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Lord of the Flies in Vietnam

Macabre reminder

Lucid rays beaming down pencil thin through holes in the canvas, pierce the dim and give to the dead air an aura of nebulous presence — a macabre reminder, or perhaps visitation, by disembodied spirit. Inside I felt the horrors of sense awareness, filled up sick and wondering, knowing but not knowing, the dead boy's ghost near and haunting, itself directing those beams in deliberate and accusing allude to the fragger himself.

"You, you, you! It's you who murdered me!"

A dream — mine — straight out of William Golding's theme (Lord of the Flies); something pulled from past and pushed to present. An egg — lots of white, a yoke, fertile — cracked. Golding's words churn.

Samneric took the conch.

"That must be fun like Bill says — and as he's invited us - "

" - to a feast - "

" — meat — " crackling - "

" - I could do with some meat - " Ralph held up his hand.

"Why shouldn't we get our own meat?"

The twins looked at each other. Bill answered.

"We don't want to go in the jungle."

The smell of diesel can take me back (and so, too, anything that pops or snaps) to an ugly, bulldozed place of reddish clay and sandbagged huts — LZ Stud. Memory swallows hard. Seeming whirlpools of boisterous men, dressed in torn camouflage, bare butts hanging out, move in dozens of directions at once. They laugh. They shout and swear.

"Paradise!"

"Fuckin' aye!"

They are heavily burdened, loaded with objects of varied weights and sizes and shapes, shouldering huge and weathered packs, dangled with canteens, other things, clutching rifles and machine guns and grenade launchers and the like. Across the chests of those holding M16s, full olive-green bandoliers loop; the grenadiers — good humpers all — tote full shoulder bags of fat, bullet-shaped M79 rounds (types fragmentation, illumination, and gas); and on the gunners, naked belts of brass and copper rounds crisscross and glisten in the sun. Their faces look old — yet most are still in their teens. They have returned from the jungle.

Jack drew up his legs, clasped his knees, and frowned in an effort to attain clarity.

"All the same - in the forest. I mean when you're hunting...."

He paused for a moment, not sure if Ralph would take him seriously.

"Go on."

"If you're hunting sometimes you catch yourself feeling as if —" He flushed suddenly. "There's nothing in it of course. Just a feeling. But you can feel as if you're not hunting, but — being hunted, as if something's behind you all the time in the jungle."

Stud: we sit on cots inside tents. Holding guns, we clean 'em in stale air kicked full of dust. From a hundred holes in the canvas, the beams of ancient light strike our faces and wash across our moving hands. Weeks've passed without mention of the boy's death that night. He'd just stepped out the tent when the frag blew him back. Ripped him apart. Whoever did it - did it just for fun. A piece of inherent flaw brought back. Bored. Probably drunk. No one knew who - just that it was one of us.

But a sign came down from the world of grownups, though at the time there was no child awake to read it. There was a sudden bright explosion and corkscrew trail across the sky; then darkness again and stars. There was a speck above the island, a figure dropping swiftly ... a figure that hung with dangling limbs.

In the tent we did not talk of the dead (the murdered boy or any of them) — but now another body lies quiet in the sun. Not enough time for protein to coagulate, and limbs are still limp. Legs lie straight. Feet — heels touching — gape apart in shape of V. Arms rest on chest, one hand on the other. Drained of blood, dead flesh is color of ash. Articles of clothing display shades of green (T-shirt — stained by sweat and blood; trousers — urine-darkened at crotch; jungle-boots - weathered gray). Everything's lifeless as leached clay, soaking up thick stuff dripping out head. Green towel covers face.

"Got t' fix 'im," someone said (then stooped to remove the towel). "Got t' fix 'im." Stare at face: everything's still there ('cept hole in forehead where somethin' big went through); everything's a different shape (reddish mustache recognizable — nothin' else). Impact exploded everything inside. Back of head looks soft an' loose — like skull's been jerked out. Face pushed in, swollen, mouth open - like gulping fish. Eyelids closed, puffy, pale-green ovals from cheek t' 'brow. Skin colorless. Plastic.

Simon felt his knees smack the rock. He crawled forward and soon he understood.... He examined the white nasal bones, the teeth, the colors of corruption.... Then the wind blew again and the figure lifted, bowed, and breathed foully at him.

