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Mr. Galloway

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Mr. Galloway

Piece of flash fiction that came to me after reading a couple of war memoirs and coming across an abandoned teddy bear while hiking.

 

Plush

 

My family calls me cynical. But when you’ve lived as long as I have, been through as much sh*t, witnessed first-hand the evil that man is capable of, who wouldn’t be cynical?

 

It’s my granddaughter’s birthday. Everyone’s carrying warm grins on their faces as they socialize and eat cake and other goodies; the children laugh and play as the rent-a-clowns entertain them. It’s all sunshine and rainbows in their little world. Meanwhile, I’m tucked away in the corner. Watching from underneath my dark little cloud, its eternal shower of sorrow soaking me. Oh, Dorothy. If only you were still here. She was the only one who could lift my spirits, put a smile on this brooding old man’s face with her natural tenderness and selflessness. And you know that she's half-crazy but that's why you want to be there, Leonard Cohen wrote. Even a soul as kind and gentle as Dorothy’s was unable to be spared from Death’s ruthless touch. The lord giveth, and the lord taketh away, I suppose.

 

It’s time to open the presents. My great-granddaughter jumps up and down in glee as boxes wrapped in colorful paper are brought to her. Predictably, her presents consist of a mixture of clothing and toys. She frowns at the clothes, thanking the person responsible against her will. The toys on the other hand, well, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how a five year old girl would react to sets of Barbie playhouses. Her favorite gift out of all of them, however, was the last one; a brown teddy bear wearing a pink bow tie, its size being just about half her height. She embraced the bear as tight as she could, christening it “Stanley.” A little girl and her newfound affection for a plush toy that didn’t exist in her life until a scant few seconds ago; such a marvel is enough to instill warmth in anyone’s being. It’d do the same with me...but old memories be damned. If I could use a knife to excise certain images that have been burned into the depths of my brain, I would. The sight of my granddaughter embracing her teddy bear brings back an unspoken memory from my youth. No, not from when I was a young boy, but rather a young man. A naïve young man who was fighting a war that wasn’t even his.

 

I managed to stay alive, not out of sheer luck, but rather adopting the “survival of the fittest” philosophy. When M16s are firing at you, and you just barely evade a grenade, there’s no time for morals, or trying to reason with the men responsible for the carnage. Unless you want to take an early trip to Hell, your only option is to fight back, shoot to kill. Because that’s how it is when you’re young and angry, you think violence is the best solution. And now as a soldier, you use your permission to kill enemy soldiers as an excuse to release all of that pent of anger. You think you look so badass with that scowl, rifle, and callous, f*ck-all attitude.

 

And then comes what some might consider the most disturbing part, the part where you feel no remorse. You just tell yourself, better them, than me. You want to brood about the morality of killing another man, then the battlefield isn’t for you. That’s what you’d say to convince yourself into believing you’re a trigger-happy, killing machine. You want people to know you’re that tough guy, the one who’s gung-ho about spilling blood. Shoot now, ask questions never. But then you encounter men who truly fit the image of heartless evil, and the cold exterior begins to crack; you show signs that show you’re not as uncaring as you think you are.

 

The stench of death pervaded the air that fateful day. It always did, but there was something different about it this time. Something told me this was no ordinary funk, there was a hint of malevolence behind it. As my men and I drew closer to the origin of the stench, we came across a village that was completely decimated. There were countless bodies strewn about, left to fester under the scorching-hot sun as if they were trash rather than human beings. Most of the villagers were hogtied and hacked to death, a few were given a merciful single shot between the eyes.

 

Gruesome, yet, not the most melancholic sight.

 

We made our way through the village, trying our damndest not to disturb the corpses by stepping on them, looking for any survivors. Some might call us foolish for even making such a futile attempt, but we needed some sense of hope to distract our minds from the carnage. And of course, our little attempt to play the role of an optimistic hero only ended up making my heart sink and lose more faith in humanity.

 

While scouting one of the houses, I noticed a small figure in a corner laying down in a fetal position.

 

“Hey! Are you alright?!” No answer. I walked closer to the figure, noting that it wasn’t in a fetal position, but rather hugging something. The figure was a little girl, probably no older than five. Her clothing was stripped, her body maimed, and she was clearly raped. The thing she was hugging was a teddy bear, apparently her last source of cold comfort before the ol’ reaper put her out of her misery.

 

I thought about her family, and how heartbroken they’ll be upon hearing the news about their daughter’s miserable demise; then I realized they, too, suffered such a demise and are among the nameless corpses littering the village. I thought about my daughter, Annie, and Dorothy’s last letter telling me about Annie asking when daddy’s coming home from his business trip; she, too, had a plush she’d cuddle with during a time of distress. I took one last look at the dead little girl, let out a sigh, shook my head, and made my way back to my squadron. There was nothing I could do apart from feeling pity for her. If it were within my power, I would’ve rounded up the men responsible, and personally put a bullet into each of their skulls. Because that’s how it is when you’re young and angry, you think violence is the best solution.

 

War is Hell, but Hell still torments you long after the war is over. You can turn to booze to self-medicate, but that only turns out to be an exercise in futility that does more harm than good. Relishing the company of your family does no good either. Especially when it comes to birthday parties like today. As I watch my daughter and granddaughter grow older, I can’t help but think back to that dead little girl and the daughters of my fallen fellow soldiers. How the former was robbed of a long life ahead of her, and the latter were robbed of a father. They, too, could be sharing a family moment, playing with balloon animals, and bearing smiling faces covered in cake frosting.

 

Of course I’m not going to be a stick in the mud and ruin their fun. I’m just going to keep on doing what I do best: let them enjoy their lives in peace as I brood in silence in solitude.

Edited by Mr. Galloway
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