Riley Baerg – “F to Pay Respects”

Francis lifted each portion of his foot as he slithered across the devastated battlefield. Closer and closer towards the concrete bunker, taking in the sheer horror of the carnage surrounding him where his fellow comrades once roamed. Wails and commands echoed from inside of the bunker. Boog’s muscles pulsed as he drew closer to the ominous opening to the cramped holdout. The cold stones brushed against his foot as he slowly crept in, careful not to alert any possible intruders. As Boog pressed up against a wall leading to a larger corridor he heard the piercing sound of artillery. All went quiet. Continuous shouting pursued the sounds of feet slapping the cold ground; this time the sounds were coming to him. Gun at the ready, he aimed towards the sizable portion of the hall.

“Private! What in Grogg’s name do you think you are doing?” The proud general stood puzzled, towering over Francis with an undeniable dominance. Boog froze in his tracks and released his weapon from his steady grip in a rush.

“I apologize general. I was unsure if the bunker had been overrun by the East.” Boog rebutted after a short pause. One more moment and the general of this entire fight would be demolished by the bullet of an unsuspecting private in a fit of uncertainty.

“Back to your post maggot, we have a war to win. We don’t need a rogue

soldier running this show, we need a true leader like myself.” Boog felt a large sense of fear, but a bit of embarrassment on the generals part. Why would one think so highly of themselves? “Don’t just stand there, move!” Two soldiers on each side of the general grabbed hold of Francis and forced him out of the way of the entrance.

Ideas of what to do next filtered through his mind as he continued down the bunker’s corridor. This was most certainly a battle lost on the West’s part. And it was Boog, and his lasting comrades whose heads were on the line next. Hundreds, possibly thousands of invertebrates lost their short-lived lives on this very day, even as Boog rotated through post to post his soldiers were being killed on the field. What kind of gastropod was he? A weak little snail, or a bountiful, strong, formidable slug? This was surely a snail move to make, but he was born into the Boogie bloodline, snail moves were not to be made as long as he lived.

Francis pondered, “What would father do?” For days after his run-in with the general. His people were living in hopes of a hero to rise up and to end this formidable war. Boog belonged to the WWSC, or the Western Winthorpe Slug Collective, a military power who decided to rise against the Eastern side of Winthorpe Farms themselves. This movement instigated a strange sort of biochemical warfare involving a sort of explosive that could burn the skin of a slug off in an instant. From day one Francis was taught that the only way to fight this quickly developing technology was to fight using the same weapon. As this race continues to unfold, the question still stands, who would take total control of Winthorpe Acres? Francis was no hero, he was just a post-watcher who stood no chance out in the apocalyptic wasteland that is the garden.

Day’s continued to pass as Boog saw himself as less of a help to the cause, as he stood solitary at his post in the bunker he daydreamt of greener pastures. His family and friends soared through his mind like gnats in the summer, there was not a moment in the day that went by without the people he loved on his mind. Francis’s wife, Marjorie had first set eyes on him in their college days when she witnessed him getting beat up in the alleyway of a local watering hole. From first glance Boog thought he had died and went to heaven, and this was an angel. Though he was severely maimed and injured in the alley that night, he was still right, Marjorie was his true guardian angel.

Years flew by and the couple of love-slugs soon became husband and wife and bore thirty children. The family lived in harmony for the moons to come. It was until King Slugworth IV had been overthrown by Charles Douglas, the seemingly peaceful politician turned malicious mad man of Western Winthorpe. Once Douglas’s reign first began the civilians thought nothing of it but a coup d’etat with power given to a neutral man. Yet within just weeks Douglas began to wage war against the East, a military draft soon followed. The fate of the Boogie family lay within the hands of an inexperienced, new ruler. The hopes and dreams of raising a family away from warfare were crushed once Francis received a letter in the mail. Everything he knew and loved was to be taken to war, to fight on behalf of the WWSC.

The family sat in wait of the next bus to pick up the only source of income they had. Without a fatherly figure and no money to their name, they would most likely end up in poverty, scraping gum off the underside of tables to make ends meet. So in a act of defeat and farewell, the Boogie bunch waved goodbye.

“Farewell my sweet offspring, I do bid you farewell! Your father will return home to embrace you with all of the love I can muster!” He gathered them together for a final embrace. “Marjorie,” he called out, “watch over these children I will return home soon, but until then never let them out of your sight.” Boog wept.

“Of course my love! Please return, we did not deserve to receive such means of misfortune.” Francis grasped Marjorie’s hand passionately.

