The Golden Locket

Ash and dust coated my throat. Another settlement reduced to rubble. I never get used to it. The dilapidated buildings clung to life, many refusing to collapse.
“Corporal!” Commander Toombs shouted. “Round up any survivors!”
I adjusted my helmet and readied my weapon as I set out.
The eerie stillness clawed at me, as if the very earth questioned the loss of life in this village. I made my way through the tangled mess of broken walls and toppling structures. What if the survivors set up an ambush? Naturally, they would want to retaliate for the bombs dropped on their homes.
Movement snapped my attention to an otherwise unassuming collapsed wall. “Who’s there?” I aimed my gun.
One small hand than another appeared in the gap where the wall leaned. A girl not more than ten years old stepped out, her hands above her head. She said something in her native language.
“Stay where you are!” I said, raising my weapon—knowing the locals sometimes used children in their traps. The girl wouldn’t understand me any more than I could understand her.
She froze, her hand extended, offering a small metal object.
I remained wary, but something in her pleading eyes made me approach. In her open hand lay a golden, heart-shaped locket.
I carefully took the necklace. Something about it struck me as familiar. I pried it open to find the face of my best friend’s wife, Sandra O’Connor. This pendant had been his most prized possession until his death two weeks before.
Rage pulsed through me. “Where did you get this?” I shouted at the girl, who recoiled, hands raised. “Tell me where you found this!”
She shook her head and pointed to the gap in the wall behind her.
I crouched enough to peer into the shadows where an older woman sat with her knees to her chest. Meanwhile the girl had clasped her hands together and bowed her head.
If I let them go and someone found out, I would be punished for disobeying a direct order. But if I turned them over to the commander, they could be tortured for information or killed. Yet if they had anything to do with O’Connor’s death, how could I just let them go?
“Rogers, you in here?”
I jumped and turned, raising my weapon.
“Calm down, Rogers,” Corporal Brenner snapped. “It’s just me.”
“Find anything?”
What did he mean? A child was standing right behind me!
But when I glanced over my shoulder, she was gone.
“What’s that?” Brenner asked, snatching the locket from my hand. “This is O’Connor’s! You found it here?”
“Yeah.” Not necessarily a lie.
“Ha! What a joke! Some local must have stolen it off him after he went out like a chump.”
“What did you say?” How dare he?
“You didn’t hear? O’Connor died protecting a couple natives. He didn’t even go out a hero—”
I drove the butt of my gun into Brenner’s face, knocking him to the ground. “You shut your mouth!”
“What’s your problem?” he said, scrambling to his feet. “O’Connor shouldn’t have been worrying about some kid and an old lady from the other side. This is war.”
My head swam. What was the right thing to do here?
“Rogers, Brenner, report!” the commander shouted in the distance.
I cupped my mouth and yelled back, “No survivors!”

This short story was originally published on Colorado Christian University’s blog as part of a writing contest. Edited by Jerry B. Jenkins. Copyright © 2021 by Hope Constance Crisera.

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