January 29, 2008

Short Story: Honorable Mention 2

Sycamore Soldiers By Sean Callahan Dusty and dry was the theme of the day. Trees swayed in the tepid breeze, cows hung their tongues out to breathe. The fields lay barren and desolate and throughout it all, he played. He swung on the tires, rode the bike, mocked the rooster. The rooster had become a good friend, the brother never before found. Together, they could chase each other around, one squalling while the other screamed, their own version of tag. There was no soil left here in the wastelands, only dust. Dust everywhere. Bird droppings from high atop the sycamore tree created miniature mushroom like clouds. Plastic soldiers flanked the circumference of the tree, anticipating the next atomic explosion, which seemed to occur on a regular schedule. The rain, however, was a different story. Not a drop had fallen in months. While most of the townsfolk had written off their yield for the year, the father could not. Every day, he stood at the base of the largest tree in the county, surveying his fields and the skies. Regularly, he would put on his battered, leather gloves, hop on the tractor and drive off into the fields to inspect his dried and wasted crops. As he held the lifeless plants, they crumbled into his gloves, torn apart by their own weight, too weak to support themselves any longer. At night, the father would return making predictions for the weather for the next day, referring to old wives tales and sailor’s stories to verify his premonitions. Returning from the fields one Thursday night, he commented on the sky again. “Looks awful dark t’night. The crimson maples got their leaves up. They’s lookin’ for a drink. Yep, tomorras the day.” A man of few words, the father was always convinced that this night was the calm before the storm. The boy only nodded his head and returned to fighting crime with the masked rooster as his sidekick. Morning came in the usual way, with breakfast and the belief that this was the day for the rains to appear. The boy and his rooster began investigating a string of recent robberies with the detective kit he was given on Christmas. Their sleuthing duties were soon overcome by the desire to roast ants under the glare of the magnifying glass. The father waited. At noon, the winds changed direction, and there was a sudden chill in the air. Dust swirled around them all, creating miniature tornadoes, which created terror among the soldiers on guard beneath the sycamore. One recruit after another fell in the winds, but the rest stood strong, holding their ground. The father smiled, knowing that this was what he had waited all summer for. By three o’clock, the rain that was absent for so long made its violent return. The animals, brought back to life from their suspended animation, began hooting and hollering for all to hear. The rooster jumped from the boy’s arms inside the house, and ran outside in the near squall. All were happy, and the father sat there nodding his head up and down, quite satisfied with himself for the weather, which he had created. He knew that he needed only to wait. And now the wait was over. Suddenly, the old sycamore began to creak in the wind. With each burst of wind, it swayed a bit further, until it could no longer hold its ground. The thunderous crash shook the house, and boy and father jumped. Peering through the rain, the boy could no longer see his troops standing guard. He concentrated harder and for a moment thought that he had indeed seen the platoon leader, still upright. He could make out the, yes, it was him, but what is the? Is that the? The boy’s face became empty and lifeless. For it wasn’t the brave soldiers under the tree that he could see. It was, however, his best friend in the world. The rooster lay motionless under the sycamore. And the rains fell faster.