“No matter what, put the children first. If I should not make it home, let my next of kin carry on my legacy.” One last kiss and goodbye and Boog entered the large, mobile, metallic structure lettered ‘G-R-E-Y-S-L-U-G’ on the side. Boog, in his short time in the free world, never had the chance to learn how to read. He took one glance at his family before he began his departure on the windowless bus. Once on the road the Sergeant at the front of the bus took roll call. It didn’t take long for the stone-faced man to call out his name.

“Francis C. Boogie? Do we have a Francis C. Boogie.” He yelled in a commanding voice spanning to the back of the bus.

“Yes, here.” Boog chirped up and stood from his seat.

“You will refer to me as sir, is that clear?” The Sergeant replied with authority.

“Sir, yes sir.” Instantly made inferior, without contest Boog was now under the rule of the WWSC before he even knew it.

Boog awoke from his daytime slumber to the sound of shells cracking in the dusking sky. Manly screams surrounded his ears, overwhelmed, Francis crumbled to the ground like the dropping of his gun to the general. Where was there to run? Boog wasn’t even sure if he could stand at this point in time, he felt the chaos around him. Memories flashed through his head, “What would father do? C’mon what would father do!” Francis screamed to himself.

His father was no coward like Boog, he was a borderline hero in the wars previous. It was time for Boog to carry on his legacy in the form of newborn bravery. Francis stood from his then fetal position and ran from his post in search of the source of shells. Suddenly, to the sound at least ten times louder than a gunshot rang a shell no more than five feet where Boog had been laying on the ground. Now a considerable distance away, Francis stood stagnant in a lightning fast reflection of what could have been. Yet there would be no time for selfishness, no time to think of himself, he slithered out the door as fast as his muscles could go.

Boog turned down corners, ran down stairs stairs, waddled as fast as his foot could through hallways and corridors in search of any way out of the, now devastated, building. At last there was one opening to exit the monstrous concrete structure, the mortars and cannons had seemingly ceased in the moments following. Francis heard a large grumble throughout the air, “What are they planning? Some sort of mega bomb?” Boog asked himself. And it turns out, he was correct. The slugs from the East had something special in store for the now pathetic compound. Now that they were weakened it was time to make them their test subjects.

Boog heard the soaring of a jet overhead, though he could not pinpoint it exactly he knew where it was heading. It was obviously a sort of bomb. But Francis Chardonnay Boogie would have never expected the Eastern Slughood of Winthorpe Farms to develop a biochemical weapon so quickly! Francis skidded to an immediate pause, he sat and stared in awe of the grace of this murderous killing-machine of an explosion. He braced himself for the sheer carnage that would ensue in the moments to come.

The impact of the explosion came as a man made, unnatural, low-magnitude earthquake. But the little slug hero still stood, in fact all that surrounded him was miraculously still there. The ground was covered in a thin layer of a grainy white substance, the bomb had failed seeing as Boog still remained. He felt a slight itch all over his body as he began to think that this was no failure of a nuke. It was a resounding success of a biochemical weapon! Francis slithered away from the death zone as quick as an ant. The itches quickly escalated into a full on burn, his foot began to take a large toll on the weakened slug. The last thing Boog remembered was hearing commands yelled out all around him and the impact of his petite body slamming on to the salty ground.

The soldier awoke to black, surrounded by nothing but black and streams of sunshine filtering through some sort of gauze tied around his head. Was he in the army’s hospital? Was he back home, in bed and back with his plentiful family?

“Move! All of you boys move this instant! We got someone special with us today, and I would like you fools to treat him with respect.” The unknown man’s voice boomed through the gauze-like headband. “Up and at ‘em little bugger, we got some things to take care of.” The man blabbered on, this time in a condescending voice like one you would use with a child. Boog was no child. He was a bombing survivor, a borderline hero like his father before him! Who in Grogg’s name would treat a war hero like this? The thought came to him, he was not home, not in some army infirmary, he was taken hostage!

“Where am I? Who are you? What have you done to me?” Francis asked, knowing it is not that simple to get an answer from a officer as stubborn as this. He was in no position to ask questions to anyone. Another soldier stepped forward and took the gauze off of Boog’s head, only to find that it was a burlap sack that was tied tight around his head, ending a constricting grip over his movement. He sat in a chair within a courtyard of sorts, surrounded by at least twenty soldiers who likely resided in the East.

“Sweet little slugger, where is your faith? We are here to help, not hurt you, just give us what we want and you will be on your merry way.” The officer was obviously apart a high rank to have the power to free a prisoner of war this easily.

