The day had been long and slow, the hours had felt as tenacious as a half-melted piece of cheese. I felt as if nothing could save me, except, maybe, a cold swig of liquor burning its way down my throat.
The streets were so empty that even the stained windows and the flickering light on the inside seemed inviting. The heavy door refused to budge until I gave it a hearty kick. When it swung open the warm smell of old wood welcomed me home; home to Desperation Pub.
The first hour went by slowly; just the way time should flow – slow, steady, predictable. That’s why you go to the Pub, to savor the value of time, to live at least a minute of your day with dignity rather than the all-encompassing nonsense of reality.
I didn’t notice the door opening until the cold draft touched my neck. The brawny guy sat down two seats away, nodded at the barkeeper, then at me.
It was in his eyes. The mixture of confusion and fear, and that other emotion that I struggle to describe but that every one of us recognizes by the hunched shoulders, the pale face and the empty eyes: desperation.
I moved over, to the chair next to his, and stretched my arm towards his body.
“Anton,” I said.
He faked a smile, but I ignored his face. I absorbed his appearance: Jeans, dark green sweater, short hair, heavy boots – military boots. I smiled.
“Recently back?” I asked.
“Somewhat,” he said. He looked at his hands, pulled his sweater, then noticed his boots and laughed. “Observant!”
We talked nonsense. Sports, weather, women. The things men talk about to warm up, to melt the barrier, to check how trustworthy the other one might be. The Gin helped.
“I met this girl once, in Greece.”
I interrupted him. “What happened?”
“I was just gonna tell –“
“No,” I said. “Why do you look like someone broke a knife in your back?”
“Oh”, he said.
The only sound was the pen of a lonely writer, a scribbler at the other end of the room. Then David spoke again.
“You won’t understand.”
“Try me,” I said.
He smiled. A fresh Gin shifted into his hand, broke the last part of the barrier, then David finally spoke.
“We had this mission,” he said. “I’m not sure what to make of it. My mates are telling me to ignore it, but it doesn’t make any sense and I can’t get it out of my head.”
“What?” I asked.
“I can’t tell you the details. Let’s just say we had to get somebody. It wasn’t exactly a rescue mission, if you know what I mean. We were on a ship for a while, then the helicopter. I don’t know why they never tell us the country.”
“The place looked so dead, even from the air. Even the green trees had a touch of gray and looked as if they would soon give up. I can’t imagine living in a place like that. It nearly seems rational that you go insane, start murdering others.”
I took another gulp, David followed suit.
“Anyway, we were looking for this guy. Charismatic, well-connected, plenty of guns. We knew that he was good at indoctrinating people – but damn, not that good. Nobody is that good, no human!”
“We arrived near dawn. We knew that he was expecting us. You can’t expect to cross 60 miles by helicopter and go unnoticed. But it was too far to sneak in, so we did the brute method: Get in fast, make sure he won’t make problems, and then get out fast.”
David’s hand tightened around the glass.
“The first team was on the ground within two minutes. I was still in the helicopter, covering them, when I saw the woman running. I heard a loud ‘Fuck!’, shots, and she was down. I saw the team approach her body. ‘Knife,’ said one, and just while he said it I saw her moving again. She crawled forwards, towards the nearest of the team. She was screaming something, tried to lash out at him – and they put her down.”
“But they came from everywhere. We shot from the choppers and the team on the ground shot, but those women kept streaming in. They all looked young, were barely even dressed. I guess we hesitated. Else the guys would have been fine. Else everything would have been fine. But those women were fast, and so many; and I saw them going down one by one. Those women, we must have gotten twenty, maybe thirty, but they kept streaming in. Then I heard the first scream on the radio, saw our guy going down and the woman falling on him. Then another, and another. We tried to pull the last one up, but they got him. There were two clinging to his body. We tried to shoot them off, but by the time we had the guy back up he was dead.”
David emptied his glass.
“Fuck man,” he said. “I lived three years with that guy in the same room. I never liked him because he smelled like a pig. But seeing him like that, with the open wounds and the blood running from his throat – I shot at everything that moved.”
“I thought they were all dead,” David said. “But we came back the next day, with tanks and all.”
