An Early Childhood Chapter 15 Part 5


An Early Childhood by Paddy Flanagan is a mock, surreal autobiography by a fictional Irish literary figurehead, champion bodhrán player and broadcaster.

Continued from Chapter 15 Part 4

            Mad Leopold looked back at me.

            “Is that all it is, Drake?” he shouted at me. “Open your eyes, man! HOW CAN YOU BE SO BLIND?”

            “I didn’t eat breakfast and my blood sugar is a little low,” I heard myself say.

            There was suddenly a depiction of the Last Supper fading into my vision, as dramatic music started to play.

              I heard Mad Leopold continue:

            “This isn’t about breakfast, man! For the love of God, don’t you see? The violin strings? It all fits TOGETHER!”

            “The horse hair?” I asked.

            Mad Leopold Cassidy, with the image of the Last Supper before me, continued to shout at me as if I was stupid.

            “It’s not the horse hair, YOU FOOL! It’s the whore’s heir! Or, to transliterate the Latin, the successor of the prostitute!”

            “The whore?” I asked, and then, full of realization. “Of course! Myriamacus Magdelenacus, the biggest whore in all of Jerusalem!”

            I was suddenly running down a busy street in slow motion, with a violin in hand, my scarf flapping behind me, pursued by six bishops in full vestments with mitres and crosiers as I heard Mad Leopold’s voice ringing in my ears.

            “The length of string, its very straightness, represents not the sounds of a beautiful musical instrument, but rather the legs of Mary Magdelene, spread wide apart, as she accepted the seed of the Son of Man!”

            I heard myself respond to Leopold, a voice in my own head in a nightmare in a riddle, declaring:

            “Yes! So the whore’s heir is the VERY CHILD of the Messiah!”

            I was now in the back of a taxi, furiously typing a message on a small handphone as my tongue lolled out of my mouth in concentration. The text message read:

            “U R a big stinky bishop!”

            I was now in a church before the altar – I raised my arms and I fell to my knees – again, in slow motion. I saw a photograph of a large pair of breasts, and then I saw a picture of a bearded man with a crown of thorns hanging from a cross.

            The dramatic music stopped suddenly. There was a priest sitting in a confession box. I was on the other side of the gauze, as I had been as a child with the very Reverend and Downright Presbyterian Tartan.

            “What do you have to say, Father?” I asked, hiding what I felt was anger rising in my voice. “When you have seen all the evidence, what…do…you…have…to say?”

            The priest smiled smugly and in a thick Irish accent, he said quietly:

            “That, my good Professor, would be an ecumenical matter.”

            Suddenly, I was back on the dark plain, flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder in the distance, the fox, Black Typo, staring into my eyes.

            “Well?” he asked. “How was your trailer?”

            “I don’t understand it,” I confessed. “It seemed very…modern and…and futuristic. It’s only the early Roaring Twenties, you know.”

            “Time…has no relevance here,” Black Typo replied. “Or at least, it is as irrelevant here as it is for you, in your surreality, your mock autobiography.Black Typo and I both winked at you.
             For instance, what took about thirty seconds to you only lasted a millisecond to me. Anyway, did you pick up an almanac in your vision?”

Photo by Douglas Marsh.
            “A what?” I asked. What is an almanac?”

            “Shut your stupid face!” the fox snarled, and he set off again on the plain. “Did you get anything at all out of your trailer?”

            “No.” I shook my head in discombobulation. “It was very confusing.”

Photo by Douglas Marsh.

            “You know, a little less of the critic and you’d be quite the Baron Munchausen. If you let the experience wash over you, I mean. Become a little more Zen. Instead, you’re total SHITE. You’re Munchausen – by poxy!”

            I realised the significance of my vision trailer. I had an invisible tether wrapped around me, with Billy Boy Cullen holding onto the end back in the real world – but now I had realised that it was the wrong kind. I wasn’t sure what the upshot of it all would be. I wasn’t sure now if I could safely confront the demons of the fairy world, secure in the knowledge that I could return to Planet Earth – as I saw it – at all now.
            “The tether is from the loom of the wrong Stuntman Mary. It’s from the Stuntman Mary Magdalene,” I whispered to myself in realisation.

            “What’s that?” the fox said.

