We’ll Meet Again

I saw him as soon as I came in the door. He sat at the bar, his arm bent at the elbow, clutching his cheap Mexican beer, staring up over the bottles of spirits behind the bartender to the glowing television screen above.

It was when I saw the tattoo that my body screamed for me to turn and I run. In that horrifying split-second I imagined that this is how a deer in the headlights of an oncoming Mack truck must feel; terrified but immobilized, knowing that something horrible is coming and coming fast but unable to move or resist or change the inevitable doom barrelling down upon it.

He turned to face me, slowly, so slowly, and the recognition washed over his face even slower than he’d turned. It was like he was expecting me. Slowly he stood, his giant swarthy form commanding the space around the bar stool. I was petrified. My heart screamed for my body to run but my legs were jelly.

When he looked into my eyes it all came flooding back: I saw the green leaves of the tall trees swaying in the humid jungle breeze, the angry cries of men beneath the din of automatic rifle fire, the explosions, the limbs flying clouds of power and dirt and gore, and the blood. Oh God, the blood. And I saw him floating above it all, not as he was now but as when he’d been then with that long black cloak flowing downward, untouched and unaffected by the bullets whizzing through the air, and his face a bleached skull of death, and his bony fingers outstretched, his hand pointing down from up above in that cloud of smoke. At me. Letting me know he was coming for me.

He smiled a wicked smile, showing all his teeth. “It’s been a long time, but we both knew this day would come,” he said. “Sit down, and share one last drink with me.”

I could only obey.

The Obliteration Room

Colonel F. J. Jefferson walked into the cold steel room and surveyed the panels of blinking instruments. Scientists clad in white lab coats scurried about, flicking switches, twisting knobs, pulling levers. The air buzzed with a ferocious intensity.

“This is it,” Dr. Wodehouse said proudly. He and Jefferson faced to turn the one-way glass. “Behind this glass and that steel door lies the greatest weapon we have ever produced. It will be the weapon that will turn the tide of the war.”

“A room?” Jefferson said quizzically. “How is a room a weapon?”

“We call it The Obliteration Room.” Wodehouse took a drag from his cigarette. The smoke curled upward into the stale air of the observation room. “Right now our technology is just confined to the fields we can generate inside, but once we extend the coils to be able to be applied anywhere we’ll be unstoppable.”

Wodehouse flicked a switch on the instrument panel opposite the glass and leaned down to speak into the grille of the microphone above it. His cigarette dangled in his mouth as he spoke. “Bring in the test subject.”

A pale emaciated man in an orange jumpsuit was lead into the room in front of them by a guard. He was chained at the wrists and ankles. The guard deposited the prisoner in the center of the chamber, then exited and closed the steel door behind him. The wheel in the door spun, hermetically sealing off The Obliteration Room from the surrounding passages of the bunker.

“Fire the weapon,” Wodehouse said, his voice tinny and garbled in the microphone, his expression unmoving.

The scientists in the room flipped switches and chattered excitedly. Then there came a low humming. The humming rose to a drone, then a grinding, then a deep throbbing that seemed to shake the whole facility, one that resonated in the forms of all in the observation room, and seemed to shake Jefferson’s very bones within his old frame.

The walls of The Obliteration Room wavered like a mirage in a desert. The prisoner craned his necked upward toward the ceiling and screamed. His face melted into a liquid, pouring down his cheekbones and exposing the red muscle of his face beneath. His eyeballs swelled and bulged from their sockets. He screamed in agony and the scream was drown out beneath the droning of the machine. He flailed his limbs wildly at his sides, as the men in the observation chamber watched in horror, and then they exploded into clouds of red blood and muscle and splintered bone.

The prisoner fell to floor, writhing, melting, screaming, crying for mercy and disintegrating into a pile of gore.

“Shut it off! Shut it off!” The Colonel screamed. Wodehouse watched impassively.

Finally, the drone died down and all was quiet again. The men in the observation chamber stared blankly into The Obliteration Room, at the steaming puddle of red ooze and shattered bones that had once been a man.

Jefferson looked down at the instrument panel.

“God help us,” he muttered. “We shall never use this weapon.”

Wodehouse smiled. “Follow me,” he said coolly.

“To where?” Jefferson asked, still shaken.

“To the others.” Wodehouse flicked his cigarette. “This is only the first.”

The Invisible War

Nothing helps, and it’s only getting worse.

