The rules for the summer flash fiction contest on Writer Unboxed are simple: you receive a visual prompt and you have a 250-word limit. Your story must have a beginning, middle, and end, and it must be original. The prompt last week was an autumnal woodland with a girl dancing through fall leaves wearing a red dress. Since my world-view is India-centric, I set my story in modern-day Kashmir, near the LOC (Line of Control) separating the Indian and Pakistani-occupied parts of the state.
There were fifty-two entries before the contest closed on Sunday. There were three contest winners and seven "honorable mentions," including my story, which we can call Sanjay Stared.
Sanjay stared down the barrel of his MG 5A 7.62 mm light machine gun, bored. The bunker was gloomy – corrugated iron, rough-hewn timber, sandbags – everything reeking of dirt.
Below the hill, along a path beside a roaring freshet, a girl carrying a plastic jug of water on her head walked past. She wore a scarlet salwar kamiz, embroidered with flowers, a yellow dupatta fluttering from her shoulders, and she stepped fearlessly toward the mud-walled houses of her village, her back perfectly straight.
Sanjay wiped his nose, wondering if the Pakistani guys on the other side of the valley also thought she was pretty. He wondered, also, how they felt about the militants they provided covering fire for – the ones who crept through the deodar scented forest, clanking with bandoliers and grenades, singing of jihad. Those Lashkar fellows would sling acid on this girl for not obeying their fatwa, if they could.
With a sigh, Sanjay rubbed his hands together, blowing on them. It was cold in these mountains. Nothing was right here. At this elevation, trees sported red and yellow leaves, as if they were on fire. Water froze.
Sometimes he woke up, at night, in a cold sweat, imagining the village girl’s dignified face contorted with pain, blackened by acid, oozing red and yellow pus.
A few mortar rounds were fired that night, followed by swarming red tracers, clattering rifle shots. In the morning, through the bunker’s aperture, Sanjay saw her wearing a black burqa today, slouching along, broken.
© William Lailey, 2012.