The big green killing machine: They sit with God in paradise.
It was a hellishly hot African day. Mac stood behind the young Danish girl, who sat at a table in the open air. He’d rigged a tarpaulin shade over them to give some relief from the midday sun. They’d never quite worked Mac out. What he didn’t appear to have in terms of any obvious noble intentions, he more than made up for by being eminently practical. The tarp he’d put up and at the same time the gun he’d insisted on carrying, were typical of Mac’s bipolar touches. In front of them stretched a long line of people waiting their turn with stoic African resignation.
Starvation and heat will do that to you. They both slowly grind you down. As each family eventually arrived at the table, the girl stamped their hands with indelible ink and gave them a food voucher, which they took over to the relief lorries. There it would be exchanged for a small bag of rice, enough to keep them going for a day or two. Squeeze it, mebbe three.
They were starving. The rains had come too late to prevent what pitiful crops they grew withering away. They still grew the same shit poor varieties that came out of Mesopotamia thousands of years ago; none of your GM drought resistant seeds for them. That stuff wouldn’t be in their best interests, their betters in far away foreign lands had decided for them.
They all had their children with them, so they could get extra rice for each one. No kid, no extra voucher, no excuses. Show me the kid, then you get the rice. The children, even the babies, got their hands stamped too. It was a nice simple system that quickly portioned out the food, while making sure nobody got more than their fair share. They’d warned them in advance, anyone with a severed hand would get nothing.
A particularly gaunt woman carrying a swaddled up baby in her arms, arrived at the table. There was something in her manner that alerted Mac straight away. She seemed to be calm, happy and totally disconnected from the whole situation. He’d seen that before; the walking dead. It was a sort of final outward burst of light before the candle winked out forever; the last spark of the soul. She smiled serenely at the Danish girl as her hand got stamped. The Danish girl reached over for the baby’s hand to stamp it too. The mother unwrapped the baby’s arm and leaning over the table, offered it for stamping. The woman smiled, proud as any mother is to show off their baby.
The whole arm was starting to decompose, you could already see tiny white bones. Lovely white bright bones really. Miniatures.
The Danish girl froze, unable to react. The woman said something and held the baby’s hand out a bit more urgently; she was getting ready to fight for her baby’s bag of rice. Mac reached across the Danish girl and picking up the stamp, held the baby’s hand and stamped it gently, very gently and carefully. It was as light as the most tender lover’s kiss. He gave the mother two food vouchers and pointed her towards the trucks where they doled out the rice. She wrapped up her baby again and walked off slightly huffed. She, like her baby, would be dead before the sun came up and the hungry would soon find the two bags of rice. That’s just the everyday brutality of famine.
The Danish girl turned to look up at him. She still looked to be in shock. Before she could say anything, he smiled at her, rubbed her cheek with the back of his curled fingers and nodded at the line of people still waiting. Mac knew simply touching, tapping and sometimes just hitting people hard, snapped them out of shock. With her, just a touch would do. His forefinger extended across her cheek and onto her lips sealing them, giving her an out from having to talk, to having to come out with an explanation right this very minute. They’d talk about it together later. ‘You’ve got a lot more customers, just keep going’ he said. She gave him that trusting look he’d grown to know, and got back to stamping hands and handing out vouchers. Good for you, girl. The routine soon settled her back down.
The afternoon wore on and more and more people drifted in, to take their place at the end of the line. Pretty soon, the tension started to build. Mac could see them doing the calculation as the line shuffled forward. Would there be any rice left for them by the time their turn came? As the numbers swelled, he knew the answer to that one and so did they.
He could hear the voices starting to be raised as the fights broke out in the distance and could see the back of the line starting to splinter and disintegrate, as people fought each other to get nearer to the front. The end of what used to be a line, became a growing black triangle moving inexorably in their direction. The wave of desperation was coming towards them like a burning fuse. People nearer the front turned to look back over their shoulder to see what was going on.
He watched it developing for a few moments before making up his mind. Mac casually unslung the weapon from around his shoulder and seemed to be idly fiddling with it but he was really just getting it into his hands, flicking the safety off and turning the fire selector over to fully automatic – putting it on crowd control. Rock and roll mode.
He leaned over and spoke quietly into her ear. ‘We’re out of here. Just stand up quietly and walk to the trucks. Don’t run.’ She didn’t understand, turning to look at him quizzically. He repeated it in German, a language he knew she was far more comfortable with than English. She didn’t appear to understand and went back to processing the next one.
