Wednesday, 20 October 2021

#WEP #OCTOBER #CHALLENGE for #TheScream - My #flashfiction - 'The Child'

 Hello friends!

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I'm telling this story before it's completely out of date.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I gleaned most of this story through research (I've written a book set in Afghanistan, as yet unpublished) and sprinkled it with a lot of imagination, thinking it suits The Scream for sure.




­­THE CHILD

 My 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.

 I struggled through cool sand, so thick around my ankles it sucked at my regulation boots.

 I followed 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.

 I was in another world, a world where I’d been warned that nothing was as it appeared.

 Who was friend?

Who was foe?

 Making the wrong choice could result in death.

 I was 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.

 I tripped and fell onto my knees, thankful that the sand cushioned the fall.

 No one 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.

 How I prayed for sunrise.

~*~

 After 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.

 We moved on again, soundlessly into the night, every sense screaming.

 ‘Police checkpoint’, someone whispered.

 In briefing I’d been told even if we had nothing to hide, these checkpoints were best avoided.

 No one 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.

 A screech, a huge spotlight shone down on us, blinding us in white light.

­­Someone screamed ‘Drescht! (Stop!)’. We froze, startled deer, clutching weapons to our chests.

 Two policemen yelled at us in a language I didn’t understand, but the meaning was clear. They motioned us to our feet.

 We stood. Statues. I fought to control my bladder. We could be shot right where we stood.

 Our leader yelled, ‘Australians!’

 The police muttered to each other, came close, pointed weapons in our faces, checked papers, nodded, then motioned us on.

 Shaken, we headed further into the desert darkness.

 ‘The guards were skittish because just yesterday they confronted insurgents in Kakarak across the river. Shots were exchanged,’ hissed the soldier behind me.

 ‘Thanks,’ I muttered, but it didn’t comfort me. My eyes saw insurgents behind the rocks, across the river, in the mountains.

 I was 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.

 Back on my feet, I rushed to join the line again, terrified of being left behind.

                                                                   ~*~

 Sunrise.

 A 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.

 In the 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.

 Watching. Watching. Watching.

 First 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.

 Over broken 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.

 We 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.

 One 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.

 A soldier pulled me backward. ‘Step away,’ he said. ‘Nothing is as it seems.’

 I brushed him off. Reached into my pocket. Pulled out two lollies for the poor little boy. He was only a child.

 The 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.

 We smiled at each other in what was a very easy but powerful gesture. No words needed.

 I saw the apple had gone black with age and looked rough and mouldy. It looked like a … it couldn’t be...

                                                                  ~*~

‘Nooooooooooo …’ someone screamed, a voice full of pain and regret.

 I felt the fire on my lips, the fire in my belly.

 I tasted the fire as it burned down my throat.

 I heard voices and the staccato bursts of gunfire.

 I heard the cry of a child.

 Then I heard … nothing.

  

THE END


TAGLINE: Trust is not a given. Sometimes you reach for an apple and are handed a grenade. 


WORDS: 997
FCA


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








61 comments:

  1. A powerful story with a horrific ending, I can almost smell the smoke and despair. 👏👏👏

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    1. Welcome back Debbie! Great to have you on board this month! Yes, me too. What a smell! The fear and despair!

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  2. Nothing is as it seems indeed. Sadly I fear this tale is unlikely to go out of date any time soon.

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  3. Hi Denise - I was and am going to say the same as EC 'nothing is as it seems' ... such a good story to bring here ... we can only imagine life in war - and you've really brought it to life - especially as a woman in those places. It will go on without us being there ...

    That child ... just desperate to consider, let alone think about.

    Excellently told - all the best - Hilary

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  4. Thank you Denise. yes the Taliban immediately seem to come to mind as the last 30 years have been stamped by the horrors lived by the people in Afghanistan. Liked your story very much and the Australian soldier's insight into this never ending civil war.

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    1. Thanks Susan. Somehow don't think we've heard the last of the Taliban.

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  5. What a powerful story. I loved that you chose to spotlight being a soldier in Afghanstan and didn't shy away from a truth for some of them.

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  6. Incredible imagery. Such a sad story that is hardly a story at all, but a true moment.

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  7. My heart! Such a well-told tale with so much emotion. Well done!

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  8. Very visual. The imagery was spot on. The climactic ending was painful and struck a chord. Very well written story, Denise.

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  9. A wrenching tale, Denise. Great job.

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  10. Wow. I knew this wasn't going to end well, but still the ending took my breath away. Sad but powerful!

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  11. Such a tragic story. The entire country of Afghanistan comes through in it. So much hatred. So much pain.

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  12. This is horrifying and heart-wrenching. The situation in Afghanistan is terrible, and you've done a great job of capturing that.

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  13. Misplaced trust, terrible pain and sadness. Really excellently written Denise. You took us completely with you into a believable tragedy.

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  14. Wow! I think this is the best thing you've ever written. I was right there with her when the kid pulled out a bomb.
    Nancy

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    1. Hmm. Best thing eh? Maybe I should expand it.

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  15. So intense and moving. I was with you all the way. A great piece of writing.

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    1. Thanks Lenny. I'm glad you came along with me.

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  16. Powerful and horrific. Unlikely to become outdated for a long time, Denise. What can one say? Weaponising children and dragging them into adult conflicts is one of the worst things humans do.

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    1. I agree, Nila. Sometimes in war, anything goes. Sadly.

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  17. Hi,
    Beautifully written. A bit of wisdom _ be careful who you trust.
    Shalom aleichem

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  18. Sadly, I'm sure that happened more than once.

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  19. Your story captures the tense atmosphere brilliantly. I loved the surprise of finding she is a woman. About the writing process, it was courageous of you to write it in first person and it's a testament to your skill that it worked.

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    1. I think it called for first person to capture her experience. Thanks.

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  20. As I read this, I was there in Afghanistan, my heart expecting a different ending. Because I didn't realize it was familiar until the end. That horrific end. Just so well done!!!! Heartbreaking!!!!

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  21. Interesting and horrifying at the same time.

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  22. Really liked your story. It felt like a memoir until the explosive ending. Well done!

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    1. Thanks Sharon. Well I guess it sounds memoir-ish.

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  23. WOW, Denise... that was INTENSE!!!!!! A great build-up to your story with a tragic but surprising end.

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  24. That was so powerful, and so tragic! You brought the scene alive by your words, Denise. How sad life is for people living in such places, isn't it? Or, is it even life?

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  25. Powerful story. The ending is heart-breaking—the horror of what is happening there, destroying children to attack outsiders… ugh. And the loss of trust is the worst.

    A minor critique: in your first paragraph you have both near-silence and a cacophony.

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  26. Wow! Very well done. Your writing moved me. I like your style.

    Love,
    Janie

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  27. Oh, crikey, Denise, that was scary enough without the ending :O

    You're brave writing a story set in Afghanistan, but then again, it's always changing so it's always going to be relevant or recent memory. :(

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    1. Sorry to scare you Jemima. Afghanistan fascinates me.

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  28. Wow. Such a strong ending. Excellent story to remind me that life could be worse.

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  29. This packed a punch, Denise. You take an unflinching look at some of the saddest stories of our times, and use a POV that takes us right in there. And the ending left an impact. Sorry I'm late here--this story will stay with me for a while.

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