“Master Guns” by Kyle Seibel

I didn’t like Master Guns. Not one bit. For one thing, his appointment with Chaps was at 10am, but he always came a few minutes early to bother me.

“Here he is,” he’d say, leaning against my desk. “The world’s biggest Nancy Pelosi fan.”

“I don’t know who that is,” I’d tell him for the thousandth time, but eventually I learned that she was the Speaker of the House of Representatives until the 2010 midterm elections when she was replaced by John Boehner. Master Guns did not love John Boehner, but he hated Nancy Pelosi.

“I hate Nancy Pelosi,” he’d say. Then, upon glancing at the Oswald Chambers daily meditation calendar Chaps had put next to the coffee machine, “Nancy Pelosi,” he’d grumble. “She’s the least of my problems.”

I didn’t like Master Guns, but he was right about that.

* * *

In truth, Master Guns had many problems and that’s why he had a standing appointment with Chaps. From my desk outside his office I could hear Master Guns’ side of the conversation because he shouted almost everything. They usually began each of their sessions with some kind of debate about Obama or the Tea Party which quickly fell away to reveal the problems Master Guns was really there to talk about.

“She’s leaving me, Chaps!” He meant his wife. I learned the saga of Master Guns and his wife that winter, during my first deployment sailing across the Pacific ocean in a slate gray floating city that carried 5,000 souls from Norfolk harbor to the Northern Arabian Sea. The USS Enterprise fought in Vietnam fifty years ago and now it was fighting another war. This time, I was on it. So was Master Guns.

“Oh she’s a bitch, all right, Chaps!” He meant his wife again. And this was another thing I didn’t like about Master Guns. From what I could piece together, his wife was indeed leaving him, but that wasn’t what made her a bitch. What made her a bitch was that when he left for deployment, she discovered some emails which indicated that an Xbox that went missing from the wardroom a year ago had actually been stolen by Master Guns and sold on Craigslist. Among the Xbox emails were other messages Master Guns had sent to a woman in Reno, with whom he was having an affair. She was a bitch because she sent all of this evidence to the squadron commander, who opened an investigation.

“She’s just trying to get back at me! She’s destroying my career!”

And then Master Guns would sob because at the age of 42, he had ascended to the highest rank an enlisted man could attain in the Marine Corps and he had married a woman who was now sitting alone in his gaudy Florida mansion and whose sole mission was to dissemble her husband’s sanity, one email to his commander at a time.

And there was nothing he could do about it.

* * *

I did not feel sorry for Master Guns, mainly because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself. It was my first deployment and the feelings of adventure I thought I would have did not materialize. Instead, I drifted around the ship like a ghost, see-through and only half there.

If I told you that every sailor was heartbroken in their own special way, would you believe me? Because they are. The day before I left for Norfolk, I spent the day drinking beer with a girl who—more than anything and for reasons beyond my understanding—wanted to be my girlfriend. She told me so at a sushi restaurant in a strip mall where she had invited me to say goodbye.

“I want to be your girlfriend,” she said. “I want to miss you when you’re gone.”

“You will,” I said. “I don’t know what you want from me.”

“Yes you do,” she said.

“I promise you,” I said slowly. “I have no idea what you want.”

She turned away from me and frowned. She taught fourth grade somewhere in the swamp and the kids in her classes made fun of her car. She told me that the night we met.

“What kind of car do you drive?” I asked her then.

“It’s a Kia,” she said demurely.

“Why would they make fun of your car?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” and she smiled in a way that made me feel like she did know, but I would have to earn the answer from her. I never did.

After sushi, we went back to my apartment and sat on my bed. She looked glum and wasn’t hiding it. I had an idea.

“Wait right here,” I told her. I went into my closet and pulled out a brand new leather jacket, still in the box that it came in. I bought it the year before as a gift for my fiancée, which was back when I still had a fiancée. Now I just had the jacket.

“I got this for you,” I lied.

She gasped. “It’s beautiful!” She tried it on. I could see that it was too big for her, but if she noticed, she didn’t care. “It’s beautiful,” she said again, her eyes wet and shiny.

“I got it for you,” I repeated. I said it because I wanted it to be true, because the jacket was supposed to belong to the person I was going to marry, but instead it sat in my closet for a year, fucking with me. Now I was giving it away to make another girl feel better, but also because I thought it would make me feel better. It worked on her but not on me. I didn’t feel anything. In the hours after she left, I felt worse.

