Monday, March 4, 2019

Soldiers' Children by Harrison Abbott

Harrison Abbott tells the chilling tale of a wartime raid.

The villagers had been receiving panicky messages from relatives and friends throughout the night. The invading soldiers were heading north, and the village was directly in their path: they needed to escape before the soldiers reached them. There was no resistance to the invasion anymore; the capital in the south had fallen, and the soldiers were flooding across the nation. Doing what, the villagers couldn't know. In the northern mountains, few people even understood why the invasion was happening.

Only one man made it out of the village before the platoon arrived. The rest of the families were thrusting survival goods into their cars, when the platoon's jeeps appeared on the long road from the hills, just as daylight had emerged. The jeeps did not snarl or send black fumes against the snowfields. They only petered down to the village at a calm pace. Ten vehicles, clad in military gear. And all the villagers could do was stand and watch and imagine what was going to happen.

When the jeeps arrived, the soldiers alighted with controlled expressions. The morning temperature now seemed warm, the snow light, the flakes dallying about their uniforms. Slowly they approached the locals, who were terrified of their machine guns, but even more by their serenity. All the soldiers did was ask that every adult villager gather in the main street, so they could be spoken to.

The village was very small: more a hamlet, with less than 100 people. It wasn't long before the adult villagers were grouped up, huddled in knots on the main street under the soldiers' watch. One soldier then introduced himself to the crowd: he was the platoon's Chief. He began to ask the villagers questions. He had a lofty voice, with a practical tone.

Were any of the villagers currently armed? the Chief asked. Two of the village men were, and the soldiers politely confiscated their pistols. The Chief then queried if the village had had any issues with the local internet connection recently. Had the internet been acting erratically? The villagers didn't know what to make of this, but, no, there had been nothing wrong with the internet of late. He then asked if there had been any police in the area in the last number of days. The police, of course, were the enemies of the invaders in this little war, and the villagers were quick to deny that any authorities had been in the village. The village was so remote and tiny, that no policeman had visited in many years.

The Chief seemed satisfied. He said he had a final question.

"Are all the children inside the houses?"

Which was met with silence. The Chief looked up at the windows in the nearby houses along the street, where indeed the small faces of the children were peeking behind the panes.

"Are all your children inside your houses?"

Eventually from the hushed villagers came mutters, nodding.

"And how many children are there?"

Nobody answered him. The snowflakes were heard making faint clashes in the breeze.

"Those who are all present in the street," the Chief announced, "will not be hurt. Do not panic. I trust that all of you will be able to get back inside your homes before nightfall."

The Chief clicked his tongue and suddenly the soldiers were moving, fast, towards the village adults. They took out cable ties and began to bind each adult's hands behind his or her back. Then ordered them to kneel down in the snow in small groups. A soldier stood above each group, and told them not to move. When this was done, the other soldiers began to head into the village houses.

The village adults were no longer hushed. They couldn't see anything, but they could hear their children, and were beginning to speak out to the soldiers. Then when a pack of soldiers burst out from a house, carrying three writhing children on their backs, one of the male adults stood up and started shouting. The guarding soldier thumped him on the jaw with his rifle butt, knocking him flat. After that the villagers were too cowardly to do anything physical but scream.

The soldiers found and caught all the children from the houses, carried them back to the jeeps and locked them inside. The kids bawled with red faces, gaping back at their parents. Sonic in their efficiency, the soldiers had completed the job within minutes. The Chief suspected that some of the parents would have hidden their children and that there could be more to find. But it didn't matter. The example was being made as it was.

He delivered a final order to the adults not to follow the soldiers. Then he and the rest of the troops mounted their jeeps and drove away from the village, further north into the mountains.

They drove for what seemed to the children an epic time. The kids were hysterical for much of this period, infecting each other with their sobbing, but ultimately, they ran out of energy. The soldiers were too robotic to penetrate with noise.

Somewhere, at some point, the cavalcade stopped. The soldiers told the children to get out the jeeps with them. Outside, they found themselves higher up in the mountains, the snow falling more heavily from above. There was no recognisable sight of civilisation save that of the single lane road. The soldiers stood at one side of the road and told the children to stand at the other side.

The Chief told the children to take off their clothes. He said it was the last thing he was going to ask them to do and that the men weren't going to hurt them. Through his disciplined voice, the children believed him, and they obeyed. They all took off their clothes. Jumpers, jeans, underwear, boots. None of the soldiers watched any of the children as they stripped. They just held out refuse bags for the children to put their clothing and shoes inside. Then placed the bags in their jeeps. The children were shivering, and more confused, completely bewildered, than anything else. A gabble of girls and boys, entirely naked within the tundra.

Faithful to his vow, the Chief gave no more orders, or words. The soldiers got back in their jeeps, and departed, forever, leaving the children alone.

That is basically what happened, that strange day in the war, so long ago. In terms of facts, that's a straight outline of what occurred.

I wanted to tell the story as simply as I could, and in essence the tale is very simple. I can list all the facts; I'm the only person on the planet who knows this story fully. Because I was there that day. I was one of those children. Taken away from my village and left in the mountains, naked, with the other kids.

I am the sole guardian of this event, because I am the only child who survived it. All the others froze to death. As we tried to journey back home along the road, I saw the others drop down in the blizzard and I kept walking away until their shapes disappeared in the white.

Sometimes I think I was just lucky - incredibly lucky - to make it back to the village. Miraculously, I got back home, in bare feet, at night. Perhaps it was because I was older than the other kids. Or because I was a boy, and most of the others were girls. But, I'm unsure: I can never settle on a specific reason as to how I survived. This tale doesn't seem suggestive of any reason; it presents no answers as to why.

When I arrived back in the village, it was locked in a dream. Not a nightmare, only held in the subconscious fantasy of a dream. As was my mother, when she saw me in the door. She barely reacted except to embrace me and clothe me and feed me. There were no joyful tears or kisses, and it was strange, but I wasn't hurt by her numbness. She was just too stunned by what had happened that day that she couldn't wake up.

And though the war is over now, the dream is still here. I've adopted the dream, of my mother's and the village's. It is a lot easier, this way, because the world is a far worse place now than it was when the war was on. I wouldn't have been able to survive until now, if I wasn't dreaming.

6 comments:

  1. I thought this might be an African story, because guerrillas there kidnap kids to fight for them, but it appears to be in an imaginary locale. Lots of inexplicable and crazy things happen, especially in wars. The first part of the story is very convincing. The creepy part is that the soldiers are calm and logical and seem in control, yet what they do is random and absurd.

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  2. An imaginative story much open to interpretation. It may sound harsh, but I think the villagers need to quit dreaming or history will repeat itself.

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  3. What David Henson (hi) said. So many questions. Tundra? Could it be in the mountains of East Africa?

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  4. A powerful story of the casual yet systematic cruelty of war, and the dislocation of mind of survivors, who never fully escape the horror. In this case the only escape is through denial (adopting the dream).

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  5. I like the way this story is written, factual and bare. I don´t think it matters where it is. It´s a product of the imagination, perhaps influenced by events.
    Either way, it is an excellent read, strange and thought provoking.

    Mike McC

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  6. Yup, humans can be even more cruel than savage animals.

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