Fiction: Preparations of a Terrorist

August 3, 2017 Fiction , Literature , POETRY / FICTION

Joshua Earle photo



Ken Poyner



She stands by the window, the sweat rolling down her dark, naked back, her hands driving beads of it out of her skin along her threadbare hips through the simple contact embraced in a woman’s unthinking posture.  And it is not the sweat of our industrial sex, now interrupted, yet incomplete and still tangled in imagination.  It is the sweat of one window only available to open, no breeze, the city’s empty streets radiating back the done day’s heat, the air grimy with an atomization of raw oil.

She settles into this environment, becoming a piece of it, a piece of it consuming itself.  She is a numbers game.  I see her like a clock face.  The heat considers her simply someplace new to be.

I have seen air conditioning.  When I was appointed a company leader in the army of Anyplace, I was called for instructions to the division seat of authority.  I was led into a small room that held our regional leader, his brightly outlined lieutenants, and an air conditioning unit.  The unit hummed and shivered and occasionally spat, and water pooled beneath it.  I could barely concentrate on the instructions I was being given, consumed with marveling at the cold.  As I later thought more about it, the cold was probably uncomfortable – but it was impressive, and it stood as a symbol of all that could come with the ascendancy of Anyplace.  I remember the hair littering my arms stepping out to luxuriate the length of itself in the brief miracle.  The air itself tickled.  It was the lick of a dog after feeding.

If this wanton technology could be brought here, where the dust has tenure and the heat is happy in every fold of every grandmother’s skin, then Anyplace can accomplish anything.

The girl turns again towards me and I can see that her nakedness is uneven, her sex is unbalanced, her lines are unsteady and at times indistinct.  Her shadow would not fold well.  She must have passed me her name earlier, must have whispered it at me like a scold set loose on phantom ice.  I try to remember it.  I try.  How many syllables?  How many letters?  The taste of her skin is anthracite, and brings no memories.

She does not mock me, nor does she imagine me incapable.  She is calculating:  time invested, time yet to be invested, the course of the heat, what is to happen after the stilled vibrations of our commerce.  What is to happen after. The night stretches out like a ladder.  She hopes that the room will remain hers. She plans to resettle the sheets, pull the mattress away from the wall.  She plans of perhaps yet more commerce, and laughs silently at the plans of yet more commerce.  I am the bridge between two other moments, the measurable moments on either side of me and my unraveled meaning.  For her, I have no lasting meaning.  She has no thought of me at all.  Or, if she does have thought, it is not mockery, not malice, not complaints of inexperience.  It is time spent, options missed, calories invested.  I am a comma in her day’s existence, a mark that makes a string of words roll off the tongue with mildly enhanced clarity.

The lifeless do not mock the living.


My rise and fall, the rise and fall of any part of me, is without compare.  To compare does her no good.  I wonder how this might go if she were a better woman.  She does not know what a better woman is, nor how you make one from the scraps she has at hand.  And so our worlds pass.

She paired with me holding only the hope of getting paid.  The city is beyond established prices, beyond establishing price.  The pay for any commercial good is charity.  The army of Anyplace has moved through the city, driving filth before it, and is now four miles away in the city’s satellites.  Only those of us with orders to the rear are left to be customers.  Empty streets shackle empty streets, and only the vendors of contraband and those who prey upon those delirious, forsaken citizens who come out to shake their desperation clean of other men’s dirt, are out and about and at work quietly in the leftover light.

My advantage is that she must take a chance.  In the dirty brilliance of a dingy evening, she looks like something captured, something trapped in this room.  Unthreatened and with a reserve of strength, but trapped nonetheless. Without moving, she paces.  Without clear thought, she plots.  I motion her back to the bed and I can see staggering across her indistinct skin merciful quivers of hesitation.  I think she already understands that, after loving like a dog, I will dress like a soldier, and march solemnly out, leaving none of the money even now I do not have.

She is my permitted indulgence, the night of grace before the fullness of mission. Usually, it is not allowed to appease one’s flesh, unless it is done in the service of Anyplace. Our urges and un-blunted needs are not to be wasted, are not repulsive when applied in the service of Anyplace.  One tenant of leadership is to understand that service to Anyplace in itself provides all absolution.

I am in service to Anyplace, and I am due her.  I am a leader.  I am at the rear to prepare for my morning’s mission.  I have found and trained many recruits for Anyplace.  I have killed more enemies of Anyplace than I can remember.  I will be tomorrow an example to all who either know or do not know the wonders of Anyplace.  I will be like that burst of air conditioning that so captured my arms and hair and was uncomfortably comforting.  I am preparing myself.  I prepare myself.  I prepare.

I am full with my coming mission and my member rises to new attention.  It stands there, saluting what I have yet to do. The girl believes its sudden re-invigoration is her doing.  Let her believe.  She brings one hand to her mouth and pushes out in universal seduction the hip she still holds.  She begins to drift back around the bed, brushing her thigh along the uncovered mattress, an animal rush of overused air emitting luminously from her mouth.

This time I will finish.  I know I will sustain myself to the end.  I must.  I will work a fever through both of us, the two of us united hands and arms and feet and mouths: a blur of myself and mission and the success of Anyplace.  I will burst my rage into her.  I will empty out a part of me and make room for more of Anyplace to flood back within.  At that sharp moment, my explosion will be my mission, the genetic completion of my duty to Anyplace.  We will howl together at the triumph of everyone.

I will feel the mission that is to be, hard as our oceans, beginning to cloud and merge with the mission that has been, and the wild breath of me will, at my will, return to an order and calm.  I imagine her lying on her back, breath already stilled from the practice of being unaffected, untouched in the touching.  I can smell the simplicity of her sweat, the mechanics of the tedium her body across ever widening histories manages to be, though she expends no effort and no will to fall into such an abyss of use and uselessness.  And then I will rise and return to my clothes, dressing like a school boy reciting his mathematics.  She will lengthen on one arm, watching, trying to look impressed though she is not impressed, not by any part of this but the earning or lack of earning, and we both will breathe without heroism the stench of our shared but unequal disappointments.

And when I leave, neither of us will be better or worse, diminished or enlightened.  And all that anyone will know of it is that, soon, I will have a mission:  she is a part of the land that makes room for it.  I have wedded her in her ignorance to my work, wedded her as the splendidly durable wife a man of my many missions merits.







Ken Poyner

Ken Poyner’s fiction and poetry has appeared in such diverse places as The Alaska Quarterly Review, Poet Lore, Asimov’s Science Fiction and Fact, Corium, Menacing Hedge, The Legendary, Full of Crow, and dozens of other print and digital venues. He has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes, a Best of the Net award, a Sidewise award, several Rhysling awards, and taught in the Virginia Poets in the Schools program. He has been a security guard, a paneling salesman, a programmer, a network engineer, a systems engineer, an information systems security specialist, and a network administration instructor. He has had more than 1100 stories and poems published in more than 300 venues.

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