For sixty nights and sixty days after first losing my picture of my darling Salome, I and the rest of the Henry Company were sort of aimless, more so than usual. The metaphorical loss of her had tarnished the morale of the entire company. One down, all down was the way Pvt. Thom (Sukyingpong) had put it. It was his mantra, and though he never admitted it, we knew that he knew just as well as we knew that it didn’t go the other way. It was only ever downhill. I was a drafted Air Force kid transferred to a drafted Private-ranking soldier amid minefields and makeshift military ha-has when I was only used to seeing the things I berained with flechettes as tiny pieces of land on a great gameboard which stretched to the horizon. Everything down on the ground was new to me. The company helped me acquaint myself with all of it, but I never got to venture up in the air again. The Earth is a lot more depressing than the Sky. Bickley understood the transition. He had been a voluntary Air Force Officer who quit and was then subsequently a drafted Captain. Said the only good thing about Captainhood was “‘cuz [he] worried [his] girlfriend didn’t think airplanes was sexier than crawling through jungle muck.” In Bickley’s pocket, he also carried a picture of his sweetheart, she whose name he had forgotten, stapled to a crude facsimile on cream paper given to him by Gambolix or Sukyingpong around a month or two ago, back in the southern Sác before our marching-in-circles helixed upwards into the northern half of the area:


Typical proceedings LIMITED TO ELLIPTOID CYCLES MARCHED THROUGH RSSZ-2. Company guided by Cpt. CHRISTOFF BICKLEY. Localized to NORTHERN RUNG SAT SPECIAL ZONE. Designated relay-airman A is #171, Off. JEWGENI GAMBOLIX. Backup relay-airman B is #055, Off. PATRICK VIMANA. Memorandum filed by Mr. EDWIN MONTPARNASS on 04 JUNE 1970. Please ensure all fields are completed before submitting.

* Rung Sat Special Zone (Area-)2.

Americo-pyxides shook and bumped into each other deep in our pockets as we marched, filled with heart-shaped rocks for Thom, his sweetheart in San Fran, and capsules supposedly medicinal for Erstazky. They even rang as we wandered through the deep mud of that unnamed Sác river.

That night, we set up base around five chains from a barren opening, which acted as a locus of nocturnal faunal activity. The location was Ersatzky’s idea. Dinner that evening was some sort of noodles which no one among us, not Knut nor Crampton nor I nor Bickley could really identify. They were sallow like a sickly man’s skin.

Crampton: “Do you guys ever miss your girls?”

Bickley looks up. “I can’t even remember her, so maybe not. You, James?” Ersatzky looks at Bickley after calling his name but doesn’t respond.

I clear my throat. “I miss Salome a whole lot. I draw her in the dirt sometimes. It’s hard without that picture…you know? Maybe Bickley was wise to not take one.”

“Did ya,” Scrumbleknut coughs up some noodles, “did ya ever do anything like that, like umm… hanky-panky with that photo? It was, a-haah! it was quite dirty, no?” The other guys and I feel sick. Crampton laughs.

“No, I didn’t, it—”

“Really? Reaaaaally, ‘cuz I—”

“—was just dirty because we’re in the wilderness, man.”

“—always notice—oh, yeah, sure.”

“Shut up, Knut, you fuckhead.” James Ersatzky coming in with some common sense!

The conversation went on, with increasing use of pejoratives and threats from Team Knut vs. Third Henry Company as Bickley and I continued to stay quiet and eat like depressed porcine geriatric men. What it escalated into was rifle-chest contact and a dead rabbit, shot by Crampton after missing Ersatzky by a few hairs. It was then that Bickley called everyone in for bed, begrudgingly.

Late that night, perhaps even in the early morning, when everyone had drifted off into the mosquito-infested indigo night, save me and him, decided to tell me a little life tale of his as we both, independently of each other, batted away bugs. We were in bed, just neither of us asleep. He starts without warning: “Hey, Erik?”

I asked what it was he needed and he puckered his lips, I think. “I should probably tell you this, I think you’d just find it interesting. It’s about when I was an Officer. Airtime.”

I nodded but forgot he couldn’t see me. “Well, what happened, Chris?” That sentence was one continuous exhale.

