6.01 / January 2011

Two Stories

The Soldier

The soldier was called into the sergeant’s tent and slapped across the face. There was something the soldier had done, of course, but he was not sure what. The sergeant was yelling at the soldier, about either the shine or lack of shine on the toes of the soldier’s boots. It was a hot day in that foreign land. The soldier left the sergeant’s tent and, with the sting still blooming on his cheek, kicked a mangy dog in the ribcage.

I would like to make a point here about violence inflicted on one person being passed down to another in an endless cycle. However, the kick was accidental. The soldier was running to hide the tears welling in his eyes and did not notice the dog in his path. The soldier was far from home. It was a lonely place and the men he was trying to kill always seemed to be hiding in large bushes where he could not see them.

The dog, however, was not far from home. He was a native dog and so considered an enemy by the other soldiers. When the dog came by begging, the soldiers threw their empty bottles and cigarette butts at him. The dog would then run back through the forest only to come upon the rebel camp. There the rebels, believing the black haired dog to be an evil omen, would hit him and yank his tail.

The dog spent the days of the war like that, running to and from the camps, always in search of companionship. The soldier stepped on a landmine and the sergeant died of an exotic disease, but the dog was still there. There were no other dogs in the woods he ran through. When he was hungry he sat on the ground and gnawed on his own leg. Sometimes at night he would see the face of the man on the moon and bark loudly in anger.

The Long Hunt

We had to leave because we hunted for meat while the women gathered from the forest and that was the way of things. The distant stars had sung to us of a massive hunt. We drank two jugs of water that night to wake before our families. After smearing our faces with holy paint, we kissed our sleeping wives and children and rode off over the hills. The herd was a long way off, much longer than our elders had predicted. We rode for many days, through hills and valleys not seen in generations. Our beards grew long. The wind whispered forgotten songs in our ears. We began to forget our wives and families. It seemed impossible they still existed under the same moon. We cornered the herd at a raging river. There were so many of them we ran out of arrows and had to yank them from the dead to fire again. That night we had a giant bonfire and filled our bellies with meat. A scouting party of a friendly tribe saw our fires. They told us rumors that our homes had been attacked. Our enemies had stampeded through our valley, setting fire to the forests and salting the earth so that our crops could never grow again. We rode back fiercely, whispering the names of our women into the wind. The slabs of meat slapped angrily against the sides our mounts. It took many days. When we returned we found the black shells of our houses. Our women were there too, but they were different. They had learned to live a new way. They were driven from the salted fields into the forest. They ripped the bark off trees with their bare teeth. None of them seemed to recognize us. I saw my daughter squatting over an old log. She was tearing grubs out with her bare hand. I climbed down from my horse and ran to her. When I reached out a hand to rub her cheek, she sank in her teeth.

Lincoln Michel is the editor-in-chief of electricliterature.com and a founding editor of Gigantic. His work has appeared in Granta, Oxford American, Tin House, Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. He is the co-editor of Gigantic Worlds, an anthology of science flash fiction, and the author of Upright Beasts, a collection of short stories on Coffee House Press. He was born in Virginia and lives in Brooklyn. You can find him online at lincolnmichel.com and @thelincoln.
6.01 / January 2011