Shameless self indulgence, Writing

Fast Fiction: War Torn, Madness, Fountain

{Another in a series of quick fiction pieces written off a creative writing prompt in a short amount of time. Thanks as always for your willingness to cast aside judgment and overlook grammatical and editorial flaws :} Yours truly in bananas, TGM}

The bullets had been pinging around the square for so long that Joe didn’t even bother to duck when he heard them anymore.

Four straight days of combat and his instincts had gone numb. Self-preservation was no longer a reflex. It was something he thought about only occasionally, like a rusty door that needed oiling that he just hadn’t gotten around to yet.

Every once in a while, Joe would remind himself that it was worth his while to stay under cover, but another, more alien part of his body resisted this urge. If death was going to seek him out in this town square, Joe wanted to see it coming.

He gazed out into the shattered town center, looking at the bodies scattered around the fountain that was once the center of the square. Pools of blood had soaked into the ground, leaving dull maroon-brown rings around the corpses that had fallen there during the earlier firefight.

For a moment, Joe was tempted to walk out and touch the pools of blood to see if they had gone dry, but he wasn’t that crazy yet. Instead he lingered half-covered under the corner of a doorway, his M16 readied at his side.

Suddenly, there was a ping and a snap, and a section of the doorway above Joe’s head crumbled as a bullet slammed into it. This woke Joe out of his daze long enough for him to duck back inside the doorway to safety.

Let’s see. Where was he again?

Oh yeah, this was Iraq.

Some small town somewhere in the Al Basrah provence. Some small town with a fountain. Some small town with a fuckload of insurgents. Some small town where most of his platoon had been killed or injured or evacuated.

And who was he? He was Joe. Army Specialist Joseph P. Smith, of Garden City New Jersey. First of four sons. Proud member of the Army’s Seventh Infantry. Guitar player. High school football star.

He was Joe. Wired Joe. Tired Joe. Shaky, dehydrated Joe. War-weary Joe.

Joe who was doing a real poor job of covering his ass like a professional soldier.

He took a deep breath and pawed at his face with a gloved hand, grinding the dirty fingers against his shut eyes until they watered. Anything to get his senses and his system flowing again.

There had been so much shooting over the past few days. So many explosions. So many bodies dropping. So much that had gone wrong.

It was hard not to give in to the madness and just sit down and wait for whatever was going to happen.

But there was still hope, Joe knew. Somewhere outside the village was a backup brigade that was fighting their way towards his position.

There was also danger. Somewhere inside the village was the cocksucking insurgent that had just taken the pot shot at him.

“Anger.” Joe whispered. “Focus.” He knew that if he was his normal self, if he had a few hours of sleep under his belt and his senses weren’t numbed by sound and fury and death and loss, that he would burn with a vengeful desire to track down the fucker who had shot at him and put a bullet in his head.

But try as he might, Joe couldn’t get his anger to kick back on. He was like a gas stove with the pilot light out. He turned on the gas and waited for an ignition, but nothing came. Just a clicking sound. Click. Click. Click.

Click.

Wait. Was he imagining that click? Or was he really hearing it?

Joe took a tentative step in the direction of the door.

Click.

The sound was familiar, but seemed to be totally out of place. Was it a camera? One of those dog training tools?

Click.

No. It was the sound of an empty weapon. Whoever had been firing at him must have run out of ammo, but either didn’t realize it or was too crazy to care.

Click. Click. Click.

The sound was almost comically soft after so many days of explosions and screams and the deafening roar of submachine guns.

Click.

Wary of being baited into a trap, Joe took a cautious step toward the doorway, then snapped his head back. It took his brain a minute to interpret what it was his eyes had seen during their brief exposure to the open square.

On the opposite side of the fountain was an Iraqi insurgent. He was thin and brown, wearing a dirty t-shirt and dirty jeans. He was bent down on one knee, holding a Kalashnikov and firing it uselessly in Joe’s direction.

Click. Click. Click.

Joe searched back through his training. He had learned tactics for being under constant fire, but never for being under constant faux fire.

Why was the guy continuing to shoot if he had no ammo? Why didn’t he run? What the fuck?

What were the rules of engagement for someone who was trying to kill you without any bullets?

Click.

Joe grunted. It made no sense.

Suddenly he heard a rustle of gravel. And then footsteps. Slow and steady, but clearly coming closer. Echoing in the square.

The click was growing louder now, too. Click. CLICK. CLICK.

Instinct took over and Joe stepped around the corner and through the doorway. He brought his M16 level and dead-eyed the Iraqi in his scope.

“Stand down!” he yelled. “Stand the fuck down!”

The Iraqi kept walking, though. Kept walking and pulling on that impotent trigger.

Click. Click. Click.

“Last warning,” Joe shouted, his voice hoarse from fatigue and confusion. “You’re out of fucking ammo, dude!”

But the Iraqi kept closing. He was steps away from the doorway now.

Joe was tired, too tired to process the gray moral and tactical challenges of an armed man attacking him with an empty gun in an endless battle in a senseless war. “Dude!” he pleaded one last time. But the man kept coming.

Joe squeezed the trigger of his M16 and a burst of fire exploded from the barrel.

The bullets slammed into the Iraqi with professional Army precision. New holes appeared in the man’s shirt near his heart and lungs, and fresh, dark pools of blood began to spread through the dampening cloth.

Joe fired again and put a bullet straight through the Iraqi’s head.

The man dropped to the ground, gun still in hand, finger still on the trigger. There were a few shallow breaths, a rasping cough, and then one final, surprisingly insistent, somehow defiant CLICK.

And all went silent in the square.

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One thought on “Fast Fiction: War Torn, Madness, Fountain

  1. The middle is really good, the quality of writing at the beginning and end isn’t quite as high but the use of language is brilliant for the most part. Definitely leaves me interested in reading some more of your work.

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