Later she texted me a photo of her wearing the jacket. She had pushed up the sleeves like Miami Vice so it would fit her short arms. In one hand, she held the note I had written to my fiancée. It was a note I had forgotten was still in the inside pocket. Her other hand was giving me the middle finger.

I didn’t feel sorry for Master Guns, but I also wasn’t in a place to judge him.

* * *

In the Navy, you don’t always do the job you sign up to do. It’s almost a running joke.

There was a guy who worked in the Chief’s Mess washing dishes and he would sneak me fresh fruit and yogurts in exchange for saved seats during Chaps’ Sunday services in the hangar bay. I would go see him in a compartment we called the Deep Sink. He wore thick rubber gloves to his elbows and a heavy synthetic apron, black and flecked with bits of old food. He told me that he was a trained Navy paralegal, but I couldn’t believe it. It must be a punishment, I thought. The Deep Sink was a terrible assignment—twelve hours on your feet, blasting the stinking remains of our meals into oblivion.

One day I asked him if he was down there because he got in trouble. He gave me a crazy smile and said, “Nope. Just lucky.”

We called him the Zen Master.

So the job you sign up to do isn’t always the job you end up doing. I was supposed to be an avionics expert but I did not feel like an expert of anything. Every squadron has to provide support personnel to the ship during deployment. The Zen Master went to the Deep Sink. I was detailed to Chaps.

* * *

Chaps was the Chaplain for the air wing and his official title was Lieutenant Doug Russell, but everyone called him Chaps. He wore a flight suit and his shoulder patch was a Methodist cross, glowing white beams and licks of red flame. He had requested support personnel and I was that support, but he didn’t seem to have much for me to do. My daily duties were as follows:

Post the schedule. Make the coffee. Flip the Oswald Chambers calendar to the next day. Standby.

He led a weekly Bible study and he would sometimes test out his lessons on me. Mostly, he was like every other religious person in the Navy—well meaning and inscrutable. One day, he instructed me to watch Anger Management, which at the time had been out for over seven years. It’s a movie with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson and Chaps told me to take notes. That afternoon, I sat cross-legged in the enlisted berthing with a pad of paper and a pen, watching the movie intently. I did not know what I was supposed to be looking for. I realized halfway through that I hadn’t taken a single note. During the next scene, Jack Nicholson screamed at Adam Sandler and he screamed back at him. I wrote down, “Old Testament?”

I worried for a week that Chaps was planning to quiz me about the movie, but he never brought it up again. Years later I would think I saw him on a MILAIR flight from the Seychelles to Naples and I would panic for a moment, thinking he would bring up Anger Management and I would have nothing to say. I don’t know what to make of the relief I felt when I saw it wasn’t him.

* * *

Master Guns was the first person I met after getting detailed to Chaps. He burst through the door, all five feet and three inches of him, looking like he owned the place, which is pretty typical for senior enlisted Marines.

Master Guns is short for Master Gunnery Sergeant, which is the same rank as Master Sergeant, but also very different. The difference is that Master Sergeants are in charge and they are often legendary and scary motherfuckers. Master Gunnery Sergeants, however, are supposed to be technical people. Some lean into the role as a subject matter expert, which is some mix of consultant and oracle. Others feel like not being chosen for command is an insult and spend the rest of their careers wallowing in the wake of the slight. It did not take me long to figure out which Master Guns was.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked me, narrowing his eyes.

“I’m helping Chaps. I’m new.” I said.

“Yeah, you’re new all right,” he snarled. “Who’d you vote for?”

“I, uh, Obama.”

“Not for president, shipmate. The midterms. The midterms!”

“I don’t—” I started and was saved when Chaps came out of his office.

“Paul,” Chaps said. “C’mon in.”

Master Guns walked past my desk towards Chaps. “We’ll pick this up later, shipmate.”

I heard him inside. “Where do they find these guys?” he asked Chaps.

“Oh he’s not so bad,” Chaps replied.

I didn’t like Master Guns. Not one bit.

* * *

That was the deployment where Lieutenant Donnelly implemented his Eight-On-Eight-Off protocol for the aircrewman. Usually, everyone on the ship worked in twelve-hour shifts. There is a night crew and a day crew. Lieutenant Donnelly wanted to try rotating eight-hour shifts. You’d be on for eight hours, then off for eight hours, then back on again. The idea was that it would prevent burnout and keep everyone sharp, fit, and rested.

