The Laughing Bombs
by Scott D. Coon
part 1 of 2
In the past, bombs were designed to scream in shrill whistles as they fell. Our bombs were designed to laugh. When I opened my plane over the urban stronghold of the Southern Forces, the bombs’ little flaps caught the wind and sang like little girls laughing a deadpan laugh ha-ha-ha, ha-ha, haaaaa. That laughing could be set to guide each bomb onto a separate target but our squadron always released in pattern omega, a perfect circle of indiscriminate death.
Listening to that day after day while flak scratched her claws down the side of your airship, it screwed with your head... but not my head. Uncle Eric raised me to be a warrior like him and my dad. Other guys would wake up screaming or worse, laughing. Not me. Yeah, I had dreams — just the one dream really. But every morning I got back in my plane and let my little girls go. That’s what I was doing the day everything happened.
Despite begging my CO to switch my spot, I was flying next to Briggs again. Briggs would be the next one of us to snap. Our whole squadron knew it. Briggs couldn’t sit still anymore. He kept marching around, head down, snickering. We’d seen it before; he was on the edge of doing something violently stupid and no one wanted to be around for it. Our Psyche, Xenek, even requested a more dangerous assignment just to get away from the manic nut-job. Xenek’s request got turned down, just like mine.
Each squadron had a Psyche like Xenek, a “sensitive” with an implant who’d guide us to our targets. The Psyches could talk to pilots like me through the chips that the Air Force had put in our heads. We could talk back to the Psyches but not to other pilots; we didn’t have the brains for it.
When our bomber wing first came online, our Psyches treated their pilots as if we were their children. The Psyches took it hard when one of us didn’t make it back. Gradually, things changed. As the laughing bombs ate away at our minds, the Psyches became cold and insular, spending all their time together, even avoiding their own squadrons.
A few had to be taken away in clock helmets. The helmets looked like something from an old-fashioned diving suit and filled the Psyches’ heads with grandfather clocks perpetually striking midnight; it kept them from making any connections.
When Pallow went nuts, he ended it by bailing out over no-man’s-land; Pallow’s plane wasn’t even smoking. We were all relieved that he didn’t take any of us with him, but the Psyches seemed relieved and guilty. I guessed that it was the relief that they felt guilty about.
On the day that everything happened, I was flying the 1000-hours bombing run. In the plane beside mine, Briggs had been relentlessly bouncing in his seat since takeoff. I’d just dropped my gaggle of girls when, in the back of my brain, I heard Xenek’s voice screaming, “Dive! Dive!”
I looked right and saw Briggs’ plane careening toward mine. I dove but not fast enough. Our wings clashed. Both planes spun, unraveling long skeins of black as they fell. Each time his cockpit swept past mine, I saw Briggs sitting there, his hands flat on his lap, staring into nowhere, not reacting, not even moving.
I blew my canopy and deployed my glide jacket. His canopy stayed on. “Xenek,” I screamed in my head, “what the hell is going on?!”
“I can’t feel him,” yelled Xenek. “It’s like he’s dead!”
I could only watch as our planes swirled into the grand fires below. Staring into that glowing crucible was like staring into my dream... that same dream every night. In it, I’d drop my bombs and the laughter would fall away like normal. Only a single laughter would remain, echoing through my fuselage and into my brain. I’d investigate. Following the sound through a haze of empty rings, I’d find a little girl, a real little girl, curled up in one of the release rings, laughing.
As I’d stare on, puzzled, my plane would suddenly disintegrate, leaving us to plummet into the fires. I had no glide jacket, just blue pajamas with yellow duckies, for some reason; they seemed familiar, the pajamas. Falling, I’d pull the little girl close as if I could protect her.
That’s when her laughter would stop. She’d spread her arms like wings and fly us far away from the burning city to a grassy hill surrounded by green fields. Returning to my arms, the little girl would smile the warmest smile. She’d be about to say something very, very important to me, something I’d known but forgotten. In the dream, I’d know exactly what that something was. Then I’d wake up.
Every morning, I sat on the edge of my bunk trying to remember what it was that she was about to say. Sometimes in the dream I’d say it myself, hoping the words would still be there when I woke up. They never were.
But, that was just a dream. This was reality and I was in my glide jacket, spiraling into the city of embers and smoke. Briggs had finally, fully snapped... But that look on his face, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t “snapped.”
I landed to find myself surrounded by ghostly figures lumbering out of the lingering smoke. I screamed for Xenek but he didn’t answer. Gaunt faces emerged from the grey, masticated by war and starvation. Some wore helmets; all wore uniforms. I fired my sidearm. One dropped. No one fired back or even reacted. I shot another and another; still nothing. With my gun out of battery, I chucked it, knocking one unconscious. The others ignored him and grabbed me. Each was weak but together they overpowered me.
None spoke as they carried me across the cratered terrain. Their helmets bore cartoon explosions; they were ordnance disposal — at least their uniforms were. I saw other pods of hollow people gathering in the haze. When we all lined up at an iron bunker, I found that the other pods carried unexploded laughers.
The line ended deep inside the bunker at another bunker, one full of unexploded laughers. They mindlessly tossed the new bombs in; then they tossed me in. I scrambled to my feet but not fast enough. With a clunk, the doors locked.
“Hey!” I screamed in the dark. “Hey!! I’m not a bomb, you whack-jobs!”
Clearly, I’d need to find my own way out. I used the light of my palmtop to cut the darkness, hoping there’d be another exit. As I panned my light across a sea of dormant laughers, I realized that one of them was not a bomb. I panned back and there she was, a little girl curled up into the shape of a bomb, silently staring straight ahead. Her eyes surreptitiously glanced at me then snapped back straight.
“They got you, too, huh?” I asked.
She just stared on, trying not to move.
