June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the lives and examples of people who have fought and died to ensure that we who’ve been marginalized—for our bodies, gender, sexuality, choices—have opportunities to experience our lives unhindered by the ravages, prescriptions, and performances of heteronormative patriarchy with its attendant male genital supremacy and its intrinsic white supremacist ideology. In other words, Pride celebrates the potential for us all to be unleashed from always having to compare and be compared to the normalizing prison of the vulnerable, male, White body.
In recognition of Pride Month, I offer my short story, “Drones,” a dark, zany, interracial love story between two soldiers—men—deployed in Afghanistan shortly after the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. It’s a story about levels of leadership in relationships, families, the military and similar authority-based organizations. It’s a story about the environment, ecological terrorism, and the inability/unwillingness to express compassion. It’s about love and trust.
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By Lawrence D. Benson
Like there was popcorn under his brown skin, that’s what Shawn’s body looked like from all of those bee stings. It must’ve been like thousands, but I knew it was him before I even got there. I just did. I shined my flashlight on his face but I could barely tell his eyes from his nose. I got down low to his mouth and tried to feel his breath, but it was faint, you know, kinda like a sleeping baby’s that scares you so much you have to check to see if it’s still alive. Like that. I knew there wasn’t much time left before those guys following me from my unit showed up. Shawn whispered in my ear like he knew those words were his last ones. I just wish he could’ve opened his eyes so I could’ve seen him. No matter what this committee decides or what my superiors say, I’m here today on the 14th . . . It’s what? Tuesday or Wednesday, 2012 . . . It’s February, right? Well, I’m here to state for the record that Shawn—Sgt. Taylor—is a hero, and his story deserves to be heard. So, especially after being assaulted and having my life threatened, believe me, I want to tell you the whole story.
Then, tell us about the picture.
We were told that you’re ready to cooperate.
Okay, okay. Look, I’m a little nervous, but . . . see . . . okay . . . our boys, well, they took Shawn’s body and grabbed me, zip-tied me, took me back and, you know, started in on me.
“Where did it come from?”
“Where did what come from?”
“Look, Soldier, don’t fuck with me. You know not to fuck around with me.”
“I’m not fucking around with you, I just don’t know what you’re talking about. I swear.”
“Well, I guess I should’ve known it wasn’t gonna be easy. After all, I suppose you are one of us, at least for a little while longer.”
“What do you mean? You’re gonna kill me?”
“No, I’m not gonna kill you.”
“Who is? I know somebody is.”
“Nobody. I’m just gonna have your ass thrown out of the Army. I know all about you.”
“. . .”
“Did you hear what I said? I said, ‘I know about you.’ Or, should I say, you and Taylor? About your special love, and you know the policy regarding that kind of love in the military.”
“Look, ‘Don’t Ask . . .’ is over.”
“Over, huh? I’m doin’ the fuckin’ askin’ so you better start fuckin’ tellin’.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I mean, I don’t know what you’ve been hearing, but no way, man. I’m not like that. Where in the hell did you hear that? I don’t know who could’ve told you that, but that shit is fuckin’ bullshit. Straight up!”
“Shit on the hearsay, Soldier. I know what I know, and your pansy-ass is out the door. We’ll make it so hard on you and your boyfriend. And your perfect little life in the burbs? Just think about how embarrassed and ashamed your wife and kids’ll be when they find out daddy’s been away from home fuckin’ a dude, a black dude! We’re gonna fuckin’ destroy you, ‘Don’t Ask’ or not, so fuck you and tell me where the picture came from. How did he get the picture?”
“What picture? What picture? Can you believe this guy? The goddamn picture we found when we snatched your punk-ass up in the desert . . . this picture.”
“Tell me what you did with Shawn? How is he?”
“I don’t think so. I’m asking the mutherfuckin’ questions ‘round here. Now, see here, it’s about to be a sticky situation up in this bitch in about thirty seconds if you don’t tell me where this goddamn picture came from. I know your boyfriend told you what happened when you found him.”
“He couldn’t even talk when I found him. He was in bad shape and you know that, you saw him for yourself.”
“Twenty-four, twenty-three, twenty-two . . .”
“I swear he didn’t say anything! I swear!”
“Nineteen, eighteen, seventeen . . .”
“Look, I don’t know what else to tell you. I found the picture on him and hid it out of . . .”
“Ten, nine, eight . . .”
“Okay, okay, he told me, he told me . . .”
“Four, three, two . . .”
“He told me he loves me.”
So you’ve definitely seen the picture?
Well, yeah, that jackass put it right up in my face, right in front of my nose. It’s Terrorist al Terrorist and Shawn, and Shawn is naked on the ground all swollen, covered with welts. al Terrorist had this weird, half-crazy look on his face. But, I don’t want to talk about that now, I . . .
Is this what you call ‘cooperation’?
