A Tale from Failed Anatomies: After Math

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Shane Ivey and Dennis Detwiller of Arc Dream Publishing are putting the final touches on the next Delta Green project, Delta Green: Failed Anatomies. It’s a collection of Detwiller’s short stories of intrigue, conspiracy, and cosmic terror, with an introduction by John Scott Tynes and opening and closing stories by Robin Laws. Coming to Kickstarter, soon.

This story concerns what might be the last Delta Green Op ever run. 

After Math

©2013 Dennis Detwiller

The drug store window was smashed and folded outward, like someone had forced their way in, but that itself these days was not unusual. What was unusual was the pile of money fluttering in the street.

Not just a little money, but a lot. The new red 20s and 10s, scattered near the fractured glass in the early morning light, picked up and spun in eddies and currents of the summer wind. The alarm had been running some time and something was wrong with it, he could hear, because it sounded like it was running down, like a record player low on batteries. 

An idea so old now, he only knew it from movies when he was a child; a memory of a dream of the world before him.

The street was empty. No one had come.

David Bel was seventy-four years old, but he was not yet broken. He reached up and back behind himself, to the high waist, and removed an old looking Glock. It was always clean. Always ready.

These days, you might need it at any time. 

"Hello," he said, over the drone of the alarm. He pushed the door a bit. It gritted across the ground, and a wind swept up the bills and swept them into the ATM vestibule, flipping them around in the space like those old game shows. Blue, green, red.

Inside, the lights were flickering. 

David looked around the corner and saw a partially open security gate, half of a pharmacists' position, and a snail's trail of blood along the carpet. 

He went in briefly, and then left the way he had come without the money.

 ∆

The home was small, and central in the town, between two large buildings, and time had worn it down, but it was still his home. He wasn't supposed to be out, but there wasn't much that Angel and Maris could do. He was old and spry, and he came and went as he pleased. 

Besides, there was the mission.

He unlocked the doors' three locks with the keys on his belt (and wasn't it easy to get copies), walked down the brown halls to his room, unlocked it, and went inside.

The wall lit up, an image of a silver tower in flames read ORLANDO. A feed across the bottom warned of the BLACK WIND and in the next sentence, tried to sell him antacid. 

He sat down on the bed with a grunt and looked out the window where a soft, blue light crept in. He looked at the bag in his hand from the pharmacy. He looked at the gun he had placed on the end table, where it still wobbled.

He thought again, about the man he had killed in the Kush almost fifty-one years before. About his laughter and claim that all this was coming. 

And now, he was here, living it. 

 ∆

At 0930 Angel came in, as he always did. He was a big kid. Maybe Hawaiian or Spanish? David didn't know. Didn't care. He liked him. Angel was a Marine. He'd been in Japan during the general riots, and he'd served again during the superstorm in Texas. He had seen some things, and was always pretty talkative with David, or Mr. Bel, as he called him.

Bel had served as well, of course, earlier, but the two shared something; a military kinship. An understanding. Now Angel was an orderly at the home, and he was good at his job. He liked his job. You could tell that.

Still. There were other considerations.

"Mr. Bel," Angel said, coming in with a tray, "you gone out again?"

"Better you don't know that Angel," Bel said.

"And don't let Maris see the piece, okay?"

"Sure, you got it," David recovered the pistol and slid it beneath his mattress. 

"And Mr. Bel," Angel said, after placing the food on the table, "really, don't go out no more, it ain't safe. Not anymore."

"How bad is it?"

"Pretty goddamn bad."

Angel stepped out to deliver the breakfast to the other residents, and David Bel ate his eggs and looked out the window as the sun came up.

 ∆

Fifty-one years before, he sat across from the man he had followed up into the mountains, on his heels, rifle slung up but ready to drop, beard thick and black, eyes behind flat grey goggles, face blank. 

Lieutenant David Bel at the height of his power, alone, in the Kush. Drawn to the power in the mountains. His group was nearby, of course, watching the approaches. 

