War Games

July 23, 2008
Pale grass raced beneath his feet as he plunged out of the bushes. Behind them he had been well concealed, but it would only take one stray bullet to hit him there. Mike ran now towards the main building of camp, his legs churning furiously, head ducked and rifle pointed down at his side. Falling to his knees and sliding to a halt, he quickly dropped to his side and crawled up to the dumpster that sat against the west side of the building. From here, he had cover to the north and east and could easily keep watch over the south and west. This was a much better position indeed.
He took satisfaction in the efficiency with which he secured this new position, but set himself to move on. He still had to reach the north side of this building and proceed east for who knows how long. There, he was sure, the rest of his company was surrounded and in a pitched battle. They would need his marksmanship and courage to survive.
He crouched and drew the rifle to his shoulder, head crooked to the sights, ready to fire. As he raised his gun above the dumpster, he heard a rustle from behind and snapped around towards the noise. Soon a small boy came bursting around the corner and the dumpster rattled and pinged with machine gun rounds tickling its side. The pop of a single shot from Mike’s rifle sucked the noise right out of the air and the silence gave way to a heavy pounding in his chest. He waited for his target to fall, but the boy only stood there dumbfounded.
"You’re dead. I shot you!" Mike said.
"No way," Jonathan pleaded. "I totally got you first."
"You missed."
"No I didn’t."
"Yeah you did. I heard the bullets bounce off the dumpster."
"The what?"
"This thing," Mike said, pointing at the air-conditioning unit he was crouched behind.
"No way. I have a machine gun. There’s no way I missed."
"I guess you’re just a bad shot," Mike smiled.
"Well, you only have a rifle so you missed too."
"I have a rifle because I’m a good shot," Mike said calmly. "I didn’t miss."
"Fine," Jonathan relented, "how long am I dead for?"
"Count to ten, slowly."
Mike ran around the corner, leaving his friend sprawled out feigning death on the warm grass, bleached and dry from the mid-summer heat. His ears whistled faintly beneath his thumping heart and the soft pad of his feet treading the ground.

Suddenly, his legs turned to Jell-O and when he looked down he could see the name Morrowitz on his shirt, smeared in blood. It was a name he only recognized as his own from those dreary morning role-calls in school. Looking up, he expected to find the familiar sight of the neighbor’s house and his mother’s blue minivan parked in the drive, but was met instead with blurring chaos and broken buildings.
All about him was a jarring, but muffled, blast of staggered gunfire and frantic shouts. Men dressed in battle gear dodged in front of him, taking whatever cover could be found. In a ditch just ahead of him, his childhood friend Jonathan seemed to be waving his arms wildly in Mike’s direction. The earth wrenched violently and he was on his way back down before he knew he’d been flung into the air. He landed hard on his right side and, looking out, saw now that the ground sloped steep and broken, and no grass lay beneath him. Legs trampled the dirt beside him and, flinching in shock, he shut his eyes to the sight, trapping himself in a blind world of gunfire, screams and explosions. He hated the noise, that’s why he’d always picked the rifle.
That day they’d laid out all the weapons. Mike had even raided his older brother’s room for the western-style six-shooters that sat dormant in his closet. He and Jonathan had stood on the porch with their toys presented neatly before them. There were the six-shooters and their accompanying holsters, they counted as one pick; the small Nerf gun with ammo long gone; an old cap gun, no caps; a green, plastic light saber; a flimsy bow with a single arrow, rubber suction cup attached to the end; three small rubber balls that acted as grenades; and, the meat of this war, the rifle and a sleek, plastic machine gun. They took turns, then, picking out what weapons they would arm themselves with.
"I choose the rifle," Mike said. It was his house, so he got first pick.
Jonathan picked the machine gun, eagerly taking the silver and blue contraption in his hands. It had a red trigger that, when squeezed, would let out a shriek intended to sound like machine gun fire. Mike thought it sounded more like fifty metal trashcans falling down the stairs.
Mike took a knee and slowly picked up the rifle. It was an ancient toy he had found in his grandmother’s house and secretly, he thought, smuggled home. His parents were aware of the "theft" and, with his grandmother’s permission, played dumb, allowing the toy to be hidden in his suitcase. It was all wood except for metal on the trigger, sight and tip of the barrel. Most kids hated the rifle because it only made a soft clicking sound when shot and was very heavy for a young boy to carry around. But Mike loved it. He felt strength when he held the rifle and he felt honor when he looked through the sights. To him, the cacophony that erupted from the machine gun destroyed the sanctity between a man and his weapon and, next to the weight of the rifle, the light plastic seemed like it would crumble in his hands. The rifle was strong and solid, long and straight. It was proud, he thought. It could be a sniper’s weapon if it had a scope. Mike had even tried to tape his father’s magnifying glass to it, but failed miserably and spent a week indoors learning from the mistake. The depth of the weapon had a wholesome quality and the power, for Mike, to negate the fantasy of their game.
The rifle felt real in his hands and as he took it in his arms, the world turned muddy and frantic, and sweat stung his eyes. He could feel the weight of his head stronger then before and tasted a thick, burning saliva in his mouth.

