War zone – short story

Introduction : Une courte histoire écrite en anglais par Agathe Missakian dans le cadre ses études en littérature anglaise en 2018.

The landscape behind the forest was barren, tufts of grass were sprouting here and there but mud had replaced most of the soil. 

At this sight, she couldn’t help but flinch. She hadn’t expected the ground to be so damp. She rushed toward the cramped wooden cabin behind her and welcomed the heat as she entered.

“You are already trying to escape, aren’t you?” James joked, as she crossed the threshold. She turned her head. She could have sworn she had seen him furrowing his brow, but it vanished in an instant. Maybe she isn’t the best choice, she has never fought before, she could hear him think. They had the same fair almost sickly white complexion made him look ethereal but made her look weak. 

“Just checking on the surroundings.” Emma muttered. She might not have been the tallest nor the strongest, but she was smart enough to understand why they were here. 

James had always liked to patronise her, for some reason being nice and thoughtful wasn’t a possibility, he always had to criticise her. Nervous, she grabbed her boots with trembling hands and her brown camouflage coat lined with blue at the hems and hastened to go toward the far end of the cabin where a mirror was nailed on the panel. After gearing up, she meticulously started to tie her auburn hair into a sleek ponytail. She tried to smile at her reflexion in the mirror, but it didn’t reach her circled eyes.

“Gather round, guys!” James commanded from outside. 

With a sigh, she moved away from the mirror and hurried outside with the others. They were gathered in a semi-circle around the table on which he was standing. With a stride, she joined them. Everyone had the exact same uniform, sleeves rimmed with blue, and were obeying him in deep silence.
“You know the strategy. Today we win! And it’s not the mud nor the cold that will stop us!” His voice was solemn —too solemn— she could have laughed at the scene. They were already ridiculous, just kids fighting in the mud.

“Take up your guns!” He ordered and, to her surprise, everyone did it. Some were smiling like him, obviously enjoying being here. They all reached forward, in one unified movement, toward the table and took their guns and ammunitions. 

When she first took a hold of it, her arms struggled to keep the weapon straight under the weight. The weapon was heavy and long, a sort of shotgun.

“Now we train!” he roared and they all roared back, raising their weapons in the sky, as if they were nothing. James led them toward the training ground, and they all followed suit, like good little soldiers. They were all well trained, this exercise was just for her. She had held a gun before, but this was different, the weapon was heavier and she wasn’t sure how to aim with it. So James showed her how to place her hand, how to reload it and, after a while, asked her to shoot on his command on a target. 

Untiringly, he repeated each time: “Ready. Aim. Fire.” 

On her first try, Emma had been pulled back by the shot, she could still fell the impact reverberating inside her skull. It’s going to be a long day, she had thought. But she had kept on shooting toward the target. « This time it’s a tree, next time it will be a man.” He had told her vehemently the first time she had aimed right.
After a while, James declared: “Good! Now you are ready!” 


They all came back to the cabin. With a wooden stick, James drew the battleground — a rectangle was all Emma could see — but his brow was furrowed with intensity as if he was really trying to make a drawing close to reality.
“Thomas, you take the left flank, Emma the right.” He suddenly declared. “… Then I will take out their leader. Luke and Patricia will cover me.” 

What was that again? She had to go right and then do what? It was raining now and running in the mud had never been her best asset. But James had insisted. He had almost begged her to come because they weren’t enough fighters and he needed all the help he could get. The plan was very complex, and she was amazed to see that James had really thought this out. 

Luke, a massive boy standing next to her, holding their banner, looked down and smiled at her encouragingly. They looked like rabid dogs with their masks on. Emma was struggling to breathe properly, her ragged breath was just the beginning. 

Suddenly, the horn blurted out, scaring everyone, except James who was already running. It all started in a blur. People were running everywhere and she was overwhelmed by a sense of utter chaos so she rushed to hide behind a bush, ducking an adversary bullet. They had reached them faster than James had expected, so they would have to fight in the forest. Before doing anything stupid, she took a deep breath in and remembered what James had said. Go to the right. She grabbed her gun and ran. 

Bullets were flying, crashing on nearby trees. Duck, run, left, right, duck… Adrenaline took over and she realised that was starting to enjoy it. Running like this as bullets brushed past her, she felt free. She was starting to understand why James liked it so much, the fighting and shooting. 

The rain had just stopped when she stumbled upon the clearing. That was bad. She would be at the mercy of all her opponents so she decided to follow the outer rim of trees. Her aim was to reach the rock just after the clearing and then she would have to aim. She was no sharpshooter. James was. The only one in the family but he had told her that it was the easiest task for someone like her so she had gone anyway. 

Along the way, she shot two men, dressed just like her but with red cuffs at the end of their sleeves. The shot was fired before she realised what she was doing. She had pulled the trigger instinctively, to save her life. It had all been easy— too easy— but now it was too late to think about the consequences. It was liberating in a way, they were the opponents and they had to be killed. She didn’t want to think of what would happen if she got shot. Never had she imagined that she would enjoy it so much. 

There! The rock! She almost cried out. She was beaming, James would have to trust her now. The only reason why he had asked her to do this was because she was the only one who had ever climbed a boulder. It was a grey monolith, the size of an elephant — rather the size she imagined an elephant was. 

