A soft, vulnerable caterpillar sleeps inside walls for protection from predators. I don’t sleep in my cocoon. I can’t. To sleep here is an open invitation for a free meal. The bullet-proof glass of my cocoon are windows into this foreign land where these hungry predators are said to lurk everywhere.
And maybe, this is my metamorphosis. Whereas the soft caterpillar emerges from the cocoon an even softer butterfly, I emerged from this steel cage harder, and even more impenetrable, than the heavily armored skin of our doors. The caterpillar learns to fly by becoming a new form, almost like the alchemy of lead to gold. I learned to mimic the coldness of this machine by exploding accurately, and aggressively, as possible when my personal trigger was pulled. I became a predator whose hunger was never satisfied.
Flamboyant, a Haitian who once spoke to me of half-horse shamans and their voodoo alchemy, sits at the driver’s helm. My platoon sergeant, self-named Big Poppa, is opposite him, and our platoon medic, Doc J, the original hipster before hipster became a thing, hangs out in the back.
From inside an olive-green tin can are bullets that feed into the left side of the 240. Golden 7.62 MM rounds shine brilliantly under the glow of the heavy burning sun. They are linked by small black chains reminiscent of the shadows that will soon haunt and bind me.
I don’t feel like prey. I feel like the predator on a hunt.
I wonder if the caterpillar ever feels like defenseless prey? After all, it has no weapons, and though I ride this war machine from inside a cocoon, directly in front of my chest is a sleek blackened M240B machine gun slightly tilted to the right. This is our rhino’s horn. This is my weapon.
I’m a dull replication of my cocoon. And maybe the caterpillar knows more than I do. Why else would it give up and surrender itself to the alchemical cocoon of its own making, unless it knew it was going to fly to liberation afterwards?
I’m riding on top of an up-armored Humvee, a rugged thick-skinned metal rhinoceros, built to maneuver the topography of ragged lands. The Humvee’s desert tan coating blends with the sand of our environment. My waist sticks up above the roof of this ugly fighting beast. The Humvee’s turret shield envelopes my upper body like the safety of a cocoon.
Maybe voodoo has transfigured me to a half man-half machine that is no longer able to feel the heat of the sun, the wind of the desert, and the hot, stinging grains of sand that pepper us.
Should we find prey tonight, collectively we may hunt, but only one performs the kill.
We are all connected to our internal communications by way of headset. To the outside, this up-armored animal moves as a single entity along the other animals upon this wild desert. Flamboyant is responsible for the movement and maintenance of our android rhinoceros; Big Poppa handles the logistics and well being of our human bodies; and Doc J is the medicine man-healer. Me? I am the eyes and ears of this beast. Why else would a predator develop specialized eyes and ears but in order to better direct the spear of our horn?
David Alas served in the US Army from 2005-2010 as an 11 bang bang who jumped out of planes to fulfill a naive ideal of patriotic duty, and overcome a fear of heights. He was deployed twice to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division and is currently studying Cognitive Science at UC Berkeley to fulfill another naive ideal of scholarly knowledge. He enjoys being out in the naked wilderness, riding two wheels sticky side down, and writing delusional manifestos about life and the nature + purpose of reality. Though he is still afraid of heights, he is not afraid of falling.