This story is by Sandy Richards and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
How does an Army Ranger sniper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana end up in a destitute, isolated town like Nonsense, New Mexico? Hell, if I know. Every morning, I question my situation as I wrestle, wrangle and nearly pop a blood vessel just to get out of bed. To add insult to injury, I’m confined to my government issued, camouflage covered, bullshit wheelchair.
God rest her soul, I can hear my Momma saying, “Nicky Rainwater, stop complaining. Most people done worse off than you.” I’m not so sure about that. Moving to Nonsense was the government rehab’s idea of the perfect place for a wheelchair bound Army vet to spend the rest of his days.
“Warmth,” they said, “will work wonders for your recovery.”
Bullshit. Just another way to get me out of the system. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure the military has me under surveillance 24/7. Anything above three feet is out of my direct line of sight. Probably have microphones and video monitors in light fixtures and picture frames. Must have something to do with Operation Just Cause and Noriega. Don’t they understand? I was doing my job…for my country.
They put me up in a pint-sized house with handicapped access where I am free to roam all 800 square feet of subsidized hell, including a special motorized ramp leading to the flat rooftop. Housing in Nonsense is built Pueblo style. All twenty-eight homes are designed to accommodate the Nonsense, New Mexico population of sixty-three dried up, cantankerous members of the human race. That is, unless you count the forty adolescent inhabitants of the New Mexico Children’s Rehabilitation Assistance Project. That’s right, New Mexico’s C.R.A.P. program. I saw those kids the first week I was in Nonsense and called them the dead-eyes since that’s exactly how they look. Eyes as dead as raccoon roadkill; no light, no thoughts, absolutely nothing clicking; just dead eyes staring at pure squat. I’ve seen about everything, but those kids creep me out.
Sitting on my rooftop like a king on his throne, I can see miles in every direction. Tossing back ice-cold Coors for breakfast, under a red, white and blue umbrella, listening to KPOW-FM on the radio, I survey my kingdom. There’s the Quik-Mart to the north, Letha’s Diner to the south, the First State Bank of Nonsense to the east (seriously, what corporate genius thought that was okay?) and the New Mexico C.R.A.P. facility to the west. If only my battalion could see me now. I’m living the high life.
Today started out like every other day except that the radio guy keeps breaking in with a special report; something about a sandstorm coming from the west. I swear he mentioned green sand. That can’t be right, ain’t nothing green in Nonsense. All I can make out through the static is to take cover.
“There’s something about this storm that just isn’t normal,” the DJ squawked. Radio silence took over. In my world, that’s never a good sign.
As I gather my stuff, I feel a cold, brisk breeze blow over the only extremities left with any feeling. The clammy dampness, colliding with the heat of the day, marches goosebumps up and down my arms. The hairs on the back of my neck dance from the electricity in the air. Looking west toward C.R.A.P., I rub my eyes because I can’t believe what I’m seeing. A snot-green swirl of sand the size of a football field engulfs the dead-eye campus. The sandstorm isn’t touching a single structure in Nonsense except where the kids are living. As quickly as it rolls in, the storm disappears. I may have washed down my meds with a few beers this morning, but I know what I saw. Not a sound emanated from that storm. It crept up on C.R.A.P. as quiet as a mouse pissing on cotton balls.
Good judgement isn’t one of my strong suits. I should have hauled ass back inside and closed up tighter than a gator with lockjaw. It doesn’t take me long to realize something is really fucked up as the first dead-eye comes gimping out of the rehab facility. What the bloody hell? As I look through the high-powered scope on my M-107, I realize that a dead-eye is dragging Dr. Peters, or more accurately, the top half of Dr. Peters, into the noonday sun. One by one, the dead-eyes tug bits and pieces of the ten C.R.A.P. employees right onto Main Street. Nothing much happens in town, so this bit of action is a huge draw for the unenlightened swimmers in the shallow Nonsense gene pool.
A monstrous frenzy begins. The crazy thing is that the dead-eyes aren’t eating the town folks like you see in zombie movies. Limbs are pulled off and intestines are globbing on the sidewalk. I’ll be damned, the dead-eyes are scooping out the real eyes of the employees and townies and trying to push them into their own dead sockets. What the hell was in that green sand?
With communication non-existent, I fall back on my training and take charge of the situation. Lucky me, I can shoot a tick off a rat’s ass from a mile away. I figure there are forty dead-eyes to dispose of, give or take. From my experience, popping each one with a .50 caliber slug should do the trick. Having my rooftop advantage is like shooting ducks on a pond. Popping the top on a fresh Coors, I throw back a Vicodin, wheel into position, adjust the sight on my rifle and the games begin. I take a couple practice shots and figure out that hitting them square in one of their dead eyes is the only way to eliminate them. It’s a little tricky, but I got mad skills.
I start feeling a little bad about eliminating those kids, but my survival training takes over. It’s either them or me. I prefer to keep my eyes in my own head, thank you very much. I accomplish my mission and I’m feeling pretty proud of myself; kind of like the Nonsense version of Rambo. It feels good to be back in action, even from a wheelchair.
With a burp, the radio comes back to life. “Good job, Rainwater. You passed,” a disembodied voice said.
What the hell is going on? “Passed what?” I yell, to no one in particular.
Another static burp, and the faceless voice pronounced, “You controlled a potentially uncontrollable situation. Those “dead-eyes,” as you so aptly named them, are rogue experiments that are miserable failures. The chemical sand storm was our last hope to rehabilitate them into useful soldiers. We know you are on-site and presumably itching for action, so it’s a win-win for all of us. Our cleaners will be in shortly to remove the residue.”
“So, what happens to me?” The calmness in my voice contradicts the acid churning in my gut. I’m about to shit all over myself. I already know the answer to the million-dollar question.
“You will be rewarded, Master Sergeant Rainwater. Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, over.”
“WTF over, my ass. How’d you know I’d take action?” Silence. More silence. The whoomp, whoomp, whoomp of an approaching helicopter penetrates my thoughts. The last thing I see in this natural world is the red nose of the missile targeted to send me to the Promise Land. Shit, I was just doing my job man!
“Poor bastard. What a messed up way for a decorated veteran to make the ultimate sacrifice. PTSD is a fickle bitch, especially when you’re confined to a wheelchair. At least it was swift and painless,” the copter pilot said.
“Are you shittin’ me?” shouted the co-pilot. “It’s a good thing we were monitoring him. That demented monster almost wiped out the entire town because he thought those kids were the enemy. They were going out to play for recess, for chrissakes! And green sand? Everyone knows there ain’t nothing green in Nonsense.