Miles was thinking about his baby girl when he spotted the dead soldier.
The body lay in a crater carved out of the gravel in the back of the smashed school building. Rubble from the crumbling cinderblock wall had fallen on the corpse, covering him with gray soot and pebbles.
Miles looked away for a second, and saw Sergeant Travis behind him, crouching in the doorway, clutching his rifle. Miles looked up at the sky—which he could see through the hole in the ceiling—and tried to get his daughter’s face back into his mind. He wanted to think about that Christmas morning, when his wife playfully yelled at him for giving their daughter the jersey. She had gone to Michigan. But they were all gone from his mind, locked out for a bit, and he had no choice but to look down at this dead boy in front of him.
He stepped forward and stared at the body. The face was gray, the mouth frozen into a crooked scream. Dark brown blood matted the soldier’s shirt, mercifully hiding the name stenciled on the chest. The corpse reclined in the crater, his legs spread so that the dirty boots pointed to two and ten o’clock. If you put a beer in his hand, Miles thought, he would look like he was relaxing in a lawn chair.
Some gunfire in the distance made Miles drop to his knees suddenly. He heard the sergeant laughing behind him. Travis had always told them, “You might as well stay standing, dumbass—if you can hear it, it’s already passed. Or you’re already dead.”
Crouching, Miles was only a couple of feet from the dead man. He could smell the beginnings of decomposition, or at least thought he could. Miles tried to find anything in the room he could look at besides the body, and found a row of drawings still tacked to the wall beside him. They were pictures of children playing, the young artists’ names signed in some alien language at the bottom.
Miles suddenly remembered what he had been thinking about a moment earlier. He clenched his eyes shut and pictured Christmas morning with his family. “Oh, you think you’re funny?” his wife had asked him as he carried his daughter around the room in her little jersey, singing the Notre Dame fight song while she looked into his eyes and giggled.
Then Miles wondered what the dead man had thought about earlier that day.
A thud came from the front door of the little school. Miles tensed his muscles to get up and run just as the explosion roared towards him, shaking the entire world, tumbling him over, propelling him backward, tearing up the earth and walls around him.
Travis shook his head to get the ringing out of his ears. He stood up, and watched the dust and debris slide off of his shoulders and arms. The wall he had used as a barricade had been chopped in half, its remains spilled across the floor. Travis headed toward the back of the school, trying to remember what he was thinking about right before the explosion. This always happens, he thought.
And then it came back to him. He was thinking about fishing with his brother the previous summer, when he had told his brother that he was shipping out for real this time. Travis imagined his brother holding a trout in one hand and a beer in the other when he spotted Miles, lying face down, his dead arms stretched out in front of him.
About the author:
Robert Repino grew up in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania and earned a degree in history at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Following college, he spent two years serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Grenada. He currently lives in Boston, where he is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing at Emerson College.
© 2011 Word Riot