“I worked in the Air Force for a couple of years before quitting and subsequently getting drafted up here as part of the Henry Company. That was crazy. I didn’t really do much, I just kind of slacked off on all our projects and flew around, that too. It was mostly theoretical rocket science when I was down on the ground. And I was never a rocket scientist as much as it sounds like it to you, I had more of a mock-job if anything. What I do remember was whenever the third Okinawan troop arrived here in Nam we started working on this thing called the U.R.R.S. and a specific rocket for it called RR-2. The RR in that stood for Red Rocket and U.R.R.S. was Ultradestructive Red Rocket System. I don’t know if that was the final name, I think Maj. Doumo just recommended it to some overling as a sort of cheeky joke. I didn’t work on the first Red Rocket, that was something they constructed after Nagasaki got bombed and they never ended up using it. But it wasn’t nuclear, nor was ours, even though it was an ICBM. What it was was,” he turned over on his cot to look at me. “What are those things called? That you was dropping from your plane?”

Me: “The Rainbows? Like Agent Orange?”

Bickley slumped back on his cot and looked at the ceiling. There was a hole up there. “No…no, I meant those little guys that you dropped from your plane.” I knew what he was talking about, but I didn’t fly AD-5Ns often to drop those little flechettes—they were called Lazy Dogs. As I had stated above, I spent most of my time in the air, which was minimal, flying C-123s and effluxing from their tanks Agent Orange. “Those dense little fuckers that go, like, a foot into firm concrete if you drop them from your plane. Lazy Dogs! That’s it. That was the plan with RR-2, ‘cuz what U.R.R.S. was was that we were gonna have the RR-2 flying over South Nam over Vietcong bases. The rocket itself was just a modified V-2 rocket since we already had Nazi scientists at NASA. Arthur Rudolph had brought some plans over from when he worked on V-2 in Germany and we just used those and changed a couple of things. But the RR-2 itself was a pretty weak ICBM. What made it potent or what would’ve made it potent was it had a ton of miniature Lazy Dogs on it. There were mechanisms to, when it was launching, it would drop a bunch of Lazy Dogs before it made contact with the ground. All the Dogs would just fall outta the Red Rocket before the rocket itself would make contact with the earth and fucking blow up.” Bickley laughed a little. “But we scrapped it. There were too many complications and we couldn’t reliably get the Lazy Dogs to fall out. We did once, but we didn’t remember how we did it and it didn’t work again. They also didn’t want to send ICBMs to an Eastern Bloc warzone, is what they eventually decided.” Bickley wasn’t wrong that Lazy Dogs go around a foot in concrete. When I rarely dropped them back in the AD-N5, they left tiny holes in the ground. A couple times I hit actual Vietcong troops, their anti-personnel manufactory purpose. I never saw that carnage up close but I’m assuming, since we were dropping them from 3k. feet in the air, that they dug straight through those Vietcongs’ skulls and into their thoraces and abdomina. The thought of a ballistic missile covered in those, dropping those across the plains of Vietnam, lodging themselves in the crania of the Henry Company and Vietnamese villagefolk and northern communists alike, was terrifying. And that night…

• • •

That night, wheretofore I had always kept half my set of eyes open even in slumber to pay attention to my base and environs, I had now resorted to closing both my eyes, completely sinking into the Zone and losing myself in its brine.

Here is what I hallucinated that night in an angst-induced mania: I envisioned a Cartesian plane, scraped into my inner eyelids with a scalpel, and against it a ring of Unity as a corona of light above Salome’s head as she looked down at me and clicked tut tut or tsk tsk tsk as she would smile a smile straight out of one of my father’s stained, dilapidated film rolls held hostage in the basement in Peoria, IL, Home, and she swooped down from the heavens to pick me up from the depths of the Cochinchina, as Scrumbleknut called it, and so I did indeed imagine Salome Joey Zrank, the angel sent from heaven, floating down with her white wings, reaching down to the cursed earth upon which I stood, her white wings made of Unity, not in an individually mathematical nor spiritual nor philosophical sense but in a sense which was a synthesis of all three, her ethereal form beckoning acceptance from me of the fact that she was the Monad and the Everything, that the Universe was neither here nor there, neither infinitely dissectable nor infinitely assembling itself into something larger, that it had an end in both directions, the micro and the macro, and it was Her, that she was to be my everything, my guiding moonlight, and that I would do literally anything she told me to do, all this as she ascended with me into the clouds above base, which was now host of a terrible coup orchestrated by the Vietcong, Tonkin’s little puppet down south, the Vietcong and my own comrades drafted from the States by chance and not by commitment and nationalism, some not even understanding why they were there like me, yes, they were seeming more and more like chess pieces or circular xiangqi tokens as I went up and up with Salome, and I saw them there, on the Cartesian plane of southeastern Asia, with Laos and Thailand in the peripheral, and I cried into Salome’s bosom as a hundred thousand dead Vietnamese men and women and children and American postadolescents sang majestic chori in all of the world’s forgotten tongues, those with holes in their heads and arms lopped off by the Enemy, with the meat of their jaws sloughing off into their laps, and nevertheless they smiled on and on, their smiles shining into the great horizon, a beautiful lightshow upon the Sky-Quilt, none of the earthly bacchanal or debauchery of Vietnamese nor American land present, only the innocence of infantile, not Judaic, cherubim which danced in the air like the pervading scent of Man’s good. And then I fell asleep.

