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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Year(s) (01/20/11)

TITLE: The Little Soldier
By Melanie Kerr


“Momma, come quick! Hurry! Hurry! James is back!”

I dragged aside the curtain that served as a door to the hut, and rushed outside, scattering a clutch of chickens pecking at insects in the dust.

He was leaning against a tree on the outskirts of the village, an emaciated, bedraggled boy little more than nine years old. The AK47 rifle was limp in his left hand and he swayed, eyes drug fuelled, listless and blank.

I looked at Joseph, my youngest boy, and shook my head. This wasn’t James, surely? Not my boy, no sir! James was God–fearing, wouldn’t hurt a fly. This boy breathed violence and hate from every pore of his skin.

A year ago, just twelve months, they took him. He had been running down the road towards the village, home from school. The local militia, a recruiting mission, slammed car brakes on and slid to a halt, churning up a cloud of dry dust. They dragged him into a car at knife point and I didn’t expect to see him again.

I’d heard the tales. They were teaching them to fight. Not in a proper army. Not in a proper war. They butchered mothers and babies in other villages.

“Not my James,” I crooned to myself, “He’s a God-fearing boy. He’s got goodness in his soul.” But I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t know what they could do to a child in a year.

The boy crouched beside the tree plucking at the tail of a bloodied, outsized T-shirt. A scar ran down the front of his leg, from knee to ankle, an untidy line, puckered and stretched.

“He’s come home, momma!” Joseph moved towards the boy.

I grabbed him, fingers digging into the soft flesh of his upper arm. He squealed and raised terrified eyes. I pushed him behind me and picked up a spade, grasping it firmly between my hands and raising it above my head.

Shouldn’t a mother know her son? Shouldn’t she know somewhere deep inside if this were her boy? Shouldn’t her skin know his? Not just after a year, but even if he turns up a grown man? This boy was a stranger.

I’d heard other stories too, stories of boys running away from the army, jumping out of moving trucks, scuttling into the forest and hiding. There were always more boys to snatch, so they never bothered looking for them. The deserters went home only to become outcasts. I said to myself, when I heard those stories, it’ll never be me. I won’t throw stones to scare my boy away.

“Father,” I whispered, “Help me! What do I do?”

And even if it wasn’t James? What if my boy turned up at some other village, looking like dirt and disease, dragging a gun? Wouldn’t I want some other mother to drop the spade she’s holding and take him in her arms?

The spade clattered to the ground.

The boy lifted the rifle.

The air was heavy with the scent of mango blossom and jasmine. I could hear the flutter of birds’ wings, and the drone of a cricket in the grass beside my feet.

Suddenly the harsh staccato hiccoughs of rifle fire split the air, and dust jumped up from a hundred tiny eruptions in the soil all around me.


Screams exploded, high pitched and frantic. The sound of bare feet on hard baked clay thudded as people ran away from the boy and the rifle.

More silence.

The boy slammed the rifle against the tree. Once. Twice. A third time and the metal and plastic buckled. A fourth time and it shattered completely.

“I don’t want to be a soldier any more. I want to come home.” His words ended with a piteous wail.

It took them a year to destroy my boy. I had to believe there was still goodness in his soul and I prayed to God that I would find it.

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This article has been read 694 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Lynda Schultz 01/27/11
This reminded me of some of the stories I have read about the boy-soldiers, some of whom kill their own families as a test of loyalty to their new masters. A grim reminder, but with a ray of hope. Well done.
Anita van der Elst01/27/11
How you got into the thoughts of this particular mother and expressed them shows the excellence of your creative ability.
Rachel Phelps02/01/11
Your details are heartwrenching, and your style, as ever, is impeccable. Well done.
Laury Hubrich 02/01/11
So very sad.
Cheryl Harrison02/01/11
Wow - you packed a lot into this one. Great descriptions that demanded an emotional response. Possible novel here? Keep writing.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 02/02/11
This gives me shivers; not just because of your excellent writing but more because I know in many spots of the earth this is happening right now. Thank you for reminding me to stop and pray for those families right now.
Shelley Ledfors 02/02/11
Oh, my. What a heartrending story, so well told. Thank you.
Carol Penhorwood 02/03/11
Heartbreaking! I can't even begin to imagine yet you took us to this place. Like others, this gave me chills. A truly excellent writing piece.
Rachel Phelps02/03/11
Congratulations on your EC. Well-deserved for this heart-wrenching story.
Henry Clemmons02/03/11
Well, Melony, your little soldier marched right up to another EC. Congrats!
Bonnie Bowden 02/04/11
Powerful piece. It's sad to think this story is played out all over the world.

Congratulations on your 3rd place win.