He squeezed her shoulder just hard enough to hurt her, to feel her bones, to get her attention and hissed ‘We have to get out of here.’ She was a lovely kid but simply didn’t have the awareness to see what was happening right in front of her. He grabbed her upper arm firmly and dragged her forcibly to her feet.
Just get up girl. She finally saw the riot exploding towards them but reacted by going into shock, stiffening up and refusing to do anything. She fell over but he needed one hand on the gun, so he grabbed at whatever he could get at, which was her hair and dragged her along. Come on girl, help me fucking out here. Get up, kick your legs or at least get angry. Come on, come on. He shouted and pleaded at her as he tried to get her upright and moving.
The crowd surged at them and he opened up with some careful bursts over their heads. Nobody was going to get killed. He wasn’t here to do anything like that. Just back out of there and share the threat around to keep them at bay. Show them the eye contact and show them you will very definitely kill them. It’ll all be okay. You can still control this thing.
No, you had what was left of the food and you looked to be running away – they had to make a try for it and you were just someone between them and it.
It all went rapidly to shit.
He was zapping people just to keep them back but while their frustration couldn’t get to him, it got to the trailing edges of her. Christ help me here. Please. Slowly but surely, in the ferocious slowmo fashion of all truly nightmarish things, they chopped her to pieces. They got to the bits he couldn’t protect. Too many people, not enough bullets, too much fright, even on Mac’s part. She began to do a lot of screaming but even then, wouldn’t struggle for her life and now it was down to personal survival.
Fight girl, please God, please God, please just fucking fight. In the end, she called out to him just once using his name, but it was only her way of giving up and saying goodbye to him and whether she knew it or not, releasing him out of there to live.
Silence. White silence.
Some decisions are simple and they’re shit. He did the deed, let go of that hunk of hair, backed for the truck and hoped it was still there. It was, and letting go of her distracted them just long enough. They fell on her like avenging wolves and ripped her to pieces, because she was a lot easier than you to work out some rage on. He saw that, and it would be chiseled into the granite of his memory forever. While they chopped her up as a distraction, he got away.
Mac simply murdered his way to safety and out of there. Come near me, I will fucking kill you. Guaranteed. And he killed all comers, killed them indiscriminately.
It’s the morning of the next day and there’s a lot of people running around. And that’s all they’re doing. They’re just running around. There’s not much sense to the activity and Mac’s just been sitting there on the bench, looking at various people flashing by and talking very seriously about “our” people. One of them even comes up to him and Mac thinks he’s so young and earnest, he should be out there somewhere delivering newspapers or offering you investment advice, which you know you can safely ignore.
A muscle in Mac’s right thigh starts to twitch uncontrollably and he resists the impulse to hammer his heel up and down like a mad drummer in a rock group. He puts his hand on it and presses down hard. It seems to help.
The kid’s got some great job title and he’s talking at Mac ever more stridently to get his attention, as if to make some big grandstand point at head office and Mac watches his mouth open and close silently, like an unusually fast-talking goldfish, but Mac’s thinking about a binary option. If he wasn’t so tired, he could just simply reach out and snap his entire fucking head off. A simple trick of the hand. Fingers around the back of the neck, thumb up to anchor the chin on the other side and a quick muscular rotate. So easy.
The kid suddenly realises option one is just Mac going postal, which starts with Mac ending him, just to shut him the fuck up. A wonder to behold, he does have some sort of rudimentary survival instinct. He suddenly goes quiet and buggers off, so Mac gets left alone to stew and they all walk around him very carefully until they need him in for the inevitable meeting. Mac’s waiting patiently, because he’s exhausted, got nowhere better to go to, and knows why in the end, they’ll want him in there too. We all have to do penance for our sins and Mac feels he deserves his nose rubbed in the terrible consequences of his actions. Well in.
It’s been a disaster and they all know it. He was the one person who argued from the start that it couldn’t be anything other than a bad idea to go in unarmed and understrength and yet, and yet he rigged up for the gig, because he thought he might still be the one who could keep control of the whole damn thing. What an arrogant fool he’d been. The sin of pride. He got them all killed. He’d somehow known in his heart that this one was going to go all over the joint, but he’d gone along with it.
