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Back You are here: Home Stories Words for the People Short Stories The Rotting Stars
Thursday, 02 June 2011 17:11

The Rotting Stars

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The grocery store at Harris and Mt. Holly still smoldered, windows blown out, fire dancing in the glass shards on the ground like a million atoms humming with excitement.

'The fire trucks are probably busy,' I said, pointing out a glob at the base of a streetlight, from where we stood far enough back from the flames to feel the warmth on our faces. 'We'll have to walk another three blocks, but we could use the exercise,' I said. The little boy nodded before leaning down and poking the blob. The mass was thick but fragile; a smoke colored jelly, like liquid fog. I made a note to wash his hands the next chance I could.

Before Jacob and I walked out into the growing day, I'd pressed my ear to pipes running through the building's skeleton. Willing away the lone bulb’s dull light, the scent of the bacon warming on the hotplate, the warm, flat air of the shelter, and listened. Georgia asked if they were done, if they were gone. For several long beats nothing came through the cool metal, no low vibrations of explosions up on the surface. I told her it was over. She breathed out slowly through her nose and turned over the meat.

They only attacked at night, raining down fire and missiles while hidden in the city's low-hanging fog. Compared to them we're weak, insignificant, but in the light of the sun when we could see and defend ourselves. During daylight they left us to our devices. In the fall that meant we would leave the bunkers around seven and find out what we would learn to live without. The elementary school was left crumbled and burning in the early days. The kids were happy about that, and the government said it would be best to put a hold on rebuilding until the bombings stopped. Jacob giggled for an hour when I told him. He jerked his limbs to the awkward rhythm of the explosions above ground. He moved like someone who only knew the idea of dancing but had never seen it take place. Georgia smiled but her eyes were glassy.

I bent down and gave her a peck on the cheek and she smiled limply. I took Jacob up from the shelter and we walked down the street, past the ruins of previous nights. His tiny hand was in mine, Jacob spotted the first blob lying ahead of us on the sidewalk, picking it out for me with a long finger. Every morning those blobs show up, here and there.

Our neighbor Santiago was walking his dog before his shift at the munitions factory. I’d be joining him at noon. Jacob mentioned to Santiago about the curious little thing and Santiago told him that where he came from, they called them 'caca de luna.' When Jacob asked what that meant, Santiago looked to me and I shrugged. 'Moon poop,' he said, his accent making 'poop' sound more like 'pup.'

'I don't think that's what it is,' Jacob said later, inside a pawnshop by the grocery store, several extra down the road.

'What's that?' I found a record that was still in good condition. Coltrane. It'd been years since I'd heard him, since before the bombs and the war and the masses of jelly, but it'd be too hard to teach Jacob to dance to Mr. P. C.

'Those things, they’re not moon poop.' Jacob poked the belly of a stuffed bear that was missing its eyes, the thread that had held them hanging like dry optic nerves.

'Oh?' There was a James Brown record, one of the greatest hits they used too put out every year. Just the right songs, the good stuff. I couldn't help but think when I put this on for Georgia, after Jacob finally gets to sleep, there'd be no way her smile couldn't reach her eyes.

'It's the stars. We haven't seen them in so long, we're not letting them do their job, and if they can't do that, they die and rot and fall down here.'

'And what's that, their job?'

'To show us how small we all are.'




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Chris Deal

Chris Deal writes from Huntersville, North Carolina.  His debut collection of microfiction, Cienfuegos, was published in early 2010 by Brown Paper Publishing.  You can find and harass him at www.Chris-Deal.com.

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