All the cookies on the tray were gone, and no one was talking. Amy waited to see if it would be her child or her dog who threw up.
A tall, shapely woman walked up the three flights of outdoor stairs and turned right, approaching the apartment she was looking for. She was reasonably well dressed and wore a matching set of 12-carat earrings, necklace, and bracelet. She made three sharp, short knocks on the door.
Another woman opened the door. She was a few years older than the one outside. She was not well dressed, she was not wearing jewelry, and her figure was settling.
“I’m Yolanda,” the younger woman said. “Mrs. Cates, I want you to let Horace go so he and I can be together.”
Tina had to stay after school again today. She simply won’t quit repeating what you said when the hammer hit your thumb.
It had taken a long time to get out of the jungle, and there had been many others that were just as lost.
Gradually, they found their way to the city; the ones they sought had gone, and the sense was that they had gone home. So the lost ones stowed away on the few remaining naval vessels in the area, gaining passage to the United States.
A lucky handful were repatriated in Hawaii, but most had to go on to the mainland. Once there, the search was hardly begun. The country spread out before them vast and broad and well populated. There were barely remembered place names; geography was not their strength. Still, it was better than no clue at all, and they set out singly or in pairs or groups to find their individual homes.
After years of looking, one grew increasingly eager, sensing that the search was about to end. Something about this small Ohio town felt familiar.
And – yes! Here was the house. And inside, the man dreamed.
“Watch that hut, Pete. I think I saw movement over there.”
Pete grunted his acknowledgment.
“Let’s move in a little closer, guys,” the lieutenant said, and the little knot of men approached the hut.
A young boy, perhaps eight years old, ran from the dark opening. He clutched a pistol and fired it blindly as he raced past the American soldiers. His shots went well over their heads, and a couple of the men chuckled at the child’s audacity even as they put their rifles to their shoulders.
“I got this one,” Pete said. He extended the nozzle of his M9A1-7 flamethrower and pulled the trigger.
The boy could not outrace the blaze arcing through the air. He went down screaming, writhing. Pete gave him another shot of liquid fire and the boy lay still and was consumed.
“It’s not enough to shoot the gun, kid,” Pete said. “Ya gotta hit the target.”
Pete’s wandering conscience sank deeply into him, and Pete awoke screaming.
He had willfully, callously burned a child to death. And because he had evicted his conscience, it had never mattered to him.
Now his conscience was home and happy and hard at work, and Pete’s anguished screams woke many on his block that night.
Katydid sat on the couch and looked at the bare, boring linoleum floor. She had nothing better to do.
Mommy had been lucky enough to get a job at a diner and was gone most of the day. There was no TV, no computer to play games on, no one to play with, and only three books, all of which she’d read dozens of times. She stared at the floor, trying not to cry from sheer exasperation and misery and memory.
This isn’t real, she thought. This isn’t my life. This isn’t real. This isn’t real.
Over and over again. It became her mantra as she stared at the floor and let her eyes go unfocused. She gradually gave up thinking the words and let herself fall into the belief that what she was living was not real.
“Stay close, now, Philip,” Warner told his son. “It’s still a bit drizzly; you’ll want to stay under the umbrella.”
“It’s OK, Daddy,” Philip said. “I’ve got my hat on. And it’s not too wet out here.”
Warner just smiled down at his 6-year-old who was bouncing a little in place and taking in all the fascinating sights at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey. He glanced at the truck from the radio station and that nice Mr. Morrison whom Daddy had taken him to talk to as they waited.
As always, Philip held tightly to his favorite popgun. Both barrels were corked and ready in case of trouble. He wasn’t planning to shoot because the corks in the barrels weren’t attached to the gun with string. They had been, once, but that was a few hundred shots ago and his parents hadn’t yet put new strings on the corks. Eager as Philip was to take aim and let something have it, he knew it would be a nuisance out here.
Seven-year-old Macey Yager tiptoed through the darkened house before dawn’s first light. She painstakingly unlocked and opened the kitchen door – the one farthest from her parents’ bedroom – and ever so carefully closed it again. She walked quickly and silently down the path away from the house and barnyard and toward the road.
Once there, she ran. She took nothing with her but her memories and her hope.
At the beginning of the summer, Macey’s dad, Ken, came home one day with an energetic bundle of fur, a one-year-old Australian shepherd.
“He looks like a panda,” Macey said, and Panda became the dog’s name. Ken built a doghouse and put it under a tree near the house and Macey and Panda played every day from sunup to sundown.
She gave Panda his breakfast and supper every day and sat with him while he ate. She threw a ball for him to fetch. She used him as a pillow and looked at the clouds and talked to him about everything.
Everything was fine until school started, she thought, walking around a road-kill possum.