Short Story ( Fiction But Based On Real Events)

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The Death

As the houses burn and the mortars get lobbed and the people scream he writes it all down on paper.

“Suffering,” he says. He tries to be vivid with his language, so that the people back home might understand, might be moved to tears. He will send his story to men in suits behind desks drinking coffee halfway across the world and they will print it in black ink on perfect white paper so the rest of the people in their city can read it and maybe be moved to tears. They might even feel like better human beings.

And he, the hero of this story, will get widespread acclaim for what he will later describe as “going to hell and back.” He will use this line again and again – it's versatile. It works in bars on women just as easily as it does in snooty upscale cafes where he will give book readings.

Hell, in this case, is another country's war, where no one speaks his language but fortunately enough for him, the enemy is clearly defined and he knows exactly who is good and who is bad.

He wakes up early enough to take advantage of the continental breakfast on offer at his rundown hotel. The small restaurant is nearly empty save for a few others just like him, all eager to get a glimpse of the carnage they've heard so much about on the Internet.

But he, our hero, is different, he says. He tells himself this late at night when he rehearses his acceptance speech for the Pulitzer.

“I'm doing this for them,” he says, them being the nameless faceless residents trapped along the front line.

Just his luck, some of these residents died today. A bus was ripped apart when it made its merry way from a vacant shopping center to a local hospital. Twelve people died, mostly old women, a few children. Some of them were still partly in tact in their seats.

The bus attack set off a manic reaction among the locals, who gathered in the city center despite the sleet and snow and shook their fists at the sky while searching for a target upon which to direct their rage.

The rebels – the frustrated, armed men in charge of this town – responded by executing their prisoners of war, which seemed to them a perfectly logical solution. Then they put the bodies on display in the city center to both calm the locals and make a menacing video to share on YouTube.

Our hero gets close enough to see what he will later describe as a “horrific sight” for readers back home. The rebels pulling Ukrainian bodies out of the back of the truck, leaving them in a pile of indistinguishable parts. Human heads look strange when the face is in tact but the brains are gone.

Our hero knows this. But he will find a nicer way to say it.

He watches from the crowd in a bulletproof vest under his coat, a luxury none of the locals have. When the sounds of shelling erupt nearby, he pays a local driver a hefty sum to take him elsewhere. To the next city with little old ladies crying and a large number of dead young men.

He's got his story for the day on the bus attack.

It will be shocking but beautiful. The words will be easy ones, and easily forgotten. He will use his ballpoint pen to capture the horror in sleek black ink on sterile white paper. “Torn limbs,” he will say, or, “bodies charred and made unrecognizable.” For the visuals, of course. And maybe he will speak of the contrast between the blood and the snow. “Surreal,” he will say, to describe the serenity of the falling snow paired with the absolute horror of blood and bodies and limbs strewn throughout. For the sounds he might use the term “blood curdling.” He might say they screamed like dying animals. He will try his damnedest for evocative language.

He’s waiting for the driver near the bodies pile, writing down his list of strong adjectives and catchy headlines, when he notices something moving. The townspeople have mostly scattered to a nearby cafe for tea and cognac, to listen to one of the rebel leaders talk about revenge for the bus attack.

Our hero looks around to see if anyone else is watching. There's an old woman with an unsettling shade of purple hair talking on a phone nearby.

“Bastards!” she keeps screaming. “Bastards!”

But she's not paying attention to the pile of bodies, now with a hand waving about.

“Hello?” our hero says, realizing he's the only bystander left.

Not knowing which body the hand is attached to nor whether this is a normal occurrence, he takes out his phone. He clumsily holds it up to record in the rain.

The hand, the body, yelps and gasps – or something does – but he tells himself this is nothing. It's just reflexes after death, nerves. Sure, fish do that too.

Not knowing what the face of the hand looks like, whether it's a young man or an old one, a brunette or a blonde, our hero keeps recording, the only sound now a barely audible gasping and “bastards!” in the background.

He wonders if the hand knows he's there. If it has reached out specifically for him because it sensed him standing there. He wonders this for a good 30 seconds, until it stops moving.

“The final moments,” he whispers, eyes big more from excitement than shock.

He turns his phone off and pulls out his notepad, eager to get it all down on paper while it's fresh in his mind.

The story of “going to hell and back.”

Replaying the video, he watches the hand, the faceless, bodiless hand, weakly flailing about to the sound of a steady, pained breathing.

“Death throes,” he thinks. “Rasping.”

He writes it down.

He does it for them. He does it to make the world aware. They are. They read the words about the death briefly, before turning the page and taking another sip of coffee.
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