Use the Spade End

By John-Paul Marciano

     As Sgt. Jim Hanson crawled away he heard Mordecai warn H.B., “I’ll be joining you in a few minutes.  Don’t get jumpy on me.”

    Jim made his way to his own hole.  Exhausted, he took his helmet off and used it as a headrest while lying on his back.  He looked up at the stars and briefly thought of home.  He missed teasing his mother and his kid sister, Ann.  He missed bumming around with his pals.  He missed his father’s rebukes.  He missed the sounds of the city.  Then he caught himself before the “what ifs” came calling.

    Get it together, Hanson, he chastised himself while rubbing his eyes hard with the palms of his hands.

    He rolled onto his stomach and put his helmet back on.  His stomach gave up a deep audible growl while the acidic taste of bile simultaneously crept into the back of his throat.  He swallowed hard and took a couple deep breaths.

    “Bird Dog,” Jim uttered barely above a whisper.

    “Yeah,” Sam quietly answered back.

    “I’m coming over.  See you in a few.”

    “Okeydoke.”

    Jim took another deep breath as he made the sign of the cross.  He crept out the right side of his hole and began to work his way over to Sam.  He got most of the way there but stopped when he heard a buzzing noise.  He reached out and placed his hand in a wet gelatinous goo.  As his eyes fixated on the form in front of him, he realized what he thought was a boulder was the trunk of a man with half an arm, no head or legs.  He dry-heaved when it dawned on him the goo was someone’s entrails.  As he quickly pulled his hand away, gorged flies followed the fresh meat.

    “Ugh,” he groaned as he wiped his hand on his trousers.

    Jim swatted at the flies then scooted around the remains and worked his way over to Sam’s hole.  His heart raced as he squeezed in alongside Sam and breathed deeply to gather himself.

    “Y’alright there, Sarge?  Ya look like ya saw a ghost.”

    “I’ll be fine, just give me a sec.”

    “Sorry it’s so cramped.  Aah wasn’t ‘spectin no visitors,” Sam said as Jim continued to take deep breaths.  His heart continued hammering the inside of his chest.

    Jim patted Sam’s arm and gasped, “That’s alright, Sam.  I didn’t come to socialize.”

    Sam waited patiently for Jim’s breathing to normalize, staring at him with dark brown eyes like a dog waiting for a treat.  It took a few minutes before Jim got his breathing under control.

    “How’s your night been?” Jim asked.

    Sam snorted and said, “Had better.”

    Jim gave Sam a sideways glance but the understated Arkansan offered nothing more.  “So what’s Wolf Creek like in July?”

    “Hot,” Sam replied.  “Ain’t much ta do ‘sept hunt.”   

    “You care to do some shooting now?”

    “Aah’m listnin’,” Sam said and spat a wad of tobacco juice through his teeth.

    “I want to draw that sniper out,” Jim said.  “Think you can nail him?”

    “If ya git em ta poke his head up Aah’ll git em,” Sam said confidently.  “Ain’t no wind ta speak a.  Shun’t be too hard.  What’s yer plan?”

    “I was thinking I can get his attention by taking a shot in his general direction.  I’ll give him a target by scooting over to Hank’s hole.  I figure between you and H.B. we can take him out before he can make our day miserable.”

    Hank (Honker) Lewis was one of more than 1,600 men who transferred into the 1st Infantry Division from the 41st in June to fill the ranks after Cantigny.  An accountant from Eugene, Oregon, Hank probably could have better served the army with a pencil in a supply depot than with a rifle in the infantry.  But this was the army and, right wrong or otherwise, Hank was in the infantry.  Mordecai started calling him Honker the first time he heard him laugh, saying Hank sounded like a flock of geese flying south for the winter.

    “Ain’t ya kinda hangin’ it all out there?  Maybe y’oughta rethink that one.”

    “You got a better idea?”

    “I dunno, but sposin’ yerself’ll jus git ya dead.”  Sam snorted and spat some tobacco juice out the side of his hole.  “Ya kin tra smokin’ em out,” he said.

    “How do you propose I do that?”

    “Got anymore a dem flares fer dat Very pistol ya been carryin’ ‘round?”

    “I got a couple,” Jim said.  “Why?”

    “Ya know where he at?”

    “Sort of but he might have moved.”