• • •

In the morning, we marched on. We had long ago resorted to marching in vague circles and limaçons and ellipses and helices in the jungle unless airmen sent by FUCCRS—Foreign-U.S.A. Connection Communication Relay Service—dictated otherwise, which no, today they did not. Scrumbleknut and Crampton brought these girls from a nearby village which we passed every three or four days. Scrumbleknut had a way with translinguistic and -cultural gesticulations, and had either convinced them to dress up or simply found them dressed up in makeshift áo nhật bình formed from loose fabric. Bickley, who had been standing far out scouting the ground for anti-personnel arms, reported to me that that night he saw written on the back of the shorter girl in childish majuscule lettering ᴄʀᴀᴍᴘ, and on that of the leaner one, ᴋɴᴜᴛ. We had encountered other young women who owned these makeshift áo and used them for what seemed like a sort of juvenile and mirthy rôleplay—we’d witnessed many performances. Sometimes secretly in the case of Scrumbleknut. He was big and burly and had an affinity for east Asian women—he said they were “the most innocent things on God’s forsaken Earth” with drool leaking out of his mouth onto his sallow, pustular chin even as he watched an all-female Vietcong guerilla militia named the Sác Bạn Gái attack and nearly kill our FUCCRS airman Jewgeni Gambolix. He talked of how at home he studied Japanese women’s speech and imagined their acclivitous intonation—nē!, aramā…, uchi. And, of these women, he had no problem killing them, watching their souls leave their bodies as those bodies fall to the dirt ground. Ersatzky would tell a joke his father told him, that Scrumbleknut had a bad case of “yellow influenza.” You can’t say that anymore, but we said it a lot back then, solely as a descriptor of the Knut. It wasn’t always jocular—you would catch him sitting amidst dry shrubs and bushes, or in a trench he’d dug out long ago, belt and trousers down to his knees with binoculars glued to his eyes, and us, the Americans, seeing small figures moving playfully in a village around a few chains away, would waltz up to whatever he was so entranced by, only to realize they were girls—expected—and they were pubescent—unexpected the first time, but not long after. Then we’d scare the kids away and the Knut would holler and yell and someone would surely that night be the recipient of capital and spinal strikes from the Knut’s BAT, which was not an initialism, he just always screamed the name. Scaring the kids was never for the sake of scaring the kids for us, at least not for Bickley and me—it was because the Knut had derived his nickname not just from an ellipsis of his full patronym, but because he was, to put it mildly and/or euphemistically, “(k)nutty,” Crampton’s words, i.e. he was known to do things on a whim. Amorally so. He arguably had no conscience and only two primal modes: sex and murder. Sometimes intertwined. One time, when we still got non-FUCCRS transmissions from Gambolix, checking in with each of us, asking how we were holding up in the awfully hot Sác, it was Scrumbleknut’s turn, and he took the radio out to a horticultural village and had Gambolix listen to a woman dying. He had cut her throat with a machete, and was laughing and entranced. He said “Jewgeni,”—pronounced the J-E-W as jew instead of yev despite having heard it a thousand more times than he had seen it written out—“Jewgeni, this is fucking amazing. Have you ever felt what this feels like? Watching this?” Stuttering Jewgeni Gambolix responded with a disgusted and panicked no. The Knut clicked off the radio, villagewoman still a-gurgle, but not for long. When the Knut came back, he was adjusting his trousers. A short-lived nickname for Scrumbleknut thereafter was the Bashy Bazooka—we didn’t expect him to know what a bashibazouk was. There was no jolly irony in that name. And so what we began to call him when he wasn’t around, the Company outside of his company, was Urmensch. He was an Urmensch—if you go to the Navy, the Air Force, etc. intentionally, you find a fair amount of them in your squadron. That or you become one. My father was an Urmensch, not unlike Scrumbleknut. He was named Occidenzo, though the paternal side of my family was full of Britons who had been in America since the Revolution, not Italians. And no one really ever called him Occidenzo til his soul had gone ex vivo—just “the Man,” “Mister Hisser,” “Ozzy,” “the Big O.,” “Majordom-O,” variants thereof. Or Dad. Dad looked really similar to me, more so than most consanguineous look-alikes. He never balded more than a hundred odd hairs, lacked the prominent schnoz of Barbara, my mother. She hated the Man. Towards the end, she moped and cried every time he spoke to her, her tears wiping away and pulling down loose guiches which hugged her cheekbones and temples. Perhaps I was too drunk, secretly of course, on the Big O.’s stash of cinnamon Fireball to properly recall what she was doing and gesturing at, but I recall her upstanding from her seat, screeching at the Man, irate gesticulations transforming into shaky indices pointing at rashes and welts which stretched like striae from her chelidons to her wrists. On that day it was a Wednesday, and there was no school. It was snowing. I was then the centerpiece of a household miasma of the influenzal variety. The Big O. could be heard yelling at Madeleine and tearing up her bedding—earlier, she had boughten a large cookie and given him but a measly moiety. Mom was in the kitchen beheading a hen from the coop who could no longer lay eggs, and it was clear she was trying to distract herself, because as much and as horribly as she loved Madeleine, she knew if she interfered with the Big O.’s strict proceeding of capital blows and gluteal slaps, she would be added to his waitlist, so she was in the kitchen, preoccupying herself by practicing the ablauts of English—drink, drank, drunk, sing, sang, song, sung—attempting to give each a concise Peorian English nominal definition and/or tense-cum-aspect. It was when an osteoid CUR-A-ACK! resonated down the Persian-fitted steps of the stairflight against the western wall in the parlor that Mom’s head and mine pivoted and halted at once, in different spots but our gazes converging to a singularity, that young feminine screeching of agony—the sight of which was concealed by a stucco ceiling above industrial ducts and pipes and tubes—shaking the house. I remember Mom running up the stairs, her heels falling into on each carpeted step, and she burst into Madeleine’s room, and there was the Urmensch in the Big O.’s vessel. He was smiling widely, holding a tome in his hand and beating Madeleine, her aching body, to a pulp. You could see her leg was broken orthogonally, and the Big O. was there grinning with a toxic rictus, like a suspended zygomatic convulsion. I remember my mother calling it rictus mortis—the grin of death—the week before I left. Dad was at a pub that night. It had then been six years since he broke Madeleine’s leg, and that was the first time I asked my mother about it. She said, with apprehension, as though he was still watching her, that no matter how many times Dad serenaded her on how deeply sorrowful he was, how unbelievable it was that he would do such a thing to his daughter, how horrible he felt, she will never forget that it took a month for him to even say anything. Only upon mentioning the event herself did he even apologize. It was at 10:36 ᴘ.ᴍ. that we got news that Dad had crashed his jalopy into a BMW at a T-junction south of Main street and died upon impact. His last words to me and Mom were “don’t do anything stupid” followed by some mumbled pejorative and that was the end of it. There were no tears of grief, there was no bereavement.