"Morrowitz! Where are you hit, Mike? Where are you hit?"
Morrowitz rolled over to face the light and saw a familiar young man holding an M-249, hunched over him.
"Where are you hit, Morrowitz?"
Morrowitz searched his body for wounds but found none.
"I... I’m not."
That second the man dropped on top of him, firing at a nearby target. Morrowitz looked around now and found himself to one side of a dusty street, ragged concrete buildings and leaning tin huts lining its edges. In the distance, figures would flash in and out of view, but where he and Jonathan lay seemed fresh, undisturbed, and they were surrounded by a great loneliness.
"Where’s Sergeant Mathews?" Morrowitz asked.
"We’ve got to get off this street."
"Where’s the squad?"
"They’re gone Mike. On three we move to that courtyard." Jonathan pointed in a direction that Morrowitz didn’t see.

It occurred then to Morrowitz that he didn’t know where he was or how he’d gotten there. Though the questions didn’t press for immediate answers, it frightened him that he couldn’t provide such basic information. A shadow passed over his vision and the garish noise of metal trashcans grew dim.
"Mike, you hear me?"

The nerves in his body ran numb.


His hands shook rapidly on the tips of his wrists, but his body lay still and stiff. Jonathan grabbed him by the collar and dragged him from the street. Morrowitz could only feel his head bob up and down as his partner’s heel kicked it with each step.
"Where’s the squad?" Morrowitz asked again, once it seemed like he was done being moved.
"They’re dead, Mike. They’re all dead. And if we don’t make it a hundred yards east to Chalk Two’s position, we’re dead too. Mike..."
Morrowitz’s head dropped to the left.
"Mike, I need you."
Morrowitz heard this, finally, and the words came in a slow crescendo with the trashcans and the screams and the shakes. He nodded and looked around. He was backed up against the west side of a building and to his north there was a small car protecting his position. To his south and west lay only a small entrance to the courtyard and the end of the building he was against.
"Mike, I need you to watch that way," Jonathan said, pointing southwest. "I’m gonna - Mike! Cover that way." Again he pointed southwest. "I’m gonna watch this side and try to find us a way east."
Morrowitz nodded, sliding his rifle loosely across his legs, stretched out before him. His partner crouched behind him, occasionally letting off short bursts from his machine gun. The world sounded and smelled and tasted like fifty metal trashcans falling down the stairs and Morrowitz cringed, recoiling in a confused awe. He brought the rifle to his shoulder, neck crooked to the sights, and searched the landscape for targets. This rifle felt heavier, he noticed. Too heavy for him. The metal burned hot and warmed his thin hands, wrapped in thick, leather gloves. He felt his body caving in with the weight of it all and his eyes seemed to shrink and hide from everything around him. Nearby footsteps sprung his eyelids wide as the whole world collapsed and squeezed itself into that tiny courtyard. Soon, a man rounded the corner spraying rounds from his machine gun and Morrowitz could hear the ping and pang and slap of rounds hitting behind him. He sighted the target and ended the noise with a single shot from his rifle. The man fell.
"I shot first. Jonathan, I shot first!" Morrowitz shouted. "I told you I never miss!" He tapped his friend’s leg. "I told you."
He turned to find his friend slumped against the car, head dripping down the driver’s side door. As he crawled towards him, another man rounded the corner and Morrowitz heard only three rounds hit nearby before seven lodged in his lower back. There atop his friend, with a heaving chest, he counted slowly to ten, but never again rose for another round; and his rifle, strong and solid, long and straight, lay heavy beneath him.

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