I wrote this in a few hours at like midnight on my phone. Not as good as I’d like but I liked the atmosphere. Inspired by this post.
Home. She was home. What was left of it. If she closed her eyes and didn’t breathe in the grit, it was home. The way it had been before the war, before she’d let the idealism, the propaganda, get the better of her. “For the good of the people,” the signs had all said. Great posters twice the height of a grown man on every city corner. Men and women striking heroic poses in front of flags, machines she hadn’t even known the names of before she’d signed on. Before she’d watched her friends march off to war and never come home.
She came home. Maybe she shouldn’t have. There was nothing left here for her. The great red spot on Aeriope looked too much like blood now. She’d gone under Aeriope, the Great Moon as full and as close as it was now. Her grandmother had warned her. If she left then, under the bloodstain on the moon, she wouldn’t come home. Well, she’d come home. But there was no home left.
Don’t breathe. If she didn’t breathe, it wasn’t real. The pond was still clear, fresh water. They could still swim in it, she and her brothers and sister. It hadn’t turned acidic, no moldering fish bones littering the shores. The wind didn’t whip across hills burned barren. The trees weren’t gone, the grasses weren’t brown and brittle.
Holding her breath until her chest ached didn’t deafen her. She’d done her time. She knew what it sounded like to stand in a lifeless field. She knew the kind of silence that was louder than the height of any war. The absence of sound. Nothing but her own shoes crushing dead flowers. There should have been cattle lowing, hawks in the skies, the long-distant sound of the neighbor’s children.
They were supposed to have been safe here.
She couldn’t remember where the house stood. Great craters changed the landscape, the shape of the pond, took giant chunks out of nearby mountains. She couldn’t be sure where she was standing. Even the fences, once so carefully demarking pointless boundaries, were long gone. No splinter or post left behind. She didn’t know what had happened to the remnants. Didn’t want to know. Asking questions led to answers. If she’d learned anything it was that usually you just didn’t want to know. Not worth the pain of knowing.
White house, green grass, blue water. She fixed the image in her mind. Cattle, hawks, fish. Mountains covered in grass and trees as far as she could see, all the way to the end of the world. Even Aeriope before the bloodstain had been anything more than fuel for the old folks’ stories and the fortune tellers. If she tried hard enough it would still be there. It had to be.
Behind her she could hear what was left of her unit begin to get restless. The hooves she could almost pretend were cattle belonged instead to horses eager to get away from the stinging dirt. A hand pressed reins into her grip and without a thought, she took them. It was mindless, swinging up in the saddle and turning her back on the mountain range.
They fell in behind her, an amalgam of twenty-odd former soldiers and camp followers and refugees, following her down the broken path that had once been a driveway. If she was too quiet on their destinationless ride, her mind still in green meadows and clean water, no one said anything. They swept her along, tumbling across the open and featureless land.