“What do you want from me?” Struck with fear, Boog replied in a fearful tone.

“May I ask, what is your favorite food?” Not quite what Francis expected but if he was asked more questions like this he was as good as free.

“Well I do enjoy a three-leaf lasagna from time to ti—” The man let him speak for a moment before he upholstered a firearm from his belt. Boog stopped, now fearing for his life, betrayed with the use of false sense of insurance.

“I could rip out your lifeforce and sleep like a snail in a tomato garden. Do I look like a man who likes games, little boy?” He interrupted. His intent to kill was obviously strong, the man had done this hundreds of times. He was a professional.

“Well you asked me what my favorite food was so I answered you.” Francis was unable to detect his own snarkiness in his comment, he figured his judgements were fair. The officer did ask what his favorite food was.

“Details! Information! Tell me all that you know, I don’t have the patience for this.” Uncalled for most definitely, Boog figured that since the man came off as nice this would be a walk in the park.

“Well why didn’t you just ask? What is it exactly that you need?” Still unable to adjust to the fact that this interrogation could end in his own demise, Francis proceeded to play a fool.

“Does the term ‘Salt’ mean anything to you?” Salt? The word was completely alien to the gastropod. “Hmm, boy? Ringing any bells?” It was now obvious that the ignorant slug had no idea what was even happening. “Alright boys, pick him up. We got a little surprise for this guy.” The two soldiers that took the burlap off him wrapped a rope around his neck and a blindfold around the eyes. The East had total control and walked Francis like a dog on a leash.

Walking to the overgrown shed seemed to take hours, once the blindfold was removed, Boog could see that the sky was losing its color. The soldiers threw Francis into the shed and tied him to a pillar connected from the neverending ceiling to the ever-so-close stone flooring. What stood before him shook Boog directly to the core, a ten inch tall capsule of the white rocks that burned him that day at the bunker. Listed on the side read ‘S-A-L-T’, once again his illiteracy would prove fatal in this desperate time of need. Tens of what Francis could see as scientists, surrounded the capsule, taking note of any irregular patterns.

The officer stood before Boog, giving a menacing stare right in the eyes. “This you grub, is salt.” Things began to click for Francis, this is the biochemical weapon and the very thing that nearly killed him just days ago.

“Wait a minute. So you’re telling me, without a shadow of a doubt, that these burning white rocks, is salt?” Boog sat in disbelief, this is the biggest thing uncovered by the West since the beginning of the war! “You grogg! You nearly killed me! What is the matter with you.” He was on fire, like his skin when touching the salt.

The officer stood, dumbfounded, by the gastropods utter stupidity. He had not a single worry about enemy casualties, this was war and Boog didn’t even notice. He began to test his restraints, wailing and writhing his way out but the rope would not budge. The man stayed watching him struggle for a few moments then chirped to his inferiors, “I’ve had enough of this eyesoar, boys take him away.”

In unison, the two soldiers replied, “Yes, General Kenobi.” Now screaming for his life, Boog was ripped away from the General and the salt room. To quiet him down the guards slapped him over the head until his squealing began to subside. After a sizeable journey over a hill, Francis was ushered into a dirt mount of a prison. The jailhouse wreaked of pesticides and raw eggs, the cells consisted of pebbles and sticks for bars. It was utterly impossible to escape, this was state of the art technology and he knew it. The guards threw him into a cell and closed its doors where everything he could see around him faded to black. Unsure whether he would ever be free again, Francis C. Boogie awaited his imminent demise.

It felt like years. He was fed once a day, gruel and slop smelling like a forgotten dumpster. Limited access to fresh water that almost always tasted like the dirt in which surrounded him. No bed to sleep on, only the dirt floor of which now he had come accustomed to. No sunlight except for the gleams that shined through the smallest holes on the stick gates that confined him. Boog’s life was over and he knew it from the moment he saw the cell, there was no way out so why would he ever try. He had let down the WWSC, his family, the king. He had information that the West desperately needed to seek total control over Winthorpe Acres. The salt was now a key factor in the deciding who would win the everlasting fight.

He had to break free, bring back the information, become the hero he wanted so desperately to be! Bring pride and heroics to the Boogie bloodline! Francis got up from off of his floor and began to plot to escape, he began by taking in his surroundings and the things he was given. Dirt on the dirt floor, he could dig through it as far as he needed to break out of the mound itself. But to do that would take time, and would most likely require a distraction, his mind continuously went back to the gruel he was given. If he played his cards right he could shape it into a shell of himself so if anyone came to check on the prisoner they would see a pile of slime in the shape of a slug that may trick any guard.

