Some fiction from my back stock. Enjoy.

“Good enough reason not to go to war.”

“Is it?”

“I would assume so.”

I stared at the man across the table from me, a smallish man with a nose that could more aptly be described as a beak and narrowed eyes staring back at me from beneath a brown fedora. His name was Robert and I barely knew him. We were discussing the problems of population and armies, a topic that I will admit to knowing very little about, but took to anyway.

“Yes, well,” he said, trailing off towards the end. He was unsure of where to go next and I had the sneaking suspicion that he had just as much knowledge about armies and population as I did. “We are a small country,” he finally continued, “but we are fierce when it comes to battle.”

Robert placed emphasis in fierce, as if this was all that needed to be said of their fighting force and every reason to go off to war. “Yes, the country is small, but so is the population,” I replied. “Look, if the country were to rally to war and gather the army how much of the population would go along with it? A few thousand, a few hundred thousand, God forbid… a million?” I know full well that the last number was an exaggeration, the sort of number that would indicate the world was coming to an end by means of total world war or some sort of paranormal invasion. “Thing about that one, a million citizens ushered off to war—nearly, if not more than a quarter of the population.”

He looked at me with his beady little eyes, half-shaded beneath the brim of his hat and I looked back. “It all depends on what we are fighting for, I guess,” he ventured.

I shook my head. “I have a hard time believing anything is that important besides personal freedom and in this case I am not counting revolutions. Jesus, I can barely envision an actual in-the-mind-for-conquering invasion anymore.”

My life was one of peace. I knew of war from television, movies, history classes, and stories told by people far older than me, the sort of people who lived through acts of war and the horror they espoused. The notion of an honest-to-God invasion was one of abject fantasy, the sort of thing that happened in the dark annals of the past, but not in the brightness of the present or future. Revolutions were another thing entirely, they happened and they were bad, but they were ultimately something you could cheer for if they succeeded and something that just sort of disappeared if they did not.

“Think about it,” I said, “if the country goes to war, taking with them an army of a million soldiers and only, say, a quarter of them come back whole and perhaps another small amount comes back injured or half mad, what then? A fractured population made up mostly of women, children, the elderly, and a good number of former soldiers that have to be provided for by the state because there is no way they will ever function properly in order to support themselves. This, dear Robert, seems a good enough reason not to go to war unless there is dire reason to do so.”

Robert, for all his glaring frustration at the words I spoke, did not lash out or turn sullen, he merely nodded. “I understand what you are saying, of course,” he said. I can feel a ‘but’ coming on, but it never does. Robert flashed me an off-white grin instead. “Still, one cannot deny that we are fierce and nothing could reduce us in such a manner.”

I felt like sighing, I felt like standing from the table, collection my coat and hat, and walking out, but I did not. Nor did I laugh or grin before I brought to light my response. I looked at him, eyes narrowed as his was before, narrowed in frustration and annoyance because he could not get the point.

“People,” I began, speaking slowly, “are rarely as fierce as they believe they are.” It is a schoolyard truth, the wisdom gained from watching those sad little bouts fought by the little children and the grown children, and finally the hormonal teens. No one is as big or as bad as they think they are, sooner or later they meet face to face with the person that will send them sprawling to the ground whilst their school mates cheer them on and teachers run in to break things up. Of course, it would be a delusion to constrict such things only to schoolyards or children, I am well aware that they continue into adulthood.

Robert, this man I barely know, glared at me from across the table. There is nothing to consider when it comes to the words I have spoken, not for him. What I have said is akin to a slap to the face for this man and as with all slaps, he is not sure how to proceed. I watched his face and saw easily enough the conflict therein. There was the desire to stand up and drive his fist into my face clearly written on his face and shining in his eyes, if his hands were on the table I have little doubt that I would have seen them flex open and closed in anticipation.

Below that lurked the thing that stopped him from doing so immediately. I could imagine him thinking, ‘Who is this man?’ And of course there would be no immediate answer, only the belief that I am nothing more than an idealistic and cautionary fool who has a tendency to run his mouth about things he should not. I insulted him, though most would either think otherwise or fail to notice how, and his narrow jaw worked furiously, options running through his mind. It was the making of a schoolyard brawl, but there would not be teachers running in to break it up and there would be no mates to watch and cheer and insult.

Neither of us dared make a move as we sat in that dilapidated diner in the south end of town. It was the sort of building that was just abandoned to its fate, scarred in battle like the men and women who fought in the war that destroyed half of our city. This was before I was born and I had seen nearly three decades of life at that point. Yet no one had bothered to fix up that part of the city, it remained officially abandoned—the sort of people who could buy the property there would not and the city officials would not touch it. It was a scar from a war that people would rather forget, but knew they could not because that scar was there to remind them of the cost of peace. Half the city gone, nearly half a million lives erased—to forget the cost seemed a sort of sin.

This is not to say that there was no one that wanted the land. There were plenty of people who were more than happy to try and restore the place to some semblance of former glory. They just lacked the funds to purchase the property, which turned out to be not much of an issue. People just moved in or took up ownership of a building and no one complained or did anything about it. From the scar came life, the sort that could not be eked out in the crowded and strained normality that the city had to offer. Oddly enough, life in the scar was peaceful, more than that of the city. An act of violence in such a place felt wrong, as though it was defilement.