My first Urmensch pokes above the surface of the subconscious like a turtle crawling up from the depths of the sea to the shore, slowly but surely, while there sat Scrumbleknut, in the frame of my father, drinking cold coffee and laughing, one arm around the girl labelled with his sobriquet, most of us trying to determine whether or not she was of age—her male-length hair made it difficult to tell for some reason. Every direction she turned her head she looked sort of different, but we knew she was a girl since she occasionally let out short expressions of disgust in a Vietnamese dialect we could not parse, and her voice was deep and feminine. She looked both scared and disgusted by the Knut’s hairy hand. We’re all seated around a little bonfire fashioned of branches and twigs and trunks of tillers. Crampton of his girl, long hair, deeply asleep in a swoon: “I’m naming i…it Lilith!”

“You ass,” the Knut tightening his brachial grip around the ᴋɴᴜᴛ-girl, laughing, chelidon behind her neck. “You don’t name a g—k whore…” Former-FUCCRS-messaging-airman-turned-crawling-through-the- Vietnamese-muck-and-mire-type-soldier Thom Sukyingpong reädjusts, making an uncomfortable expression at the Word. We, the white men, sans Scrumbleknut, fall silent.

Bickley turns away from the bonfire to bury something behind him, and without looking back advises “Not while Thom’s here, Knut.”

“What?” Tongue click. “What sez you? What do you care?”

