Thursday, April 28, 2011
By Nicky Vegas
Note to readers: Nicky Vegas is a pseudonym for an Albany, New York-area man who plays in several bands. "Prayer Such" emerged as a dream. He woke up in the middle of the night and sat down and wrote it.
Accompanying Music: Dirge (minor key, simple, maybe a Gregorian chant, maybe a flat 5th, but with a hip-hop beat)
Characters: Marine Gunnery Sergeant and two marines
Setting: Urban, park-like, kind of desolate, on an incline overlooking a river
“Gunny, why are we here?” The sun is hot. I got this creepy feeling in my guts, like I might puke any second.
“I’m tellin’ ya, I got a feelin’. We’re near the river. I’m gettin’ the vibe. Shut up now, I’m goin’ to work. Here comes one.”
The gunnery sergeant puts on the gear. Gear -- it’s really more of a helmet and mask. Very high tech. Very powerful. Picks up everything. Almost no effort with the “gear.”
Here comes this ragged-looking guy, all disheveled, coming right towards us.
“That’s it buddy, take it easy. Look right into my eyes. You’ll pass quiet, now.”
They lock eyes. The guy drops. All right, that’s one. Two more for the Gunny and then it’s time for my duty. We all gotta’ get three today.
I hate this duty stateside. I still don’t get why we’re doing this over here. Military-civilian public relations, probably. Some congressman owes somebody something, I bet. I don’t know. Training. Keeps us sharp, that’s what they said. But can you believe them? I know one thing: this stuff was developed for combat. At least you know why you’re there.
“I got an uneasy feelin’ Gunny.”
“Pipe down, I told you I’m workin’ over here.” He points. “Hey, check out the kid runnin’ through the brush.”
“Come on Gunny, not the kid. He looks like he’s only ten years old.”
“This one’s tricky, he’s seen us and he’s scared, real scared. Hey kid - look at me!”
The Gunnery Sergeant has the gear on and the kid turns. They lock eyes for an instant and it’s done. The kid’s gone.
No shit, that kid was scared. The gear would frighten anybody. All white, all odd angles, kind of like the stealth bomber, but bright white, except for the eye lenses. They’re black and deep and dark – no reflection, no turning away. Once you’re locked, that’s it. Some of the guys in Fox Company painted theirs up to look like The Punisher. Man, that’s sick.
Me, I just want to get this over with so I can settle down. I’m still spooked today, I don’t know what’s going on, some kind of weird energy. Different from what I’m used to, maybe it’s the sun, that’s it, maybe the sun’s so hot, I don’t know, I just know somehow it’s different.
“O.K. Gunnery Sergeant, that’s two. Can we take a break? I don’t feel so good.”
“Not now, I’m hot. Look at that, will ya, she’s comin’ right toward me all peaceful like.”
I turn and try to see what he’s seeing with the gear. That new guy is coming up behind us -- he seems to be right on it. "All right, I’m getting close… I’m tuning into this one a little bit."
“Gunnery Sergeant, are you kiddin’ me? Are you sure? The nun?”
“That’s it now. Look right into my eyes and you’ll pass easily.”
“Jesus, Gunny - a nun? What’s with you today? And all three inside of an hour? What’s going on?”
“Take it easy. river’s a natural place. Go ahead - look for yourself. There’s the homeless guy in the bushes over there. There’s the commotion by the dock around the kid. And the nun? Real peaceful over there on the bench. Bad heart is my guess. She knew all about it. She was ready.”
Ready. On the battlefield nobody’s ever ready. Guys get it so fast, they don’t even know it. That’s where we come in. Gather them up, clear the area. Clean up.
It was developed for our guys, but when you’re out there, it doesn’t matter what side they’re on. Settlement is settlement. At least you know you’re doing the right thing. Combat is too quick. Soldiers need this. Civilians, I’m not so sure. All right, my turn. Concentrate. Think of the training. The Gunnery Sergeant hands me the gear. I keep it close, trying to get the vibe. I’m kind of lost today, I don’t really know where to go.
“Come on, let’s move out. You got any idea where to next?”
I don’t. I’m thinking of our training, trying to tap into the energy. Back in basic we all went through a profiling, a screening of sorts. I always could feel something more about certain people, all my life. The training helps you to “tune in.” Anybody who showed any “talent” got sent on to specialized training. The training was comforting to me. I never really understood why I could feel certain things and then, the training helped it all make sense to me. Gave it a purpose.
“Gunnery Sergeant, I gotta’ get into an area with a lot more people. I’m going to move around in a grid and try to pick up something. Stay with me, but not too close. I still have this nagging sense of bad. Stay on the horn with me.”
Some kind of strange melody -- “mum-mum-mm-mum” -- starts up in my head. Melody is too sweet a word - this is a dark riff, not fully formed yet. It keeps coming back. It won’t leave me alone.
“All right, me and the new guy will tail you and listen in on the clear channel. You call us right away if you get something and every once in a while even if you don’t. Relax, we got time. Everything takes its own time. Everything in its own time and its own place.”