They’d still trusted him to look after them and now they’re all dead. He should have held a gun on them, rather than giving them a false sense of security by going along with the bloody stupid madness. His mouth should have reflected exactly what was in his head – I will shoot anyone who’s stupid enough to try trucking into this spectacularly bad idea. He’d ended up shooting innocent people anyway. Men, women and probably a few children. When you blast away, who counts the hits? He’d need some fucking satellite imagery to sort out his exact share of the body count. Mebbe he could get an independent number from Amnesty International.
His mind was all over the place but he no longer cared.
They do the emergency meeting and it’s all about rescuing people but Mac’s the only one in the room sitting there with dried blood spatters on him. They talk on and on, and eventually he leans back on the chair, and it’s somehow an act of God, that he tilts his head over the back of the thing and stares at the ceiling. It releases him. There’s no sky, ciel or himmel there but the message is writ large across it. It’s an acceptance that this is the last meeting, the last round table and the last of anything he’ll ever do with any of these people, because their best intentions are just as lethal as their worst. God save us from our friends.
From now on, he’ll do his own thing but they’re still yapping on about a rescue mission. Shit, what do they think this is, some fucking Hollywood movie? They’re magically going to find people alive after hundreds of starving people have worked off all that rage about their impending death on a few well-fed whites?
It’s not that they’re stupid or ignorant, it’s just that they’re in that middle channel between both those faults, and won’t get out of it. They simply have no idea what desperation can do to people. As the one person in the room who didn’t have their thumb up their arse in terms of organizing a “rescue” mission, he started putting it together. He was tired, exhausted but he knew he’d do it. One more whack, once more into the breach, one more carry for the Gipper, but this is definitely the last hop with these people, with any people. It’s going to be Mac by himself from now on.
They got back there, and this time around, Mac got as many guns as he wanted, carried by as many bodies as they could scrape together and put out into the field. No swinging dicks carrying lots of firepower, no rescue mission. They arrived in force. Of course, by the time they got back there, everyone had run away. It’s natural, nobody wants to be punished, whether they did anything or not.
No Siree Bob, there are no survivors. They started humping what’s left of the bits of them up onto the trucks. There’s a man and he’s talking at Mac. At a guess, Mac thinks he’s Swedish from the cadence and speaks their usual excellent but stilted English. His mouth is going at a rate of knots but his eyes look at Mac desperately. He still wants to believe in his comfort blanket fantasy of some innate third world superior decency. You know, that usual bollocks about the ennobling effect of grinding poverty and the delusion of calmly accepting death by something as brutal as slow starvation, without ever kicking back. Oh to live in his lovely little world.
Most people do not go gladly into that good night; they fight tooth and nail every damn inch of the way. He’s learning what hunger and desperation can really do to ordinary human beings. Both of those things are probably outlawed in Sweden. It’s such a wonderfully civilised country.
It’s really just a fucker for him that this ain’t Sweden.
He tells Mac the bodies are showing an extraordinary amount of predation and he’s looking to him for assurance it was animals which did it. Mac can see he needs him to do that. No, Mac simply refuses to help out with that one. You can’t confuse cut marks with bite marks, and they both know that. Mac looks at the poor bastard but can’t bring myself to do that final betrayal of her. She deserved so much better. They all did but they didn’t get it.
No more fudging, no more lies. From now on, everyone gets the unvarnished truth. It gets told like it is and screw everyone’s tender sensitivities.
He thinks of that Danish girl and no more half measures. She had dark hazel eyes, to match her hair, and he keeps seeing the trusting gaze of them resting on him. She’d relied on him. He can’t take it and turns his face away and resolves to get drunk to somewhere way beyond the marches of oblivion that night, before he gets out of there for good.
From now on, he’ll do things his own way. No more trying to be a toned-down, well-intentioned team player. He’s now a made man. A heavily motivated man, locked in way too tight to ever disengage. Just cauterise the stump, tie this bad operation off and get the hell out of there. He’s going to have to take a long time out to think it all through, but one thing he already knows, a whole new approach is required.
What happened was the end result of good intentions and ignorant policies, supposed to help out the most needy human beings. It was an incident, a moment, a misjudgment, a fading memory, something long forgotten, and it actually doesn’t matter any more. It now means nothing. They’re all gone. Pretty much, everyone involved is dead, and not long after it all occurred. A bag of rice can only keep a person alive for so long. Mostly, they all sit now with God in paradise, like that nice but cruel song says.
As terrible as it sounds, they were becoming part of Mac’s learning curve. He thought about it. No more treating the wounds. From now on, he’d go after the shooters, and he was a shooter himself, but a different kind of one.
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