From Daily Writing Prompt #48
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William stood over the body and wept. It was not the first time and would not be the last, but still he wept. Killing was part of his job. It was shoot or be shot out here, but when that other person was a child it didn’t feel so black and white. These kids were pumped full of drugs and brain washed into soldiers, but they were still children. The one below him looked to be the age of his oldest son Denny.
“We’ve got to get out of here, come on Eagle!”
Teddy Storbel, Bear to his fellow soldiers, grabbed William’s shirt sleeve with his paw of a hand and tugged him away from the lifeless child at their feet. Then he pulled Will close by the helmet, forcing their eyes to lock.
“Eagle, you did what you had to. Now let’s go!”
A clatter of gunfire exploded through the trees behind them like a pack of firecrackers lit off on the fourth back home. Bear started running, dragging William until he kept stride on his own. Bear was glad to have Eagle with him, they needed to get back to base, and Eagle was the best shot in the fireteam.
“If we can just find some cover,” Bear said as they ran, “then I can radio in and,” but then a stray bullet sailed through his radio.
“That was a close one. They hit something, but I’m OK. Let’s see if we can find that cave!”
They ran until Eagle spotted the small cave they had found and covered up with brush on their way in. Ducking inside Bear found out what had been hit.
“They got the radio!” he said, but Eagle wasn’t listening.
“Did you hear me? They got my radio! We’re all alone out here now!”
Eagle sat with his back against the cave wall and pulled his legs up, burying his face into his knees.
“If you wouldn’t have shot him it’d be you on the ground back there, and then two boys back home wouldn’t have a daddy.”
Eagle kept his face hidden in his knees. Just then the shooting stopped and a low rumble grew outside in the distance. Bear turned and peered through the brush covering the mouth of the cave.
“Eagle,” he whispered, “I can’t see it yet, but that’s got to be a Jeep. I bet that means their adult leaders are coming this way.”
Eagle perked up at this. He rolled forward onto his knees and crawled to the mouth of the cave. Before looking out, he stopped and raised his assault rifle. He reached up and pulled away some of the brush strewn over the mouth of the cave, and hung it on the end of his gun. Then he poked the barrel through the brush and waited. Bear couldn’t see, but it sounded like the whir of the engine was just out of site now. Eagle let out half of his breath and fired. Boom! One shot. Boom, boom! There would have been at least four in the Jeep. One of them is a kid, and he couldn’t do it, Bear thought. Sure enough, Eagle threw himself back into the cave as a smattering of bullets sprayed through the brush just missing them. The firing continued, but not into the cave. The kid didn’t know where Eagle had shot from, just the general direction. Bear waited until the firing ceased, and then crawled up to the mouth of the cave. He pushed aside a small cluster of brush with the delicacy of removing hair from a woman’s face before kissing her. Once he had a visual he became as still as the rock walls around him. He watched and waited. The child either grew tired of firing off rounds through the machine gun mounted on the Jeep, or he wanted to see if he’d hit anyone. He climbed down and began walking towards the cave. With his eyes and rifle to the ground he picked about until he was close enough. Bear held up a hand towards Eagle, motioning for him to get ready to move. Seeing nothing, the boy continued past them.
They burst out of the cave and ambushed the kid. Bear knocked him to the ground and Eagle scooped up his assault rifle. Bear slid off of him and let him get up. He looked at them with a wrinkled scowl that didn’t belong on the face of a child.
“No shoot?” the boy asked.
“No. We here to help. We want take you and others to safe place.”
The boy gave them a penetrating look and then took off towards the Jeep.
“Eagle, you need to take the shot, he’s gonna get to that machine gun!” but Bear could tell that Eagle had shot his last child for the day. He grunted and raised his gun. The first cluster of shots were aimed to scare the child, but they only made him run faster. Bear took a deep breath and let half of it out.
“Wait!” said Eagle.
Bear refrained from pulling the trigger.
Eagle raised his rifle, and looked through the scope. He aimed past the child, and shot off five rounds as the kid ran with a frenetic gait to reach the Jeep. Even with his hands over his ears, he was almost to it. Eagle’s last shot, however, dropped the barrel of the machine gun to the floor of the Jeep.
“Great. There goes our protection for the ride home, thanks a lot Eagle,” Bear said, but Eagle was already running towards the kid.
Bear raised his gun again and followed his friend who had begun to yell to the boy.
“We come to help you, it’s alright! I won’t shoot; see?” Eagle said as he put his gun down.
“We bring friends to where you live and take you to safe place.”
“No! I tell, I tell!”
“Wait! Come with us, I’ll show you!” but the boy was already ducking into the dense jungle.
“Man, your plan is just panning out real well, isn’t it?”
“Shut up Bear.”
“Just tell me this; what will we do if we need to return fire on someone while driving back?”
“We’ve got our rifles.”
“You think you’ll have any kind of accuracy while sitting in a moving jeep across this terrain?”
He spread his arm out, doing a nice Vanna White impression, pointing to the rugged countryside.
“Well I stopped him from being able to shoot at us, and it was better than shooting him down.”
“Look, I know how you feel. I get nightmares too, but as far as it stands out here he’s just another enemy soldier. We can’t risk our lives, and we have orders to follow.”
“Yeah, and our mission is to save these kids.”
“But we can’t do that if we don’t get back with the location of that place. We can’t bring help to stop these child soldiers from being made if we’re dead. They’re probably already on the move, we need to go now.”
“If it means we can’t get back, I’ll do what I have to, but I am not going to kill another child if I can help it.”
“Fair enough, let’s go.”
They climbed into the Jeep. Bear turned the key, but nothing happened. He swore and tried again. Nothing.
“You have the clutch in?” Eagle asked.
