October 2019


Wild, family said
Crazy
Lost their mind
Clearly
Something had slipped
Maybe
Hanging out with all
Those
Freethinkers had driven
Lunacy
Into their soul
Because they had dared
To repost an article
Saying that people
Shouldn’t die
For lack of
Health
Care

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“Skylar was a mean-spirited son-of-a-bitch, but he’s also a legend,” said Renny. “If you’ve awakened anyone or anything, I’m not sure he’d be my first choice.”

“How exactly do you get to be both a mean-spirited son-of-a-bitch and a legend?”

“Well, he ran a big ranch that he carved out of Arapho lands even before they were officially opened up to settlement. He ran that place like a Swiss watch, and people made good money, but he was brutal to anybody that crossed him, whether it was an Indian trying to hunt on their own lands or a farmhand showing up to work drunk. Wasn’t afraid to dirty his own hands in running the ranch, too, which I think a bunch of folks respected even if they couldn’t stand him. Skylar ran into an Arapho warband during the big war with the Sioux, in ’76. He said they were on his land, they said they were just passing through. Band found itself slaughtered by Skylar and his boys, but he made a mistake: one of the Arapho boys survived a bullet in the back.”

“What happened next?”

“Well, ’76 was not the time to be pissing off the Arapho. This was around the time Custer was making the same mistake with the Sioux, you see. They decided they’d had just about enough of this mean old white boy on their land, so they sent about two hundred braves to kill him. Skylar’s boys abandoned him, so he fought them single-handedly from his ranch house. They got him, of course; no man stands up to two hundred, especially when they have repeaters. But he took damn near fifty of the Arapho with him, and they actually buried him and considered his scalp to be a high token. Skylar was a bastard, but he owned it and wasn’t afraid to put himself on the line for his bad decisions.”

“And that’s the spirit you think we’ve been seeing?”

“Like I said,” Renny shrugged. “I hope not. For your sake.”

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I scream at the wind until I’m hoarse
Before holding a sign and shouting

I lash the frothy waters with a whip
Before signing a petition for a good cause

I break a stone with a hammer for tripping me
Before posting a flier about injustice

Why do I feel that I am doing the same thing
Over and over again, identically
And expecting
Different
Results?

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He sits there, with that smile
You’ve seen a thousand times
Crossing the lips of folks
Who know they’re getting away
And there’s nothing you can do

Unearned man in unearned chair
Get him in there, they said
And it won’t matter how he did
Get him in there, they said
And it’ll be hard to get him out

They say we need to face facts
They say we need to be realistic
Work with him, give him a chance
It’s really not so bad, is it
That he doesn’t fit the chair

And as they speak, you see the smile
They didn’t need to face facts
They didn’t need to be realistic
They just did, confident in the fact
That they would get away with it
As they always have and always will

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Ne strelyayte, ya odin iz vas!” Jones cried. “Ne strelyayte, ya odin iz vas!

The oncoming Russian troops looked at him quizzically. Jones, apparently glad of their curiosity, fired his revolver in the direction of his fleeing companions.

“See? See? Ne strelyayte, ya odin iz vas!” he yelled. “Look, Bolo, I’m on your side!”

One of the Americans, falling back while reloading, was caught by Jones’ revolver. He slumped to the ground, spilling cartridges in a shower and dropping his Mosin. Jones turned to the advancing Russians, grinning.

Chto nam s nim delat’? one of them cried. “Etot predatel?

Pristreli yego! shouted another. “U nas dostatochno!

The first Russian nodded, and racked the bolt on his Mosin. He fired, and Jones went down hard, a “Ne strelyayte-” on his lips. He lay on his side, eyes and mouth open as if in surprise, as the attackers swarmed past him.

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“Well, my grandfather was a soldier too,” Leigh said. “Hardly a knight, though, or a samurai. He did have a sword, though, and he carried it into battle all over the United States until he was wounded and lost his leg. Didn’t keep him from finding a girl or having ten kids, of course.”

“So your father was a soldier as well?”

“Dad? Ha! No, he worked in a paper mill. Every day for twenty years until he dropped dead sweeping up the pulp. There were a lot of mouths in the family, and we all got the same idea early on. He loved us, but he could barely feed us when we were small. So there’s the great Leigh clan for you: Edith the seamstress, Thomas–just like dad!–the paper mill boy, Catherine the mother of four boys of her own now, and of course me, the soldier. I joined for three square meals a day and damn if I haven’t made a go of it.”

Yamaguchi took a moment to digest this. “So you, like me, have come back to arms after your family had turned away from it.”

Leigh nodded. “And like you I wonder if I really came that far. Don’t get me wrong. My boys are good boys, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Rosenthal’s from New York, Davis is from Tennessee, and I’d never have met either of them if not for all this. Even that son-of-a-bitch Jones, may God have mercy on his Kentucky ass, has taught me a lot.”

“What do you hope to get out of all this, when it’s done?” said Yamaguchi.

“Three square meals a day,” laughed Leigh. “And seeing all my boys home safe.”

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“I’m not used to discussing myself with my men,” said Yamaguchi. “Though I am not surprised that you asked. It was much the same when I was stationed in London–even passersby on the street were full of questions.”

“You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to,” said Major Leigh. “I thought it might pass a moment, that’s all.”

“My grandfather was a samurai–do you know them in your country?”

“I think I’ve heard of them. Like knights, right? Loyal to their lord and full of honor and chivalry?”

“That is, I think, how they would describe themselves,” sighed Yamaguchi. “Fifty years ago, my grandfather and his ilk were respected and unique, scholars and poets and warriors. They alone had the right to wear a sword in public, and they alone could cut down a peasant who showed them disrespect at will.”

Leigh squirmed at the mental image. “Sounds good for the samurai, not so good for the peasant.”

Yamaguchi shrugged. “It was never something that actually happened. But then, the Emperor decided that it was time for ours to be a modern country with a modern army, and the time of the samurai was over. My grandfather did not know how to adapt to being a simple soldier, one among many, and he took his own life. My father has worked as a postal inspector his whole life, and his feeling was that dedicated service in an important but unrespected profession was the ultimate proof of loyalty to the Emperor and to the nation.”

“We have a word for that as well. The good old Puritan work ethic.”

“I could not live that life. I wanted to show that the martial spirit of my grandfather and his ancestors lives on. So I joined the military. I’ve seen many battles–this is not the first time Russian guns have been turned on me. But in the end, Major Yamaguchi is…a postal inspector. I keep small things moving around and getting where they are supposed to go, and unlike my father’s letters many of them are unruly or undisciplined. And unlike him, I have more to fear than a papercut.”

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