What happened is that people went crazy. I don’t mean that people became overworked and cranky. I mean that the aircrew started to see impossible things.

I found out about it when I went to the squadron briefing room to watch Braveheart with Ruben. There was a big TV in the squadron briefing room and if there were no night flight operations, the officers let the enlisted sailor on watch pick a movie to put on the big screen. Ruben was the aircrewman on the desk that night and I went down because he always puts on Braveheart.

I walked into the briefing room as Lieutenant Donnelly was shouting at Ruben.

“Not Braveheart! Not again!” he was saying to Ruben.

“C’mon, sir,” Ruben begged. “Just the battle scenes.”

“Absolutely not. I cannot watch this movie again.”

“It’s the only DVD I have,” Ruben admitted, a little ruefully.

“Then what’s this?” Lieutenant Donnelly picked up a DVD near Ruben’s laptop.

“That’s not mine,” Ruben said.

“That is, uh,” I said, trying to read the graphic on the DVD and be helpful. “That looks like disc two of Sopranos season four.”

“Great! Yes! That’s what we’re watching!” Lieutenant Donnelly grabbed the DVD, put it in the tray, and mushed it into the player. Then he spun on his heel and left.

“If he was going to leave, then why would he care what we watched?” I asked Ruben.

“It’s the aliens,” Ruben said dryly. “Everyone is worked up over the aliens.”

And then he told me about how the crews for the last few nights of patrols had reported seeing something strange, something fast. The Captain blamed Lieutenant Donnelly’s Eight-On-Eight-Off protocol. He said it was causing sleep deprivation and that’s why the aircrew would come back from patrols with mission reports where everyone would see something unexplainable, but would be unable to say exactly what they saw.

“So no more eight hour shifts?” I asked him. Ruben smiled.

“Well, yeah, but here’s the thing. There’s a video.”

* * *

The video Ruben showed me was black and white grainy helicopter gunship footage. What I saw were slaloms of undulating gray blobs and a small white shape moving quickly across it. I stared at the video, waiting for the aliens, and then the video ended.

“That white shape was the alien?”

Ruben shrugged. “That’s what I think anyway.”

“What does the old man think?” I asked Ruben. The old man is what we called the captain.

“The old man,” Ruben explained, “Blames the young lieutenant.”

I didn’t think that was fair, but at that moment Lieutenant Donnelly burst back into the briefing room.

“Better not be Braveheart,” he muttered to us.

“It’s not,” I said. Ruben and I looked at each other thinking the same thought. What an asshole.

* * *

The aircrew went back to standard twelve-hour shifts and the ship’s air conditioner broke and that became what everyone talked about. We couldn’t see the aliens anymore, but just because we couldn’t see them, didn’t mean they couldn’t see us. That’s what Ruben said, anyway. And after a series of other trivial dramas, eventually people forgot that on our network, there was a video of something that no one could explain—a small white shape, skimming across a quilted night sky, moving in a way that defied everything we knew about how things from this planet were supposed to move.

* * *

Throughout the Atlantic passage, aliens or not, it seemed that my destiny was inextricably linked to Master Guns.

“You’re a progressive!” he shouted at me one day before his appointment with Chaps. “That’s what’s wrong with you!”

I was drafting a Red Cross message for Chaps. Someone’s grandmother from another squadron had died and the sailor was going home. Normally you don’t go home for dead grandmothers, but this sailor also had two dead parents and the Captain thought that warranted the expense of getting him to the funeral. That’s what the Red Cross message was for anyway.

“I’m not anything,” I told Master Guns, trying to concentrate. “I’m working.”

“Ha! Got you!” he shouted. “Don’t you see? There are no progressives. You’re a reactionary!”

“I guess so,” I said. I did not like Master Guns, but I was getting used to him.

“Here’s something you can react to, shipmate,” and he pulled a can of Fosters beer from his cargo pocket and set it right in front of the Oswald Chambers calendar. He crossed his arms and smirked at me.

* * *

“Here’s something you can react to, shipmate,” and he pulled a can of Fosters beer from his cargo pocket and set it right in front of the Oswald Chambers calendar. He crossed his arms and smirked at me.

How Master Guns came into possession of the contraband beer was the Navy has this tradition about how many consecutive days you spend at sea. If you’ve been underway for 45 days without hitting port, each sailor is entitled to two cans of beer.