    “Ain’t likely,” Sam stated.  “Snipers ain’t much fer movin’ ‘round.”

    “Ok, I’ll take your word for it.”

    “Strap yer tin hat t’yer shovel.  Give em a target ta shoot at.  Shoot da flare ta where ya think he’s at.  That should git his tention nuff ta tra n shoot ya.  Aah’ll put one in his ear from over yonder,” Sam said pointing with his thumb toward Jim’s hole.

    “There’s a body about 10 yards straight out,” Jim warned.

    “Yeah, Aah saw em,” Sam said as he started to crawl out of the hole.  He turned toward Jim and said, “Use da spade end.  It’ll look more lak a head at first light.”

    “Thanks for the advice,” Jim said as Sam crawled away.  ”Let me know when you’re in position.”

    “Aah’ll jus whistle lak a bird.”

Welcome

By John-Paul Marciano

     “Enter,” said a baritone voice as the front door swung open.

    Peter and Maria stood at the threshold and peered down the dimly lit hallway directly in front of them.  To the left of the hall, a staircase led to the second floor.  Every other stair had a lit candle next to the stringer on either side.  Unseen from the threshold, an organ was playing softly inside the house.  A skeletal hand floating above the right banister beckoned.

    “Enter,” the voice repeated.

    “You first,” Maria told her older brother nervously.

    Peter took a couple steps into the house and turned as Maria followed inside.  As soon as Maria was alongside Peter, the door slammed shut.  Maria twisted the door knob and gave a tug, but the door wouldn’t open.

    “Welcome,” said the voice.

    Maria turned to Peter and admitted, “I’m scared.”

    “Don’t be such a baby,” Peter replied with false bravado.  He turned to his right and started down a long hallway in the direction of the music.  “Let’s take a look around.”

    Maria scurried after him and latched onto his arm when she caught up.  “I don’t like this,” she declared.

    Peter checked the three doors they passed on the right but all were sealed shut.  The hallway was dimly lit by flickering candles in the windows on the right.  The hallway opened into a large room with an oversized fireplace in the center of the far wall.  Flickering candles on the mantle revealed a pair of crossed halberds mounted above the mantle.  Portraits of unknown individuals adorned the walls.

    Maria gasped and squeezed Peter’s arm.  Peter looked to his right to see the source of the music.  A skeleton with a raven perched on its right shoulder was jauntily playing the organ at the far end of the room.  A candelabra on the organ cast an eerie glow on the skeleton.

    As if sensing their presence, the skeleton rotated its head 180 degrees to stare at them with its permanent smile.  A few seconds later the head completed a full 360 rotation.  The skeleton continued playing the organ with its right hand while pointing with its left.

    Peter and Maria looked to where the index finger was pointing and saw a door swing open. An orange glow revealed a table next to the door.  In the center of the table was a bowl filled with what appeared to be white marbles.  They scampered across the room hoping the open door was their way out.  Maria screamed when she realized the marbles were actually eyeballs; some brown, some blue.

    Peter tugged at Maria to hasten her out of the room.  They stopped just beyond the doorway.  Before them, embers cast an eerie glow upon a field of impaled bodies stretching as far as the two could see.  They stared aghast as the Angel of Death harvested eyeballs and vultures picked at entrails.  The skeleton let out a blood curdling ghoulish laugh as the door slammed shut behind them.

    Maria shot up in bed gasping with eyes wide open and screamed, “Momma.”

Zack Terrel

 By Ed Baranosky 

   Zack Terrel sat astride the big black stallion. He was on the East bank of the Pecos River. He was contemplating where to cross. The river was swollen with spring rains.

    Downstream the river narrowed and there was a swift current. Upstream the river was wider and it appeared to be a less turbulent. It was there he decided to cross. He took off his gun-belt and buckled  it around his neck. He wrapped his Winchester in his slicker to keep the water out.

    He touched the flank of the horse with his heel and went upstream. It was there horse and rider went into the water. Coming out on the West side of the river both were soaked through.

    If he were to make it to   Santa Fe by nightfall he would have to stop and make a fire to dry off. Riding wet would chafe the back of the stallion.

    There was a small rise just ahead with a stand of cotton woods. A small brook ran alongside the rise. When Zack got there he dismounted and took the saddle off the black.

    Gathering some dead branches he started  a fire. He then stripped naked and dried himself off.

