Thursday, May 10, 2018

Betty the Beauty

Ten years and two warrants ago I seen her outside Harry-O's, lean't against her hog, one cowboy boot cross d'other, cracked chaps and a oily halter top what hardly halted a avalanche of chest and belly. She had just launched a snot rocket when she turned her head and ate me up and down with them eight ball eyes. Smiled a picket fence. She dug a hand-to-skin scratch deep into her backside... sniffed it... then belched Marlboro's and malt liquor and croaked, "Hey big boy - you wanna ride Betty?"

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Screaming Heebee Jeebees

I spent the night in Iraq. Woke up screaming. Sometimes I'm scared I'll never meet another partner to wake me and hold me.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Passing Grade

Mike, you took this class, right?

Yeah...ten years ago. What's up?

Game theory stuff, the compellence game, a form of the ultimatum game. Check out the math.

Shiiiiiiit. That looks like a complicated formula.

Well, what's the secret?

Tell you the truth, I didn't retain anything from that class. I didn't even study.

How'd you pass it? This class is kicking my ass.

Well, I went, I traveled out of town this one weekend, a couple hours away. Went to this restaurant and caught the professor having an intimate dinner with somebody other than his wife.

So what are you saying?

Catch the professor with a dick in somebody other than his wife. That's how I passed.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Opportunity to Criticize

"I don't like most of your stories. The men are so pitiful in them."

"All men I've known have been pitiful, occasionally heroic, sometimes noble, but all pitiful."

"But not all men are pitiful. I think you are just projecting how you see yourself on them, in your characters. You should write more protagonists like in the Coen Brothers' Letters story. That was a fun character!" 

"Yes, but he's so despicable."

"Despicable is better than pitiful."


"And I don't like the women in your stories, either. They are goddesses or whores. Where is the in-between?"

"Is there anything you do like about my stories?"

"Hm...what I really like about your stories is the opportunity it creates for me to criticize you."


"That sounds so bad. I mean, I enjoy the opportunity to provide you feedback."

"No, just a second...I'm going to write that down...'the creates...for me to...criticize you.'"

"That's not what I - that's not what I meant. You make it sound so bad."

"It's always easier to offer opinions on changing something than to create something from scratch."


"Don't worry, babe. When I write about you, you're always a cynosure."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I always give you the last word."


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Death Blossom Barbarians

Out in the desert. Loaded for bad guys. Real group of hard core confirmed killers. Blood and guts and ask for seconds. Death Blossom Barbarians. JDAM Damnations.

Dismounted patrol.

And LCpl Smitty B, he jumps off the path like he barefooted an ember. "Oh fuck." He looks down amid the sand and gravel. They gather all around. It's a kangaroo mouse. Cute little critter. Except its eyes are popped out of a slightly lop-sided skull. Little guy starts convulsing in the dust.

"Whadda we do?"

"Shoot it."

"Don't shoot it, we don't want people knowing we're here."

"Put it out of its misery."

"Finish him!"

"Who's gonna do it?"

"Smitty stepped on it, he should take care of it."

"Aw, man." Smitty looks at it. Like a goldfish on the carpet, all eyes googlie and every direction staring and thrashing around. And Smitty looks maybe like he's working himself up to it, finding the fortitude to finish what was started. "I can't, I can't." Smitty, who smoked a couple of 12 year olds in Helmand with a 'Watch this'. Smitty, who shotgun slayed a woman what surprised him while she hid in the corner of a mud hut. "I can't, I can't."

"I'll do it." Sgt Reys. RTO POG. Grabs a rock. Tells Smitty to step aside. Everybody watches. Reys kneels, brings the rock down hard. The gravel and sand diffuse the blow. Only smooshed the poor bloodied bugger into a rock shaped dimple in the path. Reys hits it again. Little guy is still twitching. He hits it again. And again. And that poor creature just gets mangled more. Won't stop living. Won't finish dying. And Reys keeps saying, "Die, little fucker. Just die!" But the little fucker don't. And Reys can't see it anymore, the shatter battered flipping thing, coz of the tears.

And Reys looks up, sees the squad, faces all snotted and teary mirrors of his own. These hard core killers. Out in the desert. Loaded for bad guys. Blood and guts and ask for seconds. Death Blossom Barbarians. JDAM Damnations.

"Use your knife."


