Sawyer had written a sign on cardboard behind the speakers
DEATH AND MUSIC FESTIVAL
Which Conner considered to be fitting. Those were, after all, the two main qualities of the rooftop.
The speakers had been set up by some Army pogue from psyops, maybe, or intel, it was difficult to say. The playlist had been varied hard and heavy metal bands, and a few rappers thrown in here or there. So far this hour-
Metallica- Enter Sandman
Eminem- My Name Is
Black Sabbath- Crazy Train
DMX- X gonna give it to you
Korn- Freak on a leash
The idea being, that the music was a form of torture. The haajis heard the howlings of Slipknot and considered them the rantings brought forward from the bowels of hell. After a day or so of this, a few Marines had asked if they could contribute, and the psyops guy had said, "Sure, but no pussy shit. Its got to be hard." And this brought about variety-
Rage against the Machine
And made rooftop duty even more popular than it would have been otherwise. As it was, the Marines of Chosin company were squabbling over each other to get a slot. Rooftop duty meant you enforced the curfew.
There was a twenty-four hour curfew put into effect in the city of Fallujah, ever since the bodies of burnt and dismembered Blackwater contractors had been shown on CNN and Al-Jazeera. This curfew was enforced by snipers, taking rooftop positions overlooking the city. Throughout the day, over the bray of metal music, a crack would ring out on the streets and Marines would smile. And now Conner and Sawyer were set up in position. Conner behind the trigger of the Designated Marksmen rifle, and Sawyer acting as his spotter. Behind them both Jon Odle was on the Company radio.
"Why not Sublime?" Odle asked.
"You cant have Sublime." Sawyer said. "Sublime is music to smoke joints to."
"I'd like to smoke a joint."
"So would I, but what I'm saying is that its relaxing."
"So the haajis would be relaxed. And with this shit, it pisses them off."
"I dont think this is about the haajis at all." Odle said. "I think those psyops guys, or whatever, just looked at each other, and said, fuck it, lets just play our music through a loudspeaker."
"Thats what you think."
"And I think that I should have the same right. I mean, to play my music through a loudspeaker. I should contribute to the Phantom Fury soundtrack."
"Its not music to kill people too."
"Its not music to kill people too." Odle mocked. "I'm killer boot! Watch me drop my weapon off the roof!"
Odle was reffering to a moment when Conner had fumbled his weapon, not quite over the edge, but enough to bring the ire of Staff Sergeant Kurre. "You want to ragheads to kill you with that thing?" He snapped, and everyone laughed. But now, Conner thought, he had his chance. He was behind the scope of the rifle, with proper eye relief. Something was behind the corner, across the street. He was already squeezing the trigger. When it popped out, the rifle let out a CRACK! and then the SNAP of the bullet breaking the sound barrier.
"Jesus!" Sawyer said.
The dog had been gut shot. It limped out to the street, letting out a horrible yip-yip-yip of pain. It was mangy grey in color with black patchs. It fell over, and when it dragged itself in the street its entrails fell from the dogs stomach.
"Holy fuck, boot." Odle said. "You executed Fido."
The sight of the animal in pain was making Conner feel sick.
"Why'd you do it, dude?" Sawyer asked.
"I thought it was a guy." Conner said.
"Well fuck- its just a dog."
"Put it out of its misery." Odle suggested, but it was to late, the dog was already dead. No one spoke for some time after that. Conner drank water from his Camelbak and tried not to look at the dead animal in the street.
"Anyone seen Staff Sergeant?" Odle asked.
"He's got the shits." Sawyer said.
"Thats a motherfucker." Odle said. "Boot, you got the shits yet?"
"Dont eat the haaji bread." Odle said. "Thats the key. That naan shit. I ate like ten pieces of that shit, and crapped it all out fast."
The naan bread was dropped off at the front gate, and guarding that gate was a duty the platoon had been pulling lately. Two trucks would come in, supposedly from Islamic charities, one full of thick blankets and one full of naan bread. The Marines would steal both, and Conner now had a thick fur blanket to sleep under at night. He looked up and saw that Odle was changing the CD.
Whooah oh c-mon and kick me
whooah oh you've got your problems
"Are you guys cool, man?" Odle said, mockingly. He brought out a small wooden object that Conner didnt recognize immediatedly as a narcotics instrument. "I've been having to wrap the stuff in toilet paper." Odle remarked. "And that's not how you smoke."
I've got my asswipe
"Who carved it for you?" Sawyer asked.
"Petey Barnhill." Odle said. "From weapons platoon."
"That guy has the worlds smallest dick." Conner said.
you've got your big cheese
"Fucking boot! What the fuck did that mean?"
"I mean that its not proportional. I mean that he's a big guy, and you think that it would, you know, match."
Odle laughed again. "God, boot." He said. "If this is what your like now, I cant wait to see you after you smoke."
I've got my hash pipe
James Conner had participated in illicit narcotics in two previous instances. Once in high school, and once right after predeployment leave. Both times had been with the same childhood friend, Chris Slayton. And both times had only involved Marijuana. He hadnt felt much of an effect, on either occasion. And the second time he smoked he had been worrying about the piss test, that would most likely come after leave was over and everyone returned to the barracks.
