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The Retreat 5: Shrooms

Sandra Rawlings watched as Muldoon harassed his lightfighters and the other troops supporting them. Three five ton trucks sat at the edge of a small clearing, their empty beds pointed toward the field, heavy tail gates lowered. The small collection was guarded by one of the remaining Stryker combat vehicles that stood off fifty yards or so, its diesel engine idling. The eight-wheeled infantry combat vehicle was adorned with a GAU-19 .50-caliber Gatling gun mounted in a remote controlled Protector turret, one of two that remained in service with the battalion. Rawlings didn’t care much for the Stryker as a platform in general—it was a bitch to work on, and as a former wrench turner she hated shit that was difficult to care for—but the tri-barreled GAU-19 was another matter entirely. The weapon was a wonder of engineering, and the amount of lead that thing could emit was truly terrifying.

Except to the Klowns, she reminded herself.

She hefted her M4 and watched as Muldoon walked over to Nutter, who was busily spooning food into his mouth from a glass jar. That was an oddity; Army chow rarely if ever came packaged in glass, so she surmised it was something he’d rat-fucked from the dining facility in High Point. Muldoon approached from behind, so Nutter didn’t see him coming. And even though the grass was tall in this meadow she stood in, Rawlings didn’t hear Muldoon make a sound. Despite his size, he moved with the grace of a ninja.

“Colonel Nutter, sir!” Muldoon barked.

Nutter kind of choked at the sound of Muldoon’s voice and turned toward him, a stricken expression on his face. As Muldoon shot the smaller man a jaunty salute—right from his crotch—all Nutter did was quickly chew and swallow whatever was in his mouth.

“Oh hey, Duke,” he said.

“Whatcha eatin’ there, Slick? Buffalo balls, or something?”

“Um—no, they’re not buffalo balls, Duke.”

Muldoon stopped in front of Muldoon and looked down at him, a half-smile on his face, hands on his hips even though they should have been around his M4. Rawlings knew Muldoon was making a statement with his easy stance. Everything was cool. The big NCO’s eyes were unreadable behind his sunglasses.

“Well, if they’re not buffalo balls…what are they?”

“Uh, they’re marinated mushrooms.” Nutter cleared his throat. “You, ah, want some?”

“Mushrooms?” Muldoon took half a step back and grinned. “Mushrooms? Hey Rawlings, you hear this shit, ba—” At the very last moment, Muldoon censured himself. The last thing Rawlings wanted to hear was a man like Muldoon call her “babe”.

“I can hear fine from where I am,” Rawlings replied. “Guarding my lane and all.”

Muldoon snorted and looked back at Nutter. “So, Colonel. Where did you get marinated mushrooms from? Are they funny mushrooms? Laced with PCP or something?”

“No, no. Just plain old marinated mushrooms, Duke.”

“I think the bigger question here leads us to matters of class, Nutter. Why are you eating marinated mushrooms? Were you short of like the rest of the salad they should garnish? I mean, really, you have to admit. A soldier eating marinated mushrooms in a combat zone is some pretty weird shit, right?”

“Come on, Duke. They taste great. Not like something we’d get in an MRE.” Nutter paused. “Well, except for maybe the jalapeno cheese, but no one will trade me for any of that stuff. It’s like the currency of a new nation, you know? So a man has to make due with what a man has. Am I right?”

“I’ve honestly never had a marinated mushroom that I can recall,” Muldoon said. “Am I missing out on some great delicacy, Colonel? Were you going to slalom all those down you little gibbon monkey neck without offering any to the rest of us?”

Nutter shifted about on his feet for a moment. “Well, listen. I’d be happy to give you one, Duke.” With that, Nutter poked his fork into the jar, speared a glistening mushroom, and held it out to Muldoon. The big NCO regarded it like it was an alien life form for a long moment, then snatched the entire jar out of Nutter’s hand in a flash.

“Hey—!” was all Nutter could say.

Muldoon lifted the jar to his mouth and chugged back its entire contents. Rawlings made a sound of disgust. He didn’t even chew the mushrooms, he just shotgunned them down like he was knocking back a beer. Nutter made a sound of his own, though it was infinitely more mournful as vinegar-laced fluid disappeared down Muldoon’s apparently endless gullet in a single stream. If there was a single chug to the sequence, Rawlings couldn’t see it from where she stood.

Muldoon finished up, cleared his throat, and handed the empty vessel back to Nutter. Nutter looked at it, eyes sad, mouth curled downward in a crestfallen frown.

Muldoon smacked his lips. “A little too much vinegar for me, but—oh, hold on…” The big man paused for a moment, then released a cavernous fart that even the driver in the Stryker a hundred feet away heard. “Yeah, that’s gonna be fire later. Thanks for the warning, Colonel.”

“Damn, Duke.” Nutter looked at the empty jar in his hand. “I mean…ain’t even a stem left.”

Muldoon leaned forward and poked Nutter in his chest protector. “I want you on your fucking rifle, paying attention to what the fuck is going on in your lane. I do not want you stuffing your hillbilly face with mushrooms or artichokes or lima beans or whatever the fuck you find in the Underground Hotel, you get me? You’re here to shoot Klowns, and that means you need to have your shit in your hands, not hanging around your neck by its patrol strap. You read me on this, Colonel?”

“Yeah. Yeah, loud and clear, Duke. Shit.”

Muldoon leaned in even closer. “Then drop that jar and get on your fucking rifle!” he thundered, voice so loud that no one in the field could miss it. Rawlings cocked her head to one side. All the running, all the fighting, all the waiting for the Klowns, all the killing. It was finally getting to Muldoon, and unfortunately for Nutter, it was coming right at him. Rawlings found that curious. Curious as hell, actually. It meant Muldoon was as human as the rest of the unit, and even he was starting to unwind a bit.

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The Retreat 5: A Bag of Dicks

April 21, 2018 6 comments

The battalion was bleeding out.

Command Sergeant Major Doug Turner stood and regarded his senior noncommissioned officers from across the dented hood of his Humvee. Dawn hadn’t arrived yet, so the men were more like phantasms than soldiers, their features generally unreadable despite the slowly brightening sky to the east. He could have turned his red-lensed flashlight toward them, but there was no need. Turner knew what he’d see. Four men with over a hundred years of military experience between them bringing him nothing but a huge bag of dicks.