Home Front by Jeff Burd

Felix is outside, though I’m not exactly sure where.  This is nothing new since he usually sets his own agenda.  But I have tuna, and he’ll rethink his priorities as soon as I open the can and set it out back near the wood pile.

He must have snuck out the door yesterday, which was Cameron’s third day home on leave.  “Time away from the machine,” he called it.  Having a second person in the house again took some getting used to.  There had been a lot of doors slamming.  Boot heels thumping up and down the halls and stairways.  PT drills in the basement were unexpectedly loud, too, so no wonder Felix evacuated.

I don’t know if Cameron ever really slept.  Each time I looked in on him he was lying on his bed in the dark reading his old comic books by flashlight.  His voice through the walls at odd hours pulled me out of the scant sleep I was getting.  He’d yell something that sounded urgent, but I couldn’t make out what it was.  Or he’d mutter his way through some kind of monologue until he ran out of things to say and fell silent.

The house was quiet last night, though, so I figured exhaustion must have caught up with him.  I checked on him this morning, hoping we could finally talk.  I found his note:  dad – i have to get back to the machine – i’ll hitch a ride – didn’t want to wake you – love cam.

I step out the back door with the can of tuna.  Felix is pacing the edge of the property where the lawn meets the forest.  His orange coat pops out against the brambly undergrowth and imposing trees.  He sees me and darts into the weeds.

Next to the wood pile is the black tarp I use to keep the wood dry.  It lies flat on the ground except for a bunch of small lumps beneath it.  I pull the tarp aside and find three rows of dead rodents.  Mostly rats and squirrels of various sizes, but there’s a woodchuck and a raccoon, too.  Six corpses per row.  Most of them are staring wide-eyed at nothing they can see.  Some lie in pools of their own blood.  Others have their necks pitched at odd angles, their broken bones almost poking through their skin.

I pull the tarp back over the bodies and look across the gray sky to the west.  Eight thousand miles past the horizon, helicopters are raiding villages.  I can hear their rotor blades chopping the air. 

JEFF BURD — Jeff is a graduate of the Northwestern University writing program and works as a high school English teacher in the north suburbs of Chicago. He spends a lot of time writing and thinking about writing, and worrying about not writing and thinking about writing.

Art by SHERRY SHAHAN — Sherry is a teal-haired septuagenarian who grows potatoes in the cardboard box that delivered a stereo. Feeling shipwrecked in 2020, she began ripping words from the heart of old magazines. Her scissors were like her, rusty and dull. The glue, too thick. Her collages resembled drawings found in a kindergarten classroom. She likes that about them; it frees her from ideas of what art should be. Her art has appeared in magazines, newspapers, literary journals, and anthologies. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.