Lullabies of an Uncivil War
The last order the captain had given him (more of a request, a plea) was to protect his sister, and make sure that neither of them was caught, that neither of them could be interrogated.
Of course, the well-meaning foreigners have their orders, too: question first, kill later. (It’s the question first part that bothers him; he knows from experience that a person can be forced to say anything. Admit. Divulge. Confess.) And he can already feel the hot exhalations of their hunting hounds on his heels. Hear the snap of their jaws.
* * *
She watches him, this stranger that her brother dumped her with before he, too, had been forced to flee. Her brother was a respected captain in the Army, and he could hide wherever he wished. Any person in any one of the many villages dotting the tatty battle-maps (on their side) would take him in, guard him, keep him safe from the foreign dogs. It would be an honour to have such a houseguest. So why had he insisted that they split up? Why has he left her with this taciturn young man who smells of explosive things waiting to be lit?
(For your protection. It is better this way; if they catch me, they need not catch you, too.)
For my protection, my arse, she thinks, hovering at the kitchen window of their hideout, a dust farmer’s house with a view of the combat zone, watching the black, blade-slim outline of her brother’s favourite soldier standing guard outside in the dark, overgrown garden with his Kalashnikov ready in his hands. She stands to the side of the evening light, pressing against the grime on the panes so that she can hide behind the wall if he should turn suddenly, but the moon pokes its long fingers through all the bullet holes in the walls, crisscrossing the gutted kitchen with thin beams of glowing blue-grey; she swears that he has eyes in the back of his head, and that he can see the spray of moonlit holes blinking when she moves.
She does not want him to think that she is spying on him, does not wish to be his source of amusement.
(‘Why does my brother call you “Spike”?’
‘Because I’m spiky,’ he said, deadpan.)
Amongst this chaos, some form of order must be maintained—even if they are on the losing side, already lost. Spike has been in combat for over three years now; he has pretend-slept with the dead in trenches dug across, into cemeteries (tree roots and bones, long buried in loam, make the same snapping noise when broken with the edge of a shovel).
Several times, when the fighting had quieted and the air buzzed only with flies and ennui, he’d gone home to his mother and father who had not changed, and his old narrow bed with new crates of grenades and other goodies under the mattress, along with the pillowcase full of Tolstoy, Dickens and Balzac stolen from the local library. (Always he had lain awake above his collection of ordnance, listening to the echo of his pulse in his ears, pressing his fingers to his neck and marvelling at the feel of the hot blood beating, when he had come so close to sleep, many times, with shrapnel and slugs whistling past his ears and the earth shaking under him.)
He has acquired a useful skill from the collective experience: it is called ‘survival’. Every professional soldier knows that war is all about not getting killed (toss and turn assured, there are no amateurs in this game). Everything else is just politics, just business.
Now, standing guard outside their latest hidey-hole, in the thickest shadows of the garden, with a cigarette cupped unconsciously in his hand to stop the tiny amber eye of light from giving him away, that last thought—just politics, just business—coats his tongue with bitterness, and he spits into the long black grass. He lets his gaze wander past the wooden table and benches, over the forgotten flowerbeds, unkempt ha-ha, paddocks, cornfields, minefields, to the blue-black mountains beyond, and takes a long pull on the cigarette, listening to the soft crackle of burning paper and tobacco as the smoke’s acrid flavour covers the taste of his memories.
The last time he’d had the pleasure of watching television, a pinstriped politician, flashing perfectly straight, perfectly bleached teeth, had grinned at him from the grainy screen, as the subtitles below spoke of ‘war crimes’ and ‘the deployment of peace-keepers’. Spike had laughed without a hint of mirth, and somebody else had put a bullet in the politician’s head, killing the television.
The peace-keepers arrived as promised, handing out packets of processed food, uniforms and weapons to the wrong side, along with wanted posters of the captain and a few other higher-ups.
The captain had ridden into the war on a growling tank with a megaphone of propaganda flowering from his mouth, and had ridden out on a donkey, his special forces uniform and collection of passports hidden under a shepherd’s rags. (He had always been a good sheep herder.)
He takes another drag on the cigarette, feeling his lungs prickle, and squints through the smokescreen into the bruised night. All is still, and the alarm of old tin cans that he has strung together like a collection of ears down in the ha-ha, which separates the house from the sheepful meadows, is silent—not a tinkle, nor a jingle. No creeping, black-booted feet approaching.
