Love Is a Battlefield

Hardcore military role players meet regularly to act out the Second Civil War. I strapped on an AR-15 and headed downrange.

WeWe were a small combat element, just our squad leader, Rick, alongside Yuk, Slab, and Helios — some of the most battle-hardened warriors in the entire Civil Defense Forces. And me, of course. I took up the rear, green as could be, still not quite sure how to properly sling a rifle, much less put it to use.

My call sign is City Mouse if that tells you anything.

This wasn’t my fight. And taking up arms against my own country isn’t something I did lightly. Until a week ago, the only real combat I’d seen was on Twitter. But I heard what my government was doing in in the Free State of Oklahoma, and it made me sick. Told my wife I couldn’t just stand on the sidelines anymore, then I hopped on the first flight out.

My first morning as a paramilitary began peacefully. We checked in with Kaid, our young but steady commander, who had holed up at our forward operating base with a shortwave. On a table in front of him was a detailed map of what they were calling the area of operations (the AO) but what used to be just the sleepy town of Roosevelt, Oklahoma. That was before a battalion from the Union of Federal States showed up, talking about elections and trying to install the snake-talking, Stetson-wearing Dan Altman, their little puppet, as governor. Good luck with that.

Civil Defense Forces commander Kaid Yates in the FOB.

We were slogging through the rain, a few klicks from the FOB, when we first encountered the enemy. “What you fellas getting up to out here?” the lone UFS infantryman barked as we emerged from the tree line. Heck of a question to ask a bunch of armed men while standing on their land. The soldier looked to be barely out of high school, but he spoke with the puffed-up arrogance typical of all tans. (That’s what we called them because of their multi-cam uniforms.)

We figured the UFS would set up a cordon but not this far out. The good news was that our compatriot Raptorman had apparently slipped right through the perimeter. Despite his fondness for reefer, that rascally old fucker was as sneaky as they come. Go, Rap!

Rick answered the soldier in a jaunty tone. “Me and my boys just come out here to do a little hunting.”

“Mmm-hmm. Y’all got any grenades on you?”

“That wouldn’t be fair to the deer, now, would it?” Rick replied smoothly.

“How about you, buddy?” the soldier asked me, his eyes narrow. “Carrying any explosives?”

“No, sir,” I said, lying through my teeth.

“Well, y’all better go on back that way. This here’s a restricted area.”

Slab lobbed a warm stream of dip juice into the dirt near the soldier’s boots and glared at him. For a second, nobody moved. I stole a glance at my AR to make sure the safety was off, but we didn’t want a firefight. Not yet, anyway — what with Coco Bear heading to the polling place at that very moment with a little surprise strapped under his work jacket.

“Actually, our deer blind is right up that path, and we best get to it before some other knuckleheads set up there,” said Rick, flashing his salesman smile and sweeping right past the sentry, who did nothing to stop him.

As I fell in line behind my new comrades, I was surprised to see the UFS guy trembling. And why not? Sure, they had better training and superior firepower, but we had the numbers. And more important, they were just there for a paycheck. We were fighting for our liberty.

Whether Americans ever actually do take up arms in a modern-day remix of the Civil War, we’re certainly talking about it a lot lately — fantasizing about it, fretting about it, gaming it out. Some are praying for it, no doubt, and plenty of others are stockpiling weapons and supplies just in case.

American Milsim’s ESR 19–5, a weekend-long military simulation (or milsim) event that imagines how a modern-day American insurrection might unfold, is just a game — a chance for guys to dress up in camo and run around shooting at each other with BB guns. But it’s a game that has taken on a chilling resonance lately as the political climate has become increasingly divisive.

Vice recently reported on a group of neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups actively plotting to foment a race war through a campaign of terror attacks, and a group called the Atomwaffen Division is already associated with several murders around the country. In the run up to the 2016 election, the seeming likelihood of a Hillary Clinton win led to talk of a possible insurrection among Donald Trump supporters.

Later, Roger Stone suggested that impeachment could set off the powder keg. And earlier this year, a Democratic congressman appeared to suggest that citizens take up arms if the president refused to adhere to the Constitution. In June, a nationwide Rasmussen poll found that nearly a third of respondents believe a second civil war will break out within five years.

That said, it’s not a new idea. White nationalist author William Pierce imagined a full-scale rebellion in his 1978 novel The Turner Diaries — a blueprint for racial and neo-Nazi terror groups ever sinceand pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have been sounding the alarm for decades. (Such talk presumably helps sell precious metals and supplements, if nothing else.)

