On Marines #1

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Other than the regulation “high and tight” there is nothing about Marines that sets us apart from anyone, and even that “high and tight” isn’t so special. No there is nothing about Marines that makes us different, except of course the things that do. If you were so unfortunate as to meet the typical Marine “Boot private”, one who had just marched off of the parade ground of Parris Island, or a Hollywood Marine of Marine Corp Recruit Depot San Diego, you would typically be gazing at an eighteen year old, unimpressive kid who looked like he or she had been starved, tortured, forced into hard labor in an internment camp, emotionally abused, psychologically broken, and is possibly suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. In fact, your prejudice would be accurate.

You would observe with concern, the kid’s awkward gate, as he or she drove glassy Corfram heels menacingly through the pavement as if momentum itself relied on the violence. If you approached and asked if the kid was okay, concerned that this kid may have Asperger’s, your concern would be validated by a series of staccato, louder than necessary responses, that would be limited to: “yes”, “no”, “Sir”, or “Ma’am”. The kid would stand uncomfortably, ramrod straight with arms pinned at the trouser seams. You would be polite, and walk away, not knowing what to think until someone later informs you that what you saw was a newly-minted Marine. You would say okay, scratch your head, and most likely share your incredulity. You had expected that a Marine would be more impressive, majestic, menacing even, but that…that was just weird.

Fast-forward a few months to a second encounter and you would witness a transformation of sorts, not that it still wouldn’t be weird, just less Asperger’sy and more Turrets. The short and polite remarks would almost entirely be replaced by cursing, more cursing, and when not cursing, inappropriately sexual language, that would make Beelzebub himself wash his mouth with soap.

The humility sensed during your first encounter would have been discarded long ago, replaced by an unbelievably, irrational braggadocio, which would border on the insane. (The only other place where this behavioral dysfunction is notable is among New England Patriots fans. Go Pats!) Your eyes would still gaze upon the same unimpressive looking kid, who now displays a grotesquely large wad of tobacco protruding from the bottom lip. What could have caused this metamorphosis? Is he even really a Marine? Marines are supposed to be lionhearted warriors of lore, apex predators whose power is obvious, whose respect is immediately earned, like a pack of wolves or a pride of lions, but there is no awe or menace here. This is where you would finally be wrong.

The Marine totem is not a lion, a wolf, or even, (please forgive me Archibald Henderson, Smedley Butler, and Chesty Puller, for I am about to blaspheme), the bulldog. No, the Marine totem is a creature of lower station than all of those and one which would hardly strike fear in anyone. I speak of the grasshopper, the locust to be more precise. The grasshopper, by itself, is well, unimpressive, annoying to listen to, but mostly harmless. However, when the right conditions arise (the Marine Corps ensures that they arise regularly) and the grasshoppers find themselves to be in high enough concentrations, and there is a scarcity of water and food, be prepared, for something wicked this way comes.

The grasshoppers begin a serotonin induced transformation into a swarm of locusts whose voracious appetite for destruction lays waste to anything in its path. It is a power so abhorrent that it is mythologized, as Plague, in the Torah, Bible, Quran, and further in antiquity. It is a fate so morbid that it is only unleashed on the most recalcitrant evil. And it is there, in the aftermath, when awe, fear, and respect, is earned for these loathsome, little creatures.

© J. Manuel Writes

FF&M Universe: The Good Doctor

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Like most of their neighbors, José and Maria Elena Monte Albán were migrant workers, who left their humble home in 1980 for the hope of a better future in the United States. They had no formal education but José and Maria Elena read their Bible with devotion. Between the two, they had read it hundreds of times over and could recite it by memory. The faithful couple traveled by bus from Guadalajara, Jalisco to Nogales, Mexico on a journey that was as long as it was treacherous, covering a distance of some 1700 kilometers. They paid for the bus-fare with what little they had, and took their few, precious possessions with them, knowing that they would never return to their home. They exchanged farewells with their family members and promised to write when they arrived.

