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The Small Black Object
A soldier in a battle fatally wounds an enemy, only to realize the family his opponent left behind. From there the story briefly touches upon a couple of personal human issues such as identity and shame.
Michael G Barbieri
Michael Barbieri is a recent Computer Engineering graduate of the University of Central Florida.
The Small Black Object
Michael G Barbieri
He stared out the two-story window at the approaching man. “I’m dry!” he had heard not too long ago, in turn from the windows to his left and his right. His comrades were out, and he was down to his last. This is it, he thought to himself, If I fail, we all die.
He took careful aim and fired his last shot. He watched as the figure stumbled a few steps and fell to the ground, quivering. The figure then moved his arm, searching for something in his uniform, until finally he pulled out a small black object and started fumbling with it.
He heard the commander shout “It should be clear; let’s go down there and see what he’s doing!”
He grabbed his empty rifle and his canteen of water, and ran out of the room and down the stairs of the building to the entrance, which was on the other side as the body. He turned left and ran around the building to the front, stopping several yards away from the figure he had shot. The commander and his other comrade were close behind, and arrived next to him.
The commander said “Go check him out.”
He ran up to the wounded man, who had his head up and his arms out, and was staring at a small black object. As he approached the man, the man turned his head slowly and looked at him briefly, then put his head down in the sand and lay motionless.
He picked up the black object. It was a wallet, and on top of the wallet was a photograph. He looked at the photograph, and could tell it was taken recently. The man he had killed was in it, looking about the same as he did now. He was standing proud and tall with a toothless smile, in a military dress uniform. To the right of the man, in his arm, was a very pretty girl, dark brown hair and eyes, and a big warm smile on her face, wearing a black velvet dress. In her arms was an infant, staring out of the picture with a huge, adorable grin. They had performed the miracle of getting a baby to smile on demand.
He looked at the picture for a while. The other two men approached him; the commander asked “what did you find?”
He held up the wallet with the picture, paused and said casually, with a small smile, “Just a... just a wallet... and a picture.”
The commander looked briefly, and, seeing that they were in no danger, promptly ordered “All right then, let’s get back to the others and let them know the building is secure. Leave the wallet on the body; both will be picked up by others.”
He didn’t move. He looked at the commander, grinned and let out a breath and shook his head as if something was funny. Then he stopped and stared at the commander.
The commander was about to open his mouth, when he acted first. His facial expression changed to rage as he quickly gripped his gun in both hands, held it above his head, and slammed it on the ground screaming “Fuck this shit! Fuck it all! I quit! I’m done!”
The commander said “What do you mean, you quit?”
“I mean I quit! That was a family, sir! That kid used to have a dad! War is fucking retarded! I fucking hate it!”
“So you’re just gonna walk away.”
He paused a moment. “Yeah, that’s it. Right now, I’m walking.” He turned his back to the commander, heard a click, and turned back around.
The commander was aiming a pistol at him. “This is a war! You are here to serve your country! The punishment for desertion is death!”
But he was too enraged to care. “So fucking shoot me!” he cried, “I’m done killing people. This whole thing is sick!”
“Get a grip on yourself! What about your family? Why aren’t you thinking about them?”
“What does it matter? I’d die out there anyway. I’d rather die with something to believe in.”
The commander shook his head. “Something to believe in... What does it matter what you believed in, if you’re dying anyway?”
He hesitated, then, calming down a little, said, “I don’t know why. I just want to, you know? Everyone I’ve known always had something they believed in. Something that motivated them that was higher than a human desire. I’ve never had anything like that. But now I think I do, and I think I’ll die for it.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. So because you want to be like everyone else and their stupid ideals, you’re doing to sacrifice the only life you have. Don’t you know that stuff’s all for show anyway?”
He became indignant. “It’s not for show!”
The commander was looking at him with disgust on his face, like a man who is feeling personally ashamed of his own child. “It’s not just for show? You're telling me you’re not about to let yourself die just to make a scene?”
“No. It’s a principle! I hate all this god-damned killing!”
“You do realize the world will not see it your way? The world will see you as a deserter, as a coward who abandoned his own country. Your own family will be ashamed of you.”
He paused, then said “But,” he hesitated, then continued, “but I don’t care what anyone thinks.” This came out more softly than before, as if he wasn’t sure if he even believed himself saying that old and tired line of teenage rebellion.
“But you do. I hear it in your voice. You’re bothered by what I said.”
He was silent. The commander continued, “the whole world will know what a coward you are.”
He felt some strength return. “They will not! The world will know me only as a statistic! An unnamed casualty of war!”
“The world, perhaps. But your own family... your mother, your father, your girl... they will hear the story. And it will not be your side of the story. And they will be ashamed of their relation to you. They will throw away your pictures, so their friends don’t ask for a story of your valiant last stand.”
He looked at the commander for a second, eyes wide open and mouth gaping. “Let me write them a letter! Just one letter. Telling them why I’m doing this. Then you can kill me!”
The commander shook his head. “I will not allow unpatriotic propaganda to be sent home by our own troops. The last thing we need is low morale on the home front. You’ll never get your letter past the censors.”
His eyes were tearing up. He felt trapped in a corner, with nothing he could do.
The commander added, “What was that again, about not caring what anyone thought?”
He was crying. “Fine! You win! Let’s go!”
“I knew you’d come to your senses,” said the commander, smiling and lowering his gun, “and you’re right, let’s go”.
They began walking. He trailed the commander and the other man a few steps, then when he saw an opportunity and the commander wasn’t looking, he turned and began running.
He ran and ran, desperately trying to get out of sight before the commander noticed. Just a few more steps back to the building, then he could turn the corner.
And then all was dark for the unnamed soldier.
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© 2005 Michael G Barbieri
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