“Ready for the field?” asked Captain Bill, smiling at recruits as they finished their morning slop.
“Ready to go home,” Greg said.
Captain Mike made batting motions. “That’s strike two.”
“I am being held—”
“Two and a half.”
On the bus to town, Todd couldn’t sleep, his head a bouncing ball against the window. Soon it grew light. Thick trees. Farmland. A hapless hamlet or two. Images of Nicole flitted through his brain until his stomach began to grumble. One of the many challenges of basic was not just bad food, but the lack of a mid-morning snack.
Eventually, they arrived and climbed out at a marker on the outskirts of town. Captain Bill introduced an old man. His name began with R before running off into a series of syllables and sounds impossible for Todd to follow. In halting English, the man told the story of civil war. Door-to-door butchery by people victims had shared meals with only days before. Beyond, beneath wildflowers, were bombs. A week ago, there’d been a terrific thud, a flash of light, limbs of children pouring down.
Nicole said, “Third World, what do—”
Captain Mike silenced her with a glare, which seemed uncalled for. Todd wished there were a way he could let this girl know how much he had her back.
At the barracks later, Greg said he didn’t believe Old Man R. Pete ran the word “propaganda” over his tongue. From her bunk across the way, Nicole asked, “Todd, what do you feel?”
He sat up, prickling, suddenly feeling it might be nice to give Nicole a feel.
Captain Mike burst in to say, “Listen, stop talking. And get to bed!”
Lights out, Todd started a letter home in his head: “Dear Mom, Life is hard. Please send more snacks.”
Michael Cocchiarale is the author of the novel None of the Above (Unsolicited, 2019) and two short story collections--Here Is Ware (Fomite, 2018) and Still Time (Fomite, 2012). His creative work appears online as well, in journals such as Fictive Dream, South Florida Poetry Review, The Disappointed Housewife, and Fiction Kitchen Berlin. Michael recommends Philabundance.