The man across from him was a leather bag filled with bones, stretched, and a half dozen teeth sprayed from ruined lips, baked and split by the sun and cold. He was a local. Dark, but with green eyes and crazed, filthy hair. His clothing was discarded American fare and a kameez in the old style. His karakul marked him as an important man, but it was spattered with blood, and fleas jumped from it in black dots.

"Tell me the future," David Bel said. In his ear, a radio chattered about targets. Outside, fifteen miles north, bombs shook the earth, nothing more than the dream of rumbling. Destruction on the geologic scale. Airplanes reshaping mountains in slow motion.

Bel had heard stories of the man from locals interrogated by CIA assets. No one believed the stories. David did. He had seen such things before, stateside.

The old man reached into the corpse of the boy and removed a pile of entrails and began to eat.

Bel woke up screaming-

 ∆

-outside. There was screaming outside. Even through the sound proofed window. Cries for help. 

He flipped up the shades and saw headlights in the dark, and a man laying on the ground of the alley, given spider legs in the harsh shadows. Then, men with weapons and the beating. 

It went on for a long time.

Then chanting.

He shut the shades and tried to not listen. After a bit, it was quiet again. 

 ∆

Angel looked shaken when he came in. The tray was not perfect, the utensils were thrown on the plate, the food slopped on. He placed it down and didn't say good morning.

"Angel?"

The big man stopped at the door. 

"Mr. Bel, I'm staying here from now on. I got no reason to go home. The city ain't a place to go no more."

"Okay," Bel took the tray. 

"Maris didn't come in today. No one's answering her phone and the trains are bad. Worse."

Bel said nothing. He ate his meal in silence.

"I may need you on the door. We can't let anyone get in. I brought the pump."

"You got it."

"Mr. Bel, were you special forces? In Afghanistan?"

"Yes."

"You killed people?"

"Yes Angel, I killed people."

The big man looked at him, and his face was a mask of fear and pain and sorrow.

"Me too. I killed people. Americans."

"You did what you had to do, Angel. You don't feel bad about that. We may have to do it all again."

Angel shook his head and shut the door, snuffling. 

Later, when he looked out the window at the alley, there was something pushed to the side of the piles of garbage that could have been the body, but it was hard to tell. Black birds had gathered on it, and were pecking, and clouds of flies, landing and lighting, landing and lighting. 

On the wall above the pile was the mark of the Black Wind. Red slashing marks in a pattern, like the face of a spider in the dark. 

Everyone on the planet knew it. It was old hat.

 ∆

"There will be a time before and a time after," the old man said.

"There is _always_ a time before and a time after, there is never a forever," he said.

"We are at an edge, and the Americans have drawn the knife and cut their own throat, but they are simply spinning to the song called by the others," he said.

Bel considered him. He clicked the safety off on his rifle and dropped it from a slung position into his hands, and spat on the ground.

The old man glanced up, not precisely concerned, but there was something in his face. He looked down at the entrails. 

"A torek will lead the Americans, two times. Then a white, two times. Then a Spaniard man, one time. Then a white woman three times. A white man two times. Another torek twice. Then a white woman again, and then the end."

Torek was Pashto for Black man. It's what the tribesmen called the African American service men. A black man would be President? Something about the madness of the pronouncement made him waver. 

Bel slung the rifle again.

"Go on," he said, "make it count." 

 ∆

Mrs. Gallway wandered the halls, a chicken-like woman topped by an improbable wig of golden hair. 

"Mr. Bel, good morning," she said.

"Good morning Mrs. Gallway," he replied, tipping an imaginary hat. In life before this, she was a social media expert. Something as ridiculously out of date as a record player.

"Come on into the TV room," he took her gently by the arm.

In the main room of the home, a half dozen residents gathered around the surface screen. On it, an empty desk at the newsroom showed no one. A crawler at the bottom of the screen showed a repeating string of gibberish text.

On the desk, a scattering of papers.

Bel turned the TV off. 

"Who wants to play a board game?" he said to the group. He felt the gun bite into his back when he raised his hands. 

They played Pictionary and had pudding.

 ∆

Later, he brought Angel some food at the door. The big man had pulled the security gate shut and locked it. As Bel approached, he could hear car alarms, and the rising chant of someone running and then vanishing in the night.

