A War In the Sand
Daniel K. Appelquist

Last night I heard rockets. The sound was a familiar one, but it still somehow manages to grab hold of my spine. I lay there, on my concrete bed, shaking, trying not to think of tomorrow. I can't say where the rockets were coming from, or where they were going to. I heard no explosions last night, but perhaps it would have been better if I had. The explosions of the past few nights somehow had the intensity to jar me out of the realm of conscious thought, turning me into a creature of mere instinct, my will to survive primary. The sounds of rockets only made me think harder about who I was, where I was and when the madness would end.

Last week, my cousin and aunt left, setting out on the long trek across the plain, the no man's land. I don't think I will ever see them again. I don't know why I didn't go with them. It had nothing to do with pride, nothing to do with a love of country. Perhaps it was the nagging thought that an escape from the place I have called home would constitute its ultimate destruction. I have no wish to become a refugee, to abandon all I have known, to become a nameless no-one, fleeing like a cockroach from a burning building.

I have heard a rumor that the tanks of the enemy are on their way, rolling in a ceaseless procession through the vast desert sands. If they arrive, they will find no resistance here, in this pile of broken concrete, once a town. I welcome them now -- not because they are right, but because they represent an end, a bringing to a close of this ungodly catastrophe. I will greet them with open arms.

This morning, there was smoke on the horizon, a column of dark grey painted on a backdrop of lighter grey. Grey is a color I have become well acquainted with of late. The very air here is thick with a grey soot, a residue from past bombings. A rain will sometimes wash the air, leaving it clear for an hour or two, until the bombs return and the cycle begins again. Lately, there have been no bombings, but neither has there been any rain, so the dust remains, settling only slowly onto the already debris-laden ground.

I went in search of food today, thinking that I might find some bottled water, some canned fish. All I found was a ripped child's cover-all, stained with blood. I stood there for a long while, trying to remember who had lived there, who the small owner of this garment might have been. Discouraged, I returned to my shelter, the basement of some now unrecognizable building.

When I reached the entrance to my shelter, I found a small boy on his way out, shirtless, obviously under-nourished, clutching as many of my supplies as he could carry in the tattered remains of a turban. I was enraged, beyond all reason. I struck him, I don't know how many times, I think I saw in him all that was wrong with us, all the weaknesses that had brought this calamity upon us. After the child ran away, screaming, I sat down in the middle of the scattered cans the child had dropped and cried. I had been reduced to my own object of hatred in that moment. What monsters are we men. Our civilization is pretense. Our science, a sham. Our kindness, a convenience. We would build sprawling empires out of dust.

But when the bombs begin to drop, all our false faces drop with them. Carefully constructed worlds crumble noiselessly at our feet. I stood there in the street for a long time, looking up at the sky, silently cursing God for bringing us to this, then cursing myself.

The engine-roar of a formation of war planes shrieking overhead brought me out of my reverie. How like birds they were, I thought. How graceful in their movements. How awesome in flight. No. Not birds. Birds do not rain destruction upon cities and towns. As if to answer my thoughts, a group of vultures ascended in rapid, flapping chaos from behind a mound of earth. I did not look to see what their quarry had been. Perhaps a friend. Perhaps a relative. I bid them a silent farewell, picked up my cans and descended into my shelter.

Now, I wait for the tanks, for the soldiers. There is no feeling, only a vast, empty nothingness in my head. Now I hear the rockets again, and now the explosions. Why have I bothered? I should have let the child get away with my cans. The nourishment that now keeps my brain alive would have gone to much better use in his mouth. Perhaps his thoughts would weigh not so heavily upon his brow. I wonder when they will come for me, when the fire from the skies will finally seek out my safe haven and make a mockery of my fight for survival. Now? Now?


Daniel K. Appelquist (quanta@quanta.org) is an Internet publishing trailblazer. He created Quanta, the on-line magazine of Science Fiction, in 1989. He lives in Washington, D.C.

InterText stories written by Daniel K. Appelquist: "A War In the Sand" (v1n1), "Anticipation of the Night" (v1n1), "Multiplication and the Devil" (v2n1), "A Handful of Dust" (v2n1), "Tracks" (v4n3), "In VR" (v5n1).

InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 1 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Daniel K. Appelquist.