The Captain of the Circular Firing Squad By Todd Mercer

February 24, 2014 Comments Off on The Captain of the Circular Firing Squad By Todd Mercer

Chambers was appointed Captain of the Circular Firing Squad. It seemed a terrific honor. There was much feasting in the capitol, a ticker-tape parade down the main street of Potempkin. The Captain was selected from a different branch of the service — the powers that be don’t promote from within. No one, so far, has the time to advance after joining the cadre.

The Shovel-work Squad stays busy around the base, digging holes and (when needed) filling holes in. Anything about trenches, see those guys. The Captain watches them scurrying in and out of the barracks. Weeks pass without a duty notice for his own squad.

“Hang in there, Chambers,” the Colonel tells him. “Sooner or later we’ll work up a situation for your team. This is an organization, you know, so count on it.”

“Yes sir, sir,” Chambers says, slicing the air with his machete of a salute. “…sir.”

Chambers wants his commitment to shine through. At the base’s library he hunts for information on the great leaders of circular firing squads in history. No luck. Nothing to emulate in the official record.

Everyone acts as if he is going away, even though his assignment is not expected to take him overseas.  Unnerving.  When he steps off base in the evenings, the Captain of the Circular Firing Squad can’t pay for a drink. Each time the cost is absorbed by the house, glad to have him in the place, or by random grateful civilians, saluting his service to the nation.

Last night he closed down the watering hole. The bartender said, “We put up a pretty good front here in Potempkin, but buddy, these folks are going to miss you, from the Mayor to the drunk tank regulars.”

Every afternoon a private chef appears from nowhere and asks Chambers to name exotic foods he’d like. At 5 p.m. the chef delivers what was requested, perfectly prepared and in large portions. After a couple of days on the base, he realized the other officers eat only the traditional chow hall slop.

Someone’s been leaving books on his cot, and he takes the titles for a message.

The rank and file enlisted personnel that comprise the Circular Firing Squad do little during duty hours but lounge about the squad room and get short, move into each other’s personal space, and tire increasingly of each other’s boring stories, neurotic eccentricities. “This bunch needs a project soon, Chambers tells the Colonel in the wake of another pushing and shoving dust-up.

“Something’s in the pipeline, hold tight, Captain. Have your people clean their weapons.”

After twilight florists pull up in a caravan of Dodge Caravans. They stack the barracks’ front steps and the yard beyond with tasteful bouquets. Someone’s lined the walkway with candles.

The Captain sees the Colonel in the doorway, nodding with full gravitas.

“Here we go!” he calls out, snapping the squad to attention. “Time to shine at what we do!”

The people of Potempkin have a parade slated for next week.

© 2013 Todd Mercer

Todd Mercer won the Woodstock Writers Festival’s Flash Fiction contest and took 2nd and 3rd place of the Kent County Dyer-Ives Prizes in 2013. He judged the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards and Independent Publisher’s Poetry Book of the Year contest multiple years. His chapbook Box of Echoes won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press contest. Mercer’s poetry appears in Thema, Blue Collar Review and Black Spring Review.

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