(from Gristle Springs, a novel of intrigue)
In a detention cell at Gizmo, Umma Obikhan Khan, supposedly blind as the proverbial bat (having dwelt in many caves, the Umma knew well that bats are not at all blind, but simply prefer the efficacy of echolocation), darted his Blue Eye at one of the simpleton guards who had, a few days earlier, confiscated the Umma’s Qu’ran out of spite.
“You bein’ blind and all, ahm sure you’d favor a Braille edition…we’re expectin’ one special for you any day.”
Huck, the simpleton’s name was, Huck Finnish, and he’d met with a rather close shave almost instantly after removing the Umma’s sacred book, a spill down a flight of cement stairs that had only resulted in wrist injury. The Umma had, moments prior to this mishap, fixed his Whirling Eye on the imbecilic Huck, a corn-fed specimen of the American Midwest of unquestionable virility and fitness, yet infinitely suggestible, ripe for the Umma’s special brand of theological seduction.
Obikhan Khan told Huck in Arabic, a language utterly alien to the strapping lad, that Allah would bless him for his attentiveness to the spiritual needs of his handicapped charges. At the same time, he caught Huck’s artless azure orbs with his Whirling Eye, until the boy was well under, deep in a mesmeric trance.
“I know that you can see, Huck,” the Umma’s gentle voice murmured in the young American’s ears, its tone as pensive and quiet as a prayer. Somehow, Huck now understood Arabic perfectly. Moreoever, the Umma was murmuring in English. “How miserably your brothers here in Gizmo are being treated. Stripped of their dignity as men, tortured pointlessly for information they would never give, even if they possessed it: nothing, Huck, is accomplished by torture. Torture strengthens the resolve of the true mujahidin, who intend no harm to your people, nor to your so-called American way of life.”
“Yes,” Huck whispered, “I do see. What we are doing here is criminal and wrong and an offense to God.”
“The beatings. The humiliations. Your brothers are forced to stand for hours at a time, to endure the barbaric immersions your masters treat as sport, to offend each other’s modesty and even to be set upon by vicious dogs.”
“It is wrong, Umma Khan. Especially the dogs.”
“And the panties, Huck. The panties pulled over their faces as they are forced to manipulate their private parts.”
“Yes. Yes. The panties.”
Huck now understood how dastardly and wrong it all was: Gizmo, and his previous deployment at Fizzmoral, that outpost of horror at the easternmost tip of the Aleutian Islands, which had become, in recent years, tropical tourist havens. And the one before that, the Black Ops detention center on Diego Charabia, formerly Diego Garcia. It was as if the scales of a ravening crocodile had fallen from his eyes like drops of morning mist, eyes which gazed for the first time into the Pure White Light, a celestial beacon illuminating the path of righteousness. Others, Huck’s reptilian brain informed him, dwell in darkness and must be guided towards the same obliterating whiteness.
“And your government denies to your brothers their basic human rights and liberties under international law, forbids them to meet with attorneys to defend them, and defiles the principles it claims to uphold.” The Umma’s head shook with tremulous sadness. Barnum certainly got it right, he reflected. There’s one born every minute. Perhaps two or three, these days. Of course, it helps when everything you’re saying is true, as far as it goes.
“I am guilty before Allah,” Huck declared dreamily. “I have wronged my brothers and been set against them by the inhuman creatures who rule this accursed hell. How can I free myself from the bonds of this terrible guilt?”
The Umma paused, stroking his long beard, his Blue Eye darting in vigilant surveillance of the filthy corridor outside his cell, his Whirling Eye maintaining its grip on Huck’s powerless gaze.
“You must bring me others, Huck, others who have not yet understood. Your fellow soldiers, one by one, who act as pawns in the evil that has set brother against brother. You must also find a means to supply your brothers who languish behind bars the weapons they must have to destroy these prison walls. You must provide us with C2, C3, C4, and with chargers, cell phones we can deploy as detonators, with AK-47s, with mortar shells and claymore mines…if you wish to enter Paradise, these things you must bring us. And you must enlist others to embrace our jihad, but only those who have seen the White Light.”
