Fighting Amongst the Rubble

“War is little more than a catalogue of mistakes and misfortunes.”  -Winston Churchill

**********

Running his fingers through his thick brown hair, the soldier surveyed the terrain for what seemed like the millionth time.  Removing his hand from his thick curls, he let his eyes wander yet again over his home for the last few weeks.

14153771871721147961sewage-clipart-food-trucksWhat had once been a food truck now served as a modern day pillbox.  The tires had long ago been ripped off, and the ground it sat upon was uneven, but the brown-haired soldier still knew this was a better place to keep guard than most other options.  The smell of beans and grease still permeated the metal walls; a constant reminder of how things had been before the fighting broke out.  He couldn’t remember the last time he worried about salsa staining a white shirt.  Nothing was white anymore.  Not the clouds, not the walls on the now-crumbled houses, and certainly not his uniform.  The blood stains and muck had long ago become standard issue among his outfit.

The brown-haired man wondered how much longer he could hold out as the lone sentinel of his sector.  Relief had not come when it was supposed to, but that was hardly surprising given the state of things.  They certainly were not going to consider worth rushing for a meager soldier like him.  Bridges were destroyed, buildings had fallen, and man power seemed to be dwindling every day.  The soldier could not recall the last body that he had seen.  Well, had seen and had not shot on sight.  Such was the way with war.

He groaned as he reached for another can of tuna.  This is all the Melter’s fault, he thought to himself.

Early in the war, a new weapon had been released, one that attacked the enemy in two different ways.  Melter, as it was quickly labeled by the troops, was in reality, ToxiAlgae Compound No. 43.  It was a substance that reacted quickly with oxygen.  In a vacuum, the compound was quite harmless.  But when exposed, the results were devastating.  One part of the mass set about eating away at whatever was in its path; an acidic substance unlike anything ever seen, more destructive than any scientist had ever thought was possible.

(Galverson, the head scientist of the ToxiAlgae Project, was also the first victim.  Soldiers, not above giving credit where it was due, referred to being eaten by compound, as being “galved”.  Soon, like its pervasive substance, the phrase had grown to cover just about anything bad.)

A second aspect of the substance served to spread the compound even faster.  A nanite-based aspect of the creation, it was programmed to take whatever mass it ate away, use the broken down material, and reconstruct more of the Melter.  It made the acidic matter spread, increasing its destructive path.  There was a flaw in the programming, causing the nanites and their instructions to short out and cease functioning, but not before laying waste to their targets and a large radius of rubble.  Had it not been for that design flaw, most believed that the world would have been melted away to nothing within the initial few months of their skirmish.

Armored plating and concrete walls were disintegrated in seconds.  Nothing was Melter-proof.  When a solider saw another soldier, they somberly commented, “W.A.G.”; short hand for, “We’re All Galved.”  No building more than a story and a half remained.  A small portion placed on a skyscrapers’ foundation was enough to send the entire structure crashing down like a giant tree cut down in a forest.  And in this urban forest, structural engineers were quickly called upon to work the front lines.

stone-rubble-of-ruinOne skyscraper could be felled in such a way that it would take a row of buildings with it.  “Dominoes” was now a phrase uttered in hushed tones.  The children’s game took on a new meaning.  The word amongst the makeshift bunkers and foxholes was that in New York, eighteen blocks had been taken out by a single soldier, a careful plan, and seven grams of Melter.  The brown-haired man did not know if he believed that story, but he felt it was safer to assume such an attack had happened.

He choked down his tuna dinner, gagging at the familiar taste.  Covert agents often snuck onto enemy farms and the food chain with Melter.  They placed one tablet in a water-soluble capsule, dropped it in a feeding trough, and fled.  The mammals never had a chance.  Pre-Melter food had been the diet of choice, but the supply had quickly dwindled.

He tossed the remains of the food in the corner, unwilling to choke down the rest.  If it is like the last batch, I’ll probably throw it up soon enough.  Why add more fuel to the tank?

