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Breaking the monotony February 3, 2008

Posted by dr. gonzo in Writing.

To break up the monotony of my architecture posts (I hope you aren’t too bored with them, I love the stuff) I present to you a story I wrote for a short, short fiction contest. I never entered it because I have the guts of a snail sometimes. Thanks for reading.

Speed Bumps

The dark road to Baghdad was reaching its tendrils into the humvee when it all happened. Time seemed to stand still for a moment on that dark dirt road, hair gritty with sand and skin singed a dark red from the blazing Mesopotamian sun. Sergeant Moore rode shotgun, a lance corporal at the wheel. Their convoy stretched for unseen miles across the Iraqi desert; they were going all the way to Baghdad. Saddle up! And they did, they mounted their modern steel horses, none with any idea what to expect. The warnings of chemical dust. Mask? Check. Of hardcore Fedayeen, Saddam’s elite troopers. Rifle? Check. Of the fog of war. Night vision goggles? Check. Of huge explosive charges lining the roadside. Up armored Humvee? Check. Well, maybe not.

For all practical purposes they couldn’t see anything beyond ten yards in front of them. The dim blackout lights of the vehicle ahead guided them through the alien desert. They had their orders. All the way to Baghdad. Easy victory. Flowers and candy. Six weeks, not six months. Parades and ticker tape and patriotic banners. They would fight, they would win and they would go home. They had their orders. They had nothing to fear. Semper Fidelis. Always.

Ghosts appeared from the darkness and faded into the black night as soon as they manifested. All the way from the Kuwaiti border the ghosts came out of hiding. It was late but they still came out. Mostly children whose unseen faces lingered just long enough for the blackout lights on the hummer to reflect off their eyes. They looked like invisible spirits, not even human.

“You seein’ this? Moore asked the corporal at the wheel. She kept staring into the blackness. Iraqi children were melting out of the village to the roadside. They made their way over debris of all kinds, over stones and ditches and even, occasionally, a dead body. It was all too surreal. Moore couldn’t stop staring into the darkness at the silhouettes of nameless and faceless Iraqi children. How many had she killed so far?

“Yeah, weird,” the corporal replied, and then silence again.

Moore sat with her rifle poised in the window for a long time, pointing at nothing in particular, just waiting, just in case she had to. They warned them not to stop, not for anything. Stopping would put the whole convoy at risk. Stopping would make them all vulnerable to attack. So they never stopped. They couldn’t stop. A bit of distance had opened up between their vehicle and the humvee in front of them.

“I’m gonna close this gap, sergeant.” The corporal spoke to speak; he knew he didn’t need permission to close a gap in the convoy. Moore nodded.

The corporal began to accelerate their vehicle. The instant he did, the ghosts came out of hiding. Children approaching the vehicle, their hands outstretched. “GI Joe,” she thought she heard one of them say.

“Oh shit!” Moore looked up, three Iraqis, children, probably eight or ten years old, were standing in the middle of the road in front of them.

“Don’t stop.” She said.

The corporal looked at her, confusion and horror spread over his face. “Sarge?”

“Don’t stop.”

So he punched it. The humvee lurched forward. He laid on the horn. “Get out of the road!” But the ghosts didn’t respond. They only stood. Staring. Straight ahead. Watching as the humvee bore down on them, their last moments of life about to blink away. “Get out of the road!” He was frantic now.

Moore was stone faced. Cold. She said nothing, still staring out the passenger side window at the blackness, thinking of her own little girls. Safe at home, sweet Dixie.

The Humvee lifted slightly into the air, like they had hit a speed bump, or two, or three. The corporal gasped and looked back. The ghostly figures lay slumped in the road, more fragile and broken than he ever thought one could perceive in darkness so all encompassing. And then they faded away. He could see the humvee behind them lift slightly, just as they had, and then they were gone. The convoy kept moving ahead and all along the road the ghosts appeared and disappeared. All the way to Baghdad.



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