“I’m sure we broke some treaties or something, but we didn’t even care. If there’s one thing that we run on it’s that we are a team, that we don’t leave anybody, not even a dead body.”
The next round arrived.
“The ride was smooth, but when we got closer they were firing at us. It took us a while to take the shooters out, two or three guys on the second floor of the building. We all saw them and shot back right away. But I stopped shooting when I saw them; when I recognized the helmets. Those were our guys; our guys shooting back at us. I know, the others could just have stolen the equipment, but it wasn’t just the equipment. They shot like us. They behaved like us. And I even saw one of the guys’ faces; it was only for a second, but he just looked like us.”
David shook his head.
“And”, he said, “Just when we had the shooters out the locals started walking towards us. Usually they hide, but I mean there are some crazy people out there that come close to the fighting. But that’s a few, usually. Only this time it was the whole goddamn city. From one moment to the next the people began to walk out of their buildings, towards us. They were just walking slowly and somewhat stiffly, but it was a whole goddamn army of people!”
“They just walked? No weapons?”
“Well, first they walked. But then one of us got a nervous finger, one of them fell down – and in that moment they all started running. Not just one or two, literally this whole town started running towards us.”
David’s fingers clenched the bar.
“We mowed them down like bugs. Shoot and get all of them. I didn’t even hear the orders, it was obvious anyway. Shoot and keep them far away. They got to one of our trucks, got inside and killed the guys. But after an hour it stopped, and most of us were fine. We shot hundreds of those people, maybe a thousand. There were heaps of bodies all around the vehicles. We checked on the guys in the truck that was attacked, but they were all dead, stabbed mostly in the throat.”
“I had this really bad feeling when I walked back to my truck. I had this feeling that we were being watched, and that at some point the bodies on the floor would start moving. But all those locals were dead, and they looked dead. I mean, they didn’t look like they were just shot; they looked white and blue, as if they had been dead for weeks. I just ran back to my truck.”
He looked inside his glass; then took another gulp.
“A team of ours stayed back to pack the body bags and retrieve the other truck. We got command to get the target, burn the bodies and the rest of town and get out. So we did.”
“We just bombed all life out of the mansion where the target was. We didn’t want to enter, but by the time it left nothing could have been alive in it anymore. A few more women kept running out, but they all went down quickly. Wasn’t even much blood.”
David slammed his glass on the table. I saw the silent scribbler in the corner flinch.
“Hey!” The scribbler said.
“Fuck you,” David replied, and turned back to me.
“We got an emergency call from the team back where we had been attacked, and right away we all packed up and drove the ten minutes back. My truck was the first to arrive. I saw two of our guys on the ground, and another one ran towards us. The driver hit the brakes, I was ready to push the door open. But I saw the guy had his helmet off and his face full of blood; and something about the way he ran was off. It looked like his leg kept bending to the side, and still he kept running with this intense expression on his face.”
“The driver shouted at me to open the door. But I didn’t. He shouted again, and still I didn’t. The guy outside was only a few steps away when one of the others grumbled and leaned over me to open the door. I pushed him aside, he cursed at me – and in that moment the guy outside started jumping and thrashing against the door. He didn’t say anything, he just kept thrashing against the door and through the window I saw his eyes, completely white; and then the wounds on his throat. We were all just staring at him when the second guy jumped on the hood. And then another one; and they all had these white eyes.”
“In the distance I already saw another few locals running towards us. But then one of the other trucks started firing, cleared our car, and we got our gun ready too and shot them to pieces.”
David looked at me.
“We left everything. There weren’t any orders; we simply drove back to the ship. Later helicopters started, and then the smoke began to rise. I don’t know what they did, they never told us. But I think they burned the whole town to the ground. Pour kerosene or napalm over it; the main thing is that it’s all on fire.”
David got up from the barstool.
“I’m not over this”, he said. “I gotta go.”
“Okay. I got the bill.” I said.
“Thanks,” David said while walking back towards the heavy door. He pulled the heavy wooden piece open, then turned back.
“You know, I overheard something. I know they are not allowed to talk, but I walked past the pilots. They were saying something that they saw only a few bodies on the ground.”
This is my story, originally I published it on Reddit.