Cooled Down with “642 Things to Write About”

My sister has gone to Louisiana, for she’s going to college there. As much as I’ll miss her, I’m glad. I believe she’s in a better place to grow as a person. Nothing like leaving the nest to learn how to fly!

I hadn’t written something for “642 Things to Write About” in more than a year.

Prompt #93- Pick a country, and imagine we’ve been at war with it for fourteen years. Write a love story set in that world. 

(One of the longer ones. I think this’ll be good by itself)

Why would you rather see 2 men holding guns than holding hands? 

“Let’s be civil.”

“The Canadians are always like that- let’s be civil. They don’t fucking mean it!”

“I do mean it.”

Martin was likely to have believed it, if their set was one less Haroldson, but Haroldson was there, so Martin suspended his belief in the cold Alaskan snow. Haroldson had a brother in the army, but his section was two miles west, and these Canadian boys were half a mile too far up the Yukon. To be fair, Martin and his crew were thinking to walk just as too-far, at the same time believing it was safe and trying to be risky, as youths were prone to do.

“We can all just go the way we came,” said the only Canadian speaking. The other two spoke quickly to each other in something sounding like French. Martin’s stomach churned at the noises, knowing Haroldson was likely to take offense, especially since those from Quebec were the main French speakers. It told too much about these traveling boys.

Finally, another of them spoke up, “What are you going to do, ‘ey? Kill us? You got guns, like all the rest of them?”

Obviously the Haroldson of the group. The leader was quick to ease the tension: “Please, we don’t want trouble. We were just walking, same as you.”

Martin could just imagine it, but he didn’t want himself to think about it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t think of much else either. It was a cold day in Alaska. His mind went back to the boys traveling, same as them.

They had to have driven, just like them. They came from Liberty, except for Burke, who was Peter’s cousin up from Steele Creek. Most likely, the Canadians were from Clinton Creek. The Yukon was watched like a hawk from both sides, but time and too many frostbitten and/or hypothermic soldiers relaxed the border elsewhere, especially after the gates were bombed. A freezing war is an expensive war, as much as a fourteen-year one with such a close neighbor that had a lot of help. Sure, England, France, and Canada weren’t much military-wise for most part of the last century, especially against the giants of China and America, but combining them and a few secret alliances with the rest of North America, and then Russia, and it was just possible for a long fight.

Martin was two when the war started, so he didn’t know much about secret alliances and bombed borders, but he did know that the war with Canada was a war that was mostly Canada and friends. He was confused about the starting, something about multiple mass shootings across the border that America, supposedly, didn’t take accountability for, plus the Canadian sanctions and countries taking Canada’s side (like Russia, although not an official ally for another four years), and America being proud and beautiful and standing for their second amendment rights to bear arms out in the open anywhere and everywhere. That started ‘unrest’, as so many books put it, a Canadian official was shot somewhere and one of their diplomats ended up in a ‘completely unrelated car accident in New Hampshire’, and that started a war that Canada was quick on losing until England and France stepped in, ‘stabbing longtime friend America in the back’ while ‘so-called American citizens argued for peace and make-up’.

Martin was told by Haroldson that there was no way their history books were biased as the liberal ass Jacoby was always saying in class.

As a point for Canadian Haroldson (now isn’t that a paradox), they did have guns. Now, they were out. Canadian Haroldson blanched, and Martin knew that none of them had guns.

“Please, please, don’t do this.” A musical timbre was in the lead boy’s voice now, a warble.

Unable to face the music, even with his gun in his trained hands, Martin asked, “What’s your name?”

“Nathan.”

Martin has a cousin named Nathan.

“My name’s Martin.”

“Why are we telling each our names?” Haroldson demanded, but he has yet to pull the trigger, or even click off the safety. “It’s getting dark.” Then, another, “There are only three of them.”

When it seemed Haroldson was done, Nathan went on, “They’re Antoine and Eli. Brothers.”

Martin could see the resemblance, and the sudden gut-wrenching turmoil that would come from killing a brother in front of another, much more magical than a first kill itself, brings Martin’s gun down to hip level, off to the side safely pointed at no one.

“What are we doing?” asked Peter quietly.

His cousin Burke suggested, “Let’s let them go,” with the confidence of being a closer friend afforded him.

“Yea, we can’t kill them,” was the quick agreement.

“No, you won’t.”

I can’t, thought Martin, but he was equally afraid of Haroldson branding him as a traitor to his brother. He’s done it before and ruined a family that ran off all the way to boiling Texas. And that had been one of Haroldson’s better friends, not just a camping buddy. It was much like Canada and the United States, Martin’s mom has said once, quietly, the most bitter fights come from the longest friends.

