Note: This is the last of the short stories being reprinted here from The Complete works of the Literate Dead. Since this book is out of print, I wanted to share some of the stories in it with those readers who have not had the chance to enjoy them.
There were rumors of evacuation. Beyond the towering stone and steel walls housing the watch-post, armor-plated ships lobbed shells onto the helpless island. Every day the open pits were heaped higher with bodies of the dead and dying. Rats gorged at their leisure, oblivious to the stench of decay and the stronger odor of fear that emanated from the military remnant.
But the rumors persisted. A helicopter team was on its way. An undersea tunnel was being dug. They would survive if they could hold out a day or two more. Only a few hours separated the army from relief. So men and women alike reinforced their foxholes and waited anxiously in the drenching rains. And the barrage continued.
On the sixth day of the attack, Willie crawled on his belly through the mud to the pile of rocks marking Roberta N’s shelter. A jagged piece of corrugated tin had been propped across the top to form a partial roof under which a few sticks of driftwood burned, producing the illusion of warmth.
"They're gonna kill us, you know," he grunted as he slid into the hole and tried to get nearer the flames.
"Don't talk like that," she hissed. "It depresses me. Besides, the General's called for relief. It's just a matter of time."
"That's what I mean." He pulled his knees up to his chin. "Time's the only thing more dangerous than shells."
As if to punctuate his statement, a loud explosion sounded to the left. There was a flurry of shouts which died immediately in the series of whistling, erupting flashes that pocked the sectors to their front and right. They looked at each other without moving, waiting for the noise to lessen or a stray shell to take out their hole. Finally, Willie could be heard again.
"You know I love you."
Roberta shook her head in disapproval. "You have no right to say that. I'm married." "But he's on the mainland, safe and sound. How can you care about a man like that?" "Because he's my husband, and I need him." She tossed another stick on the fire.
"Then why isn't he here now?" Willie persisted.
They both winced as a round fired off directly behind them.
"Look, you bastard. If you want to stay here, keep my old man out of it."
He nodded and rubbed his hands for warmth.
"I've got a cigarette," he said. Roberta's eyes went wide.
"Where'd you get it?"
"Found it in some stiff's pocket. Had to dry it out, but it was only half-smoked." He produced the stub and offered it to her.
"Geez, it's a beauty!" She carefully lit one end from the fire and inhaled deeply. "Willie, this is really incredible." She held it over for him.
"No. You enjoy it." He sat back, watching her smoke, and smiled at the pleasure on her face. She smiled back, and when she had finished, reached out, taking his hand.
"Would you like to go into me for awhile?"
"That'd be nice," he said.
"Just one thing," she warned. "Not a word about love. I mean it, Will. Not one damn word."
"I promise." She pulled her fatigues to her knees and rolled to her side. "Can you do it from behind? I don't want to take my boots off."
He shrugged and unbuttoned his pants, sliding around to position himself properly. Then he was in, and the heat almost burned. He gripped her hips and felt them pump to match his thrusting. Sweat poured from his forehead, and he tried to turn her body so that he could see her face; but she resisted the effort.
The explosion came in the next moment—first his and then the enemy's, ripping their sector and flinging debris onto them. It settled down in a few moments, but they held onto each other for a long while afterward. In the darkness of nightfall, the island was almost quiet. Roberta wriggled her trousers back up and buttoned them. "You're welcome to stay here if you want," she said.
Willie shook his head. "Thanks, but I've got to start reinforcing my own place. It's been falling apart lately." He worked his way to the edge of the hole, then turned.
"Ro?" He sounded troubled.
"What, Willie?" "You don't have to make—uh, give me sex just because I bring you cigarettes."
Roberta stiffened, her voice filled with traces of hurt. "I don't do it because of the cigarettes. I do it because I want to."
"Why do you want to, Ro?"
"Because you're a good man, Willie. And because I'm lonely."
"I love you, Ro."
"Get the hell out of here, you son-of-a-bitch!"
He nodded wearily and pulled himself into the open, crawling very carefully toward his own shelter. A rat scurried along side of him, but he ignored it, concentrating his energies on remaining as low as possible to the ground.
As he slid past a crater, the familiar faces of other soldiers peered out of the dark.
"Hey, Willie," a voice whispered as he approached. "Did ya hear the latest?"
He paused to answer. "No. What?"
"Evacuation in two more days."
"How?" The navy's training dolphins to carry us out piggy-back. I swear, it's true."
"I'll be damned."
"No, really. It's true."
"I believe you."
Willie crawled on. For a moment the wind shifted, and the smell of sea replaced the stink of decay. Evacuation by dolphin? It was dumb enough to work.
He began to feel excited, even hopeful. Maybe he'd live after all. Maybe Ro really loved him. Maybe her husband would give her a divorce. Maybe...
A new barrage came in, spotting the mud and corpses in an illuminated whiteness, like the snow of a million Christmases.