A Collection of short stories, some strange, some bizarre, others with the faint longing of winter dreams and wonderful adventures. Also as a bonus, includes first chapters of all Mr. Ruggeri's novels.
Excerpt from EXPIATION:
Before gravitating together, we were scattered throughout the classroom like so many brown mushrooms, proudly wearing the remnants of our uniforms — fatigue pants, shirts and coats with our names and ranks still sewn on.
Vietnam and its horrors were still fresh in our minds, and we were desperate for something that would replace the memories of humid jungles and fallen comrades. Exercising our minds seemed the best way to fill the void and exorcise our demons.
I was surprised to see Ernie Palomino there. We’d been in the same artillery unit; but big outfits, being what they are, we never got to really know each other.
Palomino still wore that haunted look many of us had exchanged for one of survivor’s relief. He sat quietly in his own corner of the classroom, neither questioning the professor’s statements nor answering the man’s questions, the incessant sound of his pencil, an accompaniment to the teacher’s instruction.
At least, I thought, someone is taking good notes. I knew from high school that my own scribblings usually bore no relevance to the test questions, which would eventually stump me at the end of each quarter, so I determined to reintroduce myself to my comrade-in-arms and hopefully, establish a relationship that would give me access to his. “Weren’t we in the same division at Qui Nhon?” I said one day as we pushed our way toward the hallway.
Palomino stared right through me for a moment and then kept walking. As we moved past the door, he crumpled the pages he had been working on and dropped them unceremoniously in the trash.
I lagged behind long enough to pick the coveted notes out of the bin, and rushed to the next lecture hall, anxious to unfurl the purloined papers and review my academic windfall. I was amazed to find that they weren’t notes at all, but drawings — pencil studies. I knew nothing of art, but what I held, rendered with such exquisite precision, must certainly have been the equal to anything in the local galleries. I’d barely had time to rifle through each page and marvel at my discovery, when a hand reached over and snatched the artwork from my grasp.
It was Palomino.
Embarrassed at being caught, I waited uncomfortably through the lecture to approach the man with my apology. Palomino ignored my excuse for such shabby behavior and glared at me with an intensity that caused me to look away. “How many Charlie did we kill in ‘Nam?” he asked softly.
“I don’t know.”
“One? Ten? A thousand?”
“I don’t know.”
“What did they look like?
I shrugged. “Hey, we were artillery.” For me, the war was coordinates and calibrations, the statistics of impersonal mayhem from a safe distance.
“You sorry you did it that way?” Palomino asked. I hadn’t thought of it as one way or another; it was how I had been trained to wage war.
“You gotta car?” He suddenly changed the subject.
“Gimme a lift.”
“Sure.” Anything was better than his eyes and uneasy probing.