On the day Master Guns thunked the can of Fosters in front of me, we were on day 47 and the ship had just completed the deployment’s first Beer Day. It’s supposed to help morale, but it doesn’t really work that way. It’s not like you come back to your rack and see two beers on your pillow.

What they do is rope off a section in the hangar bay where they can control access to the two pallets of 24-ounce room temperature Fosters. The line to get in snakes throughout the ship.

I waited in the line like everyone else, but after an hour of moving only a few inches, I wandered off. I went to the catwalks, which is the metal grating on the exterior of the ship. I leaned against the railing and stared at the ocean, thinking that if I was an alien that right now would be a good time to appear to a sailor standing alone on the catwalks.

Instead, the loudspeaker crackled behind me and I heard the Air Boss angrily shouting. At me.

“Shipmate in the black frame glasses and white jersey. Yes, you. There is an aircraft that is landing in approximately two seconds so would you kindly GET THE FUCK BACK IN THE SHIP.”

I scurried back through the water-tight doors to see everyone in the beer line looking at me. I gave them a shrug and a little half smile, but I felt hot tears behind my eyes, burning.

Two days later, Master Guns presented me with the can of Fosters.

“Chaps said you didn’t get a beer. So I got this one for you. Just don’t ask me how I got it,” Master Guns said.

“Thanks Master Guns,” I said, a little suspiciously.

“Don’t get used to it, shipmate.”

I put the beer in my desk drawer, wondering what I owed him now.

Later that night I snuck the beer into my rack, which was in the berthing right under the arresting wire of the flight deck. I waited until a jet landed and using the gut-sinking crunching noise as a cover, I cracked the can and took a long draught. It tasted faintly of gold and I imagined molten liquid coating my body from the inside out. A nice feeling, courtesy of Master Guns.

* * *

We eventually pulled into port after 102 consecutive days at sea. Master Guns laughed at me when I asked him if it was some kind of record.

“Jesus, you’re green,” he tittered.

Most harbors aren’t deep enough for aircraft carriers so we’d drop anchor somewhere off the coast and contract smaller boats to go back and forth, ferrying sailors to land. You have to stand in a line to get on a ferry, then stand in line to get on a bus, and then you take a taxi to a bar or the mall or McDonalds and by the time you look around to see if you can find the girl from the ship’s store who Ruben said had too many freckles, but you think has just the right amount of freckles, it was almost time to start heading back.

The solution was to take shore leave. Or at least that’s what Master Guns said.

“What you do,” Master Guns explained to me the week before we were set to pull into the Kingdom of Bahrain. “What you do is you take leave. Shore leave. Run a chit, burn a few days of leave, and you don’t have to stand watch, come back to the ship, or do anything you don’t want to do.”

I didn’t like Master Guns, but this seemed like a good idea.

* * *

The day we pulled into port, Ruben and I stood in the long line to get on the ferry. Everyone looked strange in their regular clothes and I barely recognized Master Guns across the hangar bay in his golf shirt and khakis until he shouted at me. He was coming over to us.

“What’s the plan, ladies?” he asked us.

“We took shore leave like you said,” I told him.

“And?” Master Guns wanted details.

“We have hotel reservations. We’re going to the diplomatic district.” The diplomatic district was an area in Bahrain with a bunch of hotels with bars where they serve alcohol.

“Looks like you’ll be there in about four hours,” he said, surveying the line ahead of us.

“That’s okay, Master Guns,” Ruben said. “We’re just happy to get off the boat.”

Master Guns rolled his eyes at Ruben. “Yeah you’re happy all right. Well, shit.” He looked at us, thinking. “Well,” he said again. “C’mon with me.” And then he turned and started walking to the other side of the hangar bay where the VIP ferries were waiting.

I looked at Ruben and shrugged. We didn’t know better. We went with him. Master Guns shouted at the sentries who were guarding the VIP ferries. They let him and us through. The VIP ferry had a stripper pole below decks and a wet bar. We were the only passengers. Master Guns reached behind the bar and grabbed a fistful of mini bottles.

“Fuckin’ A,” he grinned.

I didn’t like Master Guns and I didn’t want to go with him. I was trapped in the swirling tide of our destinies.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

* * *

As soon as we were on dry land, Ruben pulled out his phone to try and connect to the internet. “I want to see if my son is awake,” he said excitedly.

“You have a son?” This information was revelatory to me.

“Do you have kids?” Master Guns asked me.

“No. Do you?”

“Me?” Master Guns made a face. “Me?” he repeated. “Kids are the last thing I need. Don’t start with me about kids. I’m not going to show you all the best spots in Juffair if you keep talking about kids.”

