the great eMu war Justin lee
If I squinted just right, I could make out the men, crouching in the brushland and inching towards the Abbott farm. The arbitrary leader turned back to his troop and made some quizzical waves and jabs; it’s hard to say whether it was the gnats or his old war habits that compelled him to do so. Nevertheless, it seemed his minions followed whatever signal he gave and began to stoop and shuffle towards the house, getting closer to the first row of wheat that was planted some 100 yards away. Ms. Abbott watched the operation with a sort of uncomfortable pity, and as she leaned out of her doorway, her hands clasped firmly on the doorknob, her head swivelled from ravaging emus to ragtag guerillas. No doubt she was dejected, perhaps in tears, as half her fields were devoured by bulbous bullies with childlike mannerisms. They pecked with calculated ferocity and twisted their necks in unholy directions to reach the smallest morsels. I was definitely ready to execute my part of the plan. Blasted fowl. The townsmen seemed ready to begin as well, stretching out as far as possible across the width of the field, creating a barricade between the emus and the house. With the way they kept bobbing and flailing, I wasn’t sure whether I’d know which beings to shoot when the time came. That time was definitely nearing, yet Gunner was still laying on his back beside me, half sleeping, half smoking, and waving his hat in the air like a lazy drunk. “Sit up you stooge ya got a job to do!” I said punching him in the arm. He coughed hard and rolled over, pressing his oily face right into the barrel of his gun. “Stop kissing ‘er she ain’t gonna love you back, son, get up and get ready to shoot,” I added, as my voice deepened in imitation of Major Meredith. I yanked his collar upward and shook the dirt off his beige-brown uniform. He immediately threw me off, knocking me on my back before flicking his cigarette away, spitting on it, and stamping it with unneeded force.
“Burn in ‘ell, mate,” he grumbled before leaning heavily on his gun with his hat over his head. I grinned. We always knew how to have a good time. I really shouldn’t have gotten distracted however, as now my fellow “soldiers” were brandishing pots and pans while making inhuman noises at peak volume. If I wanted to see an ugly sight like this I would have just strolled into the kitchens at the old barracks! At least they were getting a reaction however and numerous emu heads popped up, but while some turned to run in fear, the ones furthest away continued to feast. Around that time was when Mr. Abbott came storming out of the house with his shotgun; apparently he was been watching from inside the house, which might explain the heavy smoke that poured out of the Abbott chimney. He looked like an abused pimple, the fool, his entire head a horrific shade of red. I fake dry-heaved a few times before laughter took over. Even Gunner, with his dead, sunken eyes had to chuckle a bit, but Abbott definitely wasn’t laughing. “Get ‘em off my damn property you twits! What’d they even teach ya during the war? I ain’t want you to speak to ‘em I want you get them out!” That’s what I imagined him saying, of course; the distance was too great. The gun spazzed wildly as he fired into the air causing the ruckus to really begin. Emus making those low-pitched, guttural sounds, trampling everything, and colliding with each other. Abbott decided to join the party, rushing in with an expression that only a soul-snatcher could wear. His army followed suit, with unmistakable fear in their eyes. The emus had their leader too, however, and though I hadn’t recognized him thus far on this mission, his natural command and brilliant use of rally tactics were instant identifiers. “Ey, it’s Bean Head!” I pointed out to Gunner. Now alert, his retort was quick: “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever ‘eard.”
I watched in amazement as he muttered to himself, “...beans aren’t even hairy.” Bean Head was courageous, ignoring the shotgun blasting away at his herd as he ran circles around them forcing them away from the threat. The stomping and the drum-like noises that came from the frightened emus were clearly audible from my position, and were starting to get louder as I watched the first emus tear away from the farm, Gunner pulled my focus back. “What the ‘ell is it doing?” He was running back and forth as his fellow birds cleared out, drawing all the attention of the the incompetent humans who had been left in emu dust. Shotgun shell after shotgun shell landed on the ruined yield, and the bullets whizzed past. He weaved around, making figure eights and other more complex patterns. “Why ain’t he gone off with his flock? He’s fast enough,” Gunner said, just as puzzled as I was. Then I think we both saw it, as he finally turned and ran towards our direction. His triangular, slightly-curved beak hung wide open, and the corners lifted up. He was smiling. His crazy hair spiked and swayed slightly in the wind. He swirled around a bit more, then turned toward his mob and ran off. “Oh shit!” Gunner shouted rushing to his feet and hoisting his Lewis gun up with him, “they’re runnin’ too far we ain’t got a chance at gettin’ any of ‘em.” Snapping back to reality, I realized that he was completely right. The novice herders had done a dreadful job, and now we were out of range. Even though Gunner had noticed the mistake before me, I was packing my stuff and heaving the gun and ammo faster than he was. “We can catch ‘em at that hill over there!” I pointed, and panting tripped into a sprint while managing the unwieldy weapon.