The rhetoric peaked following the deadly government assaults on the Weaver family in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, which fed the emergence of the militia movement, and it flared again during the Obama administration.

But the fantasy never captured mainstream attention until Trump clinched the GOP nomination. Suddenly, the imminent likelihood of armed conflict seemed to be the one thing the left and right could agree on. Cracked, that venerable policy journal, addressed the issue with an impressively reported listicle (“Six Reasons Why a New Civil War Is Possible and Terrifying”). Shortly thereafter, Keith Mines, a former Army special forces operator turned foreign service officer pegged the likelihood of a brother-against-brother throwdown at 60 percent in a piece in Foreign Policy.

In 2016, Army colonel turned columnist Kurt Schlichter published a polemical work of genre fiction, People’s Republic, about the idea (“As the former blue states begin to collapse under the dead weight of their politically correct tyranny, a lethal operative haunted by his violent past undertakes one last mission.”) He’s already churned out a sequel.

The acclaimed adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, which debuted in the spring of 2017 and quickly nabbed five Emmy Awards, takes place in an America riven by civil war, and literary novelists Omar El Akkad (American War) and Christopher Brown (Tropic of Kansas) also recently conjured plausible paths to a national Armageddon. Both novels arrived during the fraught summer of 2017, bookended by the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise and three others by a man who’d been a Bernie Sanders volunteer and the murder of Heather Heyer at the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The New Yorker, the Nation, American Affairs, and the Guardian have all weighed the likelihood. So have Denis Prager and Rush Limbaugh, followed by Sean Hannity, Rep. Steve King, the National Review, and Ben Shapiro.

Before long, Vox was pointing out that the entire genre of “apocalypse punditry” was essentially clickbait. And perhaps it was. A few weeks later, Splinter published what sounded like an apologia for political violence (“This is all going to get more extreme. And it should. We are living in extreme times”) that has has drawn more than 1 million readers.

The fever finally seemed to break a week or so later, when Alex Jones insisted Democrats were planning to launch a military offensive on July 4, prompting a gleeful torrent of Twitter mockery carrying the hashtag #SecondCivilWarLetters. But the joke seemed a little forced. While a full-blown military conflict seems unlikely, the potential for serious political violence remains.

Players receive a warm welcome from the town of Roosevelt, OK.

Which is what drew me, on a weekend in October, to the tiny town of Roosevelt, Oklahoma. Eager to see how such a conflict might play out, I resolved to make my debut as a weekend warrior, playing a member of a civilian militia in one of American Milsim’s mock battles.

Having fallen on economic hard times, Roosevelt has found a new life as home of the nation’s largest salvage yard, Parts World, boasting some 7,000 trashed vehicles. (The town’s former high school and junior high, along with its pharmacy and bank, are now filled with carefully cataloged spare parts.) It’s a haunting, evocative landscape, evoking a once-thriving superpower now choked with the automotive ghosts of a glorious petro-prime and ripe for violent revolution.

A subgenre of live-action role-play, military simulation is a close cousin to Civil War re-enactment, but it draws inspiration from more recent U.S. conflicts. It’s best described as advanced capture the flag, using the tactics and gear (or close approximations) employed by U.S. troops and certain foreign counterparts. Participants typically blast away at one another with airsoft guns, which are designed to resemble actual firearms but shoot resin-coated BBs, flinging them as far as 70 yards with a deeply satisfying thup-thup sound.

The hobby traces its origins to 2002, the early days of the War on Terror. That’s when a California-based company called Operation Lion Claws hosted its first event on a paintball range in Bakersfield. In time, other promoters got into the act, each putting a unique spin on the idea. These days, offerings range from low-budget campaigns hosted by regional outfits to weekendlong “full-immersion” experiences employing pyrotechnics, decommissioned military vehicles, and even helicopters, from which participants can snipe at enemy forces for an extra fee.

Waist deep in the big muddy.

National operators compete to secure prime locations — including disused industrial sites, abandoned boomtowns like Roosevelt, and military training facilities, which can run anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 for a weekend rental. The competition to lock down exclusive rights to these AOs occasionally becomes acrimonious, with some promoters allegedly resorting to social media smear campaigns and other shady tactics in an effort to get their rivals barred from the most desirable facilities.

