(Another Fascinating tale of The Broken Boys)
Each boy had been assigned two, one to spread on the hard ground, the other to hide his body and head from the night. They were good quality G.I. blankets, regulation drab-olive, thought to be surplus from the war. Water-resistant, though not quite water-proof, constructed of tightly-woven quality wool, they brought the boys some comfort, but on bitter cold nights two wasn’t nearly enough. When the temperature dropped below freezing the boys were forced to tremble through their dreams, teeth chattering, drifting in and out consciousness, until morning.
On this particular night the frigid air pricked their skin and burned their ears. They braced themselves for a long night of shuddering. Hours went by. Not one boy managed to find sleep. Some worried they’d be trapped outside of dreaming. Some feared their eyes would slide open and they’d find themselves looking at the vapor of their breath and wondering if they were seeing ghosts again.
All the boys curled up and concentrated, except one, Hunter, who was on his feet, his blankets draped over him like a cloak. Hunter was watching the moon from the shadow of a tall rock. On the rock were a dozen or so drawings that some of the little ones had made in colored chalk — smiling yellow sun, red house with black roof, purple swing set, gray stick figures with triangular dresses meant to represent girls and beside them a pack of dogs running — but the moon wasn’t bright enough to illuminate these images and they looked like nothing more than cracks in the rock.
I'm getting out of this place, Hunter said. At first light I’m going to start walking and keep walking and not stop until I get somewhere.
That’s a good idea, said a boy named Fletch.
Splendid thought, excellent plan, nighty night, said another.
It’s something you should definitely follow up on, said another boy.
Don’t let it slip your mind, said another.
Somebody yawned and somebody yawned in reply.
Never put off ‘til tomorrow what you can accomplish right now, said another.
All the boys on the ground stretched and yawned.
A few turned their heads toward Hunter who was pacing in a small space of shadow, still eying the moon. The frayed edges of his blanket dragged on the ground. He looked like an old woman wrapped in a shawl; some of the boys drifted into a dream of an old mother mourning her son.
Something really bad is going to happen here very soon, said Hunter. You’ll see. You’ll all see. But I won’t. Because I don’t plan to be around when it does. I don’t need to ever know about it. Or hear about it. I don’t need that memory in my head. The weight would be too much for me.
Well, you better get going then, the other boys said, collectively, in snores and whispers, in grumbles and groans. Delay is all that’s holding you back, and sooner or later that’s going to work against you.
Hunter watched the moon, the moon watched him.
Bob Thurber is an old, unschooled writer widely published in literary journals, magazines, and on the Internet. This is the eleventh time his work has appeared in The Cafe Irreal. “The Cat Who Waved,” appeared in Issue #5; “Shuteye” appeared in Issue #15; “The Bartender Story” appeared in Issue #32; “You Don’t Belong Here” appeared in Issue #34; “A Woman on the Bus” appeared in Issue #38; "Crackers" in Issue #40; "Mister Fumble Bumble and The Merry Widow of The Shoemaker" in Issue #43; "Old Sharp Photo" in Issue #45; "The Manufacturing of Sorrow" in Issue #51; and "No Sequels, Please" and "The Chief Deacon's Report on the Rumored Return of the Broken Boys" in Issue #56. Bob is the author of four books, including Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel, a novel that depicts the unapologetically explicit reality of a boy growing up in an impoverished, dysfunctional family during the summer of the first moon landing. His latest story collection, Nothing But Trouble, was released in the spring of 2014. Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel was rereleased by Shanti Arts earlier this year. For more information visit www.bobthurber.net