Manipulated Minds This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

December 19, 2010
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It was a peaceful and quiet day in Baghdad. The sun was radiantly beating in the shining blue sky. This tranquility was only a mask, a mask hiding the face of death and corruption.

Sweat rolled down Corporal Ryan Grover’s face as he drove down an unfamiliar road. His Humvee cruised across the empty road, passing many abandoned and destroyed houses. Ryan’s body was marked with scars he collected through years of war and violence. He proudly displayed them as a reminder of the lives he had saved and protected. Although, underneath his rugged exterior exists a heart like an angels. He was pure and caring towards all people, but it was this same heart that led him to join the armed forces. His undying sympathy towards innocent people that had lost their lives had quickly become anger and hate, and he dedicated his life to hunt the killers. Grover gazed at the vast expanse of desert that was Baghdad.
“One more hour” muttered Private Miller. He was Corporal Ryan's best friend and best soldier. Ryan and miller had been friends since boot camps and watched each other’s backs since. Private Miller was a short but strong man. He was almost as kind as Ryan, but was a little short tempered. He was a little chubby, but made up for it by being an amazing shooter. Private Miller was chewing on his cigar as usual.
“One more hour until we head back to -” An ear-splitting explosion cut off Miller. It was followed by gunshots. Bullets rained on their Humvee as Ryan stuck his head out and emptied his clip on the insurgents that were firing on them, suddenly, they were gone. Private Miller and Corporal Ryan exited the car to ensure the disappearance of the shooters. Two of the three insurgents ran out of the building and fired again. The soldiers returned fire. They crouched behind the armored vehicle. Ryan raised his rifle and took down one man.
“One down,” he shouted over the innumerable amount of gunshots that rained over them, “Two more to go.”

“Make it one” replied corporal miller, as he felled another terrorist. He pilled another cigar from his pocket. “You got a lighter?” he questioned.

“Really?” Ryan retorted. He passed Miller a lighter and gave him a look of annoyance.

“Corporal, I call dibs on killing the short one” He acted as if it was a game “Watch and learn”

Ryan cringed as a resounding crack filled the air followed by a soft thud. He saw the extremist run safely into the darkness. Puzzled, the corporal turned to Miller. The truth was unforgiving. A bullet had found its way into the private’s upper arm. Blood seemed to pour endlessly through the wound. The corporal snapped back to his senses and started to address the wound. Ryan lost hope just as fast as Miller lost blood.

Miller survived long enough for paramedics to arrive at the scene. Everyone wore worried but positive looks, but Ryan had been in enough firefights to know better. With the will power of ten men, no one could survive a blow like that.

One doctor walked up to him and started to state the private’s condition, but Ryan was already leaving.

At the barracks, sleep kept evading Corporals grasp. All he could think about was the death of miller. He finally fell asleep, but his sleep was plagued with nightmares of death and blood, and the tiny terrorist haunted his dreams.

Abida Firyal was on her way home from work. Her life was completely destroyed by the war. She had lost her husband and children in the bloodbaths that raged through the desert side. She earned low wages working at a grocery store, but the widow was determined to start a new life. She passed a row of abandoned buildings and heard a low moan. Abida followed the sound, until she reached a small boy leaning against the wall. He was clutching a wound on his leg and a small rifle. She ran to get help and saw a Humvee driving down a dirt road.

Corporal Ryan Grover woke up and started his routine; he entered his Humvee and waited for miller to follow. Then, memory came crashing back with a familiar wave of pain.
Miller was dead.
He pulled out of the base and started on his patrol. About an hour into his runs, a strange Iraqi lady ran up to the Humvee. The corporal rolled down his windows.
“What do you need?” Ryan questioned, his voice layered with hate.
“A boy is hurt behind that building, go now” her thick accent muffled her words, but she pointed and Ryan understood. As Ryan approached the child, he saw a rifle leaned against the wall. He immediately whipped out his own rifle and looked for any enemies. Blood thirst filled his eyes, and his mind fell into a shallow state of madness. He let his gaze flicker for a second, and he saw the boy. Comprehension and understanding came without warning, and it was never more unwelcome. He ran to the boy and lifted his fist in anger, but lowered it. Ryan remembered himself. The boy was manipulated and trained. Sparks of compassion and love still reign in the boy’s heart.
Two weeks later, Corporal Ryan was surprised to find two letters in his mailbox. One of them was a letter from Abida that told of the child’s placement. He was to be adopted by Abida and join her in the quest for a new life. Ryan smiled as he opened the second letter. His smile disappeared.
His position was to change. He was to be repositioned in Uganda, to fight child soldiers. All his morals that he had worked so hard to organize, would now be obliterated in mere seconds. He was trapped.
Ryan stopped for a moment, and a crazed smile took over his face. He had one other option. He took only his rifle, and wandered out towards the desert.





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