Most big milsim events act out scenarios involving generic teams (red vs. blue, alpha vs. bravo), Mideast insurgencies, or Eastern European conflicts of the sort that kept Cold War military planners awake at night.

What makes the Oklahoma-based American Milsim (AMS) unique is that it places a premium on storytelling. Since its inception in 2012, AMS’s events, which take place around the country roughly eight times a year, have all played into a single, epic master narrative: the blood-soaked tragedy of an America at war with itself.

The Triple J Lodge is a rustic but cozy hostelry occupying a former Methodist church in central Roosevelt — one of the only establishments in town not yet stacked to the rafters with auto parts. Where the pulpit once stood now rests a large flatscreen, which during my visit played the John Wayne movie McLintock! on an endless loop, but only because nobody bothered to change the channel. Couches and recliners were arrayed in a large circle around the room, surrounded by a taxidermic menagerie, including an array of deer and elk, a variety of birds, a wild turkey, a wild boar, and a beaver. A black bear lay prone across the coffee table.

About 30 of us were staying there, enjoying the bare-bones but gracious hospitality of proprietor Ron Kastner, a local hunting guide.

It was at the Triple J where I first met the men with whom I’d be doing battle on behalf of the CDF; broke the coffee pot; and enjoyed a plate of nachos whipped up by my compatriot James “Slab” Danforth, ingeniously utilizing nearly every leftover in the fridge. (Got to say, it was better without the barbecue sauce.)

I also learned the ins and outs of milsim. Airsoft guns come in two basic types: battery-powered and pneumatic. All must be tested for speed before the game by using a chronograph to ensure nobody’s “firing hot”—that is, with too much velocity. AMS players also may use only biodegradable BBs so as not to litter the playing fields in perpetuity.

Most milsimmers carry rifles and pistols, and a few deploy powerful sniper rifles. (Airsoft guns can be had for a few hundred dollars, but good custom builds can run up to $3,000.) Other standard gear includes hand grenades that unleash a cloud of BBs, smoke bombs, plastic knives for stealthy close-in combat, plate carriers, radio headsets, and night-vision goggles.

Kaid, Alex, Slab, Archer, and Yuk. Photo by Dan Altman.

“It’s 50 percent what you look like and 50 percent how you play,” admits Bo Stewart, 45, from Lake Charles, Louisiana, one of the AMS founders, who, conveniently enough, works in sales for a tactical gear company. “You’re like, ‘I want that helmet, that plate carrier, jacket, pants…’ Really good night vision can be like $15,000. It’s never-ending.”

Cody Crawford, 37, a chemical engineer from Weatherford, Oklahoma, and a lead admin for AMS, estimates he’s spent $100,000 on the hobby in the four years since he’s gotten involved. “I started off trying to be cheap,” says Crawford, whose call sign is Archer. “But working these events, I’ve realized what you really need and why it works. The military buys that stuff for a reason.” It also helps that nobody’s looking over his shoulder. “I’m single, no kids, good job. The only person to get mad at me for spending $1,200 on a plate carrier is me.”

Archer has been trying to enlist in the military for years, he said, but has consistently been turned down due to a childhood back injury. The following day, he did the next best thing. Role-playing as a private military contractor working for the shadowy mega-corporation Sierra Dynamics (to which the UFS had farmed out certain unsavory tasks), Archer was fully decked out in LBX Snow Raptor camo and carried a KWA Ronin short-barreled rifle and an HK45.

Although Archer’s financial outlay is on the extreme end, many agreed that it made sense to invest in top-of-the-line kit. Jared “Coco Bear” Brown, a 30-year-old cable tech from Norman, Oklahoma, and one of the few black players at the 150-person event, also started off with inexpensive gear. “I got my butt kicked, went out and spent like $900, and came back and destroyed them,” he recalls with a smile.

As for gameplay, the rules are fairly simple. Eye protection must be worn at all times. (Meanwhile, to judge by some of the dental carnage on display around the lodge, the hobby is a windfall for the Tooth Fairy as well, which is why I decided to play it extra safe and borrow a full-face mask.)

If a shot makes contact, you are officially wounded, and a failure to “call your hits” is one of the most harshly condemned infractions in the sport, although just about everybody seems to do it on occasion. Wounded players must immediately display a red bandanna, known as a “dead rag,” or risk being “overshot”—that is, pelted mercilessly.

