Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Endless Enemy

So a while back (a year or so) I mentioned that my sci-fi-horror book, Endless Enemy (Fifth Migration Book One) had been picked up by a publisher...sort of. Since then deals were made and broken, followed by more deals and more breakage. Long story short, I'll be publishing Endless Enemy via Varsavian Press.

No release date yet but September seems likely. I'm not doing the preorder thing this time but I will post sample chapters before publishing in full. To get the ball rolling, I've posted a teaser blurb and Chapter 1 below.  Enjoy the read.


The Human-Vamp conflict of Deliverance is as old as time, the two sides having grown to hate each other more than any two species possibly could. But, in more recent times, rumors have been springing up across the human continent of Chavelia, telling of a new vamp species, one that preyed on humans and mundane vamps alike...

Thorn held the dagger to the vamp’s throat with one hand—the sharp blade pushing hard against pale skin—while his other hand clutched a wad of loose flesh down by the vile creature’s abdomen, preventing it from fleeing, the silver of his gauntlet making the vamp’s fell skin sizzle where the two met.
In Thorn’s grasp the vamp remained stalk still, thin arms spread to either side, palms out in submission, its long narrow face twisted in a rictus of fear and pain.
The wind swirling through the clearing was loud and made the surrounding trees creak and moan as they swayed from their gnarled root hearts.
Mili and Acob were standing ready close behind, Jillian to Thorn’s left, all three with Silver Blasters aimed at the clearing’s edge or up at the sky, and—like Thorn—they were all decked in full Silver Corps guild armor, their faces hidden behind helmets fashioned to resemble the heads of mythical owls, their shocked cesium eye-lenses staring unblinking from above short hooked beaks.
High above, hordes of dusky clouds scudded passed the wide hoary face of Earth-Daughter, obscuring the lights of The Burnwell Complex that blazed eternally across the moon’s surface, the clouds creating a shadowy strobe effect that prompted the shadows to dance and flicker across the small clearing, obscuring reality and camouflaging potential dangers.
Far opposite Earth-Daughter, Shadow Well was but a dark smudge floating across the night sky.
“So tell me,” Thorn said, loud enough to be heard over the gusting wind, his voice coming tinny from beneath his visor. “Who are these newcomers I’ve heard so much about?”
The vamp pulled back its snout-like maw to lick at its black lips with a purple tongue, revealing bloodstained fangs and dual rows of crooked teeth. “They comes from the above,” the vamp hissed breathlessly, its fell accent grating on Thorn’s nerves. But at least this one speaks the human tongue, he thought. The last four vamps Thorn and his company had captured hadn’t, and since it was a lot easier to kill a vamp than it was to catch one, a lot of energy had been wasted in the endeavor.
He listened in as the vamp continued. “Our brethrens tells of a fiery ball that falls from the stars and lands on Day Fall. Since then, the others haves comes here. Is true!”
“Day Fall? You mean the west. Where in the west?” Thorn pressed the dagger’s blade harder against the vamp’s throat.
“Humans haves heard calling it The Ancients Barrows!” the vamp hissed, stiffening with fright in Thorn’s grasp. “Theys are Xyhax but not likes us and our brethrens. They becomes different.” The vamp stopped to gulp in air before continuing. “Please, fair sirs, do nots end me. The differents Xyhax hunts both humans and Xyhax alike. Us must bands together.”
“Are you sure of all you’ve told me?” Thorn asked.
“Yes, fair sirs!”
“Good.” Thorn took some pressure off the dagger, the vamp relaxing somewhat. “But your kind should know that Hunters would never form an alliance with filth like you.”
There was moment of pure shock on the vamp’s long face before Thorn slammed the dagger into its throat, twisting the silver blade before pulling it out and quickly reburying it in the vamp’s chest, twisting again before yanking the blade out a final time to let the vamp fall dead to the loamy ground, its wounds sending shadow-hued blood fountaining over Thorn and the others—black blood contrasting sharply against silver armor.
The flickering shadows skipped over the vamp’s lifeless body while the moonlight glimmered off the oily black hair that covered its back, legs, and feet, the blood spreading away from the corpse as if it too wanted to be free of the vile shell it’d been trapped within for so long. The black liquid pooled before sinking into the thirsty ground to nourish other more deserving lifeforms in the future.
Sheathing his dagger, Thorn turned to the others. “Come dawn we’ll investigate The Ancient Barrows for these newcomers.”
Mili, Acob, and Jillian nodded behind their owl-faced visors, and then—after Acob placed a magnite charge on the vamp, burning the corpse to blowing ash in a fraction of a second, the residual blood boiling away just as quick—Thorn unslung his Silver Blaster and led his Hunters from the clearing in single file, the four moving fast, heading for the Lasertrack that was parked just beyond the clearing’s edge, the gusting wind battering their armored backs the entire way.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Unlimited Amounts Of Books For Sale

