Established Caskets
By H. C. Turk

As a kid, I considered playing with my plastic soldiers an obligation because I knew that people faced off on the battleground and shot and shot and shot and shot one another and I should learn now, to be prepared. Never did my battleground seem to be a carpet. Little greenish statues that only moved if I made them.

Never does the battleground in this genuine war seem educational. Every square meter of this land is a battleground, because all the populace, the citizens, are ensconced in fighting mode, defensive manner, struggling with emotions informing them that common living includes peace only as a residue of damage.

Disembarking the ship, which stinks like metal and men, I stand with my friends from school. We're long past comparing the toy soldiers we brought with us for practice. One of us has the notion of hiding behind them for protection, but how to make them that big or yourself so small? My best friend, F, is practicing for real by analyzing a hand grenade, the foreign variety he's never handled before.

"As a kid," I ask, "did you play with grenades just like that one because you felt obligated to learn adult reality wherein soldiers like our daddies toss them and toss them at one another and they explode instead of just saying 'boom' in a child's voice?"

"No. I was a serious child."

F becomes very serious as an adult when he discovers that he's pulled the pin on this grownup grenade and has four seconds to educate himself regarding its usage. Three, two

Using an underhand motion, he lobs the little bomb behind his toy solders, all of which become plastic shrapnel when the grenade explodes, minuscule greenish extremities puncturing the crowd of foreigners who live here, but not all of them, one, nought.

After the war has ended (all the little soldiers lost), I find myself the leader of our phalanx, a job I neither sought nor would miss if it exploded. My final job in the military is to conclude the court-martial by executing a sentence of death against F. He missed the entire war while living in his cell with no carpet, playing with little soldiers but learning nothing of value for his remaining life, which is about their size. For some people, learning is always too late. He will be hanged then shot seven times, one for each.

Standing in the small field beside our barracks, watching distant farmers bend to their planting, I envision where I'll have him tied by his neck to a post near ground level. My tactic will be to secure a monopod to support my rifle so I can rip off all seven shots instantly. No one wants to drag this out. Though I will not participate in the hanging, I alone will conclude the execution. No squad of riflemen will assist me. They were not his friend. They did not give him those plastic statues.

As my men begin building the facilities, carving the post, news of this preparation spreads. I don't bother to read the news because I am the news.

Back at home, I return to working as a civilian. Painting someone's garage, using an oxide primer that reeks of metal, not men, I know I'm supposed to hurry because a senator is coming. I don't care to hear him. He's not the news. He's not my friend.

Back in the military, I see that my people have erected an instant garage for hiding/housing F. Yes, hiding, because the populace are setting up a storm. Though peace has arrived, the citizens are ensconced in vengeance mode, offensive manner, releasing emotions informing them that common living will only achieve peace when everyone is dead.

Local students, educated poorly by never having played with the proper tools, gather to shout toward that post in the ground. Much of their shouting comes as music and laughter, abetted by vegetable wine. They do not picket the prison building only because they are unsure which barracks houses him, so many. They do not picket the motor pool garage where F waits in a burlap sack, seated in a corner, apparently a lumpy bag.

They grow potatoes here.

To avoid a riot, I coerce my superiors into allowing me to hang the guilty party at night, so the populace of revelers, still engaged in a cultural set requiring personal damage for fulfillment, won't see, being drunk and asleep and dreaming of playing as children.

After I have hung the bag until it quits turning, I have my men drag it to the shooting post at dawn when the crowd awakens to hear me fire seven shots into the bag, which drools some unexpected fluid that looks like something they're drinking.

He is a foreigner to them.

After the bag is shipped to F's home, we all return to civilian duty. Across the way, my friend works in a garden, hoping for a good tuber crop. Bending over the soil that reeks of worms, the kind found in well-established caskets, he plants little plastic statues instead of potato sets. He should be shot.

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H. C. Turk is a self-taught writer, sound artist, and visual artist living in Florida. His novels have been published by Villard and Tor. His short fiction, sound pieces, and images have appeared on numerous web-sites.

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