The wounded combatant then shouts, “Medic!” at which point a player with the proper designation will sprint over and attempt to wrap an Ace bandage around the casualty’s upper arm without being shot himself. Rules differ slightly depending on one’s faction, but in general, a player can be treated by a medic only twice. The third hit is considered fatal, requiring the KIA to wait five minutes, then walk back to base to respawn.

But while death may not be forever in milsim, it is taken seriously. More than once, I made the rookie mistake of asking a comrade what direction a fatal shot had come from and received only a mournful stare in response. “Dead men tell no tales,” someone reminded me.

“I’m just here to represent the people of Oklahoma and make sure they have a voice.”

Fucking Dan Altman. Strutting around in a coat and tie, mouthing an unlit stogie, the ultimate city slicker. The cowboy hat wasn’t fooling anyone. Everyone knew he was in UFS’s pocket. Rumor had it he’d been handing out miniature liquor bottles, flat out buying votes!

The boys I run with all supported Ron Mexico. He was one of them. A good man and a veteran. I’d have voted for him myself if I were registered. Then again, everyone was saying tans were shooting anyone who showed up at the polling station, just mowing them down, unarmed…

The candidates, Ron Mexico and Dan Altman, briefly put aside their rivalry.

“I think it’s time we storm that fucking van,” Rick suggested, but it wasn’t a suggestion. We might not have the formal command structure of the UFS, but he was my CO. When he issued an order, I went.

Which isn’t to say I agreed with the plan.

Lifting my head above the hood of a green Accord, I could see the target up ahead. A white Dodge van setting right on top of a blue Dodge van. Honestly, it looked like King Kong Jr. had just been sitting there playing Matchbox.

The highest point for miles around, the van made for a damn good snipers’ nest, not to mention an obvious death trap for a novice like me.

Tires were burning in the distance. Mosquitos were everywhere. The rain had stopped, but the soaking we’d taken had turned the battlefield to mud. My boots had been fresh out of the box that morning. Now they were caked past the ankles with Oklahoma red clay.

Meanwhile, I’d already had my first kill. “Nice one,” a comrade said with approval after I’d pegged the tan bastard twice in the shoulder. “Those sure ain’t love taps.”

Of course, the same held true when the plastic was flying the other way.

I was a good 20 paces from the Dodge, maintaining a visual on the back door, when I heard a noise to my left and turned to face three enemy fighters so close I could see ’em smiling.

A split second later, BBs were popcorning off my face mask, catching me in the knuckle, the leg, the bare skin of my neck. Tough break for City Mouse.

On Rick’s orders, we’d try three more times, losing god knows how many good men before finally managing to overrun the position.

It was a bittersweet triumph.

“Man,” someone said as the wounded sniper limped from the vehicle. “That was a goddamn meat grinder.”

Storming the sniper’s nest.

Oklahoma would seem as good a place as any to act out the second Civil War. It was the place, after all, where perhaps the worst racial attack in U.S. history occurred: Nearly a century ago, a white mob attacked a black neighborhood in Tulsa, reportedly going so far as to use airplanes to drop incendiary bombs on buildings.

The state was also where an army veteran named Timothy McVeigh, disillusioned with the federal government due to his experience in Iraq and outraged by Ruby Ridge and Waco, slipped on a T-shirt reading “Sic semper tyrannis” (the same phrase Booth shouted after assassinating Lincoln), parked a Ryder truck filled with explosives in front of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and detonated it. The explosion, which had been modeled on a terror attack by a white power gang in The Turner Diaries, killed 168 people.

And it was the place where, in August 2017, the FBI arrested a mentally ill man named Jerry Drake Varnell, who’d planned to detonate a cargo van in front of an Oklahoma City bank in hopes of sparking a revolution. Varnell had apparently been influenced by the far-right Three Percenter militia group as well as the movie Fight Club.

American Milsim’s “second civil war” narrative is the brainchild of John “JP” Pilkington, the company’s director, with the assistance of chief of staff Alex Mulder. When he cooked up the idea in 2012, JP recalls, “The whole Arab Spring was happening, and gas was four or five dollars. And I just thought, ‘What if the government put a tax on it?’”

Bo Stewart, John Pilkington and Rick Kastner of American Milsim. Photo courtesy of AMS.

The story unfolds as you might expect: People freeze in their homes. Oil-producing states opt out of the union. The feds declare martial law. The whole lousy edifice starts to crumble.

