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The Limping Man

Malek Allari | Staff Writer

When the sky is clear, and even the angels can be seen with the naked eye, a man stands in the middle of bullets, screams, and blood. The man, with his big figure, stands with a handgun. His hand shakes uncontrollably, with twitching eyes. The man limps through the battlefield, raises his hand, and aims at a figure on the ground. The figure is crawling away from the man standing on top of the figure. The man stomps on the figure’s legs, and the crows are screaming. The mice squeak in fear. Black smoke rose behind the man, and the figure was shaking, trying to shield himself. The handgun is still pointing at the figure, and the finger that is wrapped around it tightens. A shot sounds, and the shaking figure stands still. Blood runs from the body like a river. The limping man continues walking, shooting down anything that is moving. After three shots, a metal clank can be heard. The limping man reloads his handgun and starts walking again towards the other soldiers who are fighting with machine guns and tanks.

A chopper flies by, and everyone looks at the waving flag. A red and blue flag, it is the end of the war. Everyone stops, raises their heads, and throws their helmets and weapons on the ground. When all weapons are on the ground, the soldiers on either side walk to each other, shake hands, embrace, and say goodbyes in their respective languages. The limping man sees all the hate on all the faces, the gratitude for the war's end, and the emptiness of returning home. The hate of the soldiers is far greater than emptiness or gratitude, but the limping man knows that nothing can be done.

“In the past, it was either kill or be killed. Now, it is killed when I tell you to; what has this world come to?” a black soldier asks. In the car that is transporting all the soldiers back to the plane that will take them home, the limping man sits with his handgun tight around his fingers. He looks at the black soldier but says nothing. By the age of twenty-two, a young man is munching on a piece of bread. “This world has come to an end. If you decide that someone needs to be killed and you send someone to do it, this world has ended,” an old soldier says. The limping man looks at the old soldier and says, “Come to an end? This world, this vile, wretched world, is not coming to an end. This world is…” “Going nowhere,” the black soldier says.

“It is building itself,” the limping man continues.

“Believe what you want, but if you see black smoke, blood, crows and mice, and unaccounted, lifeless bodies, it is an image of destruction.”

The limping man bites his lips. The only thing that can be heard now is the roaring engine and the gravel. The car shakes a little, and the old soldier knocks on the small window connecting the cargo space with the driver and signals for him to slow down. As the car slows, the young soldier looks around and raises his finger to the black soldier, “Why would you say the world is coming to an end when there is a lot of time left for you to live your life normally?”

The black soldier looks at the young soldier, puts his hand on his gun, and says, “Listen, boy. There is nothing normal to go back to. Every night, for the rest of your life, you will hear the screams, the bullets, the tanks, and the gushing of blood. You will wake every night, in the middle of it, screaming for help to notice it was all a nightmare.”

“But you will have someone by your side,” the limping man says, “to help you go through that pain with you and eventually heal you from it.”

“The only thing the people will look at you is that you are a cold-blooded killer. They will not blame their leaders or themselves. They will blame the ones with the guns in their hands. The ones with blood on their skin. The ones who slept through battle. The ones,” the black soldier choked on his thought. Everyone falls silent again. The limping man bites his lips again. He holds his handgun tighter to his chest. “There is hope,” he says. The old soldier nods his head. The black soldier shakes his head. The young soldier opens his mouth and closes it again.

The car stops, and the soldiers climb the ramp to board the plane. The limping man sits down, ties the seatbelt around his chest, and waits. Soon after, when all the soldiers are ready, the ramp closes, the plane starts speeding, and takes off. When the seatbelt lights turn off, the limping man lets loose the seatbelt and goes to the bathroom. Everyone is looking at the limping man as he limps to the bathroom, and when the door closes, the black soldier shakes his head, and the young soldier opens a bag of jerky and starts eating it. The old soldier stands by the bathroom door and waits for the limping man. Everyone hears the flush, and the door unlocks before the limping man opens the door and leaves.

The limping man returns when the old soldier finishes from the bathroom. “Did you feel that?” the young soldier asks.

“What?” the black soldier asks.

“The sudden jerk of the plane.”

“No.” The old soldier sits back in his seat. The limping man sits down with shaking hands and wavering eyes. He looks around panickily before tightening his grip around the trigger. Silent tears run down his face. He holds his hands to his ears and moves back and forth slowly like he is thinking something. The black soldier goes back to the magazine he is holding in his hand. The old soldier rests his head and closes his eyes. The young soldier stands up and goes to the bathroom. When the young soldier is in the bathroom, the black soldier closes the magazine and turns to face the limping man. The limping man steadily puts his hands on his thighs and relaxes his shoulders. He looks at the black soldier and asks, “What?”