He is a child at that most beautiful age just before boyhood begins its change, and his face alone reflects all he's known. His colors are true and his skin so soft that his tears stream smoothly. His eyes are those of a kitten's, and they seem to tell stories of fantastic make-believe. His clothes are rags - a contrast that accents his natural beauty like a simple frame. But as he comes to his father he tells a tale.

"Mamma is dead."

The father looks up from his son, raises his huge and ugly hand high, and brings it down hard as he can 'cross the child's small mouth. The blow smashes the boy against a brick wall, and blood gushes from the holes in his lips where his teeth have punctured through. The father then kicks his boy in the stomach, before allowing him to collapse to the grime. Boy squirms, groans, gasps for air. Father reaches down and grabs son's rags and drags him down the alleyway - calls him cursed all the while.

And — all while father drags bleeding son down alleyway — youngsters and teenagers come out doorways and from behind garbage cans and piles of trash and — hearing the child's name and seeing who he is — leap in joy. Mothers and fathers lean from overhead windows, glaring down at the father and the son, and bend their ears to hear. The children cry the child's name and father calls him cursed and the others and the fathers begin to cheer and clap hands vigorously — they never had anything to cheer about before.

The son tries to pull himself up, tugging on father's arm, but father shakes son loose and slaps son's face and calls son cursed. The jeering youngsters and teenagers throw rocks and sticks at the boy; the mothers and the fathers from the upper windows spit. Air in the alleyway is still and stinks of garbage and urine and scattered piles of human waste. A billion flies gorge in infinite feast.

Near the end, father slams his beautiful son against a paint-smeared door and pins him — knee jammed in neck. Father raises his arms into the air and calls to the dead ancestors of his generation who live, he believes, on the rooftops and beneath the piles of garbage and human waste lying everywhere. Father calls the dead ancestors to come see the child. This child is no longer his, he explains, and they should come take him for their own. Father drops beautiful son to ground and throws open door to home and slips inside. Door slams shut.

The father's ancestor angels must've heard his call: as the child lands in the filth, all the alleyway flies leave their piles of garbage and human waste and descend on the boy, who tries impossibly to keep them out his eyes and off his bloody lips. From near and far alleyways, hordes of starving dogs and cats come — ignoring their natural hatred for each other — and join with the flies in the feast.

Jubilation within the alleyway soon dies, as all the youngsters and the teenagers and the mothers and the fathers return to whatever they'd been doing. The child was then forgotten. And, as the day passed on, as the sky began to darken, as the cats and the dogs gnawed the child's bones — a putrid gust of wind stirred the air.

"You are a silly little boy," said the Lord of the Flies, "just an ignorant, silly little boy."

Simon moved his swollen tongue but said nothing.

"Don't you agree?" said the Lord of the Flies. "Aren't you just a silly little boy?"

Simon answered him in the same silent voice.

"Well then," said the Lord of the Flies, "you'd better run off and play with the others. They think you're batty. You don't want Ralph to think you're batty, do you? You like Ralph a lot, don't you? And Piggy, and Jack?"

Simon's head was tilted slightly up. His eyes could not break away and the Lord of the Flies hung in space before him.

In the tent an Indian sits and cleans his weapon. A single beam bounces around the shadows of sunken eyes and makes glow the brown skin of a high cheekbone. He is tall and ugly. His lips are tight and frozen like rock, with no trace of previous smile. He seldom talks, but if he did -it was that his mother is dead. He is 18. His nickname is "Chief." He jerks his head and looks my way. A beam pierces an empty eye.

"What are you doing out here all alone? Aren't you afraid of me?"

Simon shook.

"There isn't anyone to help you. Only me. And I'm the beast."

Simon's mouth labored, brought forth audible words.

"Pig's head on a stick."

Darkness: we left our tent and went to an open area beside another tent — half a tent — near the grumbling purr of a diesel engine self-bathed in false light created. We drink cold beer for ten cents a can. Boy-men with guns. We get drunk. The hunters are grouped by race, with laughter and screamed profanities the backdrop for shared party; whites arrange in tight huddles, talkin’ Communist Cocksucker; brothers form loose, rhythmic mobs and speak Mothe'fuck'. Chief sits alone on a wooden ledge surrounding the beer tent — an M16 asleep by his side. Weathered jungle boots appear glued to his feet, dangling, above a dozen empty cans.

I go to him and sit. Me a gulp of beer. Speak.

