A Deserter Dreams of Tiny Dogs – Garth Miró

        The whole country had gone insane. They insisted I had, but insane people always insist everyone but them is the hair-sucking maniac, so we had ourselves a standoff. 
        My position was simple. A man should, if he so chooses, be able to lie down and die when he sees a patch of open grass. Stretch out and relax. No? So why were they making me go on and on? In this heat? If you want to die in the sun filthy and poor that should be your option.  
        I tried a few different methods before giving up completely. 
        Any meat I could get my hands on that’d gone purple or green was gorged with the hope of a parasite buddy coming along. Get in here, old pal! I jumped down janky trenches hoping my foot might land wrong and twist to my advantage. Not pop off completely, just incapacitate me enough to get the sympathy of young crisp nurses while I worked on developing a nice slow ulcer, or melancholy. But no, nothing. My idiot body was impervious. The doctors insisted, insane or not, I was healthy. That if anything war was the best thing for me. I’d have the chance to become a hero! That’d cheer me up. 
        I was ordered to die by being blown to smithereens, guts splattered against the side of some Jeep’s hot metal door, horribly, in other words, right at the front for our totally sane and righteous country. March fucker! Dirty nutjob! I had to take my doc’s orders and march towards this type of uncomfortable death, intact.
        Today, we were in some shelled-to-shit town on the border. Another place with a lot of vowels in the name. And like all others before, it had almost nothing left to drink, and very few women. 
        I went and sat on a bench that had slipped off its frame at one end and was sinking into the mud. Disgusting. Oily mud had replaced all ground covering the Earth. It was all we had to sleep and march and flee and vomit and despair and stab and fuck upon. And when there was nothing to kill or fuck, some men, not me, but some I saw, dropped their pants and plunged their throbbing erections straight down in the mud. (Supposedly the oily thickness created a nice suction effect.) There were whole rivers of spunk and blood flowing underneath our feet.
        I looked over at our leader, the honorable Captain James Bernard, who was slowly sinking into such mud stew as he harassed a local fat man for cigarettes. 
        The man had nothing. Bernard hit him for being so irresponsible. A big crack between the eyes with the butt of his shiny military-issue pistol. The man was shocked. He couldn’t believe it! Military officers acting so disgraceful. Vicious. Callous. Vulgar. He didn’t know us at all. Bernard gave him another just to show off. A true patriot! Some of us cheered. Bernard was our commander, so anything he did was an act of bravery and honor. He was a future war hero. All his very honorable behavior was endured. Because even if some nosy moral do-gooder tried to sneak incriminations in the reports, Bernard’s little pet, Taylor, who some said looked like two men in one body, doctored all final drafts to leave him shining on the page. 
        The fat man fell to his knees and crocodile-colored ooze splashed up onto his gray wool trousers. War was a playground for men like Bernard. There was nothing we could do.
        “These people,” he said to me after tiring, wiping blood from his hands on the front of his uniform. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than fight for our great country by getting rid of these slimy hold-out supporters.”
        “Sure,” I said. I noticed there was a beetle taking refuge on the toe of my boot. The closer I looked, it seemed—did it?—to have a tiny face. 
        “What?” Bernard said, cutting into my daydream. He raised a brow. “You’re not some kind of sympathizer, are you?”
        “No, sir,” I said, snapping to attention. “Not at all, sir! My greatest hope is that every man, woman, and child be completely and utterly decimated by the hand of our righteous democratic country. Babies too. In fact, we should have soldiers dressed as doctors waiting right at the ends of all pregnant women’s vaginas. Kill the bastards as soon as they come into the world.”
        He recoiled slightly, but he was a professional. “Uh, yes, OK,” he said, patriotism catching up, rationalizing as all good patriotism does. “Great. Yes, exactly. Now get everyone together and set up camp over there by the dental office. After that you’re relieved until morning. But no drinking.” 
        By the time we got camp set up, it was time to leave again. I was ordered to go on patrol, once more, to double check that everything was clear. 
        Hmm. It was starting to seem that they, whoever was up there in brass devising that every single goddamn pulverizing task end up at my door, were set on driving me into complete breakdown. To get rid of any will left. I’d reached a thing beyond tired. Blaring. Stripped of color. I went around the back of the tents and tried to relieve myself, to drop any extra water weight that would make movement harder.
        When I got to the edge of town, I stopped and breathed and stared out into the thick black night. Nobody was there. It was a wall of darkness. No lights. No gunfire. Nothing. I stared hard and the black leaked into my eyes. Liquid darkness. Without orders. Without bosses. So close. Just one more step and I’d be swallowed. 
        Yes, it would be dishonorable to leave my unit behind, which surely meant it was the smart thing to do. It’d be easy. Throughout my life I’d only really excelled at one thing: quitting. 
        I thought back and remembered all the times quitting had brought me relief. And ease. It’d always benefited me greatly. I had no worries like other people. I saw that the ones who kept on trying, especially the other poors who were my compatriots in this war, who held firmly to the belief that if they just kept working hard they’d one day dig themselves out from their miserable situations, their lives, had nothing to show for it but hernias and shrapnel and debt and drippy gonorrhea and hundreds of moronic kids with yellowing eyes. Their lives were sinking in the mud far before now. There was nothing I could do to help them by staying. 