In the past year, with all the speculation about an actual civil war breaking out, says Frank “Mister Yuk” Gagner, “I made the joke to JP, ‘Man, I want you to pick my lottery tickets.’” Yuk, 44, had come all the way from his home in Buffalo, New York, for the event. “It was a captivating storyline, and it definitely drew people in,” he adds.

Among those it drew in was David Crowley, a former Army mortarman who was producing his own feature film about a terrifying near future in which the U.S. government imposes martial law and battles its own insurgency. As it happens, Crowley actually shot some B-roll for his would-be film, Gray State, at an earlier American Milsim event at Parts World, and some AMS organizers make cameos in the Netflix documentary A Gray State, about Crowley’s eventual psychotic break. In 2015, he was found dead at home, the lifeless bodies of his wife and young daughter beside him.

“Everybody wants the zombie apocalypse, as much as nobody wants to admit it,” theorizes David Gibson, 41, aka Raptorman, a tattoo artist and construction worker from outside Houston who’s brought his wife and teenage daughter with him. He has a full gray beard, wears his trademark purple bandana, and is covered in ink, including what looks like a set of raptor claws emerging from his back, as if the beast were trapped inside his body. Through the torn flesh, you can just make out the flag of the Coalition of Sovereign Territories, one of the main AMS factions.

“I feel like it’s people just wanting the challenge,” Gibson adds. “We’re all bored with the society. Everybody wants to see a rebellion or an overthrow or something like that. I’m not saying I do. But a lot of people looking at social media, it blinds their eyes, but at the same time, it kind of stirs them up. It makes them want to feed off the anarchy.”

Asked about his own political views, Raptorman shrugs. “Everybody here is tired of politics,” he tells me. “We’re all on these Facebook groups, and we hear all that shit all the time, and it’s just overdone. This is our relief. There’s barely any cellphone service. This is where we come to get away from all that for the weekend and just hang out and shoot each other.”

I spoke to at least 30 players over the weekend, and they all said the same thing. Aside from avidly supporting the Second Amendment (many airsoft aficionados collect “real steel” as well), they were remarkably allergic to the culture wars that preoccupy so many of their fellow citizens. Despite enacting America’s most dire speculative fever dream on a regular basis — or maybe because of it — they seemed to find the actual political struggle tearing the country apart just too stressful to deal with. The pellet-strewn 100-acre salvage yard was a refuge from all that. A safe space.

“I just come here to BS with my buddies and sling some plastic,” Kaid Yates, the CDF commander, tells me with a smile. “Sometimes you’re a meat shield, and sometimes you’re just laying down hate, but either way, it’s a chance to play dress-up and get away from your regular life. Occasionally, you’ll get somebody here who is extreme in their views, but they tend to get pushed out.”

A couple days before, waiting to board the plane for my flight from New York, I’d read about the arrest of a man living in the suburbs of New York City, an hour’s drive from my place, who’d planned to blow himself up on the National Mall on the day of the midterm election. A week after I returned, in one of the most grave campaigns of domestic terror in U.S. history, mail bombs started showing up at the homes and offices of prominent Democratic leaders, former Obama administration officials, and media outlets, many of them right in New York. Then came the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.

I couldn’t help thinking that if I really wanted to write about a new American civil war, I probably could have saved myself a trip.

We lost three guys on the south bridge just after sunrise. Not sure how it started, but Sierra Dynamics was definitely involved. They like to say they’re just there to keep the peace. Just your typical “global government services company managing complex operations in far-flung locations.”

What they are is gutless animals who kill for pay.

When the smoke cleared, Rap was bleeding in the dirt. Maybe he got what was coming. From what I heard, he actually started the fight—walked right up to this SD “technical adviser” who was looking to do some kind of deal and got in his face, at which point the merc grabbed a grenade right off Rap’s plate carrier. There was some kind of scuffle, the thing went off, and all hell broke loose.

Basically a total clusterfuck. When the smoke cleared, they were both down, along with three KIAs on our side and a bunch of UFS, too.

Our guys did the right thing and dragged the merc to get stitched up but not because they wanted to save his life or anything. Honestly, I think they just liked the idea of seeing that pretty black-and-white camo muddied up a bit with some of their local red clay.

Saturday night was devoted to cleaning our boots and telling war stories. There was a little griping about uncalled hits (“BBs are bouncing off his fucking eyepro, and he just looks at me and walks away”) and about one mysterious sniper who was definitely “firing hot” and how some UFS soldiers who were driving around in an up-armored Humvee kept firing at rebels who were already dead.

