I read today someplace that if you are a writer, you should have an entire website, which should display excerpts from your work. Good heavens. How is it possible that I’ve written this blog for more than three years and never posted a single bit of my fiction (not to mention the utter absence of a website)? Well, except that one time when I was trying to write about sex, and thought, “Now, THAT’s an interesting thing to post,” so I did. In 2007. Otherwise, nada.
But I am indeed a writer, and I have in fact written an entire novel, and a number of short stories, one of which will shortly be coming out in a fine journal (in a separate post, I plan to flog that journal like mad, encouraging all of you to buy it, so they will know that I do have a few friends, despite the weird subject of that story). So, I’ve decided I will follow that somewhat random piece of advice, and here post an excerpt from The Secret War, which someday might actually be for sale at your local Barnes & Noble (not to mention your local independent bookstore) if all goes well.
I picked the shortest, most coherent thing I could excerpt, which is the part where the first murder takes place. This murder occurs in an interesting location, because all murders should. The book itself is set in a small town in Bavaria, on the border of East Germany, West Germany, and Czechoslovakia. From the names of those places, places that no longer exist, you might also guess that it is set in the past. If you did, you would be correct. It is set in 1969, in fact. The village is home to a small American military base — on top of the highest hill on the base is a listening post. There are a lot of antennas on that hill, and a mushroom shaped hut where guys sit around with big black headphones over their ears eavesdropping on the enemy.
What are they listening for? Well, the main idea was that if a lot of planes started to head from, say East Germany, to Western Europe, the guys in the headphones would let people know. The listening post is not very secret –the antennas are hard to hide– but it is still not a place just anybody is allowed to be on. And that’s why it’s good to have someone murdered up there who isn’t supposed to be there. So, with that in mind, here it is — an excerpt from my novel.
Every night, a few hours before the end of his shift at midnight, the soldier ran between the two buildings at the top of the hill, clutching the rubber pouch full of the night’s reports, eluding the spotlight that slashed the darkness with streaks of light. When he’d been a boy he’d played a game like the one he played tonight. Coming home late from a friend’s house, he’d cut around the puddles of light created by streetlamps, passing cars, and porch lights, eluding the lights as though they were his enemies. Darkness meant safety. Tonight he was not far from boyhood as he ran toward and through the darkness on this foreign hill in this foreign place, like a swimmer moving through clean, cold water.
Before he’d come here, when he’d thought they would send him to Vietnam instead, he had often dreamed of death. But he had never dreamed of the actual dead, only of their sudden absence. In his dreams, a loved one would fall silent or no longer be in the room. He’d notice their silence and know they were gone. Sometimes his dreams would be of the event right before death — the explosion, the burst of gunfire, the menacing face of the enemy. And so, before tonight, he had never seen the dead, not in repose and not in the moment immediately after they make their passage from life into death.
At first he thought the body was a bulky pack left on the path by a soldier during a march that had ended abruptly. He bent to move the object out of his way and saw it was a man, sprawled across the path as though he had known the runner would come this way and help him. But the young man knew instinctively it was too late to do anything to help.
He touched the body and his hand came away warm and sticky. The spotlight fell across the body and illuminated the dead man, the spreading pool of blood beneath him and the truth that our skin only just barely keeps at bay our blood’s desire to free itself from our bodies, the way a weak dam barely contains the water behind it.
The dead man — for the young soldier knew without a doubt the man was dead — was almost his age. His angelic face under a mop of light hair stared wordlessly at the dark night sky. He wore black trousers and a t-shirt that might once have been white, but was now soaked and dark. The sharp object that had ended the man’s life had slashed through the t-shirt.
But the young man didn’t think about any of this until later. At this moment, he thought immediate and terrified thoughts, chief among them being whether whatever dark and angry thing was out there in the night might be coming for him too. He turned from the sight he’d dream about for the rest of his life, and ran back toward the light of the listening hut, no longer a stranger to death.