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Wyvern Lit

Zero Bridge, No Coda

Fiction by Ashley Hutson


            The Antietam National Cemetery is packed with bodies. Everyone is underground, sniffing the dirt. They are all men. When it rains, they watch the boards of their standard-issue coffins drip in the dark. Some try catching a drop on a dusty ulna, a femur.

            If ghosts existed, there would be no space left in this town. There would be no space left on this earth. But here, especially, a person would have a hard time moving around. A person would have difficulty entering the cemetery, shouldering through the crush of so many torsos, arms, and legs. Naked men. Men in rags. Men in full uniform. Dingy blue that looks like gray, blackened at the wounds.

            These men would be shorter than us. Time has lengthened our limbs and lightened our voices. In this place the voices are all whiskey-smoked, deep and round as a barrel. If this place were real. If time reversed. We would hear men shouting down the constant concussion of war that wangles their brains. Cannons the bass clef, screams the treble. Gunshots the tender tenors. The men would need to yell loudly to be heard over this music. It is a long song with zero bridge, no coda. This is a modern composition.

            When tourists come through, there is a dark party. The kind where the smell of skin is everywhere for those who search for it. Invisible bodies move like scores of thin, slippery fish weaving cyclonic patterns in a cramped aquarium. No sitting down. No resting. Maybe one of the dead men pulls at a tourist's camera bag. Another tugs on a windbreaker collar. The rest are dancing, jostling for attention, jerking around in spastic ecstasy. At least one man waves for rescue with such manic ferocity that he—at last!—fluoresces in front of a camera lens.

            “Orbs,” someone will say later in a living room two hundred miles away. The tourists show this mysterious photo to guests. A few of them will crowd around the tiny screen and laugh, comment on how unfocused the image is. At least one of them will say, “Dust.”

            Meanwhile, the four people who died in the back bedroom of this house stand around, out of breath. They are looking at each other in familiar despair. Everyone is sick of this dimensional translation. Nothing measurable ever gets through. There is only so much space in the world.

            The living put down the camera, the scene forgotten. They move on to dinner. Next month they will return to the battlefield and watch men in costumes play at war. The blurry picture will be deleted.