The Black Wolf

Six, six, six years old, and mother is gone, left us, left me and dad and sister, and we're staying at my uncle's house, and I'm sleeping in his den, on the fold out bed, the den collected with African masks and severed trophy heads from Safari and the Peace Corps, all different and dark in the dim of the den where I sleep, without my mother, sleep on a thin mattress over a metal fold out frame, try to sleep without a goodnight kiss and listen to my father's muffled crying creeping down the hardwood floored hall, echoing the soft sobs in my six, six year, six year old ears and I drift away sleeping to awake, wake, up to the sounds of the slurping, sloppy chops licking, crunching carnivore sounds reaching my ears, rise from the thin mattress to the hardly lit hall with the light sconched on the far wall, pitter patter bare foot to the open door on the left where my father cries my nightly lullaby, come to the door and stand in the frame, and there it is, this thing, this creature, and he stands upon two legs, black furred and white eyes that shine like flashlights, this upright walking horror of a midnight wolf, eating my father's brains from an open skull, licking the grey matter from his elongated canines, and turning, slow pain slow turning, shines his bright whites into me, and I puddle the hardwood and wake, wake for reality, to find myself stinking and sticky and wet in my own pool, and cry, and my father comes rushing from bed to hold me, and we both cry, cry for my mother gone, for my father's nightmare death, for the wolf, the wolf that would wait for me to sleep, for the rest of my life, through divorce and war and death and happiness, always there, always to remind me, always to steal a moment and ensure a sweated panic...

Monday, October 17, 2016


“Where do the rockets go?” That’s what Ana often asked me.

Dim stars hang hazed, the night world veiled in high ice. Little cirrus halos for all the distant suns. Blue and yellow specks of bright, too far to give warmth.

The watch says 21:38. I don’t know how long the girl’s been crying. A fair bit now. She’s been crying for Mama, crying for fear, crying to stay here. She’s been crying through stages. First it was shrieking at the sight of it all. Then she cried pleading for me to fix it. After that was the rapid panic shudders, the kind of crying where you can’t corral your breath, the kind of crying where you know you gotta accept the reality laid before you. Now she’s in the roiling sobs. I guess I’m waiting for the girl to settle into simmering whimpers.

I got her cradled with my mangled arm, keeping her face in my neck. It’s all snotted and wet, my neck, from her crying into me. She’s tucked into my jacket, legs curled against my chest. A baby belly. Though she ain’t a baby anymore. I think her eyes are closed.

I’ve been crying a fair deal myself. I know we don’t got time for it, but I’ve been crying.
I know we gotta keep moving, but I’m stuck struck here. Sitting with a baby on my belly, letting her cry, letting myself cry. Frost feathered grass is numbing my backside, making the seat of my pants wet, making my ass feel like thawing meat. I gotta move soon or we’ll never move.

OK, I’m thinking, we’re not done crying, but we’re done crying for now. Time to get up, get moving. I plant my good arm and push us up, start walking for the pines, leave Ana pale white and black blooded in the moonless meadow.

I walk. The girl sleeps.

“What if it’s true?” Ana the Curious.

“What if it’s a trick, a trap?”

“What if it isn’t?”

“It doesn’t make sense. Everybody else goes south, or to the Gulf, or along the coast. Why go where the rockets go?”

“Because I believe them. Their message is hope. We need hope.”

“…I know… You tell me, I’ll follow you.”

“Good. That’s why I chose you.”

“Alright, how do we get there?”

“I think we can drive to within 30 kilometers or so.”

“Twenty kilometers is better. I know a park where we can leave your car.”

“Mm-mm. Too close, too risky.” Ana the Cautious.

“Thirty kilometers is a long way to carry the baby.”

“She’s not a baby anymore. She can walk a lot of the way, and we can take turns carrying her.”

The smell of pine needles is dulled in the chill. There’s gaps of fuzzy indigo sky between the trees. The iced air is osmotic, incessant and insistent, pushing through. Every step my socks wick cold wet from the ground through my meager soles. Toes are frozen distant digits, barely my own. My skin feels thin. I shrug shoulders forward, turtle down into the jacket Ana altered for the trip. Ana the Crafty.

The girl curls heavy on my belly in the jacket Ana altered. The girl's sleep is warm, but there’s a grimaced trauma painted anxious on her face. I alternate arms, holding her up. Trudge through the trees. Pause to check the contraband compass taped to my wrist, the contraband compass with green glowing embers. Pointing us forward. Closer to the fence, if there is a fence. Closer to the fence and farther from Ana.

That flash of fleeting thought, thinking about Ana, it flies away and I screech out a sharp anguish. Whiplash twist turn my head all about. Eyes open, ears open, like a crippled bird in a forest of foxes. Are they still following? I smear my tears away with a mittened hand. I gotta keep walking.

