Wall Wounds: A Left-Tilted Speculative Short Story

This short-story was written in March, 2017, long before hurricane Harvey hit Texas. Any similarities are purely coincidental. 

     “I’ll hold you back.” Deante shook his head so hard his tight, gray curls moved.

     “But…Dad?” Sidney stared at him “It’s been—”

     “You think I don’t know?” Everything, including the walls, felt sticky from the humidity. Sidney had fastened plywood over the windows and front door before the storm hit so they’d weathered things with only minor roof damage. They’d fared than most, but no power or potable water had quickly become more than an inconvenience in the late summer heat.

     Laredo was over a hundred miles inland, normally dry, and widely flat but they’d suffered a year’s worth of rain in less than twenty-four hours from hurricane-turned-tropical-storm Troy. The storm had defied all predictions, moving inland on an illogical course, following the wall and flooding everything in its path.

     Deante looked at the empty water bottles mounded in the living room corner. He’d rather have them stashed there than among the stinking trash piled in the laundry room. “Plenty of water so, I’ll be fine.”

     “Dammit…no…I…” Sidney pushed her long braids back from her face as she mumbled.

     “Speak up.”

     “You out of hearing aid batteries again?” She pulled a clip from her pocket and used it to pull back her braids. Sid had grown her hair since leaving the service and let her braids hang and do what they pleased as long as they stayed out of her way.

     “Maybe.” Deante rolled toward the kitchen. “You’re too much like your old man.”

     “Proudly so.” She stood behind him in the doorway. “There’s always the Johnson’s pool.”

     You don’t have to speak that loud. “The water won’t be any good.” He’d never get used to the chair, never accept the limitations it placed on him. No more falls. He’d promised Sidney. Promised Kiara. Where the hell’s Kiara? This was their safe-haven if anything happened, if—the phones were still down. “Go without me.” Deante returned to Sidney’s side holding his shotgun.

     “Dammit.” Sidney rubbed her fists down the front of her jeans.

     She knows I’m right. “Wait until dark.” FEMA was overdue. The National Guard and Red Cross more so. There should be water stations. Food. Occasional hot meals. Showers. Laundry. Water, contaminated or not, had stopped flowing through the pipes yesterday, so the stench from their single bathroom— “Go, Sid.”

     “Dad?”

     “It’s all part of the cuts.” Deante laid the shotgun across his lap. They’d heard the shots, kept still in the dark when the screams and shouts grew close, stayed inside even when the heat had proven horrendous. The wall, with its towering fence and guard towers, was as safe as ever, but everything else… “Time was you could rely on your country— especially if you’d served it.”

     “Things will calm. Help will get here.” Sidney’s rote words— the hope he’d taught his daughters to fall back on had finally proven meaningless.

     “Six days,” mumbled Deante. “You’ve got to get them yourself.”

***

     Two cans of cheap, red paint had saved them and the house. Sidney had sprayed a big X across the plywood covering the front door as soon as the storm had eased. Trash and debris had already been strewn across the yard by that point, so the looters had been quick to look past their modest home in favor of larger, more profitable residences.

     Easy means of security, but the mesquite tree in the yard had crushed Sidney’s car so they were stuck even after the flood waters had receded.

     Sidney had barely finished her art work before things began going south. South? Deante kept his laugh to himself. South would be the direction to go if not for the wall. He imagined the Mexican military standing on the other side in their rain gear, interrogating everyone who managed the climb. They’d no reason to help a crippled old man, no cause to— “Gringo go home.”

     “What’d you say?” Sidney set a box of pantry goods beside his bed.

     “Oh, nothing.”

     “I found another case of water in the garage and hooked a hose to the water heater. The water’s nasty, but the septic has drained enough to flush. I wouldn’t do it too often though.” She pointed to the hose trailing through the bedroom and into the bath. “Can you get around it and shut the door, but do I need to redo things?”

     “I’ll be fine.” He stared at the waning light slipping through the plywood covering the bedroom window. “Go, Sid.”

     “Dammit, Dad.” She knelt before him, as red-eyed as she was stone-faced. “I’ll be back, promise.”

     “Kiara doesn’t have your skillset, so bring her and my grandbaby back with you.”

     “If they’re still there.” She squeezed his hand.

     “Two miles each way. You have to try.” He straightened. “Take care of yourself.”

     “Semper Fi.” She stiffened as she rose. “Once a Marine—”

     “Always a Marine.” He watched his daughter fill her pack and shove her pistol into her waistband. Always squared away in or out of uniform. “Your knife?”

     She turned so he could see it on her belt. A second-hand Buck—basic, but the best birthday gift he’d ever given her. “I’d best go before looters roll out again.”

     “Yeah.” He followed her to the back door. “Keep safe.”

     “You too.”

***

     “We forgot the damn can opener.” Deante wheeled toward the kitchen, counting the distance by wheel turns. Top drawer left of the stove, and— he froze, listening.

     Sidney had been gone for less than an hour.

     You stupid old fool.

     He’d left the shotgun on the bed.

     Prying. Creaking. The sound of screws being stripped from wood.

     I’m not so deaf that I can’t hear you bastards.

     Sidney had screwed wood over the back door when she’d left.

     God-damned looters. Deante rolled back to the bedroom. He closed the door, grabbed the gun, and turned. A double-barreled twelve-gauge shotgun, a home invader’s nightmare. Deante locked his wheels to minimize the kickback.

     Boot steps vibrated through the house.

     There’s more than one. It’d been decades since he’d fired a weapon, but his hands remembered, shaking or not.

     They stopped just outside the door.

     He’d turned up his hearing aid before he remembered the battery.

     Someone shouted and feet shuffled. Here they come. He fired as soon as the doorknob began turning.

     “Take that you looting—” Deante aimed again and— he turned the barrel toward the floor.

     “Señor Carter?” A young man in desert camouflage knelt in the doorway. Enlisted. Low ranking. Black, mud-coated boots and weary eyes. A patch bearing the word Marina, in all caps, was written across his body armor.

     Deante couldn’t take his eyes from it.

     “Put down the gun, Señor.” The man placed his fingers to the throat of the woman at his feet. Thin, dressed in blue jeans and a neatly tucked, black t-shirt— a second-hand Buck knife on her belt.

END

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