31 October 2008

Alternate Realities

Happy Halloween!

In a very twisted way, the title of "The Saints are Coming" was its inspiration. You may recognize it as the name of this song by U2 and Green Day:

That music video always chokes me up, in the same way that reading Ex Machina does. Because we can do better. We can be so much better. If you really believe this is the best of all possible worlds, you are part of the problem and should stay the hell away from me.


Audio: "The Saints are Coming"

Music: "Paloseco Brazz Bossa Trumpet" by The Paloseco Brazz Orchestra, licensed under Creative Commons from ccMixter.

You may notice a bit of a drawl in my reading this week. It crept in while I was rehearsing; it just felt more natural for this narrator to have a bit of an accent.

I imagine this scene as being somewhere near New Orleans, and that the bluesy trumpet is being played by an off-duty doughboy, thinking of home while he waits in the mud. Maybe this is the longest he's ever been away from his family. Maybe he's a little happy about that. But just a little.


"The Saints are Coming"

By Curtis C. Chen

The platoon waited, lying flat against the dirt slope as the sky darkened above them. Billy pushed his palm into the ground, feeling the damp soil. The enemy was bringing a storm. They always brought weather. They weren't exactly subtle.

"Weapons free, boys!" he called down the line. The soldiers responded with a chorus of clacking noises, chambering rounds and disengaging safeties.

Billy looked around just as a bolt of lightning seared the valley, painting the silhouette of someone coming up the hill. Billy shouldered his P90 and jammed the butt into his armpit, hard, until the soreness there burst into pain. They'd run out of caffeine and glucose three days ago. He tried to focus his eyes.

Shuffling noises approached. The soldiers flanking Billy turned and lifted their rifles over the sandbags.

"Messenger!" came the voice, just before a boy in camouflage fatigues stepped into the light. "Bravo Company messenger for Sergeant Armstrong!"

"Stand down," Billy said. Lightning stabbed the ground, closer than before. "Get in here. You're staying until the storm passes."

"Maybe even longer," somebody muttered as the messenger climbed into the trench.

"Milo, I will cut off your tiny hairless scrotum!" Billy shouted. A few boys chuckled. It was a ritual.

The new boy held out his message with shaking hands. Billy took the plastic card, verified the bar code, and passed it to Jackson, the radioman.

"What's your name?" Billy asked the messenger.

"Private Michael Thibodaux, sir."

"Don't call me 'sir.'" Billy frowned as Thibodaux wiggled a loose tooth with his tongue. A baby tooth. "How old are you?"

"Everyone fights," Thibodaux recited.


Jackson held up a deciphered display film. His round eyes looked even bigger than usual. Billy read the message and caught a whimper before it left his throat.

"Platoon!" Billy called. "Circle up and switch to infrared scopes! Eyes on the treeline!"

"Who is it, Sarge?" one of the boys asked, moving closer.

Billy hesitated, then said, "Francis Assisi."

"We're fucked," Milo said.

"I thought EPA napalmed all the animals around here!" said another boy.

"Yeah," Billy said, "I guess that didn't stop him."

"What, zombies again?"

"This isn't the city. We've got room to fight." Billy pointed to Thibodaux. "Now somebody get him a weapon!"

"Oh, my sweet Rapture..." Milo sang. "Halle-fucking-lujah."

More laughter. Rituals kept them sane.

Something boomed in the forest. Billy swung around, his heart racing. The wind blew a smoky odor--almost like barbecue--into his nostrils.

"Anybody see anything?" "Trees are moving--" "Oh shit! Ten o'clock! Ten o'clock high!"

The saint stood fifty feet tall, towering over the treetops. Flying, flapping shapes followed him and circled his head. The beatific glow of his skin illuminated dark smears on his friar's robes. His huge, watery eyes found the platoon, and he gestured with one massive finger. The flying things descended.

"Cover! Cover!" "Are those birds?" "They don't got no feathers!"

"Fucking miracles," Billy grumbled. "OPEN FIRE!"

Their weapons barked. Saint Francis of Assisi roared, and the corpses of wolves obeyed him.

It started raining then.