A ship already awaited them, actually a modified cigarette boat, just round the shark-infested tip of Gizmo, prepared for the short haul to Martinique and the island, more of a sand spit really, a few miles east of its pristine beaches, where Dr. Fu Manchu had ensconced himself after his recent scrape with Weymouth Smith and that drug addict he hung around with, who had, the Umma knew, married a Eurasian woman who’d formerly acted on behalf of the ChoFatDong.
The Island of Isitme-Oryou, all but inaccessible owing to the vast quantity of gigantic pointed rocks ranged beneath its lush rain forest—where, it was said, prehistoric birds and beasts had survived the Triassic Era and its massive die-off, though the Umma considered this an infidel myth, concocted by a pernicious Jewish film director and a money-grubbing author of drearily lowbrow best-selling books.
Huck, meantime, felt a growing eagerness to bring Tom Sawbone, his fuck buddy from base, into the Umma’s presence, that Tom could share the spiritual nectar the flowed from that radiant light. Huck and Tom had shared so many coarse and earthly things that Gizmo offered a boy on the cusp of manhood, yet all those things were as nothing in comparison to this lysergic ecstasy of Pure Beingness.
Tom Sawbone thrust the tray of rations through the opening at the bottom of Umma Obikhan’s cell door. He noted, as he always did, how the Umma merely glanced at the arriving meal as if some unspeakable putridity were on display, taking time to whisper prayers of sarcastic thanks before delicately pulling the tray close to where he sat on his prayer mat, cross-legged in something akin to the lotus position Tom had learned in yoga class.
He knew because of his Auntie Em how thoroughly blind people familiarized themselves with their surroundings by their other senses, and never felt any surprise when the Umma’s eyes seemed to look at him, since blind people, or at least Auntie Em and her needlepoint circle of sightless friends, turned their faces to the person they listened to. Still, Tom couldn’t help staring into the Umma’s lifeless eyes, it fascinated him, how somebody who couldn’t see had eyes in his head all the same.
Umma Obikhan fixed the gangly, handsome youth’s glance with his Whirling Eye, while continuing to utter his prayers in a barely audible whisper. He had, in fact, completed his prayers, and was whispering something else, something Tom, spellbound, brought his face close to the cell’s bars to decipher.
“See my Whirling Eye, Tom Sawbone, it is like a rainbow in the soft air that follows a gentle summer rain, is it not, Tom Sawbone? It is like the old swimming hole where you and Huck Finnish used to swing out over the water in an inner tube tied to a branch of a tall tall pine tree, it is like the refreshing cold water of the lake where you and Huck went skinny-dipping on a sweltering August afternoon after finishing your chores, is it not?”
Tom experienced a sudden rent in the fabric of time: him and Huck were at the watering hole, splashing each other and dunkin’ each other’s heads, and then they swam out to the clapboard raft nailed up over a bunch of empty oil drums, buck nekkid as babes, then they was rough-housin’ on the raft after hoisting themselves out of the cool water, rastlin’ and rollin’ on top of one ‘nuther till that moment seemed alus to come when the rough-housin’ went all still and Tom laid on top a Huck, or Huck lay on top a Tom, or sometimes they was layin’ like two spoons in Aunt Em’s utinsil drawer, and Huck’s big warm thigmajig pressed up aginst the crack a Tom’s ass, and Huck’s hot breath panted into Tom’s ear, and Tom shot his tongue out and licked inside that ear and Huck’s big toe ran up and down the bottom of Tom’s long foot, and ‘fore you knew it Huck’s throbbin’ uncut ding dong greased up with a wad a spit pressed its head out a that clingin’ wrapper of loose flesh and Tom felt Huck’s thick shaft slidin’ up inside him Huck’s wide hairless chest pressed like Auntie Em’s steam iron up ‘gainst Tom’s back out there on Loon Lake with the wild geese wheelin’ overhead and callin’ each other in they matin’ cries…