I looked at Ruben who was walking around with his phone outstretched, looking for a friendly satellite. I walked over to him while Master Guns ducked behind a berm to pee.

“Master Guns wants to show us the town,” I told him. I tried to keep my face blank. I knew Ruben would refuse to go with Master Guns because he knew it would be a terrible time. I also know I could not refuse to go. For some reason, I understood that my fate lay with Master Guns, out there in the half-vacant inland of this desert kingdom.

“I am not going with that guy,” Ruben said and I did not blame him. “I’m sticking to the plan. Come find us later.”

And so I watched Ruben get on the bus and drive away. Master Guns walked up behind me and clapped a hand on my shoulder.  “Fuck the bus. I know where to go.” He licked his lips and I swallowed hard.

* * *

We ended up at American Alley which is a street close to the Navy installation lined with fast food restaurants. We went to the Fuddruckers.

Master Guns prepared me. “The beef tastes weird, but not in a bad way. It’s just squishier.”

The sun was setting. We hadn’t come straight here. From the harbor, Master Guns found us a taxi and he gave non-English language directions to our driver, who nodded without responding. We whizzed past croppings of high-rise buildings that looked both brand new and falling apart at the same time. Master Guns would pull out a mini bottle occasionally and take a quick snort, like it was an inhaler. He stared out the window without really looking. I knew he wasn’t looking because we had been driving for close to an hour when Master Guns shouted for the driver to stop.

It turned out that whatever nationality Master Guns had assumed the driver was, he was not. We asked him where he was taking us and he shrugged.

“Do you understand the question?” I asked him.

“What even are you?” shouted Master Guns.

“Philippines,” our driver said quietly.

“Philippines.” Master Guns murmured it to himself like a curse. We sat in the taxi. I fought an impulse to get out of the car. It was like outer space. We had pulled over next to an old billboard for Big Momma’s House 2.

“Philippines,” Master Guns said again, softly this time. We were far from the city but there was a village nearby. From our distance to the hamlet, it looked undefined and almost primal, like each inhabitant was responsible for carving out their own burrow in the sheer white stone of the raw earth.

“Then what are you doing here?” Master Guns asked genuinely. No one answered. It was a question each of us in the car was asking ourselves.

No one did anything for what felt like a long time. I had nearly convinced myself that I was dreaming when the driver turned to us and said, “American cheese burger?” And we both grumbled approval.

I turned to Master Guns. “Where were we trying to go?”

Master Guns sneered at me. “It would’ve blown your mind.”

* * *

And that was my first meal on shore leave. Our burgers the size of dinner plates, mangled and half eaten. The sun set on us, two sad men in polo shirts at a Fuddruckers in the Middle East.

* * *

When the sun set, a black mood descended on Master Guns. It was what I had been dreading and it had finally arrived. My only hope for salvaging the night was convincing him to find other sailors at bars that were nearby.

“I can hear music, Master Guns!” I was trying to buck him up. I did a little dance in my seat.

“Yeah, shitty music maybe.” Master Guns pouted. It was uncomfortable for me to see and I resented him for the role it put me in. I decided I had paid whatever debt I owed to Master Guns and stood up from our booth at Fuddruckers.

“Where the fuck are you going?” he asked me.

“I’m not your ward. I’m going to a bar where there are girls and you are free to come with me,” I instructed.

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Master Guns was suddenly not pouting. “You want girls? Oh we’ll get girls. Let’s go.”

And so we left the Fuddruckers, Master Guns leading the way. Yay, I thought to myself.

* * *

We passed block after block of glamorous hotel bars, packed with people. “This place,” Master Guns explained, “This place we’re going used to be my spot when I was stationed out here.”

Across the street, we passed two sailors coming out of a hotel bar, laughing. One was laughing at how hard the other was laughing and the other one realized this and started laughing even harder. And then he laughed so hard he threw up. I looked at them longingly. We heard their laughter echo between the high rises and empty street as we marched deeper into the city.

* * *

We arrived at a four-story white building lit from the inside with a dim orange glow. We walked in and I was surprised to discover a pretty normal bar that was sparsely filled, but did indeed contain some women. It was an even split of Arabs, Asians, and westerners.

We ordered beers, but as soon as they arrived, Master Guns grabbed his bottle and told me he was going to take a lap and I should hold things down at the bar. I watched him work the room, talking his pigeon Arabic to the locals. I could see why Master Guns liked this place. He was average height in this bar.

