Excerpt from Miracle At St. Anna by James McBride, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Miracle At St. Anna

by James McBride

Miracle At St. Anna
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2002, 228 pages
    Jan 2003, 304 pages

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He was thinking about the woman squatting over the curb, pissing, as the murky parts of Huggs's face floated past him in the water. Then he heard a soft plop and felt a sucking inside his chest and a pain in his head. Suddenly, he no longer felt peaceful. He could feel his invisibility slipping off like a cloak, so he ran like hell, past two burning tanks, past a bobbing arm connected to a bobbing body, straight across to the other side of the canal, where a group of soldiers cowered behind a rock in a grove of trees, a man named Bishop among them.

He flopped on the canal bank and heard Bishop say, "Oh shit. You been hit in the head."

Train wiped the moisture from his face, glanced at it, realized it was blood, and lay on his back and died. He felt his spirit leave his body. It was as if his spirit had drained out of the bottom of his shoes and floated away. He was truly invisible now.

"Thank you, Lord," Train said. "I'm prepared for Thee." He waited to feel the sweet nothingness of death. He opened his mouth to taste the sweet smell of heaven and felt instead stinking, hot chicken breath blowing down into his lungs. It tasted like dog shit and hog maws mixed together. He opened his eyes and saw the big, black, shiny, eel-like face of Bishop's stuck to his – Bishop stuck to his mouth. He sat up straight.

"Goddamn, you crazy?" Suddenly, the booms and din around Train seemed to screech to an unbelievable roaring pitch. He heard moans and screams of death. He heard fire crackling as nearby tree limbs and branches snapped under the thunderous slams of .88 shells that whirred past, blowing branches and bark down on them like rainwater. It was as if some giant, inhuman beast had broken loose and was out to destroy the world. He looked across the canal and saw the unit retreating, the dozens of bodies in the canal, a white captain waving them back in, and then his view was blocked by Bishop's huge, black, shiny face and several glistening gold teeth, which adorned the front of Bishop's mouth like a radiator grill. Bishop grabbed him by the lapel and roared at him over the din, "You owe me fourteen-hundred dollars!"

It was true. He did owe Bishop fourteen-hundred dollars from poker and craps, but that was before today. Before he'd learned to become invisible.

Just as suddenly, it got quiet. The screaming meanies quit, the German machine guns quit, the American ack-ack guns quit, and the only sound Train could make out was the crackling of a burning tank in the canal just short of shore and the soft murmuring of someone who was obviously burning to death inside it. He suddenly remembered where he was and what had happened to him.

"Wasn't I hit?" he asked Bishop.

Bishop was a minister from Kansas City. They called him Walking Thunder. He was a short, trim man with smooth skin that covered a handsomely sharp, coal-black face, with dimples and devilish laughing eyes that seemed to wink all the time. His uniform always appeared starched and neat, even in battle. His voice was like silk, his hands slender and delicate, as if they had never held dirt, and his gold-toothed smile was like reason itself. He had a church of two-hundred parishioners back home who sent him care packages every week, full of chicken and cookies, which he used to barter at poker. Train had heard him preach once at training camp and it was like watching a steam pump sucking coal on a hot July day. He could make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up on end.

"You was hit and you was dead and I brung you back," said Bishop. "Don't nobody know about it but me, and that's fine. But you owes me some money, and until you pays it, you ain't goin nowhere."

"You puttin a mojo on me?"

"I ain't doing no mojo. I wants my money. Now you go git that white boy out that haystack over there yonder. He's yours to deal with. I sure ain't goin."

Reprinted from Miracle at St. Anna by James McBride by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, James McBride. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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