I head for the hospital. Always a lot of energy there. Focus. Now I’m feeling something. I move through the wards. Nobody pays me much notice. I’ve got my fatigues on, regular duty. I keep the gear holstered, but close. It just looks like I’m here visiting.
I’m getting closer, at least I think I am. I move through the complex of buildings really hoping, following the faint energy. Now I’m in the E.R. I can feel it stronger, close by. Then I see him, all attached - tubes and wires everywhere. He’s up off the bed yelling, he sees me and starts pulling on the wires, scrambling toward me. I put on the gear, steady now, get it right - “Look directly into my eyes, you’ll pass easily.” This one’s really frantic, probably a car wreck, but he looks, they always look. A jolt of energy, the really bright light, and zap, he’s gone.
Better get out of here quick, one down, two to go. “Gunny, you guys there? First one’s done. I’m on my way to the amusement park - lots of people.”
“We got you. We’re a couple of blocks back. Go ahead.”
I have a lot of respect for the gunnery sergeant, he’s been on this detail longer than anyone. Me and him got teamed up about a year and a half ago. I wouldn’t know how to work with anybody else. The new guy? I don’t know him, maybe he’s with us today for training. It’s usually just me and the Gunny.
I’m entering the park now and the energy is just flipping me out, it’s so strong. This is a fresh one, all right, but where is it?
There’s a crowd converging around that big fast ride, the one with the high tower. That must be it, I move through the people all around gaping, straining for a look. I see somebody really charging around, all crazy like. There’s the energy, really going nuts, it must have happened real sudden. I put on the gear and turn my head.
Suddenly, there’s this guy in the crowd -- a soldier type wearing fatigues -- looking at me freaking way out, screaming at me at the top of his lungs. “Hey - I seen guys like you before, you’re one of them! A Prayer Such! No way, man. I ain’t goin’! You must be wrong. And don’t even think about looking at my wife and kid. Get out of here, you’re wrong! You’re wrong! Get out!”
Prayer Such. Yeah, that’s what the troops called us when we first arrived in the killing zones. You know, like - “Hope you said your prayers ’n such, cause you’re already gone!”
Soul Salvage. That’s what the brass calls our detail. If anybody mentions it at all. We are so top secret, it’s unreal. That’s why I can’t get over this stateside run, it’s just too risky. We belong back there, back in the action, we help out big time back there, with all the killin’ it makes it easier. Things happen so fast in combat, there’s so much loose energy. We get them. We help them pass. Their soul or whatever you want to call it, that energy, it leaves the dead body and dissipates. They can pass easily. I don’t like doing it over here, civilian stateside.
Anyway, I move past this soldier and his family. It ain’t him, it’s the one that got it on the ride.
Then I got her, she’s young, probably early twenties, a real looker, or at least she was. Man, that’s a lot of blood. What a mess.
Never mind. Focus. “Look directly into my eyes, you’ll pass easily, darling.” Man, she is so scared, but I got her attention, she turns and looks. Big flash. Big energy hit. She’s gone.
The Gunnery Sergeant’s voice cuts through the headset. “We’re covering your back, Jack, better cut out, better get out of there. Two down, one to go. Move.”
“All right, I’m going to head past downtown, toward the south end, I’m picking up on some energy, it’s different though, kind of weird.”
“Mum-mum-mm-mum” There’s that sound again, it’s stuck in my brain, over and over. “Mum-mum-mm-mum,” “Mum-mum-mm-mum.” I don’t like it at all.
I start moving through downtown, past the business district, into the gut. Urban decay. Abandoned, rundown buildings.
Almost like a battlefield, in a strange, removed way. It’s getting dark now and I see a couple of young guys in a car, cruisin’, probably some gang stuff going on. Looks like trouble. I’ll just duck into this doorway. The door gives way, and I’m in this empty store. The car’s coming and they’re getting out. They must have seen me. They’re gonna’ come in after me! It’s really dark in here. I find my way around a counter and stumble wildly and fall flat on my back with a loud crash, a lot of other noise, too much noise. O.K. I’m up. I’m all right. Jesus, the energy level is off the chart. This one’s real close. I put on the gear and look around. I can just make out a shape on the floor, a body. The gang members are running out the door. I turn, but I’m not connecting. Where is it? Damn it. Where is it? There’s that sound again, loud as ever... “Mum-mum-mm-mum” “Mum-mum-mm-mum”
What the hell? It’s the new guy. Wait, he’s got the gear on! Why’s he got the gear on? I look directly at his eyes. Flash! The light! The energy! Wait! “Mum-mum-mm-mum.” Hey, maybe it’s. . . me.
The gunnery sergeant turns to the new guy. “It’s harder with the guys on the inside. They can take a long time to get it. We gotta’ really build it up.”
“You did a good job today. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it as we go along.”
“He’s at rest now, let’s call it a night and get back. The black ops guys’ll straighten out everything in here.”