IED (read with some caution, kinda dark)
Posted April 15th, 2017 by LarryPeterson
April 15th, 2017
I wrote this for a writing competition here in Ohio called Power of the Pen. You are given a prompt and then have 40 mintues to write a complete story. They're then judged and scored. This particular piece won the best of round out of like 200 eighth graders in our particular regional competition. It's kinda dark, sooo...yup. The prompt was "Write about a mirror reveals your true self."
One by one, the helicopters lift from the flames, propellers beating at the smoke like a hitter slamming a home run. Their bodies are bent and metallic, scarred from years of battle. The engines roar. The village fades into the distance.
I sit inside the chopper, my shoulders slumped, my helmet drooping over my right eye, my almost empty rifle strewn haphazardly across my legs. All I hear is the beating of the rotors and radio chatter from the cockpit. The others in my unit seem just as dejected; the route to the evacuation location had been dreadful. A medic is bent over Johnson, who is lying on the floor in obvious pain. Rodriguez is staring at his hands, which are covered in red. A body lays under a tarp near the door.
I blink hard and turn to look out the window. It’s tarnished and muddy, but I can see the desert streaking by beneath us. With a simple adjustment of focus, I can see myself in the glass,looking back. I see the curving jawline, hardened with three-day stubble and specks of blood. I see my small mouth the torn lip. I see dull blue eyes and only parts of my eyebrows. The round tan helmet with the netting around it sits above a short cut of brown hair.
The helicopter continues its endless thrumming. The window sees all my features, reflects them back to me. But what I see is quite different. What this mirror shows me is horrifying.
In the torn lip, I see the rock I hit when I dove for cover, not realizing Johnson was behind me. In the singed eyebrows, I see the flash from the truck bomb I’d sworn we’d avoided. And in my eyes, my dull, blue eyes, I see the children that had run at us.
The pain of that memory shoots through me. My eyes well up with thick liquid, seeping up on the lids and pouring down my dirty face like Victoria Falls. The children were young and innocent. They ran into the plaza before us, not a hundred yards from the evac route. We could see the helicopters circling above us. Then Rodriguez said, “He’s got an IED!”
I had no choice, I tell myself. The window doesn’t respond. It stares reproachfully back, examining my decisions, my actions-
The mirror knows all.The ghastly reflection of my battle-scarred face truly reflects the selfishness, the cowardice, the suspicion, the hate…
The blood on my cheeks flashes me back to the plaza. The boy is running with a girl. He’s holding something brown in his hand.
“IED!” Rodriguez shouts.
The boy and the girl keep running, right at us.
“What do we do?”
I raise my rifle, adjusting the scope.
“Jesus, Fredrickson,” Lansing grabs my arm. “They’re kids!”
“We need to go!” screams Lopez. My hands tighten around the rifle. The boy, probably about six, is locked in my scope.
“He’s got an IED,” I confirm, seeing the object clutched in his hands, a blur of brown and white.
“Don’t! Let’s go!” protests Lansing. The boy is twenty feet away. The helicopters are beating at the sky above us. The boy stops, looks up-
A jolt on the helicopter jerks me out of my reverie. A cold sweat is building on my forehead. Dirt and tears and blood drip down my face, slightly elongated in the window.
We needed to get to the helicopter, I tell myself selfishly. The kid had an IED. He was an immediate threat. I did what I did for the safety of the team. The safety of my brothers.
But the mirror wants more. It reaches deep, clutching me closer, searching, searching…
It was the boy’s skin, the mirror says. It was that light brown, that unruly mop of hair, the robe and baggy pants he wore.
No! I shake my head.
It was my bias, the mirror persists. It was my fear, my suspicion, the clueless intensity of my darkest thoughts. I saw him, I looked at him, and I guessed.
Another tear slides down my cheek. The helicopter thrums, blades whirring above me. I remember the trigger, cold beneath my finger. The boy points at the choppers. I can’t see the IED.
“Jesus Christ, Fredrickson-”
I took the shot.
I’m a failure, a coward, a fool--I’m a horrible being, I shouldn’t qualify as human…
The mirror stares back at me, all doors unlocked, all secrets revealed.
Dull, wet blue eyes stare out of battle marked holes, seeing nothing but the football clutched in the cold child’s hands.
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