He crossed the stream, pausing midway to balance on a flat, white rock and watch minnows and crawdads swim in the clear water. The creek reminded him of some other place, some other time. It seemed like a very long time ago… “
by j.b. hogan
Through a nearby window the hum of insects floated in on a wave of hot sticky air. A grasshopper hit the screen with a muted metallic sound. A chicken or some small animal rustled in the dry grass beside the house.
He got up from the bed and walked through the living room for a drink. The water was cool but tasteless. He set the glass down and went back into the living room. One of the dogs on the front porch barked listlessly. Out on the main road he heard the dusty whine of wheels on dirt. He listened until he was sure the car had passed, then walked to the screen door and looked out.
A dog started to get up but lay right back down in the shade. To the left of the house, a rooster poked his head around the side of a decaying out building at the edge of the overgrown front yard. There was the loud hum of insects again.
He stood by the door for a few minutes, then went over and sat on the arm of the couch. He shook his head back and forth as if trying to clear it of something. Picking up a copy of the post newspaper, he thumbed through it without interest. In a moment, he tossed the paper down, rose, sat down, then stood up again and went into the bedroom.
For a quarter of an hour he lay on his back in his khaki pants and t-shirt staring at the ceiling, listening to the outside sounds, waiting. He was sure he’d forgotten something but didn’t know what. So he waited. But it didn’t come. He waited. It wasn’t coming.
Before he realized he had dozed off, he woke up. He hadn’t slept long and he knew he’d dreamed. He thought of the wall closet and got up to get the box from the top shelf. His dog tags jingled against his chest. It was still early and he wasn’t sure yet. But he had to get the box. It was still early. It was beginning to get late when he went out for a walk. He walked down the path behind the house and tried not to think. On his left he passed the cabin that had once been a work shop. It was old and rundown now. Weeds grew out of its foundation and most of the windows were broken. He passed it by.
He walked to a small creek below the house, feeling the ground’s hardness through the worn-thin soles of his brogans. He crossed the stream, pausing midway to balance on a flat, white rock and watch minnows and crawdads swim in the clear water. The creek reminded him of some other place, some other time. It seemed like a very long time ago. Looking at the water made him thirsty but he did not get a drink. The sun was blocked off by the trees here and he lingered awhile to enjoy the cool air.
Down the path he passed an ice cold spring, but again didn’t drink. Just beyond the spring, in a warm clearing, he found the decaying stump of a once huge oak and sat down on it. Across the clearing he could see a group of blue jays harassing a summer-thin squirrel. They squawked and dove, driving the small squirrel into the nearby bush and then up into another tree well away from their nests. For a moment he felt sorry for the squirrel.
When the sun dipped below the tallest tree beyond the clearing, he headed back home. In the backyard he stepped over some old cans and bottles. They reminded him of when he was a boy. He smiled briefly. Climbing the steps slowly, he quietly entered through the back door. The house was still and the kitchen was cool. He reached for the ice-box door and pulled it part way open. He let it close on its own. It did not shut completely, but it didn’t seem to matter.
In the bedroom, the box lay haphazardly where he’d left it. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he pulled the box to him and, taking a deep breath, opened it. Outside it was so quiet, it seemed the whole world had gone mute. He shook his head. That still didn’t help. He focused his attention on the open box. He reached inside it and felt the cool metal with his fingertips. The metal was blue and smooth and personal. Several moments passed. He kept his hand against the metal.
The sun was near the western horizon and the heat-tranquilized animals were just beginning to stir when the sharp, cracking sound came from the house. The chickens fluttered about and scooted into the tall grass. The dogs howled and barked. When the echoing sound had passed, they quieted down, but nervously glanced at the house from time to time.
It was about ten in the morning when the olive drab car turned off the main road into the long narrow lane leading to the house. Several men in olive drab uniforms got out of the car, passed the curious dogs, and moved cautiously towards the house. The dogs rose and followed to sniff around the men, but the chickens just clucked comfortably as they pecked away undisturbed at the yard. Flies buzzed loudly in the warm air. The day was calm and beautiful. There was no sound from the house.
J. B. Hogan is a writer and poet living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has a Ph.D. in English (Literature) from Arizona State University (1979) and worked for many years as a technical writer. His credits include the four-story fiction chapbook Near Love Stories online at www.cervenabarvapress.com (forthcoming) and forty-five other stories in: Istanbul Literary Review, Admit 2, Every Day Fiction, Ranfurly Review, Dead Mule, The Scruffy Dog Review, Aphelion, The Square Table, Rumble, Bewildering Stories, Avatar Review, Copperfield Review, Ascent Aspirations, Megaera, The Pedestal Magazine, Dogwood Journal, Raving Dove, Mobius, and Viet Nam Generation. More from J.B. can be found in the Vault of Smoke.