Warren Stoddard II traveled to Syria to fight as a member of the Kurdish YPG, where he was later wounded in action against the Islamic State. Is this memory, or nightmare?
Outside, in the rain, the hammer is falling. It is a peculiar sound that is coming from the smithy, made all the more peculiar by the fact that I am the blacksmith. It is not the sound of steel on steel. I can hear the pitter-patter of rain on the rooftop, but beneath that roof there is no singing on the anvil. The sound shatters. The sound crashes.
Outside my window I can see the dull glow of the fire reflecting off the drops of rain as they fall to the street. The mud is lit amber too. I rise from my desk, leaving the candle burning, forgetting to grab a weapon—a gun or a sword or a spear or an axe. I wrap my cloak about me and step from the room. I make my way down the stairs slowly by ambient light. My hand is running along an empty wall. And turning from the stairs I tread carefully through the room—its walls too—blank as an unwritten page, as an erased page, righteously stripped of its hollow pride.
Outside the walls, the sound is horrid. The sound is horrifying. The sound fills my ears. It makes me want to throw myself against the wall for some cover as though it were falling meteorites, but only the raindrops wet the hood of my cloak. But who is swinging the hammer? You can tell by the substance of the sound that they are true strikes, as though the arm has trained for some years to be ready and equipped for such an act of hostility. And how have the neighbors not woken? Or are they all at their windows watching the swinging of the hammer with strongly beating hearts, smiling? I round the final corner and step under the awning of the structure, into the glow, free of the rain.
And inside, the glow is an inferno. And there is a figure there, cloaked as I am cloaked, taking photographs and portraits and fine porcelain plates from a pile on the ground, setting them on the anvil, and striking. I do not speak. I do not call out. It is a retribution seen from long off. The cloaked figure sets a plate, and it strikes. And then a framed photograph. And then it snatches around as if it had heard some objection from me. Its face is lit by the flames, and it is as if I am looking into a mirror. I whimper as though I have learned a long-suppressed truth. For it is my own face, but the nose is hooked like a goblin’s, the chin is deteriorated as a leper’s, the cheeks are pockmarked. And the face smiles a proud smile of broken teeth—righteous, and lifts an image from the stack, and strikes downward with the hammer as a toppled monument strikes the ground of a once-proud empire whose borders were built on the backs of brutal genocide.
Following his graduation from Texas State University in 2018, Warren Stoddard II traveled to Syria to fight as a member of the Kurdish YPG, where he was later wounded in action against the Islamic State. He is the author of a novella, No Birds in Yesterday, and a story collection, A Good Place on the Banks of the Euphrates, and his short work has appeared in numerous literary magazines.
Header photo by Viktor Melnik, courtesy Shutterstock.