"All Along The Watchtower"

© 1999
J. Mitch Hopper

1968. The draft is pulling the hearts out of the young. Three boys, life-long friends, come to grips with the real world. Tightly bonded, they try to hold on to the last vestige of a retreating childhood. They pass the night hours together in their clubhouse - a remote signal tower on the Norfolk railroad. This dramatic short story may sound familiar to graduates of that age of adolescence. Here is just a taste.
Slick leaned in close and spoke quietly. "Hey, Moon. What's the trouble, man?"

"I'm scare shitless, Slick." Moon sobbed. "I don't know what to do. I don't know... what... to do." His voice started and stopped.

"Be cool, Moon. I'm scared too. So's Ace - but he wouldn't admit it. You know that. He's such a turd!"

"But... but... my old man calls me a coward!"

"Screw your old man. Hey, I got all kinds of shit from the COs. I hear that if you're Mormon or Druid or Egyptian or something, you don't have to go. Eat peanut butter and bennies for a week and it screws with your blood, man – like you're diabetic or somethin'. I gotta do something cause, man, you know I'm never gonna get a student deferment. They'll hand me a rifle, sure as shit." Slick had leaned back against the steel pole and was speaking more to himself than anyone.

"Hey, Slick. Could you… I mean, would you… ah…"

"Could I what, Moon?"

"I mean could you kill a man. I mean if you had to." Moon gazed up as Slick looked down.

The small boy's face was deathly white and his wet eyes reflected back a million pinpoints of starlight.

"I dunno. I suppose. I mean, if I had to. I hear you never actually see anybody. You just shoot in the trees and stuff."

"I don't think I could," Moon whispered. "I'd just freeze or something."

"You'd shoot if you got shot at. If you don't kill them, they kill you. I think that's sort'a how it works, you know?" Slick's eyes screwed up. "I mean, I don't wanna think about it much, but it's not like John Wayne or anything. And, you're always with your group or your company or whatever. Man, I'll just lag behind or always be twistin' my ankle or something. You know?"

"I see the news. It isn't like that. Somebody orders and you have to do it. Go right up to them and shit. I saw this guy on TV. His guts were all over his shirt. He was cryin' and sobbin' and shit. You know he's dead by now." Moon turned and looked away from the signal tower across the tracks. "Or worse. I'm thinkin' that, well…" He stopped in midsentance.

"Moon?" Slick leaned forward but removed his hand from Moon' shoulder.

Moon lurched forward and vomited loudly spilling everything onto the gravel below.

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