24 August 2010

Trigger Finger

Bobby Sack lay on his back to stare at the ceiling, a flaking moonscape inhabited by flies and malevolent shadows.  Day four of his self imposed exile in the shitty Bangkok hotel room he hadn't wanted to enter and now couldn't bring himself to leave.  To leave the room meant to enter reality, and Bobby had no confidence in his ability to handle it.  The Glock pistol in his left hand had its own gravity, but even the heft of it did little to shore up the tottering remnants of his depleted courage.

Not now.  Not after his year of Continuous Firefights.  The echoes still knocked around his head. 

Bobby coughed around the stub of the cigarette smoldering between his lips.  He wasn't worried about falling asleep; the darkness behind his eyes lit up by the wavering flights of tracer rounds in a murky green atmosphere, Bobby rarely closed the lids.  He reckoned he would kill the the butt, then he would doze.  Standard operating procedure in a combat zone, he thought, and a weak grin brushed his lips.

Waves of dizziness washed him ashore on the sheets soaked with sweat and humidity, which the room's air conditioning never seemed to conquer.  He had grown accustomed to the jungle damp.  Out there the humidity was like another change of clothes, a set of overalls you could never take off, so the body just got used to it.  Here, in the room, Bobby found himself getting pissed.

"What the fuck, it's a goddamn hotel, a real building, in a real city, and they can't get the goddamn a/c to work?" he muttered to the ceiling.  A faint sheen of sweat metastasized on his chest and legs.  For a disconcerting moment, Bobby felt his skin melting into the bed sheet.  The sensation was so unnerving he jerked his left arm up to rub the underside of his bicep.  The pistol hit the headboard with a brittle crack.  Bobby jumped at the sound, his heart thudding under his sternum like a maniac drummer.  He sat up as if electrified.  His breathing sounded too loud to his ears.

What's wrong, Bobby?

The voice of his girlfriend in his head, grey eyes looking into his as he gazed at her upside down face.  His head was in her lap.  They were on the porch at his parents' house, back home in Virginia, two days before Bobby was due to leave for Myanmar.  She had looked so beautiful, and sad in a small way, and Bobby had reached up to touch her cheek before he answered.

Nothing, baby, nothing that wasn't wrong before he had replied, and her face grew blurry as she bent down to kiss him...

...and Bobby woke up in a dingy Bangkok hotel room,  four days out of the field and facing a long flight back to a place he wasn't sure he knew anymore.  Or could know.  It was, after all, the Real World, and that was a country very different from the one he had left.  He shuddered, gasped and watched two small tear drops splash onto the butt of the pistol.  They looked greasy in the wan light trickling through the blinds.

Bobby stood up and walked over to the window to open the slats.  Traffic light from below and garish neon above from the megacomplex stretching down the crowded street sparkled on his sweating face.  He could see his reflection in the glass.  The reflection a ghostly representation to Bobby's mind of the person he used to be.  The person whose true self had evaporated somewhere in the middle of a hot Burmese delta, washed away in a torrent of blood and thick river water.  The ghost looked cold, Bobby thought.  Odd.

An ambulance came warbling down the street, pushing its way through the viscous traffic behind the angular escort of a Humvee.  The top was down on the Humvee and Bobby could see three soldiers in the back.  They carried rifles but had no packs, something Bobby found curious until he remembered he wasn't in Myanmar anymore.  The ambulance and the escort turned the next corner up and out of sight.

"Shit, I'm not there.  I don't want to be home, either" he told himself, "but where else I'm gonna go?"  The words echoed slightly in the room.  For some reason, the echo sparked a flare of dread inside, pooling in his left hand.  He looked down at the pistol as his fingers unconsciously tightened on the grip.  He raised it up to stare at it.  The black circle of the barrel seemed to be not just black, but utterly nothing.  A small, man-made black hole that sucked up every scrap of gravity and light.

Staring into the little tip of nothingness, fingers tightening on warm metal, it occurred to Bobby that the problem with a gun isn't really squeezing the trigger; the problem is letting it go.


  1. Is this a repeat? Seems familiar... Sorry I have a fuzzy brain these days.

  2. Good stuff, Gumbo. And ya, have we met Bobby before?

  3. i've never met Bobby. what a great read! did he pull the trigger??

  4. Oooooo, chilling, dude. Toward the end, I wondered if the medics were coming to take out his dead body (and he was just a ghost). Well done. Shades of Apocalypse Now.

  5. I hope that he decides he can go home again. Not worth dying over.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...