by Kevin Koch
edited by Maureen Basta
Blood pounded relentlessly in his ears. Exhaustion raced through his muscles. He got tired so easily now. Dry grass crumpled underfoot. Cold air filled his lungs. He couldn’t stop. The soles of his shoes flopped against his feet as he ran. He needed to get new ones. Of course he’d been telling himself that for weeks. He needed to find a store that wasn’t overrun by crowds.
Movement to his right made him slow. The tall grass shuddered, parting in a wake that started moving towards him. The muscles in his legs twitching, he crashed into a rusted out car. Collapsing to the ground against one of the doors, he turned to his pursuer.
Rhoda burst out of the tall grass, grinning. No matter how many times they got separated, she always managed to track him down. She was breathing hard, just like him. Walking over, she sat down next to him. They looked in each other’s eyes and then turned in opposite directions to scan for danger. He didn’t want to risk making any noise by talking to her. He settled for scratching her behind the ears.
Silence stretched on in the early afternoon light. The only sound was their panting, and as their breathing slowed even that started to fade away. Grass blanketed rolling hills all the way to a small town. He saw homes, a few large squat buildings—probably businesses—and a church with a steeple. It looked quiet, but so did everything nowadays.
After he looked around for several minutes, he was sure he didn’t see anything. Out of habit, he let his eyes drift out of focus and slowly turned around. He let the natural sway of the tall grass and trees wash over him, looking for any movement that seemed out of place. There was nothing. Adjusting his glasses so they sat better on his nose, he turned to Rhoda.
The dog sniffed the air.
“You’re right. Real question is whether it’s the good kind of quiet or the bad.”
He pulled off the backpack that he wore all the time, even when he slept. Running his hands over the fabric, he got off what dirt he could. Taking a few nuts out of one of the pouches, he cracked them open against the side of the car. Rhoda whined at the loud boom echoing out into the grass. As flakes of rust drifted to the ground, he turned to her.
“Sorry, wasn’t thinking.”
The nuts tasted bitter. He didn’t know if that’s how they were supposed to be. Maybe he’d picked them too early, or maybe they were going bad. The pit in his stomach didn’t care. He could’ve forced down a whole backpack full if he had them.
“Nothing for you Rhoda.”
He’d tried to get her to eat the nuts, but she refused. She wasn’t that hungry yet—or they were poison. She whimpered.
“I know. Me too.”