I have decided to participate to this week’s Flash Fiction Friday, because the picture was so evocative, heartbreaking and real, this story burst into my mind.
The plane’s cargo hold filled with screams and cries. Soldiers piled more people inside, the air stale with fear. They held machine guns and wore masks, their shiny boots crushing fingers, hands and feet. They pushed and shoved, gave bruises and wounds.
‘‘Daddy, he’s coming now.’’ The girl’s voice broke, tears falling down her face reddened by the wasted run—no one could escape the Army. ‘‘I need to push,’’ she said, eyes closed and chin tucked in as she cried in the surrounding madness.
The old man held her hand, shocked by their brutal arrest, by what was to come.
‘‘Daddy, help me!’’ she cried out, the people around them making way for her spread legs, blood and other fluids leaking out of her. The smell of booze and unwashed bodies was so pungent the old man covered his nose with his spit rag. ‘‘Promise me you’ll hide him well.’’ With her painful words, his trance broke.
The old man stood up, even if he’d been told to stay down and shut it. He grabbed a soldier’s arm and pulled. ‘‘Darla is having her baby.’’ Never good with words, he feared his voice got lost in the roaring of the engine and the gusts of wind coming from the closing cargo hold. ‘‘Got a doctor?’’ Like the Army would keep one to check on the hobos they forced to fight on the war fronts.
When the soldier brushed him off, the old man lost it. He screamed, ‘‘You have no right to keep us here! We are New American citizens!’’
‘‘What the hell is holding up my plane?’’ A general advanced from the cockpit. ‘‘You the trouble maker?’’ An oxygen mask covered his face, the stink too much for his rank.
The old man noticed his daughter unconscious on the floor. He sank next to her, gently tapping her cheeks to wake her up. Tears fell from his face and joined hers.
‘‘Get them out, the both of them. Waste of space, she’s dead and he can’t walk straight,’’ the general ordered, and soldiers grabbed the girl roughly, her head dropping to her chest.
‘‘Darla!’’ the old man shouted, but she didn’t open her eyes. ‘‘Darla, wake up!’’ But fright seized his throat and squeezed it shut, letting nothing more out. The old man wanted to scream, to run, to keep her safe, but he was too late.
The soldiers pushed them out of the cargo hold, and the old man landed hard on the makeshift runway in the field. After the soldiers threw her out, the girl’s eyes remained closed, her fists clutched to her belly, nothing moving inside. The old man rocked her just like he had when he’d found her as a baby, left in the trash to die. Back then, he’d promised himself to never let her die.
‘‘Don’t leave me alone,’’ he repeated until it became a lament in the middle of the cornfield, miles from the Macro-City.
The plane lifted off with sounds of chaos, the old man hoping it would wake the dead. ‘‘Darla?’’ No use, she was gone, with the baby still inside her.
The old man ran, the pain from his knees shooting up and down his weak legs. He thought someone was following him, but it was his own rattled breath bursting out of his mouth.
Tears didn’t come up, even after he left Darla’s body in the field, no time for a grave since soldiers, planes and spotlights infested the place.
He kept to the ditches, deep enough for cover when Army trucks lifted dust from the roads. He prayed for the night to engulf him, so easy to disappear in a Macro-City of millions but so hard when surrounded by nothing.
‘‘Smells like trouble,’’ he’d said to Darla when she found out about the baby inside her. She would love him just like the old man had loved her; he’d saved her from a life of nothingness. So he’d helped her any way he could: found better food for her, even got a teddy bear for the baby and stashed every penny he found—where was the money? He’d need it to get away, to survive.
The dump crawled with soldiers searching for unwilling recruits, their weapon muzzles aimed at the darkest corners. Media Screens blared news about the courageous souls heading to the fronts, forgetting to mention how these were homeless people kidnapped to go.
The old man kept to the side alleys, away from the boulevards. He passed by Sally’s corner and noticed her gone—impossible, she peed where she slept to keep her good begging spot. He checked Ricky D’s palace by the dumpster but no more couch, no more broken TV set. The Army got everyone he knew.
The park square he’d called home for the past twenty years had been raided and destroyed: boxes flattened to the ground and litter rolling in the stuffy breeze. He saw it, his dejected box, by the manhole in the ground. If only he could reach it…
‘‘Hey you, stop right there!’’ one of the soldiers called to the old man.
This was his territory, his Macro-City: he knew every way out. Screw the money, he’d been surviving without it long enough.
‘‘Stop or I’ll shoot!’’ the soldier shouted, but the old man had already scampered into the side alley leading to the underground station.
He slid into the subway station and crushed his body to the Ads Screens under the stairs. The train slowed to a stop and he sat down by the door, waiting for soldiers to come and take him away. But the doors closed, he was safe for now.
His beloved Darla was gone. Back to being alone. Sooner or later, the soldiers would catch him. War raged inside him, he saw the enemy everywhere he looked. If only he could disappear and forget the daughter he called home.