Salvatore Buttaci gives entirely new meaning to The Domino Effect. But never-the-less it’s a sweet entry into our contest. If you have not yet entered the fray, the details are on the home page. 750 to 1,000 words using the prompt: I swear, it’s not too late.
But tempus is fugiting. Submissions must be received by Thanksgiving day.
by Salvatore Buttaci
We could’ve saved the world. Out there, soldiers wearing mud and blood and green helmets dented from near-death experiences sloshed their boots through rice paddies where farmers in Fu-Manchu mustaches and beards cowered on the fringes of explosive hells.
We three could have saved them. We three sporting illegal beards on campus, defying the authority of Fr. Lynch, Dean of Men, who ordered us to shave or get out. Fr. Lynch who we imagined loved war, the clomping of the march, the cry of whom he called “the vanquished,” those enemies outside our shores, beyond our fruited plains, those godless foreigners.
Jack said it was what we had to do. Ken nodded and so did I, despite the maelstrom in my head that was my father. I feared his wrath so much more than the dean’s because when justice was demanded, he never wasted his time on words. You saw his terrible swift belt and he wasn’t afraid to swing it at me despite my age, despite my plea for mercy, or the ignored, and perhaps ignorant, words in my own defense.
Knowing all this, I said yes and made myself an accomplice in a war crime that could have earned the three of us a one-way pass to a firing squad. Jack said if it came to that, he’d refuse the blindfold. Ken said he’d take that last cigarette even though he had quit smoking in freshman year. I wondered if they would offer us a last meal the way they do death rowers in penitentiaries. If they did, I’d ask for the typical Mama-mia-five-course Italian meal. I was in no hurry to pay for my crimes.
One dark evening in 1964, under a yellow-squash moon, we headed towards the U. S. Army tank prominently at parade rest on the campus green. We had donned black shoes, black trousers, black sweatshirts, black hoods with tiny eye holes. The gravity of what we were about to do dizzied me, especially since the hoods had no slits for nose and mouth. I could smell rancid fear inside my flannel mask.
Sharing culpability, Jack managed to unscrew the diesel cap; Ken poured about a pound of Domino sugar into the tank of the tank; and I screwed the cap back on. We swore we’d be like those three wise monkeys who saw, heard, and spoke no evil. The three of us committed ourselves to secrecy, shaking hands like mercenary soldiers of fortune before killing their way to their share of blood money.
“You talk, Matt, and you’re a dead man.”
“Listen, Ken,” I said, “we’re all in this together. One gets caught, we all go down.”
Did I say that? I would have at that moment whipped out my pocket pad and jotted the dialogue down for a future crime noir, but back then I was into writing love poems, plenty of them, which I’d recite to girls I’d meet, college students from a nearby women’s college, who sometimes preferred hearing a love poem than feeling the biceps of some pumped-up body builder high on Charles Atlas and dumbbells.
Ken made a fist and threw me a fake jab. “Yeah, well, I’m just sayin‘, keep your fat mouth shut.”
Jack shook his head at us. A man of few words, he gave each of us the evil eye and said, “Shut the hell up. Nobody’s gonna catch us.”
No one ever did. We had sweetened Uncle Sam’s tank out of commission. We three saboteurs proved that sometimes crime does pay, particularly when, in the grand scheme of things, the motive was as noble as ours. We took pride in the fact that we retired one instrument of war, stopped dead in its treadmill tracks one more mighty steel killing machine rendered powerless on the campus of our New Jersey alma mater. We felt good –– damn good! –– about all those Vietnamese mothers who would not mourn their little ones because the three of us declared our own little war on war by snuffing the life out of that campus monstrosity.
We prayed the generals wouldn’t suddenly run into a shortage of tanks in Nam and request the college administrators return the sugared one back into service. On our way to classes, trying hard not to look conspicuously guilty, we’d cast quick peripheral glances at the green monster to make certain, like Old Glory, it was still there.