“Nothing, you look miserable,” the black soldier responds. The limping man looks at the black soldier as sweat runs down his face and neck. “Something happened?” the black soldier asks.

The limping man shakes his head. The finger around the trigger tightens. The limping man stands, aims the gun at the black soldier, and pulls the trigger. Everyone stands up from the panic of the bullet and freezes up as they see the limping man standing above the dead body of the black soldier. The bathroom door opens fast, scaring the limping man to aim at the bathroom door and shoot the young soldier in the chest. The young soldier falls back and hits his head on the toilet seat. The old soldier stands up and walks to the limping man, but the limping man aims the gun at the old soldier and shouts, “Stop there!”

The old soldier stops. He signals for the rest of the company to stop moving. The limping man walks to the bathroom and looks at the young soldier, “No! No!” he screams, “Not the young man! Not him!” the young soldier moves his hand and reaches out to the limping man, “I want to see my mom.”

The limping man drops back. The young soldier turns his head, “Mom, Dad, anyone home? Ma, where are you, Ma? I can’t see you, Ma,” the young soldier cries. The limping man holds himself in a child’s pose position, tears running down his face. The old soldier puts his hand on the limping man’s shoulder, but the limping man swings out of the way. The limping man fires the gun, and the bullets hit the ceiling of the cabin. “Why are you doing this, son?” the old soldier asks.

“You have no idea!” the limping man screams, “I am doing this…for the world.”

“The world?” “My mission. I need to kill the evil soldiers. The ones the kill.”

“The war is over, son. The soldiers are no more.”

“They are here,” the limping man whispers and looks around, “I have to kill them before they kill me.” The limping man starts firing in all directions. As soon as the gun stops, he reloads fast and starts shooting again. “I need to kill them.” The liming man said and shot the old soldier. When the old soldier’s body hits the floor, the limping man shoots the remaining soldiers. He tries to reload his gun, but he is out of bullets. He stops for a second and takes a breath. He looks around and says, “They are dead. The harbingers of death are dead.”

“They sure are,” I say. I reach out for my handgun that rests on my waist, stand up, and aim my gun at the limping soldier. He tries to shoot me, but his gun is out of bullets. He starts limping fast towards me, but I shoot at his feet. The limping man stops. “Are you one of them? The evil soldiers.”

I shake my head. I aim at the limping man’s head. I see his tears running down his face. He reaches out to his pocket and takes out a picture. He kisses the picture, puts it in his chest pocket, and looks at me with both arms stretching to his side, dropping the gun in the process. “Can you embrace me, please?” he asks. I sigh and walk towards him. As I embrace him, I say, “You did good, soldier,” and shoot him in the back. As the body slumps to the floor, I prepare for the pilot’s room.

I walk in to see the two pilots dead, shot in the head with a pillow on the floor. I removed one of them from the sea, the plane to the runway. When I land off the plane on a runway in the middle of a forest, I take off my uniform and wear a suit. I exit the plane, look around, and put a cigarette in my mouth. I see car headlights coming towards me. The car stops in front of me, I see a man come out. He walks towards me, flicks a lighter, and lights my cigarette. I take the first puff and hear, “How was it?”

“A failure,” I respond.

“The soldier or the war?”

I take another puff, look at the man, and say, “All of it. The war, the cycle of destruction and rebirth, it is all a failure.”

“It is all for a great cause.”

“If you call war a great cause, you are the same as the people who send out the soldiers to fight for them because they are too afraid to get slapped in the face.”

“Watch what you say; it could be held against you.”

“What? You are gonna shoot me too and let me die like a dog like the rest of them.”

“You deserve a better death.”

“Nobody deserves a better death. In the end, you never saw the bodies, the blood, or the bullets. You should see it sometime, it is an interesting sight.”

“Why is that?”

I start walking towards the forest. “Because no one had a different colored blood. In the end, it was all the same. Crimson red. That’s all it was.”

I take out my gun, look at the man as he reaches for his gun, and smile at him. I aim the gun at the side of my head, “You gotta see it, and once you do, study it. Study it long and hard enough to know that war was never supposed to be taken out of the chess board.”

I shoot myself, and in the split second, as I fall, I see the emptiness of returning home.

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