The war has taught him to expect less and welcome more, and he has learnt to keep the constant fear and stress at bay with strict self-discipline, and the careful military maintenance and execution of schedules and routines. And once upon a time, orders. He believes that the captain was a good shepherd, but he also thinks, I am not a sheep.
When you are attacked, do you not defend yourself?
He had joined the swelling wave of khaki-clad men because, well, what other choice did he have? He was barely out of secondary school when the country cracked apart, breaking to bits of neighbour against neighbour, and he was not about to sit around doing bugger all, waiting for his turn to open the front door and greet a familiar face only to find the barrel of a gun shoved between his teeth. His father had understood (history repeats), his mother had accepted (and repeats)—
The back door clicks shut behind him, closing another door in his mind, and he looks over his shoulder to find her walking toward him carefully, as though stepping through a minefield, carrying two cups of steaming tea. Dark eyes in a pale, heart-shaped face blink at him through the moon shadows, and the sweet scent of camomile embraces him. She’s dressed in a World War 2-era uniform from a washed-out country, two sizes too big for her. She looks nothing like the captain.
She hands him one of the cups, and a light brush of fingerpads against fingernails, and then pushes her free hand through her bleached hair, inky at its roots with what his older sister had called ‘regrowth’. (Embargos and sanctions cannot stop the peroxide trade, it seems.)
‘Has “the captain” told you,’ her splayed fingers stab at her hair again, ‘how long we must scurry from hovel to hovel like this?’
He stares down at the glitter of moon and starlight caught in her eyes and after a moment, shakes his head.
‘Doesn’t that,’ she nods at the AK-47 cradled in his arms, ‘get heavy?’
‘Not as such.’ (Your shoulders go sort of numb after a while. Pain comes afterwards.)
‘How much does it weigh?’
‘About three bricks. Without the extra ammo, that is.’
‘Oh. I see.’
He lifts one eyebrow. ‘Would you like to hold it?’
It’s her turn to shake her head.
* * *
A lukewarm breeze caresses his face with the perfume of damp grass, burnt ozone and gunpowder. A staccato of popping noises echoes across the fields from the mountains. Above their jagged tops, the birdshot stars fade as the sky glows red, wounded. The red flares, and there’s a cracking boom, throwing the mountains into deeper silhouette.
‘I’m not scared,’ her flat voice says, next to his left ear.
He keeps his eyes on the man-made aurora borealis, even though it ruins his night-vision. ‘Congratulations.’
She wants to hit him across his bony, unshaven face with the flat of her hand, hear the smack, pound into his flesh and bones with her fists until he reacts with a genuine emotion. Of course, she does neither, because she is uncertain how he would react, because behind the cold dead exterior of his eyes fire lurks. Perhaps one day she will not care so much about reactions.
‘The first time I saw dead bodies,’ she says, watching his Roman profile, ‘I was on the bus, going home from work. There’d been a skirmish, and it had caused a traffic jam. People started complaining, they were going to be late, their dinner would get cold, they said— until the bus driver told us to look through the windows. I looked. The ground was covered in snow, and some of our soldiers were dragging the dead into a line… all just boys— You’re all just boys.’ (He finally looks at her. He turns his head and their gazes meet; she can see the night sky burning in his eyes.) ‘And under the bodies, bright blood was seeping into the white… rubbing out the mess of red bootprints. Most people on the bus looked away. Somebody vomited. I couldn’t sleep for a month afterward. But now, the sight of a corpse is like seeing a tree in a forest.’
There is a river near the front of the house, not a main one, but he thinks that it might hold some fish, since the paint factory squatting upstream has not produced so much as a bucket of whitewash in over three years.
The pin makes a metallic snick as he pulls it out of the hand grenade. He aims, and chucks it underarm, into the river’s waste-coloured depths. The green-painted egg dives into the water with more of a plop than a splash, and sinks from view.
A war-buddy of his, the only other person apart from the captain who knows where they are and where they will skulk to next, is two nights late; which means that they have been stranded for two nights too long in that ruin of a half-built house, surviving off home-brewed plum brandy (and tea), shrivelled crab-apples, and a leg of smoked ham that he’d found preserved in a sack of wheat in the basement—
A huge dome of green-brown water erupts from the middle of the river with a sound like a half-suppressed burp. Rings of shockwaves ripple out to both banks, the grenade-made waves lapping at the thick mud along the river’s edge lick the scuffed black toes of his boots, making them look newly spit-and-polished. He sweeps his stare across the stretch of flotsam-dusted water, imagining flashes of silver like sunlit coins at the bottom of a wishing-well, but no fish float belly-up to the surface. No catch. He realises that the current, however sluggish, will have already carried their spearlike bodies downstream, as it had once carried a corpse, white and bloated like a sodden, yeasty bread loaf, which had burst open when he hit it with a stone. (Amazing how nature can keep washing away all the centuries of human filth and violence.)
