Little Sunken Place
(Billy’s Last Stand)
FOREWORD: Little Sunken Place was the first short story I ever wrote as far as I'm concerned. There were other attempts previously (Codename: Spitfire was a big hit back in 5th Grade), but this was the first one that was a product of me trying to be "serious" about my craft. It's rough, it has some problems, but I have always thought it was okay. It branches from actual experience, believe it or not, and I think it represents the mindset of the particular group of teenage boys I called friends between 1988 and 1991. The story is fiction -- thank God. But let's just say that this is how I always saw it ending up if we hadn't known when to quit. Thank goodness for those serious injuries junior year, guys. Another year and someone would have ended up like Billy Parker.
Nash had chocolate milk in his canteen. I remember that most of all.
The night was as cool as a cucumber, but judging by the way he was
sucking down that milk, you would’ve thought that it was the dead of
It was actually a real bitch the way the moon was setting high and
full, pissing it’s light down on us like a deer in a spotlight, but at least the
wind was stirring a bit. That gave us a little more cover.
We had been fighting these wars since we were in the fifth grade, and
they had gradually grown more serious. It seemed the older we got, the
stupider. Not saying that it wasn’t a good time, at least up until now, but
it got downright dangerous – and this particular night I’m about to
describe will let you in on something that I haven’t spoken a word about
since it happened.
The story of Billy Parker is my childhood’s darkest secret.
As I mentioned before, the moon was full and bright and there was a
mild wind shaking up the trees. Shooting fireworks had become an art
and a science for most of us, with the exception of the handful of rookies
who were unfortunate enough to make their debut in the seven-year
grudge match on this night.
You see, I originally invented the idea of an elaborate war saga
between two groups of otherwise friendly people to take place as an
alternative to a normal, boring birthday party in 1985.
The idea, at the time, was to split up, hide in the woods that joined
our property, and shoot water guns, rubber darts and such at one
another. Well, it did happen that way and it was extremely popular with
my friends. However, age, time and the development of major
testosterone led to the need for an aspect of danger – fireworks would do
just fine, thanks.
It began with bottle rockets and ladyfingers, but as time passed,
roman candles and large rockets (a.k.a. Chinese Fuck Bombs) entered the
picture. On more than one occasion such arsenals threatened lives.
I remember pulling a buddy from his tent, which was engulfed in
flames, just before his gear bag containing a small fortune in fireworks
exploded. Looking back, I’m sure he would have died – it got crazier and
crazier – that brings me back up to this story… Nash had chocolate milk.
He offered me a drink, but the thought of warm milk made my
My division was laying low about two hundred yards behind the front
line. Weaver’s crew was pulling up the rear about three hundred more
yards behind us.
We were only equipped with two headsets, and I chose to keep one
in my division and give one to back-up. The only problem was that I had
to relay messages by foot up to the front line. Maybe that’s why Nash
was drinking so much… I guess the poor fella was hot and tired.
“Go, Junior,” I said to Nash. “Send word to Heath that the front line
is to remain in position until otherwise notified.”
“He’s gonna bitch,” Nash said.
“I don’t care. If it wasn’t this it would be something else,” I
motioned with my index finger toward the west. “Go. And hurry back.”
Our voices were held to a whisper and inter-division communications
were difficult. We knew that very much motion would give our position
away. For all we knew, the other side had already seen us maneuvering
toward their camp.
Nash scurried off trying his best to stay quiet in the leaves. His best
cover was in the shadows of the wind blown tree limbs – they made
movement nearly undetectable from the top of the cliff, which hung over
us at two hundred feet. It was a great position to have, and I was afraid
they had it now.
Lying next to me in silence was Ace. He was my most trusted
companion on the battlefield. He rarely made noticeable mistakes and
was always prepared with an arsenal of roman candles that nobody could
I liked him to watch my back when the shit got thick; I was always
busy trying to keep everyone else together with purpose, and I often
forgot that they were aiming for me too.
“What a night,” I said, checking my launcher for damage. “Those
guys seem to be one step ahead of us every time.”
“Might be up there now,” he mumbled, tilting his head toward the
“Yeah,” I said. “And they’d be damn fools not to be.”
Ace nodded again.
“Remember who we’re talking about though,” he said.
A smile broke across his lips and we both chuckled a little. I,
however, couldn’t help but worry a little that they had the high ground
on us – damn fools or not!