Somehow all the same time Huck was cornholin’ Tom as Umma Obikhan sipped his tea all delicate and that Whirlin’ Eye showed Tom him and Huck fuckin’ nice and slow on that raft out Loon Lake, and all sudden like, Tom loved the Umma for showin’ him that sweet pitcher of him and Tom locked together like that Huck movin’ inside him so nice and warm as a blueberry pie coolin’ in Aunt Em’s winda and Huck flippin’ Tom over on his back and grabbin’ Tom’s ankles, thrustin’ his long thick pumper deeper inta Tom’s insides & at the same time Tom was rememberin’ where they kept the Semtex in that locked-up shed behind the PX and figurin’ how far the distance was between that shed and the broke-down biplane hangar where they’d got all the AK-47s locked up in a long chest all full of excelsior with the ammo belts in a different chest other side of the hangar, now it was Tom’s turn to cornhole Huck, and Huck was already hungry for it when Tom spit into his palm and at the same time they was runnin’ from the Semtex storage shed to the biplane hangar and they was others with them too, Jones and Rafferty and Jimmy Johnson and the whole gang laughin’ and fuckin’ each other and runnin’ from one weapon storage billet to the other grabbin’ up all the ordnance they could lay they hands on…
Pvt. Arnyld Stang, a Clerk Typist from Requisitions, has unexpectedly become the very best friend of Huck Finnish, a strapping lad he has often Admired from Afar: one suffocatingly humid afternoon, Private Huck sauntered into Private Stang’s office, approached his desk with a disconcerting air of humility, and introduced himself with a hearty handshake.
The touch of another man sent Stang into a near-swoon, and the firm grip of this particular man practically caused him to faint. Not that Stang was one of these don’t ask don’t spill types. Each morning in his mess kit mirror, Stang told himself, “Arnyld, you CAN attract women, women LIKE you, not just as a GIRLFRIEND, these sissy ways of yours are nothing but DEFENSE MECHANISMS.”
Still, Pvt. Stang found himself Hard Put to believe himself as he worked through his Affirmations, the way some of the men did their facial isometrics.
“Ahm told,” said the manly Huck, still Meek as the Pascal Lamb, if that was the correct Biblical animal of sacrifice, “that yoah the man to see if’n theys ennethin’ we particlarly find usselves cravin’ from the PX thet they doesn’t have.”
Pvt. Stang, flummoxed, managed to sputter out:
“We we well I guh guh guess I am, Private Finnish, if you you ca ca can tell mi mi mi me what it is you need.”
Huck leaned over the wooden railing, the better to murmur in Pvt. Stang’s almost deformedly large ear, in which hairs had accrued thick enough to suggest those follicles and cuticles that continue generating tissue after death.
“Tuh tell yuh the trooth, Pry Vat Stang, I’m in a wee tahny bit of a pickle. See…”
See. Stang could only see the antique pocket-watch Finnish had drawn from a uniform pocket, swaying slowly on its gilt chain, back and forth, forth and back, Stang’s eyes following its lugubrious movements as Finnish’s voice reached his ears from very far away, a sound echoing down an endless tunnel.
The voice divided in the tunnel, and the tunnel’s lanes of rain-slick tarmac carried the sluicing of automobile tires, headlights occluded by blinding white light bathing everything in a metallic sheen.
One voice repined for a delicious childhood chocolate treat, a hard trapezoid of embossed milk chocolate with nuts and raisins embedded inside it.
“Ah shure wid relish sinkin mah choppers into a good ol’ fashin Chunky,” it declared, stirring in the coral-like epithalamic folds of Pvt. Stang’s brain matter a long-forgotten expression, issuing from Stang’s own mouth: “Whatta chunka chocolate!”
