Author : Jay Knioum, Featured Writer
He thought he heard crows. When he found the noise, it was just a loose telephone cable blowing against the remains of a wire fence. Crows wouldn’t have survived. Crows built nests, not bomb shelters.
“Ramon? Hey Ray!”
“Yeah. You find anything, Smitty?”
“Not a damn thing. Another fuckin’ goose chase. The Lootenant’s losin’ it, man. Tellin’ you.”
“He says look for survivors, we look.”
Smitty chewed his bottom lip and seethed. “Yeah, Sergeant.”
Ray searched Smitty’s eyes, then slapped him on the helmet. “Ah, fuck it. Nobody and nothin’ around here anyway. Let’s go, man. Get dark soon.”
Smitty grinned. “Hoof it, dude. I wanna get back before Deke, get first dibs on Ziggy before the rest of those fuckers stink her up.”
Ray didn’t say anything to that. He never did. He’d stood up for Ziggy once, after Deke’s squad found her in that parking garage, blind and muttering. She never stopped muttering, even when Ray found Deke on top of her three nights later.
Ray tried to play the white knight then, pulled Deke away and took a rifle butt in the temple for his trouble.
“We ain’t soldiers no more,” the Lieutanant told him that night, “We’re just keeping the kennel, throwin’ scraps into the cages, making sure the dogs don’t get hungry enough to kill us.”
When they got back to camp, Ray saluted the Lieutenant, reported a quiet patrol, then left the boys and Ziggy to themselves. He kept walking.
He picked his way across a cratered parking lot, keeping his weapon handy and sweeping the ruins with practiced attention.
He crept over the low hill of shattered concrete, threaded his way around a forest of exposed rebar and found the school. He figured it had been a school because of the playground and the torched remains of school buses in front of the building, parked in a row, waiting for kids that never boarded.
He made his way around back, to the wall. Her wall, where she always waited for him in the midst of the other shadows, where the light and heat from the blast left imprints on the school wall. Imprints of fire hydrants, and trees, and a swing set, long melted away. Images of children, and their teacher.
Ramon smiled at her. He brought up his hand and brushed a finger gently around the curve of where her neck would have been. “I’m sorry, baby. Sorry it took me so long to get back, but the Lieutenant…”
He trailed off, then pulled something else out of his jacket. “I found this. There was a library, I think it was. There were some shelves in the basement. Looks like a book of poems. I tore out all the burned pages. I can read it to you if you want. I figured it might make you happy, bein’ a teacher and all.”
He looked up at her again. “I sure am glad we found each other. I guess it’s kind of a good thing that all this happened, or else you wouldn’t be here, neither would I.”
She stood there, one with the wall, silent.
Ramon unshouldered his rifle, sat down cross-legged and carefully opened the book. He started to read.
The shadows on the wall listened like no one else.