War Takes a Holiday
1999 Christmas Short Story
by RL Williams
A smoky haze floated amidst the burnt and damaged houses. A rag tag line of refugees walked slowly from the smoldering war-torn town as a group of soldiers moved toward them in the opposite direction.
“Halt!” shouted a soldier to the tired defeated villagers.
“What do we have here?” the military commander asked as he stepped forward, kicking aside a broken Christmas ornament.
“We are but a few survivors from the village. We mean you no harm,” an exhausted man responded.
“It’s not your harm I’m concerned about,” the commander said. “It’s what you have of value that interests me.”
“We have nothing to give,” the man replied.
“Silence!” the commander shouted. “Rings, money, watches, anything you have, empty your pockets, now!”
What little the refugees had they held out in their hands. One-by-one the commander went down the line taking the weary offerings and stuffing them into his pockets.
“Nothing?” he asked an old woman with empty outstretched hands. A loud slap echoed and the woman fell to the ground.
The commander approached a little girl anxiously holding a small dirty white puppy.
“Well, what do you have for me?” he asked.
“Nothing sir, I got nothing,” the little girl trembled.
A man standing next to her spoke up, “she has no home, no parents. She has nothing except that dog. Please leave her alone.”
The little girl started crying, tightly clenching her small puppy.
“Shut up,” the commander demanded, “stop crying.”
The little girl swayed backward and sat down in the muddy roadway, tearfully hugging her puppy.
“Give me that dog,” he said as he grabbed hold of the puppy.
The little girl tried valiantly to hold on. The commander hit her, forcing her to release the puppy.
“Please don’t take my puppy,” she pleaded. “No, no, please,” she cried.
“Shut the girl up!” he demanded.
Another man came forward, stooped down, putting his arms around the little girl comforting her.
“What’s your name?” the man calmly asked.
“Alecia,” she sniffled.
“My name is Bo’,” the man said softly. “Alecia, do not give up hope. We will find our way again and things will be OK.”
He looked up at the commander with a wide-eyed silent piercing stare.
“So, what are you staring at? You want to hurt me or maybe destroy me?” the commander laughed with machine gun in hand.
“I do not seek to destroy you. You will do that yourself,” Bo’ responded in a calm authoritative voice.
The commander raised his arm preparing to strike Bo’, but stopped short of hitting him, commenting, “you are all trash and not worth my time.” He turned and walked back to his soldiers with the small yelping puppy.
A soldier approached the commander. “Sir, umm,” he stuttered.
“Yes,” the commander asked,” want do you want soldier?”
“Maybe we should give the puppy back to the little girl. These people can’t hurt us,” the soldier stated, “and besides, we can’t take care of a puppy. It’s Christmas tomorrow and …”
“What’s this? Weakness?” the commander interrupted. “These people are worthless. I am going to teach you a lesson. Take this puppy down the road and shoot it.”
“Sir?” the soldier gulped, “I don’t think I can do that.”
“That’s an ORDER soldier!” the commander shouted. “DO IT!”
He thrust the puppy into the midsection of the young soldier and the puppy let out a painful cry.
The refugees overheard this and Alecia shouted “NO! Please!”
Bo’ again put his arms around Alecia to calm her. He whispered, “do not worry … be patient.”
The young soldier, puppy in arms, walked slowly down the road past the refugees, his head down and solemn, realizing what he was ordered to do.
He looked at Bo’ and Alecia as he approached where they stood, obviously distressed.
“You must do what you must do,” Bo’ calmly said to the confused young soldier, making eye contact as he passed.
The soldier entered a partially destroyed house and after several moments a gunshot was heard. He came out of the structure alone.
The commander smiled. “Move on down the road with these soldiers or you will be shot,” he demanded of the refugees.
After a few hours of labored walking they reached the remains of a nearby town. Bo’ carried Alecia, who was exhausted by the pain and emotion of the day.
