“Getting Bombed in Iraq” by Raymond E. Lee
Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)
This week, Raymond E. Lee uses a unique cocktail to cope in a war zone.
A hole at the base of a crumbling T-wall was the only point of entry to the group’s hideaway. Inside they were like kids in a clubhouse. They felt safe there, the wash of incandescent lighting creating shadows from every angle. They could drink, smoke, play cards, and talk shit about everybody they worked with without fear of outsiders or superiors intruding. D’Arturo had arranged several folding chairs that he’d pilfered from the warehouse in the clearing. Atop a cooler that doubled as a coffee table sat several packs of cigarettes and a stack of pornographic magazines dog-eared and wilted from the intense heat.
“A soldier’s greatest weapon is ingenuity,” Hicks spit out like a drill sergeant. With a shaker made of two solo cups pushed together, he illustrated the manufacture of a Barracuda cocktail. Across the cooler Monmouth sat sipping an example of the concoction from his canteen.
“You wanna shake it up real good,” Hicks continued. “And I mean it—give it a good shake, because the cough syrup likes to coagulate. It might taste better with less of a shake, but when you get to the bottom it gets so thick you almost have to chew.”
He poured the mixture into a third cup. Unscrewing the cap from a bottle of Scope, he filled the cup to its brim. “The secret ingredient,” he said, handing it off to D’Arturo.
Monmouth winced, pulling the canteen away from his face.
“It bites you if you’re not used to it. Cut it with some water.” He tossed a bottle to Monmouth. “But like I said, be careful how much you drink. The Barracuda don’t fuck around—it plays for keeps.”
“I went through a whole bottle of syrup perfecting it before I felt anything,” D’Arturo admitted, “and then it hit all at once. It’s like acid, y’know—your mind escapes you. It makes you restless. I felt all pent up in the dorms, so I started walking around base. That might have been a mistake. Security forces picked me up pretty quick.”
“You were here before?” Monmouth asked.
D’Arturo nodded. “Yeah, twice. Back in ’06, and then again in ’08.”
“What was it like?”
“Nothing’s changed ’cept the people.”
“Any close calls?”
“Not really. I was working communications the first time, and one of my jobs was to track the mortar attacks. We’d get maybe four or five a day back then—more than we get now in a week. Truth of the matter is those C-RAMs they keep saying are protecting us, well, they only pick up the mortars about 30 percent of the time. Even if they fire, they’re just as likely to miss as hit.”
“So it’s pretty much a crapshoot?”
“Maybe one in five actually detonates. The last reported casualty on this base from a mortar attack was in 2005, I think.”
“That doesn’t sound like much of a threat.”
“It’s not really. Al-Qaeda has about the same chance of killing you with a mortar as you do of killing a fish by throwing a rock in a pond.”
“Yeah, don’t fucking worry about it,” Hicks added. “You know how they’re always telling us to hit the ground after an explosion. Well, by the time your body hits the ground, it’s already too late—you’re hitting the ground in pieces anyway.”
A flash registered in each man’s periphery. In the millisecond before the trembling of the earth could rattle them, their faces became awash in bright light, their expressions frozen with half-complete thoughts. One of Monmouth’s eyes was trailing slightly behind the other—an early sign of the Barracuda’s potency—and his mouth was agape, as if searching for a word. Hicks fared little better, his eyes closed as if camera shy, and a cigarette paused midway to his mouth. D’Arturo was illuminated in an unflinching example of boredom, his back turned away from the blast.
When the shockwave struck, it threw D’Arturo over the table and into Monmouth’s lap. Contrary to his words, Hicks had found the ground of his own volition. There was a moment of eerie silence before the claxon’s belated cry of, “Incoming, incoming, incoming,” erupted from the base-wide PA system, echoing off the T-walls and through the housing unit in a female monotone that seemed almost casual compared to the blast.
They found their feet in unison. Hicks moved toward the hole in the barrier, but Monmouth grabbed his arm. “They’ll just make you get in the bunker if you go out there before the all clear. At least you can smoke in here.”
“I don’t care,” Hicks responded, snatching his arm violently from Monmouth’s grip and diving headlong through the hole. “At least I’ll be safe in the bunker.”
“Safety’s an illusion!” D’Arturo shouted after him. Then he turned to Monmouth, a question drawn across his face. “I don’t know how many times I’ve told him.”
Monmouth nodded in agreement as they retook their seats.
“So they say your dad’s a big dick in the army.”
“Is that what they are saying these days?” He lifted his chin as if appraising the statement then spit on the ground. “It’s not true.”
RAYMOND E. LEE’s intentions are pure. Broke, single, and unknown, his work is comparable to your father’s drunken rants at the television set.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected], and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).
Posted: Oct 16, 2014