Welcome to Sergi's Book Emporium! We sell unlimited amounts of reading material! Print? Ebook? We got em and never run out! Tell your mom, dad, friends, brothers, sisters, cousins, the smelly guy on the bus, the rude girl on the beach! Links and blurbs below, share, share, share, because sharing is caring! We got Fantasy, Sci-fi, and Horror!


The Hero of Twilight (Ebook)

The Hero of Twilight (Print)

Young Bathmal was born nothing and was destined to be nothing, until, on a cold winter's day, his life suddenly changes forever. 

The Hero of Twilight is the first step on a road that will see Bathmal become an immortal legend, or a forgotten speck on the dusty pages of history.

Science Fiction

Children of The Forgotten (Ebook)

Children of The Forgotten (Print)

The Vrilkist, an advanced alien race bent on galactic conquest and annihilation, has been eating away at the borders of The Imperial Confederation of Ertho—an empire already plagued by rebel and separatists factions—in an ongoing war. The three-front conflict has left the empire short on fighters and material while the Vrilkist, in contrast, appear to have unlimited resources and firepower. 

Desperate, the empire gathers everything it has to launch a last ditch assault on the enemy. Success will buy the empire time to regroup and restock; failure will mean the end of everything. 

Cornelius Coleman, student, pugilist, loner, soon becomes a reluctant player within the larger scheme when he is conscripted to fight in the imperial forces. His journey will begin on Old Earth, but it will end very far away.

Army of The Nameless (Ebook)

Army of The Nameless (Print)

The war continues… 

It’s been three standard years since The Battle of Bloody Eye and the Vrilkist War has ground to a stalemate. While The Imperial Confederation of Ertho readies for the long awaited counterstrike, The Black Lions are delegated to hunting down stray separatists in an effort to bring the agitators to justice, but these elite soldiers are eager to return to the “real” war against the Vrilkist. 

This holds especially true for Captain Coleman, whose hatred for the Vrilkist is tempered by the guilt he feels over the loss of Sabrina and his fallen comrades. Even so, the war has already taken a heavy toll on him physically and mentally, and he finds himself questioning how much more he can take. The future of the universe balances on the razor’s edge, and gale force winds are gathering in the distance.

The Vatters of Klon (Ebook)

The Vatters of Klon (Print)

0060706288378—a vatter living within the compound of Klon—has been asking himself a variety of questions of late, such as: what is the true purpose for which vatters exist and, most importantly, why do those whom the guilders and Protectors of Klon call The Renegades wish to invade Klon in order to kill the vatters. But ask all he might, no one seemed to have the answers he wanted. 

When Klon is attacked by The Renegades, 0060706288378 is abducted and brought Outside, where he discovers the answers to his most pressing questions, and finds that he and the other vatters must confront and overthrow The Solord and his forces, else The Sunjack, and all within, will perish. 

Meanwhile Gorindaad—Emperor in service to the current Solord—and his imperials seek to prevent the vatters from achieving their goal. But The Solord—stricken insane from long centuries of rule—sees enemies in every shadow. Dare he trust his underlings when The Sunjack was drowning in turmoil as it was? 

The fate of The Sunjack hangs in the balance; in the resulting three-way struggle between the vatters, The Empire of Espian, and The Solord, only one faction will win. Victory will mean continued existence. Defeat…total annihilation.


Crossroads (Ebook)

Crossroads (Print)

Ex-con Leo Dudley is on the run for murder. With him are his best friend’s girlfriend and Sandy, her three year old daughter. 

Under the guise of a young family looking for guidance, they settle in among the tight-knit religious community of Crossroads. But not long after their arrival, strange and terrifying things begin to happen all across the small town, and as time goes on, Leo begins to wonder what kind of nightmare he’d walked into…or if the nightmare was something he’d brought with him?

Thank you all for reading!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Initial Success (Chapters 3+4)

So here's Chapter 3 and 4 of Initial Success, the military/comedy I wrote with my buddy Randy Carvalho. For those who missed it, here's Chapter One.

All content within posted Chapters is subject to change prior to full publication. Think of them as a work in progress that's 99% complete.

