Week 8: The Word (Prompt: A story set during a war)

“What’s this word mean, Pa?”

Pa looked, his brow furrowing like it did when I asked about a hard word. This one didn’t have a lot of letters but I’d learned that sometimes the hardest words were the shortest ones.

“Ah…well let’s see. I’m not sure myself,” Pa said. “It means…well, you know the night hammers?”

I knew them. The ones that came from the sky and gut the world into patterns.

“Well, I think this word means…they wouldn’t exist.”

I didn’t understand. “It means no night hammers? But what would we listen to at night then?”

“And I think it means we could live in the same house and not move all the time,” Pa continued, as though I hadn’t said anything.

“But that would be boring!” I protested. The night hammers and the teethmen were always chewing up the land, and so we always got to find new houses to explore.

“And the teethmen wouldn’t exist.”

“But –“ I struggled to imagine such a thing. “But where would they go?”

“I just mean they wouldn’t be here.”

“And that’s what it means? No night hammers and no teethmen?”

“I think so. Next time we visit the cave, we can ask your grandmother. I think she might know. It hasn’t happened since…well, maybe even before she lived.”

Grandmother lived in a cave, the only one the teethmen hadn’t found yet, with the other old people and some young people like me. We couldn’t visit a lot, because the teethmen would see us go there and because we were always trying to guess the night hammers next pattern.

The next time we went, I showed her the book and the word.

I don’t know why, but she just laughed. She put her head back and laughed and laughed and laughed.

She never answered the question, either.

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