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Post  Quixoticus on Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:14 pm

Two men sat on a barren knoll. One of them was smoking a stogie and looking intently at a building in the clearing below them. The other man was holding up a book and reading by the light of the first man’s cigar.

“You still got that book, Diego?” asked the smoker, without turning to look at the other.

Diego nodded without taking his eyes off the page. “It’s an interesting book, Alex.”

Alex exhaled a plume of smoke. “Can’t eat it. Doesn’t burn long, either.”

Diego continued to read as Alex picked up the rifle lying next to him and began checking the weapon. Diego’s shotgun was still slung over his back. Diego’s reading light flared as Alex simultaneously readied his weapon and puffed on his cigar with practiced ease. A flashlight would have been a more reliable source, but Alex would have a fit, because he saw it as a waste of batteries.

“Listen to this,” said Diego, not waiting for Alex to reply. “The man-god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms that his power is beginning to fail, and his soul must be transferred to a vigorous successor before it has been seriously impaired by threatened decay…”

Diego continued to read, and Alex continued to smoke his cigar and watch the building below. This continued for some time, both men completely still and only working their jaws, one to read, and the other to expunge tobacco smoke.

“…Every purpose, therefore, was answered, and all dangers averted by thus killing the man-god and transferring his soul, while yet at his prime, to a vigorous successor.”

When he finished, Diego turned his head to look at Alex. In the light of the stogie, Diego’s dark, Spanish eyes were large and bright. Finally, Alex cocked his head and looked at Diego.

“What?” asked Alex.

“It’s cool, right?” asked Diego.

Alex took another drag on his cigar, then dropped it on the ground and stamped out the embers. “Sure, Diego,” he answered as he picked up his rifle. “Time to go.”

Alex turned away from Diego and adjusted the strap on his pack. Diego sighed and put the book into his own pack, then unslung his shotgun and checked for cartridges as Alex began to descend the hill.

The building looked like a warehouse. It had metal framework and its windows were barred. There was an old tractor and several dozen oil drums in the yard. A fence topped with barbed wire lined the perimeter of the enclosure. Alex and Diego circled the enclosure, looking for gaps in the fence. There were no gaps, and the padlock was still secure on the gate.
Diego retrieved a length of tarpaulin from his pack and threw it over the fence. Alex climbed over first, and then Diego followed. Alex stood watch with his rifle shouldered while Diego retrieved the tarpaulin. When he was finished, Diego tapped Alex’s shoulder.

“Let’s check the building first,” whispered Alex.

“Alright,” answered Diego. When Alex started forward, Diego grabbed his shoulder and held fast. “I’ve got the shotgun. I’ll go first.”

They crept toward the warehouse entrance, guns raised. Diego released his steadying hand and pulled out his flashlight, showing it to Alex over his shoulder. Alex grunted. Diego clicked on his flashlight. A second later, Alex did the same.

They stopped at the entrance and swept their flashlights around the interior. The warehouse was littered with heaps of scrap metal, mostly tractor parts and field equipment. Small rodents darted away as Alex and Diego turned their beams around the room. Most of the heaps of junk were covered in dust and cobwebs. Diego ran his flashlight along the ceiling, revealing more of the same.

“Only spiders and mice living here,” whispered Diego.

“Not the worst news,” replied Alex. “Let’s look around real quick. Don’t waste the batteries.”

Alex went right, Diego went left. Alex found some hand-tools among the junk heaps, but nothing he wanted to keep. Diego found an alcove near the back, which turned out to be a small office. Inside were more dust and cobwebs, and several large volumes which turned out to be balance sheets for crop seasons. Diego also found pencils and spare paper.

“Nothing useful,” said Diego. “You?”

“Shovels and shit,” answered Alex, from the doorway of the office. “C’mon, let’s look around the yard.”

They went out to the yard. Alex nodded his head at the tractor. “Check that old thing. I’ll check these barrels.”
Alex walked among the barrels, lifting the tops off and shining his flashlight in some, bending over and sniffing others. Meanwhile, Diego clambered over the tractor, first checking for fuel, and then moving on to the engine compartment.

“Alex, this one’s got a battery,” said Diego.

Alex looked over and nodded at Diego. “Check it.”

Diego retrieved a meter from his pack and began attaching the clips. By the barrels, Alex gargled and spat into one of the metal vats.

“Rainwater,” said Alex.

He took a step to one side, then stopped. At the tractor, Diego lifted his head and looked around, listening. Alex perked up and stared off into the darkness past the fence. They had both heard it.