* * *
They sit at the mossy wooden table in the garden, toying with their teacups in the twilight, deaf to the artillery fire whining overhead. He strikes a match to life, and lifts it up to the cigarette clamped between his lips, watching the warm flame quiver in the cave of his cupped hands. The mountains cough themselves raw with explosions in the background, spitting aftershocks through the smoggy air, and the kitchen window finally cracks. The tobacco tastes stale. He blows out the match with a stream of smoke through pursed lips, and then lights another cigarette for her with the smouldering end of his, pressing the two tails together. Her eyes close and her cheeks tighten as she sucks on the cigarette; he can see her white skin moulding to the skull underneath.
‘What?’ she says, eyelids snapping up as she exhales a plume of smoke across the table, forcing him to hold his breath.
He strokes the butt of his rifle in the spot where his fingers have already worn off the polish. ‘Pardon?’
She takes another hard suck on the cigarette, splashing a pale amber glow across her fingers and, forming languid, writhing smoke signals with her words says, ‘You want to sleep with me?’
His muscles twitch against his bones, tauten, but he cannot stop the blood from boiling up to his face. He has killed, yes; once, even up close and personal. But “slept” with—fucked? ‘Hardly.’
(It’s bad luck.)
‘You do want to. You need a woman.’ Her scrutinising gaze shifts down to his right hand, clamped hard over the pistol grip, to his left hand, hiding the lower part of his face on the pretence of smoking, and then back up to peer into his eyes. ‘I can see it in your hands, even if your face is a mask.’
He forces one shoulder to shrug, but it jumps and ducks inside the suddenly coarse cotton of his shirt. ‘Maybe you see what you want to see,’ he tells her. ‘Or maybe it’s just your own reflection that you’re reading in my eyes.’
‘Pffffff.’ She taps her cigarette with her index finger, dislodging an inch of ash. ‘Where did you read that, soldier boy?’ Her lips shape the slightest of smiles, infecting her eyes with a glint that makes him think of cats. ‘It would help us both get a decent night’s rest—for a change.’
He smokes the cigarette right down to the filter, taking a long drag on the moment, looking up at the dusky sky, thundering and incandescent with shell lightning. ‘I’m against sleep.’
‘It can be fatal, you see. A friend of mine fell asleep while on watch one night, and somebody carved him a new mouth—nice and wide across his throat.’ Stubbing the cigarette-end out against the side of the tabletop, he mimics the cut of the knife with the side of one bony finger, feeling it slide across the windpipe in his own throat, and adds, almost as an afterthought: ‘And the man who is supposed to provide us with directions and supplies is almost three nights, ah, late. If he doesn’t come by the fourth night, we’ll make our own way from here. You understand?’
Her smile has twisted and frozen into a sort of grimace. ‘God help us,’ she mutters, taking a quick, unconscious puff on her cigarette before discarding it with a flick of forefinger against thumb. ‘God help us all.’
He swallows the sudden urge to spit.
So grave and untouchable, she thinks, studying his scowl and his hunched, narrow shoulders from across the border of the table. It makes her want to touch him. She wants to straddle and sink down onto him, stripping him of all his ‘spiky’ defences until he’s reduced to being merely a man. Or maybe she’s just pining for the warmth of another body pressed against hers, inside hers—and his, all wiry and angular and begging to be softened, is at hand.
No, no. She’s a foolish woman with a foolish saving-people complex. (Once upon a time, she had wanted to be a nurse. Soldiers remind her of old teacups: chips, cracks, and missing handles.)
But what is the point of fixing broken people, only to send them back to the front to be broken again?
Or perhaps she’s just bored?
She doesn’t know, and it matters little, because all of this is beaten out of her head by his low, indifferent voice telling her that their contact is late.
* * *
The alarm alarms: strings of tin cans bang and clank against one another like disturbed cow bells.