The tin can hit the metal wall of the soldier’s shelter and clanged loudly.  He cursed himself.  Seconds later, the reverberations finally ceased.  The brown-haired man poked his head up through the serving window.  The eerie silence returned.  With no electricity, no wildlife, and no fellow troops around, any small noise could be heard for blocks.  Metal hitting metal.  Stupid.  Just stupid.  Great way to broadcast my location.

He closed his eyes, letting his ears survey the site for him.  He let his forehead pull tight so that the tops of his ears rose ever-so slightly.  He tried to open them; taking in whatever noises he could hear with his most important sense.  He could not see an attack coming from behind, but he could listen for one.

He sat there with his eyes closed, concentrating.  Other than a light breeze he heard nothing.  Five minutes passed.  Then ten.  Twenty.  His jaw started to unclench.

Five more minutes, he thought to himself quickly.  If I don’t hear anything in five more minutes than I should be—

A pebble rolled.

The brown-haired soldier, with practiced silence, pulled his rifle closer to his eye.  He opened his right eye, aiming behind the scope while he continued to listen.

He was met with silence.

It could have been nothing.  The winds blew freer now, with no tall buildings to slow them down.  And the brown-haired man knew that buildings that had toppled months ago were still settling.  It could have merely been debris tumbling around.  The environment was only stretching its arms, yawning, and going back to sleep.  It was nothing to worry about.  Just like every other time.  There was never any reason for concern.

Except, when there had been.  He had learned his lesson from those times.

The brown-haired man felt his throat tighten as he tried to gulp down a dry breath.  He could have sworn he heard another shuffling of pebbles.  There, to his left, the sound of rubble being moved.  Is that a boot?  Is this man clomping his way to me?  He took a deep breath, willing his shaking hands to steady themselves.

I can do this.  He’s galved.  Not me.  Him.  You have the advantage.  The shelter.  This is just some pathetic loser waiting to be shot.  He doesn’t know what’s coming.

He could hear what he now knew for sure were footsteps.  Closer they came.  They tried to walk softly, whoever they were, but the boots fumbled on the rocky terrain.  The brown-haired man added slightly more pressure on the trigger.

From the corner of the food-truck’s window, a spray of dirt and rocks flew at the brown-haired man’s face.  He coughed, trying to breathe as he franticly clawed at the dirt that was blocking his vision.  Seconds later, a large rock struck above his right eye.

He fumbled with his weapon, firing blindly and receiving an outraged cry in response.

“Ow!  You galved up my leg you twit!”

“A rock?  You threw a rock at my eye?  That is how you fight a war, by giving out concussions?  That’s your plan?”  The brown-haired man hastened to see as blood began to trickle down his face.  Through his smeared vision, he could just make out a soldier in the other side’s uniform with a torn shirt.

“You judge my methods of engagement?  The Air-Animal Treaty of ’17 specifically states that all weapons are to fire a stunning shot first, and then lethal ammunition.  You are breaking the accord by trying to kill me like that.”  The man with the torn-shirt ripped a section off of his pants and set about wrapping his wound.

“You’re dictating terms of how I kill you?”  The brown-haired man shook his head.  “You guys really are a special kind of breed, aren’t you?”

“Unlike you cretins, Representative Louis would want us to fight with honor!”

“Well unlike you twerps, Representative Winston would want us to succeed.  As in, not getting shot by walking so loud the dead could hear.”

“This coming from the fellow who bangs his drum set to announce his presence.  I almost went down by the river, but you convinced me to pay you a visit.”  The man with the torn-shirt looked up and horror flashed over his face.  “Dear word man, is that gangrene?  How are you still standing?”

“There is no way I fall for that”, the brown-haired man said with a laugh.

“Oh come now.  Look at your arm.”

“You’re embarrassing yourself.  Louis must be getting pretty desperate if he wants you to use, ‘Your shoelace is untied’ as a war tactic”.

“You have the gun.  I am a ways off”, the man with the torn-shirt said.  “Why not look yourself over while aiming at me?  We are a good twenty feet apart.  Here, I will even back up another five feet.”