        In fact, if I left my patrol now and an enemy wandered through and stuck them in the spleen with his bayonet, they should thank me. They’d be getting what they truly wanted. They’d get to die for everyone back home. Finally, they’d have something to hold over their neighbors. That was their dream. To become heroes. And they said I was insane! The guys in my unit were little more than barnacles in the brain department. They were horny with killing their way into history. Symphorophiles. These were the people ordering me around.
        I felt an immense heat breathe out from the darkness. It really was a mouth before me. I understood now. Hello. Nice to meet you. My excitement grew. Just a few more yards. 
        Wait. Could I see something else? Down there in the wet throat tunnel? An idea came. My hand trembled. Down there, a whole nation of deserters could be grown. It was the perfect environment. Humid and dark and it was not here. And I could be king. 
        Hmm. I wouldn’t ask for much. A mansion and wives and vacation mansions and a great big sleigh pulled by hundreds of tiny dogs, maybe prize miniature Schnauzers. To get around in this mud. I just needed one more person to help. A servant to handle the paperwork. It was going to be hard finding the perfect candidate. Deserters weren’t usually the type to join ranks. 
        I turned back from the edge of blackness. Just for now.
        The sun was about to come up. The night was yawning. I didn’t have much time to get Alec on my side, but I knew one thing about him that’d help me smooth the proposition over: he had hate. Hate like his, gurgling acidic hate in the stomach, the body will do anything to get out. Any reason would do. I only had to point him in the right direction. 
        I went and bought a small bottle of vodka from a shopkeeper who was up early. Alec’s favorite. 
        “What do you have there?” he asked, seeing it in my hand. His brown eyes were almost glowing orange. 
        We sat and I started to feel out if he’d truly be a good candidate for my new nation. 
        Alec told me he’d also tried everything to get out of war. Even got his toes clipped off, so he said, but damned if they hadn’t just about perfected life-saving medical procedures these days. The brilliant bastards. They’d keep your dirty decapitated head alive in a jar if they thought they could roll it at the enemy.
        As we got drunker, I laid it on him. To see what he felt. 
        He was surprisingly receptive. He rattled on and on with a lot of nonsense about God and doom. And boots. His were too small. Fuckers! We were supposed to just smile as we marched (uncomfortably) towards their chaos? The ones above who started it all? 
        I gave him a nudge. 
        “Of course…we could just leave,” I said. “Even one unit understaffed would help start a chain of collapse. Full participation, that’s what keeps it all going. We’re only talking about screwing the ones who started it. Like you said. They got us in this mess.”
        He was off dreaming small dreams. “My ass hurts. Maybe that could get me out. There’s a nice hospital in the capital. With the nurses there, all you have to do to get them to certify you insane is withhold your erections.” He took another big glug of vodka. The night chirped. It smelled like grease and electrical burning. “A few guys did it already. You don’t even have to be completely flaccid, seventy percent’s enough to rile their egos into coming up with all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t inspire a strong warrior penis. When they get to fiddling down there and your little soldier doesn’t stand fully to attention, they conclude it has to be for only one reason—defectiveness of the man. Something deep in your psyche. You must be insane! For they are the magnificent perfect beautiful patriotic women of the nursing corps! Any man who doesn’t get hard for them must be wrong.”
        “There’s an even easier way. If you’d just listen.” I told him the plan. He liked it.
        Before we left we finished the bottle of vodka. Then half another. Then it got hazy. The next thing I knew, I was standing behind Alec in Bernard’s officer’s quarters, and his boyfriend, Taylor, was lying on the floor in a puddle of what I assumed was his own blood. 
        Well, fuck. That hadn’t gone exactly right.
        I wiped blood from my hands onto my uniform. What had I done? Had I? But I had no weapon? 
        I looked over to Alec, huffing, his back rising and falling like a beast. He’d done the violence. He had a knife in his hand and a toe in the other. He knew all about toes. Taylor’s big one had been cut clean off and he’d passed out.
        But what was really shocking was the look on Captain Bernard’s face. 
        It was blank. Even with his lover on the ground, possibly bleeding out, he was not getting his gun or rushing to Taylor’s side or even screaming for the men to come kill us. The war hero! A true traitor. I was a deserter, fine, but I was no traitor like that. I would have saved Taylor. I would have killed me. 
        Bernard made no attempt to condemn us, even with a frown, he just stared blank and turned over in his bed so that he faced the other way. His back was towards us and it was quiet. 
        We ran up the hill. We made it to the edge of town just before the light came and useful darkness left us. The mouth. I stepped inside. I kept running until the wet throat tunnel took me completely. This was it. We’d abandoned everything. There certainly was no going back after what we’d done. 
        As I ran, I imagined my future kingdom. My new nation. I could almost hear the bells around my sleigh dogs’ necks, jingling as they pulled me through the mud. I whipped them hard. Mush! Onward! Towards nothingness without end! Ein sof! I charged. Alec was at my side, waving the toe in the air like our flag. The darkness ate us. We didn’t stop. From here on it would be nothing but what I wanted. I was going to be king! I’d indulge. Root around in this mud. Become one with it. A mudman. Because when I finally got there, I wanted to deserve death. I wanted sins piled so high the demons were impressed. Big Red would look down from my winding list and nod. You’ve really done it! Yes, my boy, you’ve indulged! Snorted! Guzzled! Been petty! You’ve taken every moment for yourself! And, my God, you’ve been vengeful! I’d die like I wanted, without bravery and honor and all the things that turn men to soldiers.