Rich Adams
Texas Ruby Red
First Prize Award Winner

T he evening sky threatened bitter snow, stinging grains that would whistle like shrapnel and gnaw upon the thin soles of shoes and threadbare sleeves. Once, on such a night, Smitty and his bone-weary men crouched in snow-packed foxholes, waiting for the infinite Chinese to swarm like banshees. But that was Korea.
Smitty slid past a listing cyclone fence. Once he and shadowy commandos had slid through jungles where unwary sentries stood drowsing in the violent night. But that was the South Pacific.
Coming here had been a mistake. Tomorrow he would return to the city. City people tossed their guilt into paper cups; here they tossed it back onto Smitty, and his stomach remained empty. His last two coins rubbed coldly together.
Smitty approached a small, boarded-up apartment building-- condemned, untenable, outlined in black in the deep gray. He pried open some boards. The city ran shelters against such nights. Here, this would do. A cold pipe struck off the brass doorknob and Smitty pushed his way in. Darkness swallowed him like a profound thought.
He folded into a corner. Behind closed eyes soldiers sprang to life, calling Smitty by name and laughing and dreaming of furloughs and dames.
It was too cold that night for the passing patrol car to check the dark building. Smitty and his men fell into a warm, terrible sleep.

First published: March 1994