Martin suddenly thought, We could have been friends.

“Let’s take them prisoner.”

It actually sounded like a good idea out loud, relative to killing the boys so far from home in the cold air.

The idea took, too juicy to pass up, and it sounded delicious to Haroldson too, and he went closer to the Canadians, but not too close. Just because they didn’t like guns didn’t mean they couldn’t handle themselves in other ways. As hotheaded as Haroldson was, he was a cautious young man when it came to actual fighting.

“Come on, you’re going to follow him-” He pointed to Burke. “-and don’t do anything stupid.”

The Canadian three followed, eventually pressing their hands to their heads without being told, and their boots crunched in the snow in a steady line behind a visibly nervous Burke, who shot several desperate looks at Martin. Martin hadn’t found his voice yet.

Haroldson followed in the back with Martin, behind one of the brothers, his sharp pistol aimed and ready, and smooth expression settling in his face as if this were a routine drill up at the Fort, which was where he used to live before his dad decided to move to Eagle. Haroldson had said that his dad was sort of liberal, and Martin had wondered if anyone was free from the boy’s two-dimensional view of the world.

They walked the distance back to the cabin they used as a waypoint between too far and close enough, not saying a word, although Burke shot looks at Martin, and Peter looked at Burke, and Martin stared at the ground while Haroldson watched their prisoners.

Martin’s read good books, the ones that are put in school curricula to help students learn and grow, where these sort of things end in tragedy. Although that might not be the view of everyone. Honestly, that view may not be Haroldson’s.

And all anyone had to do was say something.

They might have to kill Haroldson.

A weird breath went down his esophagus, sharper than the rest, and he began to cough hard. The cabin was in view, and he focused on that.

They piled in the cabin, the old house big enough for the seven of them and kept up by Burke’s wealthy uncle for just these sort of events. Camping, that is, not prison sentences.

Peter immediately sat down, face in his hands with a groan. His head then snapped up with an idea: “Let’s take them back to Eagle and give them to the adults.”

“You’re from  Steele, so you don’t know nothin’ about nothin’ about Eagle,” Haroldson answered, as if that was a proper reply. Peter looked dumbfound, and his eyes went to his cousin, who inexplicably sought Martin’s help.

Martin had his sights on Nathan, Antoine, and Eli, dodging the need to do something other than what they were doing.

He noticed Nathan’s eyes were a spectacular shade of green, and  he had long eyelashes.

“You’re pretty like a girl,” Haroldson said, not in a kindly way, brushing the gaping hole of his gun against Nathan’s hair at his temple.

Peter tried again, sounding more panicked than before, “We should bring them back to your place, back to your brother. He’ll know what to do with them.”

Haroldson whirled on him; Peter’s knuckles went white against his gun. This actually made Haroldson stop.

His voice was reasonable, “What if we lose them on the way there?”

“It’s not like we’re walking,” Peter whined. “We can drive them, two in the passenger seats, and one in the back. We can tie them up with our extra jackets, or the scarves. We can just-”

“We can, we can, we can. We could have just killed them because they’re going to try and kill us!”

“No, they won’t,” Martin whispered, looking at Nathan’s rather long hair.

Neither Peter nor Haroldson heard him, but Nathan’s eyes turned wide on him, begging, but not voicing his thoughts as Haroldson again argued for dispatching these could-be terrorists, as he was in the midst of saying.

“And we’d be better off if they were all dead! Y’all are just afraid of killing people. Guess what? I’m not afraid.”

Eli or Antoine went into a tirade of fitful French, drawing close to his brother in such a proximity that only relations could give. He even held onto his hand. He was the younger of the two, and could have  been twelve or thirteen. His sixteen or seventeen-year-old brother squeezed his hand back and spoke softly in their language.

No guns. A boy barely a teenager. And Nathan.

“Why are you all so far out?”

Both boys looked at Nathan, and he delivered.

“I saw this cabin while walking some weeks back. We were going to check it out.”

The similarities were almost too much, Martin realized, and with stark clarity that wasn’t coming too easily to him at the moment he knew that if, somehow, they were going to kill these boys, he wouldn’t be able to pull the trigger, damn any and all consequences. And what sort of consequences would they be at the blue toes of three strangers?

“This is my house, so you’re just shit out of luck, now aren’t you?” Haroldson said, sort of lying.

“Are you going to kill us?” Nathan finally asked.

“No.”-“Yes.”

