Gunnery Sergeant William Bonnie
The crew and I went our separate ways, despite their begging, and I ended up in the park with my stash of drugs and notes. Appropriately enough, I was hauling them around in a little sack that looked alot like a garbage bag. Before long, I was starving again.
Not caring about my fate, I sat near a park bench and waited. I picked up scraps and ate whatever the humans dropped. I sparred against pigeons for food, and I stole what I could from the mouths of cats. It was never enough. I made a sorry home below a trash can that got flooded when it rained, and in that place I took off my hideously dirty armor (I had never once cleaned it or myself, nor taken it off), my shield, my slingshot, and stashed all my earthly possessions. Most of the time I was too drugged out on Xanax or painkillers to care about anything, and plenty of people threw away perfectly good liquor in my trashcan. But once in awhile, I got hungry, or it rained, and I had to surface.
There was this old bum. He hung out most days on the bench by my trashcan and I watched him because I had nothing else to do. He saw me once or twice, but didn't do anything. He was like me. Drunk, starving, depressed.
One day he had a bag of peanuts. It was gold, I tell you, and my stomach began to immediately demand some of that rare treasure. For a brief moment I remembered a lifetime ago... a nice warm place, and a kind human that gave me peanuts anytime I asked for them. The vision, surely my stupid imagination, faded quickly enough, and I marched right up to the bum. I climbed up his pant leg and sat on his thigh, staring at him.
Well, that's the last thing anyone expects a mouse to do, and he stared back at me. We sat there staring. Finally, he smiled a little bit through his grey beard and offered me a peanut. I snatched it and devoured the morsel. He giggled. I answered his impingement by going right up to the bag and pulling a peanut out. Glaring at out of the corner of my eye, I munched that peanut in broad daylight, in defiance of all humanity that didn't want a poor, starving mouse to have something nice.
"You got guts, mouse," he said to me.
I finished my peanut, hissed at him, and ran away.
But the next day I woke beneath my damp trash can to the smell of more peanuts. He had come back with another bag.
I stuck my nose out and saw him staring at me. He grinned and waved a peanut. Clearly the challenge could not go unheeded, so I strode out there, marched up his ratty pant leg, and ate the peanut. He chuckled.
From then on the bum and I got along pretty well. He talked to me and I talked back, though that part of it was one way. We mostly talked to the universe, or God, or whatever, and the other one listened. When I wasn't sitting with Bill (he told me his name and that he had been a marine in Vietnam), or sulking in my dungeon of a hole below the trashcan, I was out lurking on creatures.
Understand that I'm not a mean mouse. I was a peaceful mouse, but for the pain. The pain made me mean, and the drugs made me stupid and reckless. Looking back, it's just astounding that I didn't die at that time in my life. It was by far the most dangerous of any other time.
I poured out my hostility on targets that I thought deserved it. Cats, snakes, birds of prey, and people. Mostly people. People are easy to scare. Drop on them from trees, bite them when they're resting, skitter across their newspaper, all that, then run away. Easy. Risky. Lots of fun. I beat up other mice that came into my territory, half wishing the big bully mouse (who was probably dead by now) would come and get a taste of my stick (I had a long stick I used like a staff) or my slingshot, the one dear possession I had kept on me through all this. I grew wickedly quick and accurate with the staff, and my trusty old slingshot, well, let's just say I never missed, drunk and drugged or not. Most of my targets were pretty big. Even their eyes. I was a nasty, hostile, bitter mouse. Before long, word spread that "Squibble's Ghost" was haunting the park and no mouse would come near it. No rats, neither. It didn't take too long before I was alone. Even the humans stopped using that sidewalk due to the "stinging wasps" (he he he).
I stopped doing my chi gung from the day my master died. I stopped drawing, stopped writing. I did nothing except dangerous, psycho stuff, living in frigid misery, and hanging out with Bill. When it would rain and the cold water flooded my hovel, I'd crawl up onto the bench, up under his hat, which was warm and dry under his newspapers and trashbags. He knew I did that, so he never hit himself in the head or scratched. He was usually passed out drunk anyway. He could have easily squished me, but at the time I didn't care, I just wanted to be warm and dry.
All in all, the gods protected me hard over those sad weeks. It was the lowest time in my life, and I felt like I was going crazy maybe. In my hardest, darkest moment, the struggle wasn't physical, it was emotional and mental. It made my first trek through the Fields of Fate seem easy. I questioned everything - the very principles that made me who I was. I wondered if I would even know it when I went insane. All I ever felt was pain or nothing. My body wasn't young anymore. My vigilante crusade was taking its toll on me, and I had many injuries that hurt me constantly. It seemed a thousand years since I was a tiny boy, comforted by my mother's loving face and eager to join a great quest.