One night I got a phone call from Jack. He sounded like a happy-go lucky boozer on a tightrope daring gravity to pull his ass down.
“I got me an idea,” he said.
How familiar that sounded! His last idea had left me at least five years older than my chronological age. When the light bulb flashed in Jack’s head, it signaled sayonara time.
Jokingly, I said, “Another tank?”
Seriously, Jack answered, “Yeah, man, one more.”
I waited an awful long time before I said, “Count me out. My tank days are over. Besides, graduation’s next week, for cryin’ out loud!”
“So what! We did it once. It worked out. We do it again and prove it can work again.”
“And then we do a third?” I asked. “Visit another college that’s got a tank? This time instead of sugar we load it up with molasses or catsup or shampoo or ––”
“I swear it’s not too late, Matt. We can do it. Just you and me. Forget Ken. He’s still shaking from the first tank.”
I sat there, phone in hand, doodling a hangman’s noose, a petal-torn daisy, Jack’s bloody body under a rolling green tank. Then, without mincing words, I said, “My father. I think he got wind of Tank #1.”
Sobered up now, Jack wanted to know, “How? How in the hell could he ––”
“You don’t know my father. I think he was a detective in a previous life. Maybe somebody talked and he picked up on it.”
“Forget it. Just forget the whole freakin’ thing.”
Salvatore Buttaci is an obsessive-compulsive writer whose work has appeared widely. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. His poems, stories, articles, and letters have appeared widely in publications that include New York Times, U. S. A. Today, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Cats Magazine, The National Enquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Author‘s Info, A Word with You Press, and AustinBriggs.com.
Sal Buttaci is a former English instructor at a local community college and middle-school teacher in New Jersey, who retired in 2007 to commit himself to full-time writing.
His collection of flash fiction Flashing My Shorts is available in book, e-book, and audio book versions http://www.amazon.com/Flashing-My-Shorts-Salvatore-Buttaci/dp/0984259473
His latest collection of short-short fiction, 200 Shorts, is available in book and Kindle editions at
His horror flash “Ritual” is an e-book for only 99 cents at http://www.amazon.com/Ritual-Salvatore-Buttaci-ebook/dp/B00FI6JR46/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1384459022&sr=1-2&keywords=Ritual
He lives happily ever after with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.
31 thoughts on “Tanks for the memories…Sal Buttaci is on trac for our contest”
Reviewing your story as a lunatic who once wrote a skit in which I played a captured and internationally wanted environmentalist trying to sabotage companies tearing down the rainforest globally by putting Mr. Bubbles in their bulldozers, I salute you. The paper mache dragonfly which I as a very Carmen Mirandaesque character wore in my hair that day still flys high on my ceiling at home. This dragonfly tips her wings to your story as well. She says that your story was a tribute to ‘it no longer runs on sentences of mockery and defiance’ which should get me locked up in the tank to dry off. Besides your excellent writing style and on point dialogue, your story brought back memories of the Viet Nam era which still haunts me both in my waking hours and dreams. Being older I can see those years more from the point of view of people who lived in South Viet Nam, but back then it just seemed insane and senseless to me. I came very close to being sent to that war which I didn’t believe in. There was more than just protest going on. Indeed there was this sense of wanting to do radical things to bring that war to a conclusion. It was an era of the powerful using the powerless to carry out their madness. Because of the absurdity of the acts of striking back by the relative powerless against the older generation who were for most part in favor of the war, your story blended beautifully with my memories of those days. Tanks for the memories which made me weave and bob with hope that someday that all instruments of war will get the diabetic shock and awe that they deserve.
Now you’ve got Carmen Miranda in my head, dancing with that fruity hat of hers! Samba-dee help me! On a more serious note, I was living in Sicily for a year when my father sent me the telegram I received, a draft-board call for a physical. On the bus a rowdy pair of gung-hoers explained to the trembling rest of us how they were going to bring down the Viet Cong with their bare hands. When we got on the line for the blood test, two of those warriors fainted. If they couldn’t take the drawing of a little blood from their arm, how in the heck were they going to stomach the buckets of blood awaiting them in Vietnam? By the way, I failed the physical and was not drafted. Several of my college ROTC buddies who served as lieutenants in that war shortly after their deployment died there.
