Cillian Madden – Smile

Smile

By Cillian Madden

Steve Walker let out a low, petulant grown; he listened intently as it echoed throughout the cramped room he was being held in. ‘Training drills shouldn’t take this long’ he thought to himself before returning to survey the confines of the seven foot concrete holding block. He developed a playful interest in the tiny barred opening that provided the only light in the room. His pathetic attempt to amuse himself humoured him. Steve settled his muscular six foot three frame on the cast iron bunk and allowed his mind to flit back to a certain university lecture that had occurred during the third year of his journalism course. It had been delivered by an animated author by the name of Rust Pfeifer who had since become Steve’s inspiration.

‘I bet every single person in this voluminous hall could describe the zany appearance of the Eiffel Tower, but how many of you have touched the beautifully sculpted steel that forms the famous tower? I have no doubt that you could all tell me the amount of civilian casualties in World War II, but none of you would be able to comprehend the frightening reality of war. Everyone here has heard of the vibrant eucalyptus plant but no one here would be able to describe the sickly aroma that fills your nostrils when you smell its beautiful flowers. Folks, what you read in books can only teach you so much. To truly experience the world you need to actually see it’

In many respects this single monologue had shaped Steve Walker’s life.  Four Years later he graduated with an honours degree in journalism and almost immediately travelled to the Middle East to pursue a career in maritime reporting.  His courageous acts gained him a reputation and after three years he collected his first Pulitzer prize.  He pictured the certificate perfectly with the help of the eidetic memory he had developed, before returning to his cramped surroundings.

Shrill cries of terror alerted him to danger and he quickly departed his meditative state.  Two French speaking males were being hauled viciously through the block’s deserted corridors.  Walker smirked to himself; it was not the first time the French had attempted to spy on an American training camp and it wouldn’t be the last.

Walker was growing tired of the safety drills; he had been picked up by two masked men three days earlier and transported to his current location.  This was the third time in six months, not only did they force him to fear for his safety but they also halted his progress at work.  He returned to his bunk as the men were slammed into cells at the end of the corridor.

What greeted Walker next was utterly unexpected and shocking; the sound of three unsilenced gunshots assisted by the muffled screams of the two French men echoed throughout the complex.  His fellow captors seemed equally exasperated as curses and cries of shock bellowed up and down the corridor.  Walker was numbed by the events and slowly began to suspect that the American government he pledged allegiance to on a daily basis played no part in his current captivity; this was not a drill.

Fear spreads like cancer throughout the body, it has the same devastating effects as a malignant tumour waiting to pop.  For centuries the most famous scientists have researched and provided mythical explanations for the true effect fear has on the body.  But only those who have been truly frightened can comprehend how destructive fear can be.

Steve Walker sat paralysed on his makeshift bed, rigid with fear, frightened beyond belief, overcome with emotion.  He calmly willed the body he had spent so many years sculpting to perfection to move, to take action, to do something, but it failed him.  He may as well have been paraplegic.  His mind desperately attempted to conjure an explanation for what had just occurred, but nothing surfaced.  His naval base had been infiltrated; he had been kidnapped.

After what seemed like an elongated eternity Walker’s ears cocked at the sound of a deep, callous voice.  The uninviting male voice began to roar out numbers very slowly, three four three, this was followed by the familiar sound of metal grating against concrete.  Moments later another number rang mercilessly around the cellblock; this was followed by more grating sounds.  Steve attempted to glance through the diminutive opening in his cell door, but he was greeted by the sight of a deserted corridor.  The number calling continued; gradually the voices grew louder and louder as the man tore up the corridor.  Walker clung to the unlikely belief that American troops were moments from the complex, waiting, in order to make a timely entrance like knights in shining armour.

As soon as the voices reached the cell adjacent to his, Walker glanced downwards to see he was urinating.  He was shocked by how fruitless the endless training to prepare for these situations seemed.  He allowed his mind to drift back to Christmas eve nineteen eighty- four; he was eleven years old and had just received the news that his mother had been killed during a brutal armed robbery on a toy shop.  Plagued by thoughts of his mother’s death, he stayed up all night, abandoning sleep in order to comfort his father and brother.  His courageous acts in a shadow of pain enabled his family to pull through the tough times.  His father died fifteen years later; he had fallen victim to Cystic Fibrosis, however, he took great pride in the fact that his brother had remained dedicated to his schooling and received a scholarship for law in Yale University where he graduated five years later.

These deeply personal thoughts provided some solace for Walker and he found the courage to quench his tears and stem the flow of urine. As the steel door of his cell began to quiver, he stood up to meet his captors with a steely- eyed look of bravery.

Walker was blinded momentarily as his pupils struggled to adapt to the waves of light flooding into his cell.  He was quickly seized upon by three burly men dressed in dark black overalls and wearing thick brown balaclavas.  As he was dragged the length of the corridor he was stunned to see the voluminous capacity of the complex.  At least four hundred prisoners could be stored here.  Grotesque sights of blood encouraged his stomach to throw up but he fought back the bile, determined not to show any sign of fear.  As he was hauled outside Steve was greeted by a pleasant gust of wind rushing through his t-shirt which was saturated in sweat.  Walker felt a strange sense of euphoria as his captors dragged him through the picturesque desert for at least ten minutes.  The three men seemed relieved when they reached a marked spot in the desolate area and they threw Steve to the ground with force.  He willed himself to return to his feet but they placed him back on his knees.

As he closed his eyes to utter a silent prayer he heard the sound of a camera’s shutter blinking, he was being taped.  One of the men began to speak in perfect English with a heavy accent as the others grabbed a firm hold of Walker’s shirt.

A ray of sunlight catching the knife that the second man held resulted in a spectrum, obstructing Walker’s view temporarily.

Slowly, Walker let a careless smile spread across his battered face.  He had once read that it was honourable for the French resistance to come under Nazi fire.  But the highest honour they could achieve was to smile in the face of death.

 

Cillian Madden, Transition Year, Glenamaddy Community School, Glenamaddy, Co. Galway

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