SHORT PROSE CONTEST Winner:
And The hole never heals
BY Ryan Habermeyer
Our platoon crawls through an alfalfa field en route to kidnap a camel. Along the hills I imagine snipers, until it becomes a story problem on a high school physics test: If Private Mosby walks an average speed of 1.4 meters per second, and asshat freedom fighter six hundred meters away fires a single bullet from a Dragunov at a thirty degree angle traveling at three-hundred and forty-three meters per second, how long will the bullet take to reach our hero, assuming wind resistance is negligible?
We stand in the hut as the boy who is supposed to be guarding the camel yanks its teats. He brings us the pail filled with a frothy green milk. Tracing an invisible circle with his finger he says: Sick. Heart. He stares, unblinking, believing we’re here to cure the beast.
Tonight I am a dentist. Someone hands me pliers and what look like two domino tiles. Extract the teeth and implant fake ones equipped with microphones. A walking surveillance station. Operation Acoustic Camel.
I massage the camel’s hump, hoping not to startle her. She licks me with a fat sandpaper tongue. I pat her flanks. She curls her lips back.
I think I would like to have a baby, the camel seems to say. I had a baby once. But everyone has to eat. I tell the camel how sorry I am for her loss. It’s not your fault, she says.
Later, from the safety of a cave, radio operators listen to white noise and scribble into ledgers. The rest of us play tic-tac-toe on the cave walls. Staring at the Xs and Os, I wonder what will happen in a thousand years when aliens discover the residue of our lost civilization. We are living in someone else’s past with no end in sight.
Listen, the radio operator says. He hands me the headphones. The static sounds like rhythmic cackling, pulsing like a heart with a hole in the middle and an echo rattling around inside. GBU-43. Mother of all Bombs. They’re turning the village into honeycomb, he smiles.
But what I hear in the static is what the camel told me before I tore out her teeth. It’s not your fault.
That’s what I want to believe, that mother of all remarkable shit, even if it isn’t true.
Ryan Habermeyer is Assistant Professor at Salisbury University. He holds an MFA from the University of Massachusetts and PhD from the University of Missouri. His stories and essays, twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, have been published most recently in Hotel Amerika, Cream City Review, Los Angeles Review and Carolina Quarterly. His prize-winning collection, The Science of Lost Futures, won the BoA Short Fiction Prize. He lives in Maryland with his wife and children where he is finishing a novel-in-prose-poems. You can find him at ryanhabermeyer.com.