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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Peanut - #BlogBattle

Welcome to this week's #BlogBattle entry, a weekly short fiction contest hosted by the delightful Rachael Ritchey.

It's keyword-based, and this week's keyword is...wait for it...legume.

Yes, you read that right. Since a peanut's a legume, here we go...


Tanks don't have flat tires, but they do throw tracks, and sometimes you need to call AAA. Well, not the Auto Club, exactly, but there would be a maintenance APC coming our way shortly with the bits and pieces we needed. Our organic equipment wasn't up to the task.

Meanwhile, it was just another day at the office. Biff and The Dude were tossing a football back and forth, increasing the inconvenience of the Vietnamese whose road we were already blocking when occasionally the pigskin would nail one of the scooter-riding elite in the head.

Sonny was sitting on the edge of the loader's hatch, wearing the CVC helmet to keep radio watch. And I was just taking advantage of the downtime to look around.

It's amazing how sometimes you just pass through life without seeing what's in it.

There was a ville set back from the road, across a line of what would have been paddies in the wet season. Now the ground was baked dry. It was a prosperous little place; some of the hootches even had corrugated tin incorporated into their thatch-and-wood architecture. People were moving back and forth, swaying and shimmering in the langur of the heat-haze.

Women and old men and kids. No MAMs. They were all in the bush with Charlie, or in the bush with Marvin the ARVN, trying to avoid running into Charlie.

Watching them made me sleepy, and I was about to tell Sonny that I'd try to find a patch of shade to catch some z's when I heard the whine of an approaching jeep.

Trailing dust and scattering scooters it came, rather like Moses parting the red Sea on a lower budget.

There were two men in it, and as it pulled in behind us the passenger got out, took off his Ray-Bans, and called out, "Peanut?"

No one ever called me peanut except my Dad, and I felt a warm happy glow, because there he was, large as life.

It's not much advantage in the Corps having a Dad who's a general, but it doesn't hurt, and you might even get to meet him on a dirt road in a hot land during a weird war.

"Dad...uh, sir." I reached down a hand to help him up onto the deck.

"Peanut! They told me I might find you here, abusing government property...what'd you to to the poor thing?" He patted the turret.

And that was the last thing he ever did, because suddenly his head snapped back in the center of a moving halo of blood. I heard the shot almost at the same instant.

The ville.

The momentum carried Dad in a parody of a backwards walk off the side of the tank, and he fell into the dirt.

There was another shot, and the jeep driver fell sideways, arms reaching for the dirt, legs holding him in the vehicle, and a ribbon of blood running down to make a puddle.

Sonny yelled, "Sniper!" and I felt The Dude and Biff climb up and past me, heading for their fighting positions. I looked to where they had been. The road was empty of civilians, and the football rolled in a sad curve into the ditch, abandoned.

I wondered where all the civilians went.

"TC!" Sonny grabbed my arm."Get DOWN!"

Another bullet pinged off the armor, and Sonny dropped into his hatch like a prairie dog.. I edged around the side of the turret, and looked toward the ville. There ther ping, followed a split second later by the sound of the shot.

Well, ok, I thought. That's it. I stood up and pulled the sky-mount .50 around, and yelled into the cupola hatch, "Gunner, coax, on the hootches!

I racked the charging handle, hit the butterfly, and the fifty went two rounds and stopped.

The coax wasn't firing. "Gunner, COAX!"

"Coax is down." Biff's voice came back faintly; the .50's loud, and the two rounds it did fire took most of my hearing.

"What've you got in the tube?"

"HEAT." We'd been bunker-busting, and HEAT was the round of choice for can opening.

"Fire that, and gimme cannister."

Biff came back with something unintelligible.

"WHAT?" Say again, I can't HEAR you!"

Sonny popped back out, just as there was another ping, and a bullet ricocheted off the useless .50. He cringed and handed me a CVC, carefully passing along the comm wires.

Biff was talking. "Where does he want me to put the round? What am I shooting at?"

"The ville, the ville!" I was still yelling, and probably hurt the guys' ears.

The Dude asked, "Did anyone see where the shot came from?" He spoke slowly, trying to defuse the moment. Tension makes for mistakes, and mistakes get people killed. "TC, maybe you better get back in the tank?"

He was right, but my father was lying dead in the dirt, and I didn't want steel between us. "I'm fine. I'll call the fire."

"Did you see it, TC?" Biff was slowly traversing the turret, occasionally stopping, the gun tube wavering like to nose of a hound dog.

"No." It would be hard to spot a sniper, if he was any good. There was another shot, well-aimed, and is popped its little sonic boom near my head.

"Unload that heat wherever, guinner. Then load cannister and waste the ville. Left to right, put a round in every hootch."

That would teach the little folk a lesson about harboring snipers. Wouldn't be a very practical lesson, because cannister pretty well shreds everything in its way, especially people.

The IC static hissed in the headset. "Get started," I said. "No, wait one...loader, check the map. Are we good?"

Sonny's voice came back after a longer pause than I expected. "Yeah, we's good...this-all's a free-fahr zone."

I nodded, and looked at my father's corpse. "Do it," I said.

The Dude came up quickly. "Biff, wait."

The Dude pulled himself out of the driving compartment hatch, in front of the turret, and just stood there, looking at the ville. He'd had to take off the CVC, so he wasn't on IC.

