Danger Close

Copyright Ken Brady. No reproduction without express permission from the author.
(Originally published in DAILY CABAL, 2010)

People who’ve been in combat say you come back changed. Different way of seeing the world, of thinking about life and death, right and wrong. New priorities, skewed brands of patriotism and cynicism. Many ways, you’re not the same person.

I never doubted war would change me. Just never thought it would give me the power to change the world.

Week after rotating back I swear I’m still picking sand out of every possible location, some more unpleasant than others. Two weeks in Seattle before I return to Bragg. Seeing family and friends, but it wears on you when everyone asks about your time in the shit and all you want to do is forget. Questions, comments, stories, judgments.

“It’s a sixth sense,” Belani says. “I know who’s seen combat, who hasn’t.”

Post Street, corner table, rounds of beers flowing. Friends from high school who enlisted around the same time. Different tasks, same war.

“Exactly,” Fisker says. “You know the posers from the real deal right off.”

“I know who’s going to die, who’s going to kill,” I say. Not good party conversation, but it comes out.

“Fuck does that mean?” Belani says.

He’s right, of course. Look around the crowded bar and see who has been in a firefight. Doesn’t take special talent, just recognition. Eye movements, body language. It’s more than that. I can tell who is going to be in a life or death situation. Before it happens. I know the outcome.

“It means he saw too much shit go down,” Fisker says.

“Maybe so,” I say.

Then breaking glass, pissed off man, screaming girl. Know I could intervene, but don’t.

“Don’t want to see this,” I say. I drop a fifty, stand and leave quickly before blood starts flowing.

Two days later, shaking and crying from guilt, I find my calling. On television, announcing a move from the private sector to politics. I don’t know him, his ideals, his goals, his promises.

I know he will kill a lot of people. Hundreds, then thousands, then millions. I know he has to die and I have to do it. Only other possible outcome.

Next day, summer sky, prone on a balcony, his temple in my sights. What makes a man want to kill? Does he see the same things I do? Does he see color-coded right and wrong? Does he see a mandate from God?

Maybe only those who’ve seen enough, lived through enough horror, can become truly powerful. Senses build and fine tune. Dictators rarely start off as mass murderers. Saviors are not born saints.

What will they say about me? Hero or monster? I can’t read that one. Time will vindicate me or it won’t.

I take a breath, let it out slowly, squeeze the trigger.