AMS commanders and administrators carefully manage each event behind the scenes to avoid a rout. (The experience of being vastly outgunned, even in a fake battle, tends to discourage repeat attendance.) But some guys got a little wound up all the same. “There’s at least one schmuck at every event,” Raptorman concedes. But as usual, everyone else worked to soothe hurt feelings. At the end of the day, it was just a game, right?

William Soto, one of many veterans drawn to milsim.

After dinner, we killed a few 12-packs and stared at McLintock! for a while. (It’s a terrible movie but better than cable news.) By midnight, everyone was in bed. There were still a few hours to play on Sunday morning before we all packed up and went home.

I’d come expecting to meet fierce partisans, die-hard right-wingers, guys who were truly preparing to fight the real-life battle everyone in the media seems so sure is coming and that a few lunatics are clearly trying to spark. Instead, everyone seemed kind of horrified by the idea.

In fact, the more time I spent around the milsim scene, the more endearing I found it. After all, these guys could have spent the weekend at home, playing Call of Duty and owning people online or watching Netflix. Instead, they’d driven hundreds or even thousands of miles to put on costumes, conjure a goofy yet magnificent fantasy out of nothing, really, and just play in the mud. Far from plotting an insurrection, they were actually doing their part to avoid one — fleeing the free-fire zones of Twitter and Facebook to build a genuine community around what was, at heart, a little kid’s game of army man.

“I mean, it’s guys shooting each other with plastic BBs,” Ron Mexico points out. “I guarantee nobody’s ever gotten laid after an airsoft game. Go into a bar and say, ‘I’m an airsoft warrior,’ and you’re not taking two girls home. ‘Oh, you shoot pretend guns? Cool, man.’”

Pretend or not, the guns are kind of an excuse, I think. The real struggle is fighting off that boredom Raptorman mentioned — the chronic sense of alienation that comes with life in the United States in the early 21st century. The foxholes may be fake, but the bonds forged in the heat of battle, those are real.

“You know, I was young when my dad died,” Raptorman tells me at one point. “I’ve always been this oddball moving around, never really jibed with anybody. But once I got older and I met this group of guys, it just immediately clicked. Underneath all the gear, it’s really about the brotherhood and the friendships you make out here.”

As he gazes at the rain-soaked junkyard, his eyes are dancing like he’s regarding Valhalla. “I’m 41 years old, and I hurt like hell, but there ain’t nothing I’d rather be doing,” he says. “I’ll do this till the day I die.”

Even though Rap was shot up pretty good, he bounced back almost immediately. He wasn’t the same, though. Some of the wild spirit seemed to have dribbled out of him. Where his eyes once shone with a crazy glint, there was a sort of emptiness.

Like a vengeful spirit had entered him.

The next day, he was up early, fighting with a ferocity and single-mindedness I hadn’t witnessed before. The last time I saw him, he and another CDF fighter were frog-marching Dan Abrams — unarmed, his hands zip-tied in front of him, the Stetson still perched on his head — into a trashed microbus.

I don’t know exactly what went down, and I don’t want to know. It’s easy to throw around words like atrocity and war crime. When you’re in it, things aren’t always that simple. Anyway, not long after, pictures circulated on the internet of the candidate’s lifeless body. Raptorman was in the pictures, giving a surfer salute.

The image was posted to social media as a warning. (Photo: Facebook)

Later that afternoon, the radio crackled with more distressing news. Kaid, our commander, was also dead. Shot in cold blood, it was said, by the UFS. But not before he grabbed one of their sidearms and put a spray of BBs right in the gut of their second in command. That was the rumor, anyway. Good old Kaid.

Meanwhile, the news back home was grim. War had come right to my doorstep.

City Mouse had a family to protect. The next day, I jumped on a plane back east, still nursing my wounds. I would never forget the men I’d served with. Bunch of average guys who’d sacrificed everything to serve a cause bigger than themselves. The fact that we all knew deep down that it was a losing battle didn’t make it any less honorable.

In the cab home from the airport, I turned on my phone and let my wife know I was okay. I deleted Twitter with a single swipe. Then I sat back and watched the traffic. Drivers were honking, flipping each other off, everyone desperate to get where they were going. What none of them seemed to grasp yet, and maybe never will, is that they were all headed the same way, inching down a one-way road to Parts World.

Medium editor-at-large, with bylines in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the New York Times and numerous other publications. ¶

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store