She didn’t recognize it. The language. The handwriting was feminine. Fluid. The penmanship flawless. The words unrecognizable.

It was a letter. Of that much she was certain. 

A two word salutation and a name. 


That was the name. The only thing she was certain of. 

There was no signature. That part had been torn off. Burned off by the looks of it. Violent. The remaining part of the note, what was left of it, was crumpled, stained. Perhaps by the circumstances. Perhaps something else. Whether by accident or purposefully she could not tell.

She sat in the field, under the lone ash tree, her favorite spot on the farm. Her oasis in the middle of the family fields, the tree had stood there for decades. Long before she was born. The rest of the trees cleared by past generations. This one, almost perfect, sturdy, the canopy a nearly exact sphere of leaves when in bloom.

This one spared the fate of the rest.

An otherwise beautiful day, the sunrise's pink glow warmed the hayfields. The grass was growing brown with the end of summer and the breeze blowing through, creating waves like the ocean that she had seen only on the one trip to the seashore the one time when she was young. Before it all started. When such trips were possible. When such trips were imaginable.

Since then it had only been home. Shelter. Sheltered. From what she hadn’t been certain at first. Until the strangers came. Until her father became someone she hadn’t seen before, known before. In front of the strangers he became changed. Uncomfortable. Uncertain. Weak.

She saw him cry once, behind the barn. After the strangers left in their strange cars with their strange language and strange clothing. All of it grey. Just like their faces. Whether they were actually grey she wasn’t sure. They hadn’t been around in awhile. But she remembered them that way. Beyond their clothes and their cars. Their skin. Their being.

The days seemed the same ever since their arrival. Long, grey, dark. Even the sunshine seemed colorless, on the few days she remembered there being sunshine. Mostly it seemed the weather had turned and remained overcast and downtrodden. Just like her father.

Her mother and two older brothers tried to remain cheerful in light of it all. She knew they were trying on her account. Even at her young age she realized they were hiding something. Trying to hide something. Protecting her.

Her oldest brother, at 26 ten years her senior, was better at it than her mother or her other brother. She almost imagined everything was fine when she was just with him. His mood remained the most true. His personality. Always with the jokes and the laughter that others were naturally drawn to. His talent on the piano, even one as worn and out-of-tune as the old upright her father had brought home so many years ago, was unsurpassed. The tunes weren’t recognizable. That was because he never learned any that anyone knew. He invented them as he played, and entranced anyone near enough to hear the sound.

Most were instrumental, but sometimes he created lyrics as he created the songs.

“Again, again!” she would shout, smiling, clapping, stomping her feet, bubbling with the joy the music created within her.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he would say. “I don’t think I remember any of it.”

As soon as the song was finished, it was gone.

And after his last song, two years before, so was he. And her other brother not long after. And her mother, though physically present, gone with her brothers all the same. Taken to her room. And to her bed. And finally to the ground.

Until it was just her and her father and the farm. What there still was of it.

The formerly well-tended garden just out the back of the family home, so meticulously cared for by her mother, a weed-choked ruin. Only the cabbage, undaunted by the lack of care, continued to surface, continued to provide anything that could sustain them.

The fields of hay remained. Her father dutifully, robotically, tending to them. The hay was undisturbed by the changes. The rain and sun, though grey, provided enough on their own to support what effort remained in her father.

The animals were all gone, sold or taken. Consumed by the grey men. First the chickens and the pigs, then the cows, until there was only the plow horse, a couple barn cats and one last gaunt Holstein, at eleven years still surprisingly producing a little milk. Her father had to beg to keep it. The grey men seemed to enjoy making him beg. Watching him on his knees, tears in his eyes. Pleading. The grey men acted magnanimous when they left him with the withered cow. She saw them laughing as they climbed into their car.

She felt something for the first time that she hadn’t felt before. Not anger. She’d felt that plenty. Something more. Something deeper.


She’d never felt that before. She knew what hatred was, knew it existed but she never had felt it. Until then. Until now.

The storms continued unabated through the next spring. She couldn’t remember, even in her short life, a spring with so much darkness. The thunder shook the farmhouse most nights through the early spring, but in the morning barely a trace. The ground remained dry more often than not, but the thunder continued nearly every night. Distant, at first, but growing nearer.

That night the storm reached her home.

The house shook. The earth shook.