Barely had she taken her first hold on the stone wall when she realised that it was crumbling and hard to get a grip on. It had been a long time since she had last done that. Climb up a rock. It was still wet from the rain. She had to concentrate on every move and synchronise her breath. She began her ascent with less difficulty than she had planned, the years of training in her youth hadn’t been for nothing after all. She kept on going, finding holds on the stone. The rock wasn’t that high but she had to stop and catch her breath before she could reach the top. Her nails were scraping on the stone as she hauled herself up. She was on top of the rock now. The adrenaline of the climb made her all jumpy and she almost cried out in victory. 

She had to be silent or they would find her. She settled down and almost laughed at herself. She looked away and saw that the distance she had ran earlier wasn’t that long nor was the clearing she had circled. It was barely a yard long. Up her rock, she could see the clearing and the men fighting in the trees before her. She took her shotgun and crouched down. A sniper, that was what she was. She pulled the trigger, each time the bullet miraculously found its target. Both men were eliminated. At one moment, she thought she had caught a glimpse of her brother’s auburn hair, but he was nowhere to be seen. She tried to count. Five men dead. She could see four running in the woods but they were staying clear of her. She would have to go back to the forest. She jumped down the stone, scratching herself in the process and reeled to and fro before regaining her balance. 

Silent like a wraith, she went back the way she had come. She shot the first man she met in the back. He cried out but fell backwards like he was supposed to. She prayed the others hadn’t heard. She killed two other men in this fashion before realising that she was back at the cabin. Her mask was preventing a rapid progression, as it was getting harder to breathe. 

“Emma? Is that you?” Patricia whispered from behind the wooden house. She gestured for her to come hide with her. Emma hurried toward her.
“What happened?” She was struggling to keep her voice down.
“They ambushed us,” Patricia said under her breath.
“Where is James?” she inquired.
“I don’t know. I was supposed to help him but he went alone.” 

Emma swore. She had to help him now.
“I’m going after him,” she exclaimed.
“ I’ll follow you,” Patricia replied, gesturing her to keep her voice down. Two opponents were on the other side of the Cabin. 

Patricia gestured for her to go left as she would go right. Emma nodded. They both crept around the house, back bent, weapons ready. Before the two men could react, they were out. They had both fired right at the same time.

“Go! Go!” Patricia roared. 

Emma ran toward the left where her brother was. She was in such a hurry that she didn’t notice the man behind the tree to her left. He shot Patricia first. She fell. Dead. For a brief moment, as the bullet touched her friend, she could have sworn time had stopped. And all at once, it all came crashing down, and he fired a second time. She moaned but before she had touched the ground, she managed to lift her weapon and fire at the man. 

She was touched and it hurt like hell. Just above the knee, inside her tight, her femoral artery, she guessed. She stayed there, for minutes which melted into hours. She could still hear the battle cries of her friends, the sound of voices nearby whispering, the shadows of men scurrying in the woods. The battle would soon be over. She was smeared in red. Beside her Patricia was covered in red too. She slowly closed her eyes, letting the adrenaline leave her body. Her breath slowed down. Following the instructions, she had put down her gun and lay down. 

Her last thought before the end was “So that’s what dying feels like.” 


“Come on Emma !” She opened her eyes and saw James. She propped herself up on her elbow before managing to get up.
“Come on it doesn’t hurt that much !” He laughed.
“ With a real bullet I‘d be dead, James.” 

“ Luckily for you, it is just paint! » He laughed at her. He, too, was covered in red.
“ It still hurts ! I think I am going to have a bruise. » She whined.
“ Come on, Sister ! We have won! “
“Have we? » Her smile was genuine as she no longer resented her brother for making her come here.

Arm in arm, they joined the rest of the group. Everyone was either covered in blue or in red but they were all laughing and happy. They all gave back their guns with the paint ammunition to a man in a cabin near the clearing where she had been. On the front of the cabin, it was written in big bold letters « War zone » and underneath « Enjoy the thrill of a real life war experience. » At first she had been bemused by this stupid advertisement but now she understood the thrill of it. 

When she came back toward the group to shake hands, the Red Team Captain’s long black hair was tangled up in a sticky blue mess. Emma guessed James had eventually eliminated her — with a very sneaky headshot. Typical James behaviour. 
“Well played. » The Team leader said, her head bent toward the ground as she combed through her hair. « Next time I’ll win James.” She pulled her hair back up winked at him . 

She then turned and extended her hand toward Emma. 

“And you must be the Sniper! I am Maria. I must admit, I didn’t see you coming!” With a soft laugh, she traipsed toward the fire her Team had built at the center of the clearing. Emma couldn’t help but nudge James, as soon as she was out of sight. James looked down at her indignantly as if she had hurt him and tried to grab her waist. She slithered out of his grasp and jumped before him.
“I think I know why you like this game so much.” She chuckled, her hand covering her mouth. « You like her, don’t you?” Her tone was mocking now but she was happy for her little — yet taller— brother. 

At first, James was at a loss for words, but he quickly regained his spirit and tried to chase her. She was already running toward Maria and the fire. 

Later that night, they all gathered around the bonfire and Emma made a wish for this day to never end. But as the flares grew scarce, her overall mood saddened because she knew they had to leave.
“ Emma? Are you alright?” James inquired. She nodded, enjoying those last few moments. 

Before entering the car she looked back one more time at her rock. It stood majestically in the lacklustre forest, glistening in the moonlight. And when she turned she could have sworn that in the reflection of the window she had seen someone up that rock, her arms extended in a V-shape, howling at the moon. 

Agathe MISSAKIAN – 2018 –

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