And as always, if you like what see, share the link, tell your friends, tell your enemies, tell your grandparents, tell the person standing in line at the get the point.

And if you're an agent or a publisher...don't be shy, we're easy to work with.

Read on.

Soldiers of One

Jay and I arrived at Reading's Army Recruiting Station with enough time to smoke a cigarette before our appointment. Small and unimpressive, the building bulged out onto the corner of Main Street, its rounded windows completely covered with flag-adorned posters and recruiting slogans, hiding whatever was within.
"Looks exactly like the ones in Billerica and Malden," Jay said, flicking what was left of his Parliament into the gutter as we stepped inside. He would know, he tried to join twice before. The first time they turned him down for being too young; the second time for not having a diploma. Without war the Army could afford to be picky.
Not so now.
Inside there were a few gray desks and not much else. It could pass for a tax service chain if not for all the military posters. The slogan of the time was “Army of One”, which I thought went against the principles of teamwork and selflessness. Being interviewed together under the buddy system, as we were, made the symmetrical piles of “Army of One” marketing materials look patently silly.
A smartly-dressed recruiter—Staff Sergeant Rochello from the nametag, a thick man with a thicker southern accent that belied his current locale—waved Jay and I over to one of the desks. “Randy and Jay, right?" We nodded and went over to sit down across from him. He sported a block of colorful ribbons on his left breast and a military mustache perched over a salesman’s smile. He could pass for a bipedal Labrador, if not for the blazing blue eyes. Those eyes now busied themselves with studying our applications.
Jay and I were so burned out from our past failed job interviews that the only prominent emotion we had left was anxiety. Not just job interview anxiety, but government job anxiety—sign-away-your-life anxiety.
When the sergeant looked up, he still had his salesman’s smile on display. A good sign, I figured. Our anxieties quieted a decibel.
“Everything looks good here, gentlemen. Barring any unforeseen issues, I think I’m looking at two brand-new Soldiers of One. From here I need to send your applications to Personnel. They’ll run background checks on ya, confirm you are who you say you are, and once they find out that you’re not terrorists or drug barons, you two will be sent off to MEPS—that’s the military entrance processing station—where they’ll give you physicals and where you’ll have to take the ASVAB test. Depending on those results, you’ll be placed in an MOS, sworn in, and given a ship out date.
“Now, before I send these out, let me ask you two a few questions, just to make sure we aren’t wasting each other's time. Have either of you ever had any medical conditions: injuries, diseases, surgeries, HIV, Herpes, that sort of thing?”
“As far as HIV goes,” Jay said, “I’m positive…that I’m negative.”
Rochello didn’t get it; instead he fixed Jay with a blank no-nonsense look.
 “No, not that I know of,” Jay revised.
“I broke a bunch of bones. Six fingers, my arm, my foot twice—though it was just the pinky toe the first time—and cracked my skull.”
“Anything else?”
“There’s a family history of heart disease and Beki might have given us chlamydia once, but I’m not sure.”
“Us?” Rochello looked genuinely upset for the first time.
“It’s okay, we took a fifty dollar pill as a precaution. Well I did anyway. Jay?”
“Sure did. Me and Christa both, though she had free care outta Cambridge, so it was free for us.”
“Okay, well here’s the problem,” Rochello continued, “if I put everything you just said down on this form, it’ll get rejected. I won’t be able to go forward with you until you have a doctor clear you on every single issue. It doesn’t matter if you said you had a nose bleed once when you were five, I’d still need written medical clearance. Do either of you even have a doctor?”
“No,” I admitted.
“I’m not allowed to have one at my place unless they were grandfathered in,” Jay said.
“Get serious. Do either of you have health insurance?”
“No,” we answered.
“So let me ask you again: Do either of you have any medical issues?”
