The innocence of war


Sargent Lewis took the stand. The man who had been like a son to him was unable to look him in the eye.

“Sargent Lewis, would you please tell us the events that led to the death of private Turner?”

Lewis nodded at his shoes.

One month earlier, they were stationed in Afghanistan. A call came through. A transport convoy was hit. The villagers had turned on them, no doubt under threat of violence from the Taliban.

Corporal James arrived at his post, along with his partner. James laid belly down on the rooftop, one eye trained through the scope of his rifle. Dean lay next to him, range finder in hand. Armoured vehicles crept into the streets, crushing the cafe tables, complete with umbrellas, that littered the road. A glint of light. A boy on a balcony. The sunrise reflected in the tags around his neck. He turned his AK on the first truck, and James took aim. 

“Dean.”

“I see him, 400 metres.”

James filled his lungs and braced. He exhaled steadily, squeezed the trigger, and the shot rang out. The boy fell to the floor, his rifle next to him; a single bullet escaped its barrel and ricochet off a faraway rock. The tags around his neck no longer reflected any light.

“Confirmed,” Dean’s voice cracked. They would never speak of the boy, but his death would bond the two men forever.

The convoy rolled to a halt. A girl no older than six stepped into the light as the soldiers below exited their vehicles. A red balloon danced atop a string tied to her tiny waist. Private Turner shouted orders she either didn’t understand or wouldn’t comply with.

“Stop right there.”

She took another step towards them. Tears streaked her dust-stained cheeks.

“Stop, or we’ll fire.”

Her eyes pleaded with them.

On the rooftop, the radio sprang to life.

“Stand by James.”

Every muscle in James’s neck tensed.

Private Turner’s voice quivered.

“Stop.”

The girl continued forward.

Static on the radio, followed by orders.

“Take the shot, James.”

James took aim. Her clothes were dirty, and her eye was swollen; she’d been beaten recently. He filled his lungs.

“James. Take the shot.”

The air choked him. He’d taken younger lives. Far younger and far too many.

“800 metres.”

The girl glanced up towards the roof.

“James, take the fucking shot.” 

Distorted shouts were overtaken. A fireball erupted from the girl’s chest, enveloping private Turner. The ringing in their ears saved them from the screams as his uniform bonded to his skin. The screams died as his lungs shrivelled, suffocating him from the inside. A single red balloon floated upward.

“How many times did you give that order, Sargent?”

He fixed James with a determined stare, “three.”

James lowered his head. The verdict hadn’t yet been given, but he already knew he was responsible. Still, he couldn’t comprehend that any court could convict a man for not taking the life of a child.


Story by Stacey Potter


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