I was allegedly involved in something like this some eleven years after your tank episode, only mine revolved around a BUNCH of used motor oil/gasoline mix and our rival high school’s grass football field. And the fire department. To this day nobody knows who caused the -ahem- .
Our girls forgot to bring matches and, apparently, us boys the nerve to actually follow through with an ashtray cigarette lighter. (We were drunk but NOT stupid). Our car left early but when we went back…oh my. Further, a six pack of empty Michelob bottles (we were slumming it with Falstaff) were found at the scene. We drank a lot that night and maybe we didn’t have just Falstaff after all. I dunno, but I remember the early morning rain an hour later helped a LOT.
Oops, I’ve gone a bit long on this one.
Back to your story, Sal. Thank you for some very, very fun flashbacks while reading about your nocturnal assault on the tank. The fear, the resolve, the adrenaline, the black clothes…I was there with you doing something very much the same, but in a different place later on. Whew! Flashbacks are killer, aren’t they?
The true killers, Mike, was the beer we drank like crazy fools. Yours was Michelob; mine was St. Pauli Girl and later Tuborg from Scandinavia. I still can hear my mother calling me a bum as I stumbled home at four in the morning, drunk as the proverbial skunk.
Those were the days Sal, glory just the same. When I think about it, innocent or not, dismantling the killing machines one quart of sugar at a time is not such a bad thing.
The writing is flawless.
Thanks, Michael. The 60’s were wild years. I remember being at the head of a simulated Selma march, along with a Catholic priest named Father Scanlan, when someone on the sidelines hit me over the head with a liquor bottle. “You don’t know if you’re black or white,” the guy said. (I didn’t know if he were black or white either) and as the blood flowed from the gash on my head I promised to retire from demonstrating, no matter the cause. I only broke that promise many years later when I walked slowly in a cancer-survivor march.
I was not the Ken in this story. Sal, I swear it’s not too late to change the character’s name. That denial made, a sweet story.
This Ken was not you, Ken. It was a Ken of a different ken. Ken you believe me or do you think I’m just kenning around?
Not only is this a good story, and true (I assume) but your writing of it is most excellent. Good phrases, good movement toward the denouement, etc. Watched the video about tanks and thought of my older brother, who was a 1st Lt. in the 2nd Armored Division, and was in France and Germany, and with a few others in a jeep were the first Americans into Salzburg at the end of the war in Europe. Jumping from tanks to ground took care of his knees in later life.
My father was severely wounded at Chateau-Thierry when he was a battle surgeon in WWI.
Your story brought back the memory of that Viet Nam war era, when I taught non-credit English in a community college and the guys there were desperate to pass the course so they could enroll as a full-time students at the college and avoid the war. Also had returnees from Viet Nam, who would never be whole again, as a result of drug additions.
Back to your story here, I really like your skill in phrasing words in unexpected ways, and very professionally done! Glad to have read this.
Thanks, Jean. You are very kind, but I must say that this is fiction. I never was party to sabotage. Our campus had a tank on the green, but I had nothing to do with sweetening the steel. I was back then in the 60’s a kind of rebel who wore a beard (against the rules), drank a lot of steins of beer at Paul’s Tavern, wore tan chinos, and, like now, carried a pad in my shirt pocket in the event something would come to me that I wanted to poemify or storyalize later on.
Well, it COULD have been true. Just sayin’ . . . I went to a small woman’s college in VA where we had strict drinking prohibitions and ALWAYS behaved like ladies, don’t you see? So how could I imagine such a story as this being anything but true, having witnessed some of the guys at nearby colleges where we dated on weekends. But then, that was back in the 50’s . . .
you’re just sayin that because of the NSA!
Can you blame me?
Poemify… I think I am going to have to use that word now.
