Emily’s rattle. It reminded me of the snare drums. Or maybe it was the other way around. Either way, I march. The sun berates us, but distantly; it is fall. Much more immediate a concern is the Sergeant double-timing his way to my position in the long line. I straighten my back inside the rough wool coat and tighten my pace to that insistent drum.
Tak. Tak. Tikatak. Tak. Tak. Tikatak, went the drum.
Thumphthumphthumphthumph went our feet.
Sergeant passes me by this time. I relax slightly and let my mind wander from the march. Emily’s rattle. How long has it been? I count the months, the days, the weeks. The number never seems to come up right anyway. I carved her that rattle before I left. Cut the tiny gourd off the vine and let it dry, dry out, but not decay. I made sure it was hollow, cut the tiny hole and painstakingly fed each little grain of corn into it. Painted it with her favorite pictures, colors, stripes.
Tak. Tak. Tikatak.
There are too many of us. The drum cannot keep all our feet in line. A long cloud of dust raises as we pass, and hangs after us like a ghost. Even when it rains, we soon raise the dust again. At night we camp, but in the morning the march begins anew. Some say we’re heading south, to beat the winter, to a strategic city, for some reason or another. Others say we’ll soon turn east, to confuse our enemies. Me, I hope we’re heading west. I’ve always wanted to go west. I suppose I could check which way we’re headed each day by the sun, but to be honest, I’m too tired, and I don’t care.
Tak. Tak. Tikatak.
Tak. Tak. TikatFWEEEEEEEEEE
TikatakaTAK TAK TAK.
The feet stop. The whistle’s piercing note is echoing into the distance, racing the ghost of our dust. It’s time to make camp. I hope she and Emily are safe. I hope we don’t go east or west or south. I hope we go home.