Thursday, June 10, 2010



Soldier’s Things


Al Bruno III

From the very beginning of my employment in the scrapyard I had struck up a friendship with Crenshaw. Perhaps it was because he found in me a kindred spirit; he had known the horror of war and I had my own terrors to bear. It was obvious that he had once been a muscular man but time and circumstance had softened his physique and left his posture bent. His nose showed signs of having been broken more than once, the skin of his clean shaven head revealed a deep surgical scar that must have been decades old.

While our working days left us too tired to do more than go home and rest Crenshaw and I frequently spent our Friday nights and take home pay in the town's one tavern.

We would talk of one thing or another, the news or local gossip, perhaps we would joke about some misadventure in the scrapyard or mourn the death of one of the stray dogs that had made its home there. We rarely touched on our personal lives and never discussed our pasts.

One night after work he said he needed my help and asked to see me after work. Crenshaw lived near the northern side of town on the third floor of an old hotel that had been converted into low rent dwellings.

I found his apartment easily- third floor, the first door on the left. When I knocked he answered immediately, the apartment's windows were closed and the reek of paint was dizzying. He was wearing his ordinary street clothes and it was obvious from the sight of them that he had been painting but with far more speed than care. I stepped inside and saw that paints of all colors had been spread across the walls, beneath those streaks of paint I could see garish wallpaper with a stylized jungle pattern.

When I asked him the meaning of this he explained, his eyes were wild and frightened, “I don't care what kind of paint we use just so long as we cover up that damn wallpaper once and for all. I can't take it no more.”

“What's wrong with the wallpaper?”

“It's in the trees,” Crenshaw said, “you can see them sometimes, they think they're just out of sight but I can tell. I could always tell, that’s why they put me out on point.”

Rather than question any further I set to work helping him paint the walls, one color after another in succession until the wallpaper was obscured. It was past one in the morning when we finished. Crenshaw and I sat on the floor and shared some beers.

I asked, “How long has the wallpaper bothered you?”

“Ever since I moved here but I can't aford anything like the boarding house you live in. My medicines cost too much,” he looked around at the garishly colored walls, “ squad used to go over the boarder into Cambodia. We weren't supposed to but those were our orders. We were fighting kids. We were kids too but they were younger than us, twelve years old and ready to kill.”

There was nothing I could do but nod with understanding and help myself to another drink.

“We did things in the jungle, sometimes to survive and sometimes just because we could...” he stood and grabbed a drying brush and began dabbing at the bits of green that were visible near the edge of the floor, “the things I did... when I came home they followed me.”

“Crenshaw,” I asked, “why don't you just tear the wallpaper down?”

The look he gave me was one of horror and profound disappointment, “No. No. No!”

The thread of our conversation returned to mundane matters and we finished off a number of beers before I bade him farewell and boozily made my way home. I wondered to myself if this town was haunted in some way, or perhaps it was only its citizens.

I fell into my bed and sleep came easily but there were no dreams just fragmentary thoughts that wandered this way and that through the empty darkness behind my eyes.

The morning brought a sickening hangover but I made my way to work to find my friend had never come in. I assumed he felt just as bad as I did but I still made my way to the north side of town so I could check on him.

The door of his apartment was unlocked, the odor of fresh paint was still strong but beneath it was a meaty butcher shop smell. I fearfully pushed the door open and found Crenshaw dead.

There was a knife in his hand, the posture suggested suicide but the expression on his face was a silent shriek of horror.

Of course the sheriff kept me busy for hours with questions and veiled accusations but nothing came of it. I told him all I knew, save for one thing.

After I had found Crenshaw's body I had looked up to one of the walls to see that the layers upon layers of paint had caused a wide swath of the paper to pull away from the wall. The jungle pattern was visible on the exposed underside, the colors bright and fresh. There was something about it that drew the viewers' eyes to it, there was something about the shapes of the trees and vines were arranged that made you think there was something hiding just out of sight.

Was this the horror Crenshaw had brought home with him from the war? Or had it always been waiting patiently for the right man carrying the right damnation inside him?


  1. Good stuff. I think the hallucination of a jungle from wallpaper is entirely a believable one. Cambodia and child soldiers is something I've written about extensively too.

    Excellent story

    marc nash

  2. Chilling tale, this. Taking something that is meant to bring beauty to a room and making it the catalyst that brings death to a tortured man is quite skillful horror!

  3. Wow... this one was intense. Kind of sad when you think of how much war can mess with a man's mind.


  4. Such a chilling story. Great contrast between them initially not discussing anything personal, to Crenshaw spilling his innermost fears.

  5. Very scary stuff ... i too like the way their friendship began and then became more personal. It seemed very realistic. Such a sad ending. i thought at first maybe he had died from the paint fumes.

  6. Chilling indeed! This makes me think of the wallpaper with birds on it - I like songbirds but I hate crows and ravens because of the movie The Birds, one of the scariest of all time if you ask me. Every time I see wallpaper with birds on it I want to rip it down.

    Very well written Al.

  7. One of your best, Al.
    Very intense, and I have a very clear picture of Crenshaw.

    Cracking last line - I think the wallpaper was waiting for the right man

  8. Chilling and well done, this one. You portrayed Crenshaw's damaged spirit very clearly. I love that last line, too.

    Great story.

  9. You portrayed both characters well. I empathized immediately. The last line has me thinking too.

  10. Very cool story. Great characterization and descriptions in this one. They brought out the horror well, and the last line was excellent.

  11. Wow. Hair raisingly good. I think this is my favorite of yours to date.
    Great pacing, just enough detail without slowing the story.
    And as others have said already, killer last line.