The young lad picked his way quietly along the narrow alley, stopping now and then to listen. The residents had fled the village long ago; mostly he was hearing the sound of the breeze whipping against the vacant structures. Near the end of the dirt track he paused again just back from the corner of the building. His ears could just barely catch the voices of men speaking a foreign language. Squatting down, he peered around the corner from under the bushes growing there and scanned the open area. On the far side of a small paved square was an old workshop of some kind.
The sign had been removed long ago, leaving a patch of different colored paint. There were some holes where lag bolts had held the sign to the concrete facing. From a somewhat larger hole, a single twisted tail of electrical wire poked through near the corner of the bare spot. The glass long gone, two windows stared out like empty eyes on either side of the front door. The ill-fitting garage doors farther along the face were clearly not the original. Focusing his attention on this building, the boy believed the rather loud foreign voices came from there.
His hand shaking and sweaty, he reached inside the front of his tattered sweater. To overcome his fear, he pretended for just a moment to hate them with all his might. For just a few minutes the fire of hatred obscured the fearful image of his mother writhing in pain from torture. The rebel soldiers had attached bare wires to each of her ankles and made him watch as they sent a painful jolt through her body. She bit her lip to keep from crying out, but he had screamed for her.
The soldiers had trained him quite well, drilling repeatedly until he could do it with his eyes closed. The grenade inside his sweater was small, made for children’s hands, but a little heavy. It was a canister mounted atop a short stick handle. Drop or throw it and nothing happened. Press the trigger at the top of the handle and nothing happened. But press that trigger for three seconds, and then immediately throw it and the device was armed. It would explode on impact. They warned him that if he didn’t protect himself, primarily by throwing it inside of an enclosed space where he couldn’t see it, then it would kill him, too. He couldn’t throw it far enough in the open to be safe.
He pushed aside all other thoughts and stepped forward from behind the bush. The open square was surrounded by taller buildings, making it oddly quiet with very little of the wind disturbing things. Glancing in every direction, he made sure he wasn’t seen. He got as close to the old garage as he dared and jerked out the grenade. He never got past cocking his arm back. Something in front of his face exploded and knocked him on his back.
He didn’t remember falling, and was only vaguely aware of hitting the pavement under him. Was he dead? Did the grenade go off prematurely? It was like trying to use his body from far away. He noticed the device was still in his hand. Presently he managed to let it go. There was an acrid smell of burnt synthetic fibers in his nostrils, and his eyes began to focus just enough to discern smoke arising from his body below his face.
Still somewhat stunned, his limbs was slow to respond. There was the sense that he was still trying to crawl back into himself from somewhere else. He hadn’t yet noticed any pain, but it was awfully warm on his chest in the cool fall weather. His hand slowly found it’s way to his side, then crept up onto his torso. His sweater was mostly gone, and the shirt underneath had holes in it. Around the edges of these gaps the fabric was hot enough to sting his fingertips. Something had exploded in front of him and burned him, for his torso suddenly awakened in pain. Just trying to breathe hurt.
Tears ran down his dusty face and into the ears, but he was still too weak to move.