“No. I have no medical issues,” I winked and the sergeant regained his smile.
“Ditto,” Jay said, nodding dramatically.
 “Next question: Do either of you have any mental health issues?”
“No,” Jay said immediately, getting the idea quicker than I was.
“Can you obtain my mental health records without consent?” I asked.
"Would you even know where to look if I didn't point you to specific psychiatric hospitals?"
“In that case: no.”
“Next question: Have either of you had any legal problems?”
Jay was clearly thinking about this in great detail. “Nothing major,” he said at last. “Just a trespassing case and a petty theft flub, but no felonies. It’s not like we killed anybody.” He looked at me. “But if one of my friends killed someone, they could tell me. I mean, I’d be okay with it.”
“Yeah, I mean, hypothetically speaking,” I said.
“Oh, hypothetically of course.” 
“If this friend had killed someone, hypothetically,” nods all around, “and used, let’s say, your Dodge Colt last Thursday around 1pm—eastern standard time—to relocate the body—”
“With pull-string thirteen gallon kitchen bags on the backseat," Jay said, "so as not to hypothetically ruin the cloth, at my hypothetical suggestion, and, hypothetically, during this relocation drive, perhaps some horrible things may or may not have been shouted at joggers going around the lake?”
“It’s possible,” I admitted. “It’s also possible that, upon arriving at the mass gravesite, er…‘Stoneham mountain’,” with finger quotes, “a hypothetical post mortem Male/Male/Female-corpse three-way ensued.”
“Hypothetically speaking, were either of you ever convicted of a goddamn crime?” Rochello growled, thoroughly unamused.
“Just convicted?” Jay sounded serious now. 
“Yes, just crimes you’ve been convicted of. Don’t tell me anything else. Please, for the love of god.”
“No, I’ve never been convicted of a crime.” Jay’s voice went up comically at the word “convicted.”
 “Often accused; never convicted.”
“Good job.” Rochello returned to his jovial businessman-like self. “Do either of you abuse drugs?” 
“I don’t,” Jay answered first. “I treat every drug with love and respect. I always call them the next day, even if they were gross, and I never hit them, even when they give me back sass.”
Rochello gave him the tilted-head look of a confused dog. 
“Okay, no I don’t do or abuse drugs. Sorry…”
His eyebrows rose in mock surprise.
“I’ll drink sometimes, but I don’t do drugs.”
“It’s all right; I’ve got my own drug tests here that won't go on record. If you pee hot, I’ll send you to a guy in Woburn that sells this drink…”
“I don’t use drugs,” I insisted.
“…it’ll clean you out good. Then we’ll test you again. You’ll be fine.”
“I don’t use drugs.” It was my turn to get mad. “I can pass a drug test right now.”
“With flying colors, man!” Jay said like a tripping hippy, peace signs up in the air, head lolling.
Rochello reached down below the desk and came back up with a plastic-wrapped test, throwing it onto my lap. “Go for it. Bathroom’s on the left.”
I stood, fixed my pants, then marched off. From the bathroom, I couldn't tell what they were talking about but I heard Jay laughing in his stuttering, bass drum laugh.
Alone in the bathroom, I was so overzealous about proving my innocence that I pissed too hard, overshooting the fill line and getting piss all over the place. I didn't bother to clean up. I hated being accused of using drugs because I was staunchly against them. My coworker Morocco, from the security company, had constantly accused me of smoking pot in the cruisers. Eventually I made up a twin brother that died from a drug overdose to explain why I don't use drugs. It shut him up.
I returned to the desk and tossed the now-full piss test to Rochello. He didn't notice it was an unorthodox—-and a rather disgusting—move. Instead, he held it up close to his eye and read the results. “Looks good; you must know that guy in Woburn already, huh? Just make sure you hit him up again before MEPS.”  
Jay laughed; harder when he saw me scowling, fists clenched at my sides.
“You gonna test Jay? Huh?” I asked, jerking a thumb to my friend.
“No need. Says he doesn’t use. Well, we’re pretty much done for today. I’ll send your applications off this afternoon. We should know within two weeks. I’ll let you guys know as soon as I do. Good luck, gentlemen.”
Drug-free piss handshakes all around.

