This is the second short story written from our Film Noir Story Forge layout. Our group each took the same layout as a starting point, but came up with very different stories. You can read all of our Story Forge pieces here.
It could have happened anywhere in the country but this particular incident took place in Southfield, Michigan. It’s a common enough story about a soldier returning home, leaving the war zone but not the war.
Not long after Lieutenant Colonel Chris Bradley retired from the Army, surviving three tours overseas, twice in Afghanistan and once in Iraq, he settled into the family home that his parents had abandoned for Florida. His childhood neighborhood didn’t exist any longer, now as foreign as the dry barren terrain of the Middle East. The houses on both sides were occupied by people from a different culture, the Islamic culture that had baffled him in its place of origin, and was even more puzzling here in the old stomping grounds of Southfield.
The house that was closest to Bradley’s was occupied by a couple from Pakistan with three children and a pair of parents, his mother and her father, all living under one roof. They were quiet and didn’t disturb anyone. The basketball hoop over the garage went unused and they were rarely seen, the women especially. Occasionally Chris would see the son walking home from school, a slender boy with a slight limp named Ahmed.
Only one other neighbor from his childhood hadn’t sold out. Mr. Vincent lived across the street. He sat on his porch most evening, luring Chris over with beers, a game of checkers and talk of the old neighborhood. It was ironic because Chris had been frightened of Mr. Vincent—years ago he’d seemed ancient and imposing to his adolescent’s mind.
Mr. Vincent wove story after story of the onslaught against the American culture, the threats to the Judeo-Christian heritage Chris had fought for. He sat listening to Mr. Vincent rail against the neighbors, his parents included, for moving away so they didn’t have to see the takeover of Islam.
One evening while they were on Mr. Vincent’s porch, there was screaming next door. A hysterical young woman, wearing a head scarf but with her face uncovered, came running out the front door screaming. Her clothes were on fire. On reflex, Chris stood up and ran to help. He pushed her to the ground and rolled her body in the grass, using his own body to extinguish the flames. The smell of kerosene was unmistakable.
No one emerged from inside the house where the women came from. Mr. Vincent stood at the edge of his porch, looking on.
“Call 9-11,” Chris yelled. Others had come out of their homes but no one moved.
His truck was in the driveway. Chris scooped the young woman into his arms and rushed her to the passenger side of his truck. The truck screeched as he backed out and swung around, leaving tire marks as he headed toward the hospital.
She wailed and moaned in the seat and when Chris tried to ask her in how it happened, all she did was scream and cry. The smell of kerosene filled the truck, but he didn’t ask, only staring at her face, twisted in pain.
There was a bronze tone in her skin and she had a long straight nose with close set eyes. There were flecks of green in the light honey colored pupils, flecks of beauty shining through the pain. Even in anguish she was lovely and he wanted desperately to make her pain go away, to see her smile.
Chris drove straight to the area where the ambulances dropped off the urgent cases. When the doctors began to ask what happened, she whimpered in what Chris recognized as an Afghanistan dialect of Pashto. He would find out later she was brought to Southfield by her husband and his family.
The only English the young woman spoke were fragments of worry that there was no money for doctors. His heart clenched like a fist, hating how their culture treated women, knowing the husband and his family must have abused this innocent young woman.
The police were called and when questioned, Chris revealed his suspicions, the smell of an accelerant.
He’d seen the family before, the men coming and going, the women covered when they left the house. There were at least a half dozen people living in the home. He knew the burning wasn’t an accident, but a punishment gone wrong.
Her name was Sabia; it meant pretty girl. He waited until she was in a room resting. The heavy clothes had protected her body. A yellowish ointment was smeared over her arms, chest and hands. Incoherent she jabbered and mumbled in a half sleep. He couldn’t understand all the words but he knew what her cries meant. For no rational reason Chris made a promise to himself that he’d keep her safe. He used the smattering of Pashto he knew to soothe her and then he left the hospital full of thoughts of how to take care of her after her release. She couldn’t go home and it didn’t seem wise to have her move into his house, directly across the street from the family who tried to burn her to death. Maybe a shelter for abused women.
When he arrived home, a police car was parked on the street and a news van from the local television station was in front of his house.
Mr. Vincent was still on his porch and Chris climbed up the steps, leery of the news crew. The other neighbors were out, mostly dark skinned men in small groups, smoking cigarettes and talking amongst themselves. He saw a woman in a burka move away from the window inside Sabia’s house.
Before Chris could ask Mr. Vincent what had happened, the police were walking a young man in handcuffs out of Sabia’s house. The man was being led out of the garage and down the short driveway toward a patrol car. The news team moved quickly, the cameraman jogging after the reporter as they tried to get a shot of the man whom Chris assumed was Sabia’s husband. He was short with a round belly, dressed in slacks and a gray shirt, with the same oily black hair and dark skin Chris had lived among for years, fought for their freedom.
Mr. Vincent popped the cap off another beer. After the police drove off, the reporter came into Mr. Vincent’s yard, the camera man in tow. Up close Chris recognized a veteran news caster he’d grown up watching. Soon it was revealed Chris was the hero who’d saved the young woman’s life. There were questions and comments, gushing of praise and pride in a hometown soldier making Southfield proud. Then it came out that the reporter had learned from the Muslim neighbors that the argument started because someone had spread rumors of Sabia’s infidelity. She’d been seen sneaking off to take English classes at the local high school. Pictures of her in the company of other men had been given to her husband.
Listening to the story, Chris felt more compelled to rescue Sabia from her barbaric husband and his vile family.
After the news team left and the neighbors returned to their homes, only Chris was there with Mr. Vincent.
The older man offered another beer but Chris declined. All he could think about was Sabia. He’d go early tomorrow to see her. His mind began planning for a future with Sabia—his heart had taken a leap he couldn’t retreat from now.
He’d have to sell the house as he’d need to get her away from Southfield. How far did would they have to go to ensure her safety?
“You should have left it alone,” Mr. Vincent said. “Why’d you have to go sticking your nose where it didn’t belong, soldier?”
Chris looked over, pulled out of a reverie of possibilities.
“What? She might have died, or been disfigured.”
“Yeah, well it happens all the time. Proves what heathens they are. Same thing happened just before you came home. Right around the corner—a man and his wife bludgeoned their daughter to death because she was seen dancing with a black man. Let nature take its course. It’s the only way we’ll clean up the neighborhood.”
Chris couldn’t believe what he was hearing, suddenly struck with the same apprehension towards Mr. Vincent he’d had as a child.
“He’ll be deported now at least. Time to move on to the next one.”
Chris stared at Mr. Vincent. He was sitting rigid in the chair, facing the street, his eyes sweeping over to the house next door to Chris’s place.
“You know that kid?”
“What’s his name?” Mr. Vincent asked.
“Ahmed,” Chris said.
“He’s a queer, don’t you think?”
“What makes you say that?”
“I can always tell. I knew that younger Kowalski boy was queer as a three dollar bill before he did. You can tell. It’s all over ‘em like flies on dog shit.”
“What are you saying?”
There was silence as Mr. Vincent lifted the beer can to his lips. He took a swallow and then slowly said, “It’s not too hard really, to use their own perverted culture against them.”
Story Forge is like tarot cards for creative writing. The Protagonist in this scenario was the Betrayal card and I couldn’t fix on a character with that description. Looking at the lay-out, the Officer card (7) sticks out like a handle. That’s where I latched onto the main character. The double-cross, the cruel twist of fate and the tragic outcome certainly pushed me to come up with a more complex story. Up next is Jeff Moriarty’s version of this Film Noir Story Forge.