A Shot

September 7, 2011
The night was hot, stifling, as we trudged through the humid forest. The sliver of moonlight that cut through the thick blackness made fools of my eyes, making monsters out of the surrounding trees, pulling shadow-demons up from every corner. A trickle of sweat escaped from under my helmet, tracing a path through the grime on my face. Supporting the heavy gun with my other hand, I wiped the drop away from my brow and focused on our journey. All I could see ahead of me were more evil trees and my comrade’s back, clad in the same US uniform as myself, a large sweat stain forming between his shoulder blades. I straightened my back, and we marched on into the night.

Dawn was not far off as we approached the village, peeks of sunlight beginning to dance around the edges of the darkness. We had to move fast. Hiding amongst the trees just outside the array of houses, I could see the stirrings of life beginning among the inhabitants. Mothers and children, left alone by the husbands and sons fighting for them, ventured out into the road, baskets of vegetables ready to be sold at their sides. It all looked so normal, so like back home. I heard the hushed whisper spread throughout our legion, and readied myself. The leader called out, “Onward,” and we slowly crept from the foliage.

They did not notice us at first, engaged as they were in their proceedings. We sneaked up behind them like shadows in the night, the clicking of guns against bullets the only sound. One villager, a child, turned around at that moment and noticed our creeping advance. His eyes widened, and his mouth formed an O. A shot rang out. I looked at my comrade, his gun still smoking. His face was a mask of concentration, and impassiveness. The child’s was still surprised, a trail of blood now running around the squinted, glassy eyes. The entire commons were frozen, as if someone had stilled time. A beat later, the calm broke, and hysteria began. Mothers grabbed for their children, trying to escape from us, but they were not fast enough. Like machines, we fired and reloaded, fired and reloaded, killing everything in sight. A few broke off, lighting fires at the homes. The flames leapt up hungrily, devouring quickly the thatched houses. Screams rang through the smoky air, along with the blasts of our guns.

Suddenly, all was quiet, but for the roar of the ever-consuming fire. Our leader nodded at us, and we broke apart to loot what we could. I slowly stepped over the bodies littering the dirt road, nearly tripping over one set. I looked down. It was a mother, wrapped protectively around her small child, her face forever frozen in an expression of unrelenting love and fear. Her skin was singed from the flames and soot had settled in her raven hair like snow. Her body was riddled with bullet wounds, the river of blood seeping out into the road. Her face was pale behind the filth. In contrast, the child had but one wound. It was straight in the heart, a clean through-and-through. None of this got to me, but his face. His face was one that would haunt my dreams forever. Small and innocent, but full of terror. His eyes, wide and glassy stared, unseeing, at the smoke-filled sky. The horrors he had witnessed too soon remained etched across his face, along with bleeding cuts from the shrapnel. He was the same age as my own son, four at the oldest. I looked away as my eyes began to fill with tears, struggling to contain myself.

Back at the base, my comrades were resulting over the “success” of our endeavor, and the quality of what they had stolen. I had once partaken in these trivialities as well, but now they sickened me. I sat on my bunk, staring at nothing, seeing only the face of that child in my mind’s eye. It followed me everywhere. I couldn’t think, sleep, eat, without his lifeless eyes staring into my soul. I feared I was going insane. Even my wife and kid back home wouldn’t want me like this, damaged goods. I couldn’t go on. I gripped my gun, the shiny metal cold in my damp hand. It had been with me through everything; it was fitting that it should be here now. With trembling fingers, I lifted the weapon to my mouth, caressing the barrel with my lips, as if kissing a lover. I closed my eyes, and a single tear escaped. I wrapped my finger around the trigger, and said a silent prayer. I tightened my grip.

A shot rang out.

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This article has 8 comments. Post your own now!

CarrieAnn13 said...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm

This was amazing!  Truly, you make a good suspense/horror writer.  I just have one criticism.  "...like shadows in the night, the clicking of guns against bullets the only sound."  I'm sorry, I don't get that.  They haven't fired a shot yet, but the bullets are clicking?  Are they wearing ammunition of their belts?  If so, could you clarify that a bit next time?

Anyway, great story!

rage_against_the_machine replied...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Well thank you! That's good to hear, as its my favorite genre to write and read, and I don't think there are enough good writers of it here!

And yes, that part. It's because they were loading their guns, I suppose that wasn't as obvious as I thought it was, hah. Will do next time :D

CarrieAnn13 replied...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm
Oh, I get it now!  Yeah, you should really rephrase it.  But that was your only mistake, as far as I can see.  Probably the only reason I noticed it is because I live in a rural area where learning to shoot is as natural as learning how to swim.
rage_against_the_machine replied...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm
Ah, thank you! I will.
Love.Hate.Passion. said...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 1:12 am

You just blew my mind (no pun intended). It was so nicely described and full of adrenaline inducing action I loved your portrayal of war from a different point of view , and this piece was marvelously written. The title is fitting and you did a fantastic job with the ending.

5 stars for you !

rage_against_the_machine replied...
Sept. 17, 2011 at 11:37 am
Yay, thank you !
ClaireB replied...
Jun. 9, 2012 at 11:49 am
Wow. That is seriously the only thing I can say because that story was just so good. It was so sad too, and I liked that you could right showing no emotion until emotion was needed. I think if I'd written something like that I would have ended up feeling bad for my characters (Yeah, I know, weird) and end up not killing any. Then my story wouldn't end up going anywhere. My main point is, though, that that story was THE best and I gave it 5 stars.
rage_against_the_machine replied...
Jun. 9, 2012 at 5:02 pm
Thank you so much! 
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