Mike Stang peers beneath the thin shroud separating life from death


by Michael Stang


Innocence lost against this child’s survival. The dumpsters are full of them up and down the alleys mixed together with the rest of useless fantasy. Garbage to the invading foe. It’s the same old song—12 -year- olds are prime time for death. Way past old enough to kill, their minds can still be manipulated for maximum shock—and dance: Toyota armies’ stage executions at heritage sites spilling blood, wasted like water, desecrating anointed stones that Elijah shared with Malachi and Jesus, the Buddha and Ali Baba.

Family is where his boots don’t budge for more than an hour, where he huddles with strangers through screaming overhead killers; concussion waves keep his eyes shut for fear of losing them.

Mav is 27 now. Fifteen years in relocation camps or up in the high desert with the fighters, he could be a thousand years old for the little advance. This war will never be measured in land. Mav reads little and does not think for himself, responding usually to what he is told.

Coming back from a mission, riding in the back along the eastern border, a sniper catches up with Mav between the shoulders through and through, shattering all hope for the future. Goes with all religions, the coming is a grave.

On his knees, in an attempt to keep his lungs clear, the driver pulls over to the side in a surprising show of compassion. They lay the boy out on the sand head high and wet his face. Mav resists opening his mouth, or couldn’t, when an older fighter bends down to speak to him. He tells him how proud he is of him, that he has been watching him fight for some time now, how not to worry he will die in the waiting arms of Allah, how heavenly treasures await in paradise.

Death’s blanket is 115 degrees. The soldiers huddle shade around Mav’s head. He has some time for himself: Cold mountain streams laden with trout flash like an old movie. He hears his Father’s voice, Desha, his sister, her hair … his Mother.


24 thoughts on “Mike Stang peers beneath the thin shroud separating life from death

  1. Mac Eagan says:

    Fantastic work, Mike.
    For the uninitiated, Mike is another author on this site who has the ability to write directly to the reader’s heart and soul. The best way to read Mike Stang is not to try to “read” it but to move your eyes back and forth over the page and let the words fall into you – trust me, they will land where they are supposed to.
    Like Thorn, I did not see the theme on the first pass but as I went back over the story I felt the theme build up from within me.
    How often do we hear news reports about wars “somewhere else” and take it in as only so much data? Mike, you have reminded us (or at least, me) that behind the news there are people, real people, who suffer over somebody else’s disagreement. Thank you.

    • Mac Eagan says:

      Oh! I was so fixed on keeping my comment under 750 characters I never got to the best part!

      In the beginning of the story you said, “12 -year- olds are prime time for death.” For me, that set the age of the character, Mav, that we would soon meet. Later, when you said he had turned 27, his current age did not “click” in my head – in a good way. Although 15 years had passed, it was as if internally time had stopped for Mav, his youth pushed to the side and put on hold. When you brought us to the end of the story that was not a young man or a seasoned soldier that died; it was a twelve-year old boy who had never truly been allowed to grow up.

      Excellent work.

      • Michael Stang says:

        Thank you, Mac. I am bent low to the knees with a hand over my heart. Children of war are stolen. In your insightful comment, I am sorrowed seeing Mav ripped from growing up. 27 years or a thousand, how many kids can be considered.

  2. Tiffany V says:

    Having brothers who have (or have not) come home from overseas conflict, there is no way to paint this picture for me outside of their stories, their obituaries, the Tecumseh poem from Act of Valor, really well realized films like “Black Hawk Down” and the like, and then comes your words. Damn man, this is some heavy stuff for Tuesday morning in Carlsbad, CA. I remember to honor the lives that have seen this story up close, from either side. Belief *is* what we’re fighting for according to John Mayer, and you paint a picture. I think of the story of war and my family and un-layer it – this seering onion. This writing is deep magic, hard to swallow, but undeniable in its gravitas. Damn dude. Damn this is good.

    • Michael Stang says:

      V, I am sorry for your loss, and a cloudy morning in Carlsbad. Thank you for your faith, and your appreciation.

  3. Diane Cresswell says:

    Like pieces on a chess board, there is only one end to the game being played. Your words create so many levels of a reality – seen on an individual level, then into a whole picture, something that is not always recognized or seen from a soul perspective. You achieved this – beneath the surface. The reason for conflict is lost in the mists of history, the whys and wherefores have no definition – the sentence you wrote,which is brilliant, brings that all into perspective: Goes with all religions, the coming is a grave. You touched the heart of the reality and brought tears to my soul. I bow to your brilliance.

    • Michael Stang says:

      Delighted that you see this in the story, not surprised. Adds to my own perspective (what I meant), as the rest of family’s comments. I am so grateful for all of you.

    • Michael Stang says:

      Mr. Tobias, in this arid land, it is wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Looking forward an entry?

  4. Stef says:

    Is this the most we can hope for? Is this the most peace we can hope for? That we show each other compassion only as we step into death’s arms? Wonderful piece, Mike <3

    • Michael Stang says:

      Unfortunately for Mav and millions of others, where violation is at every threshold and invasion is secured like the rising sun, hope is condensed to whether or not you will make it to the other side of the street. Thinking about the atom bombs dropped on Japan (70 years ago today), anyone with half a mind knows humanity does NOT want to go there again; irrelevant to the story and your kind comment, Stef, I wonder what hopes the citizens cradled at the time of the drops.
      Thank you for your consideration.

  5. Parisianne Modert says:

    Thank you Michael from awakening us from the numb withdraw from the pathos and brutality which etherizes us from our overloaded shock of the 21st century. Your intimate story telling exposes the fear we feel, but others including children live daily someone else in the world. Dr. King spoke to us about the worst enemy is the person who sees evil and turns their back on it. You turn us back around and tell us to look and believe the unthinkable which to me is the real heroic. Writing can change the world which is what “Child” accomplishes.

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