Steve Gergley ~ Notes from the War


I lay on my back on the for­est floor, in the exact place they first arrived sev­en years ago. Aching from the hike and my gnaw­ing hunger, I stretch my body into a five-point star and stare through the trees at the sky. As the air grows cold and the sun­set dis­solves into the red-baked black of the night, I close my eyes and pic­ture their faces of pol­ished sil­ver. Their thin, long bod­ies laced with gold cir­cuit­ry. Then, just before melt­ing into sleep, I try to sum­mon them into my dreams once again.

Please come back to us.

Don’t leave us here alone with each other.



While for­ag­ing in the woods for food, you find a skele­ton near a cork elm ringed with wood lilies. The bones are arranged into an X. A jaw­less skull of pol­ished sil­ver sits at the cen­ter of the X and stares up through the trees. Clumps of thick clouds hang bloat­ed and black in the sky, ready to dump radioac­tive rain on the world. Without think­ing, you reach out to touch the gleam­ing skull. But you stop when you remem­ber what your father said on the day he left for the war.

Never touch any­thing strange in the woods.



At the begin­ning of the sixth year of the war, me and my sis­ter saw a sol­dier fall out of the sky. From our bed­room win­dow we watched him glide through the air like a leaf and crash through the roof of our barn. We woke up moth­er and fol­lowed her out­side. The soldier’s para­chute was caught in the roof; he hung limp and uncon­scious from the lines. A white cloth stained with engine oil had been sewn onto his flight suit, cov­er­ing the flag of our bit­ter ene­mies to the north. I point­ed at the cloth and start­ed to speak, but Mother spit on the floor and tore the cloth and grabbed the old ax off the wall.

Take your sis­ter back to the house and lock the door.



Lying in bed, the rough cov­ers pulled up to your chin, you ask your moth­er if they’re ever com­ing back. You ask her what hap­pened when they first land­ed in the woods. You ask her why they tried to help us when they didn’t even know who we were. Then, with­out wait­ing for her answer, you tell her what the Miller twins said about them last week: that their star had trans­formed into a red giant, that they talk to us only in our dreams, that their ships are made of a spe­cial gold that’s not heavy.

That’s why every­body keeps fight­ing and no one wants to be friends with them, you say, because it’s eas­i­er to kill them and take their stuff when they’re not our friends.

Your moth­er looks at you for a long time and then clos­es your favorite book about pre­cious met­als. Her eyes are blue. She looks very tired.

I don’t know about that.

I don’t real­ly know about any of this stuff anymore.



There’s no more grape jam in the house, so me and Simon eat dry toast for break­fast. The crumbs are hard and sharp and tiny, and we flick them at each oth­er while we eat. Mom stands by the win­dow and stares at the dirt road in front of the house. While she’s dis­tract­ed, I bite my crust into a boomerang and throw it at Simon’s neck. His face scrunch­es up like a raisin. He starts to cry. Then some jeeps from our army roar down the road toward the Miller Farm, where the ene­my sol­dier crashed through the barn two days ago. Mom thinks we don’t know about the sol­dier, but we do. After she put us to bed last night, we heard her whis­per­ing about him on the phone with Mrs. Miller.

Once the jeeps are gone, Mom picks up the kitchen phone and starts dial­ing. Halfway through the num­ber she stops, clicks the hang-up but­ton, and starts dial­ing again. Then she stops again. She clicks the hang-up but­ton over and over. She screams loud­er than Simon’s cry­ing and slams the phone against the wall a few times. Simon stops cry­ing and looks at me. I look at him and then out the win­dow to the road. The dust kicked up by the jeeps hangs in the hazy air. A rope of black smoke ris­es from the Miller Farm. Before I can ask Mom what’s going on, some­one pounds hard on the front door. Mom press­es her fin­ger to her lips for qui­et and ush­ers us into the base­ment. Just before clos­ing the door, she holds my face in her hands and stares at me.

Leave the lights off and find a good hid­ing spot and stay there.

Stay qui­et no mat­ter what.

Everything is going to be okay.



Your escape from your unit com­plete, you reach the woods out­side town just before dawn. There you sit on a wall of stacked stone and crunch into the last fresh apple from your pack. Once fin­ished, you stretch your neck in a slow cir­cle and watch the sun­rise. Oaks and elms creak in the ear­ly morn­ing breeze. Feathers of pink flame leak through the ser­rat­ed teardrops of the leaves. In the east, a glit­ter­ing star emerges from behind the sun. Streaking across the sky, it falls in a shal­low arc and then paus­es. From where you’re sit­ting the star seems to be hov­er­ing direct­ly over­head, but you can’t tell for sure. Then it begins to descend. It flies straight down, grow­ing larg­er with each pass­ing moment, its gold body glint­ing in the morn­ing light.


Steve Gergley is a writer and run­ner from Warwick, New York. His fic­tion has appeared or is forth­com­ing in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and oth­ers. In addi­tion to writ­ing fic­tion, he has com­posed and record­ed five albums of orig­i­nal music. His fic­tion can be found at: