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By: Logan Warshaw
PROMPT: Open Prompt
As Norman and Louis sat side by side on the plane, wide awake, conversation was sparse. Neither had engaged in combat before, and this would be their first sign of action since enlisting. Despite the rigorous training, neither knew what to expect. Thoughts of regret, anticipation, and fear swirled through their minds, while they attempted to remain calm. After years and years of close friendship, this was the first time Norman and Louis felt slightly uncomfortable around each other. Although both were scared, they didn’t want to show it.
Norman Starr had never canvassed before. But after serving in the war in Afghanistan, he was sure that the next President of the United States needed to have military experience. He believed that it was necessary to have a president who understood the factors of war, and the hardships most veterans go through. The war had a great effect on Norman, although he tended to put all of his war memories aside- refusing to ever think about the events that occurred, or even the people he spent such a great deal of time with. Patrick McKey was the only nominee with some war-time experience, and Norman believed that he was the candidate most fit to be the next president. Despite all of the help Norman could give in Boston, he knew that Boston was already sure to vote McKey. That’s why, with a band of twelve other volunteers from the McKey headquarters in Brighton, Norman traveled on a plane towards Columbus. There they were to canvas around the city, attempting to gain as many votes as possible from the citizens in such a crucial swing state. The volunteers were familiar with each other, but none were close friends. As the 12 volunteers sat in groups of three in the four rows they occupied on the plane, conversation was sparse.
Norman and Louis sat together next to the fire at the camp site. They talked of their past, and of their future. Norman recounted numerous funny stories of their childhood and teenage years, and Louis discussed the business they were to start when they returned to Boston. They spoke of their ex-girlfriends, and of where they would live with their families when back home. As horrific as the war was, the two friends had each other, and they were positive.
Upon arriving at the hotel, bringing the luggage up to their rooms, and getting settled, the band met together at the restaurant downstairs to discuss the work they were to begin the next day. Mary described the route they were to take- each day during the one week trip, a pair of two would be assigned a street. One volunteer would go to all of the odd numbered houses, and the other would take the even houses. They would meet back at the hotel at the end of the day, and count up the voters who had declared to be for McKey or against McKey; the voters who didn’t know who they would vote for or who just didn’t care; and the voters whom they had convinced a change of support. Mary handed out the brochures, clipboards, and other supplies, and then discussed the words they were to say to the voters if they were to answer the door. The volunteers were ready to go, and were excited to begin their work the next day.
When the troop fought Taliban members, invaded and searched households, or just patrolled streets, Norman and Louis always had each other's backs. The troop contained twenty soldiers, including Donald from Pennsylvania, the lieutenant. Donald detailed what their mission was for each day, and he was the perfect leader for the troop. They all looked up to him, and trusted him in all endeavors. Donald had a liking for Norman- during one invasion, Donald was ambushed when searching a room. A fistfight ensued, and Donald was eventually pinned on his back. Holding back the man’s dagger with all of his might, he was certain he would face death- until Norman rushed in, and threw the man off Donald and beat him to death. Gasping for breath, Donald gave his gratitude towards Norman- he declared that he owed Norman one, and would do him any favor if in dire need. Ever since that fight, Donald had been especially nice to Norman, and they were good friends. Norman never asked for any favors or any special treatment- he considered his action to be something anyone would do for a friend.
The other seventeen soldiers in the troop were just like Norman and Louis. They were all fairly friendly with each other, although at times they got into fights, or just got frustrated with one another. But Norman and Louis never experienced any animosity towards each other, and at some points, even enjoyed the war. They liked the adrenaline it brought, and they liked being able to carry out missions side by side.
On the first day, Norman and Joel were paired up. After practicing their lines a few times, Joel set off towards the side of the street with the even numbers, and Norman set off for the odd numbers. Norman muttered his lines under his breath before ringing the doorbell at the first house. But after ringing and knocking twice, there was no answer, and Norman slid the brochure in between the door and the screen. He marched towards the second house. After ringing the bell once, the door creaked open, and a head popped out. Norman began- “Hello and good morning to you, Sir, I just wanted to see- just wanted to know if- if you were willing- well, what I mean to say is, if you are going to vote for P-Patrick McKey this election?” After receiving a cold “Get off my property” and the door slammed in his face, Norman cussed and his face turned red. After walking a few yards towards the street, Norman, still fuming, whipped a brochure with all of his might at the house and cussed again. He looked across the street and saw Joel staring at him with a puzzled look. Norman’s face turned red again, this time of embarrassment.