Boog had put his plan into motion by collecting all the gruel he was given in a week, to salvage the most gruel he would need to go hungry and hope there were no random searches of cells. The gruel stockpile had become plentiful and Boog began to dig the hole through the floor of his cell. He had no way of knowing which way to go but he needed to send it in order to go free and save the WWSC and his family back home. They needed the information, but Boog’s life was on the line. Francis decided, his live was not even close to the importance of the mission. Operation Gruel Hole was now a go.

He used utensils he was given to slowly chip away at the mushy floor. Days upon days went by and the mass of gruel began to take shape as Boog began to become a full on insomniac. The only time to truly work would be in the dead of night. So not only was Boog wasting away due to impending starvation, he suffered the tragedy of insanity due to his self-depriving of sleep. And as the days ruthlessly rolled on, the worse the situation became. Francis was practically a shell of his former self. His body, now covered in rashes and blisters, trudged through his own personal catacombs. The situation was seemingly hopeless, with no sense of direction there was no sure way of escape.

Night after night Boog went to work, he indeed respected the grind but this was more than the simple grind most are used to. It would be months after he first incarcerated into the mound when he would finally see a chance at escape. He had dug far enough to the point where he could hear raindrops slapping the side of the prison. He found this as a firm sort of motivation. In a frenzy Boog stabbed the wall and dug with all his weakened body could muster. And it didn’t take long after for him to reach the first form of natural light in months.

Francis slithered back through the trenches one more time, this time to carry out the remainder of Operation Gruel Hole. He propped up the decoy and covered up his tracks by placing his only belongings over the entrance to the hole. Boog sped through all his hard work and took his first steps outside, climbing down the side of the bountiful mound. It wasn’t until he hit the soaked grass patches that he considered himself safe.

The mound was now just a speck in the distance. Scatterbrained, he ruffled throughout the surrounding grasslands seeking survival. Boog stopped in his tracks, he heard a low, rumbling, sound that echoed through the forest. Spinning in circles in search of the origin he spotted a small military vehicle coming his way. He ducked in speculation, if this was the East he was dead where he stood. It inched closer and closer as Boog’s anxiety grew. Just feet from where Francis hid the vehicle suddenly stopped.

“Who are you? Come out with your hands up!” Boog marveled at the sight of three WWSC members holding him at gunpoint. He had never been so happy to be threatened.

“My name is Francis C. Boogie, I am with the WWSC. I was captured and held in a prison for months, I escaped not to long ago. Please help me.” Boog pleaded for his life now, and the soldiers were not backing down. One of the cadets exited the vehicle and searched the slug for any hint of danger. He looked at the driver post-search and nodded. He bagged Francis and forced him into the back of the vehicle. No more than thirty minutes later they had stopped and Boog was forced out of the vehicle and was moved into what seemed to be another bunker. But this time he recognized its smell.

He was forced into a folding chair, doors slammed, he was tied down, and then was finally unbagged. “What the Grogg do we have here?” He was met with a hard stare from the general of Western Winthorpe.

“General. My name is Francis C. Boogie. I was taken months ago by the Eastern Slughood and General Kenobi, and I have received critical information about their weapons.” Boog rose his voice.

“Untie him.” With a wave of his hand the general had the helpless slug untied. “Now you are going to tell me exactly what you had seen, heard, even tasted during every moment of your captivity.” General pleaded with the now valuable private. Boog told him every single thing he could remember along with the weapon he encountered. “That would certainly explain a lot, you see months ago, at the time you were captured by Kenobi and his men a bomb went down. Casualties at the base are still being tallied to this day. You, good sir, have given us the missing piece we needed. I think it’s safe to say that you are a hero. And I am honored to have served as your general.” He stood and saluted the gastropod with pride.

Francis was honorably discharged and was sent home to see his family for the first time in years. He could not contain his excitement, he had done himself, his family, his people a great service sacrificing all he could ever give. He took the bus back to his home and slithered as fast as he could out of the station and to his home he had left behind. Boog knocked on the door, ready to give all the love he could to Marjorie and his children. But the person who answered the door was not Marjorie or any of his thirty-some children.

“Who might you be?” The man asked with authority.

“I’m the owner of this home, thank you for asking. Now where is my wife and children?” Boog was petrified, what had happened whilst he was away.

“You mean Marjorie?” He asked confused. Boog nodded reluctantly, what has this man done? “I’m her husband. What’s it to you?”

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