I had a dog named Jake. Jake had a doghouse in the backyard. Like this: red, with a white roof. Can you see it? Behind it was the sandbox where I buried countless G.I. Joes. Some might still be there, who knows? When I was five, when I was ten, when I was thirteen, I played in the sandbox, Jake lying in the sun watching me, watching me.

Sometimes I hide in the doghouse. It smells like dog, but it’s not a bad smell, just a dog smell. Rich. Safe. Jake would never let anything bad happen there. In his doghouse. Sometimes when Father is calling me I wait there calmly and Jake and I don’t even make a peep. It’s a game; to win you have to be very, very quiet. Only in stillness and silence can you win. Never with noise. With noise he can find you. And later, if you make more noise, you lose again. You can never win. Winning is simply not losing. I know. Jake knows. That’s why we are silent. Silent and Father never crouches down to look in the doghouse, to look in the doghouse.

I survived, of course. Who wouldn’t? We have to survive; that’s the trick: to survive. Survive and nothing else is important; focus, rid yourself of everything else, and focus on surviving. I focused on hiding in the doghouse. On staying silent, even when it hurt so much that it felt as though my body were about to shatter. Make a place in your mind—a calm, silent place, maybe a memory—and go there. Never speak about your place. It’s your place, and if it can’t be found, you will be safe, safe.

I bury the G.I. Joes. Jake watches me. He tilts his head as though asking me, Captain Hawk, too, your favorite? Yes, Jake, Captain Hawk, too, my favorite. Buried, nobody can throw them against the wall, or tear the little plastic bands that strap the legs to the chest. Captain Hawk would do the same for me. I bury them all: a company, a squadron, a company, a squadron.

Like little Egyptian effigies, I buried them. Like little prayers or gods. Take me with you, I prayed. I didn’t know the rain would corrode their plastic bands. I didn’t know the sand would seep into their joints until they couldn’t run or even salute. Poor Captain Hawk. Condemned to command a frozen squadron, melting under the sun like ice cream, ice cream.

Jake looks at me. He never moves out of the sun. But he watches over me while I dig up the Joes. They crumble in my hands, torn apart at the waist. And from every cavity–the chest, the legs, the shoulders, the knees–the sand pours out in a unstoppable stream. Jake watches me tap the chest cavity with my thumb. The sand runs out of the shoulders. I shake out the rest and Jake and me crawl across the lawn like crabs towards the doghouse. There I pin the G.I. Joes in the roof, twisting them around protruding nails, Captain Hawk finally flying like he should be. Father calls. Quiet! Quiet, Jake! Quiet! I see his feet, his knees, his waist, his waist.

I wonder if they’re still up there, the Joes. Stuck like the grotesque prey of some great butcherbird. Probably they are. Masters of silence they endure, hiding in the rafters, soaring. Jake couldn’t stay silent at the end, but I survived, I survived.

That’s the trick, you know, to be silent. To leave and go to your doghouse. Nobody can find you there. Nobody, you hear me? Nobody.

Zetetic separator

Edward Mack likes to express himself succinctly. He has done so for publications as varied as Flash: The International Short-Story Magazine to the Sensa Nostra Human Experience Archive.

One Response

  1. Brian James Lewis, Editor
    Brian James Lewis, Editor
    at · Reply

    I didn’t have a chance to read this when it came in, so I get to consume it as a reader instead of as an editor. It’s interesting, because there are so many pieces written from a child’s point of view that absolutely fail, and I’m not sure I would even have given this much of a chance.

    I’m glad I took time—on another reader’s suggestion—to read this today. I definitely enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was published here.

    So, what’s the difference? Well, let’s first look at the stories that fail: the voice tends to go beyond “child-like” and come across as “childish” instead. The ignorance of the protagonist, especially when written in first person, is exaggerated. The narrative is the written word equivalent of baby-talk, and I’ve been around too many 13-and-under kids for that presentation to be credible.

    “Buried” actually starts off sounding like it’s going to be another of those stories, and the first lines worried me that I’d find exactly that. What I think set it apart was that as it continued, the voice grew stronger; it didn’t strike me as a caricature of youth, but was genuine, and the repetition of phrases established a bit of literary rhythm instead of just a childish singsong.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find that this piece captured a certain level of narrator maturity not usually present in this type of work.

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