Monday, January 11, 2010

For a blazing moment, the young infantryman was the only soul in sight.  The Sergeant Major and the Captain faded like ghosts.  Their grey faces washed into the sand and the sky and the tan canvas tents behind them.  The Captain studied his boots and smoked a cigarette.  The Sergeant Major cleared his throat and tried to think of something more to say.

The Battalion had been deployed to the desert six months now--feverish days under a baking sun, channeling defensive positions out of the stew brown caliche, erecting tents, stacking sandbags.  They weren't due to rotate home for another eight months.  With no television or radio station within a hundred miles, news of the rest of the world was rare.  But bad news travelled fast.

The young Private shouldered his rifle, coughed several times, and looked away.  His pool blue eyes settled into a thousand yard stare.  He had known it would happen sometime.  The timing was lousy is all.

He was a good kid.  Tall, popular, with broad linebacker shoulders perched on a wiry frame, he was born the son of a Texas preacher and he carried himself with a relaxed confidence--unusual for his age.  Still, he looked too young to be wearing body armor and carrying an M-16.  Despite the muscle he'd put on in boot camp and infantry school, he could pass for a fifteen or sixteen year-old, easy.  The other guys in the company had taken to calling him "Frisco Kid", or "Kid" for short, on account of his being from the west coast.

The Private coughed again, shook his head, shrugged.  On the far side of tent city, the clattering rumble of a departing helicopter cracked the air.  

Eyeing the aircraft as it lifted off, the kid spoke: "Will know...can I go home?"

The Captain and the Sergeant Major exchanged glances.  They were down two men already.  Only yesterday they'd cancelled a combat drill because Battalion was short-handed. 

The Captain stubbed out his cigarette in the dirt.  "I'm afraid not, son." 

The Private looked at the Captain--stared right through him--then looked at the ground.  His shoulders dropped and he squinted at the sand.  "But my sister, she--"

"We just can't afford to lose you now.  That's all there is to it."

The Private turned away.  He put his hand to his face, rubbed his thumb along the side of his nose.  Gravel crunched under his boots.  He looked out from the compound, toward the low hills to the west, as if someone might appear there.  The Sergeant Major considered putting a hand on the Private's shoulder then decided against it.  The Captain fidgeted and looked at his watch. 

"OK," the kid said finally. 

"Good," said the Captain.  "Sergeant Major, see that this man gets some time off.  He deserves it." 

"Yes, sir."

The Captain turned on his heel and started off across the compound.  The kid watched him leave.  Then something shifted in his eyes, in the way he gripped his rifle.  His jaw set.  He leaned down and clumsily grasped the strap of his assault pack. 

The Sergeant Major grabbed his sleeve.  "Look, I'm sorry man.  You know there's nothing we can do.  We--"

The Private wrenched away, bringing the older man up short.  Their eyes met.

"I said OK."

The Sergeant Major dropped his arm, stepped back, let him go.  The kid put on his helmet, turned, and left him standing in the dust. 

4 bolts from the blue:

Penny Manning said...

Is this your writing? I liked the passage and want to know what happens next.

Jon Paul said...

Hi Penny. Thanks. Yeah, it's me. Unfortunately, it was supposed to be a standalone piece--so some work to do.

I posted it up over at Absolute Write and got a similar comment.

I think the problem is the setup. I will have to rewicker, and put it back out. Thanks for reading!

Penny Manning said...

Happy to have read your work. I want to be clear about my comment. When people say they want to read more...that's a great compliment because, essentially, it means you're doing something right with your story BUT it also means that your writing style is likely attracting them--us--enough for them to want to sample more of your writing.
I'm just saying . . .


Jon Paul said...

Yeah, based on your comment (and others) I think I'm considering making this a longer story.

Thanks very much for the compliment. I am just getting back to writing after a long hiatus so the encouragement is very helpful at this stage.

Waddaya wanna say?

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