We Were Soldiers

We Were Soldiers

7th Place in Group • Action Adventure / An Embassy / A Sewing Needle

SynopsisWar is serious business. Especially when you’re young.

“Get to the embassy!”  

I could hear Drewski but I couldn’t see him. I pulled the pistol from my belt and darted through the grove, aiming for his voice. I’d call to him, but I didn’t want to give up my position. I was close. I could make it. 

More yelling—Carrie this time, from the opposite direction. The raid was on.

I hunkered down in the gulley and checked my clip even though I knew it was full—fresh loaded down at Fisher creek, currently running at a pathetic mid-August trickle—and surveyed the narrow dirt trail that lead to the combat arena. I caught a peripheral flash of movement and Drewski dropped down next to me, panting. “Jesus alive, Jamie, you’re visible for miles.”

I looked down at my red shirt. “Shit.”

“Can you go home and change?”

I shook my head. “If Chip sees my ugly face before supper time, I’ll regret it.”  I made air-quotes so he knew this came direct from my step-father. 

“Double shit.”

I stood and pulled my shirt over my head. “Behold a pale horse, and its rider”—I waved my pistol at him—“Death.”

Drewski rolled his eyes. “Come on drama-dork, Carrie can’t hold ‘em off for long.”

The sun scratched electric over my bare shoulders as we scrambled out of the dry ravine and into the fight. I scanned the clearing between the old barn and the laddered trunk of the massive oak to determine where I was most needed. The wildfire smell of the midday sun scorching the green out of everything was thicker in the shade.  

From behind the faded wall of the barn, her blonde head down, Carrie sprinted flat out for the embassy—a ramshackle treehouse at least two generations into disrepair. Her rare dress was a shock of white against her summer gold skin, her knees kicking the embroidered hem as her sandals sprayed duff in her wake. Drewski saw the bright blue square a flash before I did.  

“She’s got it!  She’s got their flag!”

We pitched forward to flank her as Keith emerged from the barn, pistol dripping and eyes wild.

“Jamie!  Cover!”  

But Drewski didn’t need to warn me. I was already turning, already leveling my shot so Carrie could make it the last few feet to safety, to victory. I plugged Keith in the shoulder with two quick pulses from my pistol. The water spread over the sleeve of his little league jersey and he covered it with a hand, but didn’t slow.

“Not fatal!” he yelled.  The triumph in his voice was also in his face. I found myself looking down the barrel of his pump-action water-blaster. The stream struck me full in the ear and I knew I’d have to go down. 

“I’m hit!  Drewski!” 

I sputtered and clutched my middle, preparing an impressive death scene, when a loud crack snapped my attention to the trap door of the embassy. Carrie was almost in, and for a confused moment I thought she was propelling herself up and inside. But then I understood—the hoist branch we all knew would eventually break, finally had.

We watched, frozen in hot battle, as she scrambled for purchase. Her foot slid away from the rickety final rung and she began to tip. First a little, then completely. She wobbled and reached, the branch in her hand twisting her body into an awkward cartoon. Then she was plummeting.  

It took me a moment to realize I’d closed my eyes.  That I’d only heard the impact.  

When I found the courage to look, the blood on her dress made me think of Snow White. 

She was sitting up—and the relief pushed all the air from my lungs. Her dirty, slow-motion hand dragged over the gash on her face. It came away crimson and dripping.

“Shit,” she said to her splayed her fingers.  

She looked up, dazed, then bunched her skirt up and pressed the fabric to her chin.  She was wearing tiny shorts underneath her dress, a thing that made her both tougher and more vulnerable. 

Weapons thunked down into the dirt as we rushed in. Keith got there first.

“Can you make it to my house?”

She nodded and we pulled her to her feet. The twenty minute walk stretched to thirty as our slow mob escorted her into Keith’s kitchen and sat her at his yellow and white checked dining table. 

We stood shoulder to shoulder, the smell of fried hamburgers in the air, and watched as Keith’s dad Fred tilted her head gently back, and peeled the bloody dress away. I could see the raw meat inside her cheek and her chin bone. My head swam. 

“You need stitches, girl.”

“Drat.” Carrie cleaned up her language around parents. 

“Come on,” he said. “I’ll do ya here. Drew, can you ring her folks?”

Drewski went to the wall phone and dialed while Keith rushed to set a box of supplies in front of his father, then fell back. Fred doused her chin with iodine then stabbed the center of the wound with a hypodermic. Carrie hissed—the closest she came to crying. 

As Fred drew her skin closed with a tiny sewing needle threaded with black wire she stuck her tongue out at us. 

“Be still,” Fred said.

She fidgeted.

“Gonna leave a scar, a bad one.”

Carrie might have cared about that later, I don’t know. She didn’t then.

As soon as Fred told her she could take the ice-pack off, she was outside, running for the embassy, Keith’s blue flag flapping from the pocket of her blood-stained dress.

A few years later the embassy was bulldozed along with the old barn. We watched from the gulley as they took down the great Southern Oak, not realizing it was nostalgia twisting our hearts and wringing them out. 

Now our backyard is a freeway and we play war games on Drewski’s computer. And the scars that really matter are under our skin.

 

WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY 

{1611}  This was an engaging story with great attention to language and wonderful sensory description to ground readers in the narrative. Excellent use of dialogue.  

{1504} I laughed at Drewski’s calling Jamie drama dork. Specific details add to realism. The ending has a strong sense of resolution.

{1669} I love that it ended up being capture the flag. I also enjoyed the characters–it was a very relatable story. 

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{1611} I wonder if you can take more time to reveal that these are children playing a game. As is, I realized it at the top and therefore felt no tension in the story until halfway through, when the branch broke.

{1504}  I think it would enhance the story and create stronger suspense if one of the children, who learned the skill from an older brother, gave Carrie the stitches. It would also seem more realistic that Carrie was able to rush out after the ice pack was off, because an adult would probably insist that she rest. Instead of telling that Carrie didn’t care about the scar, have her say that. 

{1669} The ending was a bit abrupt, with the sudden switch to computer games. Consider what the most important thing about this scene is, and end with that.

 

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