Written by Nora Fares
I was stationed in what remained of Ft. Sam Houston.
Weak and sunken eyes walked past me everywhere I went, homesick for a home that no longer existed. God knew what hid inside those decayed and drunken hearts because I couldn’t quite figure how they forced themselves out of bed each morning to serve a country that was no longer a country. With so little of us left, we were just a few colonies now. The world seemed to drag down my men, and all I could do was push them to do better, to be better; I wanted them to rise against the cards they’d been dealt.
But they kept folding.
I was saluted as I walked the grounds.
“Major,” they said, but inside they were likely calling me other things. Asshole. Prick. Spoiled, rich, brat. That was what I had been before the war. It had changed me, had changed how I viewed human life. I’d shot and killed those I was ashamed to admit I’d killed. I’d seen men and women torn to shreds by bullets. It had been an eye for an eye for a long time, but then the war ended, and there were no eyes left. We were all broken; we were all blind in some way or another.
My heart was lean and at twenty-eight, I was too young for my position, but I was healthy, I was able, and my mind was sharp. The war had changed everything and anyone with combat experience was bumped to handle all the new shavetails the Army needed. I should be in my thirties for this position, but there just weren’t enough experienced men to take my place, and I took the role with guilt in my bones, knowing I did not deserve it. Sure, there were other majors, but they seemed to fit the role. I was too fucked-up to be having a special ops command, too young to be on the list for a promotion to lieutenant colonel. It was all happening so fast, and all I could do was hold on and pray that I could do this.
I hadn’t been very religious before the war, but when you’ve got grenades landing just feet away, spraying shards into your body, trying to kill you with concussion, all you can do is pray and hope that there was someone out there listening.
Heal and you will be healed.
I told myself that a lot. I’d read it in a book somewhere, a self-healing book that I’d found in the home of a young officer who’d died at my hands. He’d been an enemy from the opposing side, and I’d been overseas, fighting on land that was not familiar to me. I’d killed him because those had been my orders, but inside—inside I’d burned.
Do unto others before they do unto you. Don’t die for your country, make the other guy die for his. I reiterated all the little sayings you heard in boot camp and around locker rooms that held too much testosterone.
I’d walked over to his bookshelf after killing him, wondering if I could understand who he was, if I could remember him and his spirit in some way. I’d found the book in the middle of the bookshelf, weathered and worn. With bloodied hands, I’d opened it to a page with a bookmark.
Highlighted was that phrase.
Heal and you will be healed.
The thing was, I was no doctor. I could not heal worth shit. I didn’t know how to fix my men, didn’t know how to get through to them. They went through their combat training almost aimlessly. I ordered them to focus, and they tried, but they didn’t have it in them.
They were broken, and as much as I wanted to help them, as much as I wanted to heal, I just… couldn’t.
I was broken too.
The frosted windows had cracked across the pane, the world outside otherworldly and foreign. The nuclear weapons had ended World War III four months ago; not enough time for the green to grow back, nor the world to return to as it once was. Perhaps that was for the best; all my life, the world had been an awful thing, preparing for a war that would eventually kill off most of the population. Were there really only a couple hundred thousand of us left in the United States?
The newly-elected government had said so. People had been collected and plucked from all over the United States, brought here to Texas to start over where there was plenty of land. The cattle were here, the ranches and farms, and it was a good place to start over.
I’d woken up on such a farm, and it was early, earlier than the unreliable rooster’s call, but I was still late. In this new world, I lived here with a handful of other women my age, running a farm together because the government officials had told us to. The chickens on the farm produced many eggs, and those eggs were picked up and shipped to feed the population on a daily basis. I would have to go meet the trucks.
I changed into my work pants and an old button-down flannel shirt. Over it went a fleece denim jacket to fend off the early-morning cold. I went downstairs, finding Kayla in the kitchen, already cooking up breakfast for everyone. That was her job, and she was good at it. I could smell the bacon and eggs.
“Good morning, Clara,” Kayla said, grinning. She was so damn chipper in the mornings.
“Says who?” I said grumpily.
“Says me. Come have some breakfast.”
“Can’t. I have to meet the trucks.”
“I’ll save you a plate,” Kayla said and returned to her cooking.
I pulled on my boots by the back door and then trudged outside to take inventory. There were a dozen girls outside, getting the eggs in the cartons. I met with them and took note of the numbers, sighing because a few of the chickens were underproducing. They’d be slaughtered soon if they didn’t start laying more eggs.
“Come on, Helen,” I said, patting one of the hens. “Give us some eggs.”
She cook-cooed unintelligibly at me.
The trucks arrived fifteen minutes later, rumbling down the dusty road. There were three of them, and they’d be taking everything the hens had produced, save for three cartons that we’d be able to keep to feed us farmhands. The truck drivers were good-natured. We helped them load the trucks and they always appreciated the piping hot coffee that Kayla brought outside and served them. She sent each on their way with a boiled egg as a morning snack.
After breakfast in the house, I got to fixing the fence posts. It was laborious work, harder than I was used to. When I’d first arrived at the farm a month and a half ago, I hadn’t known how to fix a damn thing, but now I was getting the hang of it. My delicate soft hands were getting calloused and rough, and my skin had tanned under the hot Texas sun. The freckles that dusted my nose were new; I hadn’t even known before that I could get freckles at all.
“Clara!” called a voice from the field. I turned around, finding Ginny waving a letter in the air. She was just a little older than me, wild and carefree. The war hadn’t been able to break her spirit, even though she’d lost everything and everyone just like me.
I met her halfway across the field. She held out the letter.
“You’ve been summoned, I think,” she said. “I got one too.”
“Summoned?” I said, opening up the letter. I read quickly.
IN THE COURT OF COMMONS PLEAS FOR THE STATE OF TEXAS
IN AND FOR MCMULLEN COUNTY
Name (s) ) Clara Marie Pritchett
) Civil Action No. 9396028
TO THE SHERIFF OF MCMULLEN COUNTY
YOU ARE COMMANDED:
To Summon the above named(s) and serve upon said named(s) a copy of this summons.
TO THE ABOVE NAMED(S):
Within twenty (20) days after you receive this Summons, excluding the day you receive it, you must appear before the court for assignment on 07/16/2047 at two (2) PM. The original of your Answer must be filed with the Clerk’s Office of the Court of Common Pleas, McMullen, Texas and must include proof that a copy of the Answer was served on the Named(s) who is named on this Summons.
Failure to file an Answer the Summons will result in a judgment against you, and action may be taken by the court to satisfy the judgment.
DATED: 06/23/2047 Hank Flatbush
“What the hell is this?” I asked, frowning as I read the letter a second time. “Am I in trouble?”
“I don’t know, but it said assignment, Clara. Do you think we’re being summoned for the Marriage Law?”
The Marriage Law had just been signed a week ago. A week. According to the reports I’d read and the rumors I’d heard, every young citizen was going to be paired up with a partner to repopulate the country. You were expected to marry the person assigned to you, even if they were a complete stranger to you. It was a barbaric law, one I’d expected to be overturned in no time. Surely I’d been summoned for something else. Perhaps I was being reassigned to a different job. I had asked for a transfer when I’d first gotten here, asking for a job, any job in an office.
Now, I regretted it. I liked it here. I’d go to court and tell them so.