(sorry for the lack of stories last week, there was an accident in the family)
Writing prompt: The News
The problem with a smile, Is almost everything. A smile can do marvellous things, don’t get me wrong. But a smile from Steve was always a problem. Ever since primary school it was a problem. You knew something was wrong when the small, wide eyed, brown hair boy smiled up at you. By grade three teacher would have a coding system. As soon as the boy grinned a message was sent round. Code Smiley. By that age it was worse. They evacuated the whole school after finding an infestation of red belly black snakes in the ventilation system. Steve had been feeding up the mother for several weeks and was pleased when she gave birth to eight beautiful children. Dangerous as they are, the school decided it was best to be safe and call in the experts. They found several other adults around the school, as well as feeding bowls for them. They were lucky no one was hurt. Don’t mistake me, it wasn’t always a sinister act, or deliberate in destruction. It was just unfortunate that anything that made Steve smile, was potentially deadly. Or destructive.
At the age of seventeen he loved motor bikes. Loved the fierce engine and the speed they tear down the road. It was the Vietnam War He had lied about his age to make him look older, to make sure they accepted him. He wanted to fight for his country. His dad had fought in the wars, his uncle to. He wanted his own story. Sure he had snakes in school, he accidentally burnt down a science lab in grade seven, but what was that compared to fighting. Fighting for his country. Some said this war was wrong. But to Steve, it was simple. There were those who were killing, who were spreading fear and they were a threat.
Arriving in Vietnam he was given his orders. With twenty other men they had to meet over the mountains with another group and to move on from there. His uniform was tight, but he didn’t mind. A small smile was plastered on his face. War, the fight, the victory that would surely come.
The rats. The tunnels. The Black echo. Steve was of slight frame and perfect for the job. He and a team of five would be given ammunition and orders to kill. These tunnels were small. Really, the ideal size for a small child to run through. Not five men. Or boys. Depending on their age. The dirt at the entrance was wet, slimy. Moist. Steve was excited. Who wouldn’t be? You needed to adrenaline or you would die. The speed, the concentration, the fear. For the tunnels held death. Men of war hiding around corners, booby traps, the risk of a possible cave in. Steve didn’t want his ear on a necklace. But he was confident. Sergeant Smith looked down at him.
“In, out” Stevens nodded. The Sergeant didn’t waste words. In hindsight, it was because he had repeated himself time and time again. Stevens nodded. He wanted to go first. Plunge into the darkness. To the unknown. After the first step, the others were easier. One step after the other, letting the silence grasp the sound of your breath. The cobwebs of the cave and your mind dragging softly over your head. The touch of the wet walls, dirt in your nails. The smell, probably not as bad as your cloths. But still there. Daylight being swallowed up as you go round the first, and second bend. The smell of blood further up. How many men have been there before? The smell of corpses. He felt the ping on his helmet. It was ready. He pressed a button and the helmet silently pinged around the tunnels. Drawing up a map. Creating a vision. There were traps up ahead. There was a small cave below filled with patients. Probably from the nuclear bombings in the cities. They had evacuated out here. They weren’t the target. The small group of men further to the right were. If they were men. They were getting smarter. Putting heat sources in room to make the appearance of troops. It lead to a group of men dying a week before. They could use drones, but drones cost money. They could use more missiles, but they only did so much. Men were the best weapon. They were always the best weapon. For they were cheap. A man’s life was cheaper than a tank, cheaper than a gun. If accountants ran the system more than they did, they might only give the men blades. But they had guns, the latest and greatest. Round another corner and Steve was now twenty minutes from the thermal shadows of men. A smile crept on his face, he shifted his gun from safety, and he kept his pace steady. Steady we go, step by step, movement by movement. Careful of any traps in the wall, the floor. A shift. A movement from the ahead. Steve stiffened. Holding his breath he waited. The person shifted back. Maybe it was a stretch. He was close enough. He aimed down the barrel. He pulled the trigger. The bullets pummelled through the walls, into the men, one after the other. The Geneva Convention used to ban these weapons. Who needs the convention? He reloaded quickly and went again before the remainder could lift their guns back. They fell. Steve’s friends swept in from the side. Sweeping the room as he looked down the sights. They gave the thumbs up. It was clear.
He would repeat this. Again and again. The adrenaline. The silence. The moist walls. The dirt. The kill. The smile glued on his face. War suited him. He was one in a million. When you think about it. That’s a lot. But his friends were scared. They joked. They laughed. They cried. They didn’t want to die. They didn’t want to kill. They were all a pawn of a much larger game. There is only one moral of a war story. WAR IS HELL. Sometimes we fight for what we believe in. Sometimes we fight to save others. But sometimes, sometimes it can be avoided. This isn’t meant to be entertaining, this isn’t meant to be fun and games of heroics. How many patriotic stories do we hear before we are blinded of the pain, of the suffering? For Steve ended up dead in the tunnels, his arms blown apart, his ears on a necklace. Steve was buried when the tunnel collapsed. For you thought this was about the original Vietnam War, not one made up in the future. For a moment it went from a tragedy to adventure. Smile. It’s a problem when we enjoy the pain. Send our troops home.