Hon Carter had a machine gun behind his eyes. Wherever he looked, he saw carnage, and he was the cause of it. He had long ago tried to blind those eyes, not once but three times, when he was foolish enough to think he could spend eternity doing any other job. When you were drafted, you didn’t get to pick your duty, and that went double in God’s army. Now it was a soggy, crimson mess that oozed from his sockets, and still he saw. There’s a strange kind of hope in mutilating oneself, and maybe there was an end to it at last. Just three more names.
What were names, anyway, if you didn’t have to look at their faces? If he could have just read them aloud like so many words in a dictionary – if he could have then delegated the task to someone else, he wouldn’t have minded so much. But the Almighty doesn’t let you strike from afar without taking in the whole show, like some kid sitting at Langley and running a drone over Badghis. Seeing was part of it, part of his punishment, part of his charge, and certainly part of his nightmares. Oh yes, you still get to sleep in Heaven, if that’s what it was. No one had ever quite sat down with him and explained why.
One minute you’re hacking over a peaceful dinner, with something caught in your throat – oh no, nothing poetic like a swan dive off the Williamsburg Bridge, no months long battle with cancer, not even a road side bomb and guaranteed hero status – just a poorly cut piece of rare steak. He still felt it in there, though it didn’t bother him so much now. Just a slight discomfort that you get used to when the horrors of ongoing existence make small itches a kind of relief. There was a bit of delegation, now, but not the essential part. The boy was almost eager. That would change soon enough.
Hon read the name, took a breath, held it, and scanned the cloudbank, down through the atmopshere, through a mountain, straight into the center of the earth and out the other side. Seeing anyone, really seeing them, let alone like Hon could see, was a miracle if you thought about it like that, but it wasn’t his first or his four hundredth time. The woman he wanted was in Plainstraw, Michigan, sitting by her mailbox, by the side of the road, like some country people do, right there waiting for a letter she’d never get to read. She was gray, she was fifty-seven. But she was healthy-looking to Hon, until the International Forester slid in the gravel, as the driver, a kid in a Tonka hat of all things, overcorrected when he looked up from his cell phone.
Girlfriend had probably just sent him a text. Hon almost wished it was the kid, but these things weren’t up to him. You learned soon enough not to second guess, and not to judge, because when you see enough pain and hurt, it sort of equalizes everyone involved. Who should go down in the flood trying to save the daughter or the dog – the man or his wife, the postal worker or the engineer? You don’t get to decide, you don’t try to reason with it, you just read the name, look down through the sky’s gaping wound and you point.
It’s not the finger that does it, Hon knew. It’s the eyes. When you look at them, that’s what kills them. Your will, your intention, it’s in the eyes. The gesture of a hand is just the spectral push but it’s your mind doing the pushing – your broken mind that can’t die twice, at least not if the first one really takes. Hon always wondered whose eyes held that trigger of a finger that pushed him in the middle of a casual date with Molly, who wasn’t quite ready for showing him to the parents, but also wasn’t averse to talking about sharing an internet bill. She’d had such a surprised look on her face.
Hon felt that way when he said “there”, and nudged the boy, his protege, whose finger made the gravel spew in all directions, hitting the poor woman in the eyes as the wheel was turned too far, and the callous metal hauled the federally required postal box, post, concrete, and all, out of the ground, bending it as easily as you bent a spoon. What it did to the woman’s body was worse, but Hon didn’t have to think about that. You turned away, as soon as you could. The boy, of course, was still watching. Two kids were going to have bad dreams for a while. One of them would probably become a drunk and run over somebody else, and the other one would have nightmares in Heaven where you slept but couldn’t let go.
Soon, whatever was next would be next, for Hon though. Maybe it was his time for a worse punishment or a greater blessing, whatever the stakes might be in that crazy forever logic of theirs. You took your orders, those who were called and those who were chosen. You paid your dues, until there were different dues, and you paid those, and kept on paying. That’s what forever means. A whole different nightmare, even if you learned to sleep easily through it.
He tapped the boy on the shoulder again, not bothering to look past the white fluff of that poor woman’s future home. Oh, she’d be around soon enough. You never got to meet them, but you could feel them just the same, like a ghost in a crowded room – too elusive to track with your senses but chilling in the back of your mind. The boy lingered, and Hon tapped again. “Come on,” he said. “It does no good to watch. You can stand and stare on your own time if you want.” One more tap, and he felt the boy’s shoulder droop, and start to turn, and then Hon walked on, no longer caring if the newest of killer angels followed or not. Tomorrow another name, then another, and then it was the kid’s problem.
We all have problems in Heaven. We all have stuff to answer for and people to answer to. The most honest kinds of answers, where your eyes don’t shut and each day is no closer to salvation than the day you came. ‘Their worm never dies,’ Hon said under his breath. Maybe they’d give him a new set of eyes that didn’t carry so many memories, but he didn’t think they’d do that. You never forget from the first to the last.The boy caught up, and took his hand, and they trailed the remains of their flesh behind them in raw pieces, like everyone does eventually.