Her father raced into her room, cradling her, caressing her head, trying fruitlessly to stem the sobs and screams until the windows blew open from the concussions and he too began to scream and swept her in his arms and out to the cellar.

In the night sky she saw flashes of light and bursts of fire, and the roar of the storm came down into the fields and exploded in huge fireballs, igniting the hayfields and the barn. Even amid the cacophony where all sound mingled into one deafening howl, she could make out the cry of the plow horse and the milk cow. She could hear the terror as the world burned around them.

Her father threw her, himself on top of her, into the cellar and pulled the door behind him as the world exploded into orange and red and yellow through the cracks of the door and then turned dark and silent as the storm continued, then eased, then passed.

The absolute silence, after the passing, was perhaps more terrifying than the storm.

In the morning, her father sleeping near her, she quietly slipped from his side so as not to wake him. She stared at the cellar door. A deep breath, she steeled herself and ventured outside. 

The barn was gone.

The charred, smoking remains, a smoldering pile of rubble. The unmistakable forms of the cow and the horse visible in the ruin.

The house still stood, though damaged, blackened by soot and flame. It would survive.

She walked to the fields dotted with smoldering wreckage. She walked towards the tree that still stood apparently unmolested by the devastation.

She ignored the wreckage. The carnage. The bodies. Mostly grey men. Some few others. Some indiscernible. Strewn everywhere.

She focused only on the tree.

Reaching it, she leaned back against the trunk and watched the breeze wash through the hayfields, the waves crashing on the darkened burnt patches where the storm had laid its victims. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the coming summer in the air, brushing against her skin, and the glow of the morning sun lighting upon her face through the parting clouds.

And then the bit of paper rustled against her ankle.

Looking at the strange words and burnt edges, she wondered what the note said. What the writer was trying to tell Daniel.

She held it in her hands, staring at it, hypnotized. Broken only by a drop of water falling off the branches above her, splashing across the paper. Except the water was bright red. And it was the brightest red she could remember seeing. The only red she could remember seeing for years.

Looking up for its source she found one of the grey men, dangling above in a web of canvas and silk, his eyes staring unblinking back at her. In his hands, stuck in the grime and the sweat and the blood, the rest of the note.

She regarded him a moment. His eyes. She saw they were blue. There might have been humanity there at one point. But she didn’t recognize it. Anymore than the humanity she used to recognize in her own heart.

She stared a moment longer, then held up her part of the note for him to see in his eyes that looked but no longer saw. She glared at him. Glared into his eyes. Glared into his blue eyes. She cursed him without saying a word. Then she wadded up the note and threw it into the field.

Something moved, sprung. Just on the edge of her vision.

It darted toward the note. A small dark shape. Furtive. Unseen in the tall grass.

And then the crumpled note flew back into the air. And the dark shape followed and pounced. One of the barn cats, the fur on its tail singed but otherwise unharmed, landed on the note, batting it back and forth between its paws.

And the tears that never came for her mother or her brothers or her world and certainly not for Daniel, came all at once.

She cradled the cat in her arms, sobbing, trembling. She allowed herself that, but only for a moment. Then she composed herself, rubbing the sorrow from her face, and she walked back towards the house, towards her father. Towards a future that she hadn’t been certain would have been waiting before now. Noticing for the first time, that the grey of the world was fading, and color had begun to return to the farm.

March 04, 2024 20:18

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Jorge Soto
03:24 Mar 26, 2024

"Looking up for its source she found one of the grey men, dangling above in a web of canvas and silk, his eyes staring unblinking back at her. In his hands, stuck in the grime and the sweat and the blood, the rest of the note." great stuff! A paratrooper or pilot caught in a tree yes?


David McCahan
19:13 Mar 26, 2024



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Alexis Araneta
15:20 Mar 15, 2024

This was lovely, David ! The descriptions are amazing. Lovely job !


David McCahan
16:50 Mar 15, 2024

Thank you, Stella! So appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment!


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14:07 Mar 10, 2024

Breathtakingly good. I was immediately transported into the story, felt every emotion, sensed every feeling. Your use of imagery is enviable. Loved this! ❤️ (Maybe join some of us writers on Discord? We enter lots of other writing contests and beta read/support one another. Details in my bio.)


David McCahan
17:22 Mar 10, 2024

Thank you for your kind words. I’d love to join you all. I’ll check out your bio and sign up.


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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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