Hell, Miles hadn’t jumpstarted a heart in nearly a decade. And now those who should have been doing this work for him stood thunderstruck and dumbfounded, mumbling nonsense about heat and sand.
But they either couldn’t hear him or feared someone (or something) far scarier than he and their upcoming evaluations.
Robotic gears twisted and screamed as unlubricated steel ripped across each other.
“Someone shut him up.”
Blake was now screaming hysterically.
Miles performed compressions. Agonized screams rose higher. Blood leaked, unbeknownst to him, from Miles’ ears.
“Stop it!” Janice yelled, “You’re hurting him.”
For the briefest of seconds…silence.
And the screams rose to a new pitch once assumed only audible to animals. Janet covered her ears and dropped to her knees. Desert disappeared to frozen tundra and midnight darkness. Only the fain glow of DOS green illuminated their distraught and frightened faces.
A wolf howled. Something snarled and chomped. The same wolf whimpered and then hollered as bones crunched.
“What the fuck was that?”
A fifth entered from a doorway no longer visible or transparent. His name was Roger. I think it was Roger.
“Roger? Was? Why did the voice say it in past tense?”
Miles glared at Roger and motioned to the lifeless body under his pumping hands. “Get your shit together, Phil, and help me out over here. These newbies are fucking useless.”
But Phil, once named Roger, stood still. His long, white lab coat, with the label Lead Doctor, indicated he was the lead doctor of the facility.
Large thumbs of heavy feet pounded the surface. Thump. Thump. Thump. Closer it moved. Swiftly. Shadowy. Hungry.
“Oh God, it’s coming closer.”
The voice had floated from beneath Jonas’ unmoving, albeit still bleeding, body.
“It smells Jonas’ blood.” Janet said.
Danny laughed. This channel always played insane shit. That, or Jermaine really had put something in those chocolate chip cookies.
“It’s laughing at us.” Blake had crawled closer to the warm bodies of his huddle coworkers. “Why is it laughing at us?”
“Quit crowding me.” Dr. Penn said. He tried to wave them away with his head and wished to God someone else would take over on chest compressions. His wrists weren’t used to this kind of work and had begun to cramp.
And then his hands buzzed with a numbness not unlike sleeping appendages. The numbing transitioned to a complete lack of feeling. Dr. Penn held up his hands and noticed that his fingers were gone. In their place sprung ten separate Slinkys. Hair spontaneously combusted into green flame. Skin crackled and popped. Oh SNAP! Acrid odor of burned hair and skin awakened Jonas who immediately convulsed and spasmed in a screaming, demonic possessed fit.
Blake stopped crying, cuddled into a fetal position, and prayed to every god and goddess he could remember from Humanities and World Religions he took more than nine years ago. Janet laughed and ripped off her clothes. Dr. Philp Stone couldn’t take his eyes off Janet’s purchased breasts and bare snatch. Her eyes flashed green and pop! Into a marble statue Philip turned.
Up and down the light switch flipped.
An artificial storm, the lights flickered off and on…off—on—off—on—until the skeletal crew of five froze in their tracks.
A large teddy bear in suit and tie stood in the doorway observing the chaos in his patient’s hospital room.
“What in God’s name?”