“Not gonna talk, eh?” I asked. “Well, it’s not like I’m gonna take you with me. Sorry, but you’d get us both killed.”
I moved the light away, leaving her to her... whatever. The rest of the vault was solid, not a door in sight, so I sat. The next time those doors opened, I’d plow through those zombies like a defensive lineman, another thing Uncle Eric taught me.
After I lost my parents in a home invasion, he took me in or, the way Aunt Jill told it, he just took me, marched right in and informed the family that I was his. Nobody stopped him. Nobody ever stopped Uncle Eric. He’d probably have me demoted if I dragged that little girl across the battlefield; why was I even thinking about that? And where was Xenek?
The 1200-hours bombing came right on schedule. Even through all that earth and metal, I could hear the little girls laughing. Just before the laughing turned to exploding, I realized that one of the laughs was coming from inside the bunker. I stuck my light on the little girl and, sure enough, it was her.
The concussions rippled through the earth, shifting the bombs. One fell and rolled into the door with a clunk; that didn’t scare me half as much as that little girl’s laughing. I was raised to be a warrior, but there I was, cringing from a little girl because of a stupid dream.
As a kid, I had bad dreams about a fire monster. Uncle Eric said, “You gonna take that from a dream?! Your dreams are yours. Take control!” So I turned myself into a dragon and swallowed that fire monster whole. But it didn’t work on this dream. No matter what, I always fell, she always saved me, and I never heard those words.
Finally, the bombs stopped and the little girl stopped and I was able to pry my light away. I wanted to grab her and demand she tell me what she was about to say in my dream... But that was ridiculous.
Soon, the bunker doors screeched open. Shoulder first, I plowed down three pods, knocking their bombs to the floor. As they got back up, I punched out one and then another. I thought I was winning until I realized I was the only one fighting. The line had reformed around me, bombs and all. They were on automatic pilot and I didn’t even show up on their radar.
I started up the stairs but, like an idiot, I looked back. The little girl stood in the doorway, not pretending to be a bomb. I couldn’t help myself; I went back for her.
Outside, the grind of the Southern Forces trucks rattled the fresh smoke. The SF had the best trucks, armadillo-backs; they could take a direct hit and keep on rolling. With the little girl in my arms, I dove into a crater.
Waiting for the SF to pass, I screamed across my brain for Xenek.
“Krieger? You’re alive?!”
“Yeah, I’m alive! Where the hell have you been?”
“I lost you... I thought you were dead.” He felt flustered. I hated feeling him in my head; it made me want to floss my brain. “Okay, Krieger,” he said after a long pause, “I gotta get you somewhere before the 1400 run.”
“Yeah, that would be nice,” I said with all due sarcasm, while noticing that the little girl’s rust-colored sundress had actually been yellow once.
“Who’s that with you?” asked Xenek. “Is that a little girl?”
“It’s an unexploded bomb,” I said, still in sarcasm mode.
“You can’t be dragging...”
“Shut up and get me somewhere,” I ordered. “It’s almost 1400.”
He took me to a tiny tunnel disappearing into dirt and blackness. Pushing the little girl ahead of me, I crawled through as fast as I could. I reached the safety of the other end only to find a pistol in my face. “What the hell is this, Xenek?!”
“I’ve sent pilots to these guys before... but never a little girl. That’s on you.”
Behind the gun was a black on black suit with big, frizzy hair. In his other hand, a chain of plastic skulls hung from a silver microphone. “Is she a bomb?” he asked.
“Uh,” I said. “No... she’s a little girl.”
He narrowed his eyes at me. “How do you know?”
“Uh... because she’s not metal?”
I knelt there sweating while he pondered my evidence. Finally, he lowered the gun and led us into a grand church. “Xenek sent you?” he asked. “That’s cool. We like the song-bringers. Come on, the two o’clock show’s about to start.”
“Show?” I asked Xenek silently.
“Take a seat,” insisted Xenek. “This is good.”
Inside the cathedral, the walls had all turned to rubble but the massive, modern dome remained intact, now resting on the remnants of its walls. As the little girl and I took a front row seat, the singer joined the bassist, guitarist, and drummer behind the altar.
While we waited, I looked at the quiet little girl sitting beside me. She wasn’t much older than I was when I lost my parents. A burglar killed them and set our house on fire. I only had a flash of that memory... standing in the rain alone, watching our house burn. I wondered if any of this had anything to do with my dream. I wondered if I was going nuts. I wondered what the hell was with that look on Briggs’ face. Then I wondered why Xenek suddenly felt so worried. Then it was 1400.
The drummer clicked his sticks to launch the tempo. Then the guitar strummed a long, demonic cord and it was on. The laughers laughed, the explosions roared, and the band jammed along. Bizarrely, it really came together as if the laughers had their own sheet music.
Sucked into the surreal concert and shuddering light of candle chandeliers, I forgot for a moment that this was war. I guess the little girl forgot, too, until a row of direct hits shocked us back to reality. She immediately drew herself up and laughed that deadpan laugh.
The band froze mid-note and stared at the little, laughing girl. As the explosions tapered off, the musicians came down and surrounded us. Reverently, the singer whispered, “She turned real.”
“Uh, yeah,” I said as I stood up, “I think we’ll be going now.”
The singer grabbed the little girl’s arm. “You can, but she’s staying with us.”
“NO,” I barked, surprising myself, “she’s coming with me.” Why the hell didn’t I just leave her there? What made me think she had anything to do with my dream? Maybe I was going nuts?
“No way,” said the drums, “we made her; we’re keeping her.”
“Why do you think we been playing?” asked the bass. “Our music turned her into a real girl.”
“Well, then,” I said, “you can make another one.”
The singer stuck his gun in my face. “She’s ours, song-bringer.”
Copyright © 2011 by Scott D. Coon