Purdy’s first thought as she approached the town was for the frozen horses. Nothing in her forty-two years had prepared her for such a sight, let alone the countless numbers, and she thought in her ignorance how war must use them up like cordwood in a winter freeze.
Her second thought was for Enoch: Please God, let him be alive. She pressed the back of her hand to her mouth then, put her wedding ring to her lips and kissed gently the gold band he had given her twenty-odd years before. “I love you,” she said in a muted, prayerful tone, and if Enoch had by some miracle of faith and acoustics been listening, he would have heard the pang of her desire and the impress of her words in her voice.
“I love you,” she said again, and moved on into the broken town.
What was left of Falmouth wasn’t much. She pulled the kerchief wound round her neck up over her lower face. The place stank of sulphur and corruption and the mixture made her eyes burn and her belly queasy. Interspersed among the horses, men—or rather the used up skinbags of what had once been men—lay at frequent intervals. The several people walking this corrupted landscape worked with their faces half covered, as if the necessary business of taking up the dead made them outcasts, or bandits in their own land. The abundant dead made their efforts appear futile.
At first glance, the people of the town looked washed-out and pale. They lacked vitality and might have been counterfeit people. Their faces inspired dread, as if every soul in the world suffered from some awful form of insomnia. As if the world entire had taken ill at once. Smiling seemed a lost skill, known only to the before-time. The people gathered here and there in the yards of ruined homes, or along eidolic cobblestone streets. Now a small crowd, now a displaced family, now singly and by twos. Dispossessed of their homes, they fired their furniture and burned their heirlooms to keep warm in the frigid air of a December gone bad.
Enoch wasn’t anywhere she looked.
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