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Veterans

It's Funk Week here at the FFO. If you read pulp and crime, you've certainly seen the name. The goddamn guy is everywhere. And you'd be hard pressed to find a better storyteller...

Up first, we have a tale that embraces all that noir and hardboiled stands for. In short, damned if you do, damned if you don't. It's just a matter of which pair of pants look better when you make a stand...

Veterans by Matthew C. Funk




Big Monster often marveled at the odds against him having saved Horace’s life.

Big Monster hardly ever rolled to the Louisa Street Mini Mart before noon. His wheelchair never locked up like it did then.
           
Horace only passed by on his way to buy a gun from the Grubs because he’d been beaten so badly, he got Desire District’s streets confused.
           
Horace had thought he was on Pleasure Street. Big Monster was stranded on the corner of Humanity, slapping the stuck brake. It took one look at the bleeding boy crossing his path for Big Monster to know where Horace was headed.
           
“Hey, son,” Big Monster called to Horace. “Need a little lagniappe here.”
           
Horace stopped wiping the blood and snot from his face. He turned fire-alarm eyes on Big Monster, 350 lbs. and three gallons of gang ink. He saw a one-legged man in a wheelchair needing help, so he came over.
           
That was all Big Monster needed to see to tell Horace could still be set on the right path.
           
As Horace knelt to inspect the jam in the chair’s brake, Big Monster pointed at the thin slash running from Horace’s jaw to his nose.
           
“Knife didn’t do that,” Big Monster said.
           
“Bicycle spoke.”
           
“Your bike?” Big Monster knew even before Horace nodded. “You off to do something about it, ain’t you?”
           
“Got to put an end to it,” Horace said. He put scraped palms onto bruised knees and started to stand.
           
Big Monster took him by his laundered collar. He held Horace close to his leg stump, sawn right above the bullet holes. Held him near the eye tattooed with tear drops.
           
“Anything you do,” Big Monster said, “you going to lose more than you get back.”

*

Big Monster had other sayings. Horace repeated one to himself every time things hurt too bad to go on by himself.
           
“Don’t get back, just get out.”

Horace repeated that for five years. Through four summer jobs at McDonald’s. Ten regular semesters, three make-up semesters.
           
“Don’t get back, just get out,” Horace muttered through a split lip while collecting cans. Washing others’ clothes. Clearing Desire’s scrap.
           
Big Monster sometimes had to repeat it to Horace. The times when Horace wept, curled to him, on Big Monster’s porch with burns matching Daddy’s cigarette. The time the Grubs took his dog and mailed back a paw from the fights in Atlanta. The time after his little sister’s funeral when Daddy called him a runt cunt for not getting back at the Dirty-30 whose bullet chanced to land in her face.
           
“Don’t get back, just get out,” Big Monster said, hand bracing Horace’s neck, eyes locked like pitons.
           
They shared other sayings.

Big Monster announced himself “lost as a fish in the desert” when it came to understanding Horace’s skill for chemistry, and explained, “I sold rock, I didn’t study it.” And even though Horace sped and strengthened over four years at Track & Field, he was always “fast as the speed of custard” as Big Monster first dubbed him. Even the sepulchral quiet that closed over them whenever Horace asked about Big Monster’s time in Eagle Street Boys had a saying, Big Monster elegizing, “You got to watch the sun rise, not the darkness in the backyard.”

And that was enough, until the next time Horace would wonder aloud about the ink and pink marking the difference between getting out and getting back on his mentor’s chair-bound body.

“Don’t get back, just get out” was enough.

Horace’s grades weren’t enough. Not when the laptop holding both his senior final projects was stolen two days before they were due. The ACT wasn’t enough for a scholarship to anywhere he could afford. Not when Carver Tech was still closed four years after the storm.

Horace had brains, guts and a need to get out of Desire. He just needed someone to need him.

Girls wrote him off as weak. Gangs considered him a sellout. Only the church or the Army needed what Horace had.

Big Monster waved Horace off to Basic with a Hornets pennant two days after his 18th
birthday.

*

Big Monster got a letter every week:
           
Ballpoint ink. Smelling of shoe powder and gun oil. Creased and hurried. Youthful energy in exotic details from an outside land.
           
Horace mobilized to Afghanistan by the end of summer.
           
The letters came less frequent. They came with less detail.
           
The smells were stale, the paper dusted, like from somewhere ancient.
           
Big Monster saved all eight on his wall in place of the photos he didn’t have.
           
They stopped coming altogether.
           
The winter became summer again.
           
The summer was hot, and Big Monster was cursing another stuck brake on Louisa Street’s corner when he saw Horace again.
           
Horace was lowered off the bus by someone who saluted him and didn’t look back.
           
He spotted Big Monster. He didn’t look up until Big Monster wheeled over. Horace covered his severed knees before he did.
           
“I got out,” he said. “And I almost didn’t get back.”

Matthew C. Funk is a social media consultant, professional marketing copywriter and writing mentor. He is an editor of Needle Magazine, editor of the Genre section of the critically acclaimed zine, FictionDaily, and a staff writer for Planet Fury and Criminal Complex. Winner of the 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web, Funk has work featured at numerous sites indexed on his Web domain and printed in Needle, Speedloader, Pulp Ink, Pulp Modern, Off the Record and D*CKED. He is represented by Stacia J. N. Decker of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.