Issue #58

Spring 2016

In the Blackness

by Robert Garner McBrearty

When he woke in the blackness, heart pounding, he knew instantly that he had been buried alive. What a bunch of imbeciles!

He’d been shot twice, but he knew that he had a good chance of survival when he staggered bleeding into the emergency room. Just his luck to get a crew of incompetents who couldn’t handle a couple of simple shots to the guts. He’d had a feeling going under that they were going to screw up.

And boy had they, royally! The dumb clucks had had him buried alive.

He’d have to think about this. This wasn’t going to be an easy one. First off, he realized that he had no use of his hands. He sent signals to his hands and arms, willed them to move, but nothing. Obviously they’d laid on the meds too thick. He supposed he could kick the lid of the coffin off, but no luck there. The legs weren’t working either.

He wasn’t uncomfortable. He had a pleasant floating sensation. He wasn’t short of air. So that was good. He didn’t feel particularly worried – in fact, after the first surprise, his heart had settled right down. Maybe they hadn’t screwed up as badly as he had thought. They must have him in some sort of pressurized chamber and it was just a matter of waiting.

He didn’t feel especially impatient, and he had often been an impatient man. Classical music was playing from somewhere and he found it very pleasant. He had never set aside time to listen to classical music, but now and then when he heard it, especially the violins, the music swept over him like a wave, called forth memories and dreams, and sometimes it was difficult to tell what was memory and what was dream.

Too soon, though it was difficult to say what was soon or late, the violins faded away and were replaced by gunfire. The team was in a firefight in the jungle, and there were rockets coming in, an explosion, and the shrapnel tore into them and he heard screams. He put his face to the ground, smelled the earth, tasted it on his lips, for the last time maybe, then that scene faded away and the team had been sent to another planet, which was dry, pitted, moon-like, the air bitter and acrid, desolate, sad somehow.

He and Davey and Hammer and Rotter were in a shallow ditch, taking heat from creatures that were like humans, except more waxy and fatty.

They were moving in closer and he said, “Toss a couple of grenades at them, Davey.”

“Grenades! Yeah, man!” Davey tended to get too excited, but you could depend on him with your life.

“Hoo-yah!” Hammer said. There was something oafish and crude about Hammer. He would have broken off from Hammer long ago, but Hammer and Davey were close.

“Maybe we could hit them with a little hippo juice instead,” Rotter said. He was always the tactful one, the negotiator.

Yeah, that’s right, that was the newest thing, the hippo juice. Came out of a canister, like a flamethrower sort of, but a gas, a harmless one, made soldiers move around slow like hippos, thus the name. They’d wobble and fall over and sleep, but they’d wake up okay. It was a more humane way of doing things.

“Sure,” he said, though Davey and Hammer were disappointed. “Use the hippo juice instead of the grenades.” Why not? Why kill anybody if they didn’t have to? He was already haunted by the dead. He didn’t need to add any more to the toll.

Sure enough, the creatures staggered around, moving slow like hippos on a landscape that looked even more lunar now than it had moments ago.

“How about now we hit ‘em with the grenades!” Hammer said.

“No. No grenades. Let’s clear out.” This was okay now, for once they weren’t leaving dead bodies in their wake.

Flight, light, darkness, speeding, slowing, and now they traveled on trains and buses and then through long corridors, and elevators up and down, and along moving walkways and through metal doors into rooms with questioners and lights and doctors probing them, and the team was released back into the city, walking city streets, restless, calling each other at all hours, the team calling him and crying sometimes for reasons they could never say, and they had found this new business, found they were good at it, but this robbery wasn’t going well. He’d had a bad feeling about it. He’d told Marcia it was his last job, and he’d meant it too, but maybe telling her, planning it to be the last, had set off some bad luck.

The bank teller was agitated, hands fumbling, slow with the money. Then they knew he’d pressed the alarm. You always knew when that happened. It was to be expected and you had to plan your timing accordingly.

But this time Hammer lost it, sprayed Uzi fire everywhere like he was in a bad movie, the panicked, screaming customers and tellers diving to the marble floor. He wasn’t even sure how many had been hit, and Hammer was still firing, when he stepped up to him and pressed his gun to his temple and pulled the trigger. Hammer’s knees went out and he dropped.

He’d killed Hammer. He’d killed Hammer, stupid Hammer.

Davey stared at him in disbelief. Then Davey, his best friend in all the world, shot him, shot him twice... Rotter was looking on, in horror, and trying to move between them when Davey shot him, too, maybe by accident, maybe not, and Rotter stumbled for a moment, slowly, as if he’d been hit with the hippo juice, then fell. Out the door of the bank he stumbled bloodied with Davey after him now, firing, Davey after him, but then Davey breaking away, the both of them alone to make their own way.

He heard the music again, more distantly, and he was happy now because he was with Marcia. They were dancing in an elegant ballroom, but they had the ballroom to themselves. She smiled. She had such a lovely smile, her hair so dark. They danced in the elegant, empty ballroom.

Later, this must have been later, they had two children, a lovely boy and a lovely girl. They lived peacefully. The children were happy.

They danced in the ballroom. Somewhere there were children. They lived in a country home. They had a white horse. No one rode the horse. But they liked to go out and feed the horse carrots. The horse liked the carrots and the horse was always happy to see them.

They walked in the countryside with his arm around her. Sometimes the children were there and sometimes they were not.

He would shut his eyes now and wait.

Author Bio


Robert Garner McBrearty's stories have been widely published, including in the Pushcart Prize, Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Opium, Narrative, North American Review, Posit, and Lowestoft Chronicle. His latest book is The Western Lonesome Society, a surreal novella.