“You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?” Ace said.
“What do you mean?” I was puzzled. “Thinkin’ what?”
“Three guys could clean our clock from up there,” said. “Blue Pearl
Candles won’t burn off in that distance. In thirty seconds we could be
sittin’ smack in the middle of a pool of fire; And remember, they don’t
follow the forest fire time out rule anymore.”
This time I nodded. One tenth of their team could endanger my entire
division from up there. We had to move soon.
Nash returned in a few minutes with one bit of good news and two
bits of bad news. The good news was that the scouts that Heath assigned
in the front line had come up empty. No trace of anybody between here
and the enemy base camp, less than one mile ahead.
The bad news was, if they weren’t there – they could be on top of us.
And the other bad news, Nash was out of chocolate milk.
“Heath recommends we move in immediately,” Nash said.
“Well,” I replied. “For once, I actually in total agreement… Radio the
back up unit and tell Weaver that we’re moving west – fast and low.”
“Good ole Heath,” Ace said with a grin. “What would we do without
“Probably win more battles,” I said.
We both laughed a little too loud.
We did move west, and amazingly there had been no one on the cliff.
At least no one fired.
I instructed my group to load full. That usually meant packing the
launchers with about a half gross of bottle rockets and two or more
roman candles – enough to burn down a good size house in minutes.
The front line stopped about one hundred yards or so east of the
camp. We had moved in about fifty yards behind them, and back up was
still on the move from the rear. There was no sign of enemy troops and
that didn’t make me feel any less nervous about this operation.
If anything pissed off people in our little wars, it was having
equipment or ammo destroyed. It had been ruled illegal in the past, but
the last two events of the series had ratified that law.
We intended to do just that – destroy everything we could, but only if
we were fighting face to face. I saw no reason to hit their camp if no one
was at home.
Sure, they had done it to us in the past, but we were supposed to be
the good guys.
However, I did see reason in sending in a scout to check out any
ammo left behind. You must realize that many hundreds of dollars were
spent on ammunition for these battles in the latter years, and it was often
impossible to carry it all with you.
I sent in Ace who knew as much about fireworks capability as
anyone, and Billy Parker, from Heath’s division, to investigate. We could
all see their actions from safe hiding places in the forest, but the wide-
open camp area gave little or no shelter to them if all Hell broke loose.
Billy unzipped a tent and went inside looking for any trace of the
enemy’s firepower. Ace went through a pile of gear bags near the
campfire and hurried back to report.
“Holy shit, this is going to be great,” he said. “All American, man!”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “You mean American – brand name?”
Ace nodded and grinned from ear to ear.
“Not a friggin Blue Pearl in the whole pile,” he said. “They’re usin’
cheap shit, and nothing more than eight shots!”
“What about rockets?” Heath said, taking a drag off of a cigarette.
Ace grinned again.
“Nope,” he said. “Black Cat! Hell, I hope they catch us here!”
Billy was still digging around in the tents. He had either found
something significant, or he was trying his best to find something.
“Go back and get Billy,” I said. “He’s probably not going to find
anything in the tents. You know how we all are about sleeping with
Ace nodded, it was becoming a trademark of his. He walked back
toward the camp.
“Hey,” I called to Ace. “How about CFBs?”
“Negative in the Fuck Bomb category, General,” he said smiling.
I could not believe they were so unprepared for battle. It was illogical
that they would risk losing all large artillery in the field without a big stash
back at home.
“I got a bad feeling about this,” Nash said from behind me.
“IN THE FUCKIN’ TREES!” Someone shouted from up front.
A deep wooooosh sound came from above and sparks and flame
showered down on our divisions. Within seconds I saw the ground
erupting in flames all around me. Some of the guys had begun firing, but
many were just trying to put out the flames that were creeping up their
arms and necks.
“POSITIVE ON THE CFBs, ACE!” Heath shouted angrily.
Explosions sounded one after another and what was a dark and silent
landscape had turned into Hell right before my eyes. Smoke was thick in
our throats and sparks were burning our eyes. We were near non-
The area was now so brightly lit that I could have read this page at
ten paces easily, if I’d had the time – even in the dense smoke that had
immediately blacked all of our faces and hands.
I saw Ace retreating from the open area toward my position. He had
left his launcher in the weeds near the edge of the clearing. Soon, though,
he had it up and firing those blue fiery spheres he loved so much. The
only problem was, he was out of range by twenty yards or so.
