Neil had shell shock.
An explosion, a concussion, a wave of force had re-arranged his molecules and left him different, and not a particularly beneficial different at that. Not that this made him unique, he was but one of many people wandering the streets in the same state.
Neil sat in his box, in an alley off a street that no longer had a name. A few yards away sat two soldiers, one old, one young. Their names are unimportant, as they'd lost their dogtags long ago.

"By god, we're gonna give those fuckers some shit now, huh?"

The elder, long accustomed to his companion's youthful exuberance, merely kept his eye on the street, keeping watch as automatically as he breathed. He might have nodded slightly, or he might not have. Not that it would have mattered. He'd known the kid for all of an hour, but it might as well have been a year, a decade. With a veteran's uncanny ability to categorize the meat put before him, he'd already put this kid in his proper slot. He'd babble like this without encouragement, without even response. Getting himself worked up for no good goddamn reason, only to come down minutes later, and begin again.

"God, let 'em come down here. Let 'em! YOU HEAR ME YOU FUCKS! COME ON!"

Before long he degenerated into the nonsensical grunting gibberish one will occasionally hear from over-enthusiastic athletes, content merely to be making loud deep noise of one sort of another. Had the elder been willing to take his eyes from the street for an instant, he would have rolled them. Briefly, he flirted with the notion of taking the kid to task, or at least telling him to shut up, for the love of God. Either course had a strong appeal, but either might very well distract him for the crucial moment, the deciding instant of shoot or be shot. So he kept his silent vigil, and listened to the inevitable winding down.

"Fuck. Fuck 'em. I can't wait to get out of this fucking pit. I've got better shit to be doing than this. I've got a home, I've got a girlfriend. Hey, you know where I'd love to be right now? Right this instant? In my living room, in my Dad's recliner, watching the Vikings game with a beer, ya know?"

This, the elder decided, was an opportunity too good to pass up.

"Ten o'clock."


"Ten o'clock."

At last the youth got the hint and turned to his ten.

"Third floor. See those windows?"

"Yeah, looks like they got hit. Burns, structural damage, the whole fuckin deal."

"My living room."


Thank God. That at least shut him up for a bit.

A short-lived victory.

"Hey, man, you'll have another house, someday. Hey, maybe I'll come over for a beer, right?"

Crouched in his box, Neil started. Somewhere, somehow, two of his re-arranged neurons had clicked. A shard of someone, something once heard floated to the fore. A line from a poem, or maybe a song.

"You keep whining and crying into your beer,
complaining the reception doesn't come in clear.
You just can't make a connection.

The elder chuckled slightly at the sound of Neil's voice, then froze as he heard the tone of his companion's.

"What did you just say?"

Oh shit.

Neil, oblivious to his growing peril, grinned cheerfully at the youth, delighted with his new recollection.

"Who do you call for help when all your friends are dead?"

The youth's face was contorted now, purpling with rage.

Oh fuck. Oh shit.

"So now the good times are gone but really, they never arrived."


He was beserk then, grabbing Neil by his tattered shirtfront and hoisting him into the air.


Neil's grin never faded.

"You wear your hope like Christmas."

Neil hit the ground like a sack of potatoes. If he felt any pain, it never showed. Nor did the barrel leveled at his face cause his smile to waver. And that grin was still in place when a neat hole appeared in his forehead, an instant before the elder's bullet went right through the youth's heart.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

A moment of indecision, quickly overriden. The elder's eyes returned to the street, and never left again.

A nodeshell challenge, compliments of Anne.

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