I am cooperating. It’s just that you need to know why he broke protocol, why he left. You see, he said he heard this buzzing, like it was calling him. He couldn’t sleep because all he wanted to do was lay next to me, and being that close but not being able to touch me was keeping him awake. I mean, it can get so lonely sometimes. He told me that when he came back from the latrine, he just couldn’t close his eyes because every time he did, the buzzing got louder. He said he heard the buzzing and he had to find out where it was coming from, so he snuck away to find it and stop it. He tracked it, told me the further he went, the louder it got.
How did he manage to leave the camp unnoticed?
He was good at his job, you know, trained by the best, right? He knows the routines, the weak spots, all of that shit. Pardon me, ‘stuff.’ All of that stuff. All of us do. It’s really not that hard to get away, most of the time none of us want to get away. Shawn didn’t want to get away either, he just needed to stop the buzzing, that’s all. He tracked it the louder it got until he was practically standing on top of this loud buzz, he said, and then the ground started to shake and rattle, and then he woke up in the dark somewhere. He said he could still hear the buzzing, really loud, almost like he was inside of it. He was gagged and zip-tied, chained to a table, but he said he heard male voices, and he could barely hear and translate what they were saying, but he said he heard them saying something about ‘telling al Terrorist . . . not knowing how he found them . . . and the bees not working or stinging’ or something. Shawn said they drew some of his blood and talked some more, and then one of them came back over and chloroformed him. He told me the next thing he knew, he was coming to with a hood over his head, zip-tied, gagged and blindfolded. He said that when they finally took off the blindfold, there he was, there, just standing right in front of him like nothing was weird. I mean, there he was, Terrorist al Terrorist, public enemy number one, standing right there with Shawn.
With all due respect, what about the picture? Tell us about the picture.
I’m getting to that, but there’s more leading up to it that you have to hear, that I need to tell.
“What am I doing here?”
“I am asking you that same question.”
“I came to stop the buzzing.”
“Yeah, the buzzing. Can’t you hear it?”
“I guess I have grown accustomed to it over the past few years. You were not supposed to be able to hear it, to detect it as more than a natural wave of light or sound. Interesting. How did you hear it? I am very interested in how you did it. We found no device on or in you, so, tell me how, yes?”
“On or . . .”
“Look, I don’t know, I heard it. It’s like I can hear it calling to me.”
“Interesting. How do you hear it?”
“I just do.”
“Interesting. How do you hear it?”
“I told you, I just do.”
“Interesting. Tell me how you hear it.”
“With my ears? I don’t know what else to tell you. I hear it. I just hear it. Interesting, I know. It’s bees, right? So, where are they? What are you doing, weaponizin’ ‘em or somethin’, on some X-Files type of shit?”
“X-Files? Ah, yes. Mulder and Scully.”
“What are you going to do to me?”
“On wh . . .”
“ . . . on your answers.”
“To the questions of how many people you told of your destination? How many followed you there and are now planning to attack? And the grandest mystery of all, how you survived the attack by the bees?”
“I don’t even know where I was or where I am as far as that goes. Nobody knows where I was going or that I even left. And the bees, I don’t know how or why or anything. You don’t have to torture me or kill me.”
“Perhaps. We at least have to try.”
“Look, I just wanted to find the buzzing and stop it, that’s all.”
“So, I am simply supposed to release you so that you may inform your leaders of my operation?”
“Like I said before, I don’t know what’s going on here or where I am. I couldn’t help even if I wanted to.”
“But you do want to help them, correct? Help them destroy me. You are an American soldier sworn to follow orders, correct?”
That’s what this committee is trying to determine.
Well, Shawn told me some other men came rushing in and whispered in al Terrorist’s ear and al Terrorist got this surprised look on his face when they showed him this folder. He said something to them, but one of the guys started arguing with al Terrorist and then he yelled at them and they ran off. Shawn said he thought he was a dead man for sure and he thought of me at that moment, but then they stood him up and led him through this cave after al Terrorist. He said he didn’t even hear the buzzing because it was so loud and constant he forgot about it just like al Terrorist said he would. They got to this big chamber, I mean, like the size of a football field, maybe even two, I don’t know. Shawn just said that it was filled with bees, crates and crates of bees, more bees than you can ever imagine. Some were flying loose, too, all around Shawn, even landing on him, but he told me he didn’t panic. Shawn said al Terrorist was fascinated by that.
“They like you.”
“I have a thing with bees.”
“So I have gathered.”
“What the hell is goin’ on here? You goin’ into the honey business or what?”
“Something like that.”
“So, you’re getting out of terrorism to raise bees in caves in the mountains?”
“Then what? I mean, you’re going to kill me anyway so why not tell me. Obviously there’s a reason you’re showing me all of this stuff.”
“So, tell me what’s going on. Maybe I can help.”
“You already have.”
