Reasons (850 words)
It looked as if the black clouds were on fire, glowing embers and orange flames. It was about two in the afternoon, figured Buddy, though he couldn’t see the sun. No one saw the sun anymore. The earth around him had been stripped, freed of vegetation besides the odd, hollowed husk of an old tree. The ground was hard and bare, all of it brown dust and endless craters. The last walls of a house were crumbling and machine guns cracked in the distance.
Buddy was sitting in a crater with two other men. His leg had been shot. Their names were Mac and Chuck. Mac was a medic without any medicine. Chuck had the only rifle. Their uniforms were a faded, dingy brown covered with mud and sweat. They wore thick, black boots. Buddy’s helmet didn’t fit.
‘Come on you guys, we got to keep moving,’ said Chuck. Chuck and Mac helped Buddy out of the crater and took turns supporting him as they walked. The bandage on his leg was soaked with blood. He worried that the wound would turn black.
‘How far is it to Lyskovo?’ asked Mac. Lyskovo was the next village. Mac was helping Buddy walk.
‘Two miles, I think,’ said Chuck. Jets roared past, unseen above the clouds.
The only thing that Buddy carried was a pistol. It was a flimsy thing, with the reputation of a Luger. ‘If you’re going to use it,’ the captain had said, ‘make sure you can put it to his head.’ That was three years ago. Three years since Buddy had seen the sky. The air was always stuffy hot, a rank humidity and he hated each breath. For three years Buddy had hated each breath, because each breath invariably tasted of sulfur and burned hair. The smell of rotting bodies would sit at the back of his throat. It was always dark, never brighter than the hour before sunset.
Ahead on their left a cliff began. They walked with silent faces. There was nothing to talk about, no thing that deserved the effort of speaking. There had been fifty of them that morning, when the bombs fell. The bombing had been slow, only a few dozen mortars that landed mostly in houses of families. Then the planes came. Those bombs were ubiquitous, endless and thorough. The village did not remain. Four square miles and each inch of dirt belonged to endless craters.
The land around them began to grow brighter, to become tinted with a white light that grew so fast it became all they could see. Mac let go of Buddy and Buddy crouched down and covered his eyes. He could see the blood in his hands like placing them over a flashlight. The white light flashed out as quick as it’d come. Then the earth shuddered. Dirt and rocks fell from the cliff and they knew what it was. Looking out from the cliff they could see barren hills rolling to the horizon, and there on the horizon were the clouds. Four of them, staggered with distance, rising into the sky like orange umbrellas at the tops of thin stems. Each one looked different but each one had that same distinct mushroom shape, the dark orange smoke billowing up in great round domes and the thin stalks that held them above the rolling, tumbling clouds at the bottom.
‘Novgorod?’ asked Mac, sullen and afraid that he knew the answer.
‘Yeah,’ said Chuck.
‘Do you think they got to evacuate?’
‘Couldn’t, too many refugees,’ said Buddy. The clouds above them had turned a pallid orange, streaked with gray, and on the horizon were the four, dark orange mushroom clouds rising ominously, surrounded by black.
They heard voices then, hundreds of them. One hundred feet down at the base of the cliff were hundreds of people and all of them were fucking. Men were on top of women, women on top of men and all of them were screaming in wild orgasm. Women were on all fours, on their knees, men and women lying head to toe. People everywhere were fucking and the orgiastic din swelled over the edge of the cliff. Everyone was positioning themselves to face the horizon with their faces contorted from frantic ecstasy. Everybody was moaning loud, grunting and screaming with wild pleasure and staring at the horizon. They wore the same uniform as Buddy, Mac and Chuck.
Chuck looked over at Buddy, ‘Don’t be worried about it, Buddy. Command wouldn’t waste nukes out here, we’re safe, it’s all farms.’
‘It’s not the nukes that scare me,’ he said plainly.
‘Boy,’ said Mac, ‘won’t they all feel awkward when they realize they won’t be nuked.’
‘That’s not why they’re fucking,’ said Buddy. ‘That’s not why they’re doing it.’ He slid back the chamber of his pistol. The taste of coins was on his tongue.
‘No!’ yelled Mac.
‘Come on,’ said Chuck, helping Mac away, ‘we got to keep going.’
At the bottom of the cliff the hundreds of faces distorted with pleasure, shouting wild, lustful, carnal ecstasy; fucking for pleasure while they watched the horizon.