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Exile’s End

by R. J. Walker Miller

It had been simply ritual to watch the distant stars.
To watch and wonder,
to contemplate,
to meditate
on what we had lost.
On what had brought us here.

We all watched nightly:
youthful and ancient,
male and female,
hearty and infirm.
All came beneath the starlit vaults of the heavens and sang.

We sang of the voyage the young could not remember:
sang of the fear-fueled race through the stars,
sang of the panic and dread,
sang of the aching hunger,
sang of the sickening throb of a creature cruelly hunted.
It was beautiful, perhaps, but there was no hope in it.
It was simply ritual.

We all knew that we would not be joined in our lonely exile.
The attacks had been too rapid,
too brutal and devastating,
too merciless and unexpected.
We remembered our world with nightmares in darkness and shudders in light:
death and fire,
blackened craters and wasted fields,
cities of rubble and burned bodies stacked to the heavens in pathetic offering.
We remembered the infernal, whispering screams of the Kines’ dark ships.
We remembered their angular vessels tearing down like rents in the starry cloak of God.
We knew we must have seen the last of that blazing Gehenna.
Midsummer would forever prove us wrong.

That star-rise, as always, we were gathered,
voices and tired eyes lifted upward into eternity’s vast shadowed seas.
As our voices in chant were raised, the sky awakened:
thunder rumbled in its depths,
light streaked the firmament in multicolored waves,
the distant stars seemed to swell and pulsate.
“Storm,” someone breathed.
“They’ve found us,” another said.
Panic gripped us.
Fear parted and bent our group like storm winds through tall trees.

In the following terror, flames lapped and tore at the sky
And, wailing as it split the air, a blazing object plummeted,
crashing into the woods not miles from our settlement.
The ground shook and heaved like a beast trying to rid itself of a burden,
then silence enfolded us all.

We waited, barely breathing, for any sign of further disturbance.
None came.
For hours we waited in the dreadful, motionless hush:
in frozen fear,
in icy trepidation,
awaiting the worst.

Finally courage stirred us.
We went for weapons:
aged and tarnished guns,
nicked and battered knives,
rusting and sharpened kitchen utensils.
Armed, we entered the woods and searched the darkness.

Slightly past the midnight hour we found the thing that had fallen:
a fire-darkened ship,
still steaming and glowing from its unbroken descent.
A pillar of fiery embers rose into the sky
to guide us to its resting place
of burnt foliage and shattered earth.
In grim quiet we waited before it to kill the fiend within.

But, after dawn had come, no fiend exited the battered hull,
but instead a man:
old and tired,
graying beard,
tattered clothes.
And he was human.
We rejoiced and rushed about him, yelling.
More emerged:
even children.
All were exhausted and starved, but all alive
like a reflection of our own past.

“You found us,” we cried. “But how?”
“How?” they repeated with the incomprehension of the seeing before the blind.
They looked at each other in confusion.
“We were guided,” a man told us finally.
Then, seeing we still did not understand, he pointed to the air above the ship,
to the pillar of smoke and ash still glowing softly with heat and dawn...
and shimmering with a strange, ethereal light.
“Can you not see the angel?” he asked us softly.

Copyright © 2009 by R. J. Walker Miller

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