He drops to one knee in the weeds and raises his rifle to shoulder height, squinting through the grey pre-dawn air into the ha-ha below, searching the moat of fog and nettles for the slightest rustle of grass blades, movement of mist. His heart beats in his throat and ears, cold sweat breaks out over his upper lip, trigger-finger trembling to squeeze off a few rounds on automatic, swing the shuddering weapon from right to left and turn it into a whistling sickle of lead—
A low growl starts from somewhere in the ha-ha, and turns into a snarl as unseen lips peel back from hungry, rabid teeth. And then an area of nettles on the left begins to rustle. A dark, bristly shape shoots out of the fog, just as he points the rifle in its direction, already spraying the ha-ha with bullets. His ears are stuffed with the welcome noise, the recoiling weapon alive and weightless in his hands, because it was made to feel good when in use.
It ends with a yelp.
The mutt’s body falls into the canal of fog—a German Shepherd crossbred with a mountain bear—the hollow tin cans chime again, and then a heavy shroud of post-battle silence descends over the steely landscape of vapours and greens.
Even the early birds have stopped screeching.
Everything is still, save for his heart, which knocks like a fist against his ribs. He realises that a stupid dog has done this to him, and lets out a quiet hiss of laughter, shouldering the heavy AK-47, and almost doubling over as the wheezing giggles spill from his mouth and his eyes leak.
The back door bangs shut behind him.
Straightening up to his full height again, and wiping his face on the khaki sleeve of his jacket, he throws a glance over his shoulder to find her stumbling across the back garden towards him, wrapping her World War 2 greatcoat around herself like a house robe, her eyes alert, the eyes of prey.
‘It’s funny,’ he tells her, ‘I used to love dogs.’
‘You just shot a dog? A dog? Are you mad?’
He gives her a stiff nod, unsurprised that someone like her would object.
‘Someone like me? Someone like me? Oh, that’s rich.’
(Apparently, she’s a witch, because she can read minds.)
Her dark eyebrows lift on her forehead. ‘I can hear, too—you’re speaking aloud. What are you, shell-shocked or something? Get a grip! You made a fuss and all that noise because of a dog. You’re nothing more than a peasant in uniform! Why don’t you just put up a big sign telling everybody where we’re holed up—’
The surrounding mountains distort noises, making it difficult to judge where gunfire, et cetera, originates from, by bouncing and scattering the sound waves off the walls of gunmetal rock, the cliffsides. Also, the mist muffles.
She gazes up at him for a few seconds with her mouth slightly open, and then sneers, ‘Oh, good.’
He looks away from her, up at the splayed fingers of sunlight stabbing up through the reddish clouds, which have rubbed out the mountaintops, and murmurs, ‘Red in the morning, sailor’s warning… Good thing I’m not at sea.’
‘It isn’t red; it’s pink.’
‘Pink is just watered-down red,’ he says, snapping his hard gaze back to hers.
‘You see blood in everything.’
‘You heard me. Pack the ham and the brandy. I’ll wait here.’
‘But the sun is rising.’
‘Really? Fog is the best cover. And we’ll use the cornfields.’
‘And then? What happens then?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Unfortunately, I’m not a fortune teller.’
‘Oh, what’s the point… ?’
The fight leaves her—he actually sees it leave her body like a last sigh, her head bowing, shoulders sagging, spine hunching. Weeds part around her as she sinks to her knees, hands limp in her lap, and sobs bubble from her lips.
Her coat gapes at the front, and liquid warmth melts his insides at the sight of her shadowed cleavage, and the unbidden thought of sinking his nose into that dark crack and breathing her in. Sweat and old, flowery perfume. He frowns, shaking his head unconsciously as if to clear it, but the image persists so he fiddles with the rifle hanging from his shoulder, taking his time to flip the fire-catch back up to the ‘locked’ position. (He can no longer count on the fingers of his hands the number of people who have killed themselves because it slipped their minds that weapons are not toys.)
She blinks up at him, making a pathetic sound, a hopeless whimper.
‘What?’ he spits, lowering himself awkwardly to his knees, because of the semi-hardness in his thankfully baggy fatigues. He lets the AK-47’s worn leather strap slide down from his shoulder to his elbow and drops the rifle into the slick grass. ‘Well?’
‘What’s the point?’ she asks again, her glimmering grey eyes searching his for the answer. ‘What sort of fucking life is this?’
