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Nightmare 2

What is the punishment for a seven year old caught stealing?

My breath comes in great gasps. I stand panicked but subdued in a long, thin, dust filled communal toilet. Several of the buildings in our street have been lost to bombs in the past few days, and the dust seems to hang around like a fog.

The white and dark blue tiling on the walls and floor reflect the remains of the daylight, which plays with the Brownian dust particles. As much is hidden by the dust as is revealed by the light.

Both of my daughters are here in the room with me. I wish with all my soul that they were upstairs in our home. 

The elder, blonde one is standing before me, to the side of her captor. Her hands are bound in front of her.  

The younger brunette is sitting crumpled on the floor behind the two soldiers at the far end of the room. Their grey uniforms blur into the dust, concealing most of the detail. The occasional glint off of metal badges or rifle butts lends a glimmer of life to the dimness.

The blonde daughter who looks like me is in more trouble than she can possibly know. Even so, I think she can guess that things aren't at all good.

She is trying her damnedest to hide her fear and be brave in front of these invaders, but her seven year old body isn't strong enough. She can't show her defiance here by slamming doors and screaming I HATE YOU DADDY like she would have done at home. 

Only a matter of weeks ago, she and all of her friends had been playing and laughing at school.

Now school is a crater, and most of her friends are dead. I thanked God for her cold that day while cursing him for the evils he allows men to do. 
Still I see her strength as she doesn't cry, even as one tear slides from her eye, cutting a clear line across her dirty cheek.

My heart breaks.

"She is a thief, and must pay the price," the head soldier said in his own language. The distaste and resignation in his voice tell me what he means, even if the words themselves are unknown to me. His firearm is all too obvious in its holster at his side.

I've always thought of myself as a strong man, but still I find myself pleading as I have never done before. I find myself unconsciously taking off my flat cap and trying to wring the life out of it in my anguish. 

"But sir, she's only seven, she doesn't know the difference!" I say, straining against the desire to wring the smug grin off this evil mans face, half imagining that my cap is his neck.

"That is your wrong," he says, switching to a close approximation of the language that I speak. "You should have teach." 

"But she's starving! Little girls like this shouldn't have to starve - we've barely had a full meal since you invaded us. And it was only two slices of bread. Please show her some leniency."

"Leniency?" he said, trying the taste of the word in his mouth. "Leniency. I like that word. Thank you." I was surprised that he had let the word ' invaded' go, as his masters insisted that they were not a conquering nation.

Out of the corner of my eye I see one of the soldiers light a cigarette. He passes it to his friend as they chat quietly.

I catch the eye of my younger daughter. She looks just like her mother. She has been crying since she had run through our front door to tell me that her big sister was in trouble. 

The tears have all but dried up now, her crying having calmed down to a sniffle. There is still fear in her eyes. I force myself to smile a quick smile, hoping to reassure her. It doesn't seem to help any.

"....... ther?" 

"I'm sorry, I missed that," I say as I turn back to the head soldier. I don't know what his rank is, but he is obviously in charge of the other two. I can tell by the mans demeanour, his uniform and the fact that he has a sidearm instead of a rifle.

"Where is her mother?" he asks again, talking slowly so that I won't miss it this time.

A rod of steel seems to form inside of me, so I take a deep breath and try to relax.

Coldly I say, "She was killed last week outside the Townhouse."

"Ah, one of those protesters?" he asks, nodding his head knowingly.

"No. She was coming home with a loaf of stale bread - the only food that she could manage to find in the shops. She hadn't even reached the protest when your men opened fire. She was killed by a ricochet."

"I'm sorry for your loss - the death of innocents is never our intention," he says, speaking the party line.

It is my turn to look at him with distaste.

"But if we allow looters to take over then we will have anarchy," he says to cover his discomfort. I can tell that he is himself disillusioned with the party line. But it is not up to him to question.

"LOOTERS?" I exclaim. I can feel the two soldiers turn their attention back towards me. I force myself to calm down. "She's a seven year old girl who recently lost her mother. Her world has been turned upside down. She has not enough food to eat. What should she do?"