“Night Owls,” hissed Diego.

“Fuck the battery. Get inside,” said Alex.

Diego shoved the meter into his pack and followed after Alex, who was already jogging to the warehouse. They crouched amidst the scrap heaps, guns in hand, and listened as the turbulence grew louder and louder.

Distantly, it sounded like heavy wings beating the air in great, broad strokes. Closer, the air cut stronger, thumping like a heartbeat. Diego watched wisps of dirt stir in the yard outside. The thumping grew louder, echoing in the rafters. The gusts were picking up dirt from the yard and throwing it everywhere, at the tractor, in the barrels, in their faces. The clouds got so thick they couldn’t see past the yard.

Then the beams came, and they were blinded. Alex swore and looked away. Diego cupped a hand over his eyes. The blue light swept around the yard a few times and flashed through the cracks in the warehouse’s metal roofing. The thumping was loud in their ears, almost a roar. The warehouse rattled and shook. The bright light lingered in the yard.

Then, the light moved on. The thumping receded, and the warehouse stopped shaking. The dust cloud slowed and settled. The yard was quiet again. Alex rose to his feet and spat violently.

“We need masks.”

Diego laughed. “Sack up. It’s just nature.”

“You know how many animals shit in that dirt?” said Alex. “Let’s have another go at that battery.”

They returned to the tractor. While Diego checked the battery, Alex paced around the yard, peering out at the dark. Diego lifted his head every so often and glanced around, sometimes looking at the sky for a glimmer of blue light, listening for the thumping beat. The night remained quiet.

There was some life left in the battery. It wasn’t much, but it was something. They extracted it, and then returned to the barbed wire fence.


Alex and Diego trekked five miles north of the compound, arriving at a brake around midnight. Their tents were concealed behind a thick brush, under a large maple, invisible from the road and from above.

They approached cautiously, sweeping the area with their flashlights. Diego went in first with his shotgun at the ready. After looking over the area, he waved Alex down.

“No raccoons,” said Diego.

“Fuck you,” returned Alex. He emerged out of the brush and went straight to his tent.

Diego began unloading his pack. “The patrols are getting more frequent.”

Alex was fumbling with something in the corner of his tent. “We’re too close to New York.”

“We were closer before. Didn’t see half as many Night Owls before,” said Diego.

“Maybe they’re expanding.”

Alex returned from the corner of his tent clutching a black leather-bound book thick with pages. He sat with his legs crossed and the book cupped in his hands.

“Expand?” asked Diego.

“I don’t know, man.”

Alex put the handle of the flashlight in his mouth to illuminate the book, which had the words “Holy Bible” on the front, then flipped the cover. The pages had been hollowed out to make a compartment, from which Alex withdrew a syringe and a tourniquet.

Diego looked away and sighed. “When did you get more?”

“At that pharmacy last week,” answered Alex.

Diego nodded. “I thought maybe you’d be quitting.”

Alex rolled up the sleeve of his shirt and prepared the tourniquet, tying it just below a tattoo of the eagle, globe, and anchor haloed by a ring of stars and underscored by RECON in bold letters.

“Might do you some good,” said Diego.

Alex stopped and looked over at Diego. “Look, man. You’ve got books, I’ve got blow.”

“I don’t need my books,” groaned Diego.

“Then get rid of them,” said Alex.

Diego resigned. He prepared the hot plate while Alex finished. When he was done, Alex put the syringe and tourniquet back in the bible and put it away, then laid on his back and stared up at the bows of the maple. They sat in silence for several moments. Alex breathed loudly and deeply for several minutes. When the plate was ready, Diego got a can of beans and began working the top with a knife.

“We need to get out of here,” said Alex.

“Yeah,” answered Diego.

“I mean the States,” said Alex.

“Yeah?” said Diego. “And go where? Canada?”

“Europe,” said Alex. “France or somethin’. Probably still drinking coffee and eating baguettes over there.”

“Fuckin’ French.”

“And the girls,” continued Alex. “Oh, the girls. I was in Paris, off-tour a while back. The girls, Diego.”

“Too hairy,” said Diego.

“Bullshit,” growled Alex. “Not enough ass for you. Spanish fuck.”


Alex laughed. The beans started to hiss as they cooked. Diego watched the beans, and Alex continued staring up at the bows of the maple.

“We need to get out of here,” said Alex, again.

“Yeah,” answered Diego.

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