I walk an avenue in a tonier part of my Rust Belt city on a cold-as-shit March day. Pretty, professional gals walk past me. Hipster dudes, professional men, college girls (some too old to still be in college), all with some place to be.

But not me. I figure on wandering through the freezing rain, along this tree-lined street with its boutique shops, faux dive bars, and Apple stores.

I pull the collar on my military-surplus parka tighter and jam my hands into my pockets.

Just a fucked up millennial killing time. College-degreed, underemployed, on the wrong side of thirty. The scorn of my fellow American.

Yeah, fuck you too.

I pound the sidewalk harder. A few people catch a glimpse of my face; they quickly turn away. I look down and push forward.

I wait at a crosswalk trying to decide what to do next, then I see her. Someone I knew as an undergrad, someone I laughed and talked with for hours after philosophy class. I half-raise a hand to wave hello. Her green eyes meet mine for a fraction of second and move on, surveying the shops. I thrust my hand back into the pocket, she passes, no recognition, heels clicking on the pavement, tight ass swaying in ripped designer jeans, a flash of auburn hair.

I stare harder at my feet as I catch a bus the fuck out of here before I punch someone in the face.

I watch the affluent Victorian houses with their perfectly snow cleared sidewalks give way to decrepit brick apartment buildings and streets splattered with grimy plies of snow.

I get off on a shitty boulevard in a shitty city near a shitty bar.

I drink.

One, two, three, four IPAs while I suck down cigarette after cigarette, ensconced in the deeper gloom of the bar, a real dive bar, against the late winter’s dark outside.

I drive away the memories.

Of Plato, of Shakespeare, of the causes of the Civil War, whether Dostoevsky had any points applicable to post-modernism. Of the people I talked to about these things. People I am still friends with on Facebook, back when you still needed an .edu email address to join.

Now I talk about the game and tits and ass with old men who have nicotine-stained fingers. Alcohol-stained breath wafting through mirthless, toothless smiles leering at tired shop girls, waitresses, and bartender chicks.

My hard cock fifteen years ago pressing through the pink-lined pass of a newly discovered land, dainty hands with nails digging into my ass as I buck harder in a furious rhythm.

Leer, you old fuck. Leer for me and I’ll tell you what it is like to be hilt-deep in fresh, nubile cunt.

But here, in this no-name bar, I know no one. I fall deeper inside, puff puff, chug chug.

I can’t get the toxins in fast enough.

Sound fades, my peripheral sight diminishes, everything hollows out, and then the world slides sideways.


Brilliant sun shines off my bronze helmet, and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with my fellow milites on a broad, flat Italian plain.

This place called “Cannae.”

Dusty hot air stirs with the wind, its smell as familiar to me as my mother’s voice from boyhood. We press forward on the Carthaginian center, straining it. We pile in, assured of victory.

We close within bad breath distance. I face a long-haired Gaul, stare him dead in the eyes, aiming my spear thrust over my shield straight into his face. Blue eyes pierce into mine. I drive the spearhead through his mouth. I feel the crunch of teeth, the ripping of gristle. Gouts of blood erupt when I withdraw.

Arrows, javelins, and stones rain down on us.

We slaughter the center.

My heart races as the cacophony and dust rise, clouding the battlefield. We get set to break through.

A crowd crushes in on me. The enemy’s center gives. We’re on our way to victory.

The mass of milites packs us together harder, eager to finish the fight.

Then order breaks down.

“On the flanks!”

“To our rear.”

“Cavalry! Ours?”

“Hold! Fight! Fight!”

I thrust and thrust and thrust, striking shields, faces, anything.

A glancing blow slices my cheek open, I shift my spear for a gutting underhand thrust.

We’re pushed tighter; the soldier to my right takes it in the neck. Blood washes over my right arm, making it hard to keep a grip. I get some satisfaction driving it into the thigh of a giant Gaul in front of me, before the crush wrenches it from my hand.

My line tries to press forward in a locked line, shield upon shield. I draw my sword, stabbing at everything in front of me.

It makes no difference. Men are calling upon Mars, Jupiter, the Penates.

Drawing my sword now, the dusty ground grows slick with offal. I barely keep my footing. Carthaginian, Gaulic, and Hispanic cavalry hems us into an ever-tighter bunch, the ground giving way to something soft and yielding.

Hands tug at my feet and ankles, men too weak to cry out in pain anymore.

Someone wails near my feet, “Oh, Mother! Mother, where are you? I am here. Where are you?”

Through the red slick, I can see my white knuckles as I hack at anything. Stickiness coats every inch of my exposed skin. It gets under my breastplate and soaks my tunic.

It is always the same face in front of me, I strike. I can’t see anything to my sides.

A dying milite grabs me for support, sending both of us tumbling to the gore-covered earth. He lands on top of me. I can’t plant my legs; another body pins them.

Blood pours over my face. My sword arm lashes out, still free, at the heavens. When an enemy cavalryman sees me, he sinks a spear through the corpse, pinning me into my abdomen.

White hot pain followed by a spreading coldness.

Screams give way to wails, then moans, until I realize it is my own moans I am listening to.

I stop waving the sword.

Darkness falls over Cannae.

I jerk to, cigarette burned down to my knuckles, face wet with tears. I flee the bar, running out into the snow flurries of the night.