He made his way back to me with a smug look on his face. “I have saved the night, shipmate,” he said triumphantly.

I drained my beer. “So what’s the plan?”

“We’re going,” he paused and smiled. “We’re going off-roading.”

I stared at him. I didn’t like Master Guns.

* * *

We went outside and Master Guns clicked a key fob high above his head and tried to locate the chirping vehicle parked somewhere in the side streets. He was talkshouting non-stop.

“Rashid! My old landlord! Did I tell you about him? Great guy! His friend, his Jeep! Borrow it for the night! Like the back of my hand. Did it all the time. You gotta see it at night. It’s gonna blow your mind! Fuck that bar! Fuck those hotels! We’re going off-road! Hoorah!”

We found the Jeep, a beat-up, dust-covered thing, and we hopped in. Master Guns peeled out and almost clipped a building.

“Jesus Christ!” I said.

“Shut up,” he told me.

We drove out of the city and when there were no more streetlights and the paved road ended, Master Guns launched the Jeep into the cool inky blue of the desert. Our bodies jounced over berms and sand ridges. Master Guns locked the brakes and we surfed down dunes. After a few minutes it became clear that he knew how to drive the Jeep and I started having a terrified kind of fun.

“Holy fuckin shit!” I screamed at him over the wind and whooshing of tires on sand.

“Holy fuckin shit!” he screamed back at me, smiling.

We whooped into the air. For one long moment that seemed to last for hours, I watched Master Guns shed earth’s gravity. In the moonlight, I saw what he must have looked like as a teenaged Marine at the start of his career. He was scrappy and debonair somehow, his face sand-whipped and ruddy.

I didn’t like Master Guns, but I liked seeing him like this.

* * *

We stopped atop a ridge and the lights of downtown Juffair were so far away they looked like stars. We sat in the car silently. Master Guns produced the final two mini bottles and handed one to me. We were both still grinning like crazy. What can I say? I was swept up. I went for it.

“So,” I started. “I have to ask. Why?”

“You mean all the shit I’m in,” Master Guns said.

“Yes, I mean all the shit you’re in.” I said again. “Why?”

“What do you mean why?” Master Guns asked me. “Why the Xbox or why the woman in Reno?”

“I guess both.”

“Well good because the answer is the same. Fuck them.”

“You mean the Marine Corps?”

“No man, I mean everyone.” He turned to look at the distant city lights. “My personal philosophy.”

“Yeah,” I said softly.

“Yeah,” he repeated. “Don’t,” and then stopped. He looked at me, wondering if he even had to say it. “Don’t be like me,” he finished.

A white shape appeared in the distance and zigzagged across the sky. Master Guns seemed alarmed.

“What the fuck is that?” He whispered.

“Oh,” I said from somewhere deep inside myself. “Those are the aliens.”

* * *

We rumbled back to civilization, crunching our tires on the rocky terrain. I expected Master Guns to return to being awful when we got closer to the diplomatic district, but he was subdued and even a little gracious. He asked what hotel I was staying at and told me it was a nice place and to get room service because the room service in this country would blow my mind.

He pulled into the circle drive of the hotel where I was staying. “Thanks Master Guns.” I said honestly. He stared at me for a second, like he was weighing whether to say something else.

“Oh fuck you,” he said and peeled out.

I walked into the lobby. Master Guns was right, it was a nice hotel. I was filthy from the desert. I was drunk off mini bottles and could feel sand in my teeth. I staggered into the bar, ordered a beer, and finished it.

A western-looking woman was ordering a drink a few stools down. She caught me looking at her so I went to take a drink of my beer, but it was empty and I made a big show of trying to get one more drop from the bottom of the bottle. I looked back over and she was laughing. She approached me and spoke with an accent I couldn’t place. Swedish, maybe. “You are out of beer,” she observed.

“It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” I told her. “It happens to a lot of guys.”

“That’s pretty funny.” She winked. “For an American.” She kicked at my shoe playfully. I put my face in my hands. I had started crying.

“Hey what is wrong?” she said.

I heaved gigantic wet breaths. People turned around to look. I was causing a scene. “Do you ever get scared because we’re all alone in the universe?” I blubbered.

She seemed to really consider the question. “Yes, I think I do.”

Kyle Seibel lives in Santa Barbara, CA where he works as a copywriter. He is a veteran of the US Navy.


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