            “Nothing,” was my response.

Continued in Chapter 16 Part One.

An Early Childhood Chapter 15 Part 4


An Early Childhood by Paddy Flanagan is a mock, surreal autobiography by a fictional Irish literary figurehead, champion bodhrán player and broadcaster.


Continued from Chapter 15 Part 3.

Photo by Douglas Marsh.

             The fox’s voice became gruffer and more sinister as he said:

            “An old violinist is found hanging from a tree on the plains, his genitals lopped from his personage.”

            I found myself in a museum suddenly, dressed in a tweed jacket and scarf, standing before a violin in a glass display case, frowning in confusion. I could hear the fox’s disembodied voice ringing in my ears:

            “His instrument, donated to a museum, holds the key to a riddle. And only Harvard Professor Drake Seattle holds the key to the ivory box that contains the key to that riddle.”

            I next saw an ivory box with a lock, and a nervous hand with a key opened the box to reveal a second key in the box.

            I was then in a lecture theatre, still in the scarf and the tweed, addressing students despite my confusion – with a conviction and confidence that astonished me.

            “The people of the seventeenth century didn’t have the TECHNOLOGY to create metal FINE ENOUGH to be USED as violin strings. No. No! NO! What they had instead, ladies and gentlemen, what they USED to STRING THEIR BOWS…was the hair…from the tail…of the HORSE!” I looked around the room as my emotional lecture was met with loud enthusiastic applause. Before I knew what I was doing, I was leaving the lecture theatre, shaking hands with students and waving as flashbulbs went off in my face. My dreamscape changed again. It no longer featured me.

            Mad Leopold Cassidy stood at a telephone kiosk on the street, with a long queue of people behind him. He was dressed in a lab coat. My vision zoomed in on his face as he spoke animatedly into the phone, and I realised that he was talking to me.

            “Drake, is this line secure?” he asked me, in a very well spoken voice.

            I found myself answering:

            “Yes, it’s secure, Vernon. Why do you ask?”

            “I’ve analysed the Stradivarius!” shouted Mad Leopold.

            The conversation continued, but again my point of view shifted to an overhead shot of a corridor leading into a high tech laboratory. I saw myself walking down the corridor, putting a plastic card into a device beside the door.

            But bizarrely, without being on the telephone, I was still on the telephone to Vernon.

            “And what did you find, Vernon?” I heard myself saying.

            “What I’ve found could utterly destroy HUMANITY!”

            Drake Seattle put his eye up to an iris scanner, about to enter the lab. But Drake Seattle was ME.

            I was standing in the lab, with Mad Professor Leopold Cassidy sitting at a bench, now badly beaten up and his arm in a sling. He limped towards a microscope as I looked on.

            “What happened, Vernon?” I heard myself asking. “Who did this to you?”

            Mad Leopold looked at me with the one good eye on him squinting at me from Prussia, and replied:

            “Who did this to me? Who did this to me? A cardinal from Rome did this to me, Drake! A cardinal under strict instructions from the Pope, the CIA, the Mafia, the Freemasons and the ghost of Walter Sickert!”

            “But…but…but…Why?” I asked. He indicated that he wanted me to look into the microscope. I saw a black line running across a white circle as Mad Leopold continued.

            “I didn’t know why until I analysed the violin. Does this look familiar to you?”

            “It’s…it’s horse hair,” I declared, “Used for the violin strings. What’s the big deal, Vernon? Why would you get beaten up over the hair from a horse?”

            I looked up at Mad Leopold.

Continued in Chapter 15 Part 5.

An Early Childhood Chapter 15 Part 3


Continued from Chapter 15 Part 2.

            I found myself on a depressingly grey plain, my throat very dry, standing beside a figure and before an animal – both of whom I only sensed slightly before I found my bearings.

            The moor was bleak and dark, with lightning flashes on the horizon.

            An Asian man – with a sheet of paper hanging from his forehead, over his eyes – was moaning.

            There was also a fox sitting before me, his black tipped tail wrapping around his hind legs.
Photography by Steve Wing.

            “Who are you?” I asked the Asian man. There was no response from him, but the fox promptly answered me.

