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The sound of my breathing fills the MICH helmet, echoing loudly in my ears as it rolled off the ballistic faceguard. You would be forgiven for thinking I had just sprinted more than a thousand yards. My heart was racing now and my clothes were drenched in sweat.

“Breathe, Shan.” Drill offered as he slowly made his way out of the parking space and into traffic.

Breathing was all I could do; that and try not to throw up as I fumbled at the strap that kept my headgear in place. Deep breaths, in through the nose out through the mouth.

“It’s just adrenaline. It’ll go away, just try and keep it together for a few minutes. You hungry? Thirsty? There’s a convenience store up the block . . . ” Drill was chattier than usual. I guess everyone responds to stress differently.  A line of police and other emergency vehicles raced past us as they crossed at an intersection. Not so much as a second glance spared from any of them.

I looked at Drill as he watched the receding line of cars and as I began to speak, my body took advantage of the opening, bringing up the dregs of my stomach contents.

“Fuck’s sake, Shan, do that shit outside with the rest of the animals, will you?” He was grinning.

It briefly worried me that I might begin to react like Drill did, but the thought quickly left my mind as the sound of more sirens filled the air. We were moving now, part of the regular flow of traffic and as seemingly oblivious as the rest of the people around us. I kept an eye on what was going on behind us, but the sirens were heading to the bank. We were free.


It’s not all fun and games this life. Someone in my position you’d expect knows his shit cold, but even I have to keep sharp. A handgun, inside the waistband of my pants, carried at about the 1-2 o’clock position. Appendix carry it’s called. I draw the gun, drive it forward letting the sights settle on an imaginary opponent. A quick look around and reholster. The room is dark and cool as I continue this exercise. Something is buzzing in my head though and I can’t figure out what it is. I start to fumble. My shirt gets caught around the grip. I try to clear my head and carry on. Now the handle of my knife, a small fixed blade I carry at the 3 -4 o’clock is suddenly catching the hem of my shirt as I try to grip the pistol.

I take a breath and reholster. I close my eyes for a moment and try to sort out what’s dropping all the flies in my mental ointment. I’m casting around mentally, but everything I land on comes up aces. Left hand pushes my shirt up, right hand is on the grip and pulling the gun out of the holster and suddenly my feet are moving adding a new step to the drill that didn’t exist before. Swearing and shaking my head I shove my pistol back into the holster and give up. Something has gotten into my loop and I’ve gotten the yips.

Where the hell is Shan? Sweet mother of fuck it’s like I’m his sitter. Try to do a guy a solid…

The TV is on and some news reporter is babbling about the latest outbreak of Swine-SARS or whatever the new disease-rumor is that’s being floated to keep people in their homes is being played up for the masses.

“Shan?”  the new apartment is echo-y and still unfamiliar enough that I feel slightly on edge here.  Movement! I see something at the periphery of my vision moving faster than water down a hill; muscle memory takes over faster than I can process and I’m driving my pistol out toward a reflection of myself in a mirror, pointing a gun back at me.

I smile and flick the safety back on as I wink at my reflection “you almost had me that time” I tell mirror me and we smile at ourselves. Damn we’re handsome. Talented, too, but I digress. I call out for Shan again and still no answer. Now the flags are starting to be unfurled. Those little red flags I keep wound up in my mind, the ones I bring out when shit is about to get bad; the little red flags are starting to be raised.

The apartment has five doors, four of which are closed. For some people it would be the height of paranoia to have to clear their own home, but it’s just the price of doing business for me.

I move past the first door which is the exit–if Shan has left the apartment– shaking my head I tell myself I’ll deal with it later.  Keeping my pistol at low ready I cat foot my way to the next door, Shan’s bedroom and test the knob. The door swings open without so much as a peep.  I can see two corners of the room are empty as is Shan’s bed. I pie the doorway until I’m sure that he’s not playing with me. I give the door a tentative push with the muzzle of my pistol and take a step back keeping the gun centered on the door until it swings all the way back.

I make a careful exit and consider which of the two remaining doors to try next when I hear a strange settling sound coming from the tiny bathroom. There’s a familiarity to the sound that I can’t put my finger on, but it instantly sets the hairs on my neck on full-spook alert.

Approaching the door I hold my breath for just a second when I think I hear someone talking. I hold the breath for a couple of beats; definitely a voice but the words aren’t audible. I let my breath out quietly and wait a few more seconds and let my body take up the natural rhythm of breathing.

I test the knob and find it locked.

“Shan?” I ask to the impassive face of the door. Nothing. Drawing my sidearm to my chest, I take a step back and try again. “Shan, buddy? You in there?” Still no response, but the susurrant voice kept repeating its same few words.

I smiled as I stopped the flashback from washing over me and put my foot to the door then jumping back as I looked  for the source of the sound.

I pushed the front blade sight forward with all my strength, like Samson and his pillars. The sights settled on Shan, in the bathtub, hunched over on all fours. Beneath him in the tub was a plate carrier laid out like a sajjāda-a Muslim prayer rug as he performed what could only be described as some sort of prayer ritual.

I flicked the safety on my pistol as I set it down on the sink. “Shan, what the fuck? Are you–”

I didn’t get a chance to finish my question as his eyes slowly made their way up to my face. I would never have described Shan’s eyes as lively or twinkling but now they were positively dead.

“I’m worshipping at the temple of the trigger-puller, brother.” He said in a dry rasp “My metamorphosis is complete.”

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