The Marine Corps had a methodical method for testing urine, that could be beaten with enough foresight and dilligence. They would test every member of Chosin company, all at once. Each bottle of piss would be packaged into ten bottle boxes to be sent out for testing. The company would then test one sample, one single bottle for THC contamination. If that bottle popped, then all the samples in that batch would be tested. This meant that if you smoked weed, you didnt stand in line, or around other people that smoked weed, lessening your chances of popping to one in ten. The other trick was simply to drink water. A thoroughly diluted urine sample would not show anything but H2O. It was possible that the officers in Chosin company knew of this fact, and were constantly encouraging their men to drink water during a mass urinalysis for exactly this fact. The urinalysis were mandatory, brought down from higher, but no one wanted their Marines to pop.
Once a Marine had been tested positive, he became a sort of walking zombie. His rank was removed, for starters, and he was placed on barracks restriction, without liberty. He was also gauranteed a bad discharge. The usual one was General under Other than Honorable Conditions, which removed all post-military benefits, the GI Bill, a VA Home Loan, and looked ugly on a job application. But the Marines would not remove him immediatedly. The Marine would train with his company, in disgrace, and he would deploy with them to, if the extra body was needed. All the while knowing what was in store for him.
With this knowledge firmly in place, Conner had drank water until his urine was clear and lacking of odor. Still, he had waited for that moment, when Staff Sergeant Kurre would call him to the company office, and scream at him, while telling him of the un-life that awaited. But it never came.
The hash affected Conner like weed never had. It was strong stuff, with a distinct half sweet smell, and a taste left in his mouth afterwards. Odle had to show him how to hold the flame to the pipe as he sucked the draw, due to hash not staying lit on its own. From there he passed it around, and looked out. The street had changed.
Colors were more intense, somehow, while not changing their actual being. He felt the music on the loudspeaker, which had managed to change to System of a Down. Wake Up! Serj Tankian screamed. And Conner felt that he was fully awake, that every part of his being was alive and mobile. When he put his hand to the trigger of the M14 he felt fully connected to the rifle, as well, as if he could see the innermost chamber and its bolt, with the firing pin
headed toward the silver spiral of the grooved barrel, ready to feed through it each and every 5.56 bullet.
He could look through the scope now through a different light. The dog he shot in the street was different. Somehow the colors of its guts were magical, or if not magical then right. As if the dog belonged dead, and when Conner shot it he was only sending it back to its natural state. There was a great tension cord running down the center of his being that was unwound. He thought of a toy he had as a child. A plane made of balsa wood, which would fly with a working proppeler due to a rubber band. He could imagine being that plane, and spinning off the roof, down the streets of Fallujah. Heading constantly upwards, through the sky, until he reached the sun.
"Boots flaking." Odle said. "Keep it together, boot."
"Stop calling him that." Sawyer said. "Were not boots anymore."
"You are mostly correct, Ryan." Odle answered. "You will no longer be boots after this deployment. After this deployment you will be salty. When I have left the Marine Corps and am off on my very own getting my college degree...."
"What are you going to college for?" Conner asked.
"Get the fuck out."
"I'm being serious. I intend on entering the seminary. My father is a minister."
"What does he think about you?"
"His son, the Marine? The decorated Marine that fights in Iraq? He's very proud."
"The only decoration you've got, Jon, is an NJP."
"And I could say that the only decoration you've got, Ryan, is that little boot camp National Defense, which you got because Bush is an idiot. But if we want to insult each other lets get more creative than that." Odle pointed his finger and took an expression of mock horror. "Soduhmite!"
Sawyer looked down slightly.
"What I'm saying is, I know about you and Swinney. And, I'm totally non-judgemental and non-homophobic, but I'm just saying I know."
"Know about what?"
"Conner your a boot shut up."
"I've heard about you to." Sawyer said.
"And I dont deny it. I'm bisexual. Being bi means you'll take whatever you can get. I've accepted that within myself. Good afternoon, Staff Sergeant."
Staff Sergeant Kurre had materialized out of absolutely nowhere.
"What the fuck is that smell, Odle?" He asked.
"Why would you burn incense?"
"Keeps out the smell of shit. PFC Conner has the runs."
Kurre leaned forward to Conner. "How you doing, son?" He asked.
"Good Staff Sergeant."
"Keep it up. Intel has it that there's a sniper somewhere out today." He patted the shoulder of Conner's vest. "That goes for all of you. Just because your up here with music, down bullshit around." He thumped the sign. "What the fuck is Lollafallujah."
"Its a music festival, Staff Sergeant." Sawyer said. "I mean, its based on that. I came up with it."
"Whatever." Kurre said. "Fucking boots." And left, the stairs off the roof creaking behind him. No one spoke for several minutes. Then Odle said, very carefully, "Who's got the pipe?"
Sawyer was lying prone, looking through the spotter's scope. "Its under my flak." He said.
"Whee-eeew." Odle half whistled, half let out air.
"How much of that do you think he heard?"
"I dont know. But Kurre's cooler than you think. He wont snitch us out."
"I mean, I think if he caught us, he would do what he had to do. We would be in some shit. But now that he didnt actually see anything...that was a message, what he said about the smell."
"Fuck, dude." Sawyer said. "The hash burned into my flak."
"Wash it out later."
The CD had changed again. It was Outkast this time, from Stankonia, proclaiming
Thunder pounds when I stomp the ground (Woo!)
And the Marines said along
Bombs over Baaghdad
followed afterwards by Odle in a high falsetto
Bombs oover baaag-dad!
And at that instance, thunder struck the horizon, which was not thunder but a thousand pound bomb dropped from an F-16 on its target. This caused the Marines to cheer and sing louder and again. That night back on the post Sawyer shot a boy right between his eyes with the DMR, through the center of his forehead, and Conner could see his head explode through the spotter scope. He was not high then, and the event was unfiltered through his brain for its awful truth.