[This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of the places, people, or conflicts in this story are coincidental.]
Elena and the village girls were in the woods outside the village gathering berries when they heard the sound of gunfire coming from the direction of their village. Gunfire was not unusual in their young lives. Rebel troops had been trying to take bring this area under their control for some time, and government troops were waging a slowly losing battle. The village mayor was a government loyalist, but the rest of the villagers didn’t really care, just so nobody shot them.
Quickly, Elena warned the other girls to be quiet and stay where they were while she went to check what was going on. She started toward the village on the trail and as she was about to turn aside into the woods to sneak up to the town unseen, she realized that Olga, her own age of 15 years, was following her. She waited.
“Olga, go back. It’s more dangerous with two people trying to sneak.”
“Who put you in charge? I’m just as old as you are. Just because you’ve been away at the convent school doesn’t make you better!”
“OK. Come along then, but I warned you!”
The two girls snuck into the village and made their way through an alley, barely wide enough for them to fit in, and looked into the village square. Rebel soldiers were standing around talking and laughing. The dead bodies of villagers were scattered around. The mayor’s mangled body was at the center.
One of the soldiers spoke loud enough for her to hear. “We’ll just have to make a thorough search for the weapons then. We need them. Get busy!”
As she heard this, Olga pushed her way past so that she could see two. Elena tried to stop here, but she struggled and fell hard against a wall. The sound alerted the soldiers. They started looking around. The two girls froze. Just then one of the village dogs came out of a nearby house. The guards laughed. “It was only a dog,” one of them said.
Elena turned to go and pulled at Olga’s sleeve to get her to follow. Olga whispered. “I want to look around some more.”
“There’s nobody alive. We have to get out of here and save the girls’ lives!”
After a moment, Olga turned to go with Elena. When they got back to the other girls the argument was renewed. Should they wait for the soldiers to leave and then try to bury their families, or should they run to the safety of the convent school where Elena said they would be protected?
Elena couldn’t understand why Olga argued for trying to bury the dead in the village. They wouldn’t be able to accomplish that task in weeks. The best thing was to alert the authorities and have them come back and do it.
Finally, she simply said, “I’m going, and you younger girls are coming with me. Olga, you can stay here if you want.”
They started the long hike, and reluctantly Olga followed.
The trail led over some fairly high hills, and Elena had not realized just how much the young ones would slow them up as they climbed. Over time the crying had stopped and the girls were putting in their best effort, but even though they were sturdy children who had grown up hiking in the woods and working in the fields, they were tiring.
“You see!” announced Olga. “We really can’t make it. How far are we? Are we even half way? Instead of being killed by the soldiers, we’re going to die in the woods.”
With this, several of the girls started crying again. Elena was exasperated. Why didn’t Olga see what they needed to do as clearly as she did? She was only trying to save their lives. She’s just as scared as the rest. She doesn’t have the task of keeping order like you do. Her mother died before she was a teenager. She didn’t learn some of the things you have. The thoughts tumbled over one another in Elena’s head.
She called for a rest and waved Olga over to her, taking her just out of sight of the other girls. “I need you to stop arguing and start helping. You’ll take care of the four youngest and see that they stay with the group.”
“You’re not my mother!” exploded Olga. “You can’t order me around!” Her voice was angry, but there was terror in her eyes.
“Olga, you’ve been my friend as long as I can remember, but we have to keep the village girls alive and get them to safety. No more arguing, do as I say.”
“Or I will beat you up.” Elena lifted her walking stick. She wasn’t certain she could beat up the slightly bigger girl, and was even less certain she would do so, but she hoped she sounded and looked certain enough.
It was enough. Olga broke down crying, and Elena took her in her arms. She wanted to curl up on the ground herself and cry until she had no more tears, but she couldn’t allow herself to do that. The other girls were depending on her.
After a few moments, Olga pulled back out of Elena’s arms. “Now let’s get going. We’re going to have to camp for the night and it won’t be easy, but you’ll help me.”
Olga got a slight grin. “Yes mama,” she said.
Finally Elena was sure that the two of them could make it to safety.
Note: My wife says this seems unfinished. It seems finished to me. Any thoughts?