            “He’s a Chinaman zombie Chinaman zombie. He arrived the same time as you, Paddy,” said the fox.
            “You can talk?” I asked.
            “I can. I’m your guide. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Black Typo. I’m here to fulfil your wishes while you’re here.”
            “Fulfil my fantasies?” I asked.
            Black Typo raised an eyebrow.
            “Fulfil your every desire,” the fox said.
            “I didn’t realise foxes were so lascivious and free-spirited!” I replied.
            “I’m what the Japanese would call a liberal ninko.”
            The zombie groaned.
            “Is he going to be alright?” I asked.
            “He just didn’t like my joke. We’re very international here. And cheesy,” Black Typo said. “But he probably stumbled into the Celtic realm here from somewhere east of the Urals. To employ a metaphor from a few years into your future, he’ll realise that he’s got the wrong number, that he’s watching a fantasy land riverdance, and he’ll hang up in his own time.”
Photography by Steve Wing.
            “A fantasy land riverdance?” I repeatered for good measure.
            “That’s right,” said Black Typo, taking a packet of cigarettes and a set of matches from out of his fur and sparking one up. “Fancy a BLEEEEP?”
            “Are you not allowed to say that or something?” I asked.
            “Not really, no. You’re allowed to say cock if it relates to a male version of a hen or that kind of thing. BLEEEEEP doesn’t cut it, even though I meant it in reference to the British slang for cigarettes. Coz they don’t want to offend anyone round here. Even when you’re talking about the cigarettes. If a cock equated to a BLEEEEEP, they probably wouldn’t accept it either. Even if you’re talking about chickens. You know?”
            I nodded, still a little confused.
            “Cocks and BLEEEEPs aren’t one and the same, you BLEEEEEP BLEEEEP. Still, I feel something of an Aristotelian syllogism coming on,” the fox said, stretching and yawning. “Do you know that way?”
            I shrugged.
            “Quite the diva, aren’t we?” the fox asked.
            “What? No.”
            “Do you want your own trailer?”
            “I… I don’t know what you’re…”
            “I can give you your own trailer if you want. But I have to warn you, it may contain images of flash pornography.”
Photography by Steve Wing.
            “Look, where are we going, exactly?”
            “First things first,” said the fox. “Show me your totem.”
            I pulled out my gold comb, and the fox glanced at it.
            “A banshee’s grooming instrument…” the fox declared “with a single strand of hair caught in it.”
            I glanced and sure enough, there was a single hair in the teeth of the comb.
            “So where are we going?” I asked.
            “We’re going to your trailer!” snapped the fox. “Make sure you keep your goggles on.”
            We padded along the moor towards a tree.
            The body of an old man was hanging from the tree, naked, with his back to the pair of us.

Continued in Chapter 15 Part 4.


An Early Childhood Chapter 15 Part 2


An Early Childhood by Paddy Flanagan is a mock, surreal autobiography by a fictional Irish literary figurehead, champion bodhrán player and broadcaster.


Continued from Chapter 15 Part 1.
            “So what do I need to know about the other-worldly realm?” I shouted, trying to change the subject, just a little.

            “Right, well, in Fantasy Land,” he roared back, still a little annoyed, “In Fantasy Land, a minute of our time probably adds up to a month in Fantasy Land.”

            “Is that kind of like the seasons in Australia, compared to here?”

            “No. And if you get into another realm beyond fantasy land, the time factor increases exponentially. The realm within the realm, if you will, and a minute of our time adds up to about a year…”

            Billy finally got a strand of the invisible thread loose, and he appeared before me, and he wrapped the invisible string around my waist, prancing around me a number of times like a morris dancer. I watched as he did it, before continuing my interrogation.

            “Kind of like Jupiter compared to here, do you mean, Billy? A Jovian year, if you will? Compared to an Earth year?”

            “No. It’s nothing like that at all, nothing. And if you’re stuck for too long in Fantasy Land, or you go into another realm beyond again, you’ll end up there – probably in perpetuity, coz any realm beyond fantasy land’s fantasy land is a massive time staller.”

            “Right. Look, I’ve had enough of this stupid techno-babble,” I insisted, getting flustered with all of his mathematics banter.