“Well, from your perspective, you wouldn’t want Thom to get pissed and go off and snitch to the Vietcong, right? Even—”


“—though he’s Chinese, not Vietnamese, right?”

“Thai,” Sukyingpong interjects, picking at the soot lodged under his fingernails. “I’m Thai-American.”

“I thought that was part of China.”

Bickley expects Thom is just being pedantic, but hearty laughter escapes his gut: “No!”

“What?” Furrowed brows indicate Bickley is riding through his mind-palace on cavalry, trying to figure this out, and then “Oh! I was thinking of Tibet. Buh-hah!” and he scoops a mound of hot cod into his mouth, then starts exhaling vehemently to cool it down.

The Knut upstands. He’s tall and still holding onto his girl so his height yanks her up and she groans tiredly. “I might be just be a hunk to you guys, but I’m not Goddamned stupid!” So he starts stomping around, stomps right on Bickley’s unshoed foot. You can hear the cracking of knuckles, maybe even bones!

“Knut, you ass!” Bickley springs up like the Knut’s member upon the ᴋɴᴜᴛ-girl crossing her legs, ands jumps around on scarce gravel upon the dirt. The cod falls out of his mouth. A typical reaction among the Company would be to burst into laughter and knee-slappery but Scrumbleknut’s face of Urmenschian contempt is making everyone uncomfortable. And of course, Bickley is very uncomfortable, in pain.

Everyone soon departs for the night, makes up excuses to leave for bed as the Knut’s arm moves around the ᴋɴᴜᴛ-girl’s shoulder as an amorphous mass of muscle fueled by vitriol and brutality. Thom wanders off into the forest and comes back with nothing an hour later, immediately goes to bed. Bickley and I falsely admit we’ve got some planning to do for tomorrow and head off to our yurt. We soon hear Crampton and Scrumbleknut pulling out rope and tearing fabric from clothes and at one point a girl, unclear which one, perhaps neither and an apparition, scream and sob into silence.

That night, Bickley and I had a much shorter conversation than the night previous. “Well, I know those men well, Erik,” he gazed sadly at nothing, into the dark environs of camp I guess, like there was some deep evil swirling in there.

“Walk them back to the village.”

“That’s the right thing to do and it should be so easy, but Knut’s gonna beat the shit out of me. And their home’s only some half a mile that way too. And I can’t even do shit or I risk getting sliced up, shot, and literally banged to death by Knut like that one lady last time Jewgeni called.”

“I…doubt he’s sadistic and gay. You’ve seen how many girls—”

“Ach.” Bickley looks over at the ᴄʀᴀᴍᴘ- and the ᴋɴᴜᴛ-girl, both loosely tied to a sapling’s and blindfolded with parts of their clothes, asleep. “How’d we get such a fucked up demented idiot fucking lunatic in our company.” Not interrogative.

