The Savage Boy

1

YOU TAKE EVERYTHING with you.

That is the last lesson. The last of all the lessons. The last words of Staff Sergeant Presley.

You take everything with you, Boy.

The Boy tramped through the last of the crunchy brown stalks of wild corn, his weak left leg dragging as it did, his arms full. He carried weathered wooden slats taken from the old building at the edge of the nameless town. He listened to the single clang of some long unused lanyard, connecting against a flagpole in the fading warmth of the quiet autumn morning.

He knew.

Staff Sergeant Presley was gone now.

The last night had been the longest. The old man that Staff Sergeant Presley had become, bent and shriveled, faded as he gasped for air around the ragged remains of his throat, was gone. His once dark, chocolate brown skin turned gray. The muscles shriveled, the eyes milky. There had been brief moments of fire in those eyes over the final cold days. But at the last of Staff Sergeant Presley there had been no final moment. All of him had gone so quickly. As if stolen. As if taken.

You take everything with you.

The cold wind thundered against the sides of Gas Station all night long as it raced down from mountain passes far to the west. It careened across the dry whispering plain of husk and brush through a ravaged land of wild, dry corn. The wind raced past them in the night, moving east.

A week ago, Gas Station was as far as Staff Sergeant Presley could go, stopping as if they might start again, as they had so many times before. Gas Station was as far as the dying man could go. Would go.

I gotcha to the Eighty, Boy. Now all you got to do is follow it straight on into California. Follow it all the way to the Army in Oakland.

Now, in the morning’s heatless golden light, the Boy came back from hunting, having taken only a rabbit. Staff Sergeant Presley’s sunken chest did not rise. The Boy waited for a moment amongst the debris and broken glass turned to sandy grit of Gas Station, their final camp. He waited for Sergeant Presley to look at him and nod.

I’m okay.

I’ll be fine.

Get the wood.

But he did not. Staff Sergeant Presley lay unmoving in his blankets.

The Boy went out, crossing the open space where once a building stood. Now, wild corn had grown up through the cracked concrete pad that remained. He crossed the disappearing town to the old wooden shamble at its edge, maybe once a barn. Working with his tomahawk he had the slats off with a sharp crack in the cool, dry air of the high desert. Returning to Gas Station, he knew.

Staff Sergeant Presley was gone now.

The Boy crossed the open lot. Horse looked at him, then turned away. And there was something in that dismissal of Horse that told the Boy everything he needed to know and did not want to.

Staff Sergeant Presley was gone.

He laid the wood down near the crumbling curb and crossed into the tiny office that once watched the county road.

Staff Sergeant Presley’s hand was cold. His chest did not rise. His eyes were closed.

The Boy sat next to the body throughout that long afternoon until the wind came up.

You take everything with you.

And . . .

The Army is west. Keep going west, Boy. When you find them, show them the map. Tell them who I was. They’ll know what to do. Tell them Staff Sergeant Lyman Julius Presley, Third Battalion, 47th Infantry, Scouts. Tell them I made it all the way—all the