"We must have order. The sooner you people realise the better," the head soldier says emphatically. He needs to gain the upper hand again. And then a curious look passes over his face.

"Are you willing to change places? Your life for hers?" he asks.

The blood in my veins runs ice cold.

"I would gladly change places if their mother was still alive. But who will look after my children when I am gone? I have no other family. No-one wants more mouths to feed." 

I would gladly send my soul to eternal damnation if I thought it would save my children. But I know that neither will survive if I take her place. You hear stories of occupying forces. Some say that death comes slowly even to the young.

At least I can make sure that one survives.

My beautiful blonde haired daughter speaks for the first time.

"I'm sorry daddy. I didn't mean it. I was so very hungry. We were reading in religious studies at church today that stealing is bad. I know it was wrong but I couldn't help myself. I was going to share it with you both. I love you." She realises what is about to happen. "Look after the little one."

I can't help but break down in tears as I fall to my knees.

"Please sir, don't do this. You don't have to do this. You don't have to.....It's my fault - I should have been at church with them...." I say through my sobs.

I notice through my tears that the daylight has all but disappeared. The room is in a dusky darkness.

I have never begged anyone for anything, but I am powerless to do anything else. I would crawl across a field of broken glass if there was even the possibility of it working at this moment.

"What can I do?" I ask.

"Teach your other daughter better," comes the reply from one of the soldiers.

I can hear the two soldiers at the end of the room laugh at my discomfort. I understand that they are young stupid boys playing at being men, but I will never forgive them.

"Do you want your other daughter to see this?" the head soldier asks quietly.

I realise that he is unwilling to lose face in front of his men. We have all heard stories of how unforgiving his army is to their own.

I shake my head, and push myself up to my feet. "Thank you sir." I can't think of anything else to say. I have not the strength to fight them. I have to salvage what I can. I wipe the tears from my eyes.

I walk over past the two soldiers, noticing that they're barely old enough to shave, and bend down to pick up my youngest daughter. "Shhhhh," I whisper at her, the universal attempt at calming.

She looks at the state that I'm in and bursts into tears herself. I can't imagine what I look like.

I stand up with her in my arms, nestling her head into my shoulder. I turn and throw a last quick smile at my beautiful daughter. I love you, I mouth at her so that she won't hear the pain in my voice. The tears start again, blurring my vision as I almost run out the door. The picture of her smiling calmly up at me will live with me forever.

Behind me I hear her say, "Don't worry. God will look after me and mummy."

Outside in the hallway I stop 5 yards from the door.

I bend down and place her on her feet against the wall.

"What's happening daddy?" she asks.

"Shhhh," I say. "In a minute you'll hear a bang and the soldiers will come out. Stay here and don't get in their way." I take a deep breath.

"I will have to go back in and ..." 

My voice cracks as I think about what I will find when I go back in. I pray silently for a quick, clean shot.
 

 

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Author’s notes

The reason that this story is called Nightmare 2 is simply because it is the second nightmare that I have had recently that I have written about - the other story being too extreme for this site apparently. 

This one I had only three nights ago.

In my dream I was in one of the Benelux countries, probably Belgium, circa 1940, and the invaders were the Germans. 
The daughters were actually mine, but a few years younger than they are now. More innocent possibly.

I left information about the army, names of daughters and towns etc. deliberately vague so that the reader could picture any army they wanted - the only things that gave some indication of age, I thought, was that I mentioned rifles and communal toilets.

You choose - Iraq? Palestine? Belgium? Africa? Just about anywhere at any time. A planet of your own choice in a time of your own choice?

I don't know if this works or not, since I have a picture in my head, courtesy of my nightmare. Let me know if it does or not.
Remember, a lot of the fun in reading is using our own imagination . Otherwise we'd be as well watching telly.

The other thing that I'm not sure if it works, is the ending.
At that point in my nightmare I had to drag myself up to wakefulness so that I didn't hear the sound of the rifle shot.
I was gasping for breath, as scared as I have ever been in my life.
I didn't want to hear my little girl die. Because I knew that was what was going to happen next.
I hope that comes through in the writing.


GoNE 23/11/06

 

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