‘Are you sure this is safe?’

As the doctor today diagnosed my 9-year-old son with a simple stomach bug and also some kind of viral skin bump that multiplies when you try to squeeze it, my wife Karen decided to maximize our co-pay and ask about the small grey dot—about the size of a pencil prick to be more precise—on Bennett’s forehead between his eyes, and for his estimation on how long it would remain. It had been there since his older brother Carter decided to start his own personal military about a year ago, conscripting his two younger brothers.

‘Oh…’ the pediatrician told her casually, ‘It’ll be there a long time.’

‘Ten years?’ asked Bennett, who was following every word.

‘Longer,’ he replied.

‘Twenty?’ the warrior asked.

‘At least.’

Mom felt duty-bound to explain.

In early 2009, Carter—then 10—had required that his recruits undergo tests and drills. Tests like knowing which gear would be used in different emergencies and in various terrains, such as the desert or the city. Granted, some of the questions were basic: ‘When skydiving from a plane, would you choose a water bottle or a parachute?’ But then, when you’re a General in need of an army, you can’t be too selective.

And then there were the drills, one of which caused the 20-year+ tattoo between Bennett’s eyes. The idea was that in the military, one must dodge bullets. Sometimes, one has to do this with such aplomb that it approximates Matrix-style dexterity. The most ready-made missiles in any kid’s school supplies, of course, are pencils.

So Carter set out with a 16-pack of colored pencils. Bennett, standing about six feet away, steadied himself while Carter prepared to hurl the pencils like throwing knives at Bennett’s face.

Bennett questioned the General. ‘Are you sure this is safe?’

‘Sure.’

‘OK.’

Carter says the missile struck Bennett between the eyes after five—‘No. Wait: three!’ ‘No, Carter, EIGHT!’—missiles (as they recount the story to us). For his effort, had he made it past all 16, Bennett would have ranked up from PV2 to Private First Class. Instead, he deserted and went to discuss the matter with the civilian authorities, who so happened to be playing Snood Extreme on her laptop in the living room. (This often happens with lifetime government workers, while unbeknownst to them the military misuses expensive weapons purchased from Staples with the hard-earned paycheck of workers like you and me. Well, not so much you.)

The president, wise as she is, found a way to get the parties back to the negotiating table by convincing the General to promote Bennett up to Lieutenant and provide him with canteen coupons allowing him to raid the pantry. (The president also served as chief quartermaster and in this capacity had leeway to provide this privilege in extraordinary circumstances.) This, too, upset the taxpayers, who would have preferred not to have had to stop at the store on the way home from work to pick up more Pop Tarts to replace those that were raided with canteen coupons.

Carter’s military was soon subsumed into a theocracy that spontaneously occurred when I opened the front door, and he lost interest.

Karen relates this genesis of the grey dot on Bennett’s forehead to the pediatrician, a veteran of forty years.

The doctor says, ‘That sounds about right.’

artwork: J bradford