I walk, and I think about my face, imagine a warm year’s beard. I miss my beard. I miss being allowed to have a beard, having the autonomy to grow my hair and wear it the way I wanted. I miss all the things from the old life, before the War. Before the Collapse. Before the Long Winter, and the Flu. Before rules and martial law, before Severe Consequences. Before Voice. I miss when there was no Voice, nobody dictating every thing and all things. I even miss the times when people would say ‘before the War’, when everything that was happening was so new that people would use the term ‘before the War’. And I think about that, about the transition when people stopped saying ‘before the War’ and started saying ‘after the War.’ Probably was after the death of hope.

And I walk. I walk and think.

When I was young, when I was younger, when it was still allowed, I would engage in debates. Blind share ideologies with other students, instructors. That was after the War started, but when people would still say 'before the War'. I would talk about rights and wrongs, dance that grey area between with rationales. People could still do that then, talk about such things. Somewhere between 'before the War' and 'after the War' was when such talk turned bad for your health. There was this thin moment where such talk was a lecture and a fine from the Morality Police. And then there came all the time after that, where Severe Consequences followed. All the time after that, where Voice told you what to think and what to wear and how to cut your hair. But before Voice, before Severe Consequences, I talked.

And one day Ana stopped by our little group and listened. Ana the Curious. Beautiful in a way I could never capture with a picture. Beautiful in movement, beautiful in moment, beautiful in thought.
And after Voice, after Severe Consequences, Ana the Confidant. Secret starlit talks in her car, whispering about all and everything, laughs and sex and caresses and hopes. Ana's small little car, awkward to fuck in. Always smelling of stale smoke and semen. Our little sanctuary of physical and philosophical exploration.

"Where do the rockets go?" That's what Ana often asked me, when we'd hold hands between passion sessions, when we'd watch the rockets.

I knew what Voice said. Voice said the rockets were fired at the enemy, to attack the enemy's cities, to keep the enemy away from the border, to keep the people safe. Twice a week, sometimes three times, Voice would launch a rocket. Mondays, Wednesdays, and random Saturdays. And if the night was clear Ana and I would drive into the mountains, watch a rocket climb a stacking column, bright and sinister in the dark skies. Watch it carve a burning scar slow and away into the vaults of heaven and curve down and beyond sight. The rockets always went north.

"I don't believe Voice." That's what Ana often said, defiant and disgusted, whenever I regurgitated Voice's message. And Ana would wonder if anybody lived in the north and what life was like with rockets falling and if the north was full of evil men or empty and barren like so much of our world had become. And Ana would talk about escape. Our escape. Ana the Conspirator. Ana, endless faith in a 'one day'. Endless faith in an after, an 'after the War', never seeming to doubt an 'after the War'. And I would kiss her to shut her up.

The watch says 00:24. Twelve more kilometers? Ten? Ana said sunrise was around six thirty. Surely I can make two kilometers an hour, even through the trees, even if I carry the girl the whole way. My left arm throbs. It's like a metronome of pain, marching me forward. Toward the fence. If there is a fence. If there is a border.

I grope a sandwich out of a hidden pocket. Cheese. Where did Ana find cheese? Ana the Clever. I can't recall the last time I saw a cow, or even a goat. Before my folks died?
The girl turns in the warm womb of my jacket. I'll save the rest of the sandwich for her. I don't think she's ever had cheese.

"I have a surprise! We're going out tonight." Ana the Conniving. I suspected she had something she shouldn't, some secret contraband. Maybe cigarettes or alcohol.

We met in the parking lot of the old church, where the grass grew between faded yellow lines, where the grass grew widening cracks in the asphalt. The church that was turned into a hospice, with the big adjoining field full of Flu graves. Where my folks were buried.

And we went off into the mountains. Was it a Saturday? She drove us high up onto a saddle that opened up to the north, a different place than our regular rocket watching spot. I was sweating she'd kill the car's battery, the climb up was so steep. And when we got there she climbed on me and we made love and I forgot about the surprise until she rolled away and straightened her skirt and conjured something from her pack. A breadboard radio.

"How'd you get this?"

"I made it!" Her face was proud bright. She plugged it into the dashboard and handed me an ear piece. I was so nervous in the belly, squinting to see into the darkness beyond the windshield, searching for prying spying eyes. "Don't worry, nobody else is here." She turned a dial. "Can you hear?" She kept tuning until I heard something, something Voice never allowed on the Voice approved single frequency radios. I heard music. And I grinned my idiot grin and she kissed me and pulled back to look at me and her face glowed orange and we turned to watch a Saturday rocket fire and smoke into the high clouds.