Military Entrance Processing Stupid

The MEPS building in Boston was a gargantuan stone block that stood across the street from a bar and a fish shack whose sign declared that they had “The Best Scallops This Side Of The Sugarbowl!” Its walls were lined with rows of fortress-like windows, mere slits fitted with thin rectangles of tinted glass. Inside, the hallways were bustling with military personnel from the four respective branches and hundreds of sleepy potential recruits.
Randy and I were obviously among the latter.
Like zombies on a conveyer, the lot of us were placed in a hub-like waiting room and then brought out and returned in sections, to be put through a series of tedious—and sometimes unpleasant—tests.
At one point, we were in the waiting room when a very zombie-like recruit sitting next to Randy nudged him and asked, “Hash?” his mop of unruly hair reminding me one of those mushrooms you see growing from the sides of trees.
Randy stared daggers at the guy, “What?”
Randy looked to me but I could only shrug, too tired to make sense of the convo. He looked back to the bizarre questioner. “No, I don’t have any.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” the zombie recruit asked, then got up and moved to another seat. He was quickly replaced by a guy with long blonde hair and a flower shirt that looked like it could have come from Woodstock.
“Hey, brothers,” he said with a nod, and then looked away, seemingly content to sit there quietly.
I decided to do a little experiment to see how other people would react to the previous experience. I leaned over Randy and whispered to the newcomer, “Hash?”
He looked over and smiled. “No, brother, I’m just sitting here all sober and stuff.”
I nodded, planning on leaving it at that, but the guy surprised me by saying, “You don’t have a fatty roach or anything do you?”
Now I felt high. “No, I just asked if you if you had anything.”
 “Oh, sorry, no, brother. I wish. It’s so dry out here, I can’t get anything. I’m from Berkley. Ever been to Berkley?” Randy and I both shook our heads. “Oh, man, you gotta go, brothers. I dropped so much acid on the train ride over here that I wasn’t even sure where I was. I was in Berkeley, I was out of Berkley, I was in Berkley, I was out of Berkeley,” he said, looking alternatingly at each hand with every Berkeley, “People were fucking melting, man.”
“That’s crazy,” I said, and meant it.
 “Do you do acid?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “But he does.” I jerked a hand at Randy just to mess with him. It’s kind of an inside joke we have, me putting him in awkward spots. Sometimes he rolls with it, sometimes he stops talking to me for weeks at a time, but I can never help myself; I have issues.
 “All right!” the hippie said, putting an arm around Randy as my buddy’s eyes widened. “Why didn’t you tell me, man? Come on, let’s go take a bathroom break and tune out! We’ll still piss clean, man!”
Randy peeled the man off him and said levelly, “He was joking, I don’t do drugs at all.”
“Oh man, that was harsh, brother.” Crestfallen, he stood and shuffled over to a free seat to sit but himself.
Randy looked back to me, looking ready to kill.
I shrugged, “We lose more friends that way.”
Midway through the process, I found myself sitting in the main waiting room—watching Independence Day on the big screen they had up front for the sixth time—while a bored-looking seaman sat behind a desk by the room's entrance. The orange juice I’d had with breakfast back at the hotel was making me want to yack and the rather corpulent girl sitting to one side of me was snoring so loud I could literally feel my nerves fraying one by one. I didn’t know what would happen once the last one was frayed but, if I was going to puke, I decided it was gonna be on her.
On my other side was a young kid with glasses so big it looked as if he was wearing a pair of extra-large magnifying glasses. Earlier he wanted to know if I wanted to trade Pokémon cards online…I wasn’t sure what exactly that meant, but said “no” in any event. That shut him up but I could see his massive eyes turning to look at me every five seconds from the corner of my vision, and it took all my willpower not to elbow him in the face at every instance.
I would’ve gotten up and moved but the only other available seat was next to a pair of black dudes who seemed to be busy trading rap verses or talking about their past criminal exploits, “So I asked the guy for a cigarette, and when he pulled out da pack I suckered him, left him asleep under a tree, took all his money.”
“I feel dat. Yo, let me ask you sumthin. I’m gonna say it like this: you smoke?”
“Shit, nigga, you know I do…”
Unless they wanted to talk about the pros and cons of Star Wars vs Star Trek or how The Wheel of Time would end, I figured there was no room in that convo for me.
            Sighing, I sat back and tried to get as comfortable as possible on the hard-cushioned chair. Randy was off getting some test done, so I was stuck by myself with The Snoring Maid and Bug Eyes, waiting to go upstairs so I could get a foot-blister waiver. A couple of days prior to coming to MEPS, I had the dumb idea to buy combat boots at the local Army surplus store, thinking it would be cool since I was practically in the Army anyway. I quickly found out that hiking and new combat boots don't mix, thus the blisters.
We took the ASVAB the night before. My score was miserably weak but they said my GT—general trainability—score was high enough to open up some MOSs. Then, after a night at the Holiday Inn in Somerville, we were bused back to the MEPS building for the all-day physical.
We were weighed, heighted, duck-walked, given eye tests, drug tests, and memory tests.
At one point I was brought into a small room where a creepy Amish-looking doctor told me to bend over with a smile on his face. I asked him why but he gruffly repeated the order without expounding. I did so, though I couldn’t say what he did back there. I was just relieved that nothing was inserted.
After that was the hearing test. There were four of us in a small room, each of us with those gigantic headphones and with instructions to hit the buzzers in our hands whenever we heard a beep. I was hearing beeps so intermittently that I thought I’d been missing them, so I came up with the grand idea of pressing the buzzer nonstop, that way, even if I didn’t hear the beeps, I would still, at least, acknowledge them.
My plan was going along great until the Marine performing the test buzzed in on my headphones with, “Jason, you’re hitting the buzzer even when there’s no tone. Take your time and listen. You were doing great up until now.”
I nodded, the blood rushing to my face in embarrassment, probably looking redder than a stoplight. And while I hardly heard any more beeps, I still managed to somehow pass the test.
Then came the quickest blood test I’ve ever had in my life. A bald black man in a long white doctor’s coat—and eyes the size of chicken eggs—sat me down, tightened a rubber tourniquet around my arm, and before I knew it I was jabbed with a needle, my blood filled the tube, the tourniquet was snapped off, and my vision was going gray.
A bandage was tied roughly around my arm and then the egg-eyed doctor told me I could go back out to the waiting room.
But as my vision swam and I tried desperately not to faint in front of all those people, all I could say was, “No,” in a tight whisper.
MEPS gave us our first clash with the Army's "hurry up and wait" philosophy, whereby you—and countless others—run between tasks with the urgency of an emergency response team, only to end up in front of unsympathetic bureaucrats that aren't ready for you just yet.
Bureaucrats follow rules designed to strip personal responsibility. It allows them to operate as agents of evil while hiding behind the phrase, "I'm just doing my job." Energy that could otherwise be used for discretionary matters is instead converted into pure disdain for the general public: "How dare you not know all of the rules I have to follow?" That day's brand of evil was handing me back forms for minor errors. And making me wait, of course.
I was in a room full of recruits stripped to their underwear, myself included. We were asked to hold odd yoga positions to show we weren't too broken to join the military. "Back straight, ass up, gentlemen." The doctors treated us like show dogs, pointing penlights and callously passing judgments on physical abnormalities.
The boxers I wore had a fly whose sense of humor was only apparent when suspended horizontally. Having my dick flip out while being inspected by penlight would have been more embarrassing if I were the only one suffering this. But by the unintentional look of it, button-less boxers were in vogue that day. Swinging dicks and stifled laughter filled the room.
When the doctors asked me to show off my push-up position, I made my left hand crooked so it would be symmetrical with my many-times broken right. The doctor approached and told me I'd have an easier time if I spread my fingers a bit. "Oh, I'm good," I told him, about to fall over.
He flicked his pen in the shape of a check and moved on.
We then lined up outside a smaller office to have our genitals intentionally inspected, one-at-time. When I stepped inside, I was told to remove my underwear entirely and, of course, to wait.
Before we went to MEPS, I took a shower to ensure I wouldn't have sweaty balls for the turn-and-cough part. The doctor didn't need to know this, but with the awkwardness of having my balls cupped by a complete stranger, it became my attempt at small talk. Being nervous, I wasn't able to convey my message as well as I hoped. "I showered before coming out of consideration for you" had become, "I was thinking of you," with the accompanying stutter of a young boy approaching his high school crush.
As soon as the words had left my mouth, I knew it was the stupidest thing I ever said. The doctor peered up at me and sat back in his chair, looking like a mechanic rolling himself out from under a car to address an annoyingly talkative customer. I swear I heard a wrench hit the floor in disgust.
As our eyes met he said, "Very nice," without a hint off emotion. He abruptly stood and walked away, telling me, "You can go now," from behind his cubical. 
I fled back into the main room without putting my underwear back on. The line of recruits still waiting out there laughed way too hard for it to have just been my nakedness, given all we'd been through together. I looked down at my crotch to find my pubes trimmed into a neat little heart. It was a relic from the girlfriend I recently dumped because I didn't want her waiting for me while I was in the Army. My short-term memory recalled those stupid words, "I was thinking of you." I could feel the doctor shaking his head at me, heard his assistant mutter, "Well that's a new one," in an obnoxious Jersey accent.
With my clothes back on, I called the recruiter. He was impressed with our ASVAB scores and asked me if I managed to pass the drug test.
“Yes, goddamn it!" I yelled.
"Good. I'll be by to pick you boys up, hopefully within the next few hours."
"What do you mean 'hopefully'?"
"Gotta go. Good job, guys!"
I found Jay sleeping on a couch in the lobby, Randy Quaid yelling, "Hello boys...I'm baaaaaack!" on the big screen.
Instead of joining him, I made my way to the bar across the street. My 21st birthday had just came and went, and although I was a veteran to alcohol, I had never been in a bar by myself before. I figured if I were going to play soldier, I should play adult first.
I sat down on a bar stool and ordered a draught. Through large gulps, I began thinking about what I was getting myself into.
Right after I’d finished community college, my mother remarried and decided to move to Athol, a rural town in central Massachusetts. I wasn’t able to find a job fast enough to avoid getting sucked with them. Job prospects in Athol were worse there than they were back east and I still didn't know what to do with my life. My friends—including Jay—were two hours away and I felt like an intruder in my family's new life.
Shortly after we moved, my mother was involved in a violent car accident and nearly died. Going through that with my family was tough. When she was well enough to come home I had the desperate urge to do something with myself. This is where the Army found me. I might have joined the circus if they thought to ask. Instead, I got a cold call from an Army recruiter.
            I joked with Jay, “Full Mental Jacket.”
            He suggested that we enlist through the buddy system. 
It may have been a continuation of poor decision making or a passive suicide wish on my part, but my mother was proud of me, which made me happy.
Before going to MEPS, Jay and I held an impromptu early goodbye party at my house. We were amazed at how many made the two hour drive to attend. Even people we hardly knew or swore didn't like us came, all to give us their best wishes. It felt strange and undeserved; the two of us being treated as though we were anything better than the same nonsense we've always been. 
My family changed too. All our on-going fights froze in time. I became a celebrity in the home, overhearing my family bragging about me on the phone.
It was crazy.
When the recruiter's van pulled out of my driveway for MEPS, I watched as my entire family broke down into hysterical tears. It's something I hadn't seen since my mother's accident and something I hoped to never see again.
With my second beer about finished, I crossed back to the MEPS building in search of Jay.
With our physicals and waivers in order, Randy and I were once more seated before an Army Staff Sergeant, whose task was finalizing our contracts. Only things left to do were to pick our job and swear our oaths.
“Based on your combined ASVAB scores and the jobs I have left here,” the sergeant said, tapping away on the keyboard as he studied the monitor before him, “I've got three options for you. The first is ninety-two-sierra: Shower/Laundry and Clothing Repair."
"Seamstress and janitor all in one?" Randy said in mock excitement. "Are they like the Army's version of Seal Team 6?"
Ignoring him, the staff sergeant aligned a random stack of papers by bouncing them off his desk. "Second option is ninety-two-foxtrot: Petroleum and Supply Specialist."
"Glorified gas station attendant?" Randy said, this time honestly portraying his contempt.
"Do you have anything outside the ninety-two series?" I asked, not relishing our choices thus far either.
Randy gestured excitedly with thrusted hands.
"Well," the sergeant began, "there is one. Not many people even qualify for it, but with your GT scores, yeah it's probably open to you both: eighty-nine-delta."
 "Ghostbusters?" Randy guessed.
 "Anti-personnel mine tester?" I offered.
"Yes, sort of. Explosive Ordnance Disposal. It's essentially the Army bomb squad. You'd have to fill out waivers because of how dangerous it is. The training's very long too and you'd have to obtain a secret security clearance."
Randy clapped once and pointed, "That's the one."
I turned to him, "You sure? We'd be giving up a chance to be surrounded by women's underwear."
"Come on? Blowing things up? We've been doing that for fun!"
The sergeant looked concerned.
As he should.
You see, Randy and I were experts in devoting our entire paychecks—as small and as infrequent as they were—to the purchase of fireworks and other explosives. Not the little pussy whistlers and jumping jacks—though we had those too—but the backroom shit, the stuff not available to the public: mortars, sky rockets, cakes the size of the moon.
We would go off into the woods or someplace where we could treat the public to this spectacle and do it up. But eventually, even with the magnitude of firepower we had, this became boring. We began to experiment: lighting cakes off upside-down, holding rockets until they just about blew our faces off and the like. And then there were the mortars. No, not the kind the military uses but run-of-the-mill civi mortars. Each one looked like a fat bullet with a wick streaming from its ass. You lit one and tossed it into a tube where it would then launch high into the air to explode in the night sky, looking pretty. That was fine for a while, but eventually we needed more. That’s when we discovered the warnings on the package: DO NOT PLACE MORE THAN ONE MORTAR IN THE TUBE AT ONE TIME AND NEVER PUT MORTARS NOSE DOWN IN THE TUBE.
Yeah, okay.
So we experimented, first by putting two in the tube at the same time and then three and so on. The result was that the top one would shoot off and explode high in the sky while those below it would explode much lower, causing concussive airbursts at hardly treetop level.
Good stuff.
Then we put one nose-down, which utterly destroyed the tube. Luckily we had spares for the grand finale.
Once, to close out the night, we placed the last of our mortars in a single tube: two nose up, two nose down, and lit the combined wicks.
Neither I, Randy, nor the other friends who’d been with us that night, know exactly what happened next. From what I remember, the world turned a bright blue and then I was dreaming of incredibly tall waves blasting a stony beach. I woke up on my back to find streams of sparks shooting all around us, like when the Millennium Falcon jumped to hyperspace.
When we took stock afterwards to make sure all were uninjured and accounted for, we looked around at the damage. A cobalt mushroom cloud hung high above us, trees everywhere leaned askew, most afire, and tiny lights were inexplicably flashing all around. It was like we’d been transported to another planet that’d experienced its own little nuclear holocaust.
At the sound of police and fire sirens, we’d all boogied out of there, giggling like little school girls.
For the times we didn’t have money, we found a barrel fire and hairspray was cheap way to get our fix. We and our friends would venture to a place we called The Mountain—which wasn’t at all as isolated as it sounds, nor was it a mountain, but a small hillock—spark up a barrel fire and then bring whatever aerosol products we could find in our combined houses: hairspray, air fresheners, batteries, CO2 cartridges, anything that said: DO NOT PLACE NEAR FIRE. 
We would toss them in, one-by-one, two-by-two, sometimes more, and then watch as they exploded up into the sky in a tower of fire and sparks.
One night we decided to get crazy and make an atomic cocktail. The plan was to load the barrel with as much aerosol and explosives as we could. We then added gasoline, a tin of .22 caliber bullets, and the Pièce de résistance: a 16oz propane tank someone had left on the summit. Everyone gathered at The Mountain for this monumental event. With the fire, we quickly tossed the ingredients in and then ran like hell, Randy and I about thirty feet away behind some rocks, all our other friends down to the base of the hill.
Long minutes went by with nothing save for a small whining noise. The barrel was still emitting flames so that wasn’t the problem. It was a mystery.
"We should stir it," Randy said.
"It needs to be stirred."
"Are you crazy? You can’t go near that thing now—hey!"
But up he went, a long stick in hand. No matter how much I begged him to come back, he wouldn’t listen. I sat hunkered behind the rock, thinking that I was watching the last few minutes of my friend’s life.
He approached the fire and began to jab down at the flames, his head directly over the barrel. Seconds later, a flurry of sparks issued up from the flames and then BOOOOOOOOOOOOM! A fireball launched up from the mountain, expanding to turn night into day before extinguishing and leaving only a smear of black clouds above.
I looked to the barrel and found it gone. Randy was gone as well. And then I freaked the fuck out.
"Guys! Guys!" I called down to the others, "Randy’s dead! Randy’s dead!"
They ran up, asking me all kinds of stupid questions. "Where is he? Where’s the body?" Adam asked.
"Where’s the barrel?" asked someone else, like that was important.
"They evaporated in the blast!" I said, not believing what I was saying but knowing it was horribly true just the same.
But then Randy stumbled from the nearby trees, his shirt smoldering, smoke wafting from his head, and I’d never been so happy to see that motherfucker in all my life.
"Did you see that?" he exclaimed when he was close.
"Dude, I thought you were dead!" I said, shaking like a man with advanced Parkinson’s, barely even able to light my cig.
"No, I’m not dead.” was all he said.
 What the sergeant was saying here sounded something like that, only on a grander scale.
How could we refuse?
"We're in. Put us down for two bomb squads, please," I said.
The sergeant typed it in and printed our contracts out, placing them before us.
“Before you sign, is there anything you left out during processing and which may cause an issue with your service if discovered?”
“No,” Randy and I said in unison. Rochello trained us well.
“Are you positive?” he said, looking hard at me. “We won’t find out that you were arrested at fifteen for smoking pot in a church basement?”
That really happened, but I never once mentioned it to anyone during processing, and I could swear my juvenile record had been sealed once I hit eighteen.
Swallowing, I played his bluff, “Nope, you won’t find anything like that with me.”
“Outstanding; keep it that way.” Turning to Randy, “And we won’t find that you stole parking meters from a train station in Concord and dumped them in Lake Quannapowitt after removing their money?"
"Quannapo-huh?" he said.
"Wakefield lake," the sergeant clarified.
“Oh. Oddly specific, but no.”
“Sign,” the sergeant said, pushing the contracts before us.
And that was it. By the next night, Randy and I would be heading south on a new road, opening new chapters in our lives.
In the U.S. Army.

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