Both words moved breathlessly from small mouths. Haroldson and Martin then stared wide-eyed at each other.

Nathan reached out his hand to hold the older boy’s hand. The brother spoke quickly in French, looking scared out of his mind at Haroldson, jerking his hands away, but not strongly enough to be let go. His younger sibling suddenly let go, looking at his two companions in confusion.

Nathan.

“Antoine.”

Antoine, the Haroldson of their group, looked at Haroldson, and just as it dawned in Martin’s mind what was going on, Haroldson figured it out as well.

“A couple of fags.” 

Several bits of history went through Martin’s mind as he stood in front of the boys: the overturn of Supreme Court rulings regarding same-sex marriage, the liberal outcry of opposing Canada on flimsy topics (and the majority answer of, no, that’s not it, we’re fighting for religious rights, guaranteed by the First Amendment), and further religious liberty on many grounds (or homosexual persecution, as the liberals would call it).

Martin was more sure on this score. He had a gay uncle in Oregon, and his favorite sister was Martin’s mom. One day, she had told him once, they’re going to remember what a stupid war this was.

“-and you’re just going to stand there protecting some fags!”

Martin blinked, unsure of what just happened. Eli was on his legs, speaking blindly in French; both Antoine and Nathan were behind him as well; and Burke and Peter were off to the side, guns nowhere to be seen but well aware of Haroldson shouting everything to pieces.

Martin swallowed, “We’re not going to kill then, Harolds’. There’s no reason to.”

“There’s plenty of reasons!”

“Name five.”

This was a usual game for them, and the shock of betrayal lit Haroldson’s face like a flare. Martin will never come to this cabin again.

“So that’s how it’s going to be?”

Martin stood still.

“For some Canadian assholes.”

He would never move his gun fast enough, if needed.

“Would you die for them?”

Another spark of clarity: he wasn’t going to go out of his way, but he wasn’t going to let them die. Plus, he saw the cousins take out their guns behind Haroldson’s back, and a new sort of panic started to set in. He realized how much he really disliked Haroldson, but killing him would have different consequences that would have no equal in killing even the three they had as prisoners. The thought was disquieting.

He had to think clearly. That’s all.

They didn’t have to kill Haroldson, of course. Martin sighed in relief.

“Martin!”

Haroldson was breathing hard. He hadn’t noticed the others behind him, pointing. Martin got their eyes instead, shaking his head in refusal. Neither was calm, but they put down their arms into a less threatening stance.

“So what are we going to do with them?” Haroldson asked coldly.

“Let them go.”

“So I can’t come back to this house again?”

“Probably not. You’re going to kill them over this house that you come over to every once in a blue moon?”

Good, there was no shakiness in his voice. He could do this.

“It’s my house.”

“Haroldson, this is dumb. We aren’t soldiers, and neither are they. Let’s be civil-”

The bullet went through Martin’s leg, but he didn’t notice until he figured out that yes, Haroldson had turned off the safety at some point, and then afterwards came to where it might be aimed. The pain blossomed much worse than taking a shot into a bulletproof vest, and there was the hot blood in thick snow-proof trousers.

On the floor he heard two shots go off at once. And Martin prayed no one was dead.

“How did you miss, Peter? He’s right there!”

“You got his arm, didn’t you? Oh, shit, you killed him, you killed him dead.”

“I ain’t killed dead,” Haroldson groaned. Martin lifted his head to see him holding his shoulder, bleeding all over his neck, breathing through his nose.

Eli was suddenly crying.

Peter was digging into his pocket, and he came out with a pair of keys. Almost as if unthinking, he threw these behind Martin.

“It’s the white one. Just take it and get out of here. Burke, for Christ’s sake, get Harolds’ gun!”

Haroldson shouted in pain, but he didn’t reach the gun in time. All anxiety popped from from Martin like a balloon; relief went over him in bigger waves as the Canadians got up, the soft voice of thanks from Nathan, or who Martin believed was Nathan, and then Antoine’s voice afterwards, profusely in French, shaking his hand. Eli continued to cry.

“I’m putting all the guns away,” Peter announced, although two of of his listeners were incapacitated.

“What…” Haroldson whimpered, squirming on the floor, but managed to squeak out, “What are y’all going to tell everyone else?”

“The truth,” Martin spat derisively.

“You helped out some Canadian fags on our side of the border?”

“That’s good, too.” Better than anything else, and Martin’s vision wavered on the three boys long gone, two of them holding hands, before it went blank.

(Let’s play a game. You have to guess what I had to google to write this short-ass piece. You get a cookie if you think I know some of this stuff offhand)

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