     When his blanket dried he rubbed down the horse. His clothes dried and he got dressed. The saddle was going to take a while to dry. He went to the brook, filled a pot for coffee and topped off his canteen. He put some oats into his hat and fed the horse.

    He sat with his back against a cotton wood sipping the strong brew in his coffee cup and pondered about what had happened a week ago in the saloon in Castle Rock, Colorado. He was in a four-man poker game. A kid about 21 years old sat on his left. Two gamblers sat across the table from them.

    They had been playing for an hour or so. It was obvious to Zack that the game was crooked. The gamblers were working together. They would wait for the pot to be worth their while and then would do some fancy dealing.

    Zack looked over to the kid. The kid seemed to read Zack’s mind. Zack decided it was time to call the gamblers on their cheating.

    When Zack did they all stood up. Damn the gambler facing Zack was fast. As the gambler’s gun cleared leather he heard the distinct sound of the click of a single action Colt being cocked as the Kid drew.

   In that split second the gambler facing Zack was distracted. Zack’s .44 slug hit him in the chest throwing him backward. Zack heard the gamblers bullet go past his ear.

     The kid’s slug hit the gambler facing him under the chin, whipping his head back and  his body followed. That gambler’s bullet went into the ceiling. All this occurred within a fraction of a single tick of a clock.

     Zack put out his hand and said “Zack Terrel.” The Kid shook it and said “Dixie Ragsdale.”

     Zack walked around the table to where the gambler he shot was lying and with the muzzle of his gun flipped open his coat. In a pocket of the gambler’s vest he saw a derringer pistol. Zack took the small gun and tucked it in his belt. Zack then went to the table picked up the money, counted it and gave half to Dixie.

     The bartender came over to Zack and the Kid and said “I seen it all. They drew first but that ain’t going to mean nothing. You just cost the sheriff his whiskey money. They were giving him a cut of their take. If I were you I’d leave before he gets back from Denver.”

   Zack asked “when is he coming back?”

  “The stage runs between Fort Collins and Pueblo. If he gets on the stage at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning he’ll be here by two.”

  They didn’t have to hurry before the sheriff got back. Zack turned to Dixie and asked

  “You hungry?”

    Zack asked the bartender where they might get a meal. The bartender went to the swinging doors and pointed to a place called “Mollie’s.” Zack turned to Dixie and said “let’s go.”

    Dixie pointing to the two bodies asked, “What about those two?” Zack snickered “between the bartender and the undertaker they’ll probably be buried in their longjohns.”

    At the eatery while waiting for their steaks Zack asked “where you headed?” Dixie answered “I’m going to Cheyenne to buy some horses for our ranch. My family has a spread outside El Paso.”

   Zack asked “was that the money for the horses you gambled?” Dixie replied “Hell no. That was my poke I was using. My father telegraphed the bank in Cheyenne and has a draft waiting for me.”

   Dixie asked, “What about you?”

   Zack answered “I’m Going to Santa Fe.” A man I was in the army with is the sheriff there, he needs my help for some reason or another.”

   After finishing their meal they paid their bill. Dixie said “If you’re ever down El Paso way look me up. Anyone within 50 miles of El Paso knows where the Double R ranch is.”

   Outside, they shook hands said “adios” and parted ways.

   Zack must have dozed off because he was awakened by the stallion nudging his shoulder with it’s nose. Zack shook himself awake, realized where he was and got up.

    The saddle had dried. Zack cleaned his utensils in the brook, stomped out the embers of the fire and saddled the horse. He put his left foot in the stirrup swung his right leg over the saddle, touched his heels to the stallion’s flanks and headed for Santa Fe.

Two Bits

By John-Paul Marciano

    It took Sgt. Jim Hanson the better part of an hour to make it back to his original hole.  He lay on his back collecting his thoughts.  He really craved a cigarette but decided to resist the urge.  He had things he needed to get done before daybreak.  An hour crawling on his belly gave him time to think about how to bag that sniper and, if possible, the German Maxim machine gun too.

    “Chicago?” Jim called softy.

    “Yeah, Sarge,” Chicago replied.

    “I’m coming over for a visit.  I’ll be there in a few minutes.  Don’t shoot me.”

    “I’ll be waitin’.