            “Okay so,” Bill said, pulling out a compass like device with an antenna sticking out the top, on top of which was stuck a chocolate malt ball. He ran the device over the archway before us. “Now, I’ll just run this molecular teaser over the brickwork here, in order to excite the tachyon and tetryon particles. If you feel a kind of tingling, don’t sweat it. Coz if you sweat, the feckin electricity discharge from the electricity will feckin’ KILL yeh!” He looked at me with a fiery grimace.

            “What?” I said, wiping my brow, a little more worried now.

            Billy ignored my apprehension. “And another word of warning: You might be covered in ectoplasm when you enter the other worldly realm. It’s a kind of a thick gloop that you can scoop off yourself. But don’t you be worryin’ about that. It scoops off – in a kind of a gloop – so don’t sweat it. Or the electricity’ll fry the feckin’ ballicks out of yeh. Coz that’s how I operate.” Billy handed me a leather pilot’s helmet and a pair of goggles which I donned quite happily after whipping off my trench coat and fedora. One of the goggle lenses was red, the other blue.
The station in more recent times. Photo courtesy of Rob Ketcherside.

            “What’s your pleasure?” Billy asked, his voice raised as an indescribable buzzing noise emanated from the brickwork. “Do you like cute foxes?”

            “Yes!” I shouted, over the whirr of the somethings.

            “What’s your orientation?”

            In a thick Austrian body builder’s accent – fully aware of the postmodern campness of the situation – I shouted:


            Billy then pushed me back into the wall unexpectedly, with all his might.

            “ONE TWO THREE GO! GO! GO!” he roared, and I disappeared into the wall, with no time for further questions.

            There was a starscape, and suddenly those stars became streaks of light, and I was glad for the goggles, because my eyes were wide agape and I couldn’t blink with the speed I was going at.

            Then, I was somewhere else entirely. I burst out into a flat, dreary, dark landscape, just barely aware of two other presences.

Continued in Chapter 15 Part 3.

Obama's Inaugural Address encumbered by childbirth, assassination

A grey haired Barack Obama's inauguration speech was rudely interrupted last night as he was sworn in a second time as president.

The president is accustomed to disrespect from political opponents, but this time Mr. Obama himself interrupted the proceedings.

America's Kenyan-American leader heaved himself onto all fours with a spine tingling scream, split apart his own trousers with his bare hands and gave birth to what is believed to be his third child, his first delivered maternally.
Moments after this photo was taken of President Obama sucking air into his mouth, he screamed and fell to his knees.

Live news footage shows a shocked Mr. Obama looking down as a bawling and startled newborn emerges from between his legs. Gasps from the crowd were audible before a smartphone was lobbed at the president's head - from a young woman who had moments before been an ardent supporter of the POTUS. The footage - from CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, and numerous other media corporations - is currently being examined by the Federal Communications Commission. All of the network broadcasters now anticipate hefty fines from the regulator, after indecency complaints were upheld about the live birth.

The confused crowd moments after President Obama spawned a child.
Michelle Obama - displaying supreme elegance in a Thom Brown checkered coat - alongside Sasha dressed in shades of purple and lavender and Malia - showing herself to be blossoming out of childhood in fetching fuchsia - were rushed from the public eye by Joe Biden. However, the Secret Service around the president himself then lost control of the situation.

"I campaigned for that... that thing last year," said a head-shaking Lydia Echeverria, 22, last night. "But I didn't understand what I was seeing. It was making me sick. I had my cell in my hand. He let out a baby right there on the stage. Or whatever. I had the video camera recording on my phone. But I kinda didn't wanna record that. I was like, angry? I didn't understand and I was angry. I felt violated. So I threw what I was recording at him. That's how I felt. I didn't wanna bear witness to that. I just don't understand." Lydia started to whimper, and walked away.

Mr. Obama's subsequent cellphoning to death by the confused and offended and usually well meaning, liberally minded rabble was rounded off with a stampede, and screams of "AntiChrist!" led by a Westboro Baptist Church member, but immediately echoed by all.
Liberals. Photo by Fred Morledge.

David Axelrod had his moustache ripped off at the event

An Early Childhood Chapter 15 Part 1


An Early Childhood by Paddy Flanagan is a mock, surreal autobiography by a fictional Irish literary figurehead, champion bodhrán player and broadcaster.