The name of the land we were occupying that night was not Nam nor Cochinchina nor Việt Nam, it was the Orient. It was us, the Europeans, approaching these people as objects of the East, like nineteenth century Britons and Frenchmen learning of Persian harems from a more western sect of the postquranic Orient, how they drew women in their harems with huqqas atilt on malapropos Ottoman carpets, the women painted doffing their hijabs, tantalizing the male “trespassers,” because those Britons and Frenchmen could not figure out any potential activities other than carnal lounging with regards to what those otherly women—whose colors said Britons and Frenchmen could only liken to metals and not skin—could possibly be doing alone in a room so elaborate with geometric Islamic architecture and wainscoting and gül-donned cushions. That was who we were, hold Thom the Thai- and Gambolix the Israeli-American, pale men young and spry and ignorant, not sure how these people we were fighting worked outside the context of comics and cartoons and how they could feel quite as much as we did. We sure saw their agony when we killed them though…a tin-tin-tin-tin-tintinnabular ringing which lacerated our hearts when we saw a young child’s final gaze, or a man’s ultimate scream, or a woman’s last bloody throat-gurgle…I think for us to not have killed ourselves out there in the jungle we needed one of two things: comradery and/or psychopathy. Most of us got through on comradery alone, but even on those other than the Knut, even on Bickley and perhaps some others, there had to be some inhibition of empathy for them to carry out what they did. Maybe it wasn’t mental—Bickley was, after all, known for his on-the-fly moonshine-makin’. In the Zone. Bickley’s grandparents, in fact, had met during l’Exposition Universelle Parisienne de 1900, his grandfather a British engineer-turned-architect-turned-sailor who had continually circumnavigated the Dutch East Indies and was sent to Paris for l’Exposition to ensure le Pavillon de Indes orientales néerlandaises was constantly up and running among the colonial pavilions, and the grandmother was a Moscovian yellow-ticket prostitute, Alexandra “la Shurca” Bickley née Barakov, specializing in sadomasochistic appointments, which included that which made her famous among Russo-degradees—a subset of non-Slavic sexual tourists who specifically ached to be degraded by, say it, a Russian minx: pouring samogon into her clientèle’s eyes and subsequently stomping their genitalia to bits. Good business. Bickley men historically loved that shit, and the great-great-grandfather was no different. “Ya, castigate me, ye minx!”—yes, the double great-grandfather was born a North Englander…or perhaps had picked some language up from Dubliners and Kerrymen alike? Uncertainty on Bickley’s part. The Barakov samogon recipe preservation was originally to ensure Alexandra, and no, that great-great-grandfather shall not be named, that her future daughters and granddaughters may start a filial yellow-ticket business in the States, whereto they had moved in 1903, but it was in 1918, after bearing the children twain she would and could, when she travelled with a one-way (yellow-)ticket to Justingrad, UKR to live with the cetera of the Barakovs, catching wind that her grandfather had passed. The next year, in the shtetl, the Russian Volunteer Army waltzed in and pogromed the area. Most of the women were raped—Alexandra, as Bickley clan legend goes, fearing more sexual trauma atop that of Moscow, cut her hair to pass off as a man, and was killed before she was defiled. The shtetl was a sea of corpses atop each other. We wondered as kids how those soldiers carried out those pogroms and genocides without emotion, and after months there in Nam we understood that some of them, those ones not already too antisemitic, had to have felt some sense of guilt, slaughtering Jews—w/r/t the Pale—in Ukraine Citerior, for no reason other than orderly ones: General knows best… Among us, even those viewing each Vietnamese man as just a “g—k” and each woman as a “bitch” and each child as a “brat,” the extramilitary sense, there was guilt. There was always a supratheatrical tragedy to the days succeeding a mass murder here. It was a terrible guilt transforming Here, the British Orient of 18XX, into the Vietnam of 1970, like that of late-Mahlerian chords in archi tutti and horns. Gambolix giving those needless massacre assignments via crude staticky radio always sounded uneasy. He had seen carnage from high above, and unlike me, thought it was more terrifying than on the ground like it was seeing the world as a god and having to acknowledge that you let these people die before a strange battalion of stout Vietnamese women in uniform began to shoot down your plane as you were trying to find the company which FUCCRS assigned you to, smirking Scrumbleknut with binos in the peripheral, who had, if we’re to believe the many times we’d found him there as the norm, likely shitten his pants and just didn’t care, “eyes on the prize. Yak-yak-yak!”

The ᴄʀᴀᴍᴘ-girl is growling in her sleep like the Knut tonight. I hear what must be another aurally hallucinatory rocket, but it seems so real. The kathoomp! of a Lazy Dog burrowing into the ground sounds off somewhere outside tonight’s base, to the north.

• • •

In the morning, Ersatzky, cup of militaristic faux café au lait in hand, sits beside the ᴋɴᴜᴛ-girl. One of the guys had given her his button-up shirt to wear. Scrumbleknut had gone out anti-personnel scouting with Bickley, and Crampton’s catatonic—the ᴄʀᴀᴍᴘ-girl knocked his socks off and ran off into the jungle this morning, finally doffing her mock áo nhật bình. No one cares enough to really do anything, since we know he’ll come to soon. Thom Sukyingpong lays on a log, gazing up at arboreal foliage. Ersatzky is the worst-versed in the Vietnamese tongue, so he, in the introductions, resorts to primal chest thumping in conjunction with speaking his name (“James”, pointing towards his thorax) and then pointing to the ᴋɴᴜᴛ-girl and giving an inquisitive look, head tilting.

She looks confused and worried and paranoid, as a kidnapped girl does, and slowly, articulately, carefully says, “Tôi…là…Trinh…” Her hesitation’s the same as ours would be had Ersatzky spoken to her instead of resorting to grunting like a wild animal. She basically sounds like she was talking to aliens, that which we might as well be.

I, overhearing Vietnamese conversation, swivel. “Trinh? Her name’s Trinh, James.”

