by Jake Christie

GUARD DUTY.
a story.

“It's like a button with a big 'DO NOT PUSH' sign next to it,” says Ollie. “Whatever your plans were, whatever you were thinking before, whatever preconceptions or biases you have about pushing buttons – suddenly, all you can think about is pushing that button.”

I shift my weight from one boot to the other, inspect the barrel of my rifle. “What does that have to do with anything?” I say.

Ollie looks at me like I've just asked what breathing has to do with staying alive. “Everything,” he says. “They pull us off our patrols and say we have to guard this door until they come back and relieve us, no questions asked. They tell us we can't say anything about anything to anyone, and we have permission to shoot anybody who looks like they're even thinking about walking through that door. And so I ask, 'What's so important? What's behind the door?' And they say, 'What part of no questions asked didn't you understand?' And I say, 'Just wondering, sir.' And you know what they say to me?”

I sigh. I know the answer, of course, having gotten the same treatment, but I ask anyway. “What do they say?”

“'Classified,'” he says, slowly waving his hand across the air. “As in, 'you can't see what's inside.'” He looks at me. “As in, 'you can't push the button.'”

The button next to the door, closer to me, has no “DO NOT PUSH” sign. In fact, a little placard reads, “PUSH HERE TO OPEN,” which almost sounds like an invitation.

“I'm not interested,” I say, half in response to Ollie and half in response to the button.

“Not interested?” he repeats. “I don't believe you.”

“Not in the least,” I say, and suddenly, in the same way a “DO NOT PUSH” button makes you want to do the exact opposite, Ollie's disbelief makes me want nothing more than to prove my disinterest. “Just following orders.”

“I'm not saying we shouldn't follow orders,” says Ollie, and he adds an eyeroll for good measure. “I'm just saying the urge is there.”

I shift my weight again and grip my rifle. “It sounds like you're thinking about walking through that door,” I say.

“I'm not thinking about walking through that door,” says Ollie, very quickly. Then after letting the words roll around on his tongue, he says, “I'm just thinking about what's in there, that's all. Not going in to see it. Not going in to find out if it's that thing that crashed in the desert outside of the base. Not going in to hear what those top-level guys could be saying or doing to something that very clearly wasn't from--”

“You're saying you aren't thinking about it,” I say, “but that's not what it sounds like.” I shift my weight once more, but I've already realized it's not making me more comfortable. I stretch my neck, giving my head one long turn from side to side until I'm staring, again, at the button. Ollie almost smiles.

“What do you think it sounds like?” he says.

“Stop thinking about going through the door,” I say, and all I can think about is going through the door.


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