We took turns listening to music, listening to people speaking in words we couldn't understand. She smiled and I smiled and we laughed and I loved her. Ana the Clever. We stayed up and listened with the car's heater on, warming and warmed, until the battery died. And then we watched the sun rise and laid out the charging panel and slept in the grass and flowers, waiting for enough power to reach the road and roll down, down, down into town.

"If we carry packs or wear heavy clothes it'll give us away."

"I'll sew raggedy old clothes inside our pants and jackets, so they'll be warmer. And I'll sew hidden pockets, too, so we can carry extra food and water." Ana the Crafty. Ana the Crafter.

"OK. But the distance. Thirty kilometers is too far away. We can't make that in a single night. Not through the trees, in the dark. We'll get lost and starve, or worse."

"We'll practice. We'll go up into the hills and practice. We'll go to a different place each time, so it won't be familiar." Ana the Cunning.

"We need a compass."

"We'll find a compass."


"You worry too much."

"I think that's a good thing."

One early morning, not long after Ana shared the secret radio, a visitor pounded my doorway. It was Ana's Uncle Matthew, eclipsing the sunrise. Uncle Matthew, in uniform. It made my guts seize cold knots.

"You can trust my Uncle Matthew." Ana often told me. I told her you can't trust anybody in the Morality Police.

Matthew asked to come in. We sat at the kitchen table. Matthew asked for water and dropped a manila packet between us. He asked if the saw mill would bring me back on in the Fall. Then he hurried to his point.

"That's your approved marriage request, plus medical records." He pointed to the packet. "You gotta marry Ana. Tomorrow."


Matthew stood and adjusted his gun belt with both hands. "You know the law. You have to marry her, and tomorrow. In the morning you'll both go to the courthouse. You'll look for Justice Averson. If he's there, you'll ask to be married. Don't go too early. If he ain't there, come back later in the day. Whatever you do, don't let Justice Chun marry you. She ain't...understanding. Questions?"

"What does Justice Averson look like?"

"Blacker than you. Fat. Real fat." Matthew walked out, leaving me and the glass of water untouched, yellow and brown and sweat beaded.

I carry the girl, and I walk. I believe I gotta believe we'll make it. I didn't believe in a god when I was allowed to believe in a god. I didn't pray when I was allowed to pray. I hoped, but I only ever felt I truly hoped when I was with Ana. And now Ana is several hours behind us.

Is the air cold enough to get frostbite? I suppose any temperature below freezing will do the job. I can feel the girl's feet have slipped out from under my jacket, feel her swaddled shoes kicking against my thigh. I stop walking, tuck her back into the jacket, tuck the jacket into my pants and hitch my belt tighter. The girl whimpers, her hair sweaty matted against my chest, her head sweating through my shirt. I coo to her, take a bearing from the compass. The watch says 01:54. I walk through the cold and dark and watch the stars between the branches. Gotta keep a straight line as best I can. I walk.

I wish I had my old beer gut, the one I grew the last summer we had beer. That was before the hops and barley and most of the other crops stopped growing. That was before Voice outlawed beer, with Severe Consequences. Voice outlawed cigarettes, too, even though tobacco still grew. Voice outlawed beer, and I lost my gut. That was seven or eight belt holes ago. Is it properly called a 'belt hole' or something else? I don't know. Ana would know. Ana would have known. I gotta think about any inanity that keeps me from thinking on Ana. Ana the Clever.

I walk.

Last year, when the saw mill was open for autumn cording, I was feeding this log into the blade. The log bucked hard, crash crushed my arm into a compound ruin. The trunk had been spiked. The mill boss docked my wage for the day and drove me home, dropped me off at my folk's house. My house. Our house. Ana came running out and walked me in.

"Mama says it's easier to be brave when you have to be brave for somebody else." That's what the girl said, when Ana was bandaging me up. "Put on a brave face, Papa. Like me. I'm being brave for you."

"I don't know if that will set it right, but it's better than nothing." Ana the Caregiver. Ana had cleaned my arm, splinted it, wrapped it in rags ripped from her skirt. I loved that skirt. Her secret radio skirt.

"It'll do fine." The arm was a gruesome mess. I had genuine concern it would get infected, that I could lose it.

"The mill will let you back after you heal up, right?" Ana the Concerned.

