The Dovecote


Author : Elizabeth L. Brooks

Every morning after the war, Joshua went up to the roof to take care of the dovecote. The chore gave him an excuse to get away from the pounding resentment and fear that throbbed through the living spaces below.

He enjoyed it when they needed some care – when the whitewash on the box was peeling, or it required some attention more than simple feeding. After the war, idle hands were simply inexcusable, and every minute that Joshua spent caring for the ‘cote was a minute he didn’t have to be down in the noisy, cold dark below.

He had taken on the task almost two weeks after the war, when he realized everyone else was afraid: afraid to go out into the ever-light sky above and risk breathing the air; afraid to climb the rickety stairs to the roof of the crumbling building; and most of all — afraid of the dovecote itself.

Joshua had subtly encouraged their fears, afraid in his turn that this precious hour of solitude would be snatched away from him. To them, he was a sort of post-technological shaman, performing odious duties and speaking the magical incantations necessary to keep their cold, dark haven safe. They appreciated what he did, but they didn’t want to come any closer to him — or the dovecote — than they had to.

He had been a little afraid of it at first, himself. The innocuous wooden exterior hid a nightmare tangle of wires and lights, a tangled and blinking nest for the “dove” at its core — a disembodied brain floating in a thick soup of nutrients. But it had not changed for six years, and there was only so much fear a simple brain could engender. He had, in fact, begun to talk to it as if it was still a person.

For six long years, Joshua had climbed the stairs every morning, reveling in the searing light and scorching heat, knowing it would shorten his life, not caring. The dovecote was his escape, his only friend, and he wouldn’t abandon it, even to prolong his life. It wasn’t much worth prolonging, anyhow. Beth had been out shopping when the war happened.

Joshua didn’t understand the war, but in that, at least, he wasn’t alone. Once upon a time, men had fought wars themselves, and had known why: Land, resources, revenge, religion– There was always a cause that those fighting could comprehend. Each advancement in martial technology allowed the fighters to stand a little further apart and to do a little more damage, and the causes had become a little less immediate to the fighters, a little more abstract. This last war had been entirely unpredicted, and had been over in the space of a few heartbeats.

Only those lucky enough to be within the protective radius of a dovecote had been spared. Some days, Joshua thought perhaps the dead were the lucky ones.

Joshua had been talking to the dovecote ever since the war, six years ago. Never before had it answered.


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