WINTER SOLSTICE
(And Iím Good As Dead)

by Jim Wormington © 2002

    solstice, noun. def 3. (figurative) a turning or culminating point; furthest limit; crisis.

War is much maligned. People forget the good things about it.

There is a clarity unlike any other in the midst of war. When a lethal projectile whizzes madly past your left ear you absolutely donít give a good healthy damn what happens on the next episode of Friends. When bits of your comradeís spleen are splattered on your face, dripping down your cheeks like lukewarm slush, there is no thought at all given to whether you will or will not qualify for credit at Best Buy.

What is important in war is absolutely clear. Staying alive is important.

It occurs to me that this is something I (very likely) will NOT be able to do. Stay alive, that is to say.

My thoughts sizzle across the sacred landscape of my mind as my face is half-immersed in mud stew. Iím unsure if my mouth still exists but my nostrils are just above the sludge, so I can breathe. There is no pain. Thatís what scares me. There is no feeling at all. For all I know I am a torso and a head. A bloody, useless, immobile stump-of-a-man. Good as dead. I see, but it is mostly dark; smoke writhes amid intermittent flashes of light. There are no explosions. Well, there are. I just donít hear them.

Iíve forgotten who I am, where I am, whose damn fool cause Iím dying for. Perhaps some playful bit of precision-shrapnel has sliced through my cranium and surgically removed the Identity Zone from my brain. I know something happened in a village awhile back--I think it was real ugly, but it wonít show itself. I remember other stuff clearly, though.

I remember reading that war correspondents actually develop a kind of ďaddictionĒ to war. Billy Q. Journalist packs his bags and flies off to cover a conflict in some third world crud hole. Every day he is surrounded by unparalleled human drama; he canít know if he will live through the next five minutes; chaos and death are doing their best to shatter the dreams of ordinary people; there is political intrigue, moral outrage, horror, nobility, madness and irony. All of it whirls about him like a sense-storm, life is condensed, intensified, everything is felt exponentially. A cup of coffee (even a bad cup) tastes like sex. A hug from a smelly woman who doesnít speak English is like some kind of male, multiple orgasm. There is so much to write about, so much to believe in and to be moved by. This is history being made before Billyís very eyes. Then, one day, he returns (if he returns in a conveyance other than a pine box) to his normal life. There is Starbucks right where he left it. There is a remote control for his television. His Hyundai has air conditioning. How can this haven of ease and affluence compare to what he has just experienced? This world is mundane. Overfed, relatively safe people are worried about bald spots and not enough ice in their Cokes. Billy Q. Journalist (crazy as it seems) longs to be back in the middle of war. Praise the Lord and pass the irony.

In the village--there was a lot of screaming; I remember that now.

As for me, I donít think Iím addicted to war. Itís hard to think of anything I hate more right now. I signed up for some insane reason. What was I thinking? ďBe as dead as you can be?Ē Yeah, Iím liviní the dream now. Iíd slice off an ear for a Happy Meal (if I have an ear to slice--a thing I canít be sure of, one way or the other). Right now, I long for the mundane. Traffic jams, unpaid overtime, crummy reruns, underwear stuck in my crackÖthese are a few of my favorite things.

War. Huh! Good God, yaíall! What is it good for?

Ooh, ooh, I know, I know, teacher! Call on me!

Well. Maybe this is it. The worst it can ever get.

Itís not so bad. So silent. The flashes are kind of beautiful, really. Just for me, a final fireworks show. But itís not the Fourth of July, itís the frigginí solstice. The longest night of the year. Go ahead, Alanis, sing it: ďIsnít it ironic? Donít ya think?Ē (Funny. Pop lyrics, I remember. My name? Nope.)

The winter solstice. The sun is at its greatest distance from the equator.

OK--Iím gonna die. Iím knock knock knockiní on heavenís door.

I can do this.

Whoa! The earth just rumbled like itís about to crack apart. You feel that? Some guyís skeleton just landed next to me. His helmetís still on but heís nothing but bone underneath.

Thatís not logical.

Heís grinning at me. And his eyes. My God, theyíre spinning spheres of fire and his hair is smoke--no, worms, crawling, crawling over his scalp. I hear him when his mouth opens.

ďTime to go, Frankie boy,Ē he says.

Frank. Thatís my name.

ďItís been a good time, but all good things must end.Ē

No. This is not happening. Itís an hallucination. That happens when youíre dying, Iíve heard. People see things, hear things.

ďYou wish,Ē Satanís little helper says.

The screamingÖhave to stop the screaming.

And his bony fingers close around my spirit-hand, which he pulls on. He is pulling my spirit out of my body.

ďIt was a high old time, raping those little village girls, Frankie, wasnít it? Gunning down the senior citizens. You told yourself you didnít know what you were doing, you were caught up in the moment, no one would ever know. But you knew, didnít you? Of course you knew, thereíd be hell to pay. I love that line!Ē The skull laughs, a full, glorious, horrible laugh that rings through eternity.

And it occurs to me that death isnít the worst it can get.

x x x




Read more Flash Fiction?
Chat about this story on our BBS?
Or, Back to the Front Page?