Continued from Chapter 14 Part 6.
            Little Billy Boy “Bad to the Bone” Cullen came knocking on my door. He was wearing his BabyGro, his legs a little splayed by a big bulging nappy, with a stripy engineer’s cap atop his slightly mulleted head, a small school satchel on his back and a clipboard in his hands.

            “Yes, Billy?”

            “I’ve got an opening for yeh!” sez Billy, doodling a quick motorcar on his clipboard as if ticking something off a list.

            “An opening?”

            “The aperture for Platform Seven n a Bit at Pearse Street Station is now open for bizzyness. You’re off to the land of the Faeries, or Fantasy Land, or Tír na nOg, or Cloud Cuckoo Land, or whatever you want to call it.”

            “I’ll grab my coat,” I said, snatching a trench coat off the hat stand against the wall, and placing a fedora on my head. We walked out the door and down the street, striding together towards the train station.

            “Have you got your totem?” Billy asked, as he chomped down on an apple from his satchel.

            “I do,” I said. I reached into my jacket and pulled out a gold comb.

            “Where’d you get that?” Bill asked, so he did.

            “I believe it’s the comb of a banshee. I found it at the murder scene of a local constable.”

            “I see, sez I to meself. You sure you want to be using an other-worldly relic as your totem in the other-worldly realm?” he asked.

            “I dunno. Is that not okay, to use an other-worldly relic as my totem in the other-worldly realm?”

            “It’s not how I’d operate,” Billy scoffed. “But it’s your fantasy!”

            Moments later we were standing at an archway between platforms 6 and 7 at Pearse Street Station.
The station in more recent times. Photo courtesy of Rob Ketcherside.

            “Why is it called Pearse Station anyway?” I asked.

            “They renamed it very fast, alright,” said Bill. “After Padraig Pearse. The poet an’ the prophet. No profit in that though!” He pulled out what looked like an empty string spool from his bag. “Right,” he said, picking at it unsuccessfully for a few moments.

            “What are you doing?” I asked him, bending over.

            “Shut up and get out of me light!” he shouted in response, glancing up at the ceiling for the location of the light. He continued to work his fingernail at the spool. Then he held it above his head and closed one eye, staring at it as he continued to work his fingernail, then his thumbnail, at the empty spool.

            “It’s feckin’ stuck here, and I can’t see where it starts!”

            “What’s stuck?”

            “The thread from the loom of the Stuntman Mary! Will I break open a new bit?”

            I shrugged.

            He strode up the platform for some distance. Thirty seconds passed.

            “Everything alright?”

            “Shut up and get out of me eyeline!” Bill shouted, getting frustrated with the string. He waved me away. I stood behind the archway so he couldn’t see me.

            “I CAN STILL SEE YOUR FEET!”

            I pulled my shoes back out of his sight so that the sides of my feet were against the wall, my toes pointing out either side of me, rather than in front of me.

Continued in Chapter 15 Part 2.

French horsemeat contains traces of beef

An International Horse and Cattle Boxing Tournament - located primarily in France - has been exposed through a pan-European food hygiene investigation. Headed up by Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the investigation's discoveries are so shocking that both chefs have been recently fast-tracked firearms licences and weapons by their Antwerp-based umbrella group, the Special Regulations Office for Wholefoods (TaskForce), which will re-locate its headquarters to Brussels in a few months' time. A SPROWT officer, speaking on condition of anonymity as he lacks the authority to publicise operations, declared:

"We've had to enlist Heston Blumenthal in support. We still need an official greenlight, but Heston is so disgusted that he has started work in England using centrifuges to create the kind of weaponry that his colleagues will require to fulfil their objectives. We're turning a blind eye to all of this for the moment." Then he winked. "I'm winking now," he added, before terminating the call.
It's been revealed that the losing animals in the boxing fights taking place throughout Europe are crushed into an extruded mulch and sent to supermarkets on the British Isles. Not surprisingly given their athleticism, the horses frequently win the boxing fights. However, analysis of beef burgers on sale at supermarket chains in the Republic of Ireland have now indicated that there may be a bovine victor in as many as 29% of the matches.

