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Gallows Dust

Gallows Dust

by Eric Zanne

Copyright © 2016 by Eric Zanne

Originally printed in Under The Gum Tree, October 2016 ed.

All rights reserved.  No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the author.

    You get off the plane and you start to sweat.  You’re carrying two hundred pounds of gear and the temperature is around one hundred and thirty during the day and eighty at night.  The temperature drops from the daytime high to the night temperature within thirty minutes.  Try to be inside at sunset.  It will feel wrong to shiver and possibly die of hypothermia in eighty-degree weather.  However, whether you are inside or not is rarely up to you.  

*

You won’t notice you are sweating out gallons of yourself every day.  It’s so dry that the sweat evaporates quickly.  However, you’ll notice when you take off your clothes , clothing made with a pattern of seemingly random shades of gray.  You’ll see that they are solid white and could stand up on their own.  You will spend the next year sweating constantly.  If you make it, or survive.  

*

The air in Baghdad, Iraq is filled with crustal material, organic carbon, sulfate, elemental carbon, ammonium ion, and traces of lead.  All of it is in the air on seemingly clear days.  It will stick to you for the next year, maybe the rest of your life.

*

The crustal material is sand, but not like any sand you see at a beach.  Its consistency is more like powdered sugar than table salt.  The dust sticks to you while you’re still on the plane, and only increases the more time you spend in that place.  The dust covers and infiltrates you completely.  It ’ s on your hair, in your clothes, coating the inside of your nose, and lining your lungs.  The sand is everywhere.  When you turn off the water in your shower, which you may only get once a week during your deployment, it will stick to your clean skin.  It is deep in your pores.  So deep that you think you finally have a tan, until you leave and take ten showers.  Then you realize you are the palest you have ever been.

*

The crustal material’s percentages in the air are much higher during a sandstorm, which you will enjoy three or four times during your stay.  The edge of these storms comes fast, like an avalanche.  The air stings, while the wind tries to rip the layers from you.  Once inside it, the air is still, calm, concealing, and protecting.  It will be darker than a cloudy night in the woods and even with a flashlight you won’t be able to see your hand at full extension.  Sandstorms hide the world from your thoughts and senses.  It adds to your layers.

*

        You smell things because particles of what you smell have touched the inside of your nose.  Bits of everything you smell is clinging to the layers of sweat and dust.  The mouth-watering flat bread at the corner shop adds a layer.  The lamb cooking in  the house where you will do a knock-and-search adds another.  The mountains of burning trash create a thick film on your skin.  The bitter scent of a rotting dog cloaks you as well.  The fetid odor of the green canal where the whole city dumps its sewage sticks to you.  Add some layers of the cheapest and strongest perfume you can buy.  It will cover the smell of decay as you guard some Iraqi nationals turning the bodies in a mass grave, to face Mecca.  Burnt gunpowder and explosives.  All these things form layers.

*

        Taking up smoking obscures the world behind the curling wisps.  You will smell like an ashtray.  Fingers and teeth will be stained yellow.  When you reach two packs a day, you’ll start coughing up black slime.  This lung goo consists of that crustal material, tar, and hidden memories.

*

        You can focus all your attention on working out, to forget about the things you will see.  You will drop your body fat percentage below healthy amounts.  You’ll notice muscles in places you didn’t   think there were any.  Your only thoughts are how much protein you need to consume to gain another quarter inch on your bicep.  Shave all the hair off your body to show off how cut you are.  However, when you get home, your friends and family, who will have been waiting a year with little to no contact, won’t like the fact that you’re spending all your free time at the gym.

*    

        So many will find God.  They will become wholly devoted to their deity of choice.  The glare from their cross, star, or crescent moon will blind them to their experiences.  If you don’t find God, you’ll find yourself.

*

        The human body is made up of  Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Calcium,   Potassium, Sulfur, Chlorine, Sodium, Magnesium, Iron, and Iodine.  Plus, trace amounts of Silicon, Fluorine, Copper, Manganese, Zinc, Selenium, Cobalt, Molybdenum, and Boron.  If a body burns it will choke the air with the sickeningly sweet smell of burning hair, skin, fat, and meat.  If it burns in a car, the fuel ensures that all that remains are the teeth and metal implants.  If you burn for long enough and with enough heat, all you are is teeth.  The teeth have a sooty coating that are all that remains of the body and fuel.

*

        The smell of a burnt body clings to your clothes, buries itself in your skin, and fuses with your hair.  Shaving your head will help.  You need to wash your clothes two or three times to get the   smell out.  An hour’s scouring in the shower will help.  Remove the smell to hide the memory from everyone, from yourself, but it is a part of you now.  Just another one of the layers.

*

        Blood turns brown if you let it set.  Throw the item away if you can, because that stain never comes out.  If it’s something that can’t be replaced easily, scrub and bleach it until you convince yourself the stain is gone.

*

        One layer you won’t need, is sunscreen.  The dust blocks the light from your skin.  Your uniform covers you as well.  Boots, pants, t-shirt, long-sleeve blouse, gloves, chest armor, helmet,  and shaded glasses are your constant companions.  Without the gloves, the handle of your rifle would burn your hand a fter an hour  in the sun .

*

Without layers, smoking, working out, or religion you might leave that place with gray hairs, at nineteen years old.  You might drink yourself to sleep, just to wake screaming.  Large groups will be distinctly terrifying.  Patches of your hair might fall out.  If you don’t shave your head for the rest of your life, you’ll look like a mangy dog.

*

When a bullet misses your head by inches, turn around and moon the sniper.  If they miss your guard station by a few feet, yell for someone to get your interpreter.  When he shows up, half asleep, hand him a bull-horn.  Because, no matter how many times he told you, you won’t remember how to say “you can’t hit shit,” in Arabic.  Tie little nooses out of string and hang them in the guard shacks.  Add signs to the nooses with, “emergence exit,” and “there is always option number two,” on them with little smiley faces.  Xs for eyes.  Die during deployment and your family gets $400,000 to split.

*

        The layering is inevitable and necessary.  Be grateful for the gallows dust.  Just like your armor, it protects you.  Laugh when the dog’s gnawing makes a headless man wave at you.  A man you saved once.  Make snide jokes about the attacker’s bad aim when he shoots up the girls’ school.    Be happy about the dust and layers.  Just hope they wash off some day.

*

        Others won’t understand how these layers of filth helped and will ask why you can’t simply wash them off.  They will wonder why you ever let such awful things accumulate.  Look them in the eye and say, “because, Water,   Mucin,   Lipids,   Lactoferrin,   Lipocalin,   Glucose,   Urea,   Sodium, and   Potassium -or tears- would stain”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eric Zanne was born in 1986 and spent his young moving around the South-Eastern part of the United States.  Discovering a love of reading during his first deployment to Iraq, he didn’t try his hand at writing until his second deployment.  After the Army, he earned a B.S. in Psychology from APSU in Tennessee.

He has professionally published three of his short stories(one nonfiction, two fiction) it two magazines.  His first self-published novel Spare The Lambs is available on Kindle.  eBook: [+ http://mybook.to/SpareTheLambs +]  Paper  back: http://mybook.to/pbsparethelambs


Gallows Dust

  • Author: Eric Zanne
  • Published: 2017-03-09 04:05:08
  • Words: 1512
Gallows Dust Gallows Dust