He Wore Anthrax like a Purple Heart
The sergeant ordered us to build a tunnel through Hill 17 and to stay there until we were safe from bleeding colors. Even though he had been muttering crazy shit like this over the past weeks, like it was dangerous to carry Aesop & pocket rainbows, we obeyed. It was a month or so after the Battle of Twin Allahs, where the enemy had not returned fire, had retreated into a mist. We prided ourselves in their being overwhelmed by our street sweepers, unnerved by our almost invisible drones. For days, the sergeant had been vomiting blood, coughing up specks of prism-colors. He kept one arm wrapped in a makeshift cast. Rumors circulated among some golly-grunts that the arm had turned from red to black, had ulcerated. “Did you see it?” one would ask. “I’m sure someone has,” the other would respond. Had he eaten the meat of a dead carabao or something similar? Who would have transplanted such an infected animal? Had he inhaled the spores from a poisonous mushroom cloud? The tunnel was built while the sergeant waited below the hill, always that distance between us & him. It became our cocoon of darkness; we unraveled in telling false stories of our childhood, how night had never completely changed to day. Sometimes we lit matches to expose our faces, to remember what we looked like while alive, to read each other’s reactions as if painted in chiaroscuro. One morning, we gathered at the mouth of the tunnel & watched with itchy eyes as the sergeant disrobed, took out a flash grenade then a real one. He ordered us to look away. The hill shook like an old woman trying to give birth. We were enveloped by a thick spray of whiteness that slowly decomposed to a pointillism of vague dyslexic faces. The sergeant himself was now a scattering of dots swept by the wind. We then remembered why he had us build this tunnel. He wanted to keep us colorblind. He wanted to leave this world with that impression.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Your Impossible Voice, Night Train, Toad, Matchbox and elsewhere. His latest ebook is Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys at amazon.com. He blogs at http://upatberggasse19.blogspot.com/
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