Whirl Is King
The first thing you should know about me is that Im Crazy.
I havent always been. Until that one day, the day I went Crazy, I was fine. Or I thought I was. Not anymore.
My Crazy is a feeling. Its the worst, most intolerable feeling Ive ever had. And it never goes away.
When youre Crazy, you make a list of people you have told, the people you have come out to. My list is small. One best friend but not another. Jimbo and John and Greg, but not the other guys on the team. Your wife but not your mother. Those that you think will get it, will understand.
And now Im telling you. That Im Crazy, and I dont know why.
The second thing you should know about me is that I dont know how to fix it. Or control it. Or endure from one moment to the next. The Crazy is winning.
So I run.
I run every day, twice a day sometimes, out the front door of my peaceful suburban home, past sticky blast scenes of sewage, and motor oil, and bloody swamps of trash and debris, ankle deep, filling the road, sidewalks, shop and house doorsteps. I run through dust clouds, blown in off the desert or kicked up by the helo rotor wash. I run past the screaming women that never shut up, dont shut up now. I should have made them stop when I had a chance. I run as fast as I can, as long as I can, my feet hitting the pavement in a furious rhythm, along the river near my home.
I run in the hottest part of the day, the full afternoon blaze, the heat of the black asphalt, baking in the summer sun, rising through my shoes and into my feet. I speed up, but the Crazy feeling is still winning. It overwhelms. Sweat pours down my flushed face, in my eyes. Albeitz is chalk white skin and brown dried blood from head to toe. Kermits skin was blue, after they finally found him and put him in his box. Did Jeff have any skin left to show his mother?
I run every day, on the road and along the river stretching to my left, occasionally veiled by low trees swaying in the sunshine and the light breeze off the water. My left knee started aching five miles ago. My teeth are rotting out of my head. My throat closes. My left eye twitches. The detonation rains concrete chunks on my head, splits my ears, dismantles our robot, and peppers the armored truck with molten steel. I reach for my rifle.
I run down the road outside my home, to the drone of Humvee diesel engines and in the purple sunrise over a flat desert. The Crazy in my chest is full to bursting, but the protest of my overworked lungs and heart tamps it down. The Crazy feeling never leaves, but the run makes the rest of the body scream louder, one din to cover another.
The foot sits in the box. Because why not? Where else would you put it? The foot sat in the box.
I run and dont want to stop. The adrenaline has been building all day, and it finally has a release. The boil overflows. Fidgety legs and shaking arms pump and swing. When I stop, the Crazy feeling refloods my swollen heart, lungs, ribs. My eye twitches. I speed up again.
My head swims and swirls. Helicopters and dust fade. I put my rifle down, shrug off my vest. Sweat wipes clean Albeitzs hands, and Rickys head, and Jeff and Kermit, and . . . and? My knee is screaming louder than the women. My ragged breath shakes my chest. I run, and run, and run, and in the Is try to pound out of my head what once Was.
The C-130 landed in Kirkuk just before dark. A couple of Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, driven by our tired predecessors, were there to meet us at the end of a long and exhausting day. Truth is, they would gladly have met us at any time, in the middle of the night even, because our arrival meant they could leave. Leave to go home, to wives and children and sex and alcohol and sleeping in and not getting shot at. The place we had just come from.
Excerpted from The Long Walk by Brian Castner. Copyright © 2012 by Brian Castner. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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