The three day trip would span Mexico on the Pan American Highway. They had only ever dreamed of such a trip and now they were aboard a bus destined towards a new life. José called it their Canaan. At the end of the first day of travel, the bus stopped in a little town for the night. The driver needed his sleep. He assured everyone that they would make good time the next day. The passengers were more than happy to partake in the unexpected detour because the bus was hot, steamy, with no air-conditioner, or working bathroom. There had been moments when the occupants had wondered if the bus would even make it out of Guadalajara let alone reach the border, but José and Maria Elena’s prayers willed the overcrowded bus along the journey, flat-tire after flat-tire, frequent overheating pit-stops.

José and Maria Elena paid for a small room for the night at a small inn down the street from the bus station and went to sleep. They were hungry but since they did not know the town, they were a little weary of wandering off in the dark. They had been warned by all of their family and friends that the trip was dangerous and that there were bandidos in the roadways, who lurked for unsuspecting country-folk. After several hours of sleep, José was awoken by a crashing sound that came from out in the hallway. No sooner had he opened the door, than three men rushed into the room and knocked him unconscious. What followed was a horrific rape and beating for Maria Elena. The three men ravaged her repeatedly through the night. Sometimes taking turns and sometimes not, she endured the horror without a scream as they held a gun to her husband’s temple. She prayed that he would not wake up. Mercifully he did not.

The morning came and José regained his consciousness. The men disappeared into the night as quickly as they had come. Maria Elena managed to cover José’s head wounds with strips of a night gown that she had brought with her. The gown’s remnants, now covered in tacky, rusted blood, lay balled near the foot of the bed. He muttered her name and asked what had happened but she reminded him that their bus was going to leave soon. Her tears burned down the corner of her eyes as they salted her still fresh wounds. She told José everything that had happened how the men had knocked him down and beat him. How they had turned on her and demanded money. She had resisted and they beat her for it. Finally she had no choice but to give them the money. She was sorry that she had lost the money and that they would have to continue their trip without it. José cried but did not ask anything else.

The two boarded the bus, a bit disheveled, but still clinging to their Bible, as desperately as they clung to hope. “Dios esta con nosotros” they prayed from Psalm 23. Maria Elena looked around the bus and made fleeting eye contact with several women, kindred spirits, who’d endured the previous night’s suffering. She prayed that much harder. The couple arrived in Nogales the next day and prepared for the crossing. They sat with some of the other passengers in a vacant warehouse in the center of town. A day passed before their coyote, came to guide them through the next leg of their journey.

What followed was a two week, forty-mile trek through arduous, arid desert terrain where scorpions scurried underfoot, and where rattlers coiled tensely beneath underbrush waiting for a careless passerby. José and Maria Elena tried their best to keep up with their party but faltered due to their wounds. The couple was abandoned by their guide and their group soon gave up trying to encourage them. They were left behind, but not alone, for they knew that God was with them. Their faith carried their battered, crippled, dry bodies forward. They would reach the promise land, they knew it. After enduring several infernal days and bone chilling nights in the great vastness of the desert, they stumbled upon a ranch-house. The weary, wayworn, wandering pair fell on the front door steps of a rickety home barely able to muster the strength to knock.

The woman of the house helped them in and gave them food and water. She was an angel of God, Maria Elena assured her. The two were welcomed to stay until they were strong enough to continue their journey. A week went by and the widow confided in the couple that she was not long for this world and that she would be more than happy to make this her last good deed before she met her maker. She handed José the keys to her late husband’s pickup truck. It had been filled-up and tuned-up the year before, the day her husband passed. They thanked the saintly widow for her generosity and climbed aboard the pickup which started right up. Where would they go?

Maria Elena answered the question, “Dios dirá!”

