Today was supposed to be a full writing day for the NAoWriMo project to catch myself up. But, the events of yesterday made me really not want to write anything today. Then I got to looking at the various works of art appearing in my Facebook feed and the stack of 9-11 comic books I have on the shelf. That served as a big reminder of the realization that for creative types, this is what we do with tragedy. We turn it into art.
Those Who Stand Between the People and the Monsters
We looked around at the site of so much death and destruction. We paired up in teams of two to ensure an immediate backup should the attackers return. We were searching for anyone who might have survived this violent attack or anything that might give us clue as to who was responsible for it. We were too late to prevent this particular attack, but they called us in anyway in to get ready for the search and recovery phase.
Sergeant Beckett and I came across one particular group of remains that caught our attention. We approached cautiously to get a closer look. For all we knew, everything in this scene of carnage had been booby-trapped by the attackers to kill or harm anyone who might come along in the aftermath.
The remains we found were those of a couple that had probably been out for a night of entertainment. By the arrangement of the remains on the damaged pockmarked road surface, they appeared to have been fleeing the attackers when some type of explosive device that shredded and splintered their bodies with shrapnel struck them from behind.
The woman and the man’s bodies were mostly intact. Burned and badly damaged, but there was enough there to identify one as being female and the other as being male. The closeness of the two bodies suggested a familiarity between them. Then, I spotted the gap between the two bodies and noticed their hands.
The two hands between the two larger bodies were still each clutching one of a smaller pair of hands. I pointed this out to Beckett and started looking around to find a smaller body that should be nearby. I found it a few feet away where the blast wave of the explosive device had thrown the tiny body.
I crouched down looking closer at the remains of the little girl and found the shredded remains of a backpack that she had been wearing and the shredded remains of a teddy bear that she must have been carrying in the backpack.
I was poking at the shredded remains of the teddy bear with a glove-covered index finger when I heard Sergeant Beckett approach from behind me.
“What kind of alien monster do you think did this?” I asked Beckett before I half-turned to look back and meet his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he answered apologetically. When his eyes found the tiny body, he looked as if he was going to be sick.
“This wasn’t aliens,” a voice boomed from in front of where I knelt down.
I turned back to look in the direction of the voice, and then stood up as I recognized that the gunny and the sergeant major were approaching the spot where Beckett and I now stood.
“So, this wasn’t alien monsters?” I asked of the two older marines.
“Not aliens,” the sergeant major said as his eyes met mine. “But, this was definitely monsters. I’ve seen this before. These were monsters of the worst type,” he said as he flipped the shredded remains of the teddy bear over with the toe of his boot. “These were human monsters.”
“Humans can be monsters, too?” I asked, confused. I knew some humans could be bad, but monstrous was a whole other level that I had never heard of growing up.
“Did I ever tell you guys the story of how I decided to become a marine?” the sergeant major asked, looking down at his boot, as he continued to toe the shredded teddy bear remains on the ground between us.
As he looked back up, Beckett and I just silently shook our heads to indicate a ‘no,’ as the gunny spoke up and said, “Sergeant major, these two marines have always managed to find a way to be somewhere else when you hold an enlisted call.”
The sergeant major laughed at that, but the laugh did not reach his eyes. There was a sad look in his eyes rooted to something from a distant past.
We knew a little bit of the sergeant major’s background. We knew he was born in France. We also knew he once lived in Paris. That was all back in the years before the militaries of NATO and the rest of the world reorganized into the Earth Defense Forces.
Of course, he knew all about the jokes some of us marines would tell each other when we thought he was out of earshot. We joked about the French battle flag being all white and referred to the French as surrender monkeys. He even joined in on some of the jokes and gave us new ones. However, the look in his eyes now was not a look of surrender.
There was anger and some form of hatred in those dark brown eyes as he spoke up and told us about an event from his past.
“I was five when the terrorists attacked Paris,” he began the story. “They did not hit the usual tourist sites this time. No, this time, they attacked places near homes.”
“I looked out the window of my upstairs bedroom as I heard the sounds of gunshots, explosions, and people screaming outside our house,” he paused, then continued. “I saw a man with a gun shooting in the direction of a restaurant my family frequented many times.
“I was scared to see this man and what he was doing. I ran down the stairs screaming for my papa,” the terror of the child still visible in the sergeant major’s eyes as he says this.
He looked around at us, and then continued the story saying, “Papa asked, ‘What is it, my little monkey?’ His voice was calm and stoic with the sound of strength, but there was a look of fear in his eyes.”
The sergeant major stood tall as he said, “Papa wasn’t supposed to be scared. I was scared. I was supposed to be scared, but not him.” I told him I was scared, and he said, ‘that is okay, little monkey, papa is scared, too.'”
The sergeant major smiled as the memory of something came back to him. He told of his papa carrying him back up the stairs after the sounds of sirens and people yelling with voices full of concern replaced the sounds of gunshots, explosions, and people screaming. The two of them were sitting side by side looking out the window when his papa pointed at something outside the window.
“‘See that man over there?’ Papa asked as he pointed out the window. ‘The soldier,’ I asked, as my eyes followed to where his finger was pointing.’ Papa said, ‘Yes, little monkey, that man is scared, too,'” the sergeant major smiled with warmth as he recalled the memory of his father.
The warmth reached his eyes as he said, “I said to back to papa, ‘But, he’s a soldier.’ I thought that soldiers weren’t supposed to be afraid. Then, papa said, ‘Yes, he is a soldier, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t get scared. It means that he still does his job anyway.'”
“Just like that, when papa spoke those words, I decided at the age of five that I wanted to be one of those soldiers who stood between the people and the monster, even when I might be afraid, just like the soldier I saw outside my window.”
As he spoke those words, the sergeant majors boot gently lifted the shredded remains of the teddy bear, and then he looked at each of us, a sadness returning to his eyes, as he said, “Sometimes we aren’t in time to stop the monsters from hurting or killing the people. But, we will always be part of the group that goes out in search of the monsters to make them pay for their actions.”
“Thank you, sergeant major,” I said to the older marine. I had a completely new respect for the man after hearing his story.
As the sergeant major nodded to me and then to Beckett, then he turned to walk away and the gunny turned to follow him. I silently swore to myself that I would never again make surrender jokes about the French military.
When I caught Sergeant Beckett’s eyes, a look there suggested he was thinking the same thing.