The brown-haired solider saw the other man back up.  He cast a glance down at his shirt.  He rolled his eyes and yelled back, “Oh come on.  That is guacamole.”

“Oh.  Wait, guacamole?  That does not look right.  How long has it been there?”13920445601430208058stain.svg.med

“I dunno, maybe a few weeks.  It doesn’t come out easily after a few days.”

“So that is what the smell is.”

“No”, the brown-haired man replied wryly.  “That’s me.  I have been in here a while.”

“That is…”  The man with the torn-shirt struggled for words.  And air.  “That is nauseating.  Truly.  How can you sleep with that sort of pervasive odor?  Rotting corpses smell better than you.”

“Right.  Insult the guy with the gun pointed at you.  Let us call that first shot my ‘stun’, shall we?  Bye.”

“Wait!”

The brown-haired man put down his gun.  “What?  Just let me shoot you.  Then I can go through your pockets, throw your body on the pile, and get back to my busy day.”

“Winston certainly rallies the finest troops with the highest morals, does he not?”

“Louis apparently rallies troops who walk around with elephant feet and no guns.  So yeah, I think our guy is the winner.  Bye.”

“Wait!”

“I did.  We did this, remember?  Now I shoot you.”

“Do you have no desire to talk at all?”

Talk?  Who is this guy? 

“I have been out here and have not seen anyone for weeks.  You?”

“Months”, the brown-haired man replied.

“Precisely.  So why can we not have the briefest of truces?  Honestly, I think we may be the last two left.”

“That would explain why no one has responded to my calls in the last year.”

“Indeed.  And look at what we have here.  I am bleeding from a major artery, thanks to your garish methods of engagement.  You possibly have a concussion.  Neither of us is in a hurry to get anywhere.  Why not take a moment to heal, engage in the merest of conversation, and then go back to waging the war?”

“On one condition.”

“Yes?”

“Say, ‘Winston is a winner, Louis is a loser’.”

“Come off it.”

“I’m serious.”

“Are you daft?  Ten year-old logic still solves your playground troubles?”

“Hey, I was perfectly happy playing King of the Castle all by myself.  You are the one who kicked sand in my face.”

“It was not sand”, the man with the torn-shirt replied.  “It was dirt.”

“Yeah, but sandboxes have sand.  Playgrounds have sandboxes.”

“What?”

“Nevermind”, the brown-haired man replied.  “Your side could never commit to anything, not even an analogy.”

“You blew up half the nation after we all agreed not to!  Why could you not commit to that simple notion?”

“You got all high and mighty, calling for a stop to the killings.  And then you shot Winston the next day.”

“Only after you shot Louis.”

“Oh please”, the brown-haired man replied.  “I heard all about it in the field.  You guys were always planning to take out Winston.”

“The only thing we were planning to do was fight the good fight.  I was in the field too.  Serving my side!  We would have won that election!”

“Bull”, replied the brown-haired man.  “Winston was for education, the environment, and jobs.  He was good and decent.  And your side went and shot him in front of his supporters.  Bad enough he was trying to talk us out of starting a war.  You had to go and shoot him in public where civilians could have been killed.”

“Balderdash”, the man with the torn-shirt said.  “Louis was the one to support.  If you had not been so pig-headed, you would not have broken up the nation ranting about how blessed and sacred Winston was.  Bad information is your problem.  You should have rallied behind the leader who was for progress, against unreasonable taxes, and supported fair pay for fair work.  And it was Louis who was shot in front of his supporters, not Winston.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about.”

“Look, this is getting us nowhere.  Why not pick another topic?”

“So I can share opinions and notions with you before I blow you away?”

untitled“Ideally, yes”, the man with the torn-shirt replied.  “It is regarded in many circles as bad form to discuss politics upon first meeting a person.  Surely we can be civilized?”

“In a war zone.  As I bleed and watch the blood smear with tuna juice and guacamole stains?”

“Yes.”

“You are galved in the head, pal.”

“Some might offer that we all are, I suppose.”

“Yeah.  W.A.G.”