    Jim grew up in the Yorkville section of Manhattan on East 81st Street between Madison and Park Avenues.  He stood 6-feet-1-inch with brown hair and thoughtful brown eyes.  Although he was sharp he was aimless.  So with no idea what he wanted to do with his life, he joined the army after graduating from Xavier High School to give himself some time to think about it.

    Just before he came to France with the American Expeditionary Force, Jim was given his first stripe.  He earned a second stripe at Cantigny a week after his 20th birthday.  From all outward appearances it seemed as though he made the right decision.  But after the last few days he was starting to have his doubts.

    After gathering his thoughts, Jim slung his rifle over his shoulder and rolled onto his belly.  Making the sign of the cross he slid out the left side of his hole and began the crawl over to Mordecai.

    Because Mordecai dug his hole deeper than usual, Jim awkwardly fell in head first on top of Mordecai; the business end of his rifle jabbing Mordecai hard in the ribs.  Mordecai grunted and then he and Jim arranged themselves side by side on their backs.

    Jim composed himself and said, “Nice place you got here.”

    “Hey, Sarge, thanks fer stoppin’ by,” Mordecai quipped.  “What’s on yer mind?”

    “You got any ammo left for that French machine gun?” Jim asked.

    “Ya mean the Chauchat?  Yeah, I got a couple full mags.  Whatcha got in mind?”

    “I want to draw that sniper out.  See if we can’t shut him up permanently.”

    “I dunno, Sarge,” Mordecai said sounding dubious.  “The sights on the damn thing are crap, all out of whack.  If I hit him it’d be pure luck.”

    “Yeah I know.  I was actually hoping H.B. or Sam would be up for some plinking.”

    Sam would be Sam (Bird Dog) Littleton from Arkansas.  Sam was a lanky individual standing 6-feet-3-inches who always seemed to have a chaw of tobacco and looked like his pants needed to be taken in at the waist.  But the reason H.B. tagged him with the moniker “Bird Dog” was because Sam’s oversized ears, droopy jowls and a keen sense of smell reminded him of his spaniel back home.

    “Them boys is always up for a little shootin’; kind of a sickness with them two.  One of them two should be able to nail him,” said Mordecai.  “But why ya askin’ ‘bout the Chauchat?”

    “I’m going to get the sniper’s attention.  See if I can’t get him to give up his hide,” Jim answered.  “But I need you to keep that Maxim gunner occupied.”

    “That’s a dangerous game yer playin’ at.”

    “It’s a dangerous world we live in,” Jim replied.  “So what do you say?  You game?”

    Mordecai thought it over for a moment.  “Oh what the hell, I sure got nothin’ better to do.  I’ll play.”

    “Good man,” Jim said patting Mordecai on the shoulder.  “Look, it’s going to be daylight soon.  I need you to get H.B. up to speed on this while I tell Sam what we’re planning.  Tell H.B. the sniper’s about 300 yards directly in front of your hole.  The air is dead so that should make it a little easier.  The Maxim’s a bit to his left.  I just need you to pin him down for a couple minutes.  Taking him off the board is a bonus.”

    “Got it,” Mordecai said.

    Jim got to his knees to climb out of the hole.  Over his shoulder he said, “See you when this is done.”

    As Jim turned back to leave Mordecai said, “Hey, Sarge.”

    “Yeah?”

    “For the record, my money’s on H.B.”

    “I like Sam for this one.”

    Mordecai smiled and said, “Two bits?”

    “You’re on,” Jim said and crawled out of the hole.

Torn

By John-Paul Marciano

    Kriminalinspektor Gerhard Engel was searching for an empty trash can in the refuse storage shed when he detected movement out of the corner of his eye.  He looked in the direction of the movement but didn’t see anything.

    Maybe a feral cat in search of scraps, he thought.

    Gerhard resumed his search, going down the line of trash cans one by one.  Again he detected movement and again he saw nothing.  It had been a long day and he was tired and he was beginning to wonder if his mind was playing tricks on him.  But, as he leaned forward to put his bag of trash in a half-empty trash can, he saw the faint glow of an eyeball in the back corner of the shed.  He closed the lid of the shed gently and hesitated for a moment.  He shook his head and returned to his third floor apartment.