Angel held the Remington with practiced ease. He had stood sentry before. He had found the best position; a casual, hanging ease with the gun almost dangling.

"Thanks Mr. B," he said. "You fed them too?" Bel placed the meal on the table next to him. He was a good kid.

"Yeah, we're all taken care of."

"Been reading the feed, New York's got the national guard called in, Baltimore is burning, something big went off in Chicago, the air force is flying sorties over the midwest trying to shoot something down."

"What?"

"Something."

"Okay."

"It ain't okay man. This ain't okay."

"It is what it is Angel. I'm sorry."

"How do you deal with this?"

"I've been dealing with this for fifty years."

Angel wiped his eyes with a hand, letting the shotgun hang, and looked up.

Bel sat in the chair across and told him a story about the old man in the mountains. There was nothing to hide now. Not today.

 ∆

"You were born to a healer and a cook," the old man said, considering the string of blue black intestines.

"Yes," Bel replied. His mother had been a chef and his father an orthopedic surgeon. 

"You saw blood before your tenth birthday," he said.

Bel pictured his brother smiling, being struck by the car in the cul-de-sac, pulled under it and ruined and spat out the other side as gristle and bone and blood.

"Yes."

"You'll see more before this is through. You'll live until the end. Nothing will kill you before the end. You are touched. I was touched once."

Bel watched him as, outside, the bombs fell. 

"What is the end?"

"We are bugs on a twig at the top of a fresh, kindled, fire," the old man waved his blood covered hands, "and we will cook along with the fire, but we will not notice the heat. The heat will be the world. We will explode."

"What is the fire?"

"Chaos," the old man cackled, "the others. Those outside. You know them."

He did. 

"Fifty-one years to this day and the world burns, but-" the old man cocked an eyebrow at what he saw in the guts, "I will not be there. Thank you, thank you," the old man smiled, showing yellowed teeth. 

He stood slowly, ponderously, and stepped towards Bel, stumbling. So many people had done this to him here, stepping forward in obeisance, hands outstretched, face turned down, never knowing how close to death they were.

David Bel popped up and shot the old man in the face, the chest and the abdomen with a controlled burst. The cave filled with the chattering pop of gunfire and the smell of cordite. 

The shell of the old man lay on the floor, a dark puddle spreading out from him.

Bel spoke into the radio.

"Two six. Target down. Coming out."

He left, and didn't think much about it until Barak Obama came out of nowhere five years later.

 ∆

"When President McCall was elected for the special term following the storms. Three terms-" Bel finished.

"Fuck her," Angel growled, "we should have never gone into Texas like that."

"Orders," Bel said.

"You can't believe all that Mr. Bel."

"I do Angel. I do. I'm touched."

Outside now, the smell of fire but no fire engines came. Someone shouting something, over and over. A prayer.

"This is fucked," Angel said to no one.

"You need to eat," Bel said.

 ∆

Fifty-one years had passed since that day in the Kush, and when the sun came up that day, he woke to Angel on the floor beside the chair. The shotgun was next to him.

Angel's mouth was covered in red flecked foam, and there was the sour smell of vomit. He was dead. 

Bel, unconcerned, picked up the shotgun and walked into the main room.

The residents were there, most still in their chairs. The rest sprawled. David Bel placed the shotgun down, pulled the bag from the pharmacy from his pocket and dumped a handful of pills in his hand. He gulped them down, dry — an old man's trick. Then, he emptied the container and ate greedily. He picked the shotgun back up and stepped forward.

The TV came on as he moved into the room. On it, a fluttering TV image of something huge and shadowed out of all scale.

In front of it, the half-ruined towers of New York. The shape stretched up to the sky, blurred and dimmed with atmosphere and distance. The camera jittered and moved and swung, focus jumping in and out. Jet contrails cut lines in front of it, taking minutes to cross the vast shadow.

LIVE FEEDSJSM2 the text read.

David Bel dropped the shotgun with a clank and stepped towards the wall. His face was downcast, his hands outstretched.

"Thank you," he said, "thank you."