So, Sgt. Taylor was helping terrorists?
Absolutely not! That’s not what I said . . . exactly. They took him to this room, zip-tied and chained him to a chair, and then they just left. Shawn said the guy arguing with Terrorist al Terrorist, well, he came back in and punched Shawn right in the face, wailed on him until the other guard came in and pulled the guy off Shawn. The guards yelled at each other and then al Terrorist came in with something wrapped in a newspaper. Shawn told me he thought it was a gun or knife or something they were going to kill him with. He said al Terrorist took out this long knife from the paper, walked right up to him, and slapped him across the face with the paper. Shawn said al Terrorist smashed the paper right in his face and just kept shouting at him, asked him if he could read, then commanding him to read the headline out loud over and over and over: ‘Beehives across North America continue to lose their workers for reasons yet understood.’
So, you’re saying terrorists are causing bees to disappear?
No, I’m not saying it. Shawn said it. I’m just telling you what he told me, what you want to hear. I mean, it’s not any more far-fetched than people claiming bees are being abducted by aliens or some shit, excuse me, ‘stuff’ like that.
“So, you’re stealing the bees? You’re gonna kill me over some goddamn bees?”
“No. I am not stealing them and I have not decided if I am going to kill you or not.”
“So, what then?”
“Think about it. What happens if there are no bees? What happens to all of those precious crops that need to be pollinated by bees? It sounds to me like a shortage of food, especially for you greedy Americans who consume and throw away more food than all other countries combined. I have seen what your popular media reports and does not report on this. It is shameful. Let us see what happens when there is little food, when all that is available is too expensive for the masses to purchase. Let us see how ‘civilized’ and wasteful Americans remain when they have no food.”
“But, you can’t do that. Millions of people could die, not just Americans.”
“Correct. But those others are used to hunger and starvation and death. They will not really know the difference.”
“That’s fucked up.”
“Quite. But all the Americans have to do is pay a ‘small’ fee to use our bees.”
“That won’t happen. The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.”
“We shall see about that very soon, indeed, sooner than will most probably be to your liking.”
“What are you gonna do? You can’t possibly get rid of all of the bees. I mean, our scientists will be able to figure out something to stop you, how you’re doing it.”
“I am counting on it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It is not meant for you to understand. Your understanding is, perhaps, a by-product of the process, but surely not a requirement.”
“Why don’t you just do it then? Kill me right now?”
So, why didn’t he? It’s because they were working together, right?
No, you got it all wrong. Shawn was being used just like all of us are. He was being used as a messenger. He told me he was supposed to tell his story because nobody would ever believe it, that it would be the sweetest revenge to know the ‘arrogant Americans’ had refused a messenger like we’ve done before, how we refuse to see that leadership can come from other people and nations besides Americans and the U.S. Shawn said that by the time anybody took him seriously, it would be too late. The damage would be done already.
Well, with all due respect to the esteemed leadership on this committee, the damage caused by investigating all of these different factors causing the bees to disappear without seeing that all of the causes are the cause. You see, just because there are different causes to something doesn’t mean there’s not an overall intent at work, a plan using different causes for its own cause, but it seems so random that it’s never quite put together that it’s all part of a larger plan.
This is sounding quite suspect. Did you perhaps notice anything strange about Sgt. Taylor prior to his disappearance?
A couple . . . well, a couple of days ago he came to me kinda anxious, said he heard somebody was on to us. I don’t know how because there was hardly ever any time for us to be together, let alone show any affection towards each other. I mean, we knew we couldn’t be thrown out of the Army, but we knew what would happen if anybody found out, so we kept things quiet, of course. We did develop a code, kind of a sign language to show how we felt about each other, or signal when we thought we could sneak away without anybody seeing us. He wasn’t so anxious about people finding out about him than how it might destroy my career and my family, you know, what it would do to my wife and kids, my reputation at home. He’s like that, always thinking about other people before himself. I kept telling him to calm down and not to worry because there was no way anybody knew anything. I thought it worked, but a few days later I could tell something was still bothering him. He told me he was just not sleeping, which was a bad thing because what we do already means we don’t get much as it is. The night before last, he got up to use the latrine, so I thought. I rolled over and went back to sleep, but when I woke up, I looked over and he was gone and so was his gear. So, I casually asked around and nobody had seen him. We did some recon and picked up his trail, but then it was like he just disappeared. Everybody just assumed he was captured and being tortured, that we’d get some type of notification from the enemy when they were ready to negotiate, or worse, that he was dead already. I had to fight hard to hide my feelings, how much I wanted to miss him. Of course I couldn’t, at least no more than anybody else. I knew he wasn’t dead, though. It was just like in the movies when somebody goes missing and the loved ones say ‘I can still feel him. I know he’s still alive.’ I would’ve known if he was gone.
Is that why you disobeyed direct orders and went on a solo mission?