She opened the glove compartment and found a map. California, Los Angeles. That is where God wanted them to go. José followed Maria Elena’s directions, which God had chosen for them, and the couple found their way through the desert, to the City of Angels. Eight and a half months later, Emmanuel was born. José knew that they had been blessed with their only child, a boy, to carry on his name. God was with them even through their darkest moment. José and Maria Elena would see this gift from God grow-up to be a brilliant young doctor, a scientist, a prince among men. So when he informed them that he wanted to study the origins of life, the two smiled at him and told him how he came into being.

“La vida no se entiende. Lo unico que uno puede hacer, es horar a Dios para que le de la sabiduria para hacer sus obras.” José and Maria Elena assured him that life was not to be understood. The only thing that a person could do was pray to God to give him the wisdom to do God’s work. Dr. Monte Albán would come to understand the lesson that his parents had learned so many years prior, that in his darkest hours, when all seemed lost, God had already worked a solution, a gift to the world.

© J. Manuel Writes

The Furies – Serial #2

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He rose from his bed. It was dark. He reached for his glasses on the night stand just as he heard a light tap against the bedroom door. He couldn’t be sure if he’d heard it earlier. His stomach churned and cramped from the bottle of scotch that he had drained just hours ago. Sterling snored softly by his bedside and gave no hint of any disturbance. He reached down to the coarse bristles of Sterling’s fur. And there it was again. A light tap, no, more of a rap this second time, or was it the third time? The hairs on the back of his neck stood, and he froze, constricted by his own stiffened muscles as they clamped down on his breath.

His service pistol was in the top drawer of the nightstand but he was paralyzed. He knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer now. Sterling rose with a low, gurgling growl and stood pointed at the door. He dove for his pistol knocking the nightstand lamp onto the floor. He frantically pulled the .45 caliber weapon out of the drawer and wheeled it around towards the door.

“I’m a cop! You picked the wrong house! I’m not fucking around,” he yelled as rage supplanted his fear. His bravado was emboldened by the firepower that once again trembled in his soon to be cold, dead hands.

“Oh I know, Officer Markum!” a soft, feminine voice echoed through the thin, laminate, bedroom door as the knob turned ever so slowly.

“Don’t come in here or you’re dead!” he warned, as the door steadily opened and a small, blurry, feminine figure glided through.

The panicked policeman pulled the trigger and the pistol clicked impotently. He pulled it again, and then repeatedly, to no avail. Sterling leapt towards the figure with a shrill bark and bolted past her. He would live. Markum floundered and thrashed around the bed before bracing his corpulent body against the headboard. He pulled his heft onto his knees while pointing the pistol at the advancing figure.

The slight intruder moved towards the far bedroom wall, observing her quarry’s every move. “I want you to see Officer Markum. I want you to see how you die!” The lights flicked on, and there before him, stood a slender woman cloaked in black. Her hair was cropped short against her temples. Her eyes, terrible eyes, pierced with the darkest hatred that humanity could harbor.

He rose to his feet at the head of the bed. His hands grabbed at his naked, overhanging midsection. “Who are you?”

The slender woman reached behind her back and threw a shimmering silver-metallic object at him. It landed at his feet on top of the sweat-stained mattress. Even without his glasses, he could identify the familiar Star and Crescent badge he’d worn as a New Orleans police officer so many years ago.

“I found something of yours. Maybe you should put it on? I like a man in uniform.” The intruder’s voice sharpened, like a blade over a whetstone, as she spoke.

He’d had enough! Who was this little bitch anyway? Markum brightened beet-red and hurled curses at the insolent woman as he took two lumbering steps, jumping awkwardly off of the edge of the bed.

The woman, like a sable panther, pounced quickly into ambush. She closed quickly with her airborne prey, side-stepped his ungainly mass, and thrust a three-inch dagger twice into his liver. Markum landed on hard on his feet and rebounded into the wall. He braced himself against it as he prepared to flail around for another attack. He was too late. She was an efficient huntress, going for the jugular immediately. Markum thrashed violently as his neck was sliced by the tightening, wire-edge garrote. The woman was on his back and he could not reach her. He swung desperately attempting to free himself from her deadly clutch. His world was closing in around him as the blood flow to his brain slowed. He felt the warmth of his blood as it bubbled out of his punctured liver and down his legs.

