Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Rub-A-Dub, Rub-A-Dub, Three Men And A Tub

A short story that I wrote for fun... any comments?

"The irony," he grumbled. "I'd watched all these Terminator movies about humans fighting machines and all that. But never in my whole life did I imagine we'd be fighting against machines controlled by humans."

"Ah. The sweet irony of iron ruled by frail flesh, to crush frail flesh."

"Exactly!" He waved his hands for emphasis. "I mean, where's the honour now? the death-and-glory charges? the humanity in all this warfare?"

"Humanity in warfare? Hah! But, yes, I know what you mean."

"Do you? Once our ancestors were men, who faced each other on the battlefield, and they faced each other as mortal enemies - but mortal, fresh-faced, full of humanity in all its fallenness, yet with fierce beauty - oh, the noble knight, the honourable samurai... when you could actually see your enemy face to face even as you shot and stabbed each other. To hear all the screams, the cries and the wailing of shattered bones and weeping wounds."

"And I guess, that somehow put a limit on what men could do to one another - for when the crunch comes, it all boils down to this, that it is one man versus another."

"But now with machines, it's... like we're becoming ants just to be crushed. We're just white little thermal dots on a black screen, running around helplessly before we're blown to kingdom come. Where's the honour, the glory, in all that?"

"Ignominious, I know."

"The thing is, these machines were meant to be used against other machines. Machines versus machines. And we humans would just sit back, and let our machines fight it out against theirs. And whoever had the most toys at the end would be the winner."

A wry smile. "He who dies with the most toys wins, eh?"

"I know. Until they turned their machines upon us humans. That wasn't supposed to be how it was to be! Can you imagine the irony? We're fighting tons and tons of hulking machines, just like those Terminator movies, 40-watts phased plasma bolts and all that nonsense, while all we have are Molotov cocktails and RPGs! And controlled not by some diabolical Skynet - but by an intelligence even more diabolical - a fellow human! Don't you see what's happening to us humans?"

"That we humans have become..."

"Machines. This is how humanity is erased - not by machines against men, but..."

"... by the fornication of men with machines."

They paused, a moment of silence.

"Do you hear that?"

"A drone!"

And they dove into the shallow trench.

Pause. Panicked breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Did you put on your breath-absorber masks - those accursed machines can smell your breath from a kilometre away. Hush now. Breathe in, breathe out. All quiet now, all silent on the eastern front.

A hushed whisper.

- Wait. I know that sound.

- What sound?

- It's not the enemy's. It's ours.

- How do you know?

- The drone's going from east to west.

- Hush! I hear more.

- Those must be the new ones.

- Whoa. Hear them ripping up the enemy...

- You know, I wonder if the enemy on the other side is thinking the same thing as us.

- About those machines?

- Maybe.

- Let's take a look.

- Sure.

They carefully got out and looked at the land before them. A typical war-torn zone, that used to be some poor farmer's livelihood.

"Look! Hear that?"

"Someone's wounded."

"Careful now, it could be a booby trap. You know, those machines - those damned pilots of theirs like to hide in good places, play sound recordings of wounded people... and when we go over to help them, they open fire on us..."

"You keep watch. Kill him - or it - if you see anything funny."

"Ready when you are."

He half-ducked, half-ran. That cry was coming from a trench. For a moment, he contemplated throwing a grenade inside, just to play it safe.

Then he heard a wild, almost-infant like cry: "Mama... Mama..."

Seized with an unnatural compassion, he got up and ran quickly into the trench.

A short silence followed. His friend nervously knelt, looking all around at the desolate land. What was happening in there?

Suddenly a triumphant cry. "Help me carry him!" He was dragging out a tub with a wounded enemy.

"Ha! A prisoner!"

"I reckon so. But he looks torn-up. I don't think he'll live very long."

"Pity, that. But what's with the tub?"

"Just some debris that I found."

"Rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub, three men in a tub - "

"Cut it out! Now's not the time for lame jokes! Give him some water!"

They looked at the wounded enemy. His young wispy beard was matted with blood. And ... the intestines. A couple of flies smelled the bloody stench and buzzed around. The wounded enemy, pale and with laboured breath, suddenly looked up at them, and with a grateful smile, closed his eyes and, with a painful twitch, stopped moving.

"He's gone, Jip. He's gone."

"You seem all broken over him, Jub."

"I know. I shouldn't. He was the enemy. But... I heard him cry for his mama. It was... I don't know whether to laugh or to cry."

He stood up, tears glistening down his cheeks.

"Listen, Jip. For the first time in this whole war, in all these years, I've finally seen the enemy face to face. Felt his blood on my hands. Seen his life ebb out even as I held his guts in my hands. I never felt so close to a human being, as I've done just now. Felt his lifeblood spill, warm, living, dripping. I have never loved my enemy so much as I did now. Do you understand? Jip, do you understand what it feels like to embrace your enemy? Hand to hand, face to face, guts to guts? To fight a living, breathing, mortal enemy? One who is flesh and blood, just like us? In this war of lifeless, thoughtless, godless machines?"

Then he began to sing, from some distant memory: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man."

"Amen. I hear you, bro."

They looked at each other in silence. For what seemed like forever. The gentle breeze whistled softly around them, as though it was curiously looking at these two men standing in a field, with a dead body in-between them.

All of a sudden, they burst out into peals of boyish laughter. They yanked off their boots, and threw them into the air - up, up and down, plopping into the mud. They breathed deeply the chalky-sweet air, and let their wrinkled toes dig into the warm embracing clay. And they laughed and guffawed and chortled and hee-hawed and slapped their knees, at the whole silliness of everything, until all heaven could hear them. They laughed and laughed, as though they'd never laughed since the day they were born.

They laughed, even when the enemy drones detected their breaths, and silenced them once and for all.

And today, my friends, today, if you stand very carefully in that green overgrown field of red clay - oh very, very carefully and quietly - you might just hear the wind laughing like three crazy men upon that gentle plain.


Robert said...

Interesting story about the juxtaposition of man versus machines and the irony of how machines end up killing instead of serving us... Imageries of WWII trench fighting is quite cool too.

A few suggestions:
- the 2 guys talking in the trenches... they sound more like scholars/philosophers rather than ruff gruff soldiers... i can almost imagine them talking in a library amidst the whiff of cigar smoke discussing abt the irony of life with a glass of wine in hand rather than lean mean soldiers with weapons in hands desperately fighting. Last i remembered, soliloquies didn't happen in the trenches :p

- Language used. Again back to the point - are they scholars pressed into the war? Usage of terms like 'ignonimous' seems a little out of place in a battlefield. Perhaps shorter gruffer sentences to convey the same image? You may also want to consider slotting in action images interspersed between the dialogue e.g. "humanity in warfare? Hah!" His lighter clinked as he bent over it, struggling to catch the flame in the gusty wind. "But yes, I know what you mean".

Last para - I like the poetic elegaic ending, but erm... struck by the colour distortion... green field of red clay? maybe we just stick to green field or red clay? :p

But overall, I like the very poetic and philosophical ironic tone it presents... It's like a modern version of George Orwell's 1984 with Terminator thrown in.

yeu@nn said...

Cool! thanks so much for all these invaluable suggestions, Robert! :) and haha v encouraged by ur comment too. haha

yeu@nn said...

"humanity in warfare? Hah!" His lighter clinked as he bent over it, struggling to catch the flame in the gusty wind. "But yes, I know what you mean".

your added line is good! did u write stories before?