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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Little Sunken Place

Little Sunken Place 
(Billy’s Last Stand) 
 (1995)

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.

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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 
summer. 
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 
stomach turn. 
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 
match. 
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.” 
Ace nodded. 
“Might be up there now,” he mumbled, tilting his head toward the 
cliff. 
“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 
him?” 
“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. 
“Moon Traveler?” 
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 
ammo.” 
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- 
functional status. 
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 
they? 
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… 
falling?” 
“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 
mad. 


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 
same complaint. 
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 
for eternity. 
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 
opinion. 
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 nodded.
“I don’t know what,” I said. “I’m afraid they’ll really freak out if we 
go in.” 
Ace tapped Heath. 
“Yep. He’s right.” 
We sat and watched. 
“READY!” 
Five launcher barrels raised, we could see the shimmer of silver 
needles reflecting in the fire’s red and gold light. 
“LIGHT ‘EM!” 
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 
beautiful. 
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 
imagination. 
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 
creation. 
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! 

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