Can it get better than this? I think not. Wonderfully written – great character control, atmosphere, verbage; it’s all here.
Thanks, Monica. I wrote a humorous flash because there’s word going around that if a flash has a time machine or an alien from another planet I wrote it. I hate being typecast. (You did say “verbage,” right? Thank God you didn’t say “garbage.” I’ve been known to cry at harsh criticism!
Another great short story from El Maestro! Sal never disappoints in his stories.
Thanks, Joe. I’d written a few horror tales lately and needed to switch gears and write something funny, even if mildly so. (Not that jacking a tank is funny. More like horror!).
Sometimes, once is enough…or more than enough. This is a great story, Sal. It incorporates humor with a serious side and I definitely sided with Matt.
Matt is the sane voice in all this, but just like all sane folks, they all go a little crazy sometimes: they grab onto the brass ring and call it the antidote for a streak of boredom. Thanks, Zelda, for reading my flash.
This is a wonderful story!!
Thanks, Lee. The challenge is always to write a story the writer loves and convinces himself that others will also love. Thanks for reading!
This story reminds me of the “ninja nights” my brothers would go on, leaving me at home because I was the girl. This story is how I imagined it to be, all noble yet mischievous. When I dropped the “I’m-gonna-tell-if-you-don’t-take-me-along” card, I learned it was nothing so noble as sugaring truck engines in anti-war protest. It was mostly skulking about the neighborhood in the dark laughing at who stepped in what because it was dark. All these extra words to say, you’ve done it again, Sal. It really is a nice little romp!
Tiffany, your “ninja nights” story reminds me of my own let-behind tales that my older sister Anna and brother Alfonso put me through. I was young. I cried. I stomped my feet, but they were gone and I was not with them. Oh, to have them back again! I can go out there alone; I’m old enough not to be a sibling burden now, and yet, thinking back, in the end the two of them did me dirty again by telling me they’d wait, go grab your hat and coat, and so I did, just enough time for them to hit the road.
I think my big bro did that to me once… punk. I’m going to see him this Thanksgiving and we are going to go around and around the story tree with this one I’m sure. How funny is the crystal nature of memory… so powerful, and yet so absent.
Sal, this one reminds me of the movie theater and the toilet paper story. You sure know how to swing into gear with boys shannigans. I ask my sons “Why did you do that?”…they say, “why not?” The first paragraph you threw the grenade of words, left the room and watched the explosives set the story. The switch, midway brought smiles of relief. No body was going to get hurt. The dad might have done some damage at the end…but you never know! that you did it You consistently bring your A game. You carefully snap each section into place. The language and storyline is so smooth, you glide to the end… and want to read it again. So I did! Mama-mia, you do have a style of your own.
Kyle, toilet paper and a disabled tank are just two props to keep a story going. Where boys and young men are concerned, there are thousands more. I lived through some of them, but most live in my head where I am afraid to go sometimes, wary of what I’ll find up there. Often at night when I am trying to turn myself off and get some sleep, I see the dark flight of stairs, the beckoning finger, and goodbye sleep. It’s off to a room I can light up enough to jot notes for the next day’s story. It’s been this way for years. Some say it took my hair, put the kink in my bones, drove me into my 70’s, but I say it’s the call of the wild, the tap on the arm, the metallic smell of, not gold coins, but bloody death dying to affix itself to one of my characters waiting on line.
And That is why Sal, you are a good teacher…you lay out the tracks, point the way and take us to the end of the destination. Along the way, you teach us to peak out the window and see the scenery, then become it. Next adventure please!
How kind of you, Kyle, to say that!
It’s hard to get your dad out of your head–especially when he got in there with the snap of the leather. Ouchie.
Ah how the mighty fall – one cup of sugar in a gas tank is definitely a killer. Of the good kind. Of course if one thought it through – that tank was tanked in the first place – wasn’t going to see another war. That’s what so hilarious about this. Good one Sal – and another notch for silly things boys do. Have two sons – know this!!!