“Wait I can’t get there soon as you!” Gunner called from behind, but I ignored him. No time to turn around if I was going to catch Bean Head in time. He had a speed unmatched by any emu and his feet hit the ground with an uncharacteristic softness. Although he couldn’t blend due to his fluffy hair and well, bean-like head, he could easily escape. That couldn’t happen. He was mine and anyone who said otherwise needed to back off. I collapsed onto the new hill before scrambling to set up my gunstand, and position the magazine. I quickly glanced back the way I had come, and saw Gunner huffing and making his way to a calamitous fall. In between breaths, Gunner called out to me from his knees. “Don’t you dare. Shoot that thing. We ain’t got enough ammo. Meredith’ll thrash you.” Meredith wasn’t here now, though. Off by his loony self, trying to track the remainder of the birds. If only he knew what an opportunity he was missing. I lay down and aimed my weapon, throwing off Meredith’s influence. Despite a considerable distance between me and the emus, I had them all lined up. Shells flew past my face at alarming speeds as I gripped the trigger without remorse. Emus thudded past my vision in a blur, amassing into a wave of dark fur. There was almost no reason to aim at that point, as bullets rocketed towards the charging soldiers, seeking any flesh that they could find. Finally I had the destructive power, and the blood that rushed to my face wanted break free and decimate my enemy alongside my ammunition. And no one was there to shoot back; the pitiful creatures, although not without their advantages, were at my mercy. Huddled and stumbling over each other, they resembled our old degenerate-filled lot (Gunner’s and mine that is), cowering in fear as their assailant hunted them with glee, delivering them from their hopelessness. The obscene Turkish insults rang clear in my ears, and subconsciously drifted to my mouth as I spewed my own favorites.
“Eat shit you filthy animals!” The Turks had called us animals too, but I guess my remark was a bit more accurate this time. My anger and distress poured into the chamber of my gun, and like so many times before with rabid alcoholism and volatile interactions, it only complicated and ruined; no shots would hit, with my shaking hands, faulty gun and wide-eyed rage. Only a dozen birds lay lifeless on the ground, and I had crippled next to none. I assume you’ve gotten the gist already, but in case you’re still working it out, that’s pitiful for the amount of rounds I had shot. Just then, as he would tell me later, Gunner decided to stumble up the hill, heaving like a madman and cursing his asthma. I could hear him thrashing, and while I appreciated his efforts to catch up to me, I couldn’t acknowledge his presence at all; too busy picking off stragglers, or rather making futile attempts to do so. Suddenly, the bullets stopped flowing. “Come on!” I shouted, banging the gun with my full force. It wouldn’t pick back up, no matter how hard I squeezed the trigger or how intently and followed the flightless dolts. Finally Gunner dragged his deadweight body over to me, and brought his heavy hands down on my arms, knocking me away from my Lewis gun. The weapon spun unnervingly, but came to a top before turning itself towards me. “From now on I’m makin’ the decisions you dipshit,” he spat with considerable irritation, before throwing up his hands and crashing onto the rough and dusty surface below him. Obviously he had forgotten about Meredith. Anyway, no disrespect to my old friend, but there was no way in hell I was going to let him tell me what to do.