"Yes, I'm sure." I lied. I lied to her, and we both knew it. And Ana smiled thin lipped and brow wrinkled and told me to watch the girl and left in her car.

That night, while I winced in the candlelight, Ana came back. She opened a lumped envelope and took out a pill, placed it in my mouth. "It's from Uncle Matthew." Antibiotics.

God bless Uncle Matthew, I had thought, in a non-religious way. We didn't know it then, but it was one of the last kindnesses Uncle Matthew ever did for us.

The trees have been dense for a ways now, hard to see the ground or sky, hard to see rocks jumping up to trip me. I think I've been walking the wrong way, more west than north. It's got me anxious. My heart is beating against my ribs. Please don't mess this up. Get yourself together. Disciplined thinking. Disciplined moving. The watch says 03:13. Ana.

I walk.

"I don't trust fat people." I said that to her, the night before we were married.

Ana was sitting next to the candle, patching together a quilt, put it down in her lap to look at me.

"What? Who don't you trust?"

"Fat people. I don't trust them. Look at everybody. Everybody's starving. We're starving. A fat person in the midst of a famine ain't a good person. Think about what somebody does, or the power somebody must have over people to be fat when all is barren, when everybody else is hungry."

"People do what they do. It's survival."

"That's not the same. There's survival, and then there's taking advantage of people. Where does Justice Averson get those extra calories? We both know the answer."

"There's other ways. Clever people can find food without hurting other folks, or taking advantage of them." Ana was clever.

"Really? In ways that don't harm other folks?"

"What if you found a place, a place where there was lots of food, more than Voice gives us. If you told everybody in town about this place the food would be gone in a few days. But if you kept it secret you could have enough food for us, for a long time. You have to think about us, first."

"Everybody is starving. The whole town. If I found a food cache, I'd have to tell everybody. Even if it only fed us all for a few days. It's only right."

"Now you sound like Voice. We still have to think about ourselves before others. That is survival. What good are we to others if we can't take care of ourselves? We have to think about a future. You have to think about a future. You have to think about us, about tomorrow. Not just today." Ana picked the quilt back up, bore smoldering eyes into my head. "Do you know why Uncle Matthew is making us get married?"

"Because he's Morality Police and he knows we're fucking." Ana screwed up her nose when I said that.

"No, jerk." And then she told me. She told me and it rang in my ears, echoed in me.

" did you get enough calories? How are you going to get enough calories?"

"Think about it, smart guy." Ana tossed the quilt on the table and snatched her coat. "I'll pick you up in the church parking lot at 9 o'clock." She walked out, left the door open. Ana the Complicated.

I sat there for a time, watching the candle crawl down its wick, watching it collect moths. I watched the moths spin and twirl and brush the flame, wings thrumming faint. I watched until the flame was sputtering in a pool of wax, got up, closed the door, and slept for the last time as an unmarried man.

The watch says 04:47. Five more kilometers? Three? I don't know. Ana is eight or nine hours behind us. Maybe more. I don't remember what time it was when she fell. I don't remember what time it was when I left her. I remember I checked the watch, but I just don't remember the time. I just remember the girl and I sat there and watched her for some while. And then we left.

I gotta sit down. My arms are numb from holding the girl. She's still oblivious of the trek, sleeping warm against me, the only warmth in my body. I look at my mittens, crusted stiff with frozen blood from Ana and frozen grief from me crying about it.

I stand back up, tramp my feet, will feeling into them. Two layers of socks aren't enough. Maybe I should sit back down. Just a little rest, then we'll be on our way to the fence. If there is a fence.

I walk.

"Here we are."

"Is this where we're gonna have a midnight picnic?"

"Yes it is. Let's help Papa find the perfect picnic spot."

"Ana... we can get closer. Think how much time we'll save. Ten more minutes of driving can save us three or four hours."

"I like driving better than walking, Mama."



"Come on. Let's drive closer."

"Yeah Mama. Closer!"


Uncle Matthew had always helped Ana. He helped Ana before her father died. He helped Ana after her father died. After Ana's father died from the flu. That was in the Long Winter, when my folks had died, too. When most everybody had died.

And Uncle Matthew had a secrete cache, a stash of contraband and food and medicine. Uncle Matthew shared the secret cache with Ana.

I never noticed. I never noticed till Ana told me, never noticed how healthy she was because her body was the only bare female form I had ever seen. Ana was my first and only.

