Charred Earth

I was a child when I went to school in a building.

Six. My brother, Jake, was ten
just learning science and
long division. I knew how to
read and multiply.

That was the night I knew why Spot ran away.

The crash through the front door
jarred me awake just as Jake
opened my door
carrying the crossbow Santa brought.

He was the best big brother ever in a million years!

“Shh!” his finger to his mouth as he
slid open the wall above my toy box
just as Mommy had taught us.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered.

Those were the last words he spoke before the bullet.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t cry as I
heard my mother screaming
“They’re not here!”
And I stayed for hours
until they left. The soldiers.

Men in crazy hats waved tattered flags seeking the disobedient.

I stayed until I knew
they were gone, and not asleep
in my mother’s bed…
until long after the toilet flushed.

I stayed until the coyotes came close, and there were no more Cheerios.

Strange finding the town so empty
when I rode my bike to the store –
the door wide open and lights still on.
I stole some Velveeta and crackers.

Alone, twenty years in a town of ghosts has no advantage.

I was at least ten years old
before all the food was gone
from all the houses,
and I had to catch little things.

“Stay small and stay alive,” were my mother’s words.

I lived in each of them
from time to time,
eating what they had
sleeping on their beds.

Changing my clothes and catching water from the rain.

So many dead mommies
and dead daddies
still in their beds;
but no children.

They took the children, but they never found me!

I heard about the fires
and the riots and protests
on a radio left playing next door.
And saw the flames nearby.

The wind blew it the other way for me.

Finally, today, I found it
buried in the rubble of my old house
beneath some sand
and my brother’s bones.

His crossbow. I could learn to hunt.

I could hunt soldiers
in crazy hats
waving tattered flags.

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