"Hey, Chief. Wha'd'y' say?"

Chief turns his head. Stares glassy-eyed at my face.

Kill the beast!...

"Hey, Chief.... WHA'D'Y' SAY?"

Cut his throat!...

Chief turns away. Stares at little can wrapped in big hand.

Spill his blood!...

"Drunk, Chief? Huh? Wha'd'y' say? Time go t' bed, Chief?"

Kill the beast! Cut his throat!...

I get up and leave Chief sitting alone — like an island.

Spill his blood...

I move away from the melee, to its edge, and find a spot to sit under a grass canopy; across my face dance the elongated shadows of boys with sticks. I'm enveloped by fixation of strobe. Boys with sticks dance in randomness, chant in disjointed obscenity, move drunkenly 'round omnipotent rumble of diesel. The vicious bodies rip artificial light, the ethereal glow that makes us safe. I slip on line between illusion and real, give way to sleep — and the release of disturbed dreams.

"I'm warning you. I'm going to get angry. D'you see? You're not wanted. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island...."

Simon found he was looking into a vast mouth. There was blackness within, a blackness that spread.

" - Or else," said the Lord of the Flies, "we shall do you. See? Jack and Roger and Maurice and Robert and Bill and Piggy and Ralph. Do you. See?"

Simon was inside the mouth. He fell down and lost consciousness.

Eyes closed, I see. Something tall is near. Blink and stare — mouth open and wordless. A shadow moves. Head appears.

"Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill!" said the head.

An M16 is pointed at my head. I feel the pressure of thumb on selector - feel its push — hear click, click.... Full automatic.

Kill the beast!...

I try to talk. Tongue is numb. Bad dream.

Cut his throat!...

" 'S okay, man...." — voice not mine.

Spill his blood! ...

Ancient recognition from the abyss, wake or die.... No dream — Chief is standing ten feet away, his weapon pointed at me. Awake, temples pounding, heart pumping, I rise in trance to feet. Tongue doesn't work. A crowd has gathered — voices fire words in strangely soft tones.

" 'S okay, man." " 'S all right...'s all right." "Jus' put it down, man.... Ev'thing be okay ... ev'thing be okay."

Chief turns sharp (tat-tat-tat-tat—) fires over heads. Bodies drop to ground. Voices change.

"FUCK, MAN!"

The mute giant finally screams —LEAVE ME ‘LONE!!”

Kill the beast!...

The crowd rises, carefully - voices less sure, return to pleads.

Cut his throat!...

" 'S okay, man." "Jus' take it easy... take it easy." "Don' be crazy."

Spill his blood!...

Shadows slide between legs along the ground. A glow of green alters faces deeply tanned, black or brown. Glistens of sweat shimmer. Eyes all white, open wide — staring at the tall beast. Its eyes are swollen and watery — something trickles through sweat. I get my tongue to work.

"Chief - "

Chief turns, jerks his aim back at me.

“—Shut up!"

From the shadows, someone lunges for the gun. Chief jumps — and cries in guttural wail. (Tat-tat-tat—)

Chief's head explodes in a splatter of blood. He collapses and a red pool begins to form. Voices scream.

"FUCK!" "SHIT!" "MOTHE'FUCK'!"

We move in. Stare at face. Half his neck and head is gone, and I see his windpipe dangle like a severed snake. His body quivers for a moment, then his remaining eye rolls back in his head. In a few seconds, his body is very still.

I awake to the morning sun piercing through the holes in the canvas. The tent seems empty and yet is nearly full. We arise already dressed. Everyone stuffs his pack and saddles up. No one talks of the dead (the murdered boy or any of them) — but my eyes catch the spots on the empty cot. I look up and feel the heat of the beams and see the faces of the dead — smell the ugliness. A flap lifts and a black steps in. Backlight shadows his face.

"We movin' out," he says.

He stands where the murdered boy had stepped (when the frag blew him back) — the beams hit him just right. I speak.

"What we do with Chief's shit?"

"Leave it. Someone be 'round, pick it up."

"Can't get it outta my head."

"Don't talk 'bout it, man."

The two of us pass through the beams and into the full light. The air is already hot and soon will be wet and thick. We gather in columns beside the grass canopy. A vacant spot is filled in. Soon the birds will come and take us away. Away from Stud. Back to the jungle — and the beast.

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