    When Gerhard reached his apartment he went into the kitchen.  He took the loaf of sunflower seed bread from the bread box and cut off a chunk.  He opened the refrigerator, extracted a sausage and placed it on the counter next to the bread.  Next he went into the sitting room, grabbed his copy of Das Schwarze Korps (the weekly paper of the Schutzstaffel) and tossed it on the counter next to the bread and sausage.

    Gerhard stood with both hands palm down on the counter looking at the tops of his shoes in thought.  He was torn.  Why should it matter to him what happens to a litle Jewess he doesn’t even know?  It was his sworn duty as a Kripo officer to turn the child over to the Gestapo and let them deal with the problem.  But on the other hand, what the hell has this kid ever done to warrant being sent to a German concentration camp known as a KZ?  If the wrong person found out he could be sent to a KZ himself if he was unlucky enough to live that long.

    His hands shook as he lit a cigarette.  He took a deep drag on the cigarette and held the smoke in his lungs before he exhaled.  He smoked the entire cigarette and then stubbed it out in the sink.  Taking a deep breath, he wrapped the bread and sausage with the front page of the paper.  Who knows?  If the kid can read she’ll take the hint and find another hiding place.

    Gerhard took the package out to the refuse storage shed and pretended to look for space in one of the trash cans.  When he saw the glint of an eye he took the package and dropped it behind the closest trash can.  After closing the lid of the shed he sighed and shook his head.  He looked up at the stars, then went back upstairs.

                                                          #

The River of Life

By Ed Baranosky

     I have no memory of being held upside down by my bare feet while a sharp slap was
  applied to my bare bottom. Whether I wanted to or not I was shoved into the  current of the river of life in a small boat. If you don’t quickly learn to paddle  the boat the current will sweep you downstream to take you over a  waterfall.


     You have to learn to read the river as Mark Twain did. The river has all sorts of  rocks and underwater snags that will to punch holes in your boat and sink  you.


     As you struggle upstream you may find a quiet little cove where you can tie up  to watch a beautiful sunset and reflect on your journey. Along the way you will meet other people who are going your way. If you’re lucky they may befriend you.


     I was in an eddy of water at the base of roaring water flowing over boulders. The  area was called the Korean Cascade. It was the scene of two events that changed the  course of my boat. The first was my boat being commandeered by the army. The second was I married my life’s partner. As we portaged around the Cascade I was ordered to a place upriver called Germany. I had to leave my partner behind.


     When I came back my partner was there to greet me. She had a baby girl in her arms. The years went by and there were two more baby girls in our boat. The river of life flows on. The girls grew up and found men and they left our boat to make families of their own.


     A terrible storm came up and when it had passed my life’s partner was gone.


     My boat is now anchored in one of those quiet coves. The fantail is facing south so  I can sit in a chair with the warming sun on my body. I put my hat over my eyes and doze off.  I am awakened by the boat rocking. I can hear the flapping of little feet in flip-flops and the shouts of “Papa we’re here.”

                                                           #

Screech

By JR Jurzynski

    Screech, tweedle. Little hands and arms pushed hard against the tattered edges of drab vinyl. Screech. Tweedle. Little legs and feet pushed hard against the cracked surface of Highland Avenue. Screech, tweedle, tweedle. Scrush. A flat on one of the acrylic casters interrupted the rhythm. Screech, tweedle, tweedle, tweedle, scrush. Old enough to walk and the determination to help. Screech. Tweedle.

     From the ten-tenement to the house at Circle South. First memories of childhood. Tree-lined streets of arcs or tangents blocked off by design. House lots configured pie-shaped or rectangular. Dependent blocs where one would find mostly democratic sentiment amongst the factory workers. Jack was the talk—”Richard will never stand a chance.”

    With the enthusiasm of a three-year-old, a trajectory from the old side to the U.S. Postal Service box located at the new was selected. Screech. Tweedle. Tweedle. Scrush. Tweedle.

   Destination attained, next, a curve along Circle South was negotiated and “home.” Screech, screech, screech . . .

   The vinyl was considered drab, the carpet ancient drab. Brown and all its earthy hues, a full blossom festival from the forties, covered surfaces from top to bottom and bottom to top. The toy box and toys had made the journey without injury? Screech. Tweedle. Scrush.

    Toys and a toy box. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. Neighbors and neighborhoods. Towns and cities. Counties and states. Nations and continents. Worlds and galaxies. Universe. Toys and a toy box. 

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