Mark Edmund Doten

Letter (excerpt from Green Zone Kids Vol. 2: John McCain)

You prepare for a great battle, you train your boys for decades, you hone their gifts. You save them up, you do not reveal their gifts to the world. In your underground mansion, a railroad baron’s vast red sandstone heap you’ve inverted and buried at great expense – absolute secrecy raising the price tag by two orders of magnitude (and the citizens of St. Paul never once took note, check the Pioneer Press, check the Dispatch, 1921, 1922, a mansion turned upside down, buried and sodded over for a public park, no mention of that) – in these headquarters, these dormitories and training grounds, on those ceilings retiled as floor, you nurture your boys, hold them to one side; amid roof beams sprouting pommel horses and parallel bars you suit them up, mentally, physically, for the war that’s coming. The breath and scent of exhausted sleeping boys eight or ten or twelve years old. The sweat. How it assumes presence throughout those long nights without electricity. In the Institute’s repumped air, over and above the oil soap and the heady rot of Flemish tapestries, a cleanish fug that cleaves to the subterranean blackness, more and more it insists, to very point of declaring itself as substance, never quite in time: because now it’s dawn. And the incandescent bulbs on their timers tick once and domino down the hallways, and bells clatter off-key, and in white socks and pajama bottoms boys stumble from door after door to the washrooms throughout every wing and level, blinking and shuffling through hot angled beams of natural light that cut from the dilating apertures of the mirror chimney network and strike random slipping ovals of yellow or brown or white skin – and sometimes, when the sun flares off the speck in a boy’s pupil, he sneezes. Then the day of fire, and you are undone. You thought you had prepared for all contingencies, but this was not one you’d prepared for.

And you are utterly undone.

And your boys are slaughtered.

And none of their gifts means a fucking thing.

You did not study your history – or you did, but not at the broadest level, it had not occurred to you that all your work, all those lives you’d trained so well and yes had loved so well, that they could all be snuffed out before the battle was even joined.

I am asking you to try to understand, Beezer.

Beezer, I love you so much, but I am writing to tell you: I cannot live any longer.

Mark Edmund Doten is the managing editor of Soho Press. His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Lamination Colony, elimae, Exquisite Corpse, The Agriculture Reader and Dennis Cooper's Userlands anthology. His website is

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