“Fuck, knew I’d see you again. Dunno how, just knew.”
He didn’t know what to expect, but a hug wasn’t top of the list. The American gripped him tight and there would have been tears if they weren’t on show.
The bikers stood in a line of denim and sweat on the clubhouse forecourt and stared at the two men embracing with dark eyes and brows. They didn’t know who the stranger with the strange voice and strange ride was and they didn’t like anyone they didn’t know. Hell, most didn’t like anyone they knew outside the club.
“This is dat Brit I told you about, one from Eee-rack.”
The bikers grunted and nodded at the pledge and his pal grinning in front of them. Their pledge was theirs and no-one was going to take him away, not unless they wanted to pay the price.
The pledge didn’t see their displeasure and kept wittering away. “Hey you mind if I git my bud a beer, cleaned those grills so work done for now.”
Hi-hat half nodded and raised his can while his crew grunted and grumbled monotone under breath (“work done when we say bitch”). The pledge put his arm around the Brit’s shoulder and led him away, all smiles like he was free to.
“You wanna see the best view in town?” They walked into the garage and grabbed a box of Miller from the fridge and a JD from the shelf, then climbed the ladder up to the roof of the clubhouse to talk about what they had to talk about.
THEY DIDN’T NEED TO SWAP FACTS, ONLY DREAMS
The Yank was the voice next door and he was dead in the hole before he heard him.
He woke in the small, mud-walled cell stripped to his briefs. A cup of water and plate of maggot gruel waited on the sand floor and he emptied both. He wasn’t proud enough to starve, but he was proud enough to be embarrassed by this end.
Captured by the enemy – humilation for a professional soldier, paraded as propaganda clown by jihadists before a public beheading and afterlife of viral memes. If he was lucky – balls in mouth and poker up arse if he wasn’t. Fuck that, he wished for a cyanide pill to gnash, but he wasn’t Jim Bond, just a working grunt with a posh voice.
There was no window in his cell and he didn’t know dawn from dusk or how many hours or days it was before the wall spoke to him with a broad Yankee drawl.
“You alive next door? Kin hear someone moving, don’t know if it’s a man, goat or fleas in m’ass.”
“How big are your fleas?”
The wall’s laugh was cracked and honest. He knew then he wasn’t alone, there was more than one cell, although training taught him not to reveal anything the enemy could use – could be a sand-spy tricking him. The wall knew the same, but they didn’t need to swap facts, only dreams.
THE DEAD MEN WERE ABLE TO BRIEFLY FORGET THE NIGHTMARE OF BEING DEAD
“Joined the Army to see the world – all I ever see my life is the bumfuck flats, bit of the piss-stain mountains. I git outta here, gonna buy a good bike n’ just gonna ride, like Easy Rider down the road, see my own country.”
“You know Captain America gets shot by rednecks end of the movie, after a bad trip with hookers in a graveyard.”
“Shit, Marvel did some weird stuff in the Sixties man.”
He couldn’t tell if his new and potentially last faceless friend was joking, but he laughed anyway. “Least it had a great soundtrack.”
“Fuck yeah, git me motor runnin’…” The wall began to pound a rhythmn and he started to bang a beat back. With common ground in movies and music the dead men were able to briefly forget the nightmare of being dead.
HE WAS HUMAN AND DESERVED THE CHANCE HE HAD
When the wall exploded, days/weeks/months later, death returned once more. Dead people saw a light, filled with desire to run towards it, just like his dazzled eyes, blinking raw at their first dose of sunlight in whenever. It took him beats, choking from bomb smoke, to realise his vision was earthly and real, war had re-entered the world and he could claim freedom.
He staggered to his feet and almost made it to the hole, mud blasted wide open from a grenade, when he remembered who he was leaving behind. He turned back to the wall.
No. No-one gets left behind.
The wall was rubble and he could hear the groans of a man in the wreckage. It didn’t matter if the voice that had kept him alive turned out to be a sand-spy anymore – he was human and deserved the chance he had. He clawed at the loosened mud-bricks until the pasty flesh of a ginger Yank shone through the black detritus.
He pulled him up and together they both stumbled to the light.