I said nothing. I mean what could I really say. I had fallen into a hypnosis, shooting for shootings sake and chasing a height of revenge and grandeur that I couldn’t have reached. “How many rounds you think you wasted,” Gunner said, “had to be hundreds.” I shook my head, unsure as how to answer. I sat on my bottom, arms crossed across my knees and held a long gaze across the brushland with my eyes fixed on the now remote emus, still running as fast as they had been from the start. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the troop of amateurish veterans marching to my location, led by the Abbott’s. The bumbling, emuherding idiots made me sick to my stomach with their slapstick idiocy and inability to read the mood. Gunner had settled a bit physically and was now only inhaling enough dust to cough every minute or so, but seemed now to have sunken into a state of mental lethargy, trapped in whatever damaged memories and musings that had surfaced. I couldn’t quite describe my mood, but the fact that it had changed so drastically in only the past few minutes was troubling. Mr. Abbott was the first to reach the peak of our Hill of Great Failure, and oversee the grounds in which frickin’ emus had murdered our morales. I could already see the headlines: Emu Eradicator’s Efforts End Egregiously! Yeah, even I have to admit the jokes thing wasn’t doing anything for me at this point. Obviously Mr. Abbott saw no humor either. “What the fuck did you lot even do,” he said, gesturing at the poor smattering of scattered emus that were beginning to ooze blood. His face contorted as he turned to us disgusted. I waited for him to continue on with his incoming rampage, but apparently he wanted a real answer. “Well...” I finally broke my silence, “I shot some emus. And my friend Gunner right ‘ere, um...he carried the equipment, right Gunner?”
Gunner gave a grunt and slight nod from his sprawled position on the ground. “I mean look at ‘ow much work we’ve done, were both dog tired!” The crowd of people glanced around at the battlefield and then back at us, as if to say ‘what work?’ Clearly they had no perspective on the situation. Everyone stood silently for a while. The dopes in the back looked confused as ever and fidgeted with their kitchen instruments, Mrs. Abbott crossed her arms and shot quick concerned looks at all parties involved, and Mr. Abbott seethed with increasing overtness. “So you’re tellin’ me that it’s your damn job to kill these shitty emus, we set you up brilliantly to do the job, and you kill, what, five of ‘em? It’s your job you dunces, do you understand what I’m saying? You have no other reason to be here other than to get rid of these damn birds and you waste the perfect opportunity taking a crap atop a pitiful dirt mound. What, did you ‘ave a good smoke? Read a couple books? His loosely swinging arms had come rather close to my head multiple times at the point, and he was struggling to contain his jaws, which were clearly bared. “You have fuckin’ guns for cryin’ out loud! You two musta been the lousiest soldiers the world had ever seen, I mean, I bet you couldn’t aim better than my 4-year-old boy!” “You wanna find out?” I shouted. Well no, actually I must have mumbled it or something because Abbott came back with an angered “Whatcha say?” and leaned in real close as if to confront me. “You ‘eard me!” The next thing I felt was knuckles to my jaw, and then I was swarmed by bodies that scrambled ravenously over each other. I saw Gunner out of the corner of my eye, now sitting up and staring dumbfounded at the scuffle.
To be honest, I had no idea why I had said that or what I was doing fighting these clowns; all I knew was that I was suffocating under legs and taking uncontrolled punches from my former war mates. They’re the type to do anything as long as someone somewhat assertive has initiated it, and they sure weren’t holding back. I wrestled my way to the outside of the pack and caught my breath, just as all of the men backed away, heaving and clutching fresh scratches that they’d received. “We’re barely even gettin’ paid for this,” Gunner said after a few moments of short breaths and tense glares, “what’d you expect?” Leave it to this idiot to undermine our hard work. “It’s not even our fault!” I said, “You can’t blame us for trying to fix what you’re gang of morons messed up in the first place. And sort out you’re shit temper!” He was still pissed as hell, but no longer feeling violent, I guess, cause he just stuck up his middle finger and turned to trudge back to his now useless farm. That left Gunner and I alone on the beaten and patchy hill, with bullet cartridges resting all around us. My gun had started to smoke due to the jam, and the my eyes and nose burned. In silence, I bent down and began to pack up what little I had brought, and was soon sliding down a dry patch of dust to the flat ground below. Gunner had done the same and was now a step behind me as we walked back the way that we had run. The Abbott’s had gone back into their unremarkable house at this point, but in the distance I could still see the other men, drifting back into their inexplicable wonderland as if the day had been uneventful. Gunner and I followed far behind them as all of us slowly made our way back to the “town” that we had established, the closest thing to civilization that we were able to manage in this barren land of the West.
