Taste of War

by Terry DeHart

He's driving alone in the car and crossing the most barren plain he's ever seen. He's driving without maps and only moving in a general direction because he has no idea where it will happen, next. The plain is gray as the wings of a spider-wrapped moth. Rusted barbed wire along the road, the fences filled with trash. Paper cups and plastic straws and slimy burger wrappers and cigarette butts and beer cans, the color faded completely out of them because the old days are gone.

The land is without contour as far as he can see, and the sky blends without definition into the earth. The road is straight and cold and patched with tar that the tires thump against and whine against and fight against.

It seems a culmination of days. The one, long day that will never end. The man is tired but he continues to drive. There are no other cars. No pedestrians, no hitchhikers, no range animals, no wildlife, no homes. Only the road and the barbed wire and him.

And then there's a flash of color on the horizon. The man stops the car and gets out and hears the prairie wind in his ears. The light is now a fireball rising in the distance. Lovely reds and oranges and purples expand to color the world. He can hear the breeze blowing through the dead grass. The column of color rises and spreads. The man is very far away and it takes a long time for the shockwave to reach him. He has time to light a cigarette and lean against the car. He watches the mushroom grow and he waits for it.

When it comes, it doesn't hit all at once. It's like a rogue wave on the seashore. The air grows still and then it swirls and eddies, though there are no terrain features to channel it. A warm puff on the face at first. The breath of a lover moving closer. He blushes. And then there's a gentle slap. His hair stands up and then lies flat again, as if somebody opened and closed a gigantic door. He gets an adrenaline thrill, but he doesn't take cover. The roar comes like an approaching train or a column of tanks or a stampede of wild horses. The rumble is long and loud and the overpressure rocks the car on its springs and the man puts out his smoke and the wave pushes him back a step. And then it comes with full force, wild and hot, and the man leans into it at an impossibly steep angle. He screams as the colors penetrate his body with their hot packets of energy.

When it stops, the man pitches forward onto the road. He rolls onto his back and breathes in and out. The after-image is burned into his eyes and the sky is blue champagne and he wonders how he ever lived without electroshock therapy.


Copyright © 2002 Terry DeHart

Terry DeHart lives in California and works at NASA's Ames Research Center.  His stories have been published in such places as The Barcelona Review , Zoetrope All-Story Extra, and Literary Potpourri.


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