[An excerpt from a long-in-the-works
The bright morning sunlight belied the dark
mission that the U.S.S. Charon pursued. The cheery,
indifferent sun smiled down from a clear blue sky,
just as it had for the last five billion years. The
death of a few thousand more human beings meant
nothing to it.
Pluto put on his sunglasses and pulled his cap
farther down on his head. After two years of duty
on this ship, he felt more at home in the bowels of
the cargo hold than in the crisp topside air. At
least the frothy water of the Adriatic seemed to
pay some respect to the Charon's errand. Whitecaps
speckled the surface of the restless sea, and spray
borne aloft by a stiff breeze misted the ship's
bulkheads with weepy droplets.
In the distance, columns of smoke rose from
various parts of Trieste's outskirts. Closer, Pluto
could just make out their next load of cargo:
hundreds of metal boxes neatly stacked on the quay.
He shook his head bitterly. How orderly, how neat
death had become. The Wartime Repatriation Act may
have forced the military to return casualties to
their loved ones, rather than burying them abroad
and erecting sterile monuments, but the logistics
of casualty collection and transport were still
handled with precise military efficiency. No flags
at half-staff here, no weeping widows standing on
the pier. No humanizing of their cargo. The
contents of those metal boxes may have lived and
breathed last time they were on this pier, but now
they waited to be stored in the cargo hold of the
Charon just like the provisions and ammunition
being loaded onto the two warships moored on either
side of the pier.
As Pluto turned to go back inside until docking
was completed, a sun-browned deckhand intercepted
him. "Light load today, eh Pluto?"
Pluto stared back at him blankly. "Yes, for
"Maybe I'll be able to get back to my poker game
before my next watch." He lit a cigarette and spat
over the side. "How's it looking down below?
Getting pretty full? I'm ready for another liberty
stop in Venice."
"It's always too full."
"War is hell, man. And we work in Purgatory." He
cackled at his own joke and shook another cigarette
out of its package. "Smoke?"
Pluto shook his head. "No thanks, I have to get
back down below."
The man threw his butt overboard. "Yeah, me too.
I still haven't gotten in on the pool. The pot's up
to a thousand bucks this time."
Pluto's mind whirled with terrible thoughts as
he clambered down the ladder, away from the crowded
mess deck and into the silent hold. The dead were
nothing but cargo to his shipmates. A load of
supplies to bet on. These dead had dollars thrown
before them, not lilies.
He entered his small workspace and rechecked his
supplies for the tenth time. The bodies would have
been embalmed already, but he laid out the
formaldehyde and prepped the embalming machine
nevertheless. His makeup kit also sat at the ready.
This was a personal choiceit wasn't standard
issue for a mortician's mate. The Navy frowned upon
such final preparations, preferring to leave such
work to the civilians back stateside. But Pluto's
chief turned a blind eye to this minor
transgression, knowing what it meant to Pluto to
have a hand in giving the dead back a little
Strickland ALL RIGHTS
What is "The Daily Strick"?
I have long called
myself a writer, but too often I don't do
what a writer must do daily: write. So
you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of
my resolution to make a positive change in
at least one area of my life. Every single
day of this new year (almost), I will
write something, anything, and post it
here. It is my intention to use this daily
exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant
creative energies, and perhaps generate
some worthwhile material this year.
Hopefully you will find at least an
occasional amusement or insight in my
Like what you've
7/17: Death Ship
7/16: The Da Vinci Code
7/15: Bad Moon Rising
7/14: Adios, Compay
7/13: Ty Odeh
7/4: On the Road Again
7/3: Onion Valley
7/2: Happy Independence Day
Previous months in The Archive
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