“You had to watch out for the nights.” John’s voice, although quieter, has returned. “Back when we were young and dumb, we weren’t as careful as we’d become. Men in sleeping bags, unaware of the Chinese, had their throats cut. The wounds on some were so deep, I wasn’t sure if they still had heads.”
I don’t know what to say when he talks about Korea. I encourage him, but the responses sound foolish. I’m not sure if he even hears me.
“We were scared, all of us, but nobody said anything. It’s cruel to pretend you’re alright when you’re not. It may seem like the right thing to do, but it just holds everyone else to the same standard. Everyone was alright. Everyone was pacing. Checking. Searching. Everyone couldn’t stand to stay still. Even when we knew it was dangerous to walk, we couldn’t stay. Even if we weren’t hunted by them, we were hunted by each other.”
“Your crew?” John seemed almost amused by the question.
“Jackson started sneaking the pistols out of our sleeping bags at night. At first we didn’t notice. Some of the guys held onto theirs like a stufftie. How they didn’t feel his monster hands against theirs, I’ll never know.
Jackson thought it was funny. He’d get this look in his eyes and it was like marmalade set on fire. His eyes were smudged out with this sweet, sickly smile. His mouth and eyes were inseparable. He would have eaten us if he could. We knew he was going crazy before he picked on the fat guy, but once we saw it, there was no denying.
Jackson made him beg for it. Sprawled out. He was actually crying. Not little tears, but blubbery, rubbery tears that bounce around in your ears until you can’t concentrate. It was fucking awful.
Jackson made the fat guy kneel. He stood over him with two pistols in each hand – one his own, the other stolen. He told the fat guy to kneel, but it wasn’t enough. He told him to lie down on the freezing cold ground and beg.
Jackson says he’s too fat to get up in time. If someone drops hand grenades from a biplane, he’s worse than the slit throats.
The fat guy is crying so hard, he can’t get the words out. It’s like something in him snapped a little before Jackson got to him. And he could tell.
Jackson kept pretending not to hear him, telling him he had to beg harder, but the fat guy couldn’t plead fast enough.
It was sick. I didn’t want to hate the fat guy, but in that moment all I could see was sheer vulnerability. The kind that makes you feel guilty for not doing anything so in turn, you hate the guilt and then you hate the fat guy for making you feel it. He was so quiet that none of us even knew his real name. He was like our insides turned out.
Jackson tells him only weak people stuff their face like he does.
Weak people don’t belong in hell.”