January 7, 2016 Comments Off on The War, On Drugs By Todd Mercer
We have no idea why we’re out on patrol, getting our asses shot off, helping people who don’t want help.
Every time we’re pinned behind trees or boulders, taking fire, someone wounded, I think, this would be unbearable if we weren’t high as hell. The war on drugs — it’s definitely better than a lucid, clear-headed war. You’d be out of your mind to pick that.
Sometimes new guys rotate in here and try to swing it straight up, but they see that it’s a horror show. They come around to medicating. Almost all of them. They ask, can I spare some of that stuff for a brother? and I say, yeah brother, I can.
Among the long-timers, only Private Dawkins abstains. That’s because he fights the war on Jesus. The every other word is Jesus kind of Jesus-y. It keeps him wired, like the drugs do for us. Jesus is his co-pilot. He might be schizophrenic, I’m thinking. He might do worse back in The World than now. He might die a hero because he’s the last to get his head down when we’re under fire.
I write home and tell my folks that we’re building schools, because they’re worriers.
When I shipped over here the unit’s detail was burning poppy fields. On poppy fields. Not so bad.
I wouldn’t have re-upped another tour like I did had I known the great brain trust would re-assign us as sniper-targets day on day. There is absolutely nothing of military value up this way.
Why are we doing this?
No one tells the platoon. Shooting at shadows in mountain passes. Taking the ridge and giving up the ridge. Hey, here’s your ridge back. Enjoy. Why? Orders, that’s all I know. Someone’s orders. Better to dream it away.
We’re winning the war on drugs, if we have any chance of winning it at all.
© 2015 Todd Mercer
Todd Mercer won the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts Flash Fiction Award for 2015, the first Woodstock Writers Festival Flash Fiction Award, two Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Prizes, and was runner-up in the Palm Beach Plein Air Poetry Awards. His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance appeared in 2015 at Right Hand Pointing. Mercer’s poetry and fiction have appeared in The Camel Saloon, Camroc Press Review, Cease, Cheap Pop, Dunes Review, Eunoia Review, Kentucky Review, The Lake, The Legendary, Literary Orphans, Main Street Rag Anthologies, Midwestern Gothic, River Lit, and Spartan.
July 13, 2015 Comments Off on A Swamp in the National Forest By Todd Mercer
Dinner is still hot on the table in the amateur revolutionaries’ cabin when the Politicals team knocks the front door out of its casing. Eggplant parmagiana. Cole slaw.
Tracking dogs sniff dirty clothes in a basket next to the washing machine. They go back out the busted door and drag their handlers northeast, into the forest.
The commander says to Eddie, the newest one, “Stay here in case they’re nearby, waiting for us to leave.”
The rest of the enforcement squad makes their way up the wooded ridge from the house, dodging overgrown underbrush. Down the far side’s slope, where the beeches and maples give over to swamp cedar, the dogs get excited.
Eddie walks a tight perimeter around the cabin’s immediate grounds, sees zero agitators, hears the dogs baying.
He goes back inside where yellow lights over the wasted food remind him of meals sacrificed to family arguments in the latter part of his childhood. Dad shouting until no one can swallow their food: Criminals in Congress. Eddie, get a haircut already. Can Mom make two meals in a row without burning one of them? Who are these greaseballs that come for your sister and honk their goddamned horns in the driveway and don’t even face me like men? Eventually everyone would lose their fear and take to shouting back. Dinners were a problem.
The dogs must be out of range from the cabin, or else muzzled. No indications for a while.
Eddie cuts a square of the casserole and eats it with the serving spoon. He’s almost done before he realizes he’s consumed evidence. He’s often hungry and forgetting himself when alone.
For a while anyway, the cabin was a nice safe haven for these lefties. People with out-there ideas who nonetheless could cook well. Being here must have been a relief for them. This far off the main road, with public land abutting the property, they must have felt like all was going to work out for the best. They would be able to plan something undisturbed. There would be a chance for a grand statement.
That many men and dogs and guns, it’s only a matter of time. A sure thing. Eddie wipes his hands and sweeps the grounds, expecting to find nothing, finding it.
© 2015 Todd Mercer
Todd Mercer won the first Woodstock Writers Festival’s Flash Fiction contest. His chapbook, Box of Echoes, won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press contest and his digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance, was published by Right Hand Pointing in 2015. Mercer’s poetry and fiction appear in journals such as Apocrypha & Abstractions, The Camel Saloon, Camroc Press Review, Cheap Pop, Eunoia Review, The Lake, The Legendary, Midwestern Gothic and theNewer York.
April 7, 2015 Comments Off on They Bought Raymond Carver’s Kitchen Table at a Garage Sale By Todd Mercer
Two fairly dissatisfied, vaguely middle class people sit at it for most of the evening. They bat words back and forth.
An inauspicious weeknight of pretty much nothing.
Practically identical to other weeknight evenings.
They consider having another couple over to play bridge or canasta. It doesn’t happen. They consider splitting up, but that’s a lot of legal rigmarole.
Out in the wider world, there must be people with as much nothing in their evenings. Maybe if they find those people, they won’t feel so disconnected. That’s if they decide to get up and leave the house.
It has four sturdy legs and a tile top. They eat their generally-okay but no-great-shakes dinners on it. Certain distinguished table aficionados would gush about its quotidian beauty, its streamlined utility.
It was cheap. The couple didn’t want to eat from collapsible tray tables in front of the TV anymore. They wondered if their shows had been causing her digestion problems or his occasional spontaneous crying.
He’d said, “We should buy this table.”
She’d said, “It’s perfect.”
They bat enough words around that they can feel the hours pass. Eventually. Right now. It’s still the same time it was the last time he asked her what time it was.
They’re desperate for something interesting to happen.
Just about fucking anything.
It won’t, but the table was too good a deal to pass up.
© 2014 Todd Mercer
Todd Mercer won the first Woodstock Writers Festival’s Flash Fiction contest. His chapbook, Box of Echoes, won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press contest, and his digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance, is forthcoming from RHP Books. Mercer’s poetry and fiction appear in Apocrypha & Abstractions, Blue Collar Review, The Camel Saloon, Camroc Press Review, Cease, Cows, among many others. Mercer is based in Grand Rapids and Antrim County, Michigan.
December 15, 2014 Comments Off on Trinity Ridge Burial Options By Todd Mercer
Bear could kill with his hands, but he doesn’t have to get them dirty these days.
His Cornbread Clean-up Squad makes house calls for troublemakers, their resting places in state forest thickets, clay creek banks. When Bear is angry, and the problem isn’t just a business issue, the Cornbreads leave the corpse in the family’s water well.
As a courtesy, the old man tells the next one, “Get ready.”
If they’re smart and love life they leave the fiefdom, if smarter they steer clear of all of Appalachia. Bear is an absolute monarch, but only twenty-thirty miles each way out of Trinity.
The local mortician favors planning. He calls Bear — his best customer — to keep a gauge on incoming traffic.
Bear said, “Get ready,” to me once, and he was for sure angry. The Cornbreads tailed my car out of town and out onto the ridge proper. I knew what went on, we all did, but I didn’t save anyone from becoming worm food, poison in a well. In Trinity Ridge we fail together at that.
I left in the night, that night, messing with the mortician’s schedule. I wasn’t ready yet.
© 2014 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. His chapbook Box of Echoes won the Michigan Writers Cooperative Press contest. Mercer’s poetry and fiction appear in Blue Collar Review, The Camel Saloon, Cease, Cows, Dunes Review, and Eunoia Review, among many others.
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.