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Flash Fiction

February 15, 2012

Another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at his blog terribleminds: create a compelling tale featuring an unlikable protagonist. This one really got me thinking.

Draft Dodgers

“Shut that fuckin’ kid up!”

I don’t need to look behind me to see their reaction: the hard-faced kid will be glaring daggers at me while trying to console Kara, whose expression will mirror the glassy-eyed astonishment of the child in her arms. They still don’t get it yet— the kid comes closest, but it’s all tangled up with this alpha-male protectiveness of the young mother that going’s to get him killed.

You too, if you don’t do something about it.

The kid gawks at me with its astonishingly bright blue eyes— almost unheard of these days— and then shrieks with renewed vigor. It’s a hateful sound that rebounds off the alley a half-dozen times before shooting into the street That seems to shake the young woman out of her stupor, and she turns her attention to shushing the baby, cooing over it, her brown hair astray and eyes wild and panicked. The kid steps forward and seizes my arm with a hand, his voice a fierce whisper. I can smell garlic on his breath and something else, something familiar…chewing tobacco?

“You’re scaring her, Beatty.”

I take a moment to answer, considering the strength in his fingers, and hate myself for doing so. “Should be scared, kid. You know the punishment for draft dodgers? Forced labor. Me, they’ll send to the factories, to work sixteen hour days greasing machine parts and doing repairs for Uncle Sam. You and Kara will be sent over to the front lines to serve your tour until you learn to love it or a sniper bullet puts an end to it. The kid’ll get sent to an orphanage and live for fifteen uneventful years before being drafted. An’ no one will shed one stinkin’ tear.”

“That might be true, but you’re not—”

An engine snarls to life, and we both freeze for an instant. Then I force him backwards, surprise tipping the scales in my favor, and force him back behind the dumpster just as the Hummer trundles by, ponderously slow and loaded to bear with GI’s. The four of us seem to forget how to breathe as a beam of light cuts down the dingy alleyway. I can feel the muscles in my left thigh tighten up and begin that slow throb of pain that usually prompts the shot of whiskey— even after they got the shrapnel out, some wounds keep on giving. Then the flashlight flicks off and the Hummer rolls on.

The kid climbs to his feet and brushes himself off. He doesn’t bother to offer a hand to help me up, and I wouldn’t have taken it. Nothing’s changed between us. Kara doesn’t budge from his squat on the ground. Tears have begun to leak from her eyes as she looks between us.

“Can we really do this? I mean…” A huge sniff as she gathers herself. She hates letting us see her cry almost as much as the act itself, I sense, and my respect for her rises a little. “There are soldiers everywhere!”

“I only saw a couple at the station,” the kid says.

“Count on at least two at the ticket booth,” I say in between massaging my thigh. It’s too late though; I can tell it’s going to be a real rager. “There’ll be more at the turnstiles, checking ID’s for passengers heading outta town.”

“That’s another thing. Where are we going to go?” Kara asks. Her baby gawps up at her, his face beginning to scrunch up as if he smells something awful.

There’s no room for ‘we’, you know that.

“I hear there’s less military presence in the west, near the casinos. So long as you’re spending money, they could care less.” The kid steps past me, his leather jacket brushing against my side, and I sense my moment. The kid’s more concerned with scanning the train station, but I doubt the situation’s changed. Age and cynicism tend to come hand in hand.

“What do you think, Warren?” Kara’s eyes turn to me, and I am reminded again of my mother. She was the only one who called me Warren. She’s been buried for fifteen years, and her eyes were dead long before that, but every now and again…

“You gotta leave the babe. You can make it through their checkpoint— they may not have noticed our absence yet, but a baby raises too many questions. They’ll remember a kid, ‘specially one with blue eyes. Drop him on a stoop and go.”

“I can’t do that,” Kara says with a shake of her head.

“It’s all or nothing.” The kid says, but there’s a brief moment of hesitation, and when his eyes evade mine, I know he knows that I’m right. He knows, but he still won’t do it.

If this was an Oldworld story like the ones I used to read as a kid, there’s no doubt in my mind that the kid would be the hero here, with Kara as his romantic interest. There’s no room for veterans grown old before their time in picture books. But the heroes have moved on in today’s world. Now we just have survivors.

I sigh, roll my shoulders, grit my teeth like a man taking on a burden. The decision isn’t made so much as it is made for me. They took it out of my hands. “Alright then, all for one. This is what we’ll do. Gimme ten minutes. I’ll go ahead and try to make a distraction so you can slip through. We can meet in Nevada.”

The kid’s eyes narrow, and I expect him to refuse, to see through me. But Kara, trusting Kara, speaks up first.

“Thank you, Warren.”

This time, I’m the one who has to avoid eye contact. After all, how long will they wait for me? How long until the kid checks his pockets, notices the missing ID?

How long until the military finds them?

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From → Other Stuff

One Comment
  1. Kathy permalink

    Intriguing. I would read more.

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