By Eric Sentell
Cole nudges my shoulder with his elbow, and I glance at him as he looks through his binoculars. He whispers, “Northwest corner, AK.”
I look that way with naked eyes, catch the small cluster rounding the street corner, then find it in my scope. The AK-47 is pointing up from the cluster’s middle, bobbing as the kid carrying it jogs and brandishes and hollers. The kids around him, some older, some younger, seem to be egging him on.
Breathe slowly, slow your heartbeat, control your adrenaline.
It’s not easy traveling from boredom to excitement in two seconds. We’d been on the rooftop since dawn, monitoring the streets and the courtyard, munching M&Ms and sipping juice boxes from our care-packages. Never had so much candy in my life. Not much to do but snack, stay as cool as possible, and watch for the one or two shots you might take in a day.
Rules of engagement allow this shot, but Christ, it’s a fucking kid, seven or eight, definitely not ten. But he’s got an AK, he’s a threat. Kill or be killed. Only I’m hidden on this roof, he’s not killing me. Not today, anyway. Kill him before he kills one of my guys, that’s my job, that’s what I do, that’s why I’m here, sweating my ass off between juice boxes. How old does an insurgent have to be to point and shoot? Not that old.
“You got a shot,” Cole says, nudging with his tone.
I’ve had a shot for a few seconds. I’ve got a shot for a few more, watching this kid cross the courtyard. I’ve got a shot, ROE is clear, kid’s a threat, if not today, maybe another day.
He’s not much older than Brendan. It’s not that hard to imagine Brendan finding my AR-15 leaning against the bedroom corner, taking it to some friends, showing it off, running as a pack to show it to others, giddy with gun-power. Just take away decent parents and the rule-of-law. But if that’s the case here, then the kid’s dad or uncle or brother must be an insurgent, and he’ll become an insurgent, a true threat to my guys or some future sniper’s guys. How long will we be here, surely not another eight or ten years for this boy to grow into a man? How old does an insurgent have to be to point and shoot, to spray and pray, to wear a suicide vest?
One of the other boys in the group, all smiles and laughter, shoves the kid with the AK, and the kid, all smiles and laughter, moves out of my crosshairs and levels the weapon at the other boy, a teen, and he’s made my decision for me. I place the crosshairs on his forehead. The barrel of the AK lights up red, but like a flashlight, no, more like a big red LED on a Christmas tree, and I don’t hear the rifle’s report.
I hear the crack and boom of my rifle. I break my training and look up from the scope, raise my head too high above the roofline, and stare down at the kids. A small cloud of dust settles over them as they sprint around the courtyard’s northeast corner. No bodies down, no blood on the ground, no blood on the wall that emitted the dust, the wall I must’ve hit. The wall I must’ve jerked the barrel up to at the last second without even realizing what my body, my unconscious, had done – for the kid, for me.
Ceding control, finally, I collapse to the rooftop and roll to my back, letting the sun blind me, the adrenaline tremble through my veins, the heart race and the lungs gasp.
Cole looks through his binoculars and scans for counter-snipers and opportunists with guns. Then he folds his arms on the roof and rests his cheek on them, looking at me with just the smallest hint of thoughtfulness. After a moment, he says, slowly, “Well, that’s one to tell the grandkids.”
I meet his eyes and say, “No. It’s not.”
About the Author:
Eric Sentell teaches college composition at Southeast Missouri State University. His short fiction has been published online or in print by ‘The Rivendell Gazette’; ‘Long Story Short’; ‘Moon City Review’; ‘Unlikely Stories 2.0’; ‘Blink Ink Online’; ‘Short, Fast, and Deadly’; and ‘Six Minute Magazine’. In September 2010, ‘Long Story Short’ selected “Stolen Thunder” as its Story of the Month. He has also written many essays on gender, culture, masculinity, and marriage for ‘Role Reboot’ and ‘The Good Men Project’. Follow him on Twitter @EricSentell.
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