Uncle Matthew had helped Ana every step. Uncle Matthew was the one that told Ana about Freedom Radio. Told her after the girl's third birthday. Uncle Matthew helped Ana plan an escape. Helped us plan an escape. Uncle Matthew helped Ana gather supplies.

"We have to think about our own survival." That's what Ana often said to me. And as the girl grew, I came to know the truth in that. Ana the Calculating.

Ana said she chose me because I never got the flu. Even Ana got sick, back in the Long Winter, back when her father and my folks and most everybody died. Ana chose me, and Uncle Matthew helped. Every step of the way. And Uncle Matthew helped the girl. The girl grew up strong, with extra calories and medicine.

Because of Uncle Matthew.

And a few months ago Uncle Matthew came and told us, told us the food was near gone. Told us the time was close. Told us to get ready. He helped us plan.

And then Uncle Matthew was arrested.

And then we fled.

"This is too close. We shouldn't have risked it." Ana the Cautious.

"It's fine, we'll be fine. Besides, it's too late now. Let's go."

"Let's go, Mama."

"Let's go have a midnight picnic."

"...ok..." Ana the Concerned.

The sky is softening, stars in the east dissolving and swallowed into a paler brighter blue. The cold is driving nails into my knuckles. The cold clacks my teeth rapid staccato. I shake. I'm shaking.

I think we're close. The girl worms and turns inside the jacket. "Stay sleeping."

I walk. I want to eat the rest of the cheese sandwich. I want to save the rest of the sandwich for her.

We had just climbed the hill when Ana looked back. "Headlights."

The dual lamps, cones of yellow light in the night illuminating Ana's car. Stopping. Then a spotlight stabbing out deep into the darkness. We stood still as alert deer.

"Who is that?" The girl soft spoke.

"They can't see us from so far away."

We couldn't see them, either. But we could see the lights on Ana's car, the spotlight sweeping slow. And then we heard the voices, small and indistinct. And then we heard the dogs. And Ana picked up the girl. And we ran.

" War. Approach the border on foot. Look for gaps in the fence. We have food, shelter, and medicine. We will welcome you. You are not our enemy. Voice is not your friend. This message repeats... This is Freedom Radio, broadcasting from the north. In the north, there is no War. Approach the border on foot. Look for gaps in the fence. We have food, shelter, and medicine. We will welcome you..."

I'm standing at the fence. The fence is tall. The fence is tight linked, razor wire top. The fence runs east to west, a straight line undulating with the terrain. I couldn't climb the fence with two good arms. I couldn't climb the fence with two good arms and get the girl over. My teeth still clatter.

There are signs on the fence, every 50 meters or so. DANGER: MINES.

The sun crowns the horizon, glows my exhalations gold. East or west? I walk east, into the warmth. I walk, and I look at the girl. Her eyes flutter open. We see each other. I smile. She yawns.

I walk.

We could hear the dogs, close. I was holding a branch I had smacked against a tree, halved it jagged. We broke the tree line and Ana set the girl down in the small meadow. Ana conjured a kitchen knife from a hidden pocket. Ana the Clever. We stood in the meadow, the girl between us, and we waited.

The dogs came out of the trees, circled us. One came close and I caught it, thrust the branch down its throat. It crawled backward, awkward, chomping and gagging and bleeding black in the dark. I turned and saw the other dog crash into Ana. They tumbled over. The girl shrieked. The girl and I saw Ana and the dog kill each other.

They died quick.

I see him. He's in a tower, his body turned to the sun. There's a rifle slung across his back. The tower stands just in the trees. I can hit him with a rock, he's so close.

There's a gap in the fence two steps away. And then flat open ground. There's a sign beside the gap in the fence. DANGER: MINES.

I'm clamping my jaws together. I'm twitching cold. I look down at the girl. She looks up at me.
"Where's Mama? Where's Mama!?" She starts banshee wailing.

He spins around, shoulders his rifle, points it at me. At us. The gap in the fence is two steps away. Two steps, and then flat open ground.

"Don't move!" His voice squeaks. He doesn't look much older than 15 or 16.

"Where's Mama!?" The girl is clawing up out of my jacket, working herself into hysterics. I'm cradling her hard against me.

"Where's her mother?"

"She's dead. She died last night."

"She's not dead! She's not dead! Go back and get her!"

"Please." That's all I can say. I'm too tired. I'm too cold. Just make it quick. Shoot the girl first. That's my last hope. I can't hope for anything else without you, Ana.

"I don't want to shoot you."

"I don't want to be shot."

The boy lowers his rifle. "Go. Hurry and go. I'll give you thirty seconds..."