As the troop broke into the compound, shouting began and shots started to ring out. Norman and Louis were ordered to scour out the top floor. After sprinting up the stairs, they saw a man run to the window and attempt to crawl out. Louis shouted for him to get down and drop his weapons. The pair remained back-to-back: Louis had his rifle pointing at the Taliban member, and Norman’s pointed at the top of the stairs. The three men, all slightly scared, waited for the commotion downstairs to die down. After one final shot, they heard Donald’s voice, a relief to the Norman and Louis. They escorted the man back down, and saw the wreckage. Four Taliban members lay on the floor dead, and one American, Thomas, from Indiana, lay on the floor, dying, with a few troops huddled over him.
As he approached the third house, Norman proceeded to calm himself the way he had been taught to at his anger-management class. He then rehearsed his lines, and after knocking twice, he began to turn to leave when the door opened. He began his lines: “Hello and good morning to you, sir, my name is Norman, and I am here on behalf of Patrick McKey, and is- are you going to vote for him?” After replying that he was not sure, the man inquired about the two candidates and about why he should vote for McKey. Fumbling for answers, Norman spit out the information that came to him at the moment. The man, confused, declared that he would take it into consideration, and shut the door. Knowing that he just lost a vote he could have received, Norman cussed at himself and punched a bush in the man’s yard. Collecting himself, Norman stated that he would never let his emotions take control of him again, and that he would calmly read the lines he had been practicing to the following voters.
Sadness and many other mixed-emotions spread across the campsite that night. After the burial of Thomas, the troop was rather quiet. After a short time of small talk, Jimmy, from Ohio, stood up. He pointed at Norman and Louis, and shouted- “What about these two here? Taking a vacation on the top floor? Having lunch up there? What if they had actually come down and helped us? Tommy wouldn’t be lying in the ground right now... You scumbags better own up to this shit.” Norman knew it was best to stay quiet, but Louis stood up. He shouted back at Jimmy, yelling about how they were ordered to go to the top floor, and about all he and Norman had done for the troop. The two men shouted back and forth, until Jimmy charged for Louis. Punches were thrown, and as soldiers began to rush in to separate the fight, Louis took one more swing at Jimmy, at his face. Blood ran down Jimmy’s lip and chin, and his nose was bent at an awkward angle. After their injuries were tended to, the troop settled down for the night, one of the most heated nights of their deployment.
By the sixteenth house, Norman had found his vibe. He read his lines with ease, and answered voters questions fluently. For the rest of the day, he enjoyed doing his work- he felt proud that he was able to influence so many people. When the group met back up at the hotel, they discussed their results. Norman and Joel had accounted thirteen no-answer-at-the-doors, eleven definite “no”s, fifteen definite “yes”s, seventeen people still pondering the vote, and twenty-six people previously undecided whom they had convinced to vote McKey. Norman and Joel led the group widely in the last category, so they were to be paired up again for the next day.
Three days later, Donald detailed to the group the plan for the next day’s invasion. This was an invasion of a large Taliban military compound, the biggest raid of their entire deployment. Skeptic as the soldiers were, they listened closely and followed along with the captain’s plan. Men would die, but this would be the biggest win for the troop and for the US Army the soldiers had ever accomplished. They prayed before bed, and barely slept- the anticipation too much for them to handle for the next day. Norman and Louis could barely speak to each other, they were so nervous. But they knew everything would end up fine, just as it always had.
Norman and Joel traveled down the street. No longer was Norman getting frustrated or upset, and the pair went house by house, effectively and quickly gathering as many votes as they could. Tomorrow they would tackle their hardest task. The group was to be deployed into the projects, the ghetto of Columbus. Many people there would not end up voting, so their task was to convince them to go to the polls in November and cast their vote for McKey. After being given pocket knives, as a small measure of protection, they said good night to one another and got a good night’s rest, ready for their following day’s mission.