Markum fell to his knees, his life slipping away with every spilled drop. The woman fastened the garrote and sprang off of his back. She squatted down in front of her dying prey and showed him the murder weapon, a delicate little dagger.

“They say this feels better when you’re choking”, she spoke softly into his ear, as she castrated him.

© J. Manuel Writes

FF&M Universe: The Marksman

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Tim was the eldest of ten kids born to a pair of wilderness-loving hippies in the northern woods of Maine. They were raised without television in the home. Their only electronic escape was a radio tuned to NPR. He was an avid reader who showed gifted potential by the time that he was in kindergarten. Tim graduated high-school at the age of fifteen as the class valedictorian. He was courted by several good universities, Dartmouth among them, but Tim showed no interest in attending. He’d never shown the slightest interest in school, or much of anything else, other than reading his books and writing in his journals. He’d gotten the good grades for his parents but he hadn’t tried much at that either.

Tim wasn’t what you would call a hard-worker. Hard, wasn’t an adjective anyone would use to describe him. Everything about him, including his Jimmy Stewartesque affect, was delicate and gentle. He never resisted, never confronted, but rather flowed like one of the many streams that meandered through the very same woods in which he often wandered. He was pliable but never compliant. For all of his easy ways, Tim bore a subtle steadfastness which granted him liberty in all things. He was excruciatingly aware of this, his greatest flaw. He was a dreamer, a romantic, a poet who yearned for an odyssey to pen. Where was his Scylla? His Charybdis? His Circe? Could he summon good fortune or would he toil perpetually like Sisyphus? And so, at the tender age of sixteen, Tim decided to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps, whose lore he’d devoured through the countless words he’d read.

Tim awoke on the morning of his 16th birthday at 5am. He rose out of his bed, laid his bare chest against the cold, oaken floor and pushed feebly against the timbers. His arms strained mightily against gravity to no avail. Undaunted, he slipped past his four, slumbering brothers and headed down the hallway past his five sleeping sisters, and finally his parents’ bedroom. Cocoa, the chocolate lab, snored, unbothered by the creaking of the opening front-door. Once outside, Tim stretched his gaunt frame and propelled its 90lbs forward in a stork-like gate. Tim covered a quarter mile before his pounding chest, throbbing temples, burning calves, and an unfamiliar acidic taste forming at the back of his throat, compelled him to stop.

Hands on his knees, he smiled, and ran the path back to his front door. Tomorrow he would go further. His morning routine remained until the morning of his eighteenth birthday. By then he barely acknowledged gravity’s press and his morning runs were limitless affairs. Tim awoke on the morning of his eighteenth birthday, slipped past his siblings, and silently crept into his parents’ room. He walked over to his father and thanked him for his love of Homer and Joyce. He glided to his mother’s bedside and expressed his love as only a son could. Wiping a few tears from his cheeks, he placed a sealed envelope on her nightstand. Tim blew the pair a silent kiss and crossed the threshold of the front door for the last time. He paused by Cocoa’s headstone, left her his first copy of The Iliad, and broke out into a jog.

He ran the ten miles into town as he had every morning for the last year. His slender, wiry frame of gnarled muscle covered the hilly distance in under an hour. He made the 6 a.m. bus from Caribou to Portland with a few minutes to spare, his destination, the United States Military Entrance Processing Station. Two days later he’d be on his way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

A few hours later, his mother opened her eyes and saw the envelope on her nightstand. Inside she found a farewell note and a few choice poems that Tim explained would help her in her time of need. She also found a small calendar with the date August, Friday the 13th, circled in crimson ink and the words, always faithful, written underneath. She smiled, turned, and threw her arms around her husband. They had done well.

© J. Manuel Writes