He looked over at me. "I'm still alive, TC. Sniper's gone." He had been standing in full view of where I figured the shooter might be.

"How do you know?"

"I'm bait. TC, he's gone. We can't waste the whole place. Look!" he waved his arm toward a particularly elegant structure, with only a few holes in the roof. Two heads peeped around a corner, then ducked back. "TC, there's people there. Don't do this."

"He's still there. He's one of them!"

The Dude shook his head. "No, he's not. He's gone. TC, look at me. I'm bait. And he didn't take it."

Fine. The sniper was crafty. "Well, yeah, and stay alive...get back in! Gunner, get that HEAT on the way. Then cannister."

The Dude knelt by his hatch, and shouted something. Then he stood up again, with a .45 in his hand, and he pointed it at me. "TC, no. We can't do this. You can't do this, TC."

I felt my mouth drop open and stay that way. There was dust, and the smell of blood on the air, and I could taste it as the seconds lumbered slowly past. The muzzle of the .45 was very large, and very black. I wanted to say, "Dude, put it away. Now."

But the commanding tone was not at my disposal, and neither were the words, and I head myself say, in a voice dry as death, "They killed my father."

The Dude's hands were shaking, and for some reason that was scary. "Not them, TC. The sniper. Him alone, and he's not there now."

Sonny raised his head from his hatch, looked at me, then turned to look at The Dude. He swore, and then pulled up one of the tanks hand weapons, a grease gun.

I wondered if I'd have two of my crew looking like they were going to shoot me, but Sonny pointed the thing a The Dude. "Dude, y'all cain't do this, man. We's autherahzed to waste any place what we-all takes fahr from. TC's raht, boy. Let's us do this." He flipped up the ejection-port cover, making the grease gun live. "Ah'll shoot y'all if ah haves tuh."

The Dude said, "That's OK." His hand was shaking more violently, and the pistol's muzzle was tracing little arcs across my retina. "Do what you have to, Sonny. I'm doing the same." He thumbed down the safety. "Please, TC."

The Dude's eyes were wide, and as I met them he bit his lip.

"Okay," I said.

The Dude almost collapsed, and I heard the snick of the hammer being lowered. He was hunched over, shaking. Sonny raised the muzzle of the grease gun high, and snapped the cover back. Wise precaution; sometimes they would fire when you put the safety on.

"Keep and eye out," I said, and them jumped down to attend to the bodythat had carried my father's soul. He looked like a squirrel that had been run over. Shrunken, limp, and it looked like this thing could never had lived or loved or laughed.

"I'm sorry, TC." The Dude was standing behind me. I would have preferred that he not be there, for the moment, but there he was.

"About what?" I wanted to sound combative. But he was more than my driver. He was my friend, and he had just been pointing a gun at my face.


"Yeah." I thought he meant my dad and the mutiny. But I was wrong, at least in some of the details.

"I'm sorry the world's the way it is. I'm sorry we can't find it in our hearts to live with each other. I'm sorry for the sadness and the anger and the the way we make God carry our flags, so we can feel justified. I'm just so sorry for it all."

"Yeah," I said again. Not much else I could say. "Would you have shot me, Dude?"

"Yes, TC. I would have shot you."

"Why?" Suddenly I was very tired. I wanted to lie next to my Dad, in the arms of death.

"Better to lose your life than to lose your soul."

"They deserved it, Dude. You know they let that sniper stay there. You know they could have kept him out. One guy, most two guys. If they won't stand up for themselves, then what's the point in any of this?" I laid my hand on my dad's arm. He was cooling off. Maybe temperature is the wall between life and death.

"Yeah, we had the right. You had the right, TC. They were guilty as charged, for that. But I couldn't let you be their executioner."

I sighed. "Why not?"

"Because  I couldn't let you destroy the man we follow, and trust, and love."



  1. Whew. A stunning post.
    It's yet another one that will resonate with me for a very, very long time. The shock bullet - no choice, no time to think. Then the raging emotions and injustice of it. Then the other bullet - your choice, staring into the eyes of a friend. Can't help but think God is like this with me - with the eyes of a friend, but a gun to my head... determined to ensure that whatever I do, I don't lose the most important part of me. This is the most redemptive thing I've read for a very long time. Thanks, Andrew.

    1. Thank you, Ruth. I'm glad the allegorical nature of the story came through!

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you, Norma. It was a hard story to live with, and then write.

  3. This has everything: action, sound, smell, emotion, tension and more. Excellent story. :-D

    1. Thank you so much, Teresa! I really, really appreciate your taking the time to visit, and comment.

      The Dude appreciates it, too.

  4. These stories of your always wrench my heart. The Dude's compassion is a beautiful thing.

    1. All I can say, Rachael, is simply...thank you.

      The stories mean a lot to me; I'm privileged to be the lens through which they can be told.

  5. Today is six months of hosting blog battles for me, Andrew. I can't imagine not having The Dude be a part of this. It's a huge blessing to me that you joined the battles. I'm forever grateful and thank you for sharing with us. I'm so grateful. :)

    1. Six months! Happy anniversary! This is the post I look forward to each week, THIS is the one that's fun to write (even when the subject's serious).

      This has been the perfect place to write about The Dude. You've created just the right environment and ambiance, and for that I am, in my turn, grateful!


    2. Thank you, Andrew. I'm really touched.