WORLD’s 2018 Books of the Year
Tenth in a once-a-quarter series of short short stories.
Pastor Mark Kahn’s twin brother Mike Khan, during his two years at the University of Texas, was one of the few who still read Lenin. His favorite line: “If you are not inclined to crawl in the mud on your belly, you are not a revolutionary but a chatterbox.” Everyone was a snake, so might as well be a snake for justice.
Mike, with more muscle but less brainpower than Mark, was quick enough in seminars to impress pretty girls like Rachel Auerglas. He was already sleeping with one, Esperanza, but he joked about Muslim baseball: “Maybe I’ll get married and have a rotation of four.”
After Khan in class said Christians understood “sin,” Rachel said she’d like to talk with him. He thought he had a ticket into her bed. She thought he might be a Christian. “Nope,” Khan replied: “I’m an atheist. To me, murdering people is wrong, but it always goes on, and most of it is haphazard and useless. I want useful murder, sin that goes somewhere: virtuous sin.”
When Rachel said he was illogical, Khan responded, “That shows how muddled you are. Name one revolution that succeeded without killing reactionaries.” Rachel shot back, “Name one revolution besides America’s that succeeded, period.”
‘I want useful murder, sin that goes somewhere: virtuous sin.’
They debated the nature of success, but the only success Khan wanted at the moment was going all the way with Rachel. She said no, but she was praying that God would change him. Khan got mad: “You worship some God who can turn a person inside out in a minute or an hour? Even if God did exist, why would He care about a small person on a small planet of a small sun at the edge of the galaxy?”
Rachel was too pretty to give up on, so Khan asked the Chairman how he could reach her. The advice: “Jesus threw out the money-changers. Tell her we’re doing the same.” It didn’t work. Rachel asked, “How can you defend those dictators? Don’t you see the worst always win?” Khan replied, “Get real. During a transitional period terrible things must be done.”
Rachel said, “Now I get it. More killing means less killing. More dictatorship means less dictatorship. War is peace and totalitarianism is freedom—all in the long run. You really believe that? And you think I’m naïve??”
Khan stalked off. Rachel heard on the gossip circuit that Khan had dropped out. Two years later she was amazed to see his photo on the front page of a supermarket tabloid: He was now a professional wrestler, grappling under the name Genghis Khan. Over the next 10 years, as her legal career advanced in Austin, she had the guilty pleasure of occasionally looking him up online.
Then Rachel went to a UT basketball game at the Erwin Center and saw a flyer listing coming attractions: World Wrestling Entertainment presents Genghis Khan’s last match. She bought a ticket 20 rows back from the ring and slunk into the arena, hoping no one would see her. The fight was fixed, of course, and Khan ended his career with a win, but as the referee raised his arm Khan scanned the crowd and seemed to be looking right at her.
The next day an email from Khan surprised her: “Thanks for coming last night. I’ve been following your career.” A month later a stranger email showed up: Khan was in Syria, fighting ISIS with a platoon flying a United Socialist Opposition (USO) flag. “Dear Dushka,” he wrote: “I’m carrying an AK-47 and I fired a Dushka the other day. No faked fights here.” Rachel went online to learn that “dushka” is Russian both for a girlfriend and a truck-mounted heavy machine gun.
Rachel started reading online articles about the Syrian factions—Russians, Kurds, American soldiers, Middle East Marxists, Assad loyalists—that sometimes fought ISIS, sometimes each other. She prayed, “Lord, I don’t know why You’d protect someone like Michael who hates You, but please help him see the light.”
She prayed for half a year, and then received an email from Khan: “Rachel, We beat ISIS. When I get back to Austin I’ll tell you what happened to me on the road to Damascus.” Could that mean what she hoped it meant?