Yet a quite different voice rolled down the seamless shiny tiles on the opposite slope of the tunnel, as military jeeps, their rear compartments piled with strange-looking, translucent pods of some sort, splashed the wet lanes of the motorway, whispering, gently commanding, instructing Stang to secure the punch codes for the locks on the ammunition depot, the titanium bolts on the weapons storage bunker, commit these codes to memory, and communicate them to Tom Sawbone in precisely thirteen hours, when Sawbone would appear at Stang’s office with requisition sheets for more surgical masks used to cradle the Qu’ran in the cellblock of Building 5, Camp 5, the isolation camp’s most notorious cellblock, to prevent the sacred book from touching the floor of the detainee’s rabbit warrens.
Stang would retain each code until it reached Tom Sawbone’s ear. He would then retain no memory of the instructions he was hearing now, the codes, or even the identities of Huck and Tom.
“When ah clap my hands and say Thank Heavens to Betsy for Funnel Cake, you all will wake from yoah slumbah and go about yoah business just like as if nuthin ever o-curred. But yoah brain will memorize them codes, Prahvit Stang.”
“Tonight,” Huck Finnish rasped, prodding a Braille edition of the Qu’ran between the Umma’s detention container’s bars.
The Umma, though deep in prayer, nodded approval, felt for the book with his wormlike fingers as if truly sightless. He withdrew to the cell’s nether end, to the surveillance camera’s single blind spot, felt between the vellum pages of the sacred book and whisked a phosphorus grenade from its hollowed-out pages into a fold of his decorative khaftan. His lips remained busy in motor-mouthed piety as he returned.
The mesmerized Huck had learned to elude the camera’s gaze when muttering to the Umma.
“We’ve delivered the plastique to our brothers in jihad,” he said without moving his mouth. “And the grenade launchers, the flame-throwers, the AK-47s….”
“Timing is everything, Huck Finnish, let us synchronize our mental clocks…”
A mere glance at the Whirling Eye sufficed for Huck to lock into sequence with the Umma’s temporo-spatial master plan, a procedure Huck reproduced with Clerk Typist Stang, Tom Sawbone, and their confederates in the course of yet another satanically broiling day at Gizmo—their end of days at Gizmo, may Allah B. Allah.
Huck didn’t really know what “irony” was, but experienced it strongly all the same: all his few years hadn’t had a turd’s worth of purpose, yet he’d now discovered his life’s meaning in the way it was going to finish up—no pun intended in his noggin. For sure as shit him and Tom would be ditching the material world in a matter of hours—who ever would’ve thunk it would be in a sacred cause much bigger than them? And that neither one nor th’uther would be one eensy bit timorous about buyin’ the farm, now that the True Meaning had been Revealed?
Huck sure hadn’t been scratching around for any meaning in his existence, but it had smacked him flat in the kisser right here in Gizmo, Tom too—but then, he reflected, it’s just when you ain’t lookin’ for somethin’ you wind up findin’ it, and he could’ve wept tears of gratitude right there on the spot to the Holy Umma for bathin’ them both in the White Light that would soon swallow him and Tom like a coupla sunspots—he couldn’t even put it into words, but knew like he knew his own name old Huck and Tom would skedaddle free of this world of care and smelly gym socks like snakes wriggling out of their skins, and this time tomorrow—if eternity was tomorrow and didn’t include today and yesterday as well—be pleasurin’ each other up in Paradise under a Niagara of Vasoline.
At precisely eight thirty-seven, the electronic locking mechanism on the Umma’s cell block jammed in the open position. Seconds earlier, one Sgt. Farmhaus Philbert, who oversaw the video panopticon in Tower Three at the far end of the exercise yard, had Met His Maker via strangulation: a fitting end to a ripe slob, who had just dined on a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a large fries, two supersized cokes and a vanilla shake, and, in the process of expiring, vomited these partially digested items all over the console controlling the movements of Gizmo Camp 5’s surveillance cameras.
At eight forty, the individual containment doors slid open on their rubber tracks. So far, the Umma thought, we’re still better at calculus than the civilization we imparted it to.
The same operation occurred at precisely the same time in four other cell blocks of Camp Five.
