Excerpt from Brain Dead
The angel of death came at dawn. It wasn't the usual time for the angel to make its appearance; the old man knew that. He was familiar with the breed. He'd seen them hover in the fetid midnight of a jungle, heard their sly rustle at 3 a.m. in the alleys that crooked away from taxi stands like spider legs in the cold night air. He'd fought off a few and given one or two a knowing nod. He'd danced one step ahead of them for some seventy-eight years, and he wasn't in the mood to let this one catch up with him now.
Especially not here.
It was too clean here, too impersonal. The old man wanted to meet this angel on his feet, head up, eyes wide open, in the kind of place he'd always fought his fights. He wanted the chance to beat it back just one more time before giving in to the inevitable.
Go gentle, my ass, he thought, curling his bent, broken fingers into fists beyond the wrist straps that made him impotent and old.
"My name is Butch Cleveland," he rasped with a voice ruined by beer, cigarettes, and parade grounds. "United States Marine Corps. Serial number 3124456. And that's all you're getting from me, you son of a bitch."
"I'm sorry," the angel said, bending over him.
It shouldn't be at dawn, Butch thought, squirming to get away when there was, ultimately, no place to go.
Not when the sun finally showed up. Death belongs in the night, deep in the dark hours of dreams and terrors, when sappers break the fences and two-dollar fares carry automatics. The dawn brings redemption. The sun means promise. Hope. Another night overcome.
"Not now," was all he could say, trembling.
"Shift's over," the angel told him.
He was crying now, ashamed of the tears and the trembling and his own terror. "I'm not going."
"Nothing you can do."
But there was. He fought the angel. He fought the pain. And, when it came to it, he fought the drug that had been injected into his IV for ten hours, more than anyone but a bull sergeant who had survived Tarawa and North Market could have withstood.