The enemy troops were approaching by using long-range rockets to
keep us pinned down. They were the kind of rockets that would likely
break bones with a direct hit, so nobody was trying to run. Luckily, we
were far enough away to see their general direction of flight.
Billy Parker was still in the tent, though. I assume he was scared to
come out, figuring that he was safe inside the enemy’s own tent
temporarily. After all, they wouldn’t fire on their own equipment – would
Anyway, it was a seemingly sensible move by Billy. He probably
assumed that our superior firepower and military tactics would force
them off – then he would come out.
The only problem was, I wasn’t convinced we could beat them this
time. Like I said, they were one up on us all night long.
I awaited the arrival of the back up. It took them another couple of
minutes to get up to our position. The rockets were still incoming at a
rapid pace, making us all a little nervous.
I instructed Weaver’s crew and the front line to assemble and join
forces and charge the camp on my call. My troops were ready to give
long-range support. We had fuck bombs of our own, you know. The
only objective was to draw fire long enough to get Billy out of the tent.
Victory would come later, after regrouping.
They joined up, creating a wall of soldiers sixteen wide. I told my
division to open fire, and they did.
It is a beautiful thing when sixty bucks worth of rockets flies through
the air all at once intent on injuring fellow human beings.
I told the front to go, and they did, pouring on all of the Blue Pearls
they could muster, along with some scattered red and white ones. It
looked effective, but what came next shocked us all.
Before Billy had a chance to climb out of the tent, hundreds of bottle
rockets flew out of the tree line. They seemed to launch simultaneously –
perfect. All but one or two of the charging men from our team either fell
or turned back running for cover.
“What’s going on up there?” Ace said. “Why are they running – or…
“Don’t know,” I said. “Pour it on again, boys!”
When Heath returned to my position, he told me what had
happened, and I could now see for myself.
“They taped needles to the rockets,” Heath gasped. “The mother
fuckers are sticking into our skin and then exploding. I think Pat’s hurt
bad – he got hit in the eye!”
The long-range fire continued from both sides, and I could do
nothing but stare toward the advancing enemy in disbelief.
“It’s supposed to be a game!” I shouted. I was nearly in tears.
“Game’s over, man,” Heath said. “It’s war for real now. I’m gonna
go kick a mother fuckers ass.”
Heath bent over and removed three needles from his pants leg. The
rest of the guys came hobbling back with blood on their faces and arms.
“Crazy bastards!” I heard someone say.
Pat was being helped to shelter out of range of the long distance
bombing, and all I could think of was how stupid it had all been. What
was even more surprising was the thrill I was getting out of it.
I had created this dangerous game and I had seen its consequences…
And even more impressed, I noticed that my boys weren’t backing off.
They loved it too, injuries or not. They were no longer scared – they were
Pat had actually been hit in the eyelid, not the eyeball. He could see
okay, but he said it hurt like hell. Everyone else had pretty much the
The battle seemed to be stretching on for hours, but when I glanced
down at my watch, I realized that the first shots were fired about four
minutes ago. It all happened so fast, but it was something I’ll remember
The game went on and the long range bombing became more
intense. We knew we could not charge them again without preparation, if
at all. We were getting beaten something terrible.
When we heard their version of the rebel yell coming from the other
side of their smoky camp, we knew it was over. They charged us instead,
and in the process dropped the tent that Billy was in, trapping him inside.
Our mission had failed – we ran away to plan a rescue – and that’s
when the real nightmare began.
Less than thirty minutes later we headed back toward the enemy
camp. Ace had devised a pretty good plan – brute force.
We would go in with all of our remaining ammunition and roll the
dice. We all agreed that the firepower they had used up in the last round
was probably more than they had intended to use. We, however, had not
used an excessive amount, with the exception of our large rockets.
We assumed that their ammo would be exhausted long before ours
and we would simply chase them off and free our buddy, but we hadn’t
assumed one other thing. They had been drinking heavily – and they
weren’t drinking chocolate milk.
I always thought that a fighting drunk was the worst. I still have that
When we arrived within sight of our captured comrade, we saw that
he was now tied to a tree and blindfolded near the campfire. Several, but
not all, of the enemy team stood facing him at a short distance. They
knew we were there… somehow.
I instructed everyone to stay down and stay quiet.