Ersatzky upstands, shakes soot off his trousers. “Trinh…Trinity…ach, my love!” a hand covers an eye and he gazed upward dramatically—he’s trying to obscure his bereavement with irony. It’s a common practice among those company-clown privates who realized long ago that in the Vietnamese jungle, with Lazy Dogs a-rain, mines a-planted, Vietcong and American vengeance rampantly gallivanting across minds Occidental and Eastern alike, there is not much humor to be found. It is the Theater of War—tragic to the soldiers, comedic to the overlings, and both to those who could never understand.

I sigh as Ersatzky paces back and forth. He set himself off, thinking about Home. “Your girl’s name was Serenity, man. No, not even, that was her sister! Your girl was Faith!” I look behind him at Trinh. “Chào…” She waves. It’s a face of contempt. “Trinh?” Nods.

When Scrumbleknut returns with Bickley he puts Trinh’s blindfold back on which had Ersatzky had doffed in the morn and calls after us to follow him forth into the jungle, Trinh limp and agitated in hand. Groaning: “Đụ má…người Mỹ ngu…” She hits a tree and the Knut and Crampton laugh. Trinh estimates the Knut’s position aurally and spits in his vicinity, a deed to which the Knut pokes her chest with the barrel of his rifle. We’ve sort of cut loose from the grand helical ambulatory ovals of yore…the Knut guided us now in a straight line through the Sác, and it was around four or five hours along the trail, finally at twilight, at which PHASE II of Scrumbleknut’s plan began. He explains to us while holding a still blindfolded Trinh that the night prior, he had had a dream, a vision, of this river—he points behind him—of women bathing galore, and so he brought us, his men, a determinative phrase which Cpt. Bickley raises an eyebrow to, to finally relax, a break from the horrors of War, a beautiful bacchanal like that of the Romans.

From behind him: “Hallo, Herren!”

“Jo, hallo!”

“Kommt! wir sind eure Rheintöchter, Herren!”

Crampton’s eyebrows go worried and frantic. “Ach! Nazis! They’ve rejoined the Eastern Bloc!” He aims his rifle, eye a-wink. “Father, I made you this promise…” Rarely does Crampton show this much familial patriotism—only to his WWII-vet pops. Sort of sweet but terrifying.

Bickley rests his hand on Crampton’s trigger arm. “They’ve joined the Bloc…as fair rivermaidens…?”

“Lots of roles to fill, Bickley. They’re everywhere…”

And now Scrumbleknut: “Well, I’ll be damned! Haa! told you chicks’d be here!”

“Er…” the rightmost Rheintochter grimaces and yanks on a nonexistent necktie ‘round her tattooed neck. “Hall…hello, y’all! And we ain’t ‘Nazis,’ you on the right, only, as the tall man kindly pointed, rivermaidens.” She flashes a metallic nametag, similar to those of American office spaces, though blood below it indicates that she’s pinned it straight through her chest: Floßhilde. The two others, running their hands through their hair and glancing at us, are thus from their nametags assumedly Woglinde and Wellgunde, which most of us find confusing, and so we don’t talk to them much. That lack of communication may also be attributed to the fact that, unlike Floßhilde, the two Ws were attractive Medusae, and we feared if we looked at them and their snake-hair for too long, we’d turn to stone, and how does FUCCRS write home about that? or categorize that manner of death?

Wellgunde downs a chipped bottle of Heineken, and it catches Crampton’s eye. The Knut is the first to make the innuendo, though: “You can really down that bottle, huh?”

She spits out her wine and takes aback the Knut. “Pfaugh! god, you men…” Trinh, despite never showing comprehension of English, gets the innuendo from the Knut’s eh? eh? expression and Wellgunde’s reaction, and she also shows tired disgust.

Scrumbleknut frowns. “What of us, eh?”

“Ugh…” Floßhilde groans. “Another penis-obsessed man-child? You look around twenty, no?”


“Twenty-one? Old enough to drink where you’s from? And here you are, pointing at everything that leaves a linear shadow and making a big ruckus outta it. Have your men not brought up to you how stupid that is? or are they just immature too?”

We yell in unison as the Knut looks back at us for advice, “Not us, ma’am!”

The Knut tells her, “I just meant it as a joke!”

“Alright…? It sucked ass,” Woglinde hands Floßhilde a lighter and a cig.

“Is it in y’all’ses nature? I guess pointing out every ‘dick’ is easy for you guys. Just so noticeable, hmm? We,” she looks at the Ws, “we don’t point out every trench, hole, opening, as a vagina! We never have, outside of dick jokes made by men alone.”

