Coming Home

Staff Sergeant William Dunne found himself at the starting point of his life, having completed the circuit in not quite a dozen years. Back on the farm, the fifth generation of Nebraska offspring descended from an illiterate English immigrant, was not where he’d expected to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his birth. Yet here he was.
Fate was unpredictable.
Hitching his shoulders he rolled his hip forward, like he’d learned in rehabilitation therapy, and forced the sluggish thigh muscles to contract. The limp impeded his progress. The uneven gait was a memento from the hundreds of tiny metal fragments that ripped through the connective tissues of his left leg and severed tendons before the debris pitted calderas in his femur. Staff Sergeant William Dunne leaned into the challenge of the furrowed dirt road. Shrapnel, now his lifelong companion, slowed each faltering step but he persevered.
He was determined to recover.
His family memories were always black and white, like old photographs. Not the warm gentle sepia tones of nineteenth century photogravures, but the stark endless gradations of light and dark reminiscent of the works of Ansel Adams. The farm represented his personal visual legacy of loss, an endless cycle of heat and drought that reduced fields to empty husks and parched land into desolate plains, a parasite intent on draining the life from each aching man, woman and child.
The day after graduation he’d escaped.
He’d thrived under Army discipline. Responsibility fed his hunger. Action fulfilled anger he didn’t know he owned. His request for deployment to green moist places amused his Commanding Officer, a corn-fed boy himself, and his ascent through the ranks went swift.
His rare visits back were occasioned by funerals or graveside memorials. He could almost count the years of his absence by the number of new headstones studding the family plot above the curve of the Sweetwater River. The white granite monuments looked like monstrous teeth rising from the ground.
The rank of Sergeant First Class was on his horizon when the unthinkable happened. The event wasn’t even combat-related, a simple accident. Routine ordnance disposal went sideways and almost took off his leg. Hospital personnel saved his life but not enough of his mobility.
The medical discharge ended his career.
The C.O. visited the infirmary, told him it could’ve been messier, one of the unstable acid grenades they’d found moldering behind decommissioned ammunition could’ve blown. True. Maybe.
Staff Sergeant William Dunne came home ten months later. Every morning he jerked awake, the scent of charred skin and scalded metal fresh, and the day seemed endless.
Until something changed.
Now his awkward steps turned up the long path to the cemetery. He paid respect to his forbears, honored patient generations slowly returning their bodies to the warm soil. Felt reconnected. Summer heat swirled over the plains, dark clouds whipped across a lightning lit sky, wet his skin. Sweat streamed down his back, trickled from his brow and dripped to the ground, fed the rows of corn.
Flash Fiction Challenge: photo #2 @
Caveat: must use “and the day seemed endless” but cannot mention zombies, the apocalypse OR aliens

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