Meanwhile, the regulatory body that oversees food hygiene in France* has discovered that horsemeat products on sale in local supermarkets have been found to contain traces of beef. The presence of beef has led to mass protest in Paris, with certain districts ablaze, and rioting on the streets overnight. The police have been forced to call in reinforcements, with suggestions that martial law may be imposed.

Each Paris gendarme is now working as many as six hours a day. The city's halal butchers have been forced to close their shops, with their wives taking the extreme measure of covering themselves in dark, sheet-like clothing in order to hide their faces and identities from their communities. At least a dozen such women are now known to have been taken into local police stations.

*Anse (Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l'alimentation, de l'environnement et du travail)

A Fond Look Back at the 2008 Irish Pork Crisis

In the same week that pork was sent to the UK for tests due to dioxin contamination, it was revealed that corrupt Donegal Gardai were to begin re-training by Scotland Yard in an effort to curb their mendacious behaviour. Back in 2008, corruption was so rife in every aspect of Irish culture that police officers would never be trained here with a total lack of bias.

The Gardai underwent a series of examinations in London that were completely unrelated to the pork tests being carried out to see if Irish pig products were carcinogenic. However, little was done to exploit a tenuous link between cancerous pork and the corrupt Donegal officers of the law.

The Morris Tribunal - established to investigate police corruption - would have overseen the examinations undertaken by Scotland Yard. Unfortunately, however, in early October of the year, the Morris Tribunal collapsed in on itself to become a black hole.

Because certain allegations made to the tribunal were without foundation, and others still were given more weight than they should have been, the groundlessness - when combined with an added mass of what laymen might describe as a "big whoop dee doo" - meant that when Justice Frederick Morris made final his rulings, a huge vortex erupted inside the courtroom. Members of the McBrearty family, five high-ranking Gardai and the two TDs grabbed whatever furniture fittings they could find as a whirlpool of matter was sucked into the gaping maw.

A pattern of harassment took hold of two of the McBrearty clan, who followed Justice Morris into the vacuum. One of them caught Brendan Howlin on the way into the chasm, and he too followed the judge in. Everyone else escaped with minor injuries.

“It was incredible,” Jim Higgins declared from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from an elongated rectum. He shook his head in disbelief as he added: “You should have heard Brendan Howlin!”

A crack team of Garda physicists, each of whom got at least a D3 in Pass Maths for the Leaving Certificate, established a cordon around the quantum singularity and managed to get Brendan Howlin back, but a change had occurred.

"He's a shell of his former self. A shadow, he is now. Supports taxation policies he doesn't even believe in. Horrible to have his brain scrambled like that," said former colleague Colm Keaveney, on condition of unanimity. Unfortunately, Mr. Keaveney had to go it alone.

“It’ll take a lot of head scratching to figure this one out,” a source declared in 2008, a few grazes above his brow.

It's not known exactly when, but scientists at CERN are understood to believe that the quantum singularity will make another appearance in Ireland - some time in 2013 - for The Gathering.


Versions of this story came runner up a couple of years back in both the Ted Walters Short Story Contest based in Liverpool and in the Bill Naughton Short Story Competition. Bill Naughton wrote the screenplay for Alfie starring Michael Caine, among much else. The competition is held each year, and a slim tome of less than a dozen shortlisted entries is usually produced.

Any constructive criticisms on the piece are welcome.


            The Afghan cops don’t wear their uniforms, I guess so they won’t be targeted by the militants. We all live in the station, in the middle of the town, but they get to go home at night. It’s a dumbassed place to set up defenses. Somewhere on the outskirts’d be better. That way, there’d be no cover for the Talibs on at least one flank. Here, they have

  • alleys to duck into
  • buildings to take cover behind
  • windows to shoot out of

from all four sides. They can feint, ambush, encircle, and outflank us, given our central location.