The dirt, the dirt and the germs, they’re everywhere. Hiding in every little nook and cranny of the house. I’ve scrubbed and I’ve mopped and vacuumed and disinfected everything but they’re just too strong. It’s an infestation. I can’t get rid of them. I can’t live in this cesspool. They have me surrounded and I can’t escape.

It’s only gotten worse. I could feel them spreading, their microscopic forms slowly crawling toward me in my sleep. They’d been getting stronger every day, and I knew it. All my disinfectants, all my arsenal was starting to become obsolete. They were evolving and now I’m losing the arms race. Last night they broke through my final line of defense, my last antiseptic perimeter, my ring of salt around my bed to keep away the little virulent demons. They are winning this war.

I’m infected. I could feel it when I woke up this morning. And I knew I had to do something.

The hot water pours from the faucet, boiling hot, too hot too touch but I know I must. The steam rises in my face and I put my hands under the scalding stream. The pain is excruciating, like nothing I’ve ever felt. I scream in agony but smile wickedly: die you little fuckers, die. I laugh as the liquid scorches my skin. Die, die, die.

No. No, it’s not working. They’re spreading too fast. I have to do something.

I run to the bathroom and turn on the shower. Hot. No hotter. Come on, faster. Hotter. Hotter. I can feel their little microscopic forms spreading all over me, multiplying in tiny little colonies. They’re raising their armies. They’re still on the offensive.

HOTTER. HOTTER. COME YOU MOTHERFUCKING HYDRO COMPANY WHAT DO I EVEN PAY YOU FOR! FUCK, HOTTER! HOTTER!

I step into the burning water and it is glorious in its destruction. I scream over and over as it burns my skin but I know I’m going to win now – I’ve mounted the offensive. Die you little fuckers, die. You picked the wrong man to fuck with. I scream and scream and in my screams of agony I can hear myself laughing but then I’m not sure whether I’m laughing or crying. But it doesn’t matter.

It’s still not enough. No matter how hot the water it’s not enough. I am torching the theatre of war to take the enemy with me but it’s not enough. I scrub and scrub and scrub, but it’s not getting them off. They are multiplying too fast. I just want them to die. I just want to feel clean. It’s not enough. It’s not enough.

My sobbing slows. With a shaking red hand I turn the shower off. The stream of inferno recedes to a dribble, tiny drips of lava dropping to the porcelain below. I stand in the steam. My skin is on fire but I don’t care.

It’s already too late.

They’re laughing at me. I can feel them. They’ve already breached the last beachhead. They’ve broken through the castle walls and are inside the city. They’ve osmosed through my skin. They are inside me.

Naked and red, I run to the kitchen. Again I turn on the scalding stream from the faucet. I grab a glass from the cupboard and set it down on the counter. Come on, hotter, hotter. HOTTER. Daddy’s thirsty. Come on. COME ON.

No. No, that wasn’t enough, remember? Stupid. So stupid. It didn’t work before, it won’t work now.

More. More firepower. I need more firepower to win the war. Complete and utter destruction. Total annihilation of the germ race. Genocide. Nuclear holocaust. Wipe them all out: little germ soldiers; little germ civilians; little germ men, women and children and crying germ babies.

In my head I see the image of the tall white jug, and I run to the laundry room.

Pyrrhic Victory

The smell is heavy in the air, that of death and of burning asphalt. My eyes are drawn to the bodies strewn about in the carnage: lying exposed on piles of rubble, crushed beneath fallen concrete pillars, and shredded in tangles of twisted rebar, like the web of some giant mechanical spider.

We made the first strike but they hit back hard. They bombed our cities, evaporated the seas, poisoned the earth. All of what had once been civilization now lay smoldering beneath a sky with air that smelled of ozone, the horizon now ever-dotted with plumes of rising smoke from fires burning on distant continents.

It had been the ultimate irony: finally discovering there is other intelligent life in the universe, and their first words to us are not we come in peace or take me to your leader but surrender your planet and be eradicated. Not or. AND.

But we got ’em. You’d be proud mom, ’cause we got the bastards. Delivered a fist of all of earth’s nuclear power to the breast of their colossal mothership and watched it fall, a burning hunk of scrap metal, into the Atlantic.

As I gnaw the bloody bone – a femur, once a woman’s – and breathe in the acrid air, I look off into the horizon and think, clearly for once, the first clear thought I’ve had in the 5 long years of chaos since the war began:

Victory is ours. But at what cost?