He flicks up an eyebrow. ‘It’s the sort of life…’
That brutal hot sensation grips him again, threatening to tighten its hold even more and crack his composure, the armour of ice that he always wears, as though it’s no stronger than a peanut shell.
(He has been secretly afraid of this armour, wondering whether it would ever melt off, sometimes imaging that it had grown into his skin and become a physical part of him. So it takes him a few seconds to realise why he feels so calm, so relieved.)
Drawing a slow breath through his nose, he starts afresh: ‘It’s the sort of life that I’d always imagined as fiction, you know, before the war. Old folks’ stories whispered behind locked doors, bitter reminders of battles past, battles lost, vendettas all—which is what got us here. Only, unlike all the adventure stories I read as a kid, there are no great heroes, no villains, certainly no glory, and it’s all useless. Because it will end, it has to end, and then everything will settle down, go back to normal—whatever that is—and the world will move on and forget us. It will stumble in its haste to forget, which is why this is all for nothing. Useless. Bound to happen again, you see?’ When she says nothing, he lets his lip curl and adds, ‘Is that what you wanted to hear? Or would you prefer a safe and sound bedtime story?’
Her eyelids lower, long lashes black and straight and wet. He notices for the first time the almost metallic blue-grey stains in the skin under her closed eyes, like finger-painted smears of war paint or camouflage. But he isn’t sure which.
She sniffs, nostrils flaring, and in a quiet voice says, ‘I’m so tired. Let’s just stay. Let’s just stay here.’
‘Everyone is tired.’
With her eyes still closed, she leans closer to rest her chin on his shoulder; and he lets her. For a minute, he is quite still. He could be a garden statue, kneeling with her in the shallow sea of fog and weeds, his soldier’s uniform nothing but moss and lichen. All of his body’s faculties for sensation have focused on the point where the upturned collar of his fatigue jacket rubs against his jaw and chin, held there by the side of her face and her hair, which tickles. He lifts his right hand and weaves his fingers through its bleached, unwashed thickness, and slides them over her hot nape, pulling her head against his chest. And in his mind, he hears the sound of thin ice cracking.
‘You don’t care,’ she says. The muffled words seep heat into his shoulder, through the layers of clothing, even though they chill him. ‘You’re just following orders.’
He shoves her off, picks up his AK-47 as he gets to his feet, and marches back to the house to pack. The pockmarked redbrick walls are saturated with blushing sun.
* * *
Pearly white sky—the same colour as the fog so that it looks as though it’s fallen, she thinks. They wade through it in single file on their hands and knees, elbows and knees, under the cover provided by the tangles of wet and sticky corn leaves. The rucksack on her back weighs her down with the rations pilfered from the house. She yelps when the first rotted corn cob stabs into her left kneecap, and then grits her teeth and winces, and then merely winces onwards, yelping only in her head. The flats of her hands are henna-red with imprints of foliage. Her fingernails are inked with dirt. The sun is starting to burn holes through the mist. A grey hare rushes across their straight, narrow path, darting between the surrounding rows of tall cornstalks.
Spike’s left hand gropes for the rifle slung across his back. And then his arm relaxes, the backs of his shoulders relax, and he sniggers relief through his teeth.
She can hear the bent flaps of dead leaves rubbing whispers against the hare’s furry body as it thrusts through the next row of corn and the next, and for a moment, feels her heart trembling behind her breastbone. She now knows what it is like to be hunted, too. To be prey. The thought of eating rabbit stew, an old favourite, turns her stomach; as she swallows down the rising bile, Spike looks over his shoulder, reminding her of a tiger she’d once locked stares with at the city zoo, and asks her if she’s feeling well.
She flicks her tongue across her parched lips, and murmurs, ‘Thirsty.’
One side of his mouth twists up in amusement, and she knows why, even before he says, ‘How about some water this time round, eh?’
(She has been sipping plum brandy, in preference of the tablet-purified water in his canteens—he has three—and is already half-drunk. The inside of her mouth is damp with a tincture of saliva and alcohol, and she’s breathing out fiery dragon-fumes through her nose.)
He takes her silence as a ‘yes’. His spine cracks as he twists back to face her and, standing on his knees, pulls open his fatigue jacket to unhook one of the canteens from the thick olive-drab canvas belt wrapped around his thin hips; some of the belt’s O-rings, from which hang a bunch of grenades, are rusted. Wiping his face with the back of his hand, and leaving a smear of dirt across his Roman nose, he unscrews the canteen’s cap and tilts his head back to take a pull. She watches his Adam’s apple bobbing in his pale throat, and licks her lips again. He hands her the canteen, and she tastes the slippery wetness from his mouth on the aluminium lip before the chemically treated water coats her teeth and tongue with chalk. The hot churning in her guts rises and falls again, but the water feels cool in her stomach and she takes another drink, deeper this time.