“Yeah I have the clutch in. The crash must have killed the engine. Great. Looks like we’re on foot again.”
“So you glad I didn’t shoot the kid now?”
“Yes, of cousre I am. Now let’s just get out of here before more come and you don’t have the choice.”
The two soldiers jumped out and started on their long treck back to base. The longer they walked, the farther away from child soldiers they were. Soon they began to relax a little, and with less need for vigilant eyes on the path before them, they started to make better time. They arrived back to base without seeing another hostile.
Bear and Eagle returned with help and supplies to the camp where the children had been. The place seemed deserted, but then they saw they had all left but one. A small boy sat tied to a pole in the middle of the clearing. As they approached him with their guns raised he repeated two words over and over again,
“Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!”
Eagle ran up to the front of the company.
“Lower your rifles everyone!”
He nealed next to the boy and started to untie his ropes.
“We not hurt you. We want take you to safe place. Where others?”
“They leave me. They said people coming to get us, but I didn’t want to leave. They told me go with them, but I would not. They tie me up say you come and shoot me.”
“We’re no shoot you,” Eagle said. “We help you, and we help your friends.”
“They’ not my friends.”
“Where they go? You know?”
“Yes. Other place to train. They go there.”
“Can you take us there?”
“Yes. You no shoot them?”
“No. We want to help.”
One soldier after another filed behind the child. He was adept at walking through the thick jungle. It seemed too quiet to Eagle as they marched. They walked with only the sounds of their boots, and the wildlife in the trees. The silence ended all at once.
Eagle heard a gun go off to his right and then a soldier fell behind him. His men hit the ground and began crawling towards what cover they could find. More guns erupted from the bushes. Eagle crawled behind a large boulder, pulling the boy with him.
“Stay here! Don’t move from this spot until it is safe!”
The boy nodded, covering his ears and spilling tears as the bullets flew by. It sounded like the bushes were made of gun barrels, and every branch was firing. Eagle knew he would die if he tried to advance, so he inched backwards on his belly into the trees of the thick jungle. Once he felt the greenery would hide him, he ran towards to the enemies’ flank until the sounds of spraying bullets seemed far enough away. He then turned towards the fight and ran. It was like someone was turning up the surround sound on a war movie as he got closer. He turned right and headed in farther. Once the gunfire was making his ears ring again, he hit the floor and began to crawl. He listened until he could tell that one nearby was far away from the others. He kept crawling forward. Once he was close enough to see the kid’s bright eyes, he waited for the boy’s rifle to run out of bullets. Soon the boy yelled, and put down his gun to grab a fresh magazine from his back pocket.
Eagle sprung to his feet and sprinted for the boy. Once close he dove for the boy as if sliding into home plate. Before he could be called safe, the child finished loading his gun and shot at Eagle’s soaring body. A round went straight through his calf. Eagle came down, slamming into the boy and knocking his rifle away. He covered the kid’s mouth with his hands. The kid kicked and screamed, but could not be heard with the hand over his mouth and the firefight all around them. He looked down at his burning leg and saw that there was an exit wound. That was great news, but he still didn’t think he could walk on it. He didn’t want to try, so he waited until the kid grew tired. Once he stopped fighting against the hold, Ealge said,
“A beg pardon. Padi! Padi!”
He repeated the word for friend in the native Krio language. The boy calmed down a bit with that.
“Wetin yu nem?”* [way-tin yoo name?]
“Banura”* [Bah noo-rah]
“Good. I take my hand off mouth, but if you ala,* I cover it again. Understand?”
“Good. Believe me, Duya,* we are not here to hurt you boys.”
He removed his hand.
“We men,” the child said.
“We men, not boys.”
“Yes, you men. Good shot man.”
The boy started to squirm again.
“Wait. Just listen and I let you go. OK?”
The boy kept squirming.
“Look kid, I could have shot you from behind those bushes, but I didn’t. I don’t want to hurt you, or the others. Why would I jump out at you if I wanted to hurt you? Wouldn’t I have just shot you from cover when you didn’t know I was there?”
“So will you stop and at least listen to me?”
The boy nodded.
“Great, that’s all I ask. I’m going to reach into my pocket. I’m not getting a gun, I’m getting a picture. OK?”
Eagle adjusted his hold to secure the boy with one arm, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a laminated picture of his oldest son.
“ɔmɔs yu ol?”* [say it like: ahmas you ol?]
“Twelve,” the boy said.
“Well do you see this boy here?”
“This is my son back in America. He is twelve too. Do you know what he does all day?”
The boy shook his head.
“When he’s not at school he is playing with his brothers. They kick around a ball, listen to music, and play. Do you remember playing?”
“You and your friends should get the chance to go to school and to play, don’t you think? My soldiers and I want to take you all away from here, back to a place where you’ll be safe, and you will get to go to school, eat good food every day, and play. Would you like that?”
The boy had stopped squirming under Eagles strong arm. His voice came back cracking and squeeking with emotion.
“Yes. I like go to school and play.”
“Do you believe me that we don’t want to hurt you?”
“Yes, you not kill me from bushes. We told that you kill us, but you not.”
“If I let you go, will you go tell the others? Will they believe you?”
“Yes. You come with, and they will.”
“Then let’s go. You help me walk.”
One by one the children stopped shooting. One by one they traded their guns for textbooks and did their best to become boys again and reclaim whatever childhood was left. One by one they would be replaced by more children that escaped Eagle’s bullets, or were caught by his talons.
Dan is a happily married father of three who works as a digital artist for a great software company. He loves to read and write. You can find more of his short stories as free podcast fiction and cheap eBooks at www.writingsofdan.blogspot.com. This year he plans to release his first full length science fiction novel in these formats as well on 11/11/11.
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