“IT IS THE RULING OF THIS COURT THAT YOU, BILLY
PARKER, ARE GUILTY OF ATTEMPTED ROBBERY!”
They were all chanting in unison like some deranged cult.
“WE HEREBY SENTENCE YOU TO THE FOLLOWING…”
The pause in their chant was the first real silence since before the
battle. Our nerves were on end as the enemy looked momentarily at one
another and turned back to Billy.
“YOU ARE SENTENCED TO DEATH BY FIRING SQUAD!”
“ACCUPUNCTURE! ACCUPUNCTURE! ACCUPUNCTURE!” I
heard one of them screaming.
They sounded like lunatic fans at a Manchester United soccer game.
We were very concerned to say the least, especially since we knew exactly
what they meant.
“FIRING SQUAD - TAKE YOUR PLACES NOW!” I heard
another one yell.
Laughter rose from the camp and that’s when I saw the rest of the
team huddled on the ground near the… firing squad.
They were all loaded and ready for us, but I didn’t dare tell the guys
to move in. Maybe they were bluffing.
Silence set in once again and all we could hear was the crackling of
the campfire fifty yards away and a few whispers.
To all of our disbelief, the leader of the enemy troops, and a school
friend to all of us, stripped Billy naked.
“Jesus,” Heath said quietly. “We gotta do something.”
“I don’t know what,” I said. “I’m afraid they’ll really freak out if we
Ace tapped Heath.
“Yep. He’s right.”
We sat and watched.
Five launcher barrels raised, we could see the shimmer of silver
needles reflecting in the fire’s red and gold light.
Lighters flickered, and sparks soon followed. They really meant to
shoot him. One or two needles wouldn’t be so bad stuck into you, maybe
– but there were a lot. I almost froze, realizing I would never forgive
myself if we didn’t…”
“Charge!” I cried.
The entire team rose and ran toward the camp. I was hoping that this
was their intention and that they would redirect their fire toward us. It
was not their plan at all.
The evil hisses of rockets and sparks exploded into blinding flashes
as we watched several hundred needles sink into Billy’s legs, stomach,
chest, face and privates. Many of them had penetrated deep enough to
allow the rocket explosions to tear chunks of skin away in splatters. He
screamed and writhed in pain – I’d never heard screaming like that
before or since.
Thin lines of blood, and some rather thick ones, streamed down over
black charred flesh and he eventually stopped fighting it.
We rushed in on the camp and let loose with everything we had.
After one round of firing, the launchers were dropped and fists became
the weapon of choice; Fists and anything else that was handy. Some even
used the butt end of their launchers to crack skulls.
I had been hit in the throat with a needle rocket and was bleeding
pretty bad. It didn’t hurt that bad though, I guess because of the
adrenaline rush. Somehow I escaped the action and crawled into a little
sunken place in the earth behind an enormous tree stump.
The fighting and cursing continued as I watched from a safe distance
where no one had seen me escape to. I found myself silently cheering for
the home team. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw Heath grab his
Swiss Army knife and slash the throats of the entire firing squad. I also
enjoyed seeing Billy cut loose by Ace.
Billy fell to the ground and crawled with the last strength left in him
over to a bleeding enemy on the ground – probably the one that
assembled the firing squad. He grabbed a burning log from the campfire
and shoved it under the guy’s shirt. He burned slowly, screaming all
along. Billy smiled and said something, but I’m not sure what it was.
They were his last words nonetheless.
Ace survived, but I understand he spent several weeks in the hospital
with third degree burns on his face and back. Blue Pearl I believe. I guess
they did have them after all, old buddy.
Nash was killed in action while attempting to run away in fear. A big
piece of steel that someone had been using to launch bottle rockets was
swung at his ribs. It was an amazingly horrible sound – so violent – so
The rage in all of their eyes was pleasing to my soul. My creation!
When Nash’s stomach was ripped open by the piece of steel, I swear
I saw chocolate milk flowing out instead of blood. Probably just my
Only twelve of the forty-one players involved made it out alive that
night. It made national headlines and my name was on TV the rest of the
weekend. You couldn’t find a channel that wasn’t talking about my
I tried to explain to the police that it was all in good fun, but they
would just look at me as if they were in fear – hell, I never hurt anybody.
I was taken to a jail and a few days later was committed to this
institution. Their reasoning confuses me. I did nothing wrong. We
committed no war crimes. They don’t understand.
We were the good guys… We were the good guys!