At eight fifty, the Officer’s Mess next to the KFC franchise in Camp Five’s mini-mall exploded, thanks to a carefully fused baseball of Semtex puttied onto the underside of the room-length wet bar. The camp’s commanding officers—Major Beal Bookertee, Captain Earnest Vandersmere Dinsmoor, Lieutenant Colonel Pangborn Sanborn, and several others, hailing from Georgia, Ohio, Illinois, Idaho and Kentucky, among other places—had barely commenced the evening’s bottomless ingestion of impious beverages. One second they were pitching around new methods of waterboarding that could involve filling extremely large basins with urine, motor oil, salt water, peroxide, or Listerine Mouth Wash, the next they were bits of writhing meat vectoring aimlessly through space, colliding with flying scrap metal, glass shards, pulverized wood grain panelling, scattered flaps and fillets of one other sticking to melted plastic cafeteria upholstery, smacking into incomprehensible lumps and streaks of debris, careening like pinballs all over the mini-mall, landing wherever the bits struck durable surfaces, fabric and flesh shearing through the Food Court Plaza. A cannonade of severed limbs and haunches and scalp struck a gaudy “chuck wagon,” its bright steepled signage reading, “Dizzy Gizzy Food Court Chow Down.”
A severed shin and foot in a lace-up Army boot flew into an all-you-can-eat salad bar featuring an array of spicy noodle salads and rice pilafs, splattering an aluminum tub of Creamy Ranch-style dressing into a hailstorm of red and white creamy pellets. An eyeball attached to a jagged skull fragment, an arm in a uniformed sleeve, various snotlike ribbons of viscera whizzed through the open doors of Camp Five Gizmo Burger King, colliding with serving trays and napkin dispensers and ketchup fountains and illuminated Duratrans Whoppers, Thick Shakes, and Freedom Fries, then slithered to the decorative linoleum tilework.
The skeleton crew of the Burger King, ducking a blizzard of intestines and random gobs of flesh, scattered in horror past the fryolators and warming bins, scrambling for the walk-in freezer.
Thirty seconds later, the entire mini-mall rose several feet as the second explosion lifted the structure before squashing it into its own foundations, shock waves blowing out windows in Camps 4, 3, 2, and 1, shattering the eardrums of sixteen servicemen posted in guard towers. The ground beneath a horseshoe expanse of crabgrass and weedy wilderness near Camp 5’s security gate split open in a five inch fissure.
By the time the explosion shuddered through the other camps, a perimeter of sharpshooters in gas masks, ranged across the only paved tarmac into Camp Five from three converging service roads, counted off seconds as the first emergency personnel ran towards them. The snipers’ AK-47s filleted the bewildered infidels with the ease of a scythe slicing elephant grass.
When a second, motorized contingent of peacekeepers rumbled into Camp Five, stunned by a tsunami of greasy smoke from the blazing cinder mound that had featured their customary breakfast pancakes and Egg McMuffins, gooey dreams of a vanished past, thirty phosphorus grenades smashed through their windshields or detonated inside their roofless jeeps. A lung-scorching stench of melting flesh and upholstery and liquified steering wheels mingled with a toxic cloud of asphyxiating smoke.
The snipers bit down on cyanide capsules secreted in their dental work.
Umma Obikhan and his confederates had piled into Jeep Cherokees twelve seconds before the Officer’s Mess lived up to its name.
An elite corps of zombified grunts raced them to the curlicue rock jetty where Gizmo tapered into the sea and helped them into a customized cigarette boat, waved goodbye as it vanished in the evening mist, then turned smartly to base with a precision hitherto unknown among Gizmo’s enlisted imbeciles. They buckled on suicide vests, crossed the smouldering ruins of Camp 5, and mimicked shock and horror for the panicking Army personnel running helter skelter into the carnage.
The former jailor GIs shouted gibberish, gesticulated wildly, arms flailing in carefully rehearsed confusion, confounding their erstwhile comrades in arms while surging deep into their disordered midst. At precisely nine fourteen, their voices keening in unison, they ullulated that there was no Allah but Allah and triggered their explosive outerwear.
Adios, Gizmo, muchachos!