When I thought about it again, I realized that Gunner was probably right. No matter how aloof and unprepared Meredith was the majority of the time, he still had the capacity for great agitation, and I would definitely be in the doghouse for wasting so much ammo. Unfortunately, I have the the self control of an emu when they stumble upon something edible, and in my brief brazen action I had messed up. But hey, visions of glory only come around every so often, and it was worth the risk to try and capitalize on them. We finally reached our lodging after about a half an hour of surging forward under the scorching sun. I shoved the stiff door open with my side; no need to lock it, as it was separated from the rest of the shacks and was undesirable anyway. I instantly dumped my weapon and hat onto the floor near the entranceway and made my way to the cabinet in our makeshift kitchen. Whiskey after a long day had to be the best thing known to man, and it was made even better by the fact that I no longer carried and with me in a flask to swig throughout our eradication attempts. Meredith had convinced both Gunner and I that drunken stupors aren’t the most conducive to straight shooting and straight thinking. He joined me, and we both poured heavy amounts before crashing onto the couch. “You know when the boss is comin’ back?” Gunner mumbled. “In time to take credit for our future achievements,” I replied, allowing myself a discreet grin before downing a huge gulp of the murky brown liquid. Gunner grunted and rummaged in his pocket for a cigarette, which he promptly lit and puffed with relief. A few hours passed with us drinking far too much of the bottle and talking sparsely about random topics. Even though it had happened numerous times before, my inebriation caused me to jump when I heard the front door rebound off of the wall, as Meredith stormed in. He was
already cursing and throwing stuff around; Gunner and I didn’t react, just sat there awaiting his arrival into the living room. “McMurray!” he yelled while he was still out of sight. We could both hear him rustling around and performing unknown tasks. He strode into the room with alarming speed. “Abbott is pissed! He’s just gone out and is raving around the town like a madman now, talking about how he knew all along that we had useless soldiers fighting this war. You trying to make his point for him? Huh? How many times do I ‘ave to tell you to ‘old your fire if you ain’t got a good shot? You shoot like shit!” At least it seemed that he recognized that Abbott and his minions had messed up as well. “And you,” he said turning to Gunner, “what was you doing the whole time?” “If I’m honest, I was trying to shout some sense into his head,” Gunner said, pointing at me, “I’m just slow as ‘ell and my lungs are crap so I couldn’t catch up to ‘im.” I wasn’t mad about him ratting on me; that’s just Gunner. Doesn’t lie because he doesn’t even think to. And he probably doesn’t care about the potential consequences of telling an uncomfortable truth. “Why do I feel like you was drunk and passed out the whole time?” Meredith said, narrowing his eyes and trying to hard to intimidate. Gunner shrugged, “I dunno why you think that but it ain’t true. I gave up drinking when I’m in the field.” Meredith seemed to be annoyed at the comment as he watched Gunner crane his neck to chug a large quantity of his whiskey. He paced around in a circle, switching his hand position frequently from hands on hips, to scratching his head, to pulling at his dark hair. He came back
around to stare at us once more, then turned to walk out of the room and the shack. As he opened the door, we felt a rush of cool wind coming in from the night. “You should’ve asked ‘im what he was doin’ the whole day,” Gunner said as he nudged me. “Sure, I guess I could’ve, but he would’ve gotten all defensive. Better to just let him bring it up when he wants to.” We both knew that Meredith always embellished his accomplishments, and chased achievements that made him look crazy. He was too proud to admit it and too lost in his dreamland to stop trying. It is kind of curious though: why would he have gotten Gunner and I to help him with this tedious business if he wanted to do everything alone? Whether we liked it or not, we were going to have to keep working with the Abbott’s in order to fix this emu problem. The ugly beasts would keep coming back to take at their leisure, and despite the fact that there was heavy disdain between us and most of the farming settlers, we needed to be united in the stand against the birds. They’d be back tomorrow for sure, and they’d finish off the last of the crops, and we needed to be there. All three of us this time. Gunner, Meredith, and I to finally do some real damage to their population. It wasn’t like I had no stock in the fight either. I obviously need the money, no matter how little I got of it. Also, fighting these emus gave me something to do, something that I knew how to do and had done for years. Who knows what I would be up to if I didn’t have this shitty job to fall back on. “I’m going to bed,” I said to Gunner, snapping out of my reflections. He nodded. “Long day tomorrow,” he said, “we going back to Abbott’s?” “I guess so,” I said lazily, “I’ll ask Meredith tomorrow he’ll have an opinion of course.”
As long as he didnâ€™t choose to unintentionally sabotage our chances by making spontaneous, idiotic decisions, I was more or less fine with whatever he decided we would do. I just hoped that we could get stuff done and get this war over with, but at the same time I hoped that it would last forever.