Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Writer: Bill Lapham

You Have Your Drones...

I realized the look on his face was fanatical the instant he blew up. The sight of the fire and the sound of the explosion reached me at exactly the same time. I was that close. When you stand too close to a lightning strike, there is no pause between the flash of light and the sound of thunder. This was like that. If I had been farther away there would have been a caesura between the sight and the sound. But this was boom, shock, flash, dirt, screams, bam, now!
I always thought I would see, if I ever saw one at all, the pieces of a suicide bomber streaking through the air after he detonated himself. That wasn't the case at all. I saw none of the bomber's body parts, ever. The man vaporized like a puddle of water sitting too long in the summer sun. Alas, there were pieces of other people strewn everywhere. Surely, they did not awaken this morning with the thought that they might stand too close to a suicide bomber today. Nobody would do that.
When my shaken vision stabilized, the scene was from one of those Halloween horror movies. Some kind of Texas chain saw thing maybe.
A fire-fight erupted, right on the city streets, automatic weapons fire cracking everywhere. It was impossible to tell who was shooting at whom; the good guys looked the same as the bad guys. Everybody was shooting everywhere. So this is what Clausewitz meant by the fog of war, I thought, but not for long.
I dove behind a jersey barrier and grabbed for some earth. I have never been so friendly with dirt and never so glad to be in it and alive. I had my face smashed against stinging hot dust so tightly I could smell the microbes that live between the grains of sand. My breath caused little puffs of dust that got into my eyes and made them water; the tears tracked across my face sideways and formed a puddle of mud under my left temple. Bullets whizzed by and ricocheted off the walls over my head making a strange pinging sound as they headed off in another direction. I couldn't stop trembling. And I could taste a little bit of puke on the back of my tongue.
I admit to having those thoughts. You know the ones, the bargains with God. I asked forgiveness for ever doubting his existence. I promised to live a better life. I promised to be kinder to little old ladies and help the blind cross the street. If God would get me out of this shit alive, I promised I would quit drinking, tomorrow.
And then, just as suddenly as it started, the shooting stopped. It took a second for my brain to register the silence - the echoes faded - and before long I craved a shot of whiskey.
I rose to a crouch and just barely stuck my head above the top of the concrete barrier, just high enough to get an eyeball on the situation. Anybody looking at me probably thought I looked like that "Kilroy was Here" cartoon made famous in World War II.
Men were walking around without aim, stunned, exhausted, suffering from adrenaline hangovers, arms limp at their sides barely keeping a grip on their rifles. Some were taking a knee, trying to catch their breath before they passed out, others were crying. The women were gone, or sprawled on the ground dead. This would have been a good day to stay home and do the laundry, I thought.
It was so sudden and quick it made me wonder if it had even happened at all. My ears were ringing and my nose and throat stung from the acrid smell of coagulating blood and burnt hair and flesh. The smell of gunpowder hung in a blue haze. It was so hot it made it hard to breathe; there was no respite from either the heat or the terror.
This had been a coordinated attack with bombs and guns. They didn't use artillery, or Predator drones. They were more primitive than all that; they used a man who preferred death to life and strapped a bomb to his belly and placed a trigger in his hand. There was no warning - there never is anymore - no massing of troops on the border, no air raid sirens, no intelligence tip from a drone circling high overhead catching all the action on camera for the generals to review from their high backed chairs in the Operations Center.
All they saw on their big, flat, high-definition monitors before the blast were ordinary folks meeting to complete their meager business deals on an insufferably hot day in the nation's capital.

© William Lapham 2010

Bill Lapham is a semi-professional student and retired U.S. Navy submarine veteran. He attends grad school at the University of Michigan – Flint, and he’s been published at Six Sentences and the U.S. Army NCO Journal.


  1. Breathtaking. Painfully vivid and as coherently described as we've come to expect from you - you make it look easy but I know it is not - and the location shocking.

  2. Frighteningly real. It's honestly a little scary how well you see these scenes, and it's a little awe-inspiring how well you get them on the page. Bravo, sir.

  3. an 'are we prepared' for such a thing when it comes knocking- real life moment- I was there-good writing Bill

  4. This was terrifying. I am thankful not to have any personal experience with this sort of event, but the possibility is ever-present, here and abroad. The intense presentation is perhaps the only real way of grappling with the costs of combat, so thank you for informing the conversation in a way polemics never will.

  5. Amazing as usual. It's all been said. You should be a director.

  6. The feeling I'm left with is disbelief, as if I'd been there. You easily paint pictures of humans experiencing horror and I always cling to the human in the end, as if it is my own life I'm trying to save. Gorgeous work.

  7. Bill L, I still read only your work in this genre, and I think I have found the best person in this genre for me to read. I appreciate the way you used the idea of drones. I never felt that I was being pushed into any kind of theme, however - other than into the shocking dismay of war itself. Your writing remains clean and clear, as always.

  8. Hey, COB. Excellent subject and moody writing. You captured the chaos perfectly. If I were to take this on as an assignment, I might've given it the title "Bargain with God" and carried it to the brink before craving that drink, and ending it there. As a theme, this would twist more readers' guts than the metamorphisis of modern warfare. I'm not criticizing the writing, but I thought I'd share my thoughts.


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