The sky was dark. The sun was up there, somewhere, but sickly war clouds obscured it. The sounds of screaming and explosions alternated in the distance, and it didn't take long until I could block them both out. Did it make me a cruel person that I could see a lifeless body and think only of the food they might still have in their homes? Did it make me soulless, heartless, that I put pets out of their misery when I knew their owners weren't coming back?
The city used to have a name, but I wasn't sure what it was. I'd been shuttled around with refugees so many times in the past few months that for all I knew, I was on the moon. I'd grown tired of the wailing, the unclean scent of someone who hasn't had the luxury of a shower, the crying. I knew I had to leave the refugee camps as soon as a woman's tears didn't spark compassion within me.
I couldn't even tell you, stranger, what this war was about. The Americans pissed someone off but good this time. I think the Chinese struck first. Whoever it was, they weren't interested in taking prisoners. They were interested in wiping us from the face of the Earth. And instead of occupying cities, they merely dropped bombs until everywhere looked the same. Smoking, ruined, and filthy. Riots broke out, stores were looted, typical end-of-world behavior. I'd rescued a few women from groups of hungry men, but gave up after the first time I was beat up for being a "dick loving faggot." I barely made it away with my life.
I'm sure you know this world well, stranger, you're living in it.
Today though, today is the day I discovered I still had a heart, and that a heart had no place in this world any longer.
I'd found a basement in some nondescript home, and had camped there for a few nights. I woke up this morning, put on some clothes, and rummaged around for some canned foods. Peaches and beans. I checked both for freshness, and consumed them greedily. I sat back against a water heater with a dusty pillow, and opened a torn copy of Moby Dick I'd found laying on the floor. And what a strange place for a single book to lay.
I'd barely read four pages into it when I heard the high scream of a young boy. It sounded close enough that I hitched my shotgun over my shoulder, dropped the book, and sprinted upstairs to find out what was going on. Women may not have moved me to tears, but the cry of a child is a very difficult thing to ignore.
The boy was beautiful, in a choir-boy sort of way. The perfect blond hair, still somehow shining and healthy in this environment. His clothes, of course, were filthy. He was cowering against the wall of the building across from the one I currently occupied, and his eyes were wide with fear. Probably blue eyes, judging from the skin and hair color. The more I looked at him, the more I felt like he looked like what my son would have... had he lived to see that age.
A group of three men were closing in on the boy. I couldn't imagine what three grown men would do with a child. Sell him off to some black market? Rob him of lunch money? But it was when I saw the lead man unzipping his pants, that the horror of the moment completely overwhelmed me. Before I knew what I was doing, I'd pulled my shotgun from my shoulder and put a round into the skull of the man whose hand was in his pants. Brains and bits of skull coated the man nearest him, and I saw the boys eyes widen even further than they already were. He looked too scared to scream.
I shot the second man in the same way. As I was aiming to shoot the third, I saw the quick flash of a knife. I dodged, expecting the weapon to be thrown in my direction. Too late, I realized the blade was not meant for me. The little boy dropped, crimson spreading through the dirt of his once-white shirt. I could not fathom, stranger, what would drive a man to do these things to anyone else, let alone a child. I fired once more, the shot hitting the man in the chest and launching him backwards against the wall. I shot once more for good measure, relishing the blood dripping from his mouth.
I reached the boy, cradling his body in my arms. His breathing was ragged, and tears streaked his face.
"Boy... what is your name?"
"A... Adam." He whispered, a similar trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth. I felt my heart break a little, amazed that I could still feel something so strongly. For a stranger no less. No... do children count as strangers?
"Do you have parents, do you know where they are?"
"I don't know where they are. My stomach hurts so bad, mister, can you help?"
I looked down at his wound, pulling his shirt up for a moment. He cried out, and I grimaced. There was no help for that kind of wound, not in a place like this. He'd be dead in hours. Or...
"Adam, I do have help for you, but you'll have to close your eyes first."
"Why?" His eyes were so innocent, I knew I had to act quickly, before I tried to drag him through this hell while he bled to death, trying to find help that wasn't there.
"It'll hurt a little more, and I don't want you to see any more blood."
"Thank you." He said simply, shutting his eyes. Such trust!
I fired one more shot, then turned around and walked away. I could not look behind me to face what I'd done. Call me a coward, stranger, but I could not ruin the image of the choir boy in my mind with my decision.
So here I sit, in a dead person's house, writing with a dead person's dying pen. Between the beginning and the end, there is always a middle. That boy's middle was not long enough to count as a true story. And my story is about to end. I will leave this letter with me and pray... hope... that no one shreds it or hides it. I have my shot gun rigged carefully; the bullet will not miss and cripple me. I'm sorry that you had to find out this way, and I'm sorry the child had to see this world at all.
Story Type: Tragic
Must include: the death of a child, a torn copy of Moby Dick, and a ballpoint pen that just won’t write anymore
Must use the phrase: “Between the beginning and the end there is always a middle.”
Bonus: Absolutely no comic relief.