Author’s note: Mikey was a short story entry for the CBC Short Story contest. It didn’t make the short list, so here it is for your reading pleasure. It will also be in my short story collection “Goodnight God” on Tablo – you can read my works in progress by going to Tablo.io and searching for Goodnight, God or for Catherine M. Harris. You can also see what Genève Blue is up to by searching there too.
“No, no, no, no! This is not how it’s meant to be!” The young adult yelled.
“Oh sit down,” I replied. “This is exactly how it’s meant to be. Look around you. What do you see?”
He scowled. Took a furtive glance left, then right.
“Nothing. There’s nothing here.”
I tried to take his arm but he would have nothing of it. I walked on ahead, expecting him to follow. He didn’t. I turned back around. “Oh for heaven’s sake, get over here,” I told him.
He shook his head. Arms crossed, this fatigue wearing man-child stared at the ground.
“You can’t intimidate me you know.”
“Alright then, you can follow me or be stuck here forever and as you’ve already noticed, it’s not much to look at.” And I carried on.
Behind me he started to move. To be fair, this boy who used to call himself Mikey once was probably wondering what was going on. I planned on telling him, just not right now.
I slowed up for him to catch up to me. Reluctantly he did. I kept walking for a while, though it wasn’t necessary. When it felt right I stopped, and with a wave of hand we were on a dock by a lake surrounded by green trees and light glinting off gentle waves on the water.
I sat down at the edge of the dock, letting my feet swing off the end. Not looking behind me, I patted the spot next to me, telling him: come, sit.
He did. I took a deep breath, letting it fill my lungs. “I can never get enough of this place. Beautiful isn’t it?”
He said nothing.
“Well it is. It’s my cottage. Well, not really. It’s the cottage I always wanted. I’m not going to ask you what your dream is – if it’s something silly like virgins or something, that’s not happening.”
He glared at me. At least it was something. It’s always a surprise to find yourself here, even when you know that your number is up. It’s surreal and in a way it is, though this is more real than life. This is timeless.
After a bit I invited him to swim. He continued to stare at the water. “You don’t remember me, do you?” I ventured.
He looked at me then, but there was no sign of recognition.
“You probably wouldn’t. I knew you when you were Mikey. I was a teacher of yours. If you’d’ve asked me then what you would grow up to be I would have said a painter. You finger-painted the tables, the chairs, the walls, even a toilet seat if I remember correctly.”
That elicited a smile. And just as quickly as it appeared, the smile turned into a scowl.
“So Mikey, care to enlighten me on what happened to you? What made you turn into” – I looked him up and down –“this fine example of extremism? Was life that bad for you?”
Again, silence. If he was going to be like that, I was going swimming. I dove into the water, splashing him, swimming underwater until I was far beyond the dock, almost at the float in the middle of lake that I climbed up on.
He stood up, brushed the water off, turned around and walked away. “You’re not getting off that easy!” I yelled.
He took one more step and was in the middle of a war zone, desert sand underfoot, rubble of ancient buildings around him. There was the screams of wounded and dying people, the stench of gunpowder, blood, feces, urine. Bile. The sun beat down on clouds of dust. The thump of shelling hitting the ground in the distance.
That woke him up. He dove behind a partial rock wall. This was my chance.
“There you go, boy, your paradise! What do you think? Isn’t lovely?” I pulled him out from behind the wall. “What are you doing there, my fine soldier? Be a hero won’t you? That’s what you want isn’t it?” I pulled him behind me, him trying to get away and not realizing that he too could be as strong as I were he to just try it. I pulled him into sight of a sniper, and held him there as a barrage of bullets zinged towards us. He felt them hit, jerked with each one. Then, as he closed his eyes, I slapped his face and he was lying on the ground watching a bomb come whistling down. Again he felt a direct hit, I gave him the pain and the fear, slapped his face again and he was in a small house where a crying woman cowered in a corner clinging to a young child, her husband shot dead on floor before her. The gunman turned his sights to Mikey. He motioned with the gun for him to move.
“Careful, Mikey,” I told him, “what he sees is a twelve year old girl. He can’t see me. You’re going to have to choose, do you stay and die with your family, or do you go with him for unspeakable things before you die? Which is it?” He looked at me, horrified. “What, it’s not fun to be here? Make up your mind boy!”
He gunman rushed over to him, grabbing his arm and pulling him away as he motioned his fellow fighters to deal with the family. Mikey was grabbing at my arm as he was pulled away but for all the clutching his fingers slipped through my countenance. He screamed as a terrified girl. I snapped my fingers.
He stood on dock facing the water, his hands covering his face, shaking with fear. “Oh for eff’s sake, open your eyes.” I told him.
He did. He looked around, then crumpled to the dock, burying his head in his hands, turtle on the dock.
“Not so much fun when the shoe’s on the other foot is it?”
“Oh buck up.” I told him. “Don’t you know that what you’re doing has a fine tradition in Genghis Khan, the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, most of the perpetrators of WWII, a lot of WWI people, and every other war that’s ever been or will be. So, while you may feel like you’re this big powerful fighter going far away to fight for who knows what, you aren’t original. Yeah, the Knights Templar did that too. And the Crusaders. And, oh you get the idea. They won’t miss you, you know. You’re collateral damage.”
More shuddering sobs from the turtle on the dock. I resisted the temptation to roll him off it into the water.
“So buddy. You want to tell me what the hell you were thinking getting involved with that group?”
“Think you’re trying my patience? Think again. I have eternity. Really.” I lit a cigarette and pulled the smoke deep into my lungs. “Ah, there’s something wonderful. Quit when I was thirty five at the nagging of my wife. But hey, no problem here. I can hold out my hand and get a whiskey too.”
“A hit.” Sounded like, “Ahaamdaf.”
“What did you say?”
“A hit. Can I have a hit?” He asked, so I punched him. “No, a hit of smack.”
“Aha. The truth comes out. No bevy of virgins, it’s the poppy you crave. Okay, no. I don’t have that. Was never interested.”
“Get a grip, boy,” I told him. “Don’t you know that everything we do is part of a bigger plan? It’s not about crosses or mosques or temples or whatnot though. Nope. Too specific. There are some things we can partake in though.”
“Phony smokes and booze, yeah, we can do that. But I’d like to hear why the Mikey I knew turned into this mindless killing machine to better understand you. It’s not really about religion is it? Not for you. This isn’t your war, not your country, not your people. Do you think this is a real life action movie? Is that it?”
He shook his head. “To be something. To matter.”
“So you didn’t matter before? You mattered to me however briefly.”
“I couldn’t be what everyone wanted. Not the best at anything. These people, they need me.”
“No they don’t. Not specifically you. They want the body, which they got. They want the ‘in’, you here where they can’t be. They damage. They cause fear.”
He nodded. “I want to start over,” he mumbled.
“Someday. When you do, fight for something that really counts. Fight for unity, not division. Fight for compassion. Fight for love. Then you’ll matter.”
Mikey stood up, dove into the lake and swam to the dock. Gone were the fatigues; a pair of swim trunks was his uniform. He held out his hand and a can of beer appeared.
Welcome home, Mikey.