Image from flickr via Manitoba Historical Maps

By Christine Lee Zilka

The bodies were maps of stories, another way in which the war spoke soundless miles. That one, with the gaping wound, had died from shrapnel or gunfire. That other one with the skin alternating between milky white spots and charred black had died in an explosion. That one, the skeletal one, had died of starvation.

“Look for the swollen ones,” his mother said. “They said he drowned.” Her whisper sawed through the air, and sounded loud as helicopters.

He searched for the bloated bodies, the ones that had been found in the rivers and on the banks of rivers. The most gruesome bodies of all. That one had been in the water for a long time. That one had been pulled out much earlier.

“Hold your rag up to your face.”

That one had long hair. Dae-Sang had short hair.

“Hold your rag up to your face.”

That one was too old. That one was too young.

“Let’s take a break.”

That one was a woman. That one’s face had suffered before dying. That one could be his brother, but the face was gone. That one had lost his leg. That one looked so perfect, who knew how he’d died.

“Have a sip of water. Gargle.”

But he couldn’t swallow, vomited instead, and couldn’t speak. He closed his eyes. Covered his ears. He could smell the end of the world in the air—the voices gone—instead the smoke like fuel exhaust, like detonated bombs, like burning wood, like blazing metal, like melting plastic, like scorched hair, like funerals, like incineration, like coal, like ash, like him.

Christine Lee Zilka is the Fiction Editor at Kartika Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies such as ZYZZYVA, Verbsap, Newport Review, and Men Undressed. She was awarded a residency at Hedgebrook in 2006, placed as a finalist in Poets and Writers Magazine’s Writers Exchange Contest in 2007, and received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open in 2009. In addition to writing short stories, she has a novel in progress.

More End Times-themed flash fiction:

Steve Chang: Eternity

Julia Fierro: Inventory

Lauren K. Alleyne: The Way the Body Goes

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