After the troop stormed in, things began to get hectic. The whole world seem to swirl around Norman- somehow he even got separated from Louis. As the fighting went on, Norman found himself stationed behind a truck, clutching his gun. About thirty yards from him, Louis sat behind another truck. Donald and some other soldiers were in the building in combat, and Jimmy was stationed with his sniper rifle up in a window about twenty yards behind Louis. Norman and Louis made eye contact. Louis smiled at him, and gave him the thumbs up. Norman was paralyzed with fear, and could only muster a weak smile back. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a Taliban soldier began charging towards Louis. Everything seemed to go in slow motion. Norman saw Jimmy, aiming right at the Taliban member. He knew not to shout out and get himself killed, for Jimmy would easily take out the soldier and they would be fine. He waited and waited for Jimmy to shoot, and he saw Louis, who had no clue what was going on behind him. As the man got within ten yards to Louis, Norman had the feeling in his gut that Jimmy would have shot by then had he intended to. Norman dropped his gun and stood up, running towards Louis, hands flailing in the air, shouting with all his might. As Louis stood up, puzzled, he looked at Norman, and then looked behind himself, where a knife slowly lodged itself into his neck. Norman crumpled to his knees, eyes wide, as Louis slowly fell to the ground as the Taliban soldier dug his knife into his throat. Taking his knife out, he began to run towards Norman, when he received a shot to the back and crumpled on the ground. Norman ran to Louis, leaning over him and watching him die as he cried and shouted for help. Louis’ body lay lifeless and limp on the ground. Norman began to sprint to Jimmy, boiling with anger. When he reached Jimmy’s perch, Jimmy was nowhere to be seen.
Norman and Joel practiced their new set of lines as they walked towards their street. They split off into the different sides of the road, nervous but confident in themselves. Although most cases were helpless, they continued to canvas, and managed to garner a few votes out of some people.
The battle seemed to pass quickly after that, as Norman clutched his knees, rocking back and forth in Jimmy’s watch space. Paralyzed emotionally, Norman was soon deported back to the US, where he went through many classes and therapy sessions to help recover and regain himself. He never saw any of the soldiers from his troop ever again, and that was fine with Norman, for he shut out all of his memories of anything war related. He carried a picture of Louis and him in his wallet, but tried as hard as he could not to remember anything that had happened before his return to the US.
Approaching houses directly across from one another, Joel and Norman knocked on the doors. No one answered, and Joel slid the brochure in between the screen and the door. At Norman’s house, after one knock, a man opened the door. Norman began to say “Good morning sir-” when he abruptly stopped speaking. The two men stood, staring at one another, for what seemed like hours. Norman stared at the man’s nose, which was slightly cocked to the side. The man offered Norman a drink inside. As they sat down across from one another, the memories began to flood back to Norman. He trembled in his seat as they spoke small talk. Then the man began to see the fire in Norman’s eyes, and he started to speak rapidly. Joel noticed that Norman had disappeared into the house, and ran across the street towards the house, hands flailing in the air, shouting Norman’s name. As the man rapidly spoke, and time and time again “I saved your life,” the pocket knife slowly rose from Norman’s coat, and then quickly lodged itself in the man’s throat. The man crumpled to the ground, dying, as Joel burst in the door. He threw Norman off of the man, and leaned over the dying man, shouting with all his might for help. Norman stumbled out the door and into the grass. He opened up his wallet and pulled out the picture of him and Louis, and crossing himself, kissed it. He felt a sense of accomplishment, like he could finally accept his past, knowing that he had avenged the death of his friend. Now that he was totally unmoved by his past memories, he decided to call up an old buddy of his from the troop. Walking with a calm trot down the sidewalk, he dialed the number. When the man answered, with a grin on his face, Norman said: “Hey, it’s Norman, your old pal from Troop 5534. Remember that time you said you’d do me a favor? Well, I’m in Columbus, Ohio, and I need you to pick me up.”
Message to Readers
Any feedback is great!
I would say that this piece is about a man repaying a debt long overdue.
The flashbacks coupled with the present day of the story. the seamless mesh of the two makes this a thrilling read.
With all the flashbacks, I got some of the names mixed up at the beginning, but I was fine for the rest of the story.
Great work, Logan. Blending the military experiences of a man with his civilian life is often a subject talked about by teens, but not often written about. Your topic follows a successful mold of using flashbacks and then going to the present every other paragraph. Evoking memories from famous military movies (like Saving Private Ryan) with your story, I felt myself rooting for your main character Norman and empathizing with his internal emotional struggle. Most of us will never have to fight on the front lines of the battlefield, but you were able to capture the feeling of being in the heat of combat, to make me feel like I was out there in the field. Besides some word choice here and there, I don't really have any critiques except for when you read over your work, try and find places where you can be more vivid in your descriptions of the men or use more active verbs. All in all, this is a great story that moved me and left me with a feeling of satisfaction.