Kandahar 24

marineOne boot: apply pressure to the ground, slightly shift the sand-silt away from the heel, the sole presses to the earth’s center (way down there, oh way down below)—the earth pushes back and the body overhead moves upwards. Right foot: lift it, quadriceps kneeing the desert air.

The arid heat descended down from the stars like it was coming off a propane stove. It pulsed, the night’s radiation making his dogtags glow.

He hadn’t looked back since he drifted up from the village, the small smudge that he knew was now blocked from view by the sand dunes.

He felt like the last man on earth—the others had left, ascended to other planets. The new planets were called Earth, and this was the moon. Might as well be—no law here, the land where everyone prayed, but God had abandoned, where thugs and demons howled challenges at each other across sandstorms.

Then the marine base was in front of him again.


Back home. Back before the deed. Phillips was attempting to install the new mailbox. His fucking wife, who he had married before leaving for his second of three tours in Iraq, had bought this bougie piece of shit because the mailbox that came with the house wasn’t good enough for her. Bitch. How could she complain about blood on his hands when it provided her with this shit?

He felt he had loved her when he married her. This is why people do these things, right? The feelings in his core were undeniable: the feathery bird struggling to take flight.

But it was easy to forget these things in wartime, when the marines used eagles for target practice, when the lighter emotions needed to be steamrolled in front of the target. He had forgotten a picture of her, and, after a few months, he found it hard to remember what she looked like.

There she was now: one of the untested. She was carrying him out a sandwich, face plasti-wrapped with the hopeful, tense enthusiasm that only made things worse.

“Hey honey!”—her voice was the bird choking. She tried to give him a kiss on the cheek, but he dodged it.

“How’s the mailbox coming?”—an attempt.


“That’s good. Thank you so much for doing this…it’ll make the house look so much cuter.”

Phillips turned his shoulder away from her, barely trying to conceal his rejection.

“You know…I’ve been thinking,” Mrs. Phillips started.

“About what?”

“Your contract with the forces stipulates that you don’t have to go on a fourth tour if you’ve sought help…help for psychological difficulties.”


“You know for your…your PTSD.”

Phillips face brightened red and his teeth clenched. “I don’t wanna talk about that.”

“Honey. I think we should. Or…we don’t even have to talk about that…but, wouldn’t you be happier here at home instead of over there? They said they were sending you to Afghanistan this time…”

“Then I’m going to Afghanistan.”

“But honey, why?…when you don’t have to, when you could stay here with your family, with me?”

“HON-ey” the endearment dripped like acid. “I can’t explain this to you, but I need to go back.”

“But why?”

“It’s the only place where I know how to survive.”


Phillips flipped his safety off as they approached the police checkpoint. Can’t even trust your allies over here. There were three police manning the checkpoint, if it could even be called that, nothing but a length of ragged fence tossed across the dust roadway. Two of the police were squatting off to the side, full of opium or heroin or whatever shit they pumped into their systems. The sober one was giving the car ahead of them a sloppy search. Phillips and his two brothers in the Humvee could see the occupants—two women and a man.

“Wonder what all these Afghan bitches look like under all that cloth?”—McGarder, the gunner.

“Prolly hairy as SHIT.”—Gomez, seated to Phillips’ side.

The three marines saw the man in the vehicle jerk his head backwards and stare.

“Shit, Gomez,” Phillips said. “I think that guy speaks English.”

“Hey!” The man yelled back at them.

“Shit man,” McGarder chucked. “He DOES…SOMEone’s in trouble.”

“Hey! You don’t say things like that! That is my sister and my wife! You un-say that!”

“Hey,” McGarder laughed, “You wanna UN-say that, Gomez?”

“McGarder, shut up,” hissed Phillips.

“You make fun of me? You make FUN of my wife and my sister?” The man was getting out of the car.

Gomez raised his weapon. “Sir, get BACK in the vehicle.”

“What? You NO tell ME what to do! This is MY land. MY car.” The man started approaching the Humvee. McGarder raised his weapon.

“Get BACK in the fuckin vehicle.”

“NO! You no tell me what to do! This is MY country. YOU are MY guest! YOU…”

Automatic gunfire blasted through Phillips’ ears. The man’s chest dissolved into smoky gore, and his car exploded into glass fragments. The gunfire went on as Phillips ducked behind the humvee’s dashboard.

Silence. Phillips looked back up at Gomez, at McGarder. Their weapons had gone unfired. He looked to the two doped-up police, who stood with smoking weapons. Their emotions were intense enough to make it through the opiate haze—one of their countenances looked shattered and stomped-on. His arms started shaking as his lowered his weapon, then dropped it on the sand like it was a live snake.

The other cop giggled.


The lights went out at twenty-two hundred hours, and the dicks came out. The men tried to be quiet, but one gets caught up towards the end, and there was little incentive when everyone around you was doing it too.

Imaginations were relied upon in this erotica-free environment, and the Marines’ minds drifted out of their bodies to better places—to strip clubs, to girlfriends, to whorehouses, to wives. Their minds were freed through the mental smut, and the orgasm was the needle that pinned them back to reality.

Phillips had managed to cop some good handcream from the market that day, so his strokes were smooth:

       his wife was here with him in the shit just another Marine. They patrolled wide and slow through the Afghan dust with the regular troops—they        were all there (both parts of the life) but his wife’s tits were out so all the boys could appreciate them and they oogled their fineness.

       and then there was a firefight and he could feel the lead snapping by him and they all tried to fight back but there were too many of the others,        so fuck it, he pulled out his dick and ripped his wife’s pants off and was fucking her already and his boys looked on with desperation so he              told them to have a go at her mouth and her ass and his wife told him no but there wasn’t time for no’s now and his boys dove in and she was        crying…

Phillips came hard, forgetting to breathe, and he grasped for air at the end. He slowly raised his hands and put them over his eyes and tried to fall asleep as quickly as he could.

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