Two months have gone by since the last WEP. Here we are again, nearing the end of the year.
October is our scream-fest, but it doesn't have to be if horror isn't your thing.
Talking about horror, most of us watched in horror at the allies' retreat from Afghanistan after 20 years of occupation. Images of those poor people running in front of departing aeroplanes is seared into our collective memory.
I'm telling this story before it's completely out of date. The story of an Australian soldier who failed to understand the challenges of going on patrol in Kandahar province, the area where the Australians were stationed.
I gleaned most of this story through research (I've written a book set in Afghanistan, as yet unpublished) and sprinkled it with a lot of imagination, thinking it suits The Scream for sure.
first mission in Afghanistan. As we marched out in single file, my head thumped
with the headache from hell. Ahead, the desert, pitch-black, silent. The only
sound the Call to Prayer ringing across the Baluchi Valley, punctuating the
silence with staccato bursts. The feral dogs joined in and soon their barking matched
the cacophony of sound.
struggled through cool sand, so thick around my ankles it sucked at my
the soldier in front of me, his form a shadow in the darkness. Exhaustion
threatened to overwhelm me. I’d had no sleep the night before, so terrified was
I at the spectre of marching into the unfamiliar mountains and deserts of Kandahar
province in one of the most treacherous countries on earth. The lead soldiers
were obviously a lot fitter than I, a newly arrived recruit. I fought the sand –
my knees screamed, my thighs burned, my lungs were on fire.
in another world, a world where I’d been warned that nothing was as it
Making the wrong choice could result in death.
on covert foot patrol with Australian and Afghan soldiers. We were outside the wire, scaling rocky hills
under the pressing weight of body armor and supplies. The altitude was an
unwelcome foe. I hadn’t had time to acclimatise to the blistering temperatures.
and fell onto my knees, thankful that the sand cushioned the fall.
stopped to help me. On patrol, to stop would jeopardise the mission. I dragged my
feet from the sand and hurried back to my position. No princesses here! In
uniform everyone is treated the same.
prayed for sunrise.
what seemed like hours, the lead soldier signalled with his crooked finger,
pointing to our surroundings, then holding a finger to his lips. Word whispered
down the line. Silence. Kuchi camps. Bedouins.
moved on again, soundlessly into the night, every sense screaming.
checkpoint’, someone whispered.
briefing I’d been told even if we had nothing to hide, these checkpoints were
even breathed as we crouched and duck-walked close to the ground, swinging our
weapons from side to side, holding tight, hoping to elude the inevitable searchlight.
screech, a huge spotlight shone down on us, blinding us in white light.
screamed ‘Drescht! (Stop!)’. We froze, startled deer, clutching weapons
to our chests.
policemen yelled at us in a language I didn’t understand, but the meaning was
clear. They motioned us to our feet.
Statues. I fought to control my bladder. We could be shot right where we stood.
leader yelled, ‘Australians!’
police muttered to each other, came close, pointed weapons in our faces, checked
papers, nodded, then motioned us on.
we headed further into the desert darkness.
guards were skittish because just yesterday they confronted insurgents in
Kakarak across the river. Shots were exchanged,’ hissed the soldier behind me.
I muttered, but it didn’t comfort me. My eyes saw insurgents behind the rocks,
across the river, in the mountains.
weak with terror after my first date with danger. My legs collapsed. I fell out
of line. Sat down in a dry gully, sucked air into my parched lungs.
on my feet, I rushed to join the line again, terrified of being left behind.
glorious orange orb broke over the mountains, into the valley, and lit up the
shock of green land we were heading toward, the green belt.
near distance I saw a small boy, no more than six years old, shepherding his
family’s goats through the pastures. He could be my son, but my little boy
slept in cosy comfort, surrounded by stuffed toys and his father’s love. More children
hid shyly in the doorways of simple rammed-earth homes.
stop. A meeting with the elders of the tribe. They were guarded, constantly
looking to see if they were being observed. Not everyone would be happy to see
them talking to Australian soldiers. They risked death for having a
conversation with us. We kept it short to minimise the danger, then moved on.
bricked walls, through crumbling aqueducts, we waded towards the village of
Sorkh Morghab where coalition forces had built a school, market and medical
centre. Yet, despite all our efforts, I’d been told it was hostile.
wandered through the village, apparently casually, weapons held across our
chests, trigger fingers ready. We progressed through the market area, where
men and young boys showed us their shops and tried to sell me a burqa. I was
just a woman, one who needed to cover herself.
little boy approached me, hand outstretched. He, too, about six years old. I
thought again of my son, but this little boy’s eyes reflected a man, an angry
man. I shivered at the hate in those big black eyes.
soldier pulled me backward. ‘Step away,’ he said. ‘Nothing is as it seems.’
brushed him off. Reached into my pocket. Pulled out two lollies for the poor
little boy. He was only a child.
child smiled a toothy smile, but it didn’t reach his old man eyes. He dived
into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a large apple.
at each other in what was a very easy but powerful gesture. No words needed.
the apple had gone black with age and looked rough and mouldy. It looked like a
… it couldn’t be...
…’ someone screamed, a voice full of pain and regret.
the fire on my lips, the fire in my belly.
tasted the fire as it burned down my throat.
heard voices and the staccato bursts of gunfire.
heard the cry of a child.
heard … nothing.
TAGLINE: Trust is not a given. Sometimes you reach for an apple and are handed a grenade.
Thank you for reading my entry for The Scream
Please click on names in my sidebar to read more entries in this writing competition.
Please consider joining us for the final challenge for the year - Narcissus