This did not seem to matter to Robert, who looked as though he decided to make up his mind. He stood from the table and I could see his hand flexing open and closed, forming a fist. I could see his jaw clench and his eyes narrow. I could hear his breath coming faster, and I fancied I could hear his heart rate increase as well, but I could not. No, it was my heart rate increasing in anticipation of this man’s outburst of violence that I could hear. The sound of his quickening breath was muted by the sound of my rushing blood.

It had come to this, a civilized—if ignorant—conversation turned into a fight in the name of offense. This was beyond a schoolyard bout, there would be no slapping or shoving or some sorry attempt at grappling. This would be punch for punch by two grown men who learned to fight in some way or another over the years. It would have been many things, except it did not happen.

I stood from my chair, I looked Robert in the eye, and I whistled. It was a short, loud whistle and it was definitely not what Robert was expecting. For the briefest of moments nothing happened and Robert arched his brow in my direction as if to say, ‘Your attempt at distraction was terrible.’ That was when the two large men tackled him. It was not a violent tackle, if you can imagine such a thing. It was a confused matter, the tackle, a sort of thing that I could have never accomplished and yet these two did as a routine. Robert had a black sack over his head and plastic straps binding his hands behind his back before ten seconds had passed. The two were efficient.

My men and I dragged the man to the car waiting patiently in front of the diner. The employees had not taken notice of the event that just took place, just as they were paid not to do. There would be no mention of a man being restrained and removed from an eatery earlier in the day on the evening news. Things work differently in the scar. People in the city watching the news that night would declaim that we were fascist scum mistreating our own citizens and yet they had no idea what was going on. People in the scar, the few who was able to get reception on their busted television sets would cheer because they alone would know the truth.

The truth is this: The scar ended a war. It was an accident, the final, flailing strike of a dying army gone awry. Whatever it was they had that could do such a thing—they have never ventured an explanation and neither has anyone else—missed its intended military target. It hit the city, half of it at least, and then there was nothing left but the pocked grey of buildings that have been irrevocably changed and drained of color and the skeletal remains of the innocent people who called them home. If the strike had hit the military target, it would have been a terrible loss, but a consequence of battle. It hit the city instead and became a tragedy. And from that tragedy, through that awful sacrifice, there came and end to the conflict.

The scar is a place of peace born from violence and loss. It is the horrific reminder and it is a home, a dull grey twin to the vibrant city that stands next to it. There are people that would seek to turn us away from peace and it is an ideal that I will never understand. These are people who would turn us against each other, fight us, bring murder into our midst, and cheer loudly the clarion call for battle. They are not from the scar and they do not see what is around them, they only see people to exploit and provoke. For them there is no peace, there is only the desire to end it.

I will not tolerate such people. I am one of several in the scar that do this job. I hunt those who seek to undermine all that the scar has provided and I am good at it. I know violence all too well and though I will not use such on the grounds of the scar, I have no issue with doing it outside the city.

The car moved over the stark line of grey earth and into grass and the scar loomed behind us cold and grey. I got out of the passenger seat of the car and looked around. I knew the area well enough, perhaps better than most since few ventured outside the outskirts of the scar. My men dragged Robert from the back seat and he was oddly calm. They forced him down to his knees before me before removing the sack, the restrains stayed on.

“Hello, Robert,” I said, looking down at him, my hands on my hips. “Do you understand what is going on?”

Robert glared at me with his beady eyes and did not immediately answer. His hat obviously has disappeared somewhere and his eyes are no longer shaded. It did not matter. There was nothing but anger to see in them. “Fucking bastard,” he said, spitting on the ground for further emphasis.

It was clear to me that he had the gist of the situation, though he may not have. Either way, the outcome was the same. “Robert,” I said, almost feeling sorry for the guy, “you are guilty of bringing violence into the scar. You sought to defile its nature and its people. You murdered, you fought, and you attempted to bring strife to its leaders. The scar does not tolerate such actions. You are guilty, there is no jury, there is only you, your guilt, and I and I have no mercy for you.”

I reached under my wool longcoat and drew the handgun from its holster. Robert stared at me as I flicked off the safety and lined up the shot. His lips twitched, in prayer or a restrained desire to shout for help or plea perhaps. I did not close my eyes or turn away as I pulled the trigger. He was not my first and he was not my last. Robert was merely another corpse to add to the pile. And the pile grows and grows because the scar is not the rest of the world. It is a bastion of peace that may not be allowed to settle into violence.

There is war in the scar, war against the call for violence by evil-minded men who live only to see this place reduced to a red smear. It is the scar against the world, against human nature, and this is a war that we cannot win. We will try though, we will meet it head on, we will remove our enemies from the scar, and we will put an end to them. To keep violence from the scar, we must inevitably resort to violence, but we endeavor, as ever, to perform those tasks outside the city.

I waved my hand towards Robert’s corpse. A pit was dug some time before, just off to the side. My men dragged him over, lifted the edge of the tarp that stretched across, and rolled him over the side into the reeking recess. It was just another corpse atop the pile in the name of defense. I headed for the car. My men would join as soon as everything was back in place and then it would be back to the office. A stack of files lingered on my desk, a perpetual tower of flagged men and women who could possibly introduce violence to our half city. I would fill that pit and more before I let that happen.

A night, a single night of planning and rest, and then it was back to the hunt.

Advertisements