            We’re here as relief for the Brits. It took us three days to get here, just thirty kilometers from our camp. On the way, we were ambushed at least six times every night. We lost one armoured troop carrier and two guys were choppered out in the first ambush.
            “Priority MedEvac,” shouted our radio man, somehow keeping the panic from his voice, while Lautner – who has a little more First Aid than most – patched up one of the two wounded.
            He’s still critical. I knew the other one, Breen. I knew him well. They dunno yet if Breen’s lost all function in his left thumb. First guy, they don’t know if he’s lost all function. Selfish but I’m glad I didn’t get to know the first guy all that well.
            Breen and I grew up in the same California neighborhood, back in the day. Then we lost touch till we met again at training in Tennessee.
            The second night, some of the British came out from the village, leading us in the rest of the way. They arrived towards the end of the attack, during a lull. Then, when the Kalashnikovs started up again, the Brits were like something out of Macedonia.
            “Contact left!” their sarge shouted. They move and target their fire like a single living organism. A phalanx. No stone left unturned.
            Course, we were kind of beat, given our sleep deficit, but it was still impressive. They’re as well oiled as we are.
            The third night, we got the air support that we’d requested the first night. Whole fields of poppies just went whump! whump! whump! And bad men died.
            The Talibs have lost at least thirty men since we’ve settled in, and they may have lost twice that in the welcoming committees they’d sent. We’ve had one casualty so far. It was an unfortunate incident, before we realized two weeks in that they’d brought experts from Pakistan to handle their RPGs. Marty Chang, one of the engineers, got a piece of shrapnel at the base of the skull. Funny dude. He’s in a body bag in the freezer till the supply chopper comes in next week.
            Their fire is more accurate now. That boom! at night, it gets closer all the time. When we see em, they tend to aim their rifles too, rather than spraying indiscriminately like they used to. Somebody’s been giving them lessons in death.
            We happened upon the intell too late. We’ve made clear to the ANP since then that we need to know things. If there are knowledgeable wild men from the hills coming down from their hidey hole caves, we need to know. But they walk around, the cops, in a fug of cannabis smoke, half dazed.
            Two dozen US soldiers live in the station. Our native allies live in their homes elsewhere in the town, and turn up for work in the morning already stoned. As far as our own team is concerned,

            Engineers + Snipers + Gunners + Misc = Cramped Quarters

            Father Patterson was a curate in our parish back home. There were some rumors following Breen when Patterson upped sticks, that he’d been one of Patterson’s victims, and that he’d got a payout from the Church.
            When I wonder about Breen and whether he’ll regain his thumb, I also wonder how he’d feel about the Afghan cops and their predilections.
            I was on friendly terms with one Afghan National Policeman, Khalid. He’s the only one who’s not a pederast. Although he doesn’t have an official rank, Khalid was senior among the men coz of his age.
            There’s some in-your-face sex with children round these parts. Most of the Afghan cops do it. You can see it from the rooftop here.

Sample # 1:

One of the Afghan police officers sauntering down the street in a stoned stupor just yesterday, while he was on patrol. Next thing, he peels away with a child, taking the little boy behind a building. A few minutes later, the kid half runs back to his buddies, and the guy comes out from the alley, tying his belt. He may have raped the child or received oral sex. I dunno which is worse. And I had him in my crosshairs.

            There are other samples. I don’t want to discuss them.
            Do the Talibs do that? I’m sure they do. They need to be demonized.

