Burning bright, just before the end, then it faded. As the sun disappeared below the trees I looked down at the stains of sticky blood, it was not so red, not like the movies. On the brown leaves it was almost as dark as oil, but as I touched the spots, it was bright red on my finger. Red like sin, clinging to my soul.
I didn’t think it would be so hard to take a life, feeling sad and guilty at what I had done with my 22 rifle. I watched the squirrel twitch slowly struggling against the dying of the light, until it stopped. The still squirrel looked safe to pick up, so I gently grabbed it by it’s tail holding it at arms length. My friend Tommy saw me and laughed saying, Good shot, but you gotta put them out of their misery quick, just grab the tail and step on the head and pull. When you hear a snap that means you broke their neck. Taking the dead squirrel he demonstrated, stepping on its head while he pulled up on the tail until there was and audible snap of the tiny neck, I felt sick. Tommy put the squirrel in a burlap sack saying, Mom is going to cook this up and we will have a nice stew. Turning he started back down the hill. Looking past his head, I could see the white spire of the rural Baptist church down in town, I knew it was white, having passed it every day, but now it was lit almost red by the dying sun, reminding me of my bloody sin.
Shaking my head, I pulled back from the memory and focused on the task at hand. I was on a nuclear submarine, deep under the atlantic ocean, and it was in the middle of a battle stations drill. I missile launch drill, not the real thing. I was supposed to be decoding the message that gave us our orders, what city would be bombed. The message decoded into a five character code. I looked at Tim and he nodded, having arrived at the same message previously, following protocol we both confirmed that we had a valid message by confirming that we had arrived at the same result. Taking the message, again following protocol, both holding onto the slip of paper to maintain positive control. We walked that strange dance all the way from the radio room to the control room, like we had been trained, where the captain waited. Handing him the message, he solemnly nodded and and turned to the executive officer. They each consulted a book that further decoded the message. The five characters meant some city would be getting a nuclear bomb. When they were done, the both nodded and then the captain pulled a key from a chain around his neck and put it into the missile control box and the executive officer doing the same, both simulated turning the key without actually turning it. Then the Captain picked up the pager and called the missile control center, a few hundred feet aft, informing the weapons officer of his actions and the decoded target.
Soon the drill was over, the Captain and the XO pulled out their keys returning them to their necks. No missile launch today. Suddenly I was struck with a deep sense of sadness, knowing that all it took to obliterate millions of people in a far away city was just a few letters on a piece of paper, then a few turns of the key to launch the nuclear arsenal that we carried on our submarine. We were the caretakers of doom, the world enders.
Suddenly the weight of all those who served before me was there, the duty they performed. I imagined them looking out a periscope as the torpedo struck a ship, sending countless souls to their death all in the name of freedom or some other mission, the pawns of the ruling class. We were the squirrels, the politicians grabbing our tails, and pulling just to hear that snap. Without a thought, they send the words, over the airwaves, down into the depths of the ocean, where we decode the message, turn the keys and send death on tails of fire from deep under the ocean. We won’t even be there to see the end.
That spot that burns bright shining like the sun, then nothing…saying a prayer, I went sadly back to work, as the caretaker of doom, waiting…
©The Autobiography of Mr. Perfect, 2014