‘We’ll have a break,’ he says, sweeping his gaze up and down the endless strip of ground between the tall walls of foliage, which to her seem to be leaning in closer than before, surrounding them. ‘Are you hungry?’
‘No.’ Her throat clicks in her ears as she swallows. ‘But I want to thank you.’
His eyes light up with satisfaction. ‘What for? I’m just following orders, remember?’
‘I’m sorry about before. You’ve been very good to me.’
He squints. ‘Have I now?’
‘I’ve just said so, haven’t I?’
‘Wash your hands with some of the water, if you like,’ he says, resting his weapon against one of the green stalks. ‘And hand me that rucksack. I’m hungry.’
He fingers the extra magazines of ammunition in the four pockets of his jacket, and then starts to shuck it off. ‘Then we’ll stop and rest for a bit. Maybe wait quietly for nightfall.’
‘That’s hours away.’ She pulls off the rucksack by its shoulder straps, and passes it to him.
‘Well, pretend to sleep, and the time will pass faster.’
They share some of the rations, washing them down with more brandy because, well, why the hell not? And they sit side-by-side, arms and thighs touching through their clothes, backs against the ribbed cornstalks, on the tiny scrap of ground-sheet that also serves as his jacket. She watches the gentle rise and fall of his chest for a few minutes, her own breathing heavy with alcohol and sodden air, and lets her head loll sideways against his shoulder.
‘What are you doing?’
‘Pretending to sleep.’
Her tongue feels too thick. She tilts her head back with effort, to gaze up into the blur of his eyes, and presses her lips to his instead. The first thing she thinks is: dry—and the word fountains up through her mind as he prises her lips apart with his, and dry kisses her without tongue, but deeper with each smack of their mouths, as if he’s biting into her. A sharp, skin-heated odour wafts up from under his shirt as she pushes her hand into a slit between the buttons. Dirty. Chest, bony. Sparse sprinkle of hairs under her damp fingers, which slip back out of the shirt and snake down to press against the spot that will have the most impact—
His cheek rasps against hers, his breath is hot and uneven against her ear. ‘What—are, ah, you—doing?’
‘Isn’t it obvious?’
He shakes his head, jaw set, lips tight, and knocks her hand away. ‘You wouldn’t like me.’
He snorts. ‘Oh, yes. I once raped a hundred women, all in one day.’
‘Impressive, Don Juan. I don’t have to like you to have sex with you.’
His pitiless eyes, blazing with a mixture of emotions that she cannot freeze to examine, rest on hers. A blue vein flickers on the side of his shiny temple. ‘The foreigners are supposedly oversexed. Mount one of them.’
This has never happened to her before; the experience is sobering.
She lifts her open hand to strike him, but he catches her wrist, and kisses her. A violent kiss, full of teeth. Repulsive. She straddles his crossed legs, his hips, rubbing against the hardness in his trousers to the creak and sway of the cornstalks behind his head as her tongue fights his. She’s burning up with desire and dislike, but she’s too drunk to make anything of it, so she stops moving and simply rests her chin on his shoulder. When he lets go of her wrist, she slides off, de-boned, and sinks into sleep with her head pillowed in his lap. (And dreams that they’re fucking.)
She’s the type, he thinks, who takes because she can, and then throws it away when she gets bored, or when she’s broken it.
(When she wakes up, she will no doubt pretend that she did not throw herself at him. Or—the horror—she may actually want him even then.)
He closes his stinging eyes and smiles because, either way, he wins.
Her weight is uncomfortable at first. Then numbing. Warm. The cornfield whispers around him, as a cool breeze caresses his face and neck, as he hums fragments of a lullaby in his head.
He never remembers his dreams. (He considers this a small mercy.)
CS Eric's first short story, "I, the Beast," was published in Ripples magazine. When not finishing off her novel or penning poetry and short stories, she spends a questionable amount of time online, devours books, and can be found at a certain bookshop famous for its coffee and comfortable chairs, working. She lives in Australia with her husband and a few fictional friends, all of whom wear black.
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