And now, being a "great hero" was the very last thing I ever wanted. I hated the very thought of it. It was a heinous, twisted trap from the beginning. I'd been a sucker.
Bill told me he was William Bonnie, gunnery sergeant in Vietnam, and he had been responsible for 200-some men, who had all died. Only he and two others came back. Those two others died off over the years. One killed himself. Bill blamed himself for every one of them, clearly, and it haunted him. We had that in common. I found it ironic that I hated humans so much when all I seemed to meet were nice ones, but it didn't change my mind.
As for myself, I had had it with holy quests, deep meanings and hidden agendas. I was directly responsible for the death of fifty thousand mice. Every single one of them recruited by me - talked into being cosmic suckers for some 'great cause.' If I hadn't come along, they would all be alive and happy. Well, they'd be alive. Maybe. I saw their faces in dreams, relived funny moments with them, saw their children and families faces, frowning at me. Blaming me.
Hey, don't blame me, people. I blame myself enough for all of you. I'm as haunted as it gets.
And I was indeed. For every time I partook of drugs or drank too much liquor, My vision was cast right into another world. But it wasn't the normal spirit world. It was the underworld. It was that dark, horrible place of damnation and woe.
There were ghosts there, and though none of them were the actual mice that had died in the Great War, I saw them as if they were. I saw them hiss at me, curse me, spit on me. I saw them weep for one more precious moment with their child, or their momma, knowing they'd never get it. After awhile it beat me up so bad I was numb to it. It became normal. I ignored it.
I was sick and tired of being the universe's punching bag. Bill and I were catharsis for each other, using the other as our shrink and only friend. He thought I couldn't understand him, and it didn't matter. He couldn't understand me, and that didn't matter either. We spent long days and nights pouring out our souls to each other on most every subject.
"How could Mike trick me into that whole mess?" I said to Bill. "It was completely stupid. A trap from the beginning. I had no choice once I realized there were choices, and by then it was too late. He used my childish desire to be a great hero to lure me into being the fall mouse for the entire safe house, which is mostly dead now, like your soldiers, only I had like fifty thousand, which is how many America lost in Vietnam period!" I paced back and forth, stopped to sip some beer from a bottlecap, and went on. "I wasted my entire life in a stupid, childhood dream. I've never been a normal mouse, and now I won't ever be. Normal mice shun me, and will the world miss fifty thousand mice? Not even. Would it miss a million? A billion? Nah. One day, many years from now, they'd all go, 'Hey, where are all the mice?' and realize we were all gone. Then they'd shrug and go on with their nasty, short attention span, gimme gimme, me me me attitudes. They'd never blink an eye at our fate. They only care about us if we bother them. Then all they care about is killing us."
"I can't get any medical care," Bill said. "No one will treat a bum. If you got a tiny bit of money, you get nothin'. You gotta be starvin', or dyin', to get medical care. Even then you get the bottom of the barrel. You get next to nothin'. This country's gone to hell in a handbasket, I tell you, little friend. When all my friends and I signed up, we thought we were doin' the... the right thing! We were suckers, we were. If someone had told us how it would turn out, why... I... I don't know what we would have done. No one wants to talk to me anymore. My own father won't see me. My friends are all dead. All I got is this bottle. Heh heh heh... an' you got the cap. I hope you appreciate my sharing with you, buddy. It's all I got."
The irony didn't escape me at all that I was now using a bottlecap to drink beer out of instead of using it as a shield in pursuit of the valorous righting of wrongs. But I was grateful at least. Most humans wouldn't share even a tiny piece of cracker with a starving mouse, and Bill shared everything he had with me. We both ate out of the trash. I was glad I wasn't the only one.
"Human civilization is built on the bones of mice, Bill," I told him one frosty night. I was nuzzled in his military issue coat and he was wrapped in his barely adequate sleeping bag. He was still shivering. Winter had held on long. Spring was very cold this year. Big surprise there.
"In labs, mice grant people the cures for their problems," I said. "Millions of mice pay for each drug that makes humans feel better, or treats their sicknesses. I say treats because no pharmaceutical company in the world is interested in curing any illness. It's not good for business. It's all about the money in the big, wretched world of Lucifer's corporations. But meanwhile, the mice are the heroes. They sacrifice and die, although not willingly, mind you, so that humanity can go on and enjoy life. It's all insane, but what really ticks me off is the mice that die for little or no reason. Like testing cosmetics. 'Oops! That stuff melts the flesh off - good thing we tested it on a mouse and not a human. Well, put that mouse in the incinerator and get the next one. Maybe the next one will light on fire.'" I hunched down in the pocket lower as I spilled my complaints. "Stupid humans, so careless and selfish! I wish mice were three hundred pounds each. We'd show them."
