Justin Briley
They Call This Drone Porn,
But I Call It Hands Scratch The Empty Sky
It's a long, low landscape as far as you could ever walk. Mountains probably rear from the earth within sight, but not within space. It’s not in the frame, but you know this map. Geography is the heart of conquest. This was once a poppy field, guaranteed. The earth is loam, the sky blue, the grass is probably knee-high and wider than the eye of God. It's all swift-falling field country, save a lonely wasteland line that leans in from the higher deserts to run trucks north and south.
It's all grainy in black and white. Hazy, I know. Your screen is a canvas. Paint it with your eyes.
Brown trucks full of white men, black men, brown men, laughing and smoking. White pickups full of brown men robed in black and white, heavy-bearded. Hard-eyed heroes. Tantric and taciturn by turns, carrying the arms of long dead conquerors up from drier country. They kiss their mothers on the mouth and die for God. All of them, after their fashion. This is holy war, and if you ever tell them otherwise, you're not lying. Facts are collateral damage where truth is a gun. Fact is, all war is holy. Jihad is the soul of struggle. But today there are no convoys, no caravans. No red Tomahawks, no white and blue Patriots. Just some poor fuck in a broken truck, and his prepubescent son.
Black and white, a shaky frame. Hazy, I know. I'll hold your hand. I’ll guide your brushstroke: There's a whirring sound somewhere between a helicopter and a hummingbird. This is normal. You expect it. Like the uncomfortable clap clap clap of all pornography. Tune it out and stroke on.
The truck’s tailgate reads TOYOTA. You can't make it out, but you know. The sharp lines of an early 90s Tacoma are as regular in-country and on-screen as the sight of distant mountains.
Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Chk. Five on five, copy. Chk. WhirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRR.
Truck and daddy are gone from the frame now. The kid squats over a patch of roadside grass. His hands kick up clouds—dirt ground into fine, sepia dust by thirty years of constant foreign policy. The dust that occludes the lens in so many war films.
Chk. Copy, five on five. Chk.
You hear the pilot’s voice only vaguely, as from God. You are his prophet. A report will come through tomorrow, and two suspected militants will be dead. You are his prophet. The man tears in from the side of the frame, as if whipped by the scourge of heaven. He is erratic, hands scratch empty sky at you. Zolfiqar lunges from his heart, but his hands scratch empty sky at you. Little hands throw up dirt by the road.
Chk. We're hot. Chk.
You're hot too. Office buildings never quite get the air right. You stripped down to your undershirt hours ago, but the heat clings to your skin, is your skin. There’s no relief, save defleshing yourself. You’re not prepared to go that far tonight. You've tried keeping your eyes on your second screen, but the whir drags them on a leash. The whir rubs your nose in the pile you've created, commands you fill yourself up with it. You eat only in fits and starts, and consider your skin again.
The office isn't black and white. Feel free to picture all the shades of gray. Here we’re free to be hazy without apology.
The man has the boy by the scruff, but you know what he knows. You hear what he hears. You've heard it all night. Once you've heard it, it's too late. Holy wars are quieter than they once were. You'd almost never know.
Of course they run. What else could they do? Not far. Two steps that way, three steps another. Not fair either. You can survive the Mercy Seat. The Cross can’t keep a good man down. Your mortal veins could even reject a lethal injection, but you can’t fight what you won’t hear until—
Some flowers, I've heard, only bloom for a day. A moment, on the right scale. Up from a hollow in the earth, bright and yellow and red. Bright and yellow and red and full of a living sense of themselves and themselves alone. And when they wilt away, they leave nothing behind. As though there never were any such flower. As though that black dirt below on your black and white screen was simply always black, never white. Never, ever gray. Your eyes are filled with these poorly painted wonders. Hazy, I know.

Justin Briley is a graduate student in Georgia. His work can be found in Rattle Magazine, Barren Magazine, and Collective Unrest.