            The elders called for a shura with my CO. The violence was getting too violent, they reported. Too many buildings were being blown up. A family had died in one incident, leaving an orphan. Our medic had been treating the kid – a toddler – with shots of antibiotics, vitamins and pain relief, so we were more than familiar with the child’s circumstances. He came every day, brought by an uncle, for a checkup and some candy.
            We had been told that that family home had been abandoned. The Talib sniper on the roof of the house had been seen through our night sights, and the data from Jensen’s fancy heat sensitive goggles told us there were at least a dozen armed beardies in there, prepping their heavy artillery. No sign of any family. We called air support. The building was flattened. End of, or so we thought. It became The Incident.
            So the tribal elders want to meet today. They want to know if they should evacuate, given the innocent blood being spilled.
            They feel the urge to assert themselves, to ask us to fight gentle. They’re on our side, they say. We won’t go back to the old ways, they insist. The Taliban are brutal, they agree. We just don’t want a repeat of The Incident, they tell us. And they want to meet us on their terms, under the yew tree in the village square, where they usually meet each other.
            Khalid the policeman describes the rape of children as against the will of Allah, and I can hear the rage in the man’s voice when he speaks.
            Breen’s father was the same, in the Oakland church in say 1998, or ’99, when he stood up to address the parish priest Father Luciano after he’d made his “a few rotten-to-the-core apples” excuses in a homily or a sermon or whatever you want to call it. Father Patterson had fled, to where we never learned. This angered people too. Breen’s father let rip, he really gave it to Father Luke. He was a plain spoken guy, and it took him all of everything to keep the air clean. Then he just left the church to this huge ovation and you could see from the pulpit that Father Luciano was blown away, blinking in shock.
            So we abandoned the Church soon after. Dozens of families never returned to the House of God. My Mom still goes, but I’ve only been in the same church once since, for my brother’s wedding.
            Four of us are accompanying the CO, plus some Afghan cops shadowing along the streets on either side. Lautner is in the lead, but ahead of him there’s Khalid, walking beneath the multicolored sheeting above the boarded-up store windows. He stops before a group of children playing in the golden dirt. He looks around and then he hunkers down and talks to the kids.
            We have our body armor, and we’re armed to the teeth. It’s hot. I want to take off my helmet. The village square is a couple of hundred meters away, but it feels like an eternity before we’re even halfway there. I’m at the rear in the diamond, and I’m passing Khalid who’s still talking with the kids. I watch as a beat up old pickup emerges from the sidestreet behind us. The back of the pickup is covered with a tarpaulin. The truck’s so near that I hear a crackle of static from the CB radio in the cabin. There’s one driver, one passenger, and the cover on the back, which could have anything under it. My stomach goes tight.
            Then I hear Khalid’s radio crackle with static from across the street. I look at him, and I see that he’s still talking to the children, but he’s turned away so that I can’t confirm whether he’s using his walkie talkie.
            Then he takes one of the children by the hand – the orphan toddler who’d been injured – and he leads him into the alley. He glances back once. He sees me watching. His look at me as his head disappears lingers a little too long.
            “Ambush!” I roar. I spin to face the truck. There are already three men emerging from the back of the pickup, all wielding rifles. Lautner reports a bazooka on a rooftop, there’s a sudden blast that rocks the earth beneath us and we’re all stumbling and running for cover. I drop one of the guys getting out of the truck and the others duck behind the vehicle. I spray the windshield, but I don’t know if I hit a second, or even a third. There’s dust in my mouth. I only notice the dust once before I run for cover, following the group of kids who’d been playing near Khalid into the alleyway.
            I hear the truck explode, and I assume it’s thanks to some fire from the roof of our police station. The chatter in my earpiece tells me that Lautner is down. I come face to face with Khalid in the alleyway. The child he took with him – completely unperturbed by the gunfire, completely untouched by Khalid – is eating a bar of our candy, and the other kids have already disappeared.
            Khalid releases the kid’s hand and the child scurries off, away from the noise of the chattering guns. I watch Khalid’s now free hand reach for the rifle hanging from its strap on his shoulder, and at the same time I hear in my earpiece that Lautner is dead.
            I should be providing cover but I’m frozen as Khalid stands before me. His chin is moving up and down slightly, like he’s breathless, although he hasn’t been running. He grabs his rifle’s handle but my own weapon is already pointing at him. His chest is torn open as he’s blown further into the alley to fall first against the wall, where he pauses, blinking, and then in a heap on the dirt. Blood streaks the wall. For the first time since the first day of weapons training, I’m shocked at the power of the gun in my hands.
            I look up and I see the little boy now at the far end of the alley. He catches my eye, glancing back once. He sees me watching, and he sucks into the melted candy bar. He freezes for a moment, an expression of utter contentment on his face as the candy fills his mouth. As his head disappears he’s still watching me, his eyes lingering a little too long, and then he’s gone.
            It’s only then that I feel the dust in my teeth again, the crunch of the grit.
            We get back to police headquarters two hours later. Lautner joins Chang in the freezer. The translator got a bullet in the Kevlar, but other than that, everyone’s okay. The Taliban lost at least a dozen. None of the Afghan National Policemen show up for their afternoon shift. If we ever see them again, it’ll be on opposite sides. Later, basking in the afternoon heat as I spy through my crosshairs from the rooftop, the CO comes up to tell me that Breen has lost his thumb and has decided to ship out. He’s lucky.
            War’s hell.