The soldiers led the refugees into an open area in the center of town and ordered them to sit on the ground. There was an air of uneasiness and uncertainty.
Beside Bo’ and Alecia sat another older man and woman.
“We’ve lost everything,” the man cried to his wife. “It’s all gone. We should just accept it and die,” the man said in a saddened monotone.
Bo’ turned to the distraught couple and offered, “they can take your home, they can take all your possessions, but what they cannot take is your soul.” He sighed, “do not give up hope. When all seems lost, that leaves all to be found.”
“Since it is the holiday season, what would you wish for?” Bo’ asked the couple.
“What?” the old man responded. “You know we’ve lost everything and you want to talk about holidays and wishes?”
Bo’ shrugged his shoulders and responded, “yes. The wishes and hopes we have will help us.”
“But you give that little girl false hope. That soldier killed her puppy and you tell her to have hope, a false hope,” the old man said cynically.
“A hope is not false as long as it remains a hope,” Bo’ replied. “Do not give up hope, because you do not know what the future will bring.”
Bo’ turned to Alecia and said, “let us make a Christmas tree and celebrate what we have to be thankful for.”
Alecia’s eyes opened wide with a glimmer of hope. At least for the moment her puppy was not the focus of her being.
She rummaged for anything that would help create a Christmas tree. She found an old stick, a few small twigs, some leaves, and an old paper cup. She returned to Bo’ and the other refugees.
Bo’ smiled. “We shall make this our tree of hope. A hope for the new year and for the world.”
They assembled the Christmas tree, poking a hole in the paper cup and turning it upside down to hold the stick with twigs and other makeshift ornaments attached.
“There,” Bo’ concluded, “we have our tree of hope. It is a fine tree. Now make a wish Alecia.”
Alecia paused and then started to cry, “I want my puppy.” Her attention returned to memories of her puppy friend.
The old man slid up beside Bo’ and admonished, “you see, now you have upset the little girl with your so-called hope. She isn’t going to get her puppy back. Who are you to tell her she will?”
“And who are you to say that she will not find again what she found within her puppy?” Bo’ replied.
Bo’ turned to Alecia and asked, “before today, when you were apart from your puppy, was he not with you in your heart?”
Alecia thought for a moment and nodded yes.
Bo’ added, “do not give up hope. Your puppy will always be with you, within your heart, when he cannot be with you otherwise.”
Alecia curled up on the ground, once again exhausted.
The old man snickered, “now you have the poor little girl confused.”
After a few minutes, a noise in the distance causes Alecia to sit up. Heading toward her was the young soldier who was ordered to kill her puppy.
Amazed, the little girl saw her wished-for miracle. The soldier was carrying her puppy that was barking for her attention.
“Here boy!” she shouted.
The group of refugees couldn’t believe their eyes and ears. The little puppy that had seemingly been shot and killed was alive.
The young soldier approached and handed the puppy to her.
“Thank you for not hurting my puppy,” Alecia said to the soldier.
“You have your friend to thank for that,” he replied pointing to Bo’. “When he said that I must do what I must do, it was then I knew I couldn’t shoot the puppy. I shot into the ground and hid the puppy in an old box until I could go back and get it.”
“Won’t you get in trouble with your commander?” the older woman asked.
“Probably,” he replied, “but I would be in more trouble with myself if I killed the puppy.” He whispered, “at least for the moment, this war is taking a holiday.”
The old man looked at Bo’ and asked, “how did you know the girl would get the puppy back?”
“I had faith … faith in that young soldier that he would do what he knew was right. And faith in the commander that his brutality would cause him to believe what he wanted to believe when he heard the gunshot, that the puppy was killed.”
“I guess we have all learned something today,” the old man realized.
Alecia turned to Bo’ and asked in an innocent unassuming voice, “are you an angel?”
Bo’ shrugged his shoulders. “I am,” he paused, “just a man.”
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
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