“Well, excuse me,” Scrumbleknut approaches the stream akimbo, “I assumed three naked women in water gesturing towards incoming men wouldn’t be so taken aback by just ol’ flirting.” His current gesture is one he’d likely laugh at any of us for making on grounds of looking effeminate.

Wellgunde belches. “Shut up, asshole.”

“We didn’t even gesture,” Woglinde lighting her own cig with Floßhilde’s. “Just said hallo.”

“Ach…” Floßhilde looks back at us. “Any help, boys?” We look at each other absentmindedly. “Well, screw me, you’re all our third company today, and that’s been our eighteenth dick joke. Great fun! I mean please,” cough, “is no stick sacred to you?” The Ws chortle. “Maybe,” Floßhilde turning away, “because the yoni is defined by an absence of space, we don’t see it as ubiquitous—we tend to only think about what’s real.”

Woglinde: “So, like…not your chances of an orgy. Sorry, bud.” The Rheintöchter then each left, dove under the bubbling stream, arms twisting together upwards above their heads, then each would flip around her yaw a bit, then her pitch severely, the origin being her navel, diving headfirst into the stream until only her legs showed, upside-down, and then she was none. The Knut did throw himself in after them in a last-ditch effort to fulfill his vision, but they had, in fact, gone.

We sat that night just before a large opening near the stream, where the Knut was still soaked. Trinh, finally unblindfolded, was attempting to cover her smirk all throughout the evening.

I am unable to give Scrumbleknut any comfort, out of ethics. But Bickley tries. “Need a blanket, Tim?”

“Yeah,” he shudders. And then, around five minutes later, he snaps. Perhaps from the cold or perhaps from the Urmensch within finally breaking free after months of chiseling away from the inside of Scrumbleknut’s endoskeleton like a prisoner breaking out of his karma. He stands straight up and spits on Bickley, and he takes Trinh by the arm and yanks her up, tosses her over his shoulder, and he screams the loudest any of us have ever heard a scream be, even when we did genocide villages as commanded by a reluctant but acquiescent Gambolix. This scream was so loud that Trinh may have, for a second, completely given up hope of resisting, which for her consisted of pounding on the Knut’s back over and over until something broke.

We were all calling after Scrumbleknut as he ran into the field, Trinh screaming, curved near parabolically around his shoulders. The Knut’s gallop was like that of a feagued horse. By God! his libido inhibited his ability to walk! He was galloping into the darkness of the forest before us! And though one saw how Trinh escaped from the grasp of Scrumbleknut, when she came back out of the darkness she was skipping, dancing around like a particle of paisley finally unsuspended from fabric, almost…gallivanting, and then there came the Knut running out after her, ungraceful as always, again, he looked as though he had been feagued, this time like it was Trinh herself who feagued him, shoved an Vietnamese river eel up his ass, running through the meadow, still wet and dewey from the morn, yes the Knut was galloping like a wild animal who had been starving for a week, and on his sixth or seventh stride—bowop! a sound exponentially louder than any orthographic representation could indicate. It blew out my ears and I felt earthly debris slap my face. Trinh was now really dancing, under the rain of blood. She dug her heel into Scrumbleknut’s decapitated head and laughed. Ersatzky, who didn’t have the same East Asian affinity as Scrumbleknut did but still viewed them as, disgustingly, “innocent creatures,” was more shocked by Trinh’s behavior and demeanor than his “comrade” getting blown to shit. Bickley stared in awe, and Crampton had a nervous guffaw at the miserable display, intestinal tissue and other unidentifiable flesh suspended in the air by high twigs.

“Knut!” two men yelled. I never found out which.

Trinh was the happiest she’d been throughout all her kidnapping. Bickley later wondered if that was indicative of the Knut doing something to her while we weren’t looking beforehand. But even through her cackling joy, she looked shocked. It was such a sudden death that even she could not come to terms with its brisk execution.

We marched back to base after what felt like a day under a nonsetting moon. Most of us had been simply unable to move. Even minutes later, carnal debris was still falling from the sky, like the beginning of a rapture in some old Christian denomination’s eschatology. Trinh, who we expected to simply leave, followed us back, though at a distance. There was a cool silence as if Scrumbleknut’s voice, at any point, would pop up. Anticipatory nothings. They were especially tense when, around three chains outside base, we saw Floßhilde and the twain Ws dead, eyes leaking out of their skulls like the glair of an egg. In the morning, after uneasy sleep from all parties, Trinh had departed and taken some of our food. Bickley was not particularly mad, and he called up FUCCRS to let them take care of it, and to alert them that Pvt. Timothy Scrumbleknut had died.