Look, I had to. I couldn’t just wait around knowing Shawn was still alive, out there alone, probably waiting for me to bring the cavalry to save him. I mean, it was just me, but I wasn’t gonna give up on him. I went out to the spot where his tracks disappeared, and then I just, well, I winged it. I sensed him when I was out there in the dark, that he was out there and I wasn’t alone. So, I just kept walking and then I saw something up ahead on the ground. I just knew it was him the closer I got.
What type of condition was he in when you reached him?
Before I get to that, I need to tell you something that might be important in all of this. Please bear with me for a minute . . . please.
When Shawn was little, his old man used to beat him up, I mean, like all of the time, but nobody said anything cause his dad was real mean, the type that would haul off and hit anybody, even women, Shawn told me, especially women. I guess things were different back then, or maybe they’re still the same, I don’t know, but there was this one time in particular when he was about twelve that he skipped school, tried to sneak back home when his folks were out. He told me he crept around the back of the house and peeked through a window, saw his old man and this strange woman, plain as day, on the couch having intimate relations. He said he felt like he was paralyzed, and he didn’t know how long he was standing there staring when his old man looked up and saw him at the window. Strange thing is, Shawn said his old man looked him dead in the eyes, gave this half-crazed smile, and kept right on pumping away. He said he went back to the front porch and sat in the rockin’ chair until the two of them came out of the house. His old man didn’t even look at him when he and that tramp left, just got in the car and drove away. Shawn didn’t want to go in the house after what he saw, told me he couldn’t get that look out of his mind, the one his old man gave him. He just sat there rocking in the chair until his old man came back, got out of the car, went right up to Shawn and punched him in the face, harder than a grown man should hit a boy that’s for sure, especially a father. Shawn told me his old man didn’t say a word after he hit him, just grinned at him and went in the house. Well, after that, Shawn said he didn’t know if he should go in the house or what would happen to him if he did, but he didn’t want to face his mom when she got home because he was scared she would see it on his face, besides his black eye, you know, that something else was wrong, that there was something he wasn’t telling her. He said he decided to go hang out in the woods until his mom got home, and hopefully, his old man calmed down some. He told me he went to his favorite spot by this cornfield not too far from his house, and then, well, he just laid down and cried himself to sleep. After he woke up, he walked into the woods, further than he said he’d been in awhile. He said there was this little path that was almost overgrown, and that he picked up a decent-sized branch to push through the stuff in his way, like this bees’ nest hanging in a tree. He said he started swinging away at that nest like a piñata, like it was his old man’s head. He told me nothing happened at first, and then he heard this sound, a buzz like a small plane getting closer and closer. Before he knew it, those bees swarmed him, covered him from head to toe. He said he panicked and ran as fast as he could through the woods, forgot all about the path. Shawn told me he swatted at the bees but more and more kept coming, it seemed out of nowhere. He said he felt the first few stings, but nothing after that. I suppose it was all the adrenalin. When he got to his house, that rockin’ chair was the farthest he got. Next thing he said he remembered was waking up in a hospital bed, struggling to open his eyes. He said he could barely see his swollen arms and there was this strange odor coming from his own body, and there were these weird flashes of light, what he figured out later were flashes from a camera. Shawn told me it took a few days for the swelling to go down, and he couldn’t even look at his own face, didn’t want to see what he felt he looked like. He told me the only thing his old man said to him on the drive home was how stupid Shawn was to be messing around with bees, that a country boy should know better. Shawn said that when he got home, he went right to his room and there were pictures of his swollen body and face hung up all over the walls. Shawn told me his old man leaned into his room and said don’t even think about taking down the pictures. His old man gave him that same half-crazy smile like before, and then he just left. Shawn said he curled up on his bed and tried to get some sleep, but every time he closed his eyes, all he could do was see that look and hear the buzzing.
So, you’re telling this committee that your boyfriend who wasn’t really your boyfriend was beaten up by his father when he was young and he got stung by a bunch of bees one day when he skipped school, and that caused him to be able to hear the buzzing, buzzing that even our sonar, aerial, and thermal imaging couldn’t pick up? That he found his way to a secret hideout where Terrorist al Terrorist has the world’s largest apiary with plans to hold the U.S.A., hell, the whole world hostage, by destroying the bees?
Look, I know this is hard to believe, I mean, it’s hard for me to believe, but it’s what Shawn told me in the precious little time before everybody else showed up and took him away from me. You wanted to know how Shawn heard the bees, I told you. You wanted to know how he found Terrorist al Terrorist, I told you that. You wanted to know about Terrorist al Terrorist’s plan, and, as crazy as it sounded, I told you word for word what Shawn told me. You asked me if I consider myself a good soldier and I do. You wanted me to give you the whole story, so I did.
(C)Lawrence D. Benson.2021.All Rights Reserved.