“Joint Readiness” by Claire H Brukman
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Claire Brukman takes us behind enemy lines at army training in Louisiana.
Tal Afar Town is what they call us, but we’re not the real deal. The casting agency had to open it up to “actors of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent in good standing with the Union.” Who cares if we’ve got a few Armenians, and even a Steinberg from Scarsdale. We go by character names anyway. I’m Mohammed #8 when taking stage directions. I’m not, or rather Mohammed #8 is not, an insurgent. He is a Shi’ite dentist that lives in Tal Afar. My friend Ahmed (real name Tony) is an insurgent and I joke that he gets all the fun.
Aside from actors, we use volunteer war veterans as bomb victims from time to time. We cover them in fake blood and have them screaming and writhing. They’re good—even showed the professionals a thing or two about portraying pain.
“It’s because I know how it feels to have a leg evaporate,” one of them told me during off-hours. “You can’t imagine that.”
A few of us vomited the first time we rehearsed, but we have the bombing routine down now. Tal Afar Town has been training soldiers for four months, so we’ve had time to work out the kinks.
Of course, we’re not a real town either. We’re a mock city built in the woods of Fort Polk in Southern Louisiana. The soldiers have names for us, ugly names, but we have names for them too. We call them Reds because most are rednecks from red states out in rural God’s country. The few from the Northeast break your heart because they have 9-11 burned into them. At least those guys know to look up for danger, and not just down the barrel of a gun.
After the Hollywoods set off special effects that light up their young faces, we say that everyone within a thirty-five-foot radius of a coordinate has been killed. Those that are thirty to forty-five-feet are without a limb or two—or three. The Casualties try to talk their way out of it, but we wave our hands and say, “No no, you’re dead for twenty-four-hours. Go back to camp and hit the showers.” The Injured are only allowed to stay on set if they sit on the ground and help the veterans scream.
Some soldiers are terrified and die, some are scared just right, and some aren’t afraid to open fire into a crowd. Mohammed #8, the Shi’ite dentist and yours truly, has died a total of fifty-six times. We lose our tempers occasionally, and surround them yelling, but we know how hard soldiers have it. Ahmed the insurgent and I look alike—we could be cousins. (Hell, me and Tony say we’re brothers when we hit the bars in Leesville.) It’s hard to shoot him when he’s using me for cover. I even had a young guy apologize for killing me last month.
“I thought you were shooting at me,” he said, close to tears.
“It’s all right, Kid,” I told him sadly. “That Ahmed is a dirty bastard.”
The soldier didn’t look consoled. He was deployed a week ago.
Not all of them arrive so green. Some are good from the start—real good. We’re a crew of jaded actors, but we can still recognize a class act when we see one. They are levelheaded and show steel…and they make us very sad. I grabbed one by the arm once and tried to talk him out of service. He was a born leader (a looker too) from Georgia. Just that day, he led his squad on a mission through Tal Afar Town without suffering a scratch.
“Look, Buddy,” he said, “They attacked us. I lost an uncle in the Towers.”
“Mohammed #8 is from Iraq. Not Afghanistan.”
I didn’t mean to piss him off. I was just telling him what it said on my character sheet. The solider grumbled something like, Two can play this game…
“Well then you—or Mohammed #8, I mean—just got a chance to vote for the first time. And let’s say you cast a ballot in honor of your father, a political prisoner who was tortured and executed without trial.”
That bit wasn’t on my character sheet, but it could have been. As I let go of his arm, I thought of another name we call them: Sacrifice. After leaving Tal Afar Town they are flown to Iraq ready or not. We pray for them secretly because we don’t really believe in praying, but what else can we do. We pray for them, we train them, and we kill them.
CLAIRE H BRUKMAN is a Creative Director in the Philadelphia Metro area. Her political dystopian short titled “Zeitgeist” was published on The Bees Are Dead (thebeesaredead.com) and her self-published suspense Oath Stone is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats. Currently, she is working on an apocalyptic novel set in the winter of 2017.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the 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 story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Dec 5, 2016