“W.A.G.”, the man with the torn-shirt nodded in agreement.  “Allow me to suggest a cheerier topic.  What was your wife like?  Pretty?  Homey?  Fashionable?  Do tell.”

“What makes you think I was married?”

“Oh come now.  You are living in the very definition of squalor.  And yet, that ring on your hand is the cleanest thing I have seen in a very long time.  It is obviously important to you, so she was probably more than just a carpooling buddy to you.  Am I wrong?”

The brown-haired man dabbed at his forehead, winced, and wiped the blood onto his pants.  “No, you are not.”

“Well then?  Have a go.”

Why not?  “She was short.  Not comically short, but she probably should have been.  I always thought it was interesting that a person with such a short build could have such high cheek bones.  Her face was beautiful; striking even.  And the fact that her compact frame could still contain so much beauty fascinated me.  I could never stop staring at her.  Never really wanted to.”

“Had a sort of picturesque quality about her, did she?  Sat around and made things prettier?”

The brown-haired man laughed.  “Not hardly.  No, she never had time for sitting still.  She even thrashed about in her sleep.  She was always go go go.  Back then I could not keep track of all the committees and organizations she took a part in.  Planting gardens, painting houses and mowing yards; she was a force to be reckoned with.  I kept asking if she was taking all the energy we would have put into kids and used it to raise our community.  She just rolled her eyes at me and went back to the project.  She set out to make things better, and something about her made others rush to join in.”

“Sounds like a difficult gal to keep up with.”

“I couldn’t keep up with her most days”, the brown-haired man admitted with a shrug.  “No one could.  But she’d always pause long enough in between this and that to check in with me.  She was considerate like that.  In return, I’d listen when someone wasn’t keeping up with their part of the obligation or when a task was starting to get at her nerves.  She looked after everyone and I looked after her.”

“I say, was she Melted?  That is, was she around to see all this mess?  I cannot believe she would have approved.”

“No, she wouldn’t have.  I thank God she wasn’t around to see all her world destroyed by you people.”

“Oh come now, really”, the man with the torn shirt protested.  “Can we not get past that for a bit?”

“What about you”, the brown-haired man said sullenly.  “Where’s your wife?”

“Never got married ol’ chap?”

“Just didn’t see the point?  Too busy hitting on women to get hitched to one?”

“Oh nothing of that sort”, the man with the torn shirt said as he waved off the notion.  “Simply could not get the ol’ gal to cooperate.  We had a go of it.  I thought it was proceeding swimmingly.  Then some other bloke comes along and she takes a fancy to him.  Could not see what the attraction was.  Sure he had striking good looks, quick with a joke, and arms that she could not stop caressing.  Still, why would a gal settle for that when she could have been with me?  Decidedly curious; never did figure that bit out.”

“That’s it?”  The brown-haired man shook his head in disbelief.  “One gal turns you down and you give up?”

“Well it was not as if I was allotted a great deal of free time for romantic endeavors in the last few years.   Been a bit busy, you know.  She was certainly the highlight of all my encounters.  Almost made me willing to adopt a dog.  Almost.  Blasted things always barking and drooling.  I prefer a more sophisticated way of life than the ones canines create.”

“How’s that gunshot wound doing?”

“Bleeding seems to have slowed down.  Not gushing out so profusely, which is nice.  And your head?”

“Peachy”, the brown-haired man answered.  “Vision’s getting better; I now only see three of you instead of four.”

“Terrific”, the man with the torn-shirt replied.  “Say, do you remember that dinner that Representative Louis had before this whole fight started?  He took his wife out and they danced around looking splendid as that comedian fellow ran across the floor with his shirt off?  Caused quite a stir in the papers.”

“Of course I remember it, only it happened to Representative Winston.  He was the one hosting the dinner.  The comedian went on and on about how Winston was the one guaranteed to lead us to new glory.”

“Not to be contradictory sport, but that was Louis.”

“Winston.”

“Lou-is.  I say, was your hearing damaged to?”

comedic-face-with-glasses-md“Win-ston you dolt.  They were the ones you are talking about.  It was a nice dinner, everything was going well, then the comedian ran across the stage, started pointing at all his chest hairs, and joked that Lois should be with a real man like him.”

“And then the security guards tackled him”, the man with the torn-shirt joined in.

“Right.  Except one of the guards grabbed at the guy’s pants and accidentally exposed his underwear.”

“Or lack thereof ol’ fellow.  I believe you barbarians refer to it as ‘going commando’.”

“Okay”, the brown-haired man replied.  That part I think you’re right about.  His, ‘state of undress’ as they caused it was what caused the ruckus.”

“Quite so”, the man with the torn shirt said confidently.  “Only you still have the names wrong.  Our press could not believe that Winston invited such a clod.”

“And our media thought it was Louis who should have maintained a more sophisticated atmosphere and not egged the guy on.”

“I cannot understand why you are being so difficult about this.  Lois was there too.  Surely she would not have been there if it had been Winston’s party.”

“Well of course Lois Winston was there—“.

The brown-haired man stopped suddenly.  A look flashed across his face as the confusion quickly gave way to clarity.  “Lois Winston.  Lois and Louis.”

“I say, what is that?”

“I remember now.  Representative Winston was married to a woman named Lois.  Before she died, my wife told me how cute it was that the new political couple was named Louis and Lois Winston.”

“That cannot be right”, the man with the torn shirt replied.

“I’m pretty sure it is”, the brown-haired man said.

“If this is true, if, it would certainly explain why Representative Louis continually asked us to call a cease fire.”

“And why Representative Winston kept saying how we’re all in this together; that we should unite as one.”

“And why Louis, or Winston if you like, called for peace in our time.  That this was all just some big misunderstanding.”

“Huh”, the brown-haired man replied.

“Dear me”, the man with the brown shirt said.  “How do you suppose it all got this bad?”

“Too much action, not enough comprehension?”

“It would seem so.  We were a bit hasty in taking up sides, were we not?”

“Yep.”

“Sort of, created an enemy that was not really there?”

“Looks like”, the brown-haired man agreed.  He looked at the world around him.  He saw the rubble, the demolished landscape, the wasteland that had once been an area of hope and prosperity.  There were no children on swing sets, no joggers taking in the morning air, and no bustling businessmen off to make the next big deal.  There was only destruction and desolation.

E04586The man with the torn shirt made his way towards the brown-haired man.  He picked his way over the larger rocks, wincing as he forced his wounded limb to work.  His rifle hung laboriously from its shoulder strap, clumsily hitting the soldier’s hip with each jarring movement.  The going was slow, but the brown-haired man did nothing to deter him.  In a minute, the man with the torn shirt was within two feet of his supposed enemy.

“I say old fellow”, the man with the torn shirt said as he let his weapon fall to the ground.  “What exactly have we been fighting for?”

Problems With Infinity

Confessions of a Delusional Maniac

Avoiding Neverland

A nomadic teacher's thoughts on preparing teens for life

Late~Night Ruminations

...for all the ramblings of my cluttered mind....

Short...but not always so sweet 💋

Happy endings are not guaranteed

Running Away To Booktopia

Because let's face it, reality sucks most of the time.

guclucy5incz5hipz

Exploring my own creativity (and other people's) in the name of Education, Art and Spirituality. 'SquarEmzSpongeHat'. =~)

The Land of 10,000 Things

Charles Soule - writer.

40 is the new 13

These are my 40s... what happened?

You're Gonna Need a Bigger Blog

This blog, swallow you whole

bottledworder

easy reading is damn hard writing

s1ngal

S1NGLE living H1GH thinking

Listful Thinking

Listless: Lacking zest or vivacity

Kim Kircher

Strength from the Top of the Mountain

The Byronic Man

We can rebuild him. We have the technology... Drier. Hilariouser. More satirical than before.

The One Year Challenge

A one-year chronical of no flirting, no more dating and absolutely no sex.

Beth Amsbary

Grantwriter, Storyteller