"The system doesn't work," Bill said the next morning. "It punishes its own people. It's getting harder and harder to make a difference. Harder to be appreciated, or be heard. No one listens anymore." He showed me a box of old medals he had. There were so many. I thought of the one I had earned. The first mouse to earn a medal. Bill had more than twenty. One of them he held up. It was the Silver Star. There was almost nothing more honorable than that one. It was a huge deal. He let me touch it and sniff it. I looked back and forth from them to him, amazed. Bill was a great war hero.
"I got them for saving my company from an ambush," he said. "Well, some of them. Others I got for being wounded, or for doing what I was told, or whatever. But that one... that one I got for saving everyone. It was a dark night in the Northern lines, and I took point 'cause no one else knew how. I tripped a wire. I heard it go click, so I froze. The demolitions guy was a newbie who couldn't disarm it, so I told everyone to get away from me, and I wrote a letter to my wife, telling her I was sorry an' all that. Then once everyone was clear of the blast radius, I let the string go. The grenade didn't go off. It was a dud. At that exact moment we were attacked by a bunch of gooks, and I was the only one who could see where they were. I was shot a coupla times," he showed me the scars, "But I got everyone out an' killed half the Charlies by myself. My company was torn up. When it was all over, they told my commander that I had taken the blast from the grenade and still come to their rescue. I told the truth, but nobody listened. They gave me this medal." He coughed, spat, and said, "None of those guys I saved made it out. My... heroic deed meant nothin'! Nothin'... Still... I loved getting this..."
He cradled it, gazing at it with affection. It was the only thing he valued, like me and my slingshot.
Eyes filled with tears from his story, I snapped to attention and saluted him. He leaned over, squinted at me, and said, "By god, little guy, I gotta drink a lot more or a lot less."
We spent all our days and nights in such conversation, glad to have someone who would listen. Glad for little things.
"The kind human is probably dead," I said one evening. "My momma is dead. My family is dead. Even that squire. Why should I miss that stupid little midget? But I do. I miss them all. I hate it. I can't get my mind away from it. I wanna run away. Mice always run away. Except my master... he didn't run away... Even... Even when he knew. Even when he knew what was coming..."
"I got cancer," Bill said one day.
I stood still, staring at him. He looked down at me, not surprised that I appeared to have understood. We knew each other well by now. "Yeah, little guy. I got stomach cancer. They told me down at the VA today. There's nothin' they can do. Well, there is, but I can't afford it," he chuckled.
I kept staring. My heart wanted to stop.
"So, I guess my clock's ticking," he said sadly. "I'm surprised it lasted this long. I'm an old man now. My time's over."
I'd cursed him. I kill all my friends. Oh, why. Why was this so? Hadn't I damn well quit? Why wouldn't the bad things leave me alone!!?
I crept up to him, not caring one bit if he knew I could read or understand him. I sat by his neck and leaned my head against him. I cried.
Some days Bill would be gone after that, to the VA hospital, I guess, when the pain got too bad. He still brought me food every evening, even though he stopped eating his. He froze at night, having lost so much weight, and shook so violently I couldn't sleep with him anymore for fear of being crushed. My own cave was as cold as hell. My vision of hell. Frozen and lonely. I realized I was in it now.
Bill lifted the trashcan in the middle of the coldest of these nights, smiling at me, and left me several big chunks of his warm coat he had torn off.
"No reason both of us have to freeze, lil' buddy," he said.
I stared back and chirped at him. He gently set the trashcan back down. As he went back to his bench, I heard him say, "All I ever wanted in my whole life, little guy, was to make a difference. For someone, or something. Just anything would have been nice."
The next morning, I woke warm and happy in my new nest. I thought I was back at the safe house, and was eager to go see my master for breakfast. When I stuck my nose out of my new nest I realized the truth and my heart sank. I looked at my stash of drugs, almost gone. Only crumbs remained. Letting out a deep sigh, I realized that I was going to have to go all the way back to the pharmacy to steal more. They were the only thing that kept the dreams at bay. Last night I think I had dreamt of my momma. It had been a good dream, turned terribly cruel at the end by my awakening to such a merciless reality.
But one person had changed fate for me, because I realized when I saw the frost on the ground that I would not have survived last night beneath the trashcan without Bill's coat he gave me. I crawled out in the early morning, determined to tell him he had made a difference. Even if I had to write it down for him.
But Bill was dead.
I sat on him a long time, wishing he wasn't, but he was. He was